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CONTROVERSIAL AND PRACTICAL,
RIGHT REASON SAITH, BELIEVE IN GOD.
ROM. IV. 3.
What saith the Scriptures? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
THE most important dispute at present among the professors of Christianity, is that about the authority of Scripture in revealing and prescribing, and the prerogative of reason in expounding and understanding the language of Scripture. They who call themselves the advocates of reason say, it is impossible for them to believe or obey any thing, though appearing to come from God, but that which is in itself agreeable to their own reason, whereby alone, they say, God hath enabled them to judge and determine between truth and error, right and wrong. Accordingly, when the plain sense of Scripture clashes with their reason, they claim a right to look for another, more agreeable to that, though less so to the words.
This, now, is called infidelity, deism, and dictating to God, by those who undertake the defence of that authority, wherewith, they say, the Scriptures are delivered to mankind. All the prerogative these men will allow to reason here, though it were the reason of a Newton, is that of a mere interpreter, whose sole business it is to find out the plain, natural, and consistent sense of God's words; and then believe or obey that sense, as the assertion or command of
God, though ever so irreconcileable to her judgment, had it been the assertion or command of any but God.
The former boldly maintain, God could never require this of us, because it is, in their opinion, destroying the nature he hath given us, is extinguishing his candle in the soul, and leaving us exposed to all manner of errors afterward; for what is there, but reason, to distinguish them from truth? The latter as boldly insist, that when God speaks the common language of men, he means to be understood by all men; and that reason knows no principle, no truth, more to be depended on, especially in things above reason, than the word of God.
Which of these are in the right, will best appear by a fact exactly in point. This will be found in the instance of Abraham's faith, and the approbation of God, repeatedly given to that faith.
What that faith was, I shall, in the first place, shew from the Scriptures relating thereto.
Secondly, I shall shew, why it was counted to him for righteousness, that is, highly approved by God, as an act of saving virtue, having first laid before you the true meaning, or sense, wherein the word righteousness is here to be taken.
And thirdly, I shall prove, that his faith is recommended to us, not only as a pattern and model for ours, but as that very faith which will be imputed to all who have it, as righteousness, no less than it was to Abraham.
That we may, in the first place, clearly conceive what the faith of Abraham was, it will be requisite to attend a little to the trials it underwent, and the proofs it gave of itself, as set forth in the history of this patriarch.
The first proof given of his faith was, when God commanded him to quit his country, his kindred, and his father's house in Haran, and to remove into the land of the Canaanites, where he promised to make of him a great nation,' and ' in him to bless all the families of the earth.' The love of his country, his father's house, and his relations, was no hinderance to his obedience on this occasion. He did not set the comforts he enjoyed in a place corrupted with idolatry, in competition with the promises of God, but immediately renounced them all, and went into a foreign country, 'wherein none inheritance,' for the present, was given him,
'no not so much as to set his foot on.' But whereas God promised to give it to him for a possession,' and 'to his seed after him,' he went, relying on this promise, when as yet he had no child, nor any natural prospéct of children, for his wife was unfruitful. On a renewal of this promise, some time after his removal, he rested satisfied, till God appearing again to him in a vision, and encouraging him with strong assurances of his protection, the patriarch modestly expostulated with the Lord on his being childless, and having then received a promise of issue, 'he believed in the Lord, and it was counted to him for righteousness,' even then when the improbability of his having a son, arising from his own and his wife's age, though very great, was not yet come to the height.
But about fifteen years afterward, when Abraham was now very near a hundred, and his wife ninety years old, God promised to give him a son by her; having received an assurance of this most extraordinary event with a mixture of joy and wonder, 'he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God,' and 'being fully persuaded, that what he had promised, he was able to perform.'
At this time, the promise, which God had given to Adam, 'that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent,' whereof, under the name of his covenant, he appears to have reminded Noah, both before and after the deluge, and wherewith he had once already formally confirmed the faith of Abraham, under the same name of his covenant, is now renewed to him, to his son Isaac, yet unborn, and to all his posterity by that son, still under the name of God's covenant, with the sign or seal of circumcision added.
In due time, after this last promise of a son made to Abraham, Sarah actually brought him a son, whom he circumcised, and called by the name of Isaac.
The faith of Abraham, thus already tried and approved, is to be brought to a yet severer test than ever. Although the covenant, as we have just now seen, was established with Isaac as well as Abraham; although in virtue of that covenant, a promise was given, that great and numerous nations should descend from Isaac; and although in him a blessing had been repeatedly promised to all the other nations of the
earth; yet his father is commanded by God to slay and sacrifice this very son, now five-and-twenty years old, as yet unmarried and childless. And behold! Abraham builds an altar, by the express appointment of God on mount Moriah, where Christ our sacrifice was afterward offered up, lays the wood in order, and binding his son Isaac, places him on the altar and on the wood, stretches forth his hand, and takes the knife to slay his son. But when his hand is raised to give the fatal wound, it is restrained by the angel of the Lord, who provides a vicarious sacrifice in the place of Isaac.
Here end the trials and proofs of Abraham's faith; on which the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.'
Such was the faith of Abraham, concerning which four things are to be remarked.
First, That being fully convinced, God had really uttered both the promises and commands, already mentioned, he never stayed to reason on the possibility of the former, nor on the rectitude of the latter. He had no doubts about the possibility of his begetting a son, when he was a hundred, nor of his wife's bearing a son, when she was ninety years old, howsoever unnatural this appeared to be, since God had promised it should actually be. On this he firmly relied, and even against hope,' as the apostle expresses it,' he believed in hope.' He was equally far from doubting, whether God could make the posterity of his son Isaac as numerous as the stars of heaven, and bless all the nations of the earth in his seed, although that son was then to be cut off, before he had any children, accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.' And as to the rectitude of the matter commanded, he did not say, like a modern, is not God indispensably obliged to act by the natural and eternal law of justice? How, therefore, can he command a father to kill with his own hands, his good and dutiful son? Or
how can even the command of God authorize a deed so unnatural in me? No, he knew it his duty to do whatsoever God commanded, he knew God commanded him to do this, and he knew therefore that God had a right to command it, and consequently to be obeyed. He did not set up the dictates of his moral sense against the evidence of a revelation actually given, against the evidence of things not seen, neither was he prevailed with by nature to rebel against the author and God of nature. Howsoever astonishing the faith of Abraham, thus triumphing over the severest trials, may seem to some men, it was as far from a weak credulity, as his obedience, the effect of that faith, was from a slavish submission. Right reason was with him in all he believed, although ever so incredible to less rational men, for it was God whom he believed; and right reason was therefore with him in all he did, although ever so contrary to the feelings of flesh and blood in him, as well as in men less religious, for it was God whom he obeyed.
Secondly, It is carefully to be remarked, that those af fections, which in corrupt and libertine natures prove too hard for the clearest evidences of religion, gave no obstruction to the faith and obedience of Abraham. He was a good man, and as such, no doubt, loved his country and kindred no less tenderly than other good men. Yet he forsook them all, and followed the commandment of God into a strange land, where he had neither friends nor connexions. He was a prudent man, and had all that regard to his worldly affairs and interests, which a prudent and honest man ought to have; yet, without the least regret or hesitation, without any other reliance than on the blessing and protection of God, and even without a promise from God of any immediate establishment among the Canaanites, he quitted a comfortable settlement at Haran, where his father had prospered, and he was growing rich, to sojourn in a distant country, at a time when that country was afflicted with famine. Abraham was also a man, in whom humanity and natural affection were as strong, as in any other man. His son Isaac was beloved by him with all that tenderness which the best of fathers feels for the best of children. Yet when God commands him to execute his son with his own hands, he raises the deadly weapon, and with a full purpose of obedience,