And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.…
On Mount Moriah the religious life of Abraham reached its maturity, and his knowledge of the Divine nature attained its greatest spiritual depth. On Mount Moriah, the type of the future Mount Calvary, we may see the synthesis of the infinite truths, the light of which has streamed in its meridian fulness from the Cross of the God-man. Let us proceed to consider: —
I. God's first commandment, ENFORCING THE CLAIMS OF DIVINITY. "They came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son."
II. God's second commandment, ORDAINING THE CLAIMS OF HUMANITY. "And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And He said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him."
III. The scene of DIVINE REVELATION. "Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen. "I. THE VOICE OF DIVINE TRUTH, we are clearly told, called upon Abraham to sacrifice the natural life of his only son. The destiny of man, as revealed to us throughout Holy Writ, is to share the attributes of God's eternal life. The words spoken through Moses in Genesis 1:26, "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness"; and the words of 2 Peter 1:4, "That by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature"; and the words of St. John the Divine, "Having His Father's name written in their foreheads," all express the same great truth, that man was created to be a partaker of the attributes of God. It follows, therefore, that the attributes of the uncreated Divine life are the laws of the human life, and that every revelation or glory of God imposes an obligation and a duty on man. The sovereign attribute in the life of God is consequently the ruling principle in the true life of man. What, then, is that sovereign attribute? "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Sacrifice on earth in human life is the analogue of love in the Divine life. Consequently the same supremacy which belongs to love among the attributes of God, also belongs to sacrifice among the duties of man. Hence throughout the history of religion, from the earliest passages of the book of Genesis to the visions of the eternal life in the heavenly mansions, unfolded to us in the revelation of St. John the Divine, sacrifice is the highest effort of the human soul, in the exercise of which man finds the approach to God, and the blessed rest of his own nature. Hence it fellows, that the difference between a high-principled and an unprincipled life is simply the difference between a life of love and a life of selfishness; a life of self-indulgence, in which no altar is erected on the low ground; and a life of self-sacrifice, in which man rises above the lower, baser instincts of his being in obedience to the Divine call. This one central law of the Divine kingdom was revealed to Abraham at the first, when he was summoned by the call of principle to leave his country, his kindred, and his father's house. The faith of Abraham, whereby he obeyed that voice, was simply the submission of his soul to the ruling principle of love expressed in self-sacrifice. The growth in his soul of the power of that Divine principle was the development of his faith. That development was progressive throughout his life, as it is still in the history of every individual soul. In his conduct towards Pharaoh, and towards Abimelech, we see the temporary lapse from the high ground of faith and self-sacrifice to the low level of earthly selfishness and expediency. As time went on, and the patriarch's vision of Divine truth became clearer and fuller, and the new letters were added to his name, significant of a higher destiny and a wider influence, he was inspired by God to express in the outward rite of circumcision that inward and spiritual principle which was the governing law of his life. Circumcision of the heart, in the spirit, and not of the letter, was the expression of the deep truth that man is to reflect the Divine love by self-sacrifice Throughout his career the power of this principle had become stronger and stronger in the soul of Abraham. He had yielded his whole soul in obedience to "the first and great commandment: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.'" The mighty significance of this general principle had overpowered his entire being. The first and great commandment, although it is the sun of human righteousness, has other commandments revolving in the spiritual system, not in antagonism to it, but in harmony with it and deriving their light from it. In ascending Mount Moriah Abraham saw nothing in the universe but the one great principle: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God." Whatever sacrifices were necessary in order to give expression to that love, he was ready to make. The firmly-grasped knife and the outstretched arm represent the strong, resolute self-surrender of the soul that has, in obedience to the call of Divine truth, risen to the heights on which it shrinks not from the sharpest pangs of inward agony, that are necessary in order to offer to God the sacrifice which He asks. The great truth taught in this passage is the absolute sovereignty of the love of God over the human soul. The destiny of man is to bear in his being the image of God, in which he was created. That is the highest principle which must reign over all other forces in human life. In the command to sacrifice Isaac, the eternal Spirit is still teaching Abraham the same great principle in a different form of practice. As he had been taught at first to subordinate the love of country and clanship to the love of God, so he is now commanded to bring the love of family under the dominion of the same sovereign principle. The ascent of Mount Moriah, and the sacrifice of Isaac, are an eternal obligation laid upon man. We can inherit no land of spiritual promise without recognizing it. The nation, the family, the individual, is called upon to make this sacrifice. There is no high future promise to the nation that withholds from God the natural life of its Isaac, by regulating its national action in obedience to low temporal expediency, instead of hearkening to the voice of the unseen eternal life. The voice of earthly wisdom, on the level plain of mere natural reason, bids the nation value only the out, ward form of its future life. Its command is: "Give to the young life that secular knowledge which will enable it to answer the questions, ' What shall I eat? what shall I drink? wherewithal shall I be clothed?' extend commerce, multiply possessions, and heap up the means of luxury, and then the national future will be great — Isaac will obtain that. rich and good land of promise. But if you act on high principles — giving education in the spiritual truths that reveal the love of Christ; maintaining the ministry of the mysteries of God; going even to war for the rescue of the weak nations carried captive by the strong; losing the profits of commerce; and expending the fat of the national frame in the adventurous toils imposed by the behests of national honour and good faith — you will impoverish the earthly future that lies before your posterity." The policy of shrinking from war at the expense of principle is not noble or Christian. There are times in which God demands the greatest sacrifice which a nation can make, namely, the blood of its youth shed upon the field of battle in obedience to an idea. No nation, which resolutely determines to remain upon the low grounds of selfish ease and shameful peace, can inherit a great future, for it is guilty of withholding from the altar the lower life of Isaac, and thereby forfeiting the higher destiny of his spiritual being. The nation which never rises into the high ground of principle to erect an altar of national sacrifices; which never prepares the wood for the burnt-offering, and is fired by no generous enthusiasm, but coldly and calculatingly barters its honour for the extension of its trade; which shrinks from considering itself bound by the obligations of solemnly plighted national faith; which lets the knife of sacrifice fall from its nerveless hand, rather than imperil the ease and luxury of its life — is a nation which is finding its life for the moment, in order to lose it for ever. In the life of the family, God still calls upon the heirs of the land of promise to sacrifice, as the condition of rising into possession of life's noblest blessing. The ancient voice, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of," is appealing to the conscience of the fathers of England to-day. The man of the world loves his Isaac, and desires to further his prospects, and to see him the heir of a rich future. Without Christ, deaf to the call of the spiritual voice, he lives the low-toned life of the world's level; his heart knows nothing of the wood of burnt-offerings, or of the fire of spiritual enthusiasm; he coldly calculates his gains, and multiplies his silver and gold; he recognizes no cords of Divine love, but casts away from him the constraining bands of spiritual motives, and relaxes all the higher obligations of the inner life; he performs no sacrifice of homage to the unseen majesty of the King of Life; offers no prayer, no praise, no alms, and never extends a single effort of his soul in painful self-denial. He has the reward of cold, selfish expediency, and low-toned, short-sighted worldly prudence. He becomes rich, and has saved the life of his Isaac to inherit the fat plains of his earthly prosperity. But there is really no land of promise on the plain which he has inherited. That life of low-toned, selfish, prayerless, cold-hearted money-getting, carries within itself a power that disinherits his descendants. The low tone, and the moral feebleness of his career, ensure to his family after him social decay and poverty of destiny. The man who will not ascend the Moriah of the Cross, by living a life of self-sacrifice and obedience to the Divine voice, cannot hope to secure a real Canaan for his race. On the other hand, there are families who, when they seem to be destroying the life and prospects of their Isaac, are in obedience to God's voice preparing for the certain entrance into Canaan. The noble-hearted, highly-educated young missionary in the Church's distant fields of labour; the young clergymen of brave energy and keen intellect, toiling in voluntary poverty and noble obscurity amid the haunts of vice and sin in our great cities; the student who, seeking to enlighten his fellow-men, gives himself to the ungainful pursuits of science or literature; the young soldier who devotes his life to the loyal duties of ill-requited service to his country — all these to the vulgar eye of worldly expediency seem to be offered, as Isaac, in obedience to an unpractical idea, and in wanton forfeiture of the Canaan of worldly prospects. To the individual soul, as to the nation and the family, the call to ascend the Moriah of sacrifice comes with authority. To the unspiritual man of the world the obedience of the soul to this strange command seems as great a mystery as the offering of Isaac. To him every hour spent in prayer, in meditation, in gathering the materials that fire the enthusiasm of Christian love, in tightening the cords of religious obligation, and wielding the instrument of searching self-denial, seems wasted, vainly spent in shedding the vital energy that should live to enter that Canaan of the world and the flesh, which is the only land of promise that he can realize. But the true spiritual seed of Abraham for ever acknowledges the love of God as the highest rule of life.
II. God's second commandment ORDAINING THE CLAIMS OF HUMANITY. The love of God, as a universal principle, demands the sacrifice of man's all. Abraham felt this, and was willing to express the sincerity of his devotion by sacrificing the life of his son. But a corrective voice from heaven revealed to him a second qualifying commandment, not at variance with, but "like unto" and explanatory of the inner, deeper meaning of the first. The forms of sacrifice, which God imposes upon the soul, are not ends meritorious in themselves, but simply means of cultivating and expressing in the human being the energy of Divine love. As soon as the love has become perfect, the need of the sacrifice passes away. As soon as the principle of love has exacted the homage of perfect self-surrender from man, and acknowledged it in the words, "Now I know, seeing thou hast not withheld," then the obligation of sacrifice is abrogated in the words, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him." God required from Abraham an unreserved willingness to sacrifice his son, as an expression of obedience to the first law of life, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God." But God equally forbade the slaughter of Isaac, in obedience to the second commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Every form of life existing is an expression of Divine love. The sacrifice of physical life is, therefore, for ever inconsistent with the love of God, except when it is required for the creation or preservation of some higher form of life. The consecration of murder, as a means of expressing love to God, would have led to the mutual destruction of mankind, and the extinction of that life in the universe which it is the highest purpose of God to create and sustain. It is true that the expression of the infinite love of God upon the Cross of Calvary was given at the cost of a human life voluntarily laid down. The self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ seems to the superficial the destruction of a human life, and inconsistent with that love of life which flows from the love of God. But the work of Christ and the revelation of God did not end upon the Cross. The second commandment, enforcing the claims of humanity, likewise in the purpose of the Father required obedience. "Therefore doth My Father love Me, not simply, because I lay down My life," but "because I lay down My life that I might take it again." In the power of the resurrection following upon the sacrifice of Calvary, and loosing the pains of death, we see the operation of that second law, the authority of which arrested the hand of Abraham, saying, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him." The fruitless sacrifice of life, which is not justified by a subsequent resurrection of life in a higher form, is based upon an imperfect interpretation of the great commandment, and contrary to the full truth of God. The risen life is the proof of the accepted sacrifice. "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore." A sacrifice which is a mere expenditure of life, leading on to no renewal, is contrary to God's will. Sacrifices that lead on to no raising of life into a higher form are forbidden by the second voice of God. That there should be in every land witnesses to the supreme claims of God's love, in the persons of those who forsake the secular toils of the world, and give themselves up entirely to the religious life, is essential, in order to enable the nation to rise to the heights of principle upon which God manifests Himself. In the entire devotion of such lives the nation ascends the Mount Moriah. Where such devotion is withheld, God's presence is not realized. But it is hardly necessary to point out that, although God demands the submission of human life to His rule in sacrifice, He does not require all men to give themselves up to that unceasing devotion of outward, physical, liturgical sacrifice, which would arrest the growth and healthy progress of society. To injure human society, and cramp the lawful energies of the state in the name of religion, as the Roman Church has often striven to do, is to slay the Isaac of progressive hopeful humanity, the heir of the Promised Land of the future. So also the state and society led into the high places of devotion, bound in willing submission by the cords of religious obligation, and recognizing the penetrating power of the principle of sacrifice, is for ever an offering acceptable to God, and passes on in the career of its history, fitted by its high self-devotion to inherit the land of the promises. But the state and society weakened, maimed, bleeding, dying, under the fruitless, senseless, purposeless bondage of superstitiously tightened restrictions, and the fatal stroke of fanatical self-torture, is a victim slain in defiance of the protestant voice, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad." In the same manner the lessons of this passage are applicable to the sacrifices of the individual soul. Prayer and fasting must not be withheld. In them the human being offers to God on his altar its mental and bodily energies in self-sacrifice. When the offering has not been withheld, the soul rises to a nobler walk, stronger existence, and a clearer vision of God. But there is a tendency in the human being to pervert self-sacrifice into self-slaughter. It is possible so to pray and fast as to make the body unhealthy, the mind feeble, and the will morbid and unstrung. They who carry religions exercises into that extreme, which is injurious to the growth and health of true human life, are losing the balance of truth, and are deaf to the Divine protest, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad."
III. THE SCENE OF THE DIVINE REVELATION OF TRUTH. "Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh; as it is said to this day, In the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen." The Mount Moriah, the mount on which the Lord reveals Himself, is the type of the supernatural life of the Church of Christ. As it was upon the mount that Abraham received the teaching of the Divine voice which enabled him to recognize the harmony of the two commandments seemingly contradictory, so it is only the guidance of the Spirit of God in the Church that enables men to reconcile the two great principles opposed to each other in modern life — law and liberty. The old freedom of the plain is not the same as the freedom of the Mount of God. The freedom of the natural man, who knows not the claims of the Divine law of love, is very different from the freedom of the crucified but risen life of man, who ban received the spirit which makes him love God and obey Him, not in the servile fear of the bondsman, but in the glorious liberty of the child. The guidance of the Holy Spirit, which abides in the Church, can alone give us the enjoyment of this blessed freedom, that comes not from the defiance, but from the fulfilment of the law of life in Jesus Christ: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." This realization of blessedness, of power, of widely-extended beneficence to others; this foretaste of the glories of an endless life in the future, only comes to those who have striven to climb the steep, toilsome mount of Christian self-dedication, on which the air of pure life is breathed, and from which the true views of a soul elevated and enlightened are obtained. To nations no less than to individuals is this revelation necessary. The nation which banishes the name of God from the schools of its youth, and from its organism of government, in the hope of increasing human happiness and power, has no promise. That liberty which expresses the love of our neighbour has its root in the love of God, National religion is the guardian of the national liberty. Until the nation has learnt to obey the command of religion enjoining self-denial and self-sacrifice — saying: "Take thy growing life and offer him unto Me," it can never hear the true charter of liberty: "Lay not thine hand upon the lad."
(H. T. Edwards, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.