Page images

supposed, of course, frequent opportunities of executing those acts, or the contrary. How far the nature of the heavenly rewards may require a mind previously disciplined, and how far such an established disposition as is here meant, may be even absolutely necessary to fit mankind for the enjoyment of a future state, we are not precisely informed; but that such is the actual . case, is rendered very credible by intimations which may be gathered from Scripture, as well as by numerous analogies which the economy of the present life affords.

Whatever is the explanation of the fact, it certainly appears from the positive assurance and clear examples with which we meet in Scripture, that trial, severe trial, is absolutely requisite to purify and establish the human character. The characters which the Apostle enumerates to the Hebrews as distinguished beyond others by the divine favour, are almost all of persons whose faith was testified by some great present sacrifice risked in confidence of future recompense.

It would not seem to be

sufficient, that the mind should be ready to make the sacrifice; that the inclination should be pious, the confidence entire; i. e. the good disposition alone does not seem sufficient: but the action in proof of that disposition is really performed, the sacrifice is actually made, the suffering positively undergone as by those who "stopped the mouths of lions, quenched "the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the "sword; or were tortured, not accepting deli


verance, that they might obtain a better re"surrection.”* In all these cases, I argue, the being actually exposed to situations of the greatest difficulty appears essential to the "obtaining "a good report through faith."

Let us look more minutely to the process pursued with regard to the particular instance of Abraham. The blessing destined for him was equally important and peculiar. An individual family was to be selected, from whose stock the birth of the Redeemer of mankind

* Hebrews xi.



should take place. A particular people was to be chosen, which should become depositaries of the fact of the creation, and inheritors of the knowledge and worship of the Creator, as well as of his favour and protection, accompanied with great temporal blessings and prosperity. These two signal advantages, in their nature necessarily peculiar, centered in Abraham.

However, they were not ultimately made over to him till his fitness to receive them had been proved and exhibited by several remarkable instances of obedience. His first call was attended with a command to "leave his coun

[ocr errors]

try and his kindred, and his father's house."* This call he immediately obeyed; and it is justly remarked as a proof of his faith, that when he was summoned into a country which he should afterwards receive as his inheritance, "he went out, not knowing whither." When the covenant made with him upon this evidence of faith was subsequently renewed, a fresh Hebrews xi. 8.

* Gen. xii.

proof was demanded of him, and was followed by the institution of the rite of circumcision. The ultimate ratification of the covenant was preceded by a temptation as much severer than any to which any other mortal can be exposed, as the benefits were singular which were about to be conferried: requiring him to sacrifice, by his own hand, his only son, that son through whom all the promised blessings were to be derived. The object of this command is sufficiently declared, when it is said in the opening of the narration, that "God tempted (i. e. tried) Abraham." And it was not till his fidelity had been displayed in this remarkable manner, that the final assurance was given: "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast "not withheld thy son, thine only son, in

[ocr errors]


blessing I will bless thee, &c.; and in thy "seed shall all the nations of the earth be "blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice."* Now, that Abraham's faith was really equal to temptation, was of course known to the Al

* Gen. xxii. 16.

mighty before he brought it to trial.

Yet he was tempted notwithstanding; as if the actual proof and exhibition of character were a necessary part of the divine counsels, and a step which must be passed in the way to final


This conclusion to which we are led by the case of Abraham is strongly corroborated by the history of Job. It is still more worthy of notice, that we find it confirmed in the example of Christ himself in his human character; who did not enter upon his ministry till he had proved himself in actual trial superior to the temptations which the minister of evil was permitted to place in his way; as he does, according to their respective situations, in the way of every individual who passes through the world.

The necessity of trial to render a nature constituted like that of man acceptable to God, and finally rewardable, seems decisively established by these instances, as well as by many

« PreviousContinue »