Thomas Stackhouse.

A Complete body of divinity online

. (page 1 of 74)
Online LibraryThomas StackhouseA Complete body of divinity → online text (page 1 of 74)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




Qfocy?2 f^^^

>,\-A '^ i


LIBRARY ^^'^'''




Theological Seminary,


Case, A Co^eLMit,

Shelf, -D^ v/Ai'"^

Booh, ,, ^^




_..._ sec

Keceived \ ^Lo^


Chap. III. From the call 0/ Abraham to the giving of the Laiv. '$>

V others the Holy Ghoft, in the fhape and appearance of a man ;
becaufe they cannot conceive how the quahties afcribed to this
excellent perfonage can comport with any human creature.
The phrafe, however, made ufe of in the text, agenealogetos, The a-
without defcent, or without genealogy, 1 explains what the poftle's
apoftle means by without father, and without mother, /. e. '^'i^';^*-^^**
' without any father or mother mentioned in the genealogies of plained.
Mofes, where the parents of all pious worthies are generally .
fet down with great exadlnefs. So that there being no ge-
nealogy at all of Mekhizedeck recorded in fcripture, he is ^^y^^^TtV \i'[
troduced at once, even like a man dropped down from b^^">'''^
ven ; for fo the defcription goes on, having neither begi/niife
of days, nor end of life, /. e. in the hiftory of Mofes, which" '"^P ) 1!
(contrary to its common ufage, when it makes mention of
men) takes no notice at all of the time either of his birtTrNtf '.7/1 ,";/..• cc
death ; and herein he is made like unto the Son of God, /. r\*^ '••' - *'-
by the hiftory of Mofes, which mentions him appearing and
adling upon the ftage, without either entrance or exit, as if,
like the Son of God, he had abode a prieft continually. This
is the common and beft approved interpretation of the apoftle's
word^s ; but then the queftion returns upon us, to whom does .
the character even with this comment belong ?

The Jews are generally of opinion (and herein are follow- Different
cd by • fome chriftians) that Mekhizedeck was the fame with conjec-
Shem, one of the fons of Noah, whom they fuppofe alive in cernLff*"*
the days of Abraham ; the only perfon upon earth, fay they, him.
who could with juftnefs be called his fuperior, and whom the
defcription of the apoftle could any way befit ; as being a per-
fon of many fmgularities, born before the deluge, having no
anceftors then alive, and whofe life had been of an immenfe
duration in comparifon of thofe that came after him. But not
to difpute the fad whether Shem was at this time alive or no :
« it feems very incongruous to think that Mofes, who all along
mentions him in his proper name, ihould upon this occaflon dif-
guife his fenfe with a fiftitious one ; and very incompatible it is
with what we know of Shem, that he ftiould be faid to be
without father, and without mother, when his family is fo plainly
recorded in fcripture, and all his progenitors may in a moment
be traced to their fountain-head in Adam. Befides had Mel-
chizedeck and Shem been the fame perfon, the apoftle would
hardly have made him " of a family different to Abraham, much
lefo would he have fet him in fuch an eminence above the pa-
triarch, or made this fuperlative exclamation concerning him.

Vol. II. B * Confider

pVideEplphan. Haeref. 55. q Scott's Chriftian Life, Part 11. c. 7. r The
Syriac verfiou renders it thus direiftly, and in this fenfe are the words apa-
iroos and ainctroo!, fometimes ufed in the heathen poets, s Vide Quscft Hebr.
in Gen et Willet Hexapla iu Gen. t Bgchart's Phaleg. Lib. il. Ci i. u Heb.
\ii. 6,

^O A Complete Body of Divinity. Part III.

* Confider how great this man was, unto whom even the pa-
triarch Abraham gave the tenth of the fpoils !

These arguments feem to evince that Melchizedeck and
Shem were different perfons ; and much more reafon have we
to fuppofe that he and Ham, the other Ion of Noah, were fo ;
for who, upon dehberate thoughts, can believe that this curfed
perfon was the prieft of the moll high God, from whom Abra-
ham fo joyfully received the facerdotal benediclion, that he re-
turned it with the payment of his tithes ? And much lefs can
we believe that one of his ill character was the type of the
blelTed Jefus. Jefus indeed himfelf, if he be taken for Mel-
chizedeck, appearing to Abraham in human Ihape (as he is often
fuppofed to do in fcripture) will anfwer all the charafter which
the apoftle gives of this extraordinary perfon : » but then the
wonder is that the hiftorian Ihould never give us the lealV inti-
mation of this ; that Abraham lliould exprefs no manner of
furprife upon fuch an interview; and (what is more) how the
type and the ante-type can polFibly be reprefented the fame,
y For this is the cafe : here Melchizedeck was a reprefenrative
of our Saviour, according to that of the apoftle, » Jefus was a
prieft after the order of Melchizedeck ; which he explains in
another place, » after the fimilitude of Melchizedeck there
arifeth another priefl: ; as much as to fay, Melchizedeck and
Chrift were like one another in feveral things, and thereupon
one was dellgned to be a fit type of the other : but as it is un-
reafonable and abfurd to fay that a perfon is like himfelf, fo we
cannot rationally imagine that Chrift, who (as St Paitl fays) was
after the fimilitude of Melchizedeck, w-as in reality the fame
perfon with him.
The true Thus v/e have looked into the feveral conjectures concern-
^count at jj^g ji^jg gj-e^f jfjg^ |.{^m- jeem to have any plaufibility in them ;
and, after all, muft be forced to content ourfelves with what
the fcripture nakedly reports of him, viz. that this Melchize-
deck was really a king and a prieft (for thefe two offices were
antiently united in one perfon) in >> the land of Canaan, de-
fcended very probably from wicked and idolatrous parents, but
himfelf a perfon of fmgular virtue and fandity ; the prieft of
the moft high God, but perhaps the firft and the laft of his race
that was fo ; which might give occafion to the apoftle to de-
fcribe him under fuch ambiguous characters ; the whole of
which (according to the judgment ■= of a learned author) may
not improbably be reduced to this fingle propofition, that Mel-
chizedeck was the moft illuftrious of his family, and had neither
predeceffor nor fuccelTor in his employ.


•Heb. vji. 4. X Saurin's DifTertations. y Efjwards's Surrey, Vol. I.

z Heb. vi. 20. a Ibid. vii. 1 5. b Jofephus fays, that he was ckane.fiaioon
djfrifdf a potentate of the Canzanitej. c Outram, de Sacrificiis.


Chap. III. From the call ©/"Abraham to the glvvig of the Law. ll

But to proceed with our patriarch Abraham : there is one Of the
remarkable inlrance of his hfe which Ihewetl him to be a jireater ^V^'o

G _ 21 TT &C«

iiiaii than any triumph over an enemy, and that is, the victory Before
gained over himfelf, in his ready compliance to facrifice his fon. Chrift
The language of the fcripture calls it a temptation ; but we '^"'' ^5'
muftbe careful to leave out of the exprefiion every thing odi- Abraham's
ous in thefenfe of it, when we apply it to God. To tempt, facrifice.
jn the common acceptation of the word, fignifies to lead into a
crime ; in this fenfe, ^ God cannot be tempted with evi!, neither
tempteth he any man : but to tempt fignifies likewife to try a
man ; and in this "^ fenfe God tempts men fonietimes in his wrath,
and fometimes in his love. When, by an effect of his juftice, he
leaves men to themfelves ; when he fufFers them to fall into
fuch fnares as are laid for them on every fide ; when, for the
punilhinent of their negled: of good council and inftruftion, he
gives them up to the deceitfulnefs of fin, and the deceptions of
error, it is then that he tempts them in his wrath : but when
he permits his children to fall into any danger that he may deliver
them with honour ; when, in order to difplay, perfcft, and
crown their virtues, he fufFers thofe virtues to be affaulted ; when
he expofes them in fhort to conflicts, in order to gain the victo-
ry ; it is then that he tempts men in love. It was in this fenfe
that he tempted Abraham, and to fhew the excellency of the
patriarch's condu6l under fuch trial and conflid:, we mult obferve,

1. f The firmnefs and ftedfaftnefs of his faith, notwithftand-
ing the objections againft it : And,

2. The conftancy of his refolution, notwithflanding the dif-
ficulty of efFedting it.

I. ' Take

d Jam. i. 13. e Saurin's Differtatlons.

I The learned author of the Divine Legation of Mofes (Vol. 11. Lib. vi.)
from our Saviour's words, Abraham rejoiced to fee ray day, and he faw it, and
was glad, John viii- 56. meaning by the word day the work of man's redemp-
tion, has made God's ordering of Abrahajn to facrifice his fon, not fo much a
command as a revelation of that great myflery, which, as Abraham molt ar-
dently defiled to know, fo God was gracioully pleafcd to make manifeft to him,
not by words, but by the fignificant adtion of his offering up his own fon, even
£s God, in his good appointed time, had decreed to make his a facrifice for fin,
and to deliver iiim up for us all. So that God's primary intent (according to
him) was by this fign to convey to Abraham the knowledge of man's redemp-
tion, his fecondary only, to make trial of the patriarch's faith and obedience.
But to have a more perfeft knowledge of this author's fentiments and method
«f arguing, the reader fhould confulthim with fome care and attention. Other
writers affirm that, in cafe Abraham had really facrificed bis fon, there was
no great matter in it, no great merit in his obedience, fince it was a cuftomary
thing in thofe times for private perfons, kings and heads of nations, to offer
fuch facrifices (Lord Shaftefbury'iCharaft. Vol. HI. Mifc. 2. Sir John Mar-
ram's Can. Chron. p. 76. and Philo Judseus, Lib. de Abrahamo.) But after
all their refearches, they have been able to produce but a fingle inftance, and
that is of one Chronus king of PhcEuicia, who, as Philo Biblius from Sanconia-
thon tells us, upon the raging of a.f^mine and peftilence, offered his only fonfor
a burnt-ofFerinj; to bis fjtlier Ouranus- But, upon examination, it will appear
that this fiory ij only an imitation of Abraham's intended facrifice of llaac,
with fume few additions and miftakcs, fuch a» heathen writers frequently in-


12 A Complete Body of Divinity. Part III,

The firm- !• ' Take now thy fon, thine only fon Ifaac, whom thou
nefs of his loveft (what a dreadful gradation is this) and get thee into the
faith. ]^,-jjj Qf jVIoriah, and offer him there for a burnt-ofFering upon
one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. The very
manner wherein the command is delivered, is enough even at
firfl: hearing to Ihock human nature. For as God has implanted in
us no afFedion more natural and ftrong than what we bear to
our children, fo no a£l feems fo horrid and barbarous as for a
father to kill his own fon. And as the fad: was fhocking enough
of itfelf, fo there were thefe two circumftances which mightily
increiifed the horror of it, viz. that the fon was innocent, and
that the father was to flay him with his own hand.

Those that have felt the pangs and tender relentings of
nature, muftconfefs that to give up a fon to death, even though
he were never fo undutiful and difobedient, muft be a great
grief to a parent's heart ; and the cafe of David, who wifhed
hirnfelf to have died for his fon Abfalom, though he died in the
aft of rebellion, though the prefervation of his life had been in-
conliftent with the peace of his government, is the common cafe
of moft good-natured parents, who fee, or (if abfent) who paint
in their imaginations the dillrefs of their expiring children, and
feel the ftrugglings of nature with them. How deep then mufl:
it fink into the heart of any parent, not only to give up his in-
nocent fon to death, but to ilay him with his own hand ; not
only to be the fpedator, but the ador in- this bloody tragedy ?
What father would not fhrink and ftart back at fuch a com-
mand ? What good man (efpecially in fuch a cafe, and where
nature was fo hard prefied) would not have been apt to have
looked on fuch a revelation as this, rather as the fuggeftion
and illufion of an evil fpirit, than any command of God ? efpe-
cially when it feemed to clalh with former revelations, and to
make void the promife which God had made to Abraham, e that
in his feed all the nations of the earth fhould be bleffed ; which
promife was exprefsly limited to Ifaac and his pofterity who
had then no fon.

How then can we fufficiently admire the ftedfaft faith of Abra-
ham, who againft hope believed in hope, and with-held not his fon,
the neareft and deareft pledge of his love and obedience that he

*^urrcd, and that Abraham and Chronus, in fliort; were one and the fame per-
fon : for, I. Chronus was the fon of a father who had three children (Eufeb.
Praep. Evang Lib. i. c. lo.) and fo was Abraham : 2. Chronus had one only fon
by his wife, and fo had Abraham: 3. Chronus had another fon by another per-
fon, and fi had Abraham : 4. Chronus circiimcifed hirafelf and family, and fo
did Abraham: 5. Chronus facrificed his only fon, fo is Abraham by fome hea-
then hiftorians reported to have done : 6. Chronus's fon was named Jehud, and
{o is Ifaac called by Mofes; for God faid to Abraham, take now thy fon Jehud-
J How
** can I perfiiade myfeif that his promiles are faithful, when I
*' myfeif am ordered to cancel them? How can I believe that
" my Ifaac will be the comfort of my grey hairs, when I am
*' going to make him the fubjecl of my perpetual grief; or
*^ that his feed will fpring up, and be as numerous as the ftars,
'^ when I am commanded to ilifle that feed, and with him to fa-
" crifice as it were on the fame altar all thofe nations that are
" in his loins?" This might have been the reafoning of a carnal
mind ; but the patriarch had other fentiments of the matter ;
• he believed that God, who gave him Ifaac at firft in fo miracu-
lous a manner, was able by another miracle to reftore him to
life again after he was dead, and to make him the father of ma-
ny nations. In Ihort, rather than difobey the command, or
fuppofe the promife of God could be fruftrated, he would be-
lieve any thing that was credible and polfible, how improbable
foever it might feem ; and for this reafon the apoftle tells us
H that our father Abraham was juftified by faith, and that it
was counted unto him for righteoufnefs.

a. But to raife the merit of Abraham's obedience, let us con- Thecoa-
fider farther the conilancy of his refolution, notwithflanding ftsincy of
the harlhnefs and difficulty of the thing. Had Abraham been ^^^^^^ ^ ^'
firmly perfuaded that this command to kill his fon was really
from God, yet it is no eafy matter for a man to bring himfelf
to compliance in fo difficult a cafe, and out of mere reverence
to the divine authority to diveft himfelf of his nature, and thwart
the flrongeft propenlions of it. Let any man, who knows what
it is to be a father, lay his hand upon his heart, and confider
his own bowels, and he muft needs be aflonhhed at Abraham's
obedience as well as faith.

Had Abraham indeed upon his firft receiving the command
taken his knife and flain his fon immediately, his compliance


h Saurin's DiiTertations. i TiUotfon's Scrjuoni, Vol. I, k Rom- iv. 3>

The land
ef Moriah

\A Complete Body t>f "Divinity, Part III*

might have been imputed to fome fudden tranfport of ze?l raor.e
than any deliberate purpofe. But, that his obedience might be
more glorious, and have all the circumftances of advantage at-
tending it, God would have it done upon full confidcration,
and therefore appointed him to go to a mountain (three-days
journey from the place where he was) and there to offer up his
Ion. It is in afts of virtue and obedience, as it is in afts of fin
and vice : the more deliberate the fin is, and the more calm
andfedafe temper the man is in when he commits it, the greater
is his fault ; and fo it is in the ads of virtue and obedience
(efpecially if they be attended with confiderable difficulty) the
more deliberately they are done, the more virtuous they are,
and the more praife they merit.

1 Moriah, to v.'hich Abraham was ordered to go, was not
any particular mountain, but that traft of land whereon Jeru-
falem was built in following ages, and the adjacent country
where among many other hills was the Mount of Olives, and
Mount Calvaiy on which our Saviour did afterwards offer him-
felf to God for the redemption of mankind ; it feeming good
to the divine wifdom to alhgn the fame place for the typical fa-
crifice of Ifaac, where in the fulnefs of time the great ante-type
was to be offered. ^ This country is not much above one-day's
journey from Beer-flieba, the place where Abraham at this time
dwelt ; but he and his company travelling on foot, and the afs
being laden with wood, and not able to go far in a day, they
made it three : fo that, » by putting thisfpace between the com-
mand and the performance of it, God gave him time to cool up-
on it, to weigh the injunftion, and to look on every fide of
this difficult duty : he gave him fccpe, i fay, for his reafon to
argue and debate the cafe, and an opportunity for natural af-
fedion to play its part, and for flelh and blood to raife all its
batteries againft: the refolution which he had taken up. And
now we may eafily imagine \,hat confiicl this good man had
within himfelf during thofe three days that he was travelling
to the appointed place, and how his heart was ready to be rent in
pieces, betwixt his duty to God, and his affection to his child ; fo
that, in every ftep of thisunwelcomeandwearifome journey, he
did as it were lay violent hands upon himfelf.

The Jews have a tradition • that the devil followed Abraham,
and ufed his utmofl endeavours to diffuade him from the pur-
pofe of facrificing his fon : but if any thing could have induced
the patriarch to break his refolution, it mult have been thofe in-
nocent and endearing words that proceeded from Ifaac in his
journey, r Jofephus upon this occafion has ufed all the foft-
nefs of thought and delicacy of ftile that he was mailer of to
reprefent this circumllance of diftrefs, and yet after all he is a


1 Wells's Geography, m Patrick's Commentary, n Tillotfon's Sermon's,
Vol. U. o Maimonides More Ncv. Part II. p Antiq. Lib. I. c. 14.

Chap. III. From the call 0/ Abraham to the giving ofthetaxv^ tig

bungler in cotnparifon of this great author of the book of Ge-
xiefis. Abraham was jult going to facrifice his fon, the altar,
the wood, the fire, tlie knife, and all were ready, when he
finds himfelf called upon by him in fo tender a manner as was
enough to pierce his heart, and to arreit his arm already lift up
to wound the innocent vitlim ; Ifaac fpake unto Abraham his
father, and faid, My father ; and he faid. Here am I, my fon.
Nature which was confined and limited by the divine command
here makes a bound, and paffes to the utmoft verge of what was al-
lowed her, Ifaac fpake to Abraham, his father, and faid. My fa-
ther; Abraham aafwered, Here am I, my fon : and what faid this
innocent child to his melting father i Behold the fire and the
wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt-otfering ? and Abra-
ham faid, My fon, God will provide himfelf a lamb for a burnt-
offering, "i Nothing but the heart can be a comment upon thefe
words : a man muft be a father, he nmfl: be a tender father,
he muft have an only fon, he mult fuppofe himfelf juft going to
flay that fon, in order to be truly fenlible of the energy of this
queflion, and of the elFeft which it had upon Abraham.

If all this be not enough to fhew the ftedfailnefs of his refo-
lution, there is one circumifancc more, which though but con-
jeclural has no fmall probability of being true, and if fo, a great
tendency to advance the patriarch's praife. The greateil part
of "• the Jewiih doctors are of opinion that Ifaac at this time was
arrived at man's eftate; and upon this fuppofition the words
will fairly enough and without ftraining admit of this fenfe,
that Abraham did not bind- his fon, but perfuaded him to lay
himfelf upon the altar. Without all doubt, as the patriarch
drew near to the mount (which ' was probably diftinguifhed by
fome bright and glorious appearance) he began to prepare Ifaac
to fubmit to be facrinced ; he difpofed him to obey the com-
mandments of heaven ; he explained the commiifion he had re-
ceived from thence ; he reprefented to him the fovei-eignty of
God over his creatures ; he made him fenfible that nothing
fhould fet bounds to our obedience, when God fignines his will;
he convhiced hi;n that he who had wrouo-ht one miracle for his
birth, might likewife redeem him from the jaws of death by a-
nother ; he took a molt tender and affed:ionate leave of him,
for the command he had received to facrifice him, did not for-
bid him to vent his grief in lamentations for his lofs : and


q Saurin's Differtations. r Jofephus fays, he \ras but five and twenty years
old; David Gantz,inh is Chronology, niakts him twenty-fix; and Eliezer thirty-
J'even. s This conjecture is confirmed by R. Eliezer, who lays, that when God
bad Abraham go the place he would tell him of, ver. 2. and there offer his fon,
he aded how he ftiould know it? And the anfver was, wherefoever thou feeft
«iy glory, there will I fl:ay and wait for thee, &:c. and accordingly, he beheld z
pillar of fire, reaching from heaven to the earth, and thereby knew that Ihi?
v.Ai tke place. Patrick's Commentary,

1 6 A Complete Body of Divinity. Part III,

having thus fatisfied the laws of nature, * he fet himfelf now
to execute the fatal order, and that very moment had done it,
had not the Lord from on high (who faw to what length his
obedience would go, and was fatisfied) flopped his hand juft as it
was going to his ion's throat : Lay not thine Tiand upon the
lad, neither do thou any thing unto him ; for now I know that
thou feareft God, feeing that thou haft not with-held thy fon,
thine only fon from him.
^ferences Yo come to a conclufion with this great example of faith
whole. ^"f^ obedience. This flory of Abraham (as ' a very judicious
expounder of the laws tells us) eftablilhes twofundamental points,
the one is to fhow us how far the love and fear of God flioulcl
extend itfelf, and the other to convince us of the certainty of
The extent ^jjyjj^g revelation. Here then we fee a command to do that,
dience. whereunto the lofs of money, or tiie lofs of life itfelf, is not
comparable ; nay that which nature abhorred, viz. that a man
very rich, and in good authority, who earneftly defined an heir,
who was born to him, when he had no hopes of one in his old
age, fhould fo overcome his natural affedlion to him (which
doubtlefs was very great) as to forego all the expedations he
had from him, and, after a journey of three days, confent to
(lay him with his own hands. How then ihould this example
of the fatlier of the faithful encourage us all in a chearful fub-
^ million to the feverer duties of our holy profefTion ; to defpife
the fhame, to endure the crofs, to face the fevereft puniJhraents,
to relift the fofteft inclinations, to deny ourfelves, and to » mor-
tify our members which are upon the earth, vvhich, how pain-
ful foever they be in the operation, offer not half that vio-
lence to nature as to kill an only fon ; befides the confideraticMi

Online LibraryThomas StackhouseA Complete body of divinity → online text (page 1 of 74)