Изображения страниц

honourable proceeding ; indeed no good could be expected to come of it; and though God did not, at the time, reproach him for his conduct by a verbal reproof, he is now preparing, by his righteous providence, to make him feel that he had acted wrong. Thus, the monuments of our faults become the instruments of our punishment. Sarai proposes to her husband to assume this Egyptian handmaid, Hagar, as a secondary, or inferior wife ; in hope of building up a family by her, and thus of making the promise to take effect. Unnatural as this may appear, it is far from being without a parallel. The truth is, it is very natural, and very common, to try to get rid of a present pressure though with the hazard of subjecting ourselves to an heavier burthen. Every thing was wrong here. A shameful distrust of God; an attempt to introduce a foreign and perhaps an idolatrous mother into the family of Abram : a most unwise and inconsiderate tampering with her husband's affection ; a foundation laid of probable, if not of certain domestic jealousies and quarrels ; evil done in vain expectation that good may come of it. Abram complies with the suggestion of his wife, and Hagar conceives. It requires not the gift of prophesy to foresee the consequence. Hagar becomes vain and insolent, and Sarai is thoroughly mortified. The handmaid now considers herself as her mistress's equal, if not her superior ; she views Abram's vast possessions, and vaster prospects, as entailed on her posterity. Little and wicked minds are soon elevated, and as easily depressed. The whole of Sarai's behaviour, is that of a peevish, unreasonable, disappointed woman. The wise scheme was of her own contriving ; and now that she feels the effect of her impetuosity and rashness, she turns the edge of her resentment against her innocent husband; “ And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom, and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes : the Lord judge between me and thee."* How weak, wicked, and absurd is all this ! Had the good man formed a deliberate design of injuring and insulting her, she could not have employed harsher language; and yet whatever evil has been committed, was her own devising. But the language of passion is ever contradictory and inconsistent. “My wrong be upon thee." Why should it ? « My folly recoils upon myself," would have been the language of truth and justice. She dares not, even in her rage, accuse Abram of incontinency, but reluctantly discerns and acknowledges her own rashness: "I have given my maid into thy bosom, and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes.” The tide of anger says not, it is enough, knows not where to stop : “ The Lord judge between me and thee.” Who would not conclude, from an appeal so solemn, that she has the better cause? And yet, she is appealing to God in a case where she was clearly, consciously in the wrong. I like not hasty references to Heaven. A truly serious spirit will reflect twice before it interposes the name of God on any occasion, and shudder at the thought of employing it upon a false or frivolous one ; an angry spirit sticks at nothing. For this reason, I will sooner believe a plain, unprofessing man, on his simple word, then ten thousand common swearers, under the sanction of as many oaths.

See into what disorder one ill advised measure has thrown a happy, well regulated family. Abram's ill-judged compliance with the precipitate advice of his wife, has embroiled him in contention with herself; it constrains him to connive at her cruel treatment of an unhappy woman, who is at least to be pitied as much as blamed; and renders the prospect of the promised seed a heavy affliction instead of a blessing. Sarai is betrayed by the eagerness of her spirit, first into an absurdity : then into unkindness and undutifulness towards her lord ; then into profanity and impiety towards God; then by an

* Gen. xvi. 5.

easy transition, into barbarity towards a wretched slave, who was entirely at her mercy, who had been brought, without any high degree of criminality, into a condition which claims compassion and attention from all; brought into it by herself too ; and this to the endangering, for ought she knew, of all the hopes of her husband's family, and the greater interests of the human race. Hagar, hapless wretch ! an object of commiseration throughout; led, perhaps reluctantly, to her master's bed, elevated to a transient gleam of hope, exulting in the prosperity of a moment, hurried instantly back, by all the severities which jealousy can inflict, into the horrors of slavery, and driven from visionary prospects of bliss, into scenes of real distress ; ready to perish with the innocent unborn fruit of her womb, in the wilderness, by famine, or the jaws of some ravenous beast! for “ when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.” In what deep and accumulated woe, I say, may one inconsiderate step involve the children of men! And if good and well-intentioned people suffer thus severely from one act of rashness and imprudence, who but must tremble to think of the fearful consequence of deliberate wickedness ? A thousand volumes written against polygamy, could not lead to a clearer, fuller conclusion against that practice, than the story under review.

Mark now, how seasonably and suitably God interposes to rectify all this disorder. When we have wearied ourselves with our own devices, and snared ourselves in the works of our own hands, Providence takes up the case, subdues it to its own wise and gracious purposes, and turns evil into good. Hagar flies from the face of her unkind mistress, but happily for her, she cannot flee from God. The interest which Abram now has in her, gives her an interest in the peculiar care and protection of the Almighty.

This is the first time we read in scripture of the appearance of an angel ; and it was to reprove, exhort, and succour an helpless afflicted woman : and thus is mercy ever more ready to come at the call of misery, than justice to pursue the footsteps of guilt. From the whole tenor of the history, we are led to conclude, that this heavenly vision was the uncreated angel, God in the form, and performing the office of a “ministering spirit;" for this angel assumes the names and attributes of God, speaks of Hagar's present condition, and future prospects, with the knowledge peculiar to Deity; and describes the extraordinary future greatness of the male child, with which she was pregnant, as his own work. The event demonstrates whose the prediction was : and Hagar evidently considered the person who spake with her in this light; for she ascribes to him the incommunicable name Jehovah, and adores him as the omniscient, omnipresent God. “And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael ; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man ; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him, and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me."*

A great multitude of striking circumstances press upon us in the careful perusal of these words. Does God condescend to exercise all this care and tenderness about a person so obscure, helpless, and unbefriended as Hagar; then who is beneath his notice, or unimportant in his sight? Are the secondary and subordinate designs of his Providence of such extensive and permanent consequence to the world? Then, of what infinite and eternal weight, is his first, great leading object? If an Ishmael be introduced into the world

[ocr errors]

with so much pomp and solemnity, what must the birth of an Isaac be? And what must it be, when God bringeth his own first-begotten upon the scene, whom all the angels are commanded to worship ? How astonishingly awful is that foreknowledge, which discovered, before he was born, Ishmael's character ; and that power which predetermined and affected the character and state of his posterity to the latest ages, while as yet their progenitor was in his mother's womb ? How are all the designs of the Most High, in the course of his adorable providence, and the execution of them, rendered subservient to one glorious purpose, which rises superior to, and absorbs all the rest—the plan of salvation by a Redeemer! How wisely are the children both of the bond woman and of the free, reminded of the lowness and helplessness of their original ! " A Syrian ready to perish was my father,” says the one ; "an Egyptian bondmaid ready to perish was my mother,” says the other.

What a happy circumstance it was for Hagar to have lived so long in Abram's house! Liberty in Egypt had not proved a blessing so great, as slavery in Canaan. To be exalted to the dignity of a mother to princes ! To be introduced to the knowledge of the living and true God! How different are the appearances of Providence, considered at the moment, and viewed through the medium of reflection and experience! Under the impulse of sorrow or of joy, we cry out, “ all these things are against me,” or “ it is good for me to be here ;" but when the account comes to be arranged, after the transport is over, we find ourselves necessitated to transfer many articles to the opposite pages, and to state that as favourable, which once we called adverse ; and that a misfortune which once we accounted a blessing.

The history informs us of Hagar's flight, but leaves us to draw our own conclusions respecting her return. Indeed, we may now suppose all parties to have been brought a little to themselves. The solitude and dangers of the wilderness, and the apparition of the angel, awful, though in mercy, have of course, greatly diminished in Hagar's mind the rigour of her mistress's treatment, and she is glad to return to her former habitation. The sudden disappearing of her maid ; the just apprehension of the evil which might have befallen a desperate woman in her delicate situation ; time, serious reflection, and remorse for her cruel and unjust behaviour, must surely have humbled the spirit and mollified the heart of Sarai, and disposed her to receive the returna ing fugitive, if not with marks of external complaisance, at least with secret and silent satisfaction. And Abram, always wise, and gentle, and good, would now necessarily rejoice in the restored peace of his family ; in this fresh demonstration of the divine tenderness towards himself and all who belonged to him; in the farther enlargement and extent of the blessing promised ; and in the prospect of the final and full accomplishment of all that the Lord had spoken.

According to the word of the angel, Hagar in due time bears a son to Abram, in the eighty-sixth year of his age, and the eleventh after his departure from Ur of the Chaldees. To preserve forever the memory of the divine interposition, the name given to the child by the angel in the wilderness, is put upon him by his pious father, to whom, no doubt, Hagar had carefully related the whole transaction, Ishmael, “ God shall hear,” because God heard, pitied, and relieved her affliction. And such was the origin of the father and founder of the Arabian nation; a people, who in their character and manners, through every period of their history, evince from what root they sprung, and verify the prediction concerning their progenitor, “ he will be a wild man, his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him.” And history illustrates the expression of the angel, " and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." For whereas the slavery and subjection of all other nations make a considerable part of their history, that of the Arabs is

entirely composed of a relation of their conquests, or their independence, They are at present, and have continued through the remotest ages, during the various and successive victorious expeditions of Greeks, Romans, and Tartars, a separate, a free, an independent, and an invincible nation; a mighty band of illustrious robbers, united among themselves, and formidable to all the world ; inhabiting a vast country of one thousand three hundred miles in length, and one thousand two hundred in breadth-one region of which, from the purity and salubrity of its air, and the fertility of its soil, is deservedly denominated the happy; it produces the finest fruits, spices and perfumes in the world, and is remarkable for breeding the most beautiful and useful animals of their kind, horses, camels, and dromedaries.

We hasten to conclude this Lecture, by adding to the reflections already made, this farther one, that we are not to judge of the greatness and importance of the designs of Providence, by any worldly marks of distinction and pre-eminence. The posterity of Ishmael was much earlier, and has been much longer established, and existed in a much higher degree of national dignity and consequence, than the posterity of Isaac. But in the line of Isaac, not that of Ishmael, run the promises of life and salvation. To Isaac and not to his elder brother, pertained “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promise es,” and of him, “as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God, blessed forever.” The things which are highly esteemed among men, are often of no price in the sight of Him, who “ hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, weak things to confound the mighty, base things of the world, and things which are despised, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are, that no flesh should glory in his presence.” With Ishmael we have nothing to do, nor with his posterity: they are to us only a wild man and a wild people, inhabiting such a region of the globe. But in Isaac and the fortunes of his family we are deeply interested indeed, as the apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, clearly evinceth: and his words shall be the evangelical illustration of the subject. “Abram had two sons; the one by a bond maid, the other by a free woman, but he who was of the bond woman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise ; which things are an allegory,” (that is, one thing is expressed, and another hinted at or signified) “ for these are the two covenants : the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar ; for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to,” or is in the same rank with, “ Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not : break forth and cry, thou that, travailest not, for the desolate hath more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise : but as then, he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless, what saith the Scripture ? Cast, out the bond woman and her son ; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman. So then, brethren, we are children not of the bond woman, but of the free."*

Behold the two prime branches of Abram's family from their birth down to this day, separated, supported, distinguished from the rest of mankind, and from each other, a standing proof of the power and providence of God, and a demonstration of the authenticity of that revelation which we acknowledge as divine, and on which we will build all our faith and hope. - Behold, the counsel of the Lord shall stand forever, and the purpose of his heart to a thousand generations.” God grant us wisdom to understand and do his will, to the glory of his great name, and our own eternal salvation. Amen.

Gal. iv, 22.-31.
Vol. Is





Be not forgeưal to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

When men are disappointed in their expectations, it is natural for them to become negligent about the performance of their duties. Irritated or grieved at one thing, they grow careless in every thing; and because another has failed in affection or respect to us, we suffer ourselves to behave unkindly and disrespectfully to others. The effect which mortification, disappointment, or injuries, have upon truly good minds, is, however, the reverse of this; the vexation or distress they themselves have endured, is the strongest of incentives to prevent, as far as they are able, similar occasion of affliction to their brethren of mankind.

Men stand continually in need of each other, and therefore every man is bound to give his countenance, to shew kindness, and to grant support to every man. We cannot move a single step through the world, without being brought into connexion with strangers, and of course, without having opportunities afforded us of doing or receiving some instance of hospitality. To be careless or unkind in this respect, then, is to be at once unwise, inhuman, and unjust. Christianity has taken into its service every valuable and worthy principle of our nature, and calls the whole catalogue of human virtues its own. As we are continually reminded, in the course of providence, of our being pilgrims and strangers upon earth, so we are strictly and repeatedly enjoined by the laws of the gospel, to be attentive and kind to strangers. "Be given to hospitality,” says Paul. “Use hospitality one to another without grudgings," says Peter; and in the words I have read, the Apostle recommends the same duty of humanity, “ be not forgetful to entertain strangers," which he enforces by a motive which every heart must feel, “ for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” It is of this motive, and of the history to which it refers, that we are now to discourse.

. After a delay of ten years, the promise of a son is made good to Abram. But as he consulted not God in the means of obtaining that blessing, so God consults not his views and expectations in the character and destination of the son given to him. For it is one thing to be blessed and to prosper in the gifts of Providence, and another to be blessed in the course of the promise, and according to the tenor of the covenant. The seed which the Most High sware that he would raise up, was to prove an universal benefit to mankind; but the son whom Hagar bare was to be “a wild man; whose hand should be against every man, and every man's hand against him :" Abram therefore is apparently as far as ever from his favourite object; and as a farther trial of his faith, perhaps to punish him for deviating from the strict line of his duty, though with an honest intention, thirteen years more are permitted to elapse, and yet no symptom of the expected mercy appears.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »