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Jesus Christ by faith, is the work of the Spirit of God. This is “ what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.”* To look to it, therefore, for any such purpose, would be like Adam's still looking to the tree of life in Eden when it ceased to possess the power to make him happy, and the sword of the angels had driven him out. Another particular by which this allegory instructs us is,
2. The relation which these two children sustained to Abraham.
Ishmael was his son after the flesh: he had no sympathy with his father in that faith for which he was so eminent, nor anything in common with him in a spiritual sense ; but Isaac was after his own heart, and bore a resemblance to him as the father of the faithful. He was like him in that which made him the friend of God. In like manner all that the lineal descendants of the patriarch could claim by virtue of the Sinai covenant was an interest in mere temporal blessings, while the partakers of his faith were entitled to an eternal inheritance. Hence the apostle declares, " That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed."*
This distinction, although of essential importance, was constantly lost sight of by the Jews in the days of our Lord, although it was what he was always endeavouring to bring before their minds; and when they boasted that they were “Abraham's seed," they looked to nothing higher than this natural relation, whereas he assured them that there was one of a spiritual character to which they could lay no just claim. “I know," said he,“ that ye are Abraham's seed, but ye seek to kill me because my word hath no place in you. If ye were Abraham's children ye would do the works of Abraham."* As this relation to the patriarch depended not upon their natural descent, but had its foundation in a resemblance to his faith, it is the invaluable privilege of all those, but of those only, in whose hearts the Spirit of God has wrought that heavenly principle; and therefore Abraham is said to “be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised ; " " and they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”! The two sons in the allegory are full of important meaning,
* Rom. viii. 3. † Rom. ix. 8.
3. In regard to their different portions.
The possessions which God gave to Abraham and his seed consisted of two branches; one contained temporal, the other spiritual blessings. In the first place, the Almighty promised to be a God to him and to his seed, s to make him a blessing, and to bless all the families of the earth in him : 1) and then, secondly, he gave him the land of Canaan for an inheritance. That the patriarch should feel concerned to make a suitable provision for his son Ishmael was very natural, and what his great affection for him would lead us to expect. From some things in his conduct it would seem that he was desirous to make him a partaker with Isaac. This, how* John viii. 37–39. + Rom. iv. 11. I Gal. iii. 9. § Gen. xvii. 7. || Gen. xii, 2, 3. Gen. xiii. 15.
ever, was by no means to be allowed; but the Divine command was peremptory,
“ Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
A mere natural relation to Abraham, then, and a participation in his worldly substance, was all that Ishmael received, while he was excluded from every higher blessing of the covenant: and who does not see how manifestly this was the case with the unbelieving Jews to whom Christ and his apostles first preached the Gospel? The land of Canaan was then theirs by right, and they held it as a portion from their great ancestor; but in the heavenly inheritance entailed on his spiritual seed they were not allowed to partake, although his children according to the flesh. The title to this, and the tenure by which it is held, is faith, whether the claimants be Jews or Gentiles. We
trace the events of gospel times shadowed forth by this allegory
III. In the consequences which resulted from the difference in the two sons, and the conduct of God towards them. A malignant spirit was engendered. “ He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit; even so it is now.”op That there were many things in the family of Abraham tending to disturb its order and harmony, occasioned by mothers so different in their circumstances as Sarah and Hagar, and sons whose characters and prospects so little resembled each others as those of Ishmael and Isaac, we can readily con
* Gal. iv. 30. + Gal. iv. 29.
ceive; but the only cause to which it is ascribed in the Sacred History is Ishmael's mocking Isaac. It was this persecution that arrested the attention and provoked the displeasure of Sarah, and immediately upon its discovery the exclusion of Ishmael from the family took place. What particular circumstance formed the subject of his ridicule we are not told, but it is very likely to have been occasioned by the fact of the younger son being sole heir to his father, of which Isaac may have made a boast.
The latent spirit of persecution so often manifested against the people of God—the children of promise of which the conduct of Ishmael was emblematical, may still be always found in the depraved heart of fallen man, and nothing more than suitable circumstances are required to call it forth. That against which it especially directs its influence, is the very being of the ever-blessed God; “For the carnal mind is enmity against God;"* but since he in his own person is beyond its reach, and is only approachable by it in his image borne by his people, they are made to suffer what is in effect directed against him. The disciples of Christ were to expect to be hated, because they were not of the world; and, blinded by prejudice and bigotry, unenlightened men have sometimes thought to do God service by opposing others equally conscientious, sincere, and moral with themselves, only because they have differed on some points of minor importance, or have been altogether misunderstood. But, as in the case of Isaac and Ishmael, the spirit of persecution in the latter
* Rom. viii. 7.
procured for him his alienation from his father's house. So God “has ordained his arrows against the persecutors;"* and Christ will regard those who oppose his people as enemies to himself.
CHAPTER IV. ON THE TYPICAL PERSONS MENTIONED IN
THE OLD TESTAMENT.
ADAM. The great design of Divine Revelation is to bring man back to God, to which purpose it is amply adapted. It finds him in this world as in a waste howling wilderness. It makes him acquainted with his state; and under a sense of its evil and danger, when these are impressed upon him by the Spirit of Christ, he is led to inquire after God his Maker. A moral and spiritual change is produced, and ultimately eternal life is attained, through the righteousness and death of the Son of God. In addition to this its principal use, the sacred volume is intended to explain, to a great extent, the nature and design of the works and providence of the Creator. It is to be a glass in which we may behold them, and his glory reflected by them. In this respect it is of unspeakable importance and value; for the Divine wisdom is often displayed more in the relative situations or positions of objects, their harmony and subordination, and their concurrent operation, than in what they are in themselves. That it is not
* Psa. vii. 13.