Abraham's Sacrifice

Dignus vindice nodus

From the third Morning dawn'd the orient Light,
When Abraham gain'd the destin'd Mountain's Height;
And Isaac , now their Journey's Period found,
Had thrown his cumbrous Burden to the Ground,
His Load of Wood, with solemn Rite assign'd
To burn the Sacrifice by God enjoin'd.
And now the ready Care and zealous Toil
Of Sire and Son had rear'd the sacred Pile,
When thus (yet oft' with Sighs his Utt'rance broke,
And oft' with gushing Tears) the Patriarch spoke.
Thou, in whom Heav'n's best Love to me was shown,
Kind, good, and duteous; O my darling Son!
Firm to my Soul, whom all dear Ties engage,
Crown of my Hopes, and Comfort of my Age;
Now be the Ardour of thy Faith display'd,
And summon all thy Virtue to thy Aid,
To hear the Doom by God's own Voice decreed,
That Thou, O can I speak it! thou must bleed:
Thy harmless Life, so runs the dread Command,
Must Here be offer'd by thy Father's Hand.
Fain, Fain, Heav'n knows, by strong Reluctance prest,
And partial Nature pleading in my Breast,
Fain would I have mistook the sacred Call:
'Twas Dream, 'twas Fancy, 'twas Illusion all.
Can God, I reason'd, his own Law controul,
Impress'd so deeply on the Human Soul;
His Law, which as the Wrath divine they dread,
Prohibits Man Man's vital Blood to shed?
Did He establish This a Rule to bind
Through all successive Ages all Mankind?
And can He, ever gracious, just, and mild,
Can He command me to destroy my Child?
Alas, why not? who shall maintain the Strife
With Him, sole sov'reign Arbiter of Life?
On These plain Terms He gives us all to see
Newborn th' Æthereal Light, and bids us Be;
That whensoever He, or soon, or late,
Shall summon us to leave our earthly State,
The Body its congenial Dust must claim,
The Soul return to God from whom it came.
And sure for this, the Time, the Means, the Way,
'Tis His to choose, His providential Sway
Inflicts the sudden Stroke, or slow Decay:
To each inferior Cause He gives its Weight,
And arms with all its Darts the Hand of Fate.
Then, great Creator, since 'tis Thy Decree
That Isaac now must fall, and fall by me;
Prostrate and mute, I bow before thy Throne,
Thy Name be hallow'd, and thy Will be done.
Oft' thy dread Voice has fill'd me with Delight,
Or in the Trance, or Vision of the Night;
And still as I obey'd it hast thou shed
Riches, and Peace, and Honour round my Head:
And shall I now resist the well-known Call?
And grudge one Gift to Thee, who gav'st me all?
Hast Thou so blest my whole long Life-time past,
And shall I now forsake Thee at the last?
Yet, my good God, all-gracious as Thou art,
Forgive the Yearnings of a Parent's Heart;
That my poor Service may be rightly paid,
Support my Frailness with thy heav'nly Aid,
And suffer not, by this hard Instance try'd,
My stedfast Faith in Thee to start aside.
Thus far his Grief the rev'rend Sire exprest,
A copious Flood of Tears forbad the rest:
When Isaac thus, Ill must it surely suit,
When God commands, for Mortals to dispute.
His Will once spoke the whole Creation awes,
And what am I, to make a Moment's Pause?
But Here so plainly stands His Love exprest,
Here to obey, is only to be blest;
'Tis only earlier to be call'd away
To God's own Presence, and the Realms of Day,
Snatch'd from the Ill to come, nor doom'd to know
The various Bitterness of Human Woe.
Can I, beneath good Abraham 's forming Hand,
In heav'nly Truth and steady Virtue train'd,
Taught, O my God, with one perpetual Aim,
To love thy Service, and to fear thy Name;
Can I not hope, unbodied when I roam
Where Spirits immortal find their destin'd Home,
In That new World Thy Goodness still to share,
And praise and bless my kind Preserver There?
Can I Thy Mercy not securely trust
To hide my Human Frailties in the Dust,
And there admit me, one short Struggle o'er,
Where Death, and Sin, and Sorrow are no more?
But, O my Father! how shall He sustain
This Load of Woe, this Heart-oppressing Pain!
Cancell'd at once to view high Heav'n's Decree
Of Blessings to his future Race in me!
His Hopes all blasted, all his Comforts fled,
Grief to the Grave must bow his hoary Head.
Him, though the op'ning Scenes my Thoughts employ;
Of Heav'n, and Raptures of immortal Joy;
Yet him with deep Affliction I condole,
And feel his Anguish in my inmost Soul.
With just Rebuke the Patriarch mild replies,
In vain, my Son, thy anxious Terrors rise.
Think'st thou that Change affects th' Eternal Will?
Hath God once said, and shall not He fulfill?
Revolving Time must bring the dreadful Day
When Heav'n and Earth dissolv'd shall pass away:
At once the glorious universal Frame
Shall shrink like Parchment crackling in the Flame;
Ruin o'er total Nature shall prevail:
But not one Tittle of His Word can fail.
Thee, the just Heir of all my Hopes to come,
His Goodness gave me from the barren Womb:
Thee the same Goodness, sacrific'd and slain,
Can raise and quicken into Life again.
Or, as the Seed, though from the Sower's Hand
It dies and rots beneath the furrow'd Land,
Soon with new Strength reviv'd, essays to rise,
And seeks the genial Influence of the Skies;
The rip'ning Ears a rich Abundance yield,
And golden Harvests crown the smiling Field;
So from what Here the hallow'd Pile must burn;
Ev'n from thy Ashes sleeping in their Urn,
A new corporeal System He may frame,
And re-inspire the animating Flame.
Events to come, and Fate by God design'd;
The Counsels of His own omniscient Mind,
Himself alone surveys; but Here we rest,
That what He wills must be, and must be best.
'Tis His to Man his Pleasure to display:
Ours to adore, to tremble, and obey.
Yet, had it rather pleas'd the Will Divine
To spare my Isaac 's Life, and call for mine,
In her own Tenor to let Nature run,
Nor bid the Sire survive the slaughter'd Son;
How had I then (my Course all faithful found,
My End by God's express Acceptance crown'd)
How had I joy'd to hear His Orders spoke?
Bow'd my old Head submissive to the Stroke?
In Praise resign'd my last expiring Breath?
And met with Transport the Embrace of Death?
He said, and Both the sacred Rite prepare,
And Both pour out their Souls in ardent Pray'r,
And humbly hope Heav'n's mightiest Aid to find,
To wake each latent Virtue in their Mind.
And now the Altar blaz'd, and now display'd
Abraham advanc'd aloft his glitt'ring Blade,
With strenuous Zeal represt his inward Woe,
And rais'd his trembling Hand to strike the Blow:
When lo! effulgent with amazing Light,
A Form Celestial stood before his Sight;
Less glorious shines, his rapid Race to run
Forth issuing from his eastern Goal, the Sun.
The Patriarch gaz'd, nor Speech nor Motion found,
And dropt his lifted Weapon to the Ground.
A sweet Regard the pitying Angel show'd,
And thus his solemn Words complacent flow'd.
Sheath, Abraham , sheath the Sword; in gracious part
Accepts th' Almighty thy obedient Heart,
For the full Forfeit takes thy Service done,
And freely gives thee thy devoted Son.
Now hear, thou faithful Man, whilst I unfold
Successive Scenes, illustrious to behold,
Of Fame to thee, and wondrous Love design'd,
In thy distinguish'd Race to Humankind.
Try if thou canst by numb'ring to explore
All the loose Atoms on the sandy Shore;
Or upwards turn thy penetrating Eye,
And count the radiant Spangles of the Sky:
Like These shall Isaac 's Progeny outgo
What Bounds or Thought can reach, or Number show.
From His fam'd Seed, as Heav'n its Aid supplies,
Shall States be form'd, and mighty Empires rise,
And Kings, ordain'd in future Realms to shine,
Shall boast their Royal Stock deriv'd from Thine.
But One fair Branch God's larger Love must share,
His chosen People, his peculiar Care:
Himself confest shall own their favour'd Cause,
Conduct their Counsels, and prescribe their Laws.
Himself shall raise inspir'd with matchless Might,
For Rule their Judges, and their Chiefs for Fight.
How oft' for Them shall his fierce Wrath confound
The faithless Nations gathering all around!
How oft' shall rise his wonder-working Sway,
And turn old Nature from her destin'd Way,
To crush whoe'er their conqu'ring Arms withstand,
And plant his People in the promis'd Land!
Whilst the vain World to impious Rites resign'd,
To Lusts abandon'd, and to Reason blind,
Stray in the Dark; to Them, to Them alone
Shall Heav'n's pure Will and genuine Truth be known:
Religion shall be theirs, her sacred Ray
Shall Wisdom pour to guide them in the Way.
For This shall rev'rend Seers, divinely taught,
God's great Designs imprest upon their Thought,
From Age to Age His gradual Word display,
And shed the chearful Dawning of the Day;
Till in full Light Messiah's Self shall rise,
Sprung from Thy Seed, descending from the Skies;
Stupendous Union! Heav'n and Earth combin'd!
Incarnate God, to rescue lost Mankind!
With Him, erst fled from Sin's polluting Stain,
Shall ancient Virtue visit Earth again;
Peace sent from Heav'n shall bless the World below,
And like the spreading Sea shall Knowledge flow.
Mercy Divine Messiah shall bring down
To sinful Man, and Mighty in Renown
Shall break Hell's Pow'r, and Death's tyrannick Chain,
And end the long Reproach of Satan's Reign.
He said, and instant, pleas'd whilst They pursue
The great Ideas, vanish'd from their View.
A thousand Thoughts their reas'ning Pow'rs controul,
And deep Amazement fills the lab'ring Soul.
Yet all they could to shew their just Regard,
A Beast they bring, for Sacrifice prepar'd,
And, His free Grace with holy Vows implor'd,
Burn the vicarious Victim to the Lord.
Then pond'ring all the Wonders of the Day,
With Hearts exulting, homeward bend their Way.
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