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DISCOURSE XXVIII.

ABRAHAM AND ABIMELECH.

Gen. xx.

Ver. 1. After the affecting story of Lot, we return to Abraham. When he and his kinsman parted, he pitched bis tent in the plains of Mamre, and appears to have continued there nearly twenty years. At length be removes again, journeying southward,

he and taking up his residence for a time at Gerar, which was then a royal city of the Philistines.

Ver. 2. And here we find him a second time, saying of Sarah his wife, She is my sister. His sin in so speaking seems to be much greater than it was before. For, (1.) He had narrowly escaped the first time. If God had not remarkably interposed in his favour, there is no saying what would have been the consequence. The repetition of the same fault looked like presuming upon providence. (2.) Sarah was now pregnant, and that of a son of promise : be might therefore surely have trusted God to preserve their lives in the straight-forward path of duty, instead of having recourse to his own crooked policy. But he did not. There are exceptions in every human character, and often in the very thing wherein they in general excel. The consequence was, Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent and took her, probably by force to be one of his wives. We should have thought that the age of Sarah might have exempted both her and her husband from this temptation ; but human life was then much longer than it is now; and she was a beautiful woman, and we may suppose carried her years better than many. Be that as it may, she is involved in a difficulty from which she cannot get clear, nor can Abraham tell

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how to deliver her. It has been observed, that when wicked med deviate from truth, they will very commonly get through with it; but if a good man think to do so, he will as commonly find himself mistaken. If once he leave the path of rectitude, he is entangled, and presently betrays himself. The crooked devices of the flesh are things in which be is not sufficiently an adept, and conscience will often prevent his going through with them. God also will generally so order things that he shall be detected, and put to shame at an early stage, and that in mercy to his soul; while sin. sers are left to go on in their evil courses with auccess.

Ver. 3—7. Man's wisdom leads him into a pit, and God's wisdom must draw him out. God has access to all men's minds, and can impress them by a dream, an affliction, or in any way he thinks proper. He did thus by Abimelech. Dreams in general are mere vanity, the excursions of imagination, ypaccompanied with reason: yet these are under the control of God, and have, in many instances, been the medium of impressing things of great importance on the mind. Abimelech Creamed that he heard the voice of the Almighty, saying unto him, Behold, thou art a dead man for the woman which thou hast taken, for she is a man's wife! Whether Abimelech was an idolater, I know not : but this I know, that if in countries called Christian, every adulterer were a dead man, many would be numbered with the dead who now glory in their shame. And though human laws may wink at this crime, it is no less beinous in the sight of God than when it is punished with death. Abimelech, conscious that he had not come near the woman, answered in bis dream, Lord, wilt thou slay also a rightsous nation? Snid he not unto me, She is my sister? And she, even she herself, said, He is my brother. In the integrity of my heart, and innocency of my hands, have I done this. The first sentence in this answer appears to contain a reference to the recent and awful event of Sodom's overthrow, which must have greatly impressed the surrounding country. It is as if he bad said, “I am aware that thou hast slain a nation notorious for its filthy and unnatural crimes; but we are not such a nation ; and

} in the present case all that has heen done was in perfect ignorance. Surely thou wilt not slay the innocent. The answer of God admits his plea of ignorance, and suggests that he was not charged with having yet sinned, but threatened with death in case he persisted, now that he was informed of the truth. It is inti. mated, however, that if he had come near her, he should in so doing have sioned against God, whether he had sinned against Abraham or pot; and this, perhaps, owing to her being in a state of pregnancy, of which, in that case, he could not have been ignorant. But God had mercifully withheld him from thus sinning against him, for which it became him to be thankful, and without delay to restore the man his wife. It was also added, that the man was a prophet, or one who had special intercourse with heaven; and who, if he restored his wife, would pray to God for him, and he should live; but if he withheld her, he should surely die, and all that belonged to bim.

We see in this account, (1.) That absolute ignorance excuses from guilt ; but this does not prove that all ignorance does so, or tbat it is in itself excusable. Where the powers and means of knowledge are possessed, and ignorance arises from neglecting to make use of them, or from aversion to the truth, it is so far from excusing, that it is in itself sinful. (2.) That great as the wickedness of men is upon the face of the earth, it would be much greater, were it not that God by his providence, in innumerable instances, withholds them from it. The conduct of intelligent beings is influenced by motives ; and all motives which are presented to the mind are subject to his disposal. Hence we may feel the propriety of that petition, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us

from evil.

Ver. 8. Abimelech, awaking, is deeply impressed with his dream. He arises early, calls together the principal people about him, and imparts particulars to them, at the rehearsal of which they are sore afraid. Some afflictions had already been laid upon them, of which they seem to bave been aware ; (ver. 18.) and considering the late tremendous judgments of God upon Sodom, with the terrific dream of the king just rehearsed, it is no wonder they should be seized with fear.

Ver. 9, 10. After speaking to his servants, he next sent for Abraham, to converse the matter over. His address to the patri

arch is pointed, but temperate: What hast thou done unto us? And what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? Thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.-What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing? We are grieved to find Abraham in such a situation. How honourable did he appear before the king of Sodom, and the king of Salem ; but how dishonourable before the king of Gerar! Sin is the reproach of any people ; and the greater and better the man, the greater is the reproach.

Ver. 11-13. But let us hear his apology. And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they will slay me for my wife's sake. And yet indeed, she is my sister : she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt show unto me : at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother. According to his account, to be sure, there was nothing against Abimelech in particular; and this might serve to appease him ; and with respect to God, or his doing deeds that ought not to be done, what he had said, if not a lie, was yet an equivocation. Many things of this sort pass among men; but they will not bear a strict scrutiny. If our words, though in some sense true, yet are designed to convey what is not true, as was the case in this instance, we are guilty of doing what ought not to be done.

Ver. 14, 15. Abimelech, satisfied with this answer, so far as respected himself, restored Sarah to her husband, and that with a trespass-offering, like that which was afterwards presented by his countrymen with the ark ;* adding, with great courteousness, Behold

my land is before thee : dwell where it pleaseth thee. For he saw that the Lord was with him.

Ver. 16–18. He did not part with Sarah, however, without giving her a word of reproof. In calling Abraham her brother, he made use of her own language in a sarcastic way; and tells her that her husband should be to her as a veil, that she should look

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* 1 Sam. xi. 3.

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