I gave the sermon on Hagar and Ishmael today. I departed from my text a little more than I do ordinarily, which may not have been wise, since sleep was a struggle last night. Not that I couldn't sleep. I would have very much preferred to have been awake. I just lay there, helplessly subject to my anxieties. A good many of them I could have put out of my mind, if I'd had the use of my mind. But as it was, I had to endure a kind of dull paralysis. To struggle within paralysis is a strange thing-I doubt I stirred a limb, but when I woke up I was exhausted, weary at heart.

Then young Boughton came to the service. That was nothing I would have expected. You saw him and waved and patted the pew next to you, and he came down the aisle and sat with you. Your mother looked at him to say good morning, and then she did not look at him again. Not once.

I began my remarks by pointing out the similarity between the stories of Hagar and Ishmael sent off into the wilderness and Abraham going off with Isaac to sacrifice him, as he believes. My point was that Abraham is in effect called upon to sacrifice both his sons, and that the Lord in both instances sends angels to intervene at the critical moment to save the child. Abraham's extreme old age is an important element in both stories, not only because he can hardly hope for more children, not only because the children of old age are unspeakably precious, but also, I think, because any father, particularly an old father, must finally give his child up to the wilderness and trust to the providence of God. It seems almost a cruelty for one generation to beget another when parents can secure so little for their children, so little safety, even in the best circumstances. Great faith is required to give the child up, trusting God to honor the parents' love for him by assuring that there will indeed be angels in that wilderness.

I noted that Abraham himself had been sent into the wilderness, told to leave his father's house also, that this was the narrative of all generations, and that it is only by the grace of God that we are made instruments of His providence and participants in a fatherhood that is always ultimately His.

At this point I departed from my text to say that an old pastor's anxiety for his church is likewise a forgetfulness of the fact that Christ is Himself the pastor of His people and a faithful presence among them through all generations. I thought this was a good point, but it started some of the women crying, so I tried to change the subject. I put the question why the Lord would ask gentle Abraham to do two things that were so cruel on their face-sending a child and his mother into the wilderness, and taking a child to be bound on an altar as if for sacrifice. This came to my mind because I had often wondered about it. Then I had to attempt an answer.

It had occurred to me that these were the only two instances in Scripture where a father is even apparently unkind to his child. The Lord can ask, "What man of you, if his son asked for bread, would give him a stone?" and it is a rhetorical question. Anyone knows from experience that among us there are a good many fathers who mistreat their children, or abandon them. And it was at that point I noticed young Boughton grinning at me. White as a sheet, and grinning. The text was one I would never have chosen if I'd thought he might be there, though if I'd kept to the sermon as I wrote it, everything would have been better.

About the cruelty of those narratives I said that they rendered the fact that children are often victims of rejection or violence, and that in these cases, too, which the Bible does not otherwise countenance, the child is within the providential care of God. And this is no less true, I said, if the angel carries her home to her faithful and loving Father than if He opens the spring or stops the knife and lets the child live out her sum of earthly years.

I don't know how sufficient that is to the question. It is such a difficult question that I hesitate to raise it at all. My only preparation for dealing with it has been the many times people have asked me to explain it to them. Whatever they may have thought, I have not succeeded to my own satisfaction even once.

I have always worried that when I say the insulted or the downtrodden are within the providence of God, it will be taken by some people to mean that it is not a grave thing, an evil thing, to insult or oppress. The whole teaching of the Bible is explicitly contrary to that idea. So I quoted the words of the Lord: "If anyone offend these little ones, it would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he were cast into the sea." That is strong language, but there it is.

Young Boughton just sat there grinning. That's one thing that has always been strange about him. He treats words as if they were actions. He doesn't listen to the meaning of words, the way other people do. He just decides whether they are hostile, and how hostile they are. He decides whether they threaten him or injure him, and he reacts at that level. If he reads chastisement into anything you say, it's as if you had taken a shot at him. As if you had nicked his ear.

Now, as I have said, I did not expect him to be at that service. Furthermore, there are plenty of people whose behavior toward their children falls far short of what it should be, so, even when I departed from my text, and even though I will concede that my extemporaneous remarks might have been influenced by his sitting there with that look on his face, right beside my wife and child, still it was considerable egotism on his part to take my words as directed at him only, as he clearly did.

Your mother looked anxious. That might have been because I seemed to her to be talking about my own situation, and hers and yours, or it might have been because I did struggle a little to organize my thoughts, or it might have been because my emotions ran higher than they normally do. And if I looked at all the way I felt, even half as weary, there'd be grounds for concern in that, too.

But the thought occurred to me that young Boughton had told her some version of events, enough so she saw the implications, from his point of view, of my sermon. I don't know when he might have spoken to her. If he wanted the opportunity, he could have found it, I suppose. It did strike me as strange that she didn't look at him even one time. If she wished not to seem at all to recognize him in the sermon, that would explain it. I felt perhaps others in the congregation might have thought the sermon was directed at him. It was all most unfortunate. I must hope some good can come of it. I just don't know why he isn't worshipping with the Presbyterians.

Now I will pray. First I think I'll sleep. I'll try to sleep.

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