« PreviousContinue »
“ And Moses said unto his father-in-law, because the people come unto me to inquire of God: when they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws."
We have seen Jethro, in the character of a pious man, an affectionate neighbour, and a kind relation. We see him now blending with these excellent qualities the character of an able statesman and sagacious politician. There is no man so wise as not to need instruction, and none so simple as to be incapable of sometimes giving advice. Jethro plainly perceived, that the course of life which his son-in-law was pursuing must soon prove fatal to him. That, by attempting what was beyond his strength to bear or perform, he was in the way of quickly rendering himself unable to do any thing at all. therefore proposes a subdivision of the toil, by the appointment of proper men to the office of judge, who might try and determine the causes of less importance, and apply to Moses, and to God, through him, only in matters of high moment, and as the last resort. Thus Moses would be greatly relieved, many good men would be trained up to the useful, honourable and important em. ployment of judging between his brethren, and the people meanwhile sustain no damage.
The qualities which he points out as requisite to constitute this character, show how carefully he had considered the subject, and how well fitted he was to advise in a matter of this kind. Let those who have the appointment of judges study well what he says, and act accordingly. “Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness : and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”+
The first requisite in a judge, according to Jethro, is ability. He must be a man of sense, penetration and discernment. Because, with the best intentions, a stupid, weak or dissipated man, will be apt to err in judgment; either because he is unable to comprehend the cause, or will not employ the necessary time and pains to understand it.
But what are the greatest and most shining abilities, destitute of a principle of conscience? They are but a mischievous weapon in the hands of a bad man. A judge, therefore, ought to be a man that fears God. A man, not only restrained by respect to the world, or actuated by regard to reputation : these are found feeble and inefficacious in the hour of temptation ; these are fluctuating and unsteady, as the opinions, passions and interests of men ; but the fear of the Lord is a perpetual, unchanging motive and restraint, the same in darkness as in the light, the same in secret as before the eyes of the whole world.
This principle is closely connected with, and indeed it naturally produces a third quality, of primary importance in this character. A judge must be a man of truth. A sacred observer of truth in what he says himself; a diligent promoter of truth, and an impartial avenger of falsehood and injustice in others. Even a regard to some of the principles of religion, unconnected with the love of truth and justice, which are of the number of those principles, might be apt to mislead a man. Compassion, for example, might dispose a judge to favour the poor man, though he has the worst cause. The all-wise God, therefore, thought it necessary to throw in a special caution to this purpose, lest a principle, amiable and excellent in itself, should be perverted into a source of injustice, and has enjoined, by a positive statute, that the cause, not the person or condition of the man, should be considered by him who sits in judgment. * Exod. xviii, 15, 16.
+ Ver. 21.
Jethro finally lays it down as essential to the character of a judge that he be a man who hates covetousness. In which there is a strong insinuation, that where the love of money predominates, the exercise of all other necessary and suitable qualities are likely to be obstructed or perverted ; ability under such influence rendered only more dangerous and hurtful; the fear of God Julled asleep; the heart hardened; the conscience, by the strong opiate of gold, reduced to a state of insensibility, and truth and justice hoodwinked on the tribunal.
The history of our own country affords a melancholy example of the truth of this observation, in the conduct of that “greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind," Sir Francis Bacon. Lord Verulam, and Lord High Chancellor of England, in the reign of James I. who with a soul that comprehended, filled, extended, enlarged the circle of science; a genius that penetrated through the whole vast system of nature, an imagination that transcended the flaming boundaries of the world, and a heart devoted to the love of God and mankind -basely received the wages of unrighteousness, accepted a bribe to pervert justice, was accused and convicted of corruption in the execution of his high and important trust, acknowledged his own shame, and was deservedly driven, with disgrace to himself, and with the indignation, shame and pity of a mora tified and astonished world, from an honourable station which he filled so unworthily.
But alas, after all, when we read of the appointment of judges and of generals and of their requisite qualities, of what does it remind us but that men are selfish, covetous, litigious and violent : tenacious of their own, and ready to encroach upon others? Wherefore is law ? Wherefore are there tribunals? They are for “ the lawless and disobedient.” Make men just, gentle, kindly affectioned; make them christians indeed, and then war is at an end; the courts are shut up; then there would be no need of a judge, because there would be no offender.
The advice which was wisely and kindly given, is graciously and candidly received. A proud and self-sufficient spirit would have rejected the counsel, however salutary, because tendered by a stranger. But true wisdom only considers whether the hint be useful, practicable and necessary, without regarding from what quarter it comes. And such was the wisdom of Moses, and he was prepared for converse with God, who had learned deference and respect for the opinions of men. And thus the very first rudiments of the Jewish constitution, were suggested by the observation and experience of a stranger and a Midianite. And the great Jehovah disdained not to permit his prophet to be taught and his people to be governed, by the wisdom and intelligence of a good man, though he was not of the commonwealth of Israel. If men were capable of learning to be wise and good, He who is wisdom and goodness itself would vouchsafe to teach them, not by precept only, but by example also. As Jethro suggested, so it was done. Moses was eased of a burthen intolerable, the course of justice was not stopped, God was glorified, and the world edified.
You must have observed, that I have once and again held out to your expectation a subject of discourse, from which I have once and a second time shrunk back. It is still before me, and I feel myself as reluctant as ever to proceed. Who is not ready to sink under the awful terrors of the dispensation of the law from Sinai? “Who is sufficient for such things ?" But I must venture to go on, and endeavour to carry you with me to the foot of that tremendous mountain. And I flatter myself you have not been altogether disappointed or injured in being stopped a little in your progress. With re- . cruited strength and spirits, we shall attempt to advance on our way. But we shall first from this eminence survey the ground over which we have travelled,
Eminence, did I say? No. Let us join the innocent, cheerful society in the tent of Moses, and learn to cultivate the endearing charities of private life ; and, having considered it well, let us retire, making such reflections as these
That it is not fortitude, but folly, unnecessarily to expose ourselves, or those whom we love, to hardships and danger. • If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel,"* It is our care, not our labour and reflection, which we are encouraged to cast upon God.
That it argues a deficiency in some moral principle or another, when persons whom nature, and the obligations of society have united, discover an inclination to live asunder. Wisdom or necessity may impose a temporary separation : but well-disposed minds ever look to, and eagerly lay hold of the means and the season of restoration and union.
That regard to public utility, exalts and improves private friendship.
That to promote the glory of God, his own virtue, and the good of his fellow creatures, is the great and constant aim of every good man.
That as nonc are too wise too learn, it is a proof of affection to communicate useful hints; and a high proof of wisdom to take and use them, from whatever quarter they come. There is one Being only who is not to be instructed. “ How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out ; for who hath known the mind of the Lord ? or who hath been his counsellor.”+
And finally that, though we cannot successfully imitate eminent men in every particular of conduct, or in the display of talents which may be denied to ourselves, we are not thereby precluded from the exercise of the inserior talents which we possess, and from a virtuous emulation where it is possible for us to succeed. Let me strive to be a Moses in some things, though I be conscious I must fall inconceivably behind him in most. Amen.
* 1 Tim. v. 8.
+ Rom. xi. 32, 34.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS XIX, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22.
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a
thick cloud apon the mount, and ihe voice of the trumpet exceeding loud ; so that all the people thas was in the camp trembled.' And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire ; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount, and Moses went up. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge ihre people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perisk. And let the priests also, which come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them.
In man, as he came perfect from the hands of his Creator, the immortal principle, the “ breath of life," " the living soul” exercised its just dominion over the earthly and sensual part of his nature. In man, degraded by sin, we behold the grosser domineering over the purer, the heavenly subjected to the terrestrial, the soul a slave to the senses. When our nature through grace shall be restored, the soul shall resume its empire ; the body itself shall become spiritual, shall shake off the power of gravitation, and “ascend to meet the Lord in the air,” being “ fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body."
The dispensations of Heaven are suited to the condition of man. « God knows our frame, and remembereth that we are dust.” He makes sense his road to the mind : he seizes the conscience, and melts the heart, by speaking to the eyes and the ears. And when we consider how easily, and through how many different channels he can force his way to the inmost recesses of the man, who but must shudder at the thought of meeting the Father of spirits, ourselves disembodied spirits ; at the thought of dropping the clay tabernacle in its native dust, and of becoming all eye to see God as he is, all ear to hear his voice, all soul to perceive and comprehend him! If God, encouraging and amiable in purifying and directing fire, in the cloudy pillar, and in harmless, unconsuming fire in the bush at Horeb, be awful; if dreadful at Sinai, coming in flashing, dazzling, threatening fire to promulgate his law; what must he be s
coming in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ ?" If the sound of that trumpet, which proclaimed the approach of God to Israel, was ready to kill the living with fear, what must be the trumpet which shall awake the dead? Whatever majesty and solemnity may appear in the giving of the law, every one shall in a little while behold it infinitely exceeded in the consummation of the gospel.
God has hitherto declared his divine perfections by the effects which they produced. The plagues of Egypt awfully manifested his power and justice. The daily showers
of manna, and water following them from the rock, bespeak
his power and goodness. But he now opens his mouth, to proclaim in the ears of men, his name, his nature and his will
. Let us, with Israel, at a trembling distance contemplate this great sight, and listen with reverence to the Almighty uttering his voice.
The posterity of Abraham, according to the promise, is now become a great nation. But what are multitudes without goveroment, and what government is a blessing without law ? Happiness consists not in having such and such possessions, but in being fitted to enjoy what we have. The constitution of other states is the work of time, is the result of experience, arrives at maturity by degrees. Laws and restrictions, encouragements and restraints are suggested by events. But when the great Jehovah condescends to become a legislator, the utmost extent of possibility lying open to his view, provision is made from the beginning for every case that can happen. The rule of his government is laid down at once ; and the civil and religious constitution of that nation over which he chose to preside, is established by a wisdom which cannot err.
It was not unpleasant, as we were contemplating the scene exhibited in the preceding chapter, to listen to a wise and good man giviog advice with respect to the administration of public justice. But we now tread upon holy ground; and we listen not to a man like ourselves, but to the only wise God. The whole taken together unfolds an unparalleled display of mercy and majesty, of goodness and grandeur.
Forty-seven days have now elapsed, since that“ night much to be remembered,” when the destroying angel walked through the midst of Egypt, and slew all the first-born. And how many singular and interesting events have taken place in that short period ? The Red Sea has been divided; the bitter waters of Marah sweetened; bread from heaven rained down; a living stream extracted from the flipty rock in Horeb; Amalek discomfited! Whether of the two shall we most admire, the greatness of the works which God performs, or the facility with which he brings them to pass ? What a high value are we taught to put upon time, when we see to what valuable purposes, through the blessing and assistance of Heaven, a little time may be made subservient.
Three days more are employed in making solemn preparation for this celestial visitation ; so that the law was delivered exactly on the fiftieth day after the celebration of the feast of passover : and in commemoration of it, the Jewish feast of Pentecost was ever after observed and rendered illustrious in the annals of the christian church, by a new dispensation, not of terror but of grace; the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of our Lord, in the miraculous gift of tongues. Even the minute circumstances of times and places, may have a significancy and an importance of which we have at present no apprehension. And I am fully persuaded, when God shall be pleased to vouchsafe us clearer light, and fresh discoveries of bis will, numberless instances of coincidence and resemblance between the legal and evangelical dispensations shall rush upon us, of which we can now form no conception. Why God has appointed the seventh day to be the weekly sabbath ; why the law was proclaimed from Mount Sinai just after seven times seven days had elapsed from the going out of Egypt; why, in the possession of Canaan, the land was to be permitted to rest every seventh year; why the general release, or year of jubilee, was to be statedly observed, after a constant revolution of seven times seven years; and why the Holy Ghost was given “ when the day of Pentecost was fully come,” or after seven times seven days from the day that “ Christ our passover was sacrificed for us? These are questions which we pretend not to resolve. But certain it is these things have a meaning: “I koow it not now, but I shall know it hereafter."