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encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them, by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.”+ In this, God spake at once to the understanding and to the
Could any Israelite doubt that the Lord was there? He had but to open
eyes, whether it were by day or by night, and lo, a thick cloud obscuring the brightness of the one, or a flaming fire dispelling the shades of the other, proclaimed the dread presence of JEHOVAH. Could any one call in question his kindness, when he saw darkness become a guide, and fire a protector? Durst any one presume to approach too nigh, when dimness impenetrable, and light inaccessible, alternately guarded his pavilion ? Was it possible for any heart to fear, when the Most Mighty thus declared, in language more emphatical than can be conveyed by words—“Lo, I am for you! Who is he that can, that dare to be against you ?"
The appearances of God are suited to the circumstances of his people. Cloud by night would have been to increase the horror, and to multiply the unwholesome damps of that season. Fire by day would have been adding fuel to a flame, already intensely hot, in a burning climate and parched soil. But tempered, adapted, distributed, according to wisdom not capable of error, the peculiar inconvenience of each season is relieved ; and the ills of nature are remedied by the dispensations of grace. The cloudy fiery pillar is a mani'festation of Deity, suited to a wilderness state. In heaven, a God of love is light, without "any darkness at all." In hell, a God of implacable wrath is perpetual darkness, without one ray of light. On earth, a God of justice and mercy is darkness and light, in successive order and perfect harmony. In heaven, he is a flame that irradiates, cheers and quickens; in hell, a fire still consuming, never to be extinguished; on earth, fire in a cloud, mercy flowing in a spacious channel, judgment restrained. Men can only discover that of God which he is pleased to reveal to thein. Whether he is pleased to turn his dark or bright side to us, we are stationed equally at a distance from him. To be sensible of our own darkness is to be partakers of bis marvellous light. All that the brightest noon of human reason can discover is, that it is ignorance and folly, when placed in comparison with the wisdom of God.
Night not this wonderful pillar prefigure to the ancient church the person and office of the Redeemer of the world? Behold the divine essence wrapped up in, and closely united to a veil of flesh and blood. Behold Deity raising our nature to incorruptibility and glory " in Christ, the first-fruits; and afterwards in all that are Christ's, at his coming." Do we not perceive in it, humanity bringing down the divine nature to our bearing and perception : “the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, declaring him to
“ The word made flesh” instructing the ignorant, cheering the disconsolate, directing the wanderer, refreshing the weary; guiding our waking, guarding our sleeping moments; "a partaker of our flesh and blood, that he may be a merciful High-Priest:" declared the Son of God with power; men adoring and submitting ; the powers of hell broken and discomfitted: the triumph of heaven complete. The Lord our God is a sun and shield : the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from then that walk uprightly."* “ Fear not, O Israel, the Lord is thy keeper : the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in, from this time forth, and even forever more.”'
* Exod. xüi. 20—92.
+ Psal. Ixxxiv, 11.
* Psal. cxxi. 5-8.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS XIV, 21,
And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong
east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the wators were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
In the little benefits which men confer upon each other, it generally happens that some untoward circumstance insinuates itself, and occasions, to one of the parties at least, mortification, disappointment or disgust; for nothing human is perfect. A gracious action is frequently resented as an injury, from the ungracious manner in which it is performed. I am charmed with both the matter of that kindness shewn me, and the affectionate disposition which prompted it; but alas, it arrived an hour too late! Another prevented my wishes; and I prized not the blessing, because I was not instructed in its value by feeling the want of it. This favour done me is very great; but it is not precisely the thing I looked for; or, it is so clogged with some unpleasant condition, that I would rather be without it: it affords me present relief, but will it not involve me in greater difficulties hereafter ? Had I failed in my expectations from this quarter, I should easily have gained my end by applying to another friend. In a word, there is a perpetual something, in the friendly communications of men, which continually mars the worth of what is given and received. And no wonder, if we consider that favours are not always granted from affection, nor accepted with gratitude. But the bounties of Heaven possess every quality that can enhance their value, and endear their Author to a sensible heart. Infinitely valuable in themselves, they flow from love. The “ good and perfect gifts, which come down from the Father of lights,” are given “ liberally, and without upbraiding." Exactly what we need, they come precisely at the moment when we want them most, or when they are most beneficial to us. Worthy of God to bestow, they cannot be unworthy of us to receive. Were he to withhold his gracious aid, in vain should we look for relief from any other quarter. Productive of present satisfaction and joy, his benefits involve us in no future distress, shame or remorse. Serviceable to the body, they are at the same time improving to the mind. Important and interesting for time, they have an influence upon eternity.
The gracious interpositions of Jehovah, in behalf of his chosen people, have this peculiar recommendation to our attention, as to that people's grateful observation and acknowledgement-that they were not in the usual course of things; they were the fruits of the constant and unremitting care of a special providence; they were the suspension or alteration of the established laws of nature : they were the operation of a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, sensibly controlling the winds, the waves and the clouds; and subduing the most ungovernable elements to its purpose. Other parents are endued with transitory affections and attachments, suited to the transitory nature of the trust committed to them. The hen tends her unfledged brood with the vigilance of a dragon and the boldness of a lion. But maternal tenderness and anxiety diminish and expire with the occasion of them, namely, the weakness and inexperience of her young ones. When the son is become a man, paternal care relaxes, and parental authority is at an end. But as the authority of our heavenly Father never ceases, so his bowels of compassion are never restrained ; his vigilance is never lulled to rest, his care never suspended ; because his offspring is, to the last, impotent, improvident, imperfect.
In vain had Israel, by a series of miracles unparalleled in the annals of mankind, been rescued from Egyptian oppression, had not the same Almighty arm which delivered them at first, continued to protect and support them. The strength of Egypt, broken as it was, had been sufficient to force them back. The wilderness itself had been fatal to them, without a foe. How easily are the greatest deliverances forgotten; how soon are the most awful appearances familiarized to the mind! The very first threatening of danger effaces from the memory of these Israelites, all impression of the powerful wonders which had just passed before them, and eclipses the glory of that cloud which, at that very instant, presented itself to their eyes, and overshadowed their heads. But, let not self flattery impose upon us, as if we were more faithful and obedient than they were. It is the mere deception of vanity and self-love to suppose, that “if one were to arise from the dead, we would be persuaded;" that, if we saw a miracle wrought, we would believe ; that, if we heard Christ teach in our streets, we would “ forsake all and follow him.' The man whom the usual appearances of nature do not move, would soon become insensible to more uncommon phenomena. For, extraordinary things frequently repeated, are extraordinary no longer, and consequently soon lose their force. If the daily miracles of God's mercy and loving-kindness fail to convince men, what reason is there to hope, that mere exertions of power would produce a happier effect? If Christ, speaking by his word and ministering servants, be treated with neglect, is it likely that his person would be held in veneration? If men“ hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” * Is it not notorious, that Christ's personal ministrations were slighted, his miracles vilified, his character traduced ?
Whose conduct is the more absurd and criminal, that of Pharaoh, in pursuing after and attempting to bring back a people who had been a snare and a curse to himself and his kingdom; or that of Israel, in trembling at the approach of an enemy whom God had so often subdued under them? Frail nature looks only to the creature ; to surrounding mountains, opposing floods, persecuting foes : hence terror, confusion and astonishment. But faith eyes the pillar, the residence of divine majesty, and then mountains sink, seas divide, the chariot and horsemen are overthrown. Every passion, when it becomes predominant, renders us silly and unreasonable ; and none more so than fear. In danger and distress it is natural, but it is foolish, to impute to another the evils which we fear or feel. It seems to be an alleviation of our own misery, if we can contrive to shift the blame of it upon the shoulders of our neighbour. Hence Moses is loaded with the imputation of a deliberate design of involving his nation in this dire dilemma, between Pharaoh and the Red Sea, and of selling them to the foe. A high and responsible situation is far from being an enviable one. If things go well, the conductor of the under
Luke xvi. 31.
taking receives but a divided, a mutilated praise. If an enterprise fail, the whole blame of the miscarriage is imputed to him. The astonished multitude dare not directly attack God himself. No: the cloudy pillar hangs over their heads, ready to burst, in thunder and fire, on the man who presumed to aim his shafts so high. But their impiety seeks the pitiful shelter of a subterfuge ; they murmur against Moses, because they imagine they can do it with impunity: and think to escape the resentment of the master, though they are wounding him through the sides of his servant. Mark yet again the folly and unreasonableness of fear. “ Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians ? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” What were they afraid of now? A grave in the wilderness. What do they put in comparison with, and prefer to it? A grave in Egypt. It was a grave at the worst. Their wretched lives had got at least a short reprieve. If they died now, they died at once; and died like men, defending their lives, liberty, and families: not pouring out life, drop by drop, under the whip of a taskmaster. But slavery has broken their spirit. They are reduced to the lowest pitch of human wretchedness; for this, surely, is the last stage of it. " It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness."
To this abject view of degeneracy and dejection, two objects are placed in contrast-the calmness and intrepidity of Moses, and the majesty and power of God. In contemplating the former of these, as one great object of these Lectures is to unfold human character, and to hold up to imitation and applause praiseworthy conduct, let me endeavour to fix your attention upon The more obvious features of the great man, who is here drawing his own portrait.
All the great interests of Moses were embarked, with those of the commonwealth of Israel. His lot was cast into the common lap. He had made a sacrifice unspeakably greater than any individual of the congregation had done. His prospects, for either himself or his family, were neither brighter nor more flattering than those of the obscurest Hebrew among them. If there were danger from the pursuing host of Pharaoh, his share, most assuredly, was not less than that of any other man. He had rendered himself peculiarly obnoxious to that stern, unrelenting tyrant, and must have been among the first
, victims of his resentment. But the pressing danger of Moses did not arise from Pharaoh, and the Egyptians, but from an intimidated, distracted multitude, who were ready to wreak their vengeance on whoever might first meet their resentment, or could be most plausibly charged as the author of their misfortunes. The composure of Moses, in such circumstances, is therefore justly to be considered as an instance of uncommon heroism and magnanimi: iy. "But why do we talk of heroism ? the man who fears God knows no other fear. In the confidence of faith, though he knew not yet which way God was to work deliverance for Israel, he thus attempts to diffuse the hope, which he felt irradiating his own soul: “ Fear ye not; stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to-day: for the Egyptians which ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
Let me entreat you to observe, that the agent in this great transaction is also the historian of it; and that the resolution and spirit of the one is to be equalled only by the modesty and simplicity of the other. In the hands of one of the eloquent orators of Greece or Rome, what a figure would this passage of the life of the Jewish legislator have made, could we suppose them enter
ing into the situation of a stranger, with the warmth which they feel in delin
eating the characters and conduct of their own heroes, and embellishing the i dignity of modest merit with the glowing ornaments of rhetoric? But scrip
ture says much, by saying little. And the meek reserve, the unaffected conciseness of the sacred historian, infinitely exceed the diffusive and laboured panegyrics of profane poetry or history. We have already, perhaps, deviated too far from that beautiful simplicity; and diminished instead of magnifying our object, by multiplying words. We hasten therefore, with our author to contemplate an object of infinitely higher consideration than himself; to which he constantly brings his own, and instructs us to bring our tribute of praise.
Behold the obstructions, which nature, and art, and accident have assembled to distress, to discourage, and to destroy the church of God! An impassable ridge of mountains upon the right hand and upon the left; the roaring sea in front ; a powerful, exasperated, revengeful enemy following close behind ; interval weakness, irresolution and dissension : the voice of sedition loud ; Moses on his face before God. In such a situation as this, Omnipotence alone can save. No voice but that of a God, is worthy of being heard. Be silent then, O heavens, and listen, ( earth, it is God who speaks. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward !" What sublimity, simplicity, and force was here! “Go forward !” What, into the raging billows ? Great God, thy commands declare thy name and thy nature! What power except thine own, but must have been exposed and disgraced, by assuming such a high tone of authority! But what obstacle can oppose Him, who said, “ Let there be light, and there was light ?” “who spake, and it was done, who gave commandment, and it stood fast ?"
My heart is agitated with a mixture of fear and joy as I proceed. Lord God has given the word — Let the people go forward.” When lo, the conducting pillar instantly changes its position, and solemnly retreats to the rear of the Israelitish host. The word given clears all the way before them, and “the glory of the Lord becomes their rere-ward." Now, behold the double effect of this symbol of the divine presence! To Israel, the cloud is all light and favour ; to the Egyptians, all darkness and dismay. To those, night shineth as the day—to these, there is obscurity at noonday ! " And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed, and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them. And it came between the camp of the Egyptians, and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud of darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these : so that the one came not near the other all the night.” Awful distinction! Where shall we find the solution of the difficulty ? where, but in this, “ He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy; and whom he will he hardeneth."*
To prepare us for the history of the miracle which follows, give your attention, for a few moments, to what every man and woman among you may have observed a thousand and a thousand times. Go to the bank of the river, go to the shore of the sea, and twice in every twenty-four hours, as certainly as light proceeds from the sun, what is now dry land will be covered with water, and what is now overflowed shall infallibly become dry ground. Farther, when a little wandering star, called the moon, is in this direction, or in this, the whole waters of the globe, in the ocean, in the seas, in the rivers, are elevated or depressed to such a certain degree. Let that planet be in an eastern or a western direction, the tide is precisely at the same pitch of height or depth.
* Rom. ix, 18,