Page images
PDF
EPUB

After we have made this remark, which is obvious to the notice and level to the understanding of a child ; the question will naturally occur, What, does this never fail ? May we depend and act upon the certainty of such a regular succession and change taking place? Do the waters of the earth thus certainly feel, or seem to feel the various appearances of the moon ? Then it cannot be without the design and interposition of an intelligent and powerful cause, which never misses its aim, is never off its guard, is never thwarted or defeated by unforeseen obstacles. Then, that invisible, unknown, incomprehensible power, may exercise a discretionary influence over the stream of a particular river, over the billows of a particular sea.

He
may,

with or without apparent second causes, make the current overflow its banks, or the channel to become dry.

Or, to make another appeal to common observation and experience, when the sun is in such a certain position with respect to our earth, and the wind blows in such a direction, the water in that lake will be liquid and transparent, and the smallest, lightest pebble will sink to the bottom. But let the elevation of the sun be changed to an angle somewhat more acute, and let the wind shift into the opposite quarter, then, beyond all doubt, the selisame water shall become solid as the rock, lose its transparency, and become capable of sustaining any weight that can be put upon it. How

easy

had it been for Him, who produces regularly these changes in the course of every changing year, to have given the globe such a position, as would have rendered the hoary deep one vast mountain of ice, all the year round, or have prevented a single drop of water from ever being congealed. And “ wherefore should it be thought a thing incredible," that such an one, willing to make his power known, and his grace felt, should at his own time, and in his own way, do that in a particular instance, which he could have done perpetually and universally. Grant me the usual appearances and operations of nature, and I am prepared for all the uncommon, miraculous phenomena, with which the God of nature may see meet to present me. We come, accordingly, to the history of dividing the Red Sea, perfectly convinced that he who made it at first, can make of it whatever he pleases; and thoroughly satisfied that the occasion of such a notable miracle, as it is related by Moses, was entirely worthy of it.

If it be a just rule in criticism, that a Deity is never to be introduced but when his interposition is necessary, and on occasions becoming his dignity, the Mosaic account of this wonderful event, stands fully justified in point of taste as well as authenticity. The powerful rod is once more stretched out. The east wind blows: the sea retires; and a safe and easy passage is opened for Israel through the channel of the deep." This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.”

"Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” The word which commands the progress also prepares

the
way.

As in latter times, by the effectual working of the same almighty power, the grace which cured the father's unbelief, at the selfsame instant likewise cast the devil out of the son. It is the sensible language of the common proverb, “ The king said, Sail; but the wind said, No.” The command of the King of kings alone procures prompt obedience from every creature; for all are his subjects in fact, as well as of right. Thrones, principalities and powers are subject unto him;

a sparrow falleth not to the ground without our heavenly Father.” When we behold our blessed Saviour, in the New Testament, saying to the stormy wind and the foaming billows, “ Peace, be still," and a great calın instantly ensuing; and compare it with the work of the great Jehovah under review, we are led directly to the conclusion of the Roman centurion who observed the wonders attending the crucifixion, “ 'Truly this was the Son of God."

and

In the history of our own country there is a passage, which the event we are considering suggests to our thoughts, and which does honour to the piety, modesty and good sense of the prince whom it concerns. Canute, one of the early kings of the southern division of England, justly disgusted at the gross and impious adulation of some of his courtiers, who ascribed to him the attributes which belong only to God, and called him “ lord of the earth and of the sea, that he might check their fully by something more than a simple reproof, commanded his chair of state to be placed on the beach near Southampton, durmg the flowing of the tide. Arrayed in his royal robes, and attended by all the nobility and great men of his court, he sat down with his face towards the sea, and thus addressed it : “I charge thee upon thy allegiance, O sea, to advance no farther. Here I, thy lord, have thought proper to fix my station. Know thy distance; respect my authority, nor dare to touch the feet of thy sovereign, under pain of his highest displeasure.” The swelling billows, regardless of his command and threatenints, continued to rush in, advanced impetuously to the steps of his throne, and speedily constrained the monarch and his train to retire. Upon which, turning round to his flatterers, he observed, “ that he only deserved to be acknowledged as Lord of the land and the sea, whose will the winds and the waves obeyed.”

The breadth of the passage opened through the Red Sea must have been very considerable indeed, to have afforded to such a multitude as four millions of people, for less there could not be, space to get over in a single vight's time. To determine this we must have recourse to calculation. But your time being far spent, ihis, together with an attempt to solve some of the difficulties of the dispensation, and to remove some of the objections which infidelity has raised to the credibility or miraculousness of the history, must make a constituent part of another Lecture.

In practically applying this subject, we may consider the Red Sea, by which the armies of Israel were stopt short, as an emblematical representation of that great fight of afiliction, that sea of trouble, through which every believer mist pass in his way to the heavenly Canaan. Through the furnaces of E ypt, through the paths of the Red Sea, through the swellings of Jordan, Gil's ancient people at length got possession of the promised land. And it is “through manifold tribulations that we must enter into the kingdom of God.” It is of importance not only that we be going forwards, but that we be making progress; that growth in grace should keep pace with the uninterrupted flux of human life. The course which Providence leads us, though neither the shortest nor the most desirable, will be found upon the whole the safest, the surest and the best. The possession of Canaan is not always the next step to our escape from Egypt. Justification by the grace of God puts us beyond the reach of our enemies, and adoption makes good our title to "the inheritance of the saints in light;" but it is sanctification that makes us meet for the enjoyment of the purchased possession. The Red Sea seemed to put an end to Israel's

progress, but actually shortened the distance. So affliction, while it appears intended to overwhelm, is accelerating the believer's speed to his Father's house above. " All these things are against me,” saith frail, faltering, erring man, in his haste. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God,” saith the better informed, the experience taught christian, on reviewing the mysterious ways of Providence; and on having attained “ the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul.” If we look to the creature only, all is dark and comfortless ; nothing but cloud. When through the creature we look to an invisible God, all is peace and joy. We cannot remove mountains, nor turn floods into dry ground. It is not meet we should be trusted with such power. Obedience is our proper province; submission to the will of God our truest wisdom; and when we follow the direction of Providence, our way cannot but be prosperous. " Lord, we will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.' Human conduct is a woeful inversion of this rule. We torment ourselves about the event over which we have no power, and trifle with the commandment with which alone we have to do. We neglect our duty, and then foolishly and impiously complain that we are unkindiy dealt by, when Providence promotes not, or crosses our inclinations. shew cheerful and unreserved compliance; and be the issue what it may, whether our wishes be opposed or succeed, we shall at least have the consolation of reflecting, that the miscarriage is not chargeable to our own perverseness or folly. It is a dreadful, it is a twoedged evil, at once to lose our aim, and incur the just displeasure of God by disobedience. " Thy will,” O Father, " be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Amen.

Let us

HISTORY OF MOSES.

LECTURE XI.

EXODUS XV. 1, 2.

Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing

unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation : he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my Father's God, and I will exalt him.

To no one man has the world been so much indebted for rational pleasure and useful knowledge, as to the inspired author of these sacred books. Moses, as he is the most ancient, so he is by far the best writer that ever existed. Never in one and the same character were united talents so various, so rare, and so valuable, He may without hesitation be pronounced, the most eloquent of historians, the sublimest of poets, the profoundest of sages, the most sagacious of politicians, the most acute of legislators, the most intrepid of heroes, the clearest sighted of prophets, the most amiable of men. The qualities of his heart seem to strive for the mastery with those of the understanding : so that it is difficult to determine whether, as the reputed son of Pharaoh's daughter, as a voluntary exile from the splendour of a court, as the sympathizing friend of his afflicted brethren, as the bold protector of virgin innocence, as the contented shepherd of Jethro's flock, as the magnanimous assertor of Israelitish liberty, or finally. as king in Jeshurun, ruling the thousands of Israel with meekness and wisdom-he most challenges our admiration and praise. Had the world never been favoured with his works, or were it now to be deprived of that precious treasure, the loss were inconceivably great. Who does dot shudder at the thought ? What a fearful gap in the history of mankind ! What a blow to take, what a blank in science, what'an impoverishing of the public stock of harmless pleasure, what an injury to the dearest, the best, the everlasting interests of mankind !

The venerable man, who has for so many evenings past condescended to delight and instruct us by the relation of events the most singular, interesting

the sea.

stone."*

and important, assumes this night a new character; and in strains the sweetest and boldest that bard ever sung; in verses the loftiest that the imagination of poet ever dictated, rouses, warms, transports the mind. We forget the distance of three thousand years. We feel ourselves magically conveyed to the banks of the Red Sea. We join in the acclamations of the redeemed of the Lord, as this song of Moses swells upon our ear. " Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots, and with his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of

The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a

How wonderfully suited to each other, the event and the celebration of it!

In fulfilling the promise made in the conclusion of the last Lecture, and executing the business of the present, three objects are proposed. First, to attempt a vindication of the history of the passage of the Red Sea, from some objections which have been made to the credibility or miraculousness of it. Secondly, to make a few criticisms on the sacred hymn which was composed on the ccasion, and now, in part, read in your hearing ; in the view of pointing out a few of its more striking beauties. And, thirdly, to make a few remarks on sacred poesy in general, tending to evince its superiour excellency; and to point out the delicacy and difficulty of attempting to amplify or imitate what the inspired poets have written, as helps to devotion. In the first I shall, without ceremony or apology borrow the assistance of the pious and learned author of Dissertations, historical, critical, theological, and moral, on the most memorable events of the Old and New TESTAMENT history,-James Saurin, late minister of the French church at the Ilague.f In the second, I shall submit to be instructed by an ingenious, pious and eloquent professor of rhetoric in the university of Paris, who has made choice of this passage, expressly for the purpose of exemplifying the majesty, beauty and simplicity of the scripture style. And in the third, I shall do little more than transcribe from an elegant, penetrating and instructive moralist of our own age and country. To return :

If we collect the several circumstances of this wonderful piece of history, it will readily be acknowledged, that there is here presented to the mind one of the greatest, or rather a series of the greatest miracles, which the hand of Omnipotence ever wrought in behalf of any nation. It is not therefore to be wondered at if the enemies of revelation have endeavoured to sully their lustre, and impeach their credibility.

Three methods have been employed for this purpose—To ascribe these events to natural causes—To put them on a footing with others related in profane history, and to represent them as contradictory and inconsistent. Three bulwarks of infidelity; as many grounds of triumph for truth.

First, these events, which we ascribe entirely to the almighty power of God, have been accounted for from the common and natural operation of cause and effect. Eusebius has preserved and transmitted to us a fragment from an ancient author, Artapanes, || to this purpose : “ Those of Memphis, one of the chief cities of ancient Egypt, allege, that Moses perfectly understood the country ; that he had accurately observed the ebbing and flowing of the sea, and took advantage of the retreat of the tide to lead the people over. But they of Heliopolis relate the matter differently, saying, that while the king was pursuing the Israelites, Moses, by the command of Heaven, struck the * Exodus xv. 1, 19, 5. + Tom. i. Disc. xlix. Rollin Rel. Let. Tom. ii. Eloq. de Liv. Sacr. ♡ Johnson's life of the poet Waller.

| Euseb. Prepar. Lib. ix. Chap. xxvii.

waters with a rod, upon which they immediately separated, and left a spacious and safe passage for that great multitude ; and, that the Egyptians attempting to tollow them the same way, were dazzled and confounded by preternatural fires, lost their way, and by the reflux of the sea, were overtaken in the midst of the channel, and thus all perished either by water or by fire.'

Now, granting to this quotation all the force that unbelief can give it, this evidently appears upon the face of it, that Moses has vouchers of his divine legation, even in Egypt, even among the idolators themselves. If the Memphutes accuse our historian of endeavouring to make a natural pass for a miraculous event, the Heliopolitans acknowledge that it was preternatural, and ascribe it to an immediate interposition of Heaven. And this concession is important, when we consider that it comes from the mouth of an enemy.

Again the supposition of the Memphites must be rejected by all those who pay any regard to the authority of Moses, and of the other sacred writers. He himself indeed admits, that the effect was forwarded by the assistance of a strong east wind. And whatever he ascribes to that, may seem so far to derogate from the greatness of the miracle. But it is no less true, that he throws out nothing like an insinuation that the passage of the vast host of Israel was produced by the intervention of second causes. And all the inspired authors, who, after him, have mentioned it or alluded to it, acknowledge only a supernatural agency. Thus Joshua, who was an eyewitness and a party deeply concerned in the event. “ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over : that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God forever."* Thus, Psalm lxvi. 6. “He turned the sea into dry land; they went through the flood on foot ; there did we rejoice in him." And lxxviii. 13. “ He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through, and he made the waters to stand as an heap." And cvi. 9. “ He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths as through the wilderness.' And Heb. xi. 29. • Ву faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land : which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.” So that Moses, Joshua, David, and Paul, have but one and the same opinion on this subject.

But farther, the essence of a miracle does not always consist in counteracting or suspending the laws of nature. One of the most contemptible of the adversaries of religion has weakly imagined, that by a single objection he was able to invalidate one of the bulwarks, and shake one of the pillars of revelation. “ These miraculous effects,” says he, “ are referred, by the confession of scripture historians themselves, to the operation of second causes. It was by warming the body of a child, that Elijah brought him to life again. It was by applying clay, or dust mingled with spittle, to the eyes of a blind man, that Jesus Christ restored him to sight. It was by a wind, that Moses brought locusts upon Egypt, and obtained a passage through the Red Sea.' To this it is replied—That the most common and natural things become miraeles, when they present themselves precisely at the time and in the manner prescribed by Him who commands their appearance, for the confirmation and establishment of a certain doctrine. What so natural and common, for example, as to see the sun shining one moment in full and unobstructed glory, and the next darkened and concealed by clouds ? But if a person publishing a new doctrine as divine, should undertake to prove his mission by changing the appearance of the bright orb of day, at his pleasure, and by shewing him either in unclouded majesty, or eclipsed and shorn of his beams, according as

* Josh. iv. 23, 24.

Spinosa Tract. Theol. Polit. Cap. vi.

« PreviousContinue »