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he gave the word ; and should we behold this very ordinary natural phenomenon actually and uniformly obeying the mandate, would not such an event, however natural in itself, become preternatural and miraculous from its circumstances ? Thus, there might be occasion for the influence of the wind, to favour and facilitate the passage of Israel. But, how was it possible for their leader, by mere human sagacity, to discover that a wind from such a quarter, springing up exactly at such an hour, should harden the bottom of the
But, supposing the philosophy of Moses sufficiently accurate to assure him, that at such a time he might in safety march over his cumbersome retinue ; could it inform him also that Pharaoh and his captains would certainly be mad enough to follow him through that dangerous route ? Could it assure bim that the rashness of the tyrant, and the law which regulated the flowing of the sea, would exactly keep time, so as effectually to produce the destruction of his whole army? The flux and reflux of the tide were known to Moses ; but, was it entirely unknown to the Egyptians ? What, in so great an army, led by the sovereign in person, in a land renowned for natural knowledge, was there no man astronomer enough to know, that the difference of a few hours is every thing in a case of this sort; that to be in such a spot, at such a time, was inevitable destruction ? Incredible! impossible!
Finally, it is altogether inconceivable that the space of three or four hours, the utmost that an ebb merely natural could have afforded them, was sufficient for the transition of such an astonishing multitude as that which Moses conducted. The learned Calinet has so fully demonstrated this point,* as to enforce the conclusion, that no degree of buman knowledge could have disclosed to Moses a foresight of the events which proved so propitious to bim. Not therefore to the superiority of genius, but to a power divine, the praise is to be ascribed. And to the same principle we must recur in order to explain the mighty difference whicb Providence puts between the Israelites and the Egyptiāns, in the midst of the Red Sea.
Attempts have been made to debase the dignity of this great event, by reducing it to the level of similar appearances recorded by profane historians. That degenerate son of Israel, Josephus, first started this objection. These are his words; “this," speaking of the passage of the Red Sea, “ I have related with all the circumstances, as I find them in our sacred authors. Nobody ought to think it an incredible thing, that a people which lived in the innocence and simplicity of the first ages, might have found a way through the sea to save themselves. Whether it was that the sea itself opened it for them, or whether it was done by the will of God: since the same thing happened long after to the Macedonians, when they passed through the sea of Pamphylia, under the conduct of Alexander, when God thought fit to make use of that people for the destruction of the Persian empire, as it is affirmed by all the historians who have written the life of that Prince. However, I leave all men to judge of this matter as they think fit." Thus far Josephus.t.
The other instances which some presume to be put in competition with this, are the approach of Scipio with his army to the attack of New Carthage, by means of an extraordinary ebb at the change of the moon, recorded by Livy :I a similar ebb of the river Euphrates, related by Plutarch, in his life of Lucallus; and, a flood altogether as singular, upon the coast of Holland, in the year 1072: which kept up for twelve whole hours, and was apparently the means of preserving that republic from the consequences of a joint attack of the fleets of England and France. It is handed down to us in the life of the famous admiral De Ruyter, who had the command of the Dutch squadron at * Dissert, sur le passage de la Mer Rouge,
+ Antiq. Jud. Lib. ii. Cap. vii. #Lib. xxvi. Cap. xlv.
that time. Neither your time nor patience admitting of an inquiry into the truth of these several facts, we satisfy ourselves with observing, that admitting them to be true, not one of them is any way worthy to be compared with the Mosaic account of the passage across the Red Sea. The pointed and particular prediction of Moses; the rod employed, and the instantaneousness of the effect; the facility and speed of the passage; the rashness of the Egyptians ; their tragical end; every thing in short concurs to render this an unparalleled event. And nothing but an immoderate desire of depreciating the miracles of the sacred history, could have attempted to diminish this celebrated transit into a comparison with any of the other events which are alluded to.
The third objection is, to the truth of the history; pretended to be taken from the history itself. The time allotted by Moses, by his own account, for the congregation, consisting of so many myriads, to pass over, is considered by the objectors as much too short for the purpose. But in order to support it, they are obliged to go into uncertain, fanciful and unsupported conjectures, about the breadth of the Red Sea at the place where the passage was opened. They make the breadth of that passage just what it suits their own arbitrary conjecture and calculation. They must needs constrain a great multitude, in very peculiar circumstances, unaccustomed to discipline, stimulated by fear, and borne on the wings of hope, to move with the leisure and deliberation of a regular army. They will not deign to acknowledge the power and grace of the Most High in every part of the transaction. They overlook the descrip tion given of that people, Psalm cv. 37. as a people full of strength and vigour, and “ not one sickly among them.” They, forget what God himself soon after says of them, “ You have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagle's wings, and brought you unto myself.”* We conclude, that as the case taken all together was singular, unprecedented, and followed by nothing like it ; so the particular circumstances of it are likewise singular and unexampled, and will, with every candid person, bear out Moses, the sacred historian, against the charge of being inconsistent with himself.
We proceed to the second object which we proposed, namely, to point out a few of the more striking beauties of the sacred song, which was composed. and sung in grateful acknowledgement of that great deliverance which we have been contemplating. What will undoubtedly give it a high value in the estimation of many is, that it is the most ancient morsel of poetry which the world is in possession of: being three thousand three hundred and thirty-seven years old, that is, six hundred and forty-seven years before Homer, the most ancient and the best of heathen bards, lived or sung. But its antiquity is its slightest excellency. The general turn of it is great, the thoughts nobly simple, the style sublime, the expression strong, the pathos sweet, the figures natural and bold. It abounds throughout with images which at once strike, warm, astonish, and delight. The occasion of it you well know. The poet's view is to indulge himself in transports of joy, admiration and gratitude, and to inspire the people with the same sentiments. Accordingly he thus impetuously breaks out,
Verse 1. “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. Here the tremendous majesty of God the deliverer, and the lively gratitude of the people saved, the leading object of the piece, are placed instantly and powerfully in sight; and they are never dropt for one moment, to the end. I, in the singular number, is much more energetic and affecting than we in the plural would have been. The triumph of Israel over the Egyptians did not resemble the usual triumphs of nation over nation; where the individual is overlooked and lost in the general. No; every thing here is peculiar and personal. Every Israelite for himself reflects with joy on his own chains now forever broken in pieces.
He seems to exult over his own tyrant-master now subdued under him, and hails his personal liberty now effectually secured. For it is natural to the heart of man, in extreme danger, to refer every thing to himself, and to consider himself as all in all. " The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea :" for the same reason the horse is much more forcible than horses would have been; it marks strongly the suddenness, the universality, the completeness of the destruction. The Egyptian cavalry, numerous, formidable, corering the face of the ground, is represented in a moment, by a single etfort, at one blow, overthrown, overwhelmed, as if they had been but one horse and one rider.
Verse 2. “ JEHOvan 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.” Is it lawful to say that the poet employs the most exquisite art, in representing this great deliverance, in every part and every view of it, as the work of Jehovan : the great “I AM THAT I AM :" that name of Gop, by which he chose to be known to Israel through the whole of those memorable transactions ? my strength, that is, the source or cause of my strength : and it points out the great God as the courage and force of Israel, without the necessity of their exerting any of their own. · My song,” that is, the subject of it. No instrument divides the praise with him. No power, no wisdom is employed but his own. He planned, arranged, executed every thing by himself. “ He is become my salvation.” The fine writers of Greece or Rome would probably have said, "He hath saved me.” But Moses says much more; the Lord hath undertaken himself to work deliverance for me: he hath made my salvation his own, his personal concern, and is become to me every thing I can want.
" He is my God.” Every word is emphatical. “He,” in opposition to the gods of Egypt, which cannot hear, nor see, nor save. My God :" all-attentive to my interest and safety, as if he had no creature but me to care for: and therefore
my God: for I acknowledge not, I never will acknowledge, any other. “My father's God.” This repetition is most beautifully tender and pathetic. He whose greatness I adore, is not a strange God, unknown till now; a protector for a moment. No, he is the ancient patron of my family, his goodness is from generation to generation. I have a thousand domestic proofs of his constant, undiminished affection ; and he is now making good to me only that which he solemnly promised to my forefathers. And how has he effected this?
** The Lord is a man of war."
An ordinary writer would probably have represented the Almighty here as the God of armies : and as such discomfiting the host of Pharaoh. But Moses does more; he brings him forth as a champion, a soldier ; puts the sword into his hand, and exhibits him fighting his battles, the battles of Israel.
The fourth and fifth verses contain a very fine display and amplification of the simple idea suggested in the first, the horse and his rider.”
“ Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea : his chosen captains are also drowned in the Red Sea, the depths have covered them, they sank into the bottom as a stone." Image rises and swells above image. Pharaoh's chariots, his hosts, his chosen captains-cast into the sea, drowned in the Red Sea-covered with the depths, sunk to the bottom, at once, as a stone. Notwithstanding their pride and insolence, they can make no more resistance to the power of Jehovah, than a stone launched from the arm of a strong man into the flood.
Every writer but a Moses must have stopped short here; or flattened his subject, by repeating or extending the same ideas. But the seraphic poet, upborne by an imagination which overleaps the boundaries of the world, and an
enthusiasm which cannot rest in any creature, springs up to the Creator himself, in these rapturous strains :
“ Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in thy power : thy right hand O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. In the greainess of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee.”
When the heart is full of an object, it turns it round, as it were on every side, returns to it again and again ; never tires in contemplating it, till admiration is lost in astonishment.-Moses after this effusion of joy and praise returns again to the matter of fact : but not in the language of mere description, as in the 4th verse; but in a continuation of his bold, animated address to God himself; which gives it a life and fervour superiour to any thing hunan. As if the strength of one element had not been sufficient to destroy God's enemies, every element lends its aid. The deep opens its mouth, the fire consumes, the wind rages; all nature is up in arms, to avenge the quarrel of an incensed God. The poet ennobles the wind, by making God the principle of it; and animates the fire, by making it susceptible of fear. In the same style of address to God, he throws himself as it were into the person and character of the enemy, previous to their defeat, and pours forth their sentiments of threatening and slaughter; the more strongly to mark their disappointment, by contrasting the folly and impotence of man, with the power and justice of God. “ The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil : my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them." You see here vengeance hastening to its object, regardless of opposition. The words, unconnected with a conjunction, seem to hurry on like the passion that prompts to them. And in what does it issue ?“ Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them.” And the picture is finished with this happy stroke, “ They sank as lead in the mighty waters.”
But I feel I have undertaken a task far beyond my ability, and the limits of your time. And therefore break off with another borrowed remark, namely, that whatever grandeur and magnificence we may discover in this song, as it stands in such a place and connexion, its beauty and force must greatly rise upon us, were we permitted to penetrate through the mysterious sense concealed behind the veil of this great event. For it is certain, that this deliverance from Egypt covers and represents salvation of a superiour and more extensive nature. The Apostle of the Gentiles teaches us to consider it as a type of that freedom which the christian obtains by the waters of baptism and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, from the yoke of the prince of this world. And the prophet, in the book of Revelation, makes it to shadow forth the final and great deliverance of the redeemed, by introducing the assembly of those who overcome the beast, holding the harps of God in their hands, and singing " the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty ; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints! Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest."* Now, as the scriptures declare that the wonders of this second deliverance shall infinitely surpass the first, and shall entirely obliterate the remembrance of it; we may easily believe that the beauties of the spiritual sense of this divine poem may totally eclipse those of the historical.
Having endeavoured imperfectly to unfold some of the excellencies of this ancient sacred composition, I should proceed, as I proposed, to point out the delicacy of attempting, and the difficulty of succeeding, in imitating or extending devotional poetry; but your time and patience, perhaps, will be beta
* Rev. xv. 3, 4.
ter employed in hearing me read to you a short passage, containing the sentiments of an excellent modern critic* on the subject; with which I shall conclude this exercise.
“ It has been the frequent lamentation of good men, that verse has been too little applied to the purposes of worship; and many attempts have been made to animate devotion by pious poetry. That they have very seldom attained their end is sufficiently known ; and it may not be improper to inquire why they have miscarried.
“ Let no pious ear be offended, if I advance, in opposition to many authorities, that poetical devotion cannot often please. The doctrines of religion may, indeed, be defended in a didactic poem and he who has the happy power of arguing in verse, will not lose it because his subject is sacred. A poet may describe the beauty and grandeur of nature, the flowers of spring, and the harvests of autumn, the vicissitudes of the tide, and the revolutions of the sky, and praise the Maker for his works, in lines which no reader shall lay aside. The subject of the disputation is not piety, but the motives to piety ; that of the description is not God, but the works of God.
“ Contemplative piety, or the intercourse between God and the human soul, cannot be poetical. Man admitted to implore the mercy of his Creator, and plead the merits of his Redeemer, is already in a higher state than poetry can confer.
“The essence of poetry is invention ; such invention as, by producing something unexpected, surprises and delights. The topics of devotion are few, and being few are universally known; but few as they are, they can be made no more; they can receive no grace from novelty of sentiment, and very little from novelty of expression.
“ Poetry pleases by exhibiting an idea more grateful to the mind than things themselves afford. This effect proceeds from the display of those parts of nature which attract, and the concealment of those which repel the imagination ; but religion must be shewn as it is; suppression and addition equally corrupt it; and such as it is, it is known already.
“ From poetry the reader justly expects, and from good poetry always obtains, the enlargement of his comprehension, and elevation of his fancy; but this is rarely to be hoped for by christians from metrical devotion. Whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprised in the name of the Supreme Being. Omnipotence cannot be exalted; infinity cannot be amplified; perfection cannot be improved.
“The employments of pious meditation are faith, thanksgiving, repentance, and supplication. Faith, invariably uniform, cannot be invested by fancy with decorations. Thanksgiving, the most joyful of all holy effusions, yet addressed to a being without passions, is confined to a few modes, and is to be felt rather than expressed. Repentance trembling in the presence of the judge, is not at leisure for cadences and epithets. Supplication of man to man may diffuse itself through many topics of persuasion, but supplication to God can only cry for mercy.
“Of sentiments purely religious, it will be found that the most simple expression is the most sublime. Poetry loses its lustre and its power, because it is applied to the decoration of something more excellent than itself. All that verse can do is to help the memory and delight the ear; and for these purposes it may be very useful; but it supplies nothing to the mind. The ideas of christian theology are too simple for eloquence, too sacred for fiction, and too majestic for ornament; to recommend them by tropes and figures, is to magnify by a concave mițror the sideral hemisphere."
* Dr. Samuel Johnson.