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He who would cure infidelity in others, must first be purged of the old leaven himself. To effect this in the heart of his servant Moses, God vouchsafes to perform miracle upon miracle. He turns the rod which was in the hand of Moses into a serpent; and from a serpent to a rod again: in order to intimate to him and to the world that the most harmless things become noxious, and the most pernicious things innocent at his command. His hand is in a moment covered with leprosy, and in a moment restored-to shew the power of God's holy law to fix guilt upon the sinner, and of his grace to remove it from the penitent. He is enjoined and authorized to perform these signs before all Israel, in order to produce that conviction in them, which they had first wrought upon his own mind. Should these still happen to fail, he is permitted to go a step farther. Nature shall submit to a thorough alteration, rather than the seed of faithful Abraham continue slaves in Egypt, or perish through unbelief. Water shall become blood before their eyes, rather than the blood of their innocent children be poured out any more like water upon the ground. And now, surely, Moses is gained, and the work of God shall no longer stand still. Alas! the sullen spirit is not yet subdued. Though forced to retreat, he continues to fight as he retires. The slowness of Isreal to believe, was formerly the plea; now his own want of talents is urged in excuse of his strange backwardness and disobedience. That objection too is immediately removed, by a promise of wisdom and eloquence suited to the occasion. language of the oracle, and the longsuffering of the speaker, are miraculous and supernatural, as all the other circumstances of the case, "And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now, therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.'
"Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth!" This, instead of producing humble submission and instantaneous compliance, without a reason and without a plea, meets with a direct refusal; "O my Lord, send I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send." And now what heart does not tremble for fear, that the fire which had spared the bush, should wax hot, to punish the madness of the prophet? What patience can endure such a repetition of insult? The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses; and-and what? O it becomes a flame of love to melt his heart, and purify it of its dross. "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also behold, he cometh forth to meet thee; and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart." Providence had all this while been preparing a concluding, a convincing proof of power, wisdom and goodness inconceivable. Lo, Aaron is already far advanced on his way from Egypt, in quest of
That, after so long an interval, through a field of so many chances, he should at that very instant of time arrive-How is it to be accounted for? On no other principle but this, the Lord is "wonderful in counsel and excellent in working." "He seeth the end from the beginning." He saith, "My counsel shall stand, and I will fulfil all my pleasure." He doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth." Let every knee bow, let every tongue confess, let every heart adore, and love, and submit.
- Moses is at length subdued, and we stand with astonishment and joy to contemplate the triumph of mercy over judgment. God grant we may improve the example of his divine patience as a pattern. God in mercy preserve us from presuming upon it, as an encouragement to offend. And may God bless what has been spoken. Amen.
* Exod. iv. 11, 12:
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS VI. 9.
And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel; but they hearkened not unto Moses, for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.
EVERY nation has in its history events of peculiar importance, which latest posterity is disposed fondly to commemorate. But the memory of remarkable deliverances is necessarily blended with the recollection of heavy distress or imminent danger, and whether as men, or as citizens, we greatly rejoice, by that very joy we expressly declare that we, or our fathers, once had cause to mourn. Perpetual sunshine suits not the state of the natural world; perpetual success is by no means favourable either to human happiness or virtue. Hunger is necessary to give a relish to food; the gloom of winter is the happiest recommendation of the cheerfulness and bloom of spring. We discover the value of health by disease; and the blessings of peace would be but half understood, were it not for the antecedent anxieties and calamities of war. Men therefore act foolishly as well as impiously when they charge the wise, righteous and merciful Governor of the world, with carelessness or unkindness, because he admits into the system of his works, or into his moral government of the universe, what ignorance calls disorder, what presumption cries down as unnecessary, and pride condemns as unjust.
What so irregular at first sight, and always so to the vulgar eye, as the face of the starry heavens? A handful of little sparks, scattered at random in the air! But to the attentive, inquiring, enlightened spirit, they present a vast combination of worlds, each in its place, every one moving in its proper orbit; the whole possessing every quality that can at once excite astonishment and inspire delight; greatness, order, beauty, harmony, utility! They present excellencies obvious to the slightest observation of the most shallow understanding; excellencies undiscoverable by the closest investigation of the most penetrating gen.us. Now, clownish thoughtlessness and stupidity is not more incompetent to judge of the order and frame of nature, than passion and prejudice, by which all men are governed, are to determine upon the wisdom and goodness of the ways of Providence. Every man would have every thing bend to his humour, conveniency, indolence or interest. This would produce were it permitted, endless confusion and misery, did not God over-rule and employ the activity and the indolence, the senseless caprices and the jarring interests of men to execute his purposes, and without their intention, nay, in spite of their efforts, make them productive of regularity, stability and happi
In contemplating, therefore, agents and events, those of which we have Vol. II.
heard and read, or those which we see and in which we are concerned, the only road to composure and improvement is, to consider the whole as the work of a supreme, intelligent, almighty, invisible Agent, who is carrying on a plan which we comprehend not, or understand only in part, and who, from all that we can know of him from nature, from experience and from revelation, takes delight in shewing mercy and doing good, but who, in the exercise of even these gracious prerogatives, governs not himself by the partial lights, hasty conceptions and contracted views of ignorant, erring men, but by his own allcomprehending intelligence, all-pervading benignity, all-subduing love.
If, in that portion of ancient history which is now to come under our consideration, we observe Providence treating one nation with uncommon severity and another with indulgence altogether as singular, we are to regard the parties not as they are in themselves, or in relation to each other, but in their relation to God and to mankind in general, as an important link in the great chain of Providence, as serving and instructing the human race to the end of the world. The perverseness and unbelief of Moses met with pity and forgiveness, and were cured by a series of miracles. The impiety and unbelief of Pharaoh meet with resentment and punishment, and were even confirmed and strengthened by a most awful series of miracles; not for the sake of Moses and Pharaoh merely, but to illustrate in the eyes of the whole world the goodness and severity of Gon; the wisdom and safety of repentance and submission on the one hand, the madness and danger of impenitence on the other. Egypt was plagued, and Israel saved, that violence and cruelty might be awakened to see the naked sword of justice suspended by a single hair over its guilty throat; and that misery and depression might find a refuge from despair.
We have seen with what solemnity the commission to Moses for the deliverance of Israel was granted, and the awful seal which was appended to it; even the great and fearful name, JEHOVAH, "I AM THAT I AM." We have seen the backwardness, irresolution and timidity of the prophet, in undertaking an employment so flattering to ambition, so desirable to the spirit of patriotism, so elevating to a mind awake to the influence of religion. We have seen the goodness and condescension of God in deigning, by repeated exertions of power and mercy, to remove the scruples and level the objections of incredulity and fear. And we have seen Aaron, the brother of Moses, providentially conducted to the spot, and at the moment, to establish a belief in the divine power and veracity, to confirm the wavering, trembling soul, and constituted to a share of the diligence, difficulty, danger and glory of the illustrious enterprize.
Behold then two plain old men, one of eighty, and the other of eighty-three years old, setting out from the deserts of Arabia, on an undertaking to human reason the most wild and romantic that ever was attempted; to persuade or to constrain one of the most powerful princes of the world to enfranchise, nay, to dismiss the tenth part of his most valuable and useful subjects! And how are they provided for this vast undertaking? The pleas of reason, the powers of eloquence, the calls of humanity, the claims of justice it is well known, make but a feeble impression on the hearts of kings, when their pride, ambition or interest oppose. For such a vast multitude to slip away by stealth is impossible, and to think of forcing an escape from a power so greatly superior is rashness and ruin. When men engage in hazardous and difficult expeditions, they levy armies, accumulate treasure, provide magazines, strengthen themselves with alliances. But when GoD addresses himself to action, we behold no apparatus, no effort. Is an universe to start out of nothing? "GOD speaks, and it is done." Is a sun to arise, and light to shine? GOD says, "Let there be light." Is a great nation to be subdued, and a little one
asserted into liberty? Our eyes are directed, not to a general at the head of a mighty host, but to a shepherd with his crook in his hand.
But the commands of Heaven break not in upon the sacred duties and the virtuous charities of private life. The charge given to Moses was pressing, the object most important, and the authority under which it was issued, supreme; but yet he is permitted to return for a little while, to attend to the calls of nature, of gratitude, to the gentle claims of filial piety, of conjugal and paternal affection. He went back to his father-in-law to acknowledge his protection, hospitality and kindness to him when a stranger, to inform him of the extraordinary commission he had just received, and the necessity he was thereby laid under of immediately entering upon the execution of it; to obtain his consent for this purpose, and to ask his paternal benediction. Religion is in a happy state in the soul of that man, who has learned to unite and reconcile the views and pursuits of the citizen with those of the private man; who pleads not the performance of one duty as an excuse for the omission of another; whose life exhibits every moral and divine principle in action, every one in his season, every one in his place. How simple and affectionate the dismission which honest Raguel gave to Moses, compared to that of the selfish, rapacious Laban to Jacob:*- Go in peace!" says Raguel; an adieu expressive at once of submission to the will of Providence, and of affection to his son-in-law, mixed with regret at the thought of parting with him.
It pleased GoD again to confirm the confidence of Moses, by assuring him that all who had ever harboured a design against his life were now dead; and that nothing therefore remained, but to address himself boldly to his great work. Accompanied with his wife and two sons, he leaves the land of Midian, and proceeds towards Egypt.
On this journey, a very extraordinary incident occurs: but the conciseness of the sacred history leaves it involved in much darkness and difficulty. GoD had blessed him with two sons in Midian, whom, in compliance with the commandment of GOD, and as a son of Abraham, he ought to have circumcised on the eighth day from their birth. This however, either for want of the proper minister, from inattention, or out of improper respect to the feelings or prejudices of Zipporah his wife, or some other reason that appears not, had been hitherto wholly neglected, and thereby his children, the younger at least, through his neglect, seems to have incurred the dreadful penalty denounced by the terms of the covenant against uncircumcised persons, that of being "cut off from his people." This punishment God seems disposed to exact at the hand of Moses himself, who was indeed the guilty person, by attacking him either with a threatening bodily distemper, by remorse of conscience for his criminal neglect, by the appearance of an avenging angel, or some other sensible token of displeasure. But the difficulty is, Why the conduct of Moses in this respect was never called in question before? Why he was not purged of this guilt before he was honoured at all with the divine commission? Why the precept was enforced upon a journey, and at an inn, where the operation could be performed less commodiously, and was accompanied with some degree of danger? What could Zipporah mean when she reproached Moses as "a bloody husband?" The passage is evidently enveloped in much obscurity; and probably with design. Instead of curiously inquiring into its hidden meaning, an attempt vain and unprofitable, we may, by the blessing of God, learn from it more than one practical lesson, neither obscure nor unimportant; and this, no doubt, the Spirit of GoD principally intended. The first is, that no circumstances of prudence or conveniency can ever be with
* Gen. xxxi. 26, &c.
propriety urged as a dispensation with a clearly commanded duty. Secondly, that as there may be a sinful undervaluing of the feelings, prejudices and inclinations of our near and dear relations, so there may be a sinful tenderness for, and compliance with them, to the neglect of GoD's known and declared will, and at the risk of falling under his just censure. Thirdly, that he who is to be the interpreter of the law to others, ought in all points to be blameless, and in all things conformed to the law himself. To which we may add yet a fourth, not of less importance than any of these; namely, that when God has procured the proper respect to his revealed will, the controversy between him and the offender is at an end, the object of his government being not so much to avenge himself as to amend the criminal.
This scene of domestic danger and distress is speedily followed by another of a pleasanter kind, namely, the interview between the two brothers, in the wilderness; an interview attended with many circumstances to render it mutually interesting and satisfactory. It must have been highly gratifying to Moses, after living forty years among strangers, to meet his own brother, to receive particular information concerning his family and nation, and to communicate to a friendly ear the knowledge of his own situation during so long an interval. What must it have been on the other hand, to Aaron, to learn from the mouth of his brother the great designs of Providence respecting themselves and their people? With what overflowings of heart would they mingle their sighs and tears! With what ardour would their united prayers, and vows, and praises ascend to heaven? How confirmed the faith, how forward the zeal of each, strengthened and stimulated by that of the other. They go on their way rejoicing; they are following Gon, and they must prosper.
Moses had found the evidence of his divine mission completed, in the opportune arrival of his brother Aaron, according to the declaration of the oracle at the bush; and he soon finds a resolution of his first doubt, in the very entrance upon the discharge of his office. Compare the first, and the two last verses of this fourth chapter, and see what a contrast they form to one another. "And Moses answered, and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee." "And Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped." The tremendous name JEHOVAH affixed as a signet to the record, and vouching its authority by sign upon sign, quickly produces belief; and inspires gratitude and joy corrected by reverence and godly fear. So far, then, the way is cleared, and Moses is no longer rejected as an upstart and intruder, as presuming to take upon himself the office of prince and judge over his brethren.
But this is the smallest difficulty in the way. Who does not eagerly cleave to the prospect of returning liberty? Men believe things incredible, attempt things impossible, endure things intolerable, when freedom, precious freedom is the object. No wonder then that oppressed, groaning Israel should greedily listen to the voice of this heavenly charmer. But the grand difficulties are yet behind. Their fetters will not fall off by a wish. Their fond desires dictate not the edicts of Pharaoh. The smarting of the strokes of their taskmaster' whips are not to be conjured away by a sound. The question is not, will Israel believe; but, will the king of Egypt comply? Every step Moses advances, he finds a new and growing proof of the truth and faithfulness of GOD. For the same mouth which declared concerning the children of Israel, "they shall hearken unto thy voice," declared concerning Pharaoh, "I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no not by a mighty hand."