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the nation immediately affected by it, and which, according to its intention. and in its consequences, has involved a great part of mankind.
Moses and Aaron having, as the instruments in the hand of Providence, chastised Egypt with nine successive and severe plagues, inflicted in the view of procuring Israel's release, are at length dismissed by the unrelenting tyrant, with a threatening of certain death, should they ever again presume to come into his presence. Moses takes him at his word, and bids him a solemn, a long, and everlasting farewell. When men have finally banished from them their advisers and monitors, and when God has ceased to be a reprover to them, their destruction cannot be very distant. Better it is to have the law to alarm, to threaten and to chastise us, than to have it in anger altogether withdrawn. Better is a conscience that disturbs and vexes than a conscience laid fast asleep, than a conscience" seared as with a hot iron."
What solemn preparation is made for the tenth and last awful plague of Egypt! God is about to reckon with Pharaoh and his subjects, for the blood of the Israelitish male children, doomed from the womb to death, by his cruel edict. His eye pitied not nor spared the anguish of thousands of wretched mothers, bereaved of their children the instant they were born; and a righteous God pities, spares him not in the day of visitation.
The circumstances attending this tremendous calamity are strikingly calculated to excite horror. First, God himself is the immediate author of it. Hitherto He had plagued Egypt by means and instruments; "Stretch out thy hand :" " Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thy hand with thy rod." But now it is, "I will go out into the midst of Egypt." "And it came to pass that at midnight the LORD smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of cattle." As mercies coming immediately from the hand of our heavenly Father are sweeter and better than those which are communicated through the channel of the creature; so judgments, issuing directly from the stores of divine wrath, are more terrible and overwhelming. The sword of an invading foe is a dreadful thing, but infinitely more dreadful is the sword of a destroying angel, or the uplifted hand of God himself.
Secondly, The nature and quality of the calamity greatly increase the weight of it. It is a wound there, where the heart is most susceptible of pain; an evil which undermines hope; hope, our refuge and our remedy under other evils. The return of another favourable season, may repair the wastes and compensate the scarcity of that which preceded it. A body emaciated or ulcerated all over, may recover strength, and be restored to soundness; and there is hope that the light of the sun may return, even after a thick darkness of three days. But what kindness of nature, what happy concurrence of circumstances, can reanimate the breathless clay, can restore an only son, a firstborn, stricken with death?
The universality of this destruction is a third horrid aggravation of its woe. It fell with equal severity on all ranks and conditions; on the prince and the peasant; on the master and the slave. From every house the voice of misery bursts forth. No one is so much at leisure from his own distress as to pity, soothe or relieve that of his wretched neighbour.
Fourthly, The blow was struck at the awful midnight hour, when every object assumes a more sable hue; when fear, aided by darkness, magnifies to a gigantic size, and clothes in a more hideous shape the real and fantastical, the seen and the unseen disturbers of silence and repose. To be prematurely awakened out of sleep by the dying groans of a friend suddenly smitten, to be presented with the ghastly image of death in a darling object lately seen and enjoyed in perfect health, to be forced to the acknowledgement of the
great and holy Lord God, by such an awful demonstration o power! what terror and astonishment could equal this?
The keen reflection that all this accumulated distress mig vented, was another cruel ingredient in the embittered cup. now accuse their desperate madness, in provoking a power, and so forcibly warned them of their danger! If Phara feeling, how dreadful must have been the pangs which he telt, while he reflected, that after attempting to destroy a hapless, helpless race of strangers, who lay at his mercy, by the most unheard of cruelty and oppression, he had now ruined his own country, by an obstinate perseverance in folly and impiety; that he had become the curse and punishment of a nation, of which he was bound by his office to be the father and protector; and that his own hopes were now blasted in their fairest, most flattering object, the heir of his throne and empire, because he regarded not the rights of humanity and mercy in the treatment of his vassals.
Finally, if their anguish admitted of a still higher aggravation, the distinction from first to last made between them and Israel, the blessed exemption which the oppressed Hebrews had enjoyed from all these calamities, especially from this last death, must have been peculiarly mortifying and afflictive. "But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast; that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." This partakes of the nature of that misery which the damned endure; who are represented as having occasional, distant and transitory glimpses of the blessedness of heaven, only for their punishment, only to heighten the pangs of their own torments. Of the approach of their other woes, these unhappy persons had been repeatedly warned. But this, it would appear, came upon them suddenly and in a moment. They had gone to rest in security. The short respite which they enjoyed from suffering had stilled their apprehension; "surely," said they, "the bitterness of death is past." But ah! it is only the deceitful calm which precedes the hurricane or the earthquake. Let men never dream of repose from the righteous judgment of God, whatever they may have already endured, till they have forsaken their sins, and fled for refuge in the divine mercy.
It is now worth while to consider the notice given to God's own people of this approaching evil, and the means which were appointed and employed to secure them from being involved in the general ruin. The event so destructive to Egypt, was intended to be the era of their liberty, and the means of their deliverance. They had hitherto reckoned the beginning of their year from the month Tisri, which answers to our September; which, as they supposed, was the time when the creation was begun and completed; but they are now positively enjoined to begin to reckon from the month Abib or Nisan, that is, March, in memory of a new creation; whereby their condition was totally changed, from servitude of the most abject kind, into freedom the most exalted and perfect, even the glorious liberty of the sons of GOD. They are distinctly informed of the stroke which Providence was meditating against Egypt, and of the precise time when the blow was to be struck. They are accordingly directed to two things; First, to provide for their own safety; and, secondly, to hold themselves in perfect readiness to take advantage of the permission to depart, which the panic occasioned by the death of the first-born should extort from Pharaoh. For the former of these purposes, every particular family, or the two adjoining, in proportion to their number, the lowest, according to the Jewish writers, being not under ten, nor the highest above twenty, were commanded to choose out, and to set apart, every household, a male lamb, or kid, of a particular description, on the tenth day of the month, and to kill it on the evening of the fourteenth. The flesh of the victim was
commanded to be eaten by every several household apart, roasted with fire.
of the sacrifice was to be taken and sprinkled on the two side-posts, and the
But, a positive institution so immediately from heaven, an institution so full of meaning and instruction, of such celebrity in the history of the world, and connected so closely with an ordinance of still greater notoriety, and of much more extensive influence, an ordinance of much longer duration, and which commemorates an event of infinitely greater importance, surely demands the most minute attention, and the most serious inquiry. We pretend not to comprehend, and therefore undertake not to explain every particular circumstance of this solemn, divine institution: but the moral and religious design is, in general so obvious, that a reader of ordinary capacity has but to run over it with a common degree of seriousness and attention, in order to understand what the Spirit of God is saying in it, for the edification of mankind.
And first, GoD was about to distinguish Israel by special marks of his faIn order to this, they must carefully distinguish themselves by a punctual observance of his command. Is more expected of an Israelite than of an Egyptian? Undoubtedly. The blessings which come down from above, from the Father of lights, are not mere arbitrary and capricious effusions of liberality, falling upon one spot, and passing by another without reason or design. No, they are the wise and gracious recompense of an intelligent, observing and discriminating Parent, to faithful, affectionate and obedient children. Israel had been forewarned of the ensuing danger to no purpose, had one iota or tittle relating to the ordinance of the paschal lamb been neglected. Calamity is to be avoided, not by foreknowing that it draws nigh, but by running to a place of safety. Salvation by Christ, consists, not merely in headknowledge of his person, doctrine and work; but in a cordial receiving and resting upon him alone for salvation, as he is freely offered to us in the gospel, for "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." careful selection, then, of a proper victim, and the exact application of it, acThe cording to the commandment, have a plain and an instructive meaning.
Secondly, As Israel was to depart in haste, the Spirit of God was pleased to enjoin a memorial of that haste, in the quality of the bread which they were to use, during the celebration of this festival. When liberty, dear liberty is in view, who so silly as to care whether the taste be gratified or not, for a few days, with a less palatable kind of food? Our most perfect enjoyments in this world, and our highest attainments have a mixture of bitterness or of insipidity attending them: like the flesh of lambs eaten with bitter herbs, and unfermented bread. The Jews, we know, were singularly diligent and curious, in searching out and removing from their houses every thing leavened, during this sacred season. unleavened bread for themselves, and the poor for months before the solemn With superstitious scrupulousness, they prepared day arrived. A few days previous to the feast they cleansed all their vessels and furniture. What could stand the fire, they purified with fire; what could not, they dipped in or rinsed with water. hollowed anew. The night preceding the day of unleavened bread, they Their marble mortars they had lighted wax tapers, and prepared for a general search after every remainder of leaven. The master of the family began the ceremony with this solemn address to God; "Blessed art thou, O Lord, who has commanded us to put away all that is leavened out of our houses." master, children, domestics, assisted in searching the whole house over, and All the males of the household examined into the most secret corners, lest peradventure some lurking
particle of leavened bread, or fermented dough, might have been overlooked, in order to its being destroyed. As if this had not been sufficient, that the family might be purged of at least all intentional violation of the commandment, the father of it concluded the search with this solemn execration: "Let all the leaven that is in my house, and which I have not been able to find out or to remove, be scattered, and become like the smallest dust of the earth." An inspired apostle is our interpreter of this part of the paschal observance; so that we can be at no loss about the meaning of the Spirit in its institution. "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven; neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."* The scrupulous exactness of the Jews, in their literal obedience to the commandment, is a severe and just reproof of many, too many professing christians, who rush to the celebration of the gospel passover with little preparation or seriousness; and some, alas! deliberately hoarding up in their hearts, and secretly, greedily feeding upon "the old leaven of malice and wickedness."
Thirdly, the victim itself claims our most serious attention. "A male lamb, of the first year,"-" without blemish," to be taken, on the tenth day of the month from his dam, kept apart for four days, and then killed! These are all tender and touching considerations. "A lamb:" the most innocent and gentle of animals; in the idea and language of all ages and nations, another name for gentleness, harmlessness and simplicity; removed early from its only comfort and protection, its fond mother's side; deprived of liberty, and destined to bleed by the sacrificing knife. Who can think of his plaintive bleatings, during the days of separation, without being melted? What Israelitish heart so insensible, as not to yearn at the thought, that his own life, and the comfort of his family were to be preserved, at the expense of the life of that inoffensive little creature, whom he had shut up for the slaughter, and which, in unsuspicious confidence, licked the hand lifted up to shed its blood?
We have not long to search for the spirit and substance of this part of the institution for all Scripture presses upon our notice, "the LAMB of God, who taketh away the sin of the world;" slain, "in the eternal purpose, from and before the foundation of the world; holy, harmless, and undefiled;" "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God"-suffering "the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." Who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed:" the Lord laying on him "the iniquity of us all;" withdrawn, separated from the bosom of his Father-delivered into the hands of men-pouring out his soul unto death.
It was to be "a lamb of the first year," eight days old at the least; a year at the most. Not less than eight days, say the Jews, that there might intervene one Sabbath from the birth of the victim; and that so the sacredness of this holy festival might render it worthy of being offered unto God. More probably, because that, till then the animal was considered as too near a state of imperfection or impurity. It was not to exceed one year; because to that age it retains its lamblike harmlessness and simplicity. Superstition, which is ever sinking the spirit in the letter, has asserted, that a single hour beyond the year vitiated the victim, and rendered it profane.
But the figure, without straining for a resemblance, presents unto us Jesus, a Son born, and a Saviour given;" ours from the manger, ours to the tomb.
His days cut off in the midst at that period of life when 'men are coming to their prime of vigour, beauty and usefulness. "A lamb without blemish." Those who love to fritter away the spirit and meaning of divine institutions in literal interpretation, have gone into a particular enumeration of the various kinds of blemishes which disqualified a sacrifice upon this occasion; and these they have multiplied to considerably above fifty. And what folly has taken pains to invent, superstition has been idle and weak enough to follow. The later Rabbins tell us, that the lamb was set apart four days before the sacrifice, in order to afford time and opportunity to inquire into its soundness and perfection; that if any unobserved spot should appear, there might be time to reject it, and to substitute another in its room. The law itself is plain and simple; and no good Israelite, of common sense, with the sacred charter in his hand, could possibly mistake its meaning; which is simply to signify, that the good God is to be served with the choicest and best of every thing. But the law evidently looked further than to the mere corporeal perfection or defects of a silly lamb and we should but ill understand both the text and the commentary, did we not look through the whole type to Him who is "without spot and blemish ;" who, though born of a sinful mother, "did no sin ;" who lived many years in the "midst of a sinful and adulterous generation," without contracting any taint of moral pollution: in whom "the prince of this world, when he came, found nothing;" and whom his agents, Judas and Pontius Pilate, the instruments of his condemnation and death, were constrained to acquit. "I have sinned and betrayed innocent blood;" said the one. "Take ye him, and crucify him, for I find no fault in him.' said the other. "And when the centurion saw what was done he said, Surely this was the Son of God!"
The very act of selecting the one victim from among many, must have been an affecting office. Why should this innocent creature bleed and die, rather than another? Why should the notice of my eye, or his accidentally presenting himself first of the flock, or his superiour beauty and strength, or the determination of the lot, doom him, in preference to the slaughter? But one must die. Here the choice is fixed; and pity must not spare what heaven has demanded. These emotions of compassion must have been frequently excit ed during the four days of separation. The plaintive bleating, issuing from a tender, aching heart, robbed at once of its natural food, protection and comfort; feeling the bitterness of death in the deprivation of maternal care and tenderness; the mournfully pleasing employment of supplying the devoted victim with aliment, up to the appointed hour; the cherishing and sustaining with solicitude, that life to-day, which the strong hand of necessity must take away to-morrow; all these awaken a thousand undescribable feelings. How the heart is wrung, as often as the eye, or the ear, or the hand, is attracted to attend or to minister to the little trembling prisoner! At length the fatal moment is come and the afflicting alternative presses, "This innocent, or my own first-born must suffer. If my heart relent, lo, the flaming sword of the destroying angel is within my habitation. My resolution is formed. There is no room for deliberation. Die thou, that my son may live."
But the paschal victim could have no presentiment of its approaching fate. Happy in its ignorance, it could die but once. Christians, need your eyes directed to your great gospel passover? Behold your atonement-deliberately chosen of Gon; fixed upon, in the maturity of eternal counsels; under the pressure of the great decree; voluntarily presenting and surrendering himself!-Behold him continually admonished of his approaching sufferings and death; by his own divine prescience, by the perpetual insults and violence of wicked men, by the descent of Moses and Elias to the mount of transfiguration. "The decease which he should accomplish" at length, "at Jerusa