« EdellinenJatka »
if we consider, that the most rapid state of population in the ordinary course of nature, and in circumstances the most favourable to it, is a doubling the number of inhabitants every twenty years; and that only in the earlier ages of a people or colony; what must we think of this amazing increase in circumstances the most unfavourable: in a people cooped up in a narrow district, and that district not their own, but the property of a nation much more powerful than themselves; a people among whom marriage was grievously discouraged by the want of liberty, by hard and oppressive labour, by subjection to the despotism of a foreign prince, by penal edicts which doomed all their male children to death, and by which doubtless, multitudes perished, together with their natural increase? The multiplication of Israel in a proportion so great, in a progress so rapid, in a situation so unfriendly, will be in reality found a miracle, though less striking to a superficial observation, being gradually and imperceptibly performed, upon closer attention, a prodigy equal or superior to any that were wrought in immediately effecting their enfranchisement. And this leads us to the grateful acknowledgement of God's wise and gracious providence, in its ordinary operations and effects. What is daily preservation but creation-one omnific" LET THERE BE," daily, every instant repeated? What is the progress of vegetation, of life and reason, but the continual interposition of the great Source of all being, life and intelligence? What is dissolution and death, but the supporting, vivifying power of God withdrawn from the body which is just now inhabited ?
This vast host was accompanied with what Moses calls a mixed multitude. This is supposed to have been made up of the produce of marriages between Israelites and Egyptians; of Egyptians, who, from the miracles which they had seen wrought in favour of Israel, had been determined to follow the fortunes of that people; and of neighbours who, in the ordinary intercourse of mankind, might be brought into contact with them, and who, through fear, interest or curiosity, might be induced to follow their camp.
Man, with his usual ignorance and haste, would have been for conducting this mighty army directly to Canaan. And no doubt the same Almighty arm which had thus asserted them into liberty, could have led them straight forward to conquest. But, in studying the history of the divine conduct as ordering and governing the affairs of men, we find it is composed partly of the interpositions of Heaven, and partly of the exertions of men. It is not all miracle; that were to encourage eternal indolence and stupidity in rational beings, formed after the image of God, and to reduce men to mere passive clods of earth; nor is it all, on the other hand, the effect of human skill, industry, and diligence; for that were to resign the government of the world to the frail and the foolish; that were to weaken the power of religion, which is the life, the joy, the guide, the support of the universe. But we discover divine interposition, to a certain degree, so as to inspire a reasonable confidence in and dependence upon God; and we discern the exertions of men crowned with success through the blessing of Heaven upon them, and this enforcing the necessity of bringing out and exercising the powers and faculties of our intellectual nature. Israel is delivered from Egypt at once; but is introduced into Canaan by degrees. The former, an act of sovereign power, unmixed with, independent upon human efforts; the latter, the less perceptible operation of Omnipotence, blending itself with, subduing, directing and promoting the designs and endeavours of reasonable beings, who had a great object in view, and a clear rule to walk by. Thus, in a case of universal importance, the justification and adoption of the sinner, are acts of free, sovereign grace, whereby sin is forgiven, and the right and privileges of sons conferred; whereas sanctification is the gradual work of the Spirit, supporting us by the way, overcoming our enemies by little and little, and making us "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
A great multitude of people is always an object of serious attention, and of deep anxiety. Many mouths were to be fed, many humours to be studied, many talents to be employed. Some were to be gained by love, others to be governed by fear; the impetuosity of one was to be repressed, the timidity and diffidence of another to be countenanced and encouraged; care was to be exercised about those who were either unable or unwilling to exercise any about themselves. What a charge then was that of Moses and Aaron! bearing on their shoulders the burden of such an assembly; a vast multitude agitated with the ordinary passions of human nature; unarmed, unaccustomed to discipline, untractable; one moment elated with extravagant hopes, the next depressed with unreasonable fears. The wisdom of a Moses had been unequal to the task, unsupported by the Wisdom which sees all things at one view, and the Power which "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." There is a happy disposition in all the evils to which our nature and condition are subject, to find out and to apply their own remedy. Necessity always sets invention to work. Invention puts the machine in motion; and once in motion, every wheel keeps its place, exerts its power, performs its office. But here the mighty machine, prepared in all its parts according to the plan of infinite wisdom, put together and regulated by the hand of almighty power, and conducted by unchangeable truth and faithfulness, could not vary its motion, could not deviate from its design: and the passage of perhaps four millions of people, with their immense possessions of flocks and herds, and other property, from Egypt to Canaan, will appear one of those singular phenomena in history, which no principles of human conduct, no natural and ordinary concurrence of events, are able to explain: and which must finally be resolved into a wisdom and power preternatural and divine. Accordingly we find Providence taking immediately the charge of them; but not in the usual way, not by forming a regular discipline, and raising up commanders and magistrates of unusual address and ability, but declaring by sensible tokens, which were seen, read and understood of all, "I am the Leader and Commander of my people."
But before we proceed to the consideration of this wonderful symbol of the divine presence, we must attend our author, and take notice of a tender and touching circumstance in the departure from Egypt, namely, the removing of the bones of Joseph. That truly great man had been the saviour of his father's house when he was alive, and was now the hope of Israel after he was dead. In all their afflictions, his precious dust had been to them the pledge of deliverance; and now when that deliverance is come, they bear it with them to the land promised to their forefathers, for burial. Thus respectable and useful, in life and in death, are the wise and the good; thus anxious ought we to be to promote the best interests of mankind, not only while we are yet with them; but to leave something behind us that may benefit and instruct after we are seen and heard no more. Christians, we carry with us, as our hope in this wilderness, not the bones of a departed deliverer, but the memory of a risen Saviour. The sacred pledge of our final redemption is deposited, not in the coffin, but in this precious record-but in the history of facts well known and firmly believed by you-but in many great and precious promises given unto you. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again; even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." The ashes of the patriarch Joseph could not rest in the tomb till Israel came to the possession of their promised inheritance; so the Spirit and providence of the great Redeemer are in perpetual motion and exercise, till he shall have gathered into one all his redeemed unto himself; till the youngest of his sons, the meanest of his daughters, being glorified, shall take possession of their purchased inheritance, "the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world."
Thus then Israel takes his departure; thus joyfully, thus triumphantly, thus increased; and "not one sickly or feeble among them;" a wonder not inferiour to any of the rest. But all is of the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.
The plain of Rameses was the first great rendezvous of the Lord's host. They had built, as part of their task work, a city of that name, at the command of Pharaoh. But it was also the name of a region of Egypt elsewhere called Goshen; the same which Joseph chose for the reception of his aged parent; because being situated nearest to Canaan, it diminished the length and fatigue of his journey, and being a grassy country, suited his family's employment, that of shepherds. The nearness to Canaan might accordingly be now again considered as a favourable circumstance to the return of Israel thitherward. If we may credit Philo, the two countries were not above three days journey distant the one from the other. And certain it is that the patriarchs, encumbered with a convoy laden with corn, easily performed a journey to a more distant part of Egypt, and back again, in the course of not many weeks at most. Moses might therefore have, without much difficulty, conducted the people of his charge to the place of their destination in a very small space of time. But was the distance of place the only difficulty which they had to encounter? How could men inured to slavery, men just escaped from the rod of a tyrannical oppressor, have the courage to meet the prowess and discipline of the warlike nations of Canaan; unprovided with arms for the field, and with military engines for the attack of fortified towns, had they been bold enough to attempt to take possession by force. Some interpreters, indeed, render the word harnessed, in the eighteenth verse of the thirtieth chapter, armed. But the term in the original is so equivocal, and the learned attempts to determine its meaning are so unsuccessful, that we remain still in the dark about its true meaning. The presumption certainly is, that the Israelites were not armed. What had a nation of shepherds, living by sufferance in a foreign land, to do with arms? Would the policy of Egypt have permitted it? But Moses, the most accurate of historians, takes care to point out a circumstance which furnishes the first idea of putting arms into the hands of Israel. After the waves of the Red Sea had swallowed up the Egyptian army, their dead bodies with their arms were miraculously cast on shore, and provided Israel with armour from their spoils.
It is evident that God intended to form the courage and discipline of his people in the wilderness; before he tried these upon the nations whom they were destined to subdue. Nay, further, it was evidently his design to settle their whole civil and religious polity, while they were yet in an erratic state, that when they came to Canaan there might be nothing to do but to take possession, and to execute the laws which they had already received. And alas, what shall we say? This swarm of people, numerous as the sand upon the seashore, with the exception of one or two, and Moses their leader among the rest, thus pompously and powerfully saved, were saved from Egypt, but to die in the wilderness. Men die, but the church lives; and the church is the care of God. "Thy way, O God, is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known. Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron."*
Instead then of marching straight northward, in the direction of Canaan, their course is bent eastward, to the great wilderness which bounds Egypt and Arabia Petræa: God himself leading the way, in a most wonderful display of his glorious presence and power, described in the words which I read at the opening of the Lecture. "And they took their journey from Succoth, and
* Psal. Lxxvii. 19.
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 senses. Could any Israelite doubt that the Lord was there? He had but to open his 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 pro→ tector? 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 manifestation 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 them. 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 his 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.
Might 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 us." "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 them 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. xiii. 20-22.
+ Psal. lxxxiv. 11.
Psal. cxxi. 5-8.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS XIV. 21, 22.
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 waters 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