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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, covering the face of the ground, is represented in a moment, by a single effort, at one blow, overthrown, overwhelmed, as if they had been but one horse and one rider.
Verse 2. "JEHOVAH 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 JEHOVAH : the great "I AM THAT I AM :" that name of Gon, 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. 66 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, uphorne 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 greatness 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 human. 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 bet
* 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, eannot 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 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, to magnify by a concave mirror the sideral hemisphere."
→ Dr. Samuel Johnson.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS XV. 23, 24, 25, 26, 27.
And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah; for they were bitter : therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, what shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes; I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee. And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters.
UNLESS the mind be under the regulating power of religion, it will be perpetually losing its balance, and changing its tenor: at one time accelerated into indecent and dangerous speed, through the impulse of desire, ambition, or revenge; at another it is chilled into languor and inaction, through fear, despondency and disappointment. We shall behold the same person now believing things incredible, and attempting things impracticable; and anon staggering at the shadow of a doubt, and shrinking from the slightest appearance of difficulty and danger. Insolent, fierce and overbearing in prosperity, the unsteady creature becomes grovelling, dispirited, and mean in adversity. "It is a good thing," therefore, "that the heart be established by grace:" grace, that calm, steady, uniform principle, which veers not with every wind of doctrine; rises not, nor falls, like the Mercury in the tube, with every variation of the atmosphere, according to the alternate transition of disappointment and success, censure and applause, health and sickness, youth and age. In the day of prosperity, religion saith to the soul where it dwells, "Rejoice," and in the day of adversity, "Consider ;" for a wise and a merciful God hath set the one over against the other. This divine principle corrects immoderate joy, saying to the happy, "Be not high minded, but fear;" it consoles and supports the miserable, by breathing the sweet assurance, that the "light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."*
The want of this balance of the soul, and the dangerous consequences of that want, are strikingly exemplified in the history of the chosen people, whom Providence, by a series of miracles, undertook to conduct from Egypt to Canaan. Elated or depressed by the aspect of the moment, we find them haughty in the hour of victory, and sunk into despair, by a defeat. The deepness of the waters of the Red Sea, and their miraculous separation, afford matter of triumph to-day; the bitterness of the waters of Marah causes universal discontent and dejection to-morrow. But alas! we need not reçur to
92 Cor. iv. 17.
distant periods of history for an example of the ruinous effects produced by a destitution of religious principle, and of the fatal power of unbelief. The history of every man's own experience is illustration sufficient. To what must we ascribe the envy, jealousy, rage, pride, resentment, timidity, diffidence and dejection, which successively and unremittingly agitate the human mind? Men walk by sight, not by faith. They feel the powers of the world that is, and are insensible of that which is to come. They look at "things temporal," and neglect those which" are unseen and eternal." They stand in awe of the creature, and despise the Creator. While then we discover, deplore and condemn a selfish, a perverse and discontented spirit, and an unbelieving heart in others, let us study, by the grace of God, to reform the same or like dispositions in ourselves.
What a magnificent concert filled the shores of the Red Sea, after Israel was passed over! Every thing was suited to another. The words were adapted to the occasion, the music to the words, the performers to the music. There Moses, leading the bolder, rougher notes of manly voices; here Miriam, the prophetess, his sister, in sweet accord, blending the softer harmony of female strains with the notes of the timbrel, in praise of their great Deliverer. Never surely did such music strike the vault of heaven, and never shall again, "till the rausomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; when they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away :"* never, till the song of Moses be closed with the song of the Lamb.
At length they quit the scene of their terror and of their triumph; for the world admits not of a long continuance of either; and they advance three days march into the wilderness. Escaped effectually and forever from the oppression of Egypt, no more opposed in front by an unsurmountable barrier, nor hemmed in on either side by impassable mountains, nor pursued by a numerous and well disciplined army; but the sea, once their hindrance, now their defence; every foe subdued, and the road to Canaan straight before them, what can now give disturbance? On how many circumstances does life and the comfort of it depend ! The failure or disagreeable quality of one ingredient corrupts and destroys the whole. In Shur they found no water; in Marah they find water, but it is bitter. The unavoidable condition of a wilderness state! Always too little, or too much! Here there are children and penury; there affluence and sterility. This year there is drought parching and consuming every plant of the field; the next, an overflowing flood sweeping every thing before it; and unhappy mortals are eternally augmenting the necessary and unavoidable evils of human life, by peevishness and discontent.
Oblige an ungrateful person ever so often, and disappoint or oppose him once, and lo, the memory of a thousand benefits is instantly lost. All that Moses, all that God has done for Israel is forgotten, the moment that a scarcity of water is felt. For it is with this spirit as with that of ambition: nothing is attained in the eye of ambition, while there is yet one thing to be attained. All the favour of Ahasuerus avails Haman nothing, while Mordecai the Jew sits in the king's gate. So ingratitude says nothing is granted, while one thing is denied me. One scanty meal in Shur, or one unpalatable beverage at Marah, has obliterated all remembrance of the recent wonders of Egypt, and the more recent miracles of the Red Sea. And as one evil quality is ever found in company with its fellows, we here find ingratitude and impiety toward God blended with unkindness and unreasonableness toward man. And cowardice pitifully levels its keen arrows at the servant, not daring to attack the master.
Isai. xxxv. 10.