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Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression."
Remark, in the fourth place, The rashness and folly of man shall not, cannot render the purpose of God of none effect. A whole people shall not be permitted to perish for thirst because the prescribed mode of relief has not been exactly followed. Though the rock be stricken, instead of being spoken unto, it shall not fail to yield the promised fountain of water. Moses is frail, but God is good. There has prevailed, since the beginning, a strange contention between the folly and perverseness of the fallen, apostate creature, and the wisdom and goodness of the gracious Creator. And, glory be to God, our evil is overcome of his good. And when all struggle and opposition are at an end, when the will of God shall finally prevail," and every high thought shall be brought into captivity to the will of Christ," it shall then be found, that "the wrath of man" has all along been " working the righteousness of God;" that the elementary strife which was permitted to take place in the natural world; the jarring, discordant passions which seemed to convulse and disturb the moral government of God, and even the infernal devices of the powers of darkness, were all, without their design, nay, contrary to their intention, carrying on the great plans of the divine providence to their consummation. Glorious, transporting thought! I will henceforth command my troubled soul into peace. I will calmly wait the issue, and leave it to the great God, in his own time and way, to explain the reasons of his conduct, and fully vindicate his ways to men. The troubles which I see, the troubles which I feel, the troubles which I fear, though they may come nigh, shall not overwhelm my soul; "I shall not be afraid when I hear of evil tidings; my heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord."* "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."t "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and an eternal weight of glory."‡
Fifthly, When we behold a holy and righteous God thus severely punishing what may be deemed, by some a slight offence, in one of the dearest and best of his children, let none dare to trifle with his justice. If Moses, in one rash moment, by one unadvised step, incurred a displeasure which he could never remove, and forfeited an inheritance, which he never was able to recover, what hast thou, O man, to expect, whose whole life has been an accumulation of offence; has been the addition only of sinfulness to weakness, and of presumption to folly?" If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear."§ Take care how you estimate the malignity, guilt and danger of sin, by the erroneous and fluctuating standard of your own weak understanding, or still weaker passions. Not according to these, nor the maxims of the world, nor the prejudices of a misguided spirit; but by a steadier rule, by an unchanging law, thou shalt be judged, and finally justified or condemned. If Moses lost an inheritance in an earthly Canaan for neglecting to give glory to God in one instance, tremble to think of being eternally excluded from "the inheritance of the saints in light," for ten thousand offences of the same nature. Beware of reckoning any transgressions small, any sin venial, any temptation contemptible. Behold the mighty fallen, and be humble.
It is truly affecting to find Moses in the sequel earnestly entreating a remission of the sentence, but entreating in vain ; and, when unable by supplication to prevail, submissively resigning himself to the will of God. But the world has seen a still more awful demonstration of God's displeasure at sin. When the
* Psalm cxii. 7.
+2 Cor. iv. 17.
$1 Peter iv. 18.
Rom. viii. 28.
Lord laid upon the head of the great atonement "the iniquity of us all; it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to grief." "God spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all." Is it possible to conceive a motive so cogent to abstain from evil, and even from the appearance of it; and to loathe and put off from us the garment spotted with the flesh?
But again, one offence, though it may provoke the anger and call down the chastisement of a holy God, breaks not off all intercourse, and forever, between him and a good man. With the firmness of a wise and just father, he denounces the punishment and inflicts it. With the tenderness and love of a gracious and relenting parent, he carries on the correspondence; and even admits the offending child to closer intimacy, and to familiarity more endearing. For the great God is not like them who mar and embitter their pardon with hard conditions, cruel upbraidings, and mortifying recollections; and who plainly shew, that though they may be capable of forgiving, they know not what it is to bury injuries in everlasting forgetfulness. The conduct of Moses too, under the weight of this awful displeasure, is amiable and instructive. He mutters not, with sullen Cain, "my punishment is greater than I can bear;" he sinks not into dejection; he replies not in resentment. While he deprecates the penalty, he attempts not to extenuate the guilt of his crime; and though well assured he is not to have the honour of conducting Israel into Canaan, nor the happiness of enjoying a personal possession in that promised inheritance, yet he withdraws himself from no particular of duty, relaxes not his diligence, cools not in his zeal; he labours to the last, does what he can, though he be not permitted to do what he would; he goes before Israel to the land of promise, though access into it was denied him. This, as much as any thing in his history, marks his character and evinces the greatness of his soul. And this teaches a lesson of no mean importance in friendship among men, namely, to cultivate with diligence and assiduity the charities which we have in common, and to suffer those things to rest and sleep, which, if stirred and awakened, are likely to disturb and sepa
It is not the design of Providence that we should think exactly the same way on all points. But, shall I agree with my brother in nothing, because we happen to differ in one thing?
I detain you till I have made only one remark more upon the whole history. The distress of the cattle for want of water, is mentioned as a circumstance of importance both in the books of Exodus and Numbers, and it is especially attended to in the miraculous relief which heaven provided. Is the great God degraded, when he is represented as "caring for oxen, and feeding the ravens, and hearing the young lions when they cry?" No, no; these minuter views of his providential care and kindness endear him but the more to the understanding that discerns, and the heart that feels. I know not a more tender stroke of the pathetic eloquence than that which we have in the prophesy of Jonah, when God extended mercy in a manner peculiar to himself, to Nineveh, that great and sinful city. "Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow, which came up in a night, and perished in a night and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than threescore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle."
One stage more will bring us with Israel to the foot of Sinai, to observe and to improve one of the most notable dispensations of Providence upon record; "The giving of the law." But here let us pause with devout
* Jonah vi. 10, 11,
acknowledgement of that bountiful hand, which fed the seed of Abraham immediately from the clouds for forty years together; and which feeds us, through rather a longer process, by blending and compounding the qualities and influences of earth, air, fire and water. While we adore the providential care which refreshed Israel by streams from the rock, let us rejoice together, that it refreshes us by keeping our rivers ever flowing, our fountains constantly supplied, and the clouds of our atmosphere, in their season, always impregnated with the rain and the dew. "With the bread that perisheth," gracious God! grant us that "which endureth to life everlasting." Amen.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS XVII. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses's hands were heavy; and they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat thereon: and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
NOTHING can be more afflicting to a humane and serious mind, than to reflect on that strife and contention which have in every age deluged the world with human blood. Who could believe, if all history did not prove it, and who can think of it without horror, that men should be continually lying in wait, like beasts of prey, to catch and devour men; that the strong, the cunning and the fierce should be forever on the watch, to take advantage of the weak, the simple and the gentle? And must it be? Father of Mercies! must it needs be, that war should continue to waste the nations! shall the earth be forever a field of blood? Must the peace of private families, and the repose of kingdoms, be eternally disturbed by lust and pride, avarice and ambition, envy and revenge? Blessed God! send forth the Spirit of thy Son into the hearts of men. Prince of Peace! command this troubled ocean into a calm. Spirit of Love! put a full end to bitterness and wrath. Subdue this carnal mind, which is enmity against God. Glorious gospel of salvation! as thou bringest good-will from God to men, restore good-will to men among themselves.
It is difficult to say whether men suffer most from their own folly, or from the cruelty and injustice of others. We generally fiud, that when evil from without would, for a while, permit wretched mortals to breathe and be at peace, they perversely become self-tormentors, and ingeniously contrive sources of vexation to themselves. And, which is the greater evil of the two? That, undoubtedly, of which we are the authors to ourselves. We have, then, to encounter an enemy from whom we cannot hope to escape, and whom we
are unable to overcome. From a conflict with Amalek, Israel comes off with both credit and comfort; but a strife of discontent, impatience and rebellion against God, must of necessity issue in shame and loss.
God, rich in mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness, has graciously forgiven the murmuring at Horeb, and extracted water from the rock, for the relief of his people. But this woe is no sooner past than another overtakes them. "Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim." The transaction recorded here, so simply and uncircumstantially, is mentioned again in Deuteronomy, with many circumstances of aggravation, which greatly increase our detestation of this conduct in Amalek, and explain the deep resentment which a holy and righteous God himself expresses upon the occasion, and which, by a positive statute, he transmits to Israel. "Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it."*
Amalek, the father of this nation, as we learn from Genesis xxxvi. 12, was grandson to Esau, and son to Eliphaz, by a concubine named Timna. The Amalekites indeed are mentioned much earlier in scripture, even in the days of Abraham when Chederlaomer is represented, with his victorious army, as ravaging all their country. But it is well known that the sacred writers, when treating of various periods, give appellations to regions and countries which did not belong to them till ages afterwards, but by which they were better known at the time when the historian wrote. They possessed a large tract of country, extending from the confines of Idumea to the eastern shore of the Red Sea; and from their neighbourhood to, and commerce with, Phoenicia, they are by some called Phoenicians.
Immediately on their passing through the Red Sea, it behoved the children of Israel to enter into this territory, on their way to Canaan. And probably the paternal relation which subsisted between them and Amalek, encouraged the posterity of Jacob to advance on their way with greater confidence. "It is the land of our brethren through which we are to pass;" would they say one to another. "The heart of Esau himself relented, when he saw his brother Jacob return, encumbered with a train of women and children and cattle. He forgot his resentments: he became the protector of the man whom he had, in the hour of passion, vowed to destroy. The injury done him in the matter of the birthright, and of the blessing, he generously forgave. Surely the posterity of Esau, after many generations, will not revive a quarrel which is extinguished and forgotten, first in the reconciliation, and then in the death of the original parties to it. After a servitude so long and so bitter in Egypt, we shall at length find a time and a place to breathe; and the soothings of fraternal love shall console us for the rigours of oppression."
Vain expectation! What foe so dreadful as a brother disaffected! Egypt smote with the rod; Amalek smites with the sword; he basely, cruelly seizes the moment of Israel's langour, weakness and dejection, and attempts to crush those whom a sanguinary tyrant had persecuted, and whom Heaven itself had bruised. The cowardice of this behaviour is equal to the unkindness of it. Had they boldly appeared at the first, to dispute the passage of the Red Sea, and to repel by force of arms the invasion of their country, their conduct, though ungenerous and unkind, had been ingenuous and manly. But, either
through fear or policy, they permit Israel to advance, they watch the moment of their difficulty and distress, and, like dastards, steal upon the rear of an army whose front they dared not to oppose.
Neither good qualities nor bad are found single in the human breast. And, in the nation whose character is now the object of our censure, we find a combination of the worst qualities of which our nature is capable, all originating in the deñciency of one great principle, which is at the root of all the evil which men commit, "he feared not God." Why did Amalek rake up the ashes of an ancient grudge? "He feared not God." Why did he join to afflict the miserable, and to overwhelm the oppressed? He feared not God." Why did he meanly attack the weaker and more vulnerable part of his adversary, in the hope of safety and impunity? He feared not God." Wherefore, in general, are men subtile, revengeful, cunning and selfish? They "fear not God;" they "harden themselves against him," and yet think "to prosper." They "love not their brother whom they have seen," because they are wilfully ignorant of, or hate God," whom they have not seen."
Such is the union which Providence has established between all the parts of the natural and of the political body, that the weakness or distress of one member is the infirmity and suffering of the whole. The hindmost and the feeble of Israel are smitten; the foremost and the strong feel and immediately resent it." And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in mine hand." We have here a combination which ought never to be separated, and in which safety and success are ever to be found, namely, the acknowledgement of Heaven, and the use of appointed means, the sword in the hand of Joshua, the rod in that of Moses, the embattled host below in the valley, the intercessor with God, "wrestling" and "making supplication" upon the hill. In vain had Moses prayed if Joshua had not fought. Destitute of "the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous man," the skill and courage of the warrior had failed before the enemy. The rod of God! in how many different services is it employed! how many various purposes does it answer! It smites the river of Egypt, and it becomes blood. It smites the rock in Horeb, and it sends forth a stream of water. It is extended towards heaven, on the top of the hill, and Amalek is destroyed. Striking and instructive type of that "rod of God's mouth" wherewith "he slays the wicked:" of that sword of the Spirit" which is the word of God: of that hammer which breaketh the rock in pieces:" of that gospel, which is "a savour of God in them that believe, and them that perish."
Observe how God appoints to every man his station of usefulness and importance. It was not for want either of zeal or courage, that Moses takes his post at a distance on the hill. It is not for want of piety, that Joshua leads on the armies of Israel on the plain. The mistakes and miscarriages of the world arise from the weakness and wickedness of men; at one time overrating their talents, and thrusting themselves forward into situations for which they are wholly unfit; and at another, through timidity shrinking from the duties of that station which Providence has assigned them; and at a third, treacherously, through some bias of private interest, passion or party, selling the trust committed to them, to the foe. Happily, in the case before us, the head which directed, and the hand which executed, were in perfect unison. The spirit that fought, and the spirit that prayed, were one.
Let us first ascend the hill with Moses and his two friends, and adopt the feelings of men, who at once felt for the public cause, were not without well founded apprehensions from the common enemy, and at the same time feared and trusted the Lord. Moses has given his orders to Joshua, and he has so far done well; but to stop there had been doing nothing. He has set the