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HISTORY OF MOSES.
DEUTERONOMY XXXIV, 10, 11, 12.
And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses whom the Lord knew face to face : in
all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror wbich Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel.
There is in mankind a good-natured disposition to spare the dead. Without very high provocation indeed, who could think of disturbing the peace and silence of the grave, and of dragging again before the tribunal of man those who have already undergone the more awful judgement of a righteous God?
But this generosity does not always proceed from pure benevolence. The dead no longer stand in our way; they are no longer our rivals in the pursuits of fame or of fortune. We can here earn the praise of magnanimity, without any danger of suffering in the interests of our reputation, our consequence, our self-love. From whatever source this lenity and forbearance proceed, we would not be thought altogether to condemn them; but good-nature in this, as in a few other cases, is apt sometimes to be carried too far. Through fear of being thought severe to those who have no power to defend themselves, extravagant and unmerited commendation has been often lavished on the worthless and the wicked. I will cheerfully engage not to violate the ashes of the dead by unjust censure, nor even by merited invective; but I must not be forced, on the other hand to commemorate virtues that were never practised; to bring to light worth that never existed, except in the tropes of a funeral oration ; to represent as right, what God, and truth, and reason pronounce to be wrong. My tongue shall be silent as the grave over the memory of the proudest, most selfish, hard-hearted, unkind, uncomplying wretch that ever lived: but I must not be called in to prostitute my conscience by celebrating his humility, generosity, compassion, or sweetness of temper. I would correct the common adage a little, and then give it all the currency in my power. Instead of rendering it, " of the dead say that only which is good," I would translate it, “ of the dead say that only which is true."
Indeed, the best thing that can befal most men, when they die, is to be forgotten as soon as possible. Few, very few characters are such as not to suffer by handling; and there is great danger of rousing and provoking slumbering resentments against our departed friends, by an officious zeal to trumpet their praise, and display their good qualities. The praise bestowed on the dead is generally contemptible adulation to the living; adulation, vilely bestowing the rewards of piety and goodness on mere greatness or affluence, and thereby
strengthening the hands of vice, by lalling the conscience to rest, and deceiving men into the belief, that a good name may be purchased without possessing a spark of virtue.
The liturgy of our established church, in how many other respects soever useful and excellent, is here faulty, and certainly does mischief. The funeral service, one of the noblest, because one of the most scriptural parts of it, with indiscriminating charity dispenses the kingdom of heaven to the evil and the good, to “ him that sweareth as to him who feareth an oath.” The wretch whose whole life has been a notorious violation of every law human and di: vine, who grew old in hatred and contempt of the gospel, falls asleep in the “ sure and certain hope of a resurrection to eternal life.” What is this but to encourage men to continue in sin, that grace may abound; to live profligates, and yet hope to die in peace ?
Happily, the character we are this evening to bring under your review will stand the test of the strictest examination, will shine with superiour lustre from being touched and retouched, will discover new excellencies on every investigation, will furnish to the humble, the penitent, and the believing, perpetual ground of instruction and consolation. After a course of more than fourscore Lectures on the life, character, and writings of Moses, it may perperhaps be thought superfluous, to employ the whole of another discourse in attempting to elucidate his character, to recommend his example, to embalm his memory. But it is this very circumstance which determined me to attempt a delineation of this wonderful man's portrait, to request that you would join me in meditating a few moments over one who has been honoured of God, to do more, in order to please and instruct mankind, than any mere man that ever existed. To say truth, I consider the person of Moses as a pledge of affection between you and myself. He brought us together at first, and he has kept us together a considerable part of these three years past; to part with him and his writings seems a kind of presentiment of our final dissolution likewise ; and, in losing him, I feel as if I were losing a thousand friends at a stroke. But let us speak and think of Moses not of ourselves.
It is impossible to think of Moses without first thinking of “his Father and our Father, of his God and our God.” To be a chosen instrument in the hand of Heaven to carry on the plans of Povidence, to promote the wisdom and happiness of mankind, is man's highest glory: as it is his truest felicity to do this voluntarily and from the heart, as an obedient, zealous, and cheerful fellow-worker with God. Now, Moses possessed this distinction and felicity in a very eminent degree. God raised up Pharaoh “in very deed for this cause, to shew in him his power, that his great name might be declared throughout all the earth;" and Pharaoh, unhappily for himself, accomplished the designs of Heaven, by his pride, obstinacy and rebellion. God called * Cyrus his anointed, by name, and surnamed him who had not known him for Jacob his servant's sake, and Israel his elect." Nebuchadnezzar he employed as the rod of his anger to chastise a disobedient and gainsaying people and then broke it in pieces and dashed it to the ground. These, and many others, stand upon record, as executing the will of the Eternal without their own consciousness or intention, nay, totally against it; but Moses had the rare felicity of engaging in one of the most generous purposes which can animate a human breast, knowing it to be, at the same time, the leading, commanding purpose of God himself. Every step he moved was supported by the enlivening reflection, that every step be moved was executing the decrees of the Almighty, and promoting the relief and salvation of his wretched countrymen.. How delightful the progress, when duty and inclination go hand in hand!
The circumstances in which God raised up Moses mark him peculiarly as
his owa. Every thing concurred to prove, that here “the arm of the Lord was revealed.” Another king had arisen, “who knew not Joseph," the hope of Israel seemed to be perishing; Egypt was alarmed with expectation, or rather apprehension, of the appearance of this wonderful child; Israel was awakened to expectation, but abandoned it in despair. To reach the life of one, ten thousand innocents perish by the sword. But, as if in defiance of the precautions of human wisdom, Moses is born in the very rage of that persecution which threatened his life. The daughter of Pharaob becomes his protector, and Egyptian Magi vie with each other in rearing that genius, whose ascendant threatened the downfall of their country; and Moses is become great, before the world apprehends that it is he by whose hand God would deliver his people from bondage.
This brings us forward to the period when his personal character begani plainly to unfold itself; and it discovers to us a mind superiour to every mean, every selfish gratification. Men love to adopt the cause that prevails; and the cause of Israel was at that time low indeed. At a certain period of life passion bears unlimited sway. At forty, the calls of ambition and pride are loudest; and they who are themselves at ease are little disposed to embark in the miseries of others. But in Moses behold a man, not sunk into poverty violently obtruded upon him, but poverty deliberately chosen ; a man of forty relinquishing, without reluctance or regret, the pleasures, riches and honours of a court, and exchanging them for the labour and oppression of an Israel itish slave, and glorifying in the reproachful name of Hebrew, much more than in that of “the son of Pharaoh's daughter." Behold the manly indignation of a noble spirit hastening to avenge wretchedness and depression of insolence and cruelty, and in the punishment of one oppressor exhibiting an anticipated view of that great deliverance which, in process of time, God was by him to work in behalf of a whole people.
The same spirit which beheld Egyptian oppression with just resentment, beheld discord among brethren with godly sorrow and regret. He boldly exposed his life to repel the one; in the spirit of meekness he tried to heal the Other : and he very early experienced the ungracious, and ungrateful, and discouraging requital of services the most kindly intended; the sad presage of that life of mortification unparallelled, and most unmerited, which he was afterwards called to endure. The insolent retort of an unkind brotber awakened prudence, and put him for a season to flight; for valour, as the case then stood, valour against such fearful odds, could not have deserved the name of courage, but of rashness.
Providence still directs his path, and conducts him at once to usefulness and happiness. It seems as if the all-wise Jehovah meant to display in Moses an example of the great and of the petty virtues, the virtues of the man, of the citizen, and of the believer united; and in none of his future exploits, perhaps, is he more amiable more estimable than in protecting the virgin daughters of Jethro from the violence of their rough and surly neighbours. Here we behold again on what delicate hinges the great God turps round the affairs of men. This piece of natural, honest, commendable gallantry, introduces Moses to the acquaintance of a prince, lays the foundation of an important alliance for life, and influences all his future fortunes, and feelings, as a man.
Hence we are conducted to the delicious, the calm, the contemplative pe. riod of our hero's mortal existence. We behold a simple shepherd tending a flock not his own, but enjoying tranquillity and contentment; secluded from the society of men, but blessed with the visions of the Almighty ; losing himself in sweet oblivion of a busy, bustling world, awake only to the innocent joys of domestic life, and the sublimer pleasures of religion. It was in all
probability in this delightful retreat, during this blessed interval of retirement from 'and unconnectedness with what passed on the great theatre, that, divinely taught, he sung “ how the heavens and earth rose out of chaos." It was then and there that the divine spirit disclosed to his astonished, his enraptured eye, the years beyond the flood, the spring season of nature, the first man whoin God created upon the earth, the amiableness of pure primeval inno cence, the glories of paradise, the unlimited bounty of indulgent heaven. It was then and there, that good Spirit put the pen into his hand, to trace that sacred record, which has descended to us for our delight and instruction, and which shall remain, till time expire, the wonder, the monitor, the guide of mankind unto all manner of truth.
What a happy period for the human race ! how happy for himself. Were the will of man to prevail, who would exchange such a retirement as this, for the noise and glare which captivates fools ! But men, such as Moses, are not made for themselves alone; and ill would he have improved the blessings of solitude, had he not learned in it, cheerfully to sacrifice his own humour and his own ease to the work and glory of God.
The time to favour Israel was now come, and Moses must think of privacy and self-enjoyment no longer. By a vision, such as might appal the boldest, and encourage the most fearful he is remanded to Egypt with a commission under the seal of Heaven, to haughty Pharaoh, and he fears no more the wrath of a king.
But we have insensibly deviated into the history of Moses, instead of delineating his character. Are they not, however, one and the same thing ? To know what he was, we have but to coosider what he said, and how he acted. But how is it possible to comprise, within the bounds of one discourse a detail of forty active, busy years, from the day that God appeared to him in a flame of fire in the bush, to the day of his ascending to the top of mount Nebo to die? In general, they contain a display of almost every human shining virtue, brought forward to the eye, and impressed on the heart, by their most lovely foil, modesty, meekness and humility. What magnanimity! united to what coolness and self-government! what firmness and intrepidity! what patience and gentleness! what consummate wisdom ! what amiable simplicity! in youth, in maturity, in old age; in public and in private life; in every relation and condition, who is like him, who deserves to be compared with him ! In forming an idea of human excellence, Moses presents himself immediately to my view ; it is no longer an idea, it is a delightful reality.
The more attentive part of my hearers will observe that, to complete the proposed plan of this discourse, there is still wanting the general leading idea of all these discourses, the resemblance between the type and the person typified—the analogy of Moses and Christ. This I refer to another Lecture; and beg leave to subjoin, as a proper sequel to this, the following eulogium of Moses, translated from the works of an eloquent critic of his writings.*
EULOGIUM OF MOSES.
"" This most extraordinary personage was presented to the world in very singular circumstances. He appeared at a period of peculiar affliction to his kindred and nation; and Divine Providence seems to have raised him up expressly for the purpose of exemplifying virtues, which distress and persecution
* Discours Hist. Critiques, &c. sur les Evenemens memorables du vieux Testament par JAQUES SAURIN, Tome I. Discours LXX,
alone are calculated to place in the fairest point of light. By a series of miraculous events he escaped in infancy, the fatal effects of a sanguinary decree, which doomed to death all the male children of the Hebrews from the womb. And, what highly merits consideration, and serves strikingly to display the influence which Sovereign Wisdom exercises over all the affairs of men, he owed his preservation in a great measure, to persons whose interest it was to have destroyed him. These very persons assisted in forming that superiour genius, and in cultivating those wonderful talents, which, in time, qualified him to be the deliverer of a nation which it was their intention utterly to extirpate.
“Scarcely arrived at that stage of life when men begin to form plans for the remainder of their existence, he feels himself called to determine between two objects, so incompatible in their nature, that the maturest judgement can with ditficulty hold the balance even ; religion and worldly interest. Under the necessity of making a choice so difficult, he rises above his age, above his passions, nay, in some sense, above humanity, and nobly sacrifices every worldly prospect to religion. He resolves to partake in the miseries of an oppressed people, in order to secure an interest in the favour of that God who is continually watching over his children, even when he seems to have abandoned them to their persecutors; he values nothing in comparison with that favour; he prizes it infinitely more than that of a great king, nay, more than the prospect itself of being heir to a throne and kingdom ; and, according to the expression of St. Paul, Esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.*
“ Not satisfied with being a spectator and a partaker of the misery of his wretched brethren, he resolves to meet the torrent; and, of a witness, hastens to become the avenger of the tyranny under which they groaned. Observing one of the merciless tools of oppression abusing an Israelite, he braves the rigour of all the laws of Egypt, kills the oppressor, delivers the sufferer, and, as we have said in another place, performs an anticipated act of the deliverer of his country.
“ Prudence constrains him to withdraw from the danger which threatened the stranger who dared to shed the blood of an Egyptian. He retires into the land of Midian, and there experiences repeated proofs of the care of that miraculous Providence which accompanied him through the whole course of a long life. Cut off from every opportunity of displaying the qualitics of the hero, he exhibits those of the philosopher. He employs the calmness of that retreat in contemplating the divine perfections; or rather, in this delicious retirement it was, that he enjoyed the intimate communications of the Almighty, who inspired him, and appointed him to the high destination of laying the first foundations of revealed religion, which was to supply the defects of that of nature, already clouded and disagured by the prejudices and the passions of mankind. He composed the book of Genesis ; and thereby furnished the world with irresistible arms to combat idolatry. He attacks the two most extravagant errors into which the human race had fallen, the plurality of gods, and that which admits imperfection in the Deity. To the one, and the other, he opposes the doctrine of the unity of an all-perfect Being.
" That God, whose existence and attributes he thus published, was pleased to manifest himself to him in Mount Horeb, in a manner altogether singular and miraculous. He confers on this chosen servant, the glorious but formidable commission to take the field against Pharaoh, to stem the current of oppression, to attempt to mollify the tyrant; and, if persuasion failed, to employ force, to support arguments by prodigies, to exact from all Egypt the expiation
* Heb. xi. 26.