Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
GOD VIEWED IN JOSEPH’S ADVANCEMENT
Genesis 45:8. So now, it was not you that sent me hither, but God.
BY looking through second causes to the first Cause of all, we learn to trace events to an all-wise Being, who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” and whose prerogative it is to bring good out of evil, and order out of confusion. To this view of things we are directed, and in this we are greatly assisted, by the Holy Scriptures; which draw aside the veil of mystery that is on the ways of God, and set before our eyes the most hidden secrets of divine providence. The history before us more especially affords a beautiful illustration of those ways, in which the Governor of the Universe accomplishes his own designs: he suffers, in many instances, such adverse circumstances to occur, as apparently to preclude almost a possibility of their terminating according to his original purpose: yet does he wonderfully interpose in such a manner as to bring them easily, and, as it were, naturally, to their destined issue. If in any thing his intentions could be frustrated, we should have found them fail in reference to the predicted elevation of Joseph above his brethren: yet that event took place at last, and that too through those very means which were used to defeat it: and Joseph, alter the event was actually accomplished, referred the whole dispensation to God, as its primary Author and infallible Director.
To elucidate this subject, we shall shew,
I. What part God takes in the actions of wicked men—
Though God cannot be a partaker in the wickedness of men, yet he may, and certainly does, bear a part in those actions which wicked men perform. We need go no further than the text, to confirm and establish this truth. That the conduct of Joseph’s brethren, notwithstanding it was ultimately instrumental to his advancement, was deeply criminal, can admit of no doubt: yet says Joseph, “It was not you that sent me hither, but God.” The question is then, What is that part which God takes in the actions of wicked men? To this we answer,
1. He affords them opportunities of perpetrating what is in their hearts—
[The brethren of Joseph were full of envy and malice against him: but while he was under his father’s wing, they could not give full scope to their hatred, because they were afraid of their father’s displeasure. To remove this difficulty, God so ordered matters that Joseph should be sent to inquire after the health of his brethren when they were at a distance from home. This gave them an opportunity of executing all that was in their hearts. But as the executing of their first intention would have defeated the plans of Providence, it was so appointed that certain Ishmaelite merchants should be passing that way, and that he should be sold to them for a slave instead of being put to death.
That we do not err in tracing these minuter incidents to divine providence, is manifest; for the elevation of Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt is expressly said to have been effected by God for that very purpose, that he might be an instrument on whom the divine power should be exerted, and in whose destruction God himself should be glorified [Note: Romans 9:17.].
But in thus facilitating the execution of evil, God does not make himself a partner in the crime: he only affords men power and opportunity to do what their own wicked dispositions prompt them to: and this he does, as in the instances before referred to, so also in every crime that is committed in the world. What our blessed Lord said to his judge who boasted of having power to release or condemn him, we may say to every criminal in the universe, “Thou couldst have no power at all to commit thy crimes, except it were given thee from above.”]
2. He suffers Satan to instigate them to evil—
[“Satan is always going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour:” but he cannot act without divine permission: he could not tempt Job, or even enter into the herd of swine, till he had first obtained leave of God. For the most part, God imposes a restraint on this our inveterate enemy; or, if left to himself, he would soon “sift us all as wheat,” and reduce us all to the lowest ebb of wickedness and misery: but at times he leaves the fiend somewhat more at liberty, and permits him to exercise his power over his wretched vassals. On these occasions Satan operates upon their minds with more than usual violence, and not only leads them captive at his Will, but instigates them to the commission of the most heinous crimes. Of these acts God is frequently represented as the author, whilst in other parts of Scripture their origin is referred to Satan. We are told that Satan moved David to number the people; and that he sent forth lying Spirits into all the prophets of Baal, that they might induce Ahab to go up to Ramoth-gilead to battle, where he was sure to fall. But both these things are also said to have been done by God [Note: 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1 and 2 Chronicles 18:20-22.]. The fact is, that God did these things through the agency of Satan; that is, he permitted Satan to act according to the impulse of his own mind, and left the persons whom he assaulted to comply with his temptations.]
3. He withdraws from them his restraining grace—
[Man needs nothing more than to have the preventing grace of God withheld, and he will as surely fall, as a stone, cast out of the hand, will gravitate to the earth. Now it is in this way that God often punishes the sins of men: he leaves them to put forth the depravity of their own hearts: he withholds those mercies which he sees they despised, and gives them up to follow their own vile propensities without restraint. To this effect, it is often said in Scripture, “So I gave them up;” “So I gave them up.” Yea, the sacred records speak yet more strongly, and represent God as “blinding the eyes of men,” and “hardening their hearts [Note: Exodus 7:3; Exodus 7:13; Isaiah 6:9-10, which is quoted six times in the New Testament.].” But we must not imagine that God ever actively concurs in the production of sin: in fact, there is no occasion for any active exertion on his part; nothing further is necessary than for him to withdraw his preventing grace; and evil will blaze forth, as fire will to consume the stubble, when no counteracting influence is used to extinguish the flames.]
To remove all objection against his participating in the actions of wicked men, we proceed to point out,
II. The benefit arising from acknowledging Him in them—
It may be thought that such an acknowledgment, if it did not make God a minister of sin, would at least represent him in a very unamiable light; and that it would tend to justify men in their iniquities. But we affirm, on the contrary, that such an acknowledgment is calculated rather to bring good to man, and honour to our God.
1. It affords us sweet consolation under our troubles—
[Were we to look no further than to second causes, we should be grieved beyond measure at the instruments of our affliction, and be filled with apprehensions at their malevolent desires. But when we reflect that our enemies are no more than the sword in our Father’s hand, and the rod with which he corrects us; when we consider that his design in correcting us is widely different from theirs [Note: Isaiah 10:4-6.], and that after he has made use of them for our good, he will cast them into the fire [Note: Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 10:16.], and receive us to his bosom in an improved state [Note: Isaiah 10:24-27.], our minds are pacified, and we say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” What a source of comfort was this to Job, when the Sabeans and Chaldeans slew his servants and his cattle! “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” It is thus with all the sons and daughters of affliction, when once they can view the hand of God in their trials: they adopt the language of the Psalmist; “I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.”]
2. It disposes us to a ready forgiveness of those who injure us—
[It does not incline us to palliate their faults, as if they were mere unconscious instruments impelled by the force of Him who made use of them; (for in all that they do, they act as freely as if God bare no part at all in their actions:) but it inclines us to pity, to forgive, and pray for them, as slaves to their own passions, enemies to their own welfare, and real, though unwitting, benefactors to our souls. This effect is strongly exemplified in our text: Joseph saw the hand of God overruling the designs of his brethren; and from that consideration, he not only readily forgave them, but entreated them “not to be grieved or angry with themselves;” since, whatever had been their intentions, God had made use of their counsels for the accomplishment of his own gracious purposes: yea, thrice does he repeat this idea as a ground whereon he would have them satisfied with the dispensation, as he himself also was [Note: –8.]. We have also a similar effect mentioned in the history of David. Shimei, in the hour of David’s adversity, loaded him with execrations; and Abishai, eager to avenge the insult offered to his master, desired permission to go and kill him: but David forbade it, saying, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David: let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him: it may be that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day [Note: 2 Samuel 16:5-12.].” Thus shall we also mortify all vindictive feelings, when once we discern that our enemies are agents for Him: we shall say with Stephen and our blessed Lord; “Lay not this sin to their charge:” “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”]
3. It fills us with an admiration of the divine wisdom—
[It is impossible to trace all the parts of this history, and not adore the wisdom, whereby the various incidents in Joseph’s life were made to concur to the production of one great event, the preservation of Jacob and all his family. If we contemplate the still greater diversity of circumstances, whereby Jesus was made to fulfil the Scriptures, and to effect the redemption of the world; or the astonishingly mysterious designs of God relating to the excision of the Jews, as the means of engrafting the Gentiles into their stock; and the restoration of the Jews, as the means of bringing in all the fulness of the Gentiles; I say, if we contemplate these things, we are necessitated to exclaim with the Apostle, “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [Note: Romans 11:33.] !” In like manner, the more we are habituated to trace the mercies of God in our own personal experience, and the numberless instances wherein he has made “the wrath of men” and devils “to praise him,” the more heartily shall we join in the adoring language of Moses, “Who is like unto Thee among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders [Note: Exodus 15:11.] ?”]
In prosecuting this subject, we cannot but be struck with the following reflections—
1. How happy is the Christian in this world!
[Those that know not God, have no refuge to flee unto; no consolation under the trials they endure, no security against the evils they dread. But the true Christian is persuaded, that, though he navigates a tempestuous ocean, he has an all-wise, almighty Pilot at the helm: and “therefore he will not fear though the waves thereof roar, and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” He knows not indeed what will be the precise issue of impending calamities; but he knows that it shall be precisely such as his heavenly Father sees to be best for him; and with that assurance he is satisfied. Thus is he kept in perfect peace, because he “trusts in God.”]
2. How happy will he be in the future world!
[Here “he walks by faith, and not by sight.” He believes that things are working for his good, because God has said that they shall do so. But in heaven he will have a perfect discovery of all the links in that chain of providences, whereby he has been brought to glory. He will see the importance of those things which once appeared most trifling, and the necessity of those things which once were most distressing, and the perfect harmony of those things which once were involved in the most impenetrable darkness and confusion. What cause will he then see to bless and adore his God! What views will he then have of the unsearchable depths of wisdom, which ordered every thing for his good! Well may he leave himself at God’s disposal now, when such shall be his recompence at last! Let us then commit ourselves entirely to God, and be satisfied with all his dealings towards us: and “what we know not now, we shall know hereafter.”]
JACOB’S RESOLUTION TO VISIT JOSEPH IN EGYPT
Genesis 45:27-28. And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the waggons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived: and Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.
IT is of very great importance to exercise sound wisdom and discretion in interpreting the Holy Scriptures, lest, by imposing on them a forced or fanciful meaning, we bring the sacred oracles themselves into contempt. Yet is there a certain latitude allowed us, provided we do not set forth the subordinate and accommodated sense as if it were the true and primary import of the passage. The Apostles themselves frequently take this liberty. The prophet, speaking of the Babylonish captivity, says, “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping: Rachel, weeping for her children, refused to he comforted for her children, because they were not [Note: Jeremiah 31:15.].” This passage St. Matthew applies to the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem, to which, in its primary sense, it had no reference [Note: Matthew 2:17-18.]: nevertheless, the citation of it was just, and the accommodation beautiful. A similar use the same evangelist makes of a passage primarily referring to the atonement which Christ should offer for the sins of mankind: he applies it to his miraculously healing their bodily disorders [Note: Compare Isaiah 53:4 with Matthew 8:16-18.]. These examples, and others which might be adduced, would justify a considerably greater latitude of observation than we propose to adopt on the present occasion. In considering this portion of sacred history, we do not found upon it any doctrine relating to the Gospel: we do not even insinuate that it was originally intended to illustrate any of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity: we shall merely take occasion from it to introduce to your notice some useful observations, with which indeed it has no immediate connexion, but with which it has a very striking correspondence.
Joseph having made known himself to his brethren, and cautioned them against “falling out by the way,” (an event too probable in their circumstances,) sends them back to their father, with orders to inform him of all that they had seen and heard, and to bring him and their respective families down to Egypt. Jacob, when first he received the information, could not credit it: but upon further conversation with his sons he was convinced of the truth of their report, and determined to accept the invitation which his beloved Joseph had sent him.
Now we propose to notice,
I. The grounds of his doubts—
There seem to have been two reasons for his questioning the truth of the information he received;
1. The report contradicted all that he had before received for truth—
[‘He had above twenty years before had reason to believe that his son Joseph had been torn in pieces by a wild beast; he had even seen his son’s coat torn and drenched in blood; nor had the lapse of so many years brought him any other information: how then could this son be the person that presided over the kingdom of Egypt at this time? There might be some one that resembled him in name; but it could not possibly be his darling son: had Joseph been alive, he must long since have heard of him: whoever therefore the person might be, or whatever he might profess to be, he could not be the long-lost son of his beloved Rachel.’ Such were Jacob’s arguments, and such his reasons for rejecting the testimony of his sons.
And do we not here see one ground on which the testimony of those who preach the Gospel is rejected? We find men rooted in certain sentiments, which, in their opinion, they have adopted on very sufficient grounds. The general acceptance which those sentiments meet with, and the confirmation of them during a long course of years, concur to render them, as it were, fixed principles in their minds. But the doctrines of the Gospel are directly the reverse of those which pass current in the world. The extreme depravity of human nature, the desert and danger of all mankind, the insufficiency of any good works to recommend us to God, the necessity of seeking justification by faith alone, the nature and extent of true holiness, and the impossibility of being saved without an entire consecration of ourselves to the service of God, are as opposite to the doctrines and sentiments of the world, as light is to darkness: and on this account they are rejected by the generality with scorn and contempt. It was on this ground that Nicodemus rejected the doctrine of the new birth; “How can these things be?” ‘I have never held this sentiment; therefore it cannot be true.’ And on the same grounds it is, that the preaching of the Gospel is at this time, no less than in former ages, accounted foolishness.]
2. The tidings were too good to be true—
[There is a proneness in the human mind to believe evil reports more easily than those which are favourable. Jacob instantly acceded to the idea that his son Joseph had been torn in pieces, notwithstanding, if he had considered the spirit and temper of his brethren towards him, there was very abundant reason to doubt the fact. But, when he is told that Joseph is alive, and at the head of the Egyptian kingdom, he cannot entertain the thought one moment: “his heart even faints” at the mention of the fact, (not because he believed it, but) because he believed it not.
Here again we trace the workings of the human mind in relation to higher things. If we come and tell persons that they must make their peace with God by a long course of repentance and good works, they will believe us readily enough; though, if they duly considered the nature of such tidings, they would have evidence enough of their falsehood. But if we declare to them, that Christ has made a full atonement for our sins; that a free and full salvation is offered them through Him; that they may partake of it “without money and without price,” that is, without any thing on their part to merit it; and that their former guilt, however great and aggravated, is no bar to their acceptance with God, provided they simply and unfeignedly believe in Christ; ‘all this seems too good to be true: it can never be, that the way to heaven should be so easy.’ This is the argument used by all the train of self-righteous Pharisees, who, “being whole, feel no need of a physician;” and by multitudes also of repenting “Publicans, who dare not lift up their eyes to heaven,” or entertain a hope, that “grace should ever so abound towards them, in whom sin has so greatly abounded [Note: See Isaiah 49:24-25.].”]
Having canvassed thus his doubts, we proceed to notice,
II. The means of their removal—
Of these we are minutely informed in the words of our text. They were,
1. A fuller recital of Joseph’s words—
[Jacob’s sons had told him of Joseph’s elevation; but not obtaining credit, proceeded to “tell him all the words that Joseph had said unto them.” Now their testimony became so circumstantial and convincing, that he could resist no longer: his incredulity was borne down by a weight of evidence that could not be withstood.
Thus also it is that the Gospel forces its way into the hearts of thousands, to whom, at its first statement, it appeared no better than an idle tale. Ministers set forth innumerable declarations which Jesus has made respecting us: they report his gracious invitations, his precious promises, his tender expostulations; all of which evince such a perfect knowledge of our state, and are so suited to our necessities, that we cannot any longer doubt from whom they come. They shame us out of our doubts, and constrain us to exclaim, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief!”]
2. An actual sight of the tokens of his love—
[A view of the waggons which Joseph had sent, stored with every thing requisite for his accommodation in his journey, completed his conviction. All the patriarch’s doubts were dissipated, and his “spirit instantly revived.”
And what will not give way before the sensible manifestations of God’s love to the soul? Let “His love be shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost;” let the promises be applied with power to the soul; let “the Spirit of God once witness with our spirit that we are God’s;” and no fears will then remain respecting the truth of the Gospel or the power and grace of Christ: we shall then “have the witness in ourselves,” that “Jesus is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour,” and that he is “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.”]
With the removal of his doubts there was an instantaneous change in his determinations. This will appear while we consider,
III. The effect which their removal produced upon him—
He had been hitherto reluctant to leave his home; but now,
1. He desired nothing so much as to see the one object of his affections—
[Joseph was now more dear to him than ever; and if he might but live to enjoy a sight of him, he should consider himself as having attained all for which he wished to live: “It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die.”
And let us once be persuaded that Jesus is set at God’s right hand, far above all principalities and powers, and that he has all heaven at his disposal, and has sent to invite us to come unto him, and has made ample provision for us by the way, and prepared mansions for us at the end of our journey, and engaged that we shall dwell in his immediate presence for ever and ever; let us be persuaded of this, and shall we feel no disposition to visit him? Will it not, on the contrary, be the first desire of our hearts? Shall we not say, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee; and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee?” Will not the attainment of this object appear to be the only thing worth living for? And having an assured prospect of this, shall we not say, “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace?” Yes; this desire will swallow up, as it were, every other; and to secure this happiness will be the only end for which we shall wish to live.]
2. He disregarded all the difficulties he might encounter in the way to him—
[It was not a pleasing thing for an infirm old man, who was one hundred and thirty years of age, to leave his home, and set out upon so long a journey: but the mountains became a plain, when such an object was to be attained.
Nor is it pleasing for flesh and blood to encounter the difficulties which we must meet with in our journey heaven-ward. But who that loves our exalted Jesus will regard them? who will not welcome reproach, and take up with cheerfulness whatever cross may lie in his way to that blessed kingdom 2 Suppose that we must suffer the loss of our worldly interests and accommodations; who will not account them mere “stuff,” that is unworthy of one moment’s notice? who will not readily exchange them for the fulness of the heavenly land, and for the enjoyment of the Saviour’s presence? Difficulties become no difficulties, and sacrifices no sacrifices, when by faith we behold the Saviour’s glory, and have an assured hope of participating it for ever.]
1. How amiable is the exercise of unfeigned love!
[Joseph, for peculiar reasons, had imposed a restraint upon his feelings, till the proper time arrived to give them vent: but when he was no longer under any necessity to conceal them, they burst forth in a torrent of affection, as waters that have broken down the dam by which they had been confined. He retained no anger against his murderous brethren, but fell on their necks and kissed them. His charge to them “not to fall out by the way,” shewed how ardently he desired that they might maintain, with each other as well as with himself, the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And how animated was his message to his dear aged father! “Haste you, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph; God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down to me; tarry not: and thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen; and thou shalt be near unto me, thou and thy children, and thy children’s children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: and there will I nourish thee!” Nor was the aged patriarch’s affection less ardent, when once he was persuaded that his Joseph was yet alive. His whole soul was wrapt up in his darling son: and, in his determination to visit him, he lost sight of all his temporal interests: the thought of enjoying plenty in Egypt seems not to have entered into his mind: all that he cared for was a sight of Joseph; and beyond that he had no wish in life.
Would to God it were thus in every church, and every family! Thus indeed it will be, wherever the grace of God reigns in the heart. Instead of “rendering evil for evil,” we shall “heap coals of fire on the heads” of those who injure us, to melt them into love. Instead of harbouring envy, or hatred, or a selfish indifference in our hearts, we shall feel the sublimest happiness in the exercise of love: parents will love their children, and children seek to requite their parents, and “brethren delight to dwell together in unity.” O let us cultivate such a spirit, which shall be the best evidence, both to ourselves and others, that we are Christ’s disciples.]
2. How delightful will be our interview with Christ in heaven!
[If we had beheld the meeting of this aged patriarch with his beloved Joseph, who amongst us could have refrained from tears? — — — But what must be the meeting of the soul with Jesus, on its first admission into his presence? Who can conceive the tender endearments of the Saviour’s love, or the admiration, gratitude, and joy with which the soul shall be overwhelmed in his embrace? Surely such an interview is worth the longest and most arduous journey. Well may we account every thing as dung and dross, to obtain it; more especially because it shall not be transient, like that which Jacob enjoyed, but permanent and everlasting. Behold then, we invite you all to a participation of it. He has said respecting you, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me.” And is there one amongst you that will not add his Amen to that petition? Make haste then, tarry not: “Mind not your stuff” but commence your journey instantly: and soon shall death transport you into his presence; and “then shall you be for ever with the Lord. Comfort ye one another with these words.”]
Sunday, February 19th, 2017
the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
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