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Compare Mr. A. R. Wallace's remark on Darwin in whose character, he observed,' the restless curiosity of the child to know the "what for?" the "why?" and the "how?" of everything seems never to have abated its force'.
References. XIII. 14-17 F. D. Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice, p. 49.
Near-cuts Not God's
I. That, then, was one feature of God's guidance. It shunned the near road, and it took the roundabout; and if you have been living with the open eye, and watching the method of the Divine in things, you have seen much that is analogous to this.
1. Think of the discovery of nature's secrets: of coal, of iron, of steam, of electricity. A single whisper from God would have communicated everything, and put mankind in possession of the secrets. But God never led us that way, though that way was near.
2. Or rising upward, think of the coming of Jesus. I detect the same leadership of God in that. Surely, in response to the world's need, He might have come a thousand years before! But God had no near way to Bethlehem. He led the world about, and through the desert, before He brought it to the King at Nazareth. We see now that there was a fullness of the time. There was kindness and education on the road.
3. There is one other region where a similar guidance of God is very evident. I refer to the evangelizing of the world. Slowly, by a man here, and by a woman there, and the men not saints, but of like passions with ourselves and by unceasing labour, and by unrecorded sacrifice, the world is being led to know of Jesus.
II. I have noticed that most of the high and generous souls the gallant spirits of the two covenants, let me say have been tempted with the temptation to take the near-cut, and in the power of God have conquered it.
1. Take Abraham, for instance. Tempted by the near road, he refused it. He felt by faith that God's ways were roundabout.
2. Or think of David. When at last, after Mount Gilboa, he came to his throne by the way that God appointed, I warrant you he felt God's ways were best.
3. Or think with all reverence of Jesus Christ, tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. Why did He come to earth to live and die for us, but that the kingdoms of this world might become His. And the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and saith to Him: 'All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me'. It was the old temptation. I speak with utmost reverence it was Jesus being tempted by near ways. And when I think of the long road of Jesus, round by the villages, and through the Garden, and on the Cross, and into the grave, I feel, if I never felt it in my life before, that near-cuts are not God's.
G. H. Morrison, Sun-Rise, p. 64.
References. XIII. 17, 18. J. Day Thompson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 134.
'the Bones of Joseph:' a Pathetic Inspiration
I. We cannot Dissociate Ourselves from the Past. In all our exoduses we carry 'the bones of Joseph' with us. We cannot ignore the past As Dr. Punshon expresses it, 'Part of the past to all the present cleaves'.
There is an historic past from which we desire never to be severed. We are its heirs.
There is a past we long to be dissociated from: the evil of history.
Then the personal past follows us. There is an individual past from which we would on no account be divided. But our past of personal evil shadows us.
Seeing we all have a painful past all, at least whose consciences are awakened what is our wisdom? Ever have recourse to Him Who can expunge the guilt of the past. Ever make the most of the present. Soon our present will be our past.
II. Mortality marks the Noblest. The brand of mortality is on us all. It were madness to forget this lesson of the 'hallowed burden' Israel bore.
III. The Great and Good Departed should not be Forgotten. It is abundantly to the credit of Moses that in the hour of triumphant exodus, with all the responsibility of leadership upon him, he did not forget the director of the Egyptian empire to whom Israel owed so much. Contemplate the departed saints and emulate their faith.
IV. We should Fulfil the Injunctions of the Sainted Ones. 'Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.' This strange act had been directly enjoined by Joseph. The laying of that behest upon Israel was an illustration of Joseph's wonderful faith as well as of his ingrained love of his people.
V. The Past gives Inspiration for Future Experiences. We need, amid the routine of duties, all manner of inspiration, and here is one type. Remember the past. Recollect what, by God's grace, others have been and done. God did not fail our fathers, and they did not fail God.
The past inspires us for trials and sorrows. What God has done for tired and suffering saints in ages gone, He will do again. The history of the Church, and the biographies of Christians, are replete with inspiration for the chequered experiences of the unknown tomorrow.
VI. 'Moses took the Bones of Joseph with him.' But it is not enough to have the hero's bones. Moses did not take Joseph's bones alone. He had Joseph's faith, Joseph's calibre of soul, Joseph's spirit, Joseph's heroism; all this, and yet more abundantly.
There is really danger lest, instead of using the splendid past, we abuse it. What an irony to have Joseph's bones with you, but not his spirit in you! This is a danger alike of Churches and of individuals. The noblest memorial of a hero is the reproduction of his heroism.
VII. The Good Succession does not Perish. Joseph is dead, but Moses lives to be Israel's Liberator and Leader.
VIII. We may Inspire Future Generations. They who lead a Joseph-like life shall have a Joseph-like influence upon others.
IX. 'Moses took the Bones of Joseph with him.'
Yet God's Presence is the Essential Presence.
The sombre presence of the dead was not the supreme presence among the Israelites as they marched to the bounds of Canaan. Hear the words of the twenty-first verse 'And the Lord went before them'. Without that august Presence it is vain to have 'the bones of Joseph'. He is everything.
Dinsdale T. Young, Unfamiliar Texts, p. 102.
In his Autobiographic Sketches De Quincey applies his figure to his sister Elizabeth. 'For thou, dear, noble Elizabeth, around whose ample brow, as often as thy sweet countenance rises upon the darkness, I fancy a tiara of light or a gleaming aureola in token of thy premature intellectual grandeur thou whose head, for its superb developments, was the astonishment of science thou who wert summoned away from our nursery; and the night which for me gathered upon that event ran after my steps far into life; and perhaps at this day I resemble little for good or for ill that which else I should have been. Pillar of fire that didst go before me to guide and to quicken pillar of darkness, when thy countenance was turned away to God, that didst too truly reveal to my dawning fears the secret shadow of death!'
To increase the reverence for Human Intellect or God's Light, and the detestation of Human Stupidity or the Devil's Darkness, what method is there? No method except even this, that we should each of us pray for it.... Such reverence, I do hope, and even discover and observe, is silently yet extensively going on among us even in these sad years. In which small salutary fact there burns for us, in this black coil of universal baseness fast becoming universal wretchedness, an inextinguishable hope; far-off but sure, a Divine 'pillar of fire by night'. Courage, courage.
Carlyle, Latter-day Pamphlets, iii.
'Cromwell and his officers,' says Carlyle once again in the sixth lecture on Heroes, 'armed soldiers of Christ, as they felt themselves to be; a little band of Christian Brothers, who had drawn the sword against a great black devouring world not Christian but Mammonish, devilish they cried to God in their strait, in their extreme need, not to forsake the cause that was His. The light which now rose upon them, how could a human soul, by any means at all, get better light? Was not the purpose so formed like to be precisely the best, wisest, the one to be followed without hesitation any more? To them it was as the shining of Heaven's own splendour, in the waste-howling darkness; the Pillar of Fire by night, that was to guide them in their desolate, perilous way. Was it not such? Can a man's soul, to this hour, get guidance by any other method than intrinsically by that same devout prostration of the earnest, struggling soul before the Highest, the Giver of all Light; be such prayer a spoken, articulate, or be it a voiceless, inarticulate one? There is no other method.'
Again, in his essay on The Life and Writings of Werner, he observes: 'The subject of Religion, in one shape or another, nay of propagating it in new purity by teaching and preaching, had nowise vanished from his meditation. On the contrary, we can perceive that it still formed the master-principle of his soul, "the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night," which guided him, so far as he had any guidance, in the pathless desert of his now solitary, barren and cheerless existence.' In his Loss and Gain (Vol. II. chap. IX.) Newman depicts an undergraduate's religion as follows: 'Charles' characteristic, perhaps more than anything else, was an habitual sense of the Divine Presence a sense which, of course, did not ensure uninterrupted conformity of thought and deed to itself, but still there it was; the pillar of the cloud before him and guiding him. He felt himself to be God's creature, and responsible to Him; God's possession, not his own.'
The access to the Scriptures was no more the actual cause of Luther's spiritual revolution than were the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire the cause of the departure of Israel from Egypt. But for the Scriptures, indeed, Luther and his followers might have perished in the desert of fanaticism after their exodus from Rome. But the pillar and cloud which guided the Reformer's steps were not made visible until the sands of the untravelled waste were already flying around their path, and the brick-kilns of their taskmasters were lost behind them in the distance. R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays, p. 396.
The Prophetic Element
Here we see in a figure the fact that God goes before the race; anticipating, providing, adjusting, so that in due season He may bring us into the Canaan of His accomplished purpose. The most cursory view of the world and history impresses one with the feeling that all things have been thought out beforehand; and closer examination, revealing how the sense of the future dominates the present, confirms us in the belief of a supernatural, prescient government that controls individual life and universal movement to some ulterior perfection. This special aspect we desire now to consider.
I. The Divine Preparation of the Earth as the Scene for Human Life and Discipline furnishes an instructive illustration of our text. Ages before man's advent on this planet we behold the Divine hand fashioning it for his habitation. The darkness that 'rested upon the face of the waters' was the hiding of the creative Spirit whilst He resolved the rude elements into order and beauty. Think of the cloud of the carboniferous era eclipsing the sun and wrapping everything in awful shadow! Yet the fire and darkness of geologic ages were pillars of the Lord heralding a new earth.
What a firm ground of confidence we find here touching the abiding welfare of the race! Pessimistic spirits are fond of propounding sceptical conundrums respecting the future. What will posterity do when the forests are depleted? what when the coal measures fail? what when population outstrips the means of subsistence? How truly absurd these apprehensions are! As the need arises, our scientists open to us storehouses which have been sealed from the foundation of the world. They are ever discovering new elements, lights, forces, fruits, which our fathers knew not. The 'faithful Creator' has in reserve a thousand secret magazines which He will discover as the race reaches its successive stages of development. Nature abounds with signs that God has passed this way before, that He has anticipated us with the blessings of His goodness, and means to see His children through.
II. The Government of the Race supplies another illustration of the Divine prescience. The future constitutes the main thought of revelation; and it everywhere teaches that the government of the world at any given point is regulated by a concern for the future, for a distant future. The whole of revelation is pervaded by the thought of the future; and so far it is in correspondence with the accredited science of the age. 'The Lord went before them in a cloud.' His purpose is always beyond the present; and the present is shaped and disciplined with a view to that ultimate design which shall justify the whole process. In the history of Israel, we venture to think, we have an illustration on a small scale of God's larger method of government. 'Thou broughtest a vine out of Egypt: Thou preparedst room before it.' Palestine was prepared for Israel. 'He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant.' Joseph set in motion a train of events which prepared Israel to take possession of Palestine. Is not this process of adjustment and progress ever going on in the wide world and in the sweep of the ages? Surely God is preparing waste lands as theatres of new empire, in due season to be occupied by elect nations. We cannot contemplate vast regions of the earth now opening up, climes rich with possibilities, without anticipating the period when they will be inherited by mighty populations yet unborn. They are the waiting Canaans of God's predestined ones. What, then, is our consolation amid the nebulousness and perplexity of human life? That our times are in His hands who knows the future, and whose attribute of prescience ever works on our behalf. Sydney Smith's counsel that we should take 'short views' is excellent; but the justification cf the short view is that we hold the hand of One who takes the long view.
III. The Divine Anticipation of our Spiritual Need affords another proof of the prescient element of the world. When the morning stars sang for joy over the new-made and radiant world, they could never have guessed that it was destined to become the stage of tragedy. They would only have prophesied for it golden ages of glory and joy. The event, however, has proved far otherwise. The rosy dawn was followed by a long sad day; let us rather say, by a long dark night. Yet here again God went before the race in the provision of His mercy.
All the scenes and experiences of life are antidated by grace. Nature is full of prevision. 'Spring hides behind autumn's mask;' and as Richard Jefferies puts it, 'The butterflies of next summer are somewhere under the snow'. The future dominates all nature, and the observer marks prophetic signs in every living thing. We have seen that the same is true in the evolution of society; the general life of today being determined by considerations transcending the present. And we feel sure that in the education and discipline of His children the future is a factor never lost sight of by the Heavenly Father. 'Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.'
IV. That Christ has gone before us into the Heavenly Place shall furnish our final illustration. 'A cloud received Him out of their sight.' As in a cloud the Creator went before us, fashioning this world for our indwelling, so in the cloud of the Ascension has the Redeemer gone before us to make ready a new sphere of beauty and delight. 'I go to prepare a place for you,' was His solemn assurance in the parting hour an assurance that He is fulfilling every day for thousands of His people. 'For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like a pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us.' As in the ancient time He prepared Palestine for Israel, so now He prepares the sphere of glory for the saints, and makes the saints meet for their inheritance in light.
W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, pp. 110-126.
Reference. XIII. 21. G. H. Morrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. 1902, p. 415.
Such was to be our Church, a church not made with hands, catholic, universal, all whose stones should be living stones, its officials the cherubim of Love and Knowledge, its worship wiser and purer action than has before been known to men. To such a Church men do indeed constitute the state, and men indeed we hope form the American Church and State, men so truly human that they could not live while those made in their own likeness were bound down to the condition of brutes. Should such hopes be baffled, should such a Church fall in the building, should such a state find no realization except to the eye of the poet, God would still be in the world, and surely guide each bird, that can be patient, on the wing to its home at last. But expectations so noble, which find so broad a basis in the past, which link it so harmoniously with the future, cannot lightly be abandoned. The same Power leads by a pillar of cloud as by a pillar of fire the Power that deemed even Moses worthy only of a distant view of the Promised Land.
Did you ever think of the spiritual meaning of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, as connected with our knowledge and our ignorance, our light and our darkness, our gladness and our sorrow? The everyday use of this Divine alternation to the wandering children of Israel is plain enough. Darkness is best seen against light, and light against darkness; and its use, in a deeper sense of keeping forever before them the immediate presence of God in the midst of them, is not less plain; but I sometimes think, that we who also are still in the wilderness, and coming up from our Egypt and its flesh-pots, and on our way, let us hope, through God's grace, to the celestial Canaan, may draw from these old-world signs and wonders that, in the midday of knowledge, with daylight all about us, there is, if one could but look for it, that perpetual pillar of cloud that sacred darkness which haunts all human knowledge, often the most at its highest noon; that 'look that threatens the profane'; that something, and above all that sense of some one, that Holy One, who inhabits eternity and its praises, who makes darkness His secret place, His pavilion round about, darkness and thick clouds of the sky.
And again, that in the deepest, thickest night of doubt, of fear, of sorrow, of despair; that then, and all the most then if we will look in the right airt, and with the seeing eye and the understanding heart there may be seen that pillar of fire, of light and of heat, to guide and quicken and cheer; knowledge and love, that everlasting love which we know to be the Lord's.
Dr. John Brown in Horæ Subsecivæ.
Compare also the last paragraph of Huxley's essay on 'Administrative Nihilism' with its account of true education, which, among other benefits, 'promotes morality and refinement, by teaching men to discipline themselves, and by leading them to see that the highest, as it is the only permanent, content is to be attained, not by grovelling in the rank and steaming valleys of sense, but by continual striving towards those high peaks, where, resting in eternal calm, reason discerns the undefined but bright ideal of the highest Good "a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night".'
References. XIV. T. A. Gurney, The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, p. 57. XIV. 2. H. H. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 395. XIV. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2188. XIV. 10 and 15. H. E. Platt, Church Times, vol. xliii. 1900, p. 60.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Exodus 13". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany