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REPENTANCE OF THE ISRAELITES
Exodus 33:5-2.33.6. Therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, by the Mount Horeb.
THAT which is principally required of Ministers, is fidelity [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:1-46.4.2.], to dispense the word of God aright, without courting the applause of men, or fearing their displeasure. Of hearers it is required, that they receive the word of God with all readiness of mind, and obey it without reserve. Where such Ministers and such people are, happy will they be in each other, and happy also in their God. Of the description we have mentioned was Moses; but not so the people of Israel: they were stiff-necked and rebellious throughout the whole course of his ministry among them. On some few occasions, however, they seemed to be of a better mind; particularly on the occasion now before us. Moses had declared to them a message from God; in which their true character was drawn, and his judgments against them were awfully denounced [Note: See the former part of.]: and the effect, for the present at least, was such as was reasonably to be expected: they trembled at the divine judgments, and humbled themselves instantly in the mode prescribed. This is declared in the text; for the elucidating of which we observe,
God is not able to exercise mercy towards an impenitent transgressor—
God certainly is “rich in mercy,” and delights in the exercise of it; and would gladly manifest it towards all the human race [Note: 1 Timothy 2:4; Ezekiel 33:11.]. But impenitence presents an insurmountable obstacle in his way, so that he cannot shew mercy towards any who abide in it. He cannot,
Because it would be inconsistent with his own perfections—
[He is a God of inflexible justice, unspotted holiness, and inviolable truth. But what evidence would there be that anyone of these perfections belonged to him, if he, in direct opposition to his own most positive declarations, put no difference between the proud contemner of his authority, and the humble repenting suppliant? — — —]
Because it would be ineffectual for the happiness of the persons themselves—
[Annihilation indeed would be a benefit, if that were granted to them; because they would then be rescued from the sufferings that await them: but to raise them to heaven would be no source of happiness to them. Having still a carnal mind which is enmity against God, they must hate him though in heaven: either God, or they, must change, before they can have fellowship with each other. As little comfort could they find in the society or employment of the heavenly hosts. The glorified saints and angels could not unite with those who had no one sentiment or feeling in unison with their own [Note: They would be ready to “thrust him out” of their society. Luke 13:28.]: nor would they who hate the exercises of prayer and praise in this world, find any satisfaction in such exercises in the world above. I say therefore again, that to an impenitent sinner heaven would be no heaven: for while sin reigns within him, he has a hell in his own bosom, and carries it with him where-soever he goes.]
It would introduce disorder into the whole universe—
[What sensations must it occasion in heaven! for if God can so change his very nature as to love an unholy creature, who can tell but that he may go one step further, and hate an holy one? As for the effect of it on earth, no one from that moment would either hate or fear sin: not hate it, because they would see that God does not hate it; and not fear it, because they would see that he will not punish it. Even in hell the effect of it would be felt: for, if God takes an impenitent man to his bosom, why may he not an impenitent spirit also; and what hinders but that the fallen angels may yet become as happy as those who never fell? Could such a thought as this be cherished in that place of torment, hell would from that moment cease to be the place it is.]
Here then is ample reason why God, notwithstanding his delight in mercy, cannot find how to exercise it towards impenitent sinners. But,
Where humiliation is manifested, mercy may be expected—
From the very mode in which repentance is here enjoined—
[When we speak of God as embarrassed in his mind, or perplexed in his counsels, we must not be understood to intimate that such things actually exist: for “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world:” nor can any occasion possibly arise, wherein he can be at a loss how to act. But he is pleased to speak in this kind of language respecting himself, in order to accommodate himself to our feeble apprehensions: “Put off thy ornaments, that I may know what to do unto thee.” Thus in various other places he speaks as perplexed in his mind about the line of conduct he shall pursue [Note: Hosea 6:4.], and as wishing to shew mercy, but not knowing how to do it consistently with his own honour [Note: Jeremiah 3:19.]. Let us not then be misunderstood, as though, in accommodating ourselves to the language of our text, we deviated at all from that reverence which is due to the Supreme Being.
It is here intimated then, that, whilst impenitence continues, he knows not how to exercise mercy to the sinner: but it is also intimated, that, when once persons are humbled for their wickedness, he is at no loss at all how to act towards them: he can then give full scope to the merciful disposition of his own heart, and can pour out all his benefits upon them without any dishonour to his own name. Yes; that point attained, the law is honoured by the sinner himself; the atoning blood of Christ may be applied freely to cleanse him from his guilt; the mercy vouchsafed to him will not be abused; the heavenly hosts will be made to shout for joy; and God himself will be glorified to all eternity. There is no obstacle whatever to the freest and fullest exercise of love towards such a Being; and therefore God knows both what to do, and how to do it to the best effect.]
From the experience of penitents in all ages—
[Look at those in our text: God had threatened that he would go with them no more, but commit them to the guidance of a created angel. This had produced upon them a very deep impression: the fear of being deserted by him had wrought more powerfully upon them than the slaughter of three thousand of their number on the day before [Note: –4.]. They humbled themselves in the way that God had commanded; and, behold! the mercy, so ardently desired by them, and by Moses, was granted: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest [Note: 4.].”
Look at all other penitents from the foundation of the world: was ever so much as one spurned from the footstool of divine grace? Was ever one sent empty away? Even where the repentance was far from genuine, considerable respect was paid to it, and the blessing sought for was bestowed [Note: 1 Kings 21:27-11.21.29.]. How much more where the repentance itself has been deep, and the contrition manifest! Not even the greatest accumulation of guilt that ever was known, was suffered to outweigh the tears of penitence, or to shut up the tender mercies of our God from a contrite soul [Note: 2Ki 21:16 with 2 Chronicles 33:1-14.33.13.]. The Saviour was sent into the world for the very purpose of saving them that are lost; and he assures “all who are weary and heavy laden with a sense of their sins, that, on coming to him, they shall find rest unto their souls.”]
Consider what obstructions you have laid in the way of your own happiness—
[Had you not sinned, or, after your sins, continued impenitent, you would have been happy long since in the enjoyment of your God. He has been long “waiting to be gracious” unto you, but you would not suffer him to be so. He has been longing “to gather you, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but you would not.” Say then, what alternative is left to God? He has called, but you have refused: he still calls, and you still continue to reject his counsels. Truly, “he knows not what to do:” if he spare you, you only add sin to sin; and if he cut you off, you perish without the smallest hope of mercy. Who can tell but that he is deliberating at this moment, and just about to form his ultimate decision? Who can tell but that this very night he may determine, as he did respecting his people of old; “Go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; I will tread down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down [Note: Isaiah 5:5.]:” or, as he elsewhere says, “I swear in my wrath that they shall never enter into my rest?” Know, beloved, that if this calamity fall upon you, the fault is utterly your own: nothing but “iniquity can separate between you and your God; nothing but sin unrepented of can hide his face from you [Note: Isaiah 59:2.].”]
Endeavour instantly to remove them—
[Methinks I see your impenitence, like a dam, barring out from you those streams of mercy, which would refresh and fertilize your souls. O remove it without delay! But take care that your repentance is genuine and unreserved. External and temporary repentance will avail only for the removal of temporal judgments. That which is required in order to the final remission of your sins, must be deep, spiritual, and abiding: it must shew itself in the whole of your conduct and conversation. You will put away those pleasures, those vanities, those companions, that have been to you an occasion of falling; and you will “walk mournfully before the Lord of Hosts” to the latest hour of your lives: “you will lothe yourselves for all your iniquities and abominations,” as well after that God is pacified towards you, as before [Note: Eze 36:31 with 16:63.]. Let this then be begun immediately, even as “the Israelites put off their ornaments on the very mount of Horeb.” Let there be no delays; no waiting for a more convenient season. And let not the loss of heaven be the only object of your fear: fear also the loss of the divine presence. This, as you have seen, was peculiarly dreaded by the Israelites: let it also be peculiarly dreaded by you: and never cease to humble yourselves before God, till you have attained a sweet assurance of his guidance through this wilderness, and of his blessing in Canaan at the termination of your way.]
PAST MERCIES PLEADED BEFORE GOD
Exodus 33:12-2.33.13. Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight.
NOTHING is more profitable than to be brought, as it were, into the secret chamber of the saint, and to be a witness of his intercourse with God. His humble confidence, his holy boldness, his fervent supplications, his almost irresistible pleadings, give us a juster view of man’s present salvation, than any declarations, however strong, could convey. The blessedness of true religion is there embodied, and is therefore seen in all its fair proportions and magnificent dimensions.
The prayer which we have just heard, was uttered on occasion of the transgression of Israel in the matter of the golden calf. God had threatened to destroy the whole nation: but, at the intercession of Moses, he so far forgave them, as to suspend his judgments, and to promise, that though HE would conduct them no longer by his immediate presence, he would send an angel with them, who should lead them to the promised land. This, however, Moses could not endure: if God should not go with them, he judged it undesirable to be guided thither at all: and therefore he renewed his pleadings with God in their behalf, hoping to prevail to the full extent of his wishes. God had offered to destroy that whole nation, and to raise up another from the loins of Moses: and this token of God’s good-will towards him he laid hold of as a ground of hope, and urged it as a plea with God to grant him his full desire: “Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight.”
Let us notice here,
The fact pleaded—
God had given him the assurances here spoken of—
[We are not told exactly either when, or how, God had declared to him these glad tidings. It is probable, however, that it was by an audible voice during their late extraordinary intercourse, wherein, we are told, “The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend [Note: 1.].” The import of the declaration, however, is clear. It could not mean that God merely knew the name of Moses; for he knew the name of every human being as well as his: it means, that from all eternity he had ordained Moses to his high station, and had appointed him to be a vessel of honour, in whom he would be glorified. I say not, but that the conduct of Moses, as contrasted with that of Aaron and the people of Israel, might bring down upon him more special tokens of God’s favour: for I can have no doubt but that God, who rewardeth every man according to his works, did confer upon him many blessings as the reward of his piety, according to that established rule of his, “Them that honour me, I will honour:” but the primary source of all his blessedness was God’s electing love and sovereign grace; though the manifestations of that love, by an immediate assurance from heaven, might be given him as a recompence for his fidelity.]
And are not similar assurances vouchsafed to God’s faithful people at this day?
[If we examine the Holy Scriptures, we shall find, that neither electing love, nor the manifestation of it to the soul, are confined to Moses. To Jeremiah this declaration was vouchsafed: “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nation [Note: Jeremiah 1:5.].” Here the very same expression, “I knew thee,” is explained as equivalent to a fore-ordination of him to the prophetic office. And the same sovereign grace is exercised towards men in reference also to their everlasting concerns; as it is said, “Whom God did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Romans 8:29.].” Nor must we understand this foreknowledge as forming the ground of God’s future mercies to the persons foreknown, but rather as constituting the source from whence those blessings flow: as the Apostle says, “God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (not because he foresaw that we should be holy, but in order that we might be holy) and without blame before him in love [Note: Ephesians 1:4.].” And it is on this electing love of his, and not on any merits or strength of ours, that our security, in reality, depends: for it is said, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his [Note: 2 Timothy 2:19.].”
But does God manifest this his electing love to any now, as he did to Moses? Yes: not indeed by an audible voice, but by other means sufficiently intelligible both to themselves and others. What else is meant by the Witness of the Spirit? for, now, as well as in former days, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God [Note: Romans 8:16.].” Nor is it in that way only that he makes known our relation to him, but by a work of grace upon our souls: for it was from the “work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,” which St. Paul saw in his Thessalonian converts, that he “knew their election of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-52.1.4.].”
The fact, then, which Moses pleaded with God is no other than what all his saints are at liberty to plead: for as it is true, that “he knows them by name, and that they have found grace in his sight,” so is it true, also, that he has, more or less evidently, declared it to them all; not indeed to any by an audible voice; but to some by the secret influences of his Spirit, and to all by the visible operations of his grace.]
The next point for our consideration is,
The petition urged—
It is thought by many, that an assurance of our acceptance with God would render us careless and supine: but—
The very reverse was its effect on Moses—
[The mercies vouchsafed to him, only stimulated him to a more earnest desire after further blessings. He does not say, “If I have found grace in thy sight, I am content: but, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me thy way, that I may know thee, and that I may find further grace in thy sight.”]
And such will be its effect on all God’s chosen people—
[Blessings will be regarded by them, not as gifts wherein to rest, but as pledges and earnests of future blessings. It was a wise and truly spiritual argument which was offered by Manoah’s wife for the pacifying of her husband’s mind: “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering or a meat-offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would, as at this time, have told us such things as these [Note: Judges 13:23.].” Past mercies are rather urged by them in prayer as pleas for further blessings. It was thus that David regarded them: “Thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living [Note: Psalms 56:13.] ?” And in this way will God’s special favour operate on every ingenuous mind. Instead of being satisfied with a taste of his love, we shall hunger and thirst after the full banquet; and never cease from aspiring after a further growth in grace, till we have attained the full measure of the stature of Christ, and our graces are perfected in glory.
Nor shall we be anxious about our own advancement only: we shall feel for God’s honour also; and for the welfare of those around us. This appears, in a striking point of view, in the conduct of Moses on this occasion: for, not content with finding grace himself, he adds, “And consider that this nation is thy people;” in which words he combines a tender regard for God’s honour with an anxiety for his people’s welfare. His further pleading also deserves attention: “Wherein shall it be known here, that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us [Note: 6 with ch. 34:9.] ?” Now this shews us the true effect which a sense of God’s love will produce: it will make us not only anxious to obtain richer communications of grace and peace to our own souls, but more earnest also to promote to the utmost of our power the good of all around us.]
The answer given to this petition leads us to notice,
The plea admitted—
God, in his mercy, vouchsafed to Moses an answer of peace—
[The plea peculiarly honoured God, in that, whilst it acknowledged his sovereign grace in the blessings already bestowed, it regarded him as a God of unbounded goodness, able and willing to fulfil all his petitions. And God’s answer to it shewed how greatly it was approved by him: “The Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken, for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name [Note: 7.].” Here, I say, God not only grants the petition, but specifically founds the grant upon the very plea that had been urged.]
And when did he ever refuse to hear a petition so enforced?
[God loves to be addressed with confidence, provided the confidence be grounded on his power and grace. He bids us to come to him “with a full assurance of faith;” to “ask what we will:” and he gives us reason to hope, that, if we come in faith, he will “do for us not only what we ask, but exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” It might be feared, that the importunity of Moses would offend him. But it did not: nor was he angry with Jacob, who “wrestled with him in prayer all night,” and boldly said, “I will not let thee go until thou bless me.” On the contrary, he commands us to wait on him with unwearied importunity, and to “continue instant in prayer,” till he bestow upon us all that our hearts can wish. “The wider we open our mouths in prayer, the more he will fill them.”]
To improve this subject, I would say,
Bear in mind the tokens of God’s love—
[Look at what he “has said to you” in his word: take his “exceeding great and precious promises,” and tell me whether you can ever want a plea to urge at the throne of grace. You admire his condescension and grace to Moses: but it is no other than what he will manifest to you, if, like Moses, you consecrate yourselves to his service. You cannot, indeed, expect to converse with God face to face, as a man converseth with his friend: but by faith you may approach him no less certainly, and no less nearly; and may be sure of obtaining from him an answer of peace. Only take with you his words of promise, and spread them before him; and every jot and tittle of them shall be fulfilled to your souls.]
Let the effect of his distinguishing grace be to make you more earnest in your desires after him—
[When David said, “O God, thou art my God,” he added, “early will I seek thee.” In truth, this is our great encouragement to seek him: for, if he “loved us with an everlasting love,” what may we not expect his loving-kindness to do for us? If once you could bring yourselves to say, ‘I am one of God’s elect, and therefore am at liberty to relax my efforts in his service;’ you would need no further evidence, that you are “yet in the gall of bitterness,” and have no part or lot in his salvation. If you have a good hope that you are his children indeed, then will you “walk worthy of your high calling,” and “purify yourselves even as he is pure.”]
Improve your interest in God for the good of others—
[In this Moses greatly excelled: he was willing and desirous even to “be blotted out of God’s book” himself, if that, by means of it, he might obtain mercy for his offending nation. See to it, Brethren, that your religion operate thus on you. Behold the state of those around you; how many thousands there are dying in their sins! And will you not interest yourselves in their behalf, and labour to obtain for them the mercy that has been vouchsafed to you? Will you suffer your very friends and relatives to perish, without any serious effort in their behalf? Oh! pity them, and pray for them; and “give unto God no rest,” till you have obtained some evidence that you have not laboured altogether in vain.]
GOD’S PRESENCE WITH HIS CHURCH
Exodus 33:14. And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.
IT is not in the power of words to express, or of any finite imagination to conceive, the extent and riches of divine grace. The instances in which it was manifested to the Israelites of old, inasmuch as they were obvious to the eye of sense, are more calculated to excite our admiration; but the church at this time, and every believer in it, experiences equal tokens of God’s kindness, if we can but view them with the eye of faith. It was under circumstances, wherein the Israelites had justly incurred God’s heavy displeasure, that the promise in the text was made to them: and to us, if we do but use the proper means of attaining an interest in it, is the same promise given, notwithstanding our heinous backslidings, and innumerable provocations.
That we may be stirred up to improve it, we shall point out,
The blessings here promised—
Though the promise was given immediately to Moses, yet it was not literally fulfilled either to him or to the people of that generation; since both he, and they, died in the wilderness. This circumstance alone would lead us to look for some mystical accomplishment, which it should receive; and while the Scripture warrants, it will also fully satisfy, our inquiries on this head. The promise has relation to us, as well as to the Israelites; and teaches us to expect,
God’s presence in our way—
[God had refused to proceed any further with the Israelites, on account of their worshipping the golden calf. In answer however to the supplications of Moses, he had condescended to say, that he would “send an angel” in his stead. But when Moses would not be satisfied with that, and continued to plead for a complete restoration of his favour to Israel, God, overcome, as it were, by his importunity, promised to go before them still in the pillar and the cloud [Note: Exodus 32:34, with the text.]. More than this they did not need; and less than this could never satisfy one, who had ever experienced the divine guidance and protection. And has not our blessed Lord made the same promise to us? Has he not said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world [Note: Matthew 28:20.] ?” Has not his prophet assigned this as a reason why we should dissipate our fears, and look forward to the eternal world with confidence and joy [Note: Isaiah 41:10.] ? On this promise then let us rely; and let us know, that if we have God for our guide, our protector, and provider, we have all that can be necessary for us in this dreary wilderness.]
His glory as our end—
[Canaan was a place of rest to the Israelites after the many difficulties that they sustained in their way to it: and heaven will be indeed a glorious rest to us after our weary pilgrimage in this world. Now as the prospect of the land flowing with milk and honey, sweetened all the fatigues and dangers of their journey in the wilderness, so the hope of “that rest which remaineth for God’s children,” encourages us to persevere in our labours to attain it: and this rest is promised us, in spite of all the exertions of men or devils to deprive us of it. Our conflicts may be many, and our trials great; but our rest is sure; for God hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee [Note: Compare Joshua 1:5, with Hebrews 13:5-58.13.6.] ”.]
These blessings being so necessary, we should anxiously inquire into,
The means of attaining them—
Moses is here to be considered in a double view, as a type of Christ, and as an example to us: and, in these two capacities, he teaches us to look for these blessings,
Through the intercession of Christ—[Christ, like Moses, has immediate access to that Divine Being who is wholly inaccessible to us [Note: 1 Timothy 6:16.] ; and it is owing to his entrance within the tabernacle to “appear in the presence of God for us,” that the wrath of the Almighty has not burst forth upon us on numberless occasions, and consumed us utterly [Note: Hebrews 9:24.]. It is not only at our first return to God that we must seek the mediation of Jesus Christ; we must apply to him continually as our advocate with the Father, expecting nothing but through his prevailing intercession. This is the way pointed out for us by the beloved disciple, especially in seasons, when fresh-contracted guilt has excited just apprehensions of the divine displeasure; “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [Note: 1 John 2:1.].” Whether therefore we desire grace or glory, let us seek it through Christ, as the purchase of his blood, and the consequence of his intercession.]
Through our own importunate supplications—
[While the Israelites put off their ornaments in token of their unfeigned humiliation, Moses, as their representative, importuned God for mercy, and urged his requests with the most forcible and appropriate pleas [Note: 2, 13.]. In this manner should we also cry unto our God for pardon and acceptance, not enduring the thought of being left by him, lest we come short of that rest to which he has undertaken to lead us [Note: Hebrews 4:1.]. Nor should we cease to plead, till we have an assured hope that he is reconciled towards us, and a renewed prospect of his continued presence with us to the end of life. It is in this way that his people have prevailed with him in every age [Note: Daniel 4:7-27.4.8; Daniel 4:17-27.4.19.] ; and he has pledged himself to us, that, when our uncircumcised hearts are humbled, he will remember his holy covenant, and return in mercy to us [Note: Leviticus 26:40-3.26.42.].]
How greatly are we indebted to Jesus Christ!
[Where shall we find one who has not made to himself some idol, and “provoked the Lord to jealousy?” And how justly might God have sworn in his wrath that we should not enter into his rest! But our adorable Saviour has sprinkled the mercy-seat with his precious blood, and offered up the incense of his own prevailing intercession on our behalf. Surely he is well called “Our peace [Note: Ephesians 2:14.],” since he alone procures it, maintains it, perfects it. Let us bear in mind then our obligations to him, and ascribe to him the glory due unto his name.]
How earnest ought we to be in intercession for each other!
[In the history before us we behold one man interceding for a whole nation, and that too under circumstances where there could be scarcely any hope to prevail: yet he not only obtains a revocation of the sentence which God had passed, but a renewal and continuance of his wonted favours towards them. Shall we then neglect the duty of intercession, or intercede for each other merely in a formal way, as though we expected no answer to our petitions? Let us not so greatly dishonour God, and so wickedly slight our own privileges [Note: 1 Samuel 12:23.]. We are expressly commanded to pray one for another, yea, and to make intercessions for all men [Note: James 5:16.]: let us not doubt therefore but that, by pleading earnestly with God, we may obtain blessings for our friends, for our country, and for all whose cause we plead. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”]
How happy are they who are enabled to live upon the promises!
[Were we to consider the length and difficulty of our way, the enemies we have to encounter, and our utter insufficiency for any thing that is good, we should utterly despair of ever reaching the heavenly Canaan. But God promises to us his presence in the way, and his rest at the end of our journey; and “he who has promised is able also to perform.” Let our trust then be in him, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Let us “cast our care on him who careth for us.” Let our discouragements, yea, our very iniquities, bring us nearer to him, and cause us to rely more simply on his word. Thus shall we experience his faithfulness and truth, and be monuments of his unbounded mercy to all eternity.]
GOD’S GOODNESS HIS GLORY
Exodus 33:18-2.33.19. And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee.
NO man can have ever contemplated the intercession of Abraham in behalf of Sodom and Gomorrha, without being astonished at the condescension of God, who would permit a worm of the earth so to encroach upon his goodness, and so to make every fresh concession a foundation for yet further petitions. Somewhat of the same kind we behold in Moses when interceding for Israel, when God had threatened to destroy them for worshipping the golden calf. He had, by his importunity, prevailed on God to promise that he would suspend the execution of his judgments on them; and that, though he could no longer vouch-safe to conduct them himself, he would send an angel, who should lead them in safety to the promised land. Having succeeded so far, he prosecuted his work of intercession, till he had prevailed on God yet further to bear with them, and to continue to them his presence and guidance as he had hitherto done. And now, having found Jehovah so infinitely condescending to him when importuned for others, he determined to urge a petition for himself; a petition, which, under any other circumstances, he could never have dared to ask: and it was no less than this, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.”
His success in this petition will form the first part of our present subject: and some reflections arising out of that success will close it. Let us notice,
His success in this petition—
The petition itself must be first explained—
Respecting its import, commentators have differed: some having imagined that it proceeded from weakness and infirmity, as if he had needed further evidence of God’s presence and favour. But a due attention to God’s reply will remove all doubt respecting the precise meaning of his servant’s request. Moses had enjoyed many visible tokens of God’s presence: in the burning bush; in the bright cloud which conducted Israel out of Egypt; on the burning mount, where he had been admitted into the immediate presence of the Deity; and at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, whither God had descended on purpose to honour him in the sight of all Israel, and “spoken with him face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend [Note: –11.] ;” Jehovah had appeared to him. How then, after so many manifestations of the divine presence, could he say, “Shew me thy glory?” I answer, In all those manifestations he had seen only a symbol of the Deity: now therefore he desired a sight of the Deity himself. He knew that the Deity was visibly seen in heaven: and he did not know but that he might also be visibly seen on earth: and therefore he made this the subject of his request.
God’s gracious reply to him shews clearly that this was the thing desired: for he said to Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live [Note: 0.].” Human nature, in its present shape, is incapable of sustaining so bright a vision; as the unprotected eye is of gazing upon the meridian sun. And therefore, whilst God approved of the petition as proceeding from an ardent desire after a more perfect knowledge of him, he told him that in its full extent it could not be granted; not because of any want of condescension in the Deity to grant it, but for want of a capacity in Moses himself to sustain it.]
The answer of God to it will be now clear—
[“I will make all my goodness pass before thee;” so that, though the full effulgence of my glory will be veiled, all that can be endured by thee, and that will profitably correspond with thy petition, shall be granted. In respect of the effulgence of my glory, I will favour thee with such a view of my back parts (for my face thou canst not see) as shall give thee as full a conception of my glory as thou art capable of in thy present state; and, by an audible voice, will make known to thee my perfections, which thou art more concerned to know, and by an acquaintance with which thy soul will be far more enriched, than it could be by any manifestation of my God-head, however clear or bright! Accordingly, God put him into a cleft of a rock, and covered him there with his hand whilst he was passing by; and then withdrew his hand, that he might have such a distant and mitigated view of his back parts, as might be seen without the utter destruction of the beholder [Note: 0–23.].
This vision God accompanied with a distinct and audible annunciation of his own attributes, as a God of infinite majesty, of almighty power, of unbounded mercy, and of immaculate and inexorable justice; all of which perfections were illustrative of his goodness [Note: Exodus 34:5-2.34.7.]. Here it is of importance to observe, that God’s justice, no less than his mercy, is an essential part of his goodness. As in human governments the exercise of justice, however painful to those who by their violations of the law have incurred a sentence of condemnation, is beneficial to the whole community; so is it in the divine government, which, if it allowed impunity to transgressors, would be disparaged and dishonoured.
The particular perfection of sovereignty is supposed by many to be in direct opposition to the attribute of goodness; and is therefore denied by them as having any existence, or at least any exercise, in the divine government. But, the very moment that God says to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee,” he adds, “and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy to whom I will shew mercy.” This perfection, therefore, in conjunction with all the rest, must be considered as constituting an essential part of the divine character, and as properly illustrating his “goodness.”
And here let me remark, that it is not in any single perfection that God’s glory consists, but in the united and harmonious exercise of all. “God is light,” we are told [Note: 1 John 1:5.]. Now light consists of many different rays, some of a more brilliant, and others of a more sombre aspect: and we can no more detach from it those which are of a darker hue, than those which are more bright and vivid. It is in the union and just admixture of all, that light consists. And so it is with respect to the divine glory; to which all God’s perfections—the more forbidding or terrific attributes of sovereignty and justice, no less than the more endearing perfections of love and mercy—are necessary. And this view of the divine glory fully answered the wishes of Moses, which a more literal compliance with his petition, even if it could have been endured, would not so well have satisfied.]
A more distinct explanation of the particulars contained in this answer to Moses will more properly arise, whilst we make,
Some reflections arising out of his success—
The excellence of the Gospel—
[In the Gospel, all that was vouchsafed to Moses is imparted to us with tenfold advantage: because, whilst a fuller insight into the revelation itself is granted to us than was ever vouchsafed to him, we can contemplate it at our leisure, and without any such emotions as would tend to embarrass our minds. Behold then, I say, that Almighty God, “who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen or can see [Note: 1 Timothy 6:16.],” is become visible to us in the person of his Son: as it is said, “No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him [Note: John 1:18.].” The Lord Jesus Christ, “having in himself all the fulness of the Godhead [Note: Colossians 2:9.],” is, on this very account, called “the image of the invisible God [Note: Colossians 1:15.] ;” because Jehovah, who in his own essence is invisible to mortal eyes, is become visible to us in the person of his Son, who is “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person [Note: Hebrews 1:3.] ;” insomuch, that “whoso hath seen him, hath seen the Father [Note: John 14:9.].” In truth, this was the mystery, which Moses probably did not understand at the time; the mystery, I mean, of his being put into the cleft of the rock. For, “that rock was Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:4.]:” and it is in Christ only that God’s perfections can find scope for exercise towards sinful man, and be all displayed in united splendour. But in Christ, “mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other [Note: Psalms 85:10.].” Come then, Beloved, come to the Gospel, even to “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God!” come there, and “behold in it, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, that you may be changed by it, even as Moses was, into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.] !” You are privileged beyond all the prophets, not excepting even the Baptist himself: for St. Paul says, that “what no eye had seen, nor ear heard, neither had it entered into the heart of man to conceive, (no, not even the eye, or ear, or heart of Moses himself,) God had revealed unto the Christian Church by his Spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-46.2.10.].” And by that same Spirit, working in and by the word, will God reveal it unto you also, even all “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].”]
The power of faith—
[Faith is justly called “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen [Note: Hebrews 11:1.].” It penetrates into the highest heavens, and “beholds Him that is invisible [Note: Hebrews 11:27.].” It “sees God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God [Note: Acts 7:55.],” able to succour, and ready to reward, his faithful people. Yes; “though now we see not our adorable Saviour with our bodily eyes, yet, believing in him, we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].” We need not envy Moses: for, great as his privilege was, it was not to be compared with ours. His eyes were gratified with a glorious sight, no doubt; and his mind was instructed with audible sounds: but he saw not the truths realized; nor did he fully comprehend the things revealed to him [Note: 1 Peter 1:10-60.1.12.]. But we have seen our God incarnate; and have “beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father [Note: John 1:14.].” We have seen in his atonement all the perfections of God harmonizing and glorified: and we understand clearly, how God can be “just, and yet the justifier of sinful men [Note: Romans 3:26.].” We know him to be “a just God, and yet a Saviour [Note: Isaiah 45:21.]:” and live in the sweet assurance, that he is not only merciful, but “faithful also, and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [Note: 1 John 1:9.].” The world at large, indeed, and multitudes even of the Christian world, have no experimental sense of these things: and the reason of their blindness is, they have not faith (for “all men have not faith [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:2.] ”): but to believers, “Christ manifests himself as he does not unto the world [Note: John 14:22.] ;” and so enables them to “behold his glory, that they are changed by it into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” Blush, then, ye who “see in Christ no beauty nor comeliness for which he is to be desired [Note: Isaiah 53:2.]:” know, that it is the result of “unbelief, by which the devil has blinded you [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.]:” and that, “if ye will believe, ye shall see the glory of God [Note: John 11:40.] ;” ye shall see it, not only in the exercise of his power, but also in the display of “all his goodness.”]
The efficacy of prayer—
[Wonderfully is this illustrated in the passage before us. But shall we suppose that God is less condescending now than in the days of Moses, or that he will not answer prayer at this time as well as then? Know ye, that God is the same gracious God as ever: “with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning [Note: James 1:17.]:” “The prayer of the upright is still his delight [Note: Proverbs 15:8.],” as much as at any period of the world: and that “those who come to him in his Son’s name, he will in no wise cast out.” On the contrary, he tells us, that “we may ask what we will; and it shall be done unto us [Note: John 15:7.].” There is no limit to his answers to believing prayer, except such as his own glory, or our capacity, have imposed. “It is not in him that we are straitened, but in our own bowels [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:12.].” How, then, should we urge the petition of Moses, and say, “O Lord, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory!” Let us have but “one thing to desire of the Lord;” and let that be, that we may behold his glory [Note: Psalms 27:4.]: let us go into his presence: and say, with David, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee; my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory [Note: Psalms 63:1-19.63.2.]:” and God will draw aside the veil that intercepts our views of him; yea, “he will come down from the habitation of his holiness and his glory [Note: Isaiah 63:15.],” and present himself before us, saying, “Here I am [Note: Isaiah 58:9.].” He would even fulfil to us his promise, “hearing us before we ask, and answering whilst yet we are speaking to him [Note: Isaiah 65:24.].” O that we would plead with him as he has commanded us to do [Note: Luke 18:1; Luke 18:7.], and “give him no rest [Note: Isaiah 62:7.],” till he answer us in the desire of our hearts! And let us not imagine, that he will be offended at the largeness of our petitions: for he is as willing, as he is “able, to do exceeding abundantly for us above all that we can ask or think [Note: Ephesians 3:20.].” Let us “open our mouths ever so wide, he will most surely fill them [Note: Psalms 81:10.].”]
The blessedness of heaven—
[When Peter beheld his Lord transfigured upon Mount Tabor, he said, “It is good to be here.” And if such a view of Christ’s glory, with his bodily eyes, was so delightful, what must it be for our disembodied spirits to be introduced into his immediate presence, and to “see him as he is [Note: 1 John 3:2.] !” What views shall we then have of the perfections of the Godhead all uniting and glorified in the work which he accomplished on the cross! Truly that heavenly city, where he abides, “has no need of the sun or moon to lighten it; for he will be the light thereof [Note: Revelation 21:23.],” and with his glory shall every soul be filled. If we account Moses happy when favoured with his transient visions of God, what shall we be, when around his throne we behold him in all his glory, and look forward to a never-ending duration of our bliss! O that we could contemplate more the blessedness of that state; and live more in an habitual preparation for it! Lift up your hearts, Brethren; for the blessed period is nigh at hand. Be “looking for it, and hasting to it [Note: 2 Peter 3:12.]:” and let “nothing short of that have any glory in your eyes, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” Take now already the golden harps into your hands; and begin “the blissful song.” Emulate to the utmost of your power those who are gone before you: and soon you shall join the countless choir in singing “the song of Moses and the Lamb.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 33". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany