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THE PERFECTIONS OF GOD
Exodus 34:5-2.34.7. And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.
THE voice of inspiration says to every one of us, “Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace.” An acquaintance with ourselves (which indeed is equally necessary to our salvation) will only lead us to despair, unless its effects be counteracted with a proportionable knowledge of our God. The more we discern of our own depravity, the more must we see of our guilt, our danger, and our helplessness: nor can any thing pacify our consciences, and allay our fears, but a view of the divine perfections, as united and harmonizing in the work of redemption. But that once obtained, our minds will be serene and happy: and the more complete our view of God is, the more firm will be our confidence in him, and the more sublime our joy. Moses, well aware of this, prayed to God to shew him his glory. To this request God graciously condescended, and appointed him a place where he would meet him, and make this discovery unto him. In discoursing upon this marvellous event, we shall notice,
The situation in which Moses was placed—
We are told that “God stood with him there:” but this not being a prominent feature in the text, we shall premise some observations as introductory to our remarks upon it—
[In the first place, we would observe that, in interpreting the Holy Scriptures, we are not at liberty to indulge our own fancy; we must approach them with sacred awe and reverence; and give such explanations of them only, as we verily believe to be agreeable to the mind of that blessed Spirit, through whose inspiration they were written.
Next, we observe, that the whole of the Mosaic economy was of a typical and mysterious nature; and that, though it is sometimes difficult to ascertain the precise import of some events, yet the meaning of those which are more striking is clear and obvious, and may be stated without any fear of deviating from the truth.
Further, there are many events, of which we should have made only a general improvement, which God himself has marked as conveying very minute and particular instruction. For instance, the miracle wrought by Moses, when he struck the rock, and thereby gave the whole nation a supply of water, which followed them all through the wilderness, might be supposed to teach us only, that God will supply the wants of his people who put themselves under his guidance: but St. Paul teaches us to look deeper into that miracle, and to find in it the great mysteries of redemption. He tells us that “that rock was Christ;” and, that the water which they drank of was “spiritual drink;” or, in other words, that the miracle denoted, that Christ, being struck with the rod of the law, becomes unto us a never-failing source of all spiritual blessings [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:4.].
We only observe further, that there was no occasion whatever, in which we might more certainly expect to find something typical and mysterious, than in that before us. God was about to reveal himself to Moses in a manner that he never did, either before or since, to any mortal man: and the directions which he gave previous to this discovery of himself, and which were necessary for the safety of his favoured servant, were so minute and significant, that we cannot doubt, but that the whole transaction was replete with mysterious import, and most valuable information.]
We come now to notice the situation in which Moses was placed—
[God commanded Moses to go up to Mount Sinai, and stand upon a rock; and promised that he would there pass by him in a visible manner: but, because it was not possible for him to behold the splendour of the divine glory, God told him, that he would put him into a cleft of the rock, and discover to him such a view of his glory as his frail nature could sustain. Accordingly, having put him into the cleft of the rock, and covered him with his hand, to prevent him from getting any sight of his face (which he could not have seen consistently with the preservation of his life), he passed by, and then, withdrawing his hand, he permitted him to see his “back parts,” that is, to have such an indistinct view of him as we have of a person who has passed by us [Note: Exodus 33:20-2.33.23.].
Now Sinai and Horeb, it appears, were two tops of the same mountain. We are told in the context, that God called Moses to come up unto Mount Sinai: yet the preceding chapter informs us that the Israelites were at that time encamped by the Mount of Horeb [Note: Exodus 33:6.]. The whole nineteenth chapter of Exodus informs us that the intercourse which Moses had with God at the time of the giving of the law, was on Mount Sinai: whereas Moses elsewhere informs us, that he stood before the Lord in Horeb [Note: Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 4:15.] ; and that the Lord made a covenant with them in Horeb [Note: Deuteronomy 5:2.] ; and that the people provoked the Lord to wrath in Horeb [Note: Deu 9:8 with 10:1–5. which was the very period alluded to in the text.]. Hence it is manifest, that the terms Horeb and Sinai are used as nearly, or altogether, synonymous; because the same transactions are represented indifferently as having taken place on the one, or on the other.
Now it has already appeared that the rock in Horeb is declared by God himself to have been a lively representation of Christ: and therefore we may well suppose, that this rock, which was certainly in the same mountain, if not the very identical rock, was intended also to prefigure him; more especially as the putting of Moses into the cleft of it exactly represents the benefits we receive by virtue of an interest in Christ. To those who are not “in Christ,” “God is a consuming fire [Note: Hebrews 12:29.]:” and, if he were to pass by any persons who have not “fled to Christ for refuge [Note: Hebrews 6:18.],” he would instantly “burn them up as thorns [Note: Isaiah 27:4.],” and “consume them with the brightness of his coming [Note: 2Th 2:8].” Besides, it is in Christ only that we can have even the faintest view of God; because it is in Christ only that his perfections are displayed to man; and it is only when we are in Christ, that we have any eyes to behold them.
Here then we see, not only that there is something mysterious in the situation of Moses, but that a due consideration of it is necessary to a full understanding of the passage before us.]
In considering this singular favour conferred on Moses, we proceed to notice,
The revelation which God gave of himself to him—
Though the terms in which God described his perfections are many, yet they may be reduced to three heads;—
[God, in calling himself “the Lord, the Lord God,” intimated that he was that eternal, self-existent Being, who gave existence to every other being, and exercised unlimited authority over the works of his hands. His dominion is universal, his power irresistible, his sovereignty uncontrolled: “He doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth;” “nor can any stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”
Such a manifestation of his majesty was peculiarly necessary, in order that our obligations to him might appear in their proper light: for never, till we have learned to acknowledge and adore his sovereignty, shall we be able rightly to appreciate his love and mercy.]
[Many expressions are heaped together upon this subject, because mercy is the attribute in which God peculiarly delights; and because he desires to impress our minds with right apprehensions of it.
God first, in general terms, declares himself to be “merciful and gracious;” by which we are to understand, that he is ever ready to pity the miserable, and relieve the needy. He is in his own nature propense to love and kindness, and forward to exercise his benevolence, whenever he can do it in consistency with his other perfections.
The first-fruit of his mercy is “long-suffering.” And how long did he bear with the antediluvian world! for the space of one hundred and twenty years did he wait, to see if by the ministry of Noah he could turn them from their evil ways. What can we conceive more insufferable than the conduct of the Israelites in the wilderness? they were always murmuring and rebelling against God, who had done such great things for them yet did he bear with them forty years. But we need not look back to the Antediluvians or the Jews: what monuments have we ourselves been of his patience and long-suffering! How have we provoked him to anger every day of our lives! yet we are here at this moment on praying ground, instead of being, where we most richly deserve to be, in the very depths of hell.
Nor has he merely borne with us: he has shewn himself also “abundant in goodness and truth.” He has been doing us good from the first moment of our existence to this present hour. He has “made his sun to shine, and the rain to descend upon us,” and “given us fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” But he has done infinitely more for us than this: for he has given his only dear Son to die for us, and “his good Spirit to instruct us,” and has been calling us by the ministrations of his servants to receive all the blessings both of grace and glory. Many “great and precious promises also has he given us;” not one of which has he ever falsified, or shewn the least reluctance to fulfil.
Moreover, this kindness of his extends to the latest generations; for he is “keeping mercy for thousands” that are yet unborn. One reason why he bears with many proud rebels is, that he has mercy in reserve for many who are to proceed from their loins, who would never be brought into existence, if he were to execute on their offending parents the judgments they deserved. Who can tell? he may have “kept mercy” for some of us to this present hour; and the time may now be come, wherein he shall make us willing to accept it. Would to God it might be so!
But the completion of his mercy is seen in his “forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” Search the sacred records, and see what sins he has forgiven! what sins before conversion! what sins after conversion! and you will find, that there is no species or degree of sin which he has not pardoned, even though it have been often repeated, and long continued in. Let any one attempt to enumerate his own transgressions, and he will find them more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore, and sufficient, if visited according to their desert, to sink the whole world into perdition: yet, if he be a believer in Christ, they are all forgiven. How many iniquities then is God continually pardoning in every quarter of the globe! But this is the habit which most characterizes his nature and perfections. Though he cannot look upon iniquity without the utmost abhorrence of it, yet is “judgment his strange work,” and mercy is his delight.]
[The concluding sentence of our text is understood by some to mean, that when he begins to punish “he will not make a full end,” but “in judgment will remember mercy:” and it is certain that it will bear this sense, because, literally translated, it stands thus, “Clearing he will not clear.” But then, in this description of his attributes, God would wholly omit his justice, which we cannot suppose he would: nor would the words, in this sense, at all agree with the words that follow them. We take them therefore as they are in our translation; and, according to their obvious meaning, they convey to us a most important truth. God does indeed take pleasure in the exercise of mercy: but still he will never violate the rights of justice: he will pardon; but not the impenitent or unbelieving: it is to those only who repent, and believe the Gospel, that he will finally approve himself a reconciled God. Nothing shall ever prevail upon him to “clear one guilty” person, who holds fast his iniquities, or will not wash them away in the Redeemer’s blood. It may be asked, Will he not have respect to the multitude, of those who are in that predicament? or will he not be softened when he shall see them weeping, and wailing, and gnashing their teeth, in hell? We answer, No: he will by no means clear the guilty: if they will live and die in sin, they must “eat the fruit of their own doings.”
It is worthy of particular notice in this place, that Moses desired to see God’s glory; and that God said, he “would make all his goodness pass before” him: from whence we are assured, that God’s goodness, and his glory, are as much seen in his justice, as in any other attribute whatever. Indeed, if God were destitute of this perfection, he would cease to be either glorious or good: he could not be glorious, because not perfect; nor could he be good, because he would give licence to his creatures to violate his law, to throw his whole government into confusion, and to render themselves miserable: for not God himself could make them happy, while sin lived and reigned in their hearts. It is by his justice that he deters men from sin; and teaches them to flee from that which would imbitter even Paradise itself: and therefore justice, however severe may he its aspect upon sin and sinners, is indeed a part of the divine goodness, and a ray of the divine glory.]
How wonderful is the efficacy of prayer—
[Moses, notwithstanding an apparent prohibition, had interceded with God on behalf of the idolatrous Israelites, and had prevailed [Note: Exodus 32:10-2.32.14.]. Still however, God, to mark his displeasure, refused to go with the people any more; and said he would commit the guidance of them to an angel [Note: Exodus 32:34.]. But Moses, having thus far obtained a favourable audience, requested and urged, that God himself should still go with them, as he had hitherto done. Nothing would satisfy him but this [Note: Exo 33:15]. When he had succeeded in this, he grew bolder still; and asked, what no living creature had ever dared to ask, “O God, I beseech thee. shew me thy glory!” God approved of his boldness, and granted him this also. And what would he not grant to us, if we would ask in humility and faith? He says himself, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it [Note: Psalms 81:10.].” O Brethren! see in this instance the efficacy of prayer: and know, that if you asked forgiveness for the vilest of all sins, and prayed to have the presence of God with you all through this wilderness, and even begged to have the glory of God himself pass before your eyes, it should be given you: your iniquities should be forgiven: you should have God for your constant protector and guide: and he would “shine into your hearts, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” O pray without ceasing, and without doubting.]
Of what importance is it to obtain an interest in Christ—
[All, except the true Christian, have erroneous views of God: some are led by his majesty or justice to give way to desponding fears: others from a sight of his grace and mercy are induced to cherish presumptuous hopes. It is the Christian alone that sees his majesty tempered with mercy, and his mercy harmonizing with the demands of justice. No man can have this sight of God, till he be put into the cleft of the rock. What we said at the beginning, we now repeat, that to all who are not in Christ, God will be a consuming fire. Seek then, my Brethren, to be “found in Christ.” Then “shall you see the King in his beauty [Note: Isaiah 33:16-23.33.17.]:” then shall you behold him transfigured, as it were, before your eyes [Note: Matthew 17:1-40.17.2.] ; and have a foretaste of that blessedness which you shall enjoy, when “you shall see him as you are seen, and know him even as you are known [Note: 1Jn 3:2 with 1 Corinthians 13:12.].”]
JEHOVAH A JEALOUS GOD
Exodus 34:14. The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
PRACTICAL religion is altogether founded on the character of God. If he were, as many foolishly imagine him to be, “a Being like unto ourselves,” a very small measure of duty and service would be all that he could reasonably require. But being a God of infinite majesty, and unbounded mercy, it is not possible to exercise towards him too great a measure of fear and love; nor can he be too strict in exacting at our hands the utmost that we are able to pay. In this view, the feeling of jealousy, which seems at first sight not to comport well with our notions of the Supreme Being, may very properly be ascribed to him; and we may justly say, as in our text, “The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
Let us contemplate,
The character of God, as here described—
Jealousy does exist in the bosom of Jehovah—
[Jealousy in man is a painful feeling, arising from a suspicion that a measure of the regard due to us is transferred to another, who is in no respect entitled to it. And so deep is the wound which it inflicts, especially on a husband who conceives himself to have been dishonoured by his wife, that nothing can ever heal it. “Jealousy,” says Solomon, “is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance: he will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts [Note: Proverbs 6:34-20.6.35.].” In God, also, does it burn with a most vehement flame: “They have moved me to jealousy,” says God; “and a fire is kindled in mine anger, and it shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap mischiefs upon them, and will spend mine arrows upon them [Note: Deuteronomy 32:21-5.32.23.].” To the same effect the Prophet Nahum also speaks: “God is jealous; and the Lord revengeth: the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries; and he reserveth wrath for his enemies [Note: Nahum 1:2.].”]
Nor is this unworthy of his character—
[On account of his own inconceivable excellency he deserves to stand without a rival in our affections. On account of what he has also done for us in creation, in providence, and in grace, especially in the gift of his only dear Son to die for us; and, I may add, on account of the relation in which he stands as “the Husband of his Church [Note: Isaiah 54:5.],” he has additional claims to our supreme regard: and if he see that we are in any respect suffering any thing to stand in competition with him, he may well be jealous. In truth, he could not, consistently with his own perfections, dispense with these obligations, even for a moment. “He cannot give his glory to another [Note: Isaiah 42:8.]:” he would cease to be God, if he could suffer his own inalienable rights to be withheld from him, and not express his indignation against the idolatrous offender. It is his very “name” and nature to be jealous: as to those who love him, he is a God of love and mercy; so is he, of necessity, to those who alienate their affections from him, “a jealous God, and a consuming fire [Note: Deuteronomy 4:23-5.4.24.].”]
From this view of his character, let us proceed to notice,
Our duty, as arising from it—
We must not act in any way inconsistent with the relation which we bear to him. We must not suffer,
Any alienation of our affections from him—
[We are bound to love him with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength. Nothing is to be loved by us but in subordination to him, and for his sake. If any thing under heaven be permitted to share our regards with him, we are guilty of idolatry [Note: Colossians 3:5.]. Nothing is excepted, when the Apostle says, “Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth [Note: Colossians 3:2.].” We must take care, therefore, not only not to love any thing above him, but to “hate even father and mother, and our own lives also,” in comparison of him.]
Any abatement in our attentions to him—
[God speaks of our espousals to him as a season of peculiar love [Note: Jeremiah 2:2.]. And at that season we are, for the most part, delighted with every thing that may bring us into nearer communion with him, and express the feelings of our heart towards him. Then the reading of his word, and secret prayer, and an attendance on the public ordinances of religion are to us sources of the sublimest joy. But if we become cold in these respects, and the ardour of our love abate, can we suppose that he will be pleased with us? Will he not say to us, as to the Church at Ephesus, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love [Note: Revelation 2:4.] ?” Surely, if an earthly husband will not endure a declension in his wife’s regards, much less will the God of heaven and earth endure a diminution of ours.]
Any unnecessary intercourse with things which have a tendency to draw us from him—
[This is particularly marked in the preceding context. God requires his people not to form alliance with their heathen neighbours, nor to accept invitations to their idolatrous feasts: he commands them to “destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves,” and to forbear even the mention of the gods whom they worshipped. He knew how soon “evil communications would corrupt good manners:” and therefore he forbade any unnecessary intercourse with the heathen. And has he not given a similar injunction to us also? Has he not declared, that, as soon may “light and darkness have communion with each other, or Christ with Belial, as a believer with an unbeliever;” and that, therefore, we must come out from the ungodly world, and be separate, and not touch the unclean thing, if we would have him for “a father unto us, and act as becomes his sons and daughters [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.18.] ?” This is a gracious and merciful warning, similar to what an affectionate husband would give his wife in relation to the society of one who was seeking to seduce her. And we must carefully attend to it; and be no more “of the world, than Christ himself was of the world.” We must endeavour to “keep our garments clean” amidst the pollutions that are around us [Note: Revelation 3:4.], and “hate even the garment spotted by the flesh [Note: Judges 1:23.].” We must not be contented with avoiding evil, but must “abstain even from the appearance of it [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:22.].”]
Those who think it an easy matter to serve God—
[Though a woman may without any great difficulty perform her duties to an affectionate husband, where the bias of her natural affections is on the side of duty, it is not so easy to execute all that our God requires: for there we stem the current of nature, instead of being carried forward by it. Hence, when the whole people of Israel were so ready to bind themselves to serve their God, Joshua warned them, that they could not do it without divine aid [Note: Joshua 24:18-6.24.19.]. So let me say to you, that, if you will indeed give yourselves to the Lord, and take him as your portion, you must not engage in your own strength; but must look unto your “God, who alone can work in you either to will or to do.”]
Those who are unconscious of having given occasion to God to be jealous of them—
[Look, not merely at your acts, but at the depositions of your mind; and then judge. He says, “Give me thy heart.” Now see whether your affections have not strayed: yea, whether you have not been like the wild ass in the wilderness, whom none can overtake or keep from her mate, till the time for parturition has nearly arrived [Note: Jeremiah 2:23-24.2.24.] ? This is an humiliating, but a just, image of our conduct; and if we will not acknowledge it, and humble ourselves under a sense of it, “God will surely plead with us” to our confusion [Note: Jeremiah 2:35.].]
Those who are ashamed of their past ways—
[Amongst men, the unfaithfulness of a wife may have been such as to preclude a possibility of her restoration to the station she once held: but no departures, however grievous, shall prevent our restoration to the divine favour, if, with sincerity of heart, we humble ourselves before him [Note: Jeremiah 3:1.]. In the name of God himself, I am commanded to proclaim this, and to invite the most abandoned of you all to return to him [Note: Jeremiah 3:12-24.3.14.]. “Return, then, unto him, and so your iniquity shall not be your ruin [Note: Ezekiel 18:30.].”]
THE THREE YEARLY FEASTS AT JERUSALEM
Exodus 34:23-2.34.24. Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God, thrice in the year.
BESIDES the weight of evidence arising from the accomplishment of prophecy, and the working of miracles, to prove the divine origin of the Mosaic dispensation, there is a great abundance of internal evidence in the dispensation itself, that corroborates and confirms our conclusions respecting it. What impostor that ever lived would have been weak enough to put his religion to such a test as this which we have now read? No one would have done it even for a few years, whilst he himself might be at hand to execute his own plans; much less would any man transmit such an ordinance to posterity, when one single instance of failure would be sufficient to subvert his whole religion. But, not to dwell on this, we will,
Draw your attention to the institution itself—
It was, that all the males should go up to Jerusalem thrice in the year, from every quarter of the land, to keep a feast there unto the Lord. Now consider,
Of what nature this appointment was—
[It was partly political, and partly religious. As a political ordinance, it was intended to cement the people together, and to keep them united in love. Had they had no common centre of union, no appointed means of communion, the different tribes might in process of time have forgotten their relation to each other, and have sought their own separate interests, instead of acting in concert with each other for the good of the whole. But by this expedient, all who had the greatest influence among them were brought frequently into the closest fellowship with each other, and, on their return to their respective homes, diffused the same brotherly affection through the land. As a religious ordinance, it was of singular importance, not only for the preserving of the people from idolatry, (to which they were always prone,) but for the impressing of their minds with a love to vital godliness. The times appointed for their assembling at Jerusalem were at the feast of unleavened bread, to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt and from the sword of the destroying angel; at the feast of Pentecost, to commemorate no less a mercy, the giving of the law; and at the feast of tabernacles, or of in-gathering (as it was called), to commemorate their living in tents in the wilderness, and to render thanks for the fruits of the earth which they had gathered in [Note: See Deuteronomy 16:1-5.16.16.]. Thus at the returning seasons of spring, of summer, and of autumn, they were required to commemorate the mercies which had been vouchsafed to their nation, and with joy and gratitude to acknowledge their obligations to Jehovah [Note: They were ordered to rejoice before the Lord, and to make free-will offerings to him: “None were to come empty.” Mark especially, Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 16:15-5.16.16.] — — — What a blessed tendency had such seasons to keep alive in their minds a sense of their high privileges, and to spread a savour of true religion through every family in the land!]
What care God took to guard against the objections to which it was liable—
[It would of necessity occur to all, that, by their observance of this ordinance, their land on every side would be exposed to the incursions of their enemies, who would not fail to take advantage of their absence, and to retaliate upon them the injuries they had sustained. In this view it should seem, that they would be highly criminal in leaving the women, the children, the aged, and the sick, in such a defenceless state, and that it would be more advisable to depute some from every quarter to represent the rest. But God would not be served by deputy: he commanded all to keep the feasts at the place prescribed: and, to remove all apprehensions about their property or their families, he pledged himself to protect their frontier, and so to overrule the minds of their enemies, that they should not even “desire” to invade their land at any of those seasons. They had seen how able he was to turn the minds of their enemies in Egypt, who had just before sent, yea even “thrust,” them out of the land, laden with spoil; and he engaged that, to the remotest period of their existence as a nation, he would interpose for them with equal effect, if only they would trust their concerns to him, and serve him in his appointed way.]
We indeed have nothing to do with the institution before us: nor do we much admire the formal custom (which seems to have arisen from it) of attending at the Lord’s supper on the three great festivals of our Church, while we live in the neglect of that ordinance all the year besides. Nevertheless the institution is far from being uninteresting to us; as will be seen, while we,
Suggest some observations founded upon it—
Much might we speak respecting the providence of God, who so miraculously wrought upon the minds of their enemies, that no infidel could ever adduce one single instance wherein this promise failed. We might speak also respecting the happiness of true religion; and draw a parallel between the Jews assembling for their solemn feasts, and Christians universally uniting in the same grateful acknowledgments and heavenly joys. But there are two observations, to which, as arising clearly out of the subject, and as being of singular importance, we would limit your attention:—
The service of God is of paramount obligation—
[We have seen what strong objections might have been made to the ordinance before us, which yet was required punctually to be observed. And we know that carnal reason has much to suggest in opposition to the commands of God, much that is founded in fact and in the experience of mankind: ‘If I serve my God according to the requisitions of his word, I shall be forced to deny myself many things that are pleasing to flesh and blood: I shall also be singular, and shall expose myself to the derision and contempt of those who are hostile to true religion: my very friends may turn against me; and I may suffer materially in my temporal interests.’ All this, and more than this, is very true: but it affords no reason whatever for disobeying the commands of God. The Jews would doubtless on many occasions have preferred their domestic ease and comfort, or the occupations in which they were engaged, to the fatigue and trouble of a long expensive journey. But the command was positive: and so is ours; it admits of no excuses: we are expressly required to “deny ourselves, to take up our cross daily, and to follow Christ:” and it is on these terms only that we can be his disciples. If called to “forsake father and mother, and houses and lands, for the Gospel’s sake,” we must forsake, yea and “hate them all,” if they stand in competition with Christ, or would draw us from our allegiance to him. We must not love even life itself in comparison of him, but cheerfully sacrifice it at any time, and in any way that our fidelity to him may require. “It is not necessary that I should live,” said a great general, “but it is necessary that I should proceed.” Thus must the Christian say, ‘Tell me not of difficulties, or dangers: it is not necessary that I should be rich, or honoured, or even that I should live; but it is necessary that I should obey my God: a heated furnace, or a den of lions, is nothing to me; duty is all. If I die for conscience sake, I rejoice that I am counted worthy to suffer in so good a cause.’ This was the mind of Paul: “None of these things move me,” says he, “neither count I my life dear unto me:” “I am readV not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the Lord’s sake.” O that we might be like him; men of piety, men of principle, men of firmness and decision!]
They who serve the Lord shall be saved by him—
[The trust which the Jews at those stated seasons reposed in God was never disappointed. Nor shall ours be, though all the hosts both of men and devils were confederate against us. The challenge is justly given us, “Who ever trusted in the Lord, and was confounded?” There is a great fault amongst religious people in relation to this: many are distressing themselves with doubts and fears, ‘Shall I persevere to the end? shall I be saved at last?’ A holy caution is doubtless very becoming in every state; but not a slavish fear. Our concern should be to serve God: it is his concern, if I may so speak, to save us. Even from temporal trials he can, and will, protect us, as far as is for our good [Note: See a most striking illustration of this truth in Acts 18:9-44.18.18. To allay Paul’s fears, God promised to protect him in a city proverbially abandoned. He preached there eighteen months unmolested. At last a violent assault was made upon him by all the Jews in the city: but the judge would take no cognizance of their complaints, and drove them away from his judgment-seat. The Greeks, who had joined with the Jews, being irritated by this conduct, laid hold on Sosthenes, whom they conceived to be a friend of Paul’s, and beat him in the very presence of the judge: but Paul, on whose account the clamour was raised, escaped unhurt, and continued in the city a good while longer without any injury whatever; and at last departed from it in peace. So faithful are the promises of God!] — — — As for spiritual and eternal evils, he will assuredly protect us from them. “Who is he that shall harm us, if we be followers of that which is good?” Satan, it is true, will never for a moment relinquish his desire to assault us: that roaring lion will never intermit his wish to devour: but God will be as “a wall of fire round about us,” and “his grace shall be at all times sufficient for us:” “nor shall any temptation take us beyond what we are able to bear, or without a way to escape from it.” “Know ye then, Brethren, in whom ye have believed; that he is able to keep that which you have committed to him.” Know that, if only your eyes were opened, you might at this moment see horses of fire and chariots of fire all around you, and an host of angels encamped around you for your protection. Invade not any longer the province of your God. Leave to him the care of preserving you; and confine your solicitude to the serving and honouring of him. This is your duty; it is also your privilege: the direction of God himself is this; “Commit your souls to him in well-doing as into the hands of a faithful Creator.” Be assured that he will not fail you; and that “He who hath promised, is able also to perform.”]
THE VEIL OF MOSES
Exodus 34:35. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. And Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
IT is an established and invariable truth, that “those who honour God shall surely be honoured by him.” We have the clearest evidence of this, both in the antediluvian and patriarchal ages. Did Abel honour God by his offering, Enoch by his walk, and Noah by his faithful warning of an ungodly world? they also were blessed with signal manifestations of the divine favour. Did Abraham, Lot, or Job display singular piety? they were as singularly protected, delivered, and exalted by their God. The same we observe of Moses. He was faithful to his God, when all Israel, not excepting Aaron himself, revolted from him; and to him did God vouchsafe so bright a glory, that none of his countrymen were able to fix their eyes upon him; insomuch that he was constrained to put a veil upon his face, in order to facilitate their access to him, and restore his wonted opportunities of conversing with them. This veiling of his face is to be the subject of our present consideration: and we shall notice it in a two-fold view:
As a kind expedient—
The face of Moses shone with a dazzling and overpowering splendour—
[He had for forty days and nights been communing with God upon Mount Sinai: and it pleased God, for the confirmation and increase of his authority among the people, to send him down to them with a lustre upon his countenance, that should at once convince them whose servant he was, and whose authority he bare.
At the first sight of him, both Aaron and all the people were affrighted. This was the natural effect of that guilt which they had so recently contracted. They feared that he was sent as an avenger to punish their iniquity. When they found that their organs of sight were too weak to behold the bright effulgence of his glory, they felt how unable they must be to withstand the terror of his arm.
As the brightness of Moses’ face was supernatural, so the effect of it on the people was peculiar to that occasion. But there is an awe inspired by the presence of every good man, in proportion to the weight of his character and the eminence of his piety. Herod, though a king, “feared John, because he knew that he was a just and holy man.” And Job tells us, that at his presence “the aged rose, and the young men hid themselves.”]
To facilitate their access to him, he adopted the expedient mentioned in the text—
[He was not conscious of the splendour with which his countenance was irradiated, till their inability to behold him convinced him of it. Nor is it ever found that those who bear much of the divine image are conscious of their own superiority: their minds are fixed on their own defects rather than on their excellencies, and, from their deep views of their remaining corruptions, they are ready to count themselves “less than the least of all saints.” When he perceived the effect which the sight of him produced, instead of being elated with the honour conferred upon him, or desiring to employ it for the maintenance of his own authority, he put a veil upon his face to conceal its brightness, and called them to him that he might impart unto them the instructions he had received from God. As often as he returned to commune with his God, he took off the veil, as not either necessary or befitting in the divine presence: but in all his intercourse with the people, he covered his face. On this point many useful thoughts occur; but we shall reserve them for the close of our subject, where they will be more advantageously suggested in a way of practical improvement.]
We pass on to notice this act of Moses,
As an instructive emblem—
Whether Moses himself understood the full signification of his own act, we cannot say: it is probable he did not: for certain it is, that the prophets in many instances could not see the full scope of their own prophecies. But, whether he understood it or not, we are assured, on infallible authority, that his covering his face with the veil was intended by God to represent,
The darkness of that dispensation—
[The Mosaic dispensation was “a shadow of good things to come:” but what the substance was, none could exactly ascertain. The very tables which at this time Moses had brought down from God, contained a law, the nature, intent. or duration of which none of them could understand. They could not discern its spiritual import, but judged of it only by the letter. They thought it a covenant of life; whereas it was not at all designed “to give life,” but rather to be “a ministration of condemnation and death.” They supposed it was to continue to the end of time; when it was merely given for a season, till the things which it prefigured should be accomplished. Its splendour was veiled from their sight, as was the brightness of Moses’ face: and St. Paul informs us, that the expedient to which Moses resorted, was intended to shew, that the law was in itself “glorious [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:7.],” but that “the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of it [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:13.].”]
The blindness of the human mind—
[There were in the Jews of those days, and there are at this hour, a blindness of mind, and an obduracy of heart, which render them almost invincibly adverse to the truth of God. We see it, and wonder at it, in them; but are unconscious of it in ourselves, and insensible of it as a matter of personal experience: yet are we, in fact, greater monuments of obduracy than they; because there was a veil over their dispensation, which is removed from ours. Did they continue stiff-necked and rebellious, amidst all the mercies and judgments with which they were visited? so do we: the “god of this world hath blinded us:” “our understanding is darkened;” “we are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us, and because of the blindness of our hearts:” we “hate the light, and will not come to it, lest our deeds should be reproved.” Now this propensity in human nature to reject the truth, and to “account it foolishness,” was intended to be marked by this significant action of the Jewish lawgiver. St. Paul explains it in this very way [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:14-47.3.15.]: “Their minds,” says he, “were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away: even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.”]
The benefit to be expected from their promised Messiah—
[The occasional removal of his veil when he went into the presence of his God, shewed, that it was not always to continue on the dispensation, but that at a future period it should be removed, and the dispensation itself “abolished.” The Messiah, to whom they were constantly directed to look, as to that promised seed in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed, was to take away both the foregoing veils; the one, by fulfilling the law in all its parts; and the other, by communicating his Holy Spirit to all his followers. Then the true nature of that law would be fully understood; and Christ would be recognized as “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Then should the glory of that dispensation be clearly seen, and the incomparably brighter glory of the Christian dispensation be seen also.
For this view of the subject we are also indebted to the Apostle Paul; who tells us that the Gospel, as “a ministration of the Spirit” and “of righteousness,” was to succeed, and to eclipse, the law; and that “when the Jews should turn to the Lord, the Messiah would take away that veil” from their hearts, and bring them into the light and “liberty” of the children of God [Note: 2Co 3:7-11; 2 Corinthians 3:16-47.3.17.].]
In the former part of our discourse we forbore to make several remarks, which we reserved for this place; and which, while they elucidate the subject, will afford rich instruction,
[We have seen what Moses did; and in some respects we should imitate him; but in others we should adopt a directly opposite conduct.
It was truly amiable in him to condescend to the infirmities of the people, and to veil his own glory for their good. Thus should every minister prefer the instruction of his people to the display of his own talents, or the aggrandizement of his own name. It is pitiful indeed to court applause for our learning, when we should be converting souls to Christ. St. Paul, qualified as he was to astonish men with his parts and talents, “would rather speak five words to the understandings of men, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” Our blessed Lord “spake as men were able to hear it;” and reserved his fuller instructions till his hearers were better qualified to receive them. Paul also gave only “milk to babes,” whilst “to those who were of full age he administered meat.” Thus should we do, lest we blind or dazzle men by an unseasonable display even of truth itself. But are we, like Moses, to use concealment? No: the Apostle expressly guards us against imitating Moses in this particular: “NOT as Moses,” says he; “NOT as Moses, who put a veil over his face;” but, on the contrary, we must “use great plainness of speech [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:12-47.3.13.].” There is nothing in the Gospel that requires concealment, nor any thing that admits of it: we must “declare unto men the whole counsel of God.” We must discriminate so far as to judge what will, and what will not, “be profitable to men;” but the truth we must declare without the smallest mixture or reserve; and “by manifestation of the truth must commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:2.].” It must be our labour to rend away the veil from the hearts of our hearers: for “if our Gospel be veiled, it is veiled to them that are lost [Note: Compare the language in the original. It is the same word throughout: κεκαλυμμένον. 2Co 3:13 to 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” “The glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ;” and to shew them that glory in all its brightness, is to be the one object of our labour, as it is the unwearied effort of the devil to conceal it from their view [Note: 2Co 3:13 to 2 Corinthians 4:6. The beauty of the passage is lost if the two chapters be not read together.].]
[You should be aware that there is a veil upon your hearts, else you will never pray unto the Lord to remove it. Even the Apostle Paul, learned as he was in all biblical knowledge, had, “as it were, scales fall from his eyes,” when God was pleased to lead him to a clear view of his Gospel. So must “the eyes of your understanding also be enlightened,” before you can “discern aright the things of the Spirit.” But though God has appointed ministers to instruct you, you are all at liberty, yea you are required, to go yourselves, like Moses, into the presence of your God. Do not however veil your faces before him, but go exactly as you are. Your fellow-creatures could not endure to see all that is in your hearts; nor would it be of any use to reveal it to them: but “to God all things are naked and open;” and the more fully you unbosom yourself to him, the more will his blessing come upon you. It is by putting off the veil from your own hearts, that you shall with “open unveiled face behold his glory;” and, by beholding it, “be changed into the same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.” Truly you shall, in a measure, experience the same benefit as Moses did: you shall be “beautified with salvation;” “the beauty of the Lord your God shall be upon you;” and all that behold you shall be “constrained to acknowledge, that God is with you of a truth.” When this effect is produced, “let your light shine before men.” You are not called to veil it, but rather to display it; not indeed for your own honour (that were a base unworthy motive), but for the honour of your God, that they who “behold your good works may glorify your Father that is in heaven.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 34". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany