Without the camp.
The Tabernacle without the camp
I. First, then, they that seek the Lord must go without the camp.
1. It is scarcely necessary for me to say that no man can be a true seeker of God who has anything to do with the camp of the profane. We must take care that our garments are entirely clean from those lusts of the flesh, and those blasphemies of the ungodly.
2. Again, we must as much come out from the camp of the careless as from the camp of the profane. The largest company in the world is not that of the profane, but of the thoughtless--not those who oppose, but who neglect the great salvation.
3. But we must go further than this: if a man would have fellowship with God he must go even out of the camp of the merely steady, sedate, and thoughtful; for there be multitudes whose thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and whose ways are not His ways, who are in every respect conformed outwardly to the laws of God, and who rigidly observe the customs of upright society--who think, and therefore abhor the trifles of the world--but who, notwithstanding, have never learned to set their affections on things above. It is not enough to leave the Amalekites; thou must leave even the hosts of Moab, brother though Moab may seem to be to the Israel of God.
4. He that would know anything of God aright must even come out of the camp of the merely religious. Oh, it is one thing to attend to religion, but another thing to be in Christ Jesus; it is one thing to have the name upon the church book, but quite another thing to have it written in the Lamb’s book of life.
II. This going out of the camp will involve much inconvenience.
1. You will find that your diffidence and your modesty will sometimes shrink from the performance of duty’s stern commands. If Christ be worth anything, He is worth avowing before the world, before men, before angels, and before devils.
2. Peradventure when you go without the camp you will lose some of your best friends. You will find that many a tie has to be cut when your soul is bound with cords to the horns of the altar. Can you do it? As Christ left His Father for you, can you leave all for Him?
3. You will find, too, when you go without the camp, you will have some even professedly godly people against you. “Ah!” they will say, when you are filled with the Spirit, and are anxious to serve God as Caleb did, with all your heart--“Ah! young man, that is fanaticism, and it will grow cool by and by.”
4. Another inconvenience to which you will be exposed is that you will be charged falsely. So was your Master, remember. Endure, as He did.
5. Again, you must expect to be watched. If you profess to go without the camp, others will look for something extra in you--mind that they are not disappointed. I have heard some say, “I do not like to join the Church because then there would be so much expected of me.” Just so, and that is the very reason why you should, because their expectation will be a sort of sacred clog to you when you are tempted, and may help to give impetus to your character and carefulness to your walk, when you know that you are looked upon by the eyes of men.
III. Now I come to use certain arguments, by which I desire earnestly to persuade each Christian here to go without the camp; to be exact in his obedience; and to be precise in his following the Lamb withersoever He goeth.
1. I use first a selfish argument, it is to do it for your own comfort’s sake. If a Christian can be saved while he conforms to this world, at any rate he will be saved so as by fire. Would you like to go to heaven in the dark, and enter there as a shipwrecked mariner climbs the rocks of his native country?
2. But I have a better reason than that, and it is, for your own growth in grace do it. If you would have much faith, you cannot have much faith while you are mixed with sinners. If you would have much love, your love cannot grow while you mingle with the ungodly.
3. I beseech you, Christian men and women, come right out and be your Master’s soldiers wholly for the Church’s sake. It is the few men in the Church, and those who have been distinct from her, who have saved the Church in all times.
4. And for the world’s sake, let me beg you to do thus. The Church itself can never be the salt of the world, unless there be some particular men who are the salt of the Church.
5. And now lastly, for your Master’s sake. What have you and I to do in the camp when He was driven from it? What have we to do with hosannas when He was followed with hootings, “Crucify Him, crucify Him “? What have I to do in the tent while my Captain lies in the open battle-field? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
At this stage the first concession is announced: Moses shall lead the people to their rest, and God will send an angel with him.
We have seen that the original promise of a great Angel in whom was the Divine Presence was full of encouragement and privilege (Exodus 23:20). No unbiassed reader can suppose that it is the sending of this same Angel of the Presence which now expresses the absence of God, or that He Who then would not pardon their transgression "because My Name is in Him" is now sent because God, if He were in the midst of them for a moment, would consume them. Nor, when Moses passionately pleads against this degradation, and is heard in this thing also, can the answer "My Presence shall go with thee" be merely the repetition of those evil tidings. Yet it was the Angel of His Presence Who saved them. All this has been already treated, and what we are now to learn is that the faithful and sublime urgency of Moses did really save Israel from degradation and a lower covenant.
It was during the progress of this mediation that Moses distracted by a double anxiety--afraid to absent himself from his wayward followers, equally afraid to be so long withdrawn from the presence of God as the descending of Sinai and returning thither would involve--made a noble adventure of faith. Inspired by the conception of the tabernacle, he took a tent, "his tent," and pitched it outside the camp, to express the estrangement of the people, and this he called the Tent of the Meeting (with God), but in the Hebrew it is never called the Tabernacle. And God did condescend to meet him there. The mystic cloud guarded the door against presumptuous intrusion, and all the people, who previously wist not what had become of him, had now to confess the majesty of his communion, and they worshipped every man at his tent door.
It would seem that the anxious vigilance of Moses caused him to pass to and fro between the tent and the camp, "but his minister, Joshua the son of Nun, departed not out of the tent."
The dread crisis in the history of the nation was now almost over. God had said, "My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest,"--a phrase which the lowly Jesus thought it no presumption to appropriate, saying, "I will give you rest," as He also appropriated the office of the Shepherd, the benevolence of the Physician, the tenderness of the Bridegroom, and the glory of the King and the Judge, all of which belonged to God.
But Moses is not content merely to be secure, for it is natural that he who best loves man should also best love God. Therefore he pleads against the least withdrawal of the Presence: he cannot rest until repeatedly assured that God will indeed go with him; he speaks as if there were no "grace" but that. There are many people now who think it a better proof of being religious to feel either anxious or comforted about their own salvation, their election, and their going to heaven. And these would do wisely to consider how it comes to pass that the Bible first taught men to love and to follow God, and afterwards revealed to them the mysteries of the inner life and of eternity.
Put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.
The work of Lent
Lent is a season with a likeness to Jewish ordinances, because man in his nature and wants is ever the same; it is a Christian season, because its one object is to make us know more of the nearness of God to man, which is the great fact of Christianity. In the text we have one of God’s most explicit statements of the need of such observance; and we ask the meaning of that reason which He assigns for a season of special penitence and humiliation.
1. God wishes to know what to do with us. If the putting aside of ornaments, no matter how valuable or brilliant, is the condition of that process, it ought to be done; for God’s action must be full of power and love; and to be told that His hand is to be felt in our life, must imply that a blessing is to be bestowed upon us far beyond anything that can come from any other addition.
2. Never at any stage of His revelation has God ceased, in one form or other, to prescribe temporary and voluntary relinquishments, in order that He may enter. The ornaments, or God’s voice--that is the simple form of choice.
3. The object of God’s dealings with men is, that He may destroy their sin. And there is no more fruitful source of sin than those ornaments which He tells us to put away. The things which gather about our lives are causes of separation from our brother. The innocence or the desirability of the ornament may make no difference in the result. Learning, applause, and culture may make us just as forgetful, or unsympathetic, or even cruel towards others, as the more material possessions of life.
4. We can see, therefore, that this command is like the call of a John Baptist: Make the way plain, the path straight and level, for the coming of the Lord; remove the stumbling-block which has been in thy own or thy brother’s path. Men must learn to see their oneness as brothers, before sin can be done away; lives very different from each other must be placed side by side, and then new modes of thought and comparison will at once enter. How often one word, which gives us a glimpse into the real condition of another’s heart, makes us ashamed of some feeling which we have been cherishing toward him!
5. But the sins against our brethren are not the only evil that our ornaments work, and do not constitute the only reason why they must be abandoned before God can do His work for us. Those very sins spring from a deeper injury which has been done to our souls. These things that have attached themselves to life come to be regarded as its substance, and to regulate its whole movement. What the text says to us, then, is this: Cease to depend upon the present condition and surroundings of life. Think of yourself as an immortal soul. Try to imagine yourself as cut off from all these pursuits and surroundings, for so, in fact, you must be at some time; then count over the treasures of your life, and see whether there is enough to support an immortal soul.
6. The Lenten call is a call to greater moderation in the use of the things of this life, so that they shall not become our masters; it is a call to exalt the true Master of our life, so that every ornament of our being shall be discarded for ever, which is got worthy to minister to His glory, or which attempts to fight against His supremacy, so that all which remains shall be used in obedience to His commands, and in subservience to His purposes. It is by this test that innocent and sinful indulgence in the things of this life is to be discriminated, that the line of the too much and the too little is to be drawn, and that we are to be made men and women worthy and fit to use the world rightly.
7. But why does God need that the ornaments of men’s lives should be put off before He shall know what to do unto them? Is it not limiting His power to say that He cannot deal with us as we are, with all our ornaments upon us? The work which God is to do for us has for its greatest mark that it is dependent upon what we are. It is the work of overcoming sin. God, when He made man, gave him all he needed for full development and growth. His course was forward and upward, ever increasing in power and glory, while obedience and dependence upon God ruled his action. No redemption would be necessary for such a being. Man’s sin, his desire after the things of this world, his willingness to build up his life with those, created the great necessity. The self-will of man called upon God for new action--action which His Divine wisdom could alone create, and which His Divine power could alone execute. That He may know what it shall be, He asks some indication of man’s desire. There is nothing to do but to punish, to let the life which persistently holds to what has been its destruction, go its own sad way of separation from God, if there is no relaxing of the nervous grasp on earthly good and ornament. But at the very first sign of a willingness to put such things away, to bridle life’s passion, and to restrain life’s desire, the way of redeeming love is open. Man is ready; and God knows what to do, and He is able to make him His child once more.
8. Let us, then, rejoice at this season for putting away the mere ornaments of life, and in it open our ear anxiously, constantly, eagerly, to hear the word of His gracious intention. God’s treasury is full of the true ornaments of life. He readily offers them to us. Receive them as readily, and the world’s ornaments will lose their false glitter; our hearts will cease to desire them with that eager covetousness which conceals all the better impulses of the soul, and God will be able to do for us all the deep purposes of His wisdom and His love. (Arthur Brooks.)
Repentance of the Israelites
I. God is not able to exercise mercy towards an impenitent transgressor. He cannot do this, because it would--
1. Be inconsistent with His own perfections.
2. Be ineffectual for the happiness of the persons themselves.
3. Introduce disorder into the whole universe.
II. Where humiliation is manifested, mercy may be expected. This appears from--
1. The very mode in which repentance is here enjoined.
2. The experience of penitents in all ages.
1. Consider what obstructions you have laid in the way of your own happiness.
2. Endeavour instantly to remove them. (C. Simon, M. A.)
A fashionable sin
The house of prayer is a poor place to exhibit beads, ribbons, ruffles, gewgaws, and trinkets. The evils of such extravagance are many. It keeps people from worship, when they have not apparel as gorgeous as their neighbours. It loads the poor with burdens too heavy to be borne to procure fashionable clothing. It leads many into temptations, debt, dishonesty, and sin. It causes many a poor shop girl to work nearly all Saturday night, that some customer’s fine clothes may be ready for the Sunday show. It keeps people at home in cloudy or stormy weather, when, if they wore plain clothing, they could defy clouds and storms. It consumes the hours in dressing, crimping, and fussing, keeping people from church, and wasting time, hindering the reading of the Scripture, and making Sunday a day of folly. It makes the poor emulous, malicious, and envious, and plants many a bitter thought in the minds of children and others, when they see their neighbours decked in finery--often unpaid for--and feel that people are respected, not for their integrity of character, but for the fashion of their clothes. It is forbidden in God’s Word. And yet we seldom find a minister that dare open his mouth against this fashionable sin. Christian people should dress plainly before the Lord, for example’s sake at home and abroad, for decency’s sake, and for the sake of Christ. (Christian Age.)
The Lord talked with Moses.
Speaking to God
In the minds of many prayer seems to differ widely from other forms of communication. Not perceiving any tangible object of address, they feel as if to pray were to talk with nothing. “How can you pray with vigour into the empty air?” asked a candid doubter. Even Christians sometimes lack the sense of communion, and then prayer is scarcely more than soliloquy in the form of petition. And yet speaking to God is really very much like speaking to men. Since God is a person, address to Him must conform to the general principles of personal address.
I. In speaking to God, as in speaking to men, we must address the invisible. Converse is mental, not physical. The form you see is not the man you talk with. We speak not to the ears which catch the words, but to the mind which perceives the thought. A mere lump of organized clay cannot be a party to conversation. If, then, one asks, How can you pray into empty air? we may reply by asking: How can you talk to a clod of clay? In every case, whatever direction be given to words or other signals of communion, the real address is to mind. One using an acoustic tube apparently speaks to the mouth-piece in the wall. But he really addresses a person in another room. Words are usually directed towards eyes and ears because through these mind is reached. So prayer seems to the prayerless as speech thrown into void space. It is really a direct address to the Infinite Mind which pervades all space.
II. In speaking to God, as in speaking to men, we not only address the invisible, but the presence of a visible form, or symbol of personality, is unnecessary. The blind communicate without seeing a form, and the deaf without hearing a voice. We may speak to a person behind a wall or screen if only assured that he is within call. By letter we address friends hundreds of miles distant. Thus it is evident that prayer to God is only one of many forms of address to mind with no visible form present. We only need to know that the mind addressed is within reach by any means of communication.
III. In speaking to God, as in speaking to men, the enjoyment of communion is variable, and increases with custom and acquaintance. Many people have heard of God, but are not acquainted with Him. They know Him only by reputation. They are not on speaking terms with Him. Hence they have not learned to enjoy His company. They do not love to pray. But let them reverently and sincerely cultivate an acquaintance with God, so as really to know Him, and they will delight in holy communion. (The Study.)
Friendship with God
Mr. Toller, of Kettering, invited a company to meet Robert Hall. Among the guests was Andrew Fuller, who, with Toller, had previously accompanied Hall in a forenoon walk in the country. They returned together at the dinner-hour; and Hall immediately went up alone to his own chamber. The company waited for some time, but he did not appear. At length a messenger was sent to say that dinner was ready. But as the servant approached the chamber, she paused and listened, for Hall was on his knees pleading with God in prayer. When this was repeated to the company, Fuller exclaimed: “Don’t disturb him; he is with his best Friend.”
Friendship with God
Augustine, in his “Confessions,” tells a story, which he heard from his friend Pontitianus, to the following effect. Two courtiers in attendance on the emperor, who was then witnessing the public games, strolled into some gardens, and entering a neighbouring house, which happened to belong to a Christian, were attracted by a manuscript life of the hermit Anthony. As pastime, one of them began to read it, but his curiosity soon grew into a deep conviction, which made him cry out to his friend: “What attainment do we propose to ourselves so great as to be the intimate friends of the emperor? and even when arrived at, how unstable and full of peril is the position? But here, if I wish to be the friend of God, He will receive me immediately!”
Communion with God
There was each morning during his first sojourn in the Soudan one half-hour during which there lay outside Charles George Gordon’s tent a handkerchief, and the whole camp knew the full significance of that small token, and most religiously was it respected by all there, whatever was their colour, creed, or business. No foot dared to enter the tent so guarded. No message, however pressing, was carried in. Whatever it was, of life or death, it had to wait until the guardian signal was removed. Every one knew that God and Gordon were alone in there together.
My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.
God’s presence giving rest
This is a word in season to every one who is weary.
I. In what sense has God said, “My presence shall go with thee”? He is present to the believer as a Friend whose love has been accepted, and whose conversation is understood with all the intelligence of a kindred nature.
II. In what sense does the presence of God give rest?
1. It tends to give rest from the terror incident to a state of condemnation.
2. It gives rest from the anguish which springs from a discordant nature.
3. It gives rest from the cravings of an unsatisfied spirit.
4. It gives rest from the distraction felt amidst uncongenial scenes and associations.
5. It gives rest from the disquietude which results from want of human sympathy.
6. It gives rest from apprehensions regarding the future.
7. The presence of God with us now is the pledge of perfect rest in the next life. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
The pilgrimage of a true life
I. The path of a true life.
1. From captivity to freedom.
2. From scarcity to plenty.
II. The companion of a true life. God’s guiding, succouring, and protecting superintendence.
III. The destiny of a true life. “Rest.” Not inactivity. Harmonious activity is the destiny of the good; activity in harmony with all our powers, with the order of the universe, and with the will of God. (Homilist.)
A gracious promise
I. “My presence shall go with thee.”
1. By the presence of God, we are sometimes to understand His essential presence or ubiquity, which pervades all matter and space, and without which nothing could exist.
2. There is also the providential presence of God, by which He sees the wants, and provides for the necessities of His numerous family.
3. By the presence of God here is meant His gracious presence which He mercifully condescends to manifest in His house, and to reveal to His people.
4. The gracious presence of God is essentially necessary to His people, in order to show them the right way and enable them to walk therein.
5. The gracious presence of God is indispensable to His people to purify them, and make them ready for the heavenly Canaan. If ever we be made “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” it must be “through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.”
II. “I will give thee rest.”
1. The rest here mentioned has, undoubtedly, a primary reference to the land of Canaan, in which the people of Israel rested, after the toils, dangers, and fatigue of the wilderness. But then, there is something more implied in the word than this.
2. The people of God enjoy a comparative rest in this present world, inasmuch as they are delivered from the power and pollution of sin, and possess that kingdom of grace which consists of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
3. But there still remaineth a rest for them beyond the confines of the grave, in the participation of that felicity which is at the right hand of the Most High. (B. Bailey.)
God’s presence and rest
I. The journey. The people were in a journeying condition.
1. They had come from Egypt. A land of toil and oppression and misery.
2. They were journeying in the wilderness. A land of drought, sterility, and dangers. They had many trials and enemies. A true picture of the world through which believers are travelling.
3. They were travelling to Canaan. A land promised to their fathers; a land of freedom and rest, of plenty and happiness.
II. The presence. “My presence shall go with thee.” This presence was--
2. Visible. Pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
3. Efficient. Not merely Divine recognition and observation, but with them to do all for them they required.
4. Continued. “When flesh and heart fail,” etc. “This God is our God for ever and ever,” etc.
III. The rest. “And I will give thee rest.”
1. The rest of triumph after the conflicts of life.
2. A rest from the toils of wilderness journeyings.
3. A rest from the fears and dangers of the way.
4. A rest from the sufferings and afflictions of life.
5. A rest of eternal and heavenly glory. (J. Burns, D. D.)
God’s gracious presence with His people
I. The nature of the presence. God’s gracious presence with His people is more than His natural attribute of omnipresence.
II. While, however, God is constantly present with His own people, there are certain times in which His presence is specially manifest.
III. The mental states which precede the gift of God’s presence.
1. Earnest prayer.
2. The spirit of mourning and humiliation. (D. Macaulay, M. A.)
God’s presence promised
I. The need of refuge in God from the lives of others. Even in human society at its best the heart has no safe refuge.
II. The prayer of Moses suggests the need of one worn by well-doing. That well-doing brings exhaustion and despondency and so specially needs God’s aid is a fact which we sometimes forget.
III. The prayer of Moses expressed the need of one weighted by the sense of responsibility. He had a great work to do. He who feels little need of God has a low sense of personal responsibility. But he who faces all responsibility and tries to see his life as he will see it when the end of all things has come, has great need of God. To him life becomes a serious thing. For help he will often “lift up his eyes unto the hills,” and will take help from no lower source.
IV. This prayer of Moses received a gracious answer. It was the vision of God. (Willard G. Sperry.)
God’s special presence distinguishes His own people
I. The promised presence of God with His people will, so long as they are favoured with it, produce a wide difference and separation between them and all other men. When God comes to dwell in the soul, He imparts to it a portion, not only of His own views, but of His own feelings. He not only illuminates the understanding with His own light, but, as an apostle expresses it, sheds abroad His love in the heart.
II. That in proportion as God withdraws the manifestations of His presence from His people, this difference and separation between them and other men will diminish. God is the Sun of the soul. When He favours it with His presence and exerts upon it His influence, it is enlivened and enlightened, and made to glow with love, and hope, and joy, and gratitude. But when He withdraws and suspends His influences, spiritual darkness and coldness are the consequence. Then it is night, it is winter with the soul. In proportion as He thus withdraws from His people, they cease to view Him as a present reality; they cease to have those views, and to exercise those affections, which constitute the grand essential difference between them and other men. Nor is this all. As holy affections decline, sinful affections revive. It remains only to make a suitable improvement of the subject.
1. With this view, permit me, in the first place, to say to each individual in this assembly, Do you know experimentally the difference between the presence and the absence of God?
2. Let me improve this subject, by inquiring whether this Church now enjoys the peculiar presence of God, as it once appeared to do? (E. Payson, D. D.)
God’s presence realized
Since God is everywhere, in what sacred and peculiar sense is He present to the believing heart? “Lord, how is it that Thou dost manifest Thyself to us, as Thou dost not unto the world?” The principle on which He does so is illustrated by some of the common facts of life. A man is present to his friend, as he is not to a stranger, though he may be at the same moment speaking to both. The light which floods the landscape with a deluge of beauty is present to him who sees it, as it is not to the blind man walking at his side. Music, though it may ripple round the deafened ear, is only present to him who hears
2. The discourse of the naturalist on his experiments, of the scholar on his books, of the mathematician who is talking with raptures on the beauties of a theorem, will bring things into the presence of initiated listeners, which are still remote from the minds of those in the very same company who have no sympathy with the theme. So, “two women may be grinding at a mill”; “two men may be in the field”; one a believer, the other an unbeliever; and although the Great Spirit is near to them both, there is a sense in which He is present to the one as He is not to the other; for, in the case of the believer, the causes of estrangement have been taken away, a new relation exists, a new life has been born, and God is present as a Friend, whose love has been accepted, and whose conversation is understood with all the intelligence of a kindred nature. Everything we need to secure that peace which the world cannot give is secured by the promise, “My presence shall go with thee,” for that tranquil presence does not merely attend us, it enters the very soul, and sheds its benediction there. Plato seemed to have a glimpse of this glorious truth when he said, “God is more inward to us than we are to ourselves.” What was to Him a beautiful speculation is to us an inspiring reality; for we are the “temples of the Holy Ghost.” He dwells within us as a pitying, purifying friend, to kindle celestial light in our darkness, and by removing the cause of discord, and restoring the equilibrium of the soul, to give us peace at the very seat of life. Ignatius, from his eminent devotion, was called by his companions “The Godbearer”; and when Trajan said to him, “Dost thou then bear the Crucified One in thy heart?” his reply was, “Even so; for it is written, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” This honour have all the saints, yet all do not seem to be fully conscious of it. Only let us feel it; only let us own that inward authority, and listen to that inward voice; only let us act in obedience to the suggestions of that “Power that worketh within us to will and to do of His good pleasure,” and we shall find that in proportion as we are actuated by the life of God within us, shall we feel “His peace.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Choice food for pilgrims to Canaan
I. What are the benefits of the Divine presence which is here promised?
1. The acknowledgment of the people as being peculiarly the Lord’s.
2. Preservation and protection.
3. Direction and guidance.
4. Real worship in the wilderness. What is bread, what is wine, and what is the table, if the King Himself be not there?
5. Communion with God. He is always ready for fellowship with His people.
II. What are the demands of this presence ?
1. That we rely upon it. Away with fear and melancholy. Treat it as a matter of fact, and be filled with rest.
2. That we use it. Exercise faith in God.
3. Do not lose it. Oh, how reverently, cautiously, jealously, and holily ought we to behave ourselves in the presence of God!
4. Glorify Him all that you possibly can. Seek out those who have lost His company, and go and cheer them.
III. What is the choice blessing which is appended to this presence. “Best”--both now and hereafter. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Alone: yet not alone
I cannot see that this choice of Moses, to walk in God’s way, if but assured of God’s presence, differs in anywise from the choice which that people was called on to make at that moment, and which God is ever pressing upon us all. In considering it in its broad human aspect, I observe--
I. Here are two ways on which the choice is to be exercised--two paths, which very plainly diverge. It is the old, old choice--worldliness, godliness--duty, pleasure--God’s will, self-will--the passions and appetites of the flesh or of the mind, the convictions of conscience and the Word of God.
II. The cry of the human spirit for rest. The longing of man’s spirit amid all these strifes, discords, and confusions, is for rest. Nothing can eradicate man’s conviction that strife and discord have no right in the universe; that they are abnormal; that the normal condition of things and beings is harmony, and that harmony is the music of rest. God must rest--rest even in working; and all that is of God and from God has the longing and the tending to rest.
III. The Divine assurance which was to Moses, and should be to us, an all-sufficient warrant to leave the world and the pleasures of sin and commit ourselves to the desert under God’s guidance, as the path to the heavenly rest. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Two kinds of rest
There are two kinds of rest, or rather what goes by the name of rest, within reach of man. The secret of the one is, escape from trouble; the secret of the other is, entering into life. Life is the harmonious balance of conflicting forces, the calm control of all opposite powers. Escape from trouble is not permitted to man, though he thinks it is. It is a wonderful feature in man’s constitution that he can find rest only in his highest, in the full culture and activity of all his powers. He tries to rest in a luxurious home, in a feverish orgy, on a wanton’s breast. But who shall paint the anguish of the rest of the wicked? How many a man has gone out from a scene of uproarious merriment, to blow out his brains, in blank despair! There is no rest but in God. Man rests only in the fulness of his existence, in the completeness of his life. Moses found no rest in communion with earthly natures, but there was rest for him--it bathed his soul like the dewy moonlight the flowers--when he entered into that which is within the veil, and talked “of things unspeakable” with God. Having faith in the Saviour’s power and love, the spirit rests amid the severities of discipline, yea, sleeps sometimes, as Jesus did while the storm was highest; for ever when the danger is imminent, and the foaming surges are parting to engulf their prey, the Divine presence within shines forth around, and immediately there is a great calm, and the spirit rests still. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The Divine presence
I. Help comes when most needed. The idolatry of Israel discouraged Moses. So the trials which bring us to God in dependence and prayer, bring the Divine presence and blessing to our aid.
II. The desire of the spiritual mind is the presence of God. “ If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hither.” “Leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.”
III. God supplies this want. “His name shall be called ‘God with us.’” “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” “He shall give you another Comforter that He may abide with you for ever.” The experience of this presence is a joy to be sought and found only in fidelity to God. It restrains from evil and inspires to good works. It gives rest from the uncertainties suggested by unbelief and doubt. It supplies the happiness of assurance and the calmness of peace. (E. W. Warren, D. D.)
God’s presence our rest
Rest must be sought deeper down than in circumstances. It must begin at the centre of our being, and in its accord with the being of God. His presence must be welcome to us and accompany us, or rest is a vain dream.
I. The circumstances by which this assurance was called forth.
1. Moses was a very lonely man. Perhaps more lonely in the midst of the two millions of people whom he was leading as a flock than he had been amid the solitudes of the desert tending the flock of Jethro. The very contrast between his lofty enjoyment of Divine communion and the people, always set on sensual pleasure, must have lent intensity to the isolation of his spirit, which reared itself amid their sensual longings, as the peak of Susafeh above the lower ranges of Sinai. In this his loneliness he has been compared to Elijah at Cherith or on Carmel; to Paul standing aged and friendless before the tribunal of Nero; to Alfred when, in the words of the old chronicler, he “ lived an unquiet life in the woodlands of Somerset”; to Columbus when, with his great secret locked in his heart, he still prosecuted his quest over the weary waste of waters. Jesus was the most lonely man that ever lived. He drank the cup of loneliness to its dregs. And Moses said unto the Lord, “See, Thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and Thou has not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me.” Note that last clause, “whom Thou wilt send with me.” Do they not contain a sigh for a comrade, a companion, a friend in whose sympathy and judgment he might confide. In the physical world we are told that in the most solid bodies the atoms do not touch; and how often, though the crowd throngs us, we are not conscious that any one has touched us. It is to that state of mind that the assurance of the text is given.
2. In addition to this, the hosts were soon to leave the mountain region of Sinai, with which Moses had been familiar during his shepherd life, in order to take the onward road through unknown deserts, infested by daring and experienced foes. Such a summons to arise and depart is often sounding with its bugle-call in our ears. We are not like those who travel by the metal track of the railroad, on which they have been to and fro every day for years, and are able to tell exactly the names and order of the stations; but like an exploring expedition in an absolutely unknown district, and even the leader, as he leaves his hammock in the morning, does not know where it will be slung at night.
3. Still further difficulties had lately arisen in connection with the people’s transgression. From a careful study of the passage it would seem that a change was proposed by their Almighty Friend. Hitherto He had gone in the midst of them. Now He avowed His intention of substituting an angel for Himself, lest He should suddenly consume the people because of their stiff-neckedness (Exodus 33:3). But now it seemed likely some sensible diminution of the evidence of the Divine presence and favour was about to take place; and the fear of this stirred the soul of the great leader to its depths. Are there not times with many of us when we have reason to fear that, in consequence of some sad failure or sin on our part, the Lord may be obliged to withdraw the conscious enjoyment of His love? Supposing He should be compelled to leave me to myself, to withdraw His tender mercies, to shut up His compassions. Supposing that I should be like a sledge abandoned in Arctic snows, or a ship abandoned by its crew in mid-ocean.
II. The place where this assurance was given. The earlier intercourse between the servant, faithful in all his house, and Him who had appointed him seems to have been on the mountain summit. But after the outburst of the people’s sin a change was made which did not necessitate such prolonged or distant absences from the camp. Indeed, he was absent for only one other period of forty days till the time of his death, some thirty-eight years afterwards (Exodus 34:28). During the prolonged interview which he had been permitted to enjoy, God had spoken to him much of the Tabernacle which was shortly to be reared. He at once saw the blessedness of this proximity of the shrine for worship and fellowship, and his ardent soul seems to have been unable to brook delay. It was no longer necessary for him to climb to the mountain summit, entrusted with errands on behalf of the people, or eager for advice in difficult problems. He was able to transact all necessary business by going out to the tent. Thus the Lord spake with Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend; and Moses spake to his Father, who is in secret, with the freedom of a child. And as the people beheld that wondrous sight of God stooping to commune with man, they rose up and worshipped, every man at his tent door. It was as if he said, Wilt Thou Thyself be my Comrade and Companion, my Referee in difficulty, my Adviser in perplexity, my Friend in solitude? Thine angels are strong and fair and good, but none of them will suffice me, nothing short of Thyself. Without Thee, it were better for me to relinquish my task and die; but with Thee, no difficulty can baffle, no fear alarm, no obstacle deter. And God’s answer came back on his spirit with music and balm, “My presence shall go with time, and I will give thee rest.” Nothing was said as to the people. But faith gets bolder as it mounts. Each answer to its claims makes it claim more. We may seriously question whether our faith is of the right quality if it is unable to compass more in its hand to-day than it did a year ago. And, therefore, Moses not only took the assurance of the Divine presence for himself, but asked that it be extended to include the people. “Wherein now shall it be known that I have found grace in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not that Thou goest with us, so that we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” In this respect also he was successful. And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken, for thou hast found grace in My sight. There are moments of holy intercourse with God, rapturous, golden moments, in the lives of all His servants; when next they visit us, and we would make the most of their brief, bright, rapturous glow, let us plead, not only for ourselves, but for others, asking for them an equal blessedness.
III. The blessedness which this assurance guaranteed. There was, first, the Divine presence; and there was, secondly, the premised rest; not the rest of Canaan, for this Moses never saw, but a deeper and more blessed inheritance, which may be the portion of all faithful souls. But at their heart these two are one. The Divine presence is rest. Of course the conscious presence of God with us is only possible on three conditions. Firstly, we must walk in the light, as He is in the light, for He will have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, or turn aside to go with us on any crooked path of our own choosing. Secondly, we must recognize that the blood of Jesus Christ His Son goes on cleansing us from all sin, not only that which we judge and confess, but that also which is only seen by His pure and holy eyes. Thirdly, we must claim the gracious aid of the Holy Spirit to make real that presence, which is too subtle for the eye of man, unless it be specially enlightened. And, above all, we must remember that for us, at least, that presence is localized in the man Christ Jesus. For us there is no attenuated mist of presence, though a mist of light, but a Person in whom that presence is made real and touches us.
1. God’s presence is rest from the conscience of sin. “I will remember their sins no more.”
2. God’s presence is rest from anxiety. The future is dim and we are apt to strain our eyes as we peer into its depths. Now we are elate with building castles of light, and again we are immured in dungeons of foreboding. We cannot rest tossed to and fro like this, but when we can look from the mist to the face of our Guide, who goes with us, such wisdom and kindness mingle there that we are at rest.
3. God’s presence gives rest to our intellect. The mind of man turns sick before the trifles and frivolities with which men, for the most part, seek to satisfy its insatiable appetite, and craves eternal truth, and this alone can be found in God.
4. God’s presence is rest to our judgment. This regal faculty is constantly being called into play to select out of one or two paths which offer themselves that which we should follow. It is left for Him to choose, and to make known His choice, whilst the soul waits, exercising careful thought indeed, but concentrating its whole power in seeking to know the Divine will.
5. God’s presence is rest to our will. The will of the self-life, which chafes like an unquiet sea, can only come to rest in the will of God, compelled by the powerful attraction of His near presence, just as we might conceive of a body passing from the earth to the sun, increasingly losing the attraction of the planet as it feels the pull of the mighty orb of day.
6. God’s presence is rest from weariness. There is in each of us a fund of natural energy, determined largely by health or temperament, or favourable circumstances. But at times this is crushed by disappointment and failure, and the sense of its inadequacy for some great task. But when God is near it falls back on Him like a tired child on a father’s strength, and is at rest.
7. God’s presence is rest to our heart. Who is there that does not pine for love? But to know God, to love God, to be loved by God, to delight in God’s perpetual presence--this is rest. I have a vision of a woodland glade. A group of tired, frightened children are cowering around the bole of an old tree, dropping the fragile, withered flowers from their hands and pinafores, as the first great drops of the thunder shower, which had been darkening the sky, begin to fall. They have lost their way, they sob bitterly, and crowd together. Suddenly through the wood there comes a quick step, beneath which the twigs crackle and break--father has come, and as he carries some in his strong arms through the storm on the nearest track for home, and the others run at his side, they have learnt that there is a presence which is rest. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.
The withdrawal of God’s presence deprecated
What was the special grace desired by Moses in these memorable words? What withdrawal of honour and privilege was threatened? If we had only this chapter, we might infer that the difference in God’s future dealings with Israel would be, that He would henceforth commit them to the care of an angel--some messenger of His providence less holy than Himself--and that the honour and privilege which His personal presence implied would be withdrawn (Exodus 33:1-3). Apart, however, from the fact that it is difficult to conceive of any real difference between God’s personal and instrumental superintendence, we no sooner turn our attention to the account of His proposed dealings with Israel before they fell into the idolatry of the golden calf, than we find that the handing over of the command of their hosts to an angel could not have been the change of treatment that filled Moses with such dismay. There is no warrant for the supposition that the angel of this chapter is an inferior being to the angel of the Divine presence spoken of in chap. 33. Indeed, there can be no reasonable doubt that when God says, “Must My presence (literally, My face) go with thee, that I may give thee rest?” the reference is to the angel in whom God’s name was, and whose visible symbol was the pillar of cloud and of fire. And of course the reference will be the same in Moses’ reply: “If Thy presence go not,” etc. What, then, was the grace which God proposed to withdraw from Israel? By their shameful apostasy after the manifestation of the Divine glory at Sinai, they had shown that the grandest and most awful signs of the Divine Majesty could easily be forgotten; and it really seemed that the presence of the pillar of cloud and of fire in their midst would not, when once it should become familiar, deter them from rebellion. It would be better not to give them the opportunity of openly insulting the Divine Majesty. A grace which failed to inspire awe would inevitably harden. God intimated, therefore, that the angel of His face, instead of having His holy tent in the midst of the tents of the congregation, should simply go before them to prepare their way. If, now, we look at Exodus 29:42-45, we shall see of what they would be deprived by the threatened change in God’s dealings. Evidently they would lose the sanctuary which was to be their peculiar glory. To the nations they would appear a people that not only had no visible God, but no public religious rites. Moses, their leader, instead of being able to commune with God and ask counsel of Him, would be left to the guidance of his own sagacity. The Children of Israel could not come to inquire of God; no atonement could be carried into the presence of His mercy-seat; and no blessing could be spoken by the priests, conveying peace to the hearts of the thousands of Israel. They were to be left to follow their own desires and the counsels of their own hearts. God would fill them with their own ways. Only His providence engaged to direct their path and prepare their way to enter the Promised Land. The effect of this terrible reservation in the conditions on which God pardoned their apostasy, would have resembled the effect of a papal interdict in mediaeval times, when nations were denied the public offices of religion and shut up to a life almost without God in the world. It was this terrible prospect that called forth Moses’ passionate entreaty, “If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.” Better that we should remain in the wilderness, better that we should die where we are, than live under such perpetual discouragement, so manifestly forsaken of God! The lesson God desired to teach was conveyed by the mere threatening, and, in answer to the intercession of Moses, He consents to the construction and erection of the Sanctuary. When completed, He solemnly took possession of it, and Jehovah’s sacred tent became the visible centre of the camp of Israel (Exodus 40:34-38). The application of this incident is obvious, though, since we live under a new and better covenant, we are in a somewhat different case from the children of Israel. The Shekinah has been set up in the family of man, and can never be removed. Immanuel, God with us, is the imperishable possession of the human family. Atonement for the sins of mankind has been made; Divine forgiveness has been pronounced; God and man are reconciled. The question for us is, Are we content to live without a personal sense of the Divine presence, without tasting for ourselves that the Lord is gracious, without seeking counsel and guidance from the oracles of God and obtaining answers of peace to our prayers? Does a life of practical atheism seem to us something too terrible to be endured? Would an interdict of our sanctuary services, a prohibition laid upon private prayer, a withdrawal of Divine promises, fill us with heart-felt dismay? (E. W. Shalders, B.A.)
Show me Thy Glory.
It was a fine aspiration, worthy of the man who uttered it, and the occasion on which he spoke it--“Show me Thy glory.” It was the reaching out of a darker dispensation after gospel light--the reflections wishing to lose themselves in the great original. It was a man who had had great things given him, and therefore asked more. He had had law; he had had presence. And now from presence he mounts up to the only thing above it--glory, which is above presence. That is always a right field of aspiration--something beyond the present attainment, taking the mercy given as stepping-stones up higher. Do not be afraid of high spiritual ambition. Cultivate aspirations--they are little different from prayer--they are very elevating.
I. Let us see to what Moses aspired. What are we to understand by “glory”? Evidently it was more than law. There are three kinds of glory.
1. There is the glory of circumstances that addresses itself to the senses--the glory, to the Christian, of gold and of pearl, the glory of surrounding angels, the glory of beautiful ministrations, the glory of light.
2. Then there is moral glory--such as that of the Lord Jesus Christ upon earth (John 1:14).
3. The glory of the sense or consciousness that everything goes back to the Creator, encircling Him with His own proper perfections, the living of God in the adoration, gratitude, and service of His creatures. Moses saw all three. His prayer had an answer on the Mount of Transfiguration.
II. It was a very remarkable answer that God made to him. “I will make My kindness”--goodness, kindness, they are the same--“My kindness pass before thee.” Kindness is glory. For example, glory is a covenanted thing, but the only covenanted thing is love. I do not read of other things covenanted; but God’s glory must be in His covenant, therefore it is God’s kindness. The glory of God was in Jesus Christ. That was the manifestation of the glory of God--that is kindness. The glory of God is Himself. Now God is love--He has many attributes, but they meet to make love. And take this lesson. Kindness is greatness, goodness is glory. Really, it is no greatness, it is no glory to see faults. It is so easy, and it is so poor, and it is so mean to see faults, and talk of faults. But it is great, really great, intellectually great, morally great, to see excellencies. Kindness is glory--it is a heavenly truth--the kindness of God is His glory. And every one among us is really glorious in proportion as he is kind. And the one of kindest judgments and kindest words has the most glory because he is nearest to the likeness of God. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The influence on the human mind of the manifestation of God’s glory
Correct views of the Divine character lie at the foundation of true religion. The attributes with which the Divine character is invested have also a powerful influence on the mind. Carrying forward the same train of thought, we shall find that even under the full light of the system of Christianity, the peculiar aspect in which the Divine character is viewed will greatly modify Christian conduct and enjoyment. Thus, upon one may rest a sense of the terrible majesty of God. On another may rest a sense of awe and veneration, and the still small voice seem ever to sound in his ears, “Be still, and know that I am God.” To a third is presented most vividly the idea of holiness; and to a fourth, the idea, the triumphant thought, is, “God is love.” These various views must greatly modify our mode of approach before God.
I. First, then, let us consider the desire of Moses.
1. Did he desire to behold some grand and glorious manifestation of the Deity; some outward form or shape to represent the great Jehovah? Why should such be his desire? In the first place, he must have had correct views of the Deity--he must have known that “God is a Spirit.” Our tendency to attach form to the Deity arises from the limited nature of our faculties. We are principally influenced by external qualities; we judge by them; and though we know a spirit has not the ordinary qualities of matter, yet we can form no distinct conception without associating some of them. But, in the second place, why should he desire to behold such external displays of glory and power? He had worshipped at the burning bush. The sea had divided at his approach; the Divine presence, as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, had been his guide and protection; and, lastly, he had stood amidst the terrific scenes of Sinai until he exclaimed, “I do exceedingly fear and quake.”
2. May he have used the expression in the sense of the Psalmist where he says, “The heavens declare the glory of God”; desiring to understand more of creative power and skill? There can be doubt that he earnestly desired to know all that could be known in reference to the great work of creation.
3. Is it probable that he desired to behold the glory of God as manifested in his past government of the world? In this he had already been instructed.
4. Since, then, his prayer could not refer to external exhibitions of the glory of the Deity, or to His creative power, or past government of the world, it only remains for us to turn toward the future. And if we view the circumstances surrounding him, we shall see that by his prayer, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory,” he desired to understand the merciful purposes of God toward the Israelites, and through them to the world. That the Almighty had great designs in view in reference to the Israelites,he had a right to infer, from what had already been done for them. As when an architect collects in one place a vast quantity of materials, we have a right to expect the erection of some magnificent edifice; so, from previous and vast preparation on the part of the Deity, some event of momentous importance might be inferred. Abraham had been called from his native land and from among his kindred; his sons had been trained under peculiar circumstances. What connection this had with the hope of a Messiah! Again, the circumstance through which he had just passed were of a most singular character. He had been upon the sacred mount. Israel had said, “Let not God speak with us”; and Moses had stood as their representative for forty days. But this very people who had heard the voice of God had turned to idolatry at the foot of the mount. What can be the measure of that mercy which is preceded by the preparatory act of the pardon of two millions and a half of people? His longing soul desires to know all the purposes of God. The act of mercy, just witnessed, kindled within him a greater love for God, a more earnest wish to fathom the depths of His goodness; and, with the vehemence of intense desire, he cries out, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory “--grant me a full exhibition of Thy mercy and Thy love.
II. Let us next consider how far this desire was satisfied. In answer to this earnest prayer, the Deity replies, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee,” etc. (Exodus 5:19). Again in Exodus 33:21-23,” Behold there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock,” etc. And again it is said in Exodus 34:5-7, “And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.” In this manifestation of the Divine character to Moses, a few particulars may be noticed.
1. He proclaimed the name of the Lord before him. This probably refers to such a general view of the Divine administration as exhibits the benevolence, holiness, and justice of God, intimately blended in the government of man.
2. He made all His goodness pass before him. This was probably a prophetic view of His mercy to the Israelites as a nation.
3. He showed him His administration as a sovereign: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Here was explained the difference of the treatment of Israel and Canaan.
4. He gave him a prophetic view of the mission of Christ. This is indicated in the expression, “Thou shalt see My back parts.” The Hebrew word in this place translated “back parts,” refers to time as as well as to position. And many able commentators and critics have referred this passage to the incarnation of Christ. The revelation appears to have been given to Moses to strengthen his own faith, and to fit him for those arduous duties required of the leader of such a people. He is placed in the “cleft of the rock,” and before him passes, as though spread out on an immense canvass, the representations of the future.
III. We can now inquire why his petition was not fully granted.
1. From what has been already expressed, we are prepared to assume that it was not because in any manifestation there would be such terrific grandeur as should destroy human existence. For, first, Moses, we think, did not pray for external manifestations. These could be but symbols; and, however vast and magnificent the symbols might be, they never could adequately represent the Divine character. But, secondly, there is no intimation made, as we think, that if an exhibition were given, it would be one of terrific majesty.
2. The language employed in the text, “Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me and live,” does not express any reason why man is unable to bear a view of the Deity. It simply declares the fact that man cannot see the face of God.
3. The reason why man could not behold this and live, would not be because of its terror or majesty; but because the view of the riches of His grace, His compassion and benevolence would excite emotions of reverence, of admiration, of love, and of joy, too overwhelming for humanity to bear. Each manifestation of the benevolence of God called forth songs of joy and ascriptions of praise from those who beheld them in ancient times. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Now if, in these cases, a single view had such an effect, what would be the result if all the mercy and compassion of God, in its unbounded immensity and inexhaustible fulness, could, at one moment, be revealed to the human mind? Humanity could not bear the vision. To support this view we may reflect, that things exciting emotions, even of a pleasurable character, may extend so far as to become destructive, and that emotions of joy may in themselves destroy life. Light is pleasant, it spreads a halo of beauty and glory around the face of nature. The eye is never satisfied with the revelations which are made through its medium. Yet let that light, which thus spreads beauty around, fall upon the eye in the concentrated form of a ray from the meridian sun, and the power of vision is impaired, if not totally destroyed. The same is true of mental emotion. How the mind operates upon the body we cannot tell. But that the emotions of the mind do affect the body is universally admitted. Death from surprise, from fright, from terror, from all the depressing passions, has been by no means uncommon. In the every-day walks of life, who has not known of a case like this? A beloved son has left the home of fond parents to engage in commercial pursuits, or visit some distant place. By various causes his stay is prolonged, until at last the tidings reach his parents that he was wrecked off some rocky coast; or, that he perished in a fatal epidemic. They mourn for him as one that is lost; and they think of him only as in the spirit world. Years pass away, and though strangely preserved, his parents are not aware of his existence. He starts for home. Already he stands upon the hill that overlooks the scenes of his boyhood; the house, and trees, and shrubs, all stand as when he left; his heart exults at the thought of embracing his parents, and, thoughtless as to consequences, he hastily approaches. He opens the door. His mother gazes at him but a moment, cries, “My son, my son,” throws her arms fondly around his neck, and swoons away in his arms. And instances have occurred, in which, from that swoon, there has been no recovery. History informs us that, in the time of the great South Sea speculation in England, many, overjoyed by their success, became insane. At the restoration of Charles II., a number of the nobility were so affected by the recovery of their titles and estates, that they became diseased, and in a short time died. Leo X., one of the most renowned occupants of the Papal chair, was so rejoiced by a victory somewhat unexpectedly gained over his enemies, that he sunk beneath the excitement. The heir of Leibnitz, the celebrated mathematician, on finding that a chest, filled as he supposed with paper, contained a large quantity of gold, became so excited by the discovery, that he was seized with a fatal disease of the heart. If such, then, be the influence of joyful emotions, when arising from temporal subjects, will the effect be diminished by adding the revelation of the unseen and eternal? Can emotions excited by the view of the majesty, holiness, wisdom, and compassion of the eternal Jehovah be less strong than those excited by considering a small portion of the work of His hands?
As a general inference from this subject, we may notice what a sublime view is thus presented of the revelation contained in the Word of God.
1. It is a system of truth, in which, directly or indirectly, each separate truth leads to the great commanding truth of the being and attributes of God. This is the substance of revelation; God displayed in creation, in government, and in mercy to man. All other statements are but as secondaries revolving around their primary. The greatest minds may here be for ever engaged; but, like the parallel lines of the mathematician, there may be eternal approximation without perfect attainment.
2. But revelation is not merely a system of sublime truth. It is truth so presented as to affect our sensitive nature. It is not abstract speculation alone that is employed; our affections, our sympathies, are all enlisted. It is a system intended to operate upon man.
3. That such are the effects of the manifestation of God’s mercy, we are further warranted in believing from the history of distinguished individuals. Moses, when the name of the Lord was proclaimed before him, and His goodness passed before him, “made haste and bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped.” He adored and reverenced. And such was the influence of the manifestations he received, that his face shone with such glory that the people could not look upon him unveiled; or, in other words, the manifestations of goodness and of glory were carried to the utmost possible point at which his usefulness to the people of Israel could remain. When Daniel was showed in prophetic vision the return of the captive Jews, and when the succession of empire was revealed, and things that should happen in the latter days, he says, “There remained no strength in me”; and before he was able to hear the whole prediction the angel touched him to strengthen him. On the mount of transfiguration the disciples were so overwhelmed that “they knew not what they said,” or did not fully see the impropriety of their request, and yet were so enchanted that they said, “Master, it is good for us to be here.”
4. What an unfailing source of comfort and joy is opened for the Christian in the revelation which God hath given! His joy is not of this world, it is in God. The world may change, but God changeth not. God’s glory never faileth--the Christian’s spring of happiness never runs dry. It is a river of mercy, a river of grace, and he that drinketh of its water needs never thirst again for the turbid streams of earthly joy.
5. If then the effect of the manifestation of God’s mercy and love be to elevate, to ennoble, and to rejoice the heart of man, why should not our minds dwell upon the Divine character? Christianity alone offers man knowledge and joy which can perfectly fill his expansive capacity, and for that knowledge and that grace unceasing effort should be made, and ceaseless prayer offered to the Most High. For this we may come boldly to the throne of grace.
6. And if the limit of manifestation of mercy is found in the circumstances of the creature and not in God, who shall attempt to say what glorious enjoyment awaits the celestial citizen?
7. Does it seem unreasonable that when life is about to be over, the Deity should withdraw His hand, and let such a view of His glory upon the mind, that the physical frame shall fall, and the unfettered spirit rise to the full enjoyment of beatific love? (M. Simpson, D. D.)
Moses’ sight of God
I. The request of man.
1. That man, as man, naturally looks for some special display of the Divine presence and attributes.
2. That man, as a sinner, needs an expression of God’s readiness to forgive.
II. The response of God.
1. That there are limitations to a full revelation of His glory.
(a) The bodily senses.
(b) The mind.
2. That within these limitations there is given an abundant revelation.
3. That the brightest feature of the revelation is Divine love.
4. That from what we now behold, we are led to expect a still more glorious revelation hereafter. (B. Dale, M. A.)
“Show me Thy glory”
1. That God raises human society by the ministry of individual men.
2. That the individual man by whom He raises society, He qualifies by a close fellowship with Himself.
I. The profoundest cravings of the soul. “Show me Thy glory.”
1. This craving explains the existence of polytheism.
2. This craving implies a supreme existence.
3. This craving renders the prevalence of atheism impossible.
4. This craving reveals the grand distinction of human nature.
II. The grandest revelations of God. “I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee.”
1. The revelation of moral character.
2. The revelation of the sublimest moral character.
III. The necessary ignorance of man. “Thou canst not see My face,” etc. (Homilist.)
The sublime prayer of Moses
I. The immediate circumstances which preceded the prayer.
II. The prayer itself. “Show me Thy glory.” It is clear from the context that he meant, Unveil Thyself to my vision; let me see Thy essential majesty and splendour; remove all obscurity from my vision. We have to observe here--
1. The imperfection of the best saints. Imperfect in knowledge and judgment; fallible in our desires and devotions.
2. The beneficence and care of God for His people. Not only in giving, but in withholding. How important to ask according to His will. To refer all to His wisdom and love, and in everything to be able to say, “He hath done all things well.”
III. The answer returned.
1. The literal request was mercifully refused.
2. The spirit of the prayer was graciously answered.
1. Learn the lofty eminence to which true piety exalts a man. Intercourse with heaven.
2. The true breathings of the devout soul. “Show me Thy glory.” Everything else is tinsel.
3. A perfect acquaintance with God’s goodness is offered us in the gospel. “Oh, taste and see,” etc. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The Christian’s desire to see God’s glory
I. What is meant by God’s glory, which the Christian desires to see
1. It is glory, in His gracious conduct to sinners, in and through His Son.
2. It is His glory, as manifested to the soul in pardoning mercy and love.
3. It is His glory, as manifested to the soul, making him a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
II. Where does the real Christian wish to see the glory of God?
1. In all His ordinances in this world, especially in the assembly of the saints.
2. Much of God’s glory is here to be seen. The glory of His wisdom, in devising the scheme of redemption, etc.
3. How glorious is the discovery here made of His justice and holiness, in the satisfaction made for sin by the death of His Son.
4. Here Divine grace is to be seen in its brightest lustre. In its
5. Here is displayed the glory of God’s faithfulness to His promises.
6. The Christian desires to see the glory of God above (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2).
III. Why does the Christian desire to see His glory?
1. He desires to see it in His ordinances here because
2. He wishes to see this glory in heaven, because it will there be
The presence of Christ
I. That the desires of religion intensify with its growth.
1. The more grace Moses found, the more he sought.
2. To surfeit, not to satisfy, is the nature of earthly good.
3. But here is satisfaction without surfeit.
II. That Christ is the medium of Divine manifestation.
1. The rock was an emblem of Christ.
2. Here God revealed Himself to Moses.
3. Man in Christ sees God and lives.
III. That Divine visions are attended with gracious effects.
1. Life is imparted by them.
2. Devotion is kindled by them.
3. Spiritual vigour is imparted by them.
4. Moral influence is gained in them. (J. A. Macdonald, M. A.)
Moses’ request, and God’s gracious promise
I. And what did Moses ask for? What was the desire of his heart? His prayer was, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.” But, it may be said, had not Moses, on various occasions, seen the glory of God? The more of these heavenly treasures we possess, the more highly do we prize them, and the more eagerly do we seek for an increase. These are things that never deceive, never disappoint, never cloy. Our experience of them convinces us that they are solid, substantial, satisfactory. The capacity of the soul is expanded, and we are prepared for larger communications of purity and love. And they who have made the highest attainments in the Christian life, and have experienced most largely the efficacy of the Redeemer’s all purifying blood, will be found to be most anxious to rise still higher in spiritual blessings.
II. God’s reply to the request preferred by Moses.
III. But we have to observe, that the displays of the Divine goodness are made only according to God’s own will. And what is the character of these to whom the mercy of Jehovah will be extended? The penitent, the humble, the meek, the lowly.
IV. We observe, that there are certain displays of the Divine glory, which are granted to God’s believing people here below, on earth. A partial, indistinct, and necessarily defective view--a glimpse at the heavenly glory--a transient exhibition of the Divine excellence. And even before this was granted to Moses, a certain process was necessary: he must be duly prepared.
V. Still it must be granted, that the most eminent and most delightful displays of the Divine glory are reserved for the heavenly world. The eye of the disembodied spirit will be strengthened and fitted to gaze, with a steady and direct view, on the uncreated Sun. (W. P. Burgess, D. D.)
The object of a Christian’s desire in religious worship
I. When Christians then, desire to see the glory of God, it seems chiefly to imply the following things.
1. They desire to see the glory of an eternal independent God; they desire to see the only living and true God in His own inherent excellence and infinite perfection.
2. That the believer desires to see the glory of a gracious and reconciled God, not only infinitely glorious in Himself, but infinitely merciful to him. This view ought never to be separated from the former. Take away the Divine mercy, and the lustre of His other perfections is too strong for us to behold.
3. The believer desires to see the glory of God as an all-sufficient God.
II. I proceed now to make some practical improvement of what hath been said. And--
1. Let us admire the Divine condescension in admitting His saints to a discovery of His glory.
2. Let me beseech you to try yourselves whether this ever hath been your attainment, and whether it is your sincere desire.
3. I exhort you, in the most earnest manner, to diligence in seeking after real communion with God in His instituted worship. How highly are we favoured with light and liberty! How little are many sensible of their privileges!
III. I conclude by offering to those who would see the glory of God a few directions as to the best preparation for such a discovery.
1. If you would see the glory of God in His sanctuary, be serious in self-examination and the renunciation of all known sin. Holiness is an essential attribute of the Divine nature; and, therefore, He must be worshipped in the beauty of holiness.
2. In order to see the glory of God you must be clothed with humility (Isaiah 66:2).
3. In the last place; if you desire to see the glory of God, be fervent in preparatory prayer: if there is any blessing that requires importunity and wrestling with God, surely this high and happy privilege of communion with Him in His house must be of that kind. (J. Witherspoon.)
The desire to see God’s glory
I. What a child of God may have his eye to when desiring to see God’s glory.
II. Where would a saint see the glory of God or have it shown to him?
1. In many ordinances here. Where God records His name (Exodus 20:24).
2. A saint desires to see the glory of God in the state above, and without need of these present ordinances, even in heaven.
III. Why they desire this.
1. In ordinances here they desire this.
2. And as to heaven, the people of God desire, He would there show them His glory, and eminently--
IV. This desire they are to offer up in prayer to God. Desire is the life of prayer, and this is to be made known by way of request to God.
1. To testify our value for it. They that esteem it a favour to see God’s glory, are to show this by seeking after it.
2. ‘Tis God only that can show us His glory, and make us to see it; that can fit us for the favour, and then vouchsafe it to us. Is this glory wont to be revealed and displayed in ordinances? make this your end in attending upon them to see it.
The glory of God
I. Consider, first, His natural attributes.
1. God is self-existent. All other beings are created, and created by Him. He is the great Parent of existence.
2. Reflect next upon His omnipresence. He fills heaven and earth.
3. Survey His power. He is almighty and can do everything. He can act without agents or instruments. All other beings, animate or inanimate, are but His instruments to fulfil His will.
4. View, lastly, the immeasurable extent of His bounty. All creatures in earth and heaven are replenished out of the storehouse of His beneficence.
II. But the glory of God derived from what may be termed, by way of distinction, His natural attributes, is not the highest description of His glory, or even that in which it properly consists.
1. His goodness. The goodness of God is that attribute by which all His other perfections are directed to the best possible end. It is that which renders His wisdom, power, and presence, not only not dangerous, but in a supreme degree beneficial, to the whole creation.
2. But the holiness of God forms another principal feature in His glory. He “will by no means clear the guilty.”
3. But is justice also a modification of goodness? Justice towards some is the security of all. Were an indiscriminate mercy to be shown to all, sin would prevail, and soon prostrate the mercy of God, and efface from the universe every trace of His goodness. (J. Venn, M. A.)
The glory of God illustrated
I. Let us consider what we are to understand by the glory of God. The glory of any moral agent is that intrinsic moral excellence which renders him worthy of approbation and esteem. This is never seated in the understanding, but in the heart. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he; and as God thinketh in His heart, so is He. God is love. And in this consists His real, intrinsic, supreme, moral excellence and glory.
II. To consider what is to be understood by God’s displaying all His goodness. His promise to Moses is very singular and very significant. “I will make all My goodness pass before thee.” That God may display all His goodness, He must do two things.
1. He must display His goodness to as high a degree as possible.
2. God’s displaying all His goodness farther implies His displaying it in all its branches, and agreeably to the various natures and characters of His dependent creatures. In particular--
III. That God, by thus displaying all his goodness, necessarily displays all His glory. But the truth of this will more fully appear if we consider--
1. That when God displays all His goodness, He displays all His moral character. The Supreme Being has no moral excellence but what is included in His goodness. God is love; all His goodness consists in love; all His love lies in His heart; and His heart is the seat of all His moral excellence.
2. When God displays all His goodness, He necessarily displays all His natural as well as moral excellence. But all these natural attributes derive their real glory from His goodness, without which they would be a blemish rather than a beauty in His character.
1. If God be a being who possesses and displays perfect goodness, then the religion which He has required of mankind is a reasonable service.
2. If God must display His goodness in order to display His glory, then by seeking His own glory He must necessarily seek the good of His creatures.
3. If God cannot display all His glory without displaying all His goodness, then the glory of God required the existence of natural and moral evil. All the goodness of God in all its branches could not have been displayed if natural and moral evil had not existed.
4. If the supreme glory of God consists in His goodness, then those who love any part of His character must necessarily love the whole.
5. If the supreme glory of God consists in His goodness, then those who dislike any part of the Divine character must necessarily dislike the whole.
6. If the goodness of God forms His whole moral character, then those who do not love Him supremely must necessarily hate Him supremely.
7. Does the glory of God consist in His goodness, or in His feeling properly towards all His creatures of every character?
8. If the glory of God consists in His goodness, then a clear view of His goodness would destroy all the false hopes of sinners respecting their good estate.
9. If the glory of God consists in His goodness, then we learn why sinners are represented as blind to His glory. They must feel as He does, in order to have a moral view of His moral excellence.
10. If God’s glory essentially consists in His goodness, then those who have seen His real glory in the least degree will desire to see more and more of it. This appears from the nature of spiritual discoveries, which afford peculiar satisfaction to those to whom they are made. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The glory not to be revealed
I. That there is in the Divine nature an interior and hidden glory which cannot be revealed. The word glory is a large and comprehensive term, including all that is ineffably great and lovely in the Divine essence. This glory is everywhere revealed. The glory of God is not to be looked upon as something separate and distinct from His nature; but rather that nature in the sum and fulness of its perfection. And as His being is past finding out, so is His glory above the heavens.
II. That the sublimest manifestation which God has made of His glory is in connection with the great remedial scheme of man’s redemption. It matters little whether we conceive of God as light, or life, or love. It is the light which reveals the life, and it is the life which expresses itself in the love. If God be love, then the highest manifestation of this love must be regarded as the highest revelation of His glory. It is the infinite and ineffable benignity of the Divine nature which renders its glory so engaging and attractive. Light is blended with love--greatness is inseparable from goodness--majesty is mellowed and modified by mercy. The Cross exhibits the only ground on which God and man can ever meet. If the Divinity has never inhabited humanity, man can never rise into communion with God. If the necessary and all-effective means do not exist for impressing His image upon us while we are on the earth, we can never see His face in heaven. To behold His glory we must partake His purity.
III. That notwithstanding this revelation which God has made of himself, they are the purer and the loftier spirits amongst us which are favoured with the more special manifestations of Divine glory. We assert it without fear of contradiction, that even Nature herself will withhold all her higher and more glorious revelations unless there be a correspondence or likeness between her own spirit and the spirit of those who would commune with her. So in the intercourse between mind and mind. In like manner God never reveals Himself in the depth of His glory to any man, till the man has first yielded his whole nature to the purifying and transforming power of the Spirit, and has thus taken on higher degrees of moral purity and perfection. It is only the pure in heart that can see God. As the Jew had his outward ceremonial ablutions, the Christian should have his inward spiritual purifications. An external reformation does not necessarily imply an internal renovation; but if the inner man is renewed and sanctified, the outer man must exhibit the effects of the change. We must be cleansed both in the flesh and in the spirit.
IV. That these deeper manifestations of Divine glory are not given as mere fruitless exhibitions, but to quicken the love and to increase the devotedness of those to whom they are imparted. The heart-throbs of piety have their expression in a life of enlightened and cheerful activity. We have each a work to do in the world, and for God; and to do it as the work of God ought to be done, we need not only the symbols of His presence and love, but the baptism of His Spirit--the plenitude of light and the fulness of grace.
V. That the revelation of this glory in the world to come will for ever fix the attention, and heighten the rapture, and energize the activity of the inhabitants of that blessed state. The brighter and the fuller the revelation, the more profound and fixed will be our attention. Every thought will be captivated, every emotion will be stirred, and the joy of the soul will rise into rapture, heightened and perpetuated for ever. (R. Ferguson, LL. D.)
The festive time
Come, and behold in this communication, asked for and obtained by Moses--
1. The crown of the Old Covenant.
2. The mirror of the New.
3. The promise and prediction that God’s glory, in its fulness, would in future be revealed.
1. The festive shouts that Israel raised in honour of the idol they first made are silent now, and the avenging sword, at Moses’ prayer, is now averted from the nation’s head. Only three thousand sinners have endured the righteous punishment deserved by many more--by nearly all. Moses feels himself, at last, no longer able to restrain his wish for further light: he prays the Lord to show whom He will send, and what He means to do with a nation that is still His own. Moses further states, most positively, that he would prefer to go no farther, than remain without the guidance of the Lord Himself; then, filled with joy and with astonishment, the man of God essays to take one further step, and gives expression to his heart’s wish in the prayer, “Show me now Thy glory.” Who shall determine what it was that Moses understood, and felt, and wished, when he employed these words? We know, of course, that ere this time he had seen much more of God’s glory than all other men. The bush that burned, and yet was not consumed; the Red Sea moved out from its bed; the manna rained down from above; the arid rock changed to a source of living streams! Alone, upon the top of Sinai, and amidst most dreadful signs, he had received the law of God; moreover, with the elders of the Israelites, he had beheld the pavement which the King of Israel laid for the palace where He sits enthroned--what seemed transparent sapphire-stone (Exodus 24:9-10). What more is it that this insatiable, this high-minded servant of the Lord desires? The Lord Himself gives answer to the question, when He (verse 20) in so many words declares, “My face cannot be seen.” That is to say, Moses has hitherto but heard the voice of Him that spake out of the cloud; now he beseeches that the veil of mystery shall be removed, and that he may be shown the face of God, beaming with heavenly light. Say not that this request comes from a narrow mind; above all, do not say that it is unbecoming and irreverent. It was the very multitude of promises which he had just received that gave him all the greater boldness to ask more, and to express a bold desire that long had slumbered in his pious soul. Up till this time the angels had been called to mediate between him and the Lord; but now he would approach the Lord directly and immediately. One aspect of that nature Moses has already looked upon, when he received the law; but he thinks there are still other aspects, hitherto concealed from him, and his spirit cannot rest till he has also looked on these. It certainly may be impossible to gratify the wish of Moses to the full. What mortal would be able to behold the face of God, and yet not be immediately consumed by the intensity of glory there revealed? Nevertheless, as far as possible, at least the spirit of this pious prayer shall be observed, though Moses shall not find it literally fulfilled. Not God’s face in itself, but only the last fold seen in His royal mantle--such is the most, the only thing that He can show to any creature upon whom He will confer the highest privilege! Thus there is pointed out once more, not merely the unlawfulness, but also the absurdity of the idolatry of which the Israelites had just been guilty. The Lord Himself, by His free grace, seeks to restore the broken covenant, and to reveal Himself towards the mediator of the Old Covenant not merely as the Great Invisible, but as a God in whom compassion flows. Imagine the emotion of the man of God, and how he must have watched throughout the sleepless night for the expected hour! On Sinai, at the bush, Moses was taught to view Jehovah as the Infinite; at the giving of the Law, as the God of spotless holiness; but here, moreover, as the God of everlasting mercy. This revelation forms the bond by which God joins Himself once more to Israel; and unto Moses, as a compensation for the fact that his most earnest prayer has not been answered to the letter, there is promised the fulfilment of his earlier request--that the Lord Himself will go with the nation. Moses desires to see; but God desires, above all things, to make him hear and follow Him. But what he now hears is the grandest revelation ever made by God under the Old Economy. Truly, there is no wonder, then, that Moses tarries other forty days upon the mountain-top in heavenly ecstasy; and that his countenance beams forth with heavenly glory, when, bearing in his hands two tables made of stone, the pledge of the renewal of God’s promises, he leaves the consecrated ground. Happy Moses, unto whom, at least on one occasion, it was granted, even on this side of the grave, to contemplate to such a large extent the glory of the Lord!
2. Happy Moses: are these words found on your lips too? Then surely you will joy when you remember that the privilege, accorded in those days to him, is equally attainable by every Christian now. Come, give us your attention still, while, in the revelation, viewed already as the crown and glory of the Old Economy, we also let you see the mirror of the blessings of the New. The glory of the Lord is shown us in another way, but with no less of clearness than before. Is this too strong a statement? Only look to the person of the Redeemer, the work of redemption, the guidance of the redeemed; and then see whether you have any ground for feeling envy towards Moses in his privilege. “Show me Thy glory!” It was more than a mere personal want to which Moses gave expression in this prayer. It was the wish that lived, consciously or unconsciously, within the heart of multitudes, in whose eyes this whole earth, with all its glory, was too poor and small to satisfy the deepest wish felt by the longing heart. Men felt that God--yes, God Himself--must needs appear on earth, if earth were to become a gate of heaven. “Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens, that Thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow at Thy presence!”--such was the strong expression of the feeling in the prophet’s heart (Isaiah 64:1). And lo! the heavens did open when the fulness of the time had come: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). He who is very God was manifested in our human flesh: but what is here shown to Moses, viz., that God is a Spirit, God is Light, God is Love--how plainly may we read this in the Gospel, as if written there in heavenly characters, when we look to the revelation of God’s glory in the Son of His love! “No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). How God’s unspotted holiness beams towards you, in Him who well can ask a friend and foe, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:46) who always sees the Father, just because He ever does what is well-pleasing in His eyes; who prays without ceasing, but in no case for the forgiveness of His own sins; and who awaits His being glorified, not as a favour, but an undisputed right! And the love of God:--but where shall I find words with which I may describe the love of Christ, Divine in origin and splendour, but a splendour which is tempered by its covering--a lowly, human form? But that glory does not shine forth from His works alone, nor does it merely manifest itself in what He says; it beams upon us from the splendour seen in His whole mien. And that appearance, too, exhibits as calm majesty as God does when He shows Himself to Moses here: He does not cry, nor raise His voice, nor cause it to be heard in the streets; but when we look on Him, we feel like Moses when the cloud passed by before his eyes; surely we see in Him more than the hinder portion of the royal train--we see God’s greatness in the face of Him who was God of God and Light of Light, whereunto no man can approach, but who has yet come near and lived in humble servant-guise. If here the revelation given by God is made to Moses only, it is now, in Christ, bestowed upon the poorest whom the Holy Ghost has taught to see the Father in the Son. If here, through Moses, God reveals His nature to one single people, now the light arises over all the nations that but sat in the darkness heretofore; for here, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). And how much more impressively that voice sounds when we venture on a second step, and meditate on God’s redeeming work! What is the sin which, in God’s eyes, polluted Israel, compared with the abominable sins which stand against a whole lost world--against you and me--before the God of unspotted holiness? We all deserved that God should turn away His friendly countenance from us, as from that people; and that He should not guide us by an angel, but, instead, give us the portion of the fallen ones. And yet, what is even the assurance of God’s pity and His grace that Moses learned, when we compare it with the matchless fact that the Beloved of the Father dies for His worst enemies, and that God in Him not merely shows us heaven opened, but unlocks to us the heaven we forfeited? It is just here especially that we, no less than Moses, fail in finding words with which we can express our thoughts; but this we feel, that, louder far than anywhere besides on earth, the voice out of the cloud is found re-echoed from the cross. Now let us take one other look at the guidance of the redeemed, who, like Moses, found favour in the sight of God. Does it need much to show that, in this too, the glory of the Lord is seen almost at every step? But ye who are the Lord’s redeemed have an experience that speaks more strongly still; for not merely do ye live by His long-suffering, but ye continue in His favour and in fellowship with Him; and ye learn by experience, like Moses, that He never puts to shame or pours contempt upon the humble prayer of faith. And surely you, too, know full many a spot, as Moses did the crevice in the rock, where you sit gladly down, there to review the way by which the Lord, in His eternal faithfulness, has thus far been conducting you? I hear you say already that the sum of your inquiries is comprised in this: the voice out of the cloud has been the voice addressed to me through all my life on earth!
3. The festive time of Moses’ life becomes, lastly, to us a prophecy of the future revelation of God’s eternal glory. “When you, like Moses, must depart, you should not fail in making the acknowledgment that you have seen, at least in some degree, the glory of the Lord. But that something, though we had the power to multiply it even a thousand-fold, what is it when compared with the far greater, the entire amount of what believing hearts desire? Our deepest need, our highest blessedness is, not to hear the voice of God, but to behold the Lord Himself; but that is just the very wish denied us here on earth, even as in Moses’ case. Nay, more; we do not even stand, like Moses, on the top; we dwell, like Israel, scattered in tents at the foot of the mount of God’s glory. “We walk by faith, not by sight”: such is the motto of the New as well as of the Old Economy; and it is well for us that this grand principle is never modified. How should we ever be prepared for heaven if, in this life, the school of faith were now already closed? And what surprise of pleasure could the future bring us, if this day or yesterday beheld each enigma sufficiently explained? “How very little after all is it that I have seen!” must Moses frequently have said when he looked back upon that morning. We hope for the salvation of the Lord, but how wide the difference between the living hope and the desired enjoyment! We have moments of presentiment, of spiritual intercourse, of (I might almost say) immediate contact between the Eternal Spirit and our own; and at such times a voice comes whispering, “Thus shalt thou see hereafter.” Yet something always intervenes between this heart of ours and God; He lays a covering hand upon the eyes of His most faithful worshippers, that they may not yet fully see the truth; nevertheless, they make their own conjectures with regard to it, they constantly draw nearer it, and almost seem to grasp it with their hands while they engage in prayer. So is it here; so must it be on earth; but so it will not always be. With God’s hand laid upon our eyes, we grope along for days or years in deepest gloom until we reach death’s vale . . . then the Lord passes by before us, while the chilly breath of him who is the King of Terrors blows upon our face. “Show me now Thy glory”: thus faith entreats with almost faltering lips; and never, God be thanked, did Heaven continue silent at the last prayer breathed on earth. The Lord, as it were, makes all His goodness pass once more before His dying friends, since “He is truly gracious towards those to whom He is gracious.” More closely than at any time before does He approach, while He proclaims His name before us,. . . then He lifts His covering hand from off our eyes, and lo, we see! Come, follow me a little longer, while, in closing, we address three questions to your heart and conscience.
1. Have you, too, ever yet desired what Moses sought so eagerly? Ah! if each one of you were plainly asked, What is your chief desire? how many, nay, how few, Lord, could lay their hand upon their heart and say, I desire nothing more earnestly than living, personal communion with God! Perhaps, indeed, an evanescent wish for something higher, better, may not be unknown to many here, especially when earthly things bring disappointment, and the future is concealed from sight. And when some-times--although, of course, we are unwilling to believe this true of every one of you--the soul’s necessities assert themselves, and that soul has begun to cry for God, oh, what a constant tendency there is to seek peace where it cannot possibly be found; how every kind of artifice is tried to smother heart and conscience when they cry; how frequently, like Israel at the foot of Sinai, we sit down smitten, chastised, and stripped of all that formerly adorned us, but without true penitence, without true longing after God!
2. Have you, too, already seen what Moses saw? There is no doubt of that, if you have really, by faith, beheld the Christ of God; but, on the other hand, how many are there here at whom the Lord can ask, as once at Philip, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?” Or are there not those who are carried off by a most fatal spirit of the times, and who will not believe what they do not first understand? If you indeed desire that such a witness shall apply at least to you, do not forget that you, like Moses, must especially concern yourself with these three things--a clear eye, a pure heart, and constant prayer. The eye of faith is the organ of the soul, by which we see the glory of the Lord in Christ; and He Himself must open that for us. One little speck of dust may cause such floods of tears as to conceal the sun from you; the dust of earth but hurts the eye that would behold the glory of the Lord! Oh, how much of the carnal still remains in us to be destroyed, in order that the spirit may be truly fit for even the least amount of living fellowship with God! Like Moses, keep that festive season of your inner life in constant memory; and if Heaven hears your thanksgiving, let earth enjoy its fruits!
3. Have you already done what Moses did? The sequel of the history informs you of the earlier, but also of the later influence of what was now revealed. Bowing in deepest reverence, and well assured that he has found grace in the sight of God, the mediator of the Old Covenant repeats the prayer, “Let the Lord, I beseech thee, go among us, for this is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance” (Exodus 34:9). Oh, What a glorious, but also blessed, calling to be like the man of God in this point too! Does it not strike you how, in pleading here for Israel, he does not speak of their sins, but of ours, and puts himself upon a level with those rebels? Now, it is true, we must, like him, descend the mount and enter the dark vale; but what is it that we can need, if but we have the Lord with us, and our whole nature, like His shining face, gives evidence of our close, friendly intercourse with God? Even as He veiled that strange, mysterious lustre from the eyes of Israel, we too must often hide, from an unholy world, the blessed mystery of our own inner life; but when we go into the solitude, and there approach God’s throne of grace, how priceless is this privilege, that we believers may, like Moses, cast off every covering, and then find our refreshing in His kindly light. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)
A daring prayer
It was a daring prayer offered by Augustine when he said, “Lord, hast Thou declared that no man shall see Thy face and live?--then let me die, that I may see Thee!”
I will be gracious.
Election no discouragement to seeking souls
Because God is the Maker, and Creator, and Sustainer of all things, He has a right to do as He wills with all His works.
I. Let us begin with this assertion, which we are absolutely sure is correct: this doctrine does not oppose any comfort derived from other scriptural truths. There is not the slightest shadow of a conflict between God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness. He may be a sovereign, and yet it may be absolutely certain that He will always act in the way of goodness and love. It is true that He will do as He wills; and yet it is quite certain that He always wills to do that which, in the widest view of it, is good and gracious.
II. That this doctrine has a most salutary effect upon sinners. To the awakened sinner, next to the doctrine of the Cross, the doctrine of distinguishing grace is perhaps the most fraught with blessings and comfort.
1. In the first place, the doctrine of election, applied by the Holy Ghost, strikes dead for ever all the efforts of the flesh.
2. Again, this doctrine gives the greatest hope to the really awakened sinner.
3. Moreover, do not you see how the doctrine of election comforts the sinner in the matter of power. His complaint is, “I find I have no power to believe; I have no spiritual power of any kind.” Election stoops down and whispers in his ear “But if God wills to save you, He gives the power, gives the life, and gives the grace; and therefore since He has given that power and might to others as weak as you, why not to you? Have courage, look to the Cross of Christ and live.” And oh! what emotions of gratitude, what throbbings of love does this doctrine cause in human hearts. I wanted to have said a word as to the effect of this gospel upon incorrigible sinners. If you are ever to be pardoned, God must do it. (C. H, Spurgeon.)
How precious is the thought suggested by this--that when God is seen to be most good to His creatures, He is then seen to be most glorious in the universe; that the glory and the goodness of God are so connected together that where the one is most revealed, the other shines in its richest splendour. Not power in creating, not justice in punishing, but goodness in saving, sets forth most the glory of God. Creation is the mirror of His power; Sinai is the pedestal of His justice; but Calvary is the scene of His goodness, and therefore of His great glory. And we all know that great genius may make us wonder, great riches may make us envy, great strength may startle us; but great goodness rises upon the soul with an influence like the sun in his shining light, making us love as well as admire, and reverence, and esteem. Lost as man is, goodness is still most impressive on the heart of the very worst. Even with all our depravity, who does not admire Howard, the philanthropist, vastly more than Byron, the poet? There may have been little genius in Howard, as the world calls genius, but there was a beneficence that went into the retreats of fever, into the lairs of vice, shut its eyes to monumental remains of ancient days, and opened his heart only to the cry of them that were appointed to die. And when one hears what he did, and what he dared under the inspiration of goodness, one is not awed, but charmed and delighted, with the character of Howard. But when we see, on the other hand, great genius--and one cannot but admire such a genius as that gifted nobleman had--we wonder at the greatness and the versatility of intellect; but when that intellect was used only to scathe, and to wither, and to blast, we look upon it in the same way as upon the sirocco in the desert, we are rather terrified at it, or retreat from it, or would rather wish we should not see it at all. But how complete is the contrast between goodness in a Howard, and mere power in a Byron! And is there one in this assembly that would not infinitely rather take the example of Howard as his model, than wish the power of Byron to be his possession? But this is in the human, and I quote it in the human only to show you more clearly the truth I am trying to teach; that not the manifestation of power, not the manifestation of justice, but the manifestation of goodness, is the most impressive on the heart. (J. Caroming, D. D.)
My face shall not be seen.
God’s glory must be veiled from human sight
If God had revealed all His glory--if He had not put the shadow of His hand upon Moses, if He had not revealed merely His skirts, as it were, as He passed by--Moses would have been overwhelmed. And this explains to you what is often said in Scripture, “No man can see God and live,”--not because God would destroy the man, but because the glory would be so intense that it would overwhelm him. Moral grandeur may be overpowering, and we learn in history that there have been cases where mental emotion has struck dead the physical economy. A celebrated American astronomer was watching the transit of Venus over the sun’s disk; he believed that that transit would take place at a specified moment; and when he saw the shadow of the planet appear on the disk of the sun, such was his excitement or gratification, that he fainted away from excess of joy. Sir Isaac Newton was so overcome by the sense of the magnitude of his discoveries, or of the extent of what he saw in consequence of the great principle he had laid down, that from excess of feeling he was unable to carry out his own grand calculations, and others had to do it for him. Now, if excess of knowledge, of joy, or prosperity, have these powerful effects upon the human frame, we can conceive that too grand an apocalypse of God would be unbearable now; just as the eyeball would be blinded by excess of light. But you can conceive what a splendour and majesty we shall behold when we see God, not through a glass darkly--the smoked glass or lens through which we look at great brightness--but we shall see Him face to face. And what a change will have passed upon us when we can bear to look upon Deity and not shrink! (J. Cumming, D. D.)
There is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock.
The believer’s standing place
To those who like typical texts, there is a peculiar charm in such as this: “a place by Me,” and “a rock” for a standing place. What suggestions--
1. Of the believer’s firm foundation--the “Rock.”
2. Of the believer’s fellowship with God--“a place by Me.”
3. Of the believer’s favour with God--a vision of His glory. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The place by God, or the right standpoint
The guide-books name the time when rainbows may be seen on some of the many waterfalls which abound in Switzerland. One day, when I was at Lauterbrunnen, I went to the famous Staulbach Fall (980 feet), and sat down by the flagstaff, and waited and watched. Others did the same, and we all went away disappointed. Next day one of my friends said he would show us how to find the rainbow. So I went again, and saw a most lovely one, and stood almost in the centre of it. Then I found that not only were sunshine and spray necessary to produce a rainbow, but also that those who would see it must stand between it and the sun, i.e., it could be seen only at a given point. Then I perceived that those who would see the glory of God could see it only in the face of Jesus Christ, and that the reason why so many fail in this respect is because they do not take the right standpoint. (Gavin Kirkham.)
The standpoint of the Cross
I was talking about Christ to an impenitent neighbour the other day. He said: “Why can’t I feel about Him as you do? I have read the Bible a good deal. I have heard a good deal of preaching. Yet I can’t get up any enthusiasm in regard to this Saviour that you talk so much about.” I said to him: “You make me think of my visit to the White Mountains some years ago. We were told that there was a wonderful piece of natural statuary there--a man’s face, chiselled, as it were, out of a granite cliff. We went to see it. We found what we supposed was the cliff, but there was no appearance of human features--no form or comeliness such as we had been told of. We were about to turn away disappointed, when a guide came along, and said, ‘You are not looking from the right point.’ He led us up the road a few rods, and then said, ‘ Now turn, and look.’ We did so, and there was the face as distinct as any of ours, though of gigantic size. Until we reached the right spot we could see only a jagged rock, and not a symmetrical face. The vision of the form and comeliness depended upon the angle of observation. And it is so with you, my friend. Come with me under the shadow of the Cross. Come there as a penitent sinner. Look there upon that ‘visage so marred more than any man.’ Realize that the mangled, thorn-crowned Sufferer is dying for you, and you will see in Him a beauty that will ravish your soul.” (T. L. Cuyler.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany