Изображения страниц

of their commission ; proofs which, indeed, To the other, “ Return, and fill all thy chara: mark an Almighty arm; but an arm stretch- nels, and overflow all thy banks.” ed out to convince, not to crush. A bold The angel of the Lord begins with reasdefiance being given to Omnipotence, what suring Moses himself, by a recapitulation of other method of working conviction and of the tenor of the covenant made with Abraprocuring respect is left, but to let it fall ham, Isaac, and Jacob, under the sanction of with all its dreadful weight on the head of his name as the Lord God Almighty. In the defier ?

all their wanderings, weaknesses, and disIt happened to Israel as it often does to tresses they had been encouraged to trust men struggling to get free from the pressure in a Being, omnipotent to protect them, allof calamity, their efforts only serve to plunge sufficient to supply their wants. But their them deeper in the mire; and it happened posterity were henceforth to know him by to Moses and Aaron, as it sometimes befalls another name, and under a new description, men actuated by a similar good intention, but even the incommunicable, unutterable name with less title and encouragement, their inter- which denotes eternal, unchangeable selfference hurts those whom it was meant to existence ; deriving nothing from any, but serve; and they have the mortification of conferring upon all, life, and breath, and all seeing the miseries of their poor brethren things ; who is above all, through all, and in cruelly increased, through what might be all; “ the same yesterday, to-day, and fordeemed their own zeal and officiousness.—ever :" and, of consequence, true to his The inflexible tyrant avenges himself, for word, faithful in keeping covenant, unalterthe freedom taken with the king of Egyptable in his decrees ! by persons so low and contemptible, upon the Under the seal of that most tremendous, bleeding shoulders of thousands of wretches, most animating and inspiring name, Moses who could not redress themselves, and who is again despatched to the people, with the durst not complain. Miserable condition in- assurance of a speedy, an instantaneous apdeed! where the caprice of one man deter-pearance in their behalf

. But alas! their mines the fate of millions! Happy the na- spirit is broken by the long continuance and tion where not men but laws govern ! accumulated weight of their calamities.

Providence, in this instance, seems re- They have been disappointed so often, that solved to try how far savage cruelty and pa- they can believe, can hope no longer; and tient suffering can go ; but ready to interfere the message delivered by Moses is like a in both, when they have come to the extreme. charming song upon the ear of a deaf or a Israel is not prepared for salvation, till the dead man. He is sent from the people to cup of wo is full, and deliverance is des- Pharaoh, with a repetition of the demand of paired of from every quarter sive Heaven : Heaven upon him. But alas ! the messenger and Pharaoh feels not the rod of God's an- himself has caught the desponding spirit of ger, till having filled up the measure of his the unhappy men whom he had been last iniquity, hardened his heart against God and visiting ; and the heart of Pharaoh has not against man, poured contempt upon mercy, in the least relented. Heaven seems to have and braved infinite justice, he exalts himself interposed somewhat too late ; the cause into an awful monument to every impenitent appears lost. Let us judge nothing rashly ; sinner, of the desperate madness of fighting let us not judge before the time. Let us with his Maker.

humbly and patiently wait the and then Moses is ready to sink afresh, under this condemn if we dare, if we can. cruel disappointment. The reproaches of the Moses at the bush saw God, under the unhappy sufferers, called, forced, lashed into appearance of a flame of fire; but no man labour, beyond what their strength could bear, can see God and live. • No man hath seen cut him to the heart, and again he shrinks God at any time : the only begotten Son, from the task which was imposed on him : which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath and in these desponding words, he ventures declared him.” The deliverer of Israel needto pour out the anguish of his soul before ed himself to be nurtured and prepared for the Lord ; "Wherefore hast thou so evil the discharge of his high office; but a Saentreated this people? Why is it that thou viour of a lost world entered upon the exehast sent me ? For since I came to Pharaoh cution of his infinitely more arduous task, to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to every way qualified to bring it to a happy this people, neither hast thou delivered thy conclusion. The Jewish lawgiver stood himpeople at all.”

self condemned by the law, and was a parThus far has flowed the angry tide of taker with others in guilt and transgression; proud, imperial passion : and thus low has the Christian Leader was “ holy, harmless, ebbed the trembling, retreating stream of and undefiled." Moses undertook the work baffled expectation. And now, “it is time, assigned to him, slowly and reluctantly; but, Lord, that thou work!” To the one he saith, O with what readiness did the friend of man “ Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther, kind press forward to the perfecting of his and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” kind design ; " Lo I come : in the volume

of the book it is written of me: I delight to this passover with you before I suffer.* de thy will

, O my God : yea, thy law is with Moses frequently recoiled from the conflict, in my heart."* " I have a baptism to be bap- shrunk from the difficulty and danger, failed tised with, and how am I straitened till it be in the hour of trial; but our great Leader accomplished ?”+ And yet there was no and Commander went on “conquering and shame, no pain, no cross in the way of Mo- to conquer ;" turned not back ; desisted not ses; whereas the Captain of salvation was from doing and from suffering, till he could to be made perfect through sufferings ;" say, “ It is finished.The Sun of righteous nevertheless he advanced undismayed to the ness shineth in his strength, let every star combat.“ With desire I have desired to eat hide his diminished head. To him be glory

for ever and ever. Amen. * Psalm xl. 7, 8.

Luke xii. 50.

*Luke xxii. 15.



Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do unto Pharaoh ; for with a strong hand

shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.—Exodus vi. 1.

The history of the divine conduct is the tercede for the sinful, the devoted cities of best illustration of the nature of God. Do the plain of Jordan; and the righteousness of we desire to know what the Supreme Being so small a number as five persons would have is? We have but to consider what he does. saved the whole people of those regions. Are we anxious to be satisfied of the truth | The nations of Canaan were not expelled, to of the declarations made by the great JEHO- make way for Israel, till the measure of their vah concerning himself in his word? Let iniquity was full; and the haughty spirit of us compare them with the history and expe- Pharaoh was not brought low, by wonder rience of men in every age. The proofs of upon wonder, by plague upon plague, till he the divine goodness and mercy are written in had hardened his heart against the power of characters so fair, and are so frequently pre- God, and the sufferings of men, and thereby sented to our view, that not to observe them made himself a “ vessel of wrath fitted for must argue the grossest stupidity and inat- destruction." tention; and not to acknowledge, love, and The awful scene which we are this night adore the glorious source of that unbounded to contemplate, is, in more respects. than goodness, must argue the blackest ingrati- one, singular and unexampled. We are not tude. When the Lord makes himself known only presented with a series of miracles, a by the judgments which he executes, we demonstration of the tremendous power of see him advancing, to use the ideas and the Almighty God, but, what is still more exlanguage of men, with slow and reluctant traordinary, they are a series of miracles, steps. When misery is to be relieved, bene- all marked with uncommon rigour and sevefits conferred, or sins forgiven, the blessing rity. The wise and righteous Governor of outruns expectation, nay, even desire. But the world seems, in this instance, to have when the wicked are to be punished, justice deviated from the usual lenity of his proseems to regret the necessity under which ceeding; as if determined to make men it is laid, to maintain itself, and the sinner is tremble before him, and to stand in awe of not destroyed till, to his own conviction, his his power and justice, as well as to hope in condemnation is acquitted of unrighteous- his mercy. ness, and till every thing around him calls Moses and Aaron, though their former for vengeance:

embassy to Pharaoh had met with a recepThe wickedness of the old world was so tion so mortifying to themselves, and 30 fatal great, that God is said to have “repented to their afflicted brethren, are obliged and that he had made man.” Nevertheless, after encouraged, at God's command, to undertake God had threatened to destroy the human a second. And the haughty tyrant having race with a deluge, a reprieve of many years dared to reject the first, as delivered in the is granted, to afford space and means for name of an unknown God, they are now furaverting the calamity by repentance. Abra- nished with credentials which carried their nam was permitted, nay, encouraged to in- I own authority on their foreheads, and wnich




were calculated to convince every thing but | ground, likewise become serpents. The rooted infidelity, of the divine power by heart of Pharaoh exults, and the magicians which they were issued. First, they make of Egypt laugh the Jewish shepherds to reason speak. And had Pharaoh been wise, scorn. But the triumph of unbelief is only no other monitor had been necessary. But a for a moment. Aaron's rod, in its serpent deaf ear being turned to that meek and state, swallowed up their rods. Reasoning heavenly charmer, it becomes needful to em- man will ask, why were not impiety and inploy a stronger and more forcible language. fidelity checked in their very first attempt ? Being again introduced, they again deliver Why were the demons of Egypt left in postheir message, and are again treated with session of the slightest vestige of power, to

Aaron, as he was commanded, having oppose or to imitate the mighty power of the rod of God in his hand, casts it upon the God? Why grant to Pharaoh and to his ground before Pharaoh and his court, and lo! magicians, even the momentary triumph of it instantly becomes animated; it is convert their incantations? The reason is obvious. ed into a serpent, armed with deadly poison. Had the Egyptian enchantments been attendWhen Moses first beheld this strange sight, ed with no success, and produced no effect, he “ was afraid, and would have fled:” but infidelity would have had its plea at hand. Pharaoh appears not in the least alarmed. Your pretended miracle is mere illusion, The same fire melts wax, and hardens clay; it is an attempt to mislead our understandthe same doctrine is the savour of life unto ing, by imposing upon our senses. Though life in them that believe, and of death unto we cannot produce this particular effect, or death in them that perish.

perform this particular trick, by our art, we Some interpreters have alleged, that this can effect wonders equally or much more transformation was not only miraculous, but astonishing.". But, by being permitted to emblematical, and that it was intended to succeed in their first effort, and to rival humble this tyrannical and sanguinary prince, Moses and Aaron so far in power and reputaby exhibiting a representation of his own tion, they are insensibly drawn in to give character, and of his subserviency to the their sanction to the sign performed by the power of that God whom he had presumed Hebrews, for the sake of their own credit; to defy. When a sudden and striking change, and no sooner is it stamped for currency, through the permission of Providence, takes with their image and superscription, than place! A harmless rod or shepherd's crook, they and their abettors are confounded, by the emblem of mild, wise, and good govern- seeing the wretched impression of their art ment, is changed into a poisonous snake, the effàced, absorbed, annihilated ; and no image emblem of cruelty and oppression. And lo, remains visible, but that of the living and at the divine pleasure, the poison is again ex- true God. The power which swallowed up tracted, the deadly tooth is plucked out, and the magicians' rods, could as easily have prethe fiery serpent becomes a harmless rod vented the transmutation ; but the confutaagain. And thus in general, afflictive provi- tion is much more complete by the one than dences are either the gentle rod of a wise it would have been by the other. Impiety father to admonish, to correct, and to reform; has shut her own mouth, and infidelity stands or the keen two-edged sword of an adversary, stripped of her last and only plea. to cleave asunder, to devour, and to destroy. An opportunity is here presented of instiWhether this were intended or not, it is tuting an inquiry, which has greatly employevident Pharaoh understood it not, or disre- ed and violently divided the learned and ingarded it. And, as infidelity is always de- genious; namely, whether the supernatural sirous of fortifying itself by something that effects, here and elsewhere in scripture ashas the semblance of reason : and, while it cribed to the agency of demons and maligpretends to doubt of every thing, is, in truth, nant spirits, through the practice of magical the most simple and credulous principle in arts, were real miracles, that is, alterations the world. Pharaoh affects to treat the mi- of the known and established laws of nature, racle which was wrought by Moses and by the permission of God; or only dexterous Aaron, as a mere trick, a feat of necromancy impositions, practised by subtile artists, on or magic. He calls for such of his own the simple and credulous, giving the appearpeople as professed these arts, to confront ance of reality to what had no existence ? them with the Israelitish ambassadors: in We shall not take upon us to determine, order to oppose skill to skill, and to diminish whether of these two opinions is most conthe respect and attention claimed by Moses formable to reason, and to the analogy of and Aaron, to their mission, and to their God, faith. But the opportunity having offered, by showing similar or equal signs, performed we shall take the liberty of suggesting some by Jannes and Jambres, the votaries of an considerations, tending less to settle the Egyptian deity.

question, than to show that, perhaps, it is not The magicians confidently undertake the capable of a solution. But our grand aim iask, and, through the permission of Heaven, shall be to show, that, which ever side men partly succeed. Their rois cast upon the are pleased to take, the miracles wrought ir

support of truth, through the agency of the against pronouncing hastily upon the nature Author of all good, preserve all their superi- of the sorceries practised by the magicians ority, and the truth itself shines in all its of Egypt. lustre.

We shall find ourselves equaliy in the dark, And, first, if we try the cause by the letter if we attempt to form our judgment, in the of the narration of Moses, it will immediate-third place, on metaphysical notions. Our ly strike every reader, that these extraordi- minds are exceedingly limited with respect nary feats were actually produced by the to all objects, and particularly with respect power of the devil. The history relates the to the nature of spirits. We know, from exchange that passed on the magicians' rols, perience, that the soul, little as it compre. in the selfsame icrms which describe the hends its own nature and essence, has a transmutation of Aaron's; and the name wonderful influence over every particle of given to these execrable men, is the same that body to which it is united: but we can that belongs to persons who have devoted form no notion of the power and influence, themselves to the wicked one. On the other which spirits of a different order may possess hand we know, that scripture, in describing over larger portions of matter, and even over natural objects, usually accommodates itself our bodies, and, of consequence, over our to the prevailing notions of the ages and na- minds. Much less are we able to conceive tions in which the inspired authors lived and what an extent of power the Father of spirits wrote ; that it condescends even to adopt the may, for wise purposes, have permitted to language, the ideas, and the prejudices of evil spirits, over the whole world of nature, the vulgar; and, that it employs, not the ac- which has fallen into disorder, and is labourcurate language and just ideas of philosophy, ing under the curse of Heaven, on account but those of common life, in treating the of man's apostacy. The limited nature of greatest and most important subjects. We human understanding, therefore, likewise thence conclude, that whether the enchant- forbids us to decide too peremptorily on a ments of the magicians produced real mira- subject so obviously involved in difficulty. cles, or were deceptions merely, the Spirit Finally, the principles of religion here reof God would certainly have narrated the fuse to lend us their aid. In whatever tends fact in the selfsame terms. From the letter to convey saving light to the soul, or peace of the sacred history, therefore, we can draw to the conscience; in all that relates to the no conclusive argument for either side of the government of the heart, or the wise conduct question.

of the life, religion is ever at hand, and kindWe shall have equal reason to suspend our ly offers her aid, nay, presses it upon us ; judgment, if we try, secondly, to decide it but, in questions of doubtful disputation, in by the relations transmitted to us, from vari- which men rather aim at gratifying a restous ages and regions of the world, concern- less curiosity, or wild imagination, than at ing real or seeming enchantments. It would, improving the understanding, or mending perhaps, be as difficult to persuade the men the heart, revelation rather checks and reof our own age, that such a thing as witch- presses inquiry, than promises or lends her craft ever existed, as it would have been, to assistance. It is sufficient then, for our purconvince our ancestors in some former ages, pose, to say, that of whatever nature were that most of the effects ascribed to Satan and the incantations of the Egyptian magicians, his agents, had no foundation but in the cun- and whatever their effects, the God of truth, ning, dexterity, and knavery of one part of, by the hand of Moses and Aaron, put his mankind practising on the ignorance, credu- infinite superiority beyond a possibility of lity, and simplicity of another. But, as it doubt; and extorted an acknowledgment of would betray a silly and ridiculous easiness it from the mouths of the magicians themof belief, on the one hand, to admit as true, selves. But though they are put to silence, the ten thousand stories, which the times of and Pharaoh is confounded, by the miracle ignorance devised, related, and believed ; and of Aaron's rod swallowing up their rods, yet with which our own childhood may have been they ase not brought to see the insufficiency scared and alarmed: so, it would certainly of their art, neither is he yet reduced to yield be an unreasonable and absurd degree of obedience to an authority asserted by so high scepticism, on the other, to reject as fabulous a hand. A miracle, therefore, which only every relation of this sort, however well au- threatened, but continued harmless ; a mirathenticated. Wise and good men have proved, cle which proved fatal only to the instruby arguments amounting almost to demon- ments of sorcery and enchantment, failing to stration, the absurdity of admitting the actu- produce compliance, it becomes at length al interference of a diabolical power in order necessary to follow up the remonstrances of to deceive mankind. And wise and good reason and humanity and the evidence of men, by evidence apparently as clear and signs, powerful indeed, yet innocent, by the satisfactory, have endeavoured to establish operation of signs that shall be felt: signs, the certainty of such interference in particu- which shall address themselves to the uniar instances. And this seems a good reason derstanding, and the senses, at once: and

shall force conviction upon the most careless bread, and refreshed by water; he lives by and incredulous.

respiring the air which he sucks in; he de. The river, the Nile, was the chief ground pends, every instant of his existence, on the of glorifying to the Egyptians. It was the aid of every element. Let the quantity or ornament of their country, and the source of the qualities of any one of them be ever so its fertility. Deriving the moisture, neces- little changed, and that moment he beconies sary to fructification, from thence, they vainly miserable. One rainy or droughty season boasted that they were independent of the makes whole nations to languish; the frost heavens; standing in no need, like the rest of a night destroys the hope of a year; and of the world, of the refreshing drops which a single blast of wind sends mighty navies fall from thence. Egypt, therefore, is first to the bottom. There is no need of a miracle smitten, in the darling source of its pride; to plague those whom God means to punish. and that which presumptuously put itself in All nature is at war with his adversaries: the the place of God, first feels the power of God; stars, in their courses, fight against those who and becomes, not a cause of vain-glorious fight with God. O may we never be so mad boasting, but a loathing and an abomination as to provoke that Power by which we are to its worshippers. Smitten with the awful continually supported, and from which we rod, its waters are instantly and universally cannot flee! turned into blood. Horrid change: an inun After a chastisement so awful, who could dation of the river too scanty, threatened a have imagined that Pharaoh was able still to famine: an inundation too copious, threatened stand out? Cut the human heart exhibits a a deluge. But, I dreadful reflection ! the mystery of iniquity, which nothing but mulriver no longer flows with that precious re- tiplied experience could render credible. The freshing fluid, which gives drink and renewed next summons has a threatening annexed to vigour to thirsty man, to thirsty cattle, to the it; and the moment of refusal is to be the parched ground; but a fluid which taints the moment of execution. The plague threatair; which excites abhorrence, instead of sa-ened, being particularly specified beforehand, tisfying the appetite; and which kills what was likely to excite the greater alarm, and it contains, instead of communicating life and thereby to drive the offender to the means fruitfulness wherever it is diffused. And of prevention ; but, it would appear, Pharaoh should it rise and swell, what is it? An abo- despised it. What, terrified at a swarm of minable deluge of blood. Its streams had frogs! vermin, loathsome indeed, but despibeen often stained with the blood of Hebrew cably harmless. How ignorantly do men esinnocents; and its savage master is now timate the judgments of God, when they conpunished with seeing its vast channel filled, sider only the instrument which he employs. from shore to shore, with one crimson tide. Men effect little with large and abundant In this awful glass we are made to see, that means ; God performs wonders with things whatsoever men exalt into the room of God, mean and contemptible. Is a haughty tyrant and worship as God, will sooner or later be- to be subdued ? There is no need of more come a loathing or a curse to them; and than twelve legions of angels; an army of that the instrument of their sin assuredly frogs, in the hand of God, is sufficient for the will be converted, at length, into the instru- purpose. Again, the magicians are weak ment of their punishment.

enough to assist the plague ; at least, they " And the magicians of Egypt did so with affect to lend their aid; and rather than not their enchantments.” Foolish, unhappy men; be thought mighty, will seek to themselves to try to increase an evil which was already a name by doing mischief. Again, the river, intolerable! If their art could have done any which ministered so much to their pride, is thing, it had been more wisely employed in made the minister of avenging Heaven to endeavouring to purify and sweeten those pol- punish them. As its waters were lately all luted streams. To succeed in multiplying blood, to poison the fishes which it contained, blood was ruinous. The greater the power and to taint the air, so now they are all puof their art, the more pernicious it was to trefaction, to give dreadful life to an innuthemselves and to their country. And this merable race of odious vermin, for humbling is the whole extent of the boasted power of the proud. Every creature is, and does, just Satan: it is a power to do evil, a power to that which God would have it to be, and to destroy: but a power destitute both of ca- do—it becomes either a blessing or a curse, pacity and of inclination to do good. Whereas at his command! And, were we wise enough, that of Heaven, though it be an ability to do to assist our weak, or to correct our erroevil, is an ability to this effect, which it ex neous vision, by the optics of the sanctuary, ercises rarely, and with reluctance: whereas we should behold, under many a fair and the doing of good, and the diffusing of hap- Aattering form, much loathsomeness and depiness, is its habitual object, and its constant formity. employment.- Vain man would be independ Pharaoh despised this plague, while it was ent, and sometimes boast that he is so; and only threatened, but feels it to be no slight yet what is he? A creature sustained by lone, when it falls upon him: and he is, in

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »