Sunday, March 26th, 2023
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
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The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 34". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ exodus-34.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 34". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Hew thee two tables of stone.
The renewal of the two tables
I. That the moral law is perpetually binding. Having been broken, it must be renewed.
II. That the renewal of the moral law when broken entails duties unknown before. “Hew thee two tables of stone”; “and he hewed two tables of stone.” This fact is very typical and suggestive.
1. In the first inscription of the moral law upon man’s heart, the preparation and the writing were exclusively the work of God. When our first parents awoke to consciousness, the “fleshy tables” were found covered with the “oracles of God.”
2. When those tables were defaced and those oracles transgressed, the work of preparation fell largely upon man. Ever afterwards man had to prepare himself by acts of penitence and faith--not excluding Divine help, of course--but nevertheless those acts are acts of man.
3. But this renewal of the Divine law is accomplished in such a way as to deprive man of all ground of glorying, and so as to ascribe all the glory to God. The tables were of plain stone, all their embellishments were by the Divine hand.
III. That when the moral law is broken, God graciously offers to renew it upon man’s compliance with the revealed condition. So when man by repentance and faith “puts off the old man and puts on the new,” he is renewed in the image of Him that created him, on which the moral law is inscribed (Colossians 3:9-16).
IV. That these conditions should be complied with--
1. Speedily. “Early in the morning.”
2. Personally. This great work is a transaction between God and the individual particularly concerned.
3. Patiently. Moses waited again forty days and forty nights.
(1) Do not hurry the work over. What is being done is being done for eternity.
(2) Don’t despond if the work is not progressing as rapidly as you might wish. If God is writing on your heart, let that be your comfort, and let God use His own time. Learn--
1. The value of the moral law.
2. The importance of having that law not only on stone or paper, but in the heart.
3. The necessity of a public and practical exhibition and interpretation of that law in the life. (J. V. Burn.)
God re-writing the law
Can you think of a course more merciful than this? “Bring two tables of stone just like the first, and I will write it over again; I, God, will write over again the very words that were on the first tables that thou brakest in pieces.” There is no mercy like the mercy of the Lord; I never find any tenderness like His tenderness. You remember some years ago George Peabody gave half a million of money to the London poor; and I think some eighteen thousand people are sheltered in the houses that have sprung out of that splendid charity. I remember that when Peabody’s charity had awakened England to a sense of his goodness, the Queen of England rose equal to the occasion, and she offered this plain American citizen some title, and he declined the honour. And then she, with a woman’s delicacy of insight, and with more than queenly dignity, inquired if there was anything that Peabody would accept; and he said, Yes, there was, if the Queen would only write him a letter with her own hand; he was going to pay a last visit to his native land across the Atlantic, and he should like to take it to his birthplace, so that at any time, if bitterness should arise between these two nations, his countrymen could come and see that letter, and they would remember that England’s Queen had written it to a plain American citizen. The Queen of England said she would write him a letter, and she would do more than that--she would sit for her portrait to be painted, and he should take that with the letter; and she put on the Marie Stuart cap which, I think, she had only worn, perhaps, twice since the death of the Prince Consort, and she sat day after day in her robes of state, and the painter painted one of the finest portraits of the Queen that has ever been executed. When it was finished she presented it to Mr. Peabody, and he took it, with the Queen’s letter, away to his birthplace yonder. Now, suppose George Peabody, in some fit of forgetfulness, had torn the Queen’s letter up, and flung it into the fire, and dashed the portrait down and broken it to fragments; and suppose that, after that, somebody had told her Majesty that George Peabody was penitent, do you think she would have written him the letter over again? do you think she would have sat again for another portrait to be painted, just like the first one? Who can tell? Yet our Father in heaven, if you have broken the tables of your covenant with Him, bring your broken heart back again to His feet, and He will renew the covenant. (T. Guttery.)
Come up in the morning.
Be ready in the morning: an address for New Year’s eve
I. Be ready for a conscious contact with God in the future.
1. As a duty.
2. As a privilege. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.”
3. As a calamity. The hell of the guilty.
II. Be ready for a conscious isolation of your being in the future. “No man shall come up with thee.”
1. There are events which will give us a profound consciousness of isolation.
(2) Personal affliction.
2. There are mental operations that will give us a profound consciousness of isolation. Remembranee of past sins, etc. (Homilist.)
Morning on the mount
I. God wishes me to be alone with Him. How solemn will the meeting be! Father and child; Sovereign and subject; Creator and creature! The distance between us will be infinite, unless He shorten it by His mercy! Oh, my poor broken and weary heart, think of it and be glad. He will shed His light upon thy tears, and make them shine like jewels; He will make thee young again.
II. How shall i go before God? In what robe shall I dress myself?” All the fitness He requires is to feel my need of Him.” But when I think of Him the thought of my great sin comes at the same time, and it is like a black cloud spread between me and the sun. When I think of anything else, I am happy for the moment; but when I think of God, I burn with shame and tremble with fear. This morning I must meet Him on the mount--meet Him alone! Alone! Surely He need not have said expressly so; for to be with God is to be in solitude, though the mountain be alive with countless travellers.
III. God asks me to meet Him in the top of the mount. I am called to climb as far away from the world as I can. For many a day I have not seen the top of the mount. I have stood on the plain, or I have gone to the first cleft, or have tried a short way up the steep. I have not risen above the smoke of my own house, or the noise of my daily business. Oh, that I might urge my way to the very top of the hill chosen of God! “What must it be to be there?” The wind will be music. Earth and time will be seen as they are, in their littleness and their meanness.
IV. The morning is the time fixed for my meeting the Lord. What meaning there is in the time as well as in the place! This very word morning is as a cluster of rich grapes. Let me crush them, and drink the sacred wine. In the morning--then God means me to be at my best in strength and hope; I have not to climb in my weakness; in the night I have buried yesterday’s fatigue, and in the morning I take a new lease of energy. Give God thy strength--all thy strength; He asks only what He first gave. In the morning--then He may mean to keep me long that He may make me rich! Blessed is the day whose morning is sanctified. Successful is the day whose first victory was won in prayer. Health is established in the morning. Wealth is won in the morning. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Rising early for prayer
We have a saying among us, that “the morning is a friend to the muses”; that is, the morning is a good studying time. I am sure it is as true that the morning is a great friend to the graces; the morning is the best praying time. (J. Caryl.)
Rising early for devotional exercises
It is told in Sir Henry Havelock’s “Life,” how he always secured two hours for devotion before the business of the day began, even in his busiest time, by rising at five or four, as required . . . Colonel Gardiner had the same habit. Early rising for the objects of this world is usual enough, and much to be commended; but the same industry that will advance a man’s temporal interests will make him spiritually rich, and give him great treasure in heaven, if it be used towards God . . . On the contrary, late rising in the morning, rapid dressing, curtailing even the few moments allotted to thanksgiving and prayer, before the plunge into the world’s affairs, deafens our ears and hearts to things spiritual; we exchange an interview with our God, who can give us all good, for the miserable gratification of our indolence.
Let the day have a blessed baptism by giving your first waking thoughts into the bosom of God. The first hour of the morning is the rudder of the day. (H. W. Beecher.)
The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious.
The name of the Lord
I. “the Lord.” There we lay our basis. Unless you are prepared to admit the perfect sovereignty of God, you can go no further--you will see no more.
II. Then we put it in combination--“the Lord God.” And oh! what a combination! We put all sovereignty with all the mystery of the Godhead--God, that unfathomable word. But amongst all those wondrous attributes which go to make the word God, there is one stands out--that name leads us to it. The root of the word is kindness--God, the good. The Lord the good; the Lord--love; God. We put the infinitude of His sovereignty in combination with the boundlessness of His affection, and we say, “The Lord, the Lord God.”
III. But now we come to the goings forth of that wonderful mystery of Godhead to man--mercy. You know that the strict meaning of the word mercy is--a heart for misery. Therefore the first thought is--the great Lord God stooping to the wretched, going forth to the miserable.
IV. And why merciful? Because gracious. Grace is the free flowing of undeserved favour.
V. “long-suffering!” It is the most marvellous part of the character of God--His patience--it is so contrasting with the impetuosity, the haste, the impulsiveness of man. He is provoked every day, but He continues patient.
VI. Now it rises--“abundant in goodness and truth.” Abundant is enough and something over--a cup so full that it mantles--abundant, “abundant in”--
VII. “goodness,” and--
IX. “keeping mercy for thousands.” There are thousands who do not yet see or feel their mercy, for whom God is now keeping it in reserve--say, persons not yet converted.
X. “Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” We are getting all the more now into the work of Christ. And what distinction shall we make between “iniquity, transgression, and sin?” Is “iniquity” acts of injustice to a fellow-creature--and “transgression” acts of injustice towards God--and “sin,” the deep root of all in the human heart? Or is it thus? Is “iniquity “ that principle of all wrongness, the want of uprightness, the acting unfairly by God or man;--and then “transgression” the act, whether it be to God or man, to God through man, “transgression,”--and then “sin” again the inner nature from which that transgression, which makes that iniquity, springs. I think that is the true intention--iniquity, transgression, sin. But He pardons all.
XI. “by no means clear the guilty.” The word “guilty” is not in the original--“by no means clear.” Whom? He will not clear any one whom He has not pardoned. “Guilty” means a man still subject to wrath. If a man does not accept Christ, he is still subject to wrath--that man God will never clear.
XII. And then comes that very difficult part--that he “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” It seems to me to be an ever-standing visible proof and monument of God’s holiness and justice. He visits sin from generation to generation. There are inherited dispensations, inherited calamities. Is it unjust? It is the principle of the greatest justice that we read of in the history of this world. For the atonement all depends upon that principle. If God does visit the sin of one in the sufferings of another, has not He also laid it down that He visits the righteousness of one in the happiness and the eternal salvation of another? And did we do away with that principle, where would be our hope? (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
I. What the mercy of god is.
1. That perfection whereby He assists His creatures in misery (Lamentations 3:22).
2. His mercy is infinitely great (Psalms 145:8).
3. He is the Fountain and Father of mercy (2 Corinthians 1:3).
II. To whom God is generally and especially merciful.
1. To mankind in general (Psalms 145:9).
2. He continues life notwithstanding our sins (Psalms 86:13).
3. In delivering out of troubles (Psalms 107:13).
4. In granting all the necessaries of life (Matthew 5:45).
5. Especially is He merciful to His people (Deuteronomy 32:43).
6. In pardoning all their sins (Hebrews 8:12).
7. In quickening them to newness of life (Ephesians 2:4-5).
8. In assisting us to exercise all true grace (1 Corinthians 7:25).
9. Support under spiritual troubles (Psalms 94:17-19).
10. Blessing troubles for our good (Hebrews 12:10).
11. Bringing to heaven at last (Titus 3:8).
III. The uses that are to be made of God’s mercy.
1. Not to abuse it to licentiousness (Romans 6:1-2).
2. We should be merciful to others (Luke 6:36).
3. Pardoning their injuries, pitying their miseries, and relieving their necessities (Galatians 6:10).
4. We must attribute all our blessings to the mercy of God towards us (Psalms 115:1).
5. This should teach us to love Him (Psalms 106:1).
6. Cause us to fear Him (Psalms 103:11).
7. And induce us to praise Him (Psalms 103:2-4).
8. God’s mercies are greater than our miseries (1 John 4:4).
9. They are sealed to us by Christ’s blood (Hebrews 12:24).
10. His mercy is only known by the influence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). (T. B. Baker.)
The unveiled mystery of God
There is in man a yearning after the unseen. Every one feels, even if he will not confess it, that another world lies, after all, behind this one. But the world of spirits is twofold--the kingdom of the powers of darkness below, and the kingdom of light in heaven. In man there is by nature a secret drawing to that which is below. There is the dark point of sin in us which draws us downward. Whoever follows this drawing goes to destruction. But there is in man another drawing--a drawing to light, a drawing to God. For we were made for Him. But although we have separated ourselves from Him, He has not altogether given up His connection with us. He who would paint God, must paint love--a fire of love which fills heaven and earth. But who can comprehend and describe this boundless and endless love? It has collected itself, and given itself a bodily form, in order to reveal itself to us. The heart of God has opened itself up to us--eternal love has revealed itself to us in Christ Jesus. But it is not in the New Testament that this is revealed for the first time. It is as old as the revelation of God’s eternal counsel of love. Even in the Old Testament Christ is contained, although in type and prophecy. There is darkness round about God, He is veiled in mystery, no mortal man beholds His countenance and lives; the eyes of Moses are holden by Jehovah, whilst He passes by him. But a word falls upon his ear: in this word God pronounces His nature, and this word runs thus--“God is love.” That is the unveiled mystery of God. Let us then consider this unveiled mystery in the threefold way in which our text sets it before our eyes.
I. In the direction of life. God orders the vast and disposes of the most isolated object. That is just His greatness--attention in what is little. But how often are our ways and God’s direction of our life a mystery to us! That He leads us happily and blessedly, we believe, although what we see often appears to us to be strange. Yet we shall one day stand upon the heights of light and look back upon our dark paths in the valley, and they will be light, and our understanding will give its judgment in the praise of love. That is the unveiled mystery of God in the direction of life.
II. We will consider this unveiled mystery in the forgiveness of sin. For our life is full of sins and guilt. The termination of our life is the seal of the forgiveness of sins. We bear the law of God written on our hearts. But our sin has broken it. We are sorry; we should like to be pious and holy. Hence we come and present ourselves before God with new resolutions: from henceforth it shall be otherwise with us. But how long does it continue till it is as before? It will not come to a really new life. We amend there and then; but our moral life remains at all times a wearying work, and never becomes a free, joyful matter, which is understood of itself--which gushes and streams fresh and gladly out of the heart. Whence is this? The failing is in the foundation. God must make such an impression upon us as to win our hearts, and to make it impossible for us to do other than love Him. By what means does God make such an impression upon us? Not by His infinite greatness and majesty, but by His gracious love. “We love Him because He has first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And what love is that? It is God’s pardoning love: not the love manifested in the displays of His goodness, in His anxiety for our earthly life. This humbles us, but it does not yet touch our innermost being. The innermost point in us, where we are connected with God, is the conscience. And just here we feel ourselves separated from God. Here we must experience the love of God: that is His forgiving love. But this is the right foundation of all moral work.
III. We will consider this unveiled mystery in covenant fellowship. The covenant of God with Israel rests on the forgiveness of sins. God dwells in the midst of them, He is their God and they are His people, and He leads them on their way, and He brings them to the goal. He thus reveals Himself to them as a covenant God. But all this is only a prophecy of the covenant of God with us in Christ Jesus. This rests on the true, real forgiveness of sins. But all this is but the commencement of the completion. We wait for the fulfilment of the promise. In hope, the abode yonder is already here. But we are not yet yonder. We are still on our pilgrimage to the hall of blessedness. There for the first time will there be the right celebration of the covenant. (J. C. Luthardt, D. D.)
The moral nature of God
I. The form in which the revelation is made.
1. In the first place, it is given, not in the cold and formal terms of a merely ethical and philosophical system, but in its warm and sympathetic application to the needs of man’s life. The profoundest truth is here implied. But the form of the declaration is simple, couched in the every-day speech of men, such as all men, in any and every condition, could easily and readily apprehend.
2. It is not only addressed to man upon the simplest side of his nature, but it sets in the very foreground of the Divine qualities those which have regard to man’s sinfulness, and the need in which he stands, of tenderness, pity, and grace. What a recognition is this of the true state of the human heart! God’s revelation is no philosophy of the “might have been,” of the “ought to be”--dreamy, vague, hypothetic, and useless. But it is a practical dealing with what is. It takes man just as it finds him.
II. Now, let us inquire, what is the revelation which is thus made in so human and so gracious a form? God declares Himself to be “merciful and gracious.” By the first quality we understand pitifulness, a tenderness towards the weak and helpless, with an added sense of gentleness and forgiveness towards those that are not only weak but wicked, sinful as well as sad. And while God is this, it is all of favour, free and unmerited. He is gracious as well as merciful. But there are added qualities of mercy and grace beyond the mere broad and general fact of their possession. These might be of the Divine nature, and yet their exercise might be restrained within narrow and brief limits of occasion and duration. But God is “longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth.” We must not forget that these qualities of God’s moral being are related, as we have said, to human conditions, especially that of sin, and in respect of that He is “longsuffering.” For man is not merely a sinner, but he perpetuates the sin, he continues sinning; he is alienated from God, and remains an alien, with hard and ever harder heart, going farther away, being less accessible, increasing his rebellion ever. And yet God’s mercy does not cease. He loses no patience. He waits and watches. And of this mercy and clemency no one need doubt the power or the sufficiency. God is declared further to be “abundant in goodness and truth.” Goodness is perhaps an attribute of wider reach than mercy, embracing mercy for the sinner and the wretched in the beneficent relation towards all whose welfare and happiness God ever seeks. Truth is that harmony of being upon which we may ever depend. It is order and peace, it is fidelity and changelessness--everything that renders trust in the truthful God a certain thing, not liable to disappointment, change, and decay. The emphasis, perhaps, is to be placed upon the word “abundant.” God has enough and to spare. Then, these are by no means quiescent, inoperative attributes of the Divine nature. Men often lose themselves and the clearness of their thoughts in mere abstract statements of the qualities of God, but in this declaration of Himself, Jehovah shows how practical is the revelation which He gives. “Keeping mercy for thousands forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” The phrase “keeping mercy for thousands” is a striking one. The term thousands is indefinite, signifying a very large number. It may be used in contrast with the “third and fourth generation” of the following clause, and if so, it indicates that the mercy of God is preserved through all the ages of mankind, and remains perpetual and ceaseless, for the universal race for ever. The forgiveness, too, how full is this! It is not merely the single sin that is pardoned. The continued habit of sin, the formed and indurated character of evil, the strong and defiant wickedness, even these may find mercy and have experience of God’s pardoning grace. It is His prerogative. It is His nature. All this is based upon the most absolute justice and integrity of righteousness. “He will by no means clear the guilty.” The eternal claim of moral order must be recognized, and until guilt is purged and sin is destroyed, the sinner cannot be cleared. Let us, now, gather up the great truths of this sublime passage, and lay their meaning and their power to our hearts.
1. The revelation which God grants of Himself is in the sphere of moral being.
2. This moral aspect of Deity is in complete harmony with every other side of the Divine nature.
3. The moral being of God, as it is revealed, necessarily provides a satisfaction of its claims of justice and rectitude.
4. In this completeness of revelation there is an abundance of grace and mercy which is offered to all men. This, then, is the final truth which appears in the revelation of God. Let no man despair. (L. D. Bevan, D. D.)
God’s great goodness
I. The glory of God is His goodness. When Moses said, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory,” the Lord answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee” (Exodus 33:18-19; Exodus 34:6).
1. We see it in nature (Psalms 33:5; Psalms 145:9; Psalms 65:11).
2. We see it in providence (1 Kings 8:66; Psalms 31:19; Zechariah 9:16-17).
3. We see it in grace (Ephesians 1:7; Psalms 23:6; Jeremiah 31:14).
II. The effect of God’s goodness upon the heart of man is meant to be.
1. Sorrow at having offended God (Romans 2:4; Job 42:5-6; Hosea 3:5),
2. Delight in praising God (Psalms 107:8; Isaiah 63:7).
3. Desire to receive God’s blessings (Numbers 6:24; Numbers 6:26; Micah 7:18-19).
4. A disposition to imitate God’s character (Luke 6:36; Ephesians 5:2; 1Jn 6:11). (Clergyman’s Magazine.)
The late Dr. Samuel Martin, in a letter to a friend after Dr. Davidson’s death, thus speaks of that pious and devoted man, whose memory is hallowed in the minds of all who knew him:--“He studied divinity at Glasgow College. Thomas and I lived together, companions and fellow-students; and I, being some years older, was considered as a kind of guardian. On looking back to that period, in reviewing fully sixty years’ intercourse and friendship, I ever found in him, from first to last, genuine and unaffected piety, affection, benevolence, regular, exemplary, amiable deportment. I recollect, with pleasure, the family devotions of our little society. I well remember an exclamation, on one occasion, to me, after rising from prayer--a striking proof of his characteristic humility, gratitude, and tenderness of conscience, ‘Oh, Martin, it is the Divine goodness, of all things, that humbles me most!’”
God’s forgiving mercy
I once visited the ruins of a noble city that had been built on a desert oasis. Mighty columns of roofless temples still stood in unbroken file. Halls in which kings and satraps had feasted two thousand years ago were represented by solitary walls. Gateways of richly carven stone led to a paradise of bats and owls. All was ruin! But past the dismantled city, brooks, which had once flowed through gorgeous flower-gardens, and at the foot of marble halls, still swept on in undying music and unwasted freshness. The waters were just as sweet as when queens quaffed them two thousand years ago. A few hours before they had been melted from the snows of the distant mountains. And so God’s forgiving love flows in ever-renewed form through the wreck of the past. Past vows and past covenants and noble purposes may be represented by solitary columns and broken arches and scattered foundations that are crumbling into dust, yet through the scene of ruin fresh grace is ever flowing from His great heart on high. (T. G. Selby.)
That will by no means clear the guilty.
God justified in man’s salvation
I. Man thinks of God as if God were something like himself: and hence he would make God a changeable and capricious Being; he would make Him connive at sin and make light of transgression, accepting a few tears, or a few resolutions, or a few alms, as satisfaction enough for him to receive pardon. All such ideas of God are base and unwarrantable, and will cover those who entertain them with everlasting confusion. The nature of God makes it impossible for Him to clear the guilty. If the positive be true, that God loves holiness, the negative must be true, that He hates iniquity.
II. And now some will probably say, “why, this is contravening the very gospel; it is surely favouring the notion that none can be saved, for who can be saved, when there is no guiltless man? And if God will not clear guilty men, how is any one to meet his Maker in peace?” The view I have of it is this--that God does not clear the guilty; no, but I will tell you what He does, which is infinitely more to His glory, and of necessity more for our peace--He makes the guilty guiltless, and He makes the unrighteous perfect in righteousness. He does this in virtue of the life laid down for the guilty, for all who in Him have believed; in Him all have paid the penalty, all have satisfied God’s justice, and all have perfect righteousness. (H. Stowell, M. A.)
The guilty “by no means cleared”
I. What is to be understood by the Lord “not clearing the guilty”? When He pronounces the sentence of acquittal, it will be in full accordance with justice. And yet the basis of this world’s religion is nothing more than a belief that God will “clear the guilty.” What are all the delusions of self-righteous workings? what are all the endeavours to put off till a more convenient season comes? what is all the resting in ordinances, forms, and external things? Just a forgetfulness that God is a heart-searching God.
II. But now observe, why is it true that God “will by no means clear the guilty”? Everything in God forbids it. His very faithfulness renders it impossible. Now, faithfulness is part of the Divine goodness. What forms the real substance of our hope? that through God’s grace we shall be at last in heaven? God tells me, that “he that believeth shall be saved”; He tells me, that the “blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.” What gives us confidence? Simply, God’s faithfulness--I believe it, because God says it. Take that away, and where is His goodness? It is no more. Now bear this in mind, that what gives stability to the promise gives stability to the threatening. The love of God is a holy love. Now the great cause of all misery is sin; and that which forbids sin is a holy love. Yes, and one may even say that the penalty, awful and fearful as it is, is one of the great unfoldings of His love.
1. The subject has a very awful look, as it regards the sinner hardened in his trespasses. “He will by no means clear the guilty ones.”
2. The words are full of encouragement to the poor penitent spirit--“He will by no mesons clear the guilty.” “Ah!” you are ready to say, “how can He clear me? I am all guilt.” Thou never hadst any due conception of thine own guiltiness, and of what thy guiltiness is before God. Yet none at all hast thou. Why? Because it has all been transferred to Jesus. Because He has taken it and borne it away. He has endured it. He was “not cleared,” He endured the penalty.
3. How this truth should lead to--
(1) Confession of sin;
(2) holy service. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Union of justice and grace in God
“Behold the goodness and severity of God,” says the Apostle Paul. In most cases the goodness is illustrated by one kind of events and the severity by another, but in Christ’s work the same event of His death displayed the two sides of God’s character alike and at once, and thus pardon was never offered to the guilty without a loud protest against sin. Now the pains taken to inculcate both these qualities through the entire Scriptures seem to point at something in man, some conception of character which he needs to have impressed upon him and which he ought to realize in his own life.
I. And in pursuing this subject we remark, first, that among men he who is capable of exercising only hard, unrelenting justice is held to be far from perfection, and cannot be loved; while, on the other hand, a character in which bare kindness or goodness is the only noticeable trait secures no respect. Only where we see the two qualities united can we feel decided confidence and attachment. They do not check each other, as might be supposed, but add to each other’s power. The indiscriminately kind man is felt to be weak; the harsh rigorous nature may have intellect in abundance, but fails to warm the souls of men. When united they form character, a character in which there is depth, the depth of intellect resting below temper and impulse on a foundation of wisdom and true excellence of heart. There can be no moral government among men without wisdom, for he who makes men good must look not at immediate impressions, but at results: he must take long stretches of time into view, and long series and interactions of causes shaping character. When did instinctive benevolence ever fail to thwart its own wishes and to corrupt its beneficiaries? The union of these opposites, where alone wisdom can be found, ensures the best government, and as every one must be in some way a governor, of a family, or a workshop, if not of a town or state, the whole of the vast interests of mankind depend on this union.
II. If God is to be honoured and loved by human beings, He must present himself to our minds under the same twofold aspect. He must be seen in the light of those qualities which we may call by the name of justice, and of those to which we give the names of goodness, kindness, tenderness, or mercy. Sinners are recovered and reclaimed first by a sense of sin, and then by a perception of Divine love, and without the latter they would not think of their sins, or grow into that filial fear, that holy worship which the Psalmist intends. Only under this twofold aspect of God is true religion, the religion of the soul, possible.
III. We add thirdly, that it involves a very high degree of wisdom to know when to be just or severe, and when to exercise goodness or grace. It is a great problem to govern a nation; it is a greater to govern a virtuous universe; but a greater still is presented when the element of evil is thrown into the question, and the interests of the many come into conflict with the happiness of the sinful few. Especially when we look on God as training His creatures up for a higher condition; enlarging their powers, helping the strong to grow stronger, pitying the weak and revealing Himself as their forgiving God; then above all does it appear that the balances of the moral universe are exceedingly delicate, and that there is need of a hand, firm and wise beyond our thought, to hold them. No solution of the intricacies of things has been offered to man deserving of notice but that which Christ has made. The reconciliation of holiness and love in His work, its just, well-balanced training of the whole moral nature challenge our respect, our admiration, even if we will stand aloof from Christ. He is made of God unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
IV. And now, having brought your minds to Christ, I close with the remark that He united the two sides of character which we have spoken of, in their due mixture, in His one person. And it is well worthy of being remarked that their union proves their genuineness and their depth. He who could love so and forgive so, notwithstanding His deep sense of the sin, what strength of character must He have had, what a depth and truth of love, what a power of loving, what an inexhaustible richness of soul! And He who could rebuke so and show such strong displeasure against evil doing, how hard, humanly speaking, must it have been for Him to love objects so far from loveliness; and if He loved them as He did, must not His love have been of another kind than ours, one superior to personal slights and injuries, wholly unlike instinctive kindness of temper, partaking of a quality of lofty wisdom! (T. D. Woolsey.)
Universal redemption subversive of the assurance of salvation
Draw near and contemplate this Christian paradox; come, behold with us, for a time, this Christian mystery, the certainty that the guilty cannot be cleared--that God cannot do it--is the safeguard of redemption, the guarantee of the offered atonement.
I. It is true that this declaration of God’s character--of the impossibility of His clearing the guilty--shuts many large and wide doors of hope. The hearts of sinners are full of devices for salvation. They have many entrance-ways to pardon and favour.
1. There is the placability and compassion of God upon which they largely draw. The Divine anger is thus, in their imagination, a bugbear, well got up to scare transgressors, to keep them in check, but as to any ultimate and eternal condemnation resulting from it, all is set aside by their convenient doctrine of His easy and overwhelming compassion.
2. Again, there is the tempter’s suggestion of the changeableness of God, “ye shall not surely die,” opening to many a wide door. It is not that the veracity of God is actually questioned. But then He may take back or change His word. These deceitful hopes are met, and the door they open for ever shut, by the one decisive passage--“and I will by no means clear the guilty.”
II. Whilst this passage shuts with so decisive a hand every false door of hope, and announces in characters of light, that guilt cannot go unpunished, it yet opens a door of hope that never can be shut, and is an immovable anchor to every soul that has fled for refuge to the great propitiation. He can by no means clear the guilty, therefore am I assured He can by no means punish the innocent. In Christ I am innocent; guilt is no longer attachable to me; my soul is justified; justice, with its sword, has no claim upon me--it is satisfied; the law, with its penalties, has no demand against me; every jot and tittle of it is fulfilled. “Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died.”
III. We observe that the strong consolation drawn from this passage is warranted only on the supposition that, in dying, Christ died as a true and real substitute in the room and stead of His people, and for them alone. (J. Lewis.)
Justice and mercy not antagonistic
Now, there is no greater mistake than to suppose that the Divine Being, as a God of justice, and a God of mercy, stands in antagonism to Himself. Observe, I pray you, that it is not mercy, but injustice, which is irreconcilable with justice, and that it is cruelty, not justice, that stands opposed to mercy. These attributes of Jehovah are not contrary the one to the other, as are light and darkness, fire and water, truth and falsehood, right and wrong. No. Like two separate streams which unite their waters to form a common river, justice and mercy are combined in the covenant of redemption. Like the two cherubims whose out-stretched wings met above the ark, or like the two devout and holy men who drew the nails from Christ’s body, and bore the sacred burden to the grave, or like the two angels who received it in charge, and, seated like mourners within the sepulchre, the one at the head, the other at the feet, kept silent watch over the precious treasure, justice and mercy are associated in the work of Christ. They are the supporters of the shield on which the cross is emblazoned. They sustain the arms of our heavenly Advocate. They form the two solid, immovable, and eternal pillars of the Mediator’s throne. On Calvary, mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Visiting the iniquity of the fathers.--
The law of heredity
We are born into a life where we cannot determine the nature of the influences which we exert. We can repress some, modify others, and develop still others; but we cannot determine the effect, nor change it. A certain influence we must exert one upon another.
I. First, we will mention voluntary influence, or the capacity which we have gained of influencing our fellow-men by bringing power, or the causes of power, to bear upon them on purpose. This is the more familiar form of influence. It is the foundation of all instruction. The parent influences the child on purpose. The teacher purposely influences all the minds that are brought under his care. Friends influence friends. We draw men to our way of thinking, and to our way of acting. We persuade; we dissuade; we urge; we enforce our agency; and in a thousand ways we voluntarily draw men to and fro.
II. Then, besides all this, besides what we do on purpose, there is the other element of unconscious influence which men exert--that which our nature throws out without our volition. For I hold that it is with us as it is with the sun. I do not suppose that the sun ever thinks of raising the thermometer; but it does raise it. Wherever the sun shines warmly, the mercury goes up, although the sun and the instrument are both unconscious. And we are incessantly emitting influences good, bad, or negative. We are perpetually, by the force of life, throwing out from ourselves imperceptible influences. And yet the sum of these influences is of the utmost weight and importance in life. A single word spoken, you know not what it falls upon. You know not on what soul it rests. In some moods, words fall off from us, and are of no account. But there are other moods in which a word of hope, a word of cheer, a word of sympathy, is as balm. It changes the sequence of thought, and the whole order and direction of the mind. Single words have often switched men off from bad courses, or off from good ones, as the case may be. A simple example, silent, unspeaking by vocalization, but characterized by purity, by simplicity, crystalline and heavenly, has sweetened whole neighbourhoods. Fidelity, disinterestedness in love, pure peacefulness, love of God, and faith in invisible things, cannot exist in a man without having their effect upon his fellow-men. It is impossible that one should stand up in the midst of a community and simply be good, and not diffuse the influence of that goodness on every side. That which is true of goodness is true also of evil. Men who are under the influence of the malign passions are sowing the seeds of these passions. Sparks fly out from them as from the chimney of a forge. It is the inherent necessity of wickedness to breed wickedness and distribute it. A man is responsible, not only for what he does on purpose, but what he unconsciously does. And the load of responsibility grows as you take in these widening circles. More than this, the greater the nature, and the more ample the endowment, the more influence does a man exert both for good and for evil. The moral tone of our literature in this respect is exceedingly bad. There is almost a maxim that genius has a right to be lawless as to its method of doing right things. Every man is responsible for duty; and duty, and responsibility for it, augment in the proportion of being.
III. Our influence is not merely voluntary, or involuntary and unconscious, but it becomes complex, because it is compounded with the lives and the added influence of others. We are are social. We come into relations with men. Our freedom touches theirs. We inspire them. But we do not change their nature. We, as it were, sow germs in their soil. These germs go on and become forces in their hands. So that that which we do to single ones, they propagate. But men’s influence is not limited to their voluntary action, nor to the complex social relations which they sustain, and by which their influence is propagated indirectly.
IV. In some respects men hold in their hands the history of the future. The very solemn declaration of our text--“Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation”--this is the mystery of ages. If it were but on the one side; if men, having the power of beneficence, had the power to perpetuate it, we should admire that; but if it is a fact that men have the power of transmitting corruption, and so of influencing after times, who can fail to marvel at that? If that is a law, men may well stand appalled in the presence of such results as must fall out under it. And it is a law, it is a fact. We must learn this great hereditary law, and we must include in our purposes of benevolence the wise selection, the perpetuity and the improvement of the race, by the observance of this great law of hereditary transmission. The malignity of sin is a terrible malignity, as it is revealed by this great law of the transmission of influence to posterity, either directly and voluntarily, or indirectly and unconsciously. There are multitudes of men that are careless of themselves. They are said to be their own worst enemies. They are men that are free and easy; that squander their money; that pervert their disposition. And because they are good-natured and genial, people say of them, “They are clever fellows; they are kind men; they do no harm; at any rate they are their own worst enemies.” Now, a man that is spending his whole life to destroy himself, cannot stop with himself. And the better fellow he is, the more likely is he to exert an influence. More than that, it is not himself alone that is destroyed. The babe in the cradle is cursed. The daughter unborn is cursed. The heir and sequent children are cursed.
V. I will add but a single consideration more: and that is a caution and a warning to all those who abe consciously bearing in themselves the seed of transmissible disease. I think there is no crime and no misdemeanour, to those that are instructed, greater than that of forming marriage connections under such circumstances. (H. W. Beecher.)
The organic unity of the race
I. Let us, in the first place, observe the natural fact we may almost call it, of the unity and solidarity of the race. The method of the preservation and reproduction of the species, which God has appointed, is that of parentage and offspring. The relations of the different parts of this prolonged species are such, as to involve a certain unity. Birth and nurture, the family relation, the law of similarity, the limits of variation, by which the children cannot diverge from the parental type beyond a certain mark of liberty, all these are what we may call physical and bodily elements of unity in the race. This unity is found, as we rise to the human race, to involve the descendant in the conditions of the parent, to a degree that is much more striking than in lower species. The human infant remains longer in dependence upon the parent; the years of education extend farther; the conditions of life for the offspring, in proportion as civilization and culture make life more complicated, and more deeply affected by the parent. That this unity of the race is taught by Scripture, no one can doubt. It is further illustrated by the Divine treatment of individual cases, and by the development of the Divine purpose throughout the sacred history . . . If there be lessons in history, this lesson at least is clear. God has bound men into the unity of their descent, and deals with man along the lines of his generation.
II. Our text does more than merely reveal the truth which we have stated and illustrated; it further shows us that this organic unity of the race is of a moral quality and involves moral discipline. God declares that He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation. We are not bound by the mere number of the descents to which the visitation will be applied. The very form of the phrase suggests indefiniteness. It may be that, as a matter of fact, only one generation shall suffer, or, on the other hand, the dread judgment may descend beyond the third and fourth line of the posterity. The law is one of the generalities of human life, not to be measured by the accuracies of arithmetic. Man needs not to be exalted to presumption, nor cast down to hopelessness, by the words of this revelation. And, as we interpret the duration of the penalty in the general sense, so we may find, in the words of judgment, something more than the mere formula of doom. If there be a visitation of the father’s sin, there surely must be also a benediction from the father’s virtue. These words therefore reveal to us the moral quality of the race’s organic unity. That which is involved in the descent of child from parent is not by way of mere natural cause and effect. It is indeed part of the material conditioning of the universe. But it is superintended by the God who governs, and governs not only by physical law, but also with moral and spiritual ends. He reveals Himself as administering it, and we know therefore that if it be a Divine visitation, it is done with wisdom and regulative grace, it is done for the higher purposes of character, for the evolution of good, and for the final extinction of evil, and therefore, it must hold, blended with it, not only the designs of moral law and the vindication of justice, but also the sublime issues of grace and salvation, inasmuch as God is a Father as well as a Ruler, a Saviour as well as a Judge. It is, then, not a doom, but a discipline. It is not to work itself out like some physical mechanical law, catching you as a machine catches the unwary or the blundering operative, and then never letting him go, until it has dragged him through all its terrible course of wheels and rollers, cogs and crushing pistons, to throw him out, at length, a torn and mangled dismembered, slaughtered travesty of life and power. This is your philosophic view of human descent, but this is not the Divine. God “visits the sins of the fathers on the children.” We know then that He does it to discipline the race. “My Father is a husbandman,” said Jesus, teaching us the same blessed lesson under a beautiful figure. What, may we now ask, is the practical outcome of all this truth, man’s organic relation, this relation divinely regulated and applied to the discipline of the race?
1. In the first place, will it not give us a fresh sense of the responsibility of life? We are links in the chain of human life. We receive the influences of our fathers, we hand these on to our children.
2. Shall we then not deeply consider the tremendous responsibility with which we are freighted? We may involve a long line of descendants in the result of our living.
3. The import of this lesson becomes all the greater when we consider it as it bears upon family life, and the relations which subsist between the parent and the child. What a sanctity has not God given to the family! Nothing must break the bond which binds society into its essential and formative elements--the circles of home.
4. Let us, then, seek to render this Divine law of great potency in the building of our Church and the furtherance of the kingdom of Christ as it is given to us. “To you and to your children” is the promise.
5. And finally, let me ask you to reflect upon your relation to Jesus Christ in the light of this organic unity of the race. (L. D. Bevan, D. D.)
The iniquity of the fathers visited upon their children
1. That this passage has no reference whatsoever to God’s treatment of mankind in a future state. It does not mean that God will punish children in a future state for the sins of their parents; but the visitation which it threatens is exclusively temporal (see Ezekiel 18:20).
2. That God never visits children even with temporal judgments for the sins of their parents, unless they imitate, and thus justify their parents’ offences. Hezekiah, Josiah, and many other pious men were the children of exceedingly wicked parents; but as they shunned the sins of their fathers, and were supremely devoted to God, they enjoyed His favour in a very high degree, and were visited with no marks of displeasure on account of their progenitors. There is, however, one apparent exception to these remarks, which must be noticed. It is evident from facts, that even pious children often suffer in consequence of the wicked conduct of their parents. If a father be idle, or extravagant, his children, and perhaps his children’s children, may suffer in consequence; nor will any degree of piety always shield them from such sufferings. It must, however, be added, that the sinful example and conduct of wicked parents has a most powerful tendency to prevent their children from becoming pious, to induce them to pursue vicious courses, and thus to bring upon them Divine judgments.
3. That our text describes God’s method of proceeding with nations, and civil or ecclesiastical communities, rather than with individuals. I do not say that it has no reference to individuals, but that it refers principally to nations, states, and churches. That we may perceive the justice, wisdom, and propriety of this method of proceeding, it is necessary to consider the following things. It is indispensably necessary to the perfection of God’s moral government that it should extend to nations and communities as well as to individuals. This, I conceive, is too evident to require proof; for how could God be considered as the moral governor of the world if nations and communities were exempt from His government? Again, if God is to exercise a moral government over nations and communities by rewarding or punishing them according to their works, the rewards and punishments must evidently be dispensed in this world; for nations and communities will not exist, as such, in the world to come. In that world God must deal with men, considered simply as individuals. Further, it seems evidently proper that communities as well as individuals should have a time of trial and probation allowed them; that if the first generation prove sinful, the community should not be immediately destroyed, but that the punishment should be suspended, till it be seen whether the nation will prove incorrigible, or whether some succeeding generation will not repent of the national sins, and thus avert national judgments. Now it is evident that if God thus waits upon nations, as He does upon individuals, and allows them a season of probation, a space for repentance, He cannot destroy them until many generations of sinners are laid in their graves. Besides, by thus suspending the rod or the sword over a nation, He presents to it powerful inducements to reform. He appeals to parental feelings, to men’s affection for their posterity, and endeavours to deter them from sin by the assurance that their posterity will suffer for it. (E. Payson, D. D.)
Thou shalt rest.
Sabbath rest in harvest
“Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest”; that is, you shall not violate the Sabbath-day because it is harvest. I have heard persons say, It has been six days very wet; the corn is standing, and Sunday happens to be a bright sunny day; and they say, We ought to go and cut down the corn on the Sabbath-day. Here is a provision for this very possibility. God says, Even in harvest and earing time you shall still keep the Sabbath sacred to God. And I have noticed, although I admit my observation has been very limited, that that man who has cut down his corn on the Sunday in order to get it in well, did not succeed one whir better in the long run than he that observed the Sabbath as holy, and waited for sunny week-days in order to do his week-day work. I admit that there are works of necessity and mercy that are proper to be done on the Sabbath-day; and I can conceive the possibility that a time may come--an autumn may come when, even upon the Sabbath-day, you should be obliged to cut down the corn in consequence of unfavourable weather on the week-days; but you should first be well satisfied that there is no prospect of sunshine during the six days that are to follow. Do not forget that God said--not as ceremony but morality--that in earing time, and in harvest even, thou shalt rest, or sabbatize, or keep the Lord’s day. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
I remember one time, many years ago, I was standing out for Sunday, but the owners could not bear the thought of the smacks laying to for the Sabbath. Well, the owner I sailed for wanted me to work on Sunday. I felt I could not, so I had to leave my berth. I walked about eight weeks after that in search of employment. Several owners asked me whether I wanted a situation. I asked them whether they wished me to fish on the Lord’s day. They said, yes. I had to decline. Well, the money was getting short, and I used to go in the dark places on the sands to lift up my heart to God to help me to stand against this fierce temptation. I had no help at home. My wife, not loving my Saviour, could not understand my objection, and I have often seen her crying to think that she and the two little children would have no bread to eat. My faith told me that my Father in heaven would not let them be without bread and water--that would be sure. At length the time came when I had to take my watch to pledge to get bread. I started with a heavy heart, and when I got to the shop I could not gain, courage to go in for a long time. I walked up and down praying to God to keep ms strong and faithful and able to part with everything rather than to betray my trust. At last I went in, and there stood one of our Church helpers behind the counter. ‘Hullo,’ says he, ‘Wilkinson, has it come to this?’ He was a dear young Christian, and has been a minister of the gospel for many years now. He asked me what I wanted there. Then I told him I had come to pledge my watch to get bread for wife and children. The tears stood in both our eyes. At last he asked, ‘How much do you want on it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know; give me enough to get something to eat to-day; and to-morrow, perhaps, God may see fit to give me something to do where I can still serve Him.’ Well, he gave me some money, and he shook hands with me, and said, ‘Have faith and courage; keep trusting in the Lord, and He will bring you through.’ And so He did. The next week three smacks had to be sold, and a Christian man bought one. He asked me to go as skipper of her. He told me, before I went to sea, not to do anything on Sundays if I could help it. That is twenty-six years ago, and that is how the Lord brought me through. (Captain Wilkinson, Mission Smack “Ed. Birkbeck.”)
Observe the feast.
God’s provision for His people’s enjoyment
I. That seasons for rejoicing were commanded. Let those who think that the Old Dispensation was gloomy remember that there was Divine injunction for joy and feasting three times a year.
II. That these seasons for rejoicing were conveniently appointed. Not in winter, but--
1. In spring, Passover.
2. Summer, First-fruits.
3. Autumn, Ingathering.
III. That these seasons for rejoicing had a religious basis.
1. The feasts were “unto God.”
2. Were in remembrance of Divine services which made rejoicing possible.
IV. That these seasons for rejoicing were connected with religious acts (Exodus 34:17-19).
1. Personal dedication.
V. That seasons of rejoicing must not engender slovenliness and uncleanness (Exodus 34:18).
VI. That seasons of rejoicing must not be desecrated by unnatural or superstitious ceremonies. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk”; an outrage on nature and connected with witchcraft. In conclusion, if Judaism was a religion of joy, much more so is Christianity. The latter--
1. Was inaugurated as “glad tidings of great joy.”
2. Its leading fact and doctrines are grounds of joy (1 John 1:1-4).
3. Its great central and fundamental principle is an occasion of joy (Romans 5:11).
4. The “fruit of the Spirit is joy.”
5. It provides an eternity of joy.
6. But remember the joy of the Lord’s your strength, and it is only in the Lord that we can rejoice evermore (Philippians 4:4). (J. W. Burn.)
Thrice in the year.--
The three yearly feasts at Jerusalem
I. Draw your attention to the institution recorded in the text. Consider--
1. Of what nature this appointment was: partly political, and partly religious.
2. What care God took to guard against the objections to which it was liable.
II. Suggest some observations founded upon it.
1. The service of God is of paramount obligation.
2. They who serve the Lord shall be saved by Him. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
He wrote upon the tables.
The second tables
The Ten Commandments were twice written by the finger of God Himself (see Deuteronomy 10:1-3), and upon enduring tables of stone, to show how deeply and permanently they were to be engraved upon the heart of man. Twice written, once upon a broken and once upon an unbroken tablet, symbolically setting forth the truth that they were once written upon the nature before the Fall, and are to be inscribed a second time upon that nature, which inscription is made at his regeneration. Also, as they were once written upon stone, they were to be engraved a second time upon the heart, as the prophet Jeremiah predicted would be, and as the apostle asserted had been done (Hebrews 8:10). Then by special command they were afterwards deposited for safe keeping in the ark of the covenant, upon which rested the Shekinah of the Lord, the most inviolably sacred place outside the courts of heaven, and by special designation were ever afterward known as the “Tables of the Testimony.” (James Stacy, D. D.)
The skin of his face shone.
This was the transfiguration of Moses. Let us consider the narrative as a spiritual parable, and try to read in it some of the conditions and privileges of exalted communion with God. Communion with God is the highest prerogative of spiritual beings. It is the instinctive craving of human souls; it is the supreme privilege and joy of the religious life; it is the inspiration and strength of all great service. God redeems us and saves us by drawing us to Himself. By mysterious voices He solicits us; by irrepressible instincts He impels us; by subtle affinities He holds us; by ineffable satisfactions He makes us feel His nearness and fills us with rest and joy.
I. We are admitted to fellowship with God only through propitiatory sacrifice. Moses builds an altar under the hill, offers sacrifices upon it, and sprinkles the blood thereof before he ascends the holy mount to commune with God. We must seek fellowship with God through the one propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Not only is the sacrifice of Christ the medium through which the forgiving love of God becomes possible; it is the supreme expression of it.
II. We are qualified for our highest intercourse with God by the spiritual grace of our own souls; Moses was qualified for this revelation of the supreme glory of God by his peculiar magnanimity and self-sacrifice. When God admits us to intercourse with Himself, what we see will depend upon our capability of seeing. Only the pure in heart can see God.
III. We are admitted to visions of the higher glory of God only when we seek them for the uses of practical religious duty. If selfishness be a disqualification, so is mere sentiment. A man who seeks God for his own religious gratification merely may see God, but he will not see God’s supreme glory. Our chief reason for desiring to know God must be that we may glorify Him in serving others.
IV. The most spiritual visions of God, the closest communion with God, are to be realized only when we seek Him alone. In our greatest emotions we seek solitude instinctively. Human presence is intolerable to the intensest moods of the soul. No man can be eminent either in holiness or service who does not often ascend to the mountain-top, that he may be alone with God and behold His glory.
V. The supreme revelation of God to which we attain through such fellowship with Him is the revelation of His grace and love. When a man sees this, the glory of God has passed before him.
VI. The revelation of God’s glorious goodness transfigures the man who beholds it. (H. Allon, D. D.)
“He wist not that the skin of his face shone.” Few and simple as these words are, there could be none grander written to the memory of a hero. The noblest and loftiest character is assuredly that of the man who is so absorbed in the Divine nature of his calling, and so conscious of the need of those for whom he labours, that he becomes forgetful of the beauty in his character which others recognize, and almost unconscious that he is himself the worker.
I. There are many unconscious believers and workers in the world still, who may gather helpful thoughts from this fact concerning Moses. Much time and ability has been devoted to discussing the question of “Christian assurance.” To say that if we do not feel that we are saved, we are not saved, is to lose sight of what salvation really means. It is nowhere stated in Scripture that an assurance of that salvation which is a gradual matter, a day-by-day struggle and deliverance, is either universal or necessary. God may think it best that some of us should not have assurance, as on that great day He kept Moses unconscious that the skin of his face shone.
II. Perhaps some of us may feel that there were moments of such bright and hopeful experience once, but they are past now, and that seems to us the saddest thought of all. Still we need not despair. We should go back as Moses did to the mount where God had spoken to him, to the source of the old enthusiasm and the former faith. If we go back and stand face to face with the crucified Christ, our life will glow anew with the radiance of His love, even though we ourselves are unconscious of it.
III. This holds good also regarding our work for God. Many a splendid silent work is done on earth, and the doer is perhaps unconscious of it, and may remain unconscious till the great day of the Lord shall reveal it. (T. T. Shore, M. A.)
Moses’ face shining: a picture of true glory
1. Man has an instinct for glory.
2. Man has sadly perverted this instinct.
3. The Bible rightly directs it.
I. The true glory of man involves fellowship with the Eternal. The human character is formed on the principle of imitation. To get a perfect character implies--
1. The existence of a perfect model.
2. The love of a perfect model.
3. The knowledge of a perfect model.
II. The true glory of man has an external manifestation.
1. True glory will show itself-in the “face” of our person.
III. True glory is never self-conscious. “Moses wist not.” There are several things that necessitate self-obliviousness in a truly great soul.
1. His standard of judgment.
2. His circle of life. He who stands before God feels his nothingness.
3. His spirit of life. Love is a passion that drowns the lover in the loved. “I live, yet not!.”
IV. True glory will command the reverence of society.
1. The law of conscience will ensure universal respect for it.
2. The law of guilt will ensure trembling homage for it. (Homilist.)
The shining face
I. The shining face the result of his long and close communion with God. The heavenly light within will shine out.
II. The shining face was beheld by the people, The good man’s walk and conversation are known of all.
III. The shining face awed all who beheld it. The consciousness of sin makes the wicked fear pious friends, whose presence rebukes them.
IV. Moses knew not that his face shone. The more grace we have the less self-consciousness. The more good others see in us, the less do we see ourselves. Application:
1. If you cannot do anything else for God, you can exhibit a shining face.
2. Do not be discouraged because you are not conscious of any good influence you exert. (J. L. Elderdice.)
Communion with God
I. The distinguishing characteristics of communion with God.
1. It is mediatory.
2. It is individual.
3. It is protracted.
4. It is self-denying.
II. The irradiating power of communion with God.
1. Its manifestation.
2. Its unconsciousness.
3. Its effect.
(2) Heart-attracting. (T. Baron.)
The Divine glory and its effects
We learn here three things with regard to the beauty of a sanctified character.
I. The nature of this beauty,--it is that which shines.
1. Its self-manifestation may be often a passive thing. It was Moses’ face that was the index of his mood at the time,--not his tongue nor his hands. So with the child of God; the beauty that bathes him is matter that exists independent of any definite words spoken, or any outward deeds done. The beauty of the believer is the beauty of joy; and joy does not always need speech to express itself, or the word to others, “I am glad.”
2. Then, too, we learn that spiritual beauty is often an unwitnessed thing. It is by no means conditioned by the position a man occupies, or the numbers that are there to see. For the glory on Moses’ face was not brought there just that others might watch and, admire. His features would have glowed all the same, had there been no one to watch and to marvel in all the plain; and heaven’s own light would have glanced and flickered from his face among the bare dead sands and unconscious stones where he trod, making the solitude around him luminous. So again with the child of God. His shining does not need the stimulus of spectators.
II. The secret of this beauty. Communion with God,--that is the source it must spring from, lending sanctity to the character, and beauty to the very face. To see God’s face is to, shine; to keep seeing it is to keep shining. It is thus that the marvel of the story is repeated, and God’s praying saints come forth from this privacy with their faces aglow; and the dying grow luminous on their beds, till the watchers wonder. Why, where is there brightness like the brightness of heaven? They are all lustrous there! Uncover yourselves therefore to the light; keep yourselves up where the light is shining. The struggle will be to do that, and will be over when you have done it. So and so only will you shine yourselves. The manner of this shining is reflection and the secret of it is communion with God.
III. The characteristic by which it is marked. That characteristic is unconsciousness. “Moses,” we are told, “wist not that his face shone.” It is always most real when it radiates unawares. Is it not the case that many an act which would otherwise have affected us favourably, attracted our admiration, won our esteem, is shorn of its grace and becomes worthless or worse for us, just because vitiated by self-consciousness? For instance, I may be glad to receive a kindness; but if the man who professes to show it me betrays so plainly that he thinks it a kindness, and imposes a debt on myself while he does it, then I refuse to have the favour at his hands, or I grudge the necessity that compels me. Or I may feel that I stand in need of forgiveness; but if the brother at whose door I am suing for it makes it clear, while he gives me his hand, that he counts his act a magnanimous one, his forgiveness is emptied of its grace. Why, there are books one could point to, as well as people, in whose case the principle holds true. In language and in sentiment they are otherwise unexceptional. They treat of moral and religious truth with a freshness of view and a beauty of utterance which in themselves would arrest and stimulate. But you cannot help feeling throughout them the presence of an evil underflavour the while--the taint of the writer’s self-consciousness in it all, that maims and defiles his message--the traces of a spiritual ostentation through the whole, that makes you recognize while you read that the question is being asked you--not, “What think ye of the truth merely?” but, “What think ye of me who am saying it?” Nor is this unconsciousness without its directer proofs. Two at least will invariably be found with it--appreciation of others, depreciation of self. Nor is the reason of all this far to seek. This unconsciousness of grace that we speak of, issuing not only in appreciation of others, but in depreciation of self, may be accounted for by converse with a high ideal. For the greater an artist’s success, the greater his sense of imperfection. The more that he strives to attain, the further will his standard recede from him, the more unsatisfactory will his attainments appear in the light of it. What, then, must the ease be when the standard is an infinite one, and the mark we reach forth to is the perfection of a God! (W. A. Gray.)
The element of unconsciousness in character
See also Judges 16:20.
I. Let us note, in the first place, that this quality of unconsciousness is invariably connected with a peculiar antecedent history. The facts stated regarding Moses and Samson do not stand out in isolation in their biographies. They are in immediate relation to the preceding incidents in their careers. The new man can form good habits, just as the old man formed evil ones, and in proportion as these habits gain strength, the consciousness of effort after the things which they lead us to do begins to diminish in us. Hence in the details of daily life the character of the believer, as he grows in holiness, shines with a radiance of which he is largely unaware. Now this truth has another side, for it comes in also with fearfully dangerous influence in the continued commission of sin. The more one practises iniquity, the greater facility he acquires in committing it, the stronger becomes the tendency to indulge in it, and the weaker ever is his sense of its enormity. In a manufacturing town in England, some years ago, it became necessary to do some repairs at the top of one of the tallest smoke-stacks in the principal factory, and an expert was engaged for the purpose. He flew his kite over it, and fixed his tackle so that he could hoist himself up. But when he reached the summit, through some accident, the whole tackling fell, and there he stood without any means of coming down again. Every plan was tried to get a rope to him without success. A great crowd collected at the base of the chimney, and among these was the wife of the unfortunate man. A happy thought struck her, in her earnestness for her husband’s safety. She knew that he wore at the moment stockings which her own hands had just knitted. So, at her suggestion, they called him to undo the yarn of which they were composed, and by and by a tiny thread came fluttering down on the breeze. When it reached the earth, they tied it to a piece of twine, which he drew up with the yarn. To the twine again they tied a thicker string, and then to that a cord, and to that again a cable, and so he was saved. That was a work of deliverance. But there is a similar gradation in the cord of evil habit by which a sinner is bound. It is first a brittle yarn, then a tiny twine, with which a child might play.
II. But I advance another step in the prosecution of my theme, and remark, in the second place, that this quality of unconsciousness marks the culmination of character either in good or evil. The highest greatness is that which is unconscious of itself. The very forthputting of an effort to be great in any direction indicates that we lack that greatness. So long as we are conscious of an effort to be something, we are not fully that something, therefore we ought to redouble our exertions. When a venerable minister was called upon once unexpectedly to preach, he delivered extempore a sermon of great power. It seemed to come perfectly natural to him. There was no appearance of effort; and one hearer, amazed at the character of the discourse, asked, “How long did it take you to make that sermon? “Forty years,” was the reply. And there was deep philosophy in the answer, for had “the old man eloquent” not given these forty years to diligent study and laborious effort, he could not then have preached so easily. Now, in the same way, our conscious endeavours after the Christian life will, if faithfully prosecuted, lead up to a time when, in some emergency, we shall meet it with the most perfect ease, and be hardly aware of any exertion. Let this thought stimulate us to perseverance in our great Christian life-work of building character. The longer we labour the less arduous will our labour become, until by and by we shall lose the sense of labour in the joy and liberty of our happy experience. But note again at the other end of the scale that the deepest degradation is that which is unconscious of its dishonour. Hence, however degraded a man may be there is hope of his recovery if he only knows his condition. That is the handle by which yet, through the grace of God, you may raise him, and you will succeed in lifting the fallen from their defilement only by awakening in them that consciousness. Their fall has stunned them into insensibility, and the first thing you have to do with them is to restore them to consciousness. ( W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Communion with God, and its results
I. First, the converse which Moses had with God on the top of the mountain was the cause of that glory which rested on his countenance. There is, no doubt, a great deal of what is miraculous in connection with this transaction; but though we are not to look in our own particular case for anything analogous to it, yet we are to expect something spiritually correspondent with it.
1. The first remark that I offer to your attention is, that on ascending the mountain to hold intercourse with God, Moses observed the rites of the religious dispensation under which he lived. A devotional spirit must be cherished and cultivated; and it is promised, on the part of the Saviour, that what we ask in prayer, believing, that we shall receive. But in addition to this, God must lift the veil from His own throne. He must give utterance to the voice of mercy and love. He must display reasons to the humble waiting spirit, and must manifest Himself in some clear manner, before we can be made conscious of communion with Him.
2. Moses ascended the mountain alone. This opens to us another principle of religion. It is this--that in all respects it is personal. Our devotional exercises are of this nature. It is true, indeed, that we meet in public fellowship; but there is a sense in which the soul sits solitary and alone in the midst of a mighty multitude. Here I stand, and there you sit; but one character, one faith, one love, one hope, one joy. And our several emotions are all personal, and belong to ourselves. You know not my feelings; I know not yours.
3. As Moses drew a pattern from God on the mountain, so must we derive grace to fill it up from the same source. Now as far as we are employed in building the internal temple of Christianity, we must derive grace and strength from intercourse with God for the discharge of this great duty; and as Moses received the law from God, so we must receive grace and power to obey it from the same source. This remark is applicable both to our personal and public duties.
II. The second general observation to be made relates to the nature of that light, and beauty, and glory, which rested on the face of Moses. I should here remark, that there is a great mystery in this, but that it was intended to be symbolical of a better glory. That intercourse with God will make or cause His beauty to rest upon the soul. There may be no external glory, such as beamed on the face of Moses, but a spiritual glory beaming forth, instead, upon the mind.
1. There must be, for instance, rapturous joy. How can it be otherwise? The impulses of religion, when they exist in the mind, as they should do, by constant fellowship with the eternal Trinity, must be transporting and animating in the highest degree.
2. Intercourse with God must have the effect of expanding the capacity and enlarging the soul.
3. I may also add, that intercourse with God will produce, if not external or physical beauty, yet a beauty of character. Internal purity will be corroborated by outward conduct.
III. The final remark which I offer for your attention, relates to the vail which moses put on his face when he descended from the mountain to hold fellowship with the people. There is a mystery in this; but the mystery we shall not attempt to unravel. Allow me here to say generally, that religion in its beauty and glory is often in the present life veiled beneath circumstances which obscure its grandeur. (J. Dixon.)
A transfigured soul
You have heard of the marks on the bodies of Roman Catholic devotees which go by the name of stigmatization. There appear on the hands and feet of the rapt saint wounds similar to those inflicted on the crucified Saviour. It is alleged that the intense brooding of their sympathetic and ravished souls on the Redeemer’s agonies have led to their bearing about, in a literal sense, on their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus. We shall leave physiologists to explain the alleged phenomena, or to expose the possible imposture, and go on to say that this physical stigmatization has a moral counterpart; that though the wounds inflicted on the Saviour’s flesh may not be reproduced on the bodies of His saints, the moral glory of His nature may be republished in their souls, and through their faces may be radiated into the world, as His own glory, usually veiled, once was allowed to burst through the environing flesh on the Mount of Transfiguration. In meditating on this incident in the history of Moses I suggest to you--
1. That the effulgence of his face, was the result of his eighty days’ fellowship with God. I have read somewhere that people who live together through long-wedded years at last grow like each other, not only in their ways of thinking, of looking at things--in their moods and habitudes of mind--but even in their cast of face and feature. Such power, it is said, has long and constant fellowship to make people variously constituted of like temper, and even appearance. I can understand it in the case of the moral and mental dispositions. The stronger nature makes the weaker surrender its own personality and qualities, and borrow from that by which it is swayed. It is, indeed, by the working of this mysterious law of spirit that the Christian believer is renewed into Christ. If, therefore, the face of the sage and seer shone with unwonted lustre, it must have been because of a corresponding purification of his moral nature. It is to this condition alone that a glimpse of the beatific vision and an insight into Divine things are given. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and discern truth.
2. Did the translucency fade away, as the golden glory fades from the hill-tops when the sun has set; or did it last till the day of his death? Had he ever after kept his spirit up to the moral elevation to which it rose on Sinai’s height, the splendour of his visage would have been subject to no eclipse or wane; it would have shone not only with an undiminishing, but with an ever-increasing light.
3. Though the face of Moses shone, he was quite unconscious that there was anything unusual about him; “he wist not that the skin of his face shone when he talked”; he had no knowledge of the marvellous external results which his eighty days’ companionship with God had wrought in his appearance. There is a beautiful unconsciousness about the Christian. All the world is applauding and reverencing him; blessing him for the vision of excellence with which he refreshes it; acknowledging that his very existence fertilizes the field of life; but were you to overhear his own estimate of himself, you would find it other and different. Did you listen to his prayers, you would find them full of heart-breaking confessions of unworthiness. (J. Forfar.)
The law a light
1. First, it was signified that the law proceeded from a higher world of light, of knowledge, and of holiness, since its very gleams were to be seen outwardly on the minister of the law.
2. Since the people could not bear the shining of the light, it represented how fearful, condemnatory, and fatal the law was for a sinful people. (Otto von Gerlach, D. D.)
The highest excellence is that which is least conscious of itself
The greatest achievements made by the sculptor or the painter have been those in the production of which he has been fullest of his conception, and had least thought of himself. I do not mean to say that the noblest artists have not been indefatigable workers; on the contrary, they have laboured with such persevering effort that at last they can produce, almost without the consciousness of exertion, something that will never be forgotten; and their supreme work is that which seems almost to have come to them of itself, so that they were more passive than active in its transmission to their fellows. The best sermons write themselves, and are given to the preacher before they are given by him, so that he cannot think of them as wholly his own. But it is the same in spiritual things. If I am conscious of an effort to be humble, very clearly I have not yet attained to humility; while, on the other hand, the very moment I become conscious that I am humble, I have become proud. And so with every other grace. What a discount you take from a man’s character when, after you have said of him, he is this, or that, or the other thing that is good, you add, “but he knows it.” You might almost as well have taken a sponge and wiped out all that went before. So if you know your excellence, you have not reached the highest excellence; there remaineth yet the loftiest and the hardest peak of the mountain to be climbed by you, and that is humility. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Light through converse with spiritual things
There is one kind of diamond which, after it has been exposed for some minutes to the light of the sun, when taken into a dark room will emit light for some time. The marvellous property of retaining light, and thereby becoming the source of light on a small scale, shows how analogous to light its very nature must be. Those who touched the Saviour became sources of virtue to others. As Moses’ face shone when he came from the mount, so converse with spiritual things makes Christians the light which shines in the dark places of the earth. “Let your light so shine before men.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
The spaces between the windows of one of the rooms of a famous palace are hung with mirrors, and by this device the walls are made just as luminous as the windows, through which the sunshine streams. Every square inch of surface seems to reflect the light. Let your natures be like that--no point of darkness anywhere, the whole realm of the inward life an unchequered blaze of moral illumination. (T. G. Selby.)
The outshining of a joyful heart
Moses came down from the mount, when, like the bush of Horeb, he had been in the midst of the fire and was not consumed, and as he came, the light of his soul transfigured his face, “the beauty of the Lord our God was upon him,” and the ninetieth Psalm seemed to be shining through it. As the brightly-coloured soil of volcanic Sicily makes flowers of the brightest tints, so there was a garden in the prophet’s face, glorified by the outshining of his joyful heart. (Christian Age.)
The after-glow of devotion
One of the most solemn and delightful privileges of the traveller is to watch the after-glow upon the mountains when the sun has disappeared. This was accorded to us on several occasions, but was never more impressive than in the valley of Chamounix. To see the hoary head of Mont Blanc, and even the pointed aguiles of the locality, too steep to allow the snow to settle on them, all aglow with rosy tints, made us feel as though by some transformation scene we were inhabitants of another world, or as though heaven had come down to earth, and the tabernacle of God had been pitched among men. (G. Kirkham.)
Light reflected from the cross
With much pathos Mr. Varley once told the story of Sybil, a negress slave, whose mistress said to her: “When I heard you singing on the house-top I thought you fanatical, but when I saw your beaming face I could not help feeling how different you were to me.” Sybil answered, “Ah, missus, the light you saw in my face was not from me, it all came ‘fleeted from de cross, and there is heaps more for every poor sinner who will come near enough to catch de rays.”
Exhortation to humility
I charge you, be clothed with humility, or you will yet be a wandering star, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. Let Christ increase, let man decrease. Remember, “Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone.” Looking at our own shining face is the bane of the spiritual life, and of the ministry. Oh! for closest communion with God, till soul and body, head and heart, shine with Divine brilliancy! But oh! for a holy ignorance of their shining! (R. McCheyne.)
The absence of self-consciousness
Near the close of the summer season, in a pleasant summer retreat, a new-comer found the entire company of the little hotel preparing to give a fete in honour of a young lady who was about to leave them. The young men had hired a band, marquees were erected on the lawn, the house was wreathed with flowers; everybody had some little farewell gift ready for “Miss Betty.” The stranger was curious. “This Miss Betty is very beautiful?” he asked. “No, I think not; it never occurred to me before, but I believe she is homely.” “A great heiress, then?” “On the contrary, a poor artist.” “Brilliant? Witty? Highly intellectual?” “No, indeed; she never said a fine thing in her life. But she is the best listener I ever knew. Neither is she learned or clever or fascinating; but she is the most lovable girl in the world.” “What is the charm, then?” Betty’s friend looked perplexed. “I do not know,” he hesitated, “unless it is that she never thinks of herself.” The charm of this woman was an absolute absence of all self-conscious- ness. She was neither vain nor modest. She simply forgot that there was such a person as Betty Gordon, and with her warm heart and quick sympathies threw herself into the lives of others. It was a peculiar, powerful attraction, and brought the little world about her to her feet.
He put a vail on his face.
The vailed face
It appears to be a law of our being, and the being of all material things, that everything grows like to that with which it is conversant and familiar. It is a law ruling all creation. We find it in the Arctic regions and we find it in the tropics--namely, life assimilates itself to the nature which is around it. Friendship, the intercourse of common friendship, will affect the countenance. When we go to moral life, there is its evil and its blessed application. Those who frequent the good gather the image of their goodness; and those who deal much with God, they grow God-like.
I. What was the glory on Moses’ face? St. Paul gives us a remarkable answer to this question. He says, “They could not look steadfastly to the end of that which is abolished.” “That which is abolished” is the law, and the end of the law is Christ; therefore the glory upon Moses’ face was the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. It was not in compassion for the weakness of the israelites that Moses put a vail upon his face. The jews had lost the power to see the end of that which is abolished, to see the glory of God in Jesus Christ reflected in the law. The vail was judicial, the consequence of sin; it was interposed between them and the beauty, the lustre, of the mighty glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
III. There are vailed hearts among us now; and the reason of the vail is sin. Do you think that like those Israelites you have committed some sins under the mount? It will quite account for the vail, and the vail will be proportioned to that state of life. Every wilful disobedience of conscience, every going against a conviction, will thicken your vail. It will be God’s retribution to you--the intellect dulled, the mind warped, the heart hardened, the Spirit hindered, by the sin. What is the remedy? “When it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” Then Christ is the remedy. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The vail which Moses put on his face, when he perceived that it shone--
1. Teaches us a lesson of modesty and humility: we must be content to have our excellences obscured.
2. It teaches ministers to accommodate themselves to the capacities of the people, and to preach to them as they are able to bear it.
3. The vail signified the darkness of that dispensation in which there were only “shadows of good things to come.” (A. Nevin, D. D.)
The vail on Moses’ face
St. Paul, in the New Testament, makes large use of this narrative of the glory that shone on Moses’ face as he came down with the renewed covenant. Thus he employs it as in a typical sense an emblem of the relative glories of the old legal and the new evangelical dispensation (2 Corinthians 3:10-18). Even as a rhetorical figure, how beautiful is this application of the narrative of Moses to the purpose of setting before Jewish Christians the relation of the new to the old dispensation. Moses, with his vail, stands as a symbol of his own dispensation, which was, in fact, the gospel under a vail. And the symbol is represented as having a threefold significancy, when contemplated in its different parts. First, the symbol points out the intrinsic excellence and glory of the old dispensation, even though far less glorious than the new. But as the glory of Moses’ face was absorbed and lost when he entered “the tent of meeting,” to commune with God, so the brightness of the old dispensation of Moses is eclipsed in the transcendent brightness of the gospel. Again, the narration of the veiled Moses, in the apostle’s view, symbolizes the comparative obscurity of the old exhibition of the way of salvation. The vail represents the indistinct view which the Israelites had through the ritual teachings of the law; the brightness of the gospel light was covered up by rites that their minds did not penetrate. Nor will many of them now lift the vail, as the new dispensation invites them to do. Hence, again, this vail typified the blindness and ignorance under which the Jewish mind laboured, even in the time of the apostle. They had so long looked at Moses vailed that they now seemed to think the very vail an essential part of the system of salvation. (S. Robinson, D. D.)