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of ours to day, must continue to view it through countless ages; whose laws are without repeal, and His purposes, though from the first conditional on our actions, are, so far as He is Himself concerned, without repentance or shadow of turning! If God is for ever, how ill do we calculate in preferring to His love and protection the span of happiness which His visible creation can offer, the fashion of this world which is so soon to pass away into silence! Yea, rather, forasmuch as the things around us, which are all one day to be dissolved, are so goodly and glorious during their stage of momentary existence, “ if God so clothe the grass of the field which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven?;" if this earth which, ere long, must melt with fervent heat, is now so richly adorned with fruits and flowers by the lavish munificence of its Creator; if the firmament which is one day to wither like a parched scroll, is now set thick with suns, and all nature, even in this its ruined state, is teeming with whatever can supply the wants, whatever can delight the senses of us, poor exiles from Paradise; what may we not anticipate from the power and mercy of the Most High in that new Heaven and new earth, whose foundations shall be laid from everlasting, and where they whom He loves, and who have lovingly served Him shall be gathered as the wheat into His garner !
GOD'S DEALINGS WITH PHARAOH.
[Preached before the University of Oxford, 1818.]
EXODUS ix. 16.
In very deed for this cause I have raised thee up, for to show in
thee my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.
THESE words were spoken by Moses, in the name of God, to that unhappy king of Egypt who, for the visitations to which he was exposed, and his obstinate hardness under them, stands alone in the history of the ancient world, as a dreadful monument of the power of the Most High, and of the folly and perverseness of human nature. Ten times were plagues inflicted on himself and his people, the very least of which might have sufficed to humble the proudest heart, and awaken the most careless and incredulous spirit to attention, and conviction, and obedience. Ten times, while the hand of the Almighty as yet lay heavy on his land, did Pharaoh humble himself before Jehovah's prophet, and promise, with apparent sincerity, a complete and immediate compliance; and ten times did he fly back from his word so soon as his punishment was withdrawn, till the end was answered for which he had been endured so long, till the span was past
to which his guilt and his power were limited, and the chained sea was let loose to quench that frantic impiety which had seemed but to gather fresh strength from every former dispensation, whether of vengeance or of mercy.
All this, indeed, is strange, but this is not, to human ears, the strangest part of Pharaoh's history. Other fruitful lands, besides Egypt, have been, for a time, made barren through “ the wickedness of them that dwelt therein !.” Other nations, besides the children of Misraim, have smarted for their ruler's folly; and other kings, besides the one whose history we are now examining, have by their sins incurred the anger of Heaven, and by their blindness courted destruction. When Spain, by an opposite crime to that of the Egyptians in the time of Moses, expelled her Morisco brethren from those valleys which were, in their industrious hands, as another garden of Eden, how surely did she entail the curse of poverty on her soil, and in how legible and lasting characters has God's anger since been written on her rocks, her mountains, and her deserted fields! How strangely has the despotism of the Sultans reduced to an uniform bar barism and sterility the countries once most favoured by knowledge and genius, by nature and improvement; and how strangely have we ourselves beheld a bold, and wise, and wary conqueror entangled in those snares which his ambition was framing for mankind, and, in spite of warning to avoid his
1 Psalm cvii. 34,
calamities, in spite of opportunity to retrieve them, despising security and empire in the pursuit of yet further power, and, like Pharaoh, incurring a ruin which lay before him in the broad book of nature, as calculable as the moon, and as certain as the return of the seasons !
In the great mass, indeed, of human misery, by whatever secondary cause produced, by the wickedness of mankind, or by the phenomena of nature, the plagues of Egypt may seem to sink into insignificance. Streams broader than the Nile flowed with a worse crimson to the sea, when Attila, the scourge of God, was suffered by His providence to pass the Danube, and when Timur laid waste the regions round Euphrates; and the human beings who miserably perished during the single expedition of Xerxes, may have exceeded many times the number of first-born children whom the wrath of Jehovah cut off on the night of the passover. A volcano, an earthquake, an inundation, a famine, or a pestilence, are agents of destruction more sweeping by far, though, from their comparative frequency, less aweful, perhaps, and terrible than those miraculous inflictions which are recorded in the early chapters of Exodus. Nor can it be regarded by the rational deist as in itself impossible, or as any probable impeachment of the Divine goodness, that the same Providence which, in the ordinary course of nature, dispenses, for wise and gracious purposes, these other and more formidable plagues, should, in a remarkable instance, and where the
honour of His name was concerned, have more lightly, though not more conspicuously, afflicted a particular sovereign and his subjects. These truths it is well and wise to bear in our constant recollection while we are reading of those dispensations which are emphatically called “the wars of the Lord” in the Old Testament"; both as evincing a close and constant analogy between the usual and natural operations of the Deity in the world, and those rarer instances in which His interference has been immediate and visible, and as proving that the objections which are often inconsiderately advanced against these last must, if well founded, extend further than their authors' desire; must detract from the general no less than from the particular Providence of God, and lay the axe to the root of natural as well as of revealed religion.
But it is not the amount of the calamities inflicted on Pharaoh and his subjects; it is not the obstinacy of Pharaoh under them; it is not the fact that these sufferings were inflicted by God as punishments of long-continued oppression, and in order to the deliverance of three millions of enslaved and overburthened peasantry, and the establishment of a nation who were to preserve His name and His prophecies, through a thousand years of darkness, to the birth of Him in whom all nations were to receive light; they are not these circumstances which are so much calculated to excite our astonishment and our unbelieving murmurs,
1 Num. xxi. 14.