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an heart in them !” From hence we are naturally led to set before you The sentiments and dispositions which God approves;—the sentiments; “ They have well said all that they have spoken;"—the dispositions; “O that there were in them such an heart !”
I. The sentiments which he approves.
Here it will be necessary to analyze, as it were, or at least to get a clear and distinct apprehension of, the speech which God commends. It is recorded in the preceding context from the 23d verse. “ And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; and ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory, and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day, that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now therefore why should we die ? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that hath heard the voice of the living God, speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived ? Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear it, and do it.” Then it is added, “ And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken."
Now in this speech are contained the following things; An acknowledgment that they could not stand before the Divine Majesty ;-A desire that God would appoint some one to mediate between him and them ;-and lastly, An engagement to regard every word that should be delivered to them through a Mediator, with the same obediential reverence, as they would if it were spoken to them by God himself. And these are the sentiments, on which the commendation in our text was unreservedly bestowed.
The first thing then to be noticed is, Their acknowledgment that they could not stand before the Divine Majesty.
Many things had now occurred to produce an extraordinary degree of terror upon their minds. There was a blackness and darkness in the sky, such as they never before beheld. This darkness was rendered more visible by the whole adjacent mountain blazing with fire, and by vivid lightnings flashing all around in quick succession. The roaring peals of thunder added an awful solemnity to the scene. The trumpet sounding with a long and increasingly tremendous blast, accompanied as it was by the mountain shaking to its centre, appalled the trembling multitude: and Jehovah's voice, uttering with inconceivable majesty his authoritative commands, caused even Moses himself to say, “I exceedingly fear and quake.”
In consequence of this terrific scene, we are told that the people “ removed and stood afar off," lest the fire should consume them, or the voice of God strike them dead upon the spot". Now though this was in them a mere slavish fear, and the request founded upon it had respect only to their temporal safety, yet the sentiment itself was good, and worthy of universal adoption. God being hidden from our senses, so that we neither see nor hear him, we are ready to think lightly of him, and even to rush into his more immediate presence without any holy awe upon our minds: but when he speaks to us in thunder or by an earthquake, the most hardened rebel is made to feel that “ with God is terrible majesty,” and that “he is to be had in reverence by all that are round about him.” This is a lesson which God has abundantly taught us by his dealings with the Jews. Among the men of Bethshemesh, a great multitude were slain for their irreverent curiosity in looking into the ark• as Uzzah also afterwards was for his well-meant but erroneous zeal in presuming to touch it. The reason of such acts of severity is told us in the history of Nadab and Abihu, who were struck dead for offering strange fire on the altar of their God: they are designed to teach us, “ that God will be sanctified in all that come nigh unto him, and before all the people he will be glorified.”
b Compare Exod. xix. 16–19. with Heb. xii. 18—21. . Exod. xx. 18, 19.
d Exod. xx. 21.
The next thing to be noticed is, Their desire to have some person appointed who should act as a Mediator between God and them. They probably had respect only to the present occasion: but God interpreted their words as general, and as importing a request that he would send them a permanent Mediator, who should transact all their business, as it were, with God, making known to him their wants, and communicating from him the knowledge of his will. That God did construe their words in this extended sense, we are informed by Moses in a subsequent chapter of this book. In Deut. xviii. 15th and following verses, this explanation of the matter is given: “ The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him shall ye hearken, according to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb, in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the Lord said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I WILL RAISE THEM UP A PROPHET FROM AMONG THEIR BRETHREN, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I command him: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words, which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.”
Who this Prophet was, we are at no loss to declare: for the Apostle Peter, endeavouring to convince the Jews from their own Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, and that Moses himself had required them to believe in him, cites these very words as referring to Christ, and calls upon them to regard him as that very Mediator, whom God had sent in answer to the petitions which had been offered by their forefathers at Mount Horeb?.
e Lev. x. 1-3.
Here it should be remembered that we are speaking, not from conjecture, but from infallible authority; and that the construction we are putting on the text is, not a fanciful interpretation of our own, but God's own exposition of his own words.
Behold then the sentiment expressed in our text, and the commendation given to it by God himself : it is a sentiment, which is the very sum and substance of the whole Gospel: it is a sentiment, which whosoever embraces truly, and acts upon it faithfully, can never perish, but shall have eternal life. The preceding sentiment, that we are incapable of standing before an holy God, is good, as introductory to this; but this is the crown of all; this consciousness that we cannot come to God, and that God will not come to us, but through Christ. This acquiescence in him as the divinely appointed Mediator; this acceptance of him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Lise;" this sentiment, I say, God did, and will, approve, wheresoever it may be found. The Lord grant that we may all embrace this sentiment as we ought; and that, having tasted its sweetness and felt its efficacy, we may attain by means of it all the blessings which a due reception of it will ensure!
The third thing to be noticed is, Their engagement to yield unqualified obedience to every thing that should be spoken to them by the Mediator. This, if viewed only as a general promise of obedience, was good, and highly acceptable to God; since the obedience of his creatures is the very end of all his dispensations towards them. It is, to bring them to obedience, that he alarms them by the denunciations of his wrath, and encourages them by the promises of his Gospel: when once they are brought to love his law, and obey his commandments, all the designs of his love and mercy are accomplished; and nothing remains
f Acts üi. 22, 23.
but that they attain that measure of sanctification, that shall fit them for the glory which he has prepared for them.
But there is far more in this part of our subject than appears at first sight. We will endeavour to enter into it somewhat more minutely, in order to explain what we conceive to be contained in it.
The moral law was never given with a view to men's obtaining salvation by their obedience to it; for it was not possible that they who had transgressed it in any one particular, should afterwards be justified by it. St. Paul says, “ If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law 8.” But the law could not give life to fallen man: and therefore that way of obtaining righteousness is for ever closed. With what view then was the law given? I answer, to shew the existence of sin, and the lost state of man by reason of sin, and to shut him up to that way of obtaining mercy, which God has revealed in his Gospel. I need not multiply passages in proof of this; two will suffice to establish it beyond a doubt : “As many as are under the law, are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Again, “ The law is our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faithh.” But when the law has answered this end, then it has a further use, namely, to make known to us the way in which we should walk. In the first instance we are to flee from it as a covenant, and to seek for mercy through the Mediator: but when we have obtained mercy through the Mediator, then we are to receive the law at his hands as a rule of life, and to render a willing obedience to it.
Now all this was shadowed forth in the history before us. God gave Israel his law immediately from his own mouth: and, so given, it terrified them beyond measure, and caused them to desire a Mediator. At the same time they did not express any wish to be
h Gal. iii. 10. and 24.
8 Gal. iii. 21.