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a worm, you shall, through his almighty aid, be enabled to "thresh the mountains ""
3. To direct your exertions—
[One caution did Joshua and Caleb give to Israel; which also we would recommend to your attention; it is, to guard against an unbelieving and disobedient spirit: "Only rebel not ye against the Lord." You have nothing to fear but sin. Nothing, but sin, can by any means hurt you. As for men and devils, so far from prevailing against you, they are only "bread for you," and shall, by the very efforts which they use to destroy you, be made subservient to your spiritual welfare. But sin is a deadly evil: that will provoke your God to depart from you: that may cause him to "swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rests." O put away from you that deadly evil! Especially put away unbelief: it is "by an evil heart of unbelief that you will be tempted to depart from the living God." Pray therefore to God to "increase your faith"." Guard also against a murmuring spirit. If the Lord bring you into difficulties, it is only for the magnifying of his own grace in your deliverance. It is not your place to be indulging solicitude about events. God" would have you without carefulness*:" he bids you "be careful for nothing;" but to "cast all your care on him." Duty is yours: events are his. "Only therefore let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christy" your success is sure: for your God has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."]
Isai. xli. 14, 15. s Heb. ii. 11. t Heb. iii. 12. x 1 Cor. vii. 32. Phil. iv. 6. 1 Pet. v. 7.
u Luke xvii. 5.
y Phil. i. 27.
GOD'S ANSWER TO THE INTERCESSION of moses.
Numb. xiv. 20, 21. And the Lord said, I have pardoned, according to thy word: but, as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
LITTLE do the world think how much they are indebted to the saints. They are the cluster for the sake of which the vineyard of the Lord is spared"; the elect, for whose sake the days of vengeance have been often shortened"; the little remnant, without which the whole world would long since have been made as Sodom and Gomorrha. In the passage
a Isai. lxv. 8.
b Matt. xxiv. 22.
c Isai. i. 9.
before us we have this very matter exhibited in a striking point of view. The whole people of Israel were in a state of rebellion against God; and God was meditating their utter extermination. But Moses lifts up his heart in prayer for them; and, by his importunate intercession, averts the judgments which were ready to burst upon them.
Let us consider,
I. The prayer he offered
This did not relate to the eternal salvation of the people, except incidentally and by remote consequence: it had respect only to the threatening which God had denounced against the people. Having reason to fear that God would "smite them all with a pestilence, and disinherit them" utterly, Moses entreated God to spare them, and urged such arguments as he judged most suitable to the occasion. These pleas of his deserve an attentive consideration. He pressed upon the Deity,
1. A regard for his own honour
["What will the Egyptians and the Canaanites say? Will they not ascribe the destruction of this people to a want of power in thee to accomplish thy projected plans? O let them not have such cause for triumph! let them not have so specious an occasion to blaspheme thy name!"
This was an argument of great weight. He had used it successfully on a former occasion; and God himself had acknowledged its force. This therefore is a plea which we should use we should use it with God, as an inducement to him to keep ush. and we should use it with ourselves, as an incentive to vigilance and circumspection. We should be exceeding tender of God's honour: and, when tempted to the commission of any sin, we should think, How will the Philistines rejoice, and the uncircumcised triumph! how will they "blaspheme that sacred name by which I am called1!" O that I may never thus give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully m!"]
2. A conformity to his own perfections
ver. 11, 12.
g Deut. xxxii. 26, 27.
h Ps. v. 8. Jer. xiv. 21. 1 Jam. ii. 7.
[Didst thou not, O my God, when proclaiming thy name to me, represent thyself as "long-suffering, and of great mercy, and as forgiving iniquity and transgression, though thou wouldest not clear the guilty"?" Let it now be seen that this is indeed thy character. I do not ask that thou shouldest “leave them altogether unpunished; but only that thou shouldest not make a full end of them, as thou hast threatened."
Here, methinks, is a plea, which, almost above all others, it becomes us to urge in all our supplications at the throne of grace. The character of God, as a God of infinite mercy, is that which encourages our addresses to him. When every other ground of hope fails, this is still firm. If only we do not "limit the Holy One of Israel," we can never be at a loss for arguments with which to fill our mouths" at a throne of grace. O let us study well the representations which God has given of himself, and especially that to which Moses referred: then, even in our lowest state of guilt or misery, we shall never despair of obtaining mercy at his hands.]
3. A consistency with his own conduct
["Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now and wilt thou abandon them at last? Olet it not be so: pardon, I beseech thee, yet again and again their iniquity, according unto the greatness of thine unbounded mercy P."
This plea, if used with men, would have had no weight: it would have operated rather to prevent the repetition of mercies which had been so abused. But, with God, it availeth much: and in our minds too it is a most encouraging consideration. We may look back and see how God has borne with all our frowardness from our youth up to the present moment; and may take occasion from his past forbearance to supplicate the continuance of it: "Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies, and thy loving-kindnesses; for they have been ever of old 9." Yes; we should "account the long-suffering of God to be salvation," and the goodness he has already exercised towards us as a motive and encouragement to repentance.]
Such was the prayer of Moses, a prayer peculiarly
n ver. 17, 18. which refers to Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7.
• That clause, by no means clearing the guilty," may, both in Exod. xxxiv. 7. and in this place, be rendered "clearing, I will not clear," i. e. not make desolate. The word "guilty" is not in the original. In that sense it will be exactly parallel with Jer. xxx. 11. But the sense affixed to it in the Translation is probably the right, though the other is better suited to the purpose for which it is here adduced.
P ver. 19. q Ps. xxv. 6. r 2 Pet. iii. 15. s Rom. ii. 4.
excellent, because it was a holy pleading with God. Let us now proceed to consider,
II. The answer he obtained
"I have pardoned," saith God," according to thy word. Thou hast entreated me to spare them; and I will spare them: but, I swear by my own life, that the whole of my conduct on this occasion shall be such, as shall procure me honour to the remotest ends of the earth, and to the latest period of time. Every one of my perfections shall be now displayed: now will I exhibit before my people such rays of my glory, as shall illumine the benighted heathen, and fill the whole earth with wonder."
Now then, my Brethren, let us contemplate this subject with holy awe: let us beg of God to take away the veil from our hearts, that we may see wherein this glory of his consists. Let us behold, 1. His condescension in hearing prayer
[Here was a whole nation involved in actual rebellion against God: and one single individual betakes himself to prayer. What, it may be said, can a single individual do? Read the answer of God, and see. He replies, not, 66 I will pardon," but, "I have pardoned:" "the very moment thou liftedst up thy voice, my hands were tied, and I could no longer persist in my resolution to destroy them. I have pardoned according to thy word, and to the full extent of thy petitions." O, who after this will ever doubt the efficacy of prayer? If God answered so speedily the prayer of one on behalf of a rebellious nation, what will he not do for those who supplicate mercy for themselves? Will he ever cast out their prayer? No: let the whole universe know, that he is " God that heareth prayer," and that not even the vilest of the human race shall "ever seek his face in vain."]
2. His mercy in forbearing vengeance
[Consider the mercies which that nation had experienced, and the extent of that wickedness which they now committed; consider that they cast the most bitter reflections on God himself, and actually appointed a captain to lead them back to Egypt", and were proceeding to murder those who exhorted them to obedience: could it be supposed that such persons should be spared, spared too after God had said he would
t Compare Dan. ix. 20, 21, 23.
u Neh. ix. 17.
instantly cut them off? Whom then will he not spare? Who, whilst on praying-ground, can be considered as beyond the reach of mercy? Let us not despair of any; nor let any despair of themselves: He is the same God as ever; "slow to anger,
and of great kindness, and ready to repent him of the evil” which he has thought to inflict upon us, the very moment that he can do it in consistency with his own perfections.]
3. His justice in punishing sin
[Though he forbore to destroy the nation at large, he executed immediate vengeance on those who were the leaders and instigators of the rebellion. Nor were the people themselves left unpunished. They had expressed a wish that they had died in the wilderness: now God gave them their wish; and declared that not one of those who had rebelled against him should ever see the promised land. Forty days had been spent in searching the land of Canaan; and forty years were they condemned to bear their iniquities, till their carcases should be consumed in the wilderness.
What an awful lesson does this give to the ungodly world! Who must not tremble for fear of his judgments? Who does not see that it is vain to hope for impunity on account of the number of those who tread the paths of wickedness? The question is often confidently put by sinners, Do you think that God will condemn so many? We answer, If you would know what God will do, look at what he has done: inquire, how many of those who came out of Egypt ever were admitted into the land of Canaan: and when you have learned that, you will know how God will proceed in the day of judgment". Let all the world hear this, and tremble: for "verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth."]
4. His goodness in rewarding virtue—
[Two of the spies were faithful to their God: and behold how God interposed for them! The congregation was just going to stone them, and God instantly displayed his glory in such a manner as to appal the hearts of their enemies. To them also he bore testimony, that they had "followed him fully:" and he promised them, that though every other man throughout all the tribes should die in the wilderness, they should go into the promised land, and enjoy the inheritance reserved for them".
Do any of the human race wish to ascertain whether their works shall be rewarded? Let them look to this history: let them here see how God will protect his people; and how
* ver. 36, 37.
y See 1 Cor. x. 11. Heb. iii. 17-19. and iv. 1. Jude, ver. 5. z ver. 24, 30.