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One of the most affecting narratives of the Old Testament, is that of the wonderful preservation of Moses in his infancy, Exod. i. 1–10. Lo, at the brink of the Nile, among the reeds, there floats a small ark or basket, made of bulrushes, and carefully secured from leaking by cement of slime and pitch! For a treasure indeed lies concealed in it—a goodly infant acceptable to God, and dear and precious to its mother above every thing in this world. She has therefore thus secured it, that in its floating cradle it may, if possible, escape the destruction which Pharaoh's cruel sentence has denounced upon all the new-born males of Israel. A mother's love has prepared this infant's couch, with many silent tears and unspeakable anxiety; and while it lies there, in peril on the waters, the sisterly love of Miriam fixes her within sight of it, to watch its fate. The providence of God brings to the banks of the river the daughter of Pharaoh, who, noticing the strange object, sends one of her maidens to fetch it. “ And when she had opened it, she saw the child : and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him and said, This is one of the hebrews' children." Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter : “ Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?” And she said, “ Go.” And the maid went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, “ Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” Thus, by the Divine disposal, were the mother and the child again brought together.
Much spiritual comfort is derivable from this narrative. As many
us, my friends, as belong to Christ, are hidden as it were in an ark, which cruelty cannot penetrate, nor the floods of the ungodly submerge ; this ark is His heart and His love. But many
of us, like the infant Moses, who lay in the ark and wept, know not how safely we are thus preserved. Many of us float upon the waves of this troublesome world, in the region of the leviathan and the piercing serpent, amidst many anxieties
and terrific apprehensions. But be not afraid, my beloved brother; remember who watches over thee! If thou perish, the eternal love of God must perish too: for into that ark hast thou been received, and none shall pluck thee out of the Saviour's hand. Nor shalt thou float upon the waters for ever. Be of good cheer: though thou see nothing but darkness and death before thee, the providence of God, the Keeper of Israel, is nigh thee to watch over thee, as over all the Israel of God. The portion of sacred history now to be considered will show how needless are all our distracting cares and anxieties.
1 KINGS XIX. 13-17.
“ And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou
here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts : because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus : and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria : and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel : and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.”
This part of the narrative presents at first sight much that is strange, when viewed in connexion with the great event just before related. Who, for instance, would have expected that the prophet should renew his former complaint, or that the Lord should dismiss him with commissions and disclosures like these ? Yet it only requires a closer consideration of the matter, to elucidate most satisfactorily what thus is doubtful and obscure. Let
us, 1. Take another glance at the Divine manifestation on Horeb; then, II. Listen to the prophet's complaint; after which we shall, III. Pause and consider the instructions he recives ; and lastly, Inquire into the nature of those commissions with which the Lord dismisses him.
I. The majestic scene of wonders on Horeb has already passed before us, and its meaning has been in some degree developed. It depicted the character of the Old Testament dispensation, and the office of the law as our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ; while, in the “still small voice,” we discern the gentle whisper of gospel grace. Thus we are enabled to see these grand occurrences as taking place not for Elijah's sake only, but for ours also ; and we must not leave them without a glance at their rich import.
The Lord often comes to those, to whom he graciously reveals himself, as he came to Elijah on Horeb. Has your own experience furnished nothing similar ? Do you know nothing of the storm which he sends before him, as it were, rending the mountains; of the earthquake, which subverts every thing within us and casts down imaginations; of a fire of terror and dread preceding the Lord of glory? Are your rocks still unbroken? Have
your heights not yet been cast down, nor the deceitful ground of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency removed from under you? And yet you imagine you have heard the gentle voice of grace ? You are not perhaps aware that the father of lies approaches men sometimes as an angel of light, and whispers smooth things in their ears. This destroyer is able to pervert the promises of God into the snares of death, and he considers those secured as his prisoners, who suffer themselves to be caught by his false assurances of Divine favour! Oh tremble at the artifices of the old serpent; and reinember, that the comforter who seeks to quiet your conscience without mortifying your flesh, is not the Lord, but the wicked one! For Jesus does not draw near with his still small voice, without first overthrowing every high thing that exalts itself against him, and subverting the power of the old man within us. “ Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” “Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” Seeking is not sufficient here—there must be striving. The new creation within us rises
the ruins of the old and corrupt nature. Wherever grace builds, it first pulls down, and it is by bringing to nought things that are, that God makes out of us what we by nature are not.
There was, some years ago, not far from this place, a very gifted preacher, who for several years preached with great earnestness and success the doctrine of the cross; and who, on that very account, was violently opposed. One of his opponents, a well-informed person, who had for a long time absented himself from the church, thought, one sunday morning, that he would
go and hear the gloomy man once more, to see whether his preaching might be more tolerable to him than it had been before. He went; and that morning the preacher was speaking of “the narrow way,” which he did not make either narrower or broader than the word of God describes it. “A new creature in Christ, or eternal condemnation,” was the theme of his discourse; and he spoke with power, and not as a mere learned reasoner. During the sermon, the question forced itself upon this hearer's conscience, “How is it with myself? Does this man declare the real truth? If he does, what must be the inevitable consequence ?” This thought took such a hold upon him, that he could not get rid of it, amidst
engagements or amusements. But it became from day to day more and troublesome, more and more penetrating, and threatened to embitter every joy of his life; so that at last he thought he would go to the preacher himself, and ask him,
conscience, if he were really convinced of the truth of that which he had lately preached. He fulfilled his intention, and went to the preacher. * Sir," said he to him, with great earnestness, “I was one of your hearers, when you spoke, a short time since, of the only way of salvation. I confess to
my peace of mind, and I cannot refrain from asking you solemnly before God, and upon your conscience, if
you can prove
what you asserted, or whether it was an unfounded alarm.”. The preacher, not a little surprised at this address, replied with convincing certainty, that what he had spoken was the word of God, and, consequently, infallible truth. “ What then is to become of us !” replied the visitor. His last word, us, startled the preacher ; but he rallied his thoughts, and began to explain the plan of salvation to the inquirer, and to exhort him to repent and believe. But the latter, as though he had not heard one syllable of what the preacher said, interrupted him in the midst of it, and repeated, with increasing emotion, the anxious exclamation, “ If it be truth, sir, I beseech you, what are we to do ?”
Terrified, the preacher staggers back. 66 We!” thinks he, “what means this we ?” and, endeavouring to stifle his inward uneasiness and embarrassment, he resumed his exhortations and advice. Tears came into the eyes of the visitor ; he smote his hands together like one in despair, and exclaimed in accents which might have moved a heart of stone, “Sir, if it be truth, we are lost and undone !” The preacher stood pale, trembling, and speechless. Then overwhelmed with astonishment, with downcast eyes, and convulsive sobbings, he exclaimed, “Friend, down on your knees, let us pray and cry for mercy!” They knelt down, and prayed; and shortly afterwards the visitor took his leave. The preacher shut himself up in his closet. Next sunday, word was sent that the minister was unwell, and could not preach. The same thing happened the sunday following. On the third sunday, he made his appearance before his congregation, worn with his inward conflict, and pale, but his eyes beaming with joy, and commenced his discourse with the surprising and affecting declaration, that he had now, for the first time, passed through the strait gate. You will ask what had occurred to him in his chamber, during the interval which had elapsed. A storm passed over before him—but the Lord was not in the storm ; an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; a fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. Then came a still small voice; on which the man enveloped his face in his mantle, and from that time knew what was the gospel, and what was grace.
No sooner was Elijah favoured with the still small voice, than he wrapped his face in his mantle. This is an emblem of the christian's state of mind, who veils his face with humility and self-abasement before God. The law fills him with apprehension ; the knowledge of sin casts him down to the ground; but the holy shame, the deep and silent contrition, which is so pleasing to God, begins to be felt when the Lord has come with his still small voice. “ Behold,” it is said in Ezekiel xvi. 62, 63, “I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.” Yes, when such a whisper of the most unmerited mercy breathes upon us, our high looks are lowered—our lips are silent—we are overwhelmed with shame. But it is shame without distress; it is a trembling without slavish fear ; it is a humiliation replete with love and blessed
Oh how well-pleasing is it to the Lord! We have already seen the prophet in various positions. We have seen him clothed with strength and intrepidity, contending like a lion with God's enemies; we have seen him in the tempest, with undaunted front, like a rock in the sea, unmoved by the winds and waves—but surely he never appeared more noble and amiable than here on Horeb, when at the still small voice of Divine peace, he bowed his mighty spirit, and, trembling with confusion and delight, wrapped his face in his mantle.
II. We further read, that he then went forth and stood at the entering in of the cave. He does not yet appear to have fully understood the meaning of these wonderful manifestations. And, while he stood there, “behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah ?” This question, repeated the second time, seemed to direct him back to the scene of activity. We should have supposed that he would not have needed to be thus aroused again, but would, after such a gracious experience as had just before been given him, have hastened back, with winged feet, to the work of reformation. But instead of this, he breaks out again, to our astonishment, into his former