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by God to be a priest to himself. He that had set up an altar to the calf, must serve at the altar of God. He that had melted and carved out the calf for a god, must sacrifice calves and rams, and bullocks unto the true God. He that consecrated a day to the idol, is himself consecrated to him which was dishonoured by the idol. The grossest of all sins cannot prejudice the calling of God; yea, as light is best seen in darkness, the mercy of God is most magnified in our unworthiness.
What a difference God puts between persons and sins ! While so many thousand Israelites were slain, that had stomachfully desired the idol, Aaron, that in weakness condescended, is both pardoned the fact, and afterwards laden with honour from God. Let no man take heart to sin, from mercy. He that can purpose to sin upon the knowledge of God's mercy in the remission of infirmities, presumes, and makes himself a wilful offender. It is no comfort to the wilful that there is remission to the weak and penitent.
The ear-rings are plucked off. Egyptian jewels are fit for an idolatrous use. This very gold was contagious. It had been better the Israelites had never borrowed these ornaments, than that they should pay them back to the idolatry of their first owners. What cost the superstitious Israelites are content to be at for this lewd devotion! The riches and pride of their outward habit, are they willing to part with to their molten god; as glad to have their ears bare, that they might fill their eyes. "No gold is too dear for their idol; each man is content to spoil his wives and children of that whereof they spoiled the Egyptians.
Where are those worldlings that cannot abide to be at any cost for their religion, which could be content to do God chargeless service? These very Israelites that were ready to give gold, not out of their purses, but from their very ears, to misdevotion, shall once condemn them. O sacrilege succeeding to superstition! Of old they were ready to give gold to the false service of God; we, to take away gold from the true. How do we see men prodigal to their lusts and ambitions, and we hate not to be niggards to God !
This gold is now grown to a calf. Let no man think that form came forth casually, out of the melted ear-rings. This shape was intended by the Israelites, and perfected by Aaron. They brought this god in their hearts with them out of Egypt, and now they set it up in their eyes. Still doth Egypt hurt them. Servitude was the least evil that Israel receives from Egypt; for that sent them still to the true God, but this idolatrous example led them to a false. The very sight of evil is dangerous ; and it is hard for the heart not to run into those sins, to which the eye and ear is inured. Not out of love, but custom, we fall into some offences.
The Israelites wrought so long in the furnaces of the Egyptians' brick, that they have brought forth a molten calf. The black calf with the white spots, which they saw worshipped in Egypt, hath stolen their hearts; and they, which before would have been at the Egyptian flesh-pots, would now be at their devotions. How many have fallen into a fashion of swearing, scoffing, drinking, out of the usual practice of others; as those that live in an ill air are infected with diseases. A man may pass through Ethiopia unchanged, but he cannot dwell there and not be discoloured.
Their sin was bad enough, let not our uncharitableness make it worse. No man may think they have so put off humanity, and sense, with their religion, as to think that calf a god, or that this idol, which they saw yesterday made, did bring them out of Egypt, three months ago : this were to make them more beasts than that calf which this image represented. Or, if they should have been so insensate, can we think that Aaron could be thus desperately mad? The iinage and the holy day were both to one deity. “To-morrow is the holy day of the Lord your God.” It was the true God they meant to worship in the calf; and yet at best this idolatry is shameful. It is no marvel if this foul sin seeks pretences; yet no excuse can hide the shame of such a face. God's jealousy is not stirred only by the rivality of a false god, but of a false worship. Nothing is more dangerous than to mint God's services in our own brain.
God sends down Moses to remedy this sin. He could as easily have prevented, as redressed it. He knew ere Moses came up, what Israel would do ere he came down; like as he knew the two tables would be broken, ere he gave them. God most wisely permits and ordinates sin to his own ends, without our excuse : and though he could easily, by his own hands, remedy evils, yet he will do it by means both ordinary and subordinate. It is not for us to look for any immediate redress from God, when we have a Moses, by
whom it may be wrought. Since God himself expects this from man, why should man expect it from God?
Now might Moses have found a time to have been even with Israel for all their unthankfulness, and mutinous insurrections: “Let me alone; I will consume them, and make thee a mighty nation.” Moses should not need to solicit God for revenge; God solicits him, in a sort, for leave to revenge. Who would look for such a word from God to man, “ Let me alone?” As yet Moses had said nothing; before he opens his mouth, God prevents his importunity, as foreseeing that holy violence which the requests of Moses would offer to him. Moses stood trembling before the majesty of his Maker; and yet hears him say, “Let me alone.” The mercy of our God hath, as it were, obliged his power to the faith of men.
The fervent prayers of the faithful hold the hands of the Almighty. As I find it said afterwards of Christ, That "he could do no miracles there, because of their unbelief :” so now I hear God (as if he could not do execution upon Israel, because of Moses' faith) say, “Let me alone, that I may consume them.”
We all naturally affect propriety, and like our own so much better, as it is freer from partners. Every one would be glad to say, with that proud one, “I am, and there is none beside me:" so inuch the more sweetly would this message have sounded to nature, “I will consume them, and make of thee a mighty nation.” How many endeavour that, not without danger of curses and uproar, which was voluntarily tendered unto Moses! Whence are our depopulations and inclosures, but for that men cannot abide either fellows or neighbours ? But how graciously doth Moses strive with God, against his own preferment! If God had threatened, “I will consume thee, and make of them a mighty nation," I doubt whether he could have been more moved. The more a man can leave himself behind him, and aspire to a care of community, the more spiritual he is. Nothing makes a man so good a patriot as religion.
O the sweet disposition of Moses, fit for him that should be familiar with God! He saw they could be content to be inerry and happy without him; he would not be happy without them. They had professed to have forgotten him : he slacks not to sue for them. He that will ever hope for good bimself, must return good for evil unto others.
Yea, it was not Israel so much that Moses respected, as God in Israel. He was thrifty and jealous for his Maker ; and would not have him lose the glory of his mighty deliverances; nor would abide a pretence for any Egyptian dog to bark against the powerful work of God; “Wherefore shall the Egyptians say?" If Israel could have perished without dishonour to God, perhaps his hatred to their idolatry would have overcome his natural love, and he had let God alone. Now so tender is he over the name of God, that he would rather have Israel escape with a sin, than God's glory should be blemished, in the opinions of men, by a just judgment. He saw that the eyes and tongues of all the world were intent upon Israel
, a people so miraculously fetched from Egypt, whom the sea gave way to; whom Heaven fed; whom the rock watered; whom the fire and cloud guarded; which hcard the audible voice of God. He knew withal, how ready the world would be to misconstrue, and how the heathens would be ready to cast imputations of levity or impotence upon God; and therefore says, “What will the Egyptians say?" Happy is that man, which can make God's glory the scope of all his actions and desires ; neither cares for his own welfare, nor fears the miseries of others, but with respect to God in both. If God had not given Moses this care of his glory, he could not have had it: and now his goodness takes it so kindly, as if himself had received a favour from his creature; and, for a reward of the grace he had wrought, promises not to do that which he threatened. But what needs God to care for the speech of the Egyptians, men, infidels? And if they had been good, yet their censure should have been unjust. Shall God care for the tongues of men; the holy God, for the tongues of infidels? The very Israelites, now they were from under the hands of Egypt, cared not for their words; and shall the God of heaven regard that which is not worth the regard of men? Their tongues could not talk against God, but from himself; and if it could have been the worse for him, would he have permitted it? But, O God, how dainty art thou of thine honour, that thou canst not endure the worst of men should have any colour to taint it! What, do we men stand upon our justice and innocence, with neglect of all unjust censures, when that infinite God, whom no censures can reach, will not abide that the very Egyptians should falsely tax his power and mercy! Wise men must care, not only to deserve well, but to hear well, and to wipe off, not only crimes, but censures.
There was never so precious a monument, as the tables written with God's own hand. If we see but the stone which Jacob's head rested on, or, on which the foot of Christ did once tread, we look upon it with more than ordinary respect. With what eye should we have beheld this stone, which was hewed, and written with the very finger of God? Any manuscript scroll, written by the hand of a famous man, is laid up amongst our jewels; what place then should we have given to the hand-writing of the Almighty?
That which he hath dictated to his servants the prophets, challenges just honour from us : how doth that deserve veneration, which his own hand wrote immediately?
Prophecies and evangelical discourses he hath written by others ; never did he write any thing himself, but these tables of the law; neither did he ever speak any thing audibly to whole mankind, but it. The hand, the stone, the law, were all his. By how much more precious this record was, by so much was the fault greater of defacing it. What king holds it less than rebellion, to tear his writing, and blemish his seal ? At the first he engraved his image in the table of man's heart; Adam blurred the image, but, through God's mercy, saved the tablet. Now he writes his will in the tables of stone; Moses breaks the tables, and defaced the writing. If they had been given him for himself, the author, the matter had deserved, that as they were written in stone for permanency, so they should be kept for ever; and, as they were everlasting in use, so they should be in preservation. Had they been written in clay, they could but have been broken; but now they were given for all Israel, for all mankind. He was but the messenger, not the owner. Howsoever therefore Israel had deserved, by breaking this covenant with God, to have this monument of God's covenant with them broken by the same hand that wrote it; yet how durst Moses thus carelessly cast away the treasure of all the world, and by his hands undo that which was with such cost and care done by his Creator ? How durst he fail the trust of that God, whose pledge he received with awe and reverence? He that expostulated with God, to have Israel live and prosper, why would he deface the rule of their life, in the keeping whereof they should prosper? I see that forty days' talk with God cannot bereave a