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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 6 out of 12

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or negative, is unwarranted. But it is to be remembered that,
whether they had any notion of a future state or no, they had a
promise which fulfilled for them substantially the same office as
that does for us. The promise of the land of Canaan gleaming before
them through the mists, bare and 'earthly' as it seems to us when
compared with our hope of an inheritance incorruptible in the
heavens, is, by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, identified
with that hope of ours, for he expressly says that, whilst they were
looking for an earthly Canaan, they were 'desiring a better country,
that is an heavenly.' So that, whether they definitely expected a
life after death or not, the anticipation of the land promised to
them and to their fathers held the same place in their creed, and as
a moral agent in their lives, which the rest that remains for the
people of God ought to do in ours.

And it is to be taken into account also that fellowship with God has
in it the germ of the assurance of immortality. It seems almost
impossible to suppose a state of mind in which a man living in
actual communion with God shall believe that death is to end it all.
Christ's proof that immortal life was revealed in the Pentateuch,
was the fact that God there called Himself the God of Abraham and of
Isaac and of Jacob; by which our Lord meant us to learn that men who
are brought into personal relations with God can never die, that it
is impossible that a soul which has looked up to the face of the
unseen Father with filial love should be left in the grave, or that
those who are separated to be His, as He is theirs, should see
corruption. The relation once established is eternal, and some more
or less definite expectation of that eternity seems inseparable from
the consciousness of the relation.

But be that as it may, and even taking the widest possible view of
the contents of the patriarchal creed, what a rude outline it looks
beside ours! Can there be anything in common between us? Can they be
in any way a pattern for us? Yes; as I said, faith is one thing,
creed is another. Joseph and his ancestors were joined to God by the
very same bond which unites us to Him. There has never been but one
path of life: 'They _trusted_ God and were lightened, and their
faces were not ashamed.' In that Old Covenant the one thing needful
was trust in the living Jehovah. In the New, the one thing needful
is the very same emotion, directed to the very same Lord, manifested
now and incarnate in the divine Son, our Saviour. In this exercise
of loving confidence, in which reason and will and affection blend
in the highest energy and holiest action, Joseph and we are one.
Across the gulf of centuries we clasp hands; and in despite of all
superficial differences of culture and civilisation, and all deeper
differences in knowledge of God and His loving will, Pharaoh's prime
minister, and the English workman, and the Hindoo ryot, may be alike
in what is deepest--the faith which grasps God. How all that
mysterious Egyptian life fades away as we think of the fundamental
identity of religious emotion then and now! It disguises our brother
from us, as it did from the wandering Arabs who came to buy corn,
and could not recognise in the swarthy, imperious Egyptian, with
strange head-dress and unknown emblems hanging by chains of gold
about his neck, the fair boy whom they had sold to the merchants.
But beneath it all is the brother's heart, fed by the same life-
blood which feeds ours. He trusts in God, he expects a future
because God has promised it, and, therefore, he is separated from
those among whom he dwells, and knit to us in this far-off island of
the sea, who so many centuries after are partakers of like precious

And incomplete as his creed was, Joseph may have been a better
Christian than some of us, and was so, if what he knew nourished his
spiritual life more than what we know nourishes ours, and if his
heart and will twined more tenaciously round the fragments of
revelation which he possessed, and drew from them more support and
strength than we do from the complete Gospel which we have.

Brethren, what makes us Christians is not the theology we have in
our heads, but the faith and love we have in our hearts. We must,
indeed, have a clear statement of truth in orderly propositions--that
is, a system of dogmas--to have anything to trust to at all.
There can be no saving faith in an unseen Person, except through the
medium of thoughts concerning Him, which thoughts put into words are
a creed. The antithesis which is often eagerly urged upon us--not
doctrines, but Christ--is a very incomplete and misleading one.
'Christ' is a mere name, empty of all significance till it is filled
with definite statements of who and what Christ is. But whilst I,
for my part, believe that we must have doctrines to make Christ a
reality and an object of faith to grasp at all, I would urge all the
more earnestly, because I thus believe, that, when we have these
doctrines, it is not the creed that saves, but the faith. We are
united to Christ, not by the doctrine of His nature and work,
needful as that is, but by trusting in Him as that which the
doctrine declares Him to be--Redeemer, Friend, Sacrifice, Divine
Lover of our souls. Let us always remember that it is not the amount
of religious knowledge which I have got, but the amount which I use,
that determines my religious position and character. Most of us have
in our creeds principles that have no influence upon our moral and
active life; and, if so, it matters not one whit how pure, how
accurate, how comprehensive, how consistent, how scriptural my
conceptions of the Gospel may be. If they are not powers in my soul,
they only increase my responsibility and my liability to
condemnation. The dry light of the understanding is of no use to
anybody. You must turn your creed into a faith before it has power
to bless and save.

There are hosts of so-called Christians who get no more good out of
the most solemn articles of their orthodox belief than if they were
heathens. What in the use of your saying that you believe in God the
Father Almighty, when there is no child's love and happy confidence
in your heart? What the better are you for believing in Jesus
Christ, His divine nature, His death and glory, when you have no
reliance on Him, nor any least flutter of trembling love towards
Him? Is your belief in the Holy Ghost of the smallest consequence,
if you do not yield to His hallowing power? What does it matter that
you believe in the forgiveness of sins, so long as you do not care a
rush whether yours are pardoned or no? And is it anything to you or
to God that you believe in the life everlasting, if all your work,
and hopes, and longings are confined to 'this bank and shoal of
time'? Are you any more a Christian because of all that intellectual
assent to these solemn verities? Is not your life like some
secularised monastic chamber, with holy texts carved on the walls,
and saintly images looking down from glowing windows on revellers
and hucksters who defile its floor? Your faith, not your creed,
determines your religion. Many a 'true believer' is a real

Thank God that the soul may be wedded to Christ, even while a very
partial conception of Christ is in the understanding. The more
complete and adequate the creed, indeed, the mightier and more
fruitful in blessing will the faith naturally be; and every portion
of the full orb of the Sun of Righteousness which is eclipsed by the
shadow of our intellectual misconceptions, will diminish the light
and warmth which falls upon our souls. It is no part of our duty to
pronounce what is the minimum of a creed which faith needs for its
object. For myself, I confess that I do not understand how the
spiritual life can be sustained in its freshness and fervour, in its
fulness and reality, without a belief in the divinity and saving
work of Jesus Christ. But with that belief for the centre which
faith grasps, the rest may vary indefinitely. All who stand around
that centre, some nearer, some further off, some mazed in errors
which others have cast behind them, some of them seeing and
understanding more, and some less of Him and of His work--are His.
He loves them, and will save them all. Knowledge varies. The faith
which unites to God remains the same.

2. We may gather from this incident another consideration, namely,
that _Faith has its noblest office in detaching from the

All his life long, from the day of his captivity, Joseph was an
Egyptian in outward seeming. He filled his place at Pharaoh's court,
but his dying words open a window into his soul, and betray how
little he had felt that he belonged to the order of things in the
midst of which he had been content to live. This man, too,
surrounded by an ancient civilisation, and dwelling among granite
temples and solid pyramids and firm-based sphinxes, the very emblems
of eternity, confessed that here he had no continuing city, but
sought one to come. As truly as his ancestors who dwelt in
tabernacles, like Abraham journeying with his camels and herds, and
pitching his tent outside the walls of Hebron, like Isaac in the
grassy plains of the South country, like Jacob keeping himself apart
from the families of the land, their descendant, an heir with them
of the same promise, showed that he too regarded himself as a
'stranger and a sojourner.' Dying, he said, 'Carry my bones up from
hence. Therefore we may be sure that, living, the hope of the
inheritance must have burned in his heart as a hidden light, and
made him an alien everywhere but on its blessed soil.

And faith will always produce just such effects. In exact proportion
to its strength, that living trust in God will direct our thoughts
and desires to the 'King in His beauty, and the land that is very
far off.' In proportion as our thoughts and desires are thus
directed, they will be averted from what is round about us; and the
more longingly our eyes are fixed on the furthest horizon, the less
shall we see the flowers at our feet. To behold God pales the
otherwise dazzling lustre of created brightness. They whose souls
are fed with heavenly manna, and who have learned that it is their
necessary food, will scent no dainties in the fleshpots of Egypt,
for all their rank garlic and leeks. It is simply a question as to
which of two classes of ideas occupies the thoughts, and which of
two sets of affections engages the heart. If vulgar brawling and
rude merrymakers fill the inn, there will be no room for the pilgrim
thoughts which bear the Christ in their bosom, and have angels for
their guard; and if these holy wayfarers enter, their serene
presence will drive forth the noisy crowd, and turn the place into a
temple. Nothing but Christian faith gives to the furthest future the
solidity and definiteness which it must have, if it is to be a
breakwater for us against the fluctuating sea of present cares and

If the unseen is ever to rule in men's lives, it must be through
their thoughts. It must become intelligible, clear, real. It must be
brought out of the flickering moonlight of fancy and surmises, into
the sunlight of certitude and knowledge. Dreams, and hopes, and
peradventures are too unsubstantial stuff to be a bulwark against
the very real, undeniable present. And such certitude is given
through faith which grasps the promises of God, and twines the soul
round the risen Saviour so closely that it sits with Him in heavenly
places. Such certitude is given by faith alone.

If the unseen is ever to rule in men's lives, it must become not
only an object for certain knowledge, but also for ardent wishes.
The vague sense of possible evils lurking in its mysteries must be
taken out of the soul, and there must come somehow an assurance that
all it wraps in its folds is joy and peace. It must cease to be
doubtful, and must seem infinitely desirable. Does anything but
Christian faith engage the heart to love, and all the longing wishes
to set towards, the things that are unseen and eternal? Where
besides, then, can there be found a counterpoise weighty enough to
heave up the souls that are laden with the material, and cleaving to
the dust? Nowhere. The only possible deliverance from the tyrannous
pressure of the trifles amidst which we live is in having the
thoughts familiarised with Christ in heaven, which will dwarf all
that is on earth, and in having the affections fixed on Him, which
will emancipate them from the pains and sorrows that ever wait upon
love of the mutable and finite creatures.

Let us remember that such deliverance from the present is the
condition of all noble, joyous, pure life. It needs Christianity to
effect it indeed, but it does not need Christianity to see how
desirable it is, and how closely connected with whatever is lovely
and of good report is this detachment from the near and the visible.
A man that is living for remote objects is, in so far, a better man
than one who is living for the present. He will become thereby the
subject of a mental and moral discipline that will do him good. And,
on the other hand, a life which has no far-off light for its guiding
star, has none of the unity, of the self-restraint, of the tension,
of the conscious power which makes our days noble and strong.
Whether he accomplish them or fail, whether they be high or low, the
man who lets future objects rule present action is in advance of
others. 'To scorn delights and live laborious days,' which is the
prerogative of the man with a future, is always best. He is rather a
beast than a man, who floats lazily on the warm, sunny wavelets as
they lift him in their roll, and does not raise his head high enough
above them to see and steer for the solid shore where they break.
But only he has found the full, controlling, blessing, quickening
power that lies in the thought of the future, and in life directed
by it, to whom that future is all summed in the name of his Saviour.
Whatever makes a man live in the past and in the future raises him;
but high above all others stand those to whom the past is an
apocalypse of God, with Calvary for its centre, and all the future
is fellowship with Christ, and joy in the heavens. Having these
hopes, it will be our own faults if we are not pure and gentle, calm
in changes and sorrows, armed against frowning dangers, and proof
against smiling temptations. They are our armour--'Put on the
breastplate of faith ... and for an helmet the hope of salvation.'

A very sharp test for us all lies in these thoughts. This change of
the centre of interest from earth to heaven is the uniform effect of
faith. What, then, of us? On Sundays we profess to seek for a city;
but what about the week, from Monday morning to Saturday night? What
difference does our faith make in the current of our lives? How far
are they unlike--I do not mean externally and in occupations, but in
principle--the lives of men who 'have no hope'? Are you living for
other objects than theirs? Are you nurturing other hopes in your
hearts, as a man may guard a little spark of fire with both his
hands, to light him amid the darkness and the howling storm? Do you
care to detach yourself from the world? or are you really 'men of
this world, which have their portion in this life,' even while
Christians by profession? A question which I have no right to ask,
and no power to answer but for myself; a question which it concerns
your souls to ask and to answer very definitely for yourselves.
There is no need to preach an exaggerated and impossible abstinence
from work and enjoyment in the world where God has put us, or to set
up a standard 'too high for mortal life beneath the sky.' Whatever
call there may have sometimes been to protest against a false
asceticism, and withdrawing from active life for the sake of one's
personal salvation, times are changed now. What we want to-day is:
'Come ye out and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.'
In my conscience I believe that multitudes are having the very heart
of the Christian life eaten out by absorption in earthly pursuits
and loves, and by the effacing of all distinction in outward life,
in occupation, in recreation, in tastes and habits, between people
who call themselves Christians, and people who do not care at all
whether there is another world or not. There can be but little
strength in our faith if it does not compel us to separation. If it
has any power to do anything at all, it will certainly do that. If
we are naturalised as citizens there, we cannot help being aliens
here. 'Abraham,' says the New Testament, 'dwelt in tabernacles,
_for_ he looked for a city.' Just so! The tent life will always
be the natural one for those who feel that their mother-country is
beyond the stars. We should be like the wandering Swiss, who hear in
a strange land the rude, old melody that used to echo among the
Alpine pastures. The sweet, sad tones kindle home-sickness that will
not let them rest. No matter where they are, or what they are doing,
no matter what honour they have carved out for themselves with their
swords, they throw off the livery of the alien king which they have
worn, and turning their backs upon pomp and courts, seek the free
air of the mountains, and find home better than a place by a foreign
throne. Let us esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the
treasures of Egypt, and go forth to Him without the camp, for here
have we no continuing city.

3. Again, we have here an instance that _Faith makes men energetic
in the duties of the present_.

The remarks which I have been making must be completed by that
consideration, or they become hurtful and one-sided. You know that
common sarcasm, that Christianity degrades this present life by
making it merely the portal to a better, and teaches men to think of
it as only evil, to be scrambled through anyhow. I confess that I
wish the sneer were a less striking contrast to what Christian
people really think. But it is almost as gross a caricature of the
teaching of Christianity as it is of the practice of Christians.

Take this story of Joseph as giving us a truer view of the effect on
present action of faith in, and longing for, God's future. He was,
as I said, a true Hebrew all his days. But that did not make him run
away from Pharaoh's service. He lived by hope, and that made him the
better worker in the passing moment, and kept him tugging away all
his life at the oar, administering the affairs of a kingdom.

Of course it is so. The one thing which saves this life from being
contemptible is the thought of another. The more profoundly we feel
the reality of the great eternity whither we are being drawn, the
greater do all things here become. They are made less in their power
to absorb or trouble, but they are made infinitely greater in
importance as preparations for what is beyond. When they are first
they are small, when they are second they are great. When the mist
lifts, and shows the snowy summits of the 'mountains of God,' the
nearer lower ranges, which we thought the highest, dwindle indeed,
but gain in sublimity and meaning by the loftier peaks to which they
lead up. Unless men and women live for eternity, they _are_
'merely players,' and all their busy days 'like a tale told by an
idiot, full of sound and fury, _signifying nothing_.' How
absurd, how monotonous, how trivial it all is, all this fret and
fume, all these dying joys and only less fleeting pains, all this
mill-horse round of work which we pace, unless we are, mill-horse-
like, driving a shaft that goes _through the wall_, and grinds
something that falls into 'bags that wax not old' on the other side.
The true Christian faith teaches us that this world is the workshop
where God makes men, and the next, the palace where He shows them.
All here is apprenticeship and training. It is of no more value than
the attitudes into which gymnasts throw themselves, but as a
discipline most precious. The end makes the means important; and if
we believe that God is preparing us for immortal life with Him by
all our work, then we shall do it with a will: otherwise we may well
be languid as we go on for thirty or forty years, some of us, doing
the same trivial things, and getting nothing out of them but food,
occupation of time, and a mechanical aptitude for doing what is not
worth doing.

It is the horizon that gives dignity to the foreground. A picture
without sky has no glory. This present, unless we see gleaming
beyond it the eternal calm of the heavens, above the tossing tree-
tops with withering leaves, and the smoky chimneys, is a poor thing
for our eyes to gaze at, or our hearts to love, or our hands to toil
on. But when we see that all paths lead to heaven, and that our
eternity is affected by our acts in time, then it is blessed to
gaze, it is possible to love, the earthly shadows of the uncreated
beauty, it is worth while to work.

Remember, too, that faith will energise us for any sort of work,
seeing that it raises all to one level and brings all under one
sanction, and shows all as cooperating to one end. Look at that
muster-roll of heroes of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and
mark the variety of grades of human life represented there--statesmen,
soldiers, prophets, shepherds, widow women, martyrs--all fitted for
their tasks and delivered from the snare that was in their calling,
by that faith which raised them above the world, and therefore
fitted them to come down on the world with stronger strokes of duty.
This is the secret of doing with our might whatsoever our hand finds
to do-to trust Christ, to live _with_ Him, and _by_ the hope of the

Then, brethren, let us see that our clearer revelation bears fruit
in a faith in the great divine promises as calm and firm as this
dying patriarch had. Then the same power will work not only the same
detachment and energy in life, but the same calmness and solemn
light of hope in death. It is very beautiful to notice how Joseph
dying almost overleaps the thought of death as a very small matter.
His brethren who stood by his bedside might well fear what might be
the consequences to their people when the powerful protector, the
prime minister of the kingdom, was gone. But the dying man has firm
hold of God's promises, and he knows that these will be fulfilled,
whether he live or no. 'I die,' says he, 'but God shall surely visit
you. _He_ is not going to die; and though I stand no more
before Pharaoh, you will be safe.'

Thus we may contemplate our own going away, or the departure of the
dearest from our homes, and of the most powerful for good in human
affairs, and in the faith of God's true promises may feel that no
one is indispensable to our well-being or to the world's good. God's
chariot is self-moving. One after another, who lays his hand upon
the ropes, and hauls for a little space, drops out of the ranks. But
it will go on, and in His majesty He will ride prosperously.

And for himself, too, the dying man felt that death was a very small
matter. 'Whether I live or die I shall have a share in the promise.
Living, perhaps my feet would stand upon its soil; dying, my bones
will rest there.' And we, who know a resurrection, have in it that
which makes Joseph's fond fancy a reality, and reduces the
importance of that last enemy to nothing. Some will be alive and
remain till the coming of the Lord, some will be laid in the grave
till His voice calls them forth, and carries their bones up from
hence to the land of the inheritance. But whether we be of
generations that fell on sleep looking for the promise of His
coming, or whether of the generation that go forth to meet Him when
He comes, it matters not. All who have lived by faith will then be
gathered at last. The brightest hopes of the present will be
forgotten. Then, when we too shall stand in the latter day, wearing
the likeness of His glory, and extricated wholly from the bondage of
corruption and the dust of death, we, perfected in body, soul, and
spirit, shall enter the calm home, where we shall change the
solitude of the desert and the transitoriness of the tent and the
dangers of the journey, for the society and the stability and the
security of the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker
is God.


'They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.'
--GENESIS l. 26.

So closes the book of Genesis. All its recorded dealings of God with
Israel, and all the promises and the glories of the patriarchal
line, end with 'a coffin in Egypt'. Such an ending is the more
striking, when we remember that a space of three hundred years
intervenes between the last events in Genesis and the first in
Exodus, or almost as long a time as parts the Old Testament from the
New. And, during all that period, Israel was left with a mummy and a
hope. The elaborately embalmed body of Joseph lay in its gilded and
pictured case, somewhere in Goshen, and was, no doubt, in the care
of the Israelites, as is plain from the fact that they carried it
with them at the exodus. For three centuries, that silent 'coffin in
Egypt' preached its impressive messages. What did it say? It spoke,
no doubt, to ears often deaf, but still some faint whispers of its
speechless testimony would sound in some hearts, and help to keep
vivid some hopes.

First, it was a silent reminder of mortality. Egyptian consciousness
was much occupied with death. The land was peopled with tombs. But
the corpse of Joseph was perhaps not laid in one of these, but
remained housed somewhere in sight, as it were, of all Israel. Many
a passer-by would pause for a moment, and think; Here is the end of
dignity second only to Pharaoh's, to this has come that strong
brain, that true heart, Israel's pride and protection is shut up in
that wooden case.

'The glories of our birth and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate,
Death lays his icy hand on kings.'

Yes, but let us remember that while that silent sarcophagus enforced
the old, old lesson to the successive generations that looked on it
and little heeded its stern, sad teaching of mortality, it had other
brighter truths to tell. For the shrivelled, colourless lips that
lay in it, covered with many a fold of linen, had left as their last
utterance, 'I die, but God will surely visit you,' No man is
necessary. Israel can survive the loss of the strongest and wisest.
God lives, though a hundred Josephs die. It is pure gain to lose
human helpers, if thereby we become more fully conscious of our need
of a divine arm and heart, and more truly feel that we have these
for our all-sufficient stay. Blessed is the fleeting of all that can
pass, if its withdrawal lets the calm light of the Eternal, which
cannot pass, stream in uninterrupted on us! When the leaves fall, we
see more clearly the rock which their short-lived greenness in its
pride veiled. When the many-hued and ever-shifting clouds are swept
out of the sky by the wind, the sun that lent them all their colour
shines the more brightly. The message of every death-bed and grave
is meant to be, 'This and that man dies, but God lives.' The last
result of our contemplation of mortality, as affecting our dearest
and most needful ones, and as sure to include ourselves in its far-
reaching, close-woven net, ought to be to drive us to God's breast,
that there we may find a Friend who does not pass, and may dwell in
'the land of the living,' on whose soil the foot of all-conquering
Death dare never tread.

Nor are these thoughts all the message of that 'coffin in Egypt.' In
the first verses of the next book, that of Exodus, there is a
remarkable juxtaposition of ideas, when we read that 'Joseph died
and all his brethren and all that generation.' But was that the end
of Israel? By no means, for the narrative goes on immediately to
say--linking the two things together by a simple 'and'--that 'the
children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and
multiplied and waxed exceeding mighty.'

So life springs side by side with death. There are cradles as well
as graves.

'The individual withers,
And the race is more and more.'

Leaves drop and new leaves come. The April days are not darkened,
and the tender green of the fresh leaf-buds is all the more vigorous
and luxuriant, because it is fed from the decaying leaves that
litter the roots of the long-lived oak. Thus through the ages the
pathetic alternation goes on. Penelope's web is ever being woven and
run down and woven again. Joseph dies; Israel grows. Let us not take
half-views, nor either fix our thoughts on the universal law of
dissolution and decay, nor on the other side of the process--the
universal emergence of life from death, reconstruction from
dissolution. In our individual histories and on the wider field of
the world's history, the same large law is at work, which is
expressed in the simplest terms by these old words, 'Joseph died,
and all his brethren and all that generation'--and 'the children of
Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly.' So the wholesome
lesson of mortality is stripped of much of its sadness, and retains
all its pathos, solemnity, and power to purify the heart.

Again, that 'coffin in Egypt' was a herald of Hope. The reason for
Joseph's dying injunction that his body should be preserved after
the Egyptian fashion, and laid where it could be lifted and carried
away, when the long-expected deliverance was effected, was the dying
patriarch's firm confidence that, though he died, he had still
somehow a share in God's faithful promise. We do not know the
precise shape which his thought of that share took. It may have been
merely the natural sentiment which desires that the unconscious
frame shall moulder quietly beside the mouldering forms which once
held our dear ones. This naturalised Egyptian did his work manfully
in the land of his adoption, and flung himself eagerly into its
interests, but his heart turned to the cave at Machpelah, and,
though he lived in Egypt, he could not bear to think of lying there
for ever when dead, especially of being left there alone. There may
have been some trace in his wish of the peculiar Egyptian belief
that the preservation of the body contributed in some way to the
continuance of personal life, and that a certain shadowy self
hovered about the spot where the mummy was laid. Our knowledge of
the large place filled by a doctrine of a future life in Egyptian
thought makes it most probable that Joseph had at least some
forecast of that hope of immortality, which seems to us to be
inseparable from the consciousness of present communion with God.

But, in any case, Israel had charge of that coffin because the dead
man that lay in it had, on the very edge of the gulf of death,
believed that he had still a portion in Israel's hope, and that,
when he had taken the plunge into the great darkness, he had not
sunk below the reach of God's power to give him personal fulfilment
of His yet unfulfilled promise. His dying command was the expression
of his unshaken faith that, though he was dead, God would visit him
with His salvation, and give him to see the prosperity of His
chosen, that he might rejoice in the gladness of the nation, and
glory with His inheritance. He had lived, trusting in God's bare
promise, and, as he lived, he died. The Epistle to the Hebrews lays
hold of the true motive power in the incident, when it points to
Joseph's dying 'commandment concerning his bones' as a noble
instance of Faith.

Thus, through slow creeping centuries, this silent preacher said--'Hope
on, though the vision tarry, wait for it, for it will surely
come. God is faithful, and will perform His word.' There was much to
make hope faint. To bring Israel out of Canaan seemed a strange way
of investing it with the possession of Canaan. As the tardy years
trickled away, drop by drop, and the promise seemed no nearer
fulfilment, some film of doubt must have crept over Hope's bright
eyes. When new dynasties reigned, and Israel slowly sank into the
state of bondage, it must have been still harder to believe that the
shortest road to the inheritance was round by Goshen. But through
all the darkening course of Israel in these sad centuries, there
stood the 'coffin,' the token of a triumphant faith which had leapt,
as a trifle, over the barrier of death, and grasped as real the good
which lay beyond that frowning wall. We have a better Herald of hope
than a mummy-case and a pyramid built round it. We have an empty
grave and an occupied Throne, by which to nourish our confidence in
Immortality and our estimate of the insignificance of death. Our
Joseph does not say--'I die, but God will surely visit you,' but He
gives us the wonderful assurance of identification with Himself, and
consequent participation in His glory--'Because I live, ye shall
live also.' Therefore our hope should be as much brighter and more
confirmed than this ancient one was as that on which it is based is
better and more joyous. But, alas, there is no invariable proportion
between food supplied and strength derived. An orchid can fling out
gorgeous blooms, though it grows on a piece of dry wood, but plants
set in rich soil often show poor flowers. Our hope will be worthy of
its foundation, only on condition of our habitually reflecting on
the firmness of that foundation, and cultivating familiarity with
the things hoped for.

There are many ways in which the apostle's great saying that 'we are
saved by hope' approves itself as true. Whatever leads us to grasp
the future rather than the present, even if it is but an earthly
future, and to live by hope rather than by fruition, even if it is
but a short-reaching hope, lifts us in the scale of being, ennobles,
dignifies, and in some respects purifies us. Even men whose
expectations have not wing-power enough to cross the dreadful ravine
of Death, are elevated in the degree in which they work towards a
distant goal. Short-sighted hopes are better than blind absorption
in the present. Whatever puts the centre of gravity of our lives in
the future is a gain, and most of all is that hope blessed, which
bids us look forward to an eternal sitting with Jesus at the right
hand of God.

If such hope has any solidity in it, it will certainly detach us
from the order of things in which we dwell. The world is always
tempting us to 'forget the imperial palace' whither we go. The
Israelites must have been swayed by many inducements to settle down
for good and all in the low levels of fertile Goshen, and to think
themselves better off there than if going out on a perilous
enterprise to win no richer pastures than they already possessed. In
fact, when the deliverance came, it was not particularly welcome,
oven though oppression was embittering the peoples' lives. But, when
hope had died down in them, and desire had become languid, and
ignoble contentment with their flocks and herds had dulled their
spirits, Joseph's silent coffin must have pealed in their ears--'This
is not your rest; arise and claim your inheritance.' In like
manner, the pressure of the apparently solid realities of to-day,
the growth of the 'scientific' temper of mind which confines
knowledge to physical facts, the drift of tendency among religious
people to regard Christianity mainly in its aspect of dealing with
social questions and bringing present good, powerfully reinforce our
natural sluggishness of Hope, and have brought it about that the
average Christian of this day has fewer of his thoughts directed to
the future life than his predecessors had, or than it is good for
him to have.

Among the many truths which almost need to be rediscovered by their
professed believers, that of the rest that remains for the people of
God is one. For the test of believing a truth is its influence on
conduct, and no one can affirm that the conduct of the average
Christian of our times bears marks of being deeply influenced by
that Future, or by the hope of winning it. Does he live as if he
felt that he was an alien among the material things surrounding him?
Does it look as if his true affinities were beyond the grave and
above the stars? If we did thus feel, not at rare intervals, when
'in seasons of calm weather, our souls have sight of that immortal
sea,' which lies glassy before the throne, and on whose banks the
minstrels stand singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, but
habitually and with a vivid realisation, which makes the things
hoped for more solid than what we touch and handle, our lives would
be far other than they are. We should not work less, but more,
earnestly at our present duties, whatever these may be, for they
would be seen in new importance as bearing on our place in that
world of consequences. The more our goal and prize are seen gleaming
through the dust of the race-ground, the more strenuous our effort
here. Nothing ennobles the trifles of our lives in time like the
streaming in on these of the light of eternity. That vision ever
present with us will not sadden. The fact of mortality is grim
enough, if forced upon us unaccompanied by the other fact that Death
opens the gate of our Home. But when the else depressing thought
that 'here we have no continuing city' is but the obverse and result
of the fact that 'we seek one to come,' it is freed from its
sadness, and becomes powerful for good and even for joy. We need,
even more than Israel in its bondage did, to realise that we are
strangers and pilgrims. It concerns the depth of our religion and
the reality of our profiting by the discipline, as well as of our
securing the enjoyment of the blessings, of the fleeting and else
trivial present, that we shall keep very clear in view the great
future which dignifies and interprets this enigmatical earthly life.

Further, that 'coffin in Egypt' was a preacher of patience. As we
have seen, three centuries at least, probably a somewhat longer
period, passed between the time when Joseph's corpse was laid in it,
and the night when it was lifted out of it by the departing
Israelites. No doubt, hope deferred had made many a heart sick, and
the weary question, 'Where is the promise of His coming?' had in
some cases changed into bitter disbelief that the promise would ever
be fulfilled. But, for all these years, the dumb monitor stood there
proclaiming, 'If the vision tarry, wait for it.'

Surely we need the same lesson. It is hard for us to acquiesce in
the slow march of the divine purposes. Life is short, and desire
would fain see the great harvests reaped before death seals our
eyes. Sometimes the very prospect of the great things that shall one
day be accomplished in the world, and we not there to see, weighs
heavily on us. Reformers, philanthropists, idealists of all sorts
are constitutionally impatient, and in their generous haste to see
their ideals realised, forget that 'raw haste' is 'half-sister to
delay' and are indignant with man for his sluggishness and with God
for His majestic slowness. Not less do we fret and fume and think
the days drag with intolerable slowness, before some eagerly
expected good rises like a star on our individual lives. But there
is deep truth in Paul's apparent paradox, that 'if we hope for that
we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.' The more sure the
confidence, the more quiet the patient waiting. It is uncertainty
which makes earthly hope short of breath, and impatient of delay.

But since a Christian man's hope is consolidated into certainty, and
when it is set on God, cannot only say, I trust that it will be so
and so, but, I know that it shall, it may well be content to be
patient for the fulfilment, 'as the husbandman waiteth for the
precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it.' 'One
day is with the Lord as a thousand years' in respect of the
magnitude of the changes which may be wrought by the instantaneous
operation of His hand when the appointed hour shall strike, and
therefore it should not strain our patience nor stagger our faith
that 'a thousand years' should be 'as one day,' in respect of the
visible approximation achieved in them, towards the establishment of
His purpose. The world was prepared for man through countless
millenniums. Man was prepared for the advent of Christ through long
centuries. Nineteen hundred years have effected comparatively little
in incorporating the issues of Christ's work in the consciousness
and characters of mankind. Much of the slowness of that progress of
Christianity is due to the faithlessness and sloth of professing
Christians. But it still remains true that God lifts His foot
slowly, and plants it firmly, in His march through the world. So,
both in regard to the progress of truth, and the diffusion of the
highest, and of the secondary, blessings of Christianity through the
nations, and in respect to the reception of individual good gifts,
we shall do wisely to leave God to settle the 'when' since we are
sure that He has bound Himself to accomplish the fact.

Finally, that 'coffin in Egypt' was a pledge of possession. It lay
long among the Israelites to uphold fainting faith, and at last was
carried up before their host, and reverently guarded during forty
years' wanderings, till it was deposited in the cave at Machpelah,
beside the tombs of the fathers of the nation. Thus it became to the
nation, and remains for us, a symbol of the truth that no hope based
upon God's bare word is ever finally disappointed. From all other
anticipations grounded on anything less solid, the element of
uncertainty is inseparable, and Fear is ever the sister of Hope.
With keen insight Spenser makes these two march side by side, in his
wonderful procession of the attendants of earthly Love. There is
always a lurking sadness in Hope's smiles, and a nameless dread in
her eyes. And all expectations busied with or based upon the
contingencies of this poor life, whether they are fulfilled or
disappointed, prove less sweet in fruition than in prospect, and
often turn to ashes in the eating, instead of the sweet bread which
we had thought them to be. One basis alone is sure, and that is the
foundation on which Joseph rested and risked everything--the plain
promise of God. He who builds on that rock will never be put to
shame, and when floods sweep away every refuge built on sand, he
will not need to 'make haste' to find, amid darkness and storm, some
less precarious shelter, but will look down serenely on the wildest
torrent, and know it to be impotent to wash away his fortress home.

There is no nobler example of victorious faith which prolonged
confident expectation beyond the insignificant accident of death
than Joseph's dying 'commandment concerning his bones.' His
confidence, indeed, grasped a far lower blessing than ours should
reach out to clasp. It was evoked by less clear and full promises
and pledges than we have. The magnitude and loftiness of the
Christian hope of Immortality, and the certitude of the fact on
which it reposes, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, should result in
a corresponding increase in the firmness and clearness of our hope,
and in its power in our lives. The average Christian of to-day may
well be sent to school to Joseph on his death-bed. Is our faith as
strong as--I will not ask if it is stronger than--that of this man
who, in the morning twilight of revelation, and with a hope of an
eternal possession of an earthly inheritance, which, one might have
thought, would be shattered by death, was able to fling his anchor
clean across the gulf when he gave injunction, 'Carry my bones up
hence'? We have a better inheritance, and fuller, clearer promises
and facts on which to trust. Shame to us if we have a feebler faith.







DEATH AND GROWTH (Exodus i. 6, 7)

THE ARK AMONG THE FLAGS (Exodus ii. 1-10)


THE CALL OF MOSES (Exodus iii. 10-20)


(Exodus xii. 1-14)

THOUGHT, DEED, WORD (Exodus xiii. 9)

A PATH IN THE SEA (Exodus xiv. 19-31)

'MY STRENGTH AND SONG' (Exodus xv. 2)


THE ULTIMATE HOPE (Exodus xv. 17)

MARAH (Exodus xv. 23-25)

THE BREAD OF GOD (Exodus xvi. 4-12)

JEHOVAH NISSI (Exodus xvii. 15)

GERSHOM AND ELIEZER (Exodus xviii. 3, 4)

THE IDEAL STATESMAN (Exodus xviii. 21)

THE DECALOGUE:--I. MAN AND GOD (Exodus xx. 1-11)

THE DECALOGUE:--II. MAN AND MAN (Exodus xx. 12-21)


'THE LOVE OF THINE ESPOUSALS' (Exodus xxiv. 1-12)




THREE INSCRIPTIONS WITH ONE MEANING (Exodus xxviii. 36; Zech. xiv.
20; Rev. xxii. 4)

THE ALTAR OF INCENSE (Exodus xxx. 1)

RANSOM FOR SOULS--I. (Exodus xxx. 12)

RANSOM FOR SOULS--II. (Exodus xxx. 15)

THE GOLDEN CALF (Exodus xxxii. 1-8, 30-35)

THE SWIFT DECAY OF LOVE (Exodus xxxii. 15-26)



SIN AND FORGIVENESS (Exodus xxxiv. 7)






STRANGE FIRE (Lev. x. 1-11)


THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (Lev. xvi. 1-19)

'THE SCAPEGOAT' (Lev. xvi. 22)

THE CONSECRATION OF JOY (Lev. xxiii. 33-44)


GOD'S SLAVES (Lev. xxv. 42)







HOBAB (Num. x. 29)



AFRAID OF GIANTS (Num. xiii. 17-33)



SERVICE A GIFT (Num. xviii. 7)



BALAAM (Num. xxii. 5)

AN UNFULFILLED DESIRE (Num. xxiii. 10; xxxi. 8)



'Now these are the names of the children of Israel,
which came into Egypt: every man and his household
came with Jacob. 2. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
3. Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4. Dan and Naphtali,
Gad and Asher. 5. And all the souls that came out of
the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was
in Egypt already. 6. And Joseph died, and all his
brethren, and all that generation. 7, And the children
of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and
multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land
was filled with them. 8. Now there arose up a new king
over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9. And he said unto
his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel
are more and mightier than we: 10. Come on, let us deal
wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to
pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join
also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get
them up out of the land. 11. Therefore they did set over
them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And
they built for Pharaoh treasure-cities, Pithom and
Raamses. 12. But the more they afflicted them, the more
they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because
of the children of Israel. 13. And the Egyptians made
the children of Israel to serve with rigour: 14. And
they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in
mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in
the field: all their service, wherein they made them
serve, was with rigour.'--EXODUS i. 1-14.

The four hundred years of Israel's stay in Egypt were divided into
two unequal periods, in the former and longer of which they were
prosperous and favoured, while in the latter they were oppressed.
Both periods had their uses and place in the shaping of the nation
and its preparation for the Exodus. Both carry permanent lessons.

I. The long days of unclouded prosperity. These extended over
centuries, the whole history of which is summed up in two words:
death and growth. The calm years glided on, and the shepherds in
Goshen had the happiness of having no annals. All that needed to be
recorded was that, one by one, the first generation died off, and
that the new generations 'were fruitful, and increased abundantly,
and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty.' The emphatic
repetitions recall the original promises in Genesis xii. 2, xvii.
4,5, xviii. 18. The preceding specification of the number of the
original settlers (repeated from Genesis xlvi. 27) brings into
impressive contrast the small beginnings and the rapid increase. We
may note that eloquent setting side by side of the two processes
which are ever going on simultaneously, death and birth.

One by one men pass out of the warmth and light into the darkness,
and so gradually does the withdrawal proceed that we scarcely are
aware of its going on, but at last 'all that generation' has
vanished. The old trees are all cleared off the ground, and
everywhere their place is taken by the young saplings. The web is
ever being woven at one end, and run down at the other. 'The
individual withers, but the race is more and more.' How solemn that
continual play of opposing movements is, and how blind we are to its

That long period of growth may be regarded in two lights. It
effected the conversion of a horde into a nation by numerical
increase, and so was a link in the chain of the divine working. The
great increase, of which the writer speaks so strongly, was, no
doubt, due to the favourable circumstances of the life in Goshen,
but was none the less regarded by him, and rightly so, as God's
doing. As the Psalmist sings, '_He_ increased His people
greatly.' 'Natural processes' are the implements of a supernatural
will. So Israel was being multiplied, and the end for which it was
peacefully growing into a multitude was hidden from all but God. But
there was another end, in reference to which the years of peaceful
prosperity may be regarded; namely, the schooling of the people to
patient trust in the long-delayed fulfilment of the promise. That
hope had burned bright in Joseph when he died, and he being dead yet
spake of it from his coffin to the successive generations. Delay is
fitted and intended to strengthen faith and make hope more eager.
But that part of the divine purpose, alas! was not effected as the
former was. In the moral region every circumstance has two opposite
results possible. Each condition has, as it were, two handles, and
we can take it by either, and generally take it by the wrong one.
Whatever is meant to better us may be so used by us as to worsen us.
And the history of Israel in Egypt and in the desert shows only too
plainly that ease weakened, if it did not kill, faith, and that
Goshen was so pleasant that it drove the hope and the wish for
Canaan out of mind. 'While the bridegroom tarried they all slumbered
and slept.' Is not Israel in Egypt, slackening hold of the promise
because it tarried, a mirror in which the Church may see itself? and
do _we_ not know the enervating influence of Goshen, making us
reluctant to shoulder our packs and turn out for the pilgrimage? The
desert repels more strongly than Canaan attracts.

II. The shorter period of oppression. Probably the rise of a 'new
king' means a revolution in which a native dynasty expelled foreign
monarchs. The Pharaoh of the oppression was, perhaps, the great
Rameses II., whose long reign of sixty-seven years gives ample room
for protracted and grinding oppression of Israel. The policy adopted
was characteristic of these early despotisms, in its utter disregard
of humanity and of everything but making the kingdom safe. It was
not intentionally cruel, it was merely indifferent to the suffering
it occasioned. 'Let us deal _wisely_ with them'--never mind
about justice, not to say kindness. Pharaoh's 'politics,' like those
of some other rulers who divorce them from morality, turned out to
be impolitic, and his 'wisdom' proved to be roundabout folly. He was
afraid that the Israelites, if they were allowed to grow, might find
out their strength and seek to emigrate; and so he set to work to
weaken them with hard bondage, not seeing that that was sure to make
them wish the very thing that he was blunderingly trying to prevent.
The only way to make men glad to remain in a community is to make
them at home there. The sense of injustice is the strongest
disintegrating force. If there is a 'dangerous class' the surest way
to make them more dangerous is to treat them harshly. It was a
blunder to make 'lives bitter,' for hearts also were embittered. So
the people were ripened for revolt, and Goshen became less

God used Pharaoh's foolish wisdom, as He had used natural laws, to
prepare for the Exodus. The long years of ease had multiplied the
nation. The period of oppression was to stir them up out of their
comfortable nest, and make them willing to risk the bold dash for
freedom. Is not that the explanation, too, of the similar times in
our lives? It needs that we should experience life's sorrows and
burdens, and find how hard the world's service is, and how quickly
our Goshens may become places of grievous toil, in order that the
weak hearts, which cling so tightly to earth, may be detached from
it, and taught to reach upwards to God. 'Blessed is the man ... in
whose heart are thy ways,' and happy is he who so profits by his
sorrows that they stir in him the pilgrim's spirit, and make him
yearn after Canaan, and not grudge to leave Goshen. Our ease and our
troubles, opposite though they seem and are, are meant to further
the same end,--to make us fit for the journey which leads to rest
and home. We often misuse them both, letting the one sink us in
earthly delights and oblivion of the great hope, and the other
embitter our spirits without impelling them to seek the things that
are above. Let us use the one for thankfulness, growth, and patient
hope, and the other for writing deep the conviction that this is not
our rest, and making firm the resolve that we will gird our loins
and, staff in hand, go forth on the pilgrim road, not shrinking from
the wilderness, because we see the mountains of Canaan across its
sandy flats.


'And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that
generation. 7. And the children of Israel were fruitful,
and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed
exceeding mighty....'--EXODUS i. 6, 7.

These remarkable words occur in a short section which makes the link
between the Books of Genesis and of Exodus. The writer recapitulates
the list of the immigrants into Egypt, in the household of Jacob,
and then, as it were, having got them there, he clears the stage to
prepare for a new set of actors. These few words are all that he
cares to tell us about a period somewhat longer than that which
separates us from the great Protestant Reformation. He notes but two
processes--silent dropping away and silent growth. 'Joseph died, and
all his brethren, and all that generation.' Plant by plant the
leaves drop, and the stem rots and its place is empty. Seed by seed
the tender green spikelets pierce the mould, and the field waves
luxuriant in the breeze and the sunshine. 'The children of Israel
were fruitful, and increased abundantly.'

I. Now, then, let us look at this twofold process which is always at
work--silent dropping away and silent growth.

It seems to me that the writer, probably unconsciously, being
profoundly impressed with certain features of that dropping away,
reproduces them most strikingly in the very structure of his
sentence: 'Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that
generation.' The uniformity of the fate, and the separate times at
which it befell individuals, are strongly set forth in the clauses,
which sound like the threefold falls of earth on a coffin. They all
died, but not all at the same time. They went one by one, one by
one, till, at the end, they were all gone. The two things that
appeal to our imagination, and ought to appeal to our consciences
and wills, in reference to the succession of the generations of men,
are given very strikingly, I think, in the language of my text--namely,
the stealthy assaults of death upon the individuals, and its
final complete victory.

If any of you were ever out at sea, and looked over a somewhat
stormy water, you will have noticed, I dare say, how strangely the
white crests of the breakers disappear, as if some force, acting
from beneath, had plucked them under, and over the spot where they
gleamed for a moment runs the blue sea. So the waves break over the
great ocean of time; I might say, like swimmers pulled under by
sharks, man after man, man after man, gets twitched down, till at
the end--'Joseph died, and all his brethren, and _all_ that

There is another process going on side by side with this. In the
vegetable world, spring and autumn are two different seasons: May
rejoices in green leaves and opening buds, and nests with their
young broods; but winter days are coming when the greenery drops and
the nests are empty, and the birds flown. But the singular and
impressive thing (which we should see if we were not so foolish and
blind) which the writer of our text lays his finger upon is that at
the same time the two opposite processes of death and renewal are
going on, so that if you look at the facts from the one side it
seems nothing but a charnel-house and a Golgotha that we live in,
while, seen from the other side, it is a scene of rejoicing, budding
young life, and growth.

You get these two processes in the closest juxtaposition in ordinary
life. There is many a house where there is a coffin upstairs and a
cradle downstairs. The churchyard is often the children's
playground. The web is being run down at the one end and woven at
the other. Wherever we look--

'Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.'

'Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. And the
children of Israel ... multiplied ... exceedingly.'

But there is another thought here than that of the
contemporaneousness of the two processes, and that is, as it is
written on John Wesley's monument in Westminster Abbey, 'God buries
the workmen and carries on the work.' The great Vizier who seemed to
be the only protection of Israel is lying in 'a coffin in Egypt.'
And all these truculent brothers of his that had tormented him, they
are gone, and the whole generation is swept away. What of that? They
were the depositories of God's purposes for a little while. Are
God's purposes dead because the instruments that in part wrought
them are gone? By no means. If I might use a very vulgar proverb,
'There are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it,'
especially if God casts the net. So when the one generation has
passed away there is the other to take up the work. Thus the text is
a fitting introduction to the continuance of the history of the
further unfolding of God's plan which occupies the Book of Exodus.

II. Such being the twofold process suggested by this text, let us
next note the lessons which it enforces.

In the first place, let us be quite sure that we give it its due
weight in our thoughts and lives. Let us be quite sure that we never
give an undue weight to the one half of the whole truth. There are
plenty of people who are far too much, constitutionally and (perhaps
by reason of a mistaken notion of religion) religiously, inclined to
the contemplation of the more melancholy side of these truths; and
there are a great many people who are far too exclusively disposed
to the contemplation of the other. But the bulk of us never trouble
our heads about either the one or the other, but go on, forgetting
altogether that swift, sudden, stealthy, skinny hand that, if I
might go back to my former metaphor, is put out to lay hold of the
swimmer and then pull him underneath the water, and which will clasp
us by the ankles one day and drag us down. Do you ever think about
it? If not, surely, surely you are leaving out of sight one of what
ought to be the formative elements in our lives.

And then, on the other hand, when our hearts are faint, or when the
pressure of human mortality--our own, that of our dear ones, or that
of others--seems to weigh us down, or when it looks to us as if
God's work was failing for want of people to do it, let us remember
the other side--'And the children of Israel ... increased ... and
waxed exceeding mighty; ... and the land was filled with them.' So
we shall keep the middle path, which is the path of safety, and so
avoid the folly of extremes.

But then, more particularly, let me say that this double
contemplation of the two processes under which we live ought to
stimulate us to service. It ought to say to us, 'Do you cast in your
lot with that work which is going to be carried on through the ages.
Do you see to it that your little task is in the same line of
direction as the great purpose which God is working out--the
increasing purpose which runs through the ages.' An individual life
is a mere little backwater, as it were, in the great ocean. But its
minuteness does not matter, if only the great tidal wave which rolls
away out there, in the depths and the distance amongst the
fathomless abysses, tells also on the tiny pool far inland and yet
connected with the sea by some narrow, long fiord.

If my little life is part of that great ocean, then the ebb and flow
will alike act on it and make it wholesome. If my work is done in
and for God, I shall never have to look back and say, as we
certainly shall say one day, either here or yonder, unless our lives
be thus part of the divine plan, 'What a fool I was! Seventy years
of toiling and moiling and effort and sweat, and it has all come to
nothing; like a long algebraic sum that covers pages of intricate
calculations, and the _pluses_ and _minuses_ just balance each other;
and the net result is a great round nought.' So let us remember the
twofold process, and let it stir us to make sure that 'in our embers'
shall be 'something that doth live,' and that not 'Nature,' but
something better--God--'remembers what was so fugitive.' It is not
fugitive if it is a part of the mighty whole.

But further, let this double contemplation make us very content with
doing insignificant and unfinished work.

Joseph might have said, when he lay dying: 'Well! perhaps I made a
mistake after all. I should not have brought this people down here,
even if I have been led hither. I do not see that I have helped them
one step towards the possession of the land.' Do you remember the
old proverb about certain people who should not see half-finished
work? All our work in this world has to be only what the
physiologists call functional. God has a great scheme running on
through ages. Joseph gives it a helping hand for a time, and then
somebody else takes up the running, and carries the purpose forward
a little further. A great many hands are placed on the ropes that
draw the car of the Ruler of the world. And one after another they
get stiffened in death; but the car goes on. We should be contented
to do our little bit of the work. Never mind whether it is complete
and smooth and rounded or not. Never mind whether it can be isolated
from the rest and held up, and people can say, 'He did that entire
thing unaided.' That is not the way for most of us. A great many
threads go to make the piece of cloth, and a great many throws of
the shuttle to weave the web. A great many bits of glass make up the
mosaic pattern; and there is no reason for the red bit to pride
itself on its fiery glow, or the grey bit to boast of its silvery
coolness. They are all parts of the pattern, and as long as they
keep their right places they complete the artist's design. Thus, if
we think of how 'one soweth and another reapeth,' we may be content
to receive half-done works from our fathers, and to hand on
unfinished tasks to them that come after us. It is not a great trial
of a man's modesty, if he lives near Jesus Christ, to be content to
do but a very small bit of the Master's work.

And the last thing that I would say is, let this double process
going on all round us lift our thoughts to Him who lives for ever.
Moses dies; Joshua catches the torch from his hand. And the reason
why he catches the torch from his hand is because God said, 'As I
was with Moses so I will be with thee.' Therefore we have to turn
away in our contemplations from the mortality that has swallowed up
so much wisdom and strength, eloquence and power, which the Church
or our own hearts seem so sorely to want: and, whilst we do, we have
to look up to Jesus Christ and say, 'He lives! He lives! No man is
indispensable for public work or for private affection and solace so
long at there is a living Christ for us to hold by.'

Dear brethren, we need that conviction for ourselves often. When
life seems empty and hope dead, and nothing is able to fill the
vacuity or still the pain, we have to look to the vision of the Lord
sitting on the empty throne, high and lifted up, and yet very near
the aching and void heart. Christ lives, and that is enough.

So the separated workers in all the generations, who did their
little bit of service, like the many generations of builders who
laboured through centuries upon the completion of some great
cathedral, will be united at the last; 'and he that soweth, and he
that reapeth, shall rejoice together' in the harvest which was
produced by neither the sower nor the reaper, but by Him who blessed
the toils of both.

'Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation'; but
Jesus lives, and therefore His people 'grow and multiply,' and His
servants' work is blessed; and at the end they shall be knit
together in the common joy of the great harvest, and of the day when
the headstone is brought forth with shoutings of 'Grace! grace unto


'And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to
wife a daughter of Levi. 2. And the woman conceived, and
bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly
child, she hid him three months. 3. And when she could
not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes,
and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the
child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's
brink. 4. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would
be done to him. 5. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down
to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked
along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among
the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. 6. 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. 7. 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? 8. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the
maid went and called the child's mother. 9. And Pharaoh's
daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse
it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman
took the child, and nursed it. 10. And the child grew,
and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he
became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she
said, Because I drew him out of the water.'--EXODUS ii. 1-10.

I. It is remarkable that all the persons in this narrative are
anonymous. We know that the names of 'the man of the house of Levi'
and his wife were Amram and Jochebed. Miriam was probably the
anxious sister who watched what became of the little coffer. The
daughter of Pharaoh has two names in Jewish tradition, one of which
corresponds to that which Brugsch has found to have been borne by
one of Rameses' very numerous daughters. One likes to think that the
name of the gentle-hearted woman has come down to us; but, whether
she was called 'Meri' or not, she and the others have no name here.
The reason can scarcely have been ignorance. But they are, as it
were, kept in shadow, because the historian saw, and wished us to
see, that a higher Hand was at work, and that over all the events
recorded in these verses there brooded the informing, guiding Spirit
of God Himself, the sole actor.

'Each only as God wills
Can work--God's puppets, best and worst,
Are we: there is no last nor first.'

II. The mother's motive in braving the danger to herself involved in
keeping the child is remarkably put. 'When she saw that he was a
goodly child, she hid him.' It was not only a mother's love that
emboldened her, as it does all weak creatures, to shelter her
offspring at her own peril, but something in the look of the infant,
as it lay on her bosom, touched her with a dim hope. According to
the Septuagint translation, both parents shared in this. And so the
Epistle to the Hebrews unites them in that which is here attributed
to the mother only. Stephen, too, speaks of Moses as 'fair in God's
sight.' As if the prescient eyes of the parents were not blinded by
love, but rather cleared to see some token of divine benediction
resting on him. The writer of the _Hebrews_ lifts the deed out
of the category of instinctive maternal affection up to the higher
level of faith. So we may believe that the aspect of her child woke
some prophetic vision in the mother's soul, and that she and her
husband were of those who cherished the hopes naturally born from
the promise to Abraham, nurtured by Jacob's and Joseph's dying wish
to be buried in Canaan, and matured by the tyranny of Pharaoh. Their
faith, at all events, grasped the unseen God as their helper, and
made Jochebed bold to break the terrible law, as a hen will fly in
the face of a mastiff to shield her brood. Their faith perhaps also
grasped the future deliverance, and linked it in some way with their
child. We may learn how transfiguring and ennobling to the gentlest
and weakest is faith in God, especially when it is allied with
unselfish human love. These two are the strongest powers. If they
are at war, the struggle is terrible: if they are united, 'the
weakest is as David, and David as an angel of God.' Let us seek ever
to blend their united strength in our own lives.

Will it be thought too fanciful if we suggest that we are taught
another lesson,--namely, that the faith which surrenders its earthly
treasures to God, in confidence of His care, is generally rewarded
and vindicated by receiving them back again, glorified and
sanctified by the altar on which they have been laid? Jochebed
clasped her recovered darling to her bosom with a deeper gladness,
and held him by a surer title, when Miriam brought him back as the
princess's charge, than ever before. We never feel the preciousness
of dear ones so much, nor are so calm in the joy of possession, as
when we have laid them in God's hands, and have learned how wise and
wonderful His care is.

III. How much of the world's history that tiny coffer among the
reeds held! How different that history would have been if, as might
easily have happened, it had floated away, or if the feeble life
within it had wailed itself dead unheard! The solemn possibilities
folded and slumbering in an infant are always awful to a thoughtful
mind. But, except the manger at Bethlehem, did ever cradle hold the
seed of so much as did that papyrus chest? The set of opinion at
present minimises the importance of the individual, and exalts the
spirit of the period, as a factor in history. Standing beside
Miriam, we may learn a truer view, and see that great epochs require
great men, and that, without such for leaders, no solid advance in
the world's progress is achieved. Think of the strange cradle
floating on the Nile; then think of the strange grave among the
mountains of Moab, and of all between, and ponder the same lesson as
is taught in yet higher fashion by Bethlehem and Calvary, that God's
way of blessing the world is to fill men with His message, and let
others draw from them. Whether it be 'law,' or 'grace and truth,' a
man is needed through whom it may fructify to all.

IV. The sweet picture of womanly compassion in Pharaoh's daughter is
full of suggestions. We have already noticed that her name is handed
down by one tradition as 'Merris,' and that 'Meri' has been found as
the appellation of a princess of the period. A rabbinical authority
calls her 'Bithiah,' that is, 'Daughter of Jehovah'; by which was,
no doubt, intended to imply that she became in some sense a
proselyte. This may have been only an inference from her protection
of Moses. There is a singular and very obscure passage in I
Chronicles iv. 17, 18, relating the genealogy of a certain Mered,
who seems to have had two wives, one 'the Jewess,' the other
'Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh.' We know no more about him or
her, but Keil thinks that Mered probably 'lived before the exodus';
but it can scarcely be that the 'daughter of Pharaoh,' his wife, is
our princess, and that she actually became a 'daughter of Jehovah,'
and, like her adopted child, refused royal dignity and preferred
reproach. In any case, the legend of her name is a tender and
beautiful way of putting the belief that in her 'there was some good
thing towards the God of Israel.'

But, passing from that, how the true woman's heart changes languid
curiosity into tenderness, and how compassion conquers pride of race
and station, as well as regard for her father's edict, as soon as
the infant's cry, which touches every good woman's feelings, falls
on her ear! 'One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.' All the
centuries are as nothing; the strange garb and the stranger mental
and spiritual dress fade, and we have here a mere woman, affected,
as every true sister of hers to-day would be, by the helpless
wailing. God has put that instinct there. Alas that it ever should
be choked by frivolity or pride, and frozen by indifference and
self-indulgence! Gentle souls spring up in unfavourable soil.
Rameses was a strange father for such a daughter. How came this dove
in the vulture's cage? Her sweet pity beside his cold craft and
cruelty is like the lamb couching by the lion. Note, too, that
gentlest pity makes the gentlest brave. She sees the child is a
Hebrew. Her quick wit understands why it has been exposed, and she
takes its part, and the part of the poor weeping parents, whom she
can fancy, against the savage law. No doubt, as Egyptologists tell
us, the princesses of the royal house had separate households and
abundant liberty of action. Still, it was bold to override the
strict commands of such a monarch. But it was not a self-willed
sense of power, but the beautiful daring of a compassionate woman,
to which God committed the execution of His purposes.

And that is a force which has much like work trusted to it in modern
society too. Our great cities swarm with children exposed to a worse
fate than the baby among the flags. Legislation and official charity
have far too rough hands and too clumsy ways to lift the little life
out of the coffer, and to dry the tears. We must look to Christian
women to take a leaf out of 'Bithiah's' book. First, they should use
their eyes to see the facts, and not be so busy about their own
luxury and comfort that they pass the poor pitch-covered box
unnoticed. Then they should let the pitiful call touch their heart,
and not steel themselves in indifference or ease. Then they should
conquer prejudices of race, pride of station, fear of lowering
themselves, loathing, or contempt. And then they should yield to the
impulses of their compassion, and never mind what difficulties or
opponents may stand in the way of their saving the children. If
Christian women knew their obligations and their power, and lived up
to them as bravely as this Egyptian princess, there would be fewer
little ones flung out to be eaten by crocodiles, and many a poor
child, who is now abandoned from infancy to the Devil, would be
rescued to grow up a servant of God. She, there by the Nile waters,
in her gracious pity and prompt wisdom, is the type of what
Christian womanhood, and, indeed, the whole Christian community,
should be in relation to child life.

V. The great lesson of this incident, as of so much before, is the
presence of God's wonderful providence, working out its designs by
all the play of human motives. In accordance with a law, often seen
in His dealings, it was needful that the deliverer should come from
the heart of the system from which he was to set his brethren free.
The same principle which sent Saul of Tarsus to be trained at the
feet of Gamaliel, and made Luther a monk in the Augustinian convent
at Erfurt, planted Moses in Pharaoh's palace and taught him the
wisdom of Egypt, against which he was to contend. It was a strange
irony of Providence that put him so close to the throne which he was
to shake. For his future work he needed to be lifted above his
people, and to be familiar with the Egyptian court as well as with
Egyptian learning. If he was to hate and to war against idolatry,
and to rescue an unwilling people from it, he must know the
rottenness of the system, and must have lived close enough to it to
know what went on behind the scenes, and how foully it smelled when
near. He would gain influence over his countrymen by his connection
with Pharaoh, whilst his very separation from them would at once
prevent his spirit from being broken by oppression, and would give
him a keener sympathy with his people than if he had himself been
crushed by slavery. His culture, heathen as it was, supplied the
material on which the divine Spirit worked. God fashioned the
vessel, and then filled it. Education is not the antagonist of
inspiration. For the most part, the men whom God has used for His
highest service have been trained in all the wisdom of their age.
When it has been piled up into an altar, then 'the fire of the Lord'

Our story teaches us that God's chosen instruments are immortal till
their work is done. No matter how forlorn may seem their outlook,
how small the probabilities in their favour, how divergent from the
goal may seem the road He leads them, He watches them. Around that
frail ark, half lost among the reeds, is cast the impregnable shield
of His purpose. All things serve that Will. The current in the full
river, the lie of the flags that stop it from being borne down, the
hour of the princess's bath, the direction of her idle glance, the
cry of the child at the right moment, the impulse welling up in her
heart, the swift resolve, the innocent diplomacy of the sister, the
shelter of the happy mother's breast, the safety of the palace,--all
these and a hundred more trivial and unrelated things are spun into
the strong cable wherewith God draws slowly but surely His secret
purpose into act. So ever His children are secure as long as He has
work for them, and His mighty plan strides on to its accomplishment
over all the barriers that men can raise.

How deeply this story had impressed on devout minds the truth of the
divine protection for all who serve Him, is shown by the fact that
the word employed in the last verse of our lesson, and there
translated 'drawn,' of which the name 'Moses' is a form, is used on
the only occasion of its occurrence in the Old Testament (namely
Psalm xviii. 16, and in the duplicate in 2 Sam. xxii. 17) with plain
reference to our narrative. The Psalmist describes his own
deliverance, in answer to his cry, by a grand manifestation of God's
majesty; and this is the climax and the purpose of the earthquake
and the lightning, the darkness and the storm: 'He sent from above,
He took me, He drew me out of many waters.' So that scene by the
margin of the Nile, so many years ago, is but one transient instance
of the working of the power which secures deliverance from
encompassing perils, and for strenuous, though it may be
undistinguished, service to all who call upon Him. God, who put the
compassion into the heart of Pharaoh's dusky daughter, is not less
tender of heart than she, and when He hears us, though our cry be
but as of an infant, 'with no language but a cry,' He will come in
His majesty and draw us from encompassing dangers and impending
death. We cannot all be lawgivers and deliverers; but we may all
appeal to His great pity, and partake of deliverance like that of
Moses and of David.


'And, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush
was not consumed.' EXODUS iii. 1

It was a very sharp descent from Pharaoh's palace to the wilderness,
and forty years of a shepherd's life were a strange contrast to the
brilliant future that once seemed likely for Moses. But God tests
His weapons before He uses them, and great men are generally
prepared for great deeds by great sorrows. Solitude is 'the mother-
country of the strong,' and the wilderness, with its savage crags,
its awful silence, and the unbroken round of its blue heaven, was a
better place to meet God than in the heavy air of a palace, or the
profitless splendours of a court.

So as this lonely shepherd is passing slowly in front of his flock,
he sees a strange light that asserted itself, even in the brightness
of the desert sunshine. 'The bush' does not mean one single shrub.
Rather, it implies some little group, or cluster, or copse, of the
dry thorny acacias, which are characteristic of the country, and
over which any ordinary fire would have passed like a flash, leaving
them all in grey ashes. But this steady light persists long enough
to draw the attention of the shepherd, and to admit of his
travelling some distance to reach it. And then--and then--the Lord

The significance of this bush, burning but not consumed, is my main
subject now, for I think it carries great and blessed lessons for

Now, first, I do not think that the bush burning but not consumed,
stands as it is ordinarily understood to stand, for the symbolical
representation of the preservation of Israel, even in the midst of
the fiery furnace of persecution and sorrow.

Beautiful as that idea is, I do not think it is the true
explanation; because if so, this symbol is altogether out of keeping
with the law that applies to all the rest of the symbolical
accompaniments of divine appearances, all of which, without
exception, set forth in symbol some truth about God, and not about
His Church; and all of which, without exception, are a
representation in visible and symbolical form of the same truth
which was proclaimed in articulate words along with them. The symbol
and the accompanying voice of God in all other cases have one and
the same meaning.

That, I think, is the case here also; and we learn from the Bush,
not something about God's Church, however precious that may be, but
what is a great deal more important, something about God Himself;
namely, the same thing that immediately afterwards was spoken in
articulate words.

In the next place, let me observe that the fire is distinctly a
divine symbol, a symbol of God not of affliction, as the ordinary
explanation implies. I need not do more than remind you of the
stream of emblem which runs all through Scripture, as confirming
this point. There are the smoking lamp and the blazing furnace in
the early vision granted to Abraham. There is the pillar of fire by
night, that lay over the desert camp of the wandering Israelites.
There is Isaiah's word, 'The light of Israel shall be a flaming
fire.' There is the whole of the New Testament teaching, turning on
the manifestation of God through His Spirit. There are John the
Baptist's words, 'He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with
fire.' There is the day of Pentecost, when the 'tongues of fire sat
upon each of them.' And what is meant by the great word of the
Epistle to the Hebrews, 'Our God is a consuming fire'?

Not Israel only, but many other lands--it would scarcely be an
exaggeration to say, all other lands--have used the same emblem with
the same meaning. In almost every religion on the face of the earth,
you will find a sacred significance attached to fire. That
significance is not primarily destruction, as we sometimes suppose,
an error which has led to ghastly misunderstandings of some
Scriptures, and of the God whom they reveal. When, for instance,
Isaiah (xxxiii. 14) asks, 'Who among us shall dwell with the
devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?'
he has been supposed to be asking what human soul is there that can
endure the terrors of God's consuming and unending wrath. But a
little attention to the words would have shown that 'the devouring
fire' and the 'everlasting burnings' mean God and not hell, and that
the divine nature is by them not represented as too fierce to be
approached, but as the true dwelling-place of men, which indeed only
the holy can inhabit, but which for them is life. Precisely parallel
is the Psalmist's question, 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the
Lord, and who shall stand in His holy place?'

Fire is the source of warmth, and so, in a sense, of life. It is
full of quick energy, it transmutes all kinds of dead matter into
its own ruddy likeness, sending up the fat of the sacrifices in
wreathes of smoke that aspire heavenward; and changing all the
gross, heavy, earthly dullness into flame, more akin to the heaven
into which it rises.

Therefore, as cleansing, as the source of life, light, warmth,
change, as glorifying, transmuting, purifying, refining, fire is the
fitting symbol of the mightiest of all creative energy. And the
Bible has consecrated the symbolism, and bade us think of the Lord
Himself as the central fiery Spirit of the whole universe, a spark
from whom irradiates and vitalises everything that lives.

Nor should we forget, on the other side, that the very felicity of
this emblem is, that along with all these blessed thoughts of life-
giving and purifying, there does come likewise the more solemn
teaching of God's destructive power. 'What maketh heaven, that
maketh hell'; and the same God is the fire to quicken, to sanctify,
to bless; and resisted, rejected, neglected, is the fire that
consumes; the savour of life unto life, or the savour of death unto

And then, still further, notice that this flame is undying--steady,
unflickering. What does that mean? Adopting the principle which I
have already taken as our guide, that the symbol and the following
oral revelation teach the same truth, there can be no question as to
that answer. 'I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, of
Isaac, and of Jacob. 'I AM THAT I AM.'

That is to say, the fire that burns and does not burn out, which has
no tendency to destruction in its very energy, and is not consumed
by its own activity, is surely a symbol of the one Being whose being
derives its law and its source from Himself, who only can say--'I AM
THAT I AM'--the law of His nature, the foundation of His being, the
only conditions of His existence being, as it were, enclosed within
the limits of His own nature. You and I have to say, 'I am that
which I have become,' or 'I am that which I was born,' or 'I am that
which circumstances have made me.' He says, 'I AM THAT I AM.' All
other creatures are links; this is the staple from which they all
hang. All other being is derived, and therefore limited and
changeful; this Being is underived, absolute, self-dependent, and
therefore unalterable for evermore. Because we live we die. In
living the process is going on of which death is the end. But God
lives for evermore, a flame that does not burn out; therefore His
resources are inexhaustible, His power unwearied. He needs no rest
for recuperation of wasted energy. His gifts diminish not the store
which He has to bestow. He gives, and is none the poorer; He works,
and is never weary; He operates unspent; He loves, and He loves for
ever; and through the ages the fire burns on, unconsumed and

O brethren! is not that a revelation--familiar as it sounds to our
ears now, blessed be God!--is not that a revelation of which, when
we apprehend the depth and the preciousness, we may well fix an
unalterable faith upon it, and feel that for us, in our fleeting
days and shadowy moments, the one means to secure blessedness, rest,
strength, life, is to grasp and knit ourselves to Him who lives for
ever, and whose love is lasting as His life? 'The eternal God, the
Lord ... fainteth not, neither is weary. They that wait upon Him
shall renew their strength.'

The last thought suggested to me by this symbol is this. Regarding
the lowly thorn-bush as an emblem of Israel--which unquestionably it
is, though the fire be the symbol of God--in the fact that the
symbolical manifestation of the divine energy lived in so lowly a
shrine, and flamed in it, and preserved it by its burning, there is
a great and blessed truth.

It is the same truth which Jesus Christ, with a depth of
interpretation that put to shame the cavilling listeners, found in
the words that accompanied this vision: 'I am the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' He said to the sneering
Sadducees, who, like all other sneerers, saw only the surface of
what they were sarcastic about, 'Did not Moses teach you,' in the
section about the bush, 'that the dead rise, when he said: I AM the
God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.' A man, about whom it
can once be said that God is his God, cannot die. Such a bond can
never be broken. The communion of earth, imperfect as it is, is the
prophecy of Heaven and the pledge of immortality. And so from that
relationship which subsisted between the fathers and God, Christ
infers the certainty of their resurrection. It seems a great leap,
but there are intervening steps not stated by our Lord, which
securely bridge the gulf between the premises and the conclusion.
Such communion is, in its very nature, unaffected by the accident of
death, for it cannot be supposed that a man who can say that God is
_His_ God can be reduced to nothingness, and such a bond be
snapped by such a cause. Therefore Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are
still living, 'for all' those whom we call dead, as well as those
whom we call living, 'live unto Him,' and though so many centuries
have passed, God still _is_, not _was_, their God. The relation between
them is eternal and guarantees their immortal life. But immortality
without corporeity is not conceivable as the perfect state, and if the
dead live still, there must come a time when the whole man shall partake
of redemption; and in body, soul, and spirit the glorified and risen
saints shall be 'for ever with the Lord.'

That is but the fuller working out of the same truth that is taught
us in the symbol 'the bush burned and was not consumed.' God dwelt
in it, therefore it flamed; God dwelt in it, therefore though it
flamed it never flamed out. Or in other words, the Church, the
individual in whom He dwells, partakes of the immortality of the
indwelling God. 'Every one shall be salted with fire,' which shall
be preservative and not destructive; or, as Christ has said,
'Because I live ye shall live also.'

Humble as was the little, ragged, sapless thorn-bush, springing up
and living its solitary life amidst the sands of the desert, it was
not too humble to hold God; it was not too gross to burst into flame
when He came; it was not too fragile to be gifted with undying
being; like His that abode in it. And for us each the emblem may be
true. If He dwell in us we shall live as long as He lives, and the
fire that He puts in our heart shall be a fountain of fire springing
up into life everlasting.


'Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh,
that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of
Israel, out of Egypt. 11. And Moses said unto God, Who
am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should
bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? 12.
And He said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this
shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When
thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall
serve God upon this mountain. 13. And Moses said unto
God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel,
and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath
sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His
name? what shall I say unto them? 14. And God said unto
Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, thus shalt thou say
unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
15. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou
say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your
fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the
God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for
ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
16. Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and
say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of
Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me,
saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which
is done to you in Egypt: 17. And I have said, I will
bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the
land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the
Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the
Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.
18. And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt
come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of
Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the
Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech
Thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we
may sacrifice to the Lord our God. 19. And I am sure
that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by
a mighty hand. 20. And I will stretch out my hand, and
smite Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in the
midst thereof: and after that he will let you go.'
--EXODUS iii 10-20.

The 'son of Pharaoh's daughter' had been transformed, by nearly
forty years of desert life, into an Arab shepherd. The influences of
the Egyptian court had faded from him, like colour from cloth
exposed to the weather; nor is it probable that, after the failure
of his early attempt to play the deliverer to Israel, he nourished
further designs of that sort. He appears to have settled down
quietly to be Jethro's son-in-law, and to have lived a modest, still
life of humble toil. He had flung away fair prospects,--and what had
he made of it? The world would say 'Nothing,' as it ever does about
those who despise material advantages and covet higher good. Looking
after sheep in the desert was a sad downcome from the possibility of
sitting on the throne of Egypt. Yes, but it was in the desert that
the vision of the bush burning, and not burning out, came; and it
would not have come if Moses had been in a palace.

This passage begins in the midst of the divine communication which
followed and interpreted the vision. We note, first, the divine
charge and the human shrinking from the task. It was a startling
transition from verse 9, which declares God's pitying knowledge of
Israel's oppression, to verse 10, which thrusts Moses forward into
the thick of dangers and difficulties, as God's instrument. 'I will
send thee' must have come like a thunder-clap. The commander's
summons which brings a man from the rear rank and sets him in the
van of a storming-party may well make its receiver shrink. It was
not cowardice which prompted Moses' answer, but lowliness. His
former impetuous confidence had all been beaten out of him. Time was
when he was ready to take up the _rôle_ of deliverer at his own
hand; but these hot days were past, and age and solitude and
communion with God had mellowed him into humility. His recoil was
but one instance of the shrinking which all true, devout men feel
when designated for tasks which may probably make life short, and
will certainly make it hard. All prophets and reformers till to-day
have had the same feeling. Men who can do such work as the
Jeremiahs, Pauls, Luthers, Cromwells, can do, are never forward to
begin it.

Self-confidence is not the temper which God uses for His
instruments. He works with 'bruised reeds,' and breathes His
strength into them. It is when a man says 'I can do nothing,' that
he is fit for God to employ. 'When I am weak, then I am strong.'
Moses remembered enough of Egypt to know that it was no slight peril
to front Pharaoh, and enough of Israel not to be particularly eager
to have the task of leading them. But mark that there is no refusal
of the charge, though there is profound consciousness of inadequacy.
If we have reason to believe that any duty, great or small, is laid
on us by God, it is wholesome that we should drive home to ourselves
our own weakness, but not that we should try to shuffle out of the
duty because we are weak. Moses' answer was more of a prayer for
help than of a remonstrance, and it was answered accordingly.

God deals very gently with conscious weakness. 'Certainly I will be
with thee.' Moses' estimate of himself is quite correct, and it is
the condition of his obtaining God's help. If he had been self-
confident, he would have had no longing for, and no promise of,
God's presence. In all our little tasks we may have the same
assurance, and, whenever we feel that they are too great for us, the
strength of that promise may be ours. God sends no man on errands
which He does not give him power to do. So Moses had not to
calculate the difference between his feebleness and the strength of
a kingdom. Such arithmetic left out one element, which made all the
difference in the sum total. 'Pharaoh _versus_ Moses' did not
look a very hopeful cause, but 'Pharaoh _versus_ Moses and
Another'--that other being God--was a very different matter. God and
I are always stronger than any antagonists. It was needless to
discuss whether Moses was able to cope with the king. That was not
the right way of putting the problem. The right way was, Is God able
to do it?

The sign given to Moses is at first sight singular, inasmuch as it
requires faith, and can only be a confirmation of his mission when
that mission is well accomplished. But there was a help to present
faith even in it, for the very sacredness of the spot hallowed now
by the burning bush was a kind of external sign of the promise.

One difficulty being solved, Moses raised another, but not in the
spirit of captiousness or reluctance. God is very patient with us
when we tell Him the obstacles which we seem to see to our doing His
work. As long as these are presented in good faith, and with the
wish to have them cleared up, He listens and answers. The second
question asked by Moses was eminently reasonable. He pictures to
himself his addressing the Israelites, and their question, What is
the name of this God who has sent you? Apparently the children of
Israel had lost much of their ancestral faith, and probably had in
many instances fallen into idolatry. We do not know enough to
pronounce with confidence on that point, nor how far the great name
of Jehovah had been used before the time of Moses, or had been
forgotten in Egypt.

The questions connected with these points and with the history of
the name do not enter into our present purpose. My task is rather to
point out the religious significance of the self-revelation of God
contained in the name, and how it becomes the foundation of Israel's
deliverance, existence, and prerogatives. Whatever opinions are
adopted as to the correct form of the name and other grammatical and
philological questions, there is no doubt that it mainly reveals God
as self-existent and unchangeable. He draws His being from no
external source, nor 'borrows leave to be.' Creatures are what they
are made or grow to be; they are what they were not; they are what
they will some time not any more be. But He is what He is. Lifted
above time and change, self-existing and self-determined, He is the
fountain of life, the same for ever.

This underived, independent, immutable being is a Person who can
speak to men, and can say 'I am.' Being such, He has entered into
close covenant relations with men, and has permitted Himself to be
called 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' The name Jehovah
lifts Him high above all creatures; the name 'the God of your
fathers' brings Him into tender proximity with men, and, in
combination with the former designation, guarantees that He will
forever be what He has been, even to all generations of children's
children. That mighty name is, indeed, His 'memorial to all
generations,' and is as fresh and full of blessedness to us as to
the patriarchs. Christ has made us understand more of the treasures
for heart and mind and life which are stored in it. 'Our Father
which art in heaven' is the unfolding of its inmost meaning.

We may note that the bush burning but not consumed expressed in
symbol the same truth which the name reveals. It seems a mistake to
take the bush as the emblem of Israel surviving persecution. Rather
the revelation to the eye says the same thing as that to the ear, as
is generally the case. As the desert shrub flamed, and yet did not
burn away, so that divine nature is not wearied by action nor
exhausted by bestowing, nor has its life any tendency towards ending
or extinction, as all creatural life has.

The closing verses of this passage (vs. 16-20) are a programme of
Moses' mission, in which one or two points deserve notice. First,
the general course of it is made known from the beginning. Therein
Moses was blessed beyond most of God's servants, who have to risk
much and to labour on, not knowing which shall prosper. If we could
see, as he did, the lie of the country beforehand, our journeys
would be easier. So we often think, but we know enough of what shall
be to enable us to have quiet hearts; and it is best for us not to
see what is to fail and what to succeed. Our ignorance stimulates
effort, and drives to clinging to God's hand.

Then we may note the full assurances to be given to the 'elders of
Israel.' Apparently some kind of civic organisation had been kept
up, and there were principal people among the slaves who had to be
galvanised first into enthusiasm. So they are to be told two
things,--that Jehovah has appeared to Moses, and that He, not Moses
only, will deliver them and plant them in the land. The enumeration
of the many tribes (v. 17) might discourage, but it is intended to
fire by the thought of the breadth of the land, which is further
described as fertile. The more exalted our conceptions of the
inheritance, the more willing shall we be to enter on the pilgrimage
towards it. The more we realise that Jehovah has promised to lead us
thither, the more willing shall we be to face difficulties and

The directions as to the opening of communications with Pharaoh have
often been made a difficulty, as if there was trickery in the modest
request for permission to go three days' journey into the
wilderness. But that request was to be made, knowing that it would
not be granted. It was to be a test of Pharaoh's willingness to
submit to Jehovah. Its very smallness made it so more effectually.
If he had any disposition to listen to the voice speaking through
Moses, he would yield that small point. It is useless to speculate
on what would have happened if he had done so. But probably the
Israelites would have come back from their sacrificing.

Of more importance is it to note that the failure of the request was
foreseen, and yet the effort was to be made. Is not that the same
paradox which meets us in all the divine efforts to win over hard-
hearted men to His service? Is it not exactly what our Lord did when
He appealed to Judas, while knowing that all would be vain?

The expression in verse 19, 'not by a mighty hand,' is very obscure.
It may possibly mean that Pharaoh was so obstinate that no human
power was strong enough to bend his will. Therefore, in contrast to
the 'mighty hand' of man, which was not mighty enough for this work,
God will stretch out His hand, and that will suffice to compel
obedience from the proudest. God can force men by His might to
comply with His will, so far as external acts go; but He does not
regard that as obedience, nor delight in it. We can steel ourselves
against men's power, but God's hand can crush and break the
strongest will. 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the
living God.' It is a blessed thing to put ourselves into them, in
order to be moulded by their loving touch. The alternative is laid
before every soul of man.


'And the Lord said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one
plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards
he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he
shall surely thrust you out hence altogether. 2. Speak
now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow
of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour,
jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. 3. And the Lord
gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians.
Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of
Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the
sight of the people. 4. And Moses said, Thus saith the
Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of
Egypt; 5. And all the first-born in the land of Egypt
shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth
upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the
maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the
first-born of beasts. 6. And there shall be a great cry
throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none
like it, nor shall be like it any more. 7. But against
any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his
tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that
the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and
Israel. 8. And all these thy servants shall come down
unto Me, and bow themselves unto Me, saying, Get Thee
out, and all the people that follow Thee: and after that
I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great
anger. 9. And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall
not hearken unto you; that My wonders may be multiplied
in the land of Egypt. 10. And Moses and Aaron did all
these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened
Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children
of Israel go out of his land.'--EXODUS xi. 1-10.

The first point to be noted in this passage is that it interposes a
solemn pause between the preceding ineffectual plagues and the last
effectual one. There is an awful lull in the storm before the last
crashing hurricane which lays every obstacle flat. 'There is silence
in heaven' before the final peal of thunder. Verses 1 to 3 seem, at
first sight, out of place, as interrupting the narrative, since
Moses' denunciation and prophecy in verses 4 to 8 must have been
spoken at the interview with Pharaoh which we find going on at the
end of the preceding chapter. But it is legitimate to suppose that,
at the very moment when Pharaoh was blustering and threatening, and
Moses was bearding him, giving back scorn for scorn, the latter
heard with the inward ear the voice which made Pharaoh's words empty
wind, and gave him the assurances and commands contained in verses 1
to 3, and that thus it was given him in that hour what he should
speak; namely, the prediction that follows in verses 4 to 8. Such a
view of the sequence of the passage makes it much more vivid,
dramatic, and natural, than to suppose that the first verses are
either interpolation or an awkward break referring to a revelation
at some indefinite previous moment. When a Pharaoh or a Herod or an
Agrippa threatens, God speaks to the heart of a Moses or a Paul, and
makes His servant's face 'strong against their faces.'

The same purpose of parting off the preceding plagues from the past
ones explains the introduction of verses 9 and 10, which stand as a
summary of the whole account of these, and, as it were, draw a line
across the page, before beginning the story of that eventful day and
night of Israel's deliverance.

Moses' conviction, which he knew to be not his own thought but God's
revelation of His purpose, pointed first to the final blow which was
to finish Pharaoh's resistance. He had been vacillating between
compliance and refusal, like an elastic ball which yields to
compression and starts back to its swelling rotundity as soon as the
pressure is taken off. But at last he will collapse altogether, like

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