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And Moses said unto his father-in-law, because « the people come up unto me to inquire of God: when they have a matter, they come unto me, and I judge bez tween one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws,” Ver. 15, 16.
We have seen Jethro, in the character of a pious man, an affectionate neighbour, and a kind relation. We see him now blending with these excellent qualities the character of an able statesman and sagacious politician. There is no man so wise as not to need instruction, and none so simple as to be incapable of sometimes giving advice. Jethro plainly perceived, that the course of life which his son-in-law was pursuing must soon prove fatal to him. That, by attempting what was beyond his strength to bear or perform, he was in the way of quickly rendering himself unable to do any thing at all. He therefore proposes a subdivision of the toil, by the appointment of proper men to the office of judge, who might try and determine the causes of less importance, and apply to Moses, and to God through him, only in matters of high moment, and as the last resort. Thus Moses would be greatly relieved, many good men would be trained up to the useful, honourable and important employment of judging between his brethren, and the people meanwhile sustain no damage.
The qualities which he points out as requisite to constitute this character, show how carefully he had considered the subject, and how well fitted he was to advise in a matter of this kind. Let those who have the appointment of judges study well what he says, and act accordingly. “Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness: and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens,” Ver. 21.
The first requisite in a judge, according to Jethro, is ability. He must be a man of sense, penetration and discernment. Because, with the best intentions, a stu
pid, weak or dissipated man, will be apt to err in judgment, either because he is unable to comprehend the cause, or will not employ the necessary time and pains to understand it.
But what are the greatest and most shining abilities, destitute of a principle of conscience? They are but a mischievous weapon in the hands of a bad man. A judge, therefore, ought to be a man that fears God. A man, not only restrained by respect to the world, or actuated by regard to reputation: these are found feeble and inefficacious in the hour of temptation; these are fluctuating and unsteady, as the opinions, passions and interests of men; but the fear of the Lord is a perpetual unchanging motive and restraint, the same in darkness as in the light, the same in secret as before the eyes of the whole world.
This principle is closely connected with, and indeed it naturally produces a third quality, of primary importance in this character. A judge must be a man of truth. A sacred observer of truth, in what he says himself; a diligent promoter of truth, and an impartial avenger of falsehood and injustice in others. Even a regard to some of the principles of religion, unconnected with the love of truth and justice, which are of the number of those principles, might be apt to mislead a man. Compassion, for example, might dispose a judge to favour the poor man, though he has the worst cause. The all-wise God, therefore, thought it necessary to throw in a special caution to this purpose, lest a principle, amiable and excellent in itself, should be perverted into a source of injustice, and has enjoined, by a positive statute, “Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause," Exod. xxiii. 3. -- that the cause, not the person or condition of the man, should be considered by him who sits in judgment.
Jethro finally lays it down as essential to the character of a judge, that he be a man who hates covetousness. In which there is a strong insinuation, that where
the love of money predominates, the exercise of all other necessary and suitable qualities are likely to be obstructed or perverted; ability under such influence rendered only more dangerous and hurtful; the fear of God lulled asleep; the heart hardened; the conscience, by the strong opiate of gold, reduced to a state of insensibility, and truth and justice hoodwinked on the tribunal.
The history of our own country affords a melancholy example of the truth of this observation, in the conduct of that “greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind,” Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, and Lord High Chancellor of England, in the reign of James I. who with a soul that comprehended, filled, extended and enlarged the circle of science; a genius that penetrated through the whole vast system of nature, an imagination that transcended the flaming boundaries of the world, and a heart devoted to the love of God and mankind-basely received the wages of unrighteousness, accepted a bribe to pervert justice, was accused and convicted of corruption in the execution of his high and important trust, acknowledged his own shame, and was deservedly driven, with disgrace to himself, and with the indignation, shame and pity of a mortified and astonished world, from an honourable station which he filled so unworthily.
But alas, after all, when we read of the appointment of judges and generals and of their requisite qualities, of what does it remind us but that men are selfish, covetous, litigious and violent: tenacious of their own, and ready to encroach upon others? Wherefore is law? Wherefore are there tribunals? They are for “ the lawless and disobedient.” Make men just, gentle, kindly affectioned; make them christians indeed, and then war is at an end; the courts are shut up; then there would be no need of a judge, because there would be no offender.
The advice which was wisely and kindly given, was graciously and candidly received. A proud and selfsufficient spirit would have rejected the counsel, however salutary, because tendered by a stranger. But, true wisdom only considers whether the hint be useful, practicable and necessary, without regarding from what quarter it comes. And such was the wisdom of Mo. ses, and he was prepared for converse with God, who had learned deference and respect for the opinions of men. And thus the very first rudiments of the Jew. ish constitution, were suggested by the observation and experience of a stranger and a Midianite. And the great Jehovah disdained not to permit his prophet to be taught, and his people to be governed, by the wisdom and intelligence of a good man, though he was not of the commonwealth of Israel. If men were ca. pable of learning to be wise and good, He who is wisdom and goodness itself would vouchsafe to teach them, not by precept only, but by example also. As Jethro suggested so it was done. Moses was eased of a burthen intolerable, the course of justice was not stopped, God was glorified, and the world edified.
You must have observed, that I have once and again held out to your expectation a subject of discourse, from which I have once and a second time shrunk back. It is still before me, and I feel myself as reluctant as ever to proceed. . Who is not ready to sink under the awful terrors of the dispensation of the law from Sinai? “Who is sufficient for such things?” But I must ven. ture to go on, and endeavour to carry you with me to. the foot of that tremendous mountain. And I flatter myself you have not been altogether disappointed or injured in being stopped a little in your progress. With recruited strength and spirits, we shall attempt to advance on our way. But we shall first from this eminence survey the ground over which we have travelled. Eminence, did I say? No. Let us join the innocent, cheerful society in the tent of Moses, and learn to cultivate the endearing charities of private life; and, having considered it well, let us retire, making such reflections as these
That it is not fortitude, but folly, unnecessarily to ex. pose ourselves, or those whom we love, to hardships and danger. “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel,” I Tim. v. 8. It is our care, not our labour and reflection, which we are encouraged to cast upon God.
That it argues a deficiency in some moral principle or another, when persons whom nature, and the obligations of society have united, discover an inclination to live asunder. Wisdom or necessity may impose a tem. porary separation: but well disposed minds ever look to, and eagerly lay hold of the means and the season of restoration and union.
That regard to public utility, exalts and improves private friendship.
That to promote the glory of God, his own virtue, and the good of his fellow-creatures, is the great and constant aim of every good man.
That as none is too wise to learn, it is a proof of affection to communicate useful hints; and a high proof of wisdom to take and use them, from whatever quarter they come. There is one Being only who is not to be instructed. “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out; for who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?” Rom. xi. 33, 34.
And finally that, though we cannot successfully imi. tate eminent men in every particular of conduct, or in the display of talents which may be denied to ourselves, we are not thereby precluded from the exercise of the inferior talents which we possess, and from a virtuous emulation where it is possible for us to succeed. Let me strive to be a Moses in some things, though I be conscious I must fall inconceivably behind him in most. Amen.