« PreviousContinue »
tion in respect of time, namely, of forty years each; but very different in respect of situation, notoriety, and importance. The first, and of which the bible is silent, or speaks but a single word, presents him to us a student in the schools of the Egyptian Magi, one among the princes in the court of Pharaoh, a poet, an orator, a statesman, a general,' or whatever else imagination pleases to make him. The second exhibits an humble shepherd, tending the flocks of Jethro, his father-inlaw, and fulfilling the duties and exemplifying the virtues of the private citizen. In the third, we attend the footsteps of the saviour of his nation, the leader and commander, the lawgiver and judge of the Israel of God: under whom that chosen race was conducted from Egyptian oppression, to the possession of the land promised to Abraham and to his seed; the instrument chosen, raised up and employed of the Divine Providence, to execute the purposes of the Almighty, in a case which affected the general interests, spiritual and everlasting, of all mankind.
It is of the second of these periods we are now to treat; and though our materials be small and few, if we be so happy as to make a proper use of them, we shall find that, by the blessing of God, our labour has not been in vain.
In Moses, then, in the very prime and vigour of his. life, we see a mind uncorrupted by the maxims and manners of an impious, tyrannical, idolatrous court; a mind not intoxicated by royal favour, not seduced by the allurements of ambition, not deadened by the uninterrupted possession of prosperity, to the impressions of humanity and compassion. And what preserved him? He believed in God. The mind's eye was fixed on Him who is invisible to the
of sense. And what is the wisdom of Egypt compared to this? It was a land of astronomers, a land of warriors, a land of artists; and the improvement which Moses made in every liberal art and science, we may well
suppose was equal to any, the first, of the age and nation in which he lived. But a principle infinitely superior to every thing human, a principle not taught in the schools of the philosophers, a principle
principle which carries the soul where it resides, beyond the limits of this little world, inspired high thoughts, dictated a noble, manly, generous conduct.
And first, it taught him to despise and to reject empty, unavailing, worldly honours. “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,” Heb. xi. 24. Ordinary spirits value themselves on rank and distinction. Ordinary men, raised unexpectedly to eminence, strive to conceal and forget the meanness of their extraction; but Moses would rather pass for the son of a poor, oppressed Israelite, than for the adopted son and heir of the oppressing tyrant's daughter. Putting religion out of the question, true magnanimity will seek to derive consequence from itself, not from parentage or any other adventitious circumstance; will not consider itself as ennobled by what it could have no power over, nor debased by what has in its own nature no shame. To be either vain of one's ancestry, or ashamed of it, is equally the mark of a grovelling spirit
. Art thou highly descended, my friend? Let high birth inspire high, that is, worthy, generous sentiments. Beware of disgracing reputable descent, by sordid, vulgar, vicious behaviour. Hast thou nothing to boast of in respect of pedigree? Strive to lay the foundation of thine own nobility: convince the fools of the world, that goodness is true greatness; that a catalogue of living virtues is much more honourable than a long list of departed names. Know ye not, that faith makes every one who lives by it more than the son of a king? For the son of a king may be a fool or a profligate; but faith makes its possessor a son of God, that is, a wise and a good man; and by it, Moses was more noble in the wilderness of Sinai, than in the imperial court of Pharaoh.
As this divine instructor taught him to undervalue and to refuse empty honours, so it inspired him with pity to his afflicted brethren. “ And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren,” Exod i. 11. Ease and afluence generally harden the heart. If it be well with the selfish man himself, he little cares what others endure. But reli. gion teaches another lesson: “ Love to God whom we have not seen,” will always be productive of love to men whom we have seen.” From the root of faith many kindred stems spring up; and all bring forth fruit. There, arises the stately plant of heavenly-inindedness, producing the golden apples of self-government, self. denial, and contempt of the world; and close by its side, and sheltered by its branches, gentle sympathy expands its blossoms and breathes its perfumes; consolation to the afflicted, and relief to the miserable.
The progress of compassion, in Moses, is described with wonderful delicacy and judgment. First, he foregoes the pleasures of a court. Unable to relish a solitary, selfish gratification, while he reflected that his nearest and dearest relations were eating the bread and drinking the water of affliction, he goes out to look upon their misery, and tries by kind looks and words of love, to soothe their woes. Unable to allevi. ate, much less to remove their anguish, he is determi..ed at least to be a partaker of it; and since he cannot raise them to the enjoyment of his liberty and case, he voluntarily takes a share of their bondage and oppression. There is something wonderfully pleasing to a soul in trouble, to see one who might have shunned it, and have turned away from the sufferer, out of pure love, drinking from the same bitter cup, and submitting to the same calamity. At length an honest zeal breaks forth, and overleaps the bounds of patience and discretion. Seeing a brutal Egyptian smiting an Hebrew,
incapable of suppressing his indignation, he assaults the oppressor, and puts him to death. “ Moses was meek above all the men of the earth.” But “surely oppression maketh a wise man mad.” This we allege as an apology for the coliduct of Moses, not a vindication of it; for we pretend not to say it was in all respects justifiable. But it is one of those singular cases to which common rules will not apply.
The day after, he had the mortification of seeing two Hebrews striving together. Unhappy men! as if they had not enemies enough in their common, cruel taskmasters; as if condemnation to labour in making bricks without some of the necessary materials, could not find employment for their most vigorous efforts; as if an edict to destroy all their male children from their birth, had not been sufficient to fill up the measure of their wo; they pour hatred and strife into the bowl, already surcharged with wormwood and gall. Wretched sons of men! eternally arraigning the wisdom and goodness of Providence; eternally complaining of the hardships of their lot; and eternally swelling the catalogue of their miseries, by their own perverseness and folly; adding vinegar to nitre, and then wondering how their distresses came to be so great! Moses reproved the offending Egyptian by a blow, and a mortal one; he tries to gain an offending brother by meekness and gentleness; he makes reason and humanity speak; but they speak in vain; for the same spirit that leads men to commit cruelty or injustice, leads them also to vindicate and support their ill conduct. “ And he said to him that did the wrong, “Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?” Exod. ii. 13, 14. From this, Moses discovered that the rash action which he had committed the day before, was publicly known and talked of, and might prove fatal to him, unless he instantly fled from the danger. The affair had reached
the ears of Pharaoh, who, it would appear, wanted only a decent pretence to rid himself of a man of whom all Egypt was jealous. He hurries away therefore out of the territories of the king of cgypt, into that part of Arabia which is called Petrea, from its mountainous or rocky aspect; and by a singular concurrence of
providential circumstances, is stopped at a city of that country called Midian, and is induced to remain there for many years.
There lived in this city a person of distinguished rank and station; but whether possessed of a sacred or a civil character, the ambiguity of the term in the holy language permits us not to determine; and the scripture leaves us totally uncertain whether he were a priest or a prince of Midian. But we are left in no doubt respecting his moral and intellectual qualificaa tions; and we shall have no reason to be displeased at finding the history of Moses blended with that of so sensible and so good a man as Jethro, or Raguel, turns out to be. Whatever his dignity was, the sacerdotal or royal, we find his daughters trained up in all the simplicity of those early times; following the humble, harmless profession of shepherdesses. Wise is that father, kind and just to his children, who, whatever his station, possessions or prospects may be, brings up his sons and his daughters to some virtuous and use ful employment; for idleness is not more odious, dishonourable and contemptible, than it is inimical to hap piness, and irreconcileable to inward peace.
Moses, being arrived in the neighbourhoodof Midian, weary and faint with a long journey, through a barren and unhospitable country, sits down by a well of water to rest and refresh himself. And, as a good man's footsteps are all ordered of the Lord, Providence sends him thither just at the moment, to succour the daughters of Raguel from the violence of some of their neighbours. In those countries, the precious fluid bestowed
upon in such boundless profusion, being dispensed as it were