« PreviousContinue »
EXODUS xxxii. 1-4.
out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together
thee up out of the land of Egypt. THE real instances of human folly and extravagance far exceed the conceptions of the most lively imagination. All history, and every day's experience, justify the mortifying account which the prophet gives of our corrupted nature-" The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked : who can know it ?”* The partiality of self-love, and the charity of a kind difpofition, would at times lead us to form a more favourable judgment both of ourselves and of others,
than Jer. xvii. 9.
than we deserve. The form of fin, seen in its nakedness, is so hideous, that we shrink from it with horror
i but use familiarizes the spectre; and we are insensibly led to bear, to be, and to do that which once we abhorred. Could a prophet have foretold one half of the irregularities, the excesses, the enormities of our lives, we should have deemed the prediction a falsehood and an insult; and, with the resentment of conscious virtue, we should have been ready to exclaim in the words of Hazael, “ Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?" Yet alas! the event has wofully verified the cruel imputation ; and exhibited the man fallen from his excellency, become the very monster he justly detested; the man funk into an object of pity, of scorn, or of detestation to himself and to mankind.
Many practices appear to us absurd and unnatural merely because we are not accustomed to them. Herodotus relates, that Darius, king of Persia, having assembled the Greeks who were under his command, demanded of them what bribe they would take to induce them to eat the dead bodies of their parents, as the Indians did? Being answered, that it was impossible for them ever to abandon themselves to fo great inhumanity, the king, in the presence of the fame Greeks, demanded of some Indians what consideration would prevail with them to burn the dead bodies of their
parents, as the Greeks did? The Indians expressing the utmost horror, entreated the king to impose upon them any hardship rather than that. Among the Hottentots, the aged, so long as they are able to do any work, are treated with great tenderness and humanity; but when they can no longer crawl about, they are thrust out of the society, and put in a solitary hut, there to die of hunger or age, or to be devoured of wild beasts. If you expoftulate with them upon the savageness of this custom, they are astonished you should reckon it inhuman : “ Is it not much greater cruelty,” they ask, “ to suffer persons to linger and
languish out a miserable old age, and not put an end to their wretchedness, by putting an end to their
Ídolatry is one of those practices, to our apprehenfion, so foolish and unreasonable, that we wonder how it ever obtained footing in the world; and with difficulty are we brought to believe the avidity with which whole nations have given into it. The particular circumstances of the Israelites in the wilderness, render their proneness to idol worhip peculiarly monstrous and unaccountable. The chain of miracles which accompanied their deliverance from Egypt ; that conftant symbol of the divine presence which attended them, the pillar of fire and cloud ; the daily miraculous supply of bread from heaven ; the recent anathema pronounced against the worship of images from the dreadful glory of Mount Sinai ; the scrupulous care employed, if we may use the expreilion, to exhibit no manner of fimilitude of the Deity in Horeb, to prevent the pollibility of a pretence to use, themselves, or to transmit to posterity any sensible repre. sentation of the invisible God; all these, superadded to the plainest dictates of common sense and reason, clothe with a blackness and malignity not to be expressed, the strange conduct which is the subject of This chapter.
Mofes, foreseeing the length of his absence in the mount, had wisely delegated his power to Aaron and Hur, that the operations of government and the adminiftration of justice might suffer no interruption. God, the great God, was now vouchsafing to employ himself in prescribing a mode, and a ministry of worthip for his Ifrael, which should possess all the pomp and fplendour displayed by the nations in the service of their false gods, together with a sacredness and dignity peculiar to itself. He was preparing to gratify their very fenfes by external fhew, as their fouls by heavenly wisdoin. He was planning a tabernacle, eltablishing a priesthood, and appointing festivals and
sacrifices, whose magnificence should leave them nothing to regret in the glory which they had seen in Egypt; and, at that very time, they are employing themselves in devising and executing a plan of religious service, equally disrespectful to God and dishonourable to themselves.
Their guilt begins in sinful impatience and presumption. In matters both of life and of religion men greatly err, when they take upon them to carve for themselves. “ Vain men would be wise, though man be born like a wild afles colt."* The transition is fo fudden that it seems incredible. Not many days are past since they had given the most solemn, explicit and unreserved consent to the whole of the divine law. “ All that the Lord hath faid will we do, and be obedient.”+ The treaty had been but just ratified by a covenant, a sacrifice, and a feast, with a solemnity not easily to be forgotten. The noise of the mighty thunderings has scarcely ceased; the ineffable glory of the God of Israel is yet present to their eyes; they have not well recovered from the terror inspired by that voice which made heaven and earth to tremble. Yet even thus circumstanced, as one man they fly to the appointment, not of a new leader and commander, though that had been ingratitude without a parallel, but with an impiety the most shocking and confounding, to the creation of a new god. And the very first exercise of the power which was committed unto Aaron for the public good, is to be the leader, the abet. tor, and an example, in practising the abominations of that country from which they had been so happily de- . livered.
“And when the people faw that Mofes delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” | VOL. IV. D
There Job xi. 12. + Verse 7 Ị Verse 1.
There is a fottishness, a madness, as well as a wickedness in certain vices, which, at first sight, we should deem inconsistent with each other. The irrationality of the brute, the frenzy of the lunatic, and the malignity of the demon, here discover themselves at once ; and leave us perplexed which we are most to wonder at and deplore. What shall we say of the stupidity which talked of making gods, and of following that as. a guide which itself could not move, but as it was.carried? With what notes of indignation shall we mark our abhorrence of that base ingratitude which could 1peak contemptuously of such a benefactor as Moses : « This Mofes, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him ?"'* With what holy resentment must we execrate the spirit that could 'deal thus perfidiously, presumptuously, with God?
After we have vented our anger and astonishment upon the conduct of these vile Ifraelites, let us pause and examine ourselves. Afferted by a strong hand and a stretched-out arm into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, have we never reverted in thought, in desire, in practice, into that very thraldom of fin from which the Son of God came to set us free ? Lying under the weight of benefits much more precious, and bound by engagements equally solemn and explicit, have we never swerved from the path of duty, never lost sight of our vows, never failed in our obedience? With so much clearer and fuller discoveries of the being, nature and will of the one living and true God, have we feared and loved him, and only him ; have we never bowed the knee to mammon, never worshipped in the house of Rimmon, never kissed the image of Baal ? Alas, alas! we hate and condemn some fins merely because they are not our own, while we stand chargeable in the light of God and man, with equal or greater offences of a different kind ; fo blinded as not to perceive, so felf-deluded as not to feel their enormity.
* Verfe 1.