By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
I remember, when visiting the national museum at Naples, and standing in the corridor of marble sculptures, surrounded on every side by colossal forms of Zeno and Socrates, and Plato, and Sophocles, and Homer, and hundreds of the wise and great of other days, it seemed as though I were transported back to an earlier age; and I never read this eleventh chapter of the Hebrews without feeling as though I stood in a gallery of statuary, and were gazing on the sculptured figures of a distinguished group, long since passed into the heavens, of whom the world was not worthy. The first form that arrests my eye is that of a young man standing by a kind of rude altar, with an innocent lamb by his side, and I say, "That is Abel." Then a little to the right I notice a man with dignified and heavenly mien, apparently holding close communion with his Maker, and I say, "That is Enoch." A few steps further, and I see, carved in elaborate sculpture, a shipbuilder of no common ambition, his plans and his tools beside him, and timber for such a vessel as had never floated on the sea. "Noah! " I at once exclaim, and the whole story of the Deluge instantly flashes before my mind. And so I walk round the gallery, and quickly recognise such eminent figures as Abraham, and Jacob, and Gideon, and David, and Samuel, and many others; but, amongst them all, there is not one, perhaps, to compare in grandeur of character with him of whom my text tells us.
I. You MUST FORSAKE EGYPT. There we have all been born. Just as Canaan represents the state of rest and liberty which we enter and enjoy when we become the people of God, so Egypt stands, in Scriptural symbolism, for carnality and spiritual bondage. This is the two-fold thought which "Egypt" expresses.
1. First, a mere fleshly or animal existence. Living for the gratification of our lower nature. Asking, "What shall we eat?" and "What shall we drink?" and "What clothes shall we wear?" and "What worldly delights shall we enjoy? "The food of Egypt was not only plentiful, but it was gross and stimulating. It pampered the body. It inflamed the passions. To young men, Egypt, in this sense, often presents special charms. The power of sin lies in its pleasure. But then, remember, the pleasures of the sensualist are the preludes of a misery that words cannot paint. There was a young medical student who went out to prosecute his studies in Paris. He caught the moral infection of its licentiousness and infidelity. There was an inward struggle between the conscience and the flesh. "Shall I forsake Egypt?" was the question. The flesh prevailed, and he said "No." Here are his very words: "I know that I can enjoy life in my own way about so many years. I shall parcel out my money to last so long a time, and no longer. When my time is up my revolver shall end all." His prediction was but too true; and when, within but a few years, his pale and breathless form was one day found lying in his own blood, one could almost have believed that a voice was whispering, "The way of transgressors is hard." The great thing which a young man needs in a crisis of temptation is instant decision for the right. If you tamper and hesitate the game is half lost. Leave no time for temptation to accumulate. "Forsake Egypt." You must surely have noticed that, in relation to all sins of this character — sins of the flesh — St. Paul's counsel is, "Flee!" It may seem like cowardice, but it is true heroism. "Flee youthful lusts." Like Joseph, hasten instantly out of the way of the tempter; saying, as Moses did to Pharaoh, "Thou shalt see my face no more!"
2. But, secondly, it is also a state of bondage. It is slavery of the worst kind. There are fetters of the soul, moral chains, forged of such material, and riveted with such strength, that he who wears them, though his comrades call him a free lance, and a dashing blade, is unspeakably more a bondman than the convict in his cell. There is no greater slavery than that of the man over whom his own passions and vile habits domineer. Can he be called his own master who is always at the bidding of some imperious lust, or ungovernable appetite? Do you call that man free, for example, who lately came to my door, and in desperation asked me what was to be done, because no power on earth could keep him back from drink? It is idle to talk of liberty whilst you are the servants of the devil. If you spare sin it will not spare you.
II. You MUST DEFY THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS. There are thousands of young persons who are more than half-inclined to become Christians, but are kept back from a full decision by certain fears that stand in their way. How many, for example, are in mortal dread of being laughed at, ridiculed by their ungodly associates? Old John Trapp has a quaint remark somewhere, to the effect that if we can bear taunts and jeers for Christ's sake, it argues we mean to stick to Him; just as among the Jews, by Moses' law, the servant that was content to be "bored in the ear with an awl," signified that nothing would tempt him away from his master. Whenever you are chaffed or ridiculed for your religion, then, just think that if you can endure such "boring," it speaks well for your attachment to Christ. Then some are deterred from a decided Christian life by the dread of the inward conflict they will have, as they think, to undergo; the bitterness of true repentance; by the thought of the sinful pleasures they must forego, the giddy company they must abandon, and the responsibilities they must assume. Not a few are frightened away from personal religion by the idea that if they become Christians they must give up all kinds of social enjoyment. Others have frankly told me that the reason they keep aloof is that it is now impossible for them to shake themselves loose from certain habits that would be inconsistent with a life of piety. "I forsake Egypt! I become a devout believer, and live a holy life! The thing is impossible. My habits are too confirmed, my feelings too blunted; the enemy has got too strong a hold upon me for that." These are a few of the bugbears with which the devil seeks to frighten you! Oh, my friend! come away out of Egypt at once, and do not "fear the wrath of the king." Ninety-nine reasons out of every hundred that frighten people against religion are utterly false and baseless. Christ's is not a hard hand, nor a sour and gloomy face. To become a believer is to come into the land of gladsome sunshine and of glorious liberty. If you have served the devil for twenty years, don't serve him a day longer. God's grace is all-sufficient.
III. You MUST FIX YOUR EYE ON THE UNSEEN GOD. YOU must "endure as seeing Him who is invisible." Your minds are entirely occupied with the visible and the concrete; with matters of the shop, the office, or the household; with your stock-in-trade; with buying and selling, lending and borrowing, bargaining and investing; with pounds, shillings, and pence; with bonds, and shares, and debentures; with pound weights and pint measures; with webs of cloth, and reams of paper, and hags of rice, and boxes of tea, and casks of sugar, and waggons of coal; with accounts and invoices; from day to day, from week to week, looking only to what is "seen and temporal," devoting the powers of an immortal soul to the interests of a dying world, with the almost certainty of continuing so to do till fever or paralysis throw you on your back, and you wake up, too late, to discover that your soul has never pierced through the veil of flesh, and gazed on "Him who is invisible"! Ah! you will never "endure" with a life like that! "Can thine heart endure, saith the Lord, or can thine hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee?" Thank God, some of you have had your eyes opened to a new world altogether. Even the simplest mind is raised and expanded, by converse with eternity, and fellowship with God. But your contemplation of the invisible must not be a mere abstract dreamy devotion, a waiting afar off on Heaven's eternal glorious King. There must be a personal surrender of yourselves to God, founded upon a living and intelligent faith. A man whose business affairs are all in a muddle will never be a successful man; and it is just as true, that if the interests of your soul are all in a muddle, there is little hope of your wearing the eternal crown. Oh, clear up the whole matter now; come and get salvation on God's terms. Turn your back on Egypt, and your face toward Canaan; and keep your eye fixed on Him who is invisible. So shall you endure to the end, and, enduring to the end, shall be saved.
(J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.