And Moses spoke so to the children of Israel: but they listened not to Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.
They hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage." Notice that this reason, and not some other, is stated for the indifference of Israel to the glorious words which Moses was commanded to repeat to them. We might fairly have expected some other reason to be stated; as, for instance, "We have been deceived once, and are not again to be put off with fair words;" or, "This array of promises is very grand and imposing, but there is nothing in them." But they are emphatically represented as not even attending to what Moses had to say. Their minds were effectually closed by preoccupation with something else. They were so much harassed in body and mind as to lack not only the inclination, but even the ability, to give Moses a proper hearing. And so Pharaoh's policy had this effect at least, that it prevented the people, for a while, from considering things belonging to their highest welfare. Only we must bear in mind that as the liberating advance of God was not in the least hindered by the cruelty of Pharaoh, so neither was it hindered by the negligence of Israel. A Pharaoh could not hinder, so the people could neither help nor hinder. When they were yet without strength, utterly without strength, in due time God intervened to deliver them.
I. There is thus suggested to us how we should keep in mind ONE GREAT CAUSE OF HINDRANCE TO THE GOSPEL. A message like that of the Gospel of Christ finds great difficulty in its way from preoccupation of any kind, seeing that the mind of man cannot properly entertain two great topics of thought at the same time. Some one thing must hold a first place in thought; and when the heart is occupied with the presence of worldly cares, whatever form they take, then it must be peculiarly hard for the Gospel to find a foothold. God, when he seeks love and service from us, looks to find his rivals in ambition, in pleasure, in fiches; and we are used to hear frequent warnings against these rivals. But what rival is more dangerous than (say) poverty, that cleaving, biting, pinching spirit, which, when once it gets hold of a man, never lets him forget that it is near. What chance is there then to bring out of the heart a deep conviction of sin and spiritual need? The difficulties of getting the natural man to attend to spiritual concerns are immensely increased by poverty as well as by riches. If, upon some considerations, it is seen to be hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, upon other considerations it is seen to be equally hard for the poor. The poor have the Gospel presented to them, but alas! it is often hard work to persuade them that it is a Gospel. Go to them, and how are you often met? It may be that your very exemption from a life-long struggle for daily bread blinds you to their peculiar difficulties. You are not able to see that grim wolf which is incessantly at the door, and never out of their thoughts. What wonder if at first - and indeed habitually - the poor should think that there is little or nothing in religion! Often they show their feeling very plainly by bitter and savage words. They want a gospel; but not your gospel. They do not care for a gospel which, while it makes large offers, makes also large demands. They do not care to be asked for self-denial, self-respect, contentment, and patient submission to hard conditions which cannot be easily or immediately altered. They want a gospel which will give, and give just what they choose to ask. The privations, the struggles, the agonies of the poor reduce them often nearer to the spirit of wild beasts than of human beings. Give them what indulges their appetites, and they will welcome you. Minister to the cravings of the flesh, and they will wait as long as you are disposed to supply. But proclaim unpalatable truths, and you might as well -speak in a wilderness. We might pursue a similar line of thought in considering the anguish of spirit and cruel bondage of heathendom. The missionary often has to speak to those whose minds are oppressed with terrible visions of deities who can only be propitiated by laborious and agonising penances. Read what is said concerning the life-long austerities of some Hindoo devotees, and then consider whether you have not in them a bondage of spirit which may only too effectually shut out even the most attractive truths of the Gospel. We might speak also of the cruel bondage of worldly conventions; the incessant and weary struggle to keep up social position - a struggle which, however ridiculous it may be made to look, is, in the eyes of multitudes, a great necessity. And if a man feels a thing a necessity, then you must, at least in your first approaches to him, treat it as a necessity. And last, but not least, there is the anguish and bondage of disease, physical pain, perhaps approaching death. The sick send, or are supposed to send, for ministers of religion, but how plain it is in the great bulk of instances that such resorts are utterly ineffectual to bring the sick person to God! There may be an appearance of repentance, a pretence of understanding the way of salvation; but when we know that the actual motive is the fear of death, and not the bitter consciousness of sin, then we cannot but distrust all the action following upon the motive. When a human being, in youth, in health, and with the prospect. of a long life, professes to be smitten with convictions of sin, and begins to seek for a Saviour, we know where we are in considering his position. His apparent motive has everything in the circumstances to approve itself as a real one. But when the appearance of interest in Divine things only comes consequent on the alarms of a dangerous, perhaps a fatal illness, then we suspect that the cry for salvation is a selfish and ignorant one; and how can we be sure that it will be anything but a vain one? A courteous pretence of listening to the message of God when there is no real apprehension of it is practically the same thing as not listening at all.
II. NOTE THE OBJECTION WHICH IS BROUGHT AGAINST THE GOSPEL FROM ITS INABILITY TO DEAL IMMEDIATELY WITH ALL THIS ANGUISH AND BONDAGE OF MEN. There is a plausible argument - one very frequently urged, and alas! very easily deceiving - that the Gospel of Christ does nothing immediately for the social improvement of the world. What is more common than the cry, when some hideous blot and ulcer of society is suddenly revealed, "Here we stand, having only got so far, after more than eighteen centuries of Christianity!" And in hearing talk of this kind, which is sometimes sincere, but oftener is mere cant, we have not so much to reply to others as to enlighten and reassure ourselves. How easily it might have been said with respect to these Israelites, "God is no deliverer, else he would at once take these people - this living, suffering generation - out of all their pains." What God might have done we cannot tell; we only know what he actually did. The light of the whole transaction shows that Jehovah was unquestionably a deliverer; that however a single generation might suffer, the whole nation was in due time, and at the best time, fully redeemed. And in like manner, by the consideration of ultimate results as well as present experiences, we gain the assurance that God is truly the deliverer of men from all spiritual bondage, all spiritual pain. Our frequent folly as defenders of the faith is in saying more than there is any need to say. Let us keep within safe, practical, provable assertions, and these will give an answer enough for the present need. The Gospel of Christ, we know, does something, immediately, for every one who, in response to its great invitation, believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Real belief in him will at once irradiate the meanest hovel, the most squalid circumstances, with a light which may most truly be described as
The light that never was on sea or land. No combination of favourable social surroundings will ever bring that light; nothing will bring it but the soul's own free and intelligent admission of Jesus as Saviour and Lord. His presence thus obtained gives joy in the midst of the bitterest anguish, liberty in the midst of the most grinding bondage. The more that people believe in Christ, the more we shall have of his effectual presence in the world; and the more we have of his effectual presence, the nearer we shall come to that perpetual summer when the ice that now wraps so many human hearts will be utterly and lastingly melted away. Social reformers who are not also humble Christians, with all their pretensions and all their zeal, are' only touching secondary causes; relieving symptoms without cutting at the root of disease. No human being ever did or ever will get clear of anguish and bondage except by submitting to Christ. And no one ever submitted to Christ without having the certain assurance given, that in due time all sorrow and sighing would for ever flee away. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.