Then Moses answered, "What if they refuse to believe me or listen to my voice? For they may say, 'The LORD has not appeared to you.'"
The objection started by Moses to the mission on which he was sent was a very natural one. The people would not believe him, nor hearken to his voice. For -
I. HE WAS AS YET UNFURNISHED WITH DISTINCT CREDENTIALS. In so grave a matter Moses could not expect the people to believe his bare word. This was a real difficulty. Before committing themselves to his proposals, the Hebrews would be entitled to ask for very distinct proofs that the message brought to them had really come from God - that there was no mistake, no deception. God acknowledges the justice of this plea, by furnishing Moses with the credentials that he needed. From which we gather that it is no part of the business of a preacher of the Gospel to run down "evidences." Evidences are both required and forthcoming. God asks no man to confide in a message as of Divine authority, without furnishing him with sufficient grounds for believing that this character really belongs to it. The reality of revelation, the supernatural mission of Christ, the inspiration of prophets and apostles, the authority of Scripture, all admit of proof; and it is the duty of the preacher to keep this fact in view, and in delivering his message, to exhibit along with the message the evidences of its Divine original.
II. MORAL CAUSES, AS DISTINGUISHED FROM MERE DEFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE, WOULD MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR HIM TO SECURE CREDENCE. Moses anticipated being met, not simply with hesitation and suspense of judgment, which would be all that the mere absence of credentials would warrant, but by positive disbelief. "The Lord hath not appeared to thee." How account for this?
1. The message he had to bring was a very wonderful one. He had to ask the people to believe that, after centuries of silence, God, the God of the patriarchs, had again appeared to him, and had spoken with him. This in itself was not incredible, but it would assume an incredible aspect to those whose faith in a living God had become shadowy and uninfluential - who had learned to look on such appearances as connected, not with the present, but with a distant and already faded past. Credulous enough in some things, they would be incredulous as to this; just as a believer in witchcraft or fairies might be the hardest to convince of a case of the supernatural aside from the lines of his ordinary thinking and beliefs. It is a similar difficulty which the preacher of the Gospel has to encounter in the indisposition of the natural mind to believe in anything outside of, or beyond, the sphere in which it ordinarily works and judges, - the sphere of things sensible (John 14:17). The supernatural is strange to it. It pushes it aside as inherently incredible, or at least as of no interest to it. From this the advance is easy to that which is so peculiarly a characteristic of our age, the denial of the supernatural as such - the fiat assertion that miracle is impossible.
2. The announcement contained in his message was so good as almost to surpass belief. Great good news has often this effect of producing incredulity. Cf. Genesis 45:26, - "Jacob's heart fainted, and he believed them not," and Psalm 126. And would not the Hebrews require evidence for the great good news that God had visited them, and was about to bring them out of Egypt, and plant them in Caanan! In like manner, is it not vastly wonderful, almost passing belief, that God should have done for man all that the Gospel declares him to have done! Sending his Son, making atonement for sin, etc.
3. The difficulties in the way of the execution of the purpose seemed insuperable. Even with God on their side, it might seem to the Israelites as if the chances of their deliverance from Pharaoh were very small. True, God was omnipotent; but we know little if we have not learned how much easier it is to believe in God's power in the abstract, than to realise that this power is able to cope successfully with the actual difficulties of our position. The tendency of unbelief is to "limit the Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:41). And this tendency is nowhere more manifest than in the difficulty men feel in believing that the Gospel of the Cross is indeed the very "power of God unto salvation" - able to cope with and overcome the moral evil of the world, and of their own hearts.
4. One difficulty Moses would not have to contend with, viz.: aversion to his message in itself. For, after all, the message brought to the Israelites was in the line of their own fondest wishes - a fact which ought, if anything could, powerfully to have recommended it. How different with the Gospel, which, with its spiritual salvation, rouses in arms against itself every propensity of a heart at enmity against God! The Israelites must at least have desired that Moses' message would turn out to be true; but not so the mass of the hearers of the Gospel. They desire neither God nor his ways; have no taste for his salvation; are only eager to find excuses for getting rid of the unwelcome truths. To overcome an obstacle of this kind, more is needed than outward credentials - even an effectual working of the Holy Ghost.
III. INFERENCES FROM THESE CONSIDERATIONS.
1. Preachers of the Gospel must prepare themselves for encountering unbelief. It is the old complaint - "Who hath believed our report?" (Isaiah 53:1).
2. The success of Moses in overcoming the people's unbelief shows that he must have possessed decisive credentials of his mission. The complaint of this verse does not tally with what is sometimes alleged as to the unlimited drafts that may be made on human credulity. Moses did not find the people all readiness to believe him. He was bringing them a message in the line of their dearest wishes, yet he anticipated nothing but incredulity. He had never much reason to complain of the over-credulity of the Israelites; his complaint was usually of their unbelief. Even after signs and wonders had been wrought, he had a constant battle to fight with their unbelieving tendencies. How then, unless his credentials had been of the clearest and most decisive kind, could he possibly have succeeded? For, mark
(1) It was not merely a few enthusiasts he had to carry with him, but the whole body of the people.
(2) He was no demagogue, but a man of slow, diffident, self-distrustful nature, the last man who might be expected to play successfully on popular credulity or enthusiasm.
(3) His plans were not to be laid before the multitude at all, but before the "elders" - the cool, cautious heads of the nation, who would be sure to ask him for very distinct credentials before committing themselves to a contest with Pharaoh. The inference is that there must have been a true supernatural in the founding of the Mosaic era; as afterwards there must have been a true supernatural in the founding of the Christian era. Imposture, credulity, the force of mere ideas, the commanding power of a great personality, are, together or apart, incapable of explaining all the facts. Wonders must have been wrought, alike in the accrediting of the mission of Moses and in the stupendous work of the deliverance itself. - J.O.
I. THE PREACHER HAS FREQUENTLY TO LAMENT THE SCEPTICISM OF HIS CONGREGATION. Practical unbelief.
But, behold, they will not believe me.
Our duty to our Lord in this world requires that we should do some. what more than live a life of obedience to Him. Our obedience must be acknowledged obedience. We must never be loth to say, "Whose we are, and Whom we serve." We may read this lesson writ large in the history of God's sending Moses to deliver His people. Moses went through a trial on Mount Horeb, the exact opposite of the trial of Christ.
I. MOSES WAS TEMPTED TO DECLINE THE CONTEST with the world altogether, to shrink from action and from prominence, when God called him. Christ was tempted to take the world by storm, to overwhelm it with conviction.
II. MOSES WAS FULL OF SYMPATHY FOR THE POOR, full of a desire to see God's ancient promises realized; but when the time came, and God said, "Now go," then, for the first time, it flashed upon Moses that he was unfit to carry out what he had so aspired to be trusted with. His eighty years of life had been given him that in its vast experience he might learn that God was all, man was nothing. He had very nearly learned it in truth; the crust or chrysalis of self was very nearly ready to drop off; it needed just this interview with God to rid him of it entirely. He had seen the miraculous powers with which he had been endowed, but he had not fully understood them, and therefore his will was pausing still.
III. THE VOICE OF GOD WITHIN HIM AND WITHOUT HIM WAXED MORE IMPERIOUS. God sternly pointed out that such eloquence as he longed for was but a secondary qualification. "Thy brother, I know that he can speak well"; the legislator need not be the orator. There is not one of us who ever complained to God of insufficient strength without finding his complaint answered either by ministration of grace or disappearance of difficulties.
IV. WHAT INTERESTS TREMBLED IN THE BALANCE while Moses was debating! It is not for ourselves only that we shall be responsible if we debate till the time is gone,
GOD PROPOSES GREAT THINGS TO MEN. In proportion as any call in life is great, let the heart pause and consider whether its very greatness is not a proof of its divinity.
II. WE ARE NOT TO LOOK AT WHAT WE ARE, but at what God is. When He calls, He qualifies for the work
III. WHAT IS RIGHT IN ITSELF MAY BE PERVERTED AND ABUSED. Timidity is right in itself; but when pushed into cowardice, it is wrong. Self-distrust is right in itself; but if it degenerates into atheism, then it is the plague and destruction of the soul.
IV. GOD'S CALL TO FAITH IS THE GREATEST CALL TO HIS UNIVERSE. Our duty is to go forward to the unknown and the invisible, and live by faith.
THE NATURE OF THE MISSION.
1. Its difficulty and danger.
2. It was divinely appointed.
II. MOSES WAS TRAINED SPECIALLY FOR IT.
1. The school of providence.
2. Our need of discipline.
III. MOSES WAS SUFFICIENTLY EQUIPPED. The rod.
1. The use of little things.
2. The use of present means. Use "what is in thy hand."
IV. MOSES SHRANK FROM HIS MISSION. Modesty and self-distrust generally go with true greatness and exalted virtue.
II. THE PREACHER HAS FREQUENTLY TO LAMENT THE INATTENTION OF HIS CONGREGATION. Nothing worse than disobedience to the messages of God.
III. THE PREACHER HAS FREQUENTLY TO LAMENT THE QUERULOUS SPIRIT OF HIS CONGREGATION. They question inspiration, preparation, qualification of teacher. And often in unkind, factious spirit. Should rather welcome him as from God, sent to achieve their moral freedom.
IV. THAT THIS CONDUCT ON THE PART OF CONGREGATIONS HAS A MOST DEPRESSING INFLUENCE ON THE MINDS OF MINISTERS. He needs the attention, sympathy, prayers, help of those whom he seeks to free from the tyranny of sin. He has enough to contend with external hindrances, with the opposition of Pharaoh, without having added to it that of the slave whose fetter he seeks to break.
1. Because he knew that they were a stiff-necked people.
2. Because he considered himself of insufficient authority to command their respect.
3. Because the power and tyranny of Pharaoh would deter them from believing him.
4. Because they would think it unlikely that God, who had never been seen by man, should appear to him.
()Human distrust is a difficulty which every preacher, teacher, and holy labourer has to encounter. All great movements are carried by consent of parties. God Himself cannot re-establish moral order without the concurrence of the powers that have rebelled against His rule. After all, the spiritual labourer has less to do with the unbelief of his hearers than with the instruction and authority of God. We have to ascertain what God the Lord would have us to say, and then to speak it simply and lovingly, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. The preacher must prepare himself for having doubts thrown upon his authority; and he must take care that his answer to such doubts be as complete as the authority itself. God alone can give the true answer to human doubt. We are not to encounter scepticism with merely ingenious replies and clever arguments, but in the power and grace of the living God.
()Dr. Stevens narrates how an eminent minister was very much depressed by the unbelief of his congregation, and how his spirit of depression was shaken off. He dreamed that he was working with a pick-axe on the top of a basaltic rock, which remained non-riven in spite of repeated strokes of his arm of muscle. When about to give up in despair, a stranger of solemn and dignified demeanour appeared on the scene, who reminded him that as a servant he was bound to go on whether the rock yielded or not. "Work is your duty; leave the results to God," were the last words of his strange visitor. The result was that the discouraged pastor resumed his work, and was abundantly rewarded by "the shattering of the rock of unbelief and indifference" among his flock.If we pause for a moment and consider the almost insurmountable difficulties which stood in the way of Israel's redemption from Egypt, we can readily appreciate the hesitation on the part of Moses before undertaking this herculean task. Egypt at that time was one of the most powerful of nations. It was not that Egypt desired simply to hold Israel in subjection, that such a strict and powerful sovereignty was exercised; hut the Israelites had become the servants, the slaves of the Egyptians, and as such were almost necessary to the vigour of the nation. Besides, four centuries of oppression had left their deep and degrading mark upon the children of Israel. They had become in a measure satisfied with their condition. Hope had taken to itself wings. Ambition had died within them. There native fire and energy had wasted away. To redeem a people who do not care to be redeemed, to set free a nation which is content with captivity, is a work well-nigh impossible. And then, to add to the difficulty of the case, supposing even that they were free, where will they go? Their own land, the land promised to their father Abraham, is already occupied. Warlike tribes have come down from the north and strongly entrenched themselves within its borders. "Who and what am I," said Moses, "that I should go upon this great mission? What proofs can I bring to assure the people that I am come from God? They will not believe my word, and they will ask, Where is the God of our fathers and what is His name? What sign have I to convince them? What power have I to display"? At length God answers, What is that in thy hand? And he said a rod. He was told to cast it upon the ground, when all at once it became a writhing serpent. You will notice all through the Scriptures in the dealings of God with His people, that in almost every instance He proceeds upon the principle contained in our text. When any great work is to be done, when any special mission is to be undertaken, God does not bring down to the accomplishment of His purpose strange or wonderful agencies, but He rather takes the simple things that lie about common life, and makes them achieve the Divine will. God seems to take the most exquisite pleasure in clothing human frailty with Divine strength and beauty, and imparting to the most ordinary and trivial things, heavenly meaning and significance. Indeed, God's constant purpose seems to have been to unite this world with another one, to blend this life with a life infinitely higher and grander. Life is robbed of all its harmony, all its grace, all its impressiveness if we ever allow it to become separated from the Divine and the eternal, and the little boat which is unswung from the davits and carried off by a huge billow from its place on the ocean steamer, is no more helpless as it rolls in the trough of the sea, and is no more pitiable in its desolation, than the life which is adrift from God out upon the great waters of human experience and distress. To many life is a weary drudgery all the way from the cradle to the grave. It is nothing but work and eat and sleep. Once in a great while there is a little change, but not often. The great bulk of life is a sad monotony, and millions look forward to the quiet and rest of the grave. And why are these people in this dismal plight? Simply because their life is not connected with the Divine life, because this world is not made a part of the heavenly world, and like a car which has become detached from the swift express and flung out upon a siding, it stands helpless and forsaken in the dark and dismal night. Suppose that here are three plates of common glass a foot square, an eighth or a quarter of an inch in thickness, and suppose that they are given to three men to dispose of them as they please. One takes his and he covers it with black enamel, and on the ebonized surface he paints a human face, or some lovely flowers. Another takes his and he spreads upon it a solution of quicksilver and it becomes a mirror throwing back to the beholder his own face and expression. But the third takes his to the best room in his house, he inserts it in the window which has the most commanding view, and then carefully removing all the dust and finger-marks, he looks through its open substance and sees the skies in their morning beauty, the fields in living green or glistening white, and thus brings heaven and earth within the circle of that room. Now these are the ways in which most of us live. We take our life and we enamel or ebonize it. We make it opaque. We cannot see through it to anything that lies beyond; and though we paint it, and try to adorn it, yet we in no wise remove the mystery; the darkness in the sad background which even the flowers will not hide away. Some use the coating of mercury, and make their life nothing but a mirror which reflects themselves. Self is the image ever rising before their eyes. But the wise man makes this life simply a transparency through which he can see the life of God. There are three forms of power by which the machinery of clocks is kept in motion. The first and the one of the oldest date is that of the weight suspended upon a chain or rope. The bulk and heaviness of the weight was always in proportion to the size of the clock, and the wheels were literally driven by the sheer force of the big weights as they slowly descended. The second is that of the spring, the band of steel coiled within its cylinder spending its strength in expansion, and forcing the wheels to revolve in its great desire to get free. The third is that of electricity, where the current is carried along the wire from the central battery. Silently, but almost irresistibly, the mysterious force operates upon the machinery, ensuring an accuracy and faithfulness which can be gained in no other way. And in these we have illustrations of how human life is carried on. Many of us go by weight. We are dragged down by heaviness and toil, and compelled by the demands of circumstances to go our weary round. Others go through by the sheer force of their own energy. They have power and strength in themselves to propel them around the dial-plate of common existence, and in this way they fulfil the measure of their days. But some have an electric current. The wires of their thought are in connection with the great battery of God. Life to them is not a mere drag. Life to them is not merely an expenditure of vital force. Life to them means heavenly communion, Divine fellowship, holy enjoyment, and the days of their pilgrimage are accomplished in simple dependence upon the Almighty will. Now, what seems to be the very plain, the very obvious meaning of this rod? Is it not this: that the most common things within our possession, and under our control, can be so wrought upon by Divine influence, and so charged with Divine power, as to accomplish the most strange and glorious results? St. Paul tells us in the Epistle to the Corinthians that God has a strange choice in the selection of His instrumentalities: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise." And if you will go down the lines of history you will see that God has carried out this principle in its integrity. And this ought not to strike us as either strange or remarkable, because we do just the same ourselves. We take the most common things that we can find, and we unite them with other things until we finally develop the most potential forces of our time. A few gallons of water, a few pieces of coal are enough to send the mad steam hissing through the pipes, eager to turn yon giant engine, or send the train of cars thundering along the line. A few drops of vitriol, a few pieces of prepared zinc, a single thread of wire, and lo, the electric force flashes as light around our world. A few grains of charcoal and sulphur mixed with nitre are sufficient to give us the dreadful gunpowder which sends iron giants swinging in the air that beat into ruin walls and parapets of stone. We take the most common rods that Nature has in her hand, and we breathe upon them, and they become instinct with life; we give them of our genius and our strength; we lift them up out of their low estate. We take the iron and the coal from the mines, we dig out the metals that are in the hills, we dignify them and ennoble them until at length they become our most valued agents and servants. But we must always remember that the rod of itself will be valueless unless it have with it the presence and favour of God. Of what worth was the mere rod which Moses held in his hand that day as he stood before the burning bush? In all probability it was only the shepherd's crook which he used while attending the flocks of Jethro. The rod itself was almost of no value whatever. And so exactly with our life. Before we can be really useful, before we can accomplish any great work, before we can live up to the measure of our power, we must first of all meet with God. We must stand before the burning bush; we must listen to the Divine voice; we must receive the heavenly commission; we must accept the Divine command. Until this is done our life is nothing but a rod — a rod without any special use or intrinsic value, and which will one day break in our hands, and be cast into the fire and be destroyed. Look how this is illustrated: What is that in thy hand? "A sling," said David. "It is enough; go up against the giant"; and the great Goliath fell before the shepherd-boy. What is that in thy hand? "A sword," answered Jonathan. "It is enough," and the brave youth, followed by his armour-bearer, goes up against an army, and the Philistines are defeated by these twain. What is that in thy hand? "A piece of parchment," answered Luther. It is enough, and he proceeds to nail his famous protest upon the doors of the Roman Church and the era of the Reformation broke upon darkened Europe. What is that in thy hand? "A pen," said Bunyan, as he spoke from under the arches of Bedford jail. It is enough, and he wrote the story of the "Pilgrim's Progress," which will live while the world endures. Men and women, with common, simple things about them, have heard the voice of God, and doing just what their hand found to do, they made their life memorable in the history of the Church and accomplished the Divine will. What is that in your hand? "Only a rod," answers the mother from beside the cradle, the workman standing at the bench, the clerk behind the counter, the man of business at his desk. Only a rod, and is that all? Oh, there is something of far greater value than you now suppose. Ask that honest farmer in a few weeks from now standing in the open furrows, what is that in his hand, and he will answer, only a few grains of seed. But is that all? Far from it. Those grains of seed contain the germs of the great harvest .which will fill our lands with plenty, and crowd the threshing-floors with abundance. Then say not "Only a rod." There is no such word as "only" about human life. Every part of it is invested with mysterious grandeur and possibility. We cannot tell how far the most simple thing will reach. A word dropped from our lips, a hand clasped within ours, something apparently trifling done and then forgotten, will go on long after we have passed away, and a life which throws its shadows all down eternity cannot have anything but which is of value.
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