Yet they soon forgot His works and failed to wait for His counsel.
not failed in obedience and trust. Think what a mighty host it was, yet how imperfectly organized. Think of the strain of their manifest peril at the Red Sea, and the exceeding toil and weariness of their climb up the wadies to Sinai. Think of the difficulty, in that arid region, of providing food and water for so many creatures. Think kindly of them, and though the sense of their sin is not lightened, considerateness for the sinners is nourished. The disobedience that roots in unbelief, or in despondency, puts men into the pitifulness and mercy of their God.
I. DISOBEDIENCE ROOTED IN UNBELIEF. Here a distinction is necessary. Here is an unbelief which is wilful, which a man chooses, and for which he seeks reasons, and this is wholly sinful, and needs humbling punishment. And there is an unbelief which is the natural human response to difficult and trying circumstances, which seem to force doubts upon us. All are liable to this kind of unbelief in sharing the trials of human life. But there is a Divine gentleness in the dealing with the disobedience which has its root in this unbelief.
II. DISOBEDIENCE ROOTED IN DESPONDENCY. This reminds us how differently things affect different dispositions. Some are naturally despondent. They always see the dark sides, are ever ready to give up in despair. And this spirit often leads to failing obedience. Men have not spirit enough to do what they ought. But God "knoweth our frame." - R.T.
etc. Any credit due to them? Not one whit. "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed." This brings us into the region of personal providential deliverances, and we have all been in that hallowed region. That such deliverances do occur every man who has read his life with any attention will instantly attest. Our whole life is a providential deliverance. So blind are we, so foolish, that we expect only to see God in the miracle that is occasional, rather than in the miracle that is constant. Now the tone changes, the wind goes round to a bitter quarter — "they soon forgat His works." How easy it is to forget favours. How possible it is to give so many favours to an ungrateful person as to cause that person to imagine he has a right to claim them as his due. The giving of favours where gratitude is not kept up proportionately with the gift is a heart-hardening process. "They soon forgat." Religious impression is most transitory. Beautiful as the morning dew while it lasts, it exhales, and we see no rainbow in the sky. It vanishes, it perishes, unless it be diligently seized and wisely deepened, yea, even cultured with all a husbandman's patient care, until it blooms into flower or develops into fruit, and is fit for the Master's plucking. Frail is the thread that binds us to heaven, mean and weak the threadlet that attaches us to the altar and the Church — a breath may break it, a little splutter of flame may crack it, and then our life may be lost. Perhaps the catastrophe ended at forgetfulness? No; further reading gives denial to that happy hope. The reading is black, and proceeds thus: "They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert." They believed, they lusted, they sang, they tempted. It is such swift oscillation that we find in our own consciousness and experience of religious things. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
They soon forgat His works.
1. A person unacquainted with human nature, who should witness for the first time some striking exhibition of national gratitude, would not, indeed, suspect this to be its character. Such a person, while listening to the rapturous ascriptions of praise poured forth by the Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea, would have little expected to hear them, within three days, impiously murmuring against that God, whose goodness they had so recently experienced, and so loudly acknowledged. And as little, perhaps, would such a person be prepared to anticipate the scenes, which usually attend, and follow our days of public thanksgiving.
2. Some instances, in which the works and perfections of Jehovah engage our attention; excite our natural affections; and, perhaps, call forth expressions of praise; but produce no salutary effects upon our temper or conduct; and are soon forgotten.(1) The first, which I shall notice, is furnished by the works of creation; or, as they are often, though not very properly called, the works of nature. In so impressive a manner do these works present themselves to our senses; so much of variety, and beauty, and sublimity do they exhibit; such power, and wisdom, and goodness do they display; that perhaps no man, certainly no man who possesses the smallest share of sensibility, taste, or mental cultivation, can, at all times, view them without emotion; without feelings of awe, or wonder, or admiration, or delight. But alas, how transient, how unproductive of salutary effects, have all these emotions proved!(2) A second instance of a similar nature is afforded by the manner in which men are often affected by God's works of providence. In these works His perfections are so constantly, and often so clearly displayed; our dependence on them is at all times so real, and, sometimes, so apparent; and they bear, in many cases, so directly and evidently upon our dearest temporal interests, that even the most insensible cannot, always, regard them with indifference. Here nations and individuals stand on precisely the same level. Both are equally, that is entirely, dependent on the providence of God; and both are occasionally constrained to feel and acknowledge their dependence. But the feeling is usually transient; and the acknowledgment is forgotten almost as soon as it is made. How often have we seen Christian nations, when scourged by war, pestilence, or famine, and when the help of man was evidently vain, addressing public and united supplications to Heaven for relief. And as often have we seen them, after relief was obtained, singing with apparent thankfulness, "Te Deum laudamus," — Thee, O God, we praise; and then proceeding without delay to repeat those sins, the punishment of which had just been removed.(3) But once more, let us turn, for further illustrations of this subject, to our families, and to ourselves. On reviewing our personal and domestic history we shall all find too many instances, in which, though we may have sung God's praises, we have forgotten His works.
3. Men are willing to offer God praises and thanksgivings, because it is an offering which costs them nothing; and because, while it seems to shield them from the charge of ingratitude, it involves the renunciation of no favourite sin; the performance of no disagreeable duty; the practice of no self-denial. But they are not willing to make those constant returns for God's goodness, which He deserves and requires, because this is, in their estimation, an expensive offering; because it implies sacrifices, which they are not disposed to make, and an attention to duties, which they dislike to perform.
(E. Payson, D.D.)
(J. Parker, D.D.)
Homilist.I. EVANSCENT GOODNESS (vers. 12, 13; Exodus 14:31; Exodus 15:1-19).
1. It leaves the soul with increased guilt. It implies an abuse of the highest influences of God.
2. It leaves the soul with a decreased capability of improvement. The longer a man continues a mere hearer of the Gospel, the less likelihood is there that he will be saved by it. What effect can the beauties of the fair creation have on one whose eyes are sealed in blindness? Or the harmonies of the universe on one whose ears are deeply closed to every sound? And what effect can Christianity have on a soul whose sensibilities are gone?
II. INVETERATE CARNALISM (vers. 14, 15). The more you pamper the body, the more you pauperize the soul. A sadder sight know I not than that of an individual, family, nation, surrounded with material abundance, and yet "lean" in soul, matter governing mind, plethoric bodies the residence of starving souls. CONCLUSION. — Take care of religious impressions. Do not trifle with them. Entertain them and cherish them into holy principles of action. Take care also of material prosperity. Labour not for the bread that perisheth.
I. THE NATURE OF THE BLESSING WHICH WE COMMEMORATE.
II. WHAT BEHAVIOUR THE GREAT EVENT WHICH WE COMMEMORATE PRESCRIBES; WHAT IS THE COUNSEL WHICH GOD HATH GIVEN US BY IT. The greatest part of the instruction, indeed, must arise from our sufferings; but the whole power of making advantage of it arises from our deliverance. And our sufferings being caused by mutual vehemence, and our deliverance being effected in peace; both may well dispose us to a mild consideration of what they teach.
He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul
(W. L. Phillips, D. D.)
1. Even the best of men may and do sometimes desire that which is good in itself, but which is not really good for them to receive.
2. God sometimes grants our requests even when they are not in accordance with His will, nor for our good. He permits us to realize the things desired, allows us to climb the heights upon which we had fixed our gaze. He gives us our own way, but our success is no indication of His approval, or of our wisdom, nor is it a guarantee of present happiness or future well-being.
3. Whatever we realize, however good it may be in itself, in answer to desires which have not been submitted to the Divine will, is questionable if not injurious.
I. THE OPERATION OF THIS LAW.
1. The spirit which prompts a desire which we are unwilling to submit to God's wisdom and disposal, must be prejudicial to religion, whether it is entertained by an ungodly person, by one seeking to know the truth, or by one who has long known the way of righteousness, because the manifestation of such desire is expressed opposition to God, and must alienate the heart, more or less, from Him.
2. The efforts made by us to realize what we desire, but ought not to receive at the time and in the way we wish, are generally unfavourable to religion, if they do not undermine and dissipate it. That which is desired, when realized, being realized under such circumstances, must be injurious rather than helpful to a life of religion, because you have a wish fulfilled in opposition to God's will — a good received which is not good for you, and this which you desired, and now possess, comes between your soul and God, between your spiritual need and your greatest good. No wonder, then, that you lose interest in religion, tire of the ways of piety, and that your zeal and love and devotion decline, your joys diminish, and your hopes become darkened.
II. THE GENERAL APPLICATION OF THIS LAW. And here comes before us the appalling fact that the law is universal, unvarying and potent; and we can escape it only by submitting our desires and requests to God, and by acquiescing in all His arrangements.
1. This law applies to individuals, whatever be the positions they occupy, or the circumstances by which they are surrounded.
2. This law operates not only in individuals, but in communities, in nations. Let a people thirst for glory, for distinction, for conquest, let them desire to be in advance of all other nations, and all this without consulting God's will or seeking His glory. Such a nation may realize their desires, but it is more than probable that the manners and lives of the people will be corrupted, and that religious life will sink to a low ebb or pass away altogether.
3. This law is true in respect to churches. Let a people desire a grand and imposing structure for its own sake, to gratify their vanity and pride, and to place them in advance of the churches in the locality, their ambition may be gratified, but it is more than probable that their religious life will wane, and it will be a great mercy if they have not to say in reference to their religion, "The glory has departed."
III. THE TEACHING OF THIS LAW.
1. There is much in this world good in itself that we can well do without.
2. Every supposed good does not, when realized, answer all our expectations. "All is not gold that glitters." Lot knew something of this by a prolonged sojourn in Sodom.
3. It is better to be without the seeming good and retain our piety and interest in religion than to realize that good and lose the freshness and vigour of spiritual things, and endanger our everlasting well-being.
4. We should learn to submit all our desires to God.
5. Let us remember that with an increase of material good we require a corresponding measure of Divine grace.
6. In how many the text has been or will be even everlastingly fulfilled. May our desires be controlled and sanctified by our Father in heaven, and we be ever able to say, "Not my will, but Thine be done."
Homilist.I. As existing IN CONNECTION with material prosperity.
1. This combination is general. Everywhere we see great material prosperity associated with spiritual destitution — great physical feasting and spiritual starving, great material wealth and spiritual pauperism.
2. This combination is deplorable. A sadder sight to a holy eye there cannot be than an individual, family, nation, surrounded with material abundance, and yet lean in soul, matter governing mind — bodies living tombs of souls.
II. As existing BECAUSE OF material prosperity. Why should material prosperity bring spiritual leanness?
1. Not because it is Divinely designed to do so. God does not make a man materially rich in order spiritually to starve him. The design of all His goodness to man is to lead him to repentance.
2. Not because there is any inherent tendency to do so. A man in possession of an abundance of material good is supplied with abundance of motives and facilities that tend to spiritual excellence. A condition of material prosperity is, we think, more favourable in itself to a cultivation of spiritual goodness than that of material poverty. The man of a well-fed body is especially bound to have a well-fed soul; the man with material wealth is especially bound to secure spiritual treasures. But in the case before us the material prosperity was the cause of spiritual leanness, and why? Because the material good was sought as the chief end. How general this is here in our England in this age! Desire for wealth is the all-absorbing passion, and hence souls are morally lean and dwarfed.
(Homilist.)I. GOD HAS IN ALL AGES REVEALED HIMSELF AS THE HEARER AND ANSWERER OF PRAYER. The Lord has not only heard the petitions of His people, and amply rewarded their faith in Him, but He has shown that "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." Just as the clouds of the skies which ascend from the earth in impalpable vapours, revisit the ground in rich and abundant showers, so prayer, which goes forth in weak and imperfect approaches to heaven, returns in full and enlarged answers. "No human creature can believe," said Luther, "how powerful is prayer, and what it is able to effect, except those who have learned by experience." Perhaps there is no one direction in which the fruit of successful prayer is so distinctly discernible as in the great sacred peace which it produces in the heart of the suppliant.
II. THE WISDOM AND MERCY OF GOD ARE AS REAL IN THE DELAYS AND EVEN THE DENIALS OF PRAYER AS IN THE ANSWERS HE GRACIOUSLY VOUCHSAFES. Moses earnestly entreated that He might go into the good land, but it was denied him; yet the Lord showed him the earthly country, and then took him to the better land. David prayed for the life of Bathsheba's child, but he prevailed not; yet his God heard his prayer, and gave him a son honourably born, and rarely endowed. As in the Saviour's dealings with the Syrophoenician woman; beneath the Lord's seeming, "No," so to us often there is hidden a better "Yes" than we have dared to hope or to think. Paul prayed that "the thorn in the flesh" might be removed; but he had to learn that the all-sustaining support of God's grace is better than exemption from suffering and trial. When our petitions seem changed in the answers we receive to them, it is for our good always. Leighton says, "God regards our well more than our will."
III. WE MAY WELL EXPEND OUR CHIEF IMPORTUNITY ON THE BEST GIFTS, SINCE WE HAVE THE PROMISE THAT "ALL OTHER THINGS SHALL BE ADDED THEREUNTO." "Covet earnestly the best gifts." These are enjoyments which are congenial to our spiritual nature: they afford real solid satisfaction, their possession is perpetual, they ennoble and dignify us, they make their subject a blessing to men and glorious to God. In their pursuit we cannot be too earnest, ambitious, or covetous.
IV. WORLDLY GOOD IS DEARLY PURCHASED AT THE COST OF SPIRITUAL GAIN. "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls." Many a well-spread table has proved a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block — often injury to health is the price paid for the poor gratification, or else satisfaction and delight in the enjoyment are removed. Worse still is the case of the unhappy victim who finds worldly enjoyments to be an oil feeding the fires of corruption, which might otherwise have been extinguished. It is natural to us to desire a large measure of worldly prosperity, the gratification of our wishes, and the increase of our possessions. It is gracious to be willing to defer all to the Divine disposal, in the conviction that nothing can be a blessing which is injurious to the soul.
(W. G. Lewis.)
1. By its trust in outward things. Grace is needed by every man, but great grace is needed by the man who gets his request. It is not easy to carry a full cup, to walk with a steady head and unfaltering step on the high places of prosperity, to have many of God's earthly blessings, and yet to trust in God alone. The eclipsing power of success is fearful.
2. Another symptom of spiritual leanness, and one of the results of having our request, is self-pleasing. How many men there are who have been earnest labourers in the vineyard of Christ during the early years of their life while they were comparatively poor, but who now are seen nowhere among the vines, who are digging nowhere, planting nowhere, pruning nowhere, training nowhere. And it is not that sickness has disabled them, it is not that old age has called them to enjoy its well-merited rest, it is not that the arrangements of providence have precluded all further active toil. It is nothing but the melancholy consequence of their having received their request. Their very success has been their snare.
3. I will mention but one more symptom, or rather class of symptoms, which may be all ranged under one head, loss of sympathy with all that helps to build up the spiritual life. Is it possible to lose this sympathy? Possible — do we need to ask it? Is it not our besetting danger? Are we not warned against it? Have we not known it? Our text speaks to us as with the voice of a trumpet, and rings out the great and impressive truth that we cannot be too guarded in our petitions, or in our desires for merely temporal things. It is certain that in Scripture we have no encouragement to ask for any great measure of them. The necessaries seem to define the limit, for in that Divine scheme of prayer our Saviour has left us we find the modest petition, "Give us this day our daily bread." Beyond these necessaries all else should be sought in very humble and willing subordination to the will of God. For who of us knows what beyond these is good for us?
(E. Mellor, D.D.)
Christian Age.A striking incident illustrating the liberty one feels when trusting Christ implicitly to supply all his needs is here related: A rich lady, when asked by her pastor to help a cause dear to her heart in her previous comparative poverty, and to which she gave one pound then, proffered him five shillings. Her pastor called her attention to the surprising and ominous change. "Ah," said she, "when day by day I had to look to God for my daily bread, I had enough and to spare; now I have to look to my ample income, and I am all the time haunted with the fear of losing it and coming to want. I had the guinea heart when I had the shilling means; now I have the guinea means and the shilling heart."
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