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Wherein he humbled them, and proved them, and tried them, that it might appear what was in their hearts; and he left them to hunger and to thirst, and to murmur and rebel, and to commit idolatry, that their hearts' might be turned inside out before their eyes; and, by a long course of discipline, he trained them up to a sense of his being, and perfections, and government, and to feel their dependance on him, and obligations to him, and by experience learn the dreadful nature of sin. He fed them with angel's food, and gave them water out of the flinty rock; he led them by day in a cloud, and in the night by a pillar of fire; but when they rebelled, the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up hundreds, and the plague swept away thousands at a stroke; yea, at last, the whole congregation of six hundred thousand were doomed to fall in the wilderness.
Nothing impresses the heart of a human creature. like FACTS. Nor could any series of facts have been better contrived than these to reach their hearts, and make them feel what they were in the sight of infinite holiness, and to bring them to fear the glorious and fearful name of the Lord their God.
At the side of the Red sea they were, to appearance, full of love to God, and there they sang his praise. And had things gone to their minds, they might never have suspected the secret hypocrisy of their hearts. But, as God had contrived the plan, in three days their religious affections were gone, and their corrupt hearts, like the troubled sea, cast up mire and dirt. God knew what they were before, and it was wise in him to take this method to bring them to know it too.
At Mount Sinai they were again deeply affected, when the law was given in a 'manner so solemn and divine; and there they promised, that whatsoever the Lord their God should command them, that would they do. But in less than forty days they made them a calf after the manner of Egypt, and eat and drank, and rose up to play, after the Egyptian mode. God knew before that all this was in their hearts; and now he wisely permitted it to break out, that they might know it too, and that he might have a good opportunity to let them see how exceedingly he hated their ways. He had tried
WORDS, but these would not do. He had used the plainest and strongest expressions in the first and second commandments, but they were not effectual. Now be proceeds to FACTS. Three thousand are slain by the sword at his command, to let the whole congregation know how detestable their conduct was in his eyes*.
And so again, while the tabernacle was building, and at the time of its dedication, they appeared very forward in religion, as though they loved God, and loved his worship, and were determined for the future to be an obedient people. And this lasted for about a year. And doubtless they thought themselves sincere, and always might have thought so, had no new trials come on. But no sooner did the spies return from viewing the land of Canaan, and bring ill-tidings, but their old Egyptian temper all revived. Now Joshua and Caleb must be stoned for pleading the Lord's cause, and a new captain chosen to conduct them back to Egypt, which they left with reluctance about a year ago; willing, it seems, for ever to part with their God, their tabernacle, and their religion; and turn back to the idols and manners, and leeks, and onions of Egypt; and make their peace with the Egyptians as they could. And had not the Almighty suddenly interposed, no doubt dreadful deeds would soon have been done. God knew all this was in their hearts before ; and now he wisely permitted it to break out that they might know it too, and that, by his future conduct toward that people, he might let them know that he was the Lord, and fill the whole earth with his gloryt.
And while that generation was doomed to wander forty years in the wilderness, and their carcasses there to fall as the just punishment of their crimes, their posterity, by the means, had their Egyptian notions and tempers eradicated, and were trained up in the knowledge of God, and of the true religion ; and prepared to enter, conquer, and possess, the holy land. Nor could they ever, lo their dying day, forget the works of the Lord their God, which they had seen in Egypt, at the Red sea, in the wilderness, &c. Nor could they have hail
† Numbers xiv.
* Exodus xxxi. 28.
4. It may easily be seen, how that God, in the permission of sin, may design to advance his own glory, and the good of his creatures. And that this was really God's design, in the instances which have been under consideration, is manifest from the five books of Moses, in which the history of these things is recorded at large. Particularly, I desire the 8th, gth, 10th, and 11th chapters of Deuteronomy may be read, in this view.
THE WISDOM OF GOD
GENESIS 1. 20. Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good. W 19 DOM consists in choosing the best end, and contriving the most proper means to attain it.
The MESSIAH had been promised to our first parents, about two thousand years ago; and the time of his advent was approaching : but the world were greatly unprepared for such an event. They did not know that they were in a fallen state, and that they needed a Redeemer and a Sanctifier. They neither kuew God, nor themselves; what they were, nor what they ought to be ; nor what they needed to bring them right; and were sinking, by swift degrees, into still grosser ignorance and the most stupid idolatry. And had God suffered them all to have taken their own course, till the MesSIAH's birth, ignorance and deprayity would have risen to such a height as to have rendered mankind wholly unprepared for the gospel-dispensation.
Wherefore, God must interpose, and some method must be taken to check the universal spread of idolatry and ignorance, and to revive the knowledge of the true God, and of the law of nature ; and to make mankind sensible of their depravity, of their guilt, and ill-desert, and need of a Redeemer and Sanctifier; and so prepare a way for the coming of Christ, and the erection of his spiritual kingdom.
With these views, about two thousand years before the birth of the Messiah, God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and separated him from an idolatrous world, and
stronger inducements to tell these things to their sons, and sons sons. Nor could a better method have been taken to lay a lasting foundation for a firin belief, and steady practice, of the true religion,
It was most for the honour of God, and most for the interest of religion; and so really for the best good of the Israelites, that they should be thus tried ; left to act out their hearts, and then punished, subdued, humbled, and brought into subjection to the divine authority, before they entered into possession of the promised land, although it cost them six hundred thousand lives, and many a dreadful day. For to what purpose had it been for God to have brought them straight from Egypt, with all their Egyptian notions and tempers, into the holy land, there to have polluted it, and to have dishonoured him with their abominations*?
Besides, from the inurinurings and rebellions of the Israelites in the wilderness, there was the fullest demonstration of the divinity of the Jewish religion. For, had not Moses been sent of God, and supported, too, by the interposition of ALMIGHTY Power, it had been impossible he should have accomplished the design. They would surely have deserted him, and returned to Egypt again. Nor could the children of Israel, how degenerate soever they were, and how apt soever to fall into idolatry, in after ages, ever once scruple whether Moses were indeed sent of God, after such a scene of wonders for forty years together. Nor does it appear that the divine legation of Moses was ever called in question by that people.
And whenever they read over the law of Moses, together with the history interspersed in those sacred books, they might not only learn the nature of God and man, and see God's
* If it was wise in God so to order, that the Israelites should be oppressed above an hundred years before their deliverance, and then pass through such great trials forty years more, before their entrance into the holy land ; how know we but it may be wise that the Christian church in general, and we, in New-England, in particular, should pass through very dark and trying times, for a long season, before God begins to work deliverance in that remarkable manner which may be expected at the ushering in of the glorious day. To be sure, there seems to be a foundation laid for great distresses, and of long continuance, for our sinful land. Better so than to be left to sleep on, secure in sin. Nothing so dreadful as to be given up to carnal security, and suffered to go on in wiekedness and prosper.