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said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."
The desire of the people, the surrender of their gold, the act of Aaron had together ended in corruption. How fearfully instructive. The people of God cannot interfere with the things of God; but they corrupt them and themselves by them. They cast aside their proper glory, and become occupied with that which debases them. That Jehovah was their God was their glory; but they would make to themselves gods.
In their after-history, they desired to be as the nations, and to have a king over them, when Jehovah was their King. They corrupted themselves, and lost their distinguishing glory. And when do we find corruption stealthily creeping into the early Church. Is it not in "philosophical wisdom, and admiration of teachers ?” The glory of the Church is the presence of the Holy Ghost in the midst of her. The gospel needed not the extraneous support of wisdom or the schools—it came "in demonstration of the spirit and of power." The introduction of human wisdom, admiration of teachers, and all that was most esteemed among men, would virtually displace the Holy Ghost, so that His power, His teaching, His guidance would practically be superseded. “If any man defile [corrupts the temple of God, him
will God destroy [corrupt]. How rapidly it spread. Evil communications speedily corrupted the manners of the Church, And surely it does not require depth of learning, but subjection of mind to the Scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth, to trace back to this germinant corruption in the Church, suppressed at the time by apostolical power, the fullblown corruption yet to be manifested, when that day of the Lord God Almighty comes, “ that he should destroy those who destroy b the earth.” (Rev. xi. 18). Viewed in the light of heaven, and as from heaven, this introduction of human wisdom in the Church was by the Apostle seen to be corruption. Those who would have introduced it, thought it a help and an ornament.
“ They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.” The rapid inroad of corruption into that which God has set up in purity is remarkable. The people of Israel awe-struck by the Majesty of God, had heard the solemn words, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
To this they had responded, “ All the words which the Lord has said will we do.” And yet after the lapse of a few short days, they turn aside out of the way, and make to themselves gods. Does this surprise us? Is it not rather too faithful a history of the ostensible people of God in all ages and in every dispensation ? "God has not been pleased to record how long man stood in innocency. - but the sacred narrative proceeds from his exercise of dominion over every living creature, and his reception of the blessed gift of a help-meet from God, to state his grievous fall. When Noah, who had in the Ark passed safe through the judgment, is set up as head of a new world, how quickly there is his fall into drunkenness recorded !c
And has the latest intervention of God in the revelation of the Gospel of His grace proved an exception to the general rule, of immediate failure on the part of man? If we proceed to the period after the Holy Ghost had come down from heaven-what says the Apostle of that which would be after him? "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise,
e How strange, how unlike man, that the chosen instruments of God to introduce anything from God, should themselves predict its failure in man's hands. " And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me and break my covenant which I have made with them .... Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. For I know thy rebellion and thy stiff neck; behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more after my death ?” (Deut. xxxi. 16, 25–27.)
speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.” The mystery of iniquity had begun to work in the Apostles' time, when there was spiritual discernment to detect its beginnings, and infallible authority to meet the evil. But how quickly had the disciples turned out of the way. And this is solemnly important to mark; the worst evils which have arisen in the Church, were detected as secretly working in their principles by the Apostles themselves, so that we dare not go back to any form of the Church as a pattern subsequent to the days of the Apostles; because the evil which so secretly was at work in their days would only become more formed, when their discernment and authority was no longer present to detect and to resist it. It is indeed a curious feature of the mind of man, that in the things of God, he prefers stopping at secondary authority when access is
open to its primary source. Both Jews and Christians have alike resorted to antiquity for their pattern, when the thing needed was to judge antiquity by the light of the Scripture. Jewish antiquity was the tradition of the elders—" vain conversation received by tradition ” from their fathers—for this they vehemently contended, even at the expense of nullifying the Scriptures. And so among Christians, the most bitter contention has been for traditionary religion, and “the faith once delivered to the saints” has been little regarded. Christians forget how early was the departure from the faith once delivered to the saints, and propose to themselves as a pattern of excellence some age of the Church in which there must have been deterioration, and thus virtually set aside Scripture and neglect the guidance of the Holy Ghost, to unravel the intricacies of time-honoured tradition and enable them to find that path which is pleasing to God. When tested by Scripture, it surprises us to find how much of that to which we have clung will not bear its uncompromising light.
But how solemn is the judgment of God on the people “ I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiffnecked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath
may wax hot against them." But if Moses was in the place of righteous judgment, he was also in the
very atmosphere of grace, and there he could take the place of intercession, and prevail because his plea was the honour of the Lord himself. This must ever be a prevailing plea, because it acknowledges the righteousness of the judgment of God. “For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.” Moses can neither excuse; or extenuate the sin of the people. It is not the place of intercession to do this, because every thing before God must be truthful. What comfort for us to know of Christ that—"He is at the right hand of God, and that He also maketh intercession for us." He knows the righteous judgment of God--He knows, too, the evil of our sin, but His intercession is grounded on the way in which He himself has vindicated the righteousness of God in putting away our sin. The intercession of Moses brings out a new feature; viz. the long-suffering of God with his redeemed people with that (i. e. Israel as now the professing Church) which has the responsibility as well as the privilege of bearing His name.
This was shown in the mount, and afterwards proclaimed by Jehovah himself to Moses. God had previously shown His long-suffering in bearing with the world for a hundred and twenty years, while the ark was preparing. He had borne with the abominations of the Canaanites four hundred years," because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full.” And now, when He has redeemed to Himself a chosen people out of Egypt, this very people corrupt themselves and become the objects of His longsuffering. And is it not the same in the present time? Is not God now showing forth “the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering” towards man as man, and this only to be scorned and despised, while those who are outwardly by profession his people, and bearing His name, are quite as much the object of his long-suffering as the world? The outward professing body has not continued “in the goodness of God," and all which awaits it is to be “cut off”—to be spued out of His mouth (Rev. iii.)
But we must follow Moses down from the mount to the scene of Israel's sin. The eye of Jehovah had seen it from heaven, His dwelling-place; there also Moses had
heard the report of it, and interceded for the people, and not in vain. But when Moses leaves the immediate sphere of the grace of God, and becomes himself a spectator of Israel's condition, his feeling is that of indignation and not of intercession. “His anger waxed hot," and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” How had Moses interceded when the Lord had said “ Let me alone that
may wax hot against them.” There are deep lessons to be learned here. God, the Judge of all,” who must ever judge according to His own holiness, can at the same time act according to his own grace.
He cannot extenuate sinand “indignation, and wrath, tribulation and anguish," are revealed by Him as against every soul of man which doeth evil.” God has revealed to us how He is both faithful and just in forgiving us our sin. But how different is man from God! The sin which God had seen and pardoned at the intercession of Moses, when Moses himself sees he cannot bear with. Here may
learn the infirmity of the creature, and something beside this—that the saint cannot bear in himself the very sin which God had pardoned; nor will the servant of God tolerate in the people of God the sin of that people. What indignation had the godly part of the Corinthian church evinced against themselves for tolerating sin among them, even after the sin itself had been punished? Indignation is dangerous, because it is so allied to human infirmity, and the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”—but indignation is godly when arising from the sense of an insult cast upon God, or the shamelessness of saints as to their condition before God. We dare not think of man, however highly honoured of God, above what is written; and we gain deep instruction from Moses in this instance, it may be shewing human infirmity, or from Moses acting as "the servant of the Lord.” How constantly do we find the practical truth of that word—“when I would do good, evil is present with me." Honest zeal will often find close by its side, self-satisfaction or self-exaltation. Real kindliness of feeling may readily associate itself with disregard for the honour of Christ. What need of walking