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and so loves the strength of good affections, that it passeth over their infirmities : how highly God doth esteem a well-governed zeal, when his mercy crowns it with all the faults!
The tables had not offended; the calf had, and Israel in it. Moses takes revenge on both : he burns and stamps the calf to powder, and gives it Israel to drink ; that they might have it in their guts, instead of their eyes : how he hasteth to destroy the idol, wherein they sinned! that, as an idol is nothing, so it might be brought to nothing; and atoms and dust are nearest to no.. thing : that, instead of going before Israel, it might pass through them ; so as the next day they might find their god in their excrements; to the just shame of Israel, when they should see their new God cannot defend himself, from being either nothing or worse.
Who can but wonder, to see a multitude of so many hundred thousands, when Moses came running down the hill, to turn their eyes from their god to him ; and on a sudden, instead of worshiping their idol, to batter it in pieces, in the very height of the novelty ! instead of building altars, and kindling fires to it, to kindle a botter fire than that, wherewith it was melted, to consume it! instead of dancing before it, to abhor and deface it; instead of, singing, to weep before it !
There was never a more stiff-necked people; yet I do not hear any one of them say, “ He is but one man, We are many ; how easily may we destroy him, rather than he our god ? If his brother durst not resist our motion in making it, why will we suffer him to dare resist the keeping of it? It is our act, and we will maintain it.” Here was none of this, but an humble obeisance to the basest and bloodiest revenge that Moses shall impose. God hath sct such an impression of majesty in the face of lawful authority, that wickedness is confounded in itself to behold it. If from hence visible powers were not more feared than the invisible God, the world would be over-run with outrage. Sin hath such a guiltiness in itself, that when it is seasonably checked, it pulls in his head, and seeks rather a hiding-place than a fort.
The idol is not capable of a further revenge : it is not enough, unless the idolaters smart: the gold was good, if the Israelites bad not been evil: so great a sin cannot be expiated without blood. Behold, that meek spirit, which in his plea with God would rather perish himself than Israel should perish, arms the Levites against their brethren, and rejoices to see thousands of the Israelites bleed, and blesses their executioners.
It was the mercy of Moses that made him cruel : he had been cruel to all, if some had not found him cruel. They are merciless hands, which are not sometimes imbrued in blood : there is no less charity, than justice, in punishing sinners with death; God delights no less in a killing mercy, than in a pitiful justice: some tender hearts would be ready to censure the rigour of Moses. “. Might not Israel have repented and lived? Or if they must die, must their brethren's hand be upon them? or, if their throats must
be cut by their brethren, shall it be done in the very heat of their sin?” But they must learn a difference betwixt pity and fondness, mercy and injustice. Moses had a heart as soft as theirs, but more hot; as pitiful, but wiser. He was a good physician, and saw that Israel could not live unless he bled; he therefore lets out this corrupt blood, to save the whole body. There cannot be a better sacrifice to God, than the blood of malefactors; and this first sacrifice so pleased God in the hands of the Levites, that he would have none but them sacrifice to him for ever. The blood of the idolatrous Israelites cleared that tribe from the blood of the innocent Shechemites.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THOMAS, LORD VISCOUNT FENTON,
::. CAPTAIN OF THE ROYAL GUARD; ONE OF HIS MAJESTY'S MOST HONOURABLE PRIVY COUNSELLORS;
ONE OF THE HAPPY RESCUERS OF
CREASE OF GRACE AND HAPPINESS.
THE VEIL OF MOSES. It is a wonder, that neither Moses nor any Israelite gathered up the shivers of the former tables: every shred of that stone, and every letter of that writing, had been a relic worth laying up; but he well saw how headlong the people were to superstition; and how unsafe it were to feed that disposition in them. The same zeal, that burnt the calf to ashes, concealed the ruins of this monument. Holy things, besides their use, challenge no further respect. The breaking of the tables did as good as blot out all the writing; and the writing defaced, left no virtue in the stone, no reverence to it.
If God had not been friends with Israel, he had not renewed his law. As the Israelites were wilfully blind, if they did not see God's anger in the tables broken; so could they not but hold it a good sign of grace, that God gave them his testimonies.
There was nothing, wherein Israel outstripped all the rest of the world more, than in this privilege; the pledge of his Covenant, the law written with God's own hand. Oh what a favour then is it, where God bestows his Gospel upon any nation. That was but a killing letter; this is the power of God to salvation. Never is God thoroughly displeased with any people, where that continues: for, like as those which purpose love, when they fall off, call for their tokens back again; so when God begins once perfectly to mislike, the first thing he withdraws is his Gospel.
Israel recovers this favour, but with an abatement; Here thee two tables. God made the first tables : the matter, the form was his;
where God with Gothis pri
now Moses must hew the next : as God created the first man after his own image, but, that once defaced, Adam begat Cain after his own; or, as the first temple raised, a second was built, yet so far short, that the Israelites wept at the sight of it. The first works of God are still the purest: those, that he secondarily works by us, decline in their perfection. It was reason, that though God had forgiven Israel, they should still find they had sinned. They might see the footsteps of displeasure in the differences of the agent.
When God had told Moses before, I will not go before Israel, but my angel shall lead them; Moses so noted the difference, that he rested not till God himself undertook their-conduct: so might the Israelites have noted some remainders of offence, while, instead of that which his own hand did formerly' make, he saith now, Hew thee ; and yet these second tables are kept reverently in the ark, when the other lay mouldered in shivers upon Sinai; like as the repaired image of God in our regeneration is preserved, perfected, and faid up at last safe in heaven; whereas the first image of our created innocence is quite defaced: so the second temple had the glory of Christ's exhibition, though meaner in frame. The merciful respects of God are not tied to glorious outsides, or the inward worthiness of things or persons : he hath chosen the weak and simple, to con found the wise and mighty.
Yet God did this work by Moses ; Moses hewed, and God wrote: 'our true Moses repairs that law of God, which we in our nature had broken; he revives it for us, and it is accepted of God, no less than if the first characters of his law had been still entire. We can give nothing but the table; it is God that must write in it. Our hearts are but a bare board, till God by his finger engrave his law in them; yea, Lord, we are a rough quarry; hew thou us out, and square us fit for thee to write upon. · Well may we marvel, to see Moses, after this oversight, admitted to this charge again: who of us would not have said, “ Your care indeed deserves trust; you did so carefully keep the first ta. bles, that it would do well to trust you with such another burden !". It was good for Moses, that he had to do with God, not with men : the God of mercy will not impute the slips of our infirmity to the prejudice of our faithfulness. He, that after the misuse of the one talent, would not trust the evil servant with a second, because he saw a wilful neglect; will trust Moses with his second law, bez cause he saw fidelity in the worst error of his zeal. Our cbarity must learn, as to forgive, so to believe, where we have been deceived: not that we should wilfully beguile ourselves in an unjust credulity, but that we should search diligently into the disposition of persons, and grounds of their actions; perhaps none may be so sure as they that have once disappointed us. Yea, Moses brake the first; therefore he must hew the second : if God had broken them, he would have repaired them; the amends must be where the fault was. Both God and his Church look for a satisfaction in that wherein we have offended. :) :: It was not long since Moses's former fast of forty days. When
he then came down from the hill, his first question was not for meat; and now going up again to Sinai, he takes not any repast with him. That God, which sent the quails to the host of Israel, and manna from Heaven, could have fed him with dainties: he goes up confidently in a secure trust of God's provision. There is no life to that of faith; man lives not by bread only. The vision of God did not only satiate, but feast him. What a blessed satiety shall there be, when we shall see him as he is, and he shall be all in all to us; since this very frail mortality of Moses was sustained and comforted, but with representations of his presence!
I see Moses the receiver of the Law, Elias the restorer of the Law, Christ the fulfiller of the old Law and author of the new, all fasting forty days; and these three great fasters I find together glorious in Mount Tabor. Abstinence merits not ; for religion consists not in the belly, either full or empty: what are meats or drinks to the kingdom of God, which is like himself, spiritual? but it prepares best for good duties. Full bellies are fitter for rest : not the body, so much as the soul, is more active with emptiness; hence, solemn prayer takes ever fasting to attend it, and so much the rather speeds in Heaven, when it is so accompanied. It is good so to diet the body, that the soul may be fattened.
When Moses came down before, his eyes sparkled with anger; and his face was both interchangeably pale and red with indignation: now it is bright with glory. Before, there were the flames of fury in it, now the beams of majesty. Moses had before spoken with God; why did not his face shine before? I cannot lay the cause upon the inward trouble of his passions, for this brightness was exter. nal. Whither shall we impute it, but to his most entireness with God?
The more familiar acquaintance we have with God, the more do we partake of him. He, that passes by the fire, may have some gleams of heat; but he, that stands by it, hath his colour changed. It is not possible a man should have any long conference with God, and be no whit affected. We are strangers from God, it is no wonder if our faces be earthly ; but he, that sets himself apart to God, shall find a kind of majesty and awful respect put upon him, in the minds of others.
How did the heart of Moses shine with illumination, when his face was thus lightsome! and if the flesh of Moses in this base composition, so shined by conversing with God forty days in Sinai, what shall our glory be, when, clothed with incorruptible bodies, we shall converse with him for ever in the highest heaven!
Now his face only shone; afterwards the three disciples saw all his body shining. The nature of a glorified body, the clearer vision, the immediate presence of that fountain of glory, challenge a far greater resplendence to our faces, than his. O God, we are content that our faces be blemished awhile with contempt, and blubbered with tears; how can we but shine with Moses, when we shall see thee more than Moses !