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The brightness of Moses's face reflected not upon his own eyes; he shone bright, and knew not of it: he saw God's face glorious, he did not think others had so seen his. How many have excellent graces, and perceive them not! Our own sense is an ill judge of God's favours to us; those that stand by can convince us in that, which we deny to ourselves. Here below, it is enough if we can shine in the eyes of others; above, we shall shine and know it. At this instant Moses sees himself shine: then he needed not. God meant not that he should more esteem himself, but that he should be more honoured of the Israelites : that other glory shall be for our own happiness, and therefore requires our knowledge.
Ther, that did but stand still to see anger in his face, ran away to see glory in it: before, they had desired that God would not speak to them any more but by Moses; and now, that God doth but look upon them in Moses, they are afraid ; and yet there was not more difference betwixt the voices, than the faces of God and Moses. This should have drawn Israel to Moses so much the more, to have seen this impression of divinity in his face.
That which should have comforted affrights them ; yea, Aaron himself, that before went up into the mount to see and speak with God, now is afraid to see him that had seen God: such a fear there is in guiltiness, such confidence in innocency. When the soul is once cleared from sin, it shall run to that glory with joy, the least glimpse whereof now appals it, and sends it away in terror. How could the Israelites now choose but think; “ How shall we abide to look God in the face, since our eyes are dazzled with the face of Moses ?” And well may we still argue, “If the image of God, which he hath set in the fleshy forehead of authority, daunt us; how shall we stand before the dreadful tribunal of Heaven ?”
Moses marvels to see Israel run away from their guide, as from their enemy; and looks back to see if he .could discern any new cause of fear; and not conceiving how his mild face could affray them, calls them to stay and retire.
“ Oh my people, whom do ye flee : it is for your sakes that I ascended, staid, came down : behold, here are no armed Levites to strike you, no Amalekites, no Egyptians to pursue you, no fires and thunders to dismay you. I have not that rod of God in my hand, which you have seen to command the elements: or if I had, so far am I from purposing any rigour against you, that I now late. ly have appeased God towards you; and lo here the pledges of his reconciliation. God sends me to you for good, and do you run from your best friend? Whither will ye go from me, or without me? Stay and hear the charge of that God, from whom ye cannot flee,”
They perceive his voice the same, though his face were changed, and are persuaded to stay, and return and hear him, whom they dare not see; and now, after many doubtful paces, approaching nearer, dare tell him he was grown too glorious.
Good Moses, finding that they durst not look upon the sun of his face, clouds it with a veil; choosing rather to hide the work of God
in him, than to want opportunity of revealing God's will to his people. I do not hear him stand upon terms of reputation ; “If there be glory in my face, God put it there ; he would not have placed it so conspicuously, if he had meant it should be hid: hide ye your faces rather, which are blemished with your sin ; and look not that I should wrong God and myself, to seem less happy in favour of your weakness.” But without all self respects, he modestly hides his glorified face; and cares not their eyes should pierce so far, as to his skin, on condition, that his words may pierce into their ears. It is good for a man sometimes to hide his graces : some talents are best improved by being laid up: Moses had more glory by his veil, than by his face. Christian modesty teaches a wise man, not to expose himself to the fairest shew, and to live at the utmost pitch of his strength.
There is many a rich stone laid up in the bowels of the earth, many a fair pearl laid up in the bosom of the sea, that never was seen, nor never shall be. There is many a goodly star, which, bez cause of height, comes not within our account. How did our true Moses, with the veil of his flesh, hide the glory of his Deity; and put on vileness, besides the laying aside of majesty ;, and shut up his great and Divine Miracles, with, See you tell no man! How far are those spirits from this, which care only to be seen; and wish only to dazzle others' eyes with admiration, not caring for unknown riches ! But those yet more, which desire to seem above themselves, whether in parts or graces, whose veil is fairer than their skin. Modest faces shall shine through their veils, when the vain-glorious shall bewray their shame through their covering.
That God, which gave his law in smoke, delivered it again through the veil of Moses. Israel could not look to the end of that, which should be abolished; for the same cause had God a veil upon his own face, which hid his presence in the holy of holies. Now as the veil of God did rend, when he said, It is finished; so the veil of Moses was then pulled off: we clearly see Christ, the end of the law; our Joshua, that succeeded Moses, speaks to us bare-faced : what a shame is it there should be a veil upon our hearts, when there is none on his face!
When Moses went to speak with God, he pulled off his veil: it was good reason he should present to God that face which he had made. There had been more need of his veil, to hide the glorious face of God from him, than to hide his from God; but his faith and thankfulness serve for both these uses. Hypocrites are contrary to Moses : he shewed his worst to men, his best to God; they shew their best to men, their worst to God: but God sees both their veil and their face; and I know not whether he more hates their veil of dissimulation, or their face of wickedness. Exod. xxxiv.
. . NADAB AND ABIHU. THAT God, which shewed himself to men in fire when he delivered his law, would have men present their sacrifices to him in fire: and this fire he would have his own; that there might be a just circulation in this creature; as the water sends up those vapours, which it receives down again in rain. Hereupon it was, that fire came down from God unto the altar ; that, as the charge of the sacrifice was delivered in fire and smoke, so God might signify the acceptation of it in the like fashion wherein it was commanded. The Baalites might lay ready their bullock upon the wood, and water in their trench; but they might sooner fetch the blood out of their bodies and destroy themselves, than one flash out of heaven to consume the sacrifice.
That devil which can fetch down fire from Heaven, either maliciously, or to no purpose; (although he abound with fire; and did as fervently desire this fire in emulation to God, as ever he desired mitigation of his own) yet now he could no more kindle a fire for the idolatrous sacrifice, than quench the flames of his own torment. Herein God approves himself only worthy to be sacrificed unto, that he creates the fire for his own service; whereas the impotent idols of the heathen must fetch fire from their neighbour's kitchen, and themselves are fit matter for their borrowed fire.
The Israelites, that were led too much with sense, if they had seen the bullock consumed with a fire fetched from a common hearth, could never have acknowledged what relation the sacrifice had to God, had never perceived that God took notice of the sacrifice; but now they see the fire coming out from the presence of God, they are convinced both of the power and acceptation of the Almighty. They are at once amazed and satisfied, to see the same God answer by fire, which before had spoken by fire: God doth not less approve our evangelical sacrifices, than theirs under the law; but as our sacrifices are spiritual, so are the signs of his ac. ceptation : faith is our guide, as sense was theirs. Yea, even still doth God testify his approbation by sensible evidences: when by a lively faith and fervent zeal our hearts are consecrated to God, then doth his heavenly fire come down upon our sacrifices; then are they holy, living, acceptable.
This flame, that God kindled, was not as some momentary bonfire, for a sudden and short triumph; nor as a domestic fire, to go out with a day; but is given for a perpetuity, and neither must die, nor be quenched. God, as he is himself eternal, so he loves permanency and constancy of grace in us: if we be but a flash and away, God regards us not; all promises are to perseverance. Sure it is but an elementary fire that goes out; that which is celestial continues : it was but some presumptuous heat in us, that decays upon every occasion.
But he, that miraculously sent down this fire at first, will not renew the miracle every day, by a like supply: it began immediately from God, it must be nourished by means. Fuel must mainta, that fire which came from heaven: God will not work miracles every day: if he have kindled his Spirit in us, we may not expe he shall every day begin again; we have the fuel of the word a şacraments, prayers, and meditations, which must keep it in
ever. It is from God that these helps cân nourish his graces in us; like as every flame of our material fire hath a concourse of providence, but we may not expect new infusions : rather know, that God expects of us an improvement of those habitual graces which we have received. .
While the people with fear and joy see God lighting his own fire, fire from heaven, the two sons of Aaron, in a careless presumption, will be serving him with a common flame; as if he might not have leave to choose the forms of his own worship. If this had been done some ages after, when the memory of the original of this heavenly fire had been worn out, it might have been excused with ignorance; but now, when God had newly sent his fire from above, newly commanded the continuance of it, either to let it go out, or while it still flamed to fetch profane coals to God's Altar, could savour of no less than presumption and sacrilege. When we bring zeal without knowledge, misconceits of faith, carnal affections, the devices of our will-worship, superstitious devotions, into God's service, we bring common fire to his altar: these flames were never of his kind. ling; he hates both altar, fire, priest, and sacrifice.
And now behold, the same fire, which consumed the sacrifice beforé, consumes the sacrificers. It was the sign of his acceptance, in consuming the beast; but, while it destroyed men, the fearful sign. : of his displeasure. By the same means can God bewray both love and hatred. We would have pleaded for Nadab and Abihu ; “They are but young men, the sons of Aaron, not yet warm in their function; let both age, and blood, and inexperience excuse them as yet.” No pretences, no privileges, can bear off a sin with God: men think either to patronize or mitigate evils, by their feigned reasons. That no man may hope the plea either of birth, or of youth, or of the first commission of evil, may challenge pardon; I see here young men, sons of the ruler of Israel, for the first offence struck dead.
Yea, this made God the more to stomach, and the rather to reFenge this impiety, because the sons of Aaron did it. God had both pardoned and graced their father; he had honoured them; of the thousands of Israel, culling them out for his altar : and now, as their father set up a false god, so they bring false fire unto the true God.
If the sons of infidels live godlessly, they do their kind: their punishment shall be, though just, yet less; but if the children of religious parents, after all Christian nurture, shall shame their educa. tion, God takes it more heinously, and revenges it more sharply. The more bonds of duty, the more plagues of neglect.
If from the agents we look to the act itself, set aside the original descent, and what difference was there betwixt these fires ? Both looked alike, heated alike, ascended alike, consumed alike; both were fed with the same material wood, both vanished into smoke: there was no difference, but in the commandment of God.
If God had enjoined ordinary fire, they had sinned to look for cebestial: now he commanded only the fire which he sent; they sinned
in sending up incense, in that fire, which he commanded not. It is a dangerous thing in the service of God to decline from his own institutions: we have to do with a power which is wise to prescribe his own worship, just to require what he hath prescribed, powerful to revenge that which he hath not required. · If God had struck them with some leprosy in their fore-head, as he did their aunt Miriam soon after, or with some palsy or lingering consumption, the punishment had been grievous; but he, whose judgments are ever just, sometimes secret, saw fire the fit. test revenge for a sin of fire ; his own fire, fittest to punish strange fire; a sudden judgment, fit for a present and exemplary sin: he saw, that if he had winked at this, his service had been exposed to profanation.
It is wisdom in governors to take sin at the first bound; and so to revenge it, that their punishments. may be preventions. Speed of death is not always a judgment : suddenness, as it is ever justly suspicious, so then certainly argues anger, when it finds us in an act of sin. Leisure of repentance is an argument of favour : when God gives a man law, it implies that he would not have judgment surprise him.
Doubtless, Aaron looked somewhat heavily on this sad spectacle. It could not but appal him, to see his two sons dead before him, „dead in displeasure, dead suddenly, dead by the immediate hand of God. And now he could repent him of his new honour, to see it succeed so ill with the sons of his loins; neither could he chuse but see himself stricken in them. But his brother Moses, that had learned not to know either nephews or brother, when they stood in his way to God, wisely turned his eyes from the dead carcases of his sons, to his respect of the living God; “ My brother, this event is fearful, but just; these were thy sons, but they sinned ; it was not for God, it is not for thee, to look so much who they were, as what they did. It was their honour and thine, that they were chosen to minister before the Lord : he, that called them, justly required their sanctification and obedience. If they have profaned God and themselves, can thy natural affection so miscarry thee, that thou couldest wish their impunity with the blemish of thy Maker? Our sons are not ours, if they disobey our Father: to pity their misery, is to partake of their sin ; if thou grudge at their judgment, take heed lest the same fire of God come forth upon this strange fire of nature. Shew now whether thou more lovest God or thy sons; shew whether thou be a better father or a son."
Aaron, weighing these things, holds his peace, not out of an amazement nor sullenness, but out of patient and humble submission; and seeing God's pleasure, and their desert, is content to forget that he had sons. He might have had a silent tongue, and a clamorous heart. There is no voice louder in the ears of God, than a speechless repining of the soul. Heat is more intended with keeping in; but Aaron's silence was no less inward : he knew how little he should get by brawling with God. If he breathed out discontentment, he saw God could speak fire to him again;