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Exodus xiii. 21. And the Lord went before them by day, in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way ; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light ; to go by day and night. The Lord God is the constant gaide and protector of his people, as well as their immediate deliverer. His eye is upon them in all their straits and difficulties, and his hand is with them to lead them in his way, and to defend them from their enemies. The purposes of mercy which he hath purposed towards them shall be accomplished ; having begun a good work he will perform it ; having loved his own that were in the world, he will love them unto the end, and will perfect that which concemeth them.
212 THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. These observations receive confirmation from the present history of the Israelites. God had made his covenant with Abraham that he would be a God unto him and to his seed after him, and that he would give them the land of Canaan for their inheritance. He had purposed this purpose and given this promise of his favour towards them ; but he had also appointed that they should first be strangers in the land of Canaan, and afterwards in bondage in Egypt. He had revealed this to Abraham, saying to him, " Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years." The vision was for an appointed time, and in the end it spake and
did not lie. About thirty years had elapsed from the birth of Isaac to the time when this vision was vouchsafed ; and " it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out firom the land of Egypt." But like their renowned progenitor they went out not
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 213 knowing exactly whither they went, nor the right way which they should take to it. They had also to pass through an enemy's land, and another was about to pursue them. The Lord therefore became their sure guide and protector, and preceded their journey in the miraculous manner which is recorded in the text. I. But, in the first place, before we enter upon the consideration of it, a few previous circumstances require our notice. 1 . We observe then that for a perpetual memorial of liis distinguishing mercy which he had shewn them in sparing all their firstborn while those of the Egyptians were destroyed, God made an ordinance that every first-bom male of man and beast was to be the Lord's, and sanctified unto him. If the first-bom of any beast that was proper for sacrifice was a male it was offered to the Lord on his altar ; if it was of any unclean beast, it was redeemed at a fixed price or killed; the first-bom of their own children was also redeemed, and the redemption money appropriated to the service of the
214 THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. Lord; and afterwards the whole tribe of Levi were taken in their stead to do die
service of the Lord in his tabernacle and temple. Hie people were also strictly enjoined to instract their children in the meaning of this ordinance^ as in that of the Passover. " It shall be," said God to them, " when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying. What is this ? that then shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out ■ from Egypt, from the house of bondage: and it came to pass when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the first-bom in the land of Egypt, both the first-bom of man, and the first-bom of beast : therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males, but the first-bom of my children I redeem." My brethren, it would be a happy thing for iising generations, and greatly conduce to glorify God in the land, if Christian parents were deeply sensible of the responsibility which lies upon them to instmct their children in the meaning and object of Aat sacrament of baptism, in which they are now
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 215 dedicated to the Lord ; if the j were earefullj taught the purpose of its ohsenrance, the meaning of the form in which it is administered, the promises which they make in it, the benefits which they receiye thereby, and the obligations which it imposes on them; and if from the time of its administration they were taught to live as members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heayen ; and if they were also instructed with diligent care in every thing respecting the sacrament of the Lord's supper, and led up to it with a complete understanding of its nature, and a serious purpose of therein devoting themselves to the Lord. Oh! this would greatly tend to
their spiritual good, and the continuance and increase of true religion in the world. But there is utterly a fault in parents and sponsors in these things, and the baptised children of Christian parents are too commonly left in deplorable ignorance of the first principles of the faith of the gospel and of the church into which they have been admitted members. My brethren, these things ought not to be
216 THE PILLAB A D CLOUD. 80. We should consider our children as made memhers of the Christian covenant by their baptism; we should educate them as such for God ; we should teach them to look upon themselves in that light, to know the privileges to which they have been admitted, and to grow up fulfilling the duties to which they have been called. 2. The next circumstance which we consider is the route by which God was pleased to lead the Israelites towards Canaan. Thus we read in the seventeenth verse of this chapter. " It came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near ; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt : but God led the people about through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea." See here the considerate care of God. He had shewn himself as an irresistible conqueror to Pharaoh, but with them he deals as a tender father, he pities their infirmities, compassionates their fears, and guardi^ against their
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 217 encountering difficulties and dangers, which at the first might be too great for them. —
When Jesus sojourned on earth, he dealt in like manner with his first disciples. He did not lay on them any burden grievous to be borne. To use his own parable, he did not " put new wine into old bottles, lest the bottles should break, and the vrine run out, and the bottles perish." Thus he does not at first shew to young converts the whole of the tiials which are in the way before them. He lays on them no burden but of necessary things. He adds to the weight only as they become able to bear it. He permits their spiritual enemies to advance, when he has trained them up to be men of war, and given them the whole armour of God. Yes, my fellow-travellers towards heaven, it is thus that our merciful God proportions our trials to our strength; and let us also thankfully and joyfully remember his promise that ^* as our day, so shall our strength be." " My grace," saith he, " is sufficient for thee, and my strength is made perfect in weakness." Thus he dealt with VOL II. L
218 THE PILLAR A D CLOITD. the Israelites at fheir first going oat of tfae land of Egypt, and the Psalmist observes on this and their subsequent wandering in the wilderness where they found no city to dwell in, that he " led ihem forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation." 3. A third circumstance which we notice in this chapter is thus recorded. " And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him : for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.*' This charge had been given by Joseph to his brethren nearly a hundred and fifty years before, and it was now religiously
observed by their descendants. It was given by the patriarch in faith, and in faith they fulfilled it ; a sure trust in the promise of God co-operating with their regard to the memory of their distinguished ancestor. Probably they also took with them the bones of the other sons of Jacob, and deposited them in the land of Canaan when God gave them possession of it. Our bodies may rest in
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 219 hope of a better removal ; for the Lord wiH awaken our sleeping dust if we be his. This, brethren, is our Christian hope ; " We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, from heaven, who shall change our vile body, and fashion it like unto his glorious body, accordiug to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." II. Having thus noticed these three previous circumstances I now come, in the second place, to consider the merciful and miraculous manner in which God was pleased to conduct his people on their way. Hear again the text. " The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way ; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light ; to go by day and night." Wonderfully were the Israelites taken under the special care of God. Here was a constant visible appearance which indicated liis unceasing presence, and was of singular benefit to them in many particulars. We find firom the succeeding parts of the history, l2
220 THE PILLAR A D CLOUD.
that this symbol of his presence and care never left them during the whole of their journey, till they were safely brought into the promised land. After the tabernacle was built, it remained constantly with it, resting upon it so long as the people were to rest, and rising up from it when they were to journey, and proceeding before it to lead them to the place where the Lord would have them next to pitch it. You will find this mentioned in the last five verses of this book of Exodus, and again still more fully and particularly in the ninth chapter of the book of umbers. This gracious care of them is often celebrated in the book of Psalms; and the prophet ehemiah notices its continuance as an extraordinary mercy, even after they had made them a golden calf, and notwithstanding they had worshipped it, and had wrought great provocations : " Yet," he says, " thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness : the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way ; neither
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 221 the pillar of fire bj night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should 1. Behold in this the Israelites had, in the first place, a continual proof of God's presence with them. They could not but feel that in this token God was always nigh unto them, about their path and with their way. He rested with them and went with them, and never left them nor forsook them. ever could they cast their eyes upon that towering pillar ever keeping the same form, ever dark by day and bright by night, sometimes resting and sometimes moving, but never like other clouds, changing, breaking,
and dissipating into the surrounding air, never, I say, could they look upon it without perceiving that they had a sensible manifestation of the presence of God among them. And never should the Christian, travelling on his way to heaven, forget that God is ever present with him, though he may not have any visible proof thereof. ever let him forget such promises as these ; " Lo, I am with you alway." " I will dwell in them, and walk
222 THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. in theiD^ and I will be their God and they shall be my people." " I wiD never leave you nor forsake you." Yes, Christian believers, God is always present by his Spirit with his whole church and every individual member of it. By that Spirit he will abide with them for ever. He will cheer their hearts by causing his face to shine upon them, and will make them full of joy with his countenance. 2. Secondly, from this piUar of a doud the Israelites had protection. It formed a defence for them from all their enemies. When we consider the next chapter we shall see this very strongly. And surely we, if we truly seek and serve him, shaU find him a protector from our enemies, and a defender from all evil. May not we sing, if we be really his people by faith, " The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refrige ?" May we not boldly say, if we be indeed true followers of Christ, '^ The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man can do unto me ?" Yes, my brethren, in reference to this care and protection whieb
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 223 God ever vouchsafes, I dare apply to each
believer in Christ the Psalinist's words, ** The Lord is thy keeper, the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil : he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth for evermore." Yes, to the churches af Christ and their members I dare to apply the language of the Prophet Isaiah, which also refers to this subject. " The Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night ; for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there sh9.ll be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from iram. 5. They had also, in the third place, continual direction and guidance. This was the most obvious benefit which they derived from it, and is principally spoken of. It directed
224 THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. them in all their movements, and in all their rests. They rose up and journeyed as soon as it began to move before them; they stopped at the moment when it became stationary. However long or short a time it proceeded, so long they went following it; whether it rested a day or a year, so long they remained in their tents, but no longer. When it rose they knew not whither it would go, but it led them constantly in the right way, and they had no inquiry to make, no doubt to what place to go, or what path to take to it. Oh ! it was a wondrous mercy to be thus guided in all their way. We, who are often in the greatest perplexity what decisions to make in life, and what line of conduct to pursue, feel that it would be a blessing indeed to be ever
thus sensibly directed by the Lord. Oh ! it was indeed a great thing that every night they might lay them down to rest without any care how far or whither they should go on the morrow, or whether they should move at all. Oh ! it was a great thmg for them every day to be without the least anxiety whether they should journey or rest,
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 225 and to know that if they journeyed their way would be pointed out by an unerring guide, and their place of rest would be marked out for them without thought or care of theirs. We, my brethren, have no such visible means of divine direction and guidance, but there are ofien various intimations of Providence by which we may form our judgment and decision; and when we do this with cautious watchfulness, in earnest prayer and humble faith, they will answer to us the purpose of the pillar and the cloud. We are instructed however always to cast our care upon God, and we are never so happy, never so safe in our doubts and difficulties, as when without carefulness we can commit ourselves to him, fervently praying that he will order our affairs for us, and take the direction and management of them into his own hands, believing that he careth for us. When we thus leave ourselves and our concerns to him in prayer and faith, he will undertake for us, he will " lead" us also " the way," and make all things work together for our good. And L6
226 THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. although the working of the machine of pro-
vidence may he imperceptible to onrselyes and others, in these particular cases, yet wiU it often leave a sweet persuasion on our spirits that God has indeed wrought for us, and we shall be satisfied and thankful. I speak to you, brethren, on this subject from much personal experience. If there be any thing in which I think that I have lived near to God, it is in the thus casting of myself and all my earthly circumstances and cares upon Him. And if there be any thing from which I have derived peace, and the calm quieting of a troubled spirit, it is from the belief that He has been my secret guide, and ordered and managed all things for me. Thus often at eventide it has been dark, and in the morning it has been light. I have committed my way unto the Lord, and he has brought it to pass. But for the daily and constant direction of our lives, we have always the word of God to which we may have recourse, and the Spirit of God, to whom we may apply in pray^. llie word is as a light shining in a dark
THE PILLAR A D CLOUD. 327 place, whereunto we shaH do well if we take heed : it is " a light unto our feet, and a lamp unto our path." The Spirit is promised to '* guide us into all truth," and to *^ teach us all things." And the Spirit is given by our heavenly Father to them that ask him. As we read the word with prayer for his divine teaching the Spirit will shine upon it, and we shall be instructed as to the mind of the Lord in all needful things. Thus also we shall find that 9»s God was with the Israelites in the cloud, he is with us in his word, and thus we shall enjoy his protection and guidance along the whole course of our passage through the wilderness of the world. Oh ! my brethren, let us be always looking into the blessed word of God that we may see what course we ought
to take in all our journey through life. By it let us regulate our movements, and form all our plans of action. Let us also be always praying for the Spirit, that he may open our understanding that we may understand the scriptures. Thus being shewn how to walk in the ways of God we shall experience his protection and care, and be
228 THE PILLAB A D CLOUD. finally condacted through all dofobts and difficulties, all trials and dangers, to his hea^enlj kingdom. Yes, hdoTed hietfaren, while we thns in simple faith seek oar direction firom him, he will ne^er cease to affoid it to us. The circumstances, throng^ wlndi we are led, majr be such as we fitHe expected, nay they may be such as appear to our short-sightedness to be contraij to die desired result, but they will assuiedDy lead to the right end. Oh ! yes, thus may we sing with the Psalmist, ^' Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward recetTe me to glory."
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