THE MOLTE CALF. BY REV. W. THISTLETHWAITE, M.A.

Exodus xxxii. 7, 8. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee donm;for the people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves : they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them : they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said. These be thy Gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. After the solemn ratification of the Law, which we saw in the last sermon^ Moses and Aaron, adab and Abihu^ and the seventy elders, were permitted to approach nearer the mounts and had a bright display afforded them of the presence and glory of God. But

THE MOLTE CALF. 373 Moses himself was introduced into yet closer communion with God, and remained with him there in the mount for the space of forty days and forty nights. There he received the various directions which are recorded hereafter, and which relate principally to the ceremonial part of the law. Having received these, and the ten commandments written upon two tables of stone by the finger of God, Moses returned to the people, with these inestimable treasures in his hands. It is thus described, " And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand : the tables were written on both their sides : on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God,

graven upon the tables." In what characters the law was thus written we are not informed, but probably in the language then spoken by the Israelites. The durable nature of the stones on wliich they were graven, intimated the perpetuity with which the law should be in force, and the preparing the tables, and

374 THE MOLTE CALF. writing the commandments being done by God himself, shew how excellent and important they are and what authority they have. And oh ! that the law of God may be written not on stone, as it was delivered to Moses, but on our hearts ; and not with ink as we have it in the Bible, but with the indelible impressions made by the Spirit of God when he sheds the love of God abroad in the heart, and converts the soul unto himself. But now to what a scene did Moses come down ? As he descended, with his servant Joshua, who had attended him half way up the mount, and had there been left to wait his return, a noise of shouting was heard among the people. Joshua thought they were the sounds of war, but Moses corrected him : ^^ It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome : but the noise of them that sing do I hear.'^ It was indeed the boisterous merriment of an idolatrous feast which was now going on, a feast which they were celebrating under most unhappy circumstances.

THE MOLTE CALF. 375 The people had become weary of the long continuance of Moses in the mounts

and their foolish and carnal hearts hankered after the idolatrous practises which they had seen among the heathen. They assembled tumultuously about Aaron, and made this extraordinary and impious demand, "Up, make us Gods which shall go before us." They assigned as a reason that Moses had left them, and they spake of Jum in the most contemptuous manner, ^^ for as for this Moses" said they, "the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him." Alas what a grievous instance was this of the impatience, ingratitude, and besotted condition of the human heart ! We know not which most to wonder at and lament, their stupid ignorance in desiring that Gods should be made them, their disrespect for Moses, in whom they had witnessed such displays of God's presence and power, or their rejection of God himself. Alas, such is man. But what did Aaron in this emergency? He was carried away by the clamour of the people : he was intimidated

376 THE MOLTE CALF. b J their tumult^ and prepared to grant them their demands. He bade them bring him all their golden ear-rings, and these being readily collected through their eager desire, he had them melted and made into the figure of a calf. And greatly they were delighted when they saw their idol. They hailed its appearance, expressed aloud their joy and satisfaction with the work, and cried, " These be thy God«^ O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." They would moreover have a solemn consecration and render it divine honours, in which Aaron was again so infatuated as to concur. He built an altar before it, and made proclamation and said, ^' To-morrow is a feast to the Lord. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings : and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.'' Here is all the sensual indulgence, the vam mirth, and profane sports, with which tlie feasts of the heathen idols were wont to be celebrated. Alas that Christian feasts, or I should rather say, feasts among Christians,

THE MOLTE CALF. 377 should ever be conducted after a similar manner. These were the circumstances in which Moses found them w^hen he came down from the mount with the tables of the testimony in his hands. What a change was here ! He had left them apparently under deep impressions of awe and seriousness. The last words that he had heard from them were their own voluntary and solemn engagement^ " All that the Lord saith unto us, we will do and be obedient." But now they have become idolaters. They are sacrificing to gods made

by their own hands. They are feasting and dancing round a golden calf. Can these be the same Israelites who had so lately seen Mount Sinai all in flames and quaking exceedingly, who had heard the voice of God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire, and to whom he had so pointedly and expressly declared and commanded saying, " Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold ?'* Can these be the same Israelites who had so lately heard the words of the law distinctly

378 THE MOLTEH CAU". lead to them oat of tibe book, and w^ had been spdnUed widi the Mood of Ae corenanl, and had emtered in ao aoleoui a manner into ao saoed a oonliaci widi God ? Lord, whai is man! How fe g g c tfu l and backabding! How foolish and ^nonnt and eren as the beasts ! Alas wocae than the beasts; far he ddiaaes bis leaaon andprastitnies bis speech, neither of which ther possess, to an idol's pnise. But C3iriatians» TO who possess die ooTenani of Chnst, and are under Us law, ye who stand pledged bjr TOOT baptismal tow to renoonoe the derQ and bis wodksy the ponqps and ^amties of Ais wicked worid, and all die sinfid lusts of the flesh, does dus sin iji the Isradites, so low and ddnsb^ find any lesemUanoe in yon? Is there amy thing like it in your character and condoet ? Are there any ididat^Fs among yon? There will not indeed be iddatiy so gross as dus; hot is diere no golden calf wbidi yon worsb^ ? Is not nuMiey die God of amne of you? Is not the whide derotioii of your desbres, your diooghts, yoortime, yoor eneigies, giren to

THE MOLTE CALF. 379

the amassing of wealth? Is there not a Mammon of this kind among yourselves ? And are there not others who are lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God? Yes, there is a goddess, who is known hy that name^ the goddess of pleasure, to whom many, and especially of our young people, have set up an idol in their hearts. Are there no carnal revdUngs and mirth in her honour ? o sitting down to eat and to drink, and rising up to play? Is there no noise of them that sing to be heard, not the songs of Zion, but of an unholy and sinful nature ? Remember that there is an idolatrv of the heart ; and I put the question to each of you. What is your golden calf? What is that' creature, what that earthly thing, what that imagination, what that vanity of the world, which engages your affections, occupies your thoughts, and receives the service of large portions of your time ? There is reason why I should propose these enquiries to you ; for the god of this world has his worshippers still, in some or other of those various pomps and pleasures and sensual

380 THE MOLTE CALF. indulgeiicies, by which he withdraws the hearts of men from the pure love and worship of the holy God. Oh ! if there be an idol of this nature in your heart, bring it out and cast it from you. You often sing here one lovely hymn of prayer; oh! that you would sing it in spirit and in truth. The dearest idol I have known, Whate'er that idol be, Help me to tear it from my heart. And worship only thee. ow we find that Moses was exceedingly moved by this sin of his people, and his

" anger waxed hot." And did he well to be angry? Yes, he did. Here was just cause for a holy resentment. There are circumstances in which we may be angry, and yet sin not. Then it is a holy emotion in the soul. This is when it is wholly for the honour of God, and caused by men's sins and offences against his worship and law. But you have been angry, often angry ; and was there never any sin in your anger .»^ Alas, alas, our own hearts may greatly condemn us for frequent ebullitions of most sinful

THE MOLTE CALF. 381 and unreasonable excitement and wicked indulgence of this unholy passion. Afterwards even Moses himself, the meekest man upon earthy fell into such a transport. And oh ! remember that only one such instance is recorded of him, and what an example was made of it. We shall consider it more fully in a future sermon. At present read the account of his sin and its punishment in the twentieth chapter of umbers, and the Psalmist's notice of it in the 106th Psalm : and hence learn to watch more carefully over your own spirits, and to put away from you all bitterness and anger and malice. Observe now the expression of his anger. We read thus in the 19th verse. " It came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing ; and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mount." We ask again, whence was this ? Did he do it in haste, and impapatience ? I trow not. The action, I think, was significant. It was to shew them that the covenant wa& broken, and that as they

382 THE MOLTE CALF.

had broken thm engagjanents, God would thus testify against &em. oir oonaid^r this sight. See in Uiese brokoi tables yonr own transgressions and the wrath ef God« See the faihiie of the covenant of works. Hie law is broken, and can be no longer a foondation of acceptance. This action of Moses was, as I hare said, significant, Hke manj of the signs of the prophets, and illnstratiye of this most important treth, that the broken law cannot }m>core the justification of a sinner. Moses proceeded with another metfiod of reproof and punishment. '' He took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink cf it.'* This raigfat serve at once to conYince them of their sin, and to pumsh them far it. What a god was this lliat ther had made for theraaelyes ! a god diat coidd be burnt in the fire, and ground to powder ! The compulsion <^ taking the im^easant draught was also an appropriate punirinnent. Tliey lost their god; they lost th^ gold; and not only so, but tiieywere conq^elled to

THE MOLTE CALF. 383 undergo the mortificatioa of swallowing the nauseous mixture. Thus were these backsliders filled with Ihe fruit of their own ways, as all backsliders will ever be. Moses had also another painful task to perform. His own brother was deeply implicated in this crying sin. The High Priest himself had been a partaker in their iniquity, and the chief agent in the formation of the idol. Moses found it necessary to reprove him shisurply« He asked him this striking question, " What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them." The question may be put in various

lights. What harm had they done thee, what provocation had they given, that thou shouldest lead them into this sin, and bring the heavy displ^aisure of God upon thee ? or, what persuasions did they use, that could prevail upon thee to consent unto them, and become a party to their great offence ? or, again, what injury didst thou expect at their hands, that thou didst not oppose their wicked project ? Aaron assigns this last reason, namely his fear of them, as the cause of his

384 THE MOLTE CALF. giving way. He says, " Thou knowest the people that they are set on mischief." He had seen them often murmur even against Moses himself, and that on one previous occasion they had heen ^^ almost ready to stone liim.'* He feared for his own personal safety in this turbulent uproar of the people. Better far had it been, if he had been verv courageous for God, and not counted his own life dear unto himself in his cause. But oh ! what guilt rests upon the ministers of reUgion, if they be, in any way, the means of allowing the people to sin. They who should be teachers of all goodness, who should warn against all transgressions, who should be patterns and examples of devotion to God's cause and service, who in the exercise of duty should withstand the unruly passions of sinful men, and though meekly instructing those who oppose themselves, should yet not give way, no not for a moment, or in a single particle, to their foolish and sinful desires: oh ! what a sin is it in them, if they be prevailed upon by fear of injur}' or hope of gain, by dread of reproach, or expectation of

THE MOLTE CALF. 385 populaxity, to be unfaitiiful to God^ and

pander to the passions and prejudices and wicked plans of the people? Aaron endeavoured to lay the whole blame upon them, because they were set on mischief. But when the people are set on mischief, what is the magistrate to do? He must be firm, and shew that he does not bear the sword in vain. And what is the minister of religion to do ? He must withstand them to the face, when they are to be blamed, even though he should meet with the treatment which Moses had well nigh experienced, and which Stephen afterwards suffered, and be stoned by them to death. And now mark also the further account, the strange account which Aaron gave of this matter in his attempt to excuse himself. He says, ^^ I said unto them, whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.'' It seems as if he meant to insinuate that the calf was produced by accident, and that the gold which he had himself demanded of them, had run, of its VOL. II. s

386 THE MOLTE CALF. own accord, when melted, into the figure and form of the calf which thej had worshipped. Aaron here made himself absolotelj lidicnIons, and shewed that he was now more afindd of Moses than he was before of the people. He says nothing of the monld which he had prepared for it, nor one word of the graying tool with which he had afterwards fashioned it. He speaks as if he had had no concern in the matter whatever, and that it all happened by chance. Many excuses no wiser than this do sinners make in order to take off the evident guilt of their transgressions. They will continually have recourse to the vainest subterfuges, when they are charged with a fault,

and are afraid of its consequences. How much better had it been for Aaron, and how much better would it be for all, if they would not attempt to cloak their iniquities, but confess them wholly, and humbly, and pray for pardon ! But alas, who does not see in tbis excuse of Aaron, a picture of that disposition to justify himself, which is in his heart, and by which he might be led to act in a similar manner. Oh ! brethren, this is extreme foUy.

THE MOLTE CALF. 387 Men see through it in most cases, and despise us or laugh at us for it. And shall we attempt thus to impose upon God ? Can we forget, while we are attempting to deceive a man like ourselves, and to make our vain and false excuses, that his eye does not see, and his ear does not hear ? Oh ! that there were a godly simplicity and sincerity in us in all things, and that we could always so humble ourselves as unreservedly to confess our offence, whenever we have been overpersuaded, or intimidated, or in any way led into a fault. Oh ! this accursed pride which is in our hearts. How many sins does it make us commit, and what difficulty does it place in the way of our obtaining their pardon. Christian brethren, we have seen the great infirmity of the High Priest of the Jews ; let us thank God that we have a better High Priest than Aaron. In him they had only a sinM man; but in the Son of God we have one ^* who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." Very beautifully is this contrast made in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The s2

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Apostle there speaks of our High Priest as one, '^ Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer np sacrifice, first fi)r his own sins, and then for the people's : fi>r this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the SSon, who is consecrated for evermore." Oh ! apply to him daily, my brethren, for his all-powerful intercession, and depend altogether upon his pure and perfect sacrifice, for by that '' one sacrifice he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Let me make one more observation. When Moses called the people and Aaron to account for this their sin against the Lord, great was their confusion and fear j severe also was the punishment inflicted upon them. But when the Son of man shall appear in his glory, and summon all nations before him, much greater will be the terror of those who will then have to receive their final doom for all their

THE MOLTE CALF. 389 ungodliness and impenitence. Oh! then, sinners, now seek a part in the sacrifice, and an interest in the present intercession, of him who will hereafter come to be your judge. Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby you have transgressed, and all your idols which you have followed, and turn unreservedly unto the Lord your God. Give unto the Lord the honour due unto his name, and worship him with holy worship. The word of God requires you to give to him the best affections of your hearts, and the full service of your lives. The mercy of God has prepared for you in the gospel a sacrifice to atone, a priest to inter-

cede, and a Spirit of grace to sanctify. Spiritual benefits of the highest nature are proposed to you. Reject them not, nay, turn them not unto your greater condemnation, in the idolatry of your hearts after earthly things. Receive them all in faith and love ; so shall you be blessed.

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