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description of the sovereignty and universal

"^ "" providence of God. There is nothing in the
Bible more striking and sublime. It is re-
plete with the loftiest inspirations of poetry ; while,
at the same time, it glows with the most fervid
breathings of devotion.

The writer commences by addressing Jehovah as
the supreme Object of reverence and worship, for
whom praise and adoration were waiting in Zion,
and to whom the vow of fealty and obedience should
be performed. This thought the thought of the
homage so constantly and so rightfully rendered to
God suggested the closely related thought of
God as the Hearer of prayer, and the Dispenser of
pardon ; bending from His seat of awful majesty to
accept the confessions and listen to the requests of
all who seek His face; forgiving their sins, and
achieving their deliverance, by manifestations of His


power and mercy. * O Thou that hearest prayer !
unto Thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail
against me ; as for our transgressions, Thou shalt
purge them away."

He then proceeds to consider the grounds on
which the friends of God may repose the fullest
confidence in His faithfulness, in His willingness to
receive their petitions, and in His ability to perform
them. These he finds in the supreme and all-per-
vading government which God exercises over the
world, and in that watchful superintendence which
He maintains in every department of human affairs.
\Vith a rapid and glowing pencil, he traces the
workings of this government as they are displayed
alike in the realms of matter and of mind ; in the
vicissitudes of the seasons ; in the products of the
earth ; in the bounties that supply man's physical
wants ; and in the political changes and convulsions
which affect his social condition. Everywhere he
sees the controlling agency of God. Every object,
every event, speaks to him of God. The turmoil
of Nature in her agitations and upheavings ; the
calmness and beauty of Xature in her repose ; the
tempests and earthquakes that ravage and lay waste ;
the genial showers, the fructifying dews, the life-
awakeniug sunbeams, which call forth the springing
corn, and clothe the valleys with food for man and
beast ; the peace and order which foster the indus-
trial arts, and give prosperity to nations ; and the


tumults and revolutions, the wars and the carnage
which change the face of empires, and fill continents
with mourning all these are in his view equally
under the direction of the Almighty, equally obe-
dient to the behests of His providence, equally
fulfilling the mission which He appoints.

But amidst these diversified operations of Jeho-
vah's ever present energy, there is one feature which
seems to stand out before the eye of the Psalmist
with peculiar prominence. It is the justice and ho-
liness which characterize the Divine administration.
While he recognizes the consoling fact that God is
infinitely gracious and long-suffering, and that He
will surely accomplish, in His own time and way,
all the desires of His people for succor and protec-
tion, and for the final establishment of truth and
goodness upon earth, he yet clearly perceives that
the Most High often does this through the ministry
of afflictive judgments, and brings to pass great and
beneficent ends by means of events, which during
their continuance appear to be fraught with dis-
aster. Hence he exclaims, " By terrible things in
righteousness wilt Thou answer us, O God of our

These words contain a general truth of vast sig-
nificance, and of wide application. It is a truth
which relates not merely to the personal experience
of the Sweet Singer of Israel, nor to any particular
exhibitions of Divine power in his behalf; but to


the whole history of God's procedure toward His
Covenant Church, and to the grand principles which
underlie His work of overthrowing evil, and advan-
cing His kingdom in the world. There is here an-
nounced to us the broad and comprehensive fact,
that in nil periods of time God has answered the
prayers of His people for the suppression of Wrong
and the vindication of Eight, by dispensations of
correcting wrath, as terrible in their progress as
they were righteous in their character, and benign
in their results. And, in illustration of this fact,
we shall find that those great conjunctures in human
affairs, which have exerted a commanding influence
on the well-being of our race, and shaped anew the
course of its destiny, have ordinarily been heralded
by dread forthputtings of Jehovah's hand, attesting
His presence, delivering His friends, and recom-
pensing His enemies.

Ever since depravity found place on the earth,
and began to assail the prerogatives and to insult the
authority of its rightful Lord, the prayer of all who
have truly loved Him has been, that He would put
forth the resources of His omnipotence to defeat
wickedness, to uphold His own glory, and to make
holiness universally triumphant. And this He has
all along been doing not always, however, in the
manner which His people had marked out for Him
not always by slow and silent changes not al-


ways by the mild and sweetly purifying influences
of Truth and Love, as noxious vapors are melted
and exhaled by gentle breezes and soft sunshine
but often by appalling interventions of His just dis-
pleasure, destroying the wicked; punishing the
good so far as they have participated in the sins
which call down His vengeance ; and thus sweeping
the field clear for fresh victories of His grace.
There are states of the atmosphere in which hurri-
canes and tornadoes are necessary to expel from it
malarious elements, and restore its salubrity. So
there are tunes when the social atmosphere becomes
so charged with moral poison, that nothing but God's
thunder can clear it, and make it a medium in which
holiness can live.

True it is that mercies and blessings constitute
the chosen method by which the Almighty carries
on His moral administration. He seeks to draw
men from their sinful courses, and to win their
hearts into allegiance to Himself, by the force of in-
struction, by the power of light, by the persuasive
ministry of loving-kindness. This is the normal
character of His dispensations. But when individ-
uals or communities have become so sunk in degen-
eracy, or so wedded and sold to enormous vices, as
to be insensible to every motive derived from His
goodness ; and, especially, when from wicked laws,
institutions or governments, obstacles stand in the


way of His purposes which ordinary appliances fail
to remove then it is that He makes bare His arm
for judgment ; then it is that " by terrible things in
righteousness," He answers prayer, and annihilates
the barriers that oppose the going forth ^ of His

Having thus developed and explained the princi-
ple announced, we shall occupy the remaining part
of this discussion in showing how that principle has
been brought out in the past dealings of God with
nations ; and how strikingly it may be seen in His
dealings with our own country and with ourselves.

The first example, embodying the truth before us,
may be drawn from the method by which Divine
Wisdom saw fit to deliver the people of Israel from
their bondage in Egypt, and conduct them into the
land appointed for their inheritance. This was in-
dispensable in order that revealed Religion might
find expression and perpetuity in the establishment
of the Mosaic Economy ; and the transactions which
attended it are pregnant with momentous lessons to
all the ages.

God had given to Abraham, as the reward of his
faith and obedience, a solemn promise, often re-
peated, that the goodly hills and valleys of Canaan
should be the permanent home of his posterity;
that there they should become in number as the
sands of the sea, and dwelling in safety under His



inviolable guardianship, be distinguished above all
other nations by miraculous communications of His
will, and by peculiar tokens of His favor. And the
fulfilment of this promise was hardly less important
to the welfare of the world at large than to that of
the chosen Tribes themselves. The countless races
of the Gentiles, though not expressly named in the
covenant, had nevertheless a vast interest in the
higher benefits which it was intended to convey.
The grand design of God in electing the descend-
ants of Abraham to be His peculiar people, plant-
ing them in the spot set apart for their abode, and
placing them, by restrictive laws, in holy isolation
from the darkness and pollution that covered all the
earth beside, doubtless was that through them the
true knowledge and worship of Himself might be
retained amongst men, and a lineage furnished for
the Messiah, the future Restorer of the world. Be-
yond the narrow limits of the Hebrew family, the
whole world had lapsed into idolatry ; and He, who
made and upheld it, saw, as it rolled round in His
hand and under His eye, no light breaking through
the gloom, and no incense ascending to His throne,
save where dimly burned the sacrificial fires on the
altars of the patriarchs, or where the homage of the
One Creator still lingered in the tents of Goshen.
And if the single line in which the knowledge of
the true God yet survived, we're to continue, as in


the days of its founders, a mere horde of nomadic
herdsmen, wandering from place to place without
any settled habitations, the truth which they held as
a precious deposit in trust for the world guarded
by no fixed institutions and no regular observances
would soon die out and be forgotten amid the
necessities and the fluctuations of a mode of life so

In like manner, if after the Children of Israel had
gone down into Egypt their exile had been perpet-
ual, they must have lost, in the lapse of years, the'ir
very existence as a distinct people. Crushed into
utter annihilation under the iron heel of slavery, or
absorbed into the nationality of their oppressors,
they would have adopted their customs, imitated
their vices, accepted their religion, bowed clown to
their gods. Whatever of divine illumination they
possessed would have been swallowed up and ex-
tinguished by the predominant power of surround-
ing heathenism ; celestial Truth would have been
driven from her last home on earth ; and the one
lone point of light that still broke the universal
darkness, would have disappeared from our world,
and left it to the shadows of a night that could know
no morning. And, therefore, the settlement of the
Tribes in their promised heritage was an event in-
volving not only their own national life and their
future greatness, but the spiritual destinies of the


human race as well, and the preparatory processes
of its coming redemption.

Now, there can be little question that the Hebrew
fathers, instructed as they were by personal com-
munion with God, regarded this great fact in the
broad and momentous relations which we have as-
cribed to it. Nor is it extravagant to suppose that
its realization formed the burden of their addresses
to the Throne of Infinite Mercy. It must have been
always present to their thoughts, whenever they
pondered the Promise that in their seed should all
the families of the earth be blessed, and gazing
down the vista of the ages, strove to grasp the
glory they were to unfold. And well may we be-
lieve that each dying patriarch, as he bade farewell
to earth, turned his last look to Canaan ; while on
his aged lips trembled the prayer, that God would
fulfil His covenant to the sacred seed, establish them
in then- destined possession, reveal to them His will,
and teach them by His ordinances ; and thus pre-
pare the way for the coming era of Christian light
and salvation.

With equal confidence may we believe that the
same prayer was constantly offered up by all the
pious among the Israelites, during their protracted
exile in Egypt. As the slow years of their bond-
age dragged heavily over them; as their chains
grew more galling, and the exactions of their task-


masters more severe ; as they trod the clay, and
shaped the bricks, and crouched down under their
hard service, and writhed and groaned under the
lash of their haughty oppressors how often and
how earnestly must their cry for deliverance have
ascended to Heaven ! Oh, yes ! while Egypt in-
creased in wealth and splendor by the toil wrung
from her bondmen ; while her princes and nobles
rioted in luxury, and mirth and rejoicing filled her
palaces from the hovels in which the Hebrews
dwelt, and from the fields where they wrought,
were heard the ceaseless wail of suffering, and the
loud pleading of the enslaved, going up into the
ears of the God of Sabaoth.

At length the answer came. Yet how different
from their expectations was the way of its coming !
If they speculated at all upon the method of their
predicted emancipation, they probably believed it
would be brought about, not by violent changes,
and sudden outgoings of Divine power, but by
gradual and almost imperceptible ameliorations of
their state, coming in as naturally and as noiselessly
as day succeeds to night, or summer to winter.
Perhaps they hoped that time might soften the bit-
terness of their vassalage ; or that faithful service
and patient endurance might by degrees win the
respect of then- masters, and mitigate their cruelty.
Possibly, too, they dreamed that even in the bosom


of Pharaoh might be found a dormant conscience
and a better mind, which, awakened by the remon-
strances of Moses, would prompt him to listen to
the Divine summons, and let the people go. And
thus they imagined, it may be, that they should de-
part out of their bondage with the consent and good
will of their former lords, leaving the land of their
exile unscourged by any visitation of wrath the
oppressed and the oppressors mutually grateful and
happy. And, questionless, all this might have been.
Had the infatuated monarch yielded to the command
of Jehovah, and broken the fetters of the enslaved,
the fearful calamities, which his obstinate wicked-
ness brought upon his reign and country, might
have been averted. The exodus of the Israelites,
instead of being made memorable forever by won-
derful displays of Almighty vengeance, would have
been only a peaceful emigration of a particular class
of the population to new and more eligible seats.
And so the hope of centuries would have been
realized amid universal harmony, and the rejoic-
ings alike of those who conferred the boon, and of
those who received it.

But such magnanimity is seldom to be looked for
in this fallen world. All history shows that power
rarely gives up its prey, except from the compulsion
of events which it can no longer resist. The king
of Egypt* in binding faster the chains of his vie-


tims, the more he was importuned to unloose them,
but followed the course of human tyranny in all
lands and ages. He doubtless deemed the extorted
labor of the Hebrews, employed as it was in fur-
nishing materials for the construction of cities and
public works, to be of vast importance to the de-
velopment and prosperity of his empire; and he
was resolute that no voice of priest or prophet, no
behest of Israel's God, or of any god, should pre-
vail on him to relinquish the control of muscles that
had proved so valuable. His refusal to release the
captives necessitated the intervention of that grand
law of the Divine procedure to which we have ad-
verted. The merciful intentions of Jehovah with
regard to His chosen people were not to be frus-
trated by the greed or the obstinacy of their
enslavers. Commands and expostulations having
failed, a mightier agency was called in. The min-
istry of wrath the stern efficacy of " terrible
things in righteousness " was commissioned to
undertake the work which milder means were un-
able to accomplish.

In pursuance of this design, the rod of Divine
vengeance was stretched out over all the habitations
of the spoilers. Blow followed blow in swift suc-
cession, and with crushing effect. Appalled by the
severity of the visitations, the king and his princes
seemed at intervals to relent, and often promised


obedience to the mandate so fearfully enforced.
But no sooner was the punishment withdrawn,
than they became as obdurate as before. Then
the scourge was again lifted up; and the awful
series of inflictions went on, growing more destruc-
tive at every step; reaching all ranks; carrying
dismay and woe into all places ; turning into desola-
tion all the pride and glory of the land; till its
avenging work was consummated in that dread
midnight hour, when "the Lord smote all the first-
born of Egypt," and every dwelling of Israel's foes
wailed its dead. Subdued by this last overwhelm-
ing calamity, and by the cry of anguish which it
woke throughout his dominions, the trembling des-
pot pronounced the decree of emancipation, and
commanded the people, whose God was so ter-
rible, to depart at once from beneath his sway.

Yet how the love of domination infatuates men !
How it blinds their reason, and renders them reck-
less of consequences ! Even when compelled by
the judgments of Heaven to set free their thralls,
how unwillingly they surrender them ! How furi-
ous are they to recover them ; how full of hatred
and rage against them, when they have gone beyond
then- power. The children of Israel had scarcely
crossed the border of Eg} T pt on their journey into
the wilderness, before the frantic monarch and his
equally frantic satellites began to regret their de-


parture, and to take measures for dragging them
back into bondage. How could they be so be-
sotted so insensible to the terrible chastisements
to which they had just been subjected ? How could
they so soon forget the waters turned to blood, the
all-wasting hail, the darkness that could be felt, the
sword of the destroying Angel strewing the whole
land with corpses ? They could not but know that
God was on the side of Israel, and that, in attempt-
ing to re-enslave those whom He had delivered,
they must fight with Omnipotence. Nevertheless,
while the most startling evidences of this Divine
interposition were still fresh in their minds while
they beheld, wherever they looked, field and city,
palace and temple, scarred and rent by the hurricane
of vengeance that had swept over them they de-
termined to pursue the fugitives, and return them
by force to their shackles. With this fell intent,
they mustered the entire military strength of the
kingdom chariots and horsemen in almost number-
less array and pushed forward on the track of the
fleeing bondmen. They soon came up with them,
encumbered as they were with flocks and herds,
with wives and little ones, with the aged and the
infirm. And now these man-hunters thought them-
selves sure of their quarry. The Hebrews were
encamped in a narrow defile, with steep mountains
on either side, the deep, impassable sea before them,


and the fierce legions of their pursuers pressing be-
hind them. Retreat was cut off. Escape in any
direction seemed hopeless. What could this multi-
tude of lately emancipated serfs, debased by cen-
turies of oppression, unskilled in arms, and accus-
tomed to regard the Egyptians as a superior race,
do in a conflict with the collected might of the most
warlike nation then on the face of the earth ? What
possible fate awaited them, but to submit to their
infuriated persecutors, and bow down once more
under the yoke; or, pent up and helpless, to be
slaughtered without mercy ? That one or the other
of these catastrophes must befall them, was looked
upon as certain both by their enemies and by them-
selves. And so shorn of all manhood were they by
the long years of servitude which they had endured,
that they were ready to go back to their prison-
house, rather than encounter danger and death in a
struggle for freedom.

But God had not brought them forth with such
signal displays of His interference, to desert them
in their extremity. He heard their cry for succor,
and answered it by an outputting of His almighti-
ness more stupendous than any which they had yet
witnessed. The Pillar of Cloud and of Fire, that
had hitherto gone before them, now moved from
their front, and stood between them and the Egyp-
tians its bright side shining on their own ranks,


its dark side frowning on their foes the token of
deliverance to the one, of overthrow to the other.
At the same time, Moses, by the command of the
Lord, stretched his rod over the sea ; and lo ! its
waters were parted asunder to their lowest depths,
leaving along their uncovered bed a dry passage for
human feet. Down into that miraculous chasm went
the millions of Israel, tribe after tribe, column after
column ; the radiant Pillar lighting their way, and
the liquid walls rising up straight and high on either
hand. And down after them poured the Egyptian
host, madly bent on following the escaping slaves
into the very jaws of Hell. On, on they hurried,
the pursued and the pursuers on through the long
night on over the secret places of the deep, over
coral hills, and valleys that never saw the sun.
Strange march! stranger marching-ground! Type
of the race between lord and vassal throughout the
ages ! The heaven-defying audacity of the oppress-
ors had now reached its climax, and the hour of
their destruction was come. In the morning watch,
Jehovah looked out upon them from the angry face
of the Cloud that hovered between them and the
objects of their rage. At the glance of that awful
Eye, their hardihood forsook them; consternation
spread from squadron to squadron ; and with broken
lines and disabled chariots they turned to flee from
the Almighty One that fought for Israel. But the


attempt was vain. The rod of Moses was again
stretched over the sea, and the watery mountains,
which God's hand had held divided, rushed together,
burying king and noble, horse and rider, chariot and
charioteer, under the swift-meeting billows. The
proud array of Egypt was no more. And while, on
the safe shore, the rescued Tribes sung hymns of
triumph, and with harp and timbrel celebrated the
praise of their omnipotent Defender ; in the cities
of the Nile was heard the voice of lamentation, and
Misraim, through all her provinces, wept her fallen
chivalry, and her glory departed.

It was thus that, by dispensations as just as they
were appalling, God responded to the prayer of His
people, and led them forth from the house of bond-
age . But the operation of this great principle did not
cease here. The fro ward and rebellious conduct of
the Hebrews themselves often demanded its exercise.
A brief trial of their character proved them wholly
unfit for the high destiny which the Divine purpose
had assigned to their race. With a few striking
exceptions, the entire nation was so corrupted by
slavery, and so deficient in physical and moral stam-
ina, that, had it been conducted at once to Canaan,
it would have shown itself utterly incompetent to
drive out the peoples by whom it was occupied, and
found a stable commonwealth. Or, if celestial aid
had supplemented this weakness, and placed the


descendants of Abraham in possession of the land
which God had given to him, their waywardness,
their idolatrous leanings, their imbecile habits, their
want of all elevating impulses, must have rapidly in-
duced a state of degeneracy and disorder, that would
have made them the easy prey of surrounding king-
doms. In either case, the design of God in refer-
ence to the establishment of His truth in the world,
would have been defeated. He, therefore, saw that
a course of severe and protracted discipline was re-
quired to shape such worthless materials into the
instruments which He needed. Hence he held His
promise in abeyance ; visited their frequent disobe-
dience with frequent correction ; and compelled them
to traverse the wilderness for forty years, in a series
of aimless marches backward and forward, till the
track of their wanderings was studded thick with the
graves of all who came out of Egypt. And then,

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Online LibraryGeorge Barton IdeBattle echoes : or, Lessons from the war → online text (page 4 of 19)