|Vol. IV, No. 6
Elul 5606, September 1846
Reflections on the Pentecost.
O God! who knowest all that passes within thy world, from whom none of our deeds is hidden, let us pray Thee to strengthen us in thy knowledge, and cause us to be guided by thy fear; so that we may never trespass against thy will, though no human eye be directed unto us or our doings. Yea, let us be made conscious that Thou, Father! art ever present, ever watchful and cognizant of our acts, ever ready to visit with retribution our backsliding, but also ever ready to approve of all the good we do, and to hallow by thy blessing whatever is undertaken in the furtherance of the glory of thy kingdom, and the prosperity of mankind, those whom Thou didst create in thy image, in thy divine likeness. Full often, however, does our mind wander after the things that are not good, and we are allured after the imaginings of our heart, and the unhallowed desires of our eyes; let us, therefore, pray Thee to implant deeply within us the perception of the beauties of thy religion, that we may at once crush the tempter when he rises up in rebellion, against thy will, and to overcome successfully the opportunities to sin which our heedlessness so often seeks in the vain fancy that we of ourselves are able to overcome iniquity and to pursue what is good. But it is Thou only who givest us light, it is thy law only which can guide us securely; let us then feel the truth and force of thy revelation, that we may follow Thee in all Thou biddest us to do, and that we may feel our entire dependence on thy blessing and instruction, as did our fathers when they stood affrighted at thy glory on the day of the gathering at Horeb, when Thos camest to institute them as thy people, and to teach them thy Wisdom and knowledge. Amen!
After the ten commandments had been proclaimed in the hearing of the whole people of Israel, they started back from the presence of the great glory that blazed on Sinai, and they stood afar off. It was then that the prophet assured them of their safety, for that only to prove their innermost soul, and to render them permanent servants of the Lord had He come, in order that his fear might be upon their faces, so that they might not sin. And in conformity with this assurance on the part of the prophet, did God himself address through him the people, as follows:
אתם ראים כי מן השמים דברתי עמכם: לא תעשון אתי אלהי כסף ואלהי זהב לא תעשו לכם: שמות כ' י"ט כ':
“You yourselves have seen that from heaven have I spoken with you. You shall not make [aught] with me; gods of silver and gods of gold you shall not make unto yourselves.”—Exod. 20:19, 20.
The divine Majesty had displayed a part of his glory, had proved to mortals that there are joys other than those arising from carnal enjoyments; and had made them experience delights and knowledge differing from any thing before attained by them; and all this was done that they might be convinced that it was the Creator who spoke audibly to their ears, that it was not a mortal being who had made himself heard in their presence; for there were more than two millions, consisting of men, women, and children, descendants of Jacob and the sons of the stranger, who had united themselves to the covenant of God; and still all heard the same words, as all saw the same fire, in the same moment and with one accord, in a manner utterly unattainable were the speaker one like themselves, were the sounds merely the effect of mortal organization. Yea, the fire blazed, and the earth quaked, the mountain shook, and the trumpet was exceedingly loud; every thing was overpowering, crushing with its unheard-of force; and still there arose above the din and roar of the elements, despite of the terror which each one felt for his safety, a clear and distinct voce, which spoke in words ample and clear, “I am the Lord thy God;” no son of man whose power is limited, no one born of woman who is destined to die; but the everlasting one who was from the beginning, before the hills were conceived and before the mountains were brought forth, who is now in the same strength, vigour, and intellect, powerful alone among all that is fleeting, intelligent alone among all that is subject to infirmity and decay, and who will ever be, yea, when this earth shall have worn out in its revolutions in its prescribed orbit, when the stars shall have become dimmed and shorn of their lustre; when nature herself shall have served the purpose of her formation; yea, He who even then, and for ever thereafter, will be the same which He is now, one, alone, great, wise, good, and indivisible. This the people heard, and they felt that no one but the Eternal could thus address them all, could thus remove the veil from every eye, and light up an imperishable fire in their souls; and they stood ready to lend a willing ear to the other precepts which the Most High might prescribe for their guidance. Now observe, brethren, the great distinctness and force of the first commandment, which enjoins us to believe in the existence of the Godhead. There is no laboured definition attempted to say how the Holy One is constituted; it even describes him not as endowed with any of the attributes which are so eminently his own, which so peculiarly render Him the object of our adoration; but we are simply referred to the miracles and power which He had displayed unto ourselves. “I am the Lord thy God who have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” We had been taught by the display of the mercy and greatness of God in Egypt, that He was not only superior to the vanities which our oppressors adored, but that He was unfettered by the powers implanted in the organization of outward matter, which we call, for distinction’s sake, “the laws of nature;” and thus we are merely exhorted to acknowledge the Deity whom our own convictions had forced us to acknowledge as our God; as Moses also said in his song, “ This is my God, and I will glorify Him; the God of my father, and I will extol Him.” Yea, the announcement from Sinai was only a response to the previous conviction of every Israelitish heart; and thus it struck a chord which still vibrates in unison with the current of our life, as the descendents of those ransomed of the Lord, who listened to his voice which gushed forth in awful sublimity from the cloud-capped pinnacle of sacred Horeb. But observe how utterly at variance with the presumed plurality of the godhead, which so many believe to exist, are the words of the Decalogue. The very first word is “I am,” Hebrew אנכי; there is no conceivable construction which can transform it into any idea but a single, individual, sole speaker; the same indeed who before that day, when sending Moses on his mission of redemption, had declared himself to be “I will be the one who I will be;” and “thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel, I WILL BE has sent me unto you.” אהיה שלחני אלכם And why “I will be?” Because at every moment of conceivable time it will be correct to say of God that he will yet be, that there will be no end to his existence, no change in his essence. For were it at all possible that He could cease to be, the appellation “I will be” would not apply to him at the moment. Whereas, He himself told Moses, “This is my name for ever, and this my memorial from generation to generation.” And were it possible that there could be any change in his existence, that He could be endowed with a power at any future period which He did not possess at the beginning, his memorial, or the manner of invoking Him by his adorers, would necessarily change. But how did Moses and the saints of ancient days invoke Him? how was his memorial borne aloft on their pure-inspired lips? Even as the God Eternal, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; and how constituted? as the Adonay Echad, the Eternal, who alone is ONE; as the same, and by the same appellation which He had applied to himself in the multitude of visions with which He blessed his early servants. Farther, we are told: “I am the Lord thy God, I, who have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” Again here is the singular number applied; but one Eternal revealed himself to Abraham, the same and but the one who then spoke on Sinai; and it was but He alone who spoke of our fathers, “Israel is my son, my first born;” and it was therefore but He alone who effected our redemption. Where, we ask, is the possibility of imagining that a combination in the personality of the Godhead is thought of? where the possibility to fix on a single expression which would render it compatible with the sacred text that a delegation of power was is in contemplation, and a change in the saving mercy of God in the range of possibility? Understand well, brethren, that the Bible must be taken as a whole, one entire system of revelation; you cannot wrench one passage from its connexion, and say, “ It teaches this particular doctrine,” when this is in contradiction with other passages; and though there may be some colour of reason for your new discovery at a first sight, depend upon it that you have misconceived, in your eagerness for new things, the spirit, if not the palpable meaning of the text. If, now, you weigh well the few passages just quoted, without going any farther into the long list which can easily be added, they will clearly demonstrate that, as far as the book of Exodus is concerned, it teaches precisely what we find in the book of Genesis, and that the ideas of Adam, Noah, and our own immediate fathers, were precisely the same with those which Moses received in his revelation. This much we can insist upon as uncontrovertibly true, that no one will discover any contradiction in the announcement to Abraham, “I am El Shadday, walk before me and be perfect,” and the first precept of the Decalogue, “I am the Lord thy God:” nor between the promise to Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac,” and the one given to Moses, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God, of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” It is only by impressing in early childhood the mind with views essentially differing from ours, that one can be brought to acquiesce in their correctness; and when this has been done, there will be no difficulty in finding means to reconcile the most emphatic expressions of Scripture to views altogether different from what they ostensibly say;—hence should any one bring up, in his advocacy of foreign principles, reasons professedly drawn from the Bible, you should not be surprised at the startling boldness with which error endeavours to uphold itself; but meet him calmly and dispassionately, with the words which declare that the Lord changes not, that He is as He always was and ever will be, the Lord ONE, the God who created the world, the God who chose Abraham as his servant; the same God who spoke to us on Sinai, in his own majesty, without mediator or messenger; and the same God, at last, who, in his own time, will redeem the world from error, and cause his name to be invoked by all mankind, even as He now is by the sons of Jacob, who have for his glory so long borne the contumely of the world, the hatred of the ungodly.
Let us once more revert to the ideas of the Patriarchs, on the subject the dearest to them, to the propagation of which their lives were devoted; I mean their love for their faith: and how do we find them appealing to the Deity? Evidently in a direct manner, asking of Him the grace and favour which He alone could bestow. Abraham asked of Him to distinguish between the guilty and innocent at the threatened destruction of the cities of the plain, as also when he petitioned for favour towards his son Ishmael. In sending out Eleazer to obtain a wife for his son, he speaks of the God before whom he had walked, and expresses his belief that he would send his angel before him, and enable him to accomplish his mission. Isaac, when he blessed his son, also speaks directly: “And may the God Shadday bless thee.” Jacob only knew the God of his father, and in his name he exhorts his children to obedience, and on Him did he rely for aid in the day of his distress. Let any one show to us in all the passages referring to these favourites of God, that they know any thing of a mediatorial power; that they had any conception of a combination of personages to whom worship is due: and it will then be time enough to discuss whether or not there is a misconception of the terms employed. But as far as known to me, there is not a single phrase in any translation of the Hebrew, much less in the original text itself, which can be tortured into such an assumption; on the contrary, the constant use of the same word, the uniform allusion to the greatness and power of the same eternal sole God, ever reappearing when we could expect it to be mentioned; all absence of mention of an intermediate agent between God and man, whose merits alone, as is alleged, can reconcile us to heaven, must be enough to convince Israelites, at least, that the view under question is anti-Jewish no more than anti-Scriptural, and, what is the same, contrary. to the truth as revealed to us from our heavenly Father; He has made Himself known to us by the mouth of many prophets, as the holy ONE of Israel and his Redeemer; as such He was ever invoked among our assemblies; and, if we at all understand the mission of the sons of Jacob, it is their vocation to uphold this great idea of the plenary power of one Creator and Redeemer, as a beacon to the other nations, that they may ultimately come and seek shelter under the same overshadowing wings of Providence, under which we have found protection from our first institution, as a people until this very hour; and with his blessing we will still continue to bear aloft the banner of our hope, inscribed with the motto of the dying Hebrew, ה' אחד, and in every stage of life, amid storm or sunshine, we will acknowledge none but Him, and invoke alone his name, and bow only to the great and adorable Being who alone stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.
Let us now revert to our text: “You yourselves have seen that from heaven have I spoken with you.” Whatever doubts may have accompanied your witnessing the work of your redemption, whatever fear there may have remained that you were deceived, perhaps, by the occurrence of mere striking coincidences, without their being the especial work of Providence, must now yield to the force of conviction which the public proclamation of the law has had on your understanding. Human agency could not have reached you all at one time; and yet it is but a moment, as it were, since you came to the foot of Sinai; the day on which you had assembled has not yet waned, and behold, everlasting truths have been everlastingly fixed in your very being as Israelites. Other nations are so by the possession of one common country, or one protecting government. But you are rendered one, through the instrumentality of what you have heard; and be this mission then for ever yours, to know me only, your God, in whatever place you may be, in whatever position you may be found; and in whatever place I may permit you to mention my name, there I will come, and there I will bless you. But you must never presume to associate any thing or being in my glory; you have not felt any helping hand in Egypt save my own; therefore you shall not ask favour and protection from any one besides me, since there is no inherent power in any creature, and all existing things are so by my will; I alone know the secrets of the heart, to me alone are revealed the thoughts of all my creatures; do not therefore come to me by means of foreign aid, but at once appeal for protection to my bounty, since this alone is all-sufficient for the whole mass of creatures, from the highest to the lowest. The truth which you have learnt this day is to abide with you for ever; this day you have as a people heard the voice of the Almighty directly speaking to your ears; the evidence of this is in your possession; your eyes saw, your ears heard; never before was such mercy vouchsafed to any people; heed not therefore any overtures which others, professing to speak in my name, may address to you; nought but a similar manifestation can gainsay what has been revealed before you; and as I change not, so be you true and faithful, unwavering and firm to the truth which cannot be changed. Do not even represent the unseen Deity by any arbitrary figure which you may imagine to represent Him to your outward senses; there is no possibility of picturing the ideal greatness of the One who pervades all with his spirit; no precious metal can hallow the unrighteous design, no skill of the sculptor can sanctify the daring rebellion against your King.
This in brief is the explanation which the connexion between the verses of our text seems naturally to require; it bases the acknowledgment of the Deity as the sole sovereign upon what the people had themselves seen and heard; no other argument is appealed to, no other reason is assigned for the faith demanded of them. If, then, we are asked, in our intercourse with the world, to forsake what we have so long guarded, and to join ourselves to the masses who profess to understand the words of the Scripture better than we their first recipients; we will answer, that we have been placed as sentinels over the watchtower of religion, with the double-edged sword of revealed truth in our hands, our quiver filled by the arrows of wisdom, which are drawn from the law. We have been placed upon this custody to time without end, till the day that the Master of our life himself shall come and absolve us from our duty. This He has never yet done; and day follows on day, and year on year, and still we discover the same goodness which guided the world in the beginning; and though the fires of Sinai are now quenched, and its thunders stilled, the effect which they witnessed, the proclamation of the word, is still with us in that holy law which is treasured up in yonder ark. We only ever knew one God and one revelation. For the sake of acknowledging the one, and following the other, the waters of tribulation have often passed over our heads, and nations have leagued together to tear us from our adherence to our sacred trust. But hitherto all their efforts have been in vain, and we assemble as yet at this distant day in many a town, and many a land, to worship the Lord God of Israel, in the manner which He himself was pleased to appoint for us; and the truth, though often assailed, has never yet wanted true and undaunted defenders. Let us then instruct our children and those who are not firm in their devotion to the Lord, to love Him beyond all, and to swear unwavering fealty to the religion which He has proclaimed. There is yet no other god but He; there has arisen no saviour who can shield us from his wrath; He has acquired no attribute which was not his from the beginning: and hence we can admit of no articles of faith which we did not receive when the law was given from Sinai; whilst at the same time the are bound to adhere to all the precepts which we find it in our power to accomplish, and to abstain from whatever the will of our Father has interdicted to us. It matters not whether the deviation be gross idolatry or erroneous ideas of the nature of the Godhead; for we are enjoined in twofold things; “To make nothing as God besides the Holy One, nor to represent him under images of silver and gold.” Hence should the seduction come under whatever guise it may, we are equally bound to reject it, and to abide true, in singleness of faith and unshaken hope, to that standard of excellence which was unfurled before our fathers from the summit of Horeb, and which we have borne as the token of our allegiance ever since, though often sinning against the wisdom which was imparted to us as our heritage. And let us entreat our Father that He will vouchsafe to render us quick in the knowledge of his word, and make us worthy to receive his renewed favour, when his servant, the son of David, shall again raise the divine banner as the signal of our freedom from earthly bondage, and our perpetual adherence to the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
May 29, Sivan 4, 5606.