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to have little with a devout spirit, than abundance, and "leanness of soul withal." God shewed that it was not from any want of power that he did not feed them every day with flesh; but because he knew that it would be productive of no good to their souls. Think not that it is from any want of love or power that he suffers you to be tried in a variety of ways. He could easily carry you on without any trials, and give you all that the most carnal heart could desire. But trials are the
fruits of his love: he desires to instruct you in every part of your duty; that you may "know both how to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." "Learn then in every thing to be content," and to say from your hearts in all things, "Not my will, but thine be done."]
3. Expect from God all that is truly good for you
[Moses himself staggered at the promise, when God said, that all the people should feed on flesh for a whole month': but God said to him, "Is the Lord's hand waxed short? Thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or notm." His promises to us also are "exceeding great and precious," both in relation to our bodies and our souls Let us never presume to "limit the Holy One of Israel," as though any thing which he has promised, were either too great, or too good, for him to give. The trials which he sends us, are often sent on purpose that we may see the exceeding riches of his grace in our deliverance. For temporal things, let us depend entirely on his good providence; and for spiritual things, on his all-sufficient grace. In Christ Jesus there is a fulness of all that we can want; and "out of his fulness we may all receive" from day to day1 ver. 21, 22.
m ver. 23.
GOD'S WORD sure.
Numb. xi. 23. And the Lord said unto Moses, Is the Lord's hand waxed short? Thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee, or not.
IN reading the history of the Israelites, we cannot fail of being struck with the wonderful display of God's patience and forbearance towards them. No displays of love and mercy on his part would satisfy them. They were always murmuring, and wishing that they had never come out of Egypt at all. It was a small matter in their eyes that they were supplied with manna from the clouds from day to day:
they must have flesh to eat; and so intense was their desire after that gratification, that they actually wept before God, whole families of them, throughout the camp, saying, "Give us flesh, that we may eat." Nor was Moses himself blameless in this matter: for though he did not in the least participate with them in their inordinate desire for meat, he questioned God's power to give them meat and it was this unbelief of his which brought forth from Jehovah the reproof which we have just read, and which will be the subject of our present discourse.
In this reproof we see,
I. The evil of unbelief
It is the most common of all evils
[It pervades the whole human race. It is found in the godly, no less than in the ungodly. Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, was by no means free from it. Repeatedly did he desire his wife to deny her relation to him as a wife, and to call herself his sister, lest persons, captivated with her beauty, should kill him for the sake of obtaining an undisturbed possession of her; thus betraying his fears, that God was either not able to protect him, or not sufficiently interested in his welfare to watch over him. And Moses, on the occasion before us, was evidently under the power of unbelief. Some, indeed, would understand his reply to God as a mere question, and a desire to be informed whether the flesh which he would give should be that of beasts or fishes: but then the answer would have corresponded with it, and would merely have informed him that it was not the flesh of beasts or of fishes that he would supply in such abundance, but the flesh of birds. But Moses' question was evidently founded on the magnitude of the supply which God had promised. He had declared, that the whole people of Israel, not less than two millions in number, should be supplied with it, "not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but even a whole month, until it should come out at their nostrils, and be loathsome unto them." To that, Moses in a way of unbelief, asks, How, when the fighting men alone amounted to six hundred thousand men, should they all be so fed as "to suffice them," (twice is that idea suggested,) and that "for the space of a whole month?" And God's answer to him clearly shews, that it was unbelief that was here reproved: "Is the Lord's hand waxed short?" Thou hast
seen how easily I brought frogs and locusts upon the land of Egypt; and am I less able to supply flesh of any kind that I may see good? "You shall see now (presently) whether my word shall come to pass, or not."
When we see persons so eminent for the grace of faith as Abraham and Moses, yet giving way to unbelief, we need scarcely adduce any further proof of the universal prevalence of this evil. It exists, indeed, in very different degrees in men, being in some only occasional, whilst in others it is the entire habit of their minds: but there is not a man under the whole heavens who has not reason to mourn over the workings of this corruption, when he is brought into circumstances to call it forth. From other evils many persons may be accounted nearly free: but this works equally in men of every class, and every age.]
It is also the most specious of all evils- ́
[No one will avow a doubt of God's power to effect whatsoever he shall please: his pretext will be, that he cannot conceive how God should condescend to shew such extraordinary favour to one so insignificant and worthless as himself. But God himself never puts this construction upon it: he always regards it as a denial of his perfections, and resents it in that view. We have a remarkable instance of this in Ahaz. God told him, by the prophet, to "ask a sign of him, either in the depth or in the height above." But Ahaz, wishing to hide his unbelief, pretended that this was too great an honour for him, and that therefore he could not presume to ask any such thing: "Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord." But was this construction admitted on God's part? No: He viewed the evil as it really was, and not as it was glossed over by this self-deluded monarch; and therefore, with just indignation, he replied, by his prophet, "Hear ye now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?" So, whatever we may imagine, a want of entire confidence in God, whatever be the circumstances under which we are placed, will appear in its true colours before God, and be condemned by him as unbelief.]
It is, moreover, the most offensive of all evils
[There is no grace so highly honoured of God, as faith; nor any evil so reprobated by him, as unbelief. Other evils are acts of rebellion against his authority; but this rises against every one of his perfections. It doubts his wisdom, his power, his goodness, his love, his mercy; yea, it questions even his veracity; and reduces the infinite Jehovah to a level with his own creatures; insomuch that Balaam, when checking
c Isai. vii. 10—13.
the vain hopes of the king of Moab, could find no language more appropriate than this: "God is not a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" What an indignity he considers it, is plain from his very answer to Moses: "Is the hand of the Lord waxed short? Thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass or not." This is no slight rebuke: it is similar to that which he gave to Sarah, when she doubted whether she should ever bear to Abraham the promised child: "Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the Lorde?" How Zacharias was reproved for his unbelief in the temple, you well know. And amongst all the provocations which the Israelites committed in the wilderness, this was the one which God laid most to heart: "How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back, and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel: they remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy"."]
Finally, it is the most fatal of all evils
[Other evils, if we come to God in the exercise of faith, may be forgiven: but this evil, whilst it is yet dominant in the soul, precludes a possibility of forgiveness; because it keeps us from God, to whom we ought to come; and puts away from us that mercy which he offers to bestow. The whole adult population of Israel perished in the wilderness. What was it that prevented their entrance into Canaan? We are told, "They could not enter in because of unbelief." And what is it which, under the Gospel also, is the great damning sin? it is this: "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned."]
Whilst the answer of God to Moses reproves this evil, it points out to us,
II. Its proper antidote
To prevent its ever gaining an ascendant over us, we should,
1. Reflect on God's power as already exercised
[Had Moses only called to mind the wonders which God had already wrought for his people, he would not have "staggered at the promise" that was now given. Nor shall we doubt the certainty of any promise whatever, if we bear in e Gen. xviii. 12, 13. f Luke i. 20. h Heb. iii. 18. i Mark xvi. 15, 16.
d Numb. xxiii. 19. Ps. lxxviii. 40-42.
remembrance what God has already done. It is for this end that God himself refers us to all his wonders of creation, providence, and redemption. Of Creation, he speaks thus: "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding." So, in reference to his Providence: "Wherefore, when I came, was there no man; when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke, I dry up the sea; I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering!." So also respecting Redemption, St. Paul expressly tells us that God's particular design, in converting and saving him, was, to shew to all future generations his power to save, and to cut off all occasion for despondency from the whole world: "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first (in me, the chief of sinners) God might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." It is in this view that the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is of such infinite benefit to the soul for when we see what God has already done, it is almost impossible to doubt his power to effect whatever in his mercy he has promised to us.]
2. Reflect on his veracity, as unalterably pledged
[When did God ever violate his engagements? His word has been pledged for many things; and has been questioned of mankind: but when did he abstain from fulfilling it? He said to our first parents in Paradise, "In the day that ye eat of the forbidden tree, ye shall die." No, says the tempter, "Ye shall not surely die." But whose word proved true? Satan's? or the Lord's? Again, to the antediluvians, God said that he would destroy by water every living creature, except what should be contained in the ark. During the building of the ark, the scoffers were lavish enough of contempt. But did God's word fail, either in relation to those who were to be saved, or to those who were doomed to perish? The destruction of Sodom, the captivities of Israel and Judah, the sending of the Messiah, the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom in the world, furnished plenty of matter for doubt, before they were accomplished: but they all came to pass in their season, according to the word of God. For the
k Isai. xl. 27, 28.
1 Isai. 1. 2,
m 1 Tim. i. 16.