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HISTORY OF MOSES.
DEUTERONOMY XXXIV. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah unto the utmost sea, and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm-trees, unto Zoar. And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried hin in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-Peor : but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.
When strangers accidentally meet to perform together the same voyage or journey, they are apt, at first to regard each other with looks of caution and distrust; they converse sparingly, and with reserve; they conceal their views and purposes in their own breasts; they attempt to dive into the characters and designs of their fellow-travellers. By degrees this suspicious cautiousness wears off; it becomes their mutual desire and endeavour to please and oblige, they feel themselves united by a common interest, their communications become frequent and free, they discover all that is in their hearts, they take a kind concern in each other's future fortunes, they exchange tokens of affection, they devise the means of coming together again, and part at length with regret. We seem, my brethren, to have been travelling through a vast country ; seem to have been conversing with men of a different age and region ; we have contemplated many a fair prospect, we have marked many successive changes, and, at the end of another stage or two, we must separate, and bid each other farewell. Like men acquainted and friendly, who know each other's meaning and wish each other's happiness, we look back to our common pilgrimage with some degree of satisfaction, and forward, I trust, with some degree of desire to meet together again. The mutual token which, in the mean time, we shall carry with us to stir up our minds by way of remembrance, is one that touches the heart by more than one spring, the memory of a dear and estimable common friend, who has contributed much to our pleasure and improvement, who was lovely and pleasant in life, and in death fills the soul with admiration and regret : but whom we have the felicity of considering as having only preceded, us a little in a journey, on which we too have already entered, and the end of which will bring us to the same home with him.
The pen has now dropt from the hand of Moses, and silent is his tongue ; and another, not himself, must tell us what he is and how he died. Every scene in the life of this illustrious man is singular, and instructive as singular; and his latter end is not the least interesting and useful. He had now completed his one hundred and twentieth year, without having become subject to the usual infirmities of that advanced age. It is one thing to live long, and another to be old. We frequently see old age commenced by many woful symptoms, long before the man has begun to live at all: and we sometimes see the wisdom and piety of grey hairs giving lustre to the bloom of youth, and tempering the vivacity of the morning of life. We wish to live long, but we weakly associate what never met, except in Moses and a favoured few like him, perfect soundness of faculties and the capacity of enjoying life united to length of days and richness of experience. We wish to live long, but fail to reflect on dimness of eyes, decay of memory, wasting of strength, loss of appetite, the neglect or unkindness of friends, and the other concomitants of that forlorn period. We wish to live long but if the days come we find them evil; when these wished-for years draw nigh we are constrained to acknowledge “ we have no pleasure in them.” The few, the very few exceptions the history of mankind furnishes, from the general rule, serve only the more grievously to confirm it. Happy would it be for old men, however, happy for themselves, and most happy for others, though they cannot retain at pleasure the clearsightedness and vigour of Moses, did they cultivate as they ought, and acquire as they might, something of his meekness, and gentleness, and condescension ; they would not have such frequent reason to complain of the pretulance, self-sufficiency and presumption of young men, if they themselves would learn to be less peevish' and obstinate and overbearing. For, bad as the world is, age will obtain respect, unless it take pains to provoke insult and disrespect.
The death of Moses, then, was not in the ordinary course of nature, it was pot preceded by its usual harbingers, it was not occasioned by a failure of the radical moisture, by the stroke of violence, or the malignity of disease, but by a simple act of the will of God. Wherefore, then, “ should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead ?" When we see the antediluvian patriarchs living to one thousand years, the eye of Moses at one hundred and twenty not dim, nor his natural force abated, and “ Christ, the first fruits,” bursting asunder the bars of the grave; have we not so many concurring presumptions and proofs of immortality and the resurrection. And what must be the angelic beauty, the celestial vigour, the undecaying lastre and glory of bodies “ fashioned like to Christ's glorious body," when we see the face of Moses shine, that it could not be steadfastly looked at, and preserving to life's extremity the morning dew of youth? The honour put on Moses was rare and singular, but the glory to be revealed is a blessedness of which all the redeemed of the Lord shall partake.
When the summons arrived for Aaron to prepare for death, Moses, his brother, and Eleazer, his son and successor, were commanded to ascend the mountain with him, and to assist in the solemnities of the awful change : but Moses advances alone to meet death, to meet his God. The holy vestments, with the office to which they appertained, descended from father to son, and were at length done away altogether and lost; but the moral and spiritual parts of the dispensation never waxed old, could not see corruption, but like God, their author, were unchangeable ; and like Moses, by whom they were delivered to the world, unenfeebled by length of time, continued till Christ, the restorer of all things, interwove them with the tissue of the gospel, and conferred immortality upon them.
- We must now look back to the sentence of death pronounced against Moses, and to the crime which provoked the irreversible doom : " And the Lord spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying, Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho ; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the
children of Israel for a possession, and die in the mount whither thou goest up; and be gathered unto thy people ; as Aaron thy brother died in Mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people : because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of øleribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel. Yet thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel."*
*** Here many things concur to surprise and instruct us. The offence of Moses seems a venial one; he erred merely through hastiness of spirit; and had he not good cause to be angry? He was not often so overtaken, he quickly repented, and, recovered tranquillity and self-government again. He repeatedly attempted to soften justice by submission and entreaty; he asked for nothing unreasonable or absurd : he wished merely to be a witness of the divine bounty, truth and faithfulness ; infinitely greater offenders had at his eptreaty been forgiven and restored. But justice relented not, Moses for one offence must die; the grace which he often obtained for others is to himself denied. Let the wretch loaded with a thousand crimes black as hell, and malignant as the spirit that reigns in the children of disobedience, think of this and tremble. That “ fool makes a mock of sin.” “Father, forgive him he knows not what he does.” One transgression excluded Moses from Canaan; and with so many imperfections on his head, loaded with so many crimes of a nature so vile and atrocious, can he think of entering into the kingdom of heaven ? When we see such inflexible and unrelenting severity pursuing the dearest and most distinguished of God's children, who shall dare to think or to call any sin a little one? Who shall presume on mercy, who shall dream of washing away his guilt by the tears of penitence, who shall harden himself against God and hope to prosper? The great crime in the sight of God is, giving that glory to another which belongeth to him. For this Moses died without remedy, from the consequence of this he could not escape, though he sought it carefully and with tears.
The character of Moses comes near to perfection, but it is not faultless ; he too, with the guiltiest, stand in need of pardon and atonement; and when "righteousness is laid to the line and judgement to the plummet," bis life must pay the forfeit. Moses therefore could not be a saviour to others; had his conduct been perfectly pure, it had been still but the righteousness of a man, it could but have delivered his own soul, it could have merited nothing at the hands of a holy God. In order to constitute a saviour for the guilty, to unspotted purity of moral character must be superadded divinity of nature, to give efficacy and virtue to suffering, and value to the shedding of blood. Thus the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did ; “and what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”+ We flee to thee, blessed Jesus, to cover us in the day of wrath ; thy blood cleanseth from all sin ; by the deeds of the law we cannot be justified, we look for redemption from the curse, through thy meritorious death and righteousness, " for the forgiveness of all our sins, according to the riches of thy grace.”
But though death was to Moses a mark of the divine displeasure, and the punishment of sin ; like all the chastenings of fatherly wisdom, like all the punishments of Heaven, it was in the issue, and upon the whole, a real benefit, it was unspeakably great gain: it relieved him of a burden sometimes ready to prove intolerable, it introduced bim to communion with God more intimate and endearing than ever he had hitherto enjoyed; it placed him among the
* Deut. xxxii. 48-6,
Rom. vii. 3.
spirits of just men made perfect. Moses died in sight of the promised land, was permitted to measure it with his eye, and to judge of its fertility from specimens of its produce; and all that the labours and light of those who are fellow-workers with Moses can do, is to repeat the promise, to point with the finger and to say, “ This is the way, walk ye in it.” It belongs to another power to subdue corruption, to divide Jordan, to level the walls of proud Jericho.
We know the offence, we have heard the doom, the reprieve is expired, the warrant of death is signed, the day of execution is come. But the bitterness of death is over already, the sting of death is plucked out, and even the word that condemns and kills the body, is a word of love. A worldly mind cannot discern the reason why the cross is the way, why death is in the cup, why the entrance into the kingdom of God is through the thorny road of much tribulation ; but the child of God, the disciple of Jesus, has ceased from himself and from his own will and understanding : “ He knows whom he has believed," and who has said, “ As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten :” he sees death in the list of his privileges and possessions, and is assured that all shall work together for his good.
Moses has fulfilled like a hireling his day, has written, has spoken, has judged, has prayed, has blessed; the business of life is ended; he has glorified God on earth, it only remains that he glorify him, by submission to his sovereign will in dying Behold him then solitarily and solemnly advancing to encounter the last enemy: he has passed through the plain, and again he begins to climb up into the mount to meet God. The eyes of all Israel are riveted to his footsteps. Who is not ready to cry out,
“ Would to God I could die for thee.” Every step he advances plants a dagger in the heart. The distance begins to render vision indistinct, his person is diminished to a speck, they fondly imagine they see him still, the eyes strain for another and another glimpse, they are suffused with tears, they can behold him no more. But he still beholds their goodly tents, he sees all Israel collected into one point of view : Jehovah dwelling in the midst of his people, the tabernacle with the pillar of cloud resting upon it: his affection with his sight is concentered on the happy spot, his whole soul goes out in one general departing blessing. As he ascends, the prospect expands and brightens to his ravished eye. He can trace Jordan from its source, till it falls into the sea ; he wanders with delight from hill to hill, from plain to plain. He sees on this side Mount Lebanon losing its lofty head in the clouds; on that, the ocean and the sky meeting together to terminate his view. Beneath his feet, as it were, the city of palm-trees, and the happy fields which the posterity of Joseph were destined to inhabit. The land which Abraham had measured with his foot in the length and in the breadth of it; in which Isaac and Jacob had sojourned as strangers; which God had fenced, and cultivated, and planted, and enriched by the hand of the Canaanite for his beloved people ; which the sun irradiated with milder beams, the dew of heaven refreshed with sweeter moisture, and the early and the latter rain fattened in more copious showers. " And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed : I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither."*
But what is the glory of this world ? It passeth away. What is the felicity of man, who must die, and of the son of man, who is a worm! It cometh quickly to a period. The eye which age had not made dim, must nevertheless be closed in death at length : the strength which a hundred and twenty years had not been able to impair, is in a moment, by one touch of the finger of God, dissolved; the heart which God and Israel had so long divided, is now wholly occupied with God. In the midst of a vision so divine, Moses gently falls asleep: and he who falls asleep in the bosom of a father, needs be under no anxiety about his awakening." So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord."* Moses died with Canaan full in view, enjoying every thing but possession ; and the utmost that his dispensation can do, is to ascertain the existence of the heavenly country; to describe its boundaries, nature and situation ; to conduct to its limits, and to put us under the conduct of the great Captain of salvation.
* Deut. xxxiv, 4.
When we see the prophet of the law so far from having power to introduce others into their promised rest, that he himself could not enter in because of unbelief; we are admonished to court the protection and assistance of a more potent arm; to cleave to Him, who, by dying, has overcome death, and Him who has the power of death ; " who openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth.”
But oh, what a blessed transition ! from the fairest earthly prospect that eye ever beheld, to the enjoyment of a fairer inheritance, eternal in the heavens ; from the tents of Jacob, to the encampment of angels under Michael their prince: from a glory confined and transitory, to glory unbounded, unchangeable ; from the symbol of the divine presence, in a pillar of fire and cloud, to his real presence, where there is "fulness of joy," and where there are pleasures for evermore ;''t to see him as he is, and to be transformed into the same image, from glory to glory. Behold Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, rushing from their thrones to welcome to the realms of light the shepherd of Israel, who had led the chosen seed from strength to strength, from triumph to triumph, while the voice of the Eternal himself proclaims, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord."
But we must descend from this exceeding high mountain, and inquire after the breathless clay of the servant of the Lord. It is precious in the sight of God; not a particle of it shall be lost in the grave, and it shall be raised up at the last day. In every other instance he leaves the dead to bury their dead; but he charges himself with the body of Moses, performs himself the rites of sepulture, conveys it by the ministration of angels, from the top of Nebo to a tomb of his own providing, “ jn a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor : but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day."I
The reason commonly assigned for concealing the place where Moses was interred, was to prevent a superstitious use of his tomb and relics, which a people so prone io idolatry might readily have adopted, and with as good a colour of reason at least as the votaries of any hero, prince or saint that ever was deified, could ever allege for their conduct. The scripture saith expressly, that, at the time this conclusion of the book of Deuteronomy was written, whether by Joshua, his immediate successor, by Samuel, three hundred and fifty years afterwards, or by Ezra, after the dissolution of the monarchy, and the Babylonish captivity, that then the place of Moses's burial was unknown to any man, and had been so from the beginning; and yet such is the wickedoess of imposture on the one hand, and the fondness of credulity on the other, that so late as the year of our Lord 1655, a pretended discovery of the spot was made, and attempted to be imposed upon the world.
The outlines of the story are as follows: “ Certain shepherds who were feeding their goats on the mountains of Nebo and Abarim, observed that some of their charge were in use to disappear, and were absent for several days together; and that upon their return to the flock, their hair was perfumed with something that smelled extremely sweet. This excited their curiosity and
* Deut. xxxiv. 5. Vol. v.
* Psal. xvi. 11.
Deut. xxxiv, 6.