"And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory."--Exodus 33:18.
THAT WAS A large request to make. He could not have asked for more: "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." Why, it is the greatest petition that man ever asked of God. It seems to me the greatest stretch of faith that I have either heard or read of. It was great faith which made Abraham go into the plain to offer up intercession for a guilty city like Sodom. It was vast faith which enabled Jacob to grasp the angel; it was mighty faith which enabled Elijah to rend the heavens and fetch down rain from skies which had been like brass before; but it appears to me that this prayer contains a greater amount of faith than all the others put together. It is the greatest request that man could make to God: "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." Had he requested a fiery chariot to whirl him up to heaven; had he asked to cleave the water-floods and drown the chivalry of a nation; had he prayed the Almighty to send fire from heaven to consume whole armies, I could have found a parallel to his prayer; but when he offers this petition, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory," he stands alone, a giant among giants; a Colossus even in those days of mighty men. His request surpasses that of any other man: "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." Among the lofty peaks and summits of man's prayers that rise like mountains to the skies, this is the culminating point; this is the highest elevation that faith ever gained: it is the loftiest place to which the great ambition of faith could climb; it is the topmost pillar of all the towering structures that confidence ever piled. I am astonished that Moses himself should have been bold enough to supplicate so wondrous a favor. Surely after he had uttered the desire, his bones must have trembled, his blood curdled in his veins, and his hair must have stood on end. Did he not wonder at himself? Did he not tremble at his own hardihood? We believe that such would have been the case had not the faith which prompted the prayer sustained him in the review of it.
Whence, then, came faith like this? How did Moses obtain so eminent a degree of this virtue? Ah, beloved, it was by communion with God. Had he not been for forty days in the council-chamber with his God? Had he not tarried in the secret pavilion of burning fire? Had not Jehovah spoken to him as a man speaketh with his friend, he would not have had courage enough to ask so large a boon. Yea, more, I doubt whether all this communion would have been sufficient if he had not also received a fresh testimony to the grace of God, in sparing a nation through his intercession. Moses had argued with God, he had pleaded the covenant, and although God had said, "Let me alone that I may destroy them," he had still maintained his hold; he had even ventured to say, "If not, blot my name out of the book of life," let me die as well as the rest; he had wrestled hard with justice, and had prevailed. The strength gained by this victory, joined with his former communion with the Lord, made him mighty in prayer; but had he not received grace by these means, I think the petition was too large even for Moses to venture to carry to the throne. Would you, my brethren, have like faith, then walk in the same path. Be much in secret prayer. Hold constant fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ; so shall you soar aloft on wings of confidence, so shall you also open your mouth wide and have it filled with divine favors, and if you do not offer the same request, yet you may have equal faith to that which bade Moses say, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory."
Allow me to refer you to the 13th verse of this chapter, where Moses speaks unto his God--"Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way." Moses asked a less favor before he requested the greater. He asked to see God's way before he prayed to see his glory. Mark you, my friends, this is the true mode of prayer. Rest not content with past answers, but double your request and go again. Look upon your past petitions as the small end of the wedge opening the way for larger ones. The best way to repay God, and the way he loves best, is to take and ask him ten times as much each time. Nothing pleases God so much as when a sinner comes again very soon with twice as large a petition--"Lord thou didst hear me last time, and now I am come again." Faith is a mighty grace, and always grows upon that which it feeds. When God has heard prayer for one thing, faith comes and asks for two things, and when God has given those two things, faith asks for six. Faith can scale the walls of heaven. She is a giant grace. She takes mountains by their roots, and puts them on other mountains, and so climbs to the throne in confidence with large petitions, knowing that she shall not be refused. We are most of us too slow to go to God. We are not like the beggars who come to the door twenty times if you do not give them anything. But if we have been heard once, we go away, instead of coming time after time, and each time with a larger prayer. Make your petitions longer and longer. Ask for ten, and if God gives them, then for a thousand, and keep going on until at last you will positively get faith enough to ask, if it were proper, as great a favor as Moses did--"I beseech thee, show me thy glory."
Now, my friends, we have just spoken a word or two on the prayer itself; we shall have to see how it was received at the throne. It was answered, first, by a gracious manifestation; secondly, by a gracious concealment; and, thirdly, by a gracious shielding.
I. First of all this prayer which Moses offered was heard by God, and he gave him A GRACIOUS MANIFESTATION: "And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee; and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
I think that, when Moses put up this prayer to God, he was very much like Peter, when, on the mountain top, he wist not what he said. I do think that Moses himself hardly understood the petition that he offered to God. With all the clearness of his ideas; however pure his conception of the divinity might be, I do think that even Moses himself had not adequate views of the Godhead. He did not then know so much of God as he now has learned where he stands before the throne of the Most High. I believe that Moses knew that God is a Spirit. I think he must have been sensible that the mind of man can never conceive an idea of the incomprehensible Jehovah. He must have learned that the God of Mount Sinai, the King whose feet glowed like a furnace, and made the mountain smoke, could never be grasped by the senses of a mortal. Yet it is likely with all this knowledge, the great lawgiver had a vague and indistinct idea that it might be possible for divinity to be seen. My friends, it is hard for creatures encumbered with flesh and blood to gain a just conception of a spirit. We are so linked with the material, that the spiritual is above our reach. Surely then, if a mere spirit is above our comprehension, much more "the Father of Spirits, the Eternal, Immortal, Invisible."
The poet sings most truly--
"The more of wonderful Is heard in him, the more we should assent. Could we conceive him, God he could not be; Or he not God, or we could not be men. A God alone can comprehend a God."
These eyes are but organs to convey to me the knowledge of material substances; they can not discern spirits; it is not their duty; it is beyond their province. Purer than celestial ether of the most refined nature; subtler than the secret power of electricity; infinitely above the most rarified forms of matter is the existence we call a spirit. As well might we expect to bind the winds with cords, or smite them with a sword, as to behold spirits with eyes which were only made to see gross solid materialism.
We find that Moses saw no similitude; no form passed before him. He had an audience; he had a vision; but it was an audience from behind a covering, and a vision, not of a person, but an attribute. Behold then the scene. There stands Moses about to be honored with visions of God. The Lord is about to answer thee. O Moses, God is come. Dost thou not tremble; do not thy knees knock together; are not thy bones loosened; are not thy sinews broken? Canst thou bear the thought of God coming to thee? O, I can picture Moses as he stood in that cleft of the rock with the hand of God before his eyes, and I can see him look as man never looked before, confident in faith, yet more than confounded at himself that he could have asked such a petition.
Now, what attribute is God about to show to Moses? His petition is, "Show me thy glory." Will he show him his justice? Will he show him his holiness? Will he show his wrath? Will he show him his power? Will he break yon cedar and show him he is almighty? Will he rend yonder mountain and show him that he can be angry? Will he bring his sins to remembrance, and show that he is omniscient? No; hear the still small voice--"I will make all my goodness pass before thee." Ah! the goodness of God is God's glory. God's greatest glory is that he is good. The brightest gem in the crown of God is his goodness. "I will make all my goodness pass before thee." There is a panorama such as time would not be long enough for you to see.
Consider the goodness of God in creation. Who could ever tell all God's goodness there? Why, every creek that runs up into the shore is full of it where the fry dance in the water. Why, every tree and every forest rings with it; where the feathered songsters sit and make their wings quiver with delight and ecstasy. Why, every atom of this air, which is dense with animalculae, is full of God's goodness. The cattle on a thousand hills he feeds; the ravens come and peck their food from his liberal hands. The fishes leap out of their element, and he supplies them; every insect is nourished by him. The lion roars in the forest for his prey, and he sendeth it to him. Ten thousand thousand creatures are all fed by him. Can you tell, then, what God's goodness is? If you knew all the myriad works of God, would your life be long enough to make all God's creative goodness pass before you?
Then think of his goodness to the children of men. Think how many of our race have come into this world and died. We are of yesterday, and we know nothing. Man is as a flower; he lives, he dies; he is the infant of a day, and he is gone to-morrow, but yet the Lord doth not forget him. O, my God! if thou shouldst make all thy goodness pass before me--all thy goodness to the children of men--I must sit me down on an adamantine rock forever and look throughout eternity; I should wear these eyes out, and must have eyes of fire, or else I should never be able to see all thy goodness toward the sons of men.
But then rise higher still, and think of his sovereign goodness toward his chosen people. O, my soul, go thou back into eternity and see thy name in God's book of predestinating, unchanging grace! And then come down to the time of redemption, and see there thy Saviour bleeding and agonizing. O my soul, there were drops of goodness before, but O, rivers of goodness roll before thee now! When thou sawest the Son of God groaning, agonizing, shrieking, dying, buried in his grave, and then rising again, thou sawest the goodness of God. "I will make all my goodness pass before thee." I say again, what a panorama! What a series of dissolving views! What sight upon sight, each one melting into the other! Could I stand here this morning, and borrow the eloquence of an angel; could I speak to you as I might wish--but, alas! I cannot break these bonds that hold my stammering tongue--could I loose these lips and speak as angels speak, then could I tell you something, but not much, of the goodness of God; for it is "past finding out." Since I cannot utter it myself, I would invoke all creation to be vocal in his praise. Ye hills, lift up your voices; let the shaggy woods upon your summits wave with adoration. Ye valleys, fill the air with the bleatings of your sheep and the lowing of your cattle. Ye that have life, if ye have voices, tune his praise; and if ye walk in silence, let your joyful motions show the thanks ye cannot speak. O, ye trees of the field, clap your hands; ye winds, in solemn harmony chant to his glory. Thou ocean, with thy myriad waves, in all thy solemn pomp, thy motion to and fro, forget not him who bids a thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain, and write no furrow on thy ever youthful brow. And you, ye storms, howl out his greatness; let your thunders roll like drums in the march of the God of armies; let your lightnings write his name in fire upon the midnight darkness; let the illimitable void of space become one mouth for song; and let the unnavigated ether, through its shoreless depths, bear through the infinite remote the name of him who is ever good and doeth good.
I can say no more concerning God's goodness. But this is not all that Moses saw. If you look to the words which follow my text, you will see that God said, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee;" but there was something more. No one attribute of God sets God out to perfection; there must always be another. He said, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will snow mercy," there is another attribute of God. There is his sovereignty. God's goodness without his sovereignty does not completely set forth his nature. I think of the man who, when he was dying, called me to see him. He said, "I am going to heaven." "Well," I replied. "what makes you think you are going there, for you never thought of it before?" Said he, "God is good." "Yes." I answered. "but God is just." "No," said he, "God is merciful and good." Now that poor creature was dying, and being lost forever; for he had not a right conception of God. He had only one idea of God, that God is good; but that is not enough. If you only see one attribute you only have half a God. God is good, and he is a sovereign, and doeth what he pleases; and though good to all in the sense of benevolence, he is not obliged to be good to any. "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
Do not you be alarmed, my friends, because I am going to preach about sovereignty. I know some people, when they hear about sovereignty, say, "O, we are going to have some terrible high doctrine." Well, if it is in the Bible, that is enough for you. Is not that all you want to know? If God says, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy," it is not for you to say it is high doctrine. Who told you it was high doctrine? It is good doctrine. What right have you to call one doctrine high and one low? Would you like me to have a Bible with "H" against high, and "L" against low, so that I could leave the high doctrine out and please you? My Bible has no mark of that kind; it says, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." There is divine sovereignty. I believe some are afraid to say any thing about this great doctrine lest they should offend some of their people; but. my friends, it is true, and you shall hear it. God is a sovereign. He was a sovereign ere he made this world. He lived alone, and this was in his mind: Shall I make any thing or shall I not? I have a right to make creatures or not to make any. He resolved that he would fashion a world. When he made it, he had a right to form the world in what shape and size he pleased; and he had a right, if he chose, to leave the globe untenanted by a single creature. When he had resolved to make man, he had a right to make him whatever kind of creature he liked. If he wished to make him a worm or a serpent, he had a right to do it. When he made him. he had a right to put any command on him that he pleased; and God had a right to say to Adam. Thou shalt not touch that forbidden tree. And when Adam offended, God had a right to punish him and all the race forever in the bottomless pit.
God is so far sovereign, that he has a right, if he likes, to save any one in this chapel, or to crush all who are here. He has a right to take us all to heaven if he pleases, or to destroy us. He has a right to do just as he pleases with us. We are as much in his hands as prisoners in the hands of her majesty when they are condemned for a capital offense against the law of the land; yea, as much as clay in the hands of the potter. This is what he asserted, when he said, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy." This stirs up your carnal pride, does it not? Men want to be somebody. They do not like to lie down before God, and have it preached to them that God can do just as he wills with them. Ah! you may hate it, but it is what the Scripture tells us. Surely it is self-evident that God may do as he will with his own. We all like to do what we will with our own property. God has said, that if you go to his throne he will hear you; but he has a right not to do it if he likes. He has a right to do just as he pleases. If he chooses to let you go on in the error of your ways, that is his right; and if he says, as he does, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," it is his right to do so. That is the high and awful doctrine of DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY.
Put the two together, goodness and sovereignty, and you see God's glory. If you take sovereignty alone, you will not understand God. Some people only have an idea of God's sovereignty, and not of his goodness; such are usually gloomy, harsh, and ill-humored. You must put the two together; that God is good, and that God is a sovereign. You must speak of sovereign grace. God is not grace alone, he is sovereign grace. He is not sovereign alone, but he is graciously sovereign. That is the best idea of God. When Moses said, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory," God made him see that he was glorious, and that his glory was his sovereign goodness. Surely, beloved, we cannot be wrong in loving the doctrine of free, unmerited, distinguishing grace, when we see it thus mentioned as the brightest jewel in the crown of our covenant God. Do not be afraid of election and sovereignty. The time is come when our ministers must tell us more about them; or, if not, our souls will be so lean and starved that we shall mutiny for the bread of life. O, may God send us more thorough gospel men who will preach sovereign grace as the glory of the gospel.
II. The second point is--there was A GRACIOUS CONCEALMENT.
Read the next verse. "He said, thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me and live." There was a gracious concealment. There was as much grace in that concealment as there was in the manifestation. Mark you, beloved, when God does not tell us any thing, there is as much grace in his withholding it as there is in any of his revelations. Did you ever hear or read the sentiment, that there is as much to be learned from what is not in the Bible, as from what there is in the Bible? Some people read the Scriptures, and they say, "I wish I knew so-and-so." Now you ought not to wish such a thing; for if it was good for you, it would be there; and there is as much grace in what God has not put in the Bible, as in what he has put there. If he had put more in it, it would have been our destruction. There is just enough and no more. Do you know how Robert of Normandy lost his sight? His brother passed a red-hot copper bowl before his face, and burned the eyes out of their sockets; and there are some doctrines that men want to know, which, if they could understand them, it would be like passing a red-hot bowl before their eyes. They would scorch men's eyes out, and their understandings would be completely crushed. We have seen this in some ministers, who have studied so much that they have gone out of their minds. They have gone further than they ought to have ventured. There is a point to which we may go, and no further; and happy is the man who goes as near to it as possible without overstepping it. God said to Moses--"Thou canst not see my face and live." There are two senses in which this is true. No man can see God's face as a sinner; and no man can see God's face even as a saint.
First, no man can see God's face as a sinner. There comes a wretch before the throne of God. God has spread his books, and set his seat of judgment. There comes a man before the throne of God. Look at him! He is wearing a robe of his own righteousness. "Wretch, how comest thou in hither?" And the creature tries to look at God; he cries that he may live! But, no! God saith, "he cannot see my face and live." Thus saith the Judge. "Executioners of my vengeance, come forth!" Angels come with crowns on their brows; they grasp their swords and stand ready--"Bind him hand and foot; cast him into the lake that burneth." The wretch is cast away into the fire of hell. He sees written in letters of fire--"No man can see my face and live." Clothed in his own righteousness, he must perish.
Then, again, it is true that no man, even as a saint, can see God's face and live; not because of moral disability, but because of physical inability. The body is not strong enough to bear the sight or vision of God. I cannot tell whether even the saints in heaven see God. God dwells among them; but I do not know whether they ever behold him. That is a speculation. We can leave that till we get there. We will decide it when we get to heaven. I hardly know whether finite beings when immortalized would be capable of seeing God. This much is certain--that on earth, no man, however holy, can ever see God's face, and yet live. Why, Manoah, when he saw an angel, thought he should die. He said--"I have seen an angel of the Lord; I shall die." If you and I were to meet an angel, or a troop of angels, as Jacob did at Mahanaim, we should say--"We shall die." The blaze of splendor would overwhelm us. We could not endure it. We "cannot see God and live." All that we can ever see of God, is what Moses called his "back parts." The words, I think, signify "regal train." You have seen kings have trains hanging behind them; and all that we can ever see of God is his train that floats behind. Yon sun that burns in the heavens with all his effulgence, you think he is bright; you look upon him, and he dazzles you; but all his splendor is but a single thread in the regal skirts of the robe of Deity. You have seen night wrapped in her sable mantle woven with gems and stars--there they shine as ornaments worked by the needle of God in that brilliant piece of tapestry which is spread over our heads, like a tent for the inhabitants of the earth to dwell in: you have said, "O! how majestic! That star, that comet, that silver moon, How splendid!" They are nothing, but just a tiny portion of the skirts of God that drag in the dust. But what are the shoulders--what the girdle of divinity--what the bracelets of Godhead--what the crown that girdles his lofty brow, man cannot conceive; I could imagine that all the stars and constellations of stars might be put together and threaded into a string--made into a bracelet for the arm, or a ring for the finger of Jehovah--but I cannot conceive what God is himself. All I can ever learn--all that the thunder ever spake--all that the boistrous ocean ever could teach me--all that the heaven above, or the earth beneath can ever open to my mind, is nothing but the "back parts" of God. I can never see; nor can I understand what he is.
III. Now, beloved, we go to the third point; and that is THE GRACIOUS SHIELDING.
Moses had to be put in the cleft of a rock before he could see God. There was a rock in the wilderness once; Moses smote it, and water gushed out. The apostle tells us "that Rock was Christ." Very well, Paul, I believe it was. There is another thing I believe--I believe this rock was Christ. I know it was not Christ literally; but Moses stood on a literal rock. Moses stood on the top of a high mountain, hidden in the cleft of a real rock. But, O, my soul, what is the cleft of the rock where thou must stand; if thou wouldst ever see God's face and live. O, it is the "Rock of ages cleft for me," where I must hide my head! O, what a cleaving that was when Jesus died! O, my soul, enter into the hole in Jesus' side. That is the cleft of the rock where thou must abide and see God.
"Till God in human flesh I see, My thoughts no comfort find; The holy, just, and sacred Three, Are terrors to my mind."
But when I get into the cleft of that rock, O, my soul, when I get into that cleft whose massive roof is the well ordered everlasting covenant, whose solid golden floor is made of the solemn decrees of the predestination of the Most High; and whose sides are called Jachin and Boaz, that is establishment and strength, a cleft in a rock which is so enduring that time can never dissolve it. Precious Christ! may I be found in thee amid the concussion of the elements when the world shall melt away, and the heavens shall be dissolved! O, may I stand in thee, thou precious cleft of the Rock; thou art all-in-all to my soul.
Some of you, I know, are in that cleft of the Rock. But let me ask others, where are you? Let it be a personal question. I have preached a long while about God; I have tried to mount the height of this great argument and speak of the wondrous things of God. I may have failed, but let me say to each of you--Are you in that cleft of the rock? Can you sing this--
"Jesus, thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress; 'Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head."
In closing, I want one practical inference, and what shall it be? Draw it yourselves. Let it be this--there is an hour coming, when we must all, in a certain sense, see God. We must see him as a Judge. It becomes us, then, to think seriously whether we shall stand in the cleft of the Rock when he comes. There is a passage we would mention before closing--"I saw death on a pale horse, and hell followed him." There was death on the pale horse; and the original says--"hades followed him." You know the word hades comprises both heaven and hell. It means the state of spirits. Yes, death is after me and thee. Ah, run! run! run! but run as thou wilt, the rider on the white horse shall overtake thee. If thou canst escape him seventy years, he will overtake thee at last. Death is riding! Here his horse comes--I hear his snortings, I feel his hot breath; he comes! he comes! and thou must die! BUT, WICKED MAN, WHAT COMES AFTERWARDS? Will it be heaven or hell? O, if it be hell that is after thee, where art thou when thou art cast away from God? Ah, I pray God deliver you from hell; he is coming after you, sure enough; and if you have no hiding-place. woe unto you. See you that cleft in the rock, see that cross, see that blood. There is security, and only there. Thy works are but a useless incumbrance; cast them away, and with all thy might flee to the mountain with
"Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling."
Yea, more than this, you will need divine aid, even in coming to Christ--
"O, for this no strength have I, My strength is at thy feet to lie."
But, poor helpless one, if thou art but hidden in Christ. all is secure. Storms may arise, but you cannot be overwhelmed; old Boreas may blow until his cheeks do burst, but not a breath of wind can injure you; for in the cleft of the Rock you shall be hidden until the vengeance is overpast.
* This subject is further discussed in the following Sermons by Mr. Spurgeon:--The New Park Street Pulpit, No. 77, "Divine Sovereignty;" and Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 442, "God's Will and Man's Will;" and No. 553, "Election no Discouragement to Seeking Souls."