« PreviousContinue »
have soine benefits ; never so full, as not to want something, yea, as not to be full of wants. God hath much ado with
Either we lack health, or quietness, or children, or wealth, or company, or ourselves in all these. It is a wonder these men found not fault with the want of sauce to their quails, or with their old clothes, or their solitary way. Nature is moderate in her desires; but conceit is unsatiable. Yet who can deny hunger to be a sore vexation ? Before, they were forbidden sour bread; but now, what leaven is so sour as want? When means hold out, it is easy to be content. While their dough, and other cakes lasted, while they were gathering of the dates of Elim, we hear no news of them. Who cannot pray for his daily bread when he hath it in his cupboard? But when our own provision fails us, then not to distrust the provision of God, is a noble trial of faith. They should have said, He that stopt the mouth of the sea, that it could not devour us, can as easily stop the mouth of our stomachs. It was no easier matter to kill the first-born of Egypt, by his immediate hand, than to preserve us. He that commanded the sea to stand still and guard us, can as easily command the earth to nourish us. He that made the rod a serpent, can as well make these stones bread. He that brought armies of frogs and caterpillars to Egypt, can as well bring whole drifts of birds and beasts to the desart. He that sweetened the waters with wood, can as well refresh our bodies with the fruits of the earth. Why do we not wait on him, whom we have found so powerful? Now they set the mercy and love of God upon a wrong last, while they measure it only by their present sense. Nature is jocund and cheerful, while it prospereth : let God withdraw his hand, no sight no trust. Those can praise him with timbrels, for a present favour, that cannot depend upon him in the want of means for a future. We all are never weary of receiving, soon weary of attending.
The other mutiny was of some few malcontents, perhaps those strangers, which sought their own protection under the wing of Israel; this, of the whole troop. Not that none were free; Caleb, Joshua, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, were not yet tainted. Usually God measures the state of any church or country by the most; the greater part carries both the name and censure. Sins are so much the greater as they are more universal : so far is evil from being extenuated by the multitude of the guilty, that nothing can more aggravate it. With men, commonness may plead for favour; with God, it pleads for judgment. Many hands draw the cable with more violence than few. The leprosy of the whole body is more loathsome than that of a part.
But what do these mutineers say? Oh that we had died by the hand of the Lord! And whose hand was this, O ye fond Israelites, if you must perish by famine! God carried you forth; God restrained bis creatures from you; and, while ye are ready to die, thus, ye say, Oh that we had died by the hand of the Lord!
It is the folly of men, that in immediate judgments they can see God's hand; not in those whose second causes are sensible: whereas God holds himself equally interested in all, challenging, that there is no evil in the city but from him. It is but one hand, and many instruments, that God strikes us with. The water may not lose the name, though it comes by channels and pipes from the spring. It is our faithlessness, that in visible means, we see not him that is invisible.
And when would they have wished to die? When they sat by the flesh-pots of Egypt? Alas, what good would their flesh-pots have done them in their death! If they might sustain their life, yet what could they avail them in dying? For, if they were unpleasant, what comfort was it to see them? if pleasant, what comfort to part from them? Our greatest pleasures are but pains in their loss.
Every mind affects that which is like itself. Carnal minds are for the flesh-pots of Egypt, though bought with servitude: spiritual are for the presence of God, though redeemed with famine; and would rather die in God's presence, than live without him, in the sight of delicate or full dishes.
They loved their lives well enough. I heard how they shrieked, when they were in danger of the Egyptians ; yet now they say, Oh that we had died ! Not, Oh that we might live by the flesh-pots; but, Oh that we had died ! Although life be naturally sweet, yet a little discontentment makes us weary. It is a base cowardliness, so soon as ever we are called from the garrison to the field, to think of running away. Then is our fortitude worthy of praise, when we can endure to be miserable.
But what, can no flesh-pots serve but those of Egypt? I
am' deceived, if that land afforded them any flesh-pots save their own Their landlords of Egypt held it abomination to eat of their dishes, or to kill that which they did eat. In those times then they did eat of their own; and why not now? They had droves of cattle in the wilderness; why did they not take of them? Surely, if they would have been as good husbands of their cattle as they were of their dough, they might have had enough to eat, without need of murmuring : for if their back burdens of dough lasted for a month, their herds might have served them many years. All grudging is odious, but most when our hands are full. To whine in the midst of abundance, is a shametul unthankfulness.
When a man would have looked that the anger of God should' have appeared in fire, now, behold, bis glory appears in a cloud. Oh the exceeding long-suffering of God, that hears their murmurings; and, as if he had been bound to content them, instead of punishing, pleases them! as a kind mother would deal with a crabbed child, who rather stills him with the breast, than calls for the rod. One would have thought, that the sight of the cloud of God should have dispelled the cloud of their distrust; and this glory of God should have made them ashamed of themselves, and afraid of him : yet I do not hear them once say, What a mighty and gracious God have we distrusted ! Nothing will content an impotent mind but fruition. When an heart is hardened with any passion, it will endure much ere it will yield to relent.
Their eyes saw the cloud; their ears heard the promise; the performance is speedy and answerable. Needs must they be convinced, when they saw God as glorious in his work as in his presence; when they saw his word justified by his act. God tells them aforehand what he will do, that their expectation might stay their hearts. He doth that which he foretold, that they might learn to trust him ere he performed. They desired meat, and receive quails; they desired bread, and have manna. If they had had of the coarsest flesh, and of the basest pulse, hunger would have made it dainty: but now God will pamper their famine; and gives them meat of kings, and bread of angels. What a world of quails were but sufficient to serve six hundred thousand persons ! They were all strong, all hungry; neither could they be satisfied with single fowls.
What a table bath God prepared in the desart, for abundance, for delicacy! Never prince was so served in his greatest pomp, as these rebellious Israelites in the wilderness. God loves to over deserve of men, and to exceed, not only their sins, but their very desires, in mercy. How good shall we find him to those that please him, since he is so gracious to offenders! If the inost graceless Israelites be fed with quails and manna, O what goodness is that he hath laid up for them that love him! As, on the contrary, if the righteous scarce be saved, where will the sinners appear! O God, thou canst, thou wilt make this difference. Howsoever, with us men, the most crabbed and stubborn oftentimes fare the best ; the righteous Judge of the world frames his remuneration as he finds us : and if his mercy sometimes provoke the worst to repentance by his temporal favours, yet he ever reserves so much greater reward for the righteous, as eternity is beyond time, and heaven above earth.
It was not of any natural instinct, but from the overruling power of their Creator, that these quails came to the desart. Needs must they come whom God brings. His hand is in all the motions of his meanest creatures. Not only we, but they move in him. As not many quails, so not one sparrow falls without him. How much more are the actions of his best creature, man, directed by his providence! How ashamed inight these Israelites have been, to see these creatures so obedient to their Creator, as to come and offer themselves to their slaughter; while they went so repiningly to his service and their own preferment! Who can distrust the provision of the great Housekeeper of the world, when he sees how he can furnish his tables at pleasure? Is he grown now careless, or we faithless rather? Why do we not repose upon his mercy? Rather than we shall want, when we trust him, he will fetch quails from all the coasts of heaven to our board.
O Lord, thy hand is not shortened to give ; let not ours be shortened, or shut in receiving.
Eliah's servitors, the ravens, brought him bis full service of bread and flesh at once, each morning and evening. But these Israelites have their flesh at even, and their bread in the morning. Good reason there should be a difference. Eliah's table was upon God's direct appointment; the Israelites' upon their mutiny. Although God will relieve them with provision, yet he will punish their impatience with delay; so shall they know themselves his people, that they shall find they were murmurers. Not only in the matter, but in the order, God answers their grudging; first, they complain of the want of flesh-pots, then of bread. In the first place therefore they have desh, bread after. When they have flesh, yet they must stay a time ere they can have a full meal, unless they would eat their meat breadless, and their bread dry. God will be waited on, and will give the consummation of his blessings at his leisure. In the evening of our life, we have the first pledges of his favour; but in the morning of our resurrection, must we look for our perfect satiety of the true manna, the bread of life.
Now the Israelites sped well with their quails; they did eat and digest, and prosper : not long after, they have quails with a vengeance; the meat was pleasant, but the sauce was fearful. They let down the quails at their mouth, but they came out at their nostrils. How much better had it been to have died of hunger, through the chastisement of God, than of the plague of God, with the flesh betwixt their teeth! Behold, they perish of the same disease then, whereof they now recover. The same sin repeated is death, whose first act found remission. Relapses are desperate, where the sickness itself is not. With us men, once goes away with a warning, the second is but whipping, the third is death. It is a mortal thing to abuse the lenity of God. We should be presumptuously mad, to hope that God will stand us for a sinningstock, to provoke him how we will. It is more mercy than he owes us, if he forbear us once; it is his justice to plague us the second time. We may thank ourselves if we will not be warned.
Their meat was strange, but nothing so much as their bread. To find quails in a wilderness was unusual ; but for bread to come down from heaven was yet more. They had seen quails before, though not in such number; manna .was never seen till now. From this day, till their settling in Canaan, God wrought a perpetual miracle in this food. A miracle in this place: other bread rises up from below, this fell down from above; neither did it ever rain bread till now; yet so did this heavenly shower fall, that it is confined to the camp of Israel. A miracle in the quantity; that every morning should fall enough to fill so many hundred thousand mouths and maws. A miracle in the composition; that it is sweet like honey-cakes, round like corianders, transparent as dew. A miracle in the quality ; that it melted by one heat,