And the LORD said to Moses, Why cry you to me? speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward:
Men are more ready to cry out for help than to help themselves. They are more ready to call for more light, means, privileges, than to use faithfully what they possess. They are more ready to complain than to exert themselves; to wonder at what the Divine Providence has done, or to speculate on what it intends to do, than to observe its will, and stand in the line of their duty, and "go forward."
1. And first, when we are confused with uncertain speculations as to points of religious doctrine and the designs of Providence, let us rest from the questions that are beyond mortal solving, from the debate and from those who would pretend to settle it for us, and obey the practical exhortation of the text. What we can discover and know may not be much; but what we have to do is plain enough, and deserves the chief place in our attention. Theories are many, and the counsel of the Lord is hid; but what He requires of us there needs but singleness of heart to discern and follow. The absolute truth may often be beyond us; but the right, as distinct from the wrong, is in the sentiment of every one's conscience and in the power of his hand. The present age is remarkably bent upon a prying kind of research into the deep things of religious faith. Let me not find fault with this tendency, so long as it is reverent, and not presumptuous; so long as it is humble, and not disputatious; so long as it is neither carping, nor over-anxious, nor neglectful of nearer claims. But it has its dangers. Sometimes it distracts the thoughts with fears and unprofitable conjectures; and sometimes it absorbs them in cares that are intense, but stationary, holding back the mind from a manly progress and impeding the cheerful diligence of life. Do not gaze backward, nor pause to contemplate anxiously what is in front, but move. If you are faithful, God will carry you through. Work and you shall believe. Do and you shall know. You shall learn more that is worth the learning through your conscience than through your researches. You will be guided to the best convictions, by being heartily engaged in an obedient service.
2. Thus, duty is better than speculation; and this is the first lesson that our subject teaches. But the mind is troubled with other things than the doubtful aspects of truth. There are afflicted and dejected hours, when we hardly care to inquire about anything. A feeling of discouragement hangs about the heart. Now, sorrow is naturally sluggish, selfish — as indisposed to strive for anything as to be thankful for anything. It chooses to sit. It looks upon the ground. It nurses its gloomy meditations. When it is caused by losses and disappointments, it is apt to make men think that there is nothing that deserves their winning, or at least that it is not worth while for them any longer to try. No doubt it makes many a man better. It brings the thoughtless to reflection. Sorrow is a holy thing when it is rightly accepted. It gives a consecrated turn to the experiences and affections of our humanity. And yet it has a power of an opposite kind; and they who come under that power are rendered worse instead of better by it. They lose their usefulness, as well as give up their own good. Others add the sin of murmuring to that of supineness. Why have they been thus distressed? What have they done to be so hemmed in? They complain of the very prophets and guiding messengers of God, because they show them no more mercy, and will encourage them in no other way than one that they refuse to follow. They want to be relieved just where they stand. They want to be delivered without any thought or effort of their own. But it is not so that God will have it. "Speak unto them," is His word still, "that they go forward." The best consolation is in your tasks, with their straining toil or their steady and quiet occupation.
3. But it is perhaps the labour imposed upon your unwilling strength that most disconcerts you. The apprehension of coming calamities has fastened its terrors upon you. The fears of a faint heart form the chief trial of your lot. Not an arrow has reached you yet from the pursuing host of your enemies, but you hear their trumpets, and you are dismayed at the trampling of their approach. You have not yet wet your shoes in the waves of the intercepting sea; but you look at its broad flow, and are dismayed at what seems to you its unfathomable and impassable depth. You are afraid of what you may be compelled to do; or you are afraid of what you may be appointed to suffer. What is so depressing as this dread, when once it settles down upon a man? How it paralyzes his resolution 1 But no power can assist him, at least not in the manner he would choose — by interfering to change his whole situation, and that without any step of his own taking. He must stand in his lot. He must march at command. There will be always something like a chase in the rear. There will be some gulf crossing his advanced post. He will not be listened to, if he sits and prays that all this may be otherwise. At the same time the help that was refused to his complaint and his supplication awaits his diligence. Let him "go forward." The cowardice that was his worst enemy shall then be vanquished. Beware how you waste in sighs the time that should be spent in exertion. Beware how you look abroad for the succour that you will contribute nothing to bring. Beware how you abandon your own cause. Bear your part, according to the imperfect ability that you have received, in the work of your deliverance. Commit the issues of events to the Sovereign Disposer. They may venture, as long as their trust is in Him. "Speak unto all My people," saith God, "that they go forward." Their prayer is good; but their obedience is better. His grace shall be sufficient for them while they move towards it.
(N. L. Frothingham.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: