For who of all flesh has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the fire, as we have, and survived?
I. THE FACT OF TERROR. It is not unnatural that man should tremble in presence of any near manifestation of the Divine. The chief cause of this terror is the consciousness of sin. Guilty man fears his Judge. The text is an instance of this terror, but the same thing has often been witnessed.
1. In presence of unusual appearances of nature. Comets, eclipses, unusual darkness, thunderstorms, earthquakes, etc.
2. Under the powerful preaching of judgment. Felix under the preaching of Paul (Acts 24:25). Massillon bringing the French court to their feet in terror, as he described the Lord's coming. Whitfield's oratory and its effects.
3. In prospect of death. There are few in whom the approach of death does not awaken serious alarms. The effect is most conspicuous in times of sudden danger, as in shipwrecks, etc.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF TERROR. Usually, as here:
1. It extorts confession of the truth. The Israelites spoke of God in juster terms than ever they had done before, or perhaps ever did again. Terror draws from the soul strange acknowledgments. The white face of the scoffer shows how little, in his heart, he disbelieves in the God he would fain have disavowed. The self-righteous man is made suddenly aware of his sins. The blasphemer stops his oaths, and begins to pray. The liar for once finds himself speaking the truth.
2. It awakens the cry for a mediator. Thus we see it leading men to send for ministers or lay Christians to pray for them, or crying for mercy to the Savior or to saints.
3. It prompts to vows and promises. In their terrified moods, men are willing to promise anything - whatever they think will please or propitiate God (ver. 27). They will repent, will pray, will go to church, will make restitution for wrongs, will abandon vices, etc.
III. THE INEFFICACY OF TERROR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF CONVERSION. Terror, when excited by just views of sin, has its uses. It breaks up the hardened crust of indifference, ploughs into the nature, and prepares it for the reception of better teaching. But terror of itself cannot change the heart. It is the message of love which alone can exalt, renovate, and truly convert. Not the Law, but the cross. The Law is only useful when employed as a schoolmaster to bring to Christ. These Israelites soon forgot their terrors, and in less than forty days had made for themselves a golden calf. The jailor's terrors (Acts 16:27) would have wrought death, but the words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," etc. (ver. 31), made him live anew. - J.O.
God doth talk with man, and he liveth.Matthew 7:11). To come now to this talking itself. There are various kinds of talking. Prayer is no doubt a talking with God, but we shall not dwell upon it here. We mean by "talking" something — if we might so express ourselves with reverence — more free, less set, than our regular prayer. This talking is very independent of place; of church, or bedside, or our ordinary spot for prayer — and of times — of the morning, or noontide, or evening prayer; it has nothing whatever to do with them. Much of this talking is carried on when we are walking about, or perhaps in the train, or in the streets, or in snatches of time in business hours. And sometimes this talking is carried on without any particular aim. We are not of set purpose offering adoration, or putting up prayer. We talk just because our hearts like to be in communion with Him; and we wish to say we love and honour Him. But what good will come of all this?
1. To begin with, our talking to God involves His talking to us. He never allows His people to keep on speaking to Him, without taking any notice of them, or making any answer. That would not be fatherly on His part. By His Spirit and by His providence He answers us in turn.
2. In such talking we might acquaint ourselves much with God, and be at peace. How much slavish fear — how much death fear would take its departure, if we were accustomed to talk as with a friend with that One, in whose hands are all things, in that land whither we are going!
3. How near would this habit keep us to God in all our daily life! We never could stray far from Him if we kept it up. Matters which may be of the utmost moment, though we know it not, and which would never, perhaps, have been the subject of prayer and so of blessing, will thus be brought before Him, and be remembered by Him for good.
4. And when the time of need comes for strong prayer, this habit will be at work — it will give us encouragement. The God we have so often talked to will be no stranger.
(P. B. Power, M. A.)
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