<< Exodus 34: The Lord’s Name Declared >>
And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord, God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.–Exodus xxxiv. 6, 7.
THE sublime scene of which the record is before us must have been deeply impressive to Moses. It would recall in the most vivid manner his first vision at the bush. As there, so here, it was Jehovah filling an angel with his Spirit (Ex. iii. 2), for the very person of Jehovah could not be seen, and was not seen before the incarnation (John i. 18 and v. 37). An angel filled for the time with the glory of the Lord, his own consciousness laid asleep, was the Shekinah, the representative of the God-head, and spake as God. What a series of wonders had passed since the first revelation had broken on the soul of Moses in the wilderness. The rescue of His people from haughty but humbled Egypt; the passage of the Red Sea; the descent of manna; the glories of Sinai.
There was the fulfillment of what God had promised; and the rebellion of the people, even his own distrust, in striking contrast. Moses hastened to bow down his head to the earth, and to worship. Deeply, doubtless, would this wondrous scene induce humility and adoration. Let us also enter into this spirit, and read and ponder over the divine character as proclaimed on that memorable occasion.
Let us notice, first, the Divine Trinity as presented in the words, The LORD, the LORD, GOD; or, Jehovah, Jehovah, God. This is a Trinity, inherent in the very nature of the Divine Being, in One Divine Person, for Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.–Deut. vi. 4. There must be the Divine Love the Divine Wisdom, and the Divine Power. The Father, the Word, the Spirit. God is Love, God is Light, God is Omnipotent. These three are ever in One; Jehovah, Jehovah, God.
The Word, or Wisdom of God, which manifests His love when clothed in the lower robes of our nature, became the Son; The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.–John i. 14, and xvii. 5. And God (EL) in Hebrew is the term for power. Hence, as said, the three terms, Jehovah, Jehovah, God, present our Heavenly Father to us before the Incarnation in the essential Trinity which must have been eternal; Divine Love, Divine Wisdom, and Divine Power. God from eternity must have been infinitely loving, infinitely wise, and infinitely powerful. Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God.–Isa. ix. 6. Thus, even in the very earliest records of revelation, our blessed Lord is presented as an object of the tenderest endearment, of adoration and love. The grim god of the ascetics is not the God of revelation, or of the universe, but a transcript of their own harsh natures. They reproach, condemn, and curse; and they think that God is altogether such an one as themselves (Ps. l. 21). But let us hear Him proclaim His own character, and how different is the sound. How full of encouragement is that consoling assurance which the Eternal proceeds to make merciful and gracious. It is not hard, repellent, stern, and vindictive, but merciful and gracious. Penitents have ever found Him so. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him; to all that call upon Him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him. He, also, will hear their cry, and will save them. The Lord preserveth them that love Him. This is ever the divine assurance; blessing for the good, reception for the penitent, and this from the essential nature of His own Being, not for the sake of another. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine OWN SAKE, and I will not remember thy sins.–Isa. xliii. 25. Let us remember to our comfort then that the blessed God of heaven is, and ever has been, merciful and gracious. These two expressions indicate the Lords love as it appears to souls of different degrees in the heavenly life.
To those who have not attained to the deep perceptions of their own unworthiness, the Lord appears gracious, kind and good. But to those who by reason of having entered more fully into the celestial life see their defects more truly, and more vividly, the Lords goodness is seen to be all mercy. They feel no claim to favor, but only to mercy. They would begin like the Psalmist, O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for His mercy endureth for ever; and they would go through their whole lives, as the Psalmist did the Israelitish journey, attributing all to mercy, and nothing to self-merit.
And they would end still with the same crowning exclamation, O give thanks unto the God of heaven for his MERCY endureth for ever. The sense of favor, or grace, induces gratitude and satisfaction; but the sense of mercy induces prostration of heart, inmost love, and unspeakable joy and peace. The Lord is the source of both, and blesses both. He is merciful and gracious.
We are next assured that our Heavenly Father is longsuffering. He bears with the evil, much and long. He is an ocean of charity, and charity suffereth long and is kind.–l Cor. xiii. 4.
See how the mother watches oer her son,
Fondly to hail and bless each grace begun;
And should he glide from holy virtues track,
Watches with tenderest care to draw him back.
Yet, oh! if all the love that ever ran
In every mothers breast since time began,
Were all in one vast bosom bound to move,
Twere nothing to our Gods Almighty Love.
He is longsuffering, and when His patience and His Providence have led a sinner to repentance and newness of life, how surely is He ever found to be abundant in goodness and truth.
Goodness and truth are the spiritual food of the regenerating and regenerate mind, and there is an unfailing supply.
O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfieth the thirsty soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Goodness and truth are the flesh and blood for the heart and the intellect of man; they impart eternal life. The spiritual and celestial man require this interior food for their daily bread. They hunger and thirst after it, and when they go to the Divine Savior, who is the same God, Jehovah manifest, they ever find He is abundant in goodness and truth. He who goes to him never hungers, and he that believes on him never thirsts (John i. 35).
He keepeth, also, mercy for thousands. Though the servants of the Lord advance in the regenerate life, they have many failings. They do not utterly fall down, but they have many slips. In word and deed they are far from perfect, but the Lord keepeth mercy for them, and will do so for ever. This term thousands is a word of indefinite extent, and implies to any amount, to infinity. His mercy endureth for ever.
The Lord’s treatment of evil is next brought before us, both with the penitent and the impenitent. He forgiveth iniquity, transgression, and sin; and that will by NO MEANS clear the guilty.
The Word here translated forgiving is one that has in it the idea of sustaining and removing. It is rendered in different parts of Scripture, bear, lift, carry, take away, and similar expressions. The word forgive in our language implies a change in the Divine Mind, but it is not so in the original language. The word there only teaches us that the Lord permits the evils of those who come to Him, and at length removes them. He bears our sorrows, and carries our griefs, and in due time casts our transgressions away from us. As far as the east is from the west, so far doth He remove our transgressions from us. The Divine dealing with sin is thus like all His dealings, full of mercy.
When the soul comes to its Savior, sin and selfishness are so inwrought into its very texture that were they eradicated at once the soul would be scooped out and disappear. Hence, it is needful that by little and little we should have our spiritual constitution changed by the wonderful working of our Savior God, while we obey His commandments. Luther once said, If sin were in my coat I would soon strip it off, and cast it from me; if sin were in my hat I would remove it and get another, but it is through me, and through me, in every direction. From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores.–Isa. i. 6. Through these corruptions and propensities the powers of darkness press in upon and infest us. And if we were left unaided we could no more bear the weight of their awful pressure than our single arm could drive back the oceans force. But the Lord comes to our help. He removes the force from us, and gives us the consciousness of entire freedom. We exult in being released from captivity. We know not by what wondrous mercy the dark clouds have been broken off from us, our lions have been muzzled, our giants been hushed, and our darkness turned into day. But it has been by the Lord our Heavenly Father, who became our Redeemer and Savior since the day we have sought His help. He beareth our iniquity, transgression, and sin.
In the days of His flesh it is written that When even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils; and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias, the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
So, when we come to the same Savior faint and sad, in the evening of our states of weariness with the world and with sin, overloaded with the griefs and sorrows of a misspent past, He ever bears our iniquities, transgressions, and sins, delivers us from condemnation, end gives us the glorious liberty of the children of light.
The Lord does yet more. When we are strong enough, we ore allowed to be tempted with such evils as we are able to overcome, as the Israelites fought with and conquered the polluted tribes of Canaan which they had to dispossess, and by His omnipotent help we overcome them. Then the sins themselves are borne away to the recesses in the circumference of the soul, and their places are filled with holy affections, pure thoughts and sacred virtues of every kind. Thus the soul, once a land of all impurities, like a Canaan utterly corrupt, becomes a kingdom of Solomon, a land of peace. The wilderness becomes like Eden; and the desert a garden of God. All this is the work of that adorable mercy, which bears first, and then carries away, our iniquity, transgression, and sin.
The three terms used for evil are not synonymous. Iniquity refers to evil in the affections: transgression to falsity in thought; and sin, to the union of both in evil deeds. The Lord removes them all as we co-operate with His Holy Spirit by a sincere striving to walk in His divine commandments. We DO that which is lawful and right; and He saves our souls alive. Blessed be His Holy Name.
We come now to another portion of the divine description. But by no means clearing the guilty.
Hitherto we have dwelt upon those aspects of the divine character which are manifested to the good, and to those erring ones who are striving to become good. We have now another aspect of the Divine Being to consider, His relation to the obstinately wicked. And this, too, is a relation of Infinite Love; for Divine Love requires Divine Order; and the salvation and happiness of the good require the separation and rejection of the wicked. Hence the words, By no means clearing the guilty. By no means. Oh that these words might unceasingly sound in the ears of every wicked man. By no means clearing the guilty. For the wicked are continually deluding themselves that there are many means of avoiding punishment while retaining sin.
The forgiveness of the priest, say some, is an admirable means specially provided to make a clean breast, and have all wiped away. A prayer for mercy just at the last hour; as if it had not been MERCY which had been wooing man all his life, when he could have changed his nature. A belief that the Lord Jesus had been fully punished by the wrath of God for all our sins, and, therefore, we ought not to be punished, is, according to some, the means of means to transform in a minute, the guiltiest wretch into a fit companion of archangels.
To these, and to all specifics such as these, the words of our text stand as a perpetual condemnation. By no means clearing the guilty. So long as a man is guilty, so long he is condemned. He is guilty so long as he loves sin and does it. This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.–John iii. 19. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that DOETH righteousness IS RIGHTEOUS.–1 John iii. 6, 7. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.–l John iii. 10. The dread of a guilty man is not a dread of sin, but a dread of punishment. His sin is as dear as ever, and he would commit it again and again, if he dared. He does not repent of his guilt; he repents of being discovered, and of being about to suffer the reward of his misdeeds. Take away the terror, and the inwardly wicked man dies again to his wickedness. He never repented of having slighted, disobeyed, and defied the God of Love. He never repented of having injured his neighbor, broken his peace, or plundered his property, and He who reads the hearts sees he is guilty still. He by no means clears the guilty. Let him cease to be guilty. Let him cease to love sin or to do it. Let him abhor the evil
within him and detest the selfishness that would plunder others, or the rebellious ingratitude that takes the blessings of the Saviors universe, and tramples upon His laws. Let him hate sin, seek his Savior, and become a new man, and then he will find a loving arm to help, that will bear away iniquity, transgression, and sin ; though it will by no means clear the guilty.
We must be born again by the incorruptible seed of the Word of God, become new men, and as we walk in obedience to Him, we shall have that character formed within us that will tit us to live where angels live, because we love what angels love.
Our change of heart and mind will be gradual. Not that we are to take steps for it to be gradual, but from the nature of the case, it is First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.–Mark iv. 28. We should strive as we would with a diseased body, that by full obedience to all the directions of the physician the cure shall be as rapid as may be, but we shall find that much tribulation and steady striving alone fit us for the realms of the blest.
Our Divine Savior watches over us, gives us help, and in due time will say to us, Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord. But He by no means clears the guilty.
There is a passage in the epistle of James which has puzzled and pained many an anxious soul in connection with this word guilty. Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
The word point, which is in italics, and therefore not to be considered as belonging to the text at all, has distressed multitudes of tender consciences. They have thought that with all their endeavors they would miss some little point, and then be adjudged guilty of breaking the whole law. But the Apostle meant to teach no such thing as that. The child which is striving to walk, but yet through weakness stumbles, does not offend. It is purposed wrong which righteously offends. The soul which is lovingly striving to keep the commandments of the Lord Jesus, though from weakness it often fails, does not offend. It is borne with, and grows in, strength. It gradually rises in purity, until it comes to perfect love, which runs to do its Lords will, and has neither failing nor fear. What the Apostle means is, that when a person who is moral in many things, but has some sin to which he is prone, breaks the law that does not suit him, he would break any other law that stood in his way, and he is accounted disobedient and guilty in all. On the other hand, he who truly loves his neighbor, and genuinely stoves to do him good, he is accounted as fulfilling the whole law. If ye fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.–James ii. 8. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.–1 John iii. 14.
One other feature of His government the Lord brings before us–the law of causes and effects. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the childrens children unto the third and fourth generation: strictly unto the thirds and fourths.
It has pleased Infinite Wisdom to link our race together. The human family constitutes a grand chain, each link depending upon all which have gone before, and imparting its qualities to all that follow after.
By hereditary transmission we know the likeness of parents and grandparents descend, and that affects not the face only, but the mind, the body, the habits. It is a law of unspeakable value:
it is the lam of progression. By it the Divine Providence intends that the acquisitions of one generation should be the transmitted wealth of another. Hence, in endless advance, the virtues, talents, and excellencies of parents should be inherited by the descendants as inward riches, far nobler than any outward heritage. The starting point of each generation would thus be higher than that which preceded it.
But, on the other hand, when parents depart from goodness and from God, the sad perversities they impress upon themselves are transmitted also to their children. The iniquity of the fathers is transmitted to the children, not as sins for which they have to be punished, but as tendencies against which they have to guard. The avaricious parent transmits the tendency to covetousness; the drunkard the tendency to drink; the quarrelsome the tendency to hot tempers. Children have not to bear the iniquity of the parents (Ezek. xviii. 20); they have not to be punished for it, but only to be tempted by it.
Not only so, but Divine Mercy stores up in the infant heart counterbalancing tendencies to good. Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound.
If the fallen nature is a hell in miniature (Mark vii. 21), there is implanted also within a heaven in miniature (Luke xvii. 21).
It is iniquity (crookedness of the affections), not sin (actual evil) which is transmitted; and punishment only follows actual delinquency. Of every child it may still be said, as to its actual state by creation, Of such is the kingdom of heaven. It is not the will of our Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Blessed, then, for ever blessed, be the Holy Name of the All Good, All His nature is Tender, Wise, Merciful, and Gracious.
He provides ten thousand blessings in time and in eternity for the good. He delights to bring those who have strayed back to His divine fold, bearing and removing iniquity, transgression, and sin. He will not, cannot alter His Divine Laws, and clear the guilty, so long as he is guilty. But when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. All his transgressions that he hath committed shall not be mentioned unto him; in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)