NO doubt the children of Israel supposed that now all was over; the Egyptians had sent them away, entreating them to depart, and loading them with riches. Terror had smitten the heart of Egypt, for from the king on the throne to the prisoner in the dungeon, all was dismay and fear on account of Israel. Egypt was glad for them when they departed. Therefore the children of Israel said within themselves, “We shall now march to Canaan at once; there will be no more dangers, no more troubles, no more trials; the Egyptians themselves have sent us away, and they are too much afraid of us ever to molest us again. Now shall we tread the desert through with hasty footstep; and when a few more days have passed, we shall enter into the land of our possession — the land that floweth with milk and honey.” “Not quite so speedily,” says God; “the time is not arrived yet for you to rest. It is true I have delivered you from Egypt; but there is much you have to learn before you will be prepared to dwell in Canaan. Therefore I shall lead you about, and instruct you, and teach you.” And it came to pass that the Lord led the children of Israel about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea, till they arrived over against Baalzephon, where on either side the craggy mountains shut them in. Pharaoh hears of it; he comes upon them, to overcome them; and they stand in terrible fright and jeopardy of their lives. Now, it is usually so with the believer he marches out of Egypt spiritually at the time of his conversion, and he says within himself, “Now I shall always be happy.” He has a bright eye, and a light heart, for his fetters have been dashed to the ground, and he feels no longer the lash of conscience upon his shoulder. “Now,” says he, “I may have a short life, but it will be a happy one.” “A few more rolling years at most, Will land me on fair Canaan ’s coast. ” The Israelites had a great trial sent by God Himself. There was the Red Sea in front of them. Now, it was not an enemy that put the sea there; it was God Himself. We may therefore think, that the Red Sea represents some great and trying providence, which the Lord will be sure to place in the path of every new-born child; in order to try his faith, and to test the sincerity of his trust in God.
I do not know whether your experience will back up mine but I can say this, that the worst difficulty I ever met with, or I think I can never meet with, happened a little time after my conversion to God. And you must generally expect, very soon after you have been brought to know and love Him, that you will have some great, broad, deep Red Sea straight before your path, which you will scarcely know how to pass. Sometimes it will occur in the family. The husband says, for instance — if he is an ungodly man — “You shall not attend such-and-such a place of worship; I positively forbid you to be baptized, or to join that church;” there is a Red Sea before you. You have done nothing wrong; it is God Himself who places that Red Sea before your path. Or perhaps before that time, you were carrying on a business which now you cannot conscientiously continue; and there is a Red Sea which you have to cross in renouncing your means of livelihood. You don’t see how it is to be done; how you are to maintain yourself, and to provide things honest in the sight of all men.
Or perhaps your employment calls you amongst men with whom you lived before on amicable terms, and now on a sudden, they say, “Come! won’t you do as you used to do?” There again is a Red Sea before you. It is a hard struggle; you do not like to come out and say, “I cannot, I shall not, for I am a Christian.” You stand still, half afraid to go forward. Or perhaps it is something proceeding more immediately from God. You find that just when He plants a vine in your heart, He blasts all the vines in your vineyard; and when He plants you in His own garden, then it is that He uproots all your comforts and your joys. Just when the Sun of Righteousness is rising upon you, your own little candle is blown out; just when you seem to need it most, your gourd is withered, your prosperity departs, and your flood becomes on ebb. I say again, it may not be so with all of you, but I think that most of Gott’s people have not long escaped the bondage of Egypt, before they find some terrible, rolling sea, lashed perhaps by tempestuous winds directly in their path; they stand aghast, and say, “O God, how can I bear this? I thought I could give up all for Thee; but now I feel as if I could do nothing I thought I should be in heaven, and all would be easy; but here is a sea I cannot ford — there is no squadron of ships to carry me across; it is not bridged even by Thy mercy; I must swim it, or else I fear I must perish.”
The children of Israel would not have cared about the Red Sea a single atom, if they had not been terrified by the Egyptians who were behind them. These Egyptians, I think may be interpreted by way of parable, as the representatives of those sins; which we thought were clean dead and gone.
For a little while after conversion, sin does not trouble a Christian; he is very happy and cheerful, in a sense of pardon; but before many days are past, he will understand what Paul said, “I find another law in my members, so that when I would do good, evil is present with me.” The first moment when he wins his liberty he laughs and leaps in an ecstasy of joy. He thinks, “Oh! I shall soon be in heaven, as for sin, I can trample that beneath my feet!” But, scarce has another Sabbath gladdened his spirit, ere he finds that sin is too much for him; the old corruptions which he fancied were laid in their graves yet a resurrection and start up afresh, and he begins to cry, “O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” He sees all his old sins galloping behind him like Pharaoh and his host pursuing him to the borders of the Red Sea. There is a great trial before him. Oh; he thinks he could bear that; he thinks he could walk through the Red Sea; but oh! those Egyptians — they are behind him! He thought he should never have seen them any more for ever; they were the plague and torment of his life when they made him work in the brick-kiln.
He sees his old master, the very man who was wont to lay the lash on his shoulders, riding post haste after him; and there are the eyes of that black Pharaoh, flashing like fire in the distance; he sees the horrid scowling face of the tyrant, and how he trembles! Satan is after him, and all the legions of hell seem to be let loose, if possible, utterly to destroy his soul. At such a time, moreover, our sins are more formidable to us than they were before they were forgiven; because, when we were in Egypt, we never saw the Egyptians mounted on horses, or in chariots; they only appeared as our task-masters, with their whips; but now these people see the Egyptians on horseback, clad in armor; they behold all the mighty men of valor come out with their warlike instruments to slay them.
But these poor children of Israel had such faint hearts. They no sooner saw the Egyptians than they began to cry out; and when they beheld the Red Sea before them, they murmured against their deliverer. A faint heart is the worst foe a Christian can have; whilst he keeps his faith firm, whilst the anchor is fixed deep in the rock, he never need fear the storm; but when the hand of faith is palsied, or the eye of faith is dim, it will go hard with us. As for the Egyptian, he may throw his spear; while we can catch it in our shield of faith, we are not terrified by the weapon, but if we lose our faith, the spear becomes a deadly dart. While we have faith, the Red Sea may flow before us, as deep and as dark as it pleases: for like Leviathan, we trust we can snuff up Jordan at a draught. But if we have no faith, then at the most insignificant streamlet, which Faith could take up in her hands in a single moment, and drink like Gideon’s men, poor Unbelief stands quivering and crying, “Ah! I shall be drowned in the floods, or I shall be slain by the foe; there is no hope for me; I am driven to despair. It would have been better for me that I had died in Egypt, than that I should come hither to be slain by the hand of the enemy.” The child of God when he is first born, has but very little faith, because he has had but little experience; he has not tried the promise, and therefore he does not know its faithfulness. He has not used the arm of faith, and therefore the sinews of it have not become strong. Let him live a little longer, and become confirmed in the faith, and he will not care for Red Seas, nor yet for the Egyptians; but just then his little heart beats against the walls of his body, and he laments, “Ah, me! ah, me! O wretched man that I am! How shall I ever find deliverance?”
Cheer up, then, heir of grace! What is thy trial? Has providence brought it upon thee? If so, unerring wisdom will deliver thee from it. What is it thou art now exercised upon? As truly as thou art alive, God will remove it.
Dost thou think God’s cloudy pillar would ever lead thee to a place where God’s right arm would fail thee? Dost thou imagine that He would ever guide thee into such a defile that He could not conduct thee out again? The providence which apparently misleads, will in verity befriend thee. That which leads thee into difficulties guards thee against thy foes; it casts darkness on thy sins, whilst it giveth light to thee. How sweet is providence to a child of God, when he can reflect upon it! He can look out into this world, and say, “However great my troubles, they are not so great as my Father’s power; however difficult may be my circumstances, yet all things around me are working together for good. He who holds up you unpillared arch of the starry heavens can also support my soul without a single apparent prop; He who guides the stars in their well-ordered courses, even when they seem to move in mazy dances, surely He can overrule my trials in such a way that out of confusion He will bring order; and from seeming evil produce lasting good. He who bridles the storm, and puts the bit in the mouth of the tempest, surely He can restrain my trial, and keel my sorrows in subjection. I need not fear while the lightnings are in His hands, and the thunders sleep within His lips; while the oceans gurgle from His fist, and the clouds are in the hollow of His hands; while the rivers are turned by His foot, and while He diggeth the channels of the sea. Surely He whose might wings an angel, can furnish a worm with strength; He who guides a cherub will not be overcome by the trials of an emmet like myself. He who makes the most ponderous orb roll in dignity, and keeps its predestined orbit, can make a little atom like myself move in my proper course, and conduct me as He pleaseth. Christian! there is no sweeter pillow than providence; and when providence seemeth adverse, believe it still, lay it under thy head, for depend upon it there is comfort in its bosom. There is hope for thee, thou child of God! That great trouble which is to come in thy way in the early part of thy pilgrimage, is planned by love, the same love which shall interpose as thy protector.
The children of Israel had another refuge; they knew that they were the covenant people of God, and that, though they were in difficulties, God had brought them there, and therefore God (with reverence let me say it) was bound in honor to bring them out of that trouble into which He had brought them. “Well,” says the child of God, “I know I am in a strait, but this is one thing also I know, that I did not come out of Egypt by myself — I know that He brought me out; I know that I did not escape by my own power, or slay my first-born sins myself — I know that He did it; and though I fled from the tyrant — I know that He made my feet mighty for travel, for there was not one feeble in all our tribes; I know that though I am at the Red Sea, I did not run there uncalled, but He bade me go there, and therefore I give to the winds my fear, for if He hath led me here into this difficulty, He will lead me out, and lead me through.
The third refuge which the children of Israel had, was in a man; and neither of the two others, without that, would have been of any avail. It was the man Moses. He did everything for them. Thy greatest refuge, O child of God! in all thy trials, is in a Man: not in Moses, but in Jesus; not in the servant, but in the Master. He is interceding for thee, unseen and unheard by thee, even as Moses did for the children of Israel. If thou couldst but, in the dim distance, catch the sweet syllables of His voice as they distill from His lips, and see His heart as it speaks for thee, thou wouldst take comfort; for God hears that Man when He pleads. He can overcome every difficulty. He has not a rod, but a cross, which can divide the Red Sea; He has not only a cloudy pillar of forgiving grace, which can dim the eyes of your foe, and can keep them at a distance; but He has a cross, which can open the Red Sea and drown thy sins in the very midst.
He will not leave thee. Look! on yonder rock of heaven He stands, cross in hand, even as Moses with his rod. Cry to Him, for with that uplifted cross He will cleave a path for thee, and guide thee through the sea; He will make those hoary floods, which had been friends for ever, stand asunder like foes. Call to Him, and He will make thee a way in the midst of the ocean, and a path through the pathless sea. Cry to Him, and there shall not a sin of thine be left alive; He will sweep them all away; and the king of sin, the devil, he too shall be overwhelmed beneath the Savior’s blood, whilst thou shalt sing — Hell and my sins obstruct my path, But hell and sin are conquered foes; My Jesus nailed them to His cross, And sang the triumph as He rose. ”