Lev_9:23-24. And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat; which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.
WHEN we see the great variety of ordinances instituted by Moses, and the multitudes of sacrifices that were, either in whole or in part, to be consumed upon the altar, we are ready to ask, Of what use was all this? and what compensation could be made to the people for all the expense and trouble to which they were put? But in the text we have a ready, and a sufficient answer. God did not long withhold from them such communications, as would abundantly recompense all that they did, and all that they could, perform for his sake: he gave them such testimonies of his acceptance as made all their hearts to overflow with joy.
Let us consider,
The testimonies of his acceptance—
Of these there were different kinds;
[Moses and Aaron, having finished all that they had to do within the tabernacle, came forth, and “blessed the people:” and in this action they were eminent types of Christ, and examples to all future ministers to the end of time.
As types of Christ, they shewed what he should do as soon as he should have completed his sacrifice. The acceptance of all his believing followers being now certain, he blessed them; and was in the very act of blessing them, when he was taken up from them into heaven [Note: Luk_24:50-51.]. Scarcely had he taken possession or his throne, before he “sent down upon them the blessing of the Father,” even the Holy Ghost [Note: Act_2:33; Act_3:26.], to be their Guide and Comforter: and, when he shall have finished his work of intercession within the veil, he will come forth to pronounce upon them his final benediction, “Come, ye blessed of my Father! inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” When on earth, he offered himself a sacrifice, and died as a sinner under the malediction of the law: but at the day of judgment he will, “unto those who look for him, appear the second time, without sin, to their complete salvation [Note: Heb_9:28.].”
As examples to ministers, they shewed what all ministers are authorized and empowered to declare unto those who rely on the great sacrifice. They are to stand forth, and, in the very name of God, to proclaim pardon and peace to every one of them without exception [Note: Act_13:38-39.] — — —]
[In two ways did God himself, without the intervention of any human means, condescend to manifest his acceptance of the sacrifices which were now offered.
He first displayed his glory before all the people. This on some occasions was done in testimony of his displeasure, and in support of his servants who acted under his authority [Note: Num_14:10; Num_16:19; Num_16:42.]: but here, as also on other occasions, it was altogether a token or his favour. In what precise manner this was done, we are not informed: but we are well assured, that it must have been in a way suited to his own glorious majesty, and in a way that carried its own evidence along with it.
Of course, such exhibitions of the divine glory are not now to be expected: but there are others, which, though not visible to mortal eyes, are very perceptible by the believing heart; and which shall be vouchsafed to those who come to God by Jesus Christ. Our blessed Lord has assured his believing followers, that “he will manifest himself unto them as he does not unto the world:” which promise would be nugatory, if the manifestations referred to did not carry their own evidence along with them. It is not easy indeed to mark with precision the agency of the Holy Spirit, so as to distinguish it from the operations of our own mind: but in the effects we can tell infallibly, what proceeds from God, and what from ourselves. The views which we may have of God and his perfections, may, as far as relates to the speculative part, arise from human instruction; but the humility, the love, the peace, the purity, with all the other sanctifying effects produced by those views upon the soul, can proceed from God alone: they are the fruits of the Spirit, and of him only. Hence, though no man can conceive aright of the manifestations of God to the soul, unless he have himself experienced them, nor can know exactly what it is to have “the Spirit of God witnessing with his spirit,” or “shedding abroad the love of God in his heart,” yet we are in no danger of error or enthusiasm, whilst we look for these things as purchased for us through the sacrifice of Christ, and judge of them, not by any inexplicable feelings, but by plain and practical results.
In addition to this display of his glory, God sent fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. By this he shewed the people what fiery indignation they themselves merited, and that he had turned it from them, and caused it to fall on the sacrifice which had been substituted in their stead.
The observations just made, will apply also to this part of our subject. We are not to expect such a visible token, that our great sacrifice is accepted for us: but all the assurances of it which God has given us in his word, shall be applied with power to our souls, and be impressed with as strong a conviction upon our minds, as if we had seen a demonstration of it exhibited before our eyes.]
From the testimonies themselves let us turn our attention to,
The effects produced by them—
It is common to visible objects to affect us strongly. Accordingly the people were deeply impressed by what they now saw. They were filled,
With exalted joy—
[Had they not been taught to expect some extraordinary expressions of God’s regard, they would probably have been terrified, as Gideon and Manoah were [Note: Jdg_6:21-22; Jdg_13:19-22.]: but being prepared, they were filled with triumphant exultation, and rent the air with their shouts [Note: See a similar instance, Ezr_3:11.].
How far a similar mode of expressing our religious feelings at this time would in any case be proper, we will not absolutely determine: but we apprehend that in the general it would not. Such manifestations as those we are considering, are calculated to make a strong impression on the mind, and to call forth the affections into violent and immediate exercise: but the truths of the Gospel, and the communications of God to the soul, affect us rather through the medium of the understanding; and, consequently, are both more slow, and more moderate, in their operation. Yet doubtless somewhat of the same emotions must be right, especially in our secret chamber, where our communion with God is usually most intimate; and where others who are strangers to our feelings, cannot be offended by what they would deem enthusiastical or hypocritical expressions of them. The inward triumph of the Apostle Paul seems more suited to our dispensation [Note: Rom_8:31-39.]: and that it is both the privilege and duty of every one of us to enjoy.]
With profound reverence—
[”They fell upon their faces,” in humble adoration of their God and King. This union of humility and joy was exactly what one would have wished to see in them: and happy would it be if some who talk most of spiritual joys would learn of them! Even the seraphim before the throne cover both their faces and their feet, from a consciousness of their unworthiness to behold or serve their God: and the glorified saints, from similar feelings, cast their crowns at his feet. How much more therefore should we have our most exalted joys tempered with humility! This should never for one moment be forgotten: our affiance, our love, our gratitude, our assurance, our very triumphs, will all prove vain, if they be not chastised and softened with humiliation and contrition. If we look at the most eminent saints, and mark the effects of God’s condescension to them, we find them invariably expressing their acknowledgments in a way of reverence and self-abasement [Note: Gen_17:3; Exo_3:6.]: and the more our devotion resembles theirs, the more acceptable it will be to the Supreme Being.]
Let us learn from this subject,
To lay no stress on transient affections—
[One would have thought that such a frame of mind as the people experienced at this time, must have issued well; and that they would henceforth approve themselves faithful to their God. But these were mere transient emotions, which were forgotten as soon as any temptation arose to call forth their unsubdued corruptions. And thus it is with multitudes under the Gospel; whom our Lord compares to seed sown upon stony ground, which springs up with great rapidity, but withers away as soon; because it has no deepness of earth to grow in, nor any roots to nourish it [Note: Mat_13:5-6; Mat_13:20-21,]. We ought indeed to have our affections called forth into exercise; nor is that religion of any value that does not engage them in its service: but that religion which is seated only in the affections, will never be of any long duration. The understanding must be informed, the judgment convinced, and the will determined, upon the subject of religion; and then the affections will operate to advantage; but, unless the whole heart and the whole soul be engaged in the work, it will come to nought.]
To be thankful for the advantages that we enjoy—
[We are apt to envy the Jews their exalted privileges, and to imagine, that, if we had enjoyed the same, we should have made a better improvement of them: but we see how fleeting and inefficacious are the impressions made by sensible manifestations, when of that whole nation two only were admitted into the promised land. They “walked by sight:” but we are “to walk by faith.” This is the principle which we are to cultivate: we must look by faith to the great sacrifice: we must see our great High-Priest entered within the veil for us, and coming forth to “bless us with all spiritual blessings.” Then shall we find, that, in proportion as this principle is brought into exercise, it will work by love, and purify the heart, and overcome the world, and render us meet for our everlasting inheritance.]