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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Edward Lathrop, D.D.,
From The Baptist Magazine, 1858
"By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." (Hebrews 10:24-26)
I address myself at this time particularly to the young, and especially to young men, who must soon determine those questions which will be decisive of their eternal destiny. I take, as the illustration of my subject, the happy decision of Moses, at that critical period in his life when he was pressed by conflicting motives, and when, upon the choice which he then made, the scale which had trembled on its poise turned on the side of duty to God,—of a life of holiness,—of an aim at heaven. What a momentous decision! Today I speak to those who have reached that same critical point,—who are pressed by similar conflicting motives, and whose decision, perhaps at this time—while listening to this sermon—may determine the whole of their subsequent career, both for time and for eternity. God grant that such decision may be unto life and not unto death!
We are to notice, in the first place, what it was that Moses declined when he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter." The text says, "the pleasures of sin for a season," and "the treasures in Egypt."
Let us glance rapidly at the circumstances of the case, as indicated in the language just quoted,—"the pleasures of sin," and "the treasures in Egypt." Egypt, at the time here referred to, was the most powerful kingdom on earth, and probably the most corrupt. Its court was the centre of luxury and vice.
Thither resorted the inquisitive and pleasure-seeking of all nations, attracted either by the reputation of the schools of learning there established, or by the facilities there afforded for indulging in every species of animal enjoyment, from the most refined to the most debasing. The character of the Egyptian court, at the period here spoken of, is well described by the phrase, "the pleasures of sin."
Whatever a depraved or fastidious taste could covet, the abundant re-sources of Egypt readily supplied. The riches of the empire were unbounded. Egypt was the granary of the world. Into its treasury was poured the wealth of all other inhabited portions of the globe; and such was the political structure of the government, that the king and the king's household possessed almost unlimited control of the resources of the nation.
To speak of "the treasures in Egypt" is but another form of expression for affluence the most abundant and lavish. In one word, the Egyptian court, at the time of which I now speak, was the most attractive spot on earth to one who was in pursuit of mere worldly pleasure.
Moses had been rescued from the Nile by the daughter—and, as is generally supposed, the only child—of the then reigning monarch. By her he had been adopted and brought up as her own son. The design of the princess, says Josephus, was to make Moses "her father's successor, if it should please God she should have no legitimate child of her own." But, be this as it may, there can be no doubt that the intention of the royal princess was to make Moses her own heir, and the possessor, ultimately, of the vast treasure which she would inherit as the only child of the most powerful monarch on earth. This fact is distinctly referred to in the text, in which it is said that Moses esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt "—that is, the treasures of which he was the prospective heir.
Such were the outward circumstances under which the Hebrew child grew up. Wealth, and luxury, and power, were the attendants of his childhood and youth; even to mature manhood these had ministered to his daily desires; and all this wealth, and luxury, and power, he had been led to believe were to be his to an unlimited extent. Thus, to the son of a slave, were proffered the pleasures and the possessions of the mightiest empire on which the sun then shone.
But there is here another circumstance to be noted. Moses, while thus flattered, and, no doubt, greatly influenced by the
motives addressed to his ambition and his natural love of pleasure, was, at the same time, the subject of other influences, which, all unknown to the giddy throng about him, had been brought to bear upon him in his infancy and early boyhood.
The woman employed by the Egyptian princess to be the nurse of the rescued child was his own Hebrew mother. From her lips he received his earliest instructions. By her he had been taught the knowledge of the true God, and had been made acquainted with the reserved blessings promised to his chosen people. The impress of her warm maternal heart was upon him, and no subsequent influences were able to efface this beautiful image from his soul. Oh, a mother's love! A mother's godly conversation and example! Who can estimate their influence?
But you see what Moses had to contend with in the shape of insinuating, seductive temptations. Riches, pleasure, power—all that could appeal to an ardent and ambitious mind,—and all, nay, immensely more than that for which multitudes in our day are ready to barter heaven with its eternal "recompense of reward,"—all these were temptingly offered to Moses, and all these he declined, rejected, when he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter."
And you will here mark especially the motive which influenced Moses in this decision. He declined the pleasures of the Egyptian court, not because he was insensible to the attractions of that court, and not because he was destitute of those natural propensities which inclined him to gratify the desires of the flesh, but he rejected these things because they were "the pleasures of sin"—because he could not indulge in them and be guiltless. And he rejected "the treasures in Egypt," not because he might not under other circumstances possess riches, but because he could not hold these treasures without doing violence to his conscience and disobeying the law of his God.
Notice, now, in the next place, what it was that Moses made choice of rather than "the pleasures of sin" and "the treasures in Egypt," "choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God." Who were the people of God, whose lot this man preferred, and whose destiny he was willing to share? They were the most abused, and, outwardly, the most degraded of all slaves. They were the very scorn and contempt of the proud Egyptian nobility. Their task-masters were the most cruel, their work the most servile, their privileges the most scanty, and their sufferings, all things considered, almost unendurable. Verily, they were an afflicted people. Oppression had ground them to the dust.
Wearisome days and nights were appointed them. How few, even of the lowly and despairing, would have chosen this people as their companions and brethren? But who, with the flattering prospects of Moses before him, would have turned away from the treasures of Egypt, and the pleasures of that seductive court, for the companionship and the destiny of a nation of slaves?
And here, as we pass, I wish you to notice another thing. As Moses did not relinquish the pleasures which surrounded him in the household of Pharaoh because he was insensible to the influence of such attractions, and as he did not decline the riches which were proffered him in Egypt because it would have been wrong in him, under other circumstances, to possess riches.
So, in this latter case, he did not choose to suffer affliction with the people of God because he had any natural fondness for suffering, or because affliction, in itself; was a thing to be desired, or because it would furnish a meritorious ground of his acceptance with God; but, with a higher aim, he preferred the people of God in spite of their afflictions; he preferred them because they were the people of God, notwithstanding their poverty, and destitution, and disgrace. He preferred them because truth and righteousness were on their side, while, on the other side, were only falsehood and sin, although concealed under the names of pleasure and riches.
We are to consider next, the principle which guided the choice of Moses, and the end which he had in view in making his decision. "By faith he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;" by faith he declined to participate in "the pleasure of sin;" by faith he rejected the offer of Egypt's treasure; and by faith he preferred all the affliction and reproach which he should suffer on account of his attachment to the people of God, and his belief in a coming Redeemer, "for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward."
This language, taken in connection with what has already been said touching the motive of Moses in declining the pleasures of sin, exonerates him from all imputation of selfishness in seeking "the recompense of the reward." It was a holy reward which Moses had respect to, a reward which was to be found in the way of obedience, and not simply happiness, irrespective of the means by which it might be attained. Hence it was a just, a religious motive as, indeed, it is recorded of the Author of salvation himself: "For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame." (Heb. 12:2)
It was a reward which Jesus had in view when he gave his back to the smiters, and when he poured out his soul unto death; but it was a reward which involved in the highest degree the glory of the Father who had sent him. Thus Moses looked forward to a future recompense, but it was not the recompense solely which stimulated his obedience. The recompense was a gracious bestowment which he certainly desired, but which he desired in no other way than as it should be connected with God's glory and his own holiness.
But we were considering the principle which animated him. It was faith we are told. By faith he contemplated a joy which would be full and abiding long after the pleasures of sin had vanished and left nothing behind them but the inevitable sting. By faith he grasped the riches which would endure and be satisfying long after the treasures in Egypt had turned into dust and been forgotten.
By faith he looked beyond the present affliction of the people among whom he had cast his lot,—beyond their servitude, their privations, and their disgrace. "He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible;" (Heb. 11:27) and so strong was he in the strength of this divine principle that he boldly "forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." (Heb. 11:27) It was a small matter to him what he should suffer from men, or what of personal convenience and pleasure he should forego, for these things were only for a season; the recompense of the reward, which was laid up for him in heaven, would be imperishable and fadeless forever.
Now this decision of Moses, as it seems to me, was eminently wise; and I appeal to every one of you for the correctness of this conclusion. I have no question whatever as to the verdict of your enlightened and sober judgments. Moses, in rejecting the pleasures of sin and the offered treasures of Egypt, in view of the future reward, acted wisely and as every sane man should act in a similar case. There was no fanaticism in this decision, no mere impulse of feeling. It was the mature, thoughtful act of an intelligent mind.
See how the case stands now. Thousands of years have fled since the body of Moses was laid in its unknown sepulchre in the valley of Moab. For all these centuries has he been enjoying the fruition of that faith which led him "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God," and to bear "the reproach of Christ," than to possess "the treasures in Egypt," or "to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season."
Where is Moses today? And where are the Pharaohs? And where are the pride and pomp of ancient Egypt? And where is the giddy throng that mingled in the dance, or that quaffed the wine-cups in their banquet halls? And where the treasures which built the pyramids, and reared proud monuments to the names of kings? Alas! These all were only "for a season," and have long since perished. But "the recompense of the reward" which the man of God discerned by faith, and upon which he has already entered, shall be for ever and ever. He has received "a kingdom which cannot be moved." (Heb. 12:28) Tell me, was not Moses wise in his decision, notwithstanding all the temporal losses and the obloquy to which that decision subjected him?
And now I bring the subject home to you, my hearers,—to you, young men, who, as I have said, may be this day on the point of a decision which will determine the whole of your future career, and be final as to your eternal happiness or misery. The pleasures of sin are in the one scale; but, remember, they are the pleasures of sin, and they are only for a season. In a short time—a very few years at most—these pleasures will have lost their sweetness, and the dregs of the cup which you must drink, if you now prefer sinful pleasures, will be full of bitterness. In the end, that which seems to you now to be only joy will "bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder." (Prov. 23:32) In the other scale is the service of Christ—an intelligent, rational devotion to the cause of truth and righteousness.
In this service you may have to suffer something of affliction. I will not disguise the truth. The people of God have oftentimes to pass through severe trials before they are "made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." (Col. 1:12) In this service you may have to endure reproach for the name of Jesus. "Yea, all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim. 3:12)
In one shape or another, "the trial of your faith" (1 Pet. 1:7) must be experienced. But, be it so ; and even granting that your entire earthly pilgrimage shall be one unbroken series of afflictions, admitting that it may be best, in the wisdom of God, that poverty, and suffering, and reproach shall fill up the measure of your days upon earth,—admitting all this, I ask, which is the wise decision, the service of God here, and "the recompense of the reward" hereafter, or "the pleasures of sin for a season," and, in the end, "the wages of sin," which "is death?" (Rom. 6:23)
What I want, at this time, is not the verdict, simply, of your judgments, for that I have already, but what I want is the decision of your hearts, and your determination, in the fear of God, and in reliance upon his promised aid, to seek, at once, "that good part which shall not be taken away from you.” (Luke 10:42) “Choose you this day whom ye will serve," (Josh. 24:15) and let your decision, I pray you, be like that of Moses; choose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God," if it must needs be that afflictions come, "than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." "For a season!" Contrast these words—the meaning of them—with the meaning of those other words with which my text closes: "the recompense of the reward."
Here is an example in point. A few days ago, two deaths occurred in this city within six hours of each other. The one was the death of a young man, aged about twenty-four years, of whom it is said by one who had taken pains to make particular inquiry, that "he was a young man of promise, being an excellent anatomist, a skilful linguist, and one who might have risen in the world, but habits of dissipation, disobedience of parents, and evil company, wrought his ruin. He was a young man who preferred "the pleasures of sin," and, truly, they were pleasures which lasted only "for a season." How brief! How illusive! How fatal! He died suddenly—he died upon the gallows, a convicted murderer with the blood of a fellow-creature upon his soul!
From that scene, terminating a life of sinful pleasure, pass with me to another which happened a few hours later. Under the roof of an unpretending dwelling in this city, a circle of weeping friends are gathered about the couch of an aged man who has just ceased to breathe. That man, while yet young, had made the choice of Moses. The pleasures of sin he renounced, and the people of God, in good report and in evil report, he determined should be his people. For nearly half a century he stood upon the walls of Zion, in this city, an affectionate counsellor of the young, and a messenger to all of the good tidings of the gospel.
For nearly half a century he walked our streets, an example of purity of life and of unostentatious devotion to the cause of the Saviour, whose service he chose in his early manhood. When that man died, every friend of virtue and religion in this community felt that a public benefactor had ceased from among the living; and when he was borne to his burial, thousands pressed around his remains, anxious to pay the last tribute of respect and affection to "the memory of the just."
Both these men are now dead and buried. But is this all? When the one man died upon the scaffold, was that the end of the pleasure-seeker? And when the other man died in his chamber, was that the end of the venerable servant of Christ? Where now are the spirits of these departed men? Could I lift the curtain which separates the present from the future, I would show you where they are.
This I am not permitted to do, but I can tell you what God says in his holy book:
And again, it is said,
"The recompense of the reward" is theirs forever.
My hearers, will you decide this question? Will you decide it now? Whom will you serve? Life and death are set before you. Now is the time for your decision, and the decision, remember, must be your own. God calls upon you by his Spirit to make your choice. He has provided for you all needful helps.
"IF THOU BE WISE, THOU SHALT BE WISE FOR THYSELF; BUT IF THOU SCORNEST, THOU ALONE SHALT BEAR IT." (Prov. 9:12)