THE BIRTHNIGHT OF FREEDOM
Exodus xii. 42. This is a night to be much observed unto the Lord, for bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt.
To be much observed unto the Lord by the children of Israel. And by us, too, my friends; and by all nations who call themselves FREE.
There are many and good ways of looking at Easter Day. Let us look at it in this way for once.
It is the day on which God himself set men FREE.
Consider the story. These Israelites, the children of Abraham, the brave, wild patriarch of the desert, have been settled for hundreds of years in the rich lowlands of Egypt. There they have been eating and drinking their fill, and growing more weak, slavish, luxurious, fonder and fonder of the flesh-pots of Egypt; fattening literally for the slaughter, like beasts in a stall. They are spiritually dead--dead in trespasses and sins. They do not want to be free, to be a nation. They are content to be slaves and idolaters, if they can only fill their stomachs. This is the spiritual death of a nation.
I say, they do not want to be free. When they are oppressed, they cry out--as an animal cries when you beat him. But after they are free, when they get into danger, or miss their meat, they cry out too, and are willing enough to return to slavery; as the dog which has run away for fear of the whip, will go back to his kennel for the sake of his food. 'Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us to carry us out of Egypt?' And again, 'Would God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, where we did sit by the flesh-pots, and eat meat to the full!' BRUTALIZED, in one word, were these poor children of Israel.
Then God took their cause into his own hand; I say emphatically into his own hand. If that part of the story be not true, I care nothing for the rest. If God did not personally and actually interfere on behalf of those poor slaves; if the plagues of Egypt are not TRUE-- the passage of the Red Sea be not TRUE--the story tells me and you nothing; gives us no hope for ourselves, no hope for mankind.
For see. One says, and truly, God is good; God is love; God is just; God hates oppression and wrong.
BUT if God be love, he must surely show his love by doing loving things.
If God be just, he must show his justice by doing just things.
If God hates oppression, then he must free the oppressed.
If God hates wrong, then he must set the wrong right.
For what would you think of a man who professed to be loving and just, and to hate oppression and wrong, and yet never took the trouble to do a good action, or to put down wrong, when he had the power? You would call him a hypocrite; you would think his love and justice very much on his tongue, and not in his heart.
And will you believe that God is like that man? God forbid!
Comfortable scholars and luxurious ladies may content themselves with a DEAD God, who does not interfere to help the oppressed, to right the wrong, to bind up the broken-hearted; but men and women who work, who sorrow, who suffer, who partake of all the ills which flesh is heir to--they want a LIVING God, an acting God, a God who WILL interfere to right the wrong. Yes--they want a living God. And they have a living God--even the God who interfered to bring the Israelites out of Egypt with signs and wonders, and a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and executed judgment upon Pharaoh and his proud and cruel hosts. And when they read in the Bible of that God, when they read in their Bibles the story of the Exodus, their hearts answer, THIS is right. This is the God whom we need. This is what ought to have happened. This is true: for it must be true. Let comfortable folks who know no sorrow trouble their brains as to whether sixty or six hundred thousand fighting men came out of Egypt with Moses. We care not for numbers. What we care for is, not how many came out, but who brought them out, and that he who brought them out was GOD. And the book which tells us that, we will cling to, will love, will reverence above all the books on earth, because it tells of a living God, who works and acts and interferes for men; who not only hates wrong, but rights wrong; not only hates oppression, but puts oppressors down; not only pities the oppressed, but sets the oppressed free; a God who not only wills that man should have freedom, but sent freedom down to him from heaven.
Scholars have said that the old Greeks were the fathers of freedom; and there have been other peoples in the world's history who have made glorious and successful struggles to throw off their tyrants and be free. And they have said, We are the fathers of freedom; liberty was born with us. Not so, my friends! Liberty is of a far older and far nobler house; Liberty was born, if you will receive it, on the first Easter night, on the night to be much remembered among the children of Israel--ay, among all mankind--when God himself stooped from heaven to set the oppressed free. Then was freedom born. Not in the counsels of men, however wise; or in the battles of men, however brave: but in the counsels of God, and the battle of God--amid human agony and terror, and the shaking of the heaven and the earth; amid the great cry throughout Egypt when a first-born son lay dead in every house; and the tempest which swept aside the Red Sea waves; and the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night; and the Red Sea shore covered with the corpses of the Egyptians; and the thunderings and lightnings and earthquakes of Sinai; and the sound as of a trumpet waxing loud and long; and the voice, most human and most divine, which spake from off the lonely mountain peak to that vast horde of coward and degenerate slaves, and said, 'I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt. Thou shalt obey my laws, and keep my commandments to do them.' Oh! the man who would rob his suffering fellow-creatures of that story--he knows not how deep and bitter are the needs of man.
Then was freedom born: but not of man; not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of the will of God, from whom all good things come; and of Christ, who is the life and the light of men and of nations, and of the whole world, and of all worlds, past, present, and to come.
From God came freedom. To be used as his gift, according to his laws; for he gave, and he can take away; as it is written, 'He shall take the kingdom of God from you, and give it to a people bringing forth the fruits thereof.' 'For there be many first that shall be last; and last that shall be first.' It is this which makes the Jews indeed a peculiar people: the thought that the living God had actually and really done for them what they could not do for themselves; that he had made them a nation, and not they themselves. It is this which makes the Old Testament an utterly different book, with an utterly different lesson, to the written history of any other nation in the world.
And yet it is this which makes the history of the Jews the key to every other history in the world. For in it Jesus Christ our Lord, the living God who makes history, who governs all nations, reveals and unveils himself, and teaches not the Jews only, but us and all nations, that it is he who hath made us, and not we ourselves; that we got not the land in possession by our own sword, nor was it our own strength that helped us, but thou, O Lord, because thou hadst a favour unto us; that not to us, not to us is the praise of any national greatness or glory, but to God, from whom it comes as surely a free gift as the gift of liberty to the Jews of old.
I say, the history of the Jews is the history of the whole Church, and of every nation in Christendom.
As with the Jews, so with the nations of Europe; whenever they have trusted in themselves, their own power and wisdom, they have ended in weakness and folly. Whenever they have trusted in Christ the living God, and said, 'It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves,' they have risen to strength and wisdom. When they have forgotten the living God, national life and patriotism have died in them, as they died in the Jews. When they have remembered that the most high God was their Redeemer, then in them, as in the Jews, have national life and patriotism revived.
And as it was with the Jews in the wilderness, so it has been with them since Christ's resurrection. They fancied that they were going at once into the promised land. So did the first Christians. But the Jews had to wander forty years in the wilderness; and Christendom has had to wander too, in strange and bloodstained paths, for one thousand eight hundred years and more. For why? The Israelites were not worthy to enter at once into rest; no more have the nation of Christ's Church been worthy. The Israelites brought out of Egypt base and slavish passions, which had to be purged out of them; so have we out of heathendom. They brought out, too, heathen superstitions, and mixed them up with the worship of God, bearing about in the wilderness the tabernacle of Moloch and the image of their god Remphan, and making the calf in Horeb; and so, alas! again and again, has the Church of Christ.
Nay, the whole generation, save two, who came out of Egypt, had to die in the wilderness, and leave their bones scattered far and wide. And so has mankind been dying, by war and by disease, and by many fearful scourges besides what is called now-a-days, natural decay.
But all the while a new generation was springing up, trained in the wilderness to be bold and hardy; trained, too, under Moses' stern law, to the fear of God; to reverence, and discipline, and obedience, without which freedom is merely brutal license, and a nation is no nation, but a mere flock of sheep or a herd of wolves.
And so, for these one thousand eight hundred years have the generations of Christendom, by the training of the Church and the light of the Gospel, been growing in wisdom and knowledge; growing in morality and humanity, in that true discipline and loyalty which are the yoke-fellows of freedom and independence, to make them fit for that higher state, that heavenly Canaan, of which we know not WHEN it will come, nor whether its place will be on this earth or elsewhere; but of which it is written, 'And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.
'And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it; and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.'
That, the perfect Easter Day, seems far enough off as yet; but it will come. As the Lord liveth, it will come; and to it may Christ in his mercy bring us all, and our children's children after us. Amen.