Public Domain (with exceptions)1
Perhaps we have read the old account as something in the past only. It was for the past, and is for the past, but there is a present sense in which it is more true to us than the mere historical record. We too much read the Bible as an old book. If people would try to read it as a present message, having special reference to the individual life and needs, the “higher criticism” business would largely go out of fashion. Just as a present Christ removes all fear about the second coming of Christ as a Savior, a life in which the world has ended never has trouble about the end of the world. A soul who has found out that the deserts of which the Bible speaks are not so much studies of physical geography as lessons on the inward spiritual soul is not much entertained with mementos of the holy land and bottles of sand from her deserts. In the same way, while one may be properly curious as to the real location of Sinai, the greater question is, Have I ascended my Sinai?
Reading the Bible is one thing; living through what is read is another. Being pleased with the reading and entertained with the story is one thing, but personally traveling the road, while going through the fields of one’s circumstance, is another. Jesus still ascends mountains, walks in the fields, sails on the lakes, feasts with His saints, and talks with them by the way, as of old. He and His throne travel where we are. His Book is for the now, not for the dead past. It was good for those who lived then, but they are dead and in glory, and have no need for it now. So the Master placed the legacy in our hands, “that we might with them be made perfect.”3
To Moses, Sinai was first a trysting place with God. It seemed as if Moses was peculiarly favored. What if he was the only one who had prepared himself for such communion? What if God had only this one chance? Perhaps he longed to give all Israel the same privilege! But you remember they were afraid to talk to God, and when He spoke they asked that He would speak to them no more [Exodus 20:19]. It was not that God did not want to talk. It was that man did not want to hear Him. This is the true meaning; it is not that God is partial, and has social privileges for some which He will not let others possess. He comes where He is invited. He speaks to those who want to hear. He communes with those who give Him welcome.
But we have ears which do not understand the language. We have hearts which have not “prepared Him room.”4 We have spirits so dull and dead that “his softest whisper”5 is a dead language; we are not well enough acquainted to meet and converse. These are the common reasons why so few are ready to ascend the Mount Sinai where God holds converse with mortal man. Looking from the mountaintop of threescore,6 I see this to be a common failure. We are divorced from God in thought, desire, plan, and walk. He cannot tell us half He would like, because “we cannot bear it now.”7 Were we less worldly, that is, less full of that which holds the mind to secularities, or, rather, that kind of thinking which does not carry spirituality into secularity, we would be oftener invited into the chambers of the King. Moses had been prepared for what he was called to. That long forty years in the backside of the desert; that previous forsaking of Egypt; that daring to do the apparently impossible when God told him to; all these were no common antecedents of an uneventful life.
It has always been thus. God is what we take Him for. He always admeasures8 to us as conditions are met. He cannot do otherwise. Our cry for the experience of others far ahead of us is usually but a confession that we have not paid the price they have; that is, we have not made ourselves meet for that which we crave. We may or may not so see it. Yet God is not slack concerning His promise [2 Peter 3:9]. But few souls impress me as having been in the mount of communion with God and returned with the shining face and the will of God as their chief possession. I heard a preacher who was learned. He was filled with the booklore of the day. He had been in the classroom of the learned. History, science, arid research were manifest in all his utterances. He had had the benefit of the schools of rhetoric and elocution. He was instructive and entertaining; but when Auntie Sweet Spirit rose in the classroom after the sermon and told of her Sinai meeting when reading a chapter on her knees, it seemed as if the heavens dropped down fatness and the sermon was in the classroom instead of in the pulpit. When will we learn that communion with God is the great preparative for effective Christian life, either in the pulpit or elsewhere?
Mount Sinai was for Moses a place of wonderful revelation. How much God told him there. Aaron had to receive the law second-hand. Moses was God’s mouthpiece for him. How many run here or there to hear one who has been on his personal Mount of Communion; we cannot hear Him ourselves, for we are unprepared, and the voice of God sounds terrible to us, so that we are afraid. It would not be so if we were in the mount with Him. Distance from God was one thing that distinguished Israel from Moses. At a distance the mount was a terrible sight, and seemed to be on fire and storm-beaten, and the voice of God appeared to the people as fearful thundering. To Moses there was no storm, nor thunder. The best places are nearest to God. To follow “afar off”9 is to finally fail. Moral distance is a bar to communion and to special revelation. Only the separated soul hears God’s secrets. The world-entangled soul cannot get an answer from the skies, though he may hear thunder and see fire. Neither fire nor thunder is God Himself. Plenty of men and women there were who could see fire and hear thunder, and feel the ground shake, yet who knew so little of God as to entreat that He would not speak to them anymore. Only Moses was called to the top of the Mount. To hear a noise and see fire is one thing; to have God’s revelation is another. Moses did not have much to say about the fire, but he had a great deal to say about meeting God, and what God commissioned him to tell.
I take it that our desire to hear from God comes of our living so close to Him as to somewhat apprehend His inmost desire. Moses wanted to hear Him, but the others did not. God wanted to talk to Moses. That is, He wanted to talk to the one who wanted to hear Him. In the same way, He wanted to make the revelation to the one who wanted specially to know His mind and was prepared to understand and receive it.
- The text itself is public domain. It was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2012 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid’s works. Licensed as an experiment under Creative Commons by-nc-nd ↩
- This originally appeared as an article in Isaiah Reid’s “Beyond the Mississippi” section in Christian Witness and Advocate of Bible Holiness, 22 June 1899, page 5. ↩
- Reid here plays off Hebrews 11:40, which says, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” ↩
- The allusion is to that line of the Christmas carol Joy to the World, which says, “Let every heart prepare Him room” (itself an allusion to Luke 2:7). ↩
- Isaiah’s love of poetry (inherited from his father, no doubt) and the mental repertoire of rhyme from which he could draw always amazes me. “His softest whisper” seems to be from a line in an otherwise obscure poem, The Vale of Nazareth, which appeared first in The New American Magazine of Literature, Science and Art (December 1853, Vol. II., No. 6, on pages 161-162). He would have been nearly eighteen at the time, and one imagines him absorbing the poem—and the rest of the magazine—by the light of the fireplace on a winter’s night in eastern Iowa. The poem’s tenth stanza reads:
Yet ere long the winds that echo
From the mountain's summit drear
When their voice is waked to thunders
Shall His softest whisper hear.
- Threescore: That is, sixty. Reid had passed his sixty-third birthday when he wrote these words. ↩
- John 16:12—“I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.” ↩
- Admeasure: to apportion, or to measure out ↩
- Exodus 20:18 says that as God finished giving the Law to Moses the people “stood afar off,” so this is probably the immediate context in Reid’s mind. But the allusion is equally applicable to Peter (Matthew 26:58; Luke 22:54), and it might also include those followers of Jesus who were at the cross (Matthew 27:55; Luke 23:49). ↩