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CORRESPONDENCE

State Road, Del., Dec, 1897.

Dear Brethren: – Having written lately on the character and experience of the patriarch Joseph, and the mission fulfilled by him, I now have a mind to speak of the experience of Israel after Joseph’s ministry was fulfilled, and the ministrations to that people passed into other hands. “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he aware to Abraham,” &c. – Gen. 1. 24. There is a great deal in that covenant that was announced to Abraham, that is not fulfilled in the ministry of Joseph, and that could not be fulfilled in a ministry of that kind Joseph must needs die, and his ministry cease; but like as Moses blessed the children of Israel in his death, as well as in his life, so Joseph’s death, and the end of his ministry, will in the end result in what he foresees, and predicts; that God will surely visit them, and bring them out of that land. It had been Joseph’s ministry to plant them in that land, and they had taken deep root. I have little doubt but Goshen was more fertile and productive than even Palestine; and at the time of Joseph’s death there might have been none living that were not born in Egypt. Egypt is supposed to represent the world, and throughout Joseph’s ministration they seem to be continually led more and more into the world, and given more and more of its riches and comforts. So that so far it seemed like Providence itself being arrayed against the people ever possessing the promised Canaan. There seems so far no sign that it will ever be desirable for them. As yet they know nothing of the God of Abraham, or of his worship. They are satisfied with their lot in Egypt. When God visits his people while they are prospering in the world, and increasing in riches, and satisfied with their portion, the visit is far from being desirable. The first evidence of a visit from God is a change in the Egyptian government. There must another king arise that knows not Joseph. The Lord does not present inducements, and make appeals, and offer rewards to induce people to come out from the world and follow him. They would never heed his call. Their prosperity and happiness will all be taken from them. They are turned against the world, and the world against them. But the lessons must be long and severe. They will stay in Egypt just as long as they can stay. When they leave it is not choice but necessity. Egypt has become a desolation for their sake. When they go it will not be necessary to present glowing pictures of a land flowing with milk and honey. They are ready to go out into “a great and terrible wilderness.” Like their father Abraham in Mesopotamia, they will go out, not knowing whither they go, but they are going out anyway. There are two powers to deal with. The people are averse to going out, and the king is averse to letting them go. It will not take so long time, but it will take the same omnipotent power with Pharaoh, but it will be effectual with both. We may never know whether Joseph foresaw what the visit would be, or what kind of a visit would be necessary in order to bring the people out of that land. Even when Joseph made the announcement to them, that God would surely visit them and bring them out, they probably had little idea how unwilling they would be, and what a high hand and stretched out arm it would require to bring them out. The lessons learned under Joseph will not be fully understood until many other lessons are learned. If they had remained in the land of Canaan, and grown gradually up into the possession of that land, they never would have known the lessons that they learned when God did indeed visit them, and redeem them from the hand of their enemies. From the time of Joseph’s death we hear no more of the promise for many years. We do not know that for a long time there was a single Israelite that cared whether the promise was ever fulfilled. I do not think that natural men and women ever feel any interest in spiritual promises, until made acquainted with the blessings promised, and in that way an interest is awakened. There was no law over the people of Israel while in Egypt, except the law of the Egyptian government. If there were any among the tribes in whom remained any traces of the faith of their father Abraham, we have no account whatever of it. The Lord did not require any worship of them, nor lay any law upon them, until he first made himself known to them. They were learning lessons, the effect of which they did not know until long afterward. There had not been priest or prophet to say a word to them from the death of Joseph until many years afterward, when Moses visited them, supposing that they would have understood that God by his hand would deliver them; but they understood not; and if they had understood, they are not yet willing. When the Lord speaks to men to be obeyed, the word does not come in word only, but in power and in the Spirit. He had not yet said to Israel, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” &c., and if he had so said, he would not have been obeyed. They did not then know the Lord, and nothing had yet been revealed to them to inspire love or gratitude. He sent his name to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh simply said, “Who is the Lord?” He learned afterward who the Lord was, and then he obeyed. But that command was not to love the Lord. When this law or commandment was given to Israel they were already obeying it, so that it came to them as a witness of the effect of a knowledge of the true God. He had revealed himself to them as a Deliverer when they were in distress; and they could not help loving those oft repeated deliverances that came to them. “It was then that in Judea was God known, and his name was great in Israel.” As fast and as far as he is revealed to them they love him, because everything is lovely that has been revealed. People do not love as a mere volition or persuasion, neither is there any price that will purchase it. In his love and in his pity he has redeemed them, but as yet had laid upon them no commandments. They murmured against Moses, and against God, but no judgments fall upon them. Pharaoh and his pursuing hosts have been overthrown, and the sea divided for the ransomed to pass over. When water failed the rock was smitten, and the waters ran in the dry places like a river. Still there are other important lessons for them yet to learn. The attributes and perfections of Jehovah as a holy being, to be loved and adored as such, are as yet hidden from them, but which they are erelong to learn. They have however learned enough that they are prepared to listen and to give heed to the further lessons that await them. The apostle said he had not known sin but by the law, neither would the people of Israel, and the righteousness of that law must be made to appear, else they will remain as ignorant of sin as Paul did. When the Lord revealed himself in and through his holy law, it was in flames of devouring fire. It was in a voice of words that was so terrible that they entreated that the words should not be spoken to them any more, “Lest we die.” The effect of this holy law, when brought home to the understanding and conscience of the people was, “That every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.” Nothing had as yet been said to them about sin, or atonement for sin, and no offering of sacrifices for sin had as yet been enjoined upon them. They had not as yet that knowledge of sin that comes by the law, and of course could have no idea of sacrifice for sin. Nothing had as yet been said to them about mercy, or that God would commune with them from off a mercy-seat. They could know nothing of mercy while as yet they knew nothing of judgment and condemnation. These things come in their order, and the result will be that mercy will rejoice against judgment. Not only a ministry of mercy is revealed, but sacrifices and offerings for sin. They had bread to eat that they knew not of in Egypt, and they probably would not have appreciated it there. They never would have known the need of living bread or living water. They had first to learn the need of it before it came, and they could not have been told so that they would have understood it. They were never told beforehand what they were to do when their stock of supplies from Egypt was exhausted. There was a great deal involved in their being brought out of that land, and being brought into the land that was promised to Abraham. They were brought out effectually from the idolatry of Egypt, and from its worldliness, and into the faith of their father Abraham. It may seem surprising to us that it took them so long to learn. They dwelt about a year in the immediate vicinity of Mt. Sinai. They evidently were there only long enough to learn their lessons. Then forty years in the Arabian desert; all this while being fed and provided for by the immediate hand of God. All the elements of sacred worship are embraced in the lessons that were taught to this people; but they were lessons that are never taught in any other way. Nothing that came to them was ever anticipated.

I will not now go on to speak particularly of the end of Moses’ teaching, and the preparation there was in if for the offerings that would constitute the worship under Joshua. But as these things are written for our learning, I am calling them up for our sakes, hoping that by a further understanding of the Scriptures, we may trace the way that we ourselves have been led. God did surely visit them, but for a long time they knew him not. There was not one single step of the way that they would have chosen. They were brought out themselves, as well as out of Egypt; and the worship unto which they were called had a place first in their own hearts, as it had a place in the experience through which they had passed. They sang a song on the banks of the Red Sea that no other nation or people ever have learned to sing. There is no other way to learn it. No man knoweth the Son, save the Father, and we none of us ever learn Christ as a Savior until that blessed Spirit that guides into all truth, takes of Jesus and shows unto his people. There is then a song of praise in their mouths that embraces that work of redeeming grace of which they are subjects. It is said that a good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things. I do not know of any other source from whence these good things may be obtained. And there is a kind of satisfaction in feeling the assurance when we speak of these things, that we speak that we do know and testify of things that we ourselves have seen and felt.

Yours to serve in the gospel,
E. RITTENHOUSE.

Signs Of The Times
Volume 66., No. 2.
JANUARY 15, 1898.