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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 42

 

 

Verse 21

DISCOURSE: 54

THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE

Genesis 42:21. And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us.

THE history of Joseph appears rather like a well-concerted fiction than a reality. In it is found all that gives beauty to the finest drama; a perfect unity of design; a richness and variety of incident, involving the plot in obscurity, yet gradually drawing it to its destined end; and the whole issuing happily, to the rewarding of virtue and discouraging of vice. The point to which all tends, is, the fulfilment of Joseph’s dreams in the submission of his whole family to him. And here we find his dreams realized through the very means which were used to counteract their accomplishment. Already had his brethren bowed themselves down with their faces to the earth: but this was only the commencement of their subjection to him: they must be brought far lower yet, and be made to feel the guilt they had contracted by their cruelty towards him. With this view Joseph forbears to reveal himself to them, but deals roughly with them, imprisoning them as spies, and menacing them with death if they do not clear themselves from that charge. They had formerly cast him into a pit, and sold him as a slave; and now they are cast into prison and bound: they once were deaf to his cries and entreaties; and now the governor of Egypt is deaf to theirs. This brings to their remembrance their former conduct; and they trace the hand of an avenging God in their sufferings. Their conscience, which had been so long dormant, now wakes, and performs its office.

This is the incident mentioned in our text: and, confining our attention to it, we shall shew,

I. The general office of conscience—

To enter into any philosophical discussion respecting that faculty which we call conscience, would be altogether beside our purpose, and unsuited to the present occasion. It will be sufficient to take the word in its popular sense, as importing that natural faculty whereby we judge both of our actions and the consequences of them. It is given to us by God, to operate as,

1. A guide—

[Of itself indeed it cannot guide, but only according to rules which before exist in the mind. It does not so much tell us what is right or wrong, as whether our actions correspond with our apprehensions of right and wrong. But as we are apt to be biased by interest or passion to violate our acknowledged obligations, conscience is intended to act as a guide or monitor, warning us against the commission of evil, and inciting us to the performance of what is good. True it is indeed that it often stimulates to evil under the notion of good: for St. Paul followed its dictates in persecuting the Christians, when “he thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus [Note: Acts 26:9.]:” and our blessed Lord informs us, that many who would kill his disciples would do it under an idea that they were rendering unto God an acceptable service [Note: John 16:2.]. The fault of these persons consists not in following the dictates of their conscience, but in not taking care to have their conscience better informed. A thing which is evil in itself cannot be made good by any erroneous conceptions of ours respecting it: but things which are of themselves innocent, become evil, if they be done contrary to the convictions of our own minds [Note: Romans 14:14.]: for we ought to be fully persuaded of the propriety of a thing before we do it [Note: Romans 14:5.] ; and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin [Note: Romans 14:23.].”]

2. A judge—

[Conscience is God’s vicegerent in the soul, and authoritatively pronounces in the soul the judgment which God himself will pass on our actions [Note: Romans 2:15.]. It takes cognizance not of our actions only, but of our principles and motives, and brings into its estimate every thing that will form the basis of God’s judgment. Of course, in this, as well as in its suggestions, it may err: for, if it form a wrong judgment of the qualities of our actions, its judgment must be wrong also as to the consequences of them. It may promise us God’s approbation upon grounds that are very erroneous: but when its apprehensions of our duty are themselves just, its award respecting our performance of it is a prelude of God’s final judgment: for St. John says, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things:” but “if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God [Note: 1 John 3:20-21.],”]

But, as its operations are by no means uniform, we proceed to mark,

II. Its insensibility, when dormant—

Wonderful was its insensibility in the sons of Jacob—

[When they conspired against their brother Joseph, and cast him into the pit, that he might perish with hunger, they regarded not the cries and entreaties of the youth, but proceeded in their murderous career without remorse. But the seasonable appearance of a company of Ishmaelites suggested to them somewhat of an easier method of ridding themselves of him. At the suggestion of Judah, “What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, and our flesh;” they acceded to it, and “were content.” In the first instance, after putting him into the pit, “they sat down to eat bread,” evidently without any compunction: but now they were quite “content,” applauding themselves for their humanity, instead of condemning themselves for their injustice and cruelty [Note: Genesis 37:23-28.].

View next their mode of deceiving their aged father. They took Joseph’s coat, and dipped it in the blood of a kid which they killed for the purpose; and brought it to their father, in order that he might conclude, that an evil beast had devoured his son. (How far God might design this as a just retribution for the deceit which Jacob himself had practised towards his aged father, when he, by assuming Esau’s coat, stole away the blessing that belonged to Esau, we stay not to notice: with this the sons of Jacob had nothing to do.) They behold their aged parent overwhelmed with grief, and absolutely inconsolable for the loss of his son: and these detestable hypocrites “rise up to comfort him [Note: Genesis 37:31-35.].” Where is conscience all this time? Has it no voice? Is there not one amongst them all that has any compunctious visitings? not one amongst all the ten? Does no heart relent at the sight of the anguish of an aged and pious parent, sitting from day to day and from month to month “with sackcloth on his loins,” and “going down mourning to the grave?” No; not one of them all, as far as we know, ever “repented, saying, What have I done?” For the space of two and twenty years they all continued in impenitent obduracy; and were not made even at last to feel the guilt they had contracted in selling their brother, till they themselves were brought into somewhat similar circumstances with him, and constrained to read their own crime in their punishment. Such was conscience in them!]

Yet this is in reality what we may see in ourselves and in all around us—

[Behold the profane, who have not God in all their thoughts, and who never utter the name of God but to blaspheme it: they can go on for years and years, and yet never imagine that they have once offended God. Behold the sensual, who revel in all manner of uncleanness: they “wipe their mouth, like the adulteress, and say, I have done no wickedness [Note: Proverbs 30:20.].” Behold the worldly, who have no cares whatever beyond the things of time and sense: their idolatrous love to the creature raises no doubts or fears in their minds: yea, rather, they bless themselves as wise, prudent, diligent, and think that they have done all that is required of them. Behold the self-righteous, who, from an overweening conceit of their own goodness, will not submit to the righteousness of God: they can make light of all the invitations of the Gospel, and pour contempt upon its gracious overtures, and yet never once suspect themselves to be enemies of Christ. Behold the professors of religion who “confess Christ with their lips but in their works deny him:” they will spend a whole life in such self-deceit, and never entertain a doubt but that he will acknowledge them as his in the day of judgment. And whence is this? Is it not that conscience is asleep? If it performed in any measure its office, could it be thus? Yet thus it is sometimes even with those who are well instructed in religion. The sins of David are well known: yet even he, who at one time was smitten with grief and shame at having cut off the skirt of a man who sought his life, now kills the very man who was daily hazarding his life for him, and feels no remorse: yea, after having seduced the wife of his friend, and then murdered him, he continues at least nine months as obdurate as the most profligate of the human race: to such a degree was his “conscience seared as with a hot iron [Note: 1 Timothy 4:2.],” and to such a degree may our “hearts also be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin [Note: Hebrews 3:13.].”]

But the text leads us to contemplate more particularly,

III. Its power when awake—

God has various ways of awakening a drowsy conscience. Sometimes he does it through some afflictive dispensation, as in the case before us: sometimes through the conversation of a friend [Note: 2 Samuel 12:7.]: sometimes by the public ministry of the word [Note: Acts 24:25.]: sometimes by an occurrence arising out of men’s wickedness [Note: 2 Samuel 24:10.], or in some way connected with it [Note: Daniel 5:5-6; Matthew 14:1-2.]. But by whatever means it is called into activity, it will make us hear when it speaks to us.

Some it inspires only with terror—

[Thus it wrought on these: they saw their guilt, and the wrath of God upon them on account of it: “We are verily guilty concerning our brother,” said they, “and behold his blood is required of us [Note: 2.].” Thus it wrought also on the unhappy Judas, who, when he saw what he had clone, could no longer endure his very existence [Note: Matthew 27:3-5.]. And on how many does it produce no other effect than this! They see how grievously they have offended God: and, not having the grace of repentance given to them, they sink into despondency. Life now becomes a burthen to them: and they choose rather to rush into an unknown state than to endure the stings of an accusing conscience. Hence the suicides that are so frequent in the world. Men live in sin, imagining that no painful consequences shall ever ensue: but at last “their sin finds them out;” and they seek in suicide a refuge from the torments of a guilty mind. But where a sense of guilt does not drive men to this extremity, it makes them tremble, as Felix did; and imbitters to them their whole existence, so that they are utter strangers to peace, according as it is written, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”]

On others it operates with a more genial influence—

[Thus it wrought on Manasseh, when he was taken among the thorns [Note: 2 Chronicles 33:11-13.]. And thus on Peter also, when he “went out, and wept bitterly [Note: Luke 22:61-62.].” V Happy, happy they, on whom it produces such effects as these! They will have no reason to repine at any afflictions that are productive of such a blessing [Note: Job 36:8-9.]. What if the intermediate trials be severe? we shall have reason to bless God for them to all eternity, if they lead to this end [Note: Psalms 32:3-6.] ; and shall have cause to say with David, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”]

On all, its testimony is as the voice of God himself—

[It speaks with authority. The stoutest man in the universe cannot endure its reproaches: and the most afflicted man in the universe is made happy by its testimony in his behalf [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.]. We should therefore keep it tender, and be ever attentive to its voice. On no occasion should we violate its dictates: for though we may silence its voice for a time, or drown it in vanity and dissipation, it will speak at last, and constrain us to hear all that it has recorded concerning us. And when once it does speak, then we may say concerning it, that “he whom it blesses, is blessed; and he whom it curses, is cursed.”]

Advice—

1. Seek to maintain a good conscience before God—

[Let your minds be well instructed in the written word, and your lives be regulated by its dictates. To have always a conscience void of offence towards both God and man is no easy matter: but it is worth the utmost labour and vigilance that you can bestow upon it.]

2. Do not however rest too confidently in testimonies of its approbation—

[It will not always speak the same language that it does when blinded by prejudice or passion. At the time of committing this great evil, the sons of Jacob “were content;” and they applauded themselves for their forbearance towards their ill-fated brother. But at a subsequent period, how different were their views of the very same action! So will it be with us. We may now approve and applaud our own conduct: but we must not conclude that we shall therefore always do so. We are now too apt to be partial in our own favour; but at a future period we shall judge righteous judgment, even as God himself will do: and we are no longer certain that our judgment of our own state is correct, than when it manifestly accords with the word of God.]

3. Look forward to the future judgment—

[That will certainly be correct: for God knoweth our hearts, and will bring every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or evil. But oh! how painful will be the review in that day, if then for the first time we are made sensible of our sins! What a bitter reflection will it be, ‘I did so and so; and therefore all this is come upon me: I have procured it all unto myself.’ On the other hand, how delightful will it be to look back, and be able to appeal to God and say, “I have walked before thee with a perfect heart!” True it is, this will afford us no ground for boasting: but, if we walk before God in all good conscience now, we shall have its approving testimony in a dying hour, and the approbation of our God in the day of judgment [Note: Isaiah 38:3.].]


Verse 36

DISCOURSE: 55

JACOB’S UNBELIEVING FEARS

Genesis 42:36. All these things are against me!

THE best of men are weak when they come into temptation. The trials of Jacob were indeed heavy: and, if we suppose that he had any idea that his sons had been active agents in bereaving him of his beloved Joseph, his grief must have been poignant beyond all expression. Not having been able to bring home to them any proof of such a conspiracy, he seems never to have dropped any hint to them before respecting it; and possibly he did not even now mean to charge it home upon them, but only to say, that he had been bereaved in some measure through them: nevertheless his words seem to betray a lurking suspicion, that they had been accessory to Joseph’s death; “Me ye have bereaved; Joseph is not:” and this might well make him averse to trust Benjamin in their hands. But in the complaint he uttered respecting the ultimate end of his trials, he was manifestly wrong. We say not, that we should have shewn more constancy than he: it is more than probable that none of us in his circumstances would have acted better: but from his language on the occasion we may learn, how we do act in trying circumstances, and how we ought to act.

I. How we do act—

“We are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward:” none therefore can hope to escape it; and least of all they, who, like Jacob, have large families. While our trials are light, we can bear them with composure; but if they become heavy and accumulated, we are then apt to indulge,

1. Murmuring complaints—

[Whether Jacob meant to reflect on his sons or not, he certainly meant to complain of his afflictions; which was, in fact, to complain of God, who, in his all-wise providence, had appointed them. It was thus with his posterity during their sojourning in the wilderness: they always murmured against Moses, and against God, whenever they were involved in any difficulty or distress; and, when they were discouraged by the report of the spies respecting the land of Canaan and its inhabitants, they even proposed to make a Captain over them, and to return unto Egypt [Note: Numbers 14:4.]. And how many such “murmurers and complainers” are there amongst ourselves! Some will expressly declare, that they think God deals hardly with them: others content themselves with venting their spleen against the instruments of their calamities: but all, in one way or other, are apt to “charge God foolishly,” as if he were unmerciful, if not unrighteous also, in his dispensations towards them.]

2. Desponding fears—

[So filled was Jacob with a sense of his present calamities, that he could not indulge a hope of a favourable issue from them: he thought of nothing but increasing troubles, which should “bring down his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.” Thus also his descendants, whom we have before alluded to: they had seen bread given them from heaven, and water out of the stony rock; but they doubted whether God were able to provide flesh also for their sustenance: and when they were brought to the very borders of Canaan, they doubted whether it were possible for them ever to conquer the inhabitants, and take their fenced cities. And are not we also ready to say, on some occasions, “Our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts?” Are we not ready to ask with David, whether his “mercy be not come utterly to an end?” Yes; in temporal things we too often sink under our troubles as absolutely irremediable; and in spiritual matters, we doubt almost the ability, and at all events the willingness, of Christ to save us.]

While we condemn the unbelief of this afflicted patriarch, we acknowledge, in fact,

II. How we ought to act—

However dark may be the dispensations of God towards us, we should,

1. Wait his time—

[We are not to be impatient because relief does not come at the first moment that we ask for it. There must be a time for the dispensations of God to produce their proper effects upon our hearts. We do not expect that a medical prescription shall effect in one moment all for which it was administered; we expect its operation to be unpleasant; and we are contented to submit to pain for a season, that we may afterwards enjoy the blessings of health. Now we know that our heavenly Physician prescribes with unerring wisdom, and consults our greatest good: whatever time therefore the accomplishment of his designs may occupy, we should wait with patience, assured that the intended benefits shall ultimately be enjoyed. We should give him credit, if we may so speak, for his wisdom and love; and leave him to display them in his own way: “He that believeth, shall not make haste.”]

2. Rest on his promises—

[The promises of God to his people, respecting the issue of their trials, are exceeding great and precious. He declares, that we shall have “no temptation without a way to escape;” that “all things shall work together for our good,” and “work out for us a more exceeding weight of glory.” Surely such promises as these should reconcile us to trials, however great. What can we wish for more? And how can we dare to say, “All these things are against me,” when God tells us positively that they are working for us? Did we ever know that one of God’s promises failed? Why then should we doubt the accomplishment of these, when they have already been fulfilled in so many thousand instances? Let it satisfy us, that God has promised; and that “what he has promised, he is able also to perform.”]

3. Hope against hope—

[This was Abraham’s conduct under far heavier trials than we have ever experienced [Note: Romans 4:18 with Hebrews 11:17-19.]. What though we cannot see how God can effect our deliverance? Is he also at a loss? The darker our state, the more simple should be our affiance. We should say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” How was Jacob reproved at last, when he saw the issue of those things which in his haste he had so deplored! Let us remember that there is the same gracious, almighty God at this time; and that “they who trust in Him shall never be confounded.”]

We may further learn from this subject,

1. What an excellent grace faith is—

[Faith beholds nothing but paternal love in the heaviest chastisements. Faith “brings meat out of the eater,” and tastes sweetness in the bitterest cup. Faith looks to the end of things, and sees them, in a measure, as God sees them. It is the great and sovereign antidote to troubles of every kind. If Jacob had exercised faith as Abraham did, the trials of which he complained would scarcely have been felt at all. But God is pleased to try us on purpose that we may learn to trust in him. In this world “we are to walk by faith, and not by sight.” Let us therefore cultivate continually this divine principle, which, while it honours God, tends exceedingly to the advancement of our own happiness.]

2. How blessed a state heaven will be—

[Here God has wisely and graciously hid futurity from our view. But when we are arrived at the heavenly mansions, we shall see all the merciful designs of God developed, and the wisdom of his dispensations clearly displayed. We shall then see that the trials of which we once complained, were not only salutary, but absolutely necessary for us; and that, if they had been withheld from us, there would have been wanting a link in that chain, by which we were to be brought in safety to heaven. Who will there adopt the language of the text? Who will utter it in reference to any one trial of his life? Who will not rather say, “He hath done all things well?” Let us then look forward to that time, and not pass our judgment on present things, till we see and understand the design of God in them.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 42:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-42.html. 1832.

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