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JOSEPH'S BRETHREN CONVICTED BY
GENESIS XLII. 21.
And they said 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.
This verse affords a striking proof of the power of conscience, and shews that however it
may be overpowered by the present force of some evil desire or temper, or however it may seem to lie dormant for a time, it will hereafter awake, and speak so as to be heard; it will rouse up the recollection of his offences in the transgressor's mind, and make him fear for the consequences. We here see also something of the rewards of sin. Men can
commit it without fear or remorse; they have a temporary pleasure in it; it gratifies some unholy propensity of our fallen nature ; it seems therefore to be pleasing to the flesh; but ere long it will exhibit its poisonous and painful nature; it will bite like like a serpent, and sting as an adder; for the present it may be rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, but it will soon prove bitter as wormwood and grapes of gall. We will therefore now trace the circumstances which produced this conviction of conscience in the brethren of Joseph, for they were the speakers of the text which I have read to you.
Joseph, as we saw in the last sermon, had interpreted Pharaoh's dreams to predict that seven years of abundant plenty would be succeeded by seven years of extraordinary scarcity. He had therefore been appointed by the king to lay up a store of provision while the years of prosperity lasted, and had been invested with almost supreme power over the whole land of Egypt. In due time the years of dearth came on, and it was so general and so severe, that not only Egypt, but the
neighbouring countries were reduced to a state of famine. It extended to the land of Canaan, and as the same precaution had not been used there, the family of Jacob, even in the second year of its continuance, was in great distress. The report had reached them that there was corn in Egypt, for Joseph had opened his storehouses, and was beginning to sell it to all who applied. Jacob therefore said unto his sons, “Why do ye look one upon another ? Behold I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live and not die.” We see here man's natural fondness of life, and the care which he will take for its preservation. The former is an instinct common to all creatures as well as man, and the latter is his duty. But man is a being far superior to the brutes. He has reason as well as instinct; he can look forward to the future, as well as feel his present wants; and he has another and an eternal state of existence for which it is his still higher duty to provide. The holy scriptures point out to him his spiritual necessities, and the perishing condition of his soul; they also shew him where relief is to be found and set before him the bread of life, of which if he eat he shall live for ever; and they warn him not to labour,—that is not to labour exclusively, or even principally,—for the bread which perisheth, but for that which endureth to everlasting life. And it is his wisdom and duty to avail himself of this information, and to apply himself earnestly and diligently to obtain a supply of grace and spiritual blessings for his soul. Let him feel that he is in a perishing state ; but let him be told where there is provision. Then let him not sit still in inactivity ; let him not waste the precious opportunity in idleness or unprofitable complaint; but let him earnestly set himself to the work which is before him, and lay hold on eternal life. The sons of Jacob were admonished by their father, “Why do ye look one upon another, Behold, I have heard there is corn in Egypt, get you down thither, and buy for us from thence, that we may live and not die.” Thus reasoned the lepers also in the great famine of Samaria, as is written in the seventh chapter of the second book of Kings, when that city was surrounded by a Syrian army. “They said one to another, why sit we here until we die ? If we say, we will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there : and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall into the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live ; and if they kill us, we shall but die.” So they went and discovered that the Syrians had deserted their camp, under an alarm cast upon them by God, and they found enough to save not only their own lives, but the lives of their countrymen too. So may we say to all, but especially to those who more nearly resemble in state the sons of Jacob, and are become sensible of their pressing need and dangerous condition, why do you look one upon another with despair ? Why do you pore over your misery, and stand looking upon your danger, when you have heard that in Christ there is life and salvation. Go and seek help from him, from whom help may