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Upon the Golden Calf and the Brazen Serpent


Photo: Wheat-field trespasser, Jenny Downing

The makers of these two images were Moses and Aaron, such a pair of brothers as history cannot parallel for eminency and whose names outshine greatly all others of like alliance that have honorable mention in the Book of God. Where are their two brothers in that sacred Chronicle so renowned for the many miracles done by then? Are so highly dignified by titles given to them by the Spirit of God as they?

Moses being styled signally the Servant of God; and Aaron, the Saint of the Lord: and yet has strangely differing are these two images: they are unlike in the matter: the one being of gold and the other of brass; unlike in the figure, the one at calf, the other is serpent; but most alike in their effects, the one killing, the other healing. The golden calf that kills, and the brazen serpent that saves alive.

One would think that the same fountain should as soon send fourth salt water and fresh, as either of these to do anything that should terminate in such effects, by whose harmonious conduct Israel had been led as a flock of sheep through the wilderness.

But what if their actions did jar? Yet, who could readily conceived that Arron’s calf should be essay destroying poison? Or that Moses’s serpent should be in an effectual antidote to save alive? Did he not flee from his rod when it turned into a serpent, as fearing to be hurt by? And was not this brazen serpent and shaping figure like to those fiery serpents that had stung many Israelites to death?

From whence then comes this strange difference between the one and the other? Is it not from hence: Aaron’s calf, though made of gold, was without, even against a commandment of God. But Moses’s serpent, though of brass, was by his special appointment. Let the institutions of God being never so mean [low, despised] and despicable to the eyes of sense; yet they shall obtain they’re designed end. And let the inventions of men be never so rich and costly, they should be found to be no other than hurtful vanities.

Who is so small and insight in the mystery of idolatry and superstition, as to not observe how they affect I pump and splendor in their religion as if when they had made it gay, they had made it good? And how greatly they despise the simplicity of that worship which is not clothed and decked with an external grandeur? But will it close in the mouth cure the unsavory breathings of corrupt lungs? Or will the leper’s making of himself brave with the finest garments cause the priest to pronounce him clean, when he comes to the hold is sore? Then may such arts and palliations of men, wedded to idolatrous practices vindicate the evil of their doings, and justify them to be such as God will not condemn.

But as religion is not a thing left to any man’s choice, to pick out from that diversity with which the world abounds what best pleases himself; so neither are the ways and mediums of the exercise of it at all in his power. As God is the object of worship, so the means by which he is honored and his servants benefited that use them must be appointed by himself. For all ordinances do not work necessarily, as the fire burns or as the sun enlightens the air; nor do they work physically, as having an inherent power to produce their effects; but they are operative, by way of institution, and receive their virtue from God, who therefor appoints weak and insufficient things to the I have reason, that himself maybe the more acknowledged in all.

What could be more unlikely to heal the Vikings of a fiery serpent, then the looking up on only to a brazen serpent? Or to restore the blind man his sight, then the anointing of his eyes with clay and spittle? And yet these things God and Christ are pleased to make use of; not from indigency [any lack of other means], if they could not work without means, but from wisdom and counsel, to show that they can work by any [means, or without means].

Let no man then fondly [foolishly] make it his work, or counted his duty to honor God with his inventions, though specious [apparently useful] and beautiful in his own eyes; but let him value and prize God’s institutions, though to outward appearance they be contemptible. The blue bottles and in the field are more gaudy and delightful to the eye then the corn amongst which they grow; but yet the one are worthless, and the others full strength and nourishment.