Here is, I. The general doom passed upon presumptuous sinners. 1. Those are to be reckoned presumptuous sinners that sin with a high hand, as the original phrase is (Num. 15:30), that is, that avowedly confront God’s authority, and set up their own lust in competition with it, that sin for sinning-sake, in contradiction to the precept of the law, and in defiance of the penalty, that fight against God, and dare him to do his worst; see Job 15:25. It is not only to sin against knowledge, but to sin designedly against God’s will and glory. 2. Sins thus committed are exceedingly sinful. He that thus breaks the commandment, (1.) Reproaches the Lord (Num. 15:30); he says the worst he can of him, and most unjustly. The language of presumptuous sin is, “Eternal truth is not fit to be believed, the Lord of all not fit to be obeyed, and almighty power not fit to be either feared or trusted.” It imputes folly to Infinite Wisdom, and iniquity to the righteous Judge of heaven and earth; such is the malignity of wilful sin. (2.) He despises the word of the Lord, Num. 15:31. There are those who, in many instances, come short of fulfilling the word, and yet have a great value for it, and count the law honourable; but presumptuous sinners despise it, thinking themselves too great, too good, and too wise, to be ruled by it. What is the Almighty that we should serve him? Whatever the sin itself is, it is contumacy that incurs the anathema. It is rebellion added to the sin that is as witch-craft, and stubbornness as idolatry. 3. The sentence passed on such is dreadful. There remains no sacrifice for those sins; the law provided none: That soul shall be cut off from among his people (Num. 15:30), utterly cut off (Num. 15:31); and that God may be for ever justified, and the sinner for ever confounded, his iniquity shall be upon him, and there needs no more to sink him to the lowest hell. Thus the Jewish doctors understand it, that the iniquity shall cleave to the soul, after it is cut off, and that man shall give an account of his sin at the great day of judgment. Perhaps the kind of offence might be such as did not expose the offender to the censure of the civil magistrate, but, if it was done presumptuously, God himself would take the punishment of it into his own hands, and into them it is a fearful thing to fall. In the New Testament we find the like sentence of exclusion from all benefit by the great sacrifice passed upon the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and a total apostasy from Christianity.
II. A particular instance of presumption in the sin of sabbath-breaking. 1. The offence was the gathering of sticks on the sabbath day (Num. 15:32), which, it is probable, were designed to make a fire of, whereas they were commanded to bake and seeth what they had occasion for the day before, Exod. 16:23. This seemed but a small offence, but it was a violation of the law of the sabbath, and so was a tacit contempt of the Creator, to whose honour the sabbath was dedicated, and an incursion upon the whole law, which the sabbath was intended as a hedge about. And it appears by the context to have been done presumptuously, and in affront both of the law and to the Law-maker. 2. The offender was secured, Num. 15:33; 34. Those that found him gathering sticks, in their zeal for the honour of the sabbath, brought him to Moses and Aaron, and all the congregation, which intimates that being the sabbath day the congregation was at that time gathered to Moses and Aaron, to receive instruction from them, and to join with them in religious worship. It seems, even common Israelites, though there was much amiss among them, yet would not contentedly see the sabbath profaned, which was a good sign that they had not quite forsaken God, nor were utterly forsaken of him. 3. God was consulted, because it was not declared what should be done to him. The law had already made the profanation of the sabbath a capital crime (Exod. 31:14; Num. 35:2); but they were in doubt, either concerning the offence (whether this that he had done should be deemed a profanation or no) or concerning the punishment, which death he should die. God was the Judge, and before him they brought this cause. 4. Sentence was passed; the prisoner was adjudged a sabbath-breaker, according to the intent of that law, and as such he must be put to death; and to show how great the crime was, and how displeasing to God, and that others might hear and fear and not do in like manner presumptuously, that death is appointed him which was looked upon as most terrible: He must be stoned with stones, Num. 15:35. Note, God is jealous for the honour of his sabbaths, and will not hold those guiltless, whatever men do, that profane them. 5. Execution was done pursuant to the sentence, Num. 15:36. He was stoned to death by the congregation. As many as could were employed in the execution, that those, at least, might be afraid of breaking the sabbath, who had thrown a stone at this sabbath-breaker. This intimates that the open profanation of the sabbath is a sin which ought to be punished and restrained by the civil magistrate, who, as far as overt acts go, is keeper of both tables. See Neh. 13:17. One would think there could be no great harm in gathering a few sticks, on what day soever it was, but God intended the exemplary punishment of him that did so for a standing warning to us all, to make conscience of keeping holy the sabbath.