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Title: Expositions of Holy Scripture - Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Minor Prophets. St Matthew Chapters I to VIII
Author: Maclaren, Alexander, 1826-1910
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D.D., Litt.D.


EZEKIEL, DANIEL, AND THE MINOR PROPHETS

ST. MATTHEW
CHAPTERS I to VIII

NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

        *        *        *        *        *

EZEKIEL, DANIEL, AND THE MINOR PROPHETS

CONTENTS


        THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL

    CHAMBERS OF IMAGERY (Ezekiel viii. 12)
    A COMMON MISTAKE AND LAME EXCUSE (Ezekiel xii. 27)
    THE HOLY NATION (Ezekiel xxxvi. 25-38)
    THE DRY BONES AND THE SPIRIT OF LIFE (Ezekiel xxxvii. 1-14)
    THE RIVER OF LIFE (Ezekiel xlvii. 1)


        THE BOOK OF DANIEL

    YOUTHFUL CONFESSORS (Daniel i. 8-21)
    THE IMAGE AND THE STONE (Daniel ii. 36-49)
    HARMLESS FIRES (Daniel iii. 13-25)
    MENE, TEKEL, PERES (Daniel v. 17-31)
    A TRIBUTE FROM ENEMIES (Daniel vi. 5)
    FAITH STOPPING THE MOUTHS OF LIONS (Daniel vi. 16-28)
    A NEW YEAR'S MESSAGE (Daniel xii. 13)


        HOSEA

    THE VALLEY OF ACHOR (Hosea ii. 15)
    'LET HIM ALONE' (Hosea iv. 17)
    'PHYSICIANS OF NO VALUE' (Hosea v. 13, R.V.)
    'FRUIT WHICH IS DEATH' (Hosea x. 1-15)
    DESTRUCTION AND HELP (Hosea xiii. 9)
    ISRAEL RETURNING (Hosea xiv. 1-9)
    THE DEW AND THE PLANTS (Hosea xiv. 5, 6)


        AMOS

    A PAIR OF FRIENDS (Amos iii. 3)
    SMITTEN IN VAIN (Amos iv. 4-13)
    THE SINS OF SOCIETY (Amos v. 4-15)
    THE CARCASS AND THE EAGLES (Amos vi. 1-8)
    RIPE FOR GATHERING (Amos viii. 1-14)


        JONAH

    GUILTY SILENCE AND ITS REWARD (Jonah i. 1-17)
    'LYING VANITIES' (Jonah ii. 8)
    THREEFOLD REPENTANCE (Jonah iii. 1-10)


        MICAH

    IS THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD STRAITENED? (Micah ii. 7)
    CHRIST THE BREAKER (Micah ii. 13)
    AS GOD, SO WORSHIPPER (Micah iv. 5, R.V.)
    'A DEW FROM THE LORD' (Micah v. 7)
    GOD'S REQUIREMENTS AND GOD'S GIFT (Micah vi. 8)


        HABAKKUK

    THE IDEAL DEVOUT LIFE (Habakkuk iii. 19)


        ZEPHANIAH

    ZION'S JOY AND GOD'S (Zephaniah iii. 14, 17)


        HAGGAI

    VAIN TOIL (Haggai i. 6)
    BRAVE ENCOURAGEMENTS (Haggai ii. 1-9)


        ZECHARIAH

    DYING MEN AND THE UNDYING WORD (Zechariah i. 5, 6)
    THE CITY WITHOUT WALLS (Zechariah ii. 4, 5)
    A VISION OF JUDGMENT AND CLEANSING (Zechariah iii. 1-10)
    THE RIGHT OF ENTRY (Zechariah iii. 7)
    THE SOURCE OF POWER (Zechariah iv. 1-10)
    THE FOUNDER AND FINISHER OF THE TEMPLE (Zechariah iv. 9)
    THE PRIEST OF THE WORLD AND KING OF MEN (Zechariah vi. 13)


        MALACHI

    A DIALOGUE WITH GOD (Malachi i. 6, 7)
    BLEMISHED OFFERINGS (Malachi i. 8)
    A DIALOGUE WITH GOD (Malachi ii. 12, 14, R.V.)
    THE LAST WORD OF PROPHECY (Malachi iii. 1-12)
    THE UNCHANGING LORD (Malachi iii. 6)
    A DIALOGUE WITH GOD (Malachi iii. 7, R.V.)
    'STOUT WORDS,' AND THEIR CONFUTATION
        (Malachi iii. 13-18; iv. 1-6)
    THE LAST WORDS OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
        (Malachi iv. 6; Revelation xxii. 21)

        *        *        *        *        *



THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL


CHAMBERS OF IMAGERY

     'Then said He unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients
     of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of
     his imagery!'--EZEKIEL viii. 12.

This is part of a vision which came to the prophet in his captivity. He
is carried away in imagination from his home amongst the exiles in the
East to the Temple of Jerusalem. There he sees in one dreadful series
representations of all the forms of idolatry to which the handful that
were left in the land were cleaving. There meets him on the threshold of
the court 'the image of jealousy,' the generalised expression for the
aggregate of idolatries which had stirred the anger of the divine
husband of the nation. Then he sees within the Temple three groups
representing the idolatries of three different lands. First, those with
whom my text is concerned, who, in some underground room, vaulted and
windowless, were bowing down before painted animal forms upon the walls.
Probably they were the representatives of Egyptian worship, for the
description of their temple might have been taken out of any book of
travels in Egypt in the present day. It is only an ideal picture that
is represented to Ezekiel, and not a real fact. It is not at all
probable that all these various forms of idolatry were found at any
time within the Temple itself. And the whole cast of the vision
suggests that it is an ideal picture, and not reality, with which
we have to do. Hence the number of these idolaters was seventy--the
successors of the seventy whom Moses led up to Sinai to see the God
of Israel! And now here they are grovelling before brute forms painted
on the walls in a hole in the dark. Their leader bears a name which
might have startled them in their apostasy, and choked their prayers
in their throats, for Jaazan-iah means 'the Lord hears.' Each man has
a censer in his hand--self-consecrated priests of self-chosen deities.
Shrouded in obscurity, they pleased themselves with the ancient lie,
'The Lord sees not; He hath forsaken the earth.' And then, into that
Sanhedrim of apostates there comes, all unknown to them, the light of
God's presence; and the eye of the prophet marks their evil.

I have nothing to do here with the other groups which Ezekiel saw in his
vision. The next set were the representatives of the women of Israel,
who, false at once to their womanhood and to their God, were taking part
in the nameless obscenities and abominations of the worship of the
Syrian Adonis. And the next, who from their numbers seem to be intended
to stand for the representatives of the priesthood, as the former were
of the whole people, represent the worshippers who had fallen under the
fascinations of a widespread Eastern idolatry, and with their backs to
the house of the Lord were bowing before the rising sun.

All these false faiths got on very well together. Their worshippers had
no quarrel with each other. Polytheism, by its very nature and the
necessity of its being, is tolerant. All its rabble of gods have a
mutual understanding, and are banded together against the only One that
says, 'Thou shalt have none other gods beside Me.'

But now, I take this vision in a meaning which the prophet had no
intention to put on it. I do not often do that with my texts, and when I
do I like to confess frankly that I am doing it. So I take the words now
as a kind of symbol which may help to put into a picturesque and more
striking form some very familiar and homely truths. Look at that
dark-painted chamber that we have all of us got in our hearts; at the
idolatries that go on there, and at the flashing of the sudden light of
God who marks, into the midst of the idolatry, 'Hast thou seen what the
ancients of the children of Israel do in the dark, each man in the
chambers of his imagery?'

I. Think of the dark and painted chamber which we all of us carry in our
hearts.

Every man is a mystery to himself as to his fellows. With reverence, we
may say of each other as we say of God--'Clouds and darkness are round
about Him.' After all the manifestations of a life, we remain enigmas to
one another and mysteries to ourselves. For every man is no fixed
somewhat, but a growing personality, with dormant possibilities of good
and evil lying in him, which up to the very last moment of his life may
flame up into altogether unexpected and astonishing developments.
Therefore we have all to feel that after all self-examination there lie
awful depths within us which we have not fathomed; and after all our
knowledge of one another we yet do see but the surface, and each soul
dwells alone.

There is in every heart a dark chamber. Oh, brethren! there are very,
very few of us that dare tell all our thoughts and show our inmost
selves to our dearest ones. The most silvery lake that lies sleeping
amidst beauty, itself the very fairest spot of all, when drained off
shows ugly ooze and filthy mud, and all manner of creeping abominations
in the slime. I wonder what we should see if our hearts were, so to
speak, drained off, and the very bottom layer of every thing brought
into the light. Do you think you could stand it? Well, then, go to God
and ask Him to keep you from unconscious sins. Go to Him and ask Him to
root out of you the mischiefs that you do not know are there, and live
humbly and self-distrustfuliy, and feel that your only strength is:
'Hold Thou me up, and I shall be saved.' 'Hast thou seen what they do in
the _dark_?'

Still further, we may take another part of this description with
possibly permissible violence as a symbol of another characteristic of
our inward nature. The walls of that chamber were all painted with
animal forms, to which these men were bowing down. By our memory, and by
that marvellous faculty that people call the imagination, and by our
desires, we are for ever painting the walls of the inmost chambers of
our hearts with such pictures. That is an awful power which we possess,
and, alas! too often use for foul idolatries.

I do not dwell upon that, but I wish to drop one very earnest caution
and beseeching entreaty, especially to the younger members of my
congregation now. You, young men and women, especially you young men,
mind what you paint upon those mystic walls! Foul things, as my text
says, 'creeping things and abominable beasts,' only too many of you are
tracing there. Take care, for these figures are ineffaceable. No
repentance will obliterate them. I do not know whether even Heaven can
blot them out. What you love, what you desire, what you think about, you
are photographing on the walls of your immortal soul. And just as
to-day, thousands of years after the artists have been gathered to the
dust, we may go into Egyptian temples and see the figures on their
walls, in all the freshness of their first colouring, as if the painter
had but laid down his pencil a moment ago; so, on your hearts, youthful
evils, the sins of your boyhood, the pruriences of your earliest days,
may live in ugly shapes, that no tears and no repentance will ever wipe
out. Nothing can do away with 'the marks of that which once hath been.'
What are you painting on the chambers of imagery in your hearts?
Obscenity, foul things, mean things, low things? Is that mystic shrine
within you painted with such figures as were laid bare in some chambers
in Pompeii, where the excavators had to cover up the pictures because
they were so foul? Or, is it like the cells in the convent of San Marco
at Florence, where Fra Angelico's holy and sweet genius has left on the
bare walls, to be looked at, as he fancied, only by one devout brother
in each cell, angel imaginings, and noble, pure celestial faces that
calm and hallow those who gaze upon them? What are you doing, my
brother, in the dark, in your chambers of imagery?

II. Now look with me briefly at the second thought that I draw from this
symbol,--the idolatries of the dark chamber.

All these seventy grey-bearded elders that were bowing there before the
bestial gods which they had portrayed, had, no doubt, often stood in the
courts of the Temple and there made prayers to the God of Israel, with
broad phylacteries, to be seen of men. Their true worship was their
worship in the dark. The other was conscious or unconscious hypocrisy.
And the very chamber in which they were gathered, according to the ideal
representation of our text, was a chamber in, and therefore partaking of
the consecration of, the Temple. So their worship was doubly criminal,
in that it was sacrilege as well as idolatry. Both things are true about
us.

A man's true worship is not the worship which he performs in the public
temple, but that which he offers down in that little private chapel,
where nobody goes but himself. Worship is the attribution of supreme
excellence to, and the entire dependence of the heart upon, a certain
person. And the people or the things to which a man attributes the
highest excellence, and on which he hangs his happiness and well-being,
these be his gods, no matter what his outward profession is. You can
find out what these are for you, if you will ask yourself, and honestly
answer, one or two questions. What is that I want most? What is it which
makes my ideal of happiness? What is that which I feel that I should be
desperate without? What do I think about most naturally and
spontaneously, when the spring is taken off, and my thoughts are allowed
to go as they will? And if the answer to none of these questions is
'God!' then I do not know why you should call yourself a worshipper of
God. It is of no avail that we pray in the temple, if we have a dark
underground shrine where our true adoration is rendered.

Oh, dear brethren! I am afraid there are a great many of us nominal
Christians, connected with Christian Churches, posing before men as
orthodox religionists, who keep this private chapel where we do our
devotion to an idol and not to God. If our real gods could be made
visible, what a pantheon they would make! All the foul forms painted on
that cell of this vision would be paralleled in the creeping things,
which crawl along the low earth and never soar nor even stand erect, and
in the vile, bestial forms of passion to which some of us really bow
down. Honour, wealth, literary or other distinction, the sweet
sanctities of human love dishonoured and profaned by being exalted to
the place which divine love should hold, ease, family, animal appetites,
lust, drink--these are the gods of some of us. Bear with my poor words
and ask yourselves, not whom do you worship before the eye of men, but
who is the God to whom in your inmost heart you bow down? What do you do
in the dark? That is the question. Whom do you worship there? Your other
worship is not worship at all.

Do not forget that all such diversion of supreme love and dependence
from God alone is like the sin of these men in our text, in that it is
sacrilege. They had taken a chamber in the very Temple, and turned it
into a temple of the false gods. Whom is your heart made to enshrine?
Why! every stone, if I may so say, of the fabric of our being bears
marked upon it that it was laid in order to make a dwelling-place for
God. Whom are you meant to worship, by the witness of the very
constitution of your nature and make of your spirits? Is there anybody
but One who is worthy to receive the priceless gift of human love
absolute and entire? Is there any but One to whom it is aught but
degradation and blasphemy for a man to bow down? Is there any being but
One that can still the tumult of my spirit, and satisfy the immortal
yearnings of my soul? We were made for God, and whensoever we turn the
hopes, the desires, the affections, the obedience, and that which is
the root of them all, the confidence that ought to fix and fasten upon
Him, to other creatures, we are guilty not only of idolatry but of
sacrilege. We commit the sin of which that wild reveller in Babylon was
guilty, when, at his great feast, in the very madness of his presumption
he bade them bring forth the sacred vessels from the Temple at
Jerusalem; 'and the king and his princes and his concubines drank in
them and praised the gods.' So we take the sacred chalice of the human
heart, on which there is marked the sign manual of Heaven, claiming it
for God's, and fill it with the spiced and drugged draught of our own
sensualities and evils, and pour out libations to vain and false gods.
Brethren! Render unto Him that which is His; and see even upon the walls
scrabbled all over with the deformities that we have painted there,
lingering traces, like those of some dropping fresco in a roofless
Italian church, which suggest the serene and perfect beauty of the image
of the One whose likeness was originally traced there, and for whose
worship it was all built.

III. And now, lastly, look at the sudden crashing in upon the cowering
worshippers of the revealing light.

Apparently the picture of my text suggests that these elders knew not
the eyes that were looking upon them. They were hugging themselves in
the conceit, 'the Lord seeth not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth.' And
all the while, all unknown, God and His prophet stand in the doorway and
see it all. Not a finger is lifted, not a sign to the foolish
worshippers of His presence and inspection, but in stern silence He
records and remembers.

And does that need much bending to make it an impressive form of
putting a solemn truth? There are plenty of us--alas! alas! that it
should be so--to whom it is the least welcome of all thoughts that there
in the doorway stand God and His Word. Why should it be, my brother,
that the properly blessed thought of a divine eye resting upon you
should be to you like the thought of a policeman's bull's-eye to a
thief? Why should it not be rather the sweetest and the most calming and
strength-giving of all convictions--'Thou God seest me'? The little
child runs about the lawn perfectly happy as long as she knows that her
mother is watching her from the window. And it ought to be sweet and
blessed to each of us to know that there is no darkness where a Father's
eye comes not. But oh! to the men that stand before bestial idols and
have turned their backs on the beauty of the one true God, the only
possibility of composure is that they shall hug themselves in the vain
delusion:--'The Lord seeth not.'

I beseech you, dear friends, do not think of His eye as the prisoner in
a cell thinks of the pin-hole somewhere in the wall, through which a
jailer's jealous inspection may at any moment be glaring in upon him,
but think of Him your Brother, who 'knew what was in man,' and who knows
each man, and see in Christ the all-knowing Godhood that loves yet
better than it knows, and beholds the hidden evils of men's hearts, in
order that it may cleanse and forgive all which it beholds.

One day a light will flash in upon all the dark cells. We must all be
manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ. Do you like that thought?
Can you stand it? Are you ready for it? My friend! let Jesus Christ
come to you with His light. Let Him come into the dark corners of your
hearts. Cast all your sinfulness, known and unknown, upon Him that died
on the Cross for every soul of man, and He will come; and His light,
streaming into your hearts, like the sunbeam upon foul garments, will
cleanse and bleach them white by its shining upon them. Let Him come
into your hearts by your lowly penitence, by your humble faith, and all
these vile shapes that you have painted on its walls will, like
phosphorescent pictures in the daytime, pale and disappear when the 'Sun
of Righteousness, with healing in His beams, floods your soul, leaving
no part dark, and turning all into a temple of the living God.'


A COMMON MISTAKE AND LAME EXCUSE

'... He prophesieth of the times that are far off.'--EZEKIEL xii. 27.

Human nature was very much the same in the exiles that listened to
Ezekiel on the banks of the Chebar and in Manchester to-day. The same
neglect of God's message was grounded then on the same misapprehension
of its bearings which profoundly operates in the case of many people
now. Ezekiel had been proclaiming the fall of Jerusalem to the exiles
whose captivity preceded it by a few years; and he was confronted by the
incredulity which fancied that it had a great many facts to support it,
and so it generalised God's long-suffering delay in sending the
threatened punishment into a scoffing proverb which said, 'The days are
prolonged, and every vision faileth.' To translate it into plain
English, the prophets had cried 'Wolf! wolf!' so long that their alarms
were disbelieved altogether.

Even the people that did not go the length of utter unbelief in the
prophetic threatening took the comfortable conclusion that these
threatenings had reference to a future date, and they need not trouble
themselves about them. And so they said, according to my text, 'They of
the house of Israel say, The vision that he sees is for many days to
come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off.' 'It may be all
quite true, but it lies away in the distant future there; and things
will last our time, so we do not need to bother ourselves about what he
says.'

So the imagined distance of fulfilment turned the edge of the plainest
denunciations, and was like wool stuffed in the people's ears to deaden
the reverberations of the thunder.

I wonder if there is anybody here now whom that fits, who meets the
preaching of the gospel with a shrug, and with this saying, 'He
prophesies of the times that are far off.' I fancy that there are a few;
and I wish to say a word or two about this ground on which the
widespread disregard of the divine message is based.

I. First, then, notice that the saying of my text--in the application
which I now seek to make of it--is a truth, but it is only half a truth.

Of course, Ezekiel was speaking simply about the destruction of
Jerusalem. If it had been true, as his hearers assumed, that that was
not going to happen for a good many years yet, the chances were that it
had no bearing upon them, and they were right enough in neglecting the
teaching. And, of course, when I apply such a word as this in the
direction in which I wish to do now, we do bring in a different set of
thoughts; but the main idea remains the same. The neglect of God's
solemn message by a great many people is based, more or less
consciously, upon the notion that the message of Christianity--or, if
you like to call it so, of the gospel; or, if you like to call it more
vaguely, religion--has to do mainly with blessings and woes beyond the
grave, and that there is plenty of time to attend to it when we get
nearer the end.

Now is it true that 'he prophesies of times that are far off'? Yes! and
No! Yes! it is true, and it is the great glory of Christianity that it
shifts the centre of gravity, so to speak, from this poor, transient,
contemptible present, and sets it away out yonder in an august and
infinite future. It brings to us not only knowledge of the future, but
certitude, and takes the conception of another life out of the region of
perhapses, possibilities, dreads, or hopes, as the case may be, and sets
it in the sunlight of certainty. There is no more mist. Other faiths,
even when they have risen to the height of some contemplation of a
future, have always seen it wrapped in nebulous clouds of possibilities,
but Christianity sets it clear, definite, solid, as certain as
yesterday, as certain as to-day.

It not only gives us the knowledge and the certitude of the times that
are afar off, and that are not times but eternities, but it gives us, as
the all-important element in that future, that its ruling characteristic
is retribution. It 'brings life and immortality to light,' and just
because it does, it brings the dark orb which, like some of the double
stars in the heavens, is knit to the radiant sphere by a necessary
band. It brings to light, with life and immortality, death and woe. It
is true--'he prophesies of times that are far off' and it is the glory
of the gospel of Christ's revelation, and of the religion that is based
thereon, that its centre is beyond the grave, and that its eye is so
often turned to the clearly discerned facts that lie there.

But is that all that we have to say about Christianity? Many
representations of it, I am free to confess, from pulpits and books and
elsewhere, do talk as if that was all, as if it was a magnificent thing
to have when you came to die. As the play has it, 'I said to him that I
hoped there was no need that he should think about God yet,' because he
was not going to die. But I urge you to remember, dear brethren, that
all that prophesying of times that are far off has the closest bearing
upon this transient, throbbing moment, because, for one thing, one
solemn part of the Christian revelation about the future is that Time is
the parent of Eternity, and that, in like manner as in our earthly
course 'the child is father of the man,' so the man as he has made
himself is the author of himself as he will be through the infinite
spaces that lie beyond the grave. Therefore, when a Christian preacher
prophesies of times that are afar off, he is prophesying of present
time, between which and the most distant eternity there is an iron
nexus--a band which cannot be broken.

Nor is that all. Not only is the truth in my text but a half truth, if
it is supposed that the main business of the gospel is to talk to us
about heaven and hell, and not about the earth on which we secure and
procure the one or the other; but also it is a half truth because, large
and transcendent, eternal in their duration, and blessed beyond all
thought in their sweetness as are the possibilities, the certainties
that are opened by the risen and ascended Christ, and tremendous beyond
all words that men can speak as are the alternative possibilities, yet
these are not all the contents of the gospel message; but those
blessings and penalties, joys and miseries, exaltations and
degradations, which attend upon righteousness and sin, godliness and
irreligion to-day are a large part of its theme and of its effects.
Therefore, whilst on the one hand it is true, blessed be Christ's name!
that 'he prophesies of times that are far off'; on the other hand it is
an altogether inadequate description of the gospel message and of the
Christian body of truth to say that the future is its realm, and not the
present.

II. So, then, in the second place, my text gives a very good reason for
prizing and attending to the prophecy.

If it is true that God, speaking through the facts of Christ's death and
Resurrection and Ascension, has given to us the sure and certain hope of
immortality, and has declared to us plainly the conditions upon which
that immortality may be ours, and the woful loss and eclipse into the
shadow of which we shall stumble darkling if it is not ours, then surely
that is a reason for prizing and laying to heart, and living by the
revelation so mercifully made. People do not usually kick over their
telescopes, and neglect to look through them, because they are so
powerful that they show them the craters in the moon and turn faint
specks into blazing suns. People do not usually neglect a word of
warning or guidance in reference to the ordering of their earthly lives
because it is so comprehensive, and covers so large a ground, and is so
certain and absolutely true. Surely there can be no greater sign of
divine loving-kindness, of a Saviour's tenderness and care for us, than
that He should come to each of us, as He does come, and say to each of
us, 'Thou art to live for ever; and if thou wilt take Me for thy Life,
thou shalt live for ever, blessed, calm, and pure.' And we listen, and
say, 'He prophesies of times that are far off!' Oh! is that not rather a
reason for coming very close to, and for grappling to our hearts and
living always by the power of, that great revelation? Surely to announce
the consequences of evil, and to announce them so long beforehand that
there is plenty of time to avoid them and to falsify the prediction, is
the token of love.

Now I wish to lay it on the hearts of you people who call yourselves
Christians, and who are so in some imperfect degree, whether we do at
all adequately regard, remember, and live by this great mercy of God,
that He _should_ have prophesied to us 'of the times that are far off.'
Perhaps I am wrong, but I cannot help feeling that, for this generation,
the glories of the future rest with God have been somewhat paled, and
the terrors of the future unrest away from God have been somewhat
lightened. I hope I am wrong, but I do not think that the modern average
Christian thinks as much about heaven as his father did. And I believe
that his religion has lost something of its buoyancy, of its power, of
its restraining and stimulating energy, because, from a variety of
reasons, the bias of this generation is rather to dwell upon, and to
realise, the present social blessings of Christianity than to project
itself into that august future. The reaction may be good. I have no
doubt it was needed, but I think it has gone rather too far, and I would
beseech Christian men and women to try and deserve more the sarcasm that
is flung at us that we live for another world. Would God it were
true--truer than it is! We should see better work done in this world if
it were. So I say, that 'he prophesieth of times that are far off' is a
good reason for prizing and obeying the prophet.

III. Lastly, this is a very common and a very bad reason for neglecting
the prophecy.

It does operate as a reason for giving little heed to the prophet, as I
have been saying. In the old men-of-war, when an engagement was
impending, they used to bring up the hammocks from the bunks and pile
them into the nettings at the side of the ship, to defend it from
boarders and bullets. And then, after these had served their purpose of
repelling, they were taken down again and the crew went to sleep upon
them. That is exactly what some of my friends do with that misconception
of the genius of Christianity which supposes that it is concerned mainly
with another world. They put it up as a screen between them and God,
between them and what they know to be their duty--viz., the acceptance
of Christ as their Saviour. It is their hammock that they put between
the bullets and themselves; and many a good sleep they get upon it!

Now, that strange capacity that men have of ignoring a certain future is
seen at work all round about us in every region of life. I wonder how
many young men there are in Manchester to-day that have begun to put
their foot upon the wrong road, and who know just as well as I do that
the end of it is disease, blasted reputation, ruined prospects, perhaps
an early death. Why! there is not a drunkard in the city that does not
know that. Every man that takes opium knows it. Every unclean, unchaste
liver knows it; and yet he can hide the thought from himself, and go
straight on as if there was nothing at all of the sort within the
horizon of possibility. It is one of the most marvellous things that men
have that power; only beaten by the marvel that, having it, they should
be such fools as to choose to exercise it. The peasants on the slopes of
Vesuvius live very careless lives, and they have their little vineyards
and their olives. Yes, and every morning when they come out, they can
look up and see the thin wreath of smoke going up in the dazzling blue,
and they know that some time or other there will be a roar and a rush,
and down will come the lava. But 'a short life and a merry one' is the
creed of a good many of us, though we do not like to confess it. Some of
you will remember the strange way in which ordinary habits survived in
prisons in the dreadful times of the French Revolution, and how ladies
and gentlemen, who were going to have their heads chopped off next
morning, danced and flirted, and sat at entertainments, just as if there
was no such thing in the world as the public prosecutor and the tumbril,
and the gaoler going about with a bit of chalk to mark each door where
were the condemned for next day.

That same strange power of ignoring a known future, which works so
widely and so disastrously round about us, is especially manifested in
regard to religion. The great bulk of English men and women who are not
Christians, and the little sample of such that I have in my audience
now, as a rule believe as fully as we do the truths which they agree to
neglect. Let me speak to them individually. You believe that death will
introduce you into a world of two halves--that if you have been a good,
religious man, you will dwell in blessedness; that if you have not, you
will not--yet you never did a single thing, nor refrained from a single
thing, because of that belief. And when I, and men of my profession,
come and plead with you and try to get through that strange web of
insensibility that you have spun round you, you listen, and then you
say, with a shrug, 'He prophesies of things that are far off.' and you
turn with relief to the trivialities of the day. Need I ask you whether
that is a wise thing or not?

Surely it is not wise for a man to ignore a future that is certain
simply because it is distant. So long as it is certain, what in the name
of common-sense has the time when it begins to be a present to do with
our wisdom in regard to it? It is the uncertainty in future
anticipations which makes it unwise to regulate life largely by them,
and if you can eliminate that element of uncertainty--which you can do
if you believe in Jesus Christ--then the question is not when is the
prophecy going to be fulfilled, but is it true and trustworthy? The man
is a fool who, because it is far off, thinks he can neglect it.

Surely it is not wise to ignore a future which is so incomparably
greater than this present, and which also is so connected with this
present as that life here is only intelligible as the vestibule and
preparation for that great world beyond.

Surely it is not wise to ignore a future because you fancy it is far
away, when it may burst upon you at any time. These exiles to whom
Ezekiel spoke hugged themselves in the idea that his words were not to
be fulfilled for many days to come; but they were mistaken, and the
crash of the fall of Jerusalem stunned them before many months had
passed by. We have to look forward to a future which must be very near
to some of us, which may be nearer to others than they think, which at
the remotest is but a little way from us, and which must come to us all.
Oh, dear friends, surely it is not wise to ignore as far off that which
for some of us may be here before this day closes, which will probably
be ours in some cases before the fresh young leaves now upon the trees
have dropped yellow in the autumn frosts, which at the most distant must
be very near us, and which waits for us all.

What would you think of the crew and passengers of some ship lying in
harbour, waiting for its sailing orders, who had got leave on shore, and
did not know but that at any moment the blue-peter might be flying at
the fore--the signal to weigh anchor--if they behaved themselves in the
port as if they were never going to embark, and made no preparations for
the voyage? Let me beseech you to rid yourselves of that most
unreasonable of all reasons for neglecting the gospel, that its most
solemn revelations refer to the eternity beyond the grave.

There are many proofs that man on the whole is a very foolish creature,
but there is not one more tragical than the fact that believing, as many
of you do, that 'the wages of sin is death, and the gift of God is
eternal life through Jesus Christ,' you stand aloof from accepting the
gift, and risk the death.

The 'times far off' have long since come near enough to those scoffers.
The most distant future will be present to you before you are ready for
it, unless you accept Jesus Christ as your All, for time and for
eternity. If you do, the time that is near will be pure and calm, and
the times that are far off will be radiant with unfading bliss.


THE HOLY NATION

     'Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be
     clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols,
     will I cleanse you. 26. A new heart also will I give you, and
     a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the
     stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart
     of flesh. 27. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause
     you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments,
     and do them. 28. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave
     to your fathers; and ye shall be My people, and I will be
     your God. 29. I will also save you from all your
     uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will
     increase it, and lay no famine upon you. 30. And I will
     multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the
     field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among
     the heathen. 31. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways,
     and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe
     yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your
     abominations. 32. Not for your sakes do I this, saith the
     Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for
     your own ways, O house of Israel. 33. Thus saith the Lord
     God; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your
     iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and
     the wastes shall be builded. 34. And the desolate land shall
     be tilled, whereat; it lay desolate in the sight of all that
     passed by. 35. And they shall say, This land that was
     desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and
     desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are
     inhabited. 36. Then the heathen that are left round about you
     shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant
     that that was desolate: I the Lord have spoken it, and I will
     do it. 37. Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be
     enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will
     increase them with men like a flock. 38. As the holy flock,
     as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts; so shall the
     waste cities be filled with flocks of men: and they shall
     know that I am the Lord.'--EZEKIEL xxxvi. 25-38.

This great prophecy had but a partial fulfilment, though a real one, in
the restored Israel. The land was given back, the nation _was_
multiplied, fertility again blessed the smiling fields and vineyards,
and, best of all, the people _were_ cleansed 'from all their idols' by
the furnace of affliction. Nothing is more remarkable than the
transformation effected by the captivity, in regard to the idolatrous
propensities of the people. Whereas before it they were always hankering
after the gods of the nations, they came back from Babylon the resolute
champions of monotheism, and never thereafter showed the smallest
inclination for what had before been so irresistible.

But the fulness of Ezekiel's prophecy is not realised until Jeremiah's
prophecy of the new covenant is brought to pass. Nor does the state of
the militant church on earth exhaust it. Future glories gleam through
the words. They have a 'springing accomplishment' in the Israel of the
restoration, a fuller in the New Testament church, and their ultimate
realisation in the New Jerusalem, which shall yet descend to be the
bride, the Lamb's wife. The principles involved in the prophecy belong
to the region of purely spiritual religion, and are worth pondering,
apart from any question of the place and manner of fulfilment.

First comes the great truth that the foundation, so far as concerns the
history of a soul or of a community, of all other good is divine
forgiveness (v. 25). Ezekiel, the priest, casts the promise into
ceremonial form, and points to the sprinklings of the polluted under the
law, or to the ritual of consecration to the priesthood. That cleansing
is the removal of already contracted defilement, especially of the guilt
of idolatry. It is clearly distinguished from the operation on the
inward nature which follows; that is to say, it is the promise of
forgiveness, or of justification, not of sanctification.

From what deep fountains in the divine nature that 'clean water' was to
flow, Ezekiel does not know; but we have learned that a more precious
fluid than water is needed, and have to think of Him 'who came not by
water only, but by water and blood,' in whom we have redemption through
His blood, even the forgiveness of our sins. But the central idea of
this first promise is that it must be God's hand which sprinkles from an
evil conscience. Forgiveness is a divine prerogative. He only can, and
He will, cleanse from all filthiness. His pardon is universal. The most
ingrained sins cannot be too black to melt away from the soul. The
dye-stuffs of sin are very strong, but there is one solvent which they
cannot resist. There are no 'fast colours' which God's 'clean water'
cannot move. This cleansing of pardon underlies all the rest of the
blessings. It is ever the first thing needful when a soul returns to
God.

Then follows an equally exclusively divine act, the impartation of a new
nature, which shall secure future obedience (vs. 26, 27). Who can thrust
his hand into the depths of man's being, and withdraw one
life-principle and enshrine another, while yet the individuality of the
man remains untouched? God only. How profound the consciousness of
universal obstinacy and insensibility which regards human nature, apart
from such renewal, as possessing but a 'heart of stone'! There are no
sentimental illusions about the grim facts of humanity here. Superficial
views of sin and rose-tinted fancies about human nature will not admit
the truth of the Scripture doctrine of sinfulness, alienation from God.
They diagnose the disease superficially, and therefore do not know how
to cure it. The Bible can venture to give full weight to the gravity of
the sickness, because it knows the remedy. No surgery but God's can
perform that operation of extracting the stony heart and inserting a
heart of flesh. No system which cannot do that can do what men want. The
gospel alone deals thoroughly with man's ills.

And how does it effect that great miracle? 'I will put My Spirit within
you.' The new life-principle is the effluence of the Spirit of God. The
promise does not merely offer the influence of a divine spirit, working
on men as from without, or coming down upon them as an afflatus, but the
actual planting of God's Spirit in the deep places of theirs. We fail to
apprehend the most characteristic blessing of the gospel if we do not
give full prominence to that great gift of an indwelling Spirit, the
life of our lives. Cleansing is much, but is incomplete without a new
life-principle which shall keep us clean; and that can only be God's
Spirit, enshrined and operative within us; for only thus shall we 'walk
in His statutes, and keep His judgments.' When the Lawgiver dwells in
our hearts, the law will be our delight; and keeping it will be the
natural outcome and expression of our life, which is His life.

Then follows the picture of the blessed effects of obedience (vs.
28-30). These are cast into the form appropriate to the immediate
purpose of the prophecy, and received fulfilment in the actual
restoration to the land, which fulfilment, however, was imperfect,
inasmuch as the obedience and renewal of the people's hearts were
incomplete. These can only be complete under the gospel, and, in the
fullest sense, only in another order than the present. When men fully
keep God's judgments, they shall dwell permanently in a good land.
Israel's hold on its country was its obedience, not its prowess. Our
real hold on even earthly good is the choosing of God for our supreme
good. In the measure in which we can say 'Thy law is within my heart,'
all things are ours; and we may possess all things while having nothing
in the vulgar world's sense of having. Similarly that obedience, which
is the fruit of the new life of God's Spirit in our spirits, is the
condition of close mutual possession in the blessed reciprocity of trust
and faithfulness, love bestowing and love receiving, by which the quiet
heart knows that God is its, and it is God's. If stains and
interruptions still sometimes break the perfectness of obedience and
continuity of reciprocal ownership, there will be a further cleansing
for such sins. 'If we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ His
Son cleanseth us from all sin' (v. 29).

The lovely picture of the blessed dwellers in their good land is closed
by the promise of abundant harvests from corn and fruit-tree; that is,
all that nourishes or delights. The deepest truth taught thereby is that
he who lives in God has no unsatisfied desires, but finds in Him all
that can sustain, strengthen, and minister to growth, and all that can
give gladness and delight. If we make God our heritage, we dwell secure
in a good land; and 'the dust of that land is gold,' and its harvests
ever plenteous.

Very profoundly and beautifully does Ezekiel put as the last trait in
his picture, and as the upshot of all this cornucopia of blessings, the
penitent remembrance of past evils. Undeserved mercies steal into the
heart like the breath of the south wind, and melt the ice. The more we
advance in holiness and consequent blessed communion with God, the more
clearly shall we see the evil of our past. Forgiven sin looks far
blacker because it is forgiven. When we are not afraid of sin's
consequences, we see more plainly its sinfulness. When we have tasted
God's sweetness, we think with more shame of our ingratitude and folly.
If God forgets, the more reason for us to remember our transgressions.
The man who 'has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins' is in
danger of finding out that he is not purged from them. There is no
gnawing of conscience, nor any fearful looking for of judgment in such
remembrance, but a wholesome humility passing into thankful wonder that
such sin is pardoned, and such a sinner made God's friend.

The deep foundation of all the blessedness is finally laid bare (v. 32)
as being God's undeserved mercy. 'For Mine holy name' (v. 22) is God's
reason. He is His own motive, and He wills that the world should know
His name,--that is, His manifested character,--and understand how loving
and long-suffering He is. So He wills, not because such knowledge adds
to His glory, but because it satisfies His love, since it will make the
men who know His name blessed. The truth that God's motive is His own
name's sake may be so put as to be hideous and repellent; but it really
proclaims that He is love, and that His motive is His poor creatures'
blessing.

To this great outline of the blessings of the restored nations are
appended two subsidiary prophecies, marked by the recurring 'Thus saith
the Lord.' The former of these (vs. 33-36) deals principally with the
new beauty that was to clothe the land. The day in which the inhabitants
were cleansed from their sins was to be the day in which the land was to
be raised from its ruin. Cities are to be rebuilt, the ground that had
lain fallow and tangled with briers and thorns is to be tilled, and to
bloom like Eden, a restored paradise. How far the fulfilment has halted
behind the promise, the melancholy condition of Palestine to-day may
remind us. Whether the literal fulfilment is to be anticipated or no
seems less important than to note that the experience of forgiveness
(and of the consequent blessings described above) is the precursor of
this fair picture. Therefore, the Church's condition of growth and
prosperity is its realisation in the persons of its individual members,
of pardon, the renewal of the inner man by the indwelling Spirit,
faithful obedience, communion with God, and lowly remembrance of past
sins. Where churches are marked by such characteristics, they will grow.
If they are not, all their 'evangelistic efforts' will be as sounding
brass and a tinkling cymbal.

The second appended prophecy (vs. 37, 38) is that of increase of
population. The picture of the flocks of sheep for sacrifice, which
thronged Jerusalem at the feasts, is given as a likeness of the swarms
of inhabitants in the 'waste cities.' The point of comparison is chiefly
the number. One knows how closely a flock huddles and seems to fill the
road in endless procession. But the destination as well as the number
comes into view. All these patient creatures, crowding the ways, are
meant for sacrifices. So the inhabitants of the land then shall all
yield themselves to God, living sacrifices. The first words of our text
point to the priesthood of all believers; the last words point to the
sacrifice of themselves which they have to offer.

'For this moreover will I be inquired of by the house of Israel.' The
blessings promised do not depend on our merits, as we have heard, but
yet they will not be given without our co-operation in prayer. God
promises, and that promise is not a reason for our not asking the gifts
from Him, but for our asking. Faith keeps within the lines of God's
promise, and prayers which do not foot themselves on a promise are the
offspring of presumption, not of faith. God 'lets Himself be inquired
of' for that which is in accordance with His will; and, accordant with
His will though it be, He will not 'do it for them,' unless His flock
ask of Him the accomplishment of His own word.


THE DRY BONES AND THE SPIRIT OF LIFE

     1. The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the
     spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley
     which was full of bones, 2. And caused me to pass by them round
     about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and,
     lo, they were very dry. 3. And He said unto me, Son of man, can
     these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, Thou knowest. 4.
     Again He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto
     them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5. Thus saith the
     Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter
     into you, and ye shall live: 6. And I will lay sinews upon you, and
     will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put
     breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I _am_ the
     Lord. 7. So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied,
     there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came
     together, bone to his bone. 8. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews
     and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above:
     but there was no breath in them. 9. Then said He unto me, Prophesy
     unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus
     saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe
     upon these slain, that they may live. 10. So I prophesied as He
     commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and
     stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. 11. Then He said
     unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel:
     behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are
     cut off for our parts. 12. Therefore prophesy and say unto them,
     Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O My people, I will open your
     graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you
     into the land of Israel. 13. And ye shall know that I am the Lord,
     when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up out
     of your graves. 14. And shall put My spirit in you, and ye shall
     live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know
     that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the
     Lord.'--EZEKIEL xxxvii. 1-14.

This great vision apparently took its form from a despairing saying,
which had become a proverb among the exiles, 'Our bones are dried up,
and our hope is lost: we are clean cut off' (v. 11). Ezekiel lays hold
of the metaphor, which had been taken to express the hopeless
destruction of Israel's national existence, and even from it wrings a
message of hope. Faith has the prerogative of seeing possibilities of
life in what looks to sense hopeless death. We may look at the vision
from three points of view, considering its bearing on Israel, on the
world, and on the resurrection of the body.

I. The saying, already referred to, puts the hopelessness of the mass of
the exiles in a forcible fashion. The only sense in which living men
could say that their bones were dried up, and they cut off, is a
figurative one, and obviously it is the national existence which they
regarded as irretrievably ended. The saying gives us a glimpse into the
despair which had settled down on the exiles, and against which Ezekiel
had to contend, as he had also to contend against its apparently
opposite and yet kindred feeling of presumptuous, misplaced hope. We
observe that he begins by accepting fully the facts which bred despair,
and even accentuating them. The true prophet never makes light of the
miseries of which he knows the cure, and does not try to comfort by
minimising the gravity of the evil. The bones _are_ very many, and they
_are_ very dry. As far as outward resources are concerned, despair was
rational, and hope as absurd as it would have been to expect that men,
dead so long that their bones had been bleached by years of exposure to
the weather, should live again.

But while Ezekiel saw the facts of Israel's powerlessness as plainly as
the most despondent, he did not therefore despair. The question which
rose in his mind was God's question, and the very raising it let a gleam
of hope in. So he answered with that noble utterance of faith and
submission, 'O Lord God, Thou knowest.' 'With God all things are
possible.' Presumption would have said 'Yes'; Unbelief would have said
'No'; Faith says, 'Thou knowest.'

The grand description of the process of resurrection follows the analogy
of the order in the creation of man, giving, first, the shaping of the
body, and afterwards the breathing into it of the breath which is life.
Both stages are wholly God's work. The prophet's part was to prophesy to
the bones first; and his word, in a sense, brought about the effect
which it foretold, since his ministry was the most potent means of
rekindling dying hopes, and bringing the _disjecta membra_ of the nation
together again. The vivid and gigantic imagination of the prophet gives
a picture of the rushing together of the bones, which has no superior in
any literature. He hears a noise, and sees a 'shaking' (by which is
meant the motion of the bones to each other, rather than an
'earthquake,' as the Revised Version has it, which inserts a quite
irrelevant detail), and the result of all is that the skeletons are
complete. Then follows the gradual clothing with flesh. There they lie,
a host of corpses.

The second stage is the quickening of these bodies with life, and here
again Ezekiel, as God's messenger, has power to bring about what he
announces; for, at his command, the breath, or wind, or spirit, comes,
and the stiff corpses spring to their feet, a mighty army. The
explanation in the last verses of the text somewhat departs from the
tenor of the vision by speaking of Israel as buried, but keeps to its
substance, and point the despairing exiles to God as the source of
national resurrection. But we must not force deeper meaning on Ezekiel's
words than they properly bear. The spirit promised in them is simply the
source of life,--literally, of physical life; metaphorically, of
national life. However that national restoration was connected with
holiness, that does not enter into the prophet's vision. Israel's
restoration to its land is all that Ezekiel meant by it. True, that
restoration was to lead to clearer recognition by Israel of the name of
Jehovah, and of all that it implied in him and demanded from them. But
the proper scope of the vision is to assure despairing Israelites that
God would quicken the apparently slain national life, and replace them
in the land.

II. We may extend the application of the vision to the condition of
humanity and the divine intervention which communicates life to a dead
world, but must remember that no such meaning was in Ezekiel's thoughts.
The valley full of dry bones is but too correct a description of the
aspect which a world 'dead in trespasses and sins' bears, when seen from
the mountain-top by pure and heavenly eyes. The activities of godless
lives mask the real spiritual death, which is the condition of every
soul that is separate from God. Galvanised corpses may have muscular
movements, but they are dead, notwithstanding their twitching. They that
live without God are dead while they live.

Again, we may learn from the vision the preparation needful for the
prophet, who is to be the instrument of imparting divine life to a dead
world. The sorrowful sense of the widespread deadness must enter into a
man's spirit, and be ever present to him, in order to fit him for his
work. A dead world is not to be quickened on easy terms. We must see
mankind in some measure as God sees them if we are to do God's work
among them. So-called Christian teachers, who do not believe that the
race is dead in sin, or who, believing it, do not feel the tragedy of
the fact, and the power lodged in their hands to bring the true life,
may prophesy to the dry bones for ever, and there will be no shaking
among them.

The great work of the gospel is to communicate divine life. The details
of the process in the vision are not applicable in this respect. As we
have pointed out, they are shaped after the pattern of the creation of
Adam, but the essential point is that what the world needs is the
impartation from God of His Spirit. We know more than Ezekiel did as to
the way by which that Spirit is given to men, and as to the kind of life
which it imparts, and as to the connection between that life and
holiness. It is a diviner voice than Ezekiel's which speaks to us in the
name of God, and says to us with deeper meaning than the prophet of the
Exile dreamed of, 'I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live.'

But we may note that it is possible to have the outward form of a living
body, and yet to have no life. Churches and individuals may be perfectly
organised and perfectly dead. Creeds may be articulated most correctly,
every bone in its place, and yet have no vitality in them. Forms of
worship may be punctiliously proper, and have no breath of life in them.
Religion must have a body, but often the body is not so much the organ
as the sepulchre of the spirit. We have to take heed that the externals
do not kill the inward life.

Again, we note that this great act of life-giving is God's revelation of
His name,--that is, of His character so far as men can know it. 'Ye
shall know that I am the Lord' (vs. 13, 14). God makes Himself known in
His divinest glory when He quickens dead souls. The world may learn what
He is therefrom, but they who have experienced the change, and have, as
it were, been raised from the grave to new life, have personal
experience of His power and faithfulness so sure and sweet that
henceforward they cannot doubt Him nor forget His grace.

III. As to the bearing of the vision on the doctrine of the resurrection
little need be said. It does not necessarily presuppose the people's
acquaintance with that doctrine, for it would be quite conceivable that
the vision had revealed to the prophet the thought of a resurrection,
which had not been in his beliefs before. The vision is so entirely
figurative, that it cannot be employed as evidence that the idea of the
resurrection of the dead was part of the Jewish beliefs at this date. It
does, however, seem most natural to suppose that the exiles were
familiar with the idea, though the vision cannot be taken as a
revelation of a literal resurrection of dead men. For clear expectations
of such a resurrection we must turn to such scriptures as Daniel xii. 2,
13.


THE RIVER OF LIFE

     Waters issued out from under the threshold of the house ... EZEKIEL
     xlvii. 1.

Unlike most great cities, Jerusalem was not situated on a great river.
True, the inconsiderable waters of Siloam--'which flow softly' because
they were so inconsiderable--rose from a crevice in the Temple rock, and
beneath that rock stretched the valley of the Kedron, dry and bleached
in the summer, and a rainy torrent during the rainy seasons; but that
was all. So, many of the prophets, who looked forward to the better
times to come, laid their finger upon that one defect, and prophesied
that it should be cured. Thus we read in a psalm: 'There is a river,
the divisions whereof make glad the City of our God.' Faith saw what
sense saw not. Again, Isaiah says: 'There'--that is to say, in the new
Jerusalem--'the glorious Lord shall be unto us a place of broad rivers
and streams.' And so, this prophet casts his anticipations of the
abundant outpouring of blessing that shall come when God in very deed
dwells among men, into this figure of a river pouring out from beneath
the Temple-door, and spreading life and fertility wherever its waters
come. I need not remind you how our Lord Himself uses the same figure,
and modifies it, by saying that whosoever believeth on Him, 'out of him
shall flow rivers of living waters'; or how, in the very last words of
the Apocalyptic seer, we hear again the music of the ripples of the
great stream, 'the river of the water of life proceeding out of the
Throne of God and of the Lamb.' So then, all through Scripture, we may
say that we hear the murmur of the stream, and can catch the line of
verdure upon its banks. My object now is not only to deal with the words
that I have read as a starting-point, but rather to seek to draw out the
wonderful significance of this great prophetic parable.

I. I notice, first, the source from which the river conies.

I have already anticipated that in pointing out that it flows from the
very Temple itself. The Prophet sees it coming out of the house--that is
to say, the Sanctuary. It flows across the outer court of the house,
passes the altar, comes out under the threshold, and then pours itself
down on to the plain beneath. This is the symbolical dress of the
thought that all spiritual blessings, and every conceivable form of
human good, take their rise in the fact of God's dwelling with men. From
beneath the Temple threshold comes the water of life; and wherever it
is true that in any heart--or in any community--God dwells, there will
be heard the tinkling of its ripples, and freshness and fertility will
come from the stream. The dwelling of God with a man, like the dwelling
of God in humanity in the Incarnation of His own dear Son, is, as it
were, the opening of the fountain that it may pour out into the world.
So, if we desire to have the blessings that are possible for us, we must
comply with the conditions, and let God dwell in our hearts, and make
them His temples; and then from beneath the threshold of that temple,
too, will pour out, according to Christ's own promise, rivers of living
water which will be first for ourselves to drink of and be blessed by,
and then will refresh and gladden others.

Another thought connected with this source of the river of life is that
all the blessings which, massed together, are included in that one word
'salvation'--which is a kind of nebula made up of many unresolved
stars--take their rise from nothing else than the deep heart of God
Himself. This river rose in the House of the Lord, and amidst the
mysteries of the Divine Presence; it took its rise, one might say, from
beneath the Mercy-seat where the brooding Cherubim sat in silence and
poured itself into a world that had not asked for it, that did not
expect it, that in many of its members did not desire it and would not
have it. The river that rose in the secret place of God symbolises for
us the great thought which is put into plainer words by the last of the
apostles when he says, 'We love Him because He first loved us.' All the
blessings of salvation rise from the unmotived, self-impelled, self-fed
divine love and purpose. Nothing moves Him to communicate Himself but
His own delight in giving Himself to His poor creatures; and it is all
of grace that it might be all through faith.

Still further, another thought that may be suggested in connection with
the source of this river is, that that which is to bless the world must
necessarily take its rise above the world. Ezekiel has sketched, in the
last portion of his prophecy, an entirely ideal topography of the Holy
Land. He has swept away mountains and valleys, and levelled all out into
a great plain, in the midst of which rises the mountain of the Lord's
House, far higher than the Temple hill. In reality, opposite it rose the
Mount of Olives, and between the two there was the deep gorge of the
Valley of the Kedron. The Prophet smooths it all out into one great
plain, and high above all towers the Temple-mount, and from it there
rushes down on to the low levels the fertilising, life-giving flood.

That imaginary geography tells us this, that what is to bless the world
must come from above the world. There needs a waterfall to generate
electricity; the power which is to come into humanity and deal with its
miseries must have its source high above the objects of its energy and
its compassion, and in proportion to the height from which it falls will
be the force of its impact and its power to generate the quickening
impulse. All merely human efforts at social reform, rivers that do not
rise in the Temple, are like the rivers in Mongolia, that run for a few
miles and then get sucked up by the hot sands and are lost and nobody
sees them any more. Only the perennial stream, that comes out from
beneath the Temple threshold, can sustain itself in the desert, to say
nothing of transforming the desert into a Garden of Eden. So moral and
social and intellectual and political reformers may well go to Ezekiel,
and learn that the 'river of the water of life,' which is to heal the
barren and refresh the thirsty land, must come from below the Temple
threshold.

II. Note the rapid increase of the stream.

The Prophet describes how his companion, the interpreter, measured down
the stream a thousand cubits--about a quarter of a mile--and the waters
were ankle-deep another thousand, making half a mile from the start, and
the water was knee-deep. Another thousand--or three-quarters of a
mile--and the water was waist-deep; another thousand--about a mile in
all--and the water was unfordable, 'waters to swim in, a river that
could not be passed over.' Where did the increase come from? There were
no tributaries. We do not hear of any side-stream flowing into the main
body. Where did the increase come from? It came from the abundant
welling-up in the sanctuary. The fountain was the mother of the
river--that is to say, God's ideal for the world, for the Church, for
the individual Christian, is rapid increase in their experience of the
depth and the force of the stream of blessings which together make up
salvation. So we come to a very sharp testing question. Will anybody
tell me that the rate at which Christianity has grown for these nineteen
centuries corresponds with Ezekiel's vision--which is God's ideal? Will
any Christian man say, 'My own growth in grace, and increase in the
depth and fulness of the flow of the river through my spirit and my life
correspond to that ideal'? A mile from the source the river is
unfordable. How many miles from the source of _our_ first experience do
we stand? How many of us, instead of having 'a river that could not be
passed over, waters to swim in,' have but a poor and all but stagnant
feeble trickle, as shallow as or shallower than it was at first?

I was speaking a minute ago about Mongolian rivers. Australian rivers
are more like some men's lives. A chain of ponds in the dry season--nay!
not even a chain, but a series, with no connecting channel of water
between them. That is like a great many Christian people; they have
isolated times when they feel the voice of Christ's love, and yield
themselves to the powers of the world to come, and then there are long
intervals, when they feel neither the one nor the other. But the picture
that ought to be realised by each of us is God's ideal, which there is
power in the gospel to make real in the case of every one of us, the
rapid and continuous increase in the depth and in the scour of 'the
river of the water of life,' that flows through our lives. Luther used
to say, 'If you want to clean out a dunghill, turn the Elbe into it.' If
you desire to have your hearts cleansed of all their foulness, turn the
river into it. But it needs to be a progressively deepening river, or
there will be no scour in the feeble trickle, and we shall not be a bit
the holier or the purer for our potential and imperfect Christianity.

III. Lastly, note the effects of the stream.

These are threefold: fertility, healing, life. Fertility. In the East
one condition of fertility is water. Irrigate the desert, and you make
it a garden. Break down the aqueduct, and you make the granary of the
world into a waste. The traveller as he goes along can tell where there
is a stream of water, by the verdure along its banks. You travel along a
plateau, and it is all baked and barren. You plunge into a wâdy, and
immediately the ground is clothed with under-growth and shrubs, and the
birds of the air sing among the branches. And so, says Ezekiel, wherever
the river comes there springs up, as if by magic, fair trees 'on the
banks thereof, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit
thereof be consumed.'

Fertility comes second, the reception of the fertilising agent comes
first. It is wasted time to tinker at our characters unless we have
begun with getting into our hearts the grace of God, and the new spirit
that will be wrought out by diligent effort into all beauty of life and
character. Ezekiel seems to be copying the first psalm, or vice versa,
the Psalmist is copying Ezekiel. At any rate, there is a verbal
similarity between them, in that both dwell upon the unfading leaf of
the tree that grows planted by rivers of water. And our text goes
further, and speaks about perennial fruitfulness month by month, all the
year round. In some tropical countries you will find blossoms, buds in
their earliest stage, and ripened fruit all hanging upon one laden
branch. Such ought to be the Christian life--continuously fruitful
because dependent upon continual drawing into itself, by means of its
roots and suckers, of the water of life by which we are fructified.

There is yet another effect of the waters--healing. As we said, Ezekiel
takes great liberties with the geography of the Holy Land, levelling it
all, so his stream makes nothing of the Mount of Olives, but flows due
east until it comes to the smitten gorge of the Jordan, and then turns
south, down into the dull, leaden waters of the Dead Sea, which it
heals. We all know how these are charged with poison. Dip up a glassful
anywhere, and you find it full of deleterious matter. They are the
symbol of humanity, with the sin that is in solution all through it. No
chemist can eliminate it, but there is One who can. 'He hath made Him to
be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness
of God in Him.' The pure river of the water of life will cast out from
humanity the malignant components that are there, and will sweeten it
all. Ay, all, and yet not all, for very solemnly the Prophet's optimism
pauses, and he says that the salt marshes by the side of the sea are not
healed. They are by the side of it. The healing is perfectly available
for them, but they are not healed. It is possible for men to reject the
influences that make for the destruction of sin and the establishment of
righteousness. And although the waters are healed, there still remain
the obstinate marshes with the white crystals efflorescing on their
surface, and bringing salt and barrenness. You can put away the healing
and remain tainted with the poison.

And then the last thought is the life-giving influence of the river.
Everything lived whithersoever it went. Contrast Christendom with
heathendom. Admit all the hollowness and mere nominal Christianity of
large tracts of life in so-called Christian countries, and yet why is it
that on the one side you find stagnation and death, and on the other
side mental and manifold activity and progressiveness? I believe that
the difference between 'the people that _sit_ in darkness' and 'the
people that _walk_ in the light is that one has the light and the other
has not, and activity befits the light as torpor befits the darkness.

But there is a far deeper truth than that in the figure, a truth that I
would fain lay upon the hearts of all my hearers, that unless we our own
selves have this water of life which comes from the Sanctuary and is
brought to us by Jesus Christ, 'we are dead in trespasses and sins.' The
only true life is in Christ. 'If any man thirst, let him come unto Me,
and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of
his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'

        *        *        *        *        *


THE BOOK OF DANIEL


YOUTHFUL CONFESSORS

     'But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself
     with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he
     drank; therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he
     might not defile himself. 9. Now God had brought Daniel into favour
     and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. 10. And the prince
     of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath
     appointed your meat and your drink; for why should he see your
     faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then
     shall ye make me endanger my head to the king. 11. Then said Daniel
     to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel,
     Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12. Prove thy servants, I beseech
     thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to
     drink. 13. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee,
     and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the
     king's meat; and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. 14. So he
     consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. 15. And
     at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and
     fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of
     the king's meat. 16. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their
     meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse. 17.
     As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in
     all learning and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all
     visions and dreams. 18. Now at the end of the days that the king
     had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs
     brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19. And the king communed
     with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah,
     Mishael, and Azariah; therefore stood they before the king. 20. And
     in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired
     of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and
     astrologers that were in all his realm. 21. And Daniel continued
     even unto the first year of king Cyrus.'--DANIEL i. 8-21.

Daniel was but a boy at the date of the Captivity, and little more at
the time of the attempt to make a Chaldean of him. The last verse says
that he 'continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus,' the date
given elsewhere as the close of the Captivity (2 Chron. xxxvi. 22; Ezra
i. 1; vi. 3). From Daniel x. 1 we learn that he lived on till Cyrus's
third year, if not later; but the date in i. 21 is probably given in
order to suggest that Daniel's career covered the whole period of the
Captivity, and burned like a star of hope for the exiles. The incident
in our passage is a noble example of religious principle applied to
small details of daily life, and shows how God crowns such conscientious
self-restraint with success. The lessons which it contains are best
gathered by following the narrative.

I. The heroic determination of the boyish confessor is first set forth.
The plan of taking leading young men from the newly captured nation and
turning them into Babylonians was a stroke of policy as heartless and
high-handed as might be expected from a great conqueror. In some
measure, the same thing has been done by all nations who have built up a
world-wide dominion. The new names given to the youths, the attaching of
them to the court, their education in Babylonish fashion, all were meant
for the same purpose,--to denationalise them, and strip them of their
religion, and thus to make them tools for more easily governing their
countrymen.

Most men would yield to the influences, and be so lapped in the
comforts of their new position as to become pliable as wax in the
conqueror's hands; but here and there he would come across a bit of
stiffer stuff, which would break rather than bend. Such an obstinate
piece of humanity was found in the Hebrew youth, of some fifteen years,
whose Hebrew name ('God is my judge') expressed a truth that ruled him,
when the name was exchanged for one that invoked Bel. It took some
firmness for a captive lad, without friends or influence, to take
Daniel's stand; for the motive of his desire to be excused from taking
the fare provided can only have been religious. He was determined, in
his brave young heart, not to 'defile' himself with the king's meat. The
phrase points to the pollution incurred by eating things offered to
idols, and does not imply scrupulousness like that of Pharisaic times,
nor necessarily suggest a late date for the book. Probably there had
been some kind of religious consecration of the food to Babylonian gods,
and Daniel, in his solitary faithfulness, was carrying out the same
principles which Paul afterwards laid down for Corinthian Christians as
to partaking of things offered to idols. Similar difficulties are sure
to emerge in analogous cases, and do so, on many mission fields.

The motive here, then, is distinctly religious. Common life was so woven
in with idolatrous worship that every meal was in some sense a
sacrifice. Therefore 'Touch not, taste not, handle not,' was the
inevitable dictate for a devout heart. Daniel seems to have been the
moving spirit; but as is generally the case, he was able to infuse his
own strong convictions into his companions, and the four of them held
together in their protest. The great lesson from the incident is that
religion should regulate the smallest details of life, and that it is
not narrow over-scrupulousness, but fidelity to the highest duty, when a
man sets his foot down about any small matter, and says, 'No, I dare not
do it, little as it is, and pleasant as it might be to sense, because I
should thereby be mixed up in a practical denial of my God.' 'So did not
I, because of the fear of God' (Neh. v. 15), is a motto which will
require from many a young man abstinence from many things which it would
be much easier to accept.

II. This young confessor was as prudent as he was brave; and the story
goes on to show how wisely he played his part, and how willing he was to
accept all working compromises which might smooth his way. He did not at
all want to pose as a martyr, and had no pleasure in making a noise. The
favour which he had won with the high officer who looked after the lads
before their formal examination (graduation we might call it), is set
down in the narrative to the divine favour; but that favour worked by
means, and no doubt the lad had done his part to win the important good
opinion of his superior. The more firm is our determination to take no
step beyond the line of duty, the more conciliatory we should be. But
many people seem to think that heroism is shown by rudeness, and that if
we are afraid that we shall some time have to say 'No' very
emphatically, we should prepare for it by a great many preliminary and
unnecessary negatives. The very stern need for parting company, when
conscience points one way and companions another, is a reason for
keeping cordially together whenever we can.

'The prince of the eunuchs' made a very reasonable objection. He had
been appointed to see after the health of the lads, and had ample means
at his disposal; and if they lost their health in this chase after what
he could only think a superstitious fad, the despot whom he served would
think nothing of making him answer with his head. His fear gives a
striking side-light as to the conditions of service in such a court,
where no man's head was firm between his shoulders. Why should the
prince of the eunuchs have supposed that the diet asked for would not
nourish the lads? It was that of the bulk of men everywhere, and he had
only to go out into the streets or the nearest barrack in Babylon to see
what thews and muscles could be nurtured on vegetable diet and water.
But whatever the want of ground in his objection, it was enough that he
made it. Note that he puts it entirely on possible harmful results to
himself, and that silences Daniel, who had no right to ask another to
run his head into the noose, into which he was ready to put his own, if
necessary. Martyrs by proxy, who have such strong convictions that they
think it somebody else's duty to run risk for them, are by no means
unknown.

This boy was made of other metal. So, apparently he gives up the prince
of the eunuchs, and turns to another of the friends whom he had made in
his short captivity--the person in whose more immediate charge he and
his three friends were. He is named Melzar in the Authorised Version;
but the Revised Version more accurately takes that to be a name of
office, and translates it as 'steward.' He did the catering for them,
and was sufficiently friendly to listen to Daniel's reasonable proposal
to try the vegetable diet for 'ten days'--probably meaning an indefinite
period, sufficiently long to test results, which a literal ten days
would perhaps scarcely be. So the good-natured steward let the lads have
their way, much wondering in his soul, no doubt, why they should take as
much trouble to avoid good living as most youths would have taken to get
it.

III. The success of the experiment comes next. We do not need to suppose
a miracle as either wrought or suggested by the narrative. The issue
might have taught the steward a wholesome lesson in dietetics, which he
and a great many of us much need. 'A man's life consisteth not in the
abundance of the things which he possesseth,' and his bodily life
consisteth not in the abundance and variety of the things that he
eateth. The teaching of this lesson is, not that vegetarianism or total
abstinence is obligatory, for diet is here regarded only as part of
idolatrous worship; but certainly a secondary conclusion, fairly drawn
from the story, is that vigorous health is best kept up on very simple
fare. Many dinner-tables, over which God's blessing is formally asked,
are spread in such a fashion as it is hard to suppose deserves His
blessing. The simpler the fare, the fewer the wants: the fewer the
wants, the greater the riches; the freer the life, the more leisure for
higher pursuits, and the more sound the bodily health.

But the rosy faces and vigorous health of Daniel and his friends may
illustrate, by a picturesque example, a large truth--that God suffers no
man to be a loser by faithfulness, and more than makes up all that is
surrendered for His sake. The blessing of God on small means makes them
fountains of truer joy than large ones unblessed. No man hath left
anything for Christ's sake but he receives a hundred-fold in this life,
if not in the actual blessings surrendered, at all events in the peace
and joy of heart of which they were supposed to be bearers. God fills
places emptied by Himself, and those emptied by us for His sake.

IV. The conscientious abstinence of Daniel had limits. The learning of
the 'Chaldeans' was largely ritualistic, and magic, incantations,
divination, and mythology constituted a most important part of it. Did
not the conscience, which could not swallow idolatrous food, resent
being forced to assimilate idolatrous learning? No; for all that
learning could be acquired by a faithful monotheist, and could be used
against the system which gave it birth. Like Moses, or like the young
Pharisee Saul, these Jewish boys nurtured their faith by knowledge of
their enemies' belief, and used their childhood's lessons as weapons in
fighting for God's truth. It is not every man's duty to become familiar
with error, or to master anti-Christian systems. But if it become ours,
we are not to turn away from the task, nor to doubt that God will keep
His own truth alight in our minds, if we realise the danger of the
position, and seek to cling to Him.

V. So we have the last scene in the youths' appearance before
Nebuchadnezzar. A three years' curriculum was considered necessary to
turn a Jewish boy into a Chaldean expert, fit to be a traitor to his
nation, an apostate from his God, and a tool of the tyrant. So far as
knowledge of the priestly and astronomical science went, the four
Hebrews came out at the top of the lists. The great king himself, with
that personal interference in all departments which makes a despot's
life so burdensome, put them through their paces, and was satisfied. His
object had been to get instruments with which he could work on the
Captivity, and, no doubt, also to secure servants who had no links with
anybody in Babylon. Foreigners, 'kinless loons,' are favourites with
despots, for plain reasons. But Nebuchadnezzar could not fathom the
hearts of the lads. An incarnation of unbridled will would find it
difficult to understand a life guided by conscience, and religious
scruples would have sounded as an unknown tongue to him. But yet, as he
and they stood face to face, who was stronger, the conqueror or the
youths who feared God, and none besides? They were in their right place
at the head of the examination lists. They had not said, 'We do not
believe in all this rubbish, and we are not going to trouble ourselves
to master it,' but they had set themselves determinedly to work, and
been all the more persevering because of their objection to the diet. If
a young man has to be singular by reason of his religion, let him be
singularly diligent in his work, and seek to be first, not merely for
his own glory, but for the sake of the religion which he professes.

'Plain living and high thinking' ought to go together. England and
America have many names carved high on their annals, and written deep on
their citizens' hearts, who have nourished a sublime, studious youth in
poverty, 'cultivating literature on a little oatmeal,' and who all their
lives have 'scorned delights and lived laborious days.' It is the temper
which is most likely to succeed, but which, whether it succeeds or not,
brings the best blessings to those who cultivate it. Such a youth will
generally be followed by an honoured manhood like Daniel's, but will, at
all events, be its own reward, and have God's blessing.

'Daniel continued unto the first year of king Cyrus.' These simple words
contain volumes. During all the troubles of the nation, from the king's
insanity, and the murders of his successors, amidst whirling intrigues,
envies, plots, and persecutions, this one man stood firm, like a pillar
amid blowing sands. So God keeps the steadfast soul which is fixed on
Him; and while the world passeth away, and the fashion thereof, he that
doeth the will of God abideth for ever.


THE IMAGE AND THE STONE

     'This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof
     before the king. 37. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God
     of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and
     glory. 38. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of
     the field and the fowls of the heaven hath He given into thine
     hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of
     gold. 39. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to
     thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule
     over all the earth. 40. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as
     iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all
     things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in
     pieces and bruise. 41. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes,
     part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be
     divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron,
     forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. 42. And as
     the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the
     kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43. And whereas
     thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves
     with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another,
     even as iron is not mixed with clay. 44. And in the days of these
     kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never
     be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people,
     but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it
     shall stand for ever. 45. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone
     was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in
     pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the
     great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass
     hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof
     sure. 46. Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and
     worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation
     and sweet odours unto him. 47. The king answered unto Daniel, and
     said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord
     of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal
     this secret. 48. Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave
     him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of
     Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of
     Babylon. 49. Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set
     Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, over the affairs of the province
     of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.'--DANIEL ii.
     36-49.

The colossal image, seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream, was a
reproduction of those which met his waking eyes, and still remain for
our wonder in our museums. The mingled materials are paralleled in
ancient art. The substance of the dream is no less natural than its
form. The one is suggested by familiar sights; the other, by pressing
anxieties. What more likely than that, 'in the second year of his reign'
(v. 1), waking thoughts of the future of his monarchy should trouble the
warrior-king, scarcely yet firm on his throne, and should repeat
themselves in nightly visions? God spoke through the dream, and He is
not wont to answer questions before they are asked, nor to give
revelations to men on points which they have not sought to solve. We may
be sure that Nebuchadnezzar's dream met his need.

The unreasonable demand that the 'Chaldeans' should show the dream as
well as interpret it, fits the character of the king, as an imperious
despot, intolerant of obstacles to his will, and holding human life very
cheap. Daniel's knowledge of the dream and of its meaning is given to
him in a vision by night, which is the method of divine illumination
throughout the book, and may be regarded as a lower stage thereof than
the communications to prophets of 'the word of the Lord.'

The passage falls into two parts: the image and the stone.

I. The Image.

It was a human form of strangely mingled materials, of giant size no
doubt, and of majestic aspect. Barbarous enough it would have looked
beside the marble lovelinesses of Greece, but it was quite like the
coarser art which sought for impressiveness through size and costliness.
Other people than Babylonian sculptors think that bigness is greatness,
and dearness preciousness.

This image embodied what is now called a philosophy of history. It set
forth the fruitful idea of a succession and unity in the rise and fall
of conquerors and kingdoms. The four empires represented by it are
diverse, and yet parts of a whole, and each following on the other. So
the truth is taught that history is an organic whole, however unrelated
its events may appear to a superficial eye. The writer of this book had
learned lessons far in advance of his age, and not yet fully grasped by
many so-called historians.

But, further, the human figure of the image sets forth all these
kingdoms as being purely the work of men. Not that the overruling divine
providence is ignored, but that the play of human passions, the lust of
conquest and the like, and the use of human means, such as armies, are
emphasised.

Again, the kingdoms are seen in their brilliancy, as they would
naturally appear to the thoughts of a conqueror, whose highest notion of
glory was earthly dominion, and who was indifferent to the suffering and
blood through which he waded to a throne. When the same kingdoms are
shown to Daniel in chapter vii. they are represented by beasts. Their
cruelty and the destruction of life which they caused were uppermost in
a prophet's view; their vulgar splendour dazzled a king's sleeping eyes,
because it had intoxicated his waking thoughts. Much worldly glory and
many of its aims appear as precious metal to dreamers, but are seen by
an illuminated sight to be bestial and destructive.

Once more there is a steady process of deterioration in the four
kingdoms. Gold is followed by silver, and that by brass, and that by the
strange combination of iron and clay. This may simply refer to the
diminution of worldly glory, but it may also mean deterioration, morally
and otherwise. Is it not the teaching of Scripture that, unless God
interpose, society will steadily slide downwards? And has not the fact
been so, wherever the brake and lever of revelation have not arrested
the decline and effected elevation? We are told nowadays of evolution,
as if the progress of humanity were upwards; but if you withdraw the
influence of supernatural revelation, the evidence of power in manhood
to work itself clear of limitations and lower forms is very ambiguous at
the best--in reference to morals, at all events. Evil is capable of
development, as well as good; and perhaps Nebuchadnezzar's colossus is a
truer representation of the course of humanity than the dreams of modern
thinkers who see manhood becoming steadily better by its own effort, and
think that the clay and iron have inherent power to pass into fine gold.

The question of the identification of these successive monarchies does
not fall to be discussed here. But I may observe that the definite
statement of verse 44 ('in the days of these kings') seems to date the
rise of the everlasting kingdom of God in the period of the last of the
four, and therefore that the old interpretation of the fourth kingdom as
the Roman seems the most natural. The force of that remark may, no
doubt, be weakened by the consideration that the Old Testament prophets'
perspective of the future brought the coming of Messiah into immediate
juxtaposition with the limits of their own vision; but still it has
force.

The allocation of each part of the symbol is of less importance for us
than the lessons to be drawn from it as a whole. But the singular
amalgam of iron and clay in the fourth kingdom is worth notice. No
sculptor or metallurgist could make a strong unity out of such
materials, of which the combination could only be apparent and
superficial. The fact to which it points is the artificial unity into
which the great conquering empires of old crushed their unfortunate
subject peoples, who were hammered, not fused, together. 'They shall
mingle themselves with the seed of men' (ver. 43), may either refer to
the attempts to bring about unity by marriages among different races, or
to other vain efforts to the same end. To obliterate nationalities has
always been the conquering despot's effort, from Nebuchadnezzar to the
Czar of Russia, and it always fails. This is the weakness of these huge
empires of antiquity, which have no internal cohesion, and tumble to
pieces as soon as some external bond is loosened. There is only one
kingdom which has no disintegrating forces lodged in it, because it
unites men individually to its king, and so binds them to one another;
and that is the kingdom which Nebuchadnezzar saw in its destructive
aspect.

II. So we have now to think of the stone cut out without hands.

Three things are specified with regard to it: its origin, its duration,
and its destructive energy. The origin is heavenly, in sharp contrast to
the human origin of the kingdoms symbolised in the colossal man. That
idea is twice expressed: once in plain words, 'the God of heaven shall
set up a kingdom'; and once figuratively as being cut out of the
mountain without hands. By the mountain we are probably to understand
Zion, from which, according to many a prophecy, the Messiah King was to
rule the earth (Ps. ii.; Isa. ii. 3).

The fulfilment of this prediction is found, not only in the supernatural
birth of Jesus Christ, but in the spread of the gospel without any of
the weapons and aids of human power. Twelve poor men spoke, and the
world was shaken and the kingdoms remoulded. The seer had learned the
omnipotence of ideas and the weakness of outward force. A thought from
God is stronger than all armies, and outconquers conquerors. By the
mystery of Christ's Incarnation, by the power of weakness in the
preachers of the Cross, by the energies of the transforming Spirit, the
God of heaven has set up the kingdom. 'It shall never be destroyed.' Its
divine origin guarantees its perpetual duration. The kingdoms of man's
founding, whether they be in the realm of thought or of outward
dominion, 'have their day, and cease to be,' but the kingdom of Christ
lasts as long as the eternal life of its King. He cannot die any more,
and He cannot live discrowned. Other forms of human association perish,
as new conditions come into play which antiquate them; but the kingdom
of Jesus is as flexible as it is firm, and has power to adapt to itself
all conditions in which men can live. It will outlast earth, it will
fill eternity; for when He 'shall have delivered up the kingdom to His
Father,' the kingdom, which the God of heaven set up, will still
continue.

It 'shall not be left to other people.' By that, seems to be meant that
this kingdom will not be like those of human origin, in which dominion
passes from one race to another, but that Israel shall ever be the happy
subjects and the dominant race. We must interpret the words of the
spiritual Israel, and remember how to be Christ's subject is to belong
to a nation who are kings and priests.

The destructive power is graphically represented. The stone, detached
from the mountain, and apparently self-moved, dashes against the
heterogeneous mass of iron and clay on which the colossus insecurely
stands, and down it comes with a crash, breaking into a thousand
fragments as it falls. 'Like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors'
(Daniel ii. 35) is the débris, which is whirled out of sight by the
wind. Christ and His kingdom have reshaped the world. These ancient,
hideous kingdoms of blood and misery are impossible now. Christ and His
gospel shattered the Roman empire, and cast Europe into another mould.
They have destructive work to do yet, and as surely as the sun rises
daily, will do it. The things that can be shaken will be shaken till
they fall, and human society will never obtain its stable form till it
is moulded throughout after the pattern of the kingdom of Christ.

The vision of our passage has no reference to the quickening power of
the kingdom; but the best way in which it destroys is by transformation.
It slays the old and lower forms of society by substituting the purer
which flow from possession of the one Spirit. That highest glory of the
work of Christ is but partially represented here, but there is a hint in
Daniel ii. 35, which tells that the stone has a strange vitality, and
can grow, and does grow, till it becomes an earth-filling mountain.

That issue is not reached yet; but 'the dream is certain.' The kingdom
is concentrated in its King, and the life of Jesus, diffused through His
servants, works to the increase of the empire, and will not cease till
the kingdoms of the world are the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
That stone has vital power, and if we build on it we receive, by
wonderful impartation, a kindred derived life, and become 'living
stones.' It is laid for a sure foundation. If a man stumble over it
while it lies there to be built upon, he will lame and maim himself. But
it will one day have motion given to it, and, falling from the height of
heaven, when He comes to judge the world which He rules and has
redeemed, it will grind to powder all who reject the rule of the
everlasting King of men.


HARMLESS FIRES

     'Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring
     Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men
     before the king. 14. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it
     true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods,
     nor worship the golden image which I have set up? 15. Now if ye be
     ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute,
     harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye
     fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye
     worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a
     burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you
     out of my hands? 16. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and
     said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer
     thee in this matter. 17. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able
     to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver
     us out of thine hand, O king. 18. But if not, be it known unto
     thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the
     golden image which thou hast set up. 19. Then was Nebuchadnezzar
     full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against
     Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded
     that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was
     wont to be heated. 20. And he commanded the most mighty men that
     were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to
     cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21. Then these men were
     bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other
     garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery
     furnace. 22. Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent,
     and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men
     that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. 23. And these three
     men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the
     midst of the burning fiery furnace. 24. Then Nebuchadnezzar the
     king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto
     his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of
     the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. 25.
     He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the
     midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the
     fourth is like the Son of God.'--DANIEL iii. 13-25.

The way in which the 'Chaldeans' describe the three recusants, betrays
their motive in accusing them. 'Certain Jews whom thou hast set over the
affairs of the province of Babylon' could not but be envied and hated,
since their promotion wounded both national pride and professional
jealousy. The form of the accusation was skilfully calculated to rouse a
despot's rage. 'They have not regarded thee' is the head and front of
their offending. The inflammable temper of the king blazed up according
to expectation, as is the way with tyrants. His passion of rage is twice
mentioned (vs. 13, 19), and in one of the instances, is noted as
distorting his features. What a picture of ungoverned fury as of one who
had never been thwarted! It is the true portrait of an Eastern despot.

Where was Daniel in this hour of danger? His absence is not accounted
for, and conjecture is useless; but the fact that he has no share in the
incident seems to raise a presumption in favour of the disputed
historical character of the Book, which, if it had been fiction, could
scarcely have left its hero out of so brilliant an instance of
faithfulness to Jehovah.

Nebuchadnezzar's vehement address to the three culprits is very
characteristic and instructive. Fixed determination to enforce his
mandate, anger which breaks into threats that were by no means idle, and
a certain wish to build a bridge for the escape of servants who had done
their work well, are curiously mingled in it. His question, best
rendered as in the Revised Version, 'Is it of purpose ... that ye' do so
and so? seems meant to suggest that they may repair their fault by
pleading inadvertence, accident, or the like, and that He will accept
the transparent excuse. The renewed offer of an opportunity of worship
does not say what will happen should they obey; and the omission makes
the clause more emphatic, as insisting on the act, and slurring over the
self-evident result.

On the other hand, in the next clause the act is slightly touched ('if
ye worship not'); and all the stress comes on the grim description of
the consequence. This monarch, who has been accustomed to bend men's
wills like reeds, tries to shake these three obstinate rebels by terror,
and opens the door of the furnace, as it were, to let them hear it roar.
He finishes with a flash of insolence which, if not blasphemy, at least
betrays his belief that he was stronger than any god of his conquered
subject peoples.

But the main point to notice in this speech is the unconscious
revelation of his real motive in demanding the act of worship. The
crime of the three was not that they worshipped wrongly, but that they
disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar. He speaks of 'my gods', and of the 'image
which I have set up.' Probably it was an image of the god of the
Babylonian pantheon whom he took for his special patron, and was erected
in commemoration of some victorious campaign.

At all events, the worship required was an act of obedience to him, and
to refuse it was rebellion. Idolatry is tolerant of any private opinions
about gods, and intolerant of any refusal to obey authority in worship.
So the early Christians were thrown to the lions, not because they
worshipped Jesus, but because they would not sacrifice at the Emperor's
command. It is not only heathen rulers who have confounded the spheres
of civil and religious obedience. Nonconformity in England was long
identified with disloyalty; and in many so-called Christian countries
to-day a man may think what he likes, and worship as he pleases in his
chamber, if only he will decently comply with authority and pretend to
unite in religious ceremonies, which those who appoint and practise them
observe with tongue in cheek.

But we may draw another lesson from this truculent apostle of his god.
He is not the only instance of apparent religious zeal which is at
bottom nothing but masterfulness. 'You shall worship my god, not because
he is God, but because he is mine.' That is the real meaning of a great
deal which calls itself 'zeal for the Lord.' The zealot's own will,
opinions, fancies, are crammed down other people's throats, and the
insult in not thinking or worshipping as he does, is worse in his eyes
than the offence against God.

The kind of furnace in which recusants are roasted has changed since
Nebuchadnezzar's time, and what is called persecution for religion is
out of fashion now. But every advance in the application of Christian
principle to social and civil life brings a real martyrdom on its
advocates. Every audacious refusal to bow to the habits or opinions of
the majority, is visited by consequences which only the martyr spirit
will endure. Despots have no monopoly of imperious intolerance. A
democracy is more cruel and more impatient of singularity, and
especially of religious singularity, than any despot.

England and America have no need to fear the old forms of religious
persecution. In both, a man may profess and proclaim any kind of
religion or of no religion. But in both, the advance guard of the
Christian Church, which seeks to apply Christ's teachings more rigidly
to individual and social life, has to face obloquy, ostracism,
misrepresentation, from the world and the fossil church, for not serving
their gods, nor worshipping the golden image which they have set up.
Martyrs will be needed and persecutors will exist till the world is
Christian.

How did the three confessors meet this rumble of thunder about their
ears? The quiet determination of their reply is very striking and
beautiful. It is perfectly loyal, and perfectly unshaken. 'We have no
need to answer thee' (Revised Version). 'It is ill sitting at Rome and
striving with the Pope.' Nebuchadnezzar's palace was not precisely the
place to dispute with Nebuchadnezzar; and as his logic was only 'Do as I
bid you, or burn,' the sole reply possible was, 'We will not do as you
bid, and we will burn.' The 'If' which is immediately spoken is already
in the minds of the speakers, when they say that _they_ do not need to
answer. They think that God will take up the taunt which ended the
king's tirade. Beautifully they are silent, and refer the blusterer to
God, whose voice they believe that He will hear in His deed. 'But Thou
shalt answer, Lord, for me,' is the true temper of humble faith, dumb
before power as a sheep before her shearers, and yet confident that the
meek will not be left unvindicated. Let us leave ourselves in God's
hands; and when conscience accuses, or the world maligns or threatens,
let us be still, and feel that we have One to speak for us, and so we
may hold our peace.

The rendering of verse 17 is doubtful, but the general meaning is clear.
The brave speakers have hope that God will rebuke the king's taunt, and
will prove Himself to be able to deliver out of his hand. So they repeat
his very words with singular boldness, and contradict him to his face.
They have no absolute certainty of deliverance, but whether it comes or
not will make no manner of difference to them. They have absolute
certainty as to duty; and so they look the furious tyrant right in the
eyes, and quietly say, 'We will not serve thy gods.' Nothing like that
had ever been heard in those halls.

Duty is sovereign. The obligation to resist all temptations to go
against conscience is unaffected by consequences. There may be hope that
God will not suffer us to be harmed, but whether He does or not should
make no difference to our fixed resolve. That temper of lowly faith and
inflexible faithfulness which these Hebrews showed in the supreme
moment, when they took their lives in their hands, may be as nobly
illustrated in the small difficulties of our peaceful lives. The same
laws shape the curves of the tiny ripples in a basin and of the Atlantic
rollers. No man who cannot say 'I will not' in the face of frowns and
dangers, be they what they may, and stick to it, will do his part, He
who has conquered regard for personal consequences, and does not let
them deflect his course a hairsbreadth, is lord of the world.

How small Nebuchadnezzar was by the side of his three victims! How empty
his threats to men who cared nothing whether they burned or not, so long
as they did not apostatise! What can the world do against a man who
says, 'It is all one to me whether I live or die; I will not worship at
your shrines?' The fire of the furnace is but painted flames to such an
one.

The savage punishment intended for the audacious rebels is abundantly
confirmed as common in Babylon by the inscriptions, which may be seen
quoted by many commentators. The narrative is exceedingly graphic. We
see the furious king, with features inflamed with passion. We hear his
hoarse, angry orders to heat the furnace seven times hotter, which he
forgot would be a mercy, as shortening the victims' agonies. We see the
swift execution of the commands, and the unresisting martyrs bound as
they stood, and dragged away by the soldiers to the near furnace, the
king following. Its shape is a matter of doubt. Probably the three were
thrown in from above, and so the soldiers were caught by the flames.

'And these three men ... fell down bound into the midst of the burning
fiery furnace' Their helplessness and desperate condition are
pathetically suggested by that picture, which might well be supposed to
be the last of them that mortal eyes would see. Down into the glowing
mass, like chips of wood into Vesuvius, they sank. The king sitting
watching, to glut his fury by the sight of their end, had some way of
looking into the core of the flames.

The story shifts its point of view with very picturesque abruptness
after verse 23. The vaunting king shall tell what he saw, and thereby
convict himself of insolent folly in challenging 'any god' to deliver
out of his hand. He alone seems to have seen the sight, which he tells
to his courtiers. The bonds were gone, and the men walking free in the
fire, as if it had been their element. Three went in bound, four walk
there at large; and the fourth is 'like a son of the gods,' by which
expression Nebuchadnezzar can have meant nothing more than he had
learned from his religion; namely, that the gods had offspring of
superhuman dignity. He calls the same person an angel in Daniel iii. 28.
He speaks there as the three would have spoken, and here as Babylonian
mythology spoke.

But the great lesson to be gathered from this miracle of deliverance is
simply that men who sacrifice themselves for God find in the sacrifice
abundant blessing. They may, or may not, be delivered from the external
danger. Peter was brought out of prison the night before his intended
martyrdom; James, the brother of John, was slain with the sword, but God
was equally near to both, and both were equally delivered from 'Herod
and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.' The disposal of
the outward event is in His hands, and is a comparatively small matter.
But no furnace into which a man goes because he will be true to God, and
will not yield up his conscience, is a tenth part so hot as it seems,
and it will do no real harm. The fire burns bonds, but not Christ's
servants, consuming many things that entangled, and setting them free.
'I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts'--even if we have to
walk in the furnace. No trials faced in obedience to God will be borne
alone. 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; ...
when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned.'

The form which Nebuchadnezzar saw amid the flame, as invested with more
than human majesty, may have been but one of the ministering spirits
sent forth to minister to the martyrs--the embodiment of the divine
power which kept the flames from kindling upon them. But we have Jesus
for our Companion in all trials, and His presence makes it possible for
us to pass over hot ploughshares with unblistered feet; to bathe our
hands in fire and not feel the pain; to accept the sorest consequences
of fidelity to Him, and count them as 'not worthy to be compared with
the glory which shall be revealed,' and is made more glorious through
these light afflictions. A present Christ will never fail His servants,
and will make the furnace cool even when its fire is fiercest.


MENE, TEKEL, PERES

     'Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to
     thyself, and give thy rewards to another: yet I will read the
     writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
     18. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a
     kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 19. And for the
     majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages,
     trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he
     would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would
     he put down. 20. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind
     hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they
     took his glory from him: 21. And he was driven from the sons of
     men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was
     with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his
     body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most
     high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over
     it whomsoever he will. 22. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not
     humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this: 23. But hast
     lifted up thyself against the Lord of Heaven: and they have brought
     the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy
     wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast
     praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and
     stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand
     thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
     24. Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing
     was written. 25. And this is the writing that was written, 'MENE,
     MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.' 26. This is the interpretation of the
     thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 27.
     TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. 28.
     PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
     29. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with
     scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a
     proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in
     the kingdom. 30. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the
     Chaldeans slain. 31. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being
     about threescore and two years old.'--DANIEL v. 17-31.

Belshazzar is now conceded to have been a historical personage, the son
of the last monarch of Babylon, and the other name in the narrative
which has been treated as erroneous--namely, Darius--has not been found
to be mentioned elsewhere, but is not thereby proved to be a blunder.
For why should it not be possible for Scripture to preserve a name that
secular history has not yet been ascertained to record, and why must it
always be assumed that, if Scripture and cuneiform or other documents
differ, it is Scripture that must go to the wall?

We do not deal with the grim picture of the drunken orgy, turned into
abject terror as 'the fingers of a man's hand' came forth out of empty
air, and in the full blaze of 'the candlestick' wrote the illegible
signs. There is something blood-curdling in the visibility of but a
part of the hand and its busy writing. Whose was the body, and where was
it? No wonder if the riotous mirth was frozen into awe, and the wine
lost flavour. Nor need we do more than note the craven-hearted flattery
addressed to Daniel by the king, who apparently had never heard of him
till the queen spoke of him just before. We have to deal with the
indictment, the sentence, and the execution.

I. The indictment. Daniel's tone is noticeably stern. He has no
reverential preface, no softening of his message. His words are as if
cut with steel on the rock. He brushes aside the promises of vulgar
decorations and honours with undisguised contempt, and goes straight to
his work of rousing a torpid conscience.

Babylon was the embodiment and type of the godless world-power, and
Belshazzar was the incarnation of the spirit which made Babylon. So
Daniel's indictment gathers together the main forms of sin, which cleave
to every godless national or individual life. And he begins with that
feather-brained frivolity which will learn nothing by example.
Nebuchadnezzar's fate might have taught his successors what came of
God-forgetting arrogance, and attributing success to oneself; and his
restoration might have been an object-lesson to teach that devout
recognition of the Most High as sovereign was the beginning of a king's
prosperity and sanity. But Belshazzar knew all this, and ignored it all.
Was he singular in that? Is not the world full of instances of the ruin
that attends godlessness, which yet do not check one godless man in his
career? The wrecks lie thick on the shore, but their broken sides and
gaunt skeletons are not warnings sufficient to keep a thousand other
ships from steering right on to the shoals. Of these godless lives it
is true, 'This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve
their sayings,' and their doings, and say and do them over again.
Incapacity to learn by example is a mark of godless lives.

Further, Belshazzar 'lifted up' himself 'against the Lord of heaven,'
and 'glorified not Him in whose hand was his breath and whose were all
his ways.' The very essence of all sin is that assertion of self as
Lord, as sufficient, as the director of one's path. To make myself my
centre, to depend on myself, to enthrone my own will as sovereign, is to
fly in the face of nature and fact, and is the mother of all sin. To
live to self is to die while we live; to live to God is to live even
while we die. Nations and individuals are ever tempted thus to ignore
God, and rebelliously to say, 'Who is Lord over us?' or presumptuously
to think themselves architects of their own fortunes, and sufficient for
their own defence. Whoever yields to that temptation has let the 'prince
of the devils' in, and the inferior evil spirits will follow. Positive
acts are not needed; the negative omission to 'glorify' the God of our
life binds sin on us.

Further, Belshazzar, the type of godlessness, had desecrated the
sacrificial vessels by using them for his drunken carouse, and therein
had done just what we do when we take the powers of heart and mind and
will, which are meant to be filled with affections, thoughts, and
purposes, that are 'an odour of a sweet smell, well-pleasing to God,'
and desecrate them by pouring from them libations before creatures. Is
not love profaned when it is lavished on men or women without one
reference to God? Is not the intellect desecrated when its force is
spent on finite objects of thought, and never a glance towards God? Is
not the will prostituted from its high vocation when it is used to drive
the wheels of a God-ignoring life?

The coin bears the image and superscription of the true king. It is
treason to God to render it to any paltry 'Cæsar' of our own coronation.
Belshazzar was an avowed idolater, but many of us are worshipping gods
'which see not, nor hear, nor know' as really as he did. We cannot but
do so, if we are not worshipping God; for men must have some person or
thing which they regard as their supreme good, to which the current of
their being sets, which, possessed, makes them blessed; and that is our
god, whether we call it so or not.

Further, Belshazzar was carousing while the Medes and Persians were
ringing Babylon round, and his hand should have been grasping a sword,
not a wine-cup. Drunkenness and lust, which sap manhood, are notoriously
stimulated by peril, as many a shipwreck tells when desperate men break
open the spirit casks, and go down to their death intoxicated, and as
many an epidemic shows when morality is flung aside, and mad vice rules
and reels in the streets before it sinks down to die. A nation or a man
that has shaken off God will not long keep sobriety or purity.

II. After the stern catalogue of sins comes the tremendous sentence.
Daniel speaks like an embodied conscience, or like an avenging angel,
with no word of pity, and no effort to soften or dilute the awful truth.
The day for wrapping up grim facts in muffled words was past. Now the
only thing to be done was to bare the sword, and let its sharp edge cut.
The inscription, as given in verse 25, is simply 'Numbered, numbered,
weighed and breakings.' The variation in verse 28 (Peres) is the
singular of the noun used in the plural in verse 25, with the omission
of 'U,' which is merely the copulative 'and.' The disjointed brevity
adds to the force of the words. Apparently, they were not written in a
character which 'the king's wise men' could read, and probably were in
Aramaic letters as well as language, which would be familiar to Daniel.
Of course, a play on the word 'Peres' suggests the _Persian_ as the
agent of the _breaking_. Daniel simply supplied the personal application
of the oracular writing. He fits the cap on the king's head. 'God hath
numbered _thy_ kingdom ... _thou_ art weighed ... _thy_ kingdom is
divided' (broken).

These three fatal words carry in them the summing up of all divine
judgment, and will be rung in the ears of all who bring it on
themselves. Belshazzar is a type of the end of every godless world-power
and of every such individual life. 'Numbered'--for God allows to each
his definite time, and when its sum is complete, down falls the knife
that cuts the threads. 'Weighed'--for 'after death the judgment,' and a
godless life, when laid in the balance which His hand holds, is
'altogether lighter than vanity.' 'Breakings'--for not only will the
godless life be torn away from its possessions with much laceration of
heart and spirit, but the man himself will be broken like some earthen
vessel coming into sharp collision with an express engine. Belshazzar
saw the handwriting on the same night in which it was carried out in
act; we see it long before, and we can read it. But some of us are mad
enough to sit unconcerned at the table, and go on with the orgy, though
the legible letters are gleaming plain on the wall.

III. The execution of the sentence need not occupy us long. Belshazzar
so little realised the facts, that he issued his order to deck out
Daniel in the tawdry pomp he had promised him, as if a man with such a
message would be delighted with purple robes and gold chains, and made
him third ruler of the kingdom which he had just declared was numbered
and ended by God. The force of folly could no further go. No wonder
that the hardy invaders swept such an Imbecile from his throne without a
struggle! His blood was red among the lees of the wine-cups, and the
ominous writing could scarcely have faded from the wall when the shouts
of the assailants were heard, the palace gates forced, and the
half-drunken king, alarmed too late, put to the sword. 'He that, being
often reproved, hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that
without remedy.'


A TRIBUTE FROM ENEMIES

     Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this
     Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his
     God.'--DANIEL vi. 5.

Daniel was somewhere about ninety years old when he was cast to the
lions. He had been for many years the real governor of the whole empire;
and, of course, in such a position had incurred much hatred and
jealousy. He was a foreigner and a worshipper of another God, and
therefore was all the more unpopular, as a Brahmin would be in England
if he were a Cabinet Minister. He was capable and honest, and therefore
all the incompetent and all the knavish officials would recognise in him
their natural enemy. So, hostile intrigues, which grow quickly in
courts, especially in Eastern courts, sprung up round him, and his
subordinates laid their heads together in order to ruin him. They say,
in the words of my text, 'We cannot find any holes to pick. There is
only one way to put him into antagonism to the law, and that is by
making a law which shall be in antagonism to God's law.' And so they
scheme to have the mad regulation enacted, which, in the sequel of the
story, we find was enforced.

These intriguers say, 'We shall not find any occasion against this
Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.'

Now, then, if we look at that confession, wrung from the lips of
malicious observers, we may, I think, get two or three lessons.

I. First, note the very unfavourable soil in which a character of
singular beauty and devout consecration may be rooted and grow.

What sort of a place was that court where Daniel was? Half shambles and
half pigsty. Luxury, sensuality, lust, self-seeking, idolatry, ruthless
cruelty, and the like were the environment of this man. And in the
middle of these there grew up that fair flower of a character, pure and
stainless, by the acknowledgment of enemies, and in which not even
accusers could find a speck or a spot. There are no circumstances in
which a man must have his garments spotted by the world. However deep
the filth through which he has to wade, if God sent him there, and if he
keeps hold of God's hand, his purity will be more stainless by reason of
the impurity round him. There were saints in Cæsar's household, and
depend upon it, they were more saintly saints just because they were in
Cæsar's household. You will always find that people who have any
goodness in them, and who live in conditions unusually opposed to
goodness, have a clearer faith, and a firmer grasp of their Master, and
a higher ideal of Christian life, just because of the foulness in which
they have to live. It may sound a paradox, but it is a deep truth that
unfavourable circumstances are the most favourable for the development
of Christian character. For that development comes, not by what we draw
from the things around, but by what we draw from the soil in which we
are rooted, even God Himself, in whom the roots find both anchorage and
nutriment. And the more we are thrown back upon Him, and the less we
find food for our best selves in the things about us, the more likely is
our religion to be robust and thorough-going, and conscious ever of His
presence. Resistance strengthens muscles, and the more there is need for
that in our Christian lives, the manlier and the stronger and the better
shall we probably be. Let no man or woman say, 'If only circumstances
were more favourable, oh, what a saint I could be; but how can I be one,
with all these unfavourable conditions? How can a man keep the purity of
his Christian life and the fervour of his Christian communion amidst the
tricks and chicanery and small things of Manchester business? How can a
woman find time to hold fellowship with God, when all day long she is
distracted in her nursery with all these children hanging on her to look
after? How can we, in our actual circumstances, reach the ideal of
Christian character?'

Ah, brother, if the ideal's being realised depends on circumstances, it
is a poor affair. It depends on you, and he that has vitality enough
within him to keep hold of Jesus Christ, has thereby power enough within
him to turn enemies into friends, and unfavourable circumstances into
helps instead of hindrances. Your ship can sail wonderfully near to the
wind if you trim the sails rightly, and keep a good, strong grip on the
helm, and the blasts that blow all but in your face, may be made to
carry you triumphantly into the haven of your desire. Remember Daniel,
in that godless court reeking with lust and cruelty, and learn that
purity and holiness and communion with God do not depend on environment,
but upon the inmost will of the man.

II. Notice the keen critics that all good men have to face.

In this man's case, of course, their eyesight was mended by the
microscope of envy and malice. That is no doubt the case with some of us
too. But whether that be so or no, however unobtrusive and quiet a
Christian person's life may be, there will be some people standing
close by who, if not actually watching for his fall, are at least by no
means indisposed to make the worst of a slip, and to rejoice over an
inconsistency.

We do not need to complain of that. It is perfectly reasonable and
perfectly right. There will always be a tendency to judge men, who by
any means profess that they are living by the highest law, with a
judgment that has very little charity in it. And it is perfectly right
that it should be so. Christian people need to be trained to be
indifferent to men's opinions, but they also need to be reminded that
they are bound, as the Apostle says, to 'provide things honest in the
sight of all men.' It is a reasonable and right requirement that they
should 'have a good report of them that are without.' Be content to be
tried by a high standard, and do not wonder, and do not forget that
there are keen eyes watching your conduct, in your home, in your
relations to your friends, in your business, in your public life, which
would weep no tears, but might gleam with malicious satisfaction, if
they saw inconsistencies in you. Remember it, and shape your lives so
that they may be disappointed.

If a minister falls into any kind of inconsistency or sin, if a
professing Christian makes a bad failure in Manchester, what a talk
there is, and what a pointing of fingers! We sometimes think it is hard;
it is all right. It is just what should be meted out to us. Let us
remember that unslumbering tribunal which sits in judgment upon all our
professions, and is very ready to condemn, and very slow to acquit.

III. Notice, again, the unblemished record.

These men could find no fault, 'forasmuch as Daniel was faithful.'
Neither was there any error'--of judgment, that is,--'or
fault'--dereliction of duty, that is,--'found in him.' They were very
poor judges of his religion, and they did not try to judge that; but
they were very good judges of his conduct as prime minister, and they
did judge that. The world is a very poor critic of my Christianity, but
it is a very sufficient one of my conduct. It may not know much about
the inward emotions of the Christian life, and the experiences in which
the Christian heart expatiates and loves to dwell, but it knows what
short lengths, and light weights, and bad tempers, and dishonesty, and
selfishness are. And it is by our conduct, in the things that they and
we do together, that worldly men judge what we are in the solitary
depths where we dwell in communion with God. It is useless for
Christians to be talking, as so many of them are fond of doing, about
their spiritual experiences and their religious joy, and all the other
sweet and sacred things which belong to the silent life of the spirit in
God, unless, side by side with these, there is the doing of the common
deeds which the world is actually able to appraise in such a fashion as
to extort, even from them, the confession, 'We find no occasion against
this man.'

You remember the pregnant, quaint old saying, 'If a Christian man is a
shoeblack, he ought to be the best shoeblack in the parish.' If we call
ourselves Christians, we are bound, by the very name, to live in such a
fashion as that men shall have no doubt of the reality of our profession
and of the depth of our fellowship with Christ. It is by our common
conduct that they judge us. And the 'Christian Endeavourer' needs to
remember, whether he or she be old or young, that the best sign of the
reality of the endeavour is the doing of common things with absolute
rightness, because they are done wholly for Christ's sake.

It is a sharp test, and I wonder how many of us would like to go out
into the world, and say to all the irreligious people who know us, 'Now
come and tell me what the faults are that you have seen in me.' There
would be a considerable response to the invitation, and perhaps some of
us would learn to know ourselves rather better than we have been able to
do. 'We shall not find any occasion in _this_ Daniel'--I wonder if
they would find it in _that_ Daniel--'except we find it concerning
the law of his God.' There is a record for a man!

IV. Lastly, note obedient disobedience.

The plot goes on the calculation that, whatever happens, this man may be
trusted to do what his God tells him, no matter who tells him not to do
it. And so on that calculation the law, surely as mad a one as any
Eastern despot ever hatched, is passed that, for a given space of time,
nobody within the dominions of this king, Darius, is to make any
petition or request of any man or god, save of the king only. It was one
of the long series of laws that have been passed in order to be broken,
and being broken, might be an instrument to destroy the men that broke
it. It was passed with no intention of getting obedience, but only with
the intention of slaying one faithful man, and the plot worked according
to calculation.

What did it matter to Daniel what was forbidden or commanded? He needed
to pray to God, and nothing shall hinder him from doing that. And so,
obediently disobedient, he brushes the preposterous law of the poor,
shadowy Darius on one side, in order that he may keep the law of his
God.

Now I do not need to remind you how obedience to God has in the past
often had to be maintained by disobedience to law. I need not speak of
martyrs, nor of the great principle laid down so clearly by the apostle
Peter, 'We ought to obey God rather than man.' Nor need I remind you
that if a man, for conscience sake, refuses to render active obedience
to an unrighteous law, and unresistingly accepts the appointed penalty,
he is not properly regarded as a law-breaker.

If earthly authorities command what is clearly contrary to God's law, a
Christian is absolved from obedience, and cannot be loyal unless he is a
rebel. That is how our forefathers read constitutional obligations. That
is how the noble men on the other side of the Atlantic, fifty years ago,
read their constitutional obligations in reference to that devilish
institution of slavery. And in the last resort--God forbid that we
should need to act on the principle--Christian men are set free from
allegiance when the authority over them commands what is contrary to the
will and the law of God.

But all that does not touch us. But I will tell you what does touch us.
Obedience to God needs always to be sustained--in some cases more
markedly, in some cases less so--but always in some measure, by
disobedience to the maxims and habits of most men round about us. If
they say 'Do this,' and Jesus Christ says 'Don't,' then they may talk as
much as they like, but we are bound to turn a deaf ear to their
exhortations and threats.

    'He is a slave that dare not be
     In the right with two or three,'

as that peaceful Quaker poet of America sings.

And for us, in our little lives, the motto, 'This did not I, because of
the fear of the Lord,' is absolutely essential to all noble Christian
conduct. Unless you are prepared to be in the minority, and now and
then to be called 'narrow,' 'fanatic,' and to be laughed at by men
because you will not do what they do, but abstain and resist, then there
is little chance of your ever making much of your Christian profession.

These people calculated upon Daniel, and they had a right to calculate
upon him. Could the world calculate upon us, that we would rather go to
the lions' den than conform to what God and our consciences told us to
be a sin? If not, we have not yet learned what it means to be a
disciple. The commandment comes to us absolutely, as it came to the
servants in the first miracle, 'Whatsoever He saith unto you'--that, and
that only--'whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.'


FAITH STOPPING THE MOUTHS OF LIONS

     'Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him
     into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy
     God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee. 17. And a
     stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king
     sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords;
     that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. 18. Then
     the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither
     were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went
     from him. 19. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and
     went in haste unto the den of lions. 20. And when he came to the
     den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king
     spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is
     thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from
     the lions? 21. Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for
     ever. 22. My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions'
     mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him
     innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I
     done no hurt, 23. Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and
     commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So
     Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found
     upon him, because he believed in his God. 24. And the king
     commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and
     they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and
     their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all
     their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den.
     25. Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages,
     that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. 26. I
     make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and
     fear before the God of Daniel: for He is the living God, and
     stedfast for ever, and His kingdom that which shall not be
     destroyed, and His dominion shall be even unto the end. 27. He
     delivereth and rescueth, and He worketh signs and wonders in heaven
     and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the
     lions. 28. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in
     the reign of Cyrus the Persian.'--DANIEL vi. 16-28.

Daniel was verging on ninety when this great test of his faithfulness
was presented to him. He had been honoured and trusted through all the
changes in the kingdom, and, when the Medo-Persian conquest came, the
new monarch naturally found in him, as a foreigner, a more reliable
minister than in native officials. 'Envy doth merit as its shade
pursue,' and the crafty trick by which his subordinates tried to procure
his fall, was their answer to Darius's scheme of making him prime
minister. Our passage begins in the middle of the story, but the earlier
part will come into consideration in the course of our remarks.

I. We note, first, the steadfast, silent confessor and the weak king.
Darius is a great deal more conspicuous in the narrative than Daniel.
The victim of injustice is silent. He does not seem to have been called
on to deny or defend the indictment. His deed was patent, and the breach
of the law flagrant. He, too, was 'like a sheep before the shearers,'
dumb. His silence meant, among other things, a quiet, patient, fixed
resolve to bear all, and not to deny his God. Weak men bluster. Heroic
endurance has generally little to say. Without resistance, or a word,
the old man, an hour ago the foremost in the realm, is hauled off and
flung into the pit or den. It is useless and needless to ask its form.
The entrance was sealed with two seals, one the king's, one the
conspirators', that neither party might steal a march on the other.
Fellows in iniquity do not trust each other. So, down in the dark there,
with the glittering eyeballs of the brutes round him, and their growls
in his ears, the old man sits all night long, with peace in his heart,
and looking up trustfully, through the hole in the roof, to his
Protector's stars, shining their silent message of cheer.

The passage dwells on the pitiable weakness and consequent unrest of the
king. He had not yielded Daniel to his fate without a struggle, which
the previous narrative describes in strong language. 'Sore displeased,'
he 'set his heart' on delivering him, and 'laboured' to do so. The
curious obstacle, limiting even his power, is a rare specimen of
conservatism in its purest form. So wise were our ancestors, that
nothing of theirs shall ever be touched. Infallible legislators can make
immutable laws; the rest of us must be content to learn by blundering,
and to grow by changing. The man who says, 'I never alter my opinions,'
condemns himself as either too foolish or too proud to learn.

But probably, if the question had been about a law that was inconvenient
to Darius himself, or to these advocates of the constitution as it has
always been, some way of getting round it would have been found out. If
the king had been bold enough to assert himself, he could have walked
through the cobweb. But this is one of the miseries of yielding to evil
counsels, that one step taken calls for another. 'In for a penny, in for
a pound.' Therefore let us all take heed of small compliances, and be
sure that we can never say about any doubtful course, 'Thus far will I
go, and no farther.' Darius was his servants' servant when once he had
put his name to the arrogant decree. He did not know the incidence of
his act, and we do not know that of ours; therefore let us take heed of
the quality of actions and motives, since we are wholly incapable of
estimating the sweep of their consequences.

Darius's conduct to Daniel was like Herod's to John the Baptist and
Pilate's to Jesus. In all the cases the judges were convinced of the
victim's innocence, and would have saved him; but fear of others biassed
justice, and from selfish motives, they let fierce hatred have its way.
Such judges are murderers. From all come the old lessons, never too
threadbare to be dinned into the ears, especially of the young, that to
be weak is, in a world so full of temptation, the same as to be wicked,
and that he who has a sidelong eye to his supposed interest, will never
see the path of duty plainly.

What a feeble excuse to his own conscience was Darius's parting word to
Daniel! 'Thy God, whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee!'
And was flinging him to the lions the right way to treat a man who
served God continually? Or, what right had Darius to expect that any god
would interfere to stop the consequences of his act, which he thus
himself condemned? We are often tempted to think, as he did, that a
divine intervention will come in between our evil deeds and their
natural results. We should be wiser if we did not do the things that,
by our own confession, need God to avert their issues.

But that weak parting word witnessed to the impression made by the
lifelong consistency of Daniel. He must be a good man who gets such a
testimony from those who are harming him. The busy minister of state had
done his political work so as to extort that tribute from one who had no
sympathy with his religion. Do we do ours in that fashion? How many of
our statesmen 'serve God continually' and obviously in their public
life?

What a contrast between the night passed in the lions' den and the
palace! 'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage,' and
soft beds and luxurious delights of sense bring no ease to troubled
consciences. Daniel is more at rest, though his 'soul is among lions,'
than Darius in his palace. Peter sleeps soundly, though the coming
morning is to be his last. Better to be the victim than the doer of
injustice!

The verdict of nightly thoughts on daily acts is usually true, and if
our deeds do not bear thinking of 'on our beds,' the sooner we cancel
them by penitence and reversed conduct, the better. But weak men are
often prone to swift and shallow regrets, which do not influence their
future any more than a stone thrown into the sea makes a permanent gap.
Why should Darius have waited for morning, if his penitence had moved
him to a firm resolution to undo the evil done? He had better have
sprung from his bed, and gone with his guards to open the den in the
dark. Feeble lamentations are out of place when it is still time to act.

The hurried rush to the den in the morning twilight, and the 'lamentable
voice,' so unlike royal impassiveness, indicate the agitation of an
impulsive nature, accustomed to let the feeling of the moment sway it
unchecked. Absolute power tends to make that type of man. The question
thrown into the den seems to imply that its interior was not seen. If
so, the half-belief in Daniel's survival is remarkable. It indicates, as
before, the impression of steadfast devoutness made by the old man's
life, and also a belief that his God was possibly a true and potent
divinity.

Such a belief was quite natural, but it does not mean that Darius was
prepared to accept Daniel's God as his god. His religion was probably
elastic and hospitable enough to admit that other nations might have
other gods. But his thoughts about this 'living God' are a strange
medley. He is not sure whether He is stronger than the royal lions, and
he does not seem to feel that if a god delivers, his own act in
surrendering a favoured servant of such a god looks very black. A
half-belief blinds men to the opposition between their ways and God's,
and to the certain issue of their going in one direction and God in
another. If Daniel be delivered, what will become of Darius? But, like
most men, he is illogical, and that question does not seem to have
occurred to him. Surely this man may sit for a portrait of a weak,
passionate nature, in the feebleness of his resistance to evil, the half
hopes that wrong would be kept from turning out so badly as it promised,
the childish moanings over wickedness that might still have been mended,
and the incapacity to take in the grave, personal consequences of his
crime.

II. We next note the great deliverance. The king does not see Daniel,
and waits in sickening doubt whether any sound but the brutes' snarl at
the disturber of their feast will be heard. There must have been a sigh
of relief when the calm accents were audible from the unseen depth. And
what dignity, respect, faith, and innocence are in them! Even in such
circumstances the usual form of reverential salutation to the king is
remembered. That night's work might have made a sullen rebel of Daniel,
and small blame to him if he had had no very amiable feelings to Darius;
but he had learned faithfulness in a good school, and no trace of
returning evil for evil was in his words or tones.

The formal greeting was much more than a form, when it came up from
among the lions. It heaped coals of fire on the king's head, let us
hope, and taught him, if he needed the lesson, that Daniel's
disobedience had not been disloyalty. The more religion compels us to
disregard the authority and practices of others, the more scrupulously
attentive should we be to demonstrate that we cherish all due regard to
them, and wish them well. How simply, and as if he saw nothing in it to
wonder at, he tells the fact of his deliverance! 'My God has sent His
angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths.' He had not been able to say, as
the king did before the den was opened, 'Thy God will deliver thee'; but
he had gone down into it, knowing that He was able, and leaving himself
in God's care. So it was no surprise to him that he was safe.
Thankfulness, but not astonishment, filled his heart. So faith takes
God's gifts, however great and beyond natural possibility they may be;
for the greatest of them are less than the Love which faith knows to
move all things, and whatsoever faith receives is just like Him.

Daniel did not say, as Darius did, that he served God continually, but
he did declare his own innocency in God's sight and unimpeachable
fidelity to the king. His reference is probably mainly to his official
conduct; but the characteristic tone of the Old Testament saint is
audible, which ventured on professions of uprightness, accordant with
an earlier stage of revelation and religious consciousness, but scarcely
congruous with the deeper and more inward sense of sin produced by the
full revelation in Christ. But if the tone of the latter part of verse
22 is somewhat strange to us, the historian's summary in verse 23 gives
the eternal truth of the matter: 'No manner of hurt was found upon him,
because he had trusted in his God.' That is the basis of the reference
in Hebrews xi. 33: 'Through faith ... stopped the mouths of lions.'

Simple trust in God brings His angel to our help, and the deliverance,
which is ultimately to be ascribed to His hand muzzling the gaping
beasts of prey, may also be ascribed to the faith which sets His hand in
motion. The true cause is God, but the indispensable condition without
which God will not act, and with which He cannot but act, is our trust.
Therefore all the great things which it is said to do are due, not to
anything in it, but wholly to that of which it lays hold. A foot or two
of lead pipe is worth little, but if it is the channel through which
water flows into a city, it is priceless.

Faith may or may not bring external deliverances, such as it brought to
Daniel; but the good cheer which this story brings us does not depend on
these. When Paul lay in Rome, shortly before his martyrdom, the
experience of Daniel was in his mind, as he thankfully wrote to Timothy,
'I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.' He adds a hope which
contrasts strangely, at first sight, with the clear expectation of a
speedy and violent death, expressed a moment or two before ('I am
already being offered, and the time of my departure is come') when he
says, 'The Lord will deliver me from every evil work'; but he had
learned that it was possible to pass through the evil and yet to be
delivered from it, and that a man might be thrown to the lions and
devoured by them, and yet be truly shielded from all harm from them. So
he adds, 'And will save me unto His heavenly kingdom,' thereby teaching
us that the true deliverance is that which carries us into, or something
nearer towards, the eternal home. Thus understood, the miracle of
Daniel's deliverance is continually repeated to all who partake of
Daniel's faith, 'Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation ... thou
shalt tread upon the lion and adder.'

The savage vengeance on the conspirators and the proclamation of Darius
must be left untouched. The one is a ghastly example of retributive
judgment, in which, as sometimes is the case even now, men fall into the
pit they have digged for others, and it shows the barbarous cruelty of
that gorgeous civilisation. The other is an example of how far a man may
go in perceiving and acknowledging the truth without its influencing his
heart. The decree enforces recognition of Daniel's God, in language
which even prophets do not surpass; but it is all lip-reverence, as
evanescent as superficial. It takes more than a fright caused by a
miracle to make a man a true servant of the living God.

The final verse of the passage implies Daniel's restoration to rank, and
gives a beautiful, simple picture of the old man's closing days, which
had begun so long before, in such a different world as Nebuchadnezzar's
reign, and closed in Cyrus's, enriched with all that should accompany
old age--honour, obedience, troops of friends. 'When a man's ways please
the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.'


A NEW YEARS MESSAGE

     'But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and
     stand in thy lot at the end of the days.'--DANIEL xii. 13.

Daniel had been receiving partial insight into the future by the visions
recorded in previous chapters. He sought for clearer knowledge, and was
told that the book of the future was sealed and closed, so that no
further enlightenment was possible for him. But duty was clear, whatever
might be dark; and there were some things in the future certain,
whatever might be problematic. So he is bidden back to the common paths
of life, and is enjoined to pursue his patient course with an eye on the
end to which it conducts, and to leave the unknown future to unfold
itself as it may.

I do not need, I suppose, to point the application. Anticipations of
what may be before us have, no doubt, been more or less in the minds of
all of us in the last few days. The cast of them will have been very
different, according to age and present circumstances. But bright or
dark, hopes or dreads, they reveal nothing. Sometimes we think we see a
little way ahead, and then swirling mists hide all.

So I think that the words of my text may help us not only to apprehend
the true task of the moment, but to discriminate between the things in
the unknown future that are hidden and those that stand clear. There are
three points, then, in this message--the journey, the pilgrim's
resting-place, and the final home. 'Go thou thy way till the end be: for
thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.' Let us,
then, look at these three points briefly.

I. The journey.

That is a threadbare metaphor for life. But threadbare as it is, its
significance is inexhaustible. But before I deal with it, note that very
significant 'but' with which my text begins. The Prophet has been asking
for a little more light to shine on the dark unknown that stretches
before him. And his request is negatived--'_But_ go thou thy way.' In
the connection that means, 'Do not waste your time in dreaming about, or
peering into, what you can never see, but fill the present with
strenuous service.' 'Go thou thy way.' Never mind the far-off issues;
the step before you is clear, and that is all that concerns you. Plod
along the path, and leave to-morrow to take care of itself. There is a
piece of plain practical wisdom, none the less necessary for us to lay
to heart because it is so obvious and commonplace.

And then, if we turn to the emblem with which the continuity of daily
life and daily work is set forth here, as the path along which we
travel, how much wells up in the shape of suggestion, familiar, it may
be, but very needful and wholesome for us all to lay to heart!

The figure implies perpetual change. The landscape glides past us, and
we travel on through it. How impossible it would be for us older people
to go back to the feelings, to the beliefs, to the tone and the temper
with which we used to look at life thirty or forty years ago! Strangely
and solemnly, like the silent motion of some gliding scene in a theatre,
bit by bit, inch by inch, change comes over all surroundings, and,
saddest of all, in some aspects, over ourselves.

    'We all are changed, by still degrees,
     All but the basis of the soul.'

And it is foolish for us ever to forget that we live in a state of
things in which constant alteration is the law, as surely as, when the
train whizzes through the country, the same landscape never meets the
eye twice, as the traveller looks through the windows. Let us, then,
accept the fact that nothing abides with us, and so not be bewildered
nor swept away from our moorings, nor led to vain regrets and paralysing
retrospects when the changes that must come do come, sometimes slowly
and imperceptibly, sometimes with stunning suddenness, like a bolt out
of the blue. If life is truly represented under the figure of a journey,
nothing is more certain than that we sleep in a fresh hospice every
night, and leave behind us every day scenes that we shall never traverse
again. What madness, then, to be putting out eager and desperate hands
to clutch what must be left, and so to contradict the very law under
which we live!

Then another of the well-worn commonplaces which are so believed by us
all that we never think about them, and therefore need to be urged, as I
am trying, poorly enough, to do now--another of the commonplaces that
spring from this image is that life is continuous. Geologists used to be
divided into two schools, one of whom explained everything by invoking
great convulsions, the other by appealing to the uniform action of laws.
There are no convulsions in life. To-morrow is the child of to-day, and
yesterday was the father of this day. What we are, springs from what we
have been, and settles what we shall be. The road leads somewhither, and
we follow it step by step. As the old nursery rhyme has it--

    'One foot up and one foot down,
     That's the way to London town.'

We make our characters by the continual repetition of small actions. Let
no man think of his life as if it were a heap of unconnected points. It
is a chain of links that are forged together inseparably. Let no man
say, 'I do this thing, and there shall be no evil consequences impressed
upon my life as results of it.' It cannot be. 'To-morrow _shall be_ as
this day, and much more abundant.' We shall to-morrow be more of
everything that we are to-day, unless by some strong effort of
repentance and change we break the fatal continuity, and make a new
beginning by God's grace. But let us lay to heart this, as a very solemn
truth which lifts up into mystical and unspeakable importance the things
that men idly call trifles, that life is one continuous whole, a march
towards a definite end.

And therefore we ought to see to it that the direction in which our life
runs is one that conscience and God can approve. And, since the rapidity
with which a body falls increases as it falls, the more needful that we
give the right direction and impulses to the life. It will be a dreadful
thing if our downward course acquires strength as it travels, and being
slow at first, gains in celerity, and accrues to itself mass and weight,
like an avalanche started from an Alpine summit, which is but one or two
bits of snow and ice at first, and falls at last into the ravine, tons
of white destruction. The lives of many of us are like it.

Further, the metaphor suggests that no life takes its fitting course
unless there is continuous effort. There will be crises when we have to
run with panting breath and strained muscles. There will be long
stretches of level commonplace where speed is not needed, but 'pegging
away' is, and the one duty is persistent continuousness in a course. But
whether the task of the moment is to 'run and not be weary,' or to
'walk and not faint,' crises and commonplace stretches of land alike
require continuous effort, if we are to 'run with patience the race that
is set before us.'

Mark the emphasis of my text, 'Go thy way _till_ the end.' You, my
contemporaries, you older men! do not fancy that in the deepest aspect
any life has ever a period in it in which a man may 'take it easy.' You
may do that in regard to outward things, and it is the hope and the
reward of faithfulness in youth and middle age that, when the grey
hairs come to be upon us, we may slack off a little in regard to outward
activity. But in regard to all the deepest things of life, no man may
ever lessen his diligence until he has attained the goal.

Some of you will remember how, in a stormy October night, many years
ago, the _Royal Charter_ went down when three hours from Liverpool, and
the passengers had met in the saloon and voted a testimonial to the
captain because he had brought them across the ocean in safety. Until
the anchor is down and we are inside the harbour, we may be shipwrecked,
if we are careless in our navigation. 'Go thou thy way _until the end_.'
And remember, you older people, that until that end is reached you have
to use all your power, and to labour as earnestly, and guard yourself as
carefully, as at any period before.

And not only '_till_ the end,' but 'go thou thy way _to_ the end.' That
is to say, let the thought that the road has a termination be ever
present with us all. Now, there is a great deal of the so-called devout
contemplation of death which is anything but wholesome. People were
never meant to be always looking forward to that close. Men may think of
'the end' in a hundred different connections. One man may say, 'Let us
eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.' Another man may say, 'I have only
a little while to master this science, to make a name for myself, to win
wealth. Let me bend all my efforts in a fierce determination--made the
fiercer because of the thought of the brevity of life--to win the end.'
The mere contemplation of the shortness of our days may be an ally of
immorality, of selfishness, of meanness, of earthly ambitions, or it may
lay a cooling hand on fevered brows, and lessen the pulsations of hearts
that throb for earth.

But whilst it is not wholesome to be always thinking of death, it is
more unwholesome still never to let the contemplation of that end come
into our calculations of the future, and to shape our lives in an
obstinate blindness to what is the one certain fact which rises up
through the whirling mists of the unknown future, like some black cliff
from the clouds that wreath around it. Is it not strange that the surest
thing is the thing that we forget most of all? It sometimes seems to me
as if the sky rained down opiates upon people, as if all mankind were in
a conspiracy of lunacy, because they, with one accord, ignore the most
prominent and forget the only certain fact about their future; and in
all their calculations do _not_' so number their days' as to 'apply'
their 'hearts unto wisdom.' 'Go thou thy way until the end,' and let thy
way be marked out with a constant eye towards the end.

II. Note, again, the resting-place.

'Go thou thy way, for thou shalt rest.' Now, I suppose, to most careful
readers that clearly is intended as a gracious, and what they call a
euphemistic way of speaking about death. 'Thou shalt rest'; well, that
is a thought that takes away a great deal of the grimness and the terror
with which men generally invest the close. It is a thought, of course,
the force of which is very different in different stages and conditions
of life. To you young people, eager, perhaps ambitious, full of the
consciousness of inward power, happy, and, in all human probability,
with the greater portion of your lives before you in which to do what
you desire, the thought of 'rest' comes with a very faint appeal. And
yet I do not suppose that there is any one of us who has not some burden
that is hard to carry, or who has not learned what weariness means.

But to us older people, who have tasted disappointments, who have known
the pressure of grinding toil for a great many years, whose hearts have
been gnawed by harassments and anxieties of different kinds, whose lives
are apparently drawing nearer their end than the present moment is to
their beginning, the thought, 'Thou shalt rest,' comes with a very
different appeal from that which it makes to these others.

    'There remaineth a rest for the people of God,
     And I have had trouble enough for one,'

says our great modern poet; and therein he echoes the deepest thoughts
of most of this congregation. That rest is the cessation of toil, but
the continuance of activity--the cessation of toil, and anxiety, and
harassment, and care, and so the darkness is made beautiful when we
think that God draws the curtain, as a careful mother does in her
child's chamber, that the light may not disturb the slumberer.

But, dear friends, that final cessation of earthly work has a double
character. 'Thou shalt rest' was said to this man of God. But what of
people whom death takes away from the only sort of work that they are
fit to do? It will be no rest to long for the occupations which you
never can have any more. And if you have been living for this wretched
present, to be condemned to have nothing to do any more in it and with
it will be torture, and not repose. Ask yourselves how you would like to
be taken out of your shop, or your mill, or your study, or your
laboratory, or your counting-house, and never be allowed to go into it
again. Some of you know how wearisome a holiday is when you cannot get
to your daily work. You will get a very long holiday after you are dead.
And if the hungering after the withdrawn occupation persists, there will
be very little pleasure in rest. There is only one way by which we can
make that inevitable end a blessing, and turn death into the opening of
the gate of our resting-place; and that is by setting our heart's
desires and our spirit's trust on Jesus Christ, who is the 'Lord both of
the dead and of the living.' If we do that, even that last enemy will
come to us as Christ's representative, with Christ's own word upon his
lip, 'Come unto Me, ye that are weary and are heavy laden, and
I'--because He has given Me the power--'_I_ will give you rest.'

    'Sleep, full of rest, from head to foot;
     Lie still, dry dust, secure of change.'


III. That leads me to the last thought, the home.

'Thou shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days.' 'Stand'--that is
Daniel's way of preaching, what he has been preaching in several other
parts of his book, the doctrine of the resurrection. 'Thou shalt stand
in _thy lot_.' That is a reference to the ancient partition of the land
of Canaan amongst the tribes, where each man got his own portion, and
sat under his own vine and fig-tree. And so there emerge from these
symbolical words thoughts upon which, at this stage of my sermon, I can
barely touch. First comes the thought that, however sweet and blessed
that reposeful state may be, humanity has not attained its perfection
until once again the perfected spirit is mated with, and enclosed
within, its congenial servant, a perfect body. 'Corporeity is the end of
man.' Body, soul, and spirit partake of the redemption of God.

But then, apart from that, on which I must not dwell, my text suggests
one or two thoughts. God is the true inheritance. Each man has his own
portion of the common possession, or, to put it into plainer words, in
that perfect land each individual has precisely so much of God as he is
capable of possessing. 'Thou shalt stand in thy lot,' and what
determines the lot is how we wend our way till that other end, the end
of life. 'The end of the days' is a period far beyond the end of the
life of Daniel. And as the course that terminated in repose has been, so
the possession of 'the portion of the inheritance of the saints in
light' shall be, for which that course has made men meet. Destiny is
character worked out. A man will be where he is fit for, and have what
he is fit for. Time is the lackey of eternity. His life here settles how
much of God a man shall be able to hold, when he stands in his lot at
the 'end of the days,' and his allotted portion, as it stretches around
him, will be but the issue and the outcome of his life here on earth.

Therefore, dear brethren, tremendous importance attaches to each
fugitive moment. Therefore each act that we do is weighted with eternal
consequences. If we will put our trust in Him, 'in whom also we obtain
the inheritance,' and will travel on life's common way in cheerful
godliness, we may front all the uncertainties of the unknown future,
sure of two things--that we shall rest, and that we shall stand in our
lot. We shall all go where we have fitted ourselves, by God's grace, to
go; get what we have fitted ourselves to possess; and be what we have
made ourselves. To the Christian man the word comes, 'Thou shalt stand
in thy lot.' And the other word that was spoken about one sinner, will
be fulfilled in all whose lives have been unfitting them for heaven:
'Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.' He,
too, stands in his lot. Now settle which lot is yours.

        *        *        *        *        *


HOSEA


THE VALLEY OF ACHOR

     'I will give her ... the valley of Achor for a door of
     hope.'--HOSEA II. 15.

The Prophet Hosea is remarkable for the frequent use which he makes of
events in the former history of his people. Their past seems to him a
mirror in which they may read their future. He believes that 'which is
to be hath already been,' the great principles of the divine government
living on through all the ages, and issuing in similar acts when the
circumstances are similar. So he foretells that there will yet be once
more a captivity and a bondage, that the old story of the wilderness
will be repeated once more. In that wilderness God will speak to the
heart of Israel. Its barrenness shall be changed into the fruitfulness
of vineyards, where the purpling clusters hang ripe for the thirsty
travellers. And not only will the sorrows that He sends thus become
sources of refreshment, but the gloomy gorge through which they
journey--the valley of Achor--will be a door of hope.

One word is enough to explain the allusion. You remember that after the
capture of Jericho by Joshua, the people were baffled in their first
attempt to press up through the narrow defile that led from the plain of
Jordan to the highlands of Canaan. Their defeat was caused by the
covetousness of Achan, who for the sake of some miserable spoil which he
found in a tent, broke God's laws, and drew down shame on Israel's ranks
When the swift, terrible punishment on him had purged the camp, victory
again followed their assault, and Achan lying stiff and stark below his
cairn, they pressed on up the glen to their task of conquest. The rugged
valley, where that defeat and that sharp act of justice took place, was
named in memory thereof, the valley of _Achor_, that is, _trouble_; and
our Prophet's promise is that as then, so for all future ages, the
complicity of God's people with an evil world will work weakness and
defeat, but that, if they will be taught by their trouble and will purge
themselves of the accursed thing, then the disasters will make a way for
hope to come to them again. The figure which conveys this is very
expressive. The narrow gorge stretches before us, with its dark
overhanging cliffs that almost shut out the sky; the path is rough and
set with sharp pebbles; it is narrow, winding, steep; often it seems to
be barred by some huge rock that juts across it, and there is barely
room for the broken ledge yielding slippery footing between the beetling
crag above and the steep slope beneath that dips so quickly to the black
torrent below. All is gloomy, damp, hard; and if we look upwards the
glen becomes more savage as it rises, and armed foes hold the very
throat of the pass. But, however long, however barren, however rugged,
however black, however trackless, we may see if we will, a bright form
descending the rocky way with radiant eyes and calm lips, God's
messenger, Hope; and the rough rocks are like the doorway through which
she comes near to us in our weary struggle. For us all, dear friends, it
is true. In all our difficulties and sorrows, be they great or small; in
our business perplexities; in the losses that rob our homes of their
light; in the petty annoyances that diffuse their irritation through so
much of our days; it is within our power to turn them all into occasions
for a firmer grasp of God, and so to make them openings by which a
happier hope may flow into our souls.

But the promise, like all God's promises, has its well-defined
conditions. Achan has to be killed and put safe out of the way first, or
no shining Hope will stand out against the black walls of the defile.
The tastes which knit us to the perishable world, the yearnings for
Babylonish garments and wedges of gold, must be coerced and subdued.
Swift, sharp, unrelenting justice must be done on the lust of the flesh,
and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, if our trials are ever
to become _doors of hope._ There is no natural tendency in the mere fact
of sorrow and pain to make God's love more discernible, or to make our
hope any firmer. All depends on how we use the trial, or as I say--first
stone Achan, and then hope!

So, the trouble which detaches us from earth gives us new hope.
Sometimes the effect of our sorrows and annoyances and difficulties is
to rivet us more firmly to earth. The eye has a curious power, which
they call persistence of vision, of retaining the impression made upon
it, and therefore of seeming to see the object for a definite time after
it has really been withdrawn. If you whirl a bit of blazing stick round,
you will see a circle of fire though there is only a point moving
rapidly in the circle. The eye has its memory like the soul. And the
soul has its power of persistence like the eye, and that power is
sometimes kindled into activity by the fact of loss. We often see our
departed joys, and gaze upon them all the more eagerly for their
departure. The loss of dear ones should stamp their image on our hearts,
and set it as in a golden glory. But it sometimes does more than that;
it sometimes makes us put the present with its duties impatiently away
from us. Vain regret, absorbed brooding over what is gone, a sorrow kept
gaping long after it should have been healed, like a grave-mound off
which desperate love has pulled turf and flowers, in the vain attempt to
clasp the cold hand below--in a word, the trouble that does not withdraw
us from the present will never be a door of hope, but rather a grim gate
for despair to come in at.

The trouble which knits us to God gives us new hope. That bright form
which comes down the narrow valley is His messenger and herald--sent
before His face. All the light of hope is the reflection on our hearts
of the light of God. Her silver beams, which shed quietness over the
darkness of earth, come only from that great Sun. If our hope is to grow
out of our sorrow, it must be because our sorrow drives us to God. It is
only when we by faith stand in His grace, and live in the conscious
fellowship of peace with Him, that we rejoice in hope. If we would see
Hope drawing near to us, we must fix our eyes not on Jericho that lies
behind among its palm-trees, though it has memories of conquests, and
attractions of fertility and repose, nor on the corpse that lies below
that pile of stones, nor on the narrow way and the strong enemy in front
there; but higher up, on the blue sky that spreads peaceful above the
highest summits of the pass, and from the heavens we shall see the angel
coming to us. Sorrow forsakes its own nature, and leads in its own
opposite, when sorrow helps us to see God. It clears away the thick
trees, and lets the sunlight into the forest shades, and then in time
corn will grow. Hope is but the brightness that goes before God's face,
and if we would see it we must look at Him.

The trouble which we bear rightly with God's help, gives new hope. If we
have made our sorrow an occasion for learning, by living experience,
somewhat more of His exquisitely varied and ever ready power to aid and
bless, then it will teach us firmer confidence in these inexhaustible
resources which we have thus once more proved, 'Tribulation worketh
patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.' That is the
order. You cannot put patience and experience into a parenthesis, and
omitting them, bring hope out of tribulation. But if, in my sorrow, I
have been able to keep quiet because I have had hold of God's hand, and
if in that unstruggling submission I have found that from His hand I
have been upheld, and had strength above mine own infused into me, then
my memory will give the threads with which Hope weaves her bright web. I
build upon two things--God's unchangeableness, and His help already
received; and upon these strong foundations I may wisely and safely
rear a palace of Hope, which shall never prove a castle in the air. The
past, when it is God's past, is the surest pledge for the future.
Because He has been with us in six troubles, therefore we may be sure
that in seven He will not forsake us. I said that the light of hope was
the brightness from the face of God. I may say again, that the light of
hope which fills our sky is like that which, on happy summer nights,
lives till morning in the calm west, and with its colourless, tranquil
beauty, tells of a yesterday of unclouded splendour, and prophesies a
to-morrow yet more abundant. The glow from a sun that is set, the
experience of past deliverances, is the truest light of hope to light
our way through the night of life.

One of the psalms gives us, in different form, a metaphor and a promise
substantially the same as that of this text. 'Blessed are the men who,
passing through the valley of weeping, make it a well.' They gather
their tears, as it were, into the cisterns by the wayside, and draw
refreshment and strength from their very sorrows, and then, when thus we
in our wise husbandry have irrigated the soil with the gathered results
of our sorrows, the heavens bend over us, and weep their gracious tears,
and 'the rain also covereth it with blessings.' No chastisement for the
present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it
yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.'

Then, dear friends, let us set ourselves with our loins girt to the
road. Never mind how hard it may be to climb. The slope of the valley of
trouble is ever upwards. Never mind how dark is the shadow of death
which stretches athwart it. If there were no sun there would be no
shadow; presently the sun will be right overhead, and there will be no
shadow then. Never mind how black it may look ahead, or how frowning the
rocks. From between their narrowest gorge you may see, if you will, the
guide whom God has sent you, and that Angel of Hope will light up all
the darkness, and will only fade away when she is lost in the sevenfold
brightness of that upper land, whereof our 'God Himself is Sun and
Moon'--the true Canaan, to whose everlasting mountains the steep way of
life has climbed at last through valleys of trouble, and of weeping, and
of the shadow of death.


'LET HIM ALONE'

     'Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.'--HOSEA iv. 17.

The tribe of Ephraim was the most important member of the kingdom of
Israel; consequently its name was not unnaturally sometimes used in a
wider application for the whole of the kingdom, of which it was the
principal part. Being the 'predominant partner,' its name was used alone
for that of the whole firm, just as in our own empire, we often say
'England,' meaning thereby the three kingdoms: England, Scotland, and
Ireland. So 'Ephraim' here does not mean the single tribe, but the whole
kingdom of Israel.

Now Hosea himself was a Northerner, a subject of that kingdom; and its
iniquities and idolatries weighed heavily on his heart, and were ripped
up and brought to light with burning eloquence in his prophecies. The
words of my text have often, and terribly, been misunderstood. And I
wish now to try to bring out their true meaning and bearing. They have a
message for us quite as much as they had for the people who originally
received them.

I. I must begin by explaining what, in my judgment, this text does not
mean.

First, it is not what it is often taken to be, a threatening of God's
abandoning of the idolatrous nation. I dare say we have all heard grim
sermons from this text, which have taken that view of it, and have tried
to frighten men into believing now, by telling them that, perhaps, if
they do not, God will never move on their hearts, or deal with them any
more, but withdraw His grace, and leave them to insensibility. There is
not a word of that sort in the text. Plainly enough it is not so, for
this vehement utterance of the Prophet is not a declaration as to God,
and what He is going to do, but it is a commandment to some men, telling
them what _they_ are to do. 'Let him alone' does not mean the same thing
as '_I_ will let him alone'; and if people had only read with a little
more care, they would have been delivered from perpetrating a libel on
the divine loving-kindness and forbearance.

It is clear enough, too, that such a meaning as that which has been
forced upon the words of my text, and is the common use of it, I
believe, in many evangelical circles, cannot be its real meaning,
because the very fact that Hosea was prophesying to call Ephraim from
his sin showed that God had _not_ let Ephraim alone, but was wooing him
by His prophet, and seeking to win him back by the words of his mouth.
God was doing all that He could do, rising early and sending His
messenger and calling to Ephraim: 'Turn ye! Turn ye! why will ye die?'
For Hosea, in the very act of pleading with Israel on God's behalf, to
have declared that God had abandoned it, and ceased to plead, would have
been a palpable absurdity and contradiction.

But beyond considerations of the context, other reasons conclusively
negative such an interpretation of this text. I, for my part, do not
believe that there are any bounds or end to God's forbearing pleading
with men in this life. I take, as true, the great words of the old
Psalm, in their simplest sense--'His mercy endureth for ever'; and I
fall back upon the other words which a penitent had learned to be true
by reflecting on the greatness of his own sin: 'With Him are multitudes
of redemptions'; and I turn from psalmists and prophets to the Master
who showed us God's heart, and knew what He spake when He laid it down
as the law and the measure of human forgiveness which was moulded upon
the pattern of the divine, that it should be 'seventy times seven'--the
multiplication of both the perfect numbers into themselves--than which
there can be no grander expression for absolute innumerableness and
unfailing continuance.

No, no! men may say to God, 'Speak no more to us'; or they may get so
far away from Him, as that they only hear God's pleading voice, dim and
faint, like a voice in a dream. But surely the history of His
progressive revelation shows us that, rather than such abandonment of
the worst, the law of the divine dealing is that the deafer the man, the
more piercing the voice beseeching and warning. The attraction of
gravitation decreases as distance increases, but the further away we are
from Him, the stronger is the attraction which issues from Him, and
would draw us to Himself.

Clear away, then, altogether out of your minds any notion that there is
here declared what, in my judgment, is not declared anywhere in the
Bible, and never occurs in the divine dealings with men. Be sure that He
never ceases to seek to draw the most obstinate, idolatrous, and
rebellious heart to Himself. That divine charity 'suffereth long, and is
kind' ... 'hopeth all things, and beareth all things.'

Again, let me point out that the words of my text do not enjoin the
cessation of the efforts of Christian people for the recovery of the
most deeply sunken in sin. 'Let him alone' is a commandment, and it is a
commandment to God's Church, but it is not a commandment to despair of
any that they may be brought into the fold, or to give up efforts to
that end. If our Father in heaven never ceases to bear in His heart His
prodigal children, it does not become those prodigals, who have come
back, to think that any of their brethren are too far away to be drawn
by their loving proclamation of the Father's heart of love.

_There_ is the glory of our Gospel, that, taking far sadder, graver
views of what sin and alienation from God are, than the world's
philosophers and philanthropists do, it surpasses them just as much as
in the superb confidence with which it sets itself to the cure of the
disease as in the unflinching clearness with which it diagnoses the
disease as fatal, if it be not dealt with by the all-healing Gospel. All
other methods for the restoration and elevation of mankind are compelled
to recognise that there is an obstinate residuum that will not and
cannot be reached by their efforts. It used to be said that some old
cannon-balls, that had been brought from some of the battlefields of the
Peninsula, resisted all attempts to melt them down; so there are
'cannon-balls,' as it were, amongst the obstinate evil-doers, and the
degraded and 'dangerous' classes, which mark the despair of our modern
reformers and civilisers and elevators, for no fire in their furnaces
can melt down their hardness. No; but there is the furnace of the Lord
in Jerusalem, and the fire of God in Zion, which can melt them down, and
has done so a hundred and a thousand times, and is as able to do it
again to-day as it ever was. Despair of no human soul. That boundless
confidence in the power of the Gospel is the duty of the Christian
Church. 'The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth!' They laughed Him to
scorn, knowing that she was dead. But He put out His hand, and said unto
her '_Talitha cumi_, I say unto thee, Arise!' When we stand on one side
of the bed with your social reformers on the other, and say 'The damsel
is not dead, but sleepeth,' they laugh us to scorn, and bid us try our
Gospel upon these people in our slums, or on those heathens in the New
Hebrides. We have the right to answer, 'We have tried it, and man after
man, and woman after woman have risen from the sick-bed, like Peter's
wife's mother; and the fever has left them, and they have ministered
unto Him. There are no people in the world about whom Christians need
despair, none that Christ's Gospel cannot redeem. Whatever my text
means, it does not mean cowardly and unbelieving doubt as to the power
of the Gospel on the most degraded and sinful.

II. So, the text enjoins on the Christian Church separation from an
idolatrous world.

'Ephraim is joined to idols.' Do you 'let him alone.' Now, there has
been much harm done by misreading the force of the injunction of
separation from the world. There is a great deal of union and
association with the most godless people in our circle, which is
inevitable. Family bonds, business connections, civic obligations--all
these require that the Church shall not withdraw from the world. There
is the wide common ground of Politics and Art and Literature, and a
hundred other interests, on which it does Christian men no good, and the
world much harm, if the former withdraw to themselves, and on the plea
of superior sanctity, leave these great departments of interest and
influence to be occupied only by non-Christians.

Then, besides these thoughts of necessary union and association upon
common ground, there is the other consideration that absolute separation
would defeat the very purpose for which Christian people are here. 'Ye
are the salt of the earth,' said Christ. Yes, and if you keep the meat
on one plate and the salt on another, what good will the salt be? It has
to be rubbed in particle by particle, and brought into contact over all
the surface, and down into the depths of the meat that it is to preserve
from putrefaction. And no Christian churches or individuals do their
duty, and fulfil their function on earth, unless they are thus closely
associated and intermingled with the world that they should be trying to
leaven and save. A cloistered solitude, or a proud standing apart from
the ordinary movements of the community, or a neglect, on the plea of
our higher duties, of the duties of the citizen of a free country--these
are not the ways to fulfil the exhortation of my text. 'Let the dead
bury their dead,' said Christ; but He did not mean that His Church was
to stand apart from the world, and let it go its own way. It is a bad
thing for both when little Christian côteries gather themselves
together, and talk about their own goodness and religion, and leave the
world to perish. Clotted blood is death; circulated, it is life.

But, whilst all this is perfectly true--and there are associations that
we must not break if we are to do our work as Christian people--it is
also true that it is possible, in the closest unions with men who do not
share our faith, to do the same thing that they are doing, with a
difference which separates us from them, even whilst we are united with
them. They tell us that, however dense any material substance may seem
to be, there is always a film of air between contiguous particles. And
there should be a film between us and our Christless friends and
companions and partners, not perceptible perhaps to a superficial
observer, but most real. If we do our common work as a religious duty,
and in the exercise of all our daily occupations 'set the Lord always
before' us, however closely we may be associated with people who do not
so live, they will know the difference; never fear! And you will know
the difference, and will not be identified with them, but separate in a
wholesome fashion from them.

And, dear brethren, if I may go a step further, I would venture to say
that it seems to me that our Christian communities want few things more
in this day than the reiteration of the old saying, 'Have no fellowship
with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.' There
is so much in this time to break down the separation between him that
believeth in Christ and him that doth not; narrowness has come to be
thought such an enormous wickedness, and liberality is so lauded by all
sorts of superficial people, that Christian men need to be summoned back
to their standard. 'Being let go, they went to their own company'--there
is a natural affinity which should, and will, if our faith is vital,
draw us to those who, on the gravest and solemnest things, have the same
thoughts, the same hopes, the same faith. I do not urge you, God knows,
to be bigoted and narrow, and shut yourselves up in your faith, and
leave the world to go to the devil; but I do not wish, either, that
Christian people should fling themselves into the arms and nestle in the
hearts of persons who do not share with them 'like precious faith.'

I am sure that there are many Christian people, old and young, who are
suffering in their religious life because they are neglecting this
commandment of my text. 'Let him alone.' There can be no deep affection,
and, most of all--if I may venture on such ground--no wedded love worth
the name, where there is not unanimity in regard to the deepest matters.
It does not say much for the religion of a professing Christian who
finds his heart's friends and his chosen companions in people that have
no sympathy with the religion which he professes. It does not say much
for you if it is so with you, for the Christian, whom you like least, is
nearer you in the depths of your true self than is the non-Christian
whom you love most.

Be sure, too, that if we mix ourselves up with Ephraim, we shall find
ourselves grovelling beside him before his idols ere long. Godlessness
is infectious. Many a young woman, a professing Christian, has married a
godless man in the fond hope that she might win him. It is a great deal
more frequently the case that he perverts her than that she converts
him. Do not let us knit ourselves in these close bonds with the
worshippers of idols, lest we 'learn their ways, and get a snare into
our souls.' 'Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. What fellowship
hath light with darkness? Wherefore, come out from among them and be ye
separate, saith the Lord. Touch not the unclean thing, and I will be a
Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and My daughters.'


'PHYSICIANS OF NO VALUE'

     'When Ephralm saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went
     Ephraim to Assyria, and sent to king Jareb: but he is not able to
     heal you, neither shall he cure you of your wound.'--HOSEA v. 13
     (R.V.).

The long tragedy which ended in the destruction of the Northern Kingdom
by Assyrian invasion was already beginning to develop in Hosea's time.
The mistaken politics of the kings of Israel led them to seek an ally
where they should have dreaded an enemy. As Hosea puts it in figurative
fashion, Ephraim's discovery of his 'sickness' sent him in the vain
quest for help to the apparent source of the 'sickness,' that is to
Assyria, whose king in the text is described by a name which is not his
real name, but is a significant epithet, as the margin puts it, 'a king
that should contend'; and who, of course, was not able to heal nor to
cure the wounds which he had inflicted. Ephraim's suicidal folly is but
one illustration of a universal madness which drives men to seek for the
healing of their misery, and the alleviation of their discomfort, in
the repetition of the very acts which brought these about. The attempt
to get relief in such a fashion, of course, fails; for as the verse
before our text emphatically proclaims, it is God who has been 'as a
moth unto Ephraim,' gnawing away his strength: and it is only He who can
heal, since in reality it is He, and not the quarrelsome king of
Assyria, who has inflicted the sickness.

Thus understood, the text carries wide lessons, and may serve us as a
starting-point for considering man's discovery of his 'sickness,' man's
mad way of seeking healing, God's way of giving it.

I. First, then, man's discovery of his sickness.

The greater part of most lives is spent in mechanical, unreflecting
repetition of daily duties and pleasures. We are all apt to live on the
surface, and it requires an effort, which we are too indolent to make
except under the impulse of some arresting motive, to descend into the
depths of our own souls, and there to face the solemn facts of our own
personality. The last place with which most of us are familiar, is our
innermost self. Men are dimly conscious that things within are not well
with them; but it is only one here and there that says so distinctly to
himself, and takes the further step of thoroughly investigating the
cause. But that superficial life is at the mercy of a thousand
accidents, each one of which may break through the thin film, and lay
bare the black depths.

But there is another aspect of this discovery of sickness, far graver
than the mere consciousness of unrest. Ephraim does not see his sickness
unless he sees his sin. The greater part of every life is spent without
that deep, all-pervading sense of discord between itself and God. Small
and recurrent faults may evoke recurring remonstrances of conscience,
but that is a very different thing from the deep tones and the clear
voice of condemnation in respect to one's whole life and character which
sounds in a heart that has learned how 'deceitful and desperately
wicked' it is. Such a conviction may flash upon a man at any moment, and
from a hundred causes. A sorrow, a sunset-sky, a grave, a sermon, may
produce it.

But even when we have come to recognise clearly our unrest, we have gone
but part of the way, we have become conscious of a symptom, not of the
disease. Why is it that man is alone among the creatures in that
discontent with externals, and that dissatisfaction with himself? 'Foxes
have holes, and the birds of the air have roosting-places': why is it
that amongst all God's happy creatures, and God's shining stars, men
stand 'strangers in a strange land,' and are cursed with a restlessness
which has not 'where to lay its head'? The consciousness of unrest is
but the agitation of the limbs which indicates disease. That disease is
the twitching paralysis of sin. Like 'the pestilence that walketh in
darkness,' it has a fell power of concealing itself, and the man whose
sins are the greatest is always the least conscious of them. He dwells
in a region where the malaria is so all-pervading that the inhabitants
do not know what the sweetness of an unpoisoned atmosphere is. If there
is a 'worst man' in the world, we may be very sure that no conscience is
less troubled than his is.

So the question may well be urged on those so terribly numerous amongst
us, whose very unconsciousness of their true condition is the most fatal
symptom of their fatal disease. What is the worth of a peace which is
only secured by ignoring realities, and which can be shattered into
fragments by anything that compels a man to see himself as he is? In
such a fool's paradise thousands of us live. 'Use and wont,' the
continual occupation with the trifles of our daily lives, the fleeting
satisfactions of our animal nature, the shallow wisdom which bids us
'let sleeping dogs lie,' all conspire to mask, to many consciences,
their unrest and their sin. We abstain from lifting the curtain behind
which the serpent lies coiled in our hearts, because we dread to see
its loathly length, and to rouse it to lift its malignant head, and to
strike with its forked tongue. But sooner or later--may it not be too
late--we shall be set face to face with the dark recess, and discover
the foul reptile that has all the while been coiled there.

II. Man's mad way of seeking healing.

Can there be a more absurd course of action than that recorded in our
text? 'When Ephraim saw his sickness, then went Ephraim to Assyria.' The
Northern Kingdom sought for the healing of their national calamities
from the very cause of their national calamities, and in repetition of
their national sin. A hopeful policy, and one which speedily ended in
the only possible result! But that insanity was but a sample of the
infatuation which besets us all. When we are conscious of our unrest,
are we not all tempted to seek to conceal it with what has made it? Take
examples from the grosser forms of animal indulgence. The drunkard's
vulgar proverb recommending 'a hair of the dog that bit you,' is but a
coarse expression of a common fault. He is wretched until 'another
glass' steadies, for a moment, his trembling hand, and gives a brief
stimulus to his nerves. They say that the Styrian peasants, who
habitually eat large quantities of arsenic, show symptoms of poison if
they leave it off suddenly. These are but samples, in the physical
region, of a tendency which runs through all lire, and leads men to
drown thought by plunging into the thick of the worldly absorptions that
really cause their unrest. The least persistent of men is strangely
obstinate in his adherence to old ways, in spite of all experience of
their crooked slipperiness. We wonder at the peasants who have their
cottages and vineyards on the slopes of Vesuvius, and who build them,
and plant them, over and over again after each destructive eruption. The
tragedy of Israel is repeated in many of our lives; and the summing up
of the abortive efforts of one of its kings to recover power by
following the gods that had betrayed him, might be the epitaph of the
infatuated men who see their sickness and seek to heal it by renewed
devotion to the idols who occasioned it: 'They were the ruin of him and
of all Israel.' The experience of the woman who had 'spent all her
living on physicians, and was nothing the better, but rather the worse,'
sums up the sad story of many a life.

But again the sense of sin sometimes seeks to conceal itself by
repetition of sin. When the dormant snake begins to stir, it is lulled
to sleep again by absorption of occupations, or by an obstinate refusal
to look inwards, and often by plunging once more into the sin which has
brought about the sickness. To seek thus for ease from the stings of
conscience, is like trying to silence a buzzing in the head by standing
beside Niagara thundering in our ears. They used to beat the drums when
a martyr died, in order to drown his testimony; and so foolish men seek
to silence the voice of conscience by letting passions shout their
loudest. It needs no words to demonstrate the incurable folly of such
conduct; but alas, it takes many words far stronger than mine to press
home the folly upon men. The condition of such a half-awakened
conscience is very critical if it is soothed by any means by which it is
weakened and its possessor worsened. In the sickness of the soul
homoeopathic treatment is a delusion. Ephraim may go to Assyria, but
there is no healing of him there.

III. God's way of giving true healing.

Ephraim thought that, because the wounds were inflicted by Assyria, it
was the source to which to apply for bandages and balm. If it had
realised that Assyria was but the battle-axe wherewith the hand of God
struck it, it would have learned that from God alone could come healing
and health. The unrest which betrays the presence in our souls of a
deep-seated sin, is a divine messenger. We terribly misinterpret the
true source of all that disturbs us when we attribute it only to the
occasions which bring it about; for the one purpose of all our
restlessness is to drive us nearer to God, and to wrench us away from
our Assyria. The true issue of Ephraim's sickness would have been the
penitent cry, 'Come, let us return to the Lord our God, for He hath
smitten, and He will bind us up.' It is in the consciousness of loving
nearness to Him that all our unrest is soothed, and the heaving ocean in
our hearts becomes as a summer's sea and 'birds of peace sit brooding on
the charmed waves.' It is in that same consciousness that conscience
ceases to condemn, and loses its sting. The prophet from whom our text
is taken ends his wonderful ministry, that had been full of fiery
denunciations and dark prophecies, with words that are only surpassed in
their tenderness and the outpouring of the heart of God, by the fuller
revelation in Jesus Christ: 'O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God.
Take with you words, and return unto the Lord, and say unto Him: Assyria
shall not save us, for in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.' The divine
answer which he was commissioned to bring to the penitent Israel--'I
will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely; if Mine anger is
turned away from Me'--is, in all its wealth of forgiving love but an
imperfect prophecy of the great Physician, from the hem of whose garment
flowed out power to one who 'had spent all her living on physicians and
could not be healed of any,' and who confirmed to her the power which
she had thought to steal from Him unawares by the gracious words which
bound her to Him for ever--'Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go
in peace.'


'FRUIT WHICH IS DEATH'

     'Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself:
     according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the
     altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly
     images. 2. Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty:
     He shall break down their altars, He shall spoil their images. 3.
     For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the
     Lord; what then should a king do to us? 4. They have spoken words,
     swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up
     as hemlock in the furrows of the field. 5. The inhabitants of
     Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Beth-aven: for the
     people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that
     rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from
     it. 6. It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king
     Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of
     his own counsel. 7. As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam
     upon the water. 8. The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel,
     shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on
     their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to
     the hills, Fall on us. 9. O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days
     of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the
     children of iniquity did not overtake them. 10. It is in my desire
     that I should chastise them; and the people shall be gathered
     against them, when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows.
     11. And Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread
     out the corn; but I passed over upon her fair neck: I will make
     Ephraim to ride; Judah shall plow, and Jacob shall break his clods.
     12. Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up
     your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come
     and rain righteousness upon you. 13. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye
     have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou
     didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men. 14.
     Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy
     fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Beth-arbel in the
     day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces upon her children.
     15. So shall Beth-el do unto you because of your great wickedness:
     in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.'--HOSEA
     x. 1-15.

The prophecy of this chapter has two themes--Israel's sin, and its
punishment. These recur again and again. Reiteration, not progress of
thought, characterises Hosea's fiery stream of inspired eloquence.
Conviction of sin and prediction of judgment are his message. We trace a
fourfold repetition of it here, and further note that in each case there
is a double reference to Israel's sin as consisting in the rebellion
which set up a king and in the schism which established the calf
worship; while there is also a double phase of the punishment
corresponding to these, in the annihilation of the kingdom and the
destruction of the idols.

The first section may be taken to be verses 1-3. The image of a
luxuriant vine laden with fruit is as old as Jacob's blessing of the
tribes (Gen. xlix. 22), where it is applied to Joseph, whose descendants
were the strength of the Northern Kingdom. Hosea has already used it,
and here it is employed to set forth picturesquely the material
prosperity of Israel. Probably the period referred to is the successful
reign of Jeroboam II. But prosperity increased sin. The more fruit or
material wealth, the more altars; the better the harvests, the more the
obelisks or pillars to gods, falsely supposed to be the authors of the
blessings. The words are as condensed as a proverb, and are as true
to-day as ever. Israel had attributed its prosperity to Baal (Hosea ii.
8). The misuse of worldly wealth and the tendency of success to draw us
away from God, and to blind to the true source of all blessing, are as
rife now as then.

The root of the evil was, as always, a heart divided--that is, between
God and Baal--or, perhaps, 'smooth'; that is, dissimulating and
insincere. In reality, Baal alone possesses the heart which its owner
would share between him and Jehovah. 'All in all, or not at all,' is the
law. Whether Baals or calves were set beside God, He was equally
deposed.

Then, with a swift turn, Hosea proclaims the impending judgment, setting
himself and the people as if already in the future. He hears the first
peal of the storm, and echoes it in that abrupt 'now.' The first burst
of the judgment shatters dreams of innocence, and the cowering wretches
see their sin by the lurid light. That discovery awaits every man whose
heart has been 'divided.' To the gazers and to himself masks drop, and
the true character stands out with appalling clearness. What will that
light show us to be? An unnamed hand overthrows altars and pillars. No
need to say whose it is. One half of Israel's sin is crushed at a blow,
and the destruction of the other follows immediately.

They themselves abjure their allegiance; for they have found out that
their king is a king Log, and can do them no good. A king, set up in
opposition to God's will, cannot save. The ruin of their projects
teaches godless men at last that they have been fools to take their own
way; for all defences, recourses, and protectors, chosen in defiance of
God, prove powerless when the strain comes. The annihilation of one half
of their sin sickens them of the other. The calves and the monarchy
stood or fell together. It is a dismal thing to have to bear the brunt
of chastisement for what we see to have been a blunder as well as a
crime. But such is the fate of those who seek other gods and another
king.

In verse 4 Hosea recurs to Israel's crime, and appends a description of
the chastisement, substantially the same as before, but more detailed,
which continues till verse 8. The sin now is contemplated in its effects
on human relations. Before, it was regarded in relation to God. But men
who are wrong with Him cannot be right with one another. Morality is
rooted in religion, and if we lie to God, we shall not be true to our
brother. Hence, passing over all other sins for the present, Hosea fixes
upon one, the prevalence of which strikes at the very foundation of
society. What can be done with a community in which lying has become a
national characteristic, and that even in formal agreements?
Honey-combed with falsehood, it is only fit for burning.

Sin is bound by an iron link to penalty. Therefore, says Hosea, God's
judgment springs up, like a bitter plant (the precise name of which is
unknown) in the furrows, where the farmer did not know that its seeds
lay. They little dreamed what they were sowing when they scattered
abroad their lies, but this is the fruit of these. 'Whatsoever a man
soweth, that shall he also reap'; and whatever other crop we may hope to
gather from our sins, we shall gather that bitter one which we did not
expect. The inevitable connection of sin and judgment, the bitterness of
its results, the unexpectedness of them, are all here, and to be laid to
heart by us.

Then verses 5 and 6 dilate with keen irony on the fate of the first half
of Israel's sin--the calf. It was thought a god, but its worshippers
shall be in a fright for it. 'Calves,' says Hosea, though there was but
one at Beth-el; and he uses the feminine, as some think, depreciatingly.
'Beth-aven' or the 'house of vanity,' he says, instead of Beth-el, 'the
house of God.' A fine god whose worshippers had to be alarmed for its
safety! 'Its people'--what a contrast to the name they might have borne,
'My people'! God disowns them, and says, 'They belong to it, not to Me.'
The idolatrous priests of the calf worship will tremble when that image,
which had been shamefully their 'glory,' is carried off to Assyria, and
given as a present to 'king Jareb'--a name for the king of Assyria
meaning the fighting or quarrelsome king. The captivity of the god is
the shame of the worshippers. To be 'ashamed of their own counsel' is
the certain fate of all who depart from God; for, sooner or later,
experience will demonstrate to the blindest that their refuges of lies
can neither save themselves nor those who trust in them. But shame is
one thing and repentance another; and many a man will say, 'I have been
a great fool, and my clever policy has all crumbled to pieces,' who will
only therefore change his idols, and not return to God.

Verse 7 recurs to the political punishment of the civil rebellion. The
image for the disappearance of the king is striking, whether we render
'foam' or 'chip,' but the former has special beauty. In the one case we
see the unsubstantial bubble,

    'A moment white, then melts for ever';

and in the other, the helpless twig swept down by the stream. Either
brings vividly before us the powerlessness of Israel against the roaring
torrent of Assyrian power; and the figure may be widened out to teach
what is sure to become of all man-made and self-chosen refuges when the
floods of God's judgments sweep over the world. The captivity of the
idol and the burst bubble of the monarchy bid us all make Jehovah our
God and King. The vacant shrine and empty throne are followed by utter
and long-continued desolation. Thorns and thistles have time to grow on
the altars, and no hand cuts them down. What of the men thus stripped of
all in which they had trusted? Desperate, they implore the mountains to
fall on them, as preferring to die, and the hills to cover them, as
willing to be crushed, if only they may be hidden. That awful cry is
heard again in our Lord's predictions of judgment, and in the
Apocalypse. Therefore this prophecy foreshadows, in the destruction of
Israel's confidences and in their shame and despair, a more dreadful
coming day, in which we shall be concerned.

Verses 9 to 11 again give the sin and its punishment. 'The days of
Gibeah' recall the hideous story of lust and crime which was the
low-water mark of the lawless days of old. That crime had been avenged
by merciless war. But its taint had lived on, and the Israel of Hosea's
day 'stood,' obstinately persistent, just where the Benjamites had been
then, and set themselves in dogged resistance, as these had done, 'that
the battle against the children of unrighteousness might not touch
them.'

Stiff-necked setting oneself against God's merciful fighting with evil
lasts for a little while, but verse 10 tells how soon and easily it is
annihilated. God's 'desire' brushes away all defences, and the obstinate
sinners are like children, who are whipped when their father wills, let
them struggle as they may. The instruments of chastisement are foreign
armies, and the chastisement itself is described with a striking figure
as 'binding them to their two transgressions'; that is, the double sin
which is the keynote of the chapter. Punishment is yoking men to their
sins, and making them drag the burden like bullocks in harness. What
sort of load are we getting together for ourselves? When we have to drag
the consequences of our doings behind us, how shall we feel?

The figure sets the Prophet's imagination going, and he turns it another
way, comparing Israel to a heifer, broken in, and liking the easy work
of threshing, in which the unmuzzled ox could eat its fill, but now set
to harder tasks in the fields. Judah, too, is to share in the
punishment. If men will not serve God in and because of prosperous ease,
He will try what toil and privation will do. Abused blessings are
withdrawn, and the abundance of the threshing-floor is changed for
dragging a heavy plough or harrow.

Verse 12 still deals with the figure suggested in the close of the
previous verse. It is the only break in the clouds in this chapter. It
is a call to amendment, accompanied by a promise of acceptance. If we
'sow for righteousness'--that is, if our efforts are directed to
embodying it in our lives--we 'shall reap according to mercy.' That is
true universally, whether it is taken to mean God's mercy to us, or ours
to others. The aim after righteousness ever secures the divine favour,
and usually ensures the measure which we mete being measured to us
again.

But sowing is not all; thorns must be grubbed up. We must not only turn
over a new leaf, but tear out the old one. The old man must be slain if
the new man is to live. The call to amend finds its warrant in the
assurance that there is still time to seek the Lord, and that, for all
His threatenings, He is ready to rain blessings upon the seekers. The
unwearying patience of God, the possibility of the worst sinner's
repentance, the conditional nature of the threatenings, the possibility
of breaking the bond between sin and sorrow, the yet deeper thought that
righteousness must come from above, are all condensed in this brief
gospel before the Gospel.

But that bright gleam passes, and the old theme recurs. Once more we
have sin and punishment exhibited in their organic connection in verses
13 and 14. Israel's past had been just the opposite of sowing
righteousness and reaping mercy. Wickedness ploughed in, iniquity will
surely be its fruit. Sin begets sin, and is its own punishment. What
fruit have we of doing wrong? 'Lies'; that is, unfulfilled expectations
of unrealised satisfaction. No man gets the good that he aimed at in
sinning, or he gets something more that spoils it. At last the
deceitfulness of sin will be found out, but we may be sure of it now.
The root of all Israel's sin was the root of ours; namely, trust in
self, and consequent neglect of God. The first half of verse 13 is an
exhaustive analysis of the experience of every sinful life; the second,
a penetrating disclosure of the foundation of it.

Then the whole closes with the repeated threatening, dual as before, and
illustrated by the forgotten horrors of some dreadful siege, one of the
'unhappy, far-off things,' fallen silent now. A significant variation
occurs in the final threatening, in which Beth-el is set forth as the
cause, rather than as the object, of the destruction. 'They were the
ruin of him and of all Israel.' Our vices are made the whips to scourge
us. Our idols bring us no help, but are the causes of our misery.

The Prophet ends with the same double reference which prevails
throughout, when he once more declares the annihilation of the monarchy,
which, rather than a particular person, is meant by 'the king.' 'In the
morning' is enigmatical. It may mean 'prematurely,' or 'suddenly,' or
'in a time of apparent prosperity,' or, more probably, the Prophet
stands in vision in that future day of the Lord, and points to 'the
king' as the first victim. The force of the prophecy does not depend on
the meaning of this detail. The teaching of the whole is the certainty
that suffering dogs sin, but yet does so by no iron, impersonal law, but
according to the will of God, who will rain righteousness even on the
sinner, being penitent, and will endow with righteousness from above
every lowly soul that seeks for it.


DESTRUCTION AND HELP

     'O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine
     help.'--HOSEA xiii. 9 (A.V.).

     'It is thy destruction, O Israel, that thou art against Me, against
     thy Help' (R.V.).

These words are obscure by reason of their brevity. Literally they might
be rendered, 'Thy destruction for, in, or against Me; in, or against thy
Help.' Obviously, some words must be supplied to bring out any sense.
Our Authorised Version has chosen the supplement 'is,' which fails to
observe the second occurrence with 'thy Help' of the preposition, and is
somewhat lax in rendering the 'for' of the second clause by the neutral
'but.' It is probably better to read, as the Revised Version, with most
modern interpreters, 'Thou art against Me, against thy Help,' and to
find in the second clause the explanation, or analysis, of the
destruction announced in the first. So we have here the wail of the
parental love of God over the ruin which Israel has brought on itself,
and that parental love is setting forth Israel's true condition, in the
hope that they may discern it. Thus, even the rebuke holds enclosed a
promise and a hope. Since God is their help, to depart from Him has been
ruin, and the return to Him will be life. Hosea, or rather the Spirit
that spake through Hosea, blended wonderful tenderness with unflinching
decision in rebuke, and unwavering certainty in foretelling evil with
unfaltering hope in the promise of possible blessing. His words are set
in the same key as the still more wonderfully tender ones that Jesus
uttered as He looked across the valley from Olivet to the gleaming city
on the other side, and wailed, 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would
I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens
under her wings, and ye would not! Therefore your house is left unto you
desolate.'

We may note here

I. The loving discovery of ruin.

It is strange that men should need to be told, and that with all
emphasis, the evil case in which they are; and stranger still that they
should resent the discovery and reject it. This pathetic pleading is the
voice of a divine Father trying to convince His son of misery and
danger; and the obscurity of the text is as if that voice was choked
with sobs, and could only speak in broken syllables the tragical word in
which all the evil of Israel's sin is gathered up--'his destruction,' or
'corruption.' It gathers up in one terrible picture the essential nature
of sin and the death of the soul, which is its wages--inward misery and
unrest, outward sorrows, the decay of mental and moral powers, the
spreading taint which eats its way through the whole personality of a
man who has sinned, and pauses not till it has reduced his corpse to
putrefaction. All these, and a hundred more effects of sin, are crowded
together in that one word 'thy destruction.'

It is strange that it needs God's voice, and that in its most piercing
tones, to convince men of ruin brought by sin. A mortifying limb is
painless. There is no consciousness in the drugged sleep which becomes
heavier and heavier till it ends in death. There is no surer sign of the
reality and extent of the corruption brought about by sin, than man's
ignorance of it. There is no more tragical proof that a man is
'wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked' than his vehement
affirmation, 'I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of
nothing,' and his self-complacent rejection of the counsel to 'buy
refined gold, and white garments, and eye-salve to anoint his eyes.' So
obstinately unconscious are we of our ruin that even God's voice,
whether uttered in definite words, or speaking in sharp sorrows and
punitive acts, but too often fails to pierce the thick layer of self
complacency in which we wrap ourselves, and to pierce the heart with the
arrow of conviction. Indeed we may say that the whole process of divine
education of a soul, conducted through many channels of providences, has
for its end mainly this--to convince His wandering children that to be
against Him, against their Help, is their destruction.

But, perhaps, the strangest of all is the attitude which we often take
up of resenting the love that would reveal our ruin. It is stupid of the
ox to kick against its driver's goad; but that is wise in comparison
with the action of the man who is angry with God because He warns that
departure from Him is ruin. Many of us treat Christianity as if it had
made the mischief which it reveals, and would fain mend; and we all need
to be reminded that it is cruel kindness to conceal unpleasant truths,
and that the Gospel is no more to be blamed for the destruction which it
declares than is the signalman with his red flag responsible for the
broken-down viaduct to which the train is rushing that he tries to save.

II. The loving appeal to conscience as to the cause.

Israel's destruction arose from the fact of Israel having turned against
God, its Help. Sin is suicide. God is our Help, and only Help. His will
is love and blessing. His only relation to our sin is to hate it, and
fight against it. In conflict of love with lovelessness one of His
chiefest weapons is to drive home to our consciousness the conviction of
our sin. When He is driven to punish, it is our wrongdoing that forces
Him to what Isaiah calls, 'His strange act.' The Heavenly Father is
impelled by His love not to spare the rod, lest the sparing spoil the
child. An earthly father suffers more punishment than he inflicts upon
the little rebel whom, unwillingly and with tears, he may chastise; and
God's love is more tender, as it is more wise, than that of the fathers
of our flesh who corrected us. 'He doth not willingly afflict nor is
soon angry'; and of all the mercies which He bestows upon us, none is
more laden with His love than the discipline by which He would make us
know, through our painful experience, that it is 'an evil and bitter
thing to forsake the Lord, and that His fear is not in us.' In its
essence and depth, separation from God is death to the creature that
wrenches itself away from the source of life; and all the weariness and
pains of a godless life are, if we take them as He meant them, the very
angels of His presence.

Just as the sole reason for our sorrows lies in our wrongdoing, the sole
cause of our wrongdoing is in ourselves. It is because 'Israel is
against Me' that Israel's destruction rushes down upon it. It could have
defended its hankering after Assyria and idols, by wise talk about
political exigencies and the wisdom of trying to turn possibly powerful
enemies into powerful allies, and the folly of a little nation, on a
narrow strip of territory between the desert and the sea, fancying
itself able to sustain itself uncrushed between the upper millstone of
Assyria on the north, and the under one, Egypt, on the south. But
circumstances are never the cause, though they may afford the excuse of
rebellion against our Helper, God; and all the modern talk about
environments and the like, is merely a cloak cast round, but too scanty
to conceal the ugly fact of the alienated will. All the excuses for sin,
which either modern scientific jargon about 'laws,' or hyper-Calvinistic
talk about 'divine decrees,' alleges, are alike shattered against the
plain fact of conscience, which proclaims to every evil-doer, 'Thou art
the man!' We shall get no further and no deeper than the truth of our
text: 'It is thy destruction that thou art against Me.'

The pleading God has from the beginning spoken words as tender as they
are stern, and as stern as they are tender. His voice to the sons of men
has from of old asked the unanswerable question, 'Why should ye be
stricken any more?' and has answered it, so far as answer is possible,
by the fact, which is as mysterious as it is undeniable, 'Ye will revolt
more and more.' God calls upon man to judge between Him and His
vineyard, and asks, 'What could have been done more to My vineyard that
I have not done unto it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring
forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?' The fault lay not in the
vine-dresser, but in some evil influence that had found its way into the
life and sap of the vine, and bore fruits in an unnatural product, which
could not have been traced to the vine-dresser's action. So God stands,
as with clean hands, declaring that 'He is pure from the blood of all
men; that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked'; and His word
to the men on whom falls the whole weight of His destroying power is,
'Thou hast procured this unto thyself.'

III. The loving forbearance which still offers restoration.

He still claims to be Israel's Help. Separation from Him has all but
destroyed the rebellious; but it has not in the smallest degree affected
the fulness of His power, nor the fervency of His desire to help.
However earth may be shaken by storms, or swathed in mist that darkens
all things and shuts out heaven, the sun is still in its tabernacle and
pouring down its rays through the cloudless blue that is above the
enfolding cloud. Our text has wrapped up in it the broad gospel that all
our self-inflicted destruction may be arrested, and all the evil which
brought it about swept away. God is ready to prove Himself our true and
only Helper in that, as our prophet says, 'He will ransom us from the
power of the grave'; and, even when death has laid its cold hand upon
us, will redeem us from it, and destroy the destruction which had fixed
its talons in us. All the guilt is ours; all the help is His; His work
is to conquer and cast out our sins, to heal our sicknesses, to soothe
our sorrows. And He has Himself vindicated His great name of our Help
when He has revealed Himself as 'the God and Father of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ.'


ISRAEL RETURNING

     'O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by
     thine iniquity. 2. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say
     unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so
     will we render the calves of our lips. 3. Asshur shall not save us;
     we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the
     work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless
     findeth mercy. 4. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them
     freely: for mine anger is turned away from Him. 5. I will be as the
     dew unto Israel: He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth His
     roots as Lebanon. 6. His branches shall spread, and His beauty
     shall be as the olive-tree, and His smell as Lebanon. 7. They that
     dwell under His shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn,
     and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of
     Lebanon. 8. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with
     idols? I have heard Him, and observed Him: I am like a green
     fir-tree. From me is thy fruit found. 9. Who is wise, and He shall
     understand these things? prudent, and He shall know them? for the
     ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but
     the transgressors shall fall therein.'--HOSEA xiv. 1-9.

Hosea is eminently the prophet of divine love and of human repentance.
Both streams of thought are at their fullest in this great chapter. In
verses 1 to 3 the very essence of true return to God is set forth in the
prayer which Israel is exhorted to offer, while in verses 4 to 8 the
forgiving love of God and its blessed results are portrayed with equal
poetical beauty and spiritual force. Verse 9 closes the chapter and the
book with a kind of epilogue.

I. The summons to repentance.

'Israel,' of course, here means the Northern Kingdom, with which Hosea's
prophecies are chiefly occupied. 'Thou hast fallen by thine
iniquity'--that is the lesson taught by all its history, and in a deeper
sense it is the lesson of all experience. Sin brings ruin for nations
and individuals, and the plain teachings of each man's own life exhort
each to 'return unto the Lord.' We have all proved the vanity and misery
of departing from Him; surely, if we are not drawn by His love, we might
be driven by our own unrest, to go back to God.

The Prophet anticipates the clear accents of the New Testament call to
repentance in his expansion of what he meant by returning. He has
nothing to say about sacrifices, nor about self-reliant efforts at moral
improvement. 'Take with you _words_,' not 'the blood of bulls and
goats.' Confession is better than sacrifice. What words are they which
will avail? Hosea teaches the penitent's prayer. It must begin with the
petition for forgiveness, which implies recognition of the petitioner's
sin. The cry, 'Take away all iniquity,' does not specify sins, but
masses the whole black catalogue into one word. However varied the forms
of our transgressions, they are in principle one, and it is best to bind
them all into one ugly heap, and lay it at God's feet. We have to
confess not only sins, but sin, and the taking away of it includes
divine cleansing from its power, as well as divine forgiveness of its
guilt. Hosea bids Israel ask that God would take away all iniquity; John
pointed to 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'
But beyond forgiveness and cleansing, the penitent heart will seek that
God would 'accept the good' in it, which springs up by His grace, when
the evil has been washed from it, like flowers that burst from soil off
which the matted under-growth of poisonous jungle has been cleared. Mere
negative absence of 'evil' is not all that we should desire or exhibit;
there must be positive good; and however sinful may have been the past,
we are not too bold when we ask and expect that we may be made able to
produce 'good,' which shall be fragrant as sweet incense to God.

Petitions are followed by vows. On the one hand, the experience of
forgiveness and cleansing will put a new song in our mouths, and instead
of animal sacrifices, we shall render the praise which is better than
'calves' laid on the altar. Perhaps the Septuagint rendering of that
difficult phrase 'the calves of our lips,' which is given in Hebrews
xiii. 15, 'the fruit of our lips,' is preferable. In either case, the
same thought appears--that the penitent's experience of forgiving and
restoring love makes 'the tongue of the dumb sing,' and it will bind
men's hearts more closely to God than anything besides can do, so that
their old inclinations to false reliances and idolatries drop away from
them. The old fable tells us that the storm made the traveller wrap his
cloak closer round him, but the sunshine made him throw it off.
Judgments often make men cling more closely to their sins, but forgiving
mercy makes them 'cast off the works of darkness.' The men who had
experienced that in God, the Israel, which by its sins had brought down
the punishment of His repudiation of being its father (i. 9), had found
mercy, would no longer feel temptation to turn to Assyria for help, nor
to seek protection from Egypt's cavalry, nor to debase their manhood by
calling stocks and stones, the work of their own hands, their gods. What
earthly sweetness will tempt, or what earthly danger will affright, the
heart that is feeling the bliss of union with God? Would Judas's thirty
pieces of silver attract the disciple reclining on Jesus' bosom? We are
most firmly bound to God, not by our resolves, but by our experience of
His all-sufficient mercy. Fill the heart with that wine of the kingdom,
and bitter or poisonous draughts will find no entrance into the cup.

II. God's welcoming answer.

The very abruptness of its introduction, without any explanation as to
the speaker, suggests how swiftly and joyfully the Father hastens to
meet the returning prodigal while he is yet afar off. Like pent-up
waters rushing forth as soon as a barrier is taken away, God's love
pours itself out immediately. His answer ever gives more than the
penitent asks--robe and ring and shoes, and a feast to him who dared not
expect more than a place among the hired servants. He gives not by
drops, but in floods, answering the prayer for the taking away of
iniquity by the promise to heal backsliding, going beyond desires and
hopes in the gift of love which asks for no recompense, is drawn forth
by no desert, but wells up from the depths of God's heart, and
strengthens the new, tremulous trust of the penitent by the assurance
that every trace of anger is effaced from God's heart.

The blessings consequent on the gift of God's love are described in
lovely imagery, drawn, like Hosea's other abundant similes, from nature,
and especially from trees and flowers. The source of all fruitfulness is
a divine influence, which comes silently and refreshing as the 'dew,'
or, rather, as the 'night mist,' a phenomenon occurring in Palestine in
summer, and being, accurately, rolling masses of vapour brought from
the Mediterranean, which counteract the dry heat and keep vegetation
alive. The influences which refresh and fructify our souls must fall in
many a silent hour of meditation and communion. They will effloresce
into manifold shapes of beauty and fruitfulness, of which the Prophet
signalises three. The lily may stand for beauty of purity, though
botanists differ as to the particular flower meant. Christians should
present to the world 'whatsoever things are lovely,' and see to it that
their goodness is attractive. But the fragrant, pure lily has but
shallow roots, and beauty is not all that a character needs in this
world of struggle and effort. So there are to be both the lily's blossom
and roots like Lebanon. The image may refer to the firm buttresses of
the widespread foot-hills, from which the sovereign summits of the great
mountain range rise, or, as is rather suggested by the accompanying
similes from the vegetable world, it may refer to the cedars growing
there. Their roots are anchored deep and stretch far underground;
therefore they rear towering heads, and spread broad shelves of dark
foliage, safe from any blast. Our lives must be deep rooted in God if
they are to be strong. Boots generally spread beneath the soil about as
far as branches extend above it. There should be at least as much
underground, 'hid with Christ in God,' as is visible to the world.

But beauty and strength are not all. So Hosea thinks of yet another of
the characteristic growths of Palestine, the olive, which is not
strikingly beautiful in form, with its strangely gnarled, contorted
stem, its feeble branches, and its small, pointed, pale leaves, but has
the beauty of fruitfulriess, and is green when other trees are bare.
Such 'beauty' should be ours, and will be if the 'dew' falls on us.

In verse 7 there are difficulties, both as to the application of the
'his,' and as to the reading and rendering of some of the words. But the
general drift is clear. It prolongs the tones of the foregoing verses,
keeping to the same class of images, and expressing fruitfulness,
abundant as the corn and precious as the grape, and fragrance like the
'bouquet' of the choicest wine.

Verse 8 offers great difficulties on any interpretation. The supplement
'shall say' is questionable, and it is doubtful whether Ephraim is the
speaker at all, and whether, if so, he speaks all the four clauses, and
who speaks any or all of them, if not he. To the present writer, it
seems best to take the supplement as right, and possible to regard the
whole verse as spoken by Ephraim, though perhaps the last clause is
meant to be God's utterance. The meaning will then come out as follows.
The penitent Israel again speaks, after the gracious promises preceding.
The tribal name is, as usual in Hosea, equivalent to Israel, whose
penitent cry we heard at the beginning of the passage. Now we hear his
glad response to God's abundant answer. 'What have I to do any more with
idols?' He had vowed (verse 3) to have no more to do with them, and the
resolve is deepened by the rich grace held forth to him. Hosea had
lamented Ephraim's mad adherence to 'his idols' (iv. 17), but now the
union is dissolved, and by penitence and reception of God's grace, he is
joined to the Lord, and parted from them. His renunciation of idolatry
is based, in the second clause, on his experience of what God can do,
and on his having heard God's gracious voice of pardon and promise. If a
man hears God, he will not be drawn to worship at any idol's shrine.

Further, in the third clause, Ephraim is joyfully conscious of the
change that has passed on him, in accordance with the great promises
just spoken, and with grateful astonishment that such verdure should
have burst out from the dry and rotten stump of his own sinful nature,
exclaims, 'I am like a green fir-tree.' That is another reason why he
will have no more to do with idols. They could never have made his
sapless nature break into leafage. But what of the fourth clause--'From
Me is thy fruit found'? Can we understand that to mean that Ephraim
still speaks, keeping up the image of the previous clause, and declaring
that all the new fruitfulness which he finds in himself he recognises to
be God's, both in the sense that, in reality, it is produced by Him, and
that it belongs to Him? He comes seeking fruit, and He finds it. All our
good is His, and we shall be happy, productive, and wise, in proportion
as we offer all our works to Him, and feel that, after all, they are not
ours, but the works of that Spirit which dwells in penitent and
believing hearts. Some have thought that this last clause must be taken
as spoken by God; but, even if so taken, it conveys substantially the
same thought as to the divine origin of man's fruitfulness.

The last verse is rather a general reflection summing up the whole than
an integral part of this wonderful representation of penitence, pardon,
and fruitfulness. It declares the great truth that the knowledge of the
pardoning mercy of God, and of the ways by which He weans men from sin
and makes them fruitful of good, makes us truly wise. That knowledge is
more than intellectual apprehension; it is experience. Providence has
its mysteries, but they who keep near to God, and are 'just' because
they do, will find the opportunity of free, unfettered activity in
God's ways, and transgressors will stumble therein. Therefore wisdom and
safety lie in penitence and confession, which will ever be met by
gracious pardon and showers of blessing that will cause our hearts,
which sin has made desert, to rejoice and blossom like the rose.


THE DEW AND THE PLANTS

     'I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and
     cast forth his roots as Lebanon. 6. His branches shall spread, and
     his beauty shall be as the olive-tree ...'--Hosea xiv. 5, 6.

Like his brethren, Hosea was a poet as well as a prophet. His little
prophecy is full of similes and illustrations drawn from natural
objects; scarcely any of them from cities or from the ways of men;
almost all of them from Nature, as seen in the open country, which he
evidently loved, and where he had looked upon things with a clear and
meditative eye. This whole chapter is full of emblems drawn from the
vegetable world. The lily, the cedar, the olive, are in my text. And
there follow, in the subsequent verses, the corn, and the vine, and the
green fir-tree.

The words which I have read, no doubt originally had simply a reference
to the numerical increase of the people and their restoration to their
land, but they may be taken by us quite fairly as having a very much
deeper and more blessed reference than that. For they describe the
uniform condition of all spiritual life and growth,' I will be as the
dew unto Israel'; and then they set forth some of the manifold aspects
of that growth, and the consequences of receiving that heavenly dew,
under the various metaphors to which I have referred. It is in that
higher signification that I wish to look at them now.

I. The first thought that comes out of the words is that for all life
and growth of the spirit there must be a bedewing from God.

'I will be as the dew unto Israel.' Now, scholars tell us that the kind
of moisture that is meant in these words is not what we call dew, of
which, as a matter of fact, there falls, in Palestine, little or none at
the season of the year referred to in my text, but that the word really
means the heavy night-clouds that come upon the wings of the south-west
wind, to diffuse moisture and freshness over the parched plains, in the
very height and fierceness of summer. The metaphor of my text becomes
more beautiful and striking, if we note that, in the previous chapter,
where the Prophet was in his threatening mood, he predicts that 'an east
wind shall come, the wind of the Lord shall come up from the
wilderness'--the burning sirocco, with death upon its wings--'and his
spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up.' We have
then to imagine the land gaping and parched, the hot air having, as with
invisible tongue of flame, licked streams and pools dry, and having
shrunken fountains and springs. Then, all at once there comes down upon
the baking ground and on the faded, drooping flowers that lie languid
and prostrate on the ground in the darkness, borne on the wings of the
wind, from the depths of the great unfathomed sea, an unseen moisture.
You cannot call it rain, so gently does it diffuse itself; it is liker a
mist, but it brings life and freshness, and everything is changed. The
dew, or the night mist, as it might more properly be rendered, was
evidently a good deal in Hosea's mind; you may remember that he uses the
image again in a remarkably different aspect, where he speaks of men's
goodness as being like 'a morning cloud, and the early dew that passes
away.'

The natural object which yields the emblem was all inadequate to set
forth the divine gift which is compared to it, because as soon as the
sun has risen, with burning heat, it scatters the beneficent clouds, and
the 'sunbeams like swords' threaten to slay the tender green shoots. But
this mist from God that comes down to water the earth is never dried up.
It is not transient. It may be ours, and live in our hearts. Dear
brethren, the prose of this sweet old promise is 'If I depart, I will
send Him unto you.' If we are Christian people, we have the perpetual
dew of that divine Spirit, which falls on our leaves and penetrates to
our roots, and communicates life, freshness, and power, and makes growth
possible--more than possible, certain--for us. 'I'--Myself through My
Son, and in My Spirit--'I will be'--an unconditional assurance--'as the
dew unto Israel.'

Yes! That promise is in its depth and fulness applicable only to the
Christian Israel, and it remains true to-day and for ever. Do we see it
fulfilled? One looks round upon our congregations, and into one's own
heart, and we behold the parable of Gideon's fleece acted over
again--some places soaked with the refreshing moisture, and some as hard
as a rock and as dry as tinder and ready to catch fire from any spark
from the devil's forge and be consumed in the everlasting burnings some
day. It will do us good to ask ourselves why it is that, with a promise
like this for every Christian soul to build upon, there are so few
Christian souls that have anything like realised its fulness and its
depth. Let us be quite sure of this--God has nothing to do with the
failure of His promise, and let us take all the blame to ourselves.

'I will be as the dew unto Israel.' Who was Israel? The man that
wrestled all night in prayer with God, and took hold of the angel and
prevailed and wept and made supplication to Him. So Hosea tells us; and
as he says in the passage where he describes the Angel's wrestling with
Jacob at Peniel, 'there He spake with us'--when He spake, He spake with
him who first bore the name. Be you Israel, and God will surely be your
dew; and life and growth will be possible. That is the first lesson of
this great promise.

II. The second is, that a soul thus bedewed by God will spring into
purity and beauty.

We go back to Hosea's vegetable metaphors. 'He shall grow as the lily'
is his first promise. If I were addressing a congregation of botanists,
I should have something to say about what kind of a plant is meant, but
that is quite beside the mark for my present purpose. It is sufficient
to notice that in this metaphor the emphasis is laid upon the two
attributes which I have named--beauty and purity. The figure teaches us
that ugly Christianity is not Christ's Christianity. Some of us older
people remember that it used to be a favourite phrase to describe
unattractive saints that they had 'grace grafted on a crab stick.' There
are a great many Christian people whom one would compare to any other
plant rather than a lily. Thorns and thistles and briers are a good deal
more like what some of them appear to the world. But we are bound, if we
are Christian people, by our obligations to God, and by our obligations
to men, to try to make Christianity look as beautiful in people's eyes
as we can. That is what Paul said, 'Adorn the teaching'; make it look
well, inasmuch as it has made you look attractive to men's eyes. Men
have a fairly accurate notion of beauty and goodness, whether they have
any goodness or any beauty in their own characters or not. Do you
remember the words: 'Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are
of good report, whatsoever things are venerable ... if there be any
praise'--from men--'think on these things'? If we do not keep that as
the guiding star of our lives, then we have failed in one very distinct
duty of Christian people--namely, to grow more like a lily, and to be
graceful in the lowest sense of that word, as well as _grace full_ in
the highest sense of it. We shall not be so in the lower, unless we are
so in the higher. It may be a very modest kind of beauty, very humble,
and not at all like the flaring reds and yellows of the gorgeous flowers
that the world admires. These are often like a great sunflower, with a
disc as big as a cheese. But the Christian beauty will be modest and
unobtrusive and shy, like the violet half buried in the hedge-bank, and
unnoticed by careless eyes, accustomed to see beauty only in gaudy,
flaring blooms. But unless you, as a Christian, are in your character
arrayed in the "beauty of holiness," and the holiness of beauty, you are
not quite the Christian that Jesus Christ wants you to be; setting forth
all the gracious and sweet and refining influences of the Gospel in your
daily life and conduct. That is the second lesson of our text.

III. The third is, that a God-bedewed soul that has been made fair and
pure by communion with God, ought also to be strong.

He "shall cast forth his roots like Lebanon." Now I take it that simile
does not refer to the roots of that giant range that slope away down
under the depths of the Mediterranean. That is a beautiful emblem, but
it is not in line with the other images in the context. As these are all
dependent on the promise of the dew, and represent different phases of
the results of its fulfilment, it is natural to expect thus much
uniformity in their variety, that they shall all be drawn from
plant-life. If so, we must suppose a condensed metaphor here, and take
"Lebanon" to mean the forest which another prophet calls "the glory of
Lebanon." The characteristic tree in these, as we all know, was the
cedar.

It is named in Hebrew by a word which is connected with that for
"strength." It stands as the very type and emblem of stability and
vigour. Think of its firm roots by which it is anchored deep in the
soil. Think of the shelves of massive dark foliage. Think of its
unchanged steadfastness in storm. Think of its towering height; and thus
arriving at the meaning of the emblem, let us translate it into practice
in our own lives. "He shall cast forth his roots as Lebanon." Beauty?
Yes! Purity? Yes! And braided in with them, if I may so say, the
strength which can say "No!" which can resist, which can persist, which
can overcome; power drawn from communion with God. "Strength and beauty"
should blend in the worshippers, as they do in the "sanctuary" in God
Himself. There is nothing admirable in mere force; there is often
something sickly and feeble, and therefore contemptible in mere beauty.
Many of us will cultivate the complacent and the amiable sides of the
Christian life, and be wanting in the manly "thews that throw the
world," and can fight to the death. But we have to try and bring these
two excellences of character together, and it needs an immense deal of
grace and wisdom and imitation of Jesus Christ, and a close clasp of His
hand, to enable us to do that. Speak we of strength? He is the type of
strength. Of beauty? He is the perfection of beauty. And it is only as
we keep close to Him that our lives will be all fair with the reflected
loveliness of His, and strong with the communicated power of His
grace--"strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."

Brethren, if we are to set forth anything, in our daily lives, of this
strength, remember that our lives must be rooted in, as well as bedewed
by, God. Hosea's emblems, beautiful and instructive as they are, do not
reach to the deep truth set forth in still holier and sweeter words; "I
am the Vine, ye are the branches." The union of Christ and His people
is closer than that between dew and plant. Our growth results from the
communication of His own life to us. Therefore is the command stringent
and obedience to it blessed, "Abide in Me, for apart from Me ye can
do"--and are--"nothing."

Let us remember that the loftier the top of the tree and the wider the
spread of its shelves of dark foliage, if it is steadfastly to stand,
unmoved by the loud winds when they call, the deeper must its roots
strike into the firm earth. If your life is to be a fair temple-palace
worthy of God's dwelling in, if it is to be impregnable to assault,
there must be quite as much masonry underground as above, as is the case
in great old buildings and palaces. And such a life must be a life "hid
with Christ in God," then it will be strong. When we strike our roots
deep into Him, our branch also shall not wither, and our leaf shall be
green, and all that we do shall prosper. The wicked are not so. They are
like chaff--rootless, fruitless, lifeless, which the wind driveth away.

IV. Lastly, the God-bedewed soul, beautiful, pure, strong, will bear
fruit.

That is the last lesson from these metaphors. "His beauty shall be as
the olive-tree." Anybody that has ever seen a grove of olives knows that
their beauty is not such as strikes the eye. If it was not for the blue
sky overhead, that rays down glorifying light, they would not be much to
look at or talk about. The tree has a gnarled, grotesque trunk which
divides into insignificant branches, bearing leaves mean in shape, harsh
in texture, with a silvery underside. It gives but a quivering shade and
has no massiveness, nor symmetry. Ay! but there are olives on the
branches. And so the beauty of the humble tree is in what it grows for
man's good. After all, it is the outcome in fruitfulness which is the
main thing about us. God's meaning, in all His gifts of dew, and beauty,
and purity, and strength, is that we should be of some use in the world.

The olive is crushed into oil, and the oil is used for smoothing and
suppling joints and flesh, for nourishing and sustaining the body as
food, for illuminating darkness as oil in the lamp. And these three
things are the three things for which we Christian people have received
all our dew, and all our beauty, and all our strength--that we may give
other people light, that we may be the means of conveying to other
people nourishment, that we may move gently in the world as lubricating,
sweetening, soothing influences, and not irritating and provoking, and
leading to strife and alienation. _The_ question after all is, Does
anybody gather fruit off us, and would anybody call _us_ 'trees of
righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified'? That
is lesson four from this text. May we all open our hearts for the dew
from heaven, and then use it to produce in ourselves beauty, purity,
strength, and fruitfulness!

        *        *        *        *        *


AMOS


A PAIR OF FRIENDS

     'Can two walk together, except they be agreed?'-AMOS III. 8.

They do not need to be agreed about everything. They must, however, wish
to keep each others company, and they must be going by the same road to
the same place. The application of the parable is very plain, though
there are differences of opinion as to the bearing of the whole context
which need not concern us now. The 'two,' whom the Prophet would fain
see walking together, are God and Israel, and his question suggests not
only the companionship and communion with God which are the highest form
of religion and the aim of all forms and ceremonies of worship, but also
the inexorable condition on which alone that height of communion can be
secured and sustained. Two _may_ walk together, though the one be God in
heaven and the other be I on earth. But they have to be agreed thus far,
at any rate, that both shall wish to be together, and both be going the
same road.

I. So I ask you to look, first, at that possible blessed companionship
which may cheer a life.

There are three phrases in the Old Testament, very like each other, and
yet presenting different facets or aspects of the same great truth.
Sometimes we read about 'walking before God' as Abraham was bid to do.
That means ordering the daily life under the continual sense that we are
'ever in the great Taskmaster's eye' Then there is 'walking after God,'
and that means conforming the will and active efforts to the rule that
He has laid down, setting our steps firm on the paths that He has
prepared that we should walk in them, and accepting His providences.
But also, high above both these conceptions of a devout life is the one
which is suggested by my text, and which, as you remember, was realised
in the case of the patriarch Enoch--'walking with God.' For to walk
before Him may have with it some tremor, and may be undertaken in the
spirit of the slave who would be glad to get away from the jealous eye
that rebukes his slothfulness; and 'walking after Him' may be a painful
and partial effort to keep His distant figure in sight; but to 'walk
with Him' implies a constant, quiet sense of His Divine Presence which
forbids that I should ever be lonely, which guides and defends, which
floods my soul and fills my life, and in which, as the companions pace
along side by side, words may be spoken by either, or blessed silence
may be eloquent of perfect trust and rest.

But, dear brother, far above us as such experience seems to sound, such
a life is a possibility for every one of us. We may be able to say, as
truly as our Lord said it, 'I am not alone, for the Father is with me.'
It is possible that the dreariest solitude of a soul, such as is not
realised when the body is removed from men, but is felt most in the
crowded city where there is none that loves or fathoms and sympathises,
may be turned into blessed fellowship with Him. Yes, but that solitude
will not be so turned unless it is first painfully felt. As Daniel said,
'I was left alone, and I saw the great vision.' We need to feel in our
deepest hearts that loneliness on earth before we walk with God.

If we are so walking, it is no piece of fanaticism to say that there
will be mutual communications. Do you not believe that God knows His way
into the spirits that He has endowed with conscious life? Do you not
believe that He speaks now to people as truly as He did to prophets and
Apostles of old? as truly; though the results of His speech to us of
to-day be not of the same authority for others as the words that He
spoke to a Paul or a John. The belief in God's communications as for
ever sounding in the depths of the Christian spirit does not at all
obliterate the distinction between the kind of inspiration which
produced the New Testament and that which is realised by all believing
and obedient souls. High above all our experience of hearing the words
of God in our hearts stands that of those holy men of old who heard
God's message whispered in their ears, that they might proclaim it on
the housetops to all the world through all generations. But though they
and we are on a different level, and God spoke to them for a different
purpose, He speaks in our spirits, if we will comply with the
conditions, as truly as He did in theirs. As really as it was ever true
that the Lord spoke to Abraham, or Isaiah, or Paul, it is true that He
now speaks to the man who walks with Him. Frank speech on both sides
beguiles many a weary mile, when lovers or friends foot it side by side;
and this pair of friends of whom our text speaks have mutual
intercourse. God speaks with His servant now, as of old, 'as a man
speaketh with his friend'; and we on our parts, if we are truly walking
with Him, shall feel it natural to speak frankly to God. As two friends
on the road will interchange remarks about trifles, and if they love
each other, the remarks about the trifles will be weighted with love, so
we can tell our smallest affairs to God; and if we have Him for our
Pilgrim-Companion, we do not need to lock up any troubles or concerns of
any sort, big or little, in our hearts, but may speak them all to our
Friend who goes with us.

The two _may_ walk together. That is the end of all religion. What are
creeds for? What are services and sacraments for? What is theology for?
What is Christ's redeeming act for? All culminate in this true, constant
fellowship between men and God. And unless, in some measure, that result
is arrived at in our cases, our religion, let it be as orthodox as you
like, our faith in the redemption of Jesus Christ, let it be as real as
you will, our attendances on services and sacraments, let them be as
punctilious and regular as may be, are all 'sounding brass and tinkling
cymbal.' Get side by side with God; that is the purpose of all these,
and fellowship with Him is the climax of all religion.

It is also the secret of all blessedness, the only thing that will make
a life absolutely sovereign over sorrow, and fixedly unperturbed by all
tempests, and invulnerable to all 'the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune.' Hold fast by God, and you have an amulet against every evil,
and a shield against every foe, and a mighty power that will calm and
satisfy your whole being. Nothing else, nothing else will do so. As
Augustine said, 'O God! Thou hast made us for Thyself, and in Thyself
only are we at rest.' If the Shepherd is with us we will fear no evil.

II. Now, a word, in the next place, as to the sadly incomplete reality,
in much Christian experience, which contrasts with this possibility.

I am afraid that very, very few so-called Christian people habitually
feel, as they might do, the depth and blessedness of this communion. And
sure I am that only a very small percentage of us have anything like the
continuity of companionship which my text suggests as possible. There
may be, and therefore there should be, running unbroken through a
Christian life one long, bright line of communion with God and happy
inspiration from the sense of His presence with us. Is it a line in _my_
life, or is there but a dot here, and a dot there, and long breaks
between? The long, embarrassed pauses in a conversation between two who
do not know much of, or care much for, each other are only too like
what occurs in many professing Christians' intercourse with God. Their
communion is like those time-worn inscriptions that archæologists dig
up, with a word clearly cut and then a great gap, and then a letter or
two, and then another gap, and then a little bit more legible, and then
the stone broken, and all the rest gone. Did you ever read the
meteorological reports in the newspapers and observe a record like this,
'Twenty minutes' sunshine out of a possible eight hours'? Do you not
think that such a state of affairs is a little like the experience of a
great many Christian people in regard to their communion with God? It is
broken at the best, and imperfect at the completest, and shallow at the
deepest. O, dear brethren! rise to the height of your possibilities, and
live as close to God as He lets you live, and nothing will much trouble
you.

III. And now, lastly, a word about the simple explanation of the failure
to realise this continual presence.

'Can two walk together except they be agreed?' Certainly not. Our
fathers, in a sterner and more religious age than ours, used to be
greatly troubled how to account for a state of Christian experience
which they supposed to be due to God's withdrawing of the sense of His
presence from His children. Whether there is any such withdrawal or not,
I am quite certain that that is not the cause of the interrupted
communion between God and the average Christian man.

I make all allowance for the ups and downs and changing moods which
necessarily affect us in this present life, and I make all allowance,
too, for the pressure of imperative duties and distracting cares which
interfere with our communion, though, if we were as strong as we might
be, they would not wile us away from, but drive us to, our Father in
heaven. But when all such allowances have been made, I come back to my
text as _the_ explanation of interrupted communion. The two are _not_
agreed; and that is why they are not walking together. The consciousness
of God's presence with us is a very delicate thing. It is like a very
sensitive thermometer, which will drop when an iceberg is a league off
over the sea, and scarcely visible. We do not wish His company, or we
are not in harmony with His thoughts, or we are not going His road, and
therefore, of course, we part. At bottom there is only one thing that
separates a soul from God, and that is sin--sin of some sort, like tiny
grains of dust that get between two polished plates in an engine that
ought to move smoothly and closely against each other. The obstruction
may be invisible, and yet be powerful enough to cause friction, which
hinders the working of the engine and throws everything out of gear. A
light cloud that we cannot see may come between us and a star, and we
shall only know it is there, because the star is _not_ visibly there.
Similarly, many a Christian, quite unconsciously, has something or other
in his habits, or in his conduct, or in his affections, which would
reveal itself to him, if he would look, as being wrong, because it blots
out God.

Let us remember that very little divergence will, if the two paths are
prolonged far enough, part their other ends by a world. Our way may go
off from the ways of the Lord at a very acute angle. There may be
scarcely any consciousness of parting company at the beginning. Let the
man travel on upon it far enough, and the two will be so far apart that
he cannot see God or hear Him speak. Take care of the little divergences
which are habitual, for their accumulated results will be complete
separation. There must be absolute surrender if there is to be
uninterrupted fellowship.

Such, then, is the direction in which we are to look for the reasons for
our low and broken experiences of communion with God. Oh, dear friends!
when we do as we sometimes do, wake with a start, like a child that all
at once starts from sleep and finds that its mother is gone--when we
wake with a start to feel that we are alone, then do not let us be
afraid to go straight back. Only be sure that we leave behind us the sin
that parted us.

You remember how Peter signalised himself on the lake, on the occasion
of the second miraculous draught of fishes, when he floundered through
the water and clasped Christ's feet. He did not say then, 'Depart from
Me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!' He had said that before on a similar
occasion, when he felt his sin less, but now he knew that the best place
for the denier was with his head on Christ's bosom. So, if we have
parted from our Friend, there should be no time lost ere we go back. May
it be true of us that we walk with God, so that at last the great
promise may be fulfilled about us, 'that we shall walk with Him in
white,' being by His love accounted 'worthy,' and so 'follow' and keep
company with, 'the Lamb whithersoever He goeth!'


SMITTEN IN VAIN

     'Come to Beth-el, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression;
     and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after
     three years: 5. And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven,
     and proclaim and publish the free offerings; for this liketh you, O
     ye children of Israel, saith the Lord God. 6. And I also have given
     you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all
     your places; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord. 7.
     And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet
     three months to the harvest; and I caused it to rain upon one city,
     and caused it not to rain upon another city; one piece was rained
     upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. 8. So two or
     three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were
     not satisfied; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord. 9.
     I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens, and
     your vineyards, and your fig-trees, and your olive-trees increased,
     the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto Me,
     saith the Lord. 10. I have sent among you the pestilence, after the
     manner of Egypt; your young men have I slain with the sword, and
     have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your
     camps to come up unto your nostrils; yet have ye not returned unto
     Me, saith the Lord. 11. I have overthrown some of you, as God
     overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked
     out of the burning; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the
     Lord. 12. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel; and because
     I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. 13.
     For, lo, He that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and
     declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning
     darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The Lord,
     The God of hosts, is His name.'--AMOS iv. 4-13.

The reign of Jeroboam II. was one of brilliant military success and of
profound moral degradation. Amos was a simple, hardy shepherd from the
southern wilds of Judah, and his prophecies are redolent of his early
life, both in their homely imagery and in the wholesome indignation and
contempt for the silken-robed vice of Israel. No sterner picture of an
utterly rotten social state was ever drawn than this book gives of the
luxury, licentiousness, and oppressiveness of the ruling classes. This
passage deals rather with the religious declension underlying the moral
filth, and sets forth the self-willed idolatry of the people (vs. 4, 5),
their obstinate resistance to God's merciful chastisement (vs. 6-11),
and the heavier impending judgment (vs. 12, 13).

I. Indignant irony flashes in that permission or command to persevere in
the calf worship. The seeming command is the strongest prohibition.
There can be no worse thing befall a man than that he should be left to
go on forwardly in the way of his heart. The real meaning is
sufficiently emphasised by that second verb, 'and _transgress_'. 'Flock
to one temple after another, and heap altars with sacrifices which you
were never bid to offer, but understand that what you do is not worship,
but sin.' That is a smiting sentence to pass upon elaborate ceremonial.
The word literally means treason or rebellion, and by it Amos at one
blow shatters the whole fabric. Note, too, that the offering of tithes
was not called for by Mosaic law, 'every three days' (Revised Version),
and that the use of leaven in burnt offerings was prohibited by it, and
also that to call for freewill offerings was to turn spontaneousness
into something like compulsion, and to bring ostentation into worship.
All these characteristics spoiled the apparent religiousness, over and
above the initial evil of disobedience, and warrant Amos's crushing
equation, 'Your worship = rebellion.' All are driven home by the last
words of verse 5, 'So ye love it.' The reason for all this prodigal
ostentatious worship was to please themselves, not to obey God. That
tainted everything, and always does.

The lessons of this burst of sarcasm are plain. The subtle influence of
self creeps in even in worship, and makes it hollow, unreal, and
powerless to bless the worshipper. Obedience is better than costly
gifts. The beginning and end of all worship, which is not at same time
'transgression' is the submission of tastes, will, and the whole self.
Again, men will lavish gifts far more freely in apparent religious
service, which is but the worship of their reflected selves, than in
true service of God. Again, the purity of willing offerings is marred
when they are given in response to a loud call, or, when given, are
proclaimed with acclamations. Let us not suppose that all the brunt of
Amos's indignation fell only on these old devotees. The principles
involved in it have a sharp edge, turned to a great deal which is
allowed and fostered among ourselves.

II. The blaze of indignation changes in the second part of the passage
into wounded tenderness, as the Prophet speaks in the name of God, and
recounts the dreary monotony of failure attending all God's loving
attempts to arrest Israel's departure by the mercy of judgment. Mark the
sad cadence of the fivefold refrain, 'Ye have not returned unto Me,
saith the Lord.' The 'unto' implies reaching the object to which we
turn, and is not the less forcible but more usual word found in this
phrase, which simply means 'towards' and indicates direction, without
saying anything as to how far the return has gone. So there may have
been partial moments of bethinking themselves, when the chastisement was
on Israel; but there had been no thorough 'turning,' which had landed
them at the side of God. Many a man turns _towards_ God, who, for lack
of resolved perseverance, never so turns as to get _to_ God. The
repeated complaint of the inefficacy of chastisements has in it a tone
of sorrow and of wonder which does not belong only to the Prophet. If we
remember who it was who was 'grieved at the blindness of their heart,'
and who 'wondered at their unbelief' we shall not fear to recognise here
the attribution of the same emotions to the heart of God.

To Amos, famine, drought, blasting, locusts, pestilence, and probably
earthquake, were five messengers of God, and Amos was taught by God. If
we looked deeper, we should see more clearly. The true view of the
relation of all material things and events to God is this which the
herdsman of Tekoa proclaimed. These messengers were not 'miracles,' but
they were God's messengers all the same. Behind all phenomena stands a
personal will, and they are nearer the secret of the universe who see
God working in it all, than they who see all forces except the One which
is the only true force. 'I give cleanness of teeth. I have withholden
the rain. I have smitten. I have sent the pestilence. I have overthrown
some of you.' To the Prophet's eye the world is all aflame with a
present God. Let no scientific views, important and illuminating as
these may be, hide from us the deeper truth, which lies beyond their
region. The child who says 'God,' has got nearer the centre than the
scientist who says 'Force.'

But Amos had another principle, that God sent physical calamities
because of moral delinquencies and for moral and religious ends. These
disasters were meant to bring Israel back to God, and were at once
punishments and reformatory methods. No doubt the connection between sin
and material evils was closer under the Old Testament than now. But if
we may not argue as Amos did, in reference to such calamities as
drought, and failures of harvests, and the like, as these affect
communities, we may, at all events, affirm that, in the case of the
individual, he is a wise man who regards all outward evil as having a
possible bearing on his bettering spiritually. 'If a drought comes,
learn to look to your irrigation, and don't cut down your forests so
wantonly,' say the wise men nowadays; 'if pestilence breaks out, see to
your drainage.' By all means. These things, too, are God's commandments,
and we have no right to interpret the consequences of infraction of
physical laws as being meant to punish nations for their breach of moral
and religious ones. If we were prophets, we might, but not else. But
still, is God so poor that He can have but one purpose in a providence?
Every sorrow, of whatever sort, is meant to produce all the good effects
which it naturally tends to produce; and since every experience of pain
and loss and grief naturally tends to wean us from earth, and to drive
us to find in God what earth can never yield, all our sorrows are His
messengers to draw us back to Him. Amos' lesson as to the purpose of
trials is not antiquated.

But he has still another to teach us; namely, the awful power which we
have of resisting God's efforts to draw us back. 'Our wills are ours, we
know not how,' but alas! it is too often not 'to make them Thine.' This
is the true tragedy of the world that God calls, and we do refuse, even
as it is the deepest mystery of sinful manhood that God calls and we can
refuse. What infinite pathos and grieved love, thrown back upon itself,
is in that refrain, 'Ye have not returned unto Me!' How its recurrence
speaks of the long-suffering which multiplied means as others failed, and
of the divine charity, which 'suffered long, was not soon angry, and
hoped all things!' How vividly it gives the impression of the obstinacy
that to all effort opposed insensibility, and clung the more closely and
insanely to the idolatry which was its crime and its ruin! The very same
temper is deep in us all. Israel holds up the mirror in which we may see
ourselves. If blows do not break iron, they harden it. A wasted
sorrow--that is, a sorrow which does not drive us to God--leaves us less
impressible than it found us.

III. Again the mood changes, and the issue of protracted resistance is
prophesied (vs. 12, 13). 'Therefore' sums up the instances of refusal
to be warned, and presents them as the cause of the coming evil. The
higher the dam is piled, the deeper the water that is gathered behind
it, and the surer and more destructive the flood when it bursts.
Long-delayed judgments are severe in proportion as they are slow. Note
the awful vagueness of threatening in that emphatic 'thus,' as if the
Prophet had the event before his eyes. There is no need to specify, for
there can be but one result from such obstinacy. The 'terror of the
Lord' is more moving by reason of the dimness which wraps it. The
contact of divine power with human rebellion can only end in one way,
and that is too terrible for speech. Conscience can translate 'thus.'
The thunder-cloud is all the more dreadful for the vagueness of its
outline, where its livid hues melt into formless black. What bolts lurk
in its gloom?

The certainty of judgment is the basis of a call to repentance, which
may avert it. The meeting with God for which Israel is besought to
prepare, was, of course, not judgment after death, but the impending
destruction of the Northern Kingdom. But Amos's prophetic call is not
misapplied when directed to that final day of the Lord. Common-sense
teaches preparation for a certain future, and Amos's trumpet-note is
deepened and re-echoed by Jesus: 'Be ye ready also, for ... the Son of
man cometh.' Note, too, that Israel's peculiar relation to God is the
very ground of the certainty of its punishment, and of the appeal for
repentance. Just because He is 'thy God,' will He assuredly come to
judge, and you may assuredly prepare, by repentance, to meet Him. The
conditions of meeting the Judge, and being 'found of Him in peace,' are
that we should be 'without spot, and blameless'; and the conditions of
being so spotless and uncensurable are, what they were in Amos's day,
repentance and trust. Only we have Jesus as the brightness of the
Father's glory to trust in, and His all-sufficient work to trust to, for
pardon and purifying.

The magnificent proclamation of the name of the Lord which closes the
passage, is meant as at once a guarantee of His judgment and an
enforcement of the call to be ready to meet Him. He in creation forms
the solid, changeless mountains and the viewless, passing wind. The most
stable and the most mobile are His work. He reads men's hearts, and can
tell them their thoughts afar off. He is the Author of all changes, both
in the physical and the moral world, bringing the daily wonder of
sunrise and the nightly shroud of darkness, and with like alternation
blending joy and sorrow in men's lives. He treads 'on the high places of
the earth,' making all created elevations the path of His feet, and
crushing down whatever exalts itself. Thus, in creation almighty, in
knowledge omniscient, in providence changing all things and Himself the
same, subjugating all, and levelling a path for His purposes across
every opposition, He manifests His name, as the living, eternal Jehovah,
the God of the Covenant, and therefore of judgment on its breakers, and
as the Commander and God of the embattled forces of the universe. Is
this a God whose coming to judge is to be lightly dealt with? Is not
this a God whom it is wise for us to be ready to meet?


THE SINS OF SOCIETY

     'For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye Me, and
     ye shall live: 5. But seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, and
     pass not to Beer-sheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity,
     and Beth-el shall come to nought. 6. Seek the Lord, and ye shall
     live; lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and
     devour it, and there be none to quench it in Beth-el. 7. Ye who
     turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the
     earth, 8. Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and
     turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day
     dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and
     poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The Lord is His name:
     9. That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the
     spoiled shall come against the fortress. 10. They hate him that
     rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.
     11. Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye
     take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone,
     but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards,
     but ye shall not drink wine of them. 12. For I know your manifold
     transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they
     take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their
     right 13. Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time;
     for it is an evil time. 14. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may
     live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye
     have spoken. 15. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish
     judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be
     gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.'--AMOS v. 4-15.

The reign of Jeroboam II, in which Amos prophesied, was a period of
great prosperity and of great corruption. Amos, born in the Southern
Kingdom, and accustomed to the simple life of a shepherd, blazed up in
indignation at the signs of misused wealth and selfish luxury that he
saw everywhere, in what was to him almost a foreign country. If one
fancies a godly Scottish Highlander sent to the West end of London, or a
Bible-reading New England farmer's man sent to New York's 'upper ten,'
one will have some notion of this prophet, the impressions made, and the
task laid on him. He has a message to our state of society which, in
many particulars, resembles that which he had to rebuke.

There seems to be a slight dislocation in the order of the verses of the
passage, for verse 7 comes in awkwardly, breaking the connection between
verses 6 and 8, and itself cut off from verse 10, to which it belongs.
If we remove the intruding verse to a position after verse 9, the whole
passage is orderly and falls into three coherent parts: an exhortation
to seek Jehovah, enforced by various considerations (vs. 4-9); a
vehement denunciation of social vices (vs. 7, 10-13); and a renewed
exhortation to seek God by doing right to man (vs. 14, 15).

Amos's first call to Israel is but the echo of God's to men, always and
everywhere. All circumstances, all inward experiences, joy and sorrow,
prosperity and disaster, our longings and our fears, they all cry aloud
to us to seek His face. That loving invitation is ever sounding in our
ears. And the promise which Amos gave, though it may have meant on his
lips the continuance of national life only, yet had, even on his lips, a
deeper meaning, which we now cannot but hear in it. For, just as to
'seek the Lord' means more to us than it did to Israel, so the
consequent life has greatened, widened, deepened into life eternal. But
Amos's narrower, more external promise is true still, and there is no
surer way of promoting true well-being than seeking God. 'With Thee is
the fountain of life,' in all senses of the word, from the lowest purely
physical to the highest, and it is only they who go thither to draw that
will carry away their pitchers full of the sparkling blessing. The
fundamental principle of Amos's teaching is an eternal truth, that to
seek God is to find Him, and to find Him is life.

But Amos further teaches us that such seeking is not real nor able to
find, unless it is accompanied with turning away from all sinful quests
after vanities. We must give up seeking Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba,
seats of the calf worship, if we are to seek God to purpose. The sin of
the Northern Kingdom was that it wanted to worship Jehovah under the
symbol of the calves, thus trying to unite two discrepant things. And is
not a great deal of our Christianity of much the same quality? Too many
of us are doing just what Elijah told the crowds on Carmel that they
were doing, trying to 'shuffle along on both knees.' We would seek God,
but we would like to have an occasional visit to Bethel. It cannot be
done. There must be detachment, if there is to be any real attachment.
And the certain transiency of all creatural objects is a good reason for
not fastening ourselves to them, lest we should share their fate.
'Gilgal shall go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought,'
therefore let us join ourselves to the Eternal Love and we shall abide,
as it abides, for ever.

The exhortation is next enforced by presenting the consequences of
neglecting it. To seek Him is life, not to seek Him incurs the danger of
finding Him in unwelcome ways. That is for ever true. We do not get away
from God by forgetting Him, but we run the risk of finding in Him, not
the fire which vitalises, purifies, melts, and gladdens, but that which
consumes. The fire is one, but its effects are twofold. God is for us
either that fire into which it is blessedness to be baptized, or that by
which it is death to be burned up. And what can Bethel, or calves, or
all the world do to quench it or pluck us out of it?

Once more the exhortation is urged, if we link verse 8 with verse 6, and
supply 'Seek ye' at its beginning. Here the enforcement is drawn from
the considerations of God's workings in nature and history. The shepherd
from Tekoa had often gazed up at the silent splendours of the Pleiades
and Orion, as he kept watch over his flocks by night, and had seen the
thick darkness on the wide uplands thinning away as the morning stole op
over the mountains across the Dead Sea, and the day dying as he gathered
his sheep together. He had cowered under the torrential rains which
swept across his exposed homeland, and had heard God's voice summoning
the obedient waters of the sea, that He might pour them down in rain.
But the moral government of the world also calls on men to seek Jehovah.
'He causeth destruction to flash forth on the strong, so that
destruction cometh upon the fortress.' High things attract the
lightning. Godless strength is sure, sooner or later, to be smitten
down, and no fortress is so impregnable that He cannot capture and
overthrow it. Surely wisdom bids us seek Him that does all these
wonders, and make Him our defence and our high tower.

The second part gives a vivid picture of the vices characteristic of a
prosperous state of society which is godless, and therefore selfishly
luxurious. First, civil justice is corrupted, turned into bitterness,
and prostrated to the ground. Then bold denouncers of national sins are
violently hated. Do we not know that phase of an ungodly and rich
society? What do the newspapers say about Christians who try to be
social reformers? Are the epithets flung at them liker bouquets or
rotten eggs? 'Fanatics and faddists' are the mildest of them. Then the
poor are trodden down and have to give large parts of their scanty
harvests to the rich. Have capital and labour just proportions of their
joint earnings? Would a sermon on verse 11 be welcome in the suburbs of
industrial centres, where the employers have their 'houses of hewn
stone'? Such houses, side by side with the poor men's huts, struck the
eye of the shepherd from Tekoa as the height of sinful luxury, and still
more sinful disproportion in the social condition of the two classes.
What would he have said if he had lived in England or America? Justice,
too, was bought and sold. A murderer could buy himself off, while the
poor man, who could not pay, lost his case. We do not bribe juries, but
(legal) justice is an expensive luxury still, and counsel's fees put it
out of the reach of poor men.

One of the worst features of such a state of society as Amos saw is that
men are afraid to speak out in condemnation of it, and the ill weeds
grow apace for want of a scythe. Amos puts a certain sad emphasis on
'prudent,' as if he was feeling how little he could be called so, and
yet there is a touch of scorn in him too. The man who is over-careful of
his skin or his reputation will hold his tongue; even good men may
become so accustomed to the glaring corruptions of society in the midst
of which they have always lived, that they do not feel any call to
rebuke or wage war against them; but the brave man, the man who takes
his ideals from Christ, and judges society by its conformity with
Christ's standard, will not keep silence, and the more he feels that 'It
is an evil time' the more will he feel that he cannot but speak out,
whatever comes of his protest. What masquerades as prudence is very
often sinful cowardice, and such silence is treason against Christ.

The third part repeats the exhortation to 'seek,' with a notable
difference. It is now 'good' that is to be sought, and 'evil' that is to
be turned from. These correspond respectively to 'Jehovah,' and 'Bethel,
Gilgal, and Beersheba,' in former verses. That is to say, morality is
the garb of religion, and religion is the only true source of morality.
If we are not seeking the things that are lovely and of good report, our
professions of seeking God are false; and we shall never earnestly and
successfully seek good and hate evil unless we have begun by seeking and
finding God, and holding Him in our heart of hearts. Modern social
reformers, who fancy that they can sweeten society without religion,
might do worse than go to school to Amos.

Notable, too, is the lowered tone of confidence in the beneficial result
of obeying the Prophet's call. In the earlier exhortation the promise
had been absolute. 'Seek ye Me, and ye _shall_ live'; now it has cooled
to 'it may be.' Is Amos faltering? No; but while it is always true that
blessed life is found by the seeker after God, because He finds the very
source of life, it is not always true that the consequences of past
turnings from Him are diverted by repentance. 'It may be' that these
have to be endured, but even they become tokens of Jehovah's
graciousness, and the purified 'remnant of Joseph' will possess the true
life more abundantly because they have been exercised thereby.


THE CARCASS AND THE EAGLES

     'Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of
     Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of
     Israel came! 2. Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye
     to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be
     they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your
     border? 3. Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of
     violence to come near; 4. That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch
     themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock,
     and the calves out of the midst of the stall; 5. That chant to the
     sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick,
     like David; 6. That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with
     the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of
     Joseph. 7. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that
     go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall
     be removed. 8. The Lord God hath sworn by Himself, saith the Lord
     the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his
     palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is
     therein.'--AMOS vi. 1-8.

Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam, the son of Joash.
Jeroboam's reign was a time of great prosperity for Israel. Moab,
Gilead, and part of Syria were reconquered, and the usual effects of
conquest, increased luxury and vainglory, followed. Amos was not an
Israelite born, for he came from Tekoa, away down south, in the wild
country west of the Dead Sea, where he had been a simple herdsman till
the divine call sent him into the midst of the corrupt civilisation of
the Northern Kingdom. The first words of his prophecy give its whole
spirit: 'The Lord will roar from Zion.' The word rendered 'roar' is the
term specially used for the terrible cry with which a lion leaps on its
surprised prey (Amos iii. 4, 8). It is from Zion, the seat of God's
Temple, that the 'roar' proceeds, and Amos's prophecy is but the echo of
it in Israel.

The prophecy of judgment in this passage is directed against the sins of
the upper classes in Samaria. They are described in verse 1 as the
'notable men ... to whom the house of Israel come,' which, in modern
language, is just 'conspicuous citizens,' who set the fashion, and are
looked to as authorities and leaders, whether in political or commercial
or social life. The word by which they are designated is used in Numbers
i. 17: 'Which are _expressed_ by name.' The word 'carried back the
thoughts of the degenerate aristocracy of Israel to the faith and zeal
of their forefathers' (Pusey, _Minor Prophets_, on this verse). Israel,
Amos calls 'The first of the nations.' It is singular that such a title
should be given to the nation against whose corruption his one business
is to testify, but probably there is keen irony in the word. It takes
Israel at its own estimate, and then goes on to show how rotten, and
therefore short-lived, was the prosperity which had swollen national
pride to such a pitch. The chiefs of the foremost nation in the world
should surely be something better than the heartless debauchees whom the
Prophet proceeds to paint. Anglo-Saxons on both sides of the Atlantic,
who are by no means deficient in this same complacent estimate of their
own superiority to all other peoples, may take note. The same thought is
prominent in the description of these notables as 'at ease.' They are
living in a fool's paradise, shutting their eyes to the thunder-clouds
that begin to rise slowly above the horizon, and keeping each other in
countenance in laughing at Amos and his gloomy forecasts. They 'trusted
in the mountain of Samaria,' which, they thought, made the city
impregnable to assault. No doubt they thought that the Prophet's talk
about doing right and trusting in Jehovah was very fanatical and
unpractical, just as many in England and America think that their
nations are exalted, not by righteousness, but by armies, navies, and
dollars or sovereigns.

Verse 2 is very obscure to us from our ignorance of the facts underlying
its allusions. In fact, it has been explained in exactly opposite ways,
being taken by some to enumerate three instances of prosperous
communities, which yet are not more prosperous than Israel, and by
others to enumerate three instances of God's judgments falling on places
which, though strong, had been conquered. In the former explanation,
God's favour to Israel is made the ground of an implied appeal to their
gratitude; in the latter, His judgments on other nations are made the
ground of an appeal to their fear, lest like destruction should fall on
them.

But the main points of the passage are the photograph of the crimes
which are bringing the judgment of God, and the solemn divine oath to
inflict the judgment. The crimes rebuked are not the false worship of
the calves, though in other parts of his prophecy Amos lashes that with
terrible invectives, nor foul breaches of morality, though these were
not wanting in Israel, but the vices peculiar to selfish, luxurious
upper classes in all times and countries, who forget the obligations of
wealth, and think only of its possibilities of self-indulgence. French
_noblesse_ before the Revolution, and English peers and commercial
magnates, and American millionaires, would yield examples of the same
sin. The hardy shepherd from Tekoa had learned 'plain living and high
thinking' before he was a prophet, and would look with wondering and
disgusted eyes at the wicked waste which he saw in Samaria. He begins
with scourging the reckless security already referred to. These notables
in Israel were 'at ease' because they 'put far away the evil day,' by
refusing to believe that it was at hand, and paying no heed to prophets'
warnings, as their fellows do still and always, and as we all are
tempted to do. They who see and declare the certain end of national or
personal sins are usually jeered at as pessimists, fanatics, alarmists,
bad patriots, or personal ill-wishers, and the men whom they try to warn
fancy that they hinder the coming of a day of retribution by
disbelieving in its coming. Incredulity is no lightning-conductor to
keep off the flash, and, listened to or not, the low growls of the
thunder are coming nearer.

With one hand these sinners tried to push away the evil day, while with
the other they drew near to themselves that which made its coming
certain--'the seat of violence,' or, rather, 'the sitting,' or
'session.' Violence, or wrongdoing, is enthroned by them, and where men
enthrone iniquity, God's day of vengeance is not far off.

Then follows a graphic picture of the senseless, corrupting luxury of
the Samaritan magnates, on which the Tekoan shepherd pours his scorn,
but which is simplicity itself, and almost asceticism, before what he
would see if he came to London or New York. To him it seemed effeminate
to loll on a divan at meals, and possibly it was a custom imported from
abroad. It is noted that 'the older custom in Israel was to sit while
eating.' The woodwork of the divans, inlaid with ivory, had caught his
eye in some of his peeps into the great houses, and he inveighs against
them very much as one of the Pilgrim Fathers might do if he could see
the furniture in the drawing-rooms of some of his descendants. There is
no harm in pretty things, but the æsthetic craze does sometimes indicate
and increase selfish heartlessness as to the poverty and misery, which
have not only no ivory on their divans, but no divans at all. Thus
stretched in unmanly indolence on their cushions, they feast on
delicacies. 'Lambs out of the flock' and 'calves out of the stall' seem
to mean animals too young to be used as food. These gourmands, like
their successors, prided themselves on having dainties out of season,
because they were more costly then. And their feasts had the adornment
of music, which the shepherd, who knew only the pastoral pipe that
gathered his sheep, refers to with contempt. He uses a very rare word of
uncertain meaning, which is probably best rendered in some such way as
the Revised Version does: 'They sing idle songs.' To him their
elaborate performances seemed like empty babble. Worse than that, they
'devise musical instruments like David.' But how unlike him in the use
they make of art! What a descent from the praises of God to the 'idle
songs' fit for the hot dining-halls and the guests there! Amos was
indignant at the profanation of art, and thought it best used in the
service of God. What would he have said if he had been 'fastened into a
front-row box' and treated to a modern opera?

The revellers 'drink wine in bowls' by which larger vessels than
generally employed are intended. They drank to excess, or as we might
say, by bucketfuls. So the dainty feast, with its artistic refinement
and music, ends at last in a brutal carouse, and the heads anointed with
the most costly unguents drop in drunken slumber. A similar picture of
Samaritan manners is drawn by Isaiah (chap. xxviii.), and obviously
drunkenness was one of the besetting sins of the capital.

But the darkest hue in the dark picture has yet to be added: 'They are
not grieved for the affliction (literally, the 'breach' or 'wound') of
Joseph.' The tribe of Ephraim, Joseph's son, being the principal tribe
of the Northern Kingdom, Joseph is often employed as a synonym for
Israel. All these pieces of luxury, corrupting and effeminate as they
are, might be permitted, but heartless indifference to the miseries
groaning at the door of the banqueting-hall goes with them. 'The
classes' are indifferent to the condition of 'the masses.' Put Amos into
modern English, and he is denouncing the heartlessness of wealth,
refinement, art, and culture, which has no ear for the complaining of
the poor, and no eyes to see either the sorrows and sins around it, or
the lowering cloud that is ready to burst in tempest.

The inevitable issue is certain, because of the very nature of God. It
is outlined with keen irony. Amos sees in imagination the long
procession of sad captives, and marching in the front ranks, the
self-indulgent Sybarites, whose pre-eminence is now only the melancholy
prerogative of going first in the fettered train. What has become of
their revelry? It is gone, like the imaginary banquets of dreams, and
instead of luxurious lolling on silken couches, there is the weary tramp
of the captive exiles. Such result must be, since God is what He is. He
has sworn 'by Himself'; His being and character are the pledge that it
will be so as Amos has declared. How can such a God as He is do
otherwise than hate the pride of such a selfish, heartless,
God-forgetting aristocracy? How can He do otherwise than deliver up the
city? God has not changed, and though His mills grind slowly, they do
grind still; and it is as true for England and America, as it was for
Samaria, that a wealthy and leisurely upper class, which cares only for
material luxury glossed over by art, which has condescended to be its
servant, is bringing near the evil day which it hugs itself into
believing will never come.


RIPE FOR GATHERING

     'Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and behold a basket of
     summer fruit. 2. And He said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A
     basket of summer fruit. Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come
     upon My people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.
     3. And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith
     the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they
     shall cast them forth with silence. 4. Hear this, O ye that swallow
     up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail. 5. Saying,
     When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the
     sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and
     the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? 6. That
     we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes;
     yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat? 7. The Lord hath sworn by
     the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their
     works. 8. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn
     that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and
     it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt. 9. And
     it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will
     cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in
     the clear day: 10. And I w ill turn your feasts into mourning, and
     all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon
     all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the
     mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day. 11.
     Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a
     famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
     but of hearing the words of the Lord: 12. And they shall wander
     from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall
     run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
     13. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for
     thirst. 14. They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy
     God, O Dan, liveth: and, The manner of Beer-sheba liveth; even they
     shall fall, and never rise up again.'--AMOS viii. 1-14.

There are three visions in the former chapter, each beginning as verse
1. This one is therefore intended to be taken as the continuation of
these, and it is in substance a repetition of the third, only with more
detail and emphasis. An insolent attempt, by the priest of Beth-el, to
silence the Prophet, and the fiery answer which he got for his pains,
come between. The stream of Amos's prophecy flows on, uninterrupted by
the boulder which had tried to dam it up. Some courage was needed to
treat Amaziah and his blasphemous bluster as a mere parenthesis.

We have first to note the vision and its interpretation. It is such as a
countryman, 'a dresser of sycamore trees' would naturally have.
Experience supplies forms and material for the imagination, and moulds
into which God-given revelations run. The point of the vision is rather
obscured by the rendering 'summer fruit.' 'Ripe fruit' would be better,
since the emblem represents the Northern Kingdom as ripe for the
dreadful ingathering of judgment. The word for this (_qayits_) and that
for 'the end' (_qets_) are alike in sound, but the play of words cannot
be reproduced, except by some clumsy device, such as 'the end ripens' or
'the time of ripeness comes.' The figure is frequent in other prophecies
of judgment, as, for instance, in Revelation xiv. 14-20.

Observe the repetition, from the preceding vision, of 'I will not pass
by them any more.' The first two visions had threatened judgments, which
had been averted by the Prophet's intercession; but the third, and now
the fourth, declare that the time for prolonged impunity is passed. Just
as the mellow ripeness of the fruit fixes the time of gathering it, so
there comes a stage in national and individual corruption, when there is
nothing to be done but to smite. That period is not reached because God
changes, but because men get deeper in sin. Because 'the harvest is
ripe,' the long-delayed command, 'Put in thy sickle' is given to the
angel of judgment, and the clusters of those black grapes, whose juice
in the wine-press of the wrath of God is blood, are cut down and cast
in. It is a solemn lesson, applying to each soul as well as to
communities. By neglect of God's voice, and persistence in our own evil
ways, we can make ourselves such that we are ripe for judgment, and can
compel long-suffering to strike. Which are we ripening for--the harvest
when the wheat shall be gathered into Christ's barns, or that when the
tares shall be bound in bundles for burning?

The tragedy of that fruit-gathering is described with extraordinary
grimness and force in the abrupt language of verse 3. The merry songs
sung in the palace (this rendering seems more appropriate here than
'temple') will be broken off, and the singers' voices will quaver into
shrill shrieks, so suddenly will the judgment be. Then comes a picture
as abrupt in its condensed terribleness as anything in Tacitus--'Many
the corpses; everywhere they fling them; hush!' We see the ghastly
masses of dead ('corpse' is in the singular, as if a collective noun),
so numerous that no burial-places could hold them; and no ceremonial
attended them, but they were rudely flung anywhere by anybody (no
nominative is given), with no accustomed voice of mourning, but in
gloomy silence. It is like Defoe's picture of the dead-cart in the
plague of London. Such is ever the end of departing from God--songs
palsied into silence or turned into wailing when the judgment bursts;
death stalking supreme, and silence brooding over all.

The crimes that ripened men for this terrible harvest are next set
forth, in part, in verses 4 to 6. These verses partly coincide verbally
with the previous indictment in Amos ii. 6, etc., which, however, is
more comprehensive. Here only one form of sin is dealt with. And what
was the sin that deserved the bad eminence of being thus selected as the
chief sign that Israel was ripe and rotten? Precisely the one which gets
most indulgence in the Christian Church; namely, eagerness to be rich,
and sharp, unkindly dealing. These men, who were only fit to be swept
out of the land, were most punctual in their religious duties. They
would not on any account do business either on a festival or on Sabbath,
but they were very impatient till--shall we say? Monday morning
came--that they might get to their beloved work again.

Their lineal descendants are no strangers on the exchanges, or in the
churches of London or New York. They were not only outwardly scrupulous
and inwardly weary of religious observances, but when they did get to
'business,' they gave short measure and took a long price, and knew how
to turn the scales always in their own favour. It was the expedient of
rude beginners in the sacred art of getting the best of a bargain, to
put a false bottom in the _ephah_, and to stick a piece of lead below
the shekel weight, which the purchaser had to make go up in the scale
with his silver. There are much neater ways of doing the same thing now;
and no doubt some very estimable gentlemen in high repute as Christians,
who give respectability to any church or denomination, could have taught
these early practitioners a lesson or two.

They were as cruel as they were greedy. They bought their brethren as
slaves, and if a poor man had run into their debt for even a pair of
shoes, they would sell him up in a very literal sense. Avarice,
unbridled by the fear of God, leads by a short cut to harshness and
disregard of the claims of others. There are more ways of buying the
needy for a pair of shoes than these people practised.

The last touch in the picture is meanness, which turned everything into
money. Even what fell through the sieve when wheat was winnowed, which
ought to have been given to anybody, was carefully scraped up, and,
dirty as it was, sold. Is not 'nothing for nothing' an approved maxim
to-day? Are not people held up as shining lights of commerce, who have
the faculty of turning everything into saleable articles? Some serious
reflections ought to be driven home to us who live in great commercial
communities, and are in manifold ways tempted to 'learn their ways, and
so get a snare unto our souls,' by this gibbeting of tempers and
customs, very common among ourselves, as the very head and front of the
sin of Israel, which determined its ripeness for destruction.

The catalogue of sins is left incomplete (compare with chapter ii.), as
if holy indignation turned for relief to the thought of the certain
judgment. That certainly is strongly affirmed by the representation of
the oath of Jehovah. 'He can swear by no other,' therefore He 'swears by
Himself'; and the 'excellency of Jacob' cannot with propriety mean
anything else than Him who is, or ought to be, the sole ground of
confidence and occasion of 'boasting' to the nation (Hos. v. 5). He
gives His own being as the guarantee that judgment shall fall. As surely
as God is God, injustice and avarice will ruin a nation. We talk now
about necessary consequences and natural laws rendering penalties
inevitable. The Bible suggests a deeper foundation for their certain
incidence--even the very nature of God Himself. As long as He is what He
is, covetousness and its child, harshness to the needy, will be sin
against Him, and be avenged sooner or later. God has a long and a wide
memory, and the sins which He 'remembers' are those which He has not
forgiven, and will punish.

Amos heaps image on image to deepen the impression of terror and
confusion. Everything is turned to its opposite. The solid land reels,
rises, and falls, like the Nile in flood (see Revised Version). The sun
sets at midday, and noon is darkness. Feasts change to mourning, songs
to lamentations. Rich garments are put aside for sackcloth, and flowing
locks drop off and leave bald heads. These are evidently all figures
vividly piled together to express the same thought. The crash that
destroyed their national prosperity and existence would shake the most
solid things and darken the brightest. It would come suddenly, as if the
sun plunged from the zenith to the west. It would make joy a stranger,
and bring grief as bitter as when a father or a mother mourns the death
of an only son. Besides all this, something darker beyond is dimly
hinted in that awful, vague, final threat, 'The end thereof as a bitter
day.'

Now all these threats were fulfilled in the fall of the kingdom of
Israel; but that 'day of the Lord' was in principle a miniature
foreshadowing of the great final judgment. Some of the very features of
the description here are repeated with reference to it in the New
Testament. We cannot treat such prophecies as this as if they were
exhausted by their historical fulfilment. They disclose the eternal
course of divine judgment, which is to culminate in a future day of
judgment. The oath of God is not yet completely fulfilled. Assuredly as
He lives and is God, so surely will modern sinners have to stand their
trial; and, as of old, the chase after riches will bring down crashing
ruin. We need that vision of judgment as much as Samaria did when Amos
saw the basket of ripe fruit, craving, as it were, to be plucked. So do
obstinate sinners invite destruction.

The last section specifies one feature of judgment, the deprivation of
the despised word of the Lord (vs. 11-14). Like Saul, whose piteous wail
in the witch's hovel was, 'God ... answereth me no more,' they who paid
no heed to the word of the Lord shall one day seek far and wearily for a
prophet, and seek in vain. The word rendered 'wander,' which is used in
the other description of people seeking for water in a literal drought
(iv. 8), means 'reel,' and gives the picture of men faint and dizzy with
thirst, yet staggering on in vain quest for a spring. They seek
everywhere, from the Dead Sea on the east to the Mediterranean on the
west, and then up to the north, and so round again to the
starting-point. Is it because Judah was south that that quarter is not
visited? Perhaps, if they had gone where the Temple was, they would have
found the stream from under its threshold, which a later prophet saw
going forth to heal the marshes and dry places. Why was the search vain?
Has not God promised to be found of those that seek, however far they
have gone away? The last verse tells why. They still were idolaters,
swearing by the 'sin of Samaria,' which is the calf of Beth-el, and by
the other at Dan, and going on idolatrous pilgrimages to Beer-sheba, far
away in the south, across the whole kingdom of Judah (Amos v. 5). It was
vain to seek for the word of the Lord with such doings and worship.

The truth implied is universal in its application. God's message
neglected is withdrawn. Conscience stops if continually unheeded. The
Gospel may still sound in a man's ears, but have long ceased to reach
farther. There comes a time when men shall wish wasted opportunities
back, and find that they can no more return than last summer's heat.
There may be a wish for the prophet in time of distress, which means no
real desire for God's word, but only for relief from calamity. There may
be a sort of seeking for the word, which seeks in the wrong places and
in the wrong ways, and without abandoning sins. Such quest is vain. But
if, driven by need and sorrow, a poor soul, feeling the thirst after the
living God, cries from ever so distant a land of bondage, the cry will
be answered. But let us not forget that our Lord has told us to take
heed how we hear, on the very ground that 'to him that hath shall be
given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken
away.'

        *        *        *        *        *


JONAH


GUILTY SILENCE AND ITS REWARD

     Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai,
     saying, 2. Arise, go to Nineveh, that great, city, and cry against
     it; for their wickedness is come up before Me. 3. But Jonah rose
     up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went
     down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid
     the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto
     Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. 4. But the Lord sent out a
     great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea,
     so that the ship was like to be broken. 5. Then the mariners were
     afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares
     that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But
     Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was
     fast asleep. 6. So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him,
     What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be
     that God will think upon us, that we perish not. 7. And they said
     every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may
     know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and
     the lot fell upon Jonah. 8. Then said they unto him, Tell us, we
     pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine
     occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of
     what people art thou? 9. And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and
     I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the
     dry land. 10. Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto
     him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from
     the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11. Then said
     they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm
     unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12. And he said
     unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the
     sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great
     tempest is upon you. 13. Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring
     it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was
     tempestuous against them. 14. Wherefore they cried unto the Lord,
     and said, We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not
     perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for
     Thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased Thee. 15. So they took up
     Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea; and the sea ceased from her
     raging. 16. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a
     sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows. 17. Now the Lord had
     prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the
     belly of the fish three days and three nights.'--JONAH i. 1-17.

Jonah was apparently an older contemporary of Hosea and Amos. The
Assyrian power was looming threateningly on the northern horizon, and a
flash or two had already broken from that cloud. No doubt terror had
wrought hate and intenser narrowness. To correct these by teaching, by
an instance drawn from Assyria itself, God's care for the Gentiles and
their susceptibility to His voice, was the purpose of Jonah's mission.
He is a prophet of Israel, because the lesson of his history was for
them, though his message was for Nineveh. He first taught by example the
truth which Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue of Nazareth, and Peter
learned on the housetop at Joppa, and Paul took as his guiding star. A
truth so unwelcome and remote from popular belief needed emphasis when
first proclaimed; and this singular story, as it were, underlines it for
the generation which heard it first. Its place would rather have been
among the narratives than the prophets, except for this aspect of it. So
regarded, Jonah becomes a kind of representative of Israel; and his
history sets forth large lessons as to its function among the nations,
its unwillingness to discharge it, the consequences of disobedience, and
the means of return to a better mind.

Note then, first, the Prophet's unwelcome charge. There seems no
sufficient reason for doubting the historical reality of Jonah's mission
to Nineveh; for we know that intercourse was not infrequent, and the
silence of other records is, in their fragmentary condition, nothing
wonderful. But the fact that a prophet of Israel was sent to a heathen
city, and that not to denounce destruction except as a means of winning
to repentance, declared emphatically God's care for the world, and
rebuked the exclusiveness which claimed Him for Israel alone. The same
spirit haunts the Christian Church, and we have all need to ponder the
opposite truth, till our sympathies are widened to the width of God's
universal love, and we discern that we are bound to care for all men,
since He does so.

Jonah sullenly resolved not to obey God's voice. What a glimpse into the
prophetic office that gives us! The divine Spirit could be resisted, and
the Prophet was no mere machine, but a living man who had to consent
with his devoted will to bear the burden of the Lord. One refused, and
his refusal teaches us how superb and self-sacrificing was the
faithfulness of the rest. So we have each to do in regard to God's
message intrusted to us. We must bow our wills, and sink our prejudices,
and sacrifice our tastes, and say, 'Here am I; send me.'

Jonah represents the national feelings which he shared. Why did he
refuse to go to Nineveh? Not because he was afraid of his life, or
thought the task hopeless. He refused because he feared success. God's
goodness was being stretched rather too far, if it was going to take in
Nineveh. Jonah did not want it to escape. If he had been sent to destroy
it, he would probably have gone gladly. He grudged that heathen should
share Israel's privileges, and probably thought that gain to Nineveh
would be loss to Israel. It was exactly the spirit of the prodigal's
elder brother. There was also working in him the concern for his own
reputation, which would be damaged if the threats he uttered turned out
to be thunder without lightning, by reason of the repentance of Nineveh.

Israel was set among the nations, not as a dark lantern, but as the
great lampstand in the Temple court proclaimed, to ray out light to all
the world. Jonah's mission was but a concrete instance of Israel's
charge. The nation was as reluctant to fulfil the reason of its
existence as the Prophet was. Both begrudged sharing privileges with
heathen dogs, both thought God's care wasted, and neither had such
feelings towards the rest of the world as to be willing to be messengers
of forgiveness to them. All sorts of religious exclusiveness,
contemptuous estimates of other nations, and that bastard patriotism
which would keep national blessings for our own country alone, are
condemned by this story. In it dawns the first faint light of that sun
which shone at its full when Jesus healed the Canaanite's daughter, or
when He said, 'Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold.'

Note, next, the fatal consequences of refusal to obey the God-given
charge. We need not suppose that Jonah thought that he could actually
get away from God's presence. Possibly he believed in a special presence
of God in the land of Israel, or, more probably, the phrase means to
escape from service. At any rate, he determined to do his flight
thoroughly. Tarshish was, to a Hebrew, at the other end of the world
from Nineveh. The Jews were no sailors, and the choice of the sea as
means of escape indicates the obstinacy of determination in Jonah.

The storm is described with a profusion of unusual words, all apparently
technical terms, picked up on board, just as Luke, in the only other
account of a storm in Scripture, has done. What a difference between the
two voyages! In the one, the unfaithful prophet is the cause of
disaster, and the only sluggard in the ship. In the other, the Apostle,
who has hazarded his life to proclaim his Lord, is the source of hope,
courage, vigour, and safety. Such are the consequences of silence and of
brave speech for God. No wonder that the fugitive Prophet slunk down
into some dark corner, and sat bitterly brooding there, self-accused
and condemned, till weariness and the relief of the tension of his
journey lulled him to sleep. It was a stupid and heavy sleep. Alas for
those whose only refuge from conscience is oblivion!

Over against this picture of the insensible Prophet, all unaware of the
storm (which may suggest the parallel insensibility of Israel to the
impending divine judgments), is set the behaviour of the heathen
sailors, or 'salts,' as the story calls them. Their conduct is part of
the lesson of the book; for, heathen as they are, they have yet a sense
of dependence, and they pray; they are full of courage, battling with
the storm, jettisoning the cargo, and doing everything possible to save
the ship. Their treatment of Jonah is generous and chivalrous. Even when
they hear his crime, and know that the storm is howling like a wild
beast for him, they are unwilling to throw him overboard without one
more effort; and when at last they do it, their prayer is for
forgiveness, inasmuch as they are but carrying out the will of Jehovah.
They are so much touched by the whole incident that they offer
sacrifices to the God of the Hebrews, and are, in some sense, and
possibly but for a time, worshippers of Him.

All this holds the mirror up to Israel, by showing how much of human
kindness and generosity, and how much of susceptibility for the truth
which Israel had to declare, lay in rude hearts beyond its pale. This
crew of heathen of various nationalities and religions were yet men who
could be kind to a renegade Prophet, peril their lives to save his, and
worship Jehovah. 'I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel,'
is the same lesson in another form. We may find abundant opportunities
for learning it; for the characters of godless men, and of some among
the heathen, may well shame many a Christian.

Jonah's conduct in the storm is no less noble than his former conduct
had been base. The burst of the tempest blew away all the fog from his
mind, and he saw the stars again. His confession of faith; his calm
conviction that he was the cause of the storm; his quiet, unhesitating
command to throw him into the wild chaos foaming about the ship; his
willing acceptance of death as the wages of his sin, all tell how true a
saint he was in the depth of his soul. Sorrow and chastisement turn up
the subsoil. If a man has any good in him, it generally comes to the top
when he is afflicted and looks death in the face. If there is nothing
but gravel beneath, it too will be brought up by the plough. There may
be much selfish unfaithfulness overlying a real devoted heart.

Jonah represented Israel here too, both in that the consequence of the
national unfaithfulness and greedy, exclusive grasp of their privileges
would lead to their being cast into the roaring waves of the sea of
nations, amid the tumult of the peoples, and in that, for them as for
him, the calamity would bring about a better mind, the confession of
their faith, and acknowledgment of their sin. The history of Israel was
typified in this history, and the lessons it teaches are lessons for all
churches, and for all God's children for all time. If we shirk our duty
of witnessing for Him, or any other of His plain commands,
unfaithfulness will be our ruin. The storm is sure to break where His
Jonahs try to hide, and their only hope lies in bowing to the
chastisement and consenting to be punished, and avowing whose they are
and whom they serve. If we own Him while the storm whistles round us,
the worst of it is past, and though we have to struggle amid its waves,
He will take care of us, and anything is possible rather than that we
should be lost in them.

The miracle of rescue is the last point. Jonah's repentance saved his
life. Tossed overboard impenitent he would have been drowned. So Israel
was taught that the break-up of their national life would not be their
destruction if they turned to the Lord in their calamity. The wider
lesson of the means of making chastisement into blessing, and securing a
way of escape--namely, by owning the justice of the stroke, and
returning to duty--is meant for us all. He who sends the storm watches
its effect on us, and will not let His repentant servants be utterly
overwhelmed. That is a better use to make of the story than to discuss
whether any kind of known Mediterranean fish could swallow a man. If we
believe in miracles, the question need not trouble us. And miracle there
must be, not only in the coincidence of the fish and the Prophet being
in the same bit of sea at the same moment, but in his living for so long
in his strange 'ark of safety.'

The ever-present providence of God, the possible safety of the nation,
even when in captivity, the preservation of every servant of God who
turns to the Lord in his chastisement, the exhibition of penitence as
the way of deliverance, are the purposes for which the miracle was
wrought and told. Flippant sarcasms are cheap. A devout insight yields a
worthy meaning. Jesus Christ employed this incident as a symbol of His
Death and Resurrection. That use of it seems hard to reconcile with any
view but that the story is true. But it does not seem necessary to
suppose that our Lord regarded it as an intended type, or to seek to
find in Jonah's history further typical prophecy of Him. The salient
point of comparison is simply the three days' entombment; and it is
rather an illustrative analogy than an intentional prophecy. The
subsequent action of the Prophet in Nineveh, and the effect of it, were
true types of the preaching of the Gospel by the risen Lord, through His
servants, to the Gentiles, and of their hearing the Word. But it
requires considerable violence in manipulation to force the bestowing
of Jonah, for safety and escape from death, in the fish's maw, into a
proper prophecy of the transcendent fact of the Resurrection.


'LYING VANITIES'

     'They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.'--JONAH
     11. 8.

Jonah's refusal to obey the divine command to go to Nineveh and cry
against it is best taken, not as prosaic history, but as a poetical
representation of Israel's failure to obey the divine call of witnessing
for God. In like manner, his being cast into the sea and swallowed by
the great fish, is a poetic reproduction, for homiletical purposes, of
Israel's sufferings at the hands of the heathen whom it had failed to
warn. The song which is put into Jonah's mouth when in the fish's belly,
of which our text is a fragment, represents the result on the part of
the nation of these hard experiences. 'Lying vanities' mean idols, and
'their own mercy' means God. The text is a brief, pregnant utterance of
the great truth which had been forced home to Israel by sufferings and
exile, that to turn from Jehovah to false gods was to turn from the sure
source of tender care to lies and emptiness. That is but one case of the
wider truth that an ungodly life is the acme of stupidity, a tragic
mistake, as well as a great sin.

In confirmation and enforcement of our text we may consider:--

I. The illusory vanity of the objects pursued.

The Old Testament tone of reference to idols is one of bitter contempt.
Its rigid monotheism was intensified and embittered by the universal
prevalence of idolatry; and there is a certain hardness in its tone in
reference to the gods of the nations round about, which has little room
for pity, and finds expression in such names as those of our
text--'vanities,' 'lies,' 'nothingness,' and the like. To the Jew,
encompassed on all sides by idol-worshippers, the alternative was
vehement indignation or entire surrender. The Mohammedan in British
India exhibits much the same attitude to Vishnu and Siva as the Jew did
to Baal and Ashtoreth. It is easy to be tolerant of dead gods, but it
becomes treason to Jehovah to parley with them when they are alive.

But the point which we desire to insist upon here is somewhat wider than
the vanity of idols. It is the emptiness of all objects of human pursuit
apart from God. These last three words need to be made very prominent;
for in itself 'every creature of God is good,' and the emptiness does
not inhere in themselves, but first appears when they are set in His
place. He, and only He, can, and does, satisfy the whole nature--is
authority for the will, peace for the conscience, love for the heart,
light for the understanding, rest for all seeking. He, and He alone, can
fill the past with the light in which is no regret, the present with a
satisfaction rounded and complete, the future with a hope certain as
experience, to which we shall ever approximate, and which we can never
exhaust and outgrow. Any, or all, the other objects of human endeavour
may be won, and yet we may be miserable. The inadequacy of all these
ought to be pressed home upon us more than it is, not only by their
limitations whilst they last, but by the transiency of them all. 'The
fashion of this world passeth away,' as the Apostle John puts it, in a
forcible expression which likens all this frame of things to a panorama
being unwound from one roller and on to another. The painted screen is
but paint at the best, and is in perpetual motion, which is not arrested
by the vain clutches of hands that would fain stop the irresistible and
tragic gliding past.

These vanities are 'lying vanities.' There is only one aim of life
which, being pursued and attained, fulfils the promises by which it drew
man after it. It is a bald commonplace, reiterated not only by preachers
but by moralists of every kind, and confirmed by universal experience,
that a hope fulfilled is a hope disappointed. There is only one thing
more tragic than a life which has failed in its aims, and it is a life
which has perfectly succeeded in them, and has found that what promised
to be bread turns to ashes. The word of promise may be kept to the ear,
but is always broken to the hope. Many a millionaire loses the power to
enjoy his millions by the very process by which he gains them. The old
Jewish thinker was wise not only in taking as the summing up of all
worldly pursuits the sad sentence, 'All is vanity,' but in putting it
into the lips of a king who had won all he sought. The sorceress draws
us within her charmed circle by lying words and illusory charms, and
when she has so secured the captives, her mask is thrown off and her
native hideousness displayed.

II. The hard service which lying vanities require.

The phrase in our text is a quotation, slightly altered, from Psalm
xxxi. 6: 'I hate them that regard lying vanities; but I trust in the
Lord.' The alteration in the form of the verb as it occurs in Jonah
expresses the intensity of regard, and gives the picture of watching
with anxious solicitude, as the eyes of a servant turned to his master,
or those of a dog to its owner. The world is a very hard master, and
requires from its servants the concentration of thought, heart, and
effort. We need only recall the thousand sermons devoted to the
enforcement of 'the gospel of getting on,' which prosperous worldlings
are continually preaching. A chorus of voices on every side of us is
dinning into the ears of every young man and woman the necessity for
success in life's struggle of taking for a motto, 'This one thing I do.'
How many a man is there, who in the race after wealth or fame, has flung
away aspirations, visions of noble, truthful love to life, and a hundred
other precious things? Browning tells a hideous story of a mother
flinging, one after another, her infants to the wolves as she urged her
sledge over the snowy plain. No less hideous, and still more maiming,
are the surrenders that men make when once their hearts have been filled
with the foolish ambitions of worldly success. Let us fix it in our
minds, that nothing that time and sense can give is worth the price that
it exacts.

    'It is only heaven that can be had for the asking;
     It is only God that is given away.'

All sin is slavery. Its yoke presses painfully on the neck, and its
burden is heavy indeed, and the rest which it promises never comes.

III. The self-inflicted loss.

Our text suggests that there are two ways by which we may learn the
folly of a godless life--One, the consideration of what it turns to, the
other, the thought of what it departs from.

'They forsake their own Mercy,' that is God. The phrase is here almost
equivalent to 'His name'; and it carries the blessed thought that He has
entered into relations with every soul, so that each man of us--even if
he have turned to 'lying vanities'--can still call Him, 'my own Mercy.'
He is ours; more our own than is anything without us. He is ours,
because we are made for Him, and He is all for us. He is ours by His
love, and by His gift of Himself in the Son of His love. He is ours; if
we take Him for ours by an inward communication of Himself to us in the
innermost depths of our being. He becomes 'the Master-Light of all our
seeing.' In the mysterious inwardness of mutual possession, the soul
which has given itself to God and possesses Him, has not only communion,
but may even venture to claim as its own the deeper and more mysterious
_union_ with God. Those multiform mercies, 'which endure for ever,' and
speed on their manifold errands into every remotest region of His
universe, gather themselves together, as the diffused lights of some
nebulæ concentrate themselves into a sun. That sun, like the star that
led the wise men from the East, and finally stood over one poor house in
an obscure village, will shine lambent above, and will pass into, the
humblest heart that opens for it. They who can say, as we all can if we
will, 'My God,' can never want.

And if we turn to the alternative in our text, and consider who they are
to whom we turn when we turn from God, there should be nothing more
needed to drive home the wholesome conviction of the folly of the
wisest, who deliberately prefers shadow to substance, lying vanities to
the one true and only reality. I beseech you to take that which is your
own, and which no man can take from you. Weigh in the scales of
conscience, and in the light of the deepest necessities of your nature,
the whole pile of those emptinesses that have been telling you lies ever
since you listened to them; and place in the other scale the mercy of
God, and the Christ who brings it to you, and decide which is the
weightier, and which it becomes you to take for your pattern for ever.


THREEFOLD REPENTANCE

     'And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
     2. Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the
     preaching that I bid thee. 3. So Jonah arose, and went unto
     Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an
     exceeding great city of three days' journey. 4. And Jonah began to
     enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet
     forty days, and Nineveh shall he overthrown. 5. So the people of
     Ninoveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth,
     from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6. For word
     came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he
     laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in
     ashes. 7. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through
     Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let
     neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not
     feed, nor drink water: 8. But let man and beast be covered with
     sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God; yea, let them turn every one
     from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9.
     Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His
     fierce anger, that we perish not? 10. And God saw their works, that
     they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that
     He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not.'--JONAH
     iii. 1-10.

This passage falls into three parts: Jonah's renewed commission and new
obedience (vs. 1-4), the repentance of Nineveh (vs. 5-9), and the
acceptance thereof by God (ver. 10). We might almost call these three
the repentance of Jonah, of Nineveh, and of God. The evident intention
of the narrative is to parallel the Ninevites turning from their sins,
and God's turning from His anger and purpose of destruction; and if the
word 'repentance' is not applied to Jonah, his conduct sufficiently
shows the thing.

I. Note the renewed charge to the penitent Prophet, and his new
eagerness to fulfil it. His deliverance and second commission are put as
if all but simultaneous, and his obedience was swift and glad. Jonah did
not venture to take for granted that the charge which he had shirked was
still continued to him. If God commands to take the trumpet, and we
refuse, we dare not assume that we shall still be honoured with the
delivery of the message. The punishment of dumb lips is often dumbness.
Opportunities of service, slothfully or faintheartedly neglected, are
often withdrawn. We can fancy how Jonah, brought back to the better mind
which breathes in his psalm, longed to be honoured by the trust of
preaching once more, and how rapturously his spirit would address itself
to the task. Duties once unwelcome become sweet when we have passed
through the experience of the misery that comes from neglecting them. It
is God's mercy that gives us the opportunity of effacing past
disobedience by new alacrity.

The second charge is possibly distinguishable from the first as being
less precise. It may be that the exact nature of 'the preaching that I
bid thee' was not told Jonah till he had to open his mouth in Nineveh;
but, more probably, the second charge was identical with the first.

The word rendered 'preach' is instructive. It means 'to cry' and
suggests the manner befitting those who bear God's message. They should
sound it out loudly, plainly, urgently, with earnestness and marks of
emotion in their voice. Languid whispers will not wake sleepers. Unless
the messenger is manifestly in earnest, the message will fall flat. Not
with bated breath, as if ashamed of it; nor with hesitation, as if not
quite sure of it; nor with coldness, as if it were of little
urgency,--is God's Word to be pealed in men's ears. The preacher is a
crier. The substance of his message, too, is set forth. 'The preaching
which I bid thee'--not his own imaginations, nor any fine things of his
own spinning. Suppose Jonah had entertained the Ninevites with
dissertations on the evidences of his prophetic authority, or submitted
for their consideration a few thoughts tending to show the agreement of
his message with their current opinions in religion, or an argument for
the existence of a retributive Governor of the world, he would not have
shaken the city. The less the Prophet shows himself, the stronger his
influence. The more simply he repeats the stern, plain, short message,
the more likely it is to impress. God's Word, faithfully set forth, will
prove itself. The preacher or teacher of this day has substantially the
same charge as Jonah had; and the more he suppresses himself, and
becomes but a voice through which God speaks, the better for himself,
his hearers, and his work.

Nineveh, that great aggregate of cities, was full, as Eastern cities
are, of open spaces, and might well be a three days' journey in
circumference. What a task for that solitary stranger to thunder out his
loud cry among all these crowds! But he had learned to do what he was
bid; and without wasting a moment, he 'began to enter into the city a
day's journey,' and, no doubt, did not wait till the end of the day to
proclaim his message. Let us learn that there is an element of
threatening in God's most merciful message, and that the appeal to
terror and to the desire for self-preservation is part of the way to
preach the Gospel. Plain warnings of coming evil may be spoken tenderly,
and reveal love as truly as the most soothing words. The warning comes
in time. 'Forty days' of grace are granted. The gospel warns us in time
enough for escape. It warns us because God loves; and they are as
untrue messengers of His love as of His justice who slur over the
declaration of His wrath.

II. Note the repentance of Nineveh (vs. 5-9). The impression made by
Jonah's terrible cry is perfectly credible and natural in the excitable
population of an Eastern city, in which even now any appeal to terror,
especially if associated with religious and prophetic claims, easily
sets the whole in a frenzy. Think of the grim figure of this foreign
man, with his piercing voice and half-intelligible speech, dropped from
the clouds as it were, and stalking through Nineveh, pealing out his
confident message, like that gaunt fanatic who walked Jerusalem in its
last agony, crying, 'Woe! woe unto the bloody city!' or that other, who,
with flaming fire on his head and madness in his eyes, affrighted London
in the plague. No wonder that alarm was kindled, and, being kindled,
spread like wildfire. Apparently the movement was first among the
people, who began to fast before the news penetrated to the seclusion of
the palace. But the contagion reached the king, and the popular
excitement was endorsed and fanned by a royal decree. The specified
tokens of repentance are those of ordinary mourning, such as were common
all over the East, with only the strange addition, which smacks of
heathen ideas, that the animals were made sharers in them.

There is great significance in that 'believed God' (ver. 5). The
foundation of all true repentance is crediting God's word of
threatening, and therefore realising the danger, as well as the
disobedience, of our sin. We shall be wise if we pass by the human
instrument, and hear God speaking through the Prophet. Never mind about
Jonah, believe God.

We learn from the Ninevites what is true repentance They brought no
sacrifices or offerings, but sorrow, self-abasement, and amendment. The
characteristic sin of a great military power would be 'violence,' and
that is the specific evil from which they vow to turn. The loftiest
lesson which prophets found Israel so slow to learn, 'A broken and a
contrite heart Thou wilt not despise,' was learned by these heathens. We
need it no less. Nineveh repented on a peradventure that their
repentance might avail. How pathetic that 'Who can tell?' (ver. 9) is!
We _know_ what they _hoped_. Their doubt might give fervour to their
cries, but our certainty should give deeper earnestness and confidence
to ours.

The deepest meaning of the whole narrative is set forth in our Lord's
use of it, when He holds up the men of Nineveh as a condemnatory
instance to the hardened consciences of His hearers. Probably the very
purpose of the book was to show Israel that the despised and yet dreaded
heathen were more susceptible to the voice of God than they were: 'I
will provoke you to jealousy by them which are no people.' The story was
a smiting blow to the proud exclusiveness and self-complacent contempt
of prophetic warnings, which marked the entire history of God's people.
As Ezekiel was told: 'Thou are not sent ... to many peoples of a strange
speech and of an hard language.... Surely, if I sent thee to them, they
would hearken unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto
thee.' It is ever true that long familiarity with the solemn thoughts of
God's judgment and punishment of sin abates their impression on us. Our
Puritan forefathers used to talk about 'gospel-hardened sinners,' and
there are many such among us. The man who lives by Niagara does not
hear its roar as a stranger does. The men of Nineveh will rise in the
judgment with other generations than that which was 'this generation' in
Christ's time; and that which is 'this generation' to-day will, in many
of its members, be condemned by them.

But the wave of feeling soon retired, and there is no reason to believe
that more than a transient impression was made. It does not seem certain
that the Ninevites knew what 'God' they hoped to appease. Probably their
pantheon was undisturbed, and their repentance lasted no longer than
their fear. Transient repentance leaves the heart harder than before, as
half-melted ice freezes again more dense. Let us beware of frost on the
back of a thaw. 'Repentance which is repented of' is worse than none.

III. We note the repentance of God (ver. 10). Mark the recurrence of the
word 'turn,' employed in verses 8, 9, and 10 in reference to men and to
God. Mark the bold use of the word 'repent,' applied to God, which,
though it be not applied to the Ninevites in the previous verses, is
implied in every line of them. The same expression is found in Exodus
xxxii. 14, which may be taken as the classical passage warranting its
use. The great truth involved is one that is too often lost sight of in
dealing with prophecy; namely, that all God's promises and threatenings
are conditional. Jeremiah learned that lesson in the house of the
potter, and we need to keep it well in mind. God threatens, precisely in
order that He may not have to perform His threatenings. Jonah was sent
to Nineveh to cry, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,' in
order that it might not be overthrown. What would have been the use of
proclaiming the decree, if it had been irreversible? There is an
implied 'if' in all God's words. 'Except ye repent' underlies the most
absolute threatenings of evil. 'If we hold fast the beginning of our
confidence firm unto the end,' is presupposed in the brightest and
broadest promises of good.

The word 'repent' is denied and affirmed to have application to God. He
is not 'a son of man, that He should repent,' inasmuch as His
immutability and steadfast purpose know no variableness. But just
because they cannot change, and He must ever be against them that do
evil, and ever bless them that turn to Him with trust, therefore He
changes His dealings with us according to our relation to Him, and
because He cannot repent, or be other than He was and is, 'repents of
the evil that He had said that He would do' unto sinners when they
repent of the evil that they have done against Him, inasmuch as He
leaves His threatening unfulfilled, and 'does it not.'

So we might almost say that the purpose of this book of Jonah is to
teach the possibility and efficacy of repentance, and to show how the
penitent man, heathen or Jew, ever finds in God changed dealings
corresponding to his changed heart. The widest charity, the humbling
lesson for people brought up in the blaze of revelation, that dwellers
in the twilight or in the darkness are dear to God and may be more
susceptible of divine impressions than ourselves, the rebuke of all
pluming ourselves on our privileges, the boundlessness of God's mercy,
are among the other lessons of this strange book; but none of them is
more precious than its truly evangelic teaching of the blessedness of
true penitence, whether exemplified in the renegade Prophet returning
to his high mission, or the fierce Ninevites humbled and repentant, and
finding mercy from the God of the whole earth.

        *        *        *        *        *


MICAH


IS THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD STRAITENED?

     'O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the Spirit of the
     Lord straitened? Are these His doings?'--MICAH ii. 7.

The greater part of so-called Christendom is to-day[1] celebrating the
gift of a Divine Spirit to the Church; but it may well be asked whether
the religious condition of so-called Christendom is not a sad satire
upon Pentecost. There seems a woful contrast, very perplexing to faith,
between the bright promise at the beginning and the history of the
development in the future. How few of those who share in to-day's
services have any personal experience of such a gift! How many seem to
think that that old story is only the record of a past event, a
transient miracle which has no kind of relation to the experience of the
Christians of this day! There were a handful of believers in one of the
towns of Asia Minor, to whom an Apostle came, and was so startled at
their condition that he put to them in wonder the question that might
well be put to multitudes of so-called Christians amongst us: 'Did you
receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?' And their answer is only too
true a transcript of the experience of large masses of people who call
themselves Christians: 'We have not so much as heard whether there be
any Holy Ghost.'

[1] Whitsunday

I desire, then, dear brethren, to avail myself of this day's
associations in order to press upon your consciences and upon my own
some considerations naturally suggested by them, and which find voice in
those two indignant questions of the old Prophet:--'Is the Spirit of the
Lord straitened?' 'Are these'--the phenomena of existing popular
Christianity--'are these His doings?' And if we are brought sharp up
against the consciousness of a dreadful contrast, it may do us good to
ask what is the explanation of so cloudy a day following a morning so
bright.

I. First, then, I have to ask you to think with me of the promise of the
Pentecost.

What did it declare and hold forth for the faith of the Church? I need
not dwell at any length upon this point. The facts are familiar to you,
and the inferences drawn from them are commonplace and known to us all.
But let me just enumerate them as briefly as may be.

'Suddenly there came a sound, as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it
filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared cloven
tongues as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all
filled with the Holy Ghost.'

What lay in that? First, the promise of a Divine Spirit by symbols which
express some, at all events, of the characteristics and wonderfulness of
His work. The 'rushing of a mighty wind' spoke of a power which varies
in its manifestations from the gentlest breath that scarce moves the
leaves on the summer trees to the wildest blast that casts down all
which stands in its way.

The natural symbolism of the wind, to popular apprehension the least
material of all material forces, and of which the connection with the
immaterial part of a man's personality has been expressed in all
languages, points to a divine, to an immaterial, to a mighty, to a
life-giving power which is free to blow whither it listeth, and of which
men can mark the effects, though they are all ignorant of the force
itself.

The other symbol of the fiery tongues which parted and sat upon each of
them speaks in like manner of the divine influence, not as destructive,
but full of quick, rejoicing energy and life, the power to transform and
to purify. Whithersoever the fire comes, it changes all things into its
own substance. Whithersoever the fire comes, there the ruddy spires
shoot upwards towards the heavens. Whithersoever the fire comes, there
all bonds and fetters are melted and consumed. And so this fire
transforms, purifies, ennobles, quickens, sets free; and where the fiery
Spirit is, there are energy, swift life, rejoicing activity,
transforming and transmuting power which changes the recipient of the
flame into flame himself.

Then, still further, in the fact of Pentecost there is the promise of a
Divine Spirit which is to influence all the moral side of humanity.
This is the great and glorious distinction between the Christian
doctrine of inspiration and all others which have, in heathen lands,
partially reached similar conceptions--that the Gospel of Jesus Christ
has laid emphasis upon the _Holy_ Spirit, and has declared that holiness
of heart is the touchstone and test of all claims of divine inspiration.
Gifts are much, graces are more. An inspiration which makes wise is to
be coveted, an inspiration which makes holy is transcendently better.
There we find the safeguard against all the fanaticisms which have
sometimes invaded the Christian Church, namely, in the thought that the
Spirit which dwells in men, and makes them free from the obligations of
outward law and cold morality, is a Spirit that works a deeper holiness
than law dreamed, and a more spontaneous and glad conformity to all
things that are fair and good, than any legislation and outward
commandment could ever enforce. The Spirit that came at Pentecost is not
merely a Spirit of rushing might and of swift-flaming energy, but it is
a Spirit of holiness, whose most blessed and intimate work is the
production in us of all homely virtues and sweet, unpretending
goodnesses which can adorn and gladden humanity.

Still further, the Pentecost carried in it the promise and prophecy of a
Spirit granted to all the Church. 'They were all filled with the Holy
Ghost.' This is the true democracy of Christianity, that its very basis
is laid in the thought that every member of the body is equally close to
the Head, and equally recipient of the life. There is none now who has a
Spirit which others do not possess. The ancient aspiration of the Jewish
law-giver: 'Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that
the Lord would put His Spirit upon them,' is fulfilled in the
experience of Pentecost; and the handmaiden and the children, as well as
the old men and the servants, receive of that universal gift. Therefore
sacerdotal claims, special functions, privileged classes, are alien to
the spirit of Christianity, and blasphemies against the inspiring God.
If 'one is your Master, all ye are brethren,' and if we have all been
made to drink into one Spirit, then no longer hath any man dominion over
our faith nor power to intervene and to intercede with God for us.

And still further, the promise of this early history was that of a
Spirit which should fill the whole nature of the men to whom He was
granted; filling--in the measure, of course, of their receptivity--them
as the great sea does all the creeks and indentations along the shore.
The deeper the creek, the deeper the water in it; the further inland it
runs, the further will the refreshing tide penetrate the bosom of the
continent. And so each man, according to his character, stature,
circumstances, and all the varying conditions which determine his power
of receptivity, will receive a varying measure of that gift. Yet it is
meant that all shall be full. The little vessel, the tiny cup, as well
as the great cistern and the enormous vat, each contains according to
its capacity. And if all are filled, then this quick Spirit must have
the power to influence all the provinces of human nature, must touch the
moral, must touch the spiritual. The temporary manifestations and
extraordinary signs of His power may well drop away as the flower drops
when the fruit has set. The operations of the Divine Spirit are to be
felt thrilling through all the nature, and every part of the man's being
is to be recipient of the power. Just as when you take a candle and
plunge it into a jar of oxygen it blazes up, so my poor human nature
immersed in that Divine Spirit, baptized in the Holy Ghost, shall flame
in all its parts into unsuspected and hitherto inexperienced brightness.
Such are the elements of the promise of Pentecost.

II. And now, in the next place, look at the apparent failure of the
promise.

'Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?' Look at Christendom. Look at all
the churches. Look at yourselves. Will any one say that the religious
condition of any body of professed believers at this moment corresponds
to Pentecost? Is not the gap so wide that to fill it up seems almost
impossible? Is not the stained and imperfect fulfilment a miserable
satire upon the promise? 'If the Lord be with us,' said one of the
heroes of ancient Israel, 'wherefore is all this come upon us?' I am
sure that we may say the same. If the Lord be with us, what is the
meaning of the state of things which we see around us, and must
recognise in ourselves? Do any existing churches present the final
perfect form of Christianity as embodied in a society? Would not the
best thing that could happen, and the thing that will have to happen
some day, be the disintegration of the existing organisations in order
to build up a more perfect habitation of God through the Spirit? I do
not wish to exaggerate. God knows there is no need for exaggerating. The
plain, unvarnished story, without any pessimistic picking out of the
black bits and forgetting ail the light ones, is bad enough.

Take three points on which I do not dwell and apply them to yourselves,
dear brethren, and estimate by them the condition of things around us.
First, say whether the ordinary tenor of our own religious life looks
as if we had that Divine Spirit in us which transforms everything into
its own beauty, and makes men, through all the regions of their nature,
holy and pure. Then ask yourselves the question whether the standard of
devotion and consecration in any church witnesses of the presence of a
Divine Spirit. A little handful of people, the best of them very
partially touched with the life of God, and very imperfectly consecrated
to His service, surrounded by a great mass about whom we can scarcely,
in the judgment of charity, say even so much, that is the description of
most of our congregations. 'Are these His doings?' Surely somebody
else's than His.

Take another question. Do the relations of modern Christians and their
churches to one another attest the presence of a unifying Spirit? 'We
have all been made to drink into one Spirit,' said Paul. Alas, alas!
does it seem as if we had? Look round professing Christendom, look at
the rivalries and the jealousies between two chapels in adjoining
streets. Look at the gulfs between Christian men who differ only on some
comparative trifle of organisation and polity, and say if such things
correspond to the Pentecostal promise of one Spirit which is to make all
the members into one body? 'Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Are
these _His_ doings?'

Take another branch of evidence. Look at the comparative impotence of
the Church in its conflict with the growing worldliness of the world. I
do not forget how much is being done all about us to-day, and how still
Christ's Gospel is winning triumphs, but I do not suppose that any man
can look thoughtfully and dispassionately on the condition, say, for
instance, of Manchester, or of any of our great towns, and mark how the
populace knows nothing and cares nothing about us and our Christianity,
and never comes into our places of worship, and has no share in our
hopes any more than if they lived in Central Africa, and that after
eighteen hundred years of nominal Christianity, without feeling that
some malign influence has arrested the leaping growth of the early
Church, and that somehow or other that lava stream, if I might so call
it, which poured hot from the heart of God in the old days has had its
flow checked, and over its burning bed there has spread a black and
wrinkled crust, whatsoever lingering heat there may still be at the
centre. 'If God be with us, why has all this come upon us?'

III. And now, lastly, let us think for a moment of the solution of the
contradiction.

The indignant questions of my text may be taken, with a little possibly
permissible violence, as expressing and dismissing some untrue
explanations. One explanation that sometimes is urged is, the Spirit of
the Lord _is_ straitened. That explanation takes two forms. Sometimes
you hear people saying, 'Christianity is effete. We have to go now to
fresh fountains of inspiration, and turn away from these broken cisterns
that can hold no water.' I am not going to argue that question. I do not
think for my part that Christianity will be effete until the world has
got up to it and beyond it in its practice, and it will be a good while
before that happens. Christianity will not be worn out until men have
copied and reduced to practice the example of Jesus Christ, and they
have not quite got that length yet. No shadow of a fear that the gospel
has lost its power, or that God's Spirit has become weak, should be
permitted to creep over our hearts. The promise is, 'I will send
another Comforter, and He shall abide with you _for ever_.' It is a
permanent gift that was given to the Church on that day. We have to
distinguish in the story between the symbols, the gift, and the
consequences of the gift. The first and the last are transient, the
second is permanent. The symbols were transient. The people who came
running together saw no tongues of fire. The consequences were
transient. The tongues and the miraculous utterances were but for a
time. The results vary according to the circumstances; but the central
thing, the gift itself, is an irrevocable gift, and once bestowed is
ever with the Church to all generations.

Another form of the explanation is the theory that God in His
sovereignty is pleased to withhold His Spirit for reasons which we
cannot trace. But it is not true that the gift once given varies in the
degree in which it is continued. There is always the same flow from God.
There are ebbs and flows in the spiritual power of the Church. Yes! and
the tide runs out of your harbours. Is there any less water in the sea
because it does? So the gift may ebb away from a man, from a community,
from an epoch, not because God's manifestation and bestowment fluctuate,
but because our receptivity changes. So we dismiss, and are bound to
dismiss, if we are Christians, the unbelieving explanation, 'The Spirit
of the Lord is straitened,' and not to sit with our hands folded, as if
an inscrutable sovereignty, with which we have nothing to do, sometimes
sent more and sometimes less of His spiritual gifts upon a waiting
Church. It is not so. 'With Him is no variableness.' The gifts of God
are without repentance; and the Spirit that was given once, according to
the Master's own word already quoted, is given that He may abide with us
for ever.

Therefore we have to come back to this, which is the point to which I
seek to bring you and myself, in lowly penitence and contrite
acknowledgment--that it is all our own fault and the result of evils in
ourselves that may be remedied, that we have so little of that divine
gift; and that if the churches of this country and of this day seem to
be cursed and blasted in so much of their fruitless operations and
formal worship, it is the fault of the churches, and not of the Lord of
the churches. The stream that poured forth from the throne of God has
not lost itself in the sands, nor is it shrunken in its volume. The fire
that was kindled on Pentecost has not died down into grey ashes. The
rushing of the mighty wind that woke on that morning has not calmed and
stilled itself into the stagnancy and suffocating breathlessness of
midday heat. The same fulness of the Spirit which filled the believers
on that day is available for us all. If, like that waiting Church of
old, we abide in prayer and supplication, the gift will be given to us
too, and we may repeat and reproduce, if not the miracles which we do
not need, yet the necessary inspiration of the highest and the noblest
days and saints in the history of the Church. 'If ye, being evil, know
how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your
Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?' 'Ask and ye
shall receive,' and be filled 'with the Holy Ghost and with power.'


CHRIST THE BREAKER

     'The Breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have
     passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king
     shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them.'--MICAH
     ii. 13.

Micah was contemporary with Isaiah. The two prophets stand, to a large
extent, on the same level of prophetic knowledge. Characteristic of both
of them is the increasing clearness of the figure of the personal
Messiah, and the increasing fulness of detail with which His functions
are described. Characteristic of both of them is the presentation which
we find in this text of that Messiah's work as being the gathering
together of the scattered captive people and the leading them back in
triumph into the blessed land.

Such is the image which underlies my text. Of course I have nothing to
do now with questions as to any narrower and nearer historical
fulfilment, because I believe that all these Messianic prophecies which
were susceptible of, and many of which obtained, a historical and
approximate fulfilment in the restoration of the Jews from the
Babylonish captivity, have a higher and broader and more real
accomplishment in that great deliverance wrought by Jesus Christ, of
which all these earlier and partial and outward manifestations were
themselves prophecies and shadows.

So I make no apology for taking the words before us as having their only
real accomplishment in the office and working of Jesus Christ. He is
'the Breaker which is come up before us.' He it is that has broken out
the path on which we may travel, and in whom, in a manner which the
Prophet dreamed not of, 'the Lord is at the head' of us, and our King
goes before us. So that my object is simply to take that great name, the
Breaker, and to see the manifold ways in which in Scripture it is
applied to the various work of Jesus Christ in our redemption.

I. I follow entirely the lead of corresponding passages in other
portions of Scripture, and to begin with, I ask you to think of that
great work of our Divine Redeemer by which He has broken for the
captives the prison-house of their bondage.

The image that is here before us is either that of some foreign land in
which the scattered exiles were bound in iron captivity, or more
probably some dark and gloomy prison, with high walls, massive gates,
and barred windows, wherein they were held; and to them sitting hopeless
in the shadow of death, and bound in affliction and iron, there comes
one mysterious figure whom the Prophet could not describe more
particularly, and at His coming the gates flew apart, and the chains
dropped from their hands; and the captives had heart put into them, and
gathering themselves together into a triumphant band, they went out with
songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; freemen, and on the march to
the home of their fathers. 'The Breaker is gone up before them; they
have broken, and passed through the gate, and are gone out by it.'

And is not that our condition? Many of us know not the bondage in which
we are held. We are held in it all the more really and sadly because we
conceit ourselves to be free. Those poor, light-hearted people in the
dreadful days of the French Revolution, used to keep up some ghastly
mockery of society and cheerfulness in their prisons; and festooned the
bars with flowers, and made believe to be carrying on their life freely
as they used to do; but for all that, day after day the tumbrils came to
the gates, and morning after morning the jailer stood at the door of the
dungeons with the fatal list in his hand, and one after another of the
triflers was dragged away to death. And so men and women are living a
life which they fancy is free, and all the while they are in bondage,
held in a prison-house. You, my brother! are chained by guilt; you are
chained by sin, you are chained by the habit of evil with a strength of
which you never know till you try to shake it off.

And there comes to each of us a mighty Deliverer, who breaks the gates
of brass, and who cuts the bars of iron in sunder. Christ comes to us.
By His death He has borne away the guilt; by His living Spirit He will
bear away the dominion of sin from our hearts; and if the Son will make
us free we shall be free indeed. Oh! ponder that deep truth, I pray you,
which the Lord Christ has spoken in words that carry conviction in their
very simplicity to every conscience: 'He that committeth sin is the
slave of sin.' And as you feel sometimes--and you all feel
sometimes--the catch of the fetter on your wrists when you would fain
stretch out your hands to good, listen as to a true gospel to this old
word which, in its picturesque imagery, carries a truth that should be
life. To us all 'the Breaker is gone up before us,' the prison gates are
open. Follow His steps, and take the freedom which He gives; and be sure
that you 'stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free,
and be not entangled again with any yoke of bondage.'

Men and women! Some of you are the slaves of your own lusts. Some of you
are the slaves of the world's maxims. Some of you are held in bondage by
some habit that you abominate, but cannot get away from. Here is freedom
for you. The dark walls of the prison are round us all. 'The Scripture
hath shut up all in sin, that He might have mercy upon all.' Blessed be
His name! As the angel came to the sleeping Apostle, and to his light
touch the iron gates swung obedient on their hinges, and Roman soldiers
who ought to have watched their prey were lulled to sleep, and fetters
that held the limbs dropped as if melted; so, silently, in His meek and
merciful strength, the Christ comes to us all, and the iron gate which
leadeth out into freedom opens of its own accord at His touch, and the
fetters fall from our limbs, and we go forth free men. 'The Breaker is
gone up before us.'

II. Again, take another application of this same figure found in
Scripture, which sets forth Jesus Christ as being the Opener of the path
to God.

'I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, no man cometh to the Father
but by Me,' said He. And again, 'By a new and living way which He hath
opened for us through the veil' (that is to say, His flesh), we can have
free access 'with confidence by the faith of Him.' That is to say, if we
rightly understand our natural condition, it is not only one of bondage
to evil, but it is one of separation from God. Parts of the divine
character are always beautiful and sweet to every human heart when it
thinks about them. Parts of the divine character stand frowning before a
man who knows himself for what he is; and conscience tells us that
between God and us there is a mountain of impediment piled up by our own
evil. To us Christ comes, the Path-finder and the Path; the Pioneer who
breaks the way for us through all the hindrances, and leads us up to the
presence of God.

For we do not know God as He is except by Jesus Christ. We see
fragments, and often distorted fragments, of the divine nature and
character apart from Jesus, but the real divine nature as it is, and as
it is in its relation to me, a sinner, is only made known to me in the
face of Jesus Christ. When we see Him we see God; Christ's tears are
God's pity, Christ's gentleness is God's meekness, Christ's tender,
drawing love is not only a revelation of a most pure and sweet Brother's
heart, but a manifestation through that Brother's heart of the deepest
depths of the divine nature. Christ is the heart of God. Apart from Him,
we come to the God of our own consciences and we tremble; we come to the
God of our own fancies and we presume; we come to the God dimly guessed
at and pieced together from out of the hints and indications of His
works, and He is little more than a dead name to us. Apart from Christ
we come to a peradventure which we call a God; a shadow through which
you can see the stars shining. But we know the Father when we believe in
Christ. And so all the clouds rising from our own hearts and consciences
and fancies and misconceptions, which we have piled together between God
and ourselves, Christ clears away; and thus He opens the path to God.

And He opens it in another way too, on which I cannot dwell. It is only
the God manifest in Jesus Christ that draws men's hearts to Him. The
attractive power of the divine nature is ail in Him who has said, 'I, if
I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.' The God whom men know, or
think they know, outside of the revelation of divinity in Jesus Christ,
is a God before whom they sometimes tremble, who is far more often their
terror than their love, who is their 'ghastliest doubt' still more
frequently than He is their 'dearest faith.' But the God that is in
Christ woos and wins men to Him, and from His great sweetness there
streams out, as it were, a magnetic influence that draws hearts to Him.
The God that is in Christ is the only God that humanity ever loved.
Other gods they may have worshipped with cowering terror and with
far-off lip reverence, but this God has a heart, and wins hearts because
He has. So Christ opens the way to Him.

And still further, in a yet higher fashion, that Saviour is the
Path-breaker to the Divine Presence, in that He not only makes God known
to us, and not only makes Him so known to us as to draw us to Him, but
in that likewise He, by the fact of His Cross and passion, has borne and
borne away the impediments of our own sin and transgression which rise
for ever between us and Him, unless He shall sweep them out of the way.
He has made 'the rough places plain and the crooked things straight';
levelled the mountains and raised the valleys, and cast up across all
the wilderness of the world a highway along which 'the wayfaring man
though a fool' may travel. Narrow understandings may know, and selfish
hearts may love, and low-pitched confessions may reach the ear of the
God who comes near to us in Christ, that we in Christ may come near to
Him. The Breaker is gone up before us; 'having therefore, brethren,
boldness to enter into the holiest of all ... by a new and living way,
which He hath consecrated for us ... let us draw near with true hearts'

III. Then still further, another modification of this figure is found in
the frequent representations of Scripture, by which our Lord is the
Breaker, going up before us in the sense that He is the Captain of our
life's march.

We have, in the words of my text, the image of the gladly-gathered
people flocking after the Leader. 'They have broken up, and have passed
through the gate, and are gone out by it; and their King shall pass
before them, and the Lord on the head of them.' The Prophet knew not
that the Lord their King, of whom it is enigmatically said that He too,
as well as 'the Breaker,' is to go before them, was in mysterious
fashion to dwell in that Breaker; and that those two, whom He sees
separately, are yet in a deep and mysterious sense one. The host of the
captives, returning in triumphant march through the wilderness and to
the promised land, is, in the Prophet's words, headed both by the
Breaker and by the Lord. We know that the Breaker is the Lord, the Angel
of the Covenant in whom is the name of Jehovah.

And so we connect with all these words of my text such words as
designate our Saviour as the Captain of our salvation; such words as His
own in which He says, 'When He putteth forth His sheep He goeth before
them'--such words as His Apostle used when he said, 'Leaving us an
ensample that we should follow in His steps.' And by all there is
suggested this--that Christ, who breaks the prison of our sins, and
leads us forth on the path to God, marches at the head of our life's
journey, and is our Example and Commander; and Himself present with us
through all life's changes and its sorrows.

Here is the great blessing and peculiarity of Christian morals that they
are all brought down to that sweet obligation: 'Do as I did.' Here is
the great blessing and strength for the Christian life in all its
difficulties--you can never go where you cannot see in the desert the
footprints, haply spotted with blood, that your Master left there before
you, and planting your trembling feet in the prints, as a child might
imitate his father's strides, may learn to recognise that all duty comes
to this: 'Follow Me'; and that all sorrow is calmed, ennobled, made
tolerable, and glorified, by the thought that He has borne it.

The Roman matron of the legend struck the knife into her bosom, and
handed it to her husband with the words, 'It is not painful!' Christ has
gone before us in all the dreary solitude, and in all the agony and
pains of life. He has hallowed them all, and has taken the bitterness
and the pain out of each of them for them that love Him. If we feel that
the Breaker is before us, and that we are marching behind Him, then
whithersoever He leads us we may follow, and whatsoever He has passed
through we may pass through. We carry In His life the all-sufficing
pattern of duty. We have in His companionship the all-strengthening
consolation. Let us leave the direction of our road in His hands, who
never says 'Go!' but always 'Come!' This General marches in the midst of
His battalions and sets His soldiers on no enterprises or forlorn hopes
which He has not Himself dared and overcome.

So Christ goes as our Companion before us, the true pillar of fire and
cloud in which the present Deity abode, and He is with us in real
companionship. Our joyful march through the wilderness is directed,
patterned, protected, companioned by Him, and when He 'putteth forth His
own sheep,' blessed be His name, 'He goeth before them.'

IV. And now, lastly, there is a final application of this figure which
sets forth our Lord as the Breaker for us of the bands of death, and the
Forerunner 'entered for us into the heavens.'

Christ's resurrection is the only solid proof of a future life. Christ's
present resurrection life is the power by partaking in which, 'though we
were dead, yet shall we live.'

He has trodden that path, too, before us. He has entered into the great
prison-house into which the generations of men have been hounded and
hurried; and where they lie in their graves, as in their narrow cells.
He has entered there; with one blow He has struck the gates from their
hinges, and has passed out, and no soul can any longer be shut in as for
ever into that ruined and opened prison. Like Samson, He has taken the
gates which from of old barred its entrance, and borne them on His
strong shoulders to the city on the hill, and now Death's darts are
blunted, his fetters are broken, and his gaol has its doors wide open,
and there is nothing for him to do now but to fall upon his sword and to
kill himself, for his prisoners are free. 'Oh, death! I will be thy
plague; oh, grave! I will be thy destruction.' 'The Breaker has gone
up before us'; therefore it is not possible that we should be holden of
the impotent chains that He has broken.

The Forerunner is for us entered and passed through the heavens, and
entered into the holiest of all. We are too closely knit to Him, if we
love Him and trust Him, to make it possible that we shall be where He is
not, or that He shall be where we are not. Where He has gone we shall
go. In heaven, blessed be His name! He will still be the leader of our
progress and the captain at the head of our march. For He crowns all His
other work by this, that having broken the prison-house of our sins, and
opened for us the way to God, and been the leader and the captain of our
march through all the pilgrimage of life, and the opener of the gate of
the grave for our joyful resurrection, and the opener of the gate of
heaven for our triumphal entrance, He will still as the Lamb that is in
the midst of the Throne, go before us, and lead us into green pastures
and by the still waters, and this shall be the description of the
growing blessedness and power of the saints' life above, 'These are
they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.'


AS GOD, SO WORSHIPPER

     '... All the peoples will walk every one in the name of his god,
     and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and
     ever.'--MICAH iv. 5 (R.V.).

This is a statement of a general truth which holds good of all sorts of
religion. 'To walk' is equivalent to carrying on a course of practical
activity. 'The name' of a god is his manifested character. So the
expression 'Walk in the name' means, to live and act according to, and
with reference to, and in reliance on, the character of the worshipper's
god. In the Lord's prayer the petition 'Hallowed be Thy name' precedes
the petition 'Thy will be done.' From reverent thoughts about the name
must flow life in reverent conformity to the will.

I. A man's god is what rules his practical life.

Religion is dependence upon a Being recognised to be perfect and
sovereign, whose will guides, and whose character moulds, the whole
life. That general statement may be broken up into parts; and we may
dwell upon the attitude of dependence, or of that of submission, or upon
that of admiration and recognition of ideal perfection, or upon that of
aspiration; but we come at last to the one thought--that the goal of
religion is likeness and the truest worship is imitation. Such a view of
the essence of religion gives point to the question, What is our god?
and makes it a very easily applied, and very searching test, of our
lives. Whatever we profess, that which we feel ourselves dependent on,
that which we invest, erroneously or rightly, with supreme attributes of
excellence, that which we aspire after as our highest good, that which
shapes and orders the current of our lives, is our god. We call
ourselves Christians. I am afraid that if we tried ourselves by such a
test, many of us would fail to pass it. It would thin the ranks of all
churches as effectually as did Gideon's ordeal by water, which brought
down a mob of ten thousand to a little steadfast band of three hundred.
No matter to what church we belong, or how flaming our professions, our
practical religion is determined by our answer to the question, What do
we most desire? What do we most eagerly pursue? England has as much need
as ever the house of Jacob had of the scathing words that poured like
molten lead from the lips of Isaiah the son of Amoz, 'Their land is full
of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures. Their
land is also full of idols: they worship the work of their own hands.'
Money, knowledge, the good opinion of our fellows, success in a
political career--these, and the like, are our gods. There is a worse
idolatry than that which bows down before stocks and stones. The aims
that absorb us; our highest ideal of excellence; that which possessed,
we think would secure our blessedness; that lacking which everything
else is insipid and vain--these are our gods: and the solemn prohibition
may well be thundered in the ears of the unconscious idolaters not only
in the English world, but also in the English churches. 'Thou shalt not
give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.'

II. The worshipper will resemble his god in character.

As we have already said, the goal of religion is likeness, and the
truest worship is imitation. It is proved by the universal experience of
humanity that the level of morality will never rise above the type
enshrined in their gods; or if it does, in consequence of contact with a
higher type in a higher religion, the old gods will be flung to the
moles and the bats. 'They that make them are like unto them; so is every
one that trusteth in them.' That is a universal truth. The worshippers
were in the Prophet's thought as dumb and dead as the idols. They who
'worship vanity' inevitably 'become vain.' A Venus or a Jupiter, a Baal
or an Ashtoreth, sets the tone of morals.

This truth is abundantly enforced by observation of the characters of
the men amongst us who are practical idolaters. They are narrowed and
lowered to correspond with their gods. Low ideals can never lead to
lofty lives. The worship of money makes the complexion yellow, like
jaundice. A man who concentrates his life's effort upon some earthly
good, the attainment of which seems to be, so long as it is unattained,
his passport to bliss, thereby blunts many a finer aspiration, and makes
himself blind to many a nobler vision. Men who are always hunting after
some paltry and perishable earthly good, become like dogs who follow
scent with their noses at the ground, and are unconscious of everything
a yard above their heads. We who live amidst the rush of a great
commercial community see many instances of lives stiffened, narrowed,
impoverished, and hardened by the fierce effort to become rich. And
wherever we look with adequate knowledge over the many idolatries of
English life, we see similar processes at work on character. Everywhere
around us 'the peoples are walking every one in the name of his god.'
That character constitutes the worshipper's ideal; it is a pattern to
which he aims to be assimilated; it is a good the possession of which he
thinks will make him blessed; it is that for which he willingly
sacrifices much which a clearer vision would teach him is far more
precious than that for which he is content to barter it.

The idolaters walking in the name of their god is a rebuke to the
Christian men who with faltering steps and many an aberration are
seeking to walk in the name of the Lord their God. If He is in any real
and deep sense 'our God,' we shall see in Him the realised ideal of all
excellence, the fountain of all our blessedness, the supreme good for
our seeking hearts, the sovereign authority to sway our wills; the
measure of our conscious possession of Him will be the measure of our
glad imitation of Him, and our joyful spirits, enfranchised by the
assurance of our loving possession of Him who is love, will hear Him
ever whisper to us, 'Be ye perfect as your Father which is in heaven is
perfect.' The desire to reproduce in the narrow bounds of our human
spirits the infinite beauties of the Lord our God will give elevation to
our lives, and dignity to our actions attainable from no other source.
If we hallow His name, we shall do His will, and earth will become a
foretaste of heaven.

III. The worshipper will resemble his god in fate.

We may observe that it is only of God's people that Micah in our text
applies the words 'for ever and ever.' 'The peoples'' worship perishes.
They walk for a time in the name of their god, but what comes of it at
last is veiled in silence. It is Jehovah's worshippers who walk in His
name for ever and ever, and of whom the great words are true, 'Because I
live ye shall live also.' We may be sure of this that all the divine
attributes are pledged for our immortality; we may be sure, too, that a
soul which here follows in the footsteps of Jesus, which in its earthly
life walked in the name of the Lord its God, will continue across the
narrow bridge, and go onward 'for ever and ever' in direct progress in
the same direction in which it began on earth. The imitation, which is
the practical religion of every Christian, has for its only possible
result the climax of likeness. The partial likeness is attained on earth
by contemplation, by aspiration, and by effort; but it is perfected in
the heavens by the perfect vision of His perfect face. 'We shall be like
Him, for we shall see Him as He is.' Not till it has reached its goal
can the Christian life begun here be conceived as ended. It shall never
be said of any one who tried by God's help to walk 'in the name of the
Lord' that he was lost in the desert, and never reached his journey's
end. The peoples who walked in the name of any false god will find their
path ending as on the edge of a precipice, or in an unfathomable bog;
loss, and woe, and shame will be their portion. But 'the name of the
Lord is a strong tower,' into which whoever will may run and be safe,
and to walk in the name of the Lord is to walk on a way 'that shall be
called the Way of Holiness, whereon no ravenous beast shall go up, but
the redeemed shall walk there,' and all that are on it 'shall come with
singing to Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.'


'A DEW FROM THE LORD'

     'The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew
     from the Lord, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons
     of men.'--MICAH v. 7.

The simple natural science of the Hebrews saw a mystery in the
production of the dew on a clear night, and their poetic imagination
found in it a fit symbol for all silent and gentle influences from
heaven that refreshed and quickened parched and dusty souls. Created by
an inscrutable process in silence and darkness, the dewdrops lay
innumerable on the dry plains and hung from every leaf and thorn, each
little globule a perfect sphere that reflected the sun, and twinkled
back the beams in its own little rainbow. Where they fell the scorched
vegetation lifted its drooping head. That is what Israel is to be in the
world, says Micah. He saw very deep into God's mind and into the
function of the nation.

It may be a question as to whether the text refers more especially to
the place and office of Israel when planted in its own land, or when
dispersed among the nations. For, as you see, he speaks of 'the remnant
of Jacob' as if he was thinking of the survivors of some great calamity
which had swept away the greater portion of the nation. Both things are
true. When settled in its own land, Israel's office was to teach the
nations God; when dispersed among the Gentiles, its office ought to have
been the same. But be that as it may, the conception here set forth is
as true to-day as ever it was. For the prophetic teachings, rooted
though they may be in the transitory circumstances of a tiny nation, are
'not for an age, but for all time,' and we get a great deal nearer the
heart of them when we grasp the permanent truths that underlie them,
than when we learnedly exhume the dead history which was their
occasion.

Micah's message comes to all Christians, and very eminently to English
Christians. The subject of Christian missions is before us to-day, and
some thoughts in the line of this great text may not be inappropriate.

We have here, then,

I. The function of each Christian in his place.

'The remnant of Jacob shall be as a dew from the Lord in the midst of
many nations.' What made Israel 'as a dew'? One thing only; its
religion, its knowledge of God, and its consequent purer morality. It
could teach Greece no philosophy, no art, no refinement, no
sensitiveness to the beautiful. It could teach Rome no lessons of policy
or government. It could bring no wisdom to Egypt, no power or wealth to
Assyria. But God lit His candle and set it on a candlestick, that it
'might give light to all that were in the house.' The same thing is true
about Christian people. We cannot teach the world science, we cannot
teach it philosophy or art, but we can teach it God. Now the possibility
brings with it the obligation. The personal experience of Jesus Christ
in our hearts, as the dew that brings to us life and fertility, carries
with it a commission as distinct and imperative as if it had been pealed
into each single ear by a voice from heaven. That which made Israel the
'dew amidst many nations,' parched for want of it, makes Christian men
and women fit to fill the analogous office, and calls upon them to
discharge the same functions. For--in regard to all our possessions, and
therefore most eminently and imperatively in regard to the best--that
which we have, we have as stewards, and the Gospel, as the Apostle
found, was not only given to him for his own individual enjoyment,
elevation, ennobling, emancipation, salvation, but was 'committed to
his charge,' and he was 'entrusted' with it, as he says, as a sacred
deposit.

Remember, too, that, strange as it may seem, the only way by which that
knowledge of God which was bestowed upon Israel could become the
possession of the world was by its first of all being made the
possession of a few. People talk about the unfairness, the harshness, of
the providential arrangement by which the whole world was not made
participant of the revelation which was granted to Israel. The fire is
gathered on to a hearth. Does that mean that the corners of the room are
left uncared for? No! the brazier is in the middle--as Palestine was,
even geographically in the centre of the then civilised world--that from
the centre the beneficent warmth might radiate and give heat as well as
light to 'all them that are in the house.'

So it is in regard to all the great possessions of the race. Art,
literature, science, political wisdom, they are all intrusted to a few
who are made their apostles; and the purpose is their universal
diffusion from these human centres. It is in the line of the analogy of
all the other gifts of God to humanity, that chosen men should be raised
up in whom the life is lodged, that it may be diffused.

So to us the message comes: 'The Lord hath need of thee.' Christ has
died; the Cross is the world's redemption. Christ lives that He may
apply the power and the benefits of His death and of His risen life to
all humanity. But the missing link between the all sufficient redemption
that is in Christ Jesus, and the actual redemption of the world, is
'the remnant of Jacob,' the Christian Church which is to be 'in the
midst of many people, as a dew from the Lord.'

Now, that diffusion from individual centres of the life that is in Jesus
Christ is the chiefest reason--or at all events, is one chief
reason--for the strange and inextricable intertwining in modern society,
of saint and sinner, of Christian and non-Christian. The seed is sown
among the thorns; the wheat springs up amongst the tares. Their roots
are so matted together that no hand can separate them. In families, in
professions, in business relations, in civil life, in national life,
both grow together. God sows His seed thin that all the field may smile
in harvest. The salt is broken up into many minute particles and rubbed
into that which it is to preserve from corruption. The remnant of Jacob
is in the _midst_ of many peoples; and you and I are encompassed by
those who need our Christ, and who do not know Him or love Him; and one
great reason for the close intertwining is that, scattered, we may
diffuse, and that at all points the world may be in contact with those
who ought to be working to preserve it from putrefaction and decay.

Now there are two ways by which this function may be discharged, and in
which it is incumbent upon every Christian man to make his contribution,
be it greater or smaller, to the discharge of it. The one is by direct
efforts to impart to others the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ which
we have, and which we profess to be the very root of our lives. We can
all do that if we will, and we are here to do it. Every one of us has
somebody or other close to us, bound to us, perhaps, by the tie of
kindred and love, who will listen to us more readily than to anybody
else. Christian men and women, have you utilised these channels which
God Himself, by the arrangements of society, has dug for you, that
through them you may pour upon some thirsty ground the water of life? We
could also help, and help far more than any of us do, in associated
efforts for the same purpose. The direct obligation to direct efforts to
impart the Gospel cannot be shirked, though, alas! it is far too often
ignored by us professing Christians.

But there is another way by which 'the remnant of Jacob' is to be 'a dew
from the Lord,' and that is by trying to bring to bear Christian
thoughts and Christian principles upon all the relations of life in
which we stand, and upon all the societies, be they greater or
smaller--the family, the city, or the nation--of which we form parts. We
have heard a great deal lately about what people that know very little
about it, are pleased to call 'the Nonconformist conscience,' I take the
compliment, which is not intended, but is conveyed by the word. But I
venture to say that what is meant, is not the 'Nonconformist'
conscience, it is the _Christian_ conscience. We Nonconformists have no
monopoly, thank God, of that. Nay, rather, in some respects, our friends
in the Anglican churches are teaching some of us a lesson as to the
application of Christian principles to civic duty and to national life.
I beseech you, although I do not mean to dwell upon that point at all at
this time, to ask yourselves whether, as citizens, the vices, the
godlessness, the miseries--the removable miseries--of our great town
populations, lie upon your hearts. Have you ever lifted a finger to
abate drunkenness? Have you ever done anything to help to make it
possible that the masses of our town communities should live in places
better than the pigsties in which many of them have to wallow? Have you
any care for the dignity, the purity, the Christianity of our civic
rulers; and do you, to the extent of your ability, try to ensure that
Christ's teaching shall govern the life of our cities? And the same
question may be put yet more emphatically with regard to wider subjects,
namely, the national life and the national action, whether in regard to
war or in regard to other pressing subjects for national consideration.
I do not touch upon these; I only ask you to remember the grand ideal of
my text, which applies to the narrowest circle--the family; and to the
wider circles--the city and the nation, as well as to the world. Time
was when a bastard piety shrank back from intermeddling with these
affairs and gathered up its skirts about it in an ecstasy of unwholesome
unworldliness. There is not much danger of that now, when Christian men
are in the full swim of the currents of civic, professional, literary,
national life. But I will tell you of what there is a danger--Christian
men and women moving in their families, going into town councils, going
into Parliament, going to the polling booths, and leaving their
Christianity behind them. 'The remnant of Jacob shall be as a dew from
the Lord.'

Now let me turn for a moment to a second point, and that is

II. The function of English Christians in the world.

I have suggested in an earlier part of this sermon that possibly the
application of this text originally was to the scattered remnant. Be
that as it may, wherever you go, you find the Jew and the Englishman. I
need not dwell upon the ubiquity of our race. I need not point you to
the fact that, in all probability, our language is destined to be the
world's language some day. I need do nothing more than recall the fact
that a man may go on board ship, in Liverpool or London, and go round
the world; everywhere he sees the Union Jack, and everywhere he lands
upon British soil. The ubiquity of the scattered Englishman needs no
illustration.

But I do wish to remind you that that ubiquity has its obligation. We
hear a great deal to-day about Imperialism, about 'the Greater Britain,'
about 'the expansion of England.' And on one side all that new
atmosphere of feeling is good, for it speaks of a vivid consciousness
which is all to the good in the pulsations of the national life. But
there is another side to it that is not so good. What is the expansion
sought for? Trade? Yes! necessarily; and no man who lives in Lancashire
will speak lightly of that necessity. Vulgar greed, and earth-hunger?
_that_ is evil. Glory? that is cruel, blood-stained, empty. My text
tells us why expansion should be sought, and what are the obligations it
brings with it. 'The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many
people as a dew from the Lord' There are two kinds of Imperialism: one
which regards the Empire as a thing for the advantage of us here, in
this little land, and another which regards it as a burden that God has
laid on the shoulders of the men whom John Milton, two centuries ago,
was not afraid to call 'His Englishmen.'

Let me remind you of two contrasted pictures which will give far more
forcibly than anything I can say, the two points of view from which our
world-wide dominion may be regarded. Here is one of them: 'By the
strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent.
And I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their
treasures, and my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people;
and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing, or opened a mouth, or peeped.'
That is the voice of the lust for Empire for selfish advantages. And
here is the other one: 'The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall
bring presents; yea, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations
shall serve Him, for He shall deliver the needy when he crieth, the poor
also, and him that hath no helper. He shall redeem their soul from
deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in His sight.'
That is the voice that has learned: 'He that is greatest among you, let
him be your servant'; and that the dominion founded on unselfish
surrender for others is the only dominion that will last. Brethren! that
is the spirit in which alone England will keep its Empire over the
world.

I need not remind you that the gift which we have to carry to the
heathen nations, the subject peoples who are under the ægis of our laws,
is not merely our literature, our science, our Western civilisation,
still less the products of our commerce, for all of which some of them
are asking; but it is _the_ gift that they do _not_ ask for. The dew
'waiteth not for man, nor tarrieth for the sons of men.' We have to
create the demand by bringing the supply. We have to carry Christ's
Gospel as the greatest gift that we have in our hands.

And now, I was going to have said a word, lastly, but I see it can only
be a word, about--

III. The failure to fulfil the function.

Israel failed. Pharisaism was the end of it--a hugging itself in the
possession of the gift which it did not appreciate, and a bitter
contempt of the nations, and so destruction came, and the fire on the
hearth was scattered and died out, and the vineyard was taken from them
and 'given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.' Change the
name, as the Latin poet says, and the story is told about us. England
largely fails in this function; as witness in India godless civilians;
as witness on every palm-shaded coral beach in the South Seas,
profligate beach-combers, drunken sailors, unscrupulous traders; as
witness the dying out of races by diseases imported with profligacy and
gin from this land. 'A dew from the Lord!'; say rather a malaria from
the devil! 'By you,' said the Prophet, 'is the name of God blasphemed
among the Gentiles.' By Englishmen the missionary's efforts are, in a
hundred cases, neutralised, or hampered if not neutralised.

We have failed because, as Christian people, we have not been adequately
in earnest. No man can say with truth that the churches of England are
awake to the imperative obligation of this missionary enterprise. 'If
God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He spare not thee.'
Israel's religion was not diffusive, therefore it corrupted; Israel's
religion did not reach out a hand to the nations, therefore its heart
was paralysed and stricken. They who bring the Gospel to others increase
their own hold upon it. There is a joy of activity, there is a firmer
faith, as new evidences of its power are presented before them. There is
the blessing that comes down upon all faithful discharge of duty; 'If
the house be not worthy, your peace shall return to you.' After all, our
Empire rests on moral foundations, and if it is administered by us--and
we each have part of the responsibility for all that is done--on the
selfish ground of only seeking the advantage of 'the predominant
partner,' then our hold will be loosened. There is no such cement of
empire as a common religion. If we desire to make these subject peoples
loyal fellow-subjects, we must make them true fellow-worshippers. The
missionary holds India for England far more strongly than the soldier
does. If we apply Christian principles to our administration of our
Empire, then instead of its being knit together by iron bands, it will
be laced together by the intertwining tendrils of the hearts of those
who are possessors of 'like precious faith.' Brethren, there is another
saying in the Old Testament, about the dew. 'I will be as the dew unto
Israel,' says God through the Prophet. We must have Him as the dew for
our own souls first. Then only shall we be able to discharge the office
laid upon us, to be in the midst of many peoples as 'dew from the Lord.'
If our fleece is wet and we leave the ground dry, our fleece will soon
be dry, though the ground may be bedewed.


GOD'S REQUIREMENTS AND GOD'S GIFT

     'What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love
     mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?'--MICAH vi. 8.

This is the Prophet's answer to a question which he puts into the mouth
of his hearers. They had the superstitious estimate of the worth of
sacrifice, which conceives that the external offering is pleasing to
God, and can satisfy for sin. Micah, like his great contemporary Isaiah,
and the most of the prophets, wages war against that misconception of
sacrifice, but does not thereby protest against its use. To suppose that
he does so is to misunderstand his whole argument. Another misuse of the
words of my text is by no means uncommon to-day. One has heard people
say, 'We are plain men; we do not understand your theological
subtleties; we do not quite see what you mean by "Repentance toward God,
and faith in Jesus Christ." "To do justly, and to love mercy, and to
walk humbly with my God," that is my religion, and I leave all the rest
to you.' That is our religion too, but notice that word 'require.' It is
a harsh word, and if it is the last word to be said about God's relation
to men, then a great shadow has fallen upon life.

But there is another word which Micah but dimly caught uttered amidst
the thunders of Sinai, and which you and I have heard far more clearly.
The Prophet read off rightly God's _requirements_, but he had not
anything to say about God's _gifts_. So his word is a half-truth, and
the more clearly it is seen, and the more earnestly a man tries to live
up to the standard of the requirements laid down here, the more will he
feel that there is something else needed, and the more will he see that
the great central peculiarity and glory of Christianity is not that it
reiterates or alters God's requirements, but that it brings into view
God's gifts. 'To do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God,'
is possible only through repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord
Jesus Christ. And if you suppose that these words of my text disclose
the whole truth about God's relation to men, and men's to God, you have
failed to apprehend the flaming centre of the Light that shines from
heaven.

I. So, then, the first thing that I wish to suggest is God's
requirements.

Now, I do not need to say more than just a word or two about the
summing-up in my text of the plain, elementary duties of morality and
religion. It covers substantially the same ground, in a condensed form,
as does the Decalogue, only that Moses began with the deepest thing and
worked outwards, as it were; laying the foundation in a true relation to
God, which is the most important, and from which will follow the true
relation to men. Micah begins at the other end, and starting with the
lesser, the more external, the purely human, works his way inwards to
that which is the centre and the source of all.

'To do justly,' that is elementary morality in two words. Whatever a man
has a right to claim from you, give him; that is the sum of duty. And
yet not altogether so, for we all know the difference between a
righteous man and a good man, and how, if there is only rigidly
righteous action, there is something wanting to the very righteousness
of the action and to the completeness of the character. 'To do' is not
enough; we must get to the heart, and so '_love_ mercy.' Justice is not
all. If each man gets his deserts, as Shakespeare says, 'who of us shall
scape whipping?' There must be the mercy as well as the justice. In a
very deep sense no man renders to his fellows all that his fellows have
a right to expect of him, who does not render to them mercy. And so in a
very deep sense, mercy is part of justice, and you have not given any
poor creature all that that poor creature has a right to look for from
you, unless you have given him all the gracious and gentle charities of
heart and hand. Justice and mercy do, in the deepest view, run into one.

Then Micah goes deeper. 'And to walk humbly with thy God.' Some people
would say that this summary of the divine requirements is defective,
because there is nothing in it about a man's duty to himself, which is
as much a duty as his duty to his fellows, or his duty to God. But there
is a good deal of my duty to myself crowded into that one word,
'humbly.' For I suppose we might almost say that the basis of all our
obligations to our own selves lies in this, that we shall take the right
view--that is, the lowly view--of ourselves. But I pass that.

'To walk humbly with thy God.' 'Can two walk together unless they be
agreed?' For walking with God there must be communion, based in love,
and resulting in imitation. And that communion must be constant, and run
through all the life, like a golden thread through some web. So, then,
here is the minimum of the divine requirements, to give everybody what
he has a right to, including the mercy to which he has a right, to have
a lowly estimate of myself, and to live continually grasping the hand of
God, and conscious of His overshadowing wing at all moments, and of
conformity to His will at every step of the road. That is the minimum;
and the people who so glibly say, 'That is my religion,' have little
consciousness of how far-reaching and how deep-down-going the
requirements of this text are. The requirements result from the very
nature of God, and our relation to Him, and they are endorsed by our own
consciences, for we all know that these, and nothing less than these are
the duties that we owe to God. So much for God's requirements.

II. Our failure.

There is not one of us that has come up to the standard. Man after man
may be conceived of as bringing in his hands the actions of his life,
and laying them in the awful scales which God's hand holds. In the one
are God's requirements, in the other my life; and in every case down
goes the weight, and 'weighed in the balances we are altogether lighter
than vanity.' We stand before the great Master in the school, and one by
one we take up our copybooks; and there is not one of them that is not
black with blots and erasures and swarming with errors. The great cliff
stands in front of us with the victor's prize on its topmost ledge, and
man after man tries to climb, and falls bruised and broken at the base.
'There is none righteous, no, not one.' Micah's requirements come to
every man that will honestly take stock of his life and his character as
the statement of an unreached and unreachable ideal to which he never
has climbed nor ever can climb.

Oh, brethren! if these words are all the words that are to be said about
God and me, then I know not what lies before the enlightened conscience
except shuddering despair, and a paralysing consciousness of inevitable
failure. I beseech you, take these words, and go apart with them, and
test your daily life by them. God requires me to do justly. Does there
not rise before my memory many an act in which, in regard to persons and
in regard to circumstances, I have fallen beneath that requirement? He
requires me 'to love mercy.' He requires me 'to walk humbly,' and I have
often been inflated and self-conceited and presumptuous. He requires me
to walk with Himself, and I have shaken away His hand from me, and
passed whole days without ever thinking of Him, and 'the God in whose
hands' my 'breath is, and whose are all' my 'ways,' I have 'not
glorified.' I cannot hammer this truth into your consciences. You have
to do it for yourselves. But I beseech you, recognise the fact that you
are implicated in the universal failure, and that God's requirement is
God's condemnation of each of us.

If, then, that is true, that all have come short of the requirement,
then there should follow a universal sense of guilt, for there is the
universal fact of guilt, whether there be the sense of it or not. There
must follow, too, consequences resulting from the failure of each of us
to comply with these divine requirements, consequences very alarming,
very fatal; and there must follow a darkening of the thought of God. 'I
knew thee that thou wert an austere man, reaping where thou didst not
sow, and gathering where thou didst not straw.' That is the God of all
the people who take my text as the last word of their religion--God
'requires of me. The blessed sun in the heavens becomes a lurid ball of
fire when it is seen through the mist of such a conception of the divine
character, and its relation to men. There is nothing that so drapes the
sky in darkness, and hides out the great light of God, as the thought of
His requirements as the last thought we cherish concerning Him.

There follows, too, upon this conception, and the failure that results
to fulfil the requirements, a hopelessness as to ever accomplishing that
which is demanded of us. Who amongst us is there that, looking back upon
his past in so far as it has been shaped by his own effort and his own
unaided strength, can look forward to a future with any hope that it
will mend the past? Brethren! experience teaches us that we have not
fulfilled, and cannot fulfil, what remains our plain duty,
notwithstanding our inability to discharge it--viz., 'To do justly, and
to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.' To think of God's
requirements, and of my own failure, is the sure way to paralyse all
activity; just as that man in the parable who said, 'Thou art an austere
man,' went away and hid his talent in the earth. To think of God's
requirements and my own failures, if heaven has nothing more to say to
me than this stern 'Thou shalt,' is the short way to despair. And that
is why most of us prefer to be immersed in the trivialities of daily
life rather than to think of God, and of what He asks from us. For the
only way by which some of us can keep our equanimity and our
cheerfulness is by ignoring Him and forgetting what He demands, and
never taking stock of our own lives.

III. Lastly, my text leads us to think of God's gift.

I said it is a half-truth, for it only tells us of what He desires us to
be, and does not tell us of how we may be it. It is meant, like the law
of which it is a condensation, to be the _pedagogue_, to lead the child
to Jesus Christ, the true Master, and the true Gift of God.

God 'requires.' Yes, and He requires, in order that we should say to
Him, 'Lord, Thou hast a right to ask this, and it is my blessedness to
give it, but I cannot. Do Thou give me what Thou dost require, and then
I can.'

The gift of God is Jesus Christ, and that gift meets all our failures. I
have spoken of the sense of guilt that rises from the consciousness of
failure to keep the requirements of the divine law; and the gift of God
deals with that. It comes to us as we lie wounded, bruised, conscious of
failure, alarmed for results, sensible of guilt, and dreading the
penalties, and it says to us, 'Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin
purged.' 'God requires of thee what thou hast not done. Trust yourselves
to Me, and all iniquity is passed from your souls.'

I spoke of the hopelessness of future performance, which results from
experience of past failures; and the gift of God deals with that. You
cannot meet the requirements. Christ will put His Spirit into your
spirits, if you will trust yourselves to Him, and then you will meet
them, for the things which are impossible with men are possible with
God. So, if led by Micah, we pass from God's requirements to His gifts,
look at the change in the aspect which God bears to us. He is no longer
standing strict to mark, and stern to judge and condemn: but bending
down graciously to help. His last word to us is not 'Thou shalt do' but
'I will give.' His utterance in the Gospel is not 'do,' but it is
'take'; and the vision of God, which shines out upon us from the life
and from the Cross of Jesus Christ, is not that of a great Taskmaster,
but that of Him who helps all our weakness, and makes it strength. A God
who 'requires' paralyses men, shuts men out from hope and joy and
fellowship; a God who gives draws men to His heart, and makes them
diligent in fulfilling all His blessed requirements.

Think of the difference which the conception of God as giving makes to
the spirit in which we work. No longer, like the Israelites in Egypt, do
we try to make bricks without straw, and break our hearts over our
failures, or desperately abandon the attempt, and live in neglect of God
and His will; but joyfully, with the clear confidence that 'our labour
is not in vain in the Lord,' we seek to keep the commandments which we
have learned to be the expressions of His love. One of the Fathers puts
all in one lovely sentence: 'Give what Thou commandest, and command what
Thou wilt.'

Think, too, of the difference which this conception of the giving rather
than of the requiring God brings into what we have to do. We have not to
begin with effort, we have to begin with faith. The fountain must be
filled from the spring before it can send up its crystal pillar flashing
in the sunlight; and we must receive by our trust the power to will and
to do. First fill the lamp with oil, and let the Master light it, and
then let its blaze beam forth. First, we have to go to the giving God,
with thanks 'unto Him for His unspeakable gift'; and then we have to say
to Him, 'Thou hast given me Thy Son. What dost Thou desire that I shall
give to Thee?' We have first to accept the gift, and then, moved by the
mercy of God, to ask, 'Lord I what wilt Thou have me to do?'

        *        *        *        *        *


HABAKKUK


THE IDEAL DEVOUT LIFE

     'The Lord God is my Strength, and He will make my feet like hinds'
     feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high
     places.'--HABBAKKUK iii. 19.

So ends one of the most magnificent pieces of imaginative poetry in
Scripture or anywhere else. The singer has been describing a great
delivering manifestation of the Most High God, which, though he knew it
was for the deliverance of God's people, shed awe and terror over his
soul. Then he gathers himself together to vow that in this God, thus
manifested as the God of his salvation, he 'will rejoice,' whatever
penury or privation may attach to his outward life. Lastly, he rises, in
these final words, to the apprehension of what this God, thus rejoiced
in, will become to those who so put their trust and their gladness upon
Himself.

The expressions are of a highly metaphorical and imaginative character,
but they admit of being brought down to very plain facts, and they tell
us the results in heart and mind of true faith and communion with God.

It is to be noticed that a parallel saying, almost verbatim the same as
that of my text, occurs in the 18th psalm, and that there, too, it is
the last and joyous result of a tremendous manifestation of the
delivering energy of God.

Without any attempt to do more than bring out the deep meaning of the
words, I note that the three clauses of our text present three aspects
of what our lives and ourselves may steadfastly be if we, too, will
rejoice in the God of our salvation.

I. First, such communion with God brings God to a man for his strength.

The 18th psalm, which is closely parallel, as I have remarked, with this
one, gives a somewhat different and inferior version of that thought
when it says, 'It is the Lord that girdeth me with strength.' But
Habakkuk, though perhaps he could not have put into dogmatic shape all
that he meant, had come farther than that with this: 'The Lord is my
strength.' He not only _gives_, as one might put a coin into the hand of
a beggar, while standing separate from him all the while, but 'He is my
strength.'

And what does that mean? It is an anticipation of that most wonderful
and highest of all the New Testament truths which the Apostle declared
when he said: 'I can do all things in Christ which strengtheneth me
within.' It is the anticipation in experience--which always comes before
dogmatic formulas that reduce experiences into articulate utterances, of
what the Apostle recorded when he said that he had heard the voice that
declared, 'My grace is sufficient for thee, and My strength is made
perfect in weakness.'

Ah, brother! do not let us deprive ourselves of the lofty consolations
and the mysterious influx of power which may be ours, if we will open
our eyes to see, and our hearts to receive, what is really the central
blessing of the Gospel, the communication through the same faith as
Habakkuk exercised when he said, 'I will rejoice in the God of my
salvation,' of an actual divine strength to dwell in and manifest itself
majestically and triumphantly through, our weakness. 'The Lord is my
strength,' and if we will rejoice in the Lord we shall find that
Habakkuk's experience was lower than ours, inasmuch as he knew less of
God than we do; and we shall be able to surpass his saying with the
other one of the Prophet: 'The Lord is my strength and song; He also is
become my salvation.' That is the first blessing that this ancient
believer, out of the twilight of early revelation, felt as certain to
come through communion with God.

II. The second is like unto it. Such rejoicing communion with God will
give light-footedness in the path of life.

'He makes my feet like hinds' feet.' The stag is, in all languages
spoken by people that have ever seen it, the very type and emblem of
elastic, springing ease, of light and bounding gracefulness, that clears
every obstacle, and sweeps swiftly over the moor. And when this singer,
or his brother psalmist in the other psalm that we have referred to,
says, 'Thou makest my feet like hinds' feet,' what he is thinking about
is that light and easy, springing, elastic gait, that swiftness of
advance. What a contrast that is to the way in which most of us get
through our day's work! Plod, plod, plod, in a heavy-footed, spiritless
grind, like that with which the ploughman toils down the sticky furrows
of a field, with a pound of clay at each heel; or like that with which a
man goes wearied home from his work at night. The monotony of trivial,
constantly recurring doings, the fluctuations in the thermometer of our
own spirits; the stiff bits of road that we have all to encounter sooner
or later; and as days go on, our diminishing buoyancy of nature, and the
love of walking a little slower than we used to do; we all know these
things, and our gait is affected by them. But then my text brings a
bright assurance, that swift and easy and springing as the course of a
stag on a free hill-side may be the gait with which we run the race set
before us.

It is the same thought, under a somewhat different garb, which the
Apostle has when he tells us that the Christian soldier ought to have
his 'feet shod with the alacrity that comes from the gospel of peace.'
We are to be always ready to run, and to run with light hearts when we
do. That is a possible result of Christian communion, and ought, far
more than it is, to be an achieved reality with each of us. Of course
physical conditions vary. Of course our spirits go up and down. Of
course the work that we have to do one day seems easier than the same
work does another. All these fluctuations and variations, and causes of
heavy-footedness--and sometimes more sinful ones, causes of
sluggishness--will survive; but in spite of them all, and beneath them
all, it is possible that we may have ourselves thus equipped for the
road, and may rejoice in our work 'as a strong man to run a race,' and
may cheerily welcome every duty, and cast ourselves into all our tasks.
It is possible, because communion with God manifest in Christ does, as
we have been seeing, actually breathe into men a vigour, and
consequently a freshness and a buoyancy that do not belong to
themselves, and do not come from nature or from surrounding things.
Unless that is true, that Christianity gives to a man the divine
gladness which makes him ready for work, I do not know what is the good
of his Christianity to him.

But not only is that so, but this same communion with God, which is the
opening of the heart for the influx of the divine power, brings to bear
upon all our work new motives which redeem it from being oppressive,
tedious, monotonous, trivial, too great for our endurance, or too little
for our effort. All work that is not done in fellowship with Jesus
Christ tends to become either too heavy to be tackled successfully, or
too trivial to demand our best energies, and in either case will be done
perfunctorily, and as the days go on, mechanically and wearisomely, as a
grind and a pled. 'Thou makest my feet like hinds' feet'--if I get the
new motive of love to God in Christ well into my heart so that it comes
out and influences all my actions, there will be no more tasks too
formidable to undertake, or too small to be worth an effort. There will
be nothing unwelcome. The rough places will be made plain, and the
crooked things straight, and our feet will be shod with the preparedness
of the gospel of peace.

If we live in daily communion with God, another thought, too, will come
in, which will, in like manner, make us ready 'to run with' cheerfulness
'the race that is set before us.' We shall connect everything that
befalls us, and everything that we have to do, with the final issue, and
life will become solemn, grave, and blessed, because it is the outer
court and vestibule of the eternal life with God in Christ. They that
hold communion with Him, and only they, will, as another prophet says,
'run and not be weary,' when there come the moments that require a
special effort; and 'will walk and not faint' through the else
tediously long hours of commonplace duty and dusty road.

III. The last of the thoughts here is--Communion with God brings
elevation.

'He will make me to walk upon my high places.' One sees the herd on the
skyline of the mountain ridge, and at home up there, far above dangers
and attack; able to keep their footing on cliff and precipice, and
tossing their antlers in the pure air. One wave of the hand, and they
are miles away. 'He sets me upon my high places'; if we will keep
ourselves in simple, loving fellowship with God in Christ; and day by
day, even when 'the fig-tree does not blossom, and there is no fruit in
the vine,' will still 'rejoice in the God of our salvation,' He will
lift us up, and Isaiah's other clause in the verse which I have quoted
will be fulfilled: 'They shall mount up with wings as eagles.' Communion
with God does not only help us to plod and to travel, but it helps us to
soar. If we keep ourselves in touch with Him, we shall be like a weight
that is hung on to a balloon. The buoyancy of the one will lift the
leadenness of the other. If we hold fast by Christ's hand that will lift
us up to the high places, the heights of God, in so far as we may reach
them in this world; and we shall be at home up there. They will be '_my_
high places,' that I never could have got at by my own scrambling, but
to which Thou hast lifted me up, and which, by Thy grace, have become my
natural abode. I am at home there, and walk at liberty in the loftiness,
and fear no fall amongst the cliffs.

Are you and I familiar with these upper ranges of thought and experience
and life? Do we feel at home there more than down in the bottoms,
amongst the swamps, and the miasma, and the mists? Where is your home,
brother? The Mass begins with _Sursum corda_: 'Up with your hearts,' and
that is the word for us. But the way to get up is to keep ourselves in
touch with Jesus Christ, and then He will, even whilst our feet are
travelling along this road of earth, set us at His own right hand in the
heavenly places, and make them '_our_ high places.' It is safe up there.
The air is pure; the poison mists are down lower; the hunters do not
come there; their arrows or their rifles will not carry so far. It is
only when the herd ventures a little down the hill that it is in danger
from shots.

But the elevation will not be such as to make us despise the low paths
on which duty--the sufficient and loftiest thing of all--lies for us.
Our souls may be like stars, and dwell apart, and yet may lay the
humblest duties upon themselves, and whilst we live in the high places,
we 'may travel on life's common way in cheerful godliness.' Communion
with Him will make us light-footed, and lift us high, and yet it will
keep us at desk, and mill, and study, and kitchen, and nursery, and
shop, and we shall find that the high places are reachable in every
life, and in every task. So we may go on until at last we shall hear the
Voice that says, 'Come up higher,' and shall he lifted to the mountain
of God, where the living waters are, and shall fear no snares or hunters
any more for ever.

        *        *        *        *        *


ZEPHANIAH


ZION'S JOY AND GOD'S

     'Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice
     with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.... 17. He will rejoice
     over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee
     with singing.'--ZEPHANIAH iii. 14, 17.

What a wonderful rush of exuberant gladness there is in these words! The
swift, short clauses, the triple invocation in the former verse, the
triple promise in the latter, the heaped together synonyms, all help the
impression. The very words seem to dance with joy. But more remarkable
than this is the parallelism between the two verses. Zion is called to
rejoice in God because God rejoices in her. She is to shout for joy and
sing because God's joy too has a voice, and breaks out into singing. For
every throb of joy in man's heart, there is a wave of gladness in God's.
The notes of our praise are at once the echoes and the occasions of His.
We are to be glad because He is glad: He is glad because we are so. We
sing for joy, and He joys over us with singing because we do.

I. God's joy over Zion.

It is to be noticed that the former verse of our text is followed by the
assurance: 'The Lord is in the midst of thee'; and that the latter verse
is preceded by the same assurance. So, then, intimate fellowship and
communion between God and Israel lies at the root both of God's joy in
man and man's joy in God.

We are solemnly warned by 'profound thinkers' of letting the shadow of
our emotions fall upon God. No doubt there is a real danger there; but
there is a worse danger, that of conceiving of a God who has no life and
heart; and it is better to hold fast by this--that in Him is that which
corresponds to what in us is gladness. We are often told, too, that the
Jehovah of the Old Testament is a stern and repellent God, and the
religion of the Old Testament is gloomy and servile. But such a
misconception is hard to maintain in the face of such words as these.
Zephaniah, of whom we know little, and whose words are mainly forecasts
of judgments and woes pronounced against Zion that was rebellious and
polluted, ends his prophecy with these companion pictures, like a gleam
of sunshine which often streams out at the close of a dark winter's day.
To him the judgments which he prophesied were no contradiction of the
love and gladness of God. The thought of a glad God might be a very
awful thought; such an insight as this prophet had gives a blessed
meaning to it. We may think of the joy that belongs to the divine nature
as coming from the completeness of His being, which is raised far above
all that makes of sorrow. But it is not in Himself alone that He is
glad; but it is because He loves. The exercise of love is ever
blessedness. His joy is in self-impartation; His delights are in the
sons of men: 'As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy
God rejoice over thee.' His gladness is in His children when they let
Him love them, and do not throw back His love on itself. As in man's
physical frame it is pain to have secretions dammed up, so when God's
love is forced back upon itself and prevented from flowing out in
blessing, some shadow of suffering cannot but pass across that calm sky.
He is glad when His face is mirrored in ours, and the rays from Him are
reflected from us.

But there is another wonderfully bold and beautiful thought in this
representation of the gladness of God. Note the double form which it
assumes: 'He will rest'--literally, be silent--'in His love; He will joy
over thee with singing.' As to the former, loving hearts on earth know
that the deepest love knows no utterance, and can find none. A heart
full of love rests as having attained its desire and accomplished its
purpose. It keeps a perpetual Sabbath, and is content to be silent.

But side by side with this picture of the repose of God's joy is set
with great poetic insight the precisely opposite image of a love which
delights in expression, and rejoices over its object with singing. The
combination of the two helps to express the depth and intensity of the
one love, which like a song-bird rises with quivering delight and pours
out as it rises an ever louder and more joyous note, and then drops,
composed and still, to its nest upon the dewy ground.

II. Zion's joy in God.

To the Prophet, the fact that 'the Lord is in the midst of thee' was the
guarantee for the confident assurance 'Thou shalt not fear any more';
and this assurance was to be the occasion of exuberant gladness, which
ripples over in the very words of our first text. That great thought of
'God dwelling in the midst' is rightly a pain and a terror to rebellious
wills and alienated hearts. It needs some preparation of mind and spirit
to be glad because God is near; and they who find their satisfaction in
earthly sources, and those who seek for it in these, see no word of good
news, but rather a 'fearful looking for of judgment' in the thought that
God is in their midst. The word rendered 'rejoices' in the first verse
of our text is not the same as that so translated in the second. The
latter means literally, to move in a circle; while the former literally
means, to leap for joy. Thus the gladness of God is thought of as
expressing itself in dignified, calm movements, whilst Zion's joy is
likened in its expression to the more violent movements of the dance.
True human joy is like God's, in that He delights in us and we in Him,
and in that both He and we delight in the exercise of love. But we are
never to forget that the differences are real as the resemblances, and
that it is reserved for the higher form of our experiences in a future
life to 'enter into the joy of the Lord.'

It becomes us to see to it that our religion is a religion of joy. Our
text is an authoritative command as well as a joyful exhortation, and we
do not fairly represent the facts of Christian faith if we do not
'rejoice in the Lord always.' In all the sadness and troubles which
necessarily accompany us, as they do all men, we ought by the effort of
faith to set the Lord always before us that we be not moved. The secret
of stable and perpetual joy still lies where Zephaniah found it--in the
assurance that the Lord is with us, and in the vision of His love
resting upon us, and rejoicing over us with singing. If thus our love
clasps His, and His joy finds its way into our hearts, it will remain
with us that our 'joy may be full'; and being guarded by Him whilst
still there is fear of stumbling, He will set us at last 'before the
presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy.

        *        *        *        *        *


HAGGAI


VAIN TOIL

     'Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not
     enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you,
     but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to
     put it into a bag with holes.'--HAGGAI i. 6

A large emigration had taken place from the land of captivity to
Jerusalem. The great purpose which the returning exiles had in view was
the rebuilding of the Temple, as the centre-point of the restored
nation. With true heroism, and much noble and unselfish enthusiasm, they
began the work, postponing to it all considerations of personal
convenience. But the usual fate of all great national enthusiasms
attended this. Political difficulties, hard practical realities, came in
the way, and the task was suspended for a time. A handful remained true
to the original ideas; the rest fell away. Personal comfort, love of
ease, the claims of domestic life, the greed of gain, all the ignoble
motives which, like gravitation and friction, check such movements after
the first impulse is exhausted, came into play. Like every great cause,
this one was launched amidst high hopes and honest zeal: but by degrees
the hopes faded and became nothing better than 'godly imaginations.' The
exiles took to building their own ceiled houses, and let the House of
God lie waste. They began to think more of settling on the land than of
building the Temple. No doubt they said all the things with which men
are wont to hide their selfishness under the mask of duty:--Men must
live; we must take care of ourselves; it is mad enthusiasm to build a
temple when we have not homes; we mean to build it some time, but we are
practical men and must provide for our wants first.'

This wisdom of theirs turned out folly, as it generally does. There
came, as we learn from this prophet, a season of distress, in which the
harvest, for which they had sacrificed their duties and their calling,
failed: and in spite of their prudent diligence, or rather, just because
of their misplaced and selfish attention to their worldly well-being,
they were poor and hungry. 'The heaven over them was stayed from dew,
and the earth from her fruit.' Haggai was sent by God to interpret the
calamity, and to urge to the fulfilment of their earlier purposes.

His words apply to a supernatural condition of things with which he is
dealing, but they contain truths illustrated by it and true for ever.
For us all, as truly as for those Jews, the first thing, the primary,
all-embracing duty, is to serve God, to obey, love, and live with Him.
The same selfish and worldly excuses have force with us: 'We have
business to look after; men must live; we have no time to think about
religion; I have built a new mill that occupies my thoughts; I have
found a new plaything, and I must try it; I have married a wife, and
therefore I cannot come.' So God and His claims, Christ and His love,
are hustled into a corner to be attended to when opportunity serves, but
to be neglected in the meantime. And the same result follows, not by
miracle, but by natural necessity. Haggai puts these results in our text
with bitter, indignant amplification. His words are all the working out
of one idea-the unprofitableness, on the whole and in the long-run, of a
godless life. He illustrates this in the clauses of our text in various
forms, and my purpose now is simply to apply each of these to the
realities of a godless life.

I. It is a life of fruitless toil.

The Prophet pictures the sowing, the abundant seed thrown broadcast, the
long waiting, and then, finally, a wretched harvest--a few prematurely
yellow ears and short stalks. I remember a friend telling me that when
he was a boy he went out reaping with his father in one of our years of
great drought; and after a day's work threshed out all that he had cut,
and carried it home with him in his handkerchief. That is what Haggai
saw realised in fact, because the sowing had been without God. It is
what we may see in others and feel in ourselves. It is the very law and
curse of godless toil with its unproductive harvest. The builders set
out to build a tower whose top shall reach to heaven, and they never get
higher than a story or two. There is nothing more tragic than the
contrast between what a man actually accomplishes in his life and what
he planned when he began it. Many and many of our lives are like the
half-built houses in Pompeii, where the stones are lying that had been
all squared and polished, and have never been lifted to their place in
the unfinished walls. Much of the seed never comes up at all; and what
we gather is always less than what we expected. The prize gleams before
us; when we get it, is it as good as it looked when it hung tempting at
the unreached goal? A fox-brush is scarcely sufficient payment for
riding over half a county. Ah! but you say, there is the enthusiasm and
stir of the pursuit. Well, yes; it is something if it is _training_ you
for something, and if you can say that faculties worth the cultivating
are developed in that way: and whether that is so depends on what you
think a man is made for, and on whether these are faculties which will
last and find their scope as long as you last. Consider what you are,
what you seek; and then say whether the most fruitful harvest from which
God and His love are left out is not little.

This fruitlessness of toil is inevitable unless it springs from a motive
which in itself is sufficient, pursues a purpose which will surely be
accomplished, and is done in hope of the world where 'our works do
follow us.' If we are allied to Christ, then whether our work be great
or small, apparently successful or frustrated, it will be all right.
Though we do not see our fruit, we know that He will bless the springing
thereof, and that no least deed done for Him but shall in the
harvest-day be found waving a nodding head of multiplied results. 'God
giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him'; and 'he that goeth forth
weeping shall doubtless return, bringing his sheaves with him.' 'Your
labour is not in vain to the Lord.'

II. A godless life is one of unsatisfied hunger and thirst.

The poor results of the exiles' toil did not avail to stay gnawing
hunger nor slake burning thirst, and the same result applies only too
sadly to lives lived apart from God. There are a multitude of desires
proper to the human soul besides those which belong to the bodily frame,
and these have their proper objects. Is it true that the objects are
sufficient to satisfy the desires? Does any one of the things for which
we toil feed us full when we have it? Do we not always want just a
little more? And is not that want accompanied with a real and sharp
sense of hunger? Is it not true the appetite GROWS with what it feeds
on? And even if a man schools himself to something like content, it
comes not because the desire is satisfied, but because it is somehow
bridled. Cerberus often breaks his chain, in spite of honied cakes that
have been tossed into the wide mouths of his tripled heads. What do
wealth and ambition do for their votaries? And even he who thirsts for
nobler occupations and lives for higher aims is often obliged to admit,
in weariness, that 'this also is vanity.'

But even when the desire is satisfied, the man desiring is not. To feed
their bodies men starve their souls. How many longings are crushed or
neglected by him who pushes eagerly after any one longing! We have
either to race from one course to another, splitting life into
intolerable distractions, or we have to circumscribe and limit ourselves
in order to devote all our power to securing one; and if we secure it,
then a hundred others will bark like a kennel of hounds.

And if you say, 'I know nothing about all this; I have my aims, and on
the whole I secure a tolerable satisfaction for them,' do you not know a
nameless unrest? If you do not, then you are so much the poorer and the
lower, and you have murdered part of yourself. Some one single tyrannous
desire sits solitary in your heart. He has slain all his brethren that
he may rule, as sultans used to do in Constantinople. One big fish in
the aquarium has eaten up all the others.

God only satisfies the soul. It is only the 'bread which came down from
Heaven,' of which if we eat our souls shall live, and be filled as with
marrow and fatness. That One is all-sufficient in His Oneness.
Possessing Him, we know no satiety; possessing Him, we do not need to
maim any part of our nature; possessing Him, we shall not covet divers
multifarious objects. The loftiest powers of the soul find in Him their
adequate, inexhaustible, eternal object. The lowest desires may, like
the beasts of the forest, seek their meat from God. If we take Him for
our own and live on Him by faith, our blessed experience will be, 'I am
full: I have all and abound.'

III. The godless life is one of futile defences.

'Ye clothe you, but there is none warm.' The clothing was to guard
against the nipping air that blew shrewdly on their hills, and it failed
to keep them from the weather. We may be indulging in fancy in this
application of our text, but still raiment is as needful as food, and
its failure to answer its purpose points to a real sorrow and
insufficiency of a life lived without God. In it there is no real
defence against the manifold evils which storm upon all of us. When the
bitter, biting weather comes, what have you to shelter you from the cold
blast? Some rags of stoical resignation or proverbial commonplaces?
'What is done cannot be helped'; 'What cannot be cured must be endured';
'It is a long lane that has no turning,' and the like. But what are
these? You may have other occupations to interest you, but these will
not heal, though they may divert your attention from, your gaping
wounds. You have friends, and the like, but though you have all these
and much beside, these will not avail. 'The covering is shorter than
that a man can wrap himself in it.' Naked and shivering, exposed to the
pelting and the pitiless storm, with rags soaked through, and chilled to
the bone, what is there but death before the man in the wild weather on
some trackless moor? And what is there for us if we have to bear the
storms and cold of life without God? No doubt most of us struggle
through somehow. Time heals much; work does a great deal; to live is so
much, that no living being can be wholly miserable. Other cares and
other occupations blossom and grow, and the brown mounds get covered
with sweet springing grass. But how many lie down and die? How many for
the rest of their lives go crushed and broken-spirited? How many carry
about with them, deep in their hearts, a sleepless sorrow? How many have
to bear passionate paroxysms of agony and bursts of angry grief, all of
which might have been softened and soothed and made to gleam with the
mellow light of hope as from a hidden sun, if only, instead of defiantly
and weakly fronting the world alone, they had found in the man Christ
the refuge from the storm and the covert from the tempest. How can a man
face all the awful possibilities and the solemn certainties of life
without God and not go mad? It is impossible to work without Him; it is
impossible to rejoice without Him; but more impossible still, if that
could be, is it to endure without Him. It is in union with Jesus Christ,
and with Him alone, that we shall receive 'the pure linen, clean and
white,' which is a surer defence than the warrior's mail, and 'being
clothed we shall not be found naked.'

IV. A godless life is one of fleeting riches.

In Haggai's strong metaphor, the poor day-labourer earns his small wage
and puts it into a ragged bag, or as we should say, a pocket with a hole
in it; and when he comes to look for it, it is gone, and all his toil is
for nothing. What a picture this is of the very experience that befalls
all men who work for less wages than God's 'Well done.' Take an instance
or two: here is a man who works hard for a long time, and puts his money
into some bank, and one morning he gets a letter to tell him the bank's
doors are closed, and his savings gone--a bag with holes. Here is a man
who climbs by slow degrees to the head of his profession and lives in
popular admiration, and some day he sees a younger competitor shooting
ahead of him, and all is lost--a bag with holes. Here is a man who has,
by some great discovery, established his fame or his fortune, and a new
man, standing on his shoulders, makes a greater, and his fame dwarfs and
his trade runs into other channels--a bag with holes. Here is a man who
has conquered a world, and dies on the rock of St. Helena, with his
pompous titles stripped off him, and instead of kingdoms a rood or two
of garden, and instead of his legions, half a dozen soldiers, a doctor,
and a jailer--a bag with holes. Here is a man who, having amassed his
riches and kept them without loss all his life, is dying. They cannot go
with him. That would not matter; but unfortunately he has to live
yonder, and he will have 'nothing of all his labour that he can carry
away in his hands'--a bag with holes.

Such loss and final separation befall us all; but he who loves God loses
none of his real treasure when he parts from earthly treasures. Fortune
may turn her wheel as she pleases, his wealth cannot be taken from him.
His riches are laid up in a sure storehouse, 'where neither moth nor
rust doth corrupt.' We each live for ever. Should we not have for our
object in life that which is eternal as ourselves? Why should we fix
our hopes on that which is not abiding--on things that can perish, on
things that we must lose? Let us not run this awful risk. Do not
impoverish or darken life here; do not condemn yourselves to unfruitful
toil, to unsatisfied desires, to unguarded calamities, to unstable
possessions; but come, as sinful men ought to come, to Jesus Christ for
pardon and for life. Then, in due season, you will reap if you faint
not; and the harvest will not be little, but 'some sixty-fold and some
an hundred-fold'; then you will 'hunger no more, neither thirst any
more,' but 'He that hath mercy on you will lead you to living fountains
of water'; then you will not have to draw your poor rags round you for
warmth, but shall be clothed with the robe of righteousness and the
garment of praise; then you will never need to fear the loss of your
riches, but bear with you whilst you live your treasures beyond the
reach of change, and will find them multiplied a thousand-fold when you
die and go to God, your portion and your joy for ever.


BRAVE ENCOURAGEMENTS

     'In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month,
     came the word of the Lord by the prophet Haggai, saying, 2. Speak
     now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to
     Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of
     the people, saying, 3. Who is left among you that saw this house in
     her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes
     in comparison of it as nothing? 4. Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel,
     saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high
     priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord,
     and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts: 5. According
     to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt,
     so My Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. 6. For thus saith
     the Lord of Hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will
     shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; 7.
     And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall
     come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of
     Hosts. 8. The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, saith the Lord
     of Hosts. 9. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than
     of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I
     give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts.'--HAGGAI ii. 1-9.

The second year of Darius, in which Haggai prophesied, was 520 B.C.
Political intrigues had stopped the rebuilding of the Temple, and the
enthusiasm of the first return had died away in the face of prolonged
difficulties. The two brave leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, still
survived, and kept alive their own zeal; but the mass of the people were
more concerned about their comforts than about the restoration of the
house of Jehovah. They had built for themselves 'ceiled houses,' and
were engrossed with their farms.

The Book of Ezra dwells on the external hindrances to the rebuilding.
Haggai goes straight at the selfishness and worldliness of the people as
the great hindrance. We know nothing about him beyond the fact that he
was a prophet working in conjunction with Zechariah. He has been thought
to have been one of the original company who came back with Zerubbabel,
and it has been suggested, though without any certainty, that he may
have been one of the old men who remembered the former house. But these
conjectures are profitless, and all that we know is that God sent him to
rouse the slackened earnestness of the people, and that his words
exercised a powerful influence in setting forward the work of
rebuilding. This passage is the second of his four short prophecies. We
may call it a vision of the glory of the future house of Jehovah.

The prophecy begins with fully admitting the depressing facts which were
chilling the popular enthusiasm. Compared with the former Temple, this
which they had begun to build could not but be 'as nothing.' So the
murmurers said, and Haggai allows that they are quite right. Note the
turn of his words: 'Who is left ... that saw this house in its former
glory?' There had been many eighteen years ago; but the old eyes that
had filled with tears then had been mostly closed by death in the
interval, and now but few survived. Perhaps if the eyes had not been so
dim with age, the rising house would not have looked so contemptible.
The pessimism of the aged is not always clear-sighted, nor their
comparisons of what was, and what is beginning to be, just. But it is
always wise to be frank in admitting the full strength of the opinions
that we oppose; and encouragements to work will never tell if they blink
difficulties or seek to deny plain facts. Haggai was wise when he began
with echoing the old men's disparagements, and in full view of them,
pealed out his brave incitements to the work.

The repetition of the one exhortation, 'Be strong, be strong, be
strong,' is very impressive. The very monotony has power. In the face of
the difficulties which beset every good work the cardinal virtue is
strength. 'To be weak is to be miserable,' and is the parent of
failures. One hears in the exhortation an echo of that to Joshua, to
whom and to his people the command 'Be strong and of good courage' was
given with like repetition (Joshua i.).

But there is nothing more futile than telling feeble men to be strong,
and trembling ones to be very courageous. Unless the exhorter can give
some means of strength and some reason for courage, his word is idle
wind. So Haggai bases his exhortation upon its sufficient ground, 'For I
am with you, saith Jehovah of hosts.' Strength is a duty, but only if we
have a source of strength available. The one basis of it is the presence
of God. His name reveals the immensity of His power, who commands all
the armies of heaven, angels, or stars, and to whom the forces of the
universe are as the ordered ranks of His disciplined army; and who is,
moreover, the Captain of earthly hosts, ever giving victory to those who
are His 'willing soldiers in the day of His power.' It is not vain to
bid a man be strong, if you can assure him that God is with him. Unless
you can, you may save your breath.

Here is the temper for all Christian workers. Let them realise the duty
of strength; let them have recourse to the Fountain of strength; let
them mark the purpose of strength, which is 'work,' as Haggai puts it so
emphatically. We have nothing to do with the magnitude of what we may be
able to build. It may be very poor beside the great houses that greater
ages or men have been able to rear. But whether it be a temple brave
with gold and cedar, or a log, it is our business to put all our
strength into the task, and to draw that strength from the assurance
that God is with us.

The difficulties connected with the translation of verse 5 need not
concern us here. For my purpose, the general sense resulting from any
translation is clear enough. The covenant made of old, when Israel came
from an earlier captivity, is fresh as ever, and God's Spirit is with
the people; therefore they need not fear. 'Fear ye not' is another of
the well-meant exhortations which often produce the opposite effect from
the intended one. One can fancy some of the people saying, 'It is all
very well to talk about not being afraid; but look at our feebleness,
our defencelessness, our enemies; we cannot but fear, if we open our
eyes.' Quite true; and there is only one antidote to fear, and that is
the assurance that God's covenant binds Him to take care of me. Unless
one believes that, he must be strangely blind to the facts of life if he
has not a cold dread coiled round his heart and ever ready to sting.

The Prophet rises into grand predictions of the glory of the poor house
which the weak hands were raising. Verses 6-9 set things invisible over
against the visible. In general terms the Prophet announces a speedy
convulsion, partly symbolical and partly real, in which 'all nations'
shall be revolutionised, and as a consequence, shall become Jehovah's
worshippers, bringing their treasures to the Temple, and so filling the
house with glory. This shall be because Jehovah is the true Possessor of
all their wealth. But the scope of verse 9 seems to transcend these
promises, and to point to an undescribed 'glory,' still greater than
that of the universal flocking of the nations with their gifts, and to
reach a climax in the wide promise of peace given in the Temple, and
thence, as is implied, flowing out 'like a river' through a
tranquillised world.

'Yet once, it is a little while.' How long did the little while last?
There were, possibly, some feeble incipient fulfilments of the prophecy
in the immediate future; for, after the exile, there were convulsions in
the political world which resulted in security to the Jews, and the
religion of Israel began to draw some scattered proselytes. But the
prophecy is not completely fulfilled even now, and it covers the entire
development of the 'kingdom that cannot be moved' until the end of time.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews thus understands the prophecy
(Hebrews xii. 26, 27), and there are echoes of it in Revelation xxi.,
which describes the final form of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. So
the chronology of prophecy is not altogether that of history; and while
the events stand clear, their perspective is foreshortened. All the ages
are but 'a little while' in the calendar of heaven. In regard to the
whole of the prophetic utterances, we have often to say with the
disciples, 'What is this that he saith, a little while?' Eighteen
centuries have rolled away since the seer heard, 'Behold, I come
quickly,' and the vision still tarries.

The old interpretation of 'the desire of all nations' as meaning Jesus
Christ gave a literal fulfilment of the prophecy by His presence in the
Temple; but that meaning of the phrase is untenable, both because the
verb is in the plural, which would be impossible if a person were meant,
and because the only interpretation which gives relevancy to verse 8 is
that the expression means the silver and gold, there declared to be
Jehovah's. That venerable explanation, then, cannot stand. There were
offerings from heathen kings, such as those from Darius recorded in Ezra
vi. 6-10, and the gifts of Artaxerxes (Ezra vii. 15), which may be
regarded as incipient accomplishments; but such facts as these cannot
exhaust the prophecy.

It must be admitted that nothing happened during the history of that
Temple to answer to the full meaning of this prophecy. But was it
therefore a delusion that God spoke by Haggai? We must distinguish
between form and substance. The Temple was the centre point of the
kingdom of God on earth, the place of meeting between God and men, the
place of sacrifice. The fulfilment of the prophecy is not to be found in
any house made with hands, but in the true Temple which Jesus Christ has
builded. He in His own humanity was all that the Temple shadowed and
foretold. It is in Him, and in the spiritual Temple which He has reared,
that Haggai's vision will find its full realisation, which is yet
future. The powers that issue from Him shattered the Roman empire, have
ever since been casting earth's kingdoms into new moulds, and have still
destructive work to do. The 'once more' began when Jesus came, but the
final 'shaking' lies in front still. Every smaller revolution in thought
or sweeping away of institutions is a prelude to that great 'shaking'
when everything will go except the kingdom that cannot be moved. Its
result shall be that the treasures of the nations shall be poured at His
feet who is 'worthy to receive riches,' even as other prophecies have
foretold that 'men shall bring unto Thee the wealth of the nations'
(Isaiah lx. 11; Revelation xxi. 24, 26).

In that true Temple the glory of the Shechinah, which was wanting in the
second, for ever abides, 'the glory as of the only-begotten of the
Father'; and in it dwells for ever the dove of peace, ready to glide
into every heart that enters to worship at the shrine. Jesus Christ is
not the 'desire of all nations' which shall come to the Temple, but is
the Temple to which the wealth of all nations shall be brought, in whom
the true glory of a manifested God abides, and from whom the peace of
God which passeth all understanding, and is His own peace too, shall
enter reconciled souls, and calm turbulent passions, and reconcile
contending peoples, and diffuse its calm through all the nations of the
saved who there 'walk in the light of the Lord.'

        *        *        *        *        *


ZECHARIAH


DYING MEN AND THE UNDYING WORD

     'Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for
     ever? 6. But My words and My statutes, which I commanded My
     servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your
     fathers?'-Zechariah i. 5, 6.

Zechariah was the Prophet of the Restoration. Some sixteen years before
this date a feeble band of exiles had returned from Babylon, with high
hopes of rebuilding the ruined Temple. But their designs had been
thwarted, and for long years the foundations stood unbuilded upon. The
delay had shattered their hopes and flattened their enthusiasm; and
when, with the advent of a new Persian king, a brighter day dawned, the
little band was almost too dispirited to avail itself of it. At that
crisis, two prophets 'blew soul-animating strains,' and as the narrative
says elsewhere, 'the work prospered through the prophesying of Haggai
and Zechariah.'

My text comes from the first of Zechariah's prophecies. In it he lays
the foundation for all that he has subsequently to say. He points to
the past, and summons up the august figures of the great pre-Exilic
prophets, and reminds his contemporaries that the words which they spoke
had been verified in the experience of past generations. He puts himself
in line with these, his mighty predecessors, and declares that, though
the hearers and the speakers of that prophetic word had glided away into
the vast unknown, the word remained, lived still, and on his lips
demanded the same obedience as it had vainly demanded from the
generation that was past.

It has sometimes been supposed that of the two questions in my text the
first is the Prophet's--'Your fathers, where are they?' and that the
second is the retort of the people--'The prophets, do they live for
ever?' 'It is true that our fathers are gone, but what about the
prophets that you are talking of? Are they any better off? Are they not
dead, too?' But though the separation of the words into dialogue gives
vivacity, it is wholly unnecessary. And it seems to me that Zechariah's
appeal is all the more impressive if we suppose that he here gathers the
mortal hearers and speakers of the immortal word into one class, and
sets over against them the Eternal Word, which lives to-day as it did
then, and has new lessons for a new generation. So it is from that point
of view that I wish to look at these words now, and try to gather from
them some of the solemn, and, as it seems to me, striking lessons which
they inculcate. I follow with absolute simplicity the Prophet's
thoughts.

I. The mortal hearers and speakers of the abiding Word.

'Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?'
It is all but impossible to invest that well-known thought with any
fresh force; but, perhaps, if we look at it from the special angle from
which the Prophet here regards it, we may get some new impression of the
old truth. That special angle is to bring into connection the Eternal
Word and the transient vehicles and hearers of it.

Did you ever stand in some roofless, ruined cathedral or abbey church,
and try to gather round you the generations that had bowed and
worshipped there? Did you ever step across the threshold of some ancient
sanctuary, where the feet of vanished generations had worn down the
sand-stone steps at the entrance? It is solemn to think of the fleeting
series of men; it is still more striking to bring them into connection
with that everlasting Word which once they heard, and accepted or
rejected.

But let me bring the thought a little closer. There is not a sitting in
our churches that has not been sat in by dead people. As I stand here
and look round I can re-people almost every pew with faces that we shall
see no more. Many of you, the older _habitués_ of this place, can do the
same, and can look and think, 'Ah! _he_ used to sit there; _she_ used to
be in that corner.' And I can remember many mouldering lips that have
stood in this place where I stand, of friends and brethren that are
gone. 'Your fathers, where are they?' 'Graves under us, silent,' is the
only answer. 'And the prophets, do they live for ever?' No memories are
shorter-lived than the memories of the preachers of God's Word.

Take another thought, that all these past hearers and speakers of the
Word had that Word verified in their lives. 'Took it not hold of your
fathers?' Some of them neglected it, and its burdens were upon them,
little as they felt them sometimes. Some of them clave to it, and
accepted it, and its blessed promises were all fulfilled to them. Not
one of those who, for the brief period of their earthly lives, came in
contact with that divine message but realised, more or less consciously,
some blessedly and some in darkened lives and ruined careers, the solemn
truth of its promises and of its threatenings. The Word may have been
received, or it may have been neglected, by the past generations; but
whether the members thereof put out a hand to accept, or withheld their
grasp, whether they took hold of it or it took hold of them--wherever
they are now, their earthly relation to that word is a determining
factor in their condition. The syllables died away into empty air, the
messages were forgotten, but the men that ministered them are eternally
influenced by the faithfulness of their ministrations, and the men that
heard them are eternally affected by the reception or rejection of that
word. So, when we summon around us the congregation of the dead, which
is more numerous than the audience of the living to whom I now speak,
the lesson that their silent presence teaches us is, 'Wherefore we
should give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard.'

II. Let us note the abiding Word, which these transient generations of
hearers and speakers have had to do with.

It is maddening to think of the sure decay and dissolution of all human
strength, beauty, wisdom, unless that thought brings with it
immediately, like a pair of coupled stars, of which the one is bright
and the other dark, the corresponding thought of that which does not
pass, and is unaffected by time and change. Just as reason requires some
unalterable substratum, below all the fleeting phenomena of the
changeful creation--a God who is the Rock-basis of all, the staple to
which all the links hang--so we are driven back and back and back, by
the very fact of the transiency of the transient, to grasp, for a refuge
and a stay, the permanency of the permanent. 'In the year that King
Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne'--the passing away of
the mortal shadow of sovereignty revealed the undying and true King. It
is blessed for us when the lesson which the fleeting of all that _can_
flee away reads to us is that, beneath it all, there is the Unchanging.
When the leaves drop from the boughs of the trees that veil the face of
the cliff, then the steadfast rock is visible; and when the generations,
like leaves, drop and rot, then the rock background should stand out the
more clearly.

Zechariah meant by the 'word of God' simply the prophetic utterances
about the destiny and the punishment of his nation. We ought to mean by
the 'word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever,' not merely the
written embodiment of it in the Old or New Testament, but the Personal
Word, the Incarnate Word, the everlasting Son of the Father, who came
upon earth to be God's mouthpiece and utterance, and who is for us all
_the_ Word, the Eternal Word of the living God. It is His perpetual
existence rather than the continuous duration of the written word,
declaration of Himself though it is, that is mighty for our strength and
consolation when we think of the transient generations.

Christ lives. That is the deepest meaning of the ancient saying, 'All
flesh is grass.... The Word of the Lord endureth for ever.' He lives;
therefore we can front change and decay in all around calmly and
triumphantly. It matters not though the prophets and their hearers pass
away. Men depart; Christ abides. Luther was once surprised by some
friends sitting at a table from which a meal had been removed, and
thoughtfully tracing with his fingers upon its surface with some drop of
water or wine the one word 'Vivit'; He lives. He fell back upon that
when all around was dark. Yes, men may go; what of that? Aaron may have
to ascend to the summit of Hor, and put off his priestly garments and
die there. Moses may have to climb Pisgah, and with one look at the land
which he must never tread, die there alone by the kiss of God, as the
Rabbis say. Is the host below leaderless? The Pillar of Cloud lies still
over the Tabernacle, and burns steadfast and guiding in front of the
files of Israel. 'Your fathers, where are they? The prophets, do they
live for ever?' 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day and for
ever.'

Another consideration to be drawn from this contrast is, since we have
this abiding Word, let us not dread changes, however startling and
revolutionary. Jesus Christ does not change. But there is a human
element in the Church's conceptions of Jesus Christ, and still more in
its working out of the principles of the Gospel in institutions and
forms, which partakes of the transiency of the men from whom it has
come. In such a time as this, when everything is going into the
melting-pot, and a great many timid people are trembling for the Ark of
God, quite unnecessarily as it seems to me, it is of prime importance
for the calmness and the wisdom and the courage of Christian people,
that they should grasp firmly the distinction between the divine
treasure which is committed to the churches, and the earthen vessels in
which it has been enshrined. Jesus Christ, the man Jesus, the divine
person, His incarnation, His sacrifice, His resurrection, His ascension,
the gift of His Spirit to abide for ever with His Church--these are the
permanent 'things which cannot be shaken.' And creeds and churches and
formulas and forms--these are the human elements which are capable of
variation, and which need variation from time to time. No more is the
substance of that eternal Gospel affected by the changes, which are
possible on its vesture, than is the stateliness of some cathedral
touched, when the reformers go in and sweep out the rubbish and the
trumpery which have masked the fair outlines of its architecture, and
vulgarised the majesty of its stately sweep. Brethren! let us fix this
in our hearts, that nothing which is of Christ can perish, and nothing
which is of man can or should endure. The more firmly we grasp the
distinction between the permanent and the transient in existing
embodiments of Christian truth, the more calm shall we be amidst the
surges of contending opinions. 'He that believeth shall not make haste.'

III. Lastly, the present generation and its relation to the abiding
Word.

Zechariah did not hesitate to put himself in line with the mighty forms
of Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Hosea. He, too, was a prophet.
We claim, of course, no such authority for present utterers of that
eternal message, but we do claim for our message a higher authority than
the authority of this ancient Prophet. He felt that the word of God that
was put into his lips was a new word, addressed to a new generation, and
with new lessons for new circumstances, fitting as close to the wants of
the little band of exiles as the former messages, which it succeeded,
had fitted to the wants of their generation. We have no such change in
the message, for Jesus Christ speaks to us all, speaks to all times and
to all circumstances, and to every generation. And so, just as Zechariah
based upon the history of the past his appeal for obedience and
acceptance, the considerations which I have been trying to dwell upon
bring with them stringent obligations to us who stand, however unworthy,
in the place of the generations that are gone, as the hearers and
ministers of the Word of God. Let me put two or three very simple and
homely exhortations. First, see to it, brother, that you accept that
Word. By acceptance I do not mean a mere negative attitude, which is
very often the result of lack of interest, the negative attitude of
simply not rejecting; but I mean the opening not only of your minds but
of your hearts to it. For if what I have been saying is true, and the
Word of God has for its highest manifestation Jesus Christ Himself, then
you cannot accept a person by pure head-work. You must open your hearts
and all your natures, and let Him come in with His love, with His pity,
with His inspiration of strength and virtue and holiness, and you must
yield yourselves wholly to Him. Think of the generations that are gone.
Think of their brief moment when the great salvation was offered to
them. Think of how, whether they received or rejected it, that Word took
hold upon them. Think of how they regard it now, wherever they are in
the dimness; and be you wise in time and be not as those of your fathers
who rejected the Word.

Hold it fast. In this time of unrest make sure of your grasp of the
eternal, central core of Christianity, Jesus Christ Himself, the
divine-human Saviour of the world. There are too many of us whose faith
oozes out at their finger ends, simply because they have so many around
them that question and doubt and deny. Do not let the floating icebergs
bring down _your_ temperature; and have a better reason for not
believing, if you do not believe, than that so many and such influential
and authoritative men have ceased to believe. When Jesus asks, 'Will ye
also go away?' our answer should be, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou
hast the words of eternal life.'

Accept Him, hold Him fast, trust to His guidance in present day
questions. Zechariah felt that his message belonged to the generation to
whom he spoke. It was a new message. We have no new message, but there
are new truths to be evolved from the old message. The questionings and
problems, social, economical, intellectual, moral--shall I say
political?--of this day, will find their solution in that ancient word,
'God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.' There is the key to all
problems. 'In Him are hid all the treasures and wisdom of knowledge.'

Zechariah pointed to the experiences of a past generation as the basis
of his appeal. We can point back to eighteen centuries, and say that the
experiences of these centuries confirm the truth that Jesus Christ is
the Saviour of the world. The blessedness, the purity, the power, the
peace, the hope which He has breathed into humanity, the subsidiary and
accompanying material and intellectual prosperity and blessings that
attend His message, its independence of human instruments, its
adaptation to all varieties of class, character, condition, geographical
position, its power of recuperating itself from corruptions and
distortions, its undiminished adaptedness to the needs of this
generation and of each of us--enforce the stringency of the exhortation,
and confirm the truth of the assertion: 'This is My beloved Son; hear ye
Him!' 'The voice said, Cry. And I said, What shall I cry? All flesh is
grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field: the
grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the Word of
our God shall stand for ever.' Three hundred years after Isaiah a
triumphant Apostle added, 'This is the word which by the Gospel is
preached unto you.' Eighteen hundred years after Peter we can echo his
confident declaration, and, with the history of these centuries to
support our faith, can affirm that the Christ of the Gospel and the
Gospel of the Christ are in deed and in truth the Living Word of the
Living God.


THE CITY WITHOUT WALLS

     'Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls.... For I,
     saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and
     will be the glory in the midst of her.'--ZECHARIAH ii. 4, 5.

Zechariah was the Prophet of the returning exiles, and his great work
was to hearten them for their difficult task, with their small resources
and their many foes, and to insist that the prime condition to success,
on the part of that portion of the nation that had returned, was
holiness. So his visions, of which there is a whole series, are very
largely concerned with the building of the Temple and of the city. In
this one, he sees a man with a measuring-rod in his hand coming forth to
take the dimensions of the still un-existing city of God. The words that
I have read are the centre portion of that vision. You notice that there
are three clauses, and that the first in order is the consequence of the
other two. 'Jerusalem shall be builded as a city without walls ... for I
will be a wall of fire round about her, and the glory in the midst of
her.'

And that exuberant promise was spoken about the Jerusalem over which
Christ wept when he foresaw its inevitable destruction. When the Romans
had cast a torch into the Temple, and the streets of the city were
running with blood, what had become of Zechariah's dream of a wall of
fire round about her? Then can the divine fire be quenched? Yes. And
who quenched it? Not the Romans, but the people that lived within that
flaming rampart. The apparent failure of the promise carries the lesson
for churches and individuals to-day, that in spite of such glowing
predictions, there may again sound the voice that the legend says was
heard within the Temple, on the night before Jerusalem fell. 'Let us
depart,' and there was a rustling of unseen wings, and on the morrow the
legionaries were in the shrine. 'If God spared not the natural branches,
take heed lest He also spare not thee.'

Now let us look, in the simplest possible way, at these three clauses,
and the promises that are in them; keeping in mind that, like all the
divine promises, they are conditional.

The first is this:--

I. 'I will be a wall of fire round about her.'

I need not dwell on the vividness and beauty of that metaphor. These
encircling flames will consume all antagonism, and defy all approach.
But let me remind you that the conditional promise was intended for
Judæa and Jerusalem, and was fulfilled in literal fact. So long as the
city obeyed and trusted God it was impregnable, though all the nations
stood round about it, like dogs round a sheep. The fulfilment of the
promise has passed over, with all the rest that characterised Israel's
position, to the Christian Church, and to-day, in the midst of all the
agitations of opinion, and all the vauntings of men about an effete
Christianity, and dead churches, it is as true as ever it was that the
living Church of God is eternal. If it had not been that there was a God
as a wall of fire round about the Church, it would have been wiped off
the face of the earth long ago. If nothing else had killed it the faults
of its members would have done so. The continuance of the Church is a
perpetual miracle, when you take into account the weakness, and the
errors, and the follies, and the stupidities, and the narrownesses, and
the sins, of the people who in any given day represent it. That it
should stand at all, and that it should conquer, seems to me to be as
plain a demonstration of the present working of God, as is the existence
still, as a separate individuality amongst the peoples of the earth, of
His ancient people, the Jews. Who was it who said, when somebody asked
him for the best proof of the truth of Christianity, 'The Jews'? and so
we may say, if you want a demonstration that God is working in the
world, 'Look at the continuance of the Christian Church.'

In spite of all the vauntings of people that have already discounted its
fall, and are talking as if it needed no more to be reckoned with, that
calm confidence is the spirit in which we are to look around and
forward. It does not become any Christian ever to have the smallest
scintillation of a fear that the ship that bears Jesus Christ can fail
to come to land, or can sink in the midst of the waters. There was once
a timid would-be helper who put out his hand to hold up the Ark of God.
He need not have been afraid. The oxen might stumble, and the cart roll
about, but the Ark was safe and stable. A great deal may go, but the
wall of fire will be around the Church. In regard to its existence, as
in regard to the immortal being of each of its members, the great word
remains for ever true: 'Because I live ye shall live also.'

But do not let us forget that this great promise does not belong only to
the Church as a whole, but that we have each to bring it down to our
own individual lives, and to be quite sure of this, that in spite of all
that sense says, in spite of all that quivering hearts and weeping eyes
may seem to prove, there is a wall of fire round each of us, if we are
keeping near Jesus Christ, through which it is as impossible that any
real evil should pass and get at us, as it would be impossible that any
living thing should pass through the flaming battlements that the
Prophet saw round his ideal city. Only we have to interpret that promise
by faith and not by sense, and we have to make it possible that it shall
be fulfilled by keeping inside the wall, and trusting to it. As faith
dwindles, the fiery wall burns dim, and evil can get across its embers,
and can get at us. Keep within the battlements, and they will flame up
bright and impassable, with a fire that on the outer side consumes, but
to those within is a fire that cherishes and warms.

II. The next point of the promise passes into a more intimate region. It
is well to have a defence from that which is without us; but it is more
needful to have, if a comparison can be made between the two, a glory
'in the midst' of us.

The one is external defence; the other inward illumination, with all
which light symbolises--knowledge, joy, purity.

There is even more than that meant by this great promise. For notice
that emphatic little word _the--the_ glory, not _a_ glory--in the midst
of her. Now you all know what 'the glory' was. It was that symbolic
Light that spoke of the special presence of God, and went with the
Children of Israel in their wanderings, and sat between the Cherubim.
There was no 'Shechinah,' as it is technically called, in that second
Temple. But yet the Prophet says, 'The glory'--the actual presence of
God--'shall be in the midst of her,' and the meaning of that great
promise is taught us by the very last vision in the New Testament, in
which the Seer of the Apocalypse says, 'The glory of the Lord did
lighten it' (evidently quoting Zechariah), 'and the Lamb is the light
thereof.' So the city is lit as by one central glow of radiance that
flashes its beams into every corner, and therefore 'there shall be no
night there.'

Now this promise, too, bears on churches and on individuals. On the
Church as a whole it bears in this way: the only means by which a
Christian community can fulfil its function, and be the light of the
world, is by having the presence of God, in no metaphor, the actual
presence of the illuminating Spirit in its midst. If it has not that, it
may have anything and everything else--wealth, culture, learning,
eloquence, influence in the world--but all is of no use; it will be
darkness. We are light only in proportion as we are 'light in the Lord.'
As long as we, as communities, keep our hearts in touch with Him, so
long do we shine. Break the contact, and the light fades and flickers
out.

The same thing is true, dear brethren, about individuals. For each of us
the secret of joy, of purity, of knowledge, is that we be holding close
communion with God. If we have Him in the depths of our hearts, then,
and only then, shall we be 'light in the Lord.'

And now look at the last point which follows, as I have said, as the
result of the other two.

III. 'Jerusalem shall be without walls.'

It is to be like the defenceless villages scattered up and down over
Israel. There is no need for bulwarks of stone. The wall of fire is
round about. The Prophet has a vision of a great city, of a type unknown
in those old times, though familiar to us in our more peaceful days,
where there was no hindrance to expansion by encircling ramparts, no
crowding together of the people because they needed to hide behind the
city walls; and where the growing community could spread out into the
outer suburbs, and have fresh air and ample space. That is the vision of
the manner of city that Jerusalem was to be. It did not come true, but
the ideal was this. It has not yet come true sufficiently in regard to
the churches of to-day, but it ought to be the goal to which they are
tending. The more a Christian community is independent of external
material supports and defences the better.

I am not going to talk about the policy or impolicy of Established
Churches, as they are called. But it seems to me that the principle that
is enshrined in this vision is their condemnation. Never mind about
stone and lime walls, trust in God and you will not need them, and you
will be strong and 'established' just in the proportion in which you are
cut loose from all dependence upon, and consequent subordination to, the
civil power.

But there is another thought that I might suggest, though I do not know
that it is directly in the line of the Prophet's vision; and that is--a
Christian Church should neither depend on, nor be cribbed and cramped
by, men-made defences of any kind. Luther tells us somewhere, in his
parabolic way, of people that wept because there were no visible pillars
to hold up the heavens, and were afraid that the sky would fall upon
their heads. No, no, there is no fear of that happening, for an unseen
hand holds them up. A church that hides behind the fortifications of
its grandfathers' erection has no room for expansion; and if it has no
room for expansion it will not long continue as large as it is. It must
either grow greater, or grow, and deserve to grow, less.

The same thing is true, dear brethren, about ourselves individually.
Zechariah's prophecy was never meant to prevent what he himself helped
to further, the building of the actual walls of the actual city. And our
dependence upon God is not to be so construed as that we are to waive
our own common-sense and our own effort. That is not faith; it is
fanaticism.

We have to build ourselves round, in this world, with other things than
the 'wall of fire,' but in all our building we have to say, 'Except the
Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Except the Lord
keep the city, the watchers watch in vain.' But yet neither Jerusalem
nor the Church, nor the earthly state of that believer who lives most
fully the life of faith, exhausts this promise. It waits for the day
when the city shall descend, 'like a bride adorned for her husband,
having no need of the sun nor of the moon, for the glory ... lightens
it.' Having walls, indeed, but for splendour, not for defence; and
having gates, which have only one of the functions of a gate--to stand
wide open, to the east and the west, and the north and the south, for
the nations to enter in; and never needing to be barred against enemies
by day, 'for there shall be no night there.'


A VISION OF JUDGEMENT AND CLEANSING

     'And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel
     of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. 2.
     And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even
     the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a
     brand plucked out of the fire? 3. Now Joshua was clothed with filthy
     garments, and stood before the Angel. 4. And He answered and spake
     unto those that stood before Him, saying, Take away the filthy
     garments from him. And unto him He said, Behold, I have caused
     thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with
     change of raiment. 5. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon
     his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him
     with garments. And the Angel of the Lord stood by. 6. And the Angel
     of the Lord protested unto Joshua, saying, 7. Thus saith the Lord
     of Hosts, If thou wilt walk in My ways, and if thou wilt keep My
     charge, then thou shalt also judge My house, and shalt also keep My
     courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand
     by, 8. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows
     that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I
     will bring forth My servant The BRANCH. 9. For behold the stone
     that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes:
     behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of
     Hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. 10.
     In that day, saith the Lord of Hosts, shall ye call every man his
     neighbour under the vine and under the fig-tree.'--ZECHARIAH iii.
     1-10.

Zechariah worked side by side with Haggai to quicken the religious life
of the people, and thus to remove the gravest hindrances to the work of
rebuilding the Temple. Inward indifference, not outward opposition, is
the real reason for slow progress in God's work, and prophets who see
visions and preach repentance are the true practical men.

This vision followed Haggai's prophecy at the interval of a month. It
falls into two parts--a symbolical vision and a series of promises
founded on it.

I. The Symbolical Vision (vs. 1-5).--The scene of the vision is left
undetermined, and the absence of any designation of locality gives the
picture the sublimity of indefiniteness. Three figures, seen he knows
not where, stand clear before the Prophet's inward eye. They were shown
him by an unnamed person, who is evidently Jehovah Himself. The real and
the ideal are marvellously mingled in the conception of Joshua the high
priest--the man whom the people saw every day going about
Jerusalem--standing at the bar of God, with Satan as his accuser. The
trial is in process when the Prophet is permitted to see. We do not hear
the pleadings on either side, but the sentence is solemnly recorded. The
accusations are dismissed, their bringer rebuked, and in token of
acquittal, the filthy garments which the accused had worn are changed
for the full festal attire of the high priest.

What, then, is the meaning of this grand symbolism? The first point to
keep well in view is the representative character of the high priest. He
appears as laden not with individual but national sins. In him Israel
is, as it were, concentrated, and what befalls him is the image of what
befalls the nation. His dirty dress is the familiar symbol of sin; and
he wears it, just as he wore his sacerdotal dress, in his official
capacity, as the embodied nation. He stands before the judgment seat,
bearing not his own but the people's sins.

Two great truths are thereby taught, which are as true to-day as ever.
The first is that representation is essential to priesthood. It was so
in shadowy and external fashion in Israel; it is so in deepest and most
blessed reality in Christ's priesthood. He stands before God as our
representative--'And the Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of
us all.' If by faith we unite ourselves with Him, there ensues a
wondrous transference of characteristics, so that our sin becomes His,
and His righteousness becomes ours; and that in no mere artificial or
forensic sense, but in inmost reality. Theologians talk of a
_communicatio idiomatum_ as between the human and the divine elements in
Christ. There is an analogous passage of the attributes of either to the
other, in the relation of the believer to his Saviour.

The second thought in this symbolic appearance of Joshua before the
angel of the Lord is that the sins of God's people are even now present
before His perfect judgment, as reasons for withdrawing from them His
favour. That is a solemn truth, which should never be forgotten. A
Christian man's sins do accuse him at the bar of God. They are all
visible there; and so far as their tendency goes, they are like wedges
driven in to rend him from God.

But the second figure in the vision is 'the Satan,' standing in the
plaintiff's place at the Judge's right hand, to accuse Joshua. The Old
Testament teaching as to the evil spirit who 'accuses' good men is not
so developed as that of the New, which is quite natural, inasmuch as the
shadow of bright light is deeper than that of faint rays. It is most
full in the latest books, as here and in Job; but doctrinal inferences
drawn from such highly imaginative symbolism as this are precarious. No
one who accepts the authority of our Lord can well deny the existence
and activity of a malignant spirit, who would fain make the most of
men's sins, and use them as a means of separating their doers from God.
That is the conception here.

But the main stress of the vision lies, not on the accuser or his
accusation, but on the Judge's sentence, which alone is recorded. 'The
Angel of the Lord' is named in verse 1 as the Judge, while the sentence
in verse 2 is spoken by 'the Lord.' It would lead us far away from our
purpose to inquire whether that Angel of the Lord is an earlier
manifestation of the eternal Son, who afterwards became flesh--a kind of
preluding or rehearsing of the Incarnation. But in any case, God so
dwells in Him as that what the Angel says God says and the speaker
varies as in our text. The accuser is rebuked, and God's rebuke is not a
mere word, but brings with it punishment. The malicious accusations have
failed, and their aim is to be gathered from the language which
announces their miscarriage. Obviously Satan sought to procure the
withdrawal of divine favour from Joshua, because of his sin; that is, to
depose the nation from its place as the covenant people, because of its
transgressions of the covenant. Satan here represents what might
otherwise have been called, in theological language, 'the demands of
justice.' The answer given him is deeply instructive as to the grounds
of the divine forbearance.

Note that Joshua's guilt as the representative of the people is not
denied, but tacitly admitted and actually spoken of in verse 4. Why,
then, does not the accuser have his way? For two reasons. God has chosen
Jerusalem. His great purpose, the fruit of His undeserved mercy, is not
to be turned aside by man's sins. The thought is the same as that of
Jeremiah: 'If heaven above can be measured ... then I will also cast off
all the seed of Israel for all that they have done' (Jer. xxxi. 37).
Again, the fact that Joshua was 'a brand plucked from the burning'--that
is, that the people whom he represented had been brought unconsumed from
the furnace of captivity--is a reason with God for continuing to extend
His favour, though they have sinned. God's past mercies are a motive
with him. Creatural love is limited, and too often says, 'I have
forgiven so often, that I am wearied, and can do it no more.' He _has_,
therefore he _will_. We often come to the end of our long-suffering a
good many times short of the four hundred and ninety a day which Christ
prescribes. But God never does. True, Joshua and his people have sinned,
and that since their restoration, and Satan had a good argument in
pointing to these transgressions; but God does not say, 'I will put back
the half-burned brand in the fire again, since the evil is not burned
out of it,' but forgives again, because He has forgiven before.

The sentence is followed by the exchange of the filthy garments
symbolical of sin, for the full array of the high priest. Ministering
angels are dimly seen in the background, and are summoned to unclothe
and clothe Joshua. The Prophet ventures to ask that the sacerdotal
attire should be completed by the turban or mitre, probably that
headdress which bore the significant writing 'Holiness to the Lord,'
expressive of the destination of Israel and of its ceremonial cleanness.
The meaning of this change of clothing is given in verse 4: 'I have
caused thine iniquity to pass from thee.' Thus the complete restoration
of the pardoned and cleansed nation to its place as a nation of priests
to Jehovah is symbolised. To us the gospel of forgiveness fills up the
outline in the vision; and we know how, when sin testifies against us,
we have an Advocate with the Father, and how the infinite love flows out
to us notwithstanding all sin, and how the stained garment of our souls
can be stripped off, and the 'fine linen clean and white,' the priestly
dress on the day of atonement, be put on us, and we be made priests unto
God.

II. The remainder of the vision is the address of the Angel of the Lord
to Joshua, developing the blessings now made sure to him and his people
by this renewed consecration and cleansing. First (verse 7) is the
promise of continuance in office and access to God's presence, which,
however, are contingent on obedience. The forgiven man must keep God's
charge, if he is to retain his standing. On that condition, he has 'a
place of access among those that stand by'; that is, the privilege of
approach to God, like the attendant angels. This promise may be taken as
surpassing the prerogatives hitherto accorded to the high priest, who
had only the right of entrance into the holiest place once a year, but
now is promised the _entrée_ to the heavenly court, as if he were one of
the bright spirits who stand there. They who have access with confidence
within the veil because Christ is there, have more than the ancient
promise of this vision.

The main point of verse 8 is the promise of the Messiah, but the former
part of the verse is remarkable. Joshua and his fellows are summoned to
listen, 'for they are men which are a sign.' The meaning seems to be
that he and his brethren who sat as his assessors in official functions,
are collectively a sign or embodied prophecy of what is to come. Their
restoration to their offices was a shadowy prophecy of a greater act of
forgiving grace, which was to be effected by the coming of the Messiah.

The name 'Branch' is used here as a proper name. Jeremiah (Jer. xxiii.
5; xxxiii. 15) had already employed it as a designation of Messiah,
which he had apparently learned from Isaiah iv. 2. The idea of the word
is that of the similar names used by Isaiah, 'a shoot out of the stock
of Jesse, and a Branch out of his roots' (Isaiah xi. 1), and 'a tender
plant, and as a root out of a dry ground' (Isaiah liii. 2); namely, that
of his origin from the fallen house of David, and the lowliness of his
appearance.

The Messiah is again meant by the 'stone' in verse 9. Probably there was
some great stone taken from the ruins, to which the symbol attaches
itself. The foundation of the second Temple had been laid years before
the prophecy, but the stone may still have been visible. The Rabbis have
much to say about a great stone which had been in the first Temple, and
there used for the support of the ark, but in the second was set in the
empty place where the ark should have been. Isaiah had prophesied of the
'tried corner-stone' laid in Zion, and Psalm cxviii. 22 had sung of the
stone rejected and made the head of the corner. We go in the track,
then, of established usage, when we see in this stone the emblem of
Messiah, and associate with it all thoughts of firmness, preciousness,
support, foundation of the true Temple, basis of hope, ground of
certitude, and whatever other substratum of fixity and immovableness
men's hearts or lives need. In all possible aspects of the metaphor,
Jesus is the Foundation.

And what are the 'seven eyes on the stone'? That may simply be a vivid
way of saying that the fulness of divine Providence would watch over the
Messiah, bringing Him when the time was ripe, and fitting Him for His
work. But if we remember the subsequent explanation (iv. 10) of the
'seven,' as 'the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole
earth,' and connect this with Revelation v. 6, we can scarcely rest
content with that meaning, but find here the deeper thought that the
fulness of the divine Spirit was given to Messiah, even as Isaiah (xi.
2) prophesies of the sevenfold Spirit.

'I will engrave the graving thereof' is somewhat obscure. It seems to
mean that the seven eyes will be cut on the stone, like masons' marks.
If the seven eyes are the full energies of the Holy Spirit, God's
cutting of them on the stone is equivalent to His giving them to His
Son; and the fulfilment of the promise was when He gave the Holy Spirit
not 'by measure unto Him.'

The blessed purpose of Messiah's coming and endowment with the Spirit is
gloriously stated in the last clause of verse 9: 'I will remove the
iniquity of that land in one day.' Jesus Christ has 'once for all' made
atonement, as the Epistle to the Hebrews so often says. The better
Joshua by one offering has taken away sin. 'The breadth of Thy land, O
Immanuel,' stretched far beyond the narrow bounds which Zechariah knew
for Israel's territory. It includes the whole world. As has been
beautifully said, 'That one day is the day of Golgotha.'

The vision closes with a picture of the felicity of Messianic times,
which recalls the description of the golden age of Solomon, when 'Judah
and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his
fig-tree' (1 Kings iv. 25). In like manner the nation, cleansed,
restored to its priestly privilege of free access to God by the Messiah
who comes with the fulness of the Spirit, shall dwell in safety, and
shall be knit together by friendship, and unenvyingly shall each share
his good with all others, recognising in every man a neighbour, and
gladly welcoming him to partake of all the blessings which the true
Solomon has brought to his house and heart.


THE RIGHT OF ENTRY

     'I will give thee places to walk among these that stand
     by.'--ZECHARIAH iii. 7.

A WORD or two of explanation will probably be necessary in order to see
the full meaning of this great promise. The Prophet has just been
describing a vision of judgment which he saw, in which the high priest,
as representative of the nation, stood before the Angel of the Lord as
an unclean person. He is cleansed and clothed, his foul raiment stripped
off him, and a fair priestly garment, with 'Holiness to the Lord'
written on the front of it, put upon him. And then follow a series of
promises, of which the climax is the one that I have read. 'I will give
thee a place of access,' says the Revised Version, instead of 'places to
walk'; 'I will give thee a place of access among those that stand by';
the attendant angels are dimly seen surrounding their Lord. And so the
promise of my text, in highly figurative fashion, is that of free and
unrestrained approach to God, of a life that is like that of the angels
that stand before His Face.

So, then, the words suggest to us, first, what a Christian life may be.

There are two images blended together in the great words of my text; the
one is that of a king's court, the other is that of a temple. With
regard to the former it is a privilege given to the highest nobles of a
kingdom--or it was so in old days--to have the right of _entrée_, at all
moments and in all circumstances, to the monarch. With regard to the
latter, the prerogative of the high priest, who was the recipient of
this promise, as to access to the Temple, was a very restricted one.
Once a year, with the blood that prevented his annihilation by the
brightness of the Presence into which he ventured, he passed within the
veil, and stood before that mysterious Light that coruscated in the
darkness of the Holy of Holies. But this High Priest is promised an
access on all days and at all times; and that He may stand there, beside
and like the seraphim, who with one pair of wings veiled their faces in
token of the incapacity of the creature to behold the Creator; 'with
twain veiled their feet' in token of the unworthiness of creatural
activities to be set before Him, 'and with twain did fly' in token of
their willingness to serve Him with all their energies. This Priest
passes within the veil when He will. Or, to put away the two metaphors,
and to come to the reality far greater than either of them, we can,
whensoever we please, pass into the presence before which the splendours
of an earthly monarch's court shrink into vulgarity, and attain to a
real reception of the light that irradiates the true Holy Place, before
which that which shone in the earthly shrine dwindles and darkens into a
shadow. We may live with God, and in Him, and wrap a veil and 'privacy
of glorious light' about us, whilst we pilgrim upon earth, and may have
hidden lives which, notwithstanding all their surface occupation with
the distractions and duties and enjoyments of the present, deep down in
their centres are knit to God. Our lives may on the outside thus be
largely amongst the things seen and temporal, and yet all the while may
penetrate through these, and lay hold with their true roots on the
eternal. If we have any religious life at all, the measure in which we
possess it is the measure in which we may ever more dwell in the house
of the Lord, and have our hearts in the secret place of the Most High,
amid the stillnesses and the sanctities of His immediate dwelling.

Our Master is the great Example of this, of whom it is said, not only
in reference to His mysterious and unique union of nature with the
Father in His divinity, but in reference to the humanity which He had in
common with us all, yet without sin, that the Son of Man came down from
heaven, and even in the act of coming, and when He had come, was yet the
Son of Man 'which _is in heaven_.' Thus we, too, may have 'a place of
access among them that stand by,' and not need to envy the angels and
the spirits of the just made perfect, the closeness of their communion,
and the vividness of their vision, for the same, in its degree, may be
ours. We, too, can turn all our desires into petitions, and of every
wish make a prayer. We, too can refer all our needs to His infinite
supply. We, too may consciously connect all our doings with His will and
His glory; and for us it is possible that there shall be, as if borne on
those electric wires that go striding across pathless deserts, and carry
their messages through unpeopled solitudes, between Him and us a
communication unbroken and continuous, which, by a greater wonder than
even that of the telegraph, shall carry two messages, going opposite
ways simultaneously, bearing to Him the swift aspirations and
supplications of our spirits, and bringing to us the abundant answer of
His grace. Such a conversation in heaven, and such association with the
bands of the blessed is possible even for a life upon earth.

Secondly, let us consider this promise as a pattern for us of what
Christian life should be, and, alas! so seldom is.

All privilege is duty, and everything that is possible for any Christian
man to become, it is imperative on him to aim at. There is no greater
sin than living beneath the possibilities of our lives, in any region,
whether religious or other it matters not. Sin is not only going
contrary to the known law of God, but also a falling beneath a divine
ideal which is capable of realisation. And in regard to our Christian
life, if God has flung open His temple-gates and said to us, 'Come in,
My child, and dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and abide
there under the shadow of the Almighty, finding protection and communion
and companionship in My worship,' there can be nothing more insulting to
Him, and nothing more fatally indicative of the alienation of our hearts
from Him, than that we should refuse to obey the merciful invitation.

What should we say of a subject who never presented himself in the court
to which he had the right of free _entrée?_ His absence would be a mark
of disloyalty, and would be taken as a warning-bell in preparation for
his rebellion. What should we say of a son or a daughter, living in the
same city with their parents, who never crossed the threshold of the
father's house, but that they had lost the spirit of a child, and that
if there was no desire to be near there could be no love?

So, if we will ask ourselves, 'How often do I use this possibility of
communion with God, which might irradiate all my daily life?' I think we
shall need little else, in the nature of evidence, that our piety and
our religious experience are terribly stunted and dwarfed, in comparison
with what they ought to be.

There is an old saying, 'He that can tell how often he has thought of
God in a day has thought of Him too seldom.' I dare say many of us would
have little difficulty in counting on the fingers of one hand, and
perhaps not needing them all, the number of times in which, to-day, our
thoughts have gone heavenwards. What we may be is what we ought to be,
and not to use the prerogatives of our position is the worst of sins.

Again, my text suggests to us what every Christian life will hereafter
perfectly be.

Some commentators take the words of my text to refer only to the
communion of saints from the earth, with the glorified angels, in and
after the Resurrection. That is a poor interpretation, for heaven is
here to-day. But still there is a truth in the interpretation which we
need not neglect. Only let us remember that nothing--so far as Scripture
teaches us--begins yonder except the full reaping of the fruits of what
has been sown here, and that if a man's feet have not learned the path
into the Temple when he was here upon earth, death will not be the guide
for him into the Father's presence. All that here has been imperfect,
fragmentary, occasional, interrupted, and marred in our communion with
God, shall one day be complete. And then, oh! then, who can tell what
undreamed-of depths and sweetnesses of renewed communion and of
intercourses begun, for the first time then, between 'those that stand
by,' and have stood there for ages, will then be realised?

'Ye are come'--even here on earth--'to an innumerable company of angels,
to the general assembly and Church of the first-born,' but for us all
there may be the quiet hope that hereafter we shall 'dwell in the house
of the Lord for ever'; and 'in solemn troops and sweet societies' shall
learn what fellowship, and brotherhood, and human love may be.

Lastly, notice, not from my text but from its context, how any life may
become thus privileged.

The promise is preceded by a condition: 'If thou wilt walk in My ways,
and if thou wilt keep My charge, then ... I will give thee access among
those that stand by.' That is to say, you cannot keep the consciousness
of God's presence, nor have any blessedness of communion with Him, if
you are living in disobedience of His commandments or in neglect of
manifest duty. A thin film of vapour in our sky tonight will hide the
moon. Though the vapour itself may be invisible, it will be efficacious
as a veil. And any sin, great or small, fleecy and thin, will suffice to
shut me out from God. If we are keeping His commandments, then, and only
then, shall we have access with free hearts into His presence.

But to lay down that condition seems the same thing as slamming the door
in every man's face. But let us remember what went before my text, the
experience of the priest to whom it was spoken in the vision. His filthy
garments were stripped off him, and the pure white robes worn on the
great Day of Atonement, the sacerdotal dress, were put upon him. It is
the _cleansed_ man that has access among 'those that stand by.' And if
you ask how the cleansing is to be effected, take the great words of the
Epistle to the Hebrews as an all-sufficient answer, coinciding with, but
transcending, what this vision taught Zechariah: 'Having, therefore,
brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest of all, by the blood of
Jesus, ... and having a High Priest over the house of God; let us draw
near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts
sprinkled from an evil conscience.' Cleansed by Christ, and with Him for
our Forerunner, we have boldness and 'access with confidence by the
faith of Him,' who proclaims to the whole world, 'No man cometh to the
Father but by Me.'


THE SOURCE OF POWER

     'And the Angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a
     man that is wakened out of his sleep, 2. And said unto me, What
     seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold, a candlestick
     all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps
     thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps which are upon the top
     thereof: 3. And two olive-trees by it, one upon the right side of
     the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof. 4. So I
     answered and spake to the Angel that talked with me, saying, What
     are these, my Lord? 5. Then the Angel that talked with me answered
     and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No,
     my Lord. 6. Then He answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the
     word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by
     power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts. 7. Who art thou,
     O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and
     he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying,
     Grace, grace unto it. 8. Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto
     me, saying, 9. The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of
     this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know
     that the Lord of Hosts hath sent me unto you. 10. For who hath
     despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall
     see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they
     are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole
     earth.'--ZECHARIAH iv. 1-10.

THE preceding vision had reference to Joshua the priest, and showed him
restored to his prerogative of entrance into the sanctuary. This one
concerns his colleague Zerubbabel, the representative of civil power, as
he of ecclesiastical, and promises that he shall succeed in rebuilding
the Temple. The supposition is natural that the actual work of
reconstruction was mainly in the hands of the secular ruler.

Flesh is weak, and the Prophet had fallen into deep sleep, after the
tension of the previous vision. That had been shown him by Jehovah, but
in this vision we have the same angel interpreter who had spoken with
Zechariah before. He does not bring the vision, but simply wakes the
Prophet that he may see it, and directs his attention to it by the
question, 'What seest thou?' The best way to teach is to make the
learner put his conceptions into definite words. We see things more
clearly, and they make a deeper impression, when we tell what we see.
How many lazy looks we give at things temporal as well as at things
eternal, after which we should be unable to answer the Angel's question!
It is not every one who sees what he looks at.

The passage has two parts--the vision and its interpretation, with
related promises.

The vision may be briefly disposed of. Its original is the great lamp
which stood in the tabernacle, and was replaced in the Solomonic Temple
by ten smaller ones. These had been carried away at the Captivity, and
we do not read of their restoration. But the main thing to note is the
differences between this lamp and the one in the tabernacle. The
description here confines itself to these: They are three--the 'bowl' or
reservoir above the lamp, the pipes from it to the seven lights, and the
two olive-trees which stood on either side of the lamp and replenished
from their branches the supply in the reservoir. The tabernacle lamp had
no reservoir, and consequently no pipes, but was fed with oil by the
priests. The meaning of the variations, then, is plain. They were
intended to express the fuller and more immediately divine supply of
oil. If the Revised Version's rendering of the somewhat doubtful
numerals in verse 2 be accepted, each several light had seven pipes,
thus expressing the perfection of its supplies.

Now, there can be no doubt about the symbolism of the tabernacle lamp.
It represented the true office of Israel, as it rayed out its beams into
the darkness of the desert. It meant the same thing as Christ's words,
'Ye are the light of the world,' and as the vision of the seven golden
candlesticks, in Revelation i. 12, 13, 20. The substitution of separate
lamps for one with seven lights may teach the difference between the
mere formal unity of the people of God in the Old Testament and the true
oneness, conjoined with diversity, in the New Testament Church, which is
one because Christ walks in the midst. Zechariah's lamp, then, called to
the minds of the little band of restored exiles their high vocation, and
the changed arrangements for the supply of that oil, which is the
standing emblem for divine communications fitting for service, or, to
keep to the metaphor, fitting to shine, signified the abundance of
these.

The explanation of the vision is introduced, as at Zechariah i. 9, 19,
by the Prophet's question of its meaning. His angelic teacher is
astonished at his dullness, as indeed heavenly eyes must often be at
ours, and asks if he does not know so familiar an object. The Prophet's
'No, my Lord,' brings full explanation. Ingenuously acknowledged
ignorance never asks Heaven for enlightenment in vain.

First, the true source of strength and success, as shown by the vision,
is declared in plain terms. What fed the lamp? Oil, which symbolises
the gift of a divine Spirit, if not in the full personal sense as in the
New Testament, yet certainly as a God-breathed influence, preparing
prophets, priests, kings, and even artificers, for their several forms
of service. Whence came the oil? From the two olive-trees, which though,
as verse 14 shows, they represented the two leaders, yet set forth the
truth that their power for their work was from God; for the Bible knows
nothing of 'nature' as a substitute for or antithesis to God, and the
growth of the olive and its yield of oil is His doing.

This, then, was the message for Zerubbabel and his people, that God
would give such gifts as they needed, in order that the light which He
Himself had kindled should not be quenched. If the lamp was fed with
oil, it would burn, and there would be a Temple for it to stand in. If
we try to imagine the feebleness of the handful of discouraged men, and
the ring of enemies round them, we may feel the sweetness of the promise
which bade them not despond because they had little of what the world
calls might.

We all need the lesson; for the blustering world is apt to make us
forget the true source of all real strength for holy service or for
noble living. The world's power at its mightiest is weak, and the
Church's true power, at her feeblest, is omnipotent, if only she grasps
the strength which is hers, and takes the Spirit which is given. The
eternal antithesis of man's weakness at his haughtiest, and God's
strength even in its feeblest possessors, is taught by that lamp
flaming, whatever envious hands or howling storms might seek to quench
it, because fed by oil from on high. Let us keep to God's strength, and
not corrupt His oil with mixtures of foul-smelling stuff of our own
compounding.

Next, in the strength of that revelation of the source of might a
defiant challenge is blown to the foe. The 'great mountain' is primarily
the frowning difficulties which lifted themselves against Zerubbabel's
enterprise, and more widely the whole mass of worldly opposition
encountered by God's servants in every age. It seems to bar all advance;
but an unseen Hand crushes it down, and flattens it out into a level, on
which progress is easy. The Hebrew gives the suddenness and completeness
of the transformation with great force; for the whole clause, 'Thou
shalt become a plain,' is one word in the original.

Such triumphant rising above difficulties is not presumption when it has
been preceded by believing gaze on the source of strength. If we have
taken to heart the former words of the Prophet, we shall not be in
danger of rash overconfidence when we calmly front obstacles in the path
of duty, assured that every mountain shall be made low. A brave scorn of
the world, both in its sweetnesses and its terrors, befits God's men,
and is apt to fulfil its own confidences; for most of these terrors are
like ghosts, who will not wait to be spoken to, but melt away if fairly
faced. Nor should we forget the other side of this thought; namely, that
it is the constant drift of Providence to abase the lofty in mind, and
to raise the lowly. What is high is sure to get many knocks which pass
over lower heads. To men of faith every mountain shall either become a
plain or be cast into the sea.

Then follows, on the double revelation of the source of strength and the
futility of opposition, the assurance of the successful completion of
the work. The stone which is to crown the structure shall be brought
forth and set in its place amid jubilant prayers not offered in vain,
that 'grace'--that is, the protecting favour of God--may rest on it.

The same thought is reiterated and enlarged in the next 'word,' which is
somewhat separated from the former, as if the flow of prophetic
communication had paused for a moment, and then been resumed. In verse 9
we have the assurance, so seldom granted to God's workers, that
Zerubbabel shall be permitted to complete the task which he had begun.
It is the fate of most of us to inherit unfinished work from our
predecessors, and to bequeath the like to our successors. And in one
aspect, all human work is unfinished, as being but a fragment of the
fulfilment of the mighty purpose which runs through all the ages. Yet
some are more happy than others, in that they see an approximate
completion of their work. But whether it be so or not, our task is to
'do the little we can do, and leave the rest with God,' sure that He
will work all the fragments into a perfect whole, and content to do the
smallest bit of service for Him. Few of us are strong enough to do
separate building. We are like coral insects, whose reef is one, though
its makers are millions.

Zerubbabel finished his task, but its end was but a new beginning of an
order of things of which he did not see the end. There are no beginnings
or endings, properly speaking, in human affairs, but all is one unbroken
flow. One man only has made a real new beginning, and that is Jesus
Christ; and He only will really carry His work to its very last issues.
He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending. He is the
Foundation of the true Temple, and He is also the Headstone of the
corner, the foundation on which all rests, the apex to which all runs
up. 'When He begins, He will also make an end.'

The completion of the work is to be the token that the 'angel who spake
with me' was God's messenger. We can know that before the fulfilment,
but we cannot but know it after. Better to be sure that the message is
from God while yet the certainty is the result of faith, than to be sure
of it afterwards, when the issue has shattered and shamed our doubts.

If we realise that God's Spirit is the guarantee for the success of work
done for God, we shall escape the vulgar error of measuring the
importance of things by their size, as, no doubt, many of these builders
were doing. No one will help on the day of great things who despises
that of small ones. They say that the seeds of the 'big trees' in
California are the smallest of all the conifers. I do not vouch for the
truth of the statement, but God's work always begins with little seeds,
as the history of the Church and of every good cause shows. 'What do
these feeble Jews?' sneered the spectators of their poor little walls,
painfully piled up, over which a fox could jump. They did very little,
but they were building the city of God, which has outlasted all the
mockers.

Men might look with contempt on the humble beginning, but other eyes
than theirs looked at it with other emotions. The eyes which in the last
vision were spoken of as directed on the foundation stone, gaze on the
work with joy. These are the seven eyes of 'the Lord,' which are 'the
seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth' (Rev. v. 6). The
Spirit is here contemplated in the manifoldness of His operations rather
than in the unity of His person. Thus the closing assurance, which
involves the success of the work, since God's eyes rest on it with
delight, comes round to the first declaration, 'Not by might, not by
power, but by My Spirit.' Note the strong contrast between 'despise' and
'rejoice.' What matter the scoffs of mockers, if God approves? What are
they but fools who look at that which moves His joy, and find in it only
food for scorn? What will become of their laughter at last? If we try to
get so near God as to see things with His eyes, we shall be saved from
many a false estimate of what is great and what is small, and may have
our own poor little doings invested with strange dignity, because He
deigns to behold and bless them.


THE FOUNDER AND FINISHER OF THE TEMPLE

     'The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house;
     his hands shall also finish it.'--ZECHARIAH iv. 9.

I am afraid that Zerubbabel is very little more than a grotesque name to
most Bible-readers, so I may be allowed a word of explanation as to him
and as to the original force of my text. He was a prince of the blood
royal of Israel, and the civil leader of the first detachment of
returning exiles. With Joshua, the high priest, he came, at the head of
a little company, to Palestine, and there pathetically attempted, with
small resources, to build up some humble house that might represent the
vanished glories of Solomon's Temple. Political enmity on the part of
the surrounding tribes stopped the work for nearly twenty years. During
all that time, the hole in the ground, where the foundations had been
dug and a few courses of stones been laid, gaped desolate, a sad
reminder to the feeble band of the failure of their hopes. But with the
accession of a new Persian king, new energy sprang up, and new,
favourable circumstances developed themselves. The Prophet Zechariah
came to the front, although quite a young man, and became the mainspring
of the renewed activity in building the Temple. The words of my text
are, of course, in their plain, original meaning, the prophetic
assurance that the man, grown an old man by this time, who had been
honoured to take the first spadeful of soil out of the earth should be
the man 'to bring forth the headstone with shoutings of Grace, grace
unto it!'

But whilst that is the original application, and whilst the words open
to us a little door into long years of constrained suspension of work
and discouraged hope, I think we shall not be wrong if we recognise in
them something deeper than a reference to the Prince of David's line,
concerning whom they were originally spoken. I take them to be, in the
true sense of the term, a Messianic prophecy; and I take it that, just
because Zerubbabel, a member of that royal house from which the Messiah
was to come, was the builder of the Temple, he was a prophetic person.
What was true about him primarily is thereby shown to have a bearing
upon the greater Son of David who was to come thereafter, and who was to
build the Temple of the Lord. In that aspect I desire to look at the
words now: 'His hands have laid the foundation of the house, and His
hands shall also finish it.'

I. There is, then, here a large truth as to Christ, the true
Temple-builder.

It is the same blessed message which was given from His own lips long
centuries after, when He spoke from heaven to John in Patmos, and said,
'I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.' The first letter of the
Greek alphabet, and the last letter of the Greek alphabet, and all the
letters that lie between, and all the words that you can make out of the
letters--they are all from Him, and He underlies everything.

Now that is true about creation, in the broadest and in the most
absolute sense. For what does the New Testament say, with the consenting
voice of all its writers? 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God. Without Him was not anything made
that was made.' His hands laid the foundations of this great house of
the universe, with its 'many mansions.' And what says Paul? 'He is the
Beginning, in Him all things consist' ... 'that in all things He might
have the pre-eminence.' And what says He Himself from heaven? 'I am the
First and the Last.' So, in regard to everything in the universe, Christ
is its origin, and Christ is its goal and its end. He 'has laid the
foundation, and His hands shall also finish it.'

But, further, we turn to the application which is the more usual one,
and say that He is the Beginner and Finisher of the work of redemption,
which is His only from its inception to its accomplishment, from the
first breaking of the ground for the foundations of the Temple to the
triumphant bringing forth of the last stone that crowns the corner and
gleams on the topmost pinnacle of the completed structure. There is
nothing about Jesus Christ, as it seems to me, more manifest, unless our
eyes are blinded by prejudice, than that the Carpenter of Nazareth, who
grew up amidst the ordinary conditions of infant manhood, was trained as
other Jewish children, increased in wisdom, spoke a language that had
been moulded by man, and inherited His nation's mental and spiritual
equipment, yet stands forth on the pages of these four Gospels as a
perfectly original man, to put it on the lowest ground, and as owing
nothing to any predecessor, and not as merely one in a series, or
naturally accounted for by reference to His epoch or conditions. He
makes a new beginning; He presents a perfectly fresh thing in the
history of human nature. Just as His coming was the introduction into
the heart of humanity of a new type, the second Adam, the Lord from
heaven, so the work that He does is all His own. He does it all Himself,
for all that His servants do in carrying out the purposes dear to His
heart is done by His working in and through them, and though we are
fellow-labourers with Him, His hands alone lay every stone of the
Temple.

Not only does my text, in its highest application, point to Jesus Christ
as the Author of redemption from its very beginning, but it also
declares that all through the ages His hand is at work. 'Shall also
finish it'--then He is labouring at it now; and we have not to think of
a Christ who once worked, and has left to us the task of developing the
consequences of His completed activity, but of a Christ who is working
on and on, steadily and persistently. The builders of some great
edifice, whilst they are laying its lower courses, are down upon our
level, and as the building rises the scaffolding rises, and sometimes
the platform where they stand is screened off by some frail canvas
stretched round it, so that we cannot see them as they ply their work
with trowel and mortar. So Christ came down to earth to lay the courses
of His Temple that had to rest upon earth, but now the scaffolding is
raised and He is working at the top stories. Though out of our sight, He
is at work as truly and energetically as He was when He was down here.
You remember how strikingly one of the Evangelists puts that thought in
the last words of his Gospel--if, indeed, they are his words. 'He was
received up into heaven, and sat at the right hand of God, and they went
everywhere, preaching the word.' Well, that looks as if there were a sad
separation between the Commander and the soldiers that He had ordered to
the front, as if He were sitting at ease on a hill overlooking the
battlefield from a safe distance and sending His men to death. But the
next words bring Him and them together--'The Lord also working with
them, and confirming the word with signs following.' And so, brethren, a
work begun, continued, and ended by the same immortal Hand, is the work
on which the redemption of the world depends.

II. Notice, secondly, that we have here the assurance of the triumph of
the Gospel.

No doubt, in the long-forgotten days in which my text was spoken, there
were plenty of over-prudent calculators in the little band of exiles who
said, 'What is the use of our trying to build in face of all this
opposition and with these poor resources of ours?' They would throw cold
water enough on the works of Zerubbabel, and on Zechariah who inspired
them. But there came the great word of promise to them, 'He shall bring
forth the headstone with shoutings.' The text is the cure for all such
calculations by us Christian people, and by others than Christian
people. When we begin to count up resources, and to measure these
against the work to be done, there is little wonder if good men and bad
men sometimes concur in thinking that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has
very little chance of conquering the world. And that is perfectly true,
unless you take Him into the calculation, and then the probabilities
look altogether different. We are but like a long row of ciphers, but
put one significant figure in front of the row of ciphers and it comes
to be of value. And so, if you are calculating the probabilities of the
success of Christianity in the world and forget to start with Christ,
you have left out the principal factor in the problem. Churches lose
their fervour, their members die and pass away. He renews and purifies
the corrupted Church, and He liveth for ever. Therefore, because we may
say, with calm confidence, 'His hands have laid the foundation of the
house, and His hands are at work on all the courses of it as it rises,'
we may be perfectly sure that the Temple which He founded, at which He
still toils, shall be completed, and not stand a gaunt ruin, looking on
which passers-by will mockingly say, 'This man began to build and was
not able to finish.' When Brennus conquered Rome, and the gold for the
city's ransom was being weighed, he clashed his sword into the scale to
outweigh the gold. Christ's sword is in the scale, and it weighs more
than the antagonism of the world and the active hostility of hell. 'His
hands have laid the foundation; His hands shall also finish it.'

III. Still further, here is encouragement for despondent and timid
Christians.

Jesus Christ is not going to leave you half way across the bog. That is
not His manner of guiding us. He began; He will finish. Remember the
words of Paul which catch up this same thought: 'Being confident of this
very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perfect the
same until the day of Jesus Christ.' Brethren! if the seed of the
kingdom is in our hearts, though it be but as a grain of mustard seed,
be sure of this, that He will watch over it and bless the springing
thereof. So, although when we think of ourselves, our own slowness of
progress, our own feeble resolutions, our own wayward hearts, our own
vacillating wills, our many temptations, our many corruptions, our many
follies, we may well say to ourselves, 'Will there ever be any greater
completeness in this terribly imperfect Christian character of mine than
there is to-day?' Let us be of good cheer, and not think only of
ourselves, but much rather of Him who works on and in and for us. If we
lift up our hearts to Him, and keep ourselves near Him, and let Him
work, He will work. If we do not--like the demons in the old monastic
stories, who every night pulled down the bit of walling that the monks
had in the daytime built for their new monastery--by our own hands pull
down what He, by His hand, has built up, the structure will rise, and we
shall be 'builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.'
Be of good cheer, only keep near the Master, and let Him do what He
desires to do for us all. God is 'faithful who hath called us to the
fellowship of His Son,' and He also will do it.

IV. Lastly, here is a striking contrast to the fate which attends all
human workers.

There are very few of us who even partially seem to be happy enough to
begin and finish any task, beyond the small ones of our daily life.
Authors die, with books half finished, with sentences half finished
sometimes, where the pen has been laid down. No man starts an entirely
fresh line of action; he inherits much from his past. No man completes a
great work that he undertakes; he leaves it half-finished, and coming
generations, if it is one of the great historical works of the world,
work out its consequences for good or for evil. The originator has to be
contented with setting the thing going and handing on unfinished tasks
to his successors. That is the condition under which we live. We have to
be contented to do our little bit of work, that will fit in along with
that of a great many others, like a chain of men who stand between a
river and a burning house, and pass the buckets from end to end. How
many hands does it take to make a pin? How many did it take to make the
cloth of our dress? The shepherd out in Australia, the packer in
Melbourne, the sailors on the ship that brought the wool home, the
railwayman that took it to Bradford, the spinner, the weaver, the dyer,
the finisher, the tailor--they all had a hand in it, and the share of
none of them was fit to stand upright by itself, as it were, without
something on either side of it to hold it up.

So it is in all our work in the world, and eminently in our Christian
work. We have to be contented with being parts of a mighty whole, to do
our small piece of service, and not to mind though it cannot be singled
out in the completed whole. What does that matter, as long as it is
there? The waters of the brook are lost in the river, and it, in turn,
in the sea. But each drop is there, though indistinguishable.

Multiplication of joy comes from division of labour, 'One soweth and
another reapeth,' and the result is that there are two to be glad over
the harvest instead of one--'that he that soweth and he that reapeth may
rejoice together.' So it is a good thing that the hands that laid the
foundations so seldom are the hands that finish the work; for thereby
there are more admitted into the social gladness of the completed
results. The navvy that lifted the first spadeful of earth in excavating
for the railway line, and the driver of the locomotive over the
completed track, are partners in the success and in the joy. The
forgotten bishop who, I know not how many centuries ago, laid the
foundations of Cologne Cathedral, and the workmen who, a few years
since, took down the old crane that had stood for long years on the
spire, and completed it to the slender apex, were partners in one work
that reached through the ages.

So let us do our little bit of work, and remember that whilst we do it,
He for whom we are doing it is doing it in us, and let us rejoice to
know that at the last we shall share in the 'joy of our Lord,' when He
sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. Though He builds all
Himself, yet He will let us have the joy of feeling that we are
labourers together with Him. 'Ye are God's building'; but the Builder
permits us to share in His task and in His triumph.


THE PRIEST OF THE WORLD AND KING OF MEN

     'He shall build the Temple of the Lord ... and He shall be a Priest
     upon His throne.'--ZECHARIAH vi. 13.

A handful of feeble exiles had come back from their Captivity. 'The holy
and beautiful house' where their fathers praised Him was burned with
fire. There was no king among them, but they still possessed a
representative of the priesthood, the other great office of divine
appointment. Their first care was to rear some poor copy of the Temple;
and the usual difficulties that attend reconstruction of any sort, and
dog every movement that rests upon religious enthusiasm, beset them
--strong enemies, and half-hearted friends, and personal jealousies
weakening still more their weak forces. In this time of anarchy, of toil
at a great task with inadequate resources, of despondency that was
rapidly fulfilling its own forebodings, the Prophet, who was the spring
of the whole movement, receives a word in season from the Lord. He is
bidden to take from some of the returned exiles the tribute-money which
they had brought, and having made of it golden and silver crowns--the
sign of kingship--to set them on the high priest's head, thus uniting
the sacerdotal and regal offices, which had always been jealously
separated in Israel. This singular action is explained, by the words
which he is commanded to speak, as being a symbolic prophecy of Him who
is 'the Branch'--the well-known name which older prophets had used for
the Messiah--indicating that in Him were the reality which the
priesthood shadowed, and the rule which was partly delegated to Israel's
king as well as the power which should rear the true temple of God among
men.

It is in accordance with the law of prophetic development from the
beginning, that the external circumstances of the nation at the moment
should supply the mould into which the promise is run. The earliest of
all Messianic predictions embraced only the existence of evil, as
represented by the serpent, and the conquest of it by one who was known
but as a son of Eve. When the history reaches the patriarchal stage,
wherein the family is the predominant conception, the prophecy
proportionately advances to the assurance, 'In thy seed shall all the
families of the earth be blessed.' When the mission of Moses had made
the people familiar with the idea of a man who was the medium of
revelation, then a further stage was reached--'a Prophet shall the Lord
your God raise up unto you, of your brethren, like unto me.' The kingdom
of David prepared the way for the prediction of the royal dignity of the
Messiah, as the peaceful reign of Solomon for the expectation of one who
should bring peace by righteousness. The approach of national disaster
and sorrow was reflected in Isaiah's vision of the suffering Messiah,
and that prophet's announcements of exile had for their counterpoise the
proclamation of Him who should bring liberty to the captive. So, here,
the kingless band of exiles, painfully striving to rear again the
tabernacle which had fallen down, are heartened for their task by the
thought of the priest-king of the nation, the builder of an imperishable
dwelling-place for God.

To-day we need these truths not less than Zechariah's contemporaries
did. And, thank God! we can believe that, for every modern perplexity,
the blessed old words carry the same strength and consolation. If kings
seem to have perished from among men, if authorities are dying out, and
there are no names of power that can rally the world--yet there is a
Sovereign. If old institutions are crumbling, and must still further
decay ere the site for a noble structure be cleared, yet He shall build
the Temple. If priest be on some lips a name of superstitious folly, and
on others a synonym for all that is despised as effete in religion, yet
this Priest abideth for ever, the guide and the hope for the history of
humanity and for the individual spirit. Let us, then, put ourselves
under the Prophet's guidance, and consider the eternal truths which he
preaches to us too.

I. The true hope of the world is a priest.

The idea of priesthood is universal. It has been distorted and abused;
it has been made the foundation of spiritual tyranny. The priest has not
been the teacher nor the elevator of the people. All over the world he
has been the ally of oppression and darkness, he has hindered and
cramped social and intellectual progress. And yet, in spite of all this,
there the office stands, and wherever men go, by some strange perversity
they take with them this idea, and choose from among themselves those
who, being endowed with some sort of ceremonial and symbolic purity,
shall discharge for their brethren the double office of representing
them before God, of representing God to them. That is what the world
means, with absolute and entire unanimity, by a priest--one who shall be
sacrificer, intercessor, representative; bearer of man's worship,
channel of God's blessing. How comes it, that, in spite of all the
cruelties and lies that have gathered round the office, it lives,
indestructible, among the families of men? Why, because it springs from,
and corresponds to, real and universal wants in their nature. It is the
result of the universal consciousness of sin. Men feel that there is a
gulf betwixt them and God. They know themselves to be all foul. True, as
their knowledge of God dims and darkens, their conscience hardens and
their sense of sin lessens; but, as long as there is any notion of God
at all, there will be a parallel and corresponding conviction of moral
evil. And so, feeling that, and feeling it, as I believe, not because
they are rude and barbarous, but because, though rude and barbarous,
they still preserve some trace of their true relation to God, they lay
hold upon some of their fellows, and say, 'Here! be thou for us this
thing which we cannot be for ourselves--stand thou there in front of us,
and be at once the expression of our knowledge that we dare not come
before our gods, and likewise, if it may be, the medium by which their
gifts may come on us, unworthy.'

That is a wide-spread and all but universally expressed instinct of
human nature. Argue about it as you like, explain it away how you
choose, charge the notions of priesthood and sacrifice with
exaggeration, immorality, barbarism, if you will--still the thing
remains. And I believe for my part that, so far from that want being one
which will be left behind, with other rude and savage desires, as men
advance in civilisation--it is as real and as permanent as the craving
of the understanding for truth, and of the heart for love. When men lose
it, it is because they are barbarised, not civilised, into forgetting
it. On that rock all systems of religion and eminently all theories of
Christianity, that leave out priest and sacrifice, will strike and
split. The Gospel for the world must be one which will meet all the
facts of man's condition. Chief among these facts is this necessity of
the conscience, as expressed by the forms in which for thousands of
years the worship of mankind has been embodied all but everywhere--an
altar, and a priest standing by its side.

I need not pause to remind you how this Jewish people, who have at all
events taught the world the purest Theism, and led men up to the most
spiritual religion, had this same institution of a priesthood for the
very centre of its worship. Nor need I dwell at length on the fact that
the New Testament gives--in its full adhesion to the same idea. We are
told that all these sacerdotal allusions in it are only putting pure
spiritual truth in the guise of the existing stage of religious
development--the husk, not the kernel. It seems to me much rather that
the Old Testament ceremonial--Temple, priesthood, sacrifice--was
established for this along with other purposes, to be a shadow of things
to come. Christ's office is not metaphorically illustrated by reference
to the Jewish ritual; but the Jewish ritual is the metaphor, and
Christ's office the reality. He is the Priest.

And what is the priest whom men crave?

The first requisite is oneness with those whom he represents. Men have
ever felt that one of themselves must fill this office, and have taken
from among their brethren their medium of communication with God. And we
have a Priest who, 'in all things, is made like unto His brethren,'
having taken part of their flesh and blood, and being 'in all points
tempted like as we are.' The next requisite is that these men, who
minister at earth's altars, should, by some lustration, or abstinence,
or white robe, or other external sign, be separated from the profane
crowd, and possess, at all events, a symbolic purity--expression of the
conviction that a priest must be cleaner and closer to God than his
fellows. And we have a Priest who is holy, harmless, undefiled, radiant
in perfect purity, lustrous with the light of constant union with God.

And again, as in nature and character, so in function, Christ
corresponds to the widely expressed wants of men, as shown in their
priesthoods. They sought for one who should offer gifts and sacrifices
on their behalf, and we have One who is 'a merciful and faithful High
Priest to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.' They sought
for a man who should pass into the awful presence, and plead for them
while they stood without, and we lift hopeful eyes of love to the
heavens, 'whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an
High Priest for ever.' They sought for a man who should be the medium of
divine blessings bestowed upon the worshippers, and we know who hath
gone within the veil, having ascended up on high, that He might give
gifts unto men.

The world needs a priest. Its many attempts to find such show how deep
is the sense of need, and what he must be who shall satisfy them. We
have the Priest that the world and ourselves require. I believe that
modern Englishmen, with the latest results of civilisation colouring
their minds and moulding their characters, stand upon the very same
level, so far as this matter is concerned, as the veriest savage in
African wilds, who has darkened even the fragment of truth which he
possesses, till it has become a lie and the parent of lies. You and I,
and all our brethren, alike need a brother who shall be holy and close
to God, who shall offer sacrifices for us, and bring God to us. For you
and me, and all our brethren alike, the good news is true, 'we have a
great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of
God.' That message quenches the fire on every other altar, and strips
the mitre from every other head. It, and it alone, meets fully and for
ever that strange craving, which, though it has been productive of so
many miseries and so many errors, though it has led to grinding tyranny
and dark superstitions, though it has never anywhere found what it longs
for, remains deep in the soul, indestructible and hungry, till it is
vindicated and enlightened and satisfied by the coming of the true
Priest,' made not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the
power of an endless life.'

II. Our text tells us, secondly, that 'the priest of the world is the
king of men.' 'He shall be a Priest upon His throne.'

In Israel these two offices were jealously kept apart, and when one
monarch, in a fit of overweening self-importance, tried to unite in his
own person the kingly and the priestly functions, 'the leprosy rose up
in his forehead,' even as he stood with the censer in his hand, and
'Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death.' And the history
of the world is full of instances, in which the struggles of the
temporal and spiritual power have caused calamities only less
intolerable than those which flowed from that alliance of priests and
kings which has so often made monarchy a grinding tyranny, and religion
a mere instrument of statecraft. History being witness, it would seem to
be a very doubtful blessing for the world that one man should wield both
forms of control without check or limitation, and be at once king and
priest. If the words before us refer to any one but to Christ, the
prophet had an altogether mistaken notion about what would be good for
men, politically and ecclesiastically, and we may be thankful that his
dream has never come true. But if they point to the Son of David who has
died for us, and declare that because He is Priest, He is therefore
King--oh! then they are full of blessed truth concerning the basis and
the nature and the purpose of His dominion, which may well make us lift
up our heads and rejoice that in the midst of tyranny and anarchy, of
sovereignties whose ultimate resort is force, there is another
kingdom--the most absolute of despotisms and yet the most perfect
democracy, whose law is love, whose subjects are every one the children
of a King, the kingdom of that Priest-ruler on whose head is Aaron's
mitre, and more than David's crown.

He does rule. 'The kingdom of Christ' is no unreal fanciful phrase. Take
the lowest ground. Who is it that, by the words He spoke, by the deeds
He did, by the life He lived, has shaped the whole form of moral and
religious thought and life in the civilised world? Is there One among
the great of old, the dead yet sceptred sovereigns, who still rule our
spirits from their urns, whose living power over thought and heart and
deed among the dominant races of the earth is to be compared with His?
And beyond that, we believe that, as the result of His mighty work on
earth, the dominion of the whole creation is His, and He is King of
kings, and Lord of lords, that His will is sovereign and His voice is
absolute law, to which all the powers of nature, all the confusions of
earth's politics, all the unruly wills of men, all the pale kingdoms of
the dead, and all the glorious companies of the heavens, do bow in real
though it be sometimes unconscious and sometimes reluctant obedience.

The foundation of His rule is His sacrifice; or in other words--no truer
though a little more modern in their sound--men will do anything for Him
who does _that_ for them. Men will yield their whole souls to the warmth
and light that stream from the Cross, as the sunflower turns itself to
the sun. He that can give an anodyne which is not an opiate, to my
conscience--He that can appeal to my heart and will, and say, 'I have
given Myself for thee,' will never speak in vain to those who accept His
gift, when He says, 'Now give thyself to Me.'

Brethren! it is not the thinker who is the true king of men, as we
sometimes hear it proudly said. We need One who will not only show but
be the Truth; who will not only point, but open and be, the Way; who
will not only communicate thought, but give, because He is, the Life.
Not the rabbi's pulpit, nor the teacher's desk, still less the gilded
chairs of earthly monarchs, least of all the tents of conquerors, are
the throne of the true King. He rules from the Cross. The one dominion
worth naming, that over men's inmost spirits, springs from the one
sacrifice which alone calms and quickens men's inmost spirits. 'Thou art
the King of Glory, O Christ,' for Thou art 'the Lamb of God, which
taketh away the sin of the world.'

His rule is wielded In gentleness. Priestly dominion has ever been
fierce, suspicious, tyrannous. 'His words were softer than oil, yet were
they drawn swords.' But the sway of this merciful and faithful High
Priest is full of tenderness. His sceptre is not the warrior's mace, nor
the jewelled rod of gold, but the reed--emblem of the lowliness of His
heart, and of authority guided by love. And all His rule is for the
blessing of His subjects, and the end of it is that they may be made
free by obedience, emancipated in and for service, crowned as kings by
submission to the King of kings, consecrated as priests by their
reliance on the only Priest over the house of God, whose loving will
rests not until it has made all His people like Himself.

Then, dear brethren! amid all the anarchic chaos of this day, when old
institutions are crumbling or crashing into decay, when the whole
civilised world seems slowly and painfully parting from its old
moorings, and like some unwieldy raft, is creaking and straining at its
chains as it feels the impulse of the swift current that is bearing it
to an unknown sea, when venerable names cease to have power, when old
truths are flouted as antiquated, and the new ones seem so long in
making their appearance, when a perfect Babel of voices stuns us, and on
every side are pretenders to the throne which they fancy vacant, let us
joyfully welcome all change, and hopefully anticipate the future.
Lifting our eyes from the world, let us fix them on the likeness of a
throne above the firmament that is above the cherubs, and rejoice since
there we behold 'the likeness as the appearance of a man upon it.'
'Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee.'

III. Our text still further reminds us that the Priest-King of men
builds among men the Temple of God.

The Prophet and his companions had become familiar in their captivity
with the gigantic palaces and temples which Assyrian and Babylonian
monarchs had a passion for rearing. They had learned to regard the king
as equally magnified by his conquests and by his buildings. Zechariah
foretells that the true King shall rear a temple more lasting than
Solomon's, more magnificent than those which towered on their
marble-faced platforms over the Chaldean plain.

Christ is Himself the true Temple of God. Whatsoever that shadowed
Christ is or gives. In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead. 'The
glory' which once dwelt between the cherubim, 'tabernacled among us' in
His flesh. As the place of sacrifice, as the place where men meet God,
as the seat of revelation of the divine will, the true tabernacle which
the Lord hath pitched is the Manhood of our Lord.

Christ builds the temple. By faith, the individual soul becomes the
abode of God, and into our desecrated spirits there comes the King of
Glory. 'Know ye not that ye are the temples of God?' By faith, the whole
body of believing men 'are builded together for an habitation of God
through the Spirit.'

Christ builds this temple because He is the Temple. By His incarnation
and work, He makes our communion with God and God's dwelling in us
possible. By His death and sacrifice He draws men to Himself, and blends
them in a living unity. By the gift of His Spirit and His life, He
hallows their wills, and makes them partakers of His own likeness; so
that 'coming to Him, we also are built up a spiritual house.'

Christ builds the temple, and uses us as His servants in the work. Our
prophecy was given to encourage faint-hearted toilers, not to supply an
excuse for indolence. Underlying all our poor labours, and blessing them
all, is the power of Christ. We may well work diligently who work in the
line of His purposes, after the pattern of His labours, in the strength
of His power, under the watchfulness of His eye. The little band may be
few and feeble; let them not be fearful, for He, the throned Priest,
even _He_, and not they with their inadequate resources, shall build the
temple.

Christ builds on through all the ages, and the prophecy of our text is
yet unfulfilled. Its fulfilment is the meaning and end of all history.
For the present, there has to be much destructive as well as
constructive work done. Many a wretched hovel, the abode of sorrow and
want, many a den of infamy, many a palace of pride, many a temple of
idols, will have to be pulled down yet, and men's eyes will be blinded
by the dust, and their hearts will ache as they look at the ruins. Be
it so. The finished structure will obliterate the remembrance of poor
buildings that cumbered its site. This Emperor of ours may indeed say,
that He found the city of brick and made it marble. Have patience if His
work is slow; mourn not if it is destructive; doubt not, though the
unfinished walls, and corridors that seem to lead nowhere, and all the
confusion of unfinished toils puzzle you, when you try to make out the
plan. See to it, my brother, that you lend a hand and help to rear the
true temple, which is rising slowly through the ages, at which
successive generations toil, and from whose unfinished glories they
dying depart, but which shall be completed, because the true Builder
'ever liveth,' and is 'a priest for ever after the order of
Melchizedek.' Above all, brethren! take heed that you are yourselves
builded in that temple. Travellers sometimes find in lonely quarries
long abandoned or once worked by a vanished race, great blocks squared
and dressed, that seem to have been meant for palace or shrine. But
there they lie, neglected and forgotten, and the building for which they
were hewn has been reared without them. Beware lest God's grand temple
should be built up without you, and you be left to desolation and decay.
Trust your souls to Christ, and He will set you in the spiritual house
which the King greater than Solomon is building still.

In one of the mosques of Damascus, which has been a Christian church,
and before that was a heathen temple, the portal bears, deep cut in
Greek characters, the inscription, 'Thy kingdom, O Christ, is an
everlasting kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all
generations.' The confident words seem contradicted by the twelve
centuries of Mohammedanism on which they have looked down. But though
their silent prophecy is unheeded and unheard by the worshippers below,
it shall be proved true one day, and the crescent shall wane before the
steady light of the Sun of Righteousness. The words are carven deep over
the portals of the temple which Christ rears; and though men may not be
able to read them, and may not believe them if they do, though for
centuries traffickers have defiled its courts, and base-born usurpers
have set up their petty thrones, yet the writing stands sure, a dumb
witness against the transient lies, a patient prophet of the eternal
truth. And when all false faiths, and their priests who have oppressed
men and traduced God, have vanished; and when kings that have
prostituted their great and godlike office to personal advancement and
dynastic ambition are forgotten; and when every shrine reared for
obscene and bloody rites, or for superficial and formal worship, has
been cast to the ground, then from out of the confusion and desolation
shall gleam the temple of God, which is the refuge of men, and on the
one throne of the universe shall sit the Eternal Priest--our Brother,
Jesus the Christ.

        *        *        *        *        *


MALACHI


A DIALOGUE WITH GOD

     'A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be
     a Father, where is Mine honour? and if I be a master, where is My
     fear? saith the Lord of Hosts unto you, O priests, that despise My
     Name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised Thy Name? 7. Ye offer
     polluted bread upon Mine altar. And ye say, Wherein have we
     polluted Thee?'--MALACHI i. 6, 7.

A charactistic of this latest of the prophets is the vivacious dialogue
of which our text affords one example. God speaks and the people
question His word, which in reply He reiterates still more strongly. The
other instances of its occurrence may here be briefly noted, and we
shall find that they cover all the aspects of the divine speech to men,
whether He charges sin home upon them or pronounces threatenings of
judgment, or invites by gracious promises the penitent to return. His
charges of sin are repelled in our text and in the following verse by
the indignant question, 'Wherein have we polluted Thee?' And similarly
in the next chapter the divine accusation, 'Ye have wearied the Lord
with your words,' is thrown back with the contemptuous retort, 'Wherein
have we wearied Him?' And in like manner in the third chapter, 'Ye have
robbed Me,' calls forth no confession but only the defiant answer,'
Wherein have we robbed Thee?' And in a later verse, the accusation,
'Your words have been stout against Me,' is traversed by the question,
'What have we spoken so much against Thee?' Similarly the threatening of
judgment that the Lord will 'cut off' the men that 'profane the holiness
of the Lord' calls forth only the rebutting question, 'Wherefore?' (ii.
14). And even the gracious invitation, 'Return unto Me, and I will
return unto you,' evokes not penitence, but the stiff-necked reply,
'Wherein shall we return?' (iii. 7). In this sermon we may deal with the
first of these three cases, and consider, God's Indictment, and man's
plea of 'Not guilty.'

I. God's Indictment.

The precise nature of the charge is to be carefully considered. The Name
is the sum of the revealed character, and that Name has been despised.
The charge is not that it has been blasphemed, but that it has been
neglected, or under-estimated, or cared little about. The pollution of
the table of the Lord is the overt act by which the attitude of mind and
heart expressed in despising His Name is manifested; but the overt act
is secondary and not primary--a symptom of a deeper-lying disease. And
herein our Prophet is true to the whole tenor of the Old Testament
teaching, which draws its indictment against men primarily in regard to
their attitude, and only as a manifestation of that, to their acts. The
same deed may be, if estimated in relation to human law, a crime: if
estimated in relation to godless ethics, a wrong; and if estimated in
the only right way, namely, the attitude towards God which it reveals, a
sin. 'The despising of His Name' may be taken as the very definition of
sin. It is usual with men to-day to say that 'Sin is selfishness'; but
that statement does not go deep enough unless it be recognised that
self-regard only becomes sin when it rears its puny self in opposition
to, or in disregard of, the plain will of God. The 'New Theology,' of
course, minimises, even where it does not, as it to be consistent
should, deny the possibility of sin: for, if God is all and all is God,
there can be no opposition, there can be no divine will to be opposed,
and no human will to oppose it. But the fact of sin certified by men's
own consciences is the rock on which Pantheism must always strike and
sink. A superficial view of human history and of human nature may try to
explain away the fact of sin by shallow talk about 'heredity' and
'environment,' or about 'ignorance' and 'mistakes'; but after all such
euphemistic attempts to rechristen the ugly thing by beguiling names,
the fact remains, and conscience bears sometimes unwilling witness to
its existence, that men do set their own inclinations against God's
commands, and that there is in them that which is 'not subject to the
law of God, neither indeed can be.' The root of all sin is the
despising of His Name.

And as sin has but one root, it has many branches, and as working
backwards from deed to motive, we find one common element in all the
various acts; so working outwards from motive to deed, we have to see
one common character stamped upon a tragical variety of acts. The
poison-water is exhibited in many variously coloured and tasted
draughts, but however unlike each other they may be, it is always the
same.

The great effort of God's love is to press home this consciousness of
despising His Name upon all hearts. The sorrows, losses, and
disappointments which come to us all are not meant only to make us
suffer, but through suffering to lead us to recognise how far we have
wandered from our Father, and to bring us back to His heart and our
home. The beginning of all good in us is the contrite acknowledgment of
our evil. Christ's first preaching was the continuation of John's
message, 'Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'; and His
tenderest revelation of the divine love incarnated in Himself was meant
to arouse the penitent confession, 'I am no more worthy to be called Thy
son,' and the quickening resolve, 'I will arise and go to my Father.'
There is no way to God but through the narrow gate of repentance. There
is no true reception of the gift of Christ which does not begin with a
vivid and heart-broken consciousness of my own sin. We can pass into,
and abide in, the large room of joyous acceptance and fellowship, but we
must reach it by a narrow path walled in by gloomy rocks and trodden
with bleeding feet. The penitent knowledge of oar sin is the first step
towards the triumphant knowledge of Christ's righteousness as ours. Only
they who have called out in the agony of their souls, 'Lord, save us, we
perish,' have truly learned the love of God, and truly possess the
salvation that is in Christ.

II. Man's plea of 'Not Guilty.'

That such an answer should be given to such a charge is a strange,
solemn fact, which tragically confirms the true indictment. The effect
of all sin is to make us less conscious of its presence, as persons in
an unventilated room are not aware of its closeness. It is with profound
truth that the Apostle speaks of being hardened by the 'deceitfulness'
of sin. It comes to us in a cloud and enfolds us in obscure mist. Like
white ants, it never works in the open, but makes a tunnel or burrows
under ground, and, hidden in some piece of furniture, eats away all its
substance whilst it seems perfectly solid. The man's perception of the
standard of duty is enfeebled. We lose our sense of the moral character
of any habitual action, just as a man who has lived all his life in a
slum sees little of its hideousness, and knows nothing of green fields
and fresh air. Conscience is silenced by being neglected. It can be
wrongly educated and perverted, so that it may regard sin as doing God's
service; and the only judgment in which it can be absolutely trusted is
the declaration that it is right to do right, while all its other
decisions as to what is right may be biassed by self-interest; but the
force with which it pronounces its only unalterable decision depends on
the whole tenor of the life of the man. The sins which are most in
accordance with our characters, and are therefore most deeply rooted in
us, are those which we are least likely to recognise as sins. So, the
more sinful we are, the less we know it; therefore there is need for a
fixed standard outside of us. The light on the deck cannot guide us;
there must be the lighthouse on the rock. This sad answer of the heart
untouched by God's appeal prevents all further access of God's love to
that heart. That love can only enter when the reply to its indictment
is, 'I have despised Thy name.'

Let us not forget the New Testament modification of the divine
accusation. 'In Christ' is the Name of God fully and finally revealed to
men. For us who live in the blaze of the ineffable brightness of the
revelation, our attitude towards Him who brings it is the test of our
'hallowing of the Name' which He brings. He Himself has varied Malachi's
indictment when He said, 'He that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent
Me.' Our sin is now to be measured by our under-estimate and neglect of
Him, and chiefly of His Cross. That Cross prevents our consciousness of
sin from becoming despair of pardon. Judas went out, and with bitter
weeping, himself ended his traitorous life. If God's last word to us
were, 'Ye have despised My Name,' and it sank into our souls, there
would be no hope for any of us. But the message which begins with the
universal indictment of sin passes into the message which holds forth
forgiveness and freedom as universal as the sin, and 'God hath concluded
all in unbelief that He may have mercy upon all.'


BLEMISHED OFFERINGS

     'Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or
     accept thy person? saith the Lord of Hosts.'--MALACHI i. 8.

A word of explanation may indicate my purpose in selecting this, I am
afraid, unfamiliar text. The Prophet has been vehemently rebuking a
characteristic mean practice of the priests, who were offering maimed
and diseased animals in sacrifice. They were probably dishonest as well
as mean, because the worshippers would bring sound beasts, and the
priests, for their own profit, slipped in a worthless animal, and kept
the valuable one for themselves. They had become so habituated to this
piece of economical religion, that they saw no harm in it, and when they
offered the lame and the sick and the blind for sacrifice they said to
themselves, 'It is not evil.' And so Malachi, with the sudden sharp
thrust of my text, tries to rouse their torpid consciences. He says to
them: 'Take that diseased creature that you are not ashamed to lay on
God's altar, and try what the governor'--the official appointed by the
Persian Kings to rule over the returned exiles--'will think about it.
Will an offering of that sort be considered a compliment or an insult?
Do you think it will smooth your way or help your suit with him? Surely
God deserves as much reverence as the deputy of Artaxerxes. Surely what
is not good enough for a Persian satrap is not good enough for the Lord
of Hosts. Offer it to the governor, will he be pleased with it? Will he
accept thy person?'

Now, it seems to me that this cheap religion of the priests, and this
scathing irony of the Prophet's counsel need little modification to fit
us very closely. You will bear me witness, I think, that I do not often
speak to you about money. But I am going to try to bring out something
about the great subject of Christian administration of earthly
possessions from this text, because I believe that the Christian
consciousness of this generation does need a great deal of rousing and
instructing about this matter.

I. We note the startling and strange contrast which the text suggests.

The diseased lamb was laid without scruple or hesitation on God's altar,
and not one of these tricky priests durst have taken it to Court in
order to secure favour there. Generalise that, and it comes to this--the
gifts that we lavish on men are the condemnation of the gifts that we
bring to God; and further, we should be ashamed to offer to men what we
are not in the least ashamed to bring to God. Let me illustrate in one
or two points.

Let us contrast in our own consciences, for instance, the sort of love
that we give to one another with the sort of love that we bring to Him.
How strong, how perennially active, how delighting in sacrifice and
service, what a felt source of blessedness is the love that knits many
husbands and wives, many parents and children, many lovers and friends
together! And in dreadful contrast, how languid, how sporadic and
interrupted, how reluctant when called upon for service and sacrifice,
how little operative in our lives is the love we bring to God! We durst
not lay upon the altar of family affection, of wedded love, of true
friendship, a love of such a sort as we take to God and expect Him to he
satisfied with. It would be an insult if offered to 'the governor,' but
we think it good enough for the King of kings. Here a gushing flood,
there a straitened trickle coming drop by drop; here a glowing flame
that fills life with warmth and light, there a few dying embers. Measure
and contrast the love that is lavished by men upon one another, and the
love that is coldly brought to Him. And I think we must all bow our
heads penitently.

Contrast the trust that we put in one another, and the trust that we
direct to Him. In the one case it is absolute. 'I am as sure as I am of
my own existence that so-and-so will always be as true as steel to me,
and will never fail me, and whatever he, or she, does, or fails to do,
no shadow of suspicion, or mist of doubt, will creep across the sunshine
of our sky.' And in contrast to the firm grasp with which we clasp an
infirm human hand, there is a tremulous touch, scarcely a grasp at all,
which we lay upon the one Hand that is strong enough always to be
outstretched for our defence and our blessing. Contrast your confidence
in men, and your confidence in God. Are we not all committing the
absurdity of absolutely trusting that which has no stability or stay,
and refusing so to trust that which is the Rock of Ages? God's
faithfulness is absolute, our faith in it is tremulous. Men's
faithfulness is uncertain, our faith in it is entire.

We might contrast the submission and obedience with which we follow
those who have secured our confidence and evoked our love, as contrasted
with the rebellion, the reluctance, the self-will, which come in to
break and mar our submission to God. Men that will not take Jesus Christ
for their Master, and refuse to follow Him when He speaks, will bind
themselves to some human teacher, and enrol themselves as disciples in
some school of thought or science or philosophy, with a submission so
entire, that it puts to shame the submission which Christians render to
the Incarnate Truth Himself.

And so I might go on, all round the horizon of our human nature, and
signalise the difference that exists between the blemished sacrifices
which each part of our being dares to bring to God and expects Him to
accept, and the sacrifices, unblemished and spotless, which we carry to
one another.

But let me say a word more directly about the subject of which Malachi
is speaking. It seems to me that we may well take a very condemnatory
contrast between what we offer to God in regard to our administration of
earthly good, and what we offer on other altars. Contrast what you give,
for directly beneficent and Christian purposes, with what you spend,
without two thoughts, on your own comfort, indulgence, recreation,
tastes--sometimes doubtful tastes--and the like. Contrast England's
drink bill and England's missionary contribution. We spend £10,000,000
on some wretched war, and some of you think it is cheap at the price,
and the whole contributions of English Christians to missionary purposes
in a twelvemonth do not amount to a tenth of that sum. You offer that to
the spread of Christ's kingdom. 'Offer it to your Government,' and try
to compound for your share of the ten millions that you are going to
spend in shells and gunpowder by the amount you give to Christian
missions, and you will very soon have the tax-gatherer down on you.
'Will he be pleased with it?'

This one Missionary Society with which we are nominally connected has an
income of £70,000 a year. I suppose that is about a shilling per head
from the members of our congregations. Of this congregation there are
many that never give us a farthing, except, perhaps, the smallest coin
in their pockets when the collecting-box comes round. I do not suppose
that there is one of us that applies the underlying principle in our
text, of giving God our best, to this work. I am not going to urge you.
It is my business now simply to state, as boldly and strongly as I can,
the fact; and I say with all sadness, with self-condemnation, as well as
bringing an indictment against my brethren, but with the clearest
conviction that I am not exaggerating in the smallest degree, that the
contrast between what we lavish on other things and what we give for
God's work in the world, is a shameful contrast, like that other which
the Prophet gibbeted with his indignant eloquence.

II. And now let me come to another point--viz., that we have here
suggested and implied the true law and principle on which all Christian
giving of all sorts is to be regulated.

And that is--give the best. The diseased animal was no more fit for the
altar of God than it was for the shambles of the viceroy. It was the
entire and unblemished one that would be accepted in either case. But
for us Christian people that general principle has to be expanded. Let
me do it in two or three sentences.

The foundation of all is 'the unspeakable Gift.' Jesus Christ has given
Himself, God has given His Son. And Jesus Christ and God, in giving,
gave up that we might receive. Do you believe that? Do you believe it
about yourself? If you do, then the next step becomes certain. That
gift, truly received by any man, will infallibly lead to a kindred
(though infinitely inferior) self-surrender. If once we come within the
circle of the attraction of that great Sun, if I might so say, it will
sweep us clean out of our orbit, and turn us into satellites reflecting
His light. To have self for our centre is death and misery, to have
Christ for our centre is life and blessedness. And the one power that
decentralises a man, and sweeps him into an orbit around Jesus, is the
faithful acceptance of His great gift. Just as some little State will
give up its independence in order to be blessedly absorbed into a great
Empire, on the frontiers of which it maintains a precarious existence,
so a man is never so strong, never so blessed, never so truly himself,
as when the might of Christ's sacrifice has melted down all his
selfishness, and has made it flow out in rivers of self-surrender,
self-absorption, self-annihilation, and so self-preservation. 'He that
loseth his life shall find it.'

Then the next step is that this self-surrender, consequent upon my
faithful acceptance of the Lord's surrender for me, changes my whole
conception as to what I call my possessions. If I, in the depths of my
soul, have yielded myself to Jesus Christ, which I shall have done if I
have truly accepted Him as yielding Himself for me, then the yielding of
self draws after it, necessarily, and without a question, a new relation
between me and all that I have and all that I can do. Capacities,
faculties, means, opportunities, powers of brain and heart and mind, and
everything else--they all belong to Him. As in old times a nobleman came
and put his hands between the King's hands, and kneeling before him
surrendered his lands, and all his property, to the over-lord, and got
them back again for his own, so we shall do, in the measure in which we
have accepted Christ as our Saviour and our Guide. And so, because am
His, I shall feel that I am His steward to administer what He gives me,
not for myself, but for men and for God.

Then there follows another thing, and that is, that Christian giving,
not of money only, but of money in a very eminent degree, is only right
and truly Christian when you give yourself with your gift. A great many
of us put our sixpence, or our half-crown, or our sovereign, into the
plate, and no part of ourselves goes with it, except a little twinge of
unwillingness to part with it. That is how they fling bones to dogs.
That is not how you have to give your money and your efforts to God and
God's cause. Farmers nowadays sow their seed-corn out of a machine with
a number of little conical receptacles at the back of it and a small
hole in the bottom of each, and as the thing goes bumping along over the
furrows, out they fall. That drill does as well as, and better than, the
hand of the sower scattering the seed, but it does not do near as well
in the Christian agriculture in sowing the seed of the Kingdom.
Machine-work will not do there; we have to have the sower's hand, and
the sower's heart with his hand, as he scatters the seed. Brethren!
apply the lesson to yourselves, and let your sympathies and your prayers
and your wishes to help go along with your gifts, if you intend them to
be of any good.

And there is another thing, and that is that, somehow or other, if not
in the individual gifts, at all events in their aggregate, there must be
present the fact of sacrifice. 'I will not offer unto the Lord burnt
offerings of that which doth cost me nothing,' said the old king. And we
do not give as we ought, unless our gifts involve some measure of
sacrifice. From many a subscription list some of the biggest donations
would disappear, like the top-writing in one of those old manuscripts
where the Gospel has been half-erased and written over with some foolish
legend, which vanishes when the detergent liquid is applied to the
parchment, if that thought were brought to bear upon it. God asks how
much is kept, not how much is given.

Now, dear friends, these are all threadbare, elementary, 'A.B.C.'
truths. Are they the alphabet of our stewardship and administration of
our possessions?

III. One last suggestion I would make on this text is that it brings
before us the possible blessing and possible grave results of right or
wrong Christian giving.

'Will he be pleased with it? Or will he accept thy person?' Will the
governor think the hobbling creature, blind of an eye, and infected with
some sickness, to be a beautiful addition to his flock? Will it help
your suit with him? No!

It is New Testament teaching that our faithfulness in the administration
of earthly possessions of all sorts has a bearing on our spiritual life.
Remember our Lord's triple illustration of this principle, when He
speaks about faithfulness 'in that which is least,' leading on to the
possession of that which is the greatest; when He speaks of faithfulness
in regard to 'the unrighteous Mammon' leading on to being intrusted with
the true riches; when He speaks of faithfulness in our administration of
that which is another's--alien to ourselves, and which may pass into the
possession of a thousand more--leading on to our firmer hold, and our
deeper and fuller possession of the riches which, in the deepest sense
of the word, are our own. One very important element in the development
and advance of the religious life is our right use of these earthly
things. I have seen many a case in which a man was far better when he
was a poor man than he was when a rich one, in which slowly, stealthily,
certainly, the love of wealth has closed round a man like an iron band
round a sapling, and has hindered the growth of his Christian character,
and robbed him of the best things. And, God be thanked! one has seen
cases, too, in which, by their Christian use of outward possessions, men
have weakened the dominion of self upon themselves, have learned the
subordinate value of the wealth that can be counted and detached from
its possessor, and have grown in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ. Dear friends, God has given all of us something in
charge, the faithful use of which is a potent factor in the growth of
our Christian characters.

It is New Testament teaching that our faithful administration of earthly
possessions has a bearing on the future. Remember what Jesus Christ
said, 'That when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting
habitations.' Remember what His Apostle says, 'Laying up in store for
themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay
hold on eternal life.' Let no fear of imperilling the great truth of
salvation by faith lead us to forget that the faith which saves
manifests its vitality and genuineness, by its effects upon our lives,
and that no small part of our lives is concerned with the right
acquisition and right use of these perishable outward gifts. And let us
take care that we do not, in our dread of damaging the free grace of
God, forget that although we do not earn blessedness, here or hereafter,
by gifts whilst we are living or legacies when we are dead, the
administration of money has an important part to play in shaping
Christian character, and the Christian character which we acquire here
settles our hereafter.

Brethren! we all need to revise our scale of giving, especially in
regard to missionary operations. And if we will do that at the foot of
the Cross, then we shall join the chorus, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was
slain to receive _riches_,' and we shall come to Him 'bringing our
silver and our gold with us,' rejoicing that He gives us the possibility
of sharing His blessedness, 'according to the word of the Lord Jesus
which He spake, It is more blessed to give than to receive.'


A DIALOGUE WITH GOD

     'The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this ... out of the tents
     of Jacob, ... 14. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been
     witness between thee and the wife of thy youth.'--MALACHI ii. 12,
     14 (R.V.).

It is obvious from the whole context that divorce and foreign
inter-marriage were becoming increasingly prevalent in Malachi's time.
The conditions in these respects were nearly similar to that prevailing
in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is these sins which the Prophet is
here vehemently condemning, and for which he threatens to cut off the
transgressors out of the tents of Jacob, and to regard no more their
offerings and simulated worship. They might cover 'the altar of the Lord
with tears,' but the sacrifice which they laid upon it was polluted by
the sins of their daily domestic life, and therefore was not 'regarded
by Him any more.' Malachi is true to the prophetic spirit when he
denounces a religion which has the form of godliness without its power
over the practical life. But his sharp accusations have their edge
turned by the question, 'Wherefore?' which again calls out from the
Prophet's lips a more sharply-pointed accusation, and a solemner warning
that none should 'deal treacherously against the wife of his youth,'
'for I hate putting away, saith the Lord.' We may dismiss any further
reference to the circumstances of the text, and regard it as but one
instance of man's way of treating the voice of God when it warns of the
consequences of the sin of man. Looked at from such a point of view the
words of our text bring before us God's merciful threatenings and man's
incredulous rejection of them.

I. God's merciful threatenings.

The fact of sin affects God's relation to and dealings with the sinner.
It does not prevent the flowing forth of His love, which is not drawn
out by anything in us, but wells up from the depths of His being, like
the Jordan from its source at Dan, a broad stream gushing forth from
the rock. But that love which is the outgoing of perfect moral purity
must necessarily become perfect opposition to its own opposite in the
sinfulness of man. The divine character is many-sided, and whilst 'to
the pure' it 'shows itself pure,' it cannot but be that 'to the froward'
it 'will show itself froward.' Man's sin has for its most certain and
dreadful consequence that, if we may so say, it forces God to present
the stern side of His nature which hates evil. But not merely does sin
thus modify the fact of the divine relation to men, but it throws men
into opposition in which they can see only the darkness which dwells in
the light of God. To the eye looking through a red tinted medium all
things are red, and even the crystal sea before the throne is 'a sea of
glass mingled with fire.'

No sin can stay our reception of a multitude of good gifts appealing to
our hearts and revealing the patient love of our Father in heaven, but
every sin draws after it as certainly as the shadow follows the
substance, evil consequences which work themselves out on the large
scale in nations and communities, and in the smaller spheres of
individual life. And surely it is the voice of love and not of anger
that comes to warn us of the death which is the wages of sin. It is not
God who has ordained that 'the soul that sinneth it shall die,' but it
is God who tells us so. The train is rushing full steam ahead to the
broken bridge, and will crash down the gulph and be huddled, a hideous
ruin, on the rocks; surely it is care for life that holds out the red
flag of danger, and surely God is not to be blamed if in spite of the
flag full speed is kept up and the crash comes.

The miseries and sufferings which follow our sins are self-inflicted,
and for the most part automatic. 'Whatsoever a man soweth, that'--and
not some other crop--'will he also reap.' The wages of sin are paid in
ready money; and it is as just to lay them at God's door as it would be
to charge Him with inflicting the disease which the dissolute man brings
upon himself. It is no arbitrary appointment of God's that 'he that
soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption'; nor is it His
will acting as that of a jealous despot which makes it inevitably true
that here and hereafter, 'Every transgression and disobedience shall
receive its just recompense of reward,' and that to be parted from Him
is death.

If then we rightly understand the connection between sin and suffering,
and the fact that the sorrows which are but the echoes of preceding sins
have all a distinctly moral and restorative purpose, we are prepared
rightly to estimate how tenderly the God who warns us against our sins
by what men call threatenings loves us while He speaks.

II. Man's rejection of God's merciful threatenings.

It is the great mystery and tragedy of life that men oppose themselves
to God's merciful warnings that all sin is a bitter, because it is an
evil, thing. He has to lament, 'I have smitten your children, and they
have received no correction.' The question 'Wherefore?' is asked in very
various tones, but none of them has in it the accent of true conviction;
and there is a whole world of difference between the lowly petition,
'Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me,' and the curt,
self-complacent brushing aside of God's merciful threatenings in the
text. The last thing which most of us think of as the cause of our
misfortunes is ourselves; and we resent as almost an insult the word,
which if we were wise, we should welcome as the crowning proof of the
seeking love of our Father in heaven. We are more obstinate and foolish
than Balaam, who persisted in his purpose when the angel with the drawn
sword in his hand would have barred his way, not to the tree of life,
but to death. The awful mystery that a human will can, and the yet
sadder mystery that it does, set itself against the divine, is never
more unintelligible, never so stupid, and never so tragic as when God
says, 'Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?' and we say, 'Why need I die?
I will not turn.'

The 'Wherefore?' of our text is widely asked in the present day as an
expression of utter bewilderment at the miseries of humanity, both in
the wide area of this disordered world and in the narrower field of
individual lives. There are whole schools of so-called political and
social thinkers who have yet to learn that the one thing which the world
and the individual need is not a change of conditions or environment,
but redemption from sin. Man's sorrows are but a symptom of his disease,
and he is no more to be healed by tinkering with these than a
fever-stricken patient can be restored to health by treating the
blotches on his skin which tell of the disease that courses through his
veins.

But sometimes the question is more than an expression of bewilderment;
it conceals an arraignment of God's justice, or even a denial that there
is a God at all. There are men among us who hesitate not to avow that
the miseries of the world have rooted out of their minds a belief in
Him; and who point to all the ills under which humanity staggers as
conclusive against the ancient faith of a God of love. They, too, forget
that that love is righteousness, and that if there be sin in the world
and God above it, He must necessarily war against it and hate it.

Our right response to God's merciful threatenings is to ask this
question in the right spirit. We are not wise if we turn a deaf ear to
His warnings, or go on in a headlong course which He by His providences
declared to be dangerous and fatal. We use them as wise men should, only
if our 'Wherefore?' is asked in order to learn our evil, and having
learned it, to purge our bosoms of the perilous stuff by confession and
to seek pardon and victory in Christ. Then we shall 'know the secret of
the Lord' which is 'with them that fear Him'; and the mysteries that
still hang over our own histories and the world's destiny will have
shining down upon them the steadfast light of that love which seeks to
make men blessed by making them good.


THE LAST WORD OF PROPHECY

     'Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way
     before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His
     temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in:
     behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. 2. But who may
     abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth?
     for He is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: 3. And He
     shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify
     the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may
     offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. 4. Then shall the
     offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in
     the days of old, and as in former years. 5. And I will come near to
     you to judgment; and I will be a swift Witness against the
     sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers,
     and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the
     widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from
     his right, and fear not Me, saith the Lord of Hosts. 6. For I am
     the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not
     consumed. 7. Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away
     from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto Me, and I
     will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts. But ye said, Wherein
      shall we return? 8. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me.
     But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings.
     9. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed Me, even this
     whole nation. 10. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that
     there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith
     the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven,
     and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to
     receive it. 11. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and
     he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your
     vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of
     Hosts. 12. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be
     a delightsome land, saith the Lord of Hosts.'--MALACHI iii. 1-12.

Deep obscurity surrounds the person of this last of the prophets. It is
questioned whether Malachi is a proper name at all. It is the Hebrew
word rendered in verse 1 of our passage 'My messenger,' and this has led
many authorities to contend that the prophecy is in fact anonymous, the
name being only a designation of office. Whether this is so or not, the
name, if it is a name, is all that we know about him. The tenor of his
prophecy shows that he lived after the restoration of the Temple and its
worship, and the sins which he castigates are substantially those with
which Ezra and Nehemiah had to fight. One ancient Jewish authority
asserts that he was Ezra; but the statement has no confirmation, and if
it had been correct, we should not have expected that such an author
would have been anonymous. This dim figure, then, is the last of the
mighty line of prophets, and gives strong utterance to the 'hope of
Israel'! One clear voice, coming from we scarcely know whose lips,
proclaims for the last time, 'He comes! He comes!' and then all is
silence for four hundred years. Modern critics, indeed, hold that the
bulk of the Psalter is of later date; but that contention has much to do
before it can be regarded as established.

The first point worthy of notice in this passage, then, is the
concentration, in this last prophetic utterance, of that element of
forward-looking expectancy which marked all the earlier revelation. From
the beginning, the selectest spirits in Israel had set their faces and
pointed their fingers to a great future, which gathered distinctness as
the ages rolled, and culminated in the King from David's line, of whom
many psalms sung, and in the suffering Servant of the Lord, who shines
out from the pages of the second part of Isaiah's prophecy. This
Messianic hope runs through all the Old Testament, like a broadening
river. 'They that went before cried, Hosanna! Blessed is He that
cometh.'

That hope gives unity to the Old Testament, whatever criticism may have
to teach about the process of its production. The most important thing
about the book is that one purpose informs it all; and the student who
misses the truth that 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy'
has a less accurate conception of the meaning and inter-relations of the
Old Testament than the unlearned who has accepted that great truth. We
should be willing to learn all that modern scholarship has to teach
about the course of revelation. But we should take care that the new
knowledge does not darken the old certainty that the prophets 'testified
beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and of the glory that should
follow,' Here, at the very end, stands Malachi, reiterating the
assurance which had come down through the centuries. The prophets, as it
were, had lit a beacon which flamed through the darkness. Hand after
hand had flung new fuel on it when it burned low. It had lighted up many
a stormy night of exile and distress. Now we can dimly see one more, the
last of his order, casting his brand on the fire, which leaps up again;
and then he too passes into the darkness, but the beacon burns on.

The next point to note is the clear prophecy of a forerunner. 'My
messenger' is to come, and to 'prepare the way before Me.' Isaiah had
heard a voice calling, 'Prepare the way of the Lord,' and Malachi quotes
his words, and ascribes the same office to the 'messenger.' In the last
verses of his prophecy he calls this messenger 'Elijah the prophet.'
Here, then, we have a remarkable instance of a historical detail set
forth in prophecy. The coming of the Lord is to be immediately preceded
by the appearance of a prophet, whose function is to effect a moral and
religious reformation, which shall prepare a path for Him. This is no
vague ideal, but definite announcement of a definite fact, to be
realised in a historical personality. How came this half-anonymous Jew,
four hundred years beforehand, to hit upon the fact that the next
prophet in Israel would herald the immediate coming of the Lord? There
ought to be but one answer possible.

Another point to note is the peculiar relation between Jehovah and Him
who comes. Emphatically and broadly it is declared that Jehovah Himself
'shall suddenly come to His temple'; and then the prophecy immediately
passes on to speak of the coming of 'the Messenger of the covenant,'
and dwells for a time exclusively on his work of purifying; and then
again it glides, without conscious breach of continuity or mark of
transition, into, 'And _I_ will come near to you in judgment.' A
mysterious relationship of oneness and yet distinctness is here
shadowed, of which the solution is only found in the Christian truth
that the Word, which was Grod, and was in the beginning with God, became
flesh, and that in Him Jehovah in very deed tabernacled among men. The
expression 'the Messenger (or Angel) of the covenant' is connected with
the remarkable representations in other parts of the Old Testament, of
'the Angel of Jehovah,' in whom many commentators recognise a
pre-incarnate manifestation of the eternal Word. That 'Angel' had
redeemed Israel from Egypt, had led them through the desert, had been
the 'Captain of the Lord's host.' The name of Jehovah was 'in Him.' He
it is whose coming is here prophesied, and in His coming Jehovah comes
to His temple.

We next note the aspect of the coming which is prominent here. Not the
kingly, nor the redemptive, but the judicial, is uppermost. With keen
irony the Prophet contrasts the professed eagerness of the people for
the appearance of Jehovah and their shrinking terror when He does come.
He is 'the Lord whom ye seek'; the Messenger of the covenant is He 'whom
ye delight in.' But all that superficial and partially insincere longing
will turn into dread and unwillingness to abide His scrutiny. The images
of the refiner's fire and the fullers' soap imply painful processes, of
which the intention is to burn out the dross and beat out the filth. It
sounds like a prolongation of Malachi's voice when John the Baptist
peals out his herald cry of one whose 'fan was in His hand,' and who
should plunge men into a fiery baptism, and consume with fire that
destroyed what would not submit to be cast into the fire that cleansed.
Nor should we forget that our Lord has said, 'For judgment am I come
into the world.' He came to 'purify'; but if men would not let Him do
what He came for, He could not but be their bane instead of their
blessing.

The stone is laid. If we build on it, it is a sure foundation; if we
stumble over it, we are broken. The double aspect and effect of the
gospel, which was meant only to have the single operation of blessing,
are clearly set forth in this prophecy, which first promises purging
from sin, so that not only the 'sons of Levi' shall offer in
righteousness, but that the 'offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be
pleasant,' and then passes immediately to foretell that God will come in
judgment and witness against evil-doers. Judgment is the shadow of
salvation, and constantly attends on it. Neither Malachi nor the Baptist
gives a complete view of Messiah's work, but still less do they give an
erroneous one; for the central portion of both prophecies is His
purifying energy which both liken to cleansing fire.

That real and inward cleansing is the great work of Christ. It was
wrought on as many of His contemporaries as believed on Him, and for
such as did not He was a swift Witness against them. Nor are we to
forget that the prophecy is not exhausted yet; for there remains another
'day of His coming' for judgment. The prophets did not see the
perspective of the future, and often bring together events widely
separated in time, just as, to a spectator on a mountain, distances
between points far away towards the horizon are not measurable. We have
to allow for foreshortening.

This blending of events historically widely apart is to be kept in view
in interpreting Malachi's prediction that the coming would result in
Judah's and Israel's offerings being 'pleasant unto the Lord as in
former years.' That prediction is not yet fulfilled, whether we regard
the name of Israel and the relation expressed in it as having passed
over to the Christian Church, or whether we look forward to that
bringing in of all Israel which Paul says will be as 'life from the
dead.' But by slow degrees it is being fulfilled, and by Christ men are
being led to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God.

The more directly Messianic part of this prophecy is closed in verse 6
by a great saying, which at once gives the reason for the coming and for
its severe aspect of witness against sin. The unchangeableness of God,
which is declared in His very name, guarantees the continued existence
of Israel. As Paul says in regard to the same subject, 'The calling of
God is without change of purpose' (on His part). But it is as impossible
that God should leave them to their sins, which would destroy them, as
that He should Himself consume them. Therefore He will surely come; and
coming, will deliver from evil. But they who refuse to be so delivered
will forfeit that title and the pledge of preservation which it implies.

A new paragraph begins with verse 7, which is not closely connected with
the promises preceding. It recurs to the prevailing tone of Malachi, the
rebuke of negligence in attending to the legal obligations of worship.
That negligence is declared to be a reason for God's withdrawal from
them. But the 'return,' which is promised on condition of their renewed
obedience, can scarcely be identified with the coming just foretold.
That coming was to bring about offerings of righteousness which should
be pleasant to the Lord. This section (vs. 7-12) promises blessings as
results of such offerings, and a 'return' of Jehovah to His people
contingent upon their return to Him. If the two sections of this passage
are taken as closely connected, this one must describe the consequences
of the coming. But, more probably, this accusation of negligence and
promise of blessing on a change of conduct are independent of the
previous verses. We, however, may fairly take them as exhibiting the
obligations of those who have received that great gift of purifying from
Jesus Christ, and are thereby consecrated as His priests.

The key-word of the Christian life is 'sacrifice'--surrender, and that
to God. That is to be stamped on the inmost selves, and by the act of
the will, on the body as well. 'Yield yourselves to God, and your
members as instruments of righteousness to Him.' It is to be written on
possessions. Malachi necessarily keeps within the limits of the
sacrificial system, but his impetuous eloquence hits us no less. It is
still possible to 'rob God.' We do so when we keep anything as our own,
and use it at our own will, for our own purposes. Only when we recognise
His ownership of ourselves, and consequently of all that we call 'ours,'
do we give Him His due. All the slave's chattels belong to the owner to
whom he belongs. Such thorough-going surrender is the secret of thorough
possession. The true way to enjoy worldly goods is to give them to God.

The lattices of heaven are opened, not to pour down, as of old, fiery
destruction, but to make way for the gentle descent of God's blessing,
which will more than fill every vessel set to receive it. This is the
universal law, not always fulfilled in increase of outward goods, but in
the better riches of communion and of larger possession in God Himself.
He suffers no man to be His creditor, but more than returns our gifts,
as legends tell of some peasant who brought his king a poor tribute of
fruits of his fields, and went away from the presence-chamber with a
jewel in his hand.


THE UNCHANGING LORD

     'I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not
     consumed.' MALACHI iii. 6.

The scriptural revelations of the divine Name are always the basis of
intensely practical admonition. The Bible does not think it worth while
to proclaim the Name of God without building on the proclamation
promises or commandments. There is no 'mere theology' in Scripture; and
it does not speak of 'attributes,' nor give dry abstractions of
infinitude, eternity, omniscience, unchangeableness, but lays stress on
the personality of God, which is so apt to escape us in these abstract
conceptions, and thus teaches us to think of this personal God our
Father, as infinite, eternal, knowing all things, and never changing.
There is all the difference in our attitude towards the very same truth
if we think of the unchangeableness of God, or if we think that our
Father God is unchangeable. In our text the thought of Him as unchanging
comes into view as the foundation of the continuance of the unfaithful
sons of Jacob in their privileges and in their very lives. 'I am the
Lord,' Jehovah, the Self-existent, the Eternal whose being is not under
the limitations of succession and time. 'Because I am Jehovah, I change
not'; and because Jehovah changes not, therefore our finite and mortal
selves abide, and our infinite and sinful selves are still the objects
of His steadfast love.

Let us consider, first, the unchangeable God, and second, the unchanging
God as the foundation of our changeful lives.

I. The unchangeable God.

In the great covenant-name Jehovah there is revealed an existence which
reverses all that we know of finite and progressive being, or finite and
mortal being, or finite and variable nature. With us there are mutations
arising from physical nature. The material must needs be subject to laws
of growth and decadence. Our spiritual nature is subject to changes
arising from the advancement in knowledge. Our moral nature is subject
to fluctuations; circumstances play upon us, and 'nothing continueth in
one stay.' Change is the condition of life. It means growth and
happiness; it belongs to the perfection of creatures. But the
unchangeableness of God is the negation of all imperfection, it is the
negation of all dependence on circumstances, it is the negation of all
possibility of decay or exhaustion, it is the negation of all caprice.
It is the assurance that His is an underived, self-dependent being, and
that with Him is the fountain of light; it is the assurance that, raised
above the limits of time and the succession of events, He is in the
eternal present, where all things that were and are, and are to come,
stand naked and open. It is the assurance that the calm might of His
eternal will acts, not in spasms of successive volitions preceded by a
period of indecision and equilibrium between contending motives, but is
one continuous uniform energy, never beginning, never bending, never
ending; that the purpose of His will is 'the eternal purpose which He
hath purposed in Himself.' It is the assurance that the clear vision of
His infinite knowledge, from the heat of which nothing is hid, has no
stages of advancement, and no events lying nebulous in a dim horizon by
reason of distance, or growing in clearness as they draw nearer, but
which pierces the mists of futurity and the veils of the past and the
infinities of the present, and 'from the beginning to the end knoweth
all things.' It is the assurance that the mighty stream of love from the
heart of God is not contingent on the variations of our character and
the fluctuations of our poor hearts, but rises from His deep well, and
flows on for ever, 'the river of God' which 'is full of water.' It is
the assurance that round all the majesty and the mercy which He has
revealed for our adoration and our trust there is the consecration of
permanence, that we might have a rock on which to build and never be
confounded. Is there anywhere in the past an act of His power, a word of
His lip, a revelation of His heart which has been a strength or a joy or
a light to any man? It is valid for me, and is intended for my use. 'He
fainteth not, nor is weary.' The bush burns and is not consumed. 'I will
not alter the thing that has gone out of my lips.' 'By two immutable
things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we have strong
consolation.'

II. The unchanging God as the foundation of our changeful lives.

In the most literal sense our text is true. Because He lives we live
also. He is the same for ever, therefore we are not consumed. The
foundation of our being lies beyond and beneath all the mutable things
from which we are tempted to believe that we draw our lives, and is in
God. The true lesson to be drawn from the mutable phenomena of earth
is--heaven. The many links in the chain must have a staple. Reason
requires that behind all the fleeting shall be the permanent. There must
be a basis which does not partake of change. The lesson from all the
mutable creation is the immutable God.

Since God changes not, the life of our spirits is not at the mercy of
changing events. We look back on a lifetime of changing scenes through
which we have passed, and forward to a similar succession, and this
mutability is sad to many of us, and in some aspects sad to all, so
powerless we are to fix and arrest any of our blessings. Which we shall
keep we know not; we only know that, as certainly as buds and blossoms
of spring drop, and the fervid summer darkens to November fogs and
December frosts, so certainly we shall have to part with much in our
passage through life. But if we let God speak to us, the necessary
changes that come to us will not be harmful but blessed, for the lesson
that the mutability of the mutual is meant to impress upon us is, the
permanency of the divine, and our dependence, not on them, but on Him.
We may look upon all the world of time and chance and think that He who
Himself is unchanging changeth all. The eye of the tempest is a point of
rest. The point in the heavens towards which, according to some
astronomers, the whole of the solar system is drifting, is a fixed
point. If we depend on Him, then change is not all sad; it cannot take
God away, but it may bring us nearer to Him. We cannot be desolate as
long as we have Him. We know not what shall be on the morrow. Be it so;
it will be God's to-morrow. When the leaves drop we can see the rock on
which the trees grow; and when changes strip the world for us of some of
its waving beauty and leafy shade, we may discern more clearly the firm
foundation on which our hopes rest. All else changes. Be it so; that
will not kill us, nor leave us utterly forlorn as long as we hear the
voice which says, 'I am the Lord; I change not; therefore ye are not
consumed.'

God's purposes and promises change not, therefore our faith may rest on
Him, notwithstanding our own sins and fluctuations. It is this aspect of
the divine immutability which is the thought of our text. God does not
turn from His love, nor cancel His promises, nor alter His purposes of
mercy because of our sins. If God could have changed, the godless
forgetfulness of, and departure from, Him of 'the Sons of Jacob' would
have driven Him to abandon His purposes; but they still live--living
evidences of His long-suffering. And in that preservation of them God
would have them see the basis of hope for the future. So this is the
confidence with which we should cheer ourselves when we look upon the
past, and when we anticipate the future. The sins that have been in our
past have deserved that we should have been swept away, but we are here
still. Why are we? Why do we yet live? Because we have to do with an
unchanging love, with a faithfulness that never departs from its word,
with a purpose of blessing that will not be turned aside. So let us look
back with this thought and be thankful; let us look forward with it and
be of good cheer. Trust yourself, weak and sinful as you are, to that
unchanging love. The future will have in it faults and failures, sins
and shortcomings, but rise from yourself to God. Look beyond the light
and shade of your own characters, or of earthly events to the central
light, where there is no glimmering twilight, no night, 'no variableness
nor shadow of turning.' Let us live in God, and be strong in hope.
Forward, not backward, let us look and strive; so our souls, fixed and
steadied by faith in Him, will become in a manner partakers of His
unchangeableness; and we too in our degree will be able to say, 'The
Lord is at my side; I shall not be moved.'


A DIALOGUE WITH GOD

     'Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of
     Hosts. But ye say, Wherein shall we return?'--MALACHI iii. 7
     (R.V.).

In previous sermons we have considered God's indictment of man's sin met
by man's plea of 'not guilty,' and God's threatenings brushed aside by
man's question. Here we have the climax of self-revealing and patient
love in God's wooing voice to draw the wanderer back, met by man's
refusing answer. These three divine utterances taken together cover the
whole ground of His speech to us; and, alas! these three human
utterances but too truly represent for the most part our answers to Him.

I. God's invitation to His wandering child.

The gracious invitation of our text presupposes a state of departure.
The child who is tenderly recalled has first gone away. There has been a
breach of love. Dependence has been unwelcome, and cast off with the
vain hope of a larger freedom in the far-off land; and this is the true
charge against us. It is not so much individual acts of sin but the
going away in heart and spirit from our Father God which describes the
inmost essence of our true condition, and is itself the source of all
our acts of sin. Conscience confirms the description. We know that we
have departed from Him in mind, having wasted our thoughts on many
things and not having had Him in the multitude of them in us. We have
departed from Him in heart, having squandered our love and dissipated
our desires on many objects, and sought in the multiplicity of many
pearls--some of them only paste--a substitute for the all-sufficient
simplicity of the One of great price. We have departed from Him in will,
having reared up puny inclinations and fleeting passions against His
calm and eternal purpose, and so bringing about the shock of a collision
as destructive to us as when a torpedo-boat crashes in the dark against
a battleship, and, cut in two, sinks.

The gracious invitation of our text follows, 'I am the Lord, I change
not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.' Threatenings, and the
execution of these in acts of judgment, are no indication of a change in
the loving heart of God; and because it is the same, however we have
sinned against it and departed from it, there is ever an invitation and
a welcome. We may depart from Him, but He never departs from us. Nor
does He wait for us to originate the movement of return, but He invites
us back. By all His words in His threatenings and in His commandments,
as in the acts of His providence, we can hear His call to return. The
fathers of our flesh never cease to long for their prodigal child's
return; and their patient persistence of hope is but brief and broken
when contrasted with the infinite long-suffering of the Father of
spirits. We have heard of a mother who for long empty years has nightly
set a candle in her cottage window to guide her wandering boy back to
her heart; and God has bade us think more loftily of the
unchangeableness of His love than that of a woman who may forget, that
she should not have compassion upon the son of her womb.

II. Man's answer to God's invitation.

It is a refusal which is half-veiled and none the less real. There is
no unwillingness to obey professed, but it is concealed under a mask of
desiring a little more light as to how a return is to be accomplished.
There are not many of us who are rooted enough in evil as to be able to
blurt out a curt 'I will not' in answer to His call. Conscience often
bars the way to such a plain and unmannerly reply; but there are many
who try to cheat God, and who do to some extent cheat themselves, by
professing ignorance of the way which would lead them to His heart. Some
of us have learned only too well to raise questions about the method of
salvation instead of accepting it, and to dabble in theology instead of
making sure work of return. Some of us would fain substitute a host of
isolated actions, or apparent moral or religious observance, for the
return of will and heart to God; and all who in their consciences answer
God's call by saying, 'Wherein shall we return?' with such a meaning are
playing tricks with themselves, and trying to hoodwink God.

But the question of our text has often a nobler origin, and comes from
the depths of a troubled heart. Not seldom does God's loving invitation
rouse the dormant conscience to the sense of sin. The man, lying broken
at the foot of the cliff down which he has fallen, and seeing the
brightness of God far above, has his heart racked with the question: How
am I, with lame limbs, to struggle back to the heights above? 'How shall
man be just with God?' All the religions of the world, with their
offerings and penances and weary toils, are vain attempts to make a way
back to the God from whom men have wandered, and that question, 'Wherein
shall we return?' is really the meaning of the world's vain seeking and
profitless effort.

God has answered man's question; for Christ is at once the way back to
God, and the motive which draws us to walk in it. He draws us back by
the magnetism of His love and sacrifice. We return to God when we cling
to Jesus. He is the highest, the tenderest utterance of the divine
voice; and when we yield to His invitation to Himself we return to God.
He calls to each of us, 'Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.' What
can we reply but, 'I come; let me never wander from Thee'?


'STOUT WORDS,' AND THEIR CONFUTATION

     'Your words have been stout against Me, saith the Lord: yet ye say,
     What have we spoken so much against Thee? 14. Ye have said, It is
     vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His
     ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of
     Hosts? 15. And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work
     wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.
     16. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and
     the Lord hearkened, and heard it; and a book of remembrance was
     written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought
     upon His name. 17. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of Hosts,
     in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a
     man spareth his own son that serveth him. 18. Then shall ye return,
     and discern between the righteous and the wicked; between him that
     serveth God and him that serveth Him not. IV. 1. For, behold, the
     day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and
     all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh
     shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave
     them neither root nor branch. 2. But unto you that fear My Name
     shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and
     ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3. And ye
     shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the
     soles of your feet, in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord
     of Hosts. 4. Remember ye the law of Moses My servant, which I
     commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and
     judgments. 5. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the
     coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 6. And he shall
     turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the
     children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a
     curse.'--MALACHI iii. 13-18; iv. 1-6.

This passage falls into three parts,--the 'stout words' against God
which the Prophet sets himself to confute (verses 13-15); the prophecy
of the day which will show their falsehood (verse 16 to iv. 3); and the
closing exhortation and prediction (iv. 4-6).

I. The returning exiles had not had the prosperity which they had hoped.
So many of them, even of those who had served God, began to let doubts
darken their trust, and to listen to the whispers of their own hearts,
reinforced by the mutterings of others, and to ask: 'What is the use of
religion? Does it make any difference to a man's condition?' Here had
they been keeping God's charge, and going in black garments 'before the
Lord,' in token of penitence, and no good had come to them, while
arrogant neglect of His commandments did not seem to hinder happiness,
and 'they that work wickedness are built up.' Sinful lives appeared to
have a firm foundation, and to rise high and palace-like, while
righteous ones were like huts. Goodness seemed to spell ruin.

What was wrong in these 'stout words'? It was wrong to attach such worth
to external acts of devotion, as if these were deserving of reward. It
was wrong to suspend the duty of worship on the prosperity resulting
from it, and to seek 'profit' from 'keeping his charge.' Such religion
was shallow and selfish, and had the evils of the later Pharisaism in
germ in it. It was wrong to yield to the doubts which the apparently
unequal distribution of worldly prosperity stirred in their hearts. But
the doubts themselves were almost certain to press on Old Testament
believers, as well as on Old Testament scoffers, especially under the
circumstances of Malachi's time. The fuller light of Christianity has
eased their pressure, but not removed it, and we have all had to face
them, both when our own hearts have ached with sorrow and when pondering
on the perplexities of this confused world. We look around, and, like
the psalmist, see 'the prosperity of the wicked,' and, like him, have to
confess that our 'steps had wellnigh slipped' at the sight. The old, old
question is ever starting up. 'Doth God know?' The mystery of suffering
and the mystery of its distribution, the apparent utter want of
connection between righteousness and well-being, are still formidable
difficulties in the way of believing in a loving, all-knowing, and
all-powerful God, and are stock arguments of the unbeliever and
perplexities of humble faith. Never to have felt the force of the
difficulty is not so much the sign of steadfast faith as of scant
reflection. To yield to it, and still more, to let it drive us to cast
religion aside, is not merely folly, but sin. So thinks Malachi.

II. To the stout words of the doubters is opposed the conversation of
the godly. '_Then_ they that feared the Lord spake one with another,'
nourishing their faith by believing speech with like-minded. The more
the truths by which we believe are contradicted, the more should we
commune with fellow-believers. Attempts to rob us should make us hold
our treasure the faster. Bold avowal of the faith is especially called
for when many potent voices deny it. And, whoever does not hear, God
hears. Faithful words may seem lost, but they and every faithful act are
written in His remembrance and will be recompensed one day. If our names
and acts are written there, we may well be content to accept scanty
measures of earthly good, and not be 'envious of the foolish' in their
prosperity.

Malachi's answer to the doubters leaves all other considerations which
might remove the difficulty unmentioned, and fixes on the one, the
prophecy of a future which will show that it is not all the same whether
a man is good or bad. It was said of an English statesman that he called
a new world into existence to redress the balance of the old, and that
is what the Prophet does. Christianity has taught us many other ways of
meeting the doubters' difficulty, but the sheet anchor of faith in that
storm is the unconquerable assurance that a day comes when the
righteousness of providence will be vindicated, and the eternal
difference between good and evil manifested in the fates of men. The
Prophet is declaring what will be a fact one day, but he does not know
when. Probably he never asked himself whether 'the day of the Lord' was
near or far off, to dawn on earth or to lie beyond mortal life. But this
he knew--that God was righteous, and that sometime and somewhere
character would settle destiny, and even outwardly it would be good to
be good. He first declares this conviction in general terms, and then
passes on to a magnificent and terrible picture of that great day.

The promise, which lay at the foundation of Israel's national existence,
included the recognition of it as 'a peculiar treasure unto Me above all
people,' and Malachi looks forward to that day as the epoch when God
will show by His acts how precious the righteous are in His sight. Not
the whole Israel, but the righteous among them, are the heirs of the old
promise. It is an anticipation of the teaching that 'they are not all
Israel which are of Israel,' And it bids us look for the fulfilment of
every promise of God's to that great day of the Lord which lies still
before us all, when the gulf between the righteous and the wicked shall
be solemnly visible, wide, and profound. There have been many 'days
which I make' in the world's history, and in a measure each of them has
re-established the apparently tottering truth that there is a God who
judgeth in the earth, but the day of days is yet to come.

No grander vision of judgment exists than Malachi's picture of 'the
day,' lurid, on the one hand, with the fierce flame, before which the
wicked are as stubble that crackles for a moment and then is grey ashes,
or as a tree in a forest fire, which stands for a little while, a pillar
of flame, and then falls with a crash, shaking the woods; and on the
otherhand, radiant with the early beams of healing sunshine, in whose
sweet morning light the cattle, let out from their pent-up stalls,
gambol in glee. But let us not forget while we admire the noble poetry
of its form that this is God's oracle, nor that we have each to settle
for ourselves whether that day shall be for us a furnace to destroy or a
sun to cheer and enlighten.

We can only note in a sentence the recurrence in verse 1 of the phrases
'the proud' and they 'that work wickedness,' from verse 15 of chapter
iii. The end of those whom the world called happy, and who seemed stable
and elevated, is to be as stubble before the fire. We must also point
out that 'the sun of righteousness' means the sun which is
righteousness, and is not a designation of the Messiah. Nor can we dwell
on the picture of the righteous treading down the wicked, which seems to
prolong the previous metaphor of the leaping young cattle. Then shall
'the upright have dominion over them in the morning.'

III. The final exhortation and promise point backwards and forwards,
summing up duty in obedience to the law, and fixing hope on a future
reappearance of the leader of the prophets. Moses and Elijah are the two
giant figures which dominate the history of Israel. Law and prophecy are
the two forms in which God spoke to the fathers. The former is of
perpetual obligation, the latter will flash up again in power on the
threshold of the day. Jesus has interpreted this closing word for us.
John came 'in the spirit and power of Elijah,' and the purpose of his
coming was to 'turn the hearts of the fathers to the children' (Luke i.
16, 17); that is, to bring back the devout dispositions of the
patriarchs to the existing generations, and so to bring the 'hearts of
the children to their fathers,' as united with them in devout obedience.
If John's mission had succeeded, the 'curse' which smote Israel would
have been stayed. God has done all that He can do to keep us from being
consumed by the fire of that day. The Incarnation, Life, and Death of
Jesus Christ made a day of the Lord which has the twofold character of
that in Malachi's vision, for He is a 'saviour of life unto life' or
'of death unto death,' and must be one or other to us. But another day
of the Lord is still to come, and for each of us it will come burning as
a furnace or bright as sunrise. Then the universe shall 'discern between
the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that
serveth Him not.'


THE LAST WORDS OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS

     'Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.'--MALACHI iv. 6.

     'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
     Amen.'--REVELATION xxii. 21.

It is of course only an accident that these words close the Old and the
New Testaments. In the Hebrew Bible Malachi's prophecies do not stand at
the end; but he was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and after
him there were 'four centuries of silence.' We seem to hear in his words
the dying echoes of the rolling thunders of Sinai. They gather up the
whole burden of the Law and of the prophets; of the former in their
declaration of a coming retribution, of the latter in the hope that that
retribution may be averted.

Then, in regard to John's words, of course as they stand they are simply
the parting benediction with which he takes leave of his readers; but it
is fitting that the Book of which they are the close should seal up the
canon, because it stands as the one prophetic book of the New Testament,
and so reaches forward into the coming ages, even to the consummation of
all things. And just as Christ in His Ascension was taken from them
whilst His hands were lifted up in the act of blessing, so it is fitting
that the revelation of which He is the centre and the theme should part
from us as He did, shedding with its final words the dew of benediction
on our upturned heads.

I venture, then, to look at these significant closing words of the two
Testaments as conveying the spirit of each, and suggesting some thoughts
about the contrast and the harmony and the order that subsist between
them.

I. I ask you, first, to notice the apparent contrast and the real
harmony and unity of these two texts.

'Lest I come and smite the land with a curse.' That last awful word does
not convey, in the original, quite the idea of our English word 'curse.'
It refers to a somewhat singular institution in the Mosaic Law according
to which things devoted, in a certain sense, to God were deprived of
life. And the reference historically is to the judgments that were
inflicted upon the nations that occupied the land before the Israelitish
invasion, those Canaanites and others who were put under 'the ban' and
devoted to utter destruction. So, says my text, Israel, which has
stepped into their places, may bring down upon its head the same
devastation; and as they were swept off the face of the land that they
had polluted with their iniquities, so an apostate and God-forgetting
Judah may again experience the same utter destruction falling upon them.
If instead of the word 'curse' we were to substitute the word
'destruction,' we should get the true idea of the passage.

And the thought that I want to insist upon is this, that here we have
distinctly gathered up the whole spirit of millenniums of divine
revelation, all of which declare this one thing, that as certainly as
there is a God, every transgression and disobedience receives, and must
receive, its just recompense of reward.

That is the spirit of law, for law has nothing to say, except, 'Do this,
and thou shalt live; do not this, and thou shalt die.'

And then turn to the other. 'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with
you all.' What has become of the thunder? All melted into dewy rain of
love and pity and compassion. Grace is love that stoops; grace is love
that foregoes its claims, and forgives sins against itself. Grace is
love that imparts, and this grace, thus stooping, thus pardoning, thus
bestowing, is a universal gift. The Apostolic benediction is the
declaration of the divine purpose, and the inmost heart and loftiest
meaning of all the words which from the beginning God hath spoken is
that His condescending, pardoning, self-bestowing mercy may fall upon
all hearts, and gladden every soul.

So there seems to emerge, and there is, a very real and a very
significant contrast. 'I come and smite the earth with a curse' sounds
strangely unlike 'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.'
And, of course, in this generation there is a strong tendency to dwell
upon that contrast and to exaggerate it, and to assert that the more
recent has antiquated the more ancient, and that now the day when we
have to think of and to dread the curse that smites the earth is past,
'because the true Light now shineth.'

So I ask you to notice that beneath this apparent contrast there is a
real harmony, and that these two utterances, though they seem to be so
diverse, are quite consistent at bottom, and must both be taken into
account if we would grasp the whole truth. For, as a matter of fact,
nowhere are there more tender utterances and sweeter revelations of a
divine mercy than in that ancient law with its attendant prophets. And
as a matter of fact, nowhere, through all the thunderings and lightnings
of Sinai, are there such solemn words of retribution as dropped from the
lips of the Incarnate Love. There is nothing anywhere so dreadful as
Christ's own words about what comes, and must come, to sinful men. Is
there any depth of darkness in the Old Testament teaching of retribution
half as deep, half as black, and as terrible, as the gulf that Christ
opens at your feet and mine? Is there anything so awful as the
threatenings of Infinite Love?

And the same blending of the widest proclamation of, and the most
perfect rejoicing confidence in, the universal and all-forgiving love of
God, with the teaching of the sharpest retribution, lies in the writings
of this very Apostle about whose words I am speaking. There are nowhere
in Scripture more solemn pictures than those in that book of the
Apocalypse, of the inevitable consequences of departure from the love
and the faith of God, and John, the Apostle of love, is the preacher of
judgment as none of the other writers of the New Testament are.

Such is the fact, and there is a necessity for it. There must be this
blending; for if you take away from your conception of God the absolute
holiness which hates sin, and the rigid righteousness which apportions
to all evil its bitter fruits, you have left a maimed God that has not
power to love but is nothing but weak, good-natured indulgence. Impunity
is not mercy, and punishment is never the negation of perfect love, but
rather, if you destroy the one you hopelessly maim the other. The two
halves are needed in order to give full emphasis to either. Each note
alone is untrue; blended, they make the perfect chord.

II. And now, let me ask you to look with me at another point, and that
is, the relation of the grace to the punishment.

Is it not love which proclaims judgment? Are not the words of my first
text, if you take them all, merciful, however they wear a surface of
threatening? 'Lest I come.' Then He speaks that He may not come, and
declares the issue of sin in order that that issue may never need to be
experienced by us that listen to Him. Brethren! both in regard to the
Bible and in regard to human ministrations of the Gospel, it is
all-important, as it seems to me at present, to insist that it is the
cruellest kindness to keep back the threatenings for fear of darkening
the grace; and that, on the other hand, it is the truest tenderness to
warn and to proclaim them. It is love that threatens; 'tis mercy to tell
us that the wrath will come.

And just as one relation between the grace and the retribution is that
the proclamation of the retribution is the work of the grace, so there
is another relation--the grace is manifested in bearing the punishment,
and in bearing it away by bearing it. Oh! there is no adequate measure
of what the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is except the measure of the
smiting destruction from which He frees us. It is because every
transgression receives its just recompense of reward, because the wages
of sin is death, because God cannot but hate and punish the evil, that
we get our truest standard of what Christ's love is to every soul of us.
For on Him have met all the converging rays of the divine retribution,
and burnt the penal fire into His very heart. He has come between every
one of us, if we will, and that certain incidence of retribution for our
evil, taking upon Himself the whole burden of our sin and of our guilt,
and bearing that awful death which consists not in the mere dissolution
of the tie between soul and body, but in the separation of the conscious
spirit from God, in order that we may stand peaceful, serene, untouched,
when the hail and the fire of the divine judgment are falling from the
heavens and running along the earth. The grace depends for all our
conceptions of its glory, its tenderness, and its depth, on our estimate
of the wrath from which it delivers.

So, dear brethren, remember, if you tamper with the one you destroy the
other; if there be no fearful judgment from which men need to be
delivered, Christ has borne nothing for us that entitles Him to demand
our hearts; and all the ascriptions of praise and adoration to Him, and
all the surrender of loving hearts, in utter self-abandonment, to Him
that has borne the curse for us, fade and are silent. If you strike out
the truth of Christ's bearing the results of sin from your theology, you
do not thereby exalt, but you fatally lower the love; and in the
interests of the loftiest conceptions of a divine loving-kindness and
mercy that ever have blessed the world, I beseech you, be on your guard
against all teachings that diminish the sinfulness of sin, and that ask
again the question which first of all came from lips that do not commend
it to us--'_Hath_ God said?' or advance to the assertion--'Ye shall
_not_ surely die.' If 'I come to smite the earth with a curse' ceases to
be a truth to you, 'the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ' will fade away
for you likewise.

III. Now, still further, let me ask you to consider, lastly, the
alternative which these texts open for us.

I believe that the order in which they stand in Scripture is the order
in which men generally come to believe them, and to feel them. I am
old-fashioned enough and narrow enough to believe in conversion; and to
believe further that, as a rule, the course through which the soul
passes from darkness into light is the course which divine revelation
took: first, the unveiling of sin and its issues, and then the glad
leaping up of the trustful heart to the conception of redeeming grace.

But what I seek briefly to suggest now is, not only the order of
manifestation as brought out in these words, but also the alternative
which they present to us, one branch or other of which every soul of you
will have to experience. You must have either the destruction or the
grace. And, more wonderful still, the same coming of the same Lord will
be to one man the destruction, and to another the manifestation and
reception of His perfect grace. As it was in the Lord's first coming,
'He is set for the rise and the fall of many in Israel.' The same heat
softens some substances and bakes others into hardness. A bit of wax and
a bit of clay put into the same fire--one becomes liquefied and the
other solidified. The same light is joy to one eye and torture to
another. The same pillar of cloud was light to the hosts of Israel, and
darkness and dismay to the armies of Egypt. The same Gospel is 'a savour
of life unto life, or of death unto death,' by the giving forth of the
same influences killing the one and reviving the other; the same Christ
is a Stone to build upon or a Stone of stumbling; and when He cometh at
the last, Prince, King, Judge, to you and me, His coming shall be
prepared as the morning; and ye 'shall have a song as when one cometh
with a pipe to the mountain of the Lord'; or else it shall be a day of
darkness and not of light. He comes to me, to you; He comes to smite or
He comes to glorify.

Oh, brethren! do not believe that God's threatenings are wind and words;
do not let teachings that sap the very foundations of morality and eat
all the power out of the Gospel persuade you that the solemn words, 'The
soul that sinneth it shall die,' are not simple verity.

And then, my brethren, oh! then, do you turn yourselves to that dear
Lord whose grace is magnified in this most chiefly, that 'He hath borne
our sins and carried our sorrows'; and taking Him for your Saviour, your
King, your Shield, your All, when He cometh it will be life to you; and
the grace that He imparts will be heaven for ever more.

        *        *        *        *        *



ST. MATTHEW

_Chaps. I to VIII_



CONTENTS

        MATTHEW'S GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST (Matt. i. 1-16)
        THE NATIVITY (Matt. i. 18-25)
        THE NAME ABOVE EVERY NAME (Matt. i. 21)
        THE FIRST-FRUITS OF THE GENTILES (Matt. ii. 1-12)
        THE KING IN EXILE (Matt. ii. 13-23)
        THE HERALD OF THE KING (Matt. iii. 1-12)
        THE BAPTISM IN FIRE (Matt. iii. 11)
        THE BAPTISM OF JESUS (Matt. iii. 13-17)
        THE DOVE OF GOD (Matt. in. 16)
        THE VICTORY OF THE KING (Matt. iv. 1-11)
        THE SPRINGING OF THE GREAT LIGHT (Matt. iv. 12-16)
        THE EARLY WELCOME AND THE FIRST MINISTERS OF THE KING
            (Matt. iv. 17-25)
        THE NEW SINAI (Matt. v. 1-16)
        THE FIRST BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 3)
        THE SECOND BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 4)
        THE THIRD BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 5)
        THE FOURTH BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 6)
        THE FIFTH BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 7)
        THE SIXTH BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 8)
        THE SEVENTH BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 9)
        THE EIGHTH BEATITUDE (Matt. v. 10)
        SALT WITHOUT SAVOUR (Matt. v. 13)
        THE LAMP AND THE BUSHEL (Matt. v. 14-16)
        THE NEW FORM OF THE OLD LAW (Matt. v. 17-26)
        'SWEAR NOT AT ALL' (Matt. v. 33-37)
        NON-RESISTANCE (Matt. v. 38-42)
        THE LAW OF LOVE (Matt. v. 43-48)
        TRUMPETS AND STREET CORNERS (Matt. vi. 1-5)
        SOLITARY PRAYER (Matt. vi. 6)
        THE STRUCTURE OF THE LORD'S PRAYER (Matt. vi. 9)
        'OUR FATHER' (Matt. vi. 9)
        'HALLOWED BE THY NAME' (Matt. vi. 9)
        'THY KINGDOM COME' (Matt. vi. 10)
        'THY WILL BE DONE' (Matt. vi. 10)
        THE CRY FOR BREAD (Matt. vi. 11)
        'FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS' (Matt. vi. 12)
        'LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION' (Matt. vi. 13)
        'DELIVER US FROM EVIL' (Matt. vi. 13)
        'THINE IS THE KINGDOM' (Matt. vi. 13)
        FASTING (Matt. vi. 16-18)
        TWO KINDS OF TREASURE (Matt. vi. 10-20)
        HEARTS AND TREASURES (Matt. vi. 21)
        ANXIOUS CARE (Matt. vi. 24-25)
        JUDGING, ASKING, AND GIVING (Matt. vii. 1-12)
        OUR KNOCKING (Matt. vii. 7)
        THE TWO PATHS (Matt, vii. 1344)
        THE TWO HOUSES (Matt. vii. 24-26)
        THE CHRIST OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (Matt. vii. 28-29)
        THE TOUCH THAT CLEANSES (Matt. viii. 14)
        THE FAITH WHICH CHRIST PRAISES (Matt. viii. 8-9)
        SWIFT HEALING AND IMMEDIATE SERVICE (Matt. viii. 14-15)
        THE HEALING CHRIST (Matt. viii. 17)
        CHRIST REPRESSING RASH DISCIPLESHIP (Matt. viii. 19-20)
        CHRIST STIMULATING SLUGGISH DISCIPLESHIP (Matt. viii. 21-22)
        THE PEACE-BRINGER IN THE NATURAL WORLD (Matt, viii. 23-27)
        THE PEACE-BRINGER IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLD (Matt. viii. 28-34)


        *        *        *        *        *


MATTHEW'S GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST

     'The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the
     son of Abraham. 2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and
     Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 3. And Judas begat Phares and
     Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4.
     And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson
     begat Salmon; 5. And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat
     Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6. And Jesse begat David the
     king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the
     wife of Urias; 7. And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia;
     and Abia begat Asa; 8. And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat
     Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 9. And Ozias begat Joatham; and
     Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10. And Ezekias begat
     Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11. And
     Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were
     carried away to Babylon: 12. And after they were brought to
     Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel;
     13. And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim
     begat Azor; 14. And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and
     Achim begat Eliud; 15. And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat
     Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16. And Jacob begat Joseph the
     husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called
     Christ.'--MATT. 1. 1-16.

To begin a Gospel with a genealogy strikes us modern Westerns as
singular, to say the least of it. To preface the Life of Jesus with an
elaborate table of descents through forty-one generations, and then to
show that the forty-second had no real connection with the forty-first,
strikes us as irrelevant. Clause after clause comes the monotonous
'begat,' till the very last, when it fails, and we read instead: 'Jacob
begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.' So, then,
whoever drew up this genealogy knew that Jesus was not Joseph's son.
Why, then, was he at the pains to compile it, and why did the writer of
the Gospel, if he was not the compiler, think it important enough to
open his narrative? The answer lies in two considerations: the ruling
idea of the whole Gospel, that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah,
David's son and Israel's king; and the characteristic ancient idea that
the full rights of sonship were given by adoption as completely as by
actual descent. Joseph was 'of the house and lineage of David,' and
Joseph took Mary's first-born as his own child, thereby giving Him
inheritance of all his own status and claims. Incidentally we may remark
that this presentation of Jesus as Joseph's heir seems to favour the
probability that He was regarded as His reputed father's first-born
child, and so disfavours the contention that the 'brethren' of Jesus
were Joseph's children by an earlier marriage. But, apart from that, the
place of this table of descent at the beginning of the Gospel makes it
clear that the prophecies of the Messiah as David's son were by the
Hebrew mind regarded as adequately fulfilled by Jesus being by adoption
the son of Joseph, and that such fulfilment was regarded as important by
the evangelist, not only for strengthening his own faith, but for urging
his Lord's claims on his fellow-countrymen, whom he had chiefly in view
in writing. Such external 'fulfilment' goes but for little with us, who
rest Jesus' claims to be our King on more inward and spiritual grounds,
but it stands on the same level as other similar fulfilments of prophecy
which meet us in the Gospels; such as the royal entry into Jerusalem,
'riding upon an ass,' in which the outward, literal correspondence is
but a finger-post, pointing to far deeper and truer realisation of the
prophetic ideal in Jesus.

What, then, did the evangelist desire to make prominent by the
genealogy? The first verse answers the question. We need not discuss
whether the title, 'The book of the generations of Jesus Christ,'
applies to the table of descent only, or to the whole chapter. The
former seems the more probable conclusion, but the point to note is that
two facts are made prominent in the title; viz. that Jesus was a true
Jew, 'forasmuch as He also is a son of Abraham,' and was the true king
of Israel, being the 'Son of David,' of whom prophets had spoken such
great things. If we would take in the full significance of Matthew's
starting-point, we must set by the side of it those of the other three
evangelists. Mark plunges at once, without preface or allusion to
earlier days, into the stir and stress of Christ's work, slightly
touching on the preliminaries of John's mission, the baptism and
temptation, and hurrying on to the call of the fishermen, and the busy
scenes on the Sabbath in Capernaum. Luke has his genealogy as well as
Matthew, but, in accordance with his universalistic, humanist tone, he
traces the descent from far behind Abraham, even to 'Adam, which was the
son of God,' and he works in the reverse order to Matthew, going upwards
from Joseph instead of downwards to him. John soars high above all
earthly birth, and begins away back in the Eternities before the world
was, for his theme is not so much the son of Joseph who was the son of
David and the son of Abraham, or the son of Adam who was the son of God,
as the Eternal 'Word' who 'was with God,' and entered into history and
time when He 'became flesh.' We must take all these points of view
together if we would understand any of them, for they are not
contradictory, but complementary.

The purpose of Matthew's genealogy is further brought out by its
symmetrical arrangement into three groups of fourteen generations
each--an arrangement not arrived at without some free manipulating of
the links. The sacred number is doubled in each case, which implies
eminent completeness. Each of the three groups makes a whole in which a
tendency runs out to its goal, and becomes, as it were, the
starting-point for a new epoch. So the first group is pre-monarchical,
and culminates in David the King. Israel's history is regarded as all
tending towards that consummation. He is thought of as the first King,
for Saul was a Benjamite, and had been deposed by divine authority. The
second group is monarchical, and it, too, has a drift, as it were, which
is tragically marked by the way in which its last stage is described:
'Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time that they were
carried away to Babylon.' Josiah had four successors, all of them
phantom kings;--Jehoahaz, who reigned for three months and was taken
captive to Egypt; his brother Jehoiakim, a puppet set up by Egypt,
knocked down by Babylon; his son Jehoiachin, who reigned eleven years
and was carried captive to Babylon; and last, Zedekiah, Josiah's son,
under whom the ruin of the kingdom was completed. The genealogy does not
mention the names of these ill-starred 'brethren,' partly because it
traces the line of descent through 'Jeconias' or Jehoiachin, partly
because it despises them too much. A line that begins with David and
ends with such a quartet! This was what the monarchy had run out to:
David at the one end and Zedekiah at the other, a bright fountain
pouring out a stream that darkened as it flowed through the ages, and
crept at last into a stagnant pond, foul and evil-smelling. Then comes
the third group, and it too has a drift. Unknown as the names in it are,
it is the epoch of restoration, and its 'bright consummate flower' is
'Jesus who is called the Christ.' He will be a better David, will
burnish again the tarnished lustre of the monarchy, will be all that
earlier kings were meant to be and failed of being, and will more than
bring the day which Abraham desired to see, and realise the ideal to
which 'prophets and righteous men' unconsciously were tending, when as
yet there was no king in Israel.

A very significant feature of this genealogical table is the insertion
in it, in four cases, of the names of the mothers. The four women
mentioned are Thamar a harlot, Rachab another, Ruth the Moabitess, and
Bathsheba; three of them tainted in regard to womanly purity, and the
fourth, though morally sweet and noble, yet mingling alien blood in the
stream. Why are pains taken to show these 'blots in the scutcheon'? May
we not reasonably answer--in order to suggest Christ's relation to the
stained and sinful, and to all who are 'strangers from the covenants of
promise.' He is to be a King with pity and pardon for harlots, with a
heart and arms open to welcome all those who were afar off among the
Gentiles. The shadowy forms of these four dead women beckon, as it were,
to all their sisters, be they stained however darkly or distant however
remotely, and assure them of welcome into the kingdom of the king who,
by Jewish custom, could claim to be their descendant.

The ruling idea of the genealogy is clearly though unostentatiously
shown by the employment of the names 'Jesus Christ' and 'Christ,' while
throughout the rest of this Gospel the name used habitually is Jesus.
In verse 1 we have the full title proclaimed at the very beginning; then
in verse 16, 'Jesus who is called Christ' repeats the proclamation at
the end of the genealogy proper, while verse 17 again presents the three
names with which it began as towering like mountain peaks, Abraham,
David, and--supreme above the other two, the dominant summit to which
they led up, we have once more 'Christ.' Similarly the narrative that
follows is of 'the birth of Jesus Christ.' That name is never used again
in this Gospel, except in one case where the reading is doubtful; and as
for the form 'Jesus who is called Christ,' by which He is designated in
the genealogy itself, the only other instance of it is on the mocking
lips of Pilate, while the uniform use of Jesus in the body of this
Gospel is broken only by Peter in his great confession, and in, at most,
four other instances. Could the purpose to assert and establish, at the
very outset, His Messianic, regal dignity, as the necessary
pre-supposition to all that follows, be more clearly shown? We must
begin our study of His life and works with the knowledge that He, of
whom these things are about to be told, is the King of Israel.


THE NATIVITY

     'Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother
     Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was
     found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19. Then Joseph her husband,
     being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example,
     was minded to put her away privily. 20. But while he thought on
     these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a
     dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto
     thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the
     Holy Ghost. 21. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt
     call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.
     22. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was
     spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23. Behold, a virgin
     shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall
     call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
     24. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the
     Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25. And knew her
     not till she had brought forth her first-born son: and he called His
     name JESUS.'--MATT. 1.18-25.

Matthew's account of the Nativity sets Joseph in the foreground. His
pain and hesitation, his consideration for Mary, the divine
communication to him, and his obedience to it, embarrassing as his
position must have been, take up larger space than the miracle of the
birth itself. Probably in all this we have an unconscious disclosure of
the source of the evangelist's information. At all events, he speaks as
if from Joseph's point of view. Luke, on the other hand, has most to say
about Mary's maidenly wonder and meek submission, her swift hurrying to
find help from a woman's sympathy, as soon as the Angel of the
Annunciation had spoken, and the hymn of exultation which Elisabeth's
salutation heartened her to pour forth. Surely that narrative could have
come from none but her meek and faithful lips? The two accounts
beautifully supplement each other, and give two vivid pictures of these
two devout souls, each sharply tried in a different fashion, each richly
blessed by variously moulded obedience. Joseph took up his burden, and
Mary hers, because God had spoken and they believed.

The shock to Joseph of the sudden discovery, crashing in on him after he
was bound to Mary, and in what would else have been the sweet interval
of love and longing 'before they came together,' is delicately and
unconsciously brought out in verse 18. 'She was found'--how the
remembrance of the sudden disclosure, blinding and startling as a
lightning flash, lives in that word! And how the agony of perplexity as
to the right thing to do in such a cruel dilemma is hinted at in the two
clauses that pull in opposite directions! As a 'just man' and 'her
husband,' Joseph owed it to righteousness and to himself not to ignore
his betrothed's condition; but as her lover and her husband, how could
he put her, who was still so dear to him, to public shame, some of which
would cloud his own name? To 'put her away' was the only course
possible, though it racked his soul, and to do it 'privily' was the
last gift that his wounded love could give her. No wonder that 'these
things' kept him brooding sadly on them, nor that his day's troubled
thinkings coloured his sleeping hours! The divine guidance, which is
ever given to waiting minds, was given to him by the way of a dream,
which is one of the Old Testament media of divine communications, and
occurs with striking frequency in this and the following chapter, there
being three recorded as sent to Joseph and one to the Magi. It is
observable, however, that to Joseph it is always '_the_'or 'an angel of
the Lord' who appears in the dream, whereas the dream only is mentioned
in the case of the Magi. The difference of expression may imply a
difference in the manner of communication. But in any case, we need not
wonder that divine communications were abundant at such an hour, nor
shall we be startled, if we believe in the great miracle of the Word's
becoming flesh, that a flight of subsidiary miracles, like a bevy of
attendant angels, clustered round it.

The most stupendous fact in history is announced by the angel chiefly as
the reason for Joseph's going on with his marriage. Surely that strange
inversion of the apparent importance of the two things speaks for the
historical reliableness of the narrative. The purpose in hand is mainly
to remove his hesitation and point his course, and he is to take Mary as
his wife, _for_ 'that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.'
Could 'the superstitious veneration of a later age', which is supposed
to have originated the story of a supernatural birth, have spoken so? As
addressed to Joseph, tortured with doubts of Mary and hesitations as to
his duty, the sequence of the two things is beautifully appropriate,
otherwise it is monstrous. The great mystery, which lies at the
foundation of Christianity, is declared in the fewest and simplest
words. That He who is to show God to men, and to save them from their
sins, must be born of a woman, is plainly necessary. Because 'the
children are partakers of flesh and blood,' He also must 'take part of
the same.' That He must be free from the taint in nature, which passes
down to all 'who are born of the will of the flesh or of man,' is no
less obviously requisite. Both requirements are met in the supernatural
birth of Jesus, and unless both have been met, He is not, and cannot be,
the world's saviour. Nor is that supernatural birth less needful to
explain His manifestly sinless character than it is to qualify Him for
His unique office. The world acknowledges that in Him it finds a man
without blemish and without spot. How comes He to be free from the flaws
which, like black streaks in Parian marble, spoil the noblest
characters? Surely if, after millions of links in the chain, which have
all been of mingled metal, there comes one of pure gold, it cannot have
had the same origin as the others. It is part of the chain, 'the Word
was made flesh'; but it has been cast and moulded in another forge, for
it is 'that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.'

'She shall bring forth a son.' The angel does not say, 'a son to thee,'
but yet Joseph was to assume the position of father, and by naming the
child to acknowledge it as his. The name of Jesus or Joshua was borne by
many a Jewish child then. There was a Jesus among Paul's _entourage_. It
recalled the warrior leader, and, no doubt, was often given to children
in these days of foreign dominion by fathers who hoped that Israel might
again fight for freedom. But holier thoughts were to be Joseph's, and
the salvation from God which was expressed by the name was to be of
another kind than Joshua had brought. It was to be salvation from sin
and from sins. This child was to be a leader too, a conqueror and a
king, and the mention of 'His people,' taken in connection with Joseph's
having been addressed as 'the son of David,' is most significant. He,
too, is to have a subject people, and the deliverance which He is to
bring is not political or to be wrested from Rome by the sword, but
inward, moral, and spiritual, and therefore to be effected by moral and
spiritual weapons.

It is the evangelist, not the angel, who points to Isaiah's prophecy. He
does so with a certain awe, as he thinks of the greatness of 'all these
things'. Undoubtedly the Hebrew word rendered in Matthew, after the
Septuagint, 'virgin', does not necessarily imply the full meaning of
that word; and as undoubtedly the prophecy, as it stands in Isaiah,
pointed to an event to occur in the immediate future; yet it is clear,
from the further development of the prophecy by Isaiah, and especially
from the fourfold name given to the child in Isaiah ix. 6, and the
glorious dominion there foretold for Him, that Isaiah conceives of Him
as the Messiah. And, since any 'fulfilment' of the glowing prophecies
attached to the Child were, in Isaiah's time, but poor and partial, the
great Messianic hope was necessarily trained to look further down the
stream of time. He who should fill the _rôle_ set forth was yet to come.
Matthew believed that it was completely filled by Jesus, and we know
that he was right. The fulfilment does not depend on the question
whether or not the idea of Virginity is contained in the Hebrew word,
but on the correspondence between the figure seen by the prophet in the
golden haze of his divinely quickened imagination, and the person to be
described in the gospel, and we know that the correspondence is
complete. The name Immanuel, to be given to the prophetic child,
breathed the certainty that in 'God with us' Israel would find the
secret of its charmed existence, even while an Ahaz was on the throne.
The name takes on a deeper meaning when applied to Him to whom alone it
in fullest truth belongs. It proclaims that in Jesus God dwells among
us, and it lays bare the ground of the historical name Jesus, for only
by a man who is one of ourselves, and in whom God is with us, can we be
saved from our sins. The one Name is the deep, solid foundation, the
other is the fortress refuge built upon it. He is Jesus, because He is
Immanuel.

How different the world and his own life looked to Joseph when he woke!
Hesitations and agonising doubts of his betrothed's purity had vanished
with the night, and, instead of the dread that her child would be the
offspring of shame, had come a divinely given certainty that it was 'a
holy thing.' In the rush of the sudden revulsion, all that was involved
would not be clear, but the duty that lay nearest him was clear, and his
obedience was as swift as it was glad. He believed, and his faith took
the burden off him, and brought back the sweet relations which had
seemed to be rent for ever. The Birth was foretold by the angel in a
single clause, it is recorded by the evangelist in another. In both
cases, Mary's part and Joseph's are set side by side ('she shall bring
forth ... and thou shalt call: she had brought forth ... and he
called'), and the birth itself is in verse 25 recorded mainly in its
bearing on Joseph's marital relations. Could such a perspective in the
narrative be conceived of from any other point of view than Joseph's?

We do not enter on the controversy as to whether that 'till' and the
expression 'first-born' shut us up to the conclusion that Joseph and Mary
had children. The words are not decisive, and probably opinions will
always differ on the point. Mediævally-minded persons will reject with
horror the notion that Jesus had brethren in the proper sense of the
word, while those who believe that the perfect woman is a happy wife and
mother, will not feel that it detracts from Mary's sacredness, nor from
her purity, to believe that she had other children than 'her first-born
Son'.


THE NAME ABOVE EVERY NAME

     '... Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people
     from their sins'.--MATT. 1. 21.

I. THE historical associations of the name.

It was a very common Jewish name, and of course was given in memory of
the great leader who brought the hosts of Israel to rest in the promised
land.

There is no sharper contrast conceivable than between Joshua and Jesus.
The contrast and the parallel are both most significant.

(a) The contrast.

Joshua is perhaps one of the least interesting of the Old Testament men;
a mere soldier, fit for the fierce work which he had to do, rough and
hard, ready and prompt, of an iron will and a brave heart. The one
exhortation given him when he comes to the leadership is 'be strong and
of a good courage,' and that seems to have been the main virtue of his
character. The task he had to do was a bloody one, and thoroughly he did
it. The difficulties that have been found in the extermination of the
Canaanites may be met by considerations of the changed atmosphere
between then and now, and of their moral putrescence. But no explanation
can make the deed other than terrible, or the man that did it other than
fierce and stern. No traits of chivalrous generosity are told of him,
nothing that softens the dreadfulness of war. He showed no touch of pity
or compunction, no lofty, statesmanlike qualities, nothing constructive;
he was simply a rough soldier, with an iron hand and an iron heel, who
burned and slew and settled down his men in the land they had
devastated.

The very sharpness of the contrast in character is intended to be felt
by us. Put by the side of this man the image of Jesus Christ, in all His
meekness and gentleness.

Does not this speak to us of the profound change which He comes to
establish among men?

The highest ideal of character is no longer the rough soldier, the
strong man, but the man of meekness, and gentleness, and patience.

How far the world yet is from understanding all that is meant in the
contrast between the first and the second bearers of the name!

We have done with force, and are come into the region of love. There is
no place in Christ's kingdom for arms and vulgar warfare.

The strongest thing is love, armed with celestial armour. 'Truth and
meekness and righteousness' are our keenest-edged weapons--this is true
for _Christian morals_; and for _politics_ in a measure which the world
has not yet learned.

'Put up thy sword into its sheath,'

(b) The parallel.

It is not to be forgotten that the work which the soldier did in type is
the work which Christ does. He is the true Moses who leads us through
the wilderness. But also He is the Captain who will bring us into the
mountain of His inheritance.

But besides this, we too often forget the soldier-like virtues in the
character of Christ.

We have lost sight of these very much, but certainly they are present
and most conspicuous. If only we will look at our Lord's life as a real
human one, and apply the same tests and terms to it which we do to
others, we shall see these characteristics plainly enough.

What do we call persistence which, in spite of all opposition, goes
right on to the end, and is true to conscience and duty, even to death?
What do we call the calmness which forgets self even in the agonies of
pain on the cross? What do we call the virtue which rebukes evil in high
places and never blanches nor falters in the utterance of unwelcome
truths?

Daring courage.       |
Promptness of action. | All conspicuous in Jesus.
Iron will.            |

It has become a commonplace thing now to say that the bravery which
dares to do right in the face of all opposition is higher than that of
the soldier who flings away his life on the battlefield. The soldiers of
peace are known now to deserve the laurel no less than the heroes of
war.

But who can tell how much of the modern world's estimate of the
superiority of moral courage to mere brute force is owing to the history
of the life of Christ?

We find a further parallel in the warfare through which He conquers for
us the land.

His own struggle ('I have overcome'), and the lesson that we too must
fight, and that all our religious life is to be a conflict. It is easy
to run off into mere rhetorical metaphor, but it is a very solemn and a
very practical truth which is taught us, if we ponder that name of the
warrior Leader borne by our Master as explained to us by Himself in His
words, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I
have overcome the world.'

Ps. cx. 'Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the
beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of
thy youth.'

II. The significance of the name.

Joshua means God is Saviour. As borne by the Israelitish leader, it
pointed both him and the people away from him to the unseen and
omnipotent source of their victory, and was in one word an explanation
of their whole history, with all its miracles of deliverance and
preservation of that handful of people against the powerful nations
around. It taught the leader that he was only the lieutenant of an
unseen Captain. It taught the soldiers that 'they got not the land in
possession by their own arms, but because He had a favour unto them.'

1. God as Saviour appears in highest manifestation in Jesus.

I do not now mean in regard to the nature of the salvation, but in
regard to the relation between the human and the divine. Joshua was the
human agent through which the divine will effected deliverance, but, as
in all helpers and teachers, he was but the instrument. He could not
have said, 'I lead you, I give you victory.' His name taught him that he
was not to come in his own name. But '_he_ shall save'--not merely God
shall save through him. And '_his_ people'--not 'the people of _God_'

All this but points to the broad distinction between Christ and all
others, in that God, the Saviour, is manifest in Him as in none other.

We are not detracting from the glory of God when we say that Christ
saves us.

Christ's consciousness of being Himself Salvation is expressed in many
of His words. He makes claims and puts forward His own personality in a
fashion that would be blasphemy in any other man, and yet all the while
is true to His name, 'God is the Saviour.'

The paradox which lies in these earliest words, the great gulf between
the name and the interpretation on the angel's lips, is only solved when
we accept the teaching which tells us that in that Word made flesh and
dwelling among us, we behold 'God manifest in the flesh,' and 'in Christ
reconciling the world unto Himself.'

The name guards us, too, from that very common error of thinking of
Christ as if He were more our Saviour than God is. We are not without
need of this warning. Christ does not bend the divine will to love, is
not more tender than our Father God.

2. The Salvation brought by Jesus is in its nature the loftiest.

It is with strong emphasis that the angel defines the sphere of
salvation as being 'their sins.' The Messianic expectation had been
degraded as it flowed through the generations, as some pure stream loses
its early sparkle, and gathers scum on its surface from filth flung into
it by men. Mere deliverance from the Roman yoke was all the salvation
that the mass wanted or expected, and the tragedy of the Cross was
foreshadowed in this prophecy which declares an inward emancipation from
sin as the true work of Mary's unborn Son.

We can discern the Jewish error in externalising and materialising the
conception of salvation, but many of us repeat it in essence. What is
the difference between the Jew who thought that salvation was
deliverance from Rome, and the 'Christian' who thinks that it is
deliverance not from sin but from its punishment?

We have to think of a liberation from sin itself, not merely from its
penalties. This thought has been often obscured by preachers, and often
neglected by Christians, in whom selfishness and an imperfect
understanding of the gospel have too often made salvation appear as
merely a means of escape from impending suffering. All deep knowledge of
what _Sin_ is teaches us that it is its own punishment, and that the
hell of hell is to be under the dominion of evil.

3. God's people are His people.

Israel was _God's_ portion--and Joshua was but their leader for a time.
But the people of God are the people of Christ.

The way by which we become the people of Jesus is simply by faith in
Him.

III. The usage of the name.

It was a common Jewish name, but seems to have been almost abandoned
since then by Jews from abhorrence, by Christians from reverence.

The Jewish fanatic who during the siege stalked through Jerusalem
shrieking, 'Woe to the city', and, as he fell mortally wounded, added,
'and to myself also,' was a Jesus. There is a Jesus in Colossians.

We find it as the usual appellation in the Gospels, as is natural. But
in the Epistles it is comparatively rare alone.

The reason, of course, is that it brings mainly before us the human
personality of Jesus. So when used alone in later books it emphasises
this: 'This same Jesus shall so come'. 'We see Jesus, made a little,
etc.'

Found in frequent use by two classes of religionists--_Unitarian_ and
_Sentimental_.

We should seek to get all the blessing out of it, and to dwell, taught
by it, on the thoughts of His true manhood, tempted, our brother, bone
of our bone.

We should beware of confining our thoughts to what is taught us by that
name. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Even with thoughts of His
lovely human character let us blend thoughts of His Messianic office and
of His divine nature. We shall not see all the beauty of Jesus unless we
know Him as the Christ, the Son of the Highest.

And besides the name written on His vesture and his thigh, He bears a
name which no man knoweth but Himself. Beyond our grasp is His
uncommunicable name, His deep character, but near to us for our love and
for our faith is all we need to know. That name which He bore in His
humiliation He bears still in His glory, and the name which is above
every name, and at which every knee shall bow, is the name by which
Jewish mothers called their children, and through eternity we shall call
His name Jesus because He hath finally and fully saved us from our
sins.


THE FIRST-FRUITS OF THE GENTILES

     'Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod
     the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
     2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have
     seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him. 3. When
     Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all
     Jerusalem with him. 4. And when he had gathered all the chief
     priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them
     where Christ should be born. 5. And they said unto him, In
     Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6. And
     thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the
     princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall
     rule my people Israel. 7. Then Herod, when he had privily called
     the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star
     appeared. 8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search
     diligently for the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring
     me word again, that I may come and worship Him also. 9. When they
     had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they
     saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over
     where the young child was. 10. When they saw the star, they
     rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11. And when they were come into
     the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell
     down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures,
     they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
     31. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return
     to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.'--MATT.
     ii. 1-12.

Matthew's Gospel is the gospel of the King. It has a distinctly Jewish
colouring. All the more remarkable, therefore, is this narrative, which
we should rather have looked for in Luke, the evangelist who delights to
emphasise the universality of Christ's work. But the gathering of the
Gentiles to the light of Israel was an essential part of true Judaism,
and could not but be represented in the Gospel which set forth the
glories of the King. There is something extremely striking and
stimulating to the imagination in the vagueness of the description of
these Eastern pilgrims. Where they came from, how long they had been in
travelling, how many they were, what was their rank, whither they
went,--all these questions are left unsolved. They glide into the story,
present their silent adoration, and as silently steal away.' The
tasteless mediæval tradition knows all about them: they were three; they
were kings. It knows their names; and, if we choose to pay the fee, we
can see their bones to-day in the shrine behind the high altar in
Cologne Cathedral. How much more impressive is the indefiniteness of our
narrative! How much more the half sometimes is than the whole!

I. We see here heathen wisdom led by God to the cradle of Christ. It is
futile to attempt to determine the nationality of the wise men. Possibly
they were Persian magi, whose astronomy was half astrology and wholly
observation, or they may have travelled from some place even deeper in
the mysterious East; but, in any case, they were led by God through
their science, such as it was. The great lesson which they teach remains
the same, however subordinate questions about the nature of the star and
the like may be settled. The sign in the heavens and its explanation
were both of God, whether the one was a natural astronomical phenomenon
or a supernatural light, and the other the conclusions of their science
or the inbreathing of His wisdom. So they stand as representatives of
the great truth, that, outside the limits of the people of revelation,
God moved on hearts and led seeking souls to the light in divers
manners. These silent strangers at the cradle carry on the line of
recipients of divine messages outside of Israel which is headed by the
mysterious Melchizedek, and includes that seer who saw a star arise out
of Jacob, and which, in a wider sense, includes many a 'poet of their
own' and many a patient seeker after truth. Human wisdom, as it is
called, is God's gift. In itself, it is incomplete. It raises more
questions than it solves. Its highest function is to lead to Jesus. He
is Lord of the sciences, as of all that belongs to man; and
notwithstanding all the appearances to the contrary at present, we may
be sure that the true scope of all knowledge, and its certain end, is to
lead to the recognition of Him.

May we not see in these Magi, too, a type of the inmost meaning of
heathen religions? These faiths have in them points of contact with
Christianity. Besides their falsehoods and abhorrent dark cruelties and
lustfulnesses, they enshrine confessions of wants which the King in the
cradle alone can supply. Modern unbelieving teachers tell us that
Christianity and they are alike products of man's own religious faculty.
But the truth is that they are confessions of need, and Christianity is
the supply of the need. At bottom, their language is the question of the
wise men, 'Where is He?' Their sacrifices proclaim man's need of
reconciliation. Their stories of the gods coming down in the likeness of
men, speak of his longing for a manifestation of God in the flesh. The
cradle and the cross are Heaven's answer to their sad questions.

II. The contrast of these Gentiles' joyful eagerness to worship the King
of Israel, with the alarm of his own people at the whisper of his name,
is a prelude of the tragedy of his rejection, and the passing over of
the kingdom to the Gentiles. Notice the bitter and scornful emphasis of
that 'Herod the _king_' coming twice in the story in immediate
connection with the mention of the true King. He was a usurper,
caricaturing the true Monarch. Like most kings who have had 'great'
tacked to their names, his greatness consisted mainly in supreme
wickedness. Fierce, lustful, cunning, he had ruled without mercy; and
now he was passing through the last stages of an old age without love,
and ringed round by the fears born of his misdeeds. He trembles for his
throne, as well he may, when he hears of these strangers. Probably he
does not suppose them mixed up with any attempt to unseat him, or he
would have made short work of them; unless, indeed, his craft led him to
dissemble until he had sucked them dry and had used them to lead him to
the infant rival, after which he may have meant to murder them too. But
he recognises in their question the familiar tones of the Messianic
hope, which he knew was ever lying like glowing embers in the breast of
the nation, ready to be blown into a flame. His creatures in the capital
might disown it, but he knew in his secret heart that he was a usurper,
and that at any moment that smouldering hatred and hope might burn up
him and his upstart monarchy. An evil conscience is full of fears, and
shrinks from the good news that the King of all is at hand. His coming
should be joy, as is that of the bursting spring or the rosy dawn; but
our own sin makes the day of the Lord darkness and not light, and sends
us cowering into our corners to escape these searching eyes.

Nor less tragic and perverted is the trouble which 'all Jerusalem'
shared with Herod. The Magi had naturally made straight for the capital,
expecting to find the new-born King there, and His city jubilant at His
birth. But they traverse its streets only to meet none who know anything
about Him. They must have felt like men who see, gleaming from far on
some hill-side, a brightness which has all vanished when they reach the
spot, or like some of our mission converts brought to our 'Christian
country,' and seeing how little our people care for the Christ whom they
have learned to know. Their question indicates utter bewilderment at the
contrast between what they had seen in the East and what they found in
Jerusalem. They must have been still more perplexed if they observed the
effect of their question. Nobody in Jerusalem knew anything about their
King. That was strange enough. But nobody wanted Him. That was stranger
still. A prophet had long ago called on 'Zion' to 'rejoice greatly'
because 'thy King cometh'; but now anxiety and terror cloud all faces.
It was partly because self-interest bound many to Herod, and partly
because they all feared that any outburst of Messianic hopes would lead
to fresh cruelties inflicted by the relentless, trembling tyrant. So the
Magi, who represented the eagerness of Gentile hearts grasping the new
hopes, and claiming some share in Israel's Messiah, saw His own people
careless, and, if moved from their apathy, alarmed at the unwelcome
tidings that the promise which had shone as a great light through dreary
centuries was at last on the eve of fulfilment. So the first page on the
gospel history anticipates the sad issue: 'They shall come from the
east, and from the west,' and you yourselves shall be thrust out.

III. Then followed the council of the theologians, with its solemn
illustration of the difference between orthodoxy and life, and of the
utter hollowness of mere knowledge, however accurate, of the letter of
Scripture. The questions as to the composition of this gathering of
authorities, and of the variations between the quotation of Micah in the
text and its form in the Hebrew, do not concern us now. We may remark on
the evident purpose of God to draw forth the distinct testimony of the
ecclesiastical rulers to the place of Messiah's birth, and on the fact
that this, the most ancient interpretation of the prophecy, is vouched
to us by existing Jewish sources as having been the traditional one
until the exigencies of controversy with Christians pushed it aside
Notice the different conduct of Herod, the Magi, and the scribes. The
first is entangled in a ludicrous contradiction. He believes that
Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, and yet he determines to set himself
against the carrying out of what he must, in some sense, believe to be
God's purpose. 'If this infant is God's Messiah, I will kill Him,' is
surely as strange a piece of policy gone mad as ever the world heard
of. But it is perhaps not more insane than much of our own action, when
we set ourselves against what we know to be God's will, and consciously
seek to thwart it. A child trying to stop a train by pushing against the
locomotive has as much chance of success. The scribes, again, are quite
sure where Messiah is to be born; but they do not care to go and see if
He is born. These strangers, to whom the hope of Israel is new, may rush
away, in their enthusiasm, to Bethlehem; but they, to whom it had lost
all gloss, and become a commonplace, would take no such trouble. Does
not familiarity with the gospel produce much the same effect on many of
us? Might not the joy and the devotion, however ignorant if compared
with our better knowledge of the letter, which mark converts from
heathenism, shame the tepid zeal and unruffled composure of us, who have
heard all about Christ, till it has become wearisome? Here on the very
threshold of the gospel story is the first instance of the lesson taught
over and over again in it, namely, the worthlessness of head knowledge,
and the constant temptation of substituting it for that submission of
the will and that trust of the heart, which alone make religion. The
most impenetrable armour against the gospel is the familiar and lifelong
knowledge of the gospel.

The Magi, on their part, accept with implici confidence the information.
They have followed the star; they have now a more sure word, and they
will follow that. They were led by their science to contact with the
true guide. He that is faithful in his use of the dimmest light will
find his light brighten. The office of science is not to lead to Christ
by a road discovered by itself, but to lead to the Word of God which
guides to Him. Not by accident, nor without profound meaning, did both
methods of direction unite to point these earnest seekers, who were
ready to follow every form of guidance, to the Monarch whom they sought.

IV. Herod's crafty counsel need not detain us. We have already remarked
on its absurdity. If the child were not Messiah, he need not have been
alarmed; if it were, his efforts were fruitless. But he does not see
this, and so plots and works underground in the approved fashion of
kingcraft. His reason for questioning the Magi as to the time was, of
course, to get an approximate age of the infant, that he might know how
widely to fling his net. He did it privately, so as to keep any inkling
of his plot secret till he had secured the further information which he
hoped to delude them into bringing. Like other students and recluses fed
upon great thoughts, the Magi were very easily deceived. Good, simple
people, they were no match for Herod, and told him all without
suspicion, and set off to look for the child, quite convinced of his
good faith; while he, no doubt, breathed more freely when he had got
them out of Jerusalem, and congratulated himself on having done a good
stroke of business in making them his spies. He was probably within a
few months of his death. The world was already beginning to slip from
him. But before he passed to his account, he too was brought within
sight of the Christ, and summoned to yield his usurped dominion to the
true King How different this old man's reception of the tidings of the
nativity from Simeon's! His hostility, in its cruelty, its blundering
cunning and its impotence, is a type of the relations of the world-power
to Christ. 'The rulers take counsel together, ... against His anointed.
... He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.'

V. We have next the discovery of the King. The reappearing star becomes
the guide to the humble house. It cannot have been an ordinary star, for
no such could have pointed the precise house among all the homes of
Bethlehem. The burst of joy at its reappearance vividly suggests the
perplexity of the recent days, and the support given by its welcome beam
to the faith which had accepted, not perhaps without some misgivings
caused by the indifference of the teachers, the teaching of the
prophecy. Surely that faith would be more than ever tried by the humble
poverty in which they found the King. The great paradox of Christianity,
the manifestation of divinest power in uttermost weakness, was forced
upon them in its most startling form. 'This child on His mother's lap,
with none to do Him homage, and in poverty which makes our costly gifts
seem out of place,--this is the King, whose coming set stars ablaze and
drew us hither. Is this all?' Their Eastern religions were not
unfamiliar with the idea of incarnation. Their Eastern monarchies were
splendid. They must have felt a shock at the contrast between what they
expected and what they found. They learned the lesson which all have to
learn, that Christ disappoints as well as fulfils the expectations of
men, that the mightiest power is robed in lowliness, and the highest
manifestation of God begins with a helpless infant on His mother's knee.
These wise men were not repelled. Our modern 'wise men are not all as
wise as they.

VI. Adoration and offering follow discovery. The 'worship' of the Magi
cannot have been adoration in the strict sense. We attribute too much to
them if we suppose them aware of Christ's divinity. But it was clearly
more than mere reverence for an earthly King. It hovered on the
border-line, and meant an indefinite submission and homage to a
partially discerned superiority, in which the presence of God was in
some sort special. The old mediæval interpretation of the offered gold
as signifying recognition of His kingship, the frankincense of His
deity, and the myrrh of His death, is so beautiful that one would fain
wish it true. But it cannot pretend to be more than a fancy. We are on
surer ground when we see in the gifts the choicest products of the land
of the Magi, and learn the lesson that the true recognition of Christ
will ever be attended by the spontaneous surrender to Him of our best.
These gifts would not be of much use to Mary. If there had been a
'practical man' among the Magi, he might have said, 'What is the use of
giving such things to such a household?' And it would have been
difficult to have answered. But love does not calculate, and the impulse
which leads to consecrate the best we have to Him is acceptable in His
sight.

This earliest page in the gospel history is a prophecy of the latest.
These are the first-fruits of the Gentiles unto Christ. They bear 'in
their hands a glass which showeth many more,' who at last will come like
them to the King of the whole earth. 'They shall bring gold and incense;
and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.' There were Gentiles
at the cradle and at the cross. The Magi learned the lessons which the
East especially needed, of power in weakness, royalty in lowliness.
Incarnation not in monstrous forms or with destructive attributes, but
in feeble infancy which passes through the ordinary stages of
development. The Greeks who sought to see Jesus when near the hour of
His death, learned the lesson for want of which their nation's culture
rotted away, 'Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it
abideth alone' So these two groups, one at the beginning, the other at
the end, one from the mysterious East, the other from the progressive
and cultured West, received each a half of the completed truth, the
gospel of Incarnation and Sacrifice, and witness to the sufficiency of
Christ for all human needs, and to the coming of the time when all the
races of men shall gather round the throne to which cradle and cross
have exalted Him, and shall recognise in Him the Prince of all the kings
of the earth, and the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.


THE KING IN EXILE

     'And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord
     appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young
     child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until
     I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy
     Him. 14. When he arose, he took the young child and His mother by
     night, and departed into Egypt; 15. And was there until the death
     of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord
     by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called My son. 16. Then
     Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was
     exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that
     were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years
     old and under, according to the time which he had diligently
     enquired of the wise men. 17. Then was fulfilled that which was
     spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18. In Rama was there a voice
     heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping
     for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
     19. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth
     to a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20. Saying, Arise, and take the
     young child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for
     they are dead which sought the young child's life. 21. And he
     arose, and took the young child and His mother, and came into the
     land of Israel. 22. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in
     Judæa in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither;
     notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside
     into the parts of Galilee: 23. And he came and dwelt in a city
     called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the
     prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.'--MATT. ii. 13-23.

Delitzsch, in his _New Investigations into the Origin and Plan of the
Canonical Gospels_, tries to show that Matthew is constructed on the
plan of the Pentateuch. The analogy is somewhat strained, but there are
some striking points of correspondence. He regards Matthew i. to ii. 15
as answering to Genesis. It begins with the 'genesis of Jesus,' and, as
the Old Testament book ends with the migration of Israel to Egypt, so
this section of the Gospel ends with the flight of the Holy Family to
the same land. The section from ii. 15 to the end of the Sermon on the
Mount answers to Exodus, and here the parallels are striking. The murder
of the innocents at Bethlehem by Herod answers to Pharaoh's slaughter of
Hebrew children; the Exodus, to the return to Nazareth; the call of
Moses at the bush, to the baptism of Jesus; the forty years in the
wilderness, to the forty days' desert hunger and temptation; and the
giving of the law from Sinai, to the Sermon on the Mount, which contains
the new law for the kingdom of God. Without supposing that the
evangelist moulded his Gospel on the plan of the Pentateuch, we cannot
but see that there is a real parallel between the beginnings of the
national life of Israel and the commencement of the life of Christ. Our
present text brings this parallel into great prominence. It is divided
into three sections, each of which has for its centre an Old Testament
prophecy.

I. We have first the flight into Egypt and the prophecy fulfilled
therein. The appearance of the angel seems to have followed immediately
on the departure of the Magi. They were succeeded by a loftier visitor
from a more distant land, coming to lay richer gifts and a more absolute
homage at the infant's feet. The angel of the Lord, who had already
eased Joseph's honest and troubled heart by disclosing the secret of
Mary's child, comes again. To Mary he had appeared waking; her meek eyes
could look on him, and her obedient ears hear his voice. But Joseph, who
stood on a lower spiritual level, needed the lower form of revelation by
dream, which betokens less susceptibility in the recipient and less
importance in the communication. It is the only form appropriate to his
power of receiving, and four times it is mentioned as granted to him.
The warning to the wise men was also conveyed in a dream. We can
scarcely help recalling the similar prominence of dreams in the history
of the earlier Joseph, whose life was moulded in order to bring Israel
into Egypt.

The angel speaks of 'the young child and His mother,' reversing the
order of nature, as if he bowed before the infant, 'Lord of men as well
as angels,' and would deepen the lesson which so many signs gathering
round the cradle were teaching the silent Joseph,--that Mary and he were
but humble ministers of the child's. The partial instruction given, and
the darkness left lying over the future, are in accordance with the
methods of God's leading, which always gives light enough for the next
duty, and never for the one after that. The prompt and precise obedience
of Joseph to the heavenly vision is emphatically expressed by the verbal
repetition of the command in the account of its fulfilment. There was no
hesitation, no reluctance, no delay. On the very night, as it appears,
of the dream, he rose up; the simple preparations were quickly made; the
wise men's gifts would help to sustain their modest wants, and before
the day broke they were on their road. How strangely blended in our
Lord's life, from the very dawning, are dignity and lowliness, glory and
reproach! How soon His brows are crowned with thorns! The adoration of
the Magi witnesses to Him as the King of Israel and the hope of the
world. The flight of which that adoration was the direct cause witnesses
no less clearly to Him as despised and rejected, tasting sorrow in His
earliest food, and not having where to lay His head.

But the most important part of the story is the connection which Matthew
discerns between it and Hosea's words. In their original place they are
not a prophecy at all, but simply a part of a tender historical _résumé_
of God's dealings with Israel, by which the prophet would touch his
contemporaries' hearts into penitence and trust. How, then, is the
evangelist justified in regarding them as prophetic, and in looking on
Christ's flight as their fulfilment? The answer is to be found in that
analogy between the national and the personal Israel which runs through
all the Old Testament, and reaches its greatest clearness in the second
part of Isaiah's prophecies. Jesus Christ was what Israel was destined
and failed to be, the true Servant of God, His Anointed, His Son, the
medium of conveying His name to the world. The ideal of the nation was
realised in Him. His brief stay in Egypt served the very same purpose in
His life which their four hundred years there did in theirs,--it
sheltered Him from enemies, and gave Him room to grow. Just as the
infant nation was unawares fostered in the very lap of the country which
was the symbol of the world hostile to God, so the infant Christ was
guarded and grew there. The prophecy is a prophecy just because it is
history; for the history was all a shadow of the future, and He is the
true Israel and the Son of God. It would have been fulfilled quite as
really, that is to say, the parallel between Christ and the nation would
have been as fully carried out, if His place of refuge had been in some
other land; but the precise outward identity helps to point the parallel
to unobservant eyes. The great truth taught by it of the typical
relation between the nation and the Person is the key to large regions
of Old Testament history and prophecy. Rightly, therefore, does Matthew
call our attention to this pregnant fact, and bid us see in the divine
selection of the place where the young life of God manifest in the flesh
was sheltered, a fulfilment of prophecy. Egypt was the natural asylum of
every fugitive from Palestine, but a deeper reason bent the steps of the
Holy Family to the shelter of its palms and temples.

II. The slaughter of the innocents, and the prophecy fulfilled
therein.--Herod's fierce rage, enflamed by the dim suspicion that these
wily Easterns have gone away laughing in their sleeves at having tricked
him, and by the dread that they may be stirring up armed defenders of
the infant King, is in full accord with all that we know of him. The
critics who find the story of the massacre 'unhistorical,' because
Josephus does not mention it, must surely be very anxious to discredit
the evangelist, and very hard pressed for grounds to do so, or they
would not commit themselves to the extraordinary assumption that nothing
is to be believed outside of the pages of Josephus. A splash or two of
'blood of poor innocents,' more or less, found on the Idumean tyrant's
bloody skirts, could be of little consequence in the eyes of those who
knew what a long saturnalia of horrors his reign had been; and the
number of the infants under two years old in such a tiny place as
Bethlehem would be small, so that their feeble wail might well fail to
reach the ears even of contemporaries. But there is no reason for
questioning the simple truth of a story so like the frantic cruelty and
sleepless suspicion of the grey-headed tyrant, who was stirred to more
ferocity as the shades of death gathered about him, and power slipped
from his rotting hands. Of all the tragic pictures which Scripture gives
of a godless old age, burning with unquenchable hatred to goodness and
condemned to failure in all its antagonism, none is touched with more
lurid hues than this. What a contrast between the king _de jure_, the
cradled infant; and the king _de facto_, going down to his loathsome
death, which all but he longed for! He may well stand as a symbol of the
futility of all opposition to Christ the King.

The fate of these few infants is a strange one. In their brief lives
they have won immortal fame. They died for the Christ whom they never
knew. These lambs were slain for the sake of the Lamb who lived while

    'Little flowers of martyrdom,
     Roses by the whirlwind shorn,'

That quotation, from Jeremiah xxxi. 16, requires a brief consideration.
The original is still less a prophecy than was the passage in Hosea. It
is a highly imaginative and grandly weird personification of the mighty
mother of three of the tribes, stirring in her tomb, and lifting up the
shrill lamentation of Eastern grief over her children carried away to
captivity. That hopeless wail from the grave by Bethlehem is heard as
far north as Ramah, beyond Jerusalem. Once again, says Matthew, the
same grief might have been imaginatively heard from the long-silent tomb
so near the scene of this pitiful tragedy. And the second ancestral
weeping was fuller of woe than the bitterness of that first lament; for
this bewailed the actual slaughter of innocents, and wept the miseries
that so soon gathered round the coming of the King, so long waited for.
Seeing that the prophet's words do not describe a fact, but are a
poetical personification to convey simply the idea of calamity, which
might make the dead mother weep, the word 'fulfilled' can obviously be
applied to them only in a modified and somewhat elastic sense, and is
sufficiently defended if we recognise in the slaughter of these children
a woe which, though small in itself, yet, when considered in reference
to its inflicter, a usurping king of the Jews, and in reference to its
occasion, the desire to slay the God-sent King, and in reference to its
innocent victims, and in reference to its place as first of the tragic
series of martyrdoms for Messiah, was heavy with a sorer burden of
national disaster, when seen by eyes made wise by death, than even the
captivity which seemed to falsify the promises of God and the hopes of a
thousand years.

III. The return to Nazareth, and the prophecy fulfilled therein.--They
who patiently wait for guidance, and move not till the cloud moves, are
never disappointed, nor left undirected. Joseph is a pattern of
self-abnegating submission, and an example of its rewards. The angel
ever comes again to those who have once obeyed him and continue to wait.
This third appearance is described in the same words as the former. His
coming was the appearance of a familiar presence His command begins by a
verbal repetition of the former summons, 'Arise and take the young
child and His mother, and go,' and then passes to a singular allusion to
that command to Moses which was the first step towards the former
calling of God's son--the nation--out of Egypt. 'All the men are dead
which sought thy life,' was the encouragement to Moses to go back. 'They
are dead that sought the young child's life,' is the encouragement to
Joseph. It sums up in one sentence the failure of the first attempt, and
is like an epitaph cut on a tombstone for a man yet living,--a prophecy
of the end of all succeeding efforts to crush Christ and thwart His
work. 'The dreaded infant's hand' is mightier than all mailed fists, or
fingers that hold a pen. Christ lives and grows; Herod rots and dies.

Apparently Joseph's intention was to return to Bethlehem. He may have
thought that Nazareth would scarcely satisfy the angel's injunction to
go to the 'Land of Israel,' or that David's city was the right home for
David's heir. At all events, his perplexity appeals to Heaven for
direction; and, for the fourth time, his course is marked for him by a
dream, whether through the instrumentality of the angel who knew the way
to his couch so well, we are not told, Archelaus, Herod's son, who had
received Judæa on the partition at his father's death, was a smaller
Herod, as cruel and less able. There was more security in the obscurity
of Nazareth, under the less sanguinary sway of Antipas, whose share of
his father's vices was his lust, rather than his ferocity. So, after so
many wanderings, and with such strange new experience and thoughts, the
silent, steadfast Joseph and the meek mother bring back their mysterious
charge and secret to the humble old home. Matthew does not seem to have
known that it had formerly been their home, but his account is no
contradiction of Luke's.

Again he is reminded of a prophecy, or perhaps, rather, of many
prophecies, for he uses the plural 'prophets,' as if he were summing up
the tenor of more than one utterance. The words which he gives are not
found in any prophet. But we know that to call a man 'a Nazarene' was
the same thing as to call him lowly and despised. The scoff of the
Pharisee to Nicodemus's timid appeal on Christ's behalf, and the
guileless Nathaniel's quest ion, show that. The fact that Christ by His
residence in Nazareth became known as the 'Nazarene,' and so shared in
the contempt attaching to all Galileans, and especially to the
inhabitants of that village, is a kind of concentration of all the
obscurity and ignominy of His lot. The name was nailed over His head on
the cross as a scornful _reductio ad absurdum_ of His claims to be King
of Israel This explanation of the evangelist's meaning does not exclude
a reference in his mind to the prophecy in Isaiah xi. 1, where Messiah
is called 'a branch' or more properly, 'a shoot' for which the Hebrew
word is _netzer_. The name Nazareth is probably etymologically connected
with that word, and may have been given to the little village
contemptuously to express its insignificance. The meaning of the
prophecy is that the offspring of David, who should come when the
Davidic house was in the lowest depths of obscurity, like a tree of
which only the stump is left, should not appear in royal pomp, or in a
lofty condition, but as insignificant, feeble, and of no account. Such
prophecy was fulfilled in the very fact that He was all His life known
as 'of Nazareth' and the verbal assonance between that name, 'the shoot'
and the word 'Nazarene' is a finger-post pointing to the meaning of the
place of abode chosen for Him. The mere fact of residence there, and the
consequent contempt, do not exhaust the prophecies to which reference is
made. These might have been fulfilled without such a literal and
external fulfilment. But it serves, like the literal riding upon an ass,
and many other instances in Christ's life, to lead dull apprehensions to
perceive more plainly that He is the theme of all prophecy, and that in
His life the trivial is significant and nothing is accidental.


THE HERALD OF THE KING

     'In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness
     of Judæa, 2. And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at
     hand. 3. For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias,
     saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the
     way of the Lord, make His paths straight. 4. And the same John had
     his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins;
     and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5. Then went out to him
     Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, 6.
     And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. 7. But
     when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his
     baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned
     you to flee from the wrath to come? 8. Bring forth therefore fruits
     meet for repentance: 9. And think not to say within yourselves, We
     have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of
     these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10. And now also
     the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree
     which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the
     flre, 11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he
     that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not
     worthy to clean he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with
     fire: 12. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His
     floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up
     the chaff with unquenchable fire.'--MATT. iii. 1-12.

Matthew's Gospel is emphatically the Gospel of the kingdom. The keynote
sounded in the story of the Magi dominates the whole. We have stood by
the cradle of the King, and seen the homage and the dread which
surrounded it. We have seen the usurper's hatred and the divine
guardianship. Now we hear the voice of the herald of the King. This
section may be conveniently treated as falling into two parts: the
first, from verse 1 to verse 6, a general outline of the Baptist's
person and work; the second, from verse 7 to end, a more detailed
account of his preaching.

I. We have an outline sketch of the herald and of his work. The voice of
prophecy had fallen silent for four hundred years. Now, when it is once
more heard, it sounds in exactly the same key as when it ceased. Its
last word had been the prediction of the day of the Lord, and of the
coming of Elijah once more. John was Elijah over again. There were the
same garb, the same isolation, the same fearlessness, the same grim,
gaunt strength, the same fiery energy of rebuke which bearded kings in
the full fury of their self-will. Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel have their
doubles in John, Herod, and Herodias. The closing words of Malachi,
which Matthew, singularly enough, does not quote, are the best
explication of the character and work of the Baptist. His portrait is
flung on the canvas with the same startling abruptness with which Elijah
is introduced. Matthew makes no allusion to his relationship to Jesus,
has nothing to say about his birth or long seclusion in the desert. He
gives no hint that his vague expression 'in these days' covers thirty
years. John leaps, as it were, into the arena full grown and full armed.
His work is described by one word--'preaching'; out of which all modern
associations, which have too often made it a synonym for long-winded
tediousness and toothless platitudes, must be removed. It means
proclaiming, or acting as a herald, and implies the uplifted voice and
the brief, urgent message of one who runs before the chariot, and
shouts, 'The king! the king!'

His message is summed up in two sentences, two blasts of the trumpet:
the call to repentance, and the rousing proclamation that the kingdom of
heaven is at hand. In the former he but reproduces the tone of earlier
prophecy, when he insists on a thorough change of disposition and a true
sorrow for sin. But he advances far beyond his precursors in the latter,
which is the reason for repentance. They had seen the vision of the
kingdom and the King, 'but not nigh.' He has to peal into the drowsy
ears of a generation which had almost forgotten the ancient hope, that
it was at the very threshold. Like some solitary stern crag which
catches the light of the sun yet unrisen but hastening upwards, long
before the shadowed valleys, John flamed above his generation all aglow
with the light, as the witness that in another moment it would spring
above the eastern horizon. But he sees that this is no joyful message to
them. Nothing is more remarkable in his preaching than the sombre hues
with which his expectation of the day of the Lord is coloured. 'To what
purpose is the day of the Lord to you? It is darkness and not light'; it
is to be judgment, therefore repentance is the preparation.

The gleam and purity of lofty spiritual ideas are soon darkened, as a
film forms on quicksilver after short exposure. John's contemporaries
thought that the kingdom of heaven meant exclusive privileges, and their
rule over the heathen. They had all but lost the thought that it meant
first God's rule over their wills, and their harmony with the glad
obedience of heaven. They had to be rudely shaken out of their
self-complacency and taught that the livery of the King was purity, and
the preparation for His coming, penitence.

The next touch in this outline sketch is John's fulfilment of prophecy.
Matthew probably knew that wonderfully touching and lowly answer of his
to the deputation from the ecclesiastical authorities, which at once
claimed prophetic authority and disclaimed personal importance, 'I am
the voice of one crying in the wilderness.' The prophecy in its original
application refers to the preparation of a path in the desert, for
Jehovah coming to redeem His people from captivity. The use made of it
by Matthew, and endorsed by all the evangelists, rests on the principle,
without which we have no clue to the significance of the Old Testament,
that the history of Israel is prophetic, and that the bondage and
deliverance are types of the sorer captivity from which Christ redeems,
and of the grander deliverance which He effects.

Our evangelist gives a vivid picture of the asceticism of John, which
was one secret, as our Lord pointed out, of his hold on the people. The
more luxuriously self-indulgent men are, the more are they fascinated by
religious self-denial. A man 'clothed in soft raiment' would have drawn
no crowds. A religious teacher must be clearly free from sensual
appetites and love of ease, if he is to stir the multitude. John's rough
garb and coarse food were not assumed by him to create an impression. He
was no mere imitator of the old prophets, though he wore a robe like
Elijah's. His asceticism was the expression of his severe, solitary
spirit, detached from the delights of sense, and even from the softer
play of loves, because the coming kingdom flamed ever before him, and
the age seemed to him to be rotting and ready for the fire. There is no
need to bring in irrelevant learning about Essenes to account for his
mode of life. The thoughts which burned in him drove him into the
wilderness. He who was possessed with them could not 'come eating and
drinking,' and might well seem to sense-bound wonderers as if some
demonic force, other than ordinary motives, tyrannised over him.

The last point in this brief _résumé_ of John's work is the universal
excitement which it produced. He did not come out of the desert with his
message. If men would hear it, they must go to him. And they went. All
the southern portion of the country seemed to empty itself into the
wilderness. Sleeping national hopes revived, the awe of the coming
judgment seized all classes. It was so long since a fiery soul had
scattered flaming words, and religious teachers had for so many
centuries been mumbling the old well-worn formulas, and splitting hairs,
that it was an apocalypse to hear once more the accent of conviction
from a man who really believed every word he said, and himself thrilled
with the solemn truths which he thundered. Wherever a religious teacher
shows that he has John's qualities, as our Lord in His eulogium analysed
them--namely, unalterable resolution, like an iron pillar, and not like
a reed shaken with the wind, conspicuous superiority to considerations
of ease and comfort, a direct vision of the unseen, and a message from
God, the crowds will go out to see him; and even if the enthusiasm be
shallow and transient, some spasm of conviction will pass across many a
conscience, and some will be pointed by him to the King.

II. The second portion of this section is a more detailed account of
John's preaching, which Matthew gives as addressed to the Pharisees and
Sadducees. We are not to suppose that at any time John had a
congregation exclusively made up of such; nor that these words were
addressed to them only. What is emphasised is the fact that among the
crowds were many of both these parties, the religious aristocrats who
represented two tendencies of mind bitterly antagonistic, and each
unlikely to be drawn to the prophet. Self-righteous pedants who had
turned religion into a jumble of petty precepts, and very superior
persons who keenly appreciated the good things of this world, and were
too enlightened to have much belief in anything, and too comfortable to
be enthusiasts, were not hopeful material. If they were drawn into the
current, it must have run strong indeed. These representatives of the
highest and coldest classes of the nation had the very same red-hot
words flung at them as the mob had. Luke tells us that the first words
in this summary were spoken to the people. Both representations are
true. All fared alike. So they should, and so they always will, if a
real prophet has to talk to them. John's salutation is excessively rough
and rude. Honeyed words were not in his line; he had not lived in the
desert for all these years, and held converse with God and his own
heart, without having learned that his business was to smite on
conscience with a strong hand, and to tear away the masks which hid men
from themselves. The whole spirit of the old prophets was revived in his
brusque, almost fierce, address to such very learned, religious, and
distinguished personages. Isaiah in his day had called their
predecessors 'rulers of Sodom'; John was not scolding when he called his
hearers 'ye offspring of vipers' but charging them with moral corruption
and creeping earthliness.

The summary of his preaching is like a succession of lightning flashes.
We can but note in a word or two each flash as it flames and strikes.
The remarkable thing about his teaching is that, in his hands, the great
hope of Israel became a message of terror, the proclamation of the
impending kingdom passed into a denunciation of 'the wrath to come,' set
forth with a tremendous wealth of imagery as the axe lying at the root
of the trees, the fan winnowing the wheat from the chaff, the destroying
fire. That wrath was inseparable from the coming of the King; for His
righteous reign necessarily meant punishment of unrighteousness. So all
the older prophets had said, and John was but carrying on their
testimony. So Christ has said. No more terrible warnings of the certain
judgment of evil which is involved in His merciful work, have ever been
given, than fell from the lips into which grace was poured. We need
to-day a clearer discernment of the truth which flamed before John's
eyes, that the full proclamation of the kingdom of heaven must include
the plain teaching of 'the wrath to come.'

Next comes the urgent demand for reformation of life as the sign of real
repentance. John's exhortation does not touch the deepest ground for
repentance which is laid in the heart-softening love of God manifested
in the sacrifice of His Son, but is based wholly on the certainty of
judgment. So far, it is incomplete; but the demand for righteous living
as the only test of religious emotion is fully Christian, and needed in
this generation as much as it ever was. All preachers and others
concerned in 'revivals' may well learn a lesson, and while they follow
John in seeking to arouse torpid consciences by the terrors which are a
part of the gospel, should not forget to demand, not merely an emotional
repentance, but the solid fruits which alone guarantee the worth of the
emotion.

The next flash strikes the lofty structure of confidence in their
descent. John knows that every man in that listening crowd believes that
his birth secured him joy and dominion when Messiah came. So he wrenches
away this shield against which his sharpest arrows were blunted. What a
murmur of angry denial must have met his contemptuous, audacious denial
of their trusted privilege! The pebbles on the Jordan beach, or the
loose rocks scattered so plentifully over the desert, could be made as
good sons of Abraham as they. A glimpse of the transference of the
kingdom to the despised Gentiles passed across his vision. And in these
far-reaching words lay the anticipation, not only of the destruction of
all Jewish exclusiveness, but of the miracles of quickening to be
wrought on the stony hearts of those beyond its pale.

Once more with a new emblem the immediate beginning of the judgment is
proclaimed, and its principles and issues are declared. The sharp axe
lies at the roots of the tree, ready to be lifted and buried in its
bark. The woodman's eye is looking over the forest; he marks with the
fatal red line the worthless trees, and at once the swinging blows come
down, and the timber is carted away to be burned. The trees are men. The
judgment is an individualising one, and all-embracing. Nothing but
actual righteousness of life will endure. All else will be destroyed.

The coming of the kingdom implied the coming of the King. John knew that
the King was a man, and that He was at the door. So his sermon reaches
its climax in the ringing proclamation of His advent. The first
noticeable feature in it is the utter humility of the dauntless prophet
before the yet veiled Sovereign. All the fiery force, the righteous
scorn and anger, the unflinching bravery, melt into meek submission. He
knows the limits of his own power, and gladly recognises the infinite
superiority of the coming One. He never moved from that lowly attitude.
Even when his followers tried to stir up base jealousy in him at being
distanced by the Christ, who, as they suggested, owed His first
recognition to him, all that his immovable self-abnegation cared to
answer was, 'He must increase, but I must decrease.' He was glad 'to
fade in the light of the Sun that he loved.' What a wealth of suppressed
emotion and lowly love there is in the words so pathetic from the lips
of the lonely ascetic, whom no home joys had ever cheered: 'He that
hath the bride is the bridegroom.... My joy is fulfilled'!

Note, too, the grand conception of the gifts of the King. John knew that
his baptism was, like the water in which he immersed, cold, and
incapable of giving life. It symbolised, but did not effect, cleansing,
any more than his preaching righteousness could produce righteousness.
But the King would come, bringing with Him the gift of a mighty Spirit,
whose quick energy, transforming dead matter into its own likeness,
burning out the foul stains from character, and melting cold hearts into
radiant warmth, should do all that his poor, cold, outward baptism only
shadowed. Form and substance of this great promise gather up many Old
Testament utterances. From of old, fire had been the emblem of the
divine nature, not only, nor chiefly, as destructive, but rather as
life-giving, cleansing, gladdening, fructifying, transforming. From of
old, the promise of a divine Spirit poured out on all flesh had been
connected with the kingdom of Messiah; and John but reiterates the
uniform voice of prophecy, even as he anticipates the crowning gift of
the gospel, in this saying.

Note, further, the renewed prophecy of judgment. There is something very
solemn in the stern refrain at the end of each of three consecutive
verses,--'with fire.' The first and the third refer to the destructive
fire; the second, to the cleansing Spirit. But the fire that destroys is
not unconnected with that which purifies. And the very same divine
flame, if welcomed and yielded to, works purity, and if repelled and
scorned, consumes. The rustic simplicity of the figures of the
husbandman with his winnowing-shovel, the threshing-floor exposed to
every wind, the stored wheat, the rootless, lifeless, worthless chaff,
and the fierce fire in some corner of the autumn field where it is
utterly burned up--needs no comment. They add nothing but another vivid
picture to the thoughts already dealt with. But the question arises as
to the whole of the representation of judgment here: Does it look beyond
the present world? I see no reason for supposing that John was speaking
about anything but the sifting and destroying which would attend the
coming of the looked-for kingdom on earth. The principles which he laid
down are, no doubt, true for both worlds; but the application of them
which his prophetic mission embraced, lies on this side of the grave.

Note, further, the limitations in John's knowledge of the King. His
prophecy unites, as contemporaneous, events which, in fact, are widely
separate,--the coming of Christ, and the judgments which He executes,
whether on Israel or in the final 'great day of the Lord.' There is no
perspective in prophecy. The future is foreshortened, and great gulfs of
centuries are passed over, as, standing on a plain, we see it as
continuous, though it may really be cleft by deep ravines. He did not
know 'what manner of time' the spirit which was in him did 'signify.' No
doubt his expectations were correct, in so far as Christ's coming really
sifted and separated, and was the rising and the falling of many; but it
was not attended by such tokens as John inferred. Hence we can
understand his doubts when in prison, and learn that a prophet was often
mistaken as to the meaning of his message.

Again, while we have here a clear prediction of the Spirit as bestowed
by Christ, we find no hint of His work as the sacrifice for sin, through
whom the guilt which no repentance and no outward baptism could touch
was taken away. The Gospel of John gives us later utterances of the
Baptist's, by which we learn that he advanced beyond the point at which
he stood here. 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world,' was his message after Christ's baptism. It is the last, highest
voice of prophecy. The proclamation of a kingdom of heaven, of a king
mighty and righteous, whose coming kindled a fire of judgment, and a
blessed fire of purifying, into one or other of which all men must be
plunged, contained elements of terror, as well as of hope. It needed
completion by that later word.

When John stretched out his forefinger, and with awe-struck voice bade
his hearers look at Jesus coming to him, prophecy had done its work. The
promise had been gradually concentrated on the nation, the tribe, the
house, and now it falls on the person. The dove narrows its circling
flight till it lights on His head. The goal has been reached, too, in
the clear declaration of Messiah's work. He is King, Giver of the
Spirit, Judge, but He is before all else the Sacrifice for the world's
sins. Therefore he to whom it was given to utter that great saying was a
prophet, and more than a prophet; and when he had spoken it, there was
nothing more for him to do but to decrease. He was like the breeze
before sunrise, which springs up, as crying 'The dawn! the dawn!' and
dies away.


THE BAPTISM IN FIRE

     'He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.'--MATT.
     iii. 11

There is no more pathetic figure in Scripture than that of the
forerunner of our Lord. Lonely and ascetic, charged to light against all
the social order of which he was a part, seeing many of his disciples
leave him for another master; then changing the free wilderness for a
prison cell, and tortured by morbid doubts; finally murdered as the
victim of a profligate woman's hate and a profligate man's perverse
sense of honour: he had indeed to bear 'the burden of the Lord.' But
perhaps most pathetic of all is the combination in his character of
gaunt strength and absolute humility. How he confronts these people whom
he had to rebuke, and yet how, in a moment, the flashing eye sinks in
lowest self-abasement before 'Him that cometh after me'! How true,
amidst many temptations, he was to his own description of himself: 'I am
a voice'--nothing more. His sinewy arm was ever pointed to the 'Lamb of
God.' It is given to very few to know so clearly their limits, and to
still fewer--and these, men who keep very near God--to abide so
contentedly within them, and to acquiesce so thankfully in the
brightening glories of One whom self-importance and ambition would
prompt to take for a rival and an enemy.

The words before us signalise at once John's lofty conception of the
worth of his work, and his humble consciousness of its worthlessness as
compared with Christ's. 'I indeed baptize you with water, but He with
fire.' As is the difference between the two elements, so is the
difference between His ministry and mine--the one effecting an outward
cleansing, the other being an inward penetrating power, which shall
search men through and through, and, burning, shall purge away dross and
filth. The text comes in the midst of a triple representation of our
Lord's work in its relation to his, each portion of which ends with the
refrain, 'the fire.' But these three fires have not the same effects.
The first and last destroy, the second cleanses. These are threatenings,
but this is altogether a promise. There is a fire that consumes the
barren tree and the light chaff that is whirled from the threshing-floor
by the wind of His fan; but there is also a fire that, like the genial
heat in some greenhouse, makes even the barren tree glow with blossom
and loads its branches with precious fruit. His coming may kindle fire
that will destroy, but its merciful purpose is to plunge us into that
fiery baptism of the Holy Ghost, whereof the result is cleansing and
life. Looking at the words before us, then, they lead us to think of
that emblem of the Spirit of God, of Christ as bestowing it, and of its
effects on us. I venture to offer a few considerations now on each of
these points.

I. The Holy Spirit is fire.

It would scarcely be necessary to spend any time in illustrating that
truth, but for the strange misapprehension of the words of our text
which I believe to be not uncommon. People sometimes read them as if the
first portion referred to those who trust in Christ, and who therefore
receive the blessings of His sanctifying energy, whilst the latter
words, on the other hand, were a threatening against unbelievers. Now,
whatever may be the meaning of the emblem in the preceding and
subsequent clauses, it can have but one meaning in our text itself--and
that is, the purifying influence of the Spirit of God. Baptism with the
Holy Ghost is not one thing and baptism with fire another, but the
former is the reality of which the latter is the symbol.

It may be worth while to dwell briefly on the force of the emblem, which
is often misunderstood. Fire, then, all over the world has been taken to
represent the divine energy. Even in heathendom, side by side with the
worship of light was the worship of fire. Even that cruel
Moloch-worship, with all its abominations rested upon the notion that
the swift power and ruddy blaze of fire were symbols of glorious
attributes. Though the thought was darkened and marred, wrongly
apprehended and ferociously worked out in ritual, it was a true thought
for all that. And Scripture has from the beginning used it. It would
carry us too far to enumerate the instances which might be adduced. But
we may quote a few. When the covenant was made between God and Abraham,
upon which all the subsequent revelation reposed, the divine presence
was represented by a smoking furnace, and a lamp of fire that passed
between the divided pieces of the sacrifice. When the great revelation
of the divine Name was given to Moses, which prepared for the great
deliverance from Egypt, the sign of it was a thorn-bush--one of the many
dotted over the desert--burning and unconsumed. Surely the ordinary
interpretation, which sees, in that undying flame, an emblem of Israel
undestroyed in the furnace of bondage, is less natural than that which
sees in it a sign having the same purpose and the same meaning as the
deep words, 'I am that I am.' The Name, the revelation proper, is
accompanied by the sign which expresses in figure the very same
truth--the unwearied power, the undecaying life of the great
self-existent God, who wills and does not change, who acts and does not
faint, who gives and is none the poorer, who fills the universe and is
Himself the same, who burns and is not consumed--the 'I am.' Further, we
remember how to Israel the pledge and sacramental seal of God's
guardianship and guidance was the pillar which, in the fervid light of
the noonday sun, seemed to be but a column of wavering smoke, but which,
when the darkness fell, glowed at the heart and blazed across the
sleeping camp, a fiery guard. 'Who among us,' says the prophet, 'shall
dwell with everlasting burnings?' The answer is a parallel to the
description given in one of the Psalms in reply to the question, 'Lord,
who shall abide in Thy tabernacle?' From which parallelism, as well as
from the whole tone of the passage, the conclusion is unavoidable that
to Isaiah 'everlasting burnings' was a symbolic designation of God. And,
passing by all other references, we remember that our Lord Himself used
the same emblem, as John does, with apparently the same meaning, when,
yearning for the fulfilment of His work, He said,' I am come to send
fire on earth--oh that it were already kindled!' The day of Pentecost
teaches the same lesson by its fiery tongues; and the Seer in Patmos
beheld, burning before the throne, the sevenfold lamps of fire which are
'the seven spirits of God.'

Thus, then, there is a continuous chain of symbolism according to which
some aspect of the divine nature, and especially of the Spirit of God,
is set forth for us by fire. The question, then, comes to be--what is
that aspect? In answer, I would remind you that the attributes and
offices of the Spirit of God are never in Scripture represented as being
destructive, and are only punitive, in so far as the convictions of sin,
which He works in the heart, may be regarded as being punishments. The
fire of God's _Spirit_, at all events, is not a wrathful energy,
working pain and death, but a merciful omnipotence, bringing light and
joy and peace. The Spirit which is fire is a Spirit which giveth life.
So the symbol, in the special reference in the text, has nothing of
terror or destruction but is full of hope and bright with promise.

Even in its more general application to the divine nature, the same
thing is to a large extent true. The common impression is the reverse of
this. The interpretation which most readers unconsciously supply to the
passages of Scripture where God is spoken of as flaming fire, is that
God's terrible wrath is revealed in them. I am very far from denying
that the punitive and destructive side of the divine character is in the
symbol, but certainly that is not its exclusive meaning, nor does it
seem to me to be its principal one. The emblem is employed over and over
again, in connections where it must mean chiefly the blessed and joyous
aspect of God's Name to men. It is unquestionably part of the felicity
of the symbol that there should be in it this double force--for so is it
the fitter to show forth Him who, by the very same attributes, is the
life of those who love Him and the death of those who turn from Him.
But, still, though it is true that the bright and the awful aspects of
that Name are in themselves one, and that their difference arises from
the difference of the eyes which behold them, yet we are justified, I
think, in saying that this emblem of fire regards mainly the former of
these and not the latter. The principal ideas in it seem to be swift
energy and penetrating power, which cleanses and transforms. It is fire
as the source of light and heat; it is fire, not so much as burning up
what it seizes into ashes, but rather as laying hold upon cold dead
matter, making it sparkle and blaze, and turning it into the likeness of
its own leaping brightness; it is fire as springing heavenwards, and
bearing up earthly particles in its shooting spires; it is fire, as
least gross of visible things;--in a word, it is fire as life, and not
as death, that is the symbol of God. It speaks of the might of His
transforming power, the melting, cleansing, vitalising influence of His
communicated grace, the warmth of His conquering love. It has, indeed,
an under side of possible judgment, punishment, and destruction, but it
has a face of blessing, of life-giving, of sanctifying power. And
therefore the Baptist spake glad tidings when he said, 'He shall baptize
you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.'

II. Christ plunges us into this divine fire.

I presume that scarcely any one will deny that our version weakens the
force of John's words by translating '_with_ water, _with_ the Holy
Ghost,' instead of 'in water, in the Holy Ghost.' One of the most
accurate of recent commentators,[2] for instance, in his remarks on this
verse, says that the preposition here 'is to be understood in accordance
with the idea of baptism that is immersion, not as expressing the
instrument with which, but as meaning "in," and expressing the element
in which the immersion takes place.' I suppose that very few persons
would hesitate to agree with that statement. If it is correct, what a
grand idea is conveyed by that metaphor of the completeness of the
contact with the Spirit of God into which we are brought! How it
represents all our being as flooded with that transforming power! But,
apart from the intensity communicated to the promise by such a figure,
there is another important matter brought distinctly before us by the
words, and that is Christ's personal agency in effecting this saturating
of man's coldness with the fire from God. This testimony of John's is in
full accord with Christ's claims for Himself, and with the whole tenor
of Scripture on the subject. He is the Lord of the Spirit. He is come to
scatter that fire on the earth. He brings the ruddy gift from heaven to
mortals, carrying it in the bruised reed of His humanity; and, in
pursuance of His merciful design, He is bound and suffers for our sakes,
but, loosed at last from the bands by which it was not possible that He
should be holden, and 'being by the right hand of God exalted, He hath
shed forth this.' His mighty work opens the way for the life-giving
power of the Spirit to dwell as an habitual principle, and not as a mere
occasional gift, among men, sanctifying their characters from the
foundation, and not merely, as of old, bestowing special powers for
special functions. He claims to send us the Comforter. We know but
little of such high themes, but we can clearly see that, while there may
be many other reasons for the full bestowment of the Spirit of God
having to be preceded by the gift of Christ, one reason must be that the
measure of individual and subjective inspiration varies according to the
amount of objective revelation. The truth revealed is the condition and
the instrument of the Spirit's working. The sharper that sword of the
Spirit is, the mightier will be His power. Hence, only when the
revelation of God is complete by the message of His Son, His life,
death, resurrection, and ascension, was the full, permanent gift of the
Spirit possible, not to make new revelations, but to unfold all that lay
in the Word spoken once for all, in whom the whole Name of God is
contained.

[2] Meyer.

However that may be, the main thing for us, dear friends, is this--that
Christ gives the Spirit. In and by Jesus, you and I are brought into
real contact with this cleansing fire. Without His work, it would never
have burned on earth; without our faith in His work it will never purify
our souls. The Spirit of God is not a synonym for the moral influence
which the principles of Christianity exert on men who believe them; but
these principles, the truths revealed in Jesus Christ, are the means by
which the Spirit works its noblest work. Our acceptance of these truths,
then, our faith in Him whom these truths reveal, is absolutely essential
to our possession of that cleansing power. The promise is of 'that
Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive.' If we have no
faith in Jesus, then, however we may fancy that the gift of God can be
ours by other means, the stern answer comes to our fond delusions and
mistaken efforts, 'Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter.' Oh!
you who are seeking for spiritual elevation, for intellectual
enlightenment, for the fire of a noble enthusiasm, for the consecration
of pure hearts, anywhere but in Christ your Lord, will you not listen to
the majestic and yet lowly voice, which blends in its tones grave and
loving rebuke, gentle pity, wonder and sorrow at our blindness, earnest
entreaty, and divine authority--'If thou knewest the gift of God, and
who it is that speaketh to thee, thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He
would have given thee living water'?

Here are we cold, foul, dark, dead: there is that fire of God able to
cleanse, to enlighten, to give life. How is true contact to be effected
between our great need and His all-sufficient energy? One voice brings
the answer for every Christian soul, '_I_ will send the Comforter.'
Brethren, let us cleave to Him, and in humble faith ask Him to plunge us
into that fiery stream which, for all its fire, is yet a river of water
of life proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. '_He_
shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire.'

III. That fiery baptism quickens and cleanses.

In John's mind, the difference between the two baptisms, his and the
Christ's, expresses accurately the difference between the two ministries
and their effects. As has been truly and beautifully said, he is
conscious of something 'cold and negative' in his own teaching, of which
the water of his baptism is a fit representation. His message is divine
and true, but it is hard: 'Repent, do what you ought, wait for the
Kingdom and its King.' And, when his command has been obeyed, his
disciples come up out of Jordan, at the best but superficially cleansed,
and needing that the process begun in them should be perfected by
mightier powers than any which his message wields. They need more than
that outward washing--they need an inward cleansing; they need more than
the preaching of repentance and morality--they need a gift of life; they
need a new power poured into their souls, the fiery steam of which, as
it rolls along, like a lava current through mountain forests, shall
seize and burn every growth of evil in their natures. They need not
water, but Spirit; not water, but Fire. They need what shall be life to
their truest life, and death to all the death within, that separates
them from the life of God.

So the two main effects expressed here are these: quickening and
cleansing.

Fire gives warmth. We talk about ardent desires, warm hearts, the glow
of love, the fire of enthusiasm, and even the flame of life. We draw the
contrast with cold natures, which are loveless and unemotional, hard to
stir and quicken; we talk about thawing reserve, about an icy torpor,
and so on. The same general strain of allusion is undoubtedly to be
traced in our text. Whatever more it means, it surely means this, that
Christ comes to kindle in men's souls a blaze of enthusiastic, divine
love, such as the world never saw, and to set them aflame with fervent
earnestness, which shall melt all their icy hardness of heart, and turn
cold self-regard into self-forgetting consecration.

Here, then, our text touches upon one of the very profoundest
characteristics of Christianity considered as a power in human life. The
contrast between it and all other religions and systems of ethics lies,
amongst other things, in the stress which it lays upon love and on the
earnestness which comes from love; whereas these are scarcely regarded
as elements in virtue according to the world, and have certainly no
place at all in the world's notion of 'temperate religion.' Christ gives
fervour by giving His Spirit. Christ gives fervour by bringing the
warmth of His own love to bear upon our hearts through the Spirit, and
that kindles ours. Where His great work for men is believed and trusted
in, there, and there only, is there excited an intensity of consequent
affection to Him which glows throughout the life. It is not enough to
say that Christianity is singular among religious and moral systems in
exalting fervour into a virtue. Its peculiarity lies deeper--in its
method of producing that fervour. It is kindled by that Spirit using as
His means the truth of the dying love of Christ. The secret of the
Gospel is not solved by saying that Christ excites love in our souls.
_The_ question yet remains--how? There is but one answer to that. He
loved us to the death. That truth laid on hearts by the Spirit, who
takes of Christ's and shows them to us, and that truth alone, makes
fire burst from their coldness.

Here is the power that produces that inner fervour without which virtue
is a name and religion a yoke. Here is the contrast, not only to John's
baptism, but to all worldly religion, to all formalism and decent
deadness of external propriety. Here is the consecration of
enthusiasm--not a lurid, sullen heat of ignorant fanaticism, but a
living glow of an enkindled nature, which flames because kindled by the
inextinguishable blaze of His love who gave Himself for us. 'He shall
baptize you in fire.'

Then, dear brethren, if we profess to have come into personal contact
with Jesus Christ, here is a sharp test for us, and a solemn rebuke to
much of our lives. For a Christian to be cold is sin. Our coldness can
only come from our neglecting to stir up the gift that is in us. People
reproach us with extravagant emotion: let us confess that we have never
deserved that reproach half as much as we ought. The world's ideal of
religion is decorous coldness--has not the world's ideal been our
practice? We are afraid to be fervent, but our true danger is icy
torpor. We sit frost-bitten and almost dead among the snows, and all the
while the gracious sunshine is pouring down, that is able to melt the
white death that covers us, and to free us from the bonds that hold us
prisoned in their benumbing clasp.

No evil is more marked among the Christian Churches of this day than
precisely the absence of this 'spirit of burning.' There is plenty of
liberality and effort, there is much interest in religious questions,
there is genial tolerance and wide culture, there is a high standard of
morality, and, on the whole, a tolerable adherence to it--but there is
little love, and little fervour. 'I have somewhat against thee, that
thou hast left thy first love.'

Where is that Spirit which was poured out on Pentecost? Where are the
cloven tongues of fire, where the flame which Christ died to light up?
Has it burned down to grey ashes, or, like some house-fire, lit and left
untended, has it gone out after a little ineffectual crackling among the
lighter pieces of wood and paper, without ever reaching the solid mass
of obstinate coal? Where? The question is not difficult to answer. His
promise remains faithful. He does send the Spirit, who is fire. But our
sin, our negligence, our eager absorption with worldly cares, and our
withdrawal of mind and heart from the patient contemplation of His
truth, have gone far to quench the Spirit. Is it not so? Are our souls
on fire with the love of God, aglow with the ardour caught from Christ's
love? Does that love which fills our hearts coruscate and flame in our
lives, making us lights in the darkness, as some firebrand caught up
from the hearth will serve for a torch and blaze out into the night? 'He
shall baptize with fire.'

    'O Thou that earnest from above,
       The pure celestial fire to impart,
     Kindle a flame of sacred love
       On the mean altar of my heart.'

Then there is another thought expressed by this symbol, namely, that
this baptism gives cleansing as well as warmth, or rather gives
cleansing by warmth. Fire purifies. That Spirit, which is fire,
produces holiness in heart and character, by this most chiefly among all
His manifold operations, that He excites the flame of love to God, which
burns our souls clear with its white fervours. This is the Christian
method of making men good,--first, know His love, then believe it, then
love Him back again, and then let that genial heat permeate all your
life, and it will woo forth everywhere blossoms of beauty and fruits of
holiness, that shall clothe the pastures of the wilderness with
gladness. Did you ever see a blast-furnace? How long would it take a
man, think you, with hammer and chisel, or by chemical means, to get the
bits of ore out from the stony matrix? But fling them into the great
cylinder, and pile the fire and let the strong draught roar through the
burning mass, and by evening you can run off a golden stream of pure and
fluid metal, from which all the dross and rubbish is parted, which has
been charmed out of all its sullen hardness, and will take the shape of
any mould into which you like to run it. The fire has conquered, has
melted, has purified. So with us. Love 'shed abroad in our hearts by the
Holy Ghost given unto us,' love that answers to Christ's, love that is
fixed upon Him who is pure and separate from sinners, will purify us and
sever us from our sins. Nothing else will. All other cleansing is
superficial, like the water of John's baptism. Moralities and the
externals of religion will wash away the foulness which lies on the
surface, but stains that have sunk deep into the very substance of the
soul, and have dyed every thread in warp and woof to its centre, are not
to be got rid of so. The awful words which our great dramatist puts into
the mouth of the queenly murderess are heavy with the weight of most
solemn truth. After all vain attempts to cleanse away the stains, we,
like her, have to say, 'There's the smell of the blood still--will
these hands ne'er be clean?' No, never; unless there be something
mightier, more inward in its power, than the water with which we can
wash them, some better gospel than 'Repent and reform.' God be thanked,
there is a mightier detergent than all these--even that divine Spirit
which Christ gives, and that divine forgiveness which Christ brings.
There, and there alone, dear brethren, we can lose all the guilt of our
faultful past, and receive a new and better life which will mould our
future into growing likeness to His great purity. Oh do not resist that
merciful searching fire, which is ready to penetrate our very bones and
marrow, and burn up the seeds of death which lurk in the inmost intents
of the heart! Let Him plunge you into that gracious baptism, as we put
some poor piece of foul clay into the fire, and like it, as you glow you
will whiten, and all the spots will melt away before the conquering
tongues of the cleansing flame. In that furnace, heated seven times
hotter than any earthly power could achieve, they who walk live by the
presence of the Son of Man, and nothing is consumed but the bonds that
held them. His Spirit is fire, and that Spirit of fire is, therefore,
the Spirit of holiness.

But take one warning word in conclusion. The alternative for every man
is to be baptized in the fire or to be consumed by it. The symbol of
which we have been speaking sets forth the double thought of purifying
and destruction. Nothing which we have said as to the former in the
least weakens the completing truth that there is in it an under side of
possible terror. One of the felicities of the emblem is its capacity to
set forth this twofold idea. There is that in the divine nature which
the Bible calls wrath, the necessary displeasure and aversion of holy
love from sin and wrong-doers. There is in the divine procedure even
now and here, the manifestation of that aversion in punishment. 'The
light of Israel becomes a flaming fire.'

I have no panorama of hell to exhibit, and I would speak with all
reticence on matters so awful; but this much, at any rate, is clear,
that the very same revelation of God, thankfully accepted and submitted
to, is the medium of cleansing and the source of joyful life, and,
rejected, becomes the source of sorrow and the occasion of death. Every
man sees that aspect of God's face which he has made himself fit to see.
Every gift of God is to men either a savour of life unto life, or a
savour of death unto death. Most chiefly is this so in regard to Christ
and His gospel, who, though He came not to judge but to save, yet by
reason of that very universal purpose of salvation, becomes a judge in
the act of saving, and a condemnation to those in whom, by their own
faults, that purpose is not fulfilled.

The same pillar of fire which gladdened the ranks of Israel as they
camped by the Red Sea, shone baleful and terrible to the Egyptian hosts.
The same Ark of the Covenant whose presence blessed the house of
Obed-edom, and hallowed Zion, and saved Jerusalem, smote the
Philistines, and struck down their bestial gods. Christ and His gospel
even here hurt the men whom they do not save.

And we have only to carry that process onwards into another world, and
suppose it made more energetic there, as it will be, to feel dimly in
how awful a sense it may be that the same fire which gives life may be
the occasion of death--and how profound a truth lies in the words--

     'What maketh Heaven, that maketh Hell.'

Yes, verily; to be salted with fire or to be consumed by it, to be
baptized in it or to be cast into it, is the choice offered to us all;
to thee, my brother, and to me. Israel made its choice, and in seventy
years, the Roman standards on Zion and the flames leaping round the
Temple, interpreted John's words in one of their halves, while the
growing energy of the fire that was lit on Pentecost fulfilled them in
the other. Many a nation and Church has made its choice since then. You
have to make yours. 'The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort
it is.' Shall our work be gold, and silver, and precious stones which
shall gleam and flash in the light, or wood, hay, and stubble which
shall writhe for a moment in the blaze and perish? 'Our God is a
consuming fire.' Shall that be the ground of my confidence that I shall
one day be pure from all my sins, or shall it be the parent of my
ghastliest fear that I may be, like the chaff, destroyed by contact with
a holy love rejected, with a Saviour disbelieved, with a Spirit grieved
and quenched? Choose which.


THE BAPTISM OF JESUS

     'Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized
     of him. 14. But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized
     of Thee, and comest Thou to me? 15. And Jesus answering said unto
     him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all
     righteousness. Then he suffered Him. 16. And Jesus, when He was
     baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the
     heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God
     descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: 17. And lo a voice
     from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well
     pleased.'--MATT. iii. 13-17.

When Jesus set out from Galilee to seek baptism from John, He took the
first step on His path of public work; and it is noteworthy that He took
it, apparently, from self-originated impulse, and not, as in the case of
the prophets of old, from obedience to a 'prophetic call.' 'The Word of
the Lord came to' them; His Messianic consciousness needed no external
stimulus to kindle it into flame. What did He mean by seeking baptism?
John recognised the incongruity of His submitting to a rite which
professed repentance and promised cleansing. It does not follow that
John recognised His Messianic character, but only that he knew His
blameless life. The remonstrance witnesses at once to John's humble
consciousness of sin and to Jesus' acknowledged purity. Christ's answer
has a sound of authority, even in its gentle lowliness, and it confirms
the belief in His sinlessness by the absence of any reference to
repentance, and by regarding His baptism, not as a token of repented
transgression to be washed away, but as an act which completed the
perfect circle of righteousness, which His life had hitherto drawn. He
submitted to the appointed rite, because He would be one with His
brethren in all obedience. So, then, the principle underlying His
baptism is the principle underlying His incarnation, His life of
obedience and identification of Himself with us, and His death. 'He also
Himself likewise took part of' whatsoever His brethren were partakers
of, and therefore He was 'numbered with the transgressors' in that,
needing no repentance, He submitted to the baptism of repentance, and
cleansed the cleansing water by being plunged in it.

What was the significance of the descent of the Spirit on Him? Matthew's
account implies that the appearance of the descending dove was to Jesus.
John i. 32 states that it was also visible to John. The accompanying
voice is as if principally directed to John, according to Matthew, while
Mark and Luke represent it as addressed to Jesus. Both appearance and
voice were the tokens of the Father's approval, and acceptance of the
Son's consecration of Himself to the Messianic work. The dove descending
on Him was the token that henceforward His manhood should be anointed
with the unbroken influences of the divine Spirit, and possess the
unbroken consciousness of the Father's good pleasure, lying like
sunshine on the stormy sea on which He had launched. How different the
conception of the Spirit as a dove, which was Jesus' experience of it,
from the Baptist's, which was that of fire! Jesus is in this incident,
as in all, our pattern and example, teaching us that we too must yield
ourselves to do the Father's will, and must identify ourselves with
sinners, if we are to help them and to have the Father's approval
sounding in our hearts, and the dove of God nestling there, and teaching
us, too, that gentleness is the divinest and strongest power to win men
from evil and for God.


THE DOVE OF GOD

     'He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon
     Him.' MATT. iii. 16.

This Gospel of Matthew is emphatically the gospel of the Kingdom. It
sets forth Jesus as the long-promised Messiah, the Son of David. And
this conception of Him and of His work, whilst it runs through the whole
of the Gospel, is more obviously influential in shaping the selection of
incidents and colouring the cast of the language, in the early portion.
Hence the genealogy with which the Gospel begins dwells with emphasis on
His royal descent from David. Hence the story of the wise men of the
East is given, who came to do their homage to the new-born King of the
Jews, whose innocent poverty and infancy are set in contrast with the
court and character of the cruel Herod who had for an hour usurped the
title. Hence, also, the mission of John the Baptist is all summed up in
his proclamation: 'The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' He is the herald
that runs before the chariot of the advancing Monarch, and shouts to a
slumbering nation, 'The King! the King!'

Preserving the same reference to the royal dignity of Jesus, we may look
at His baptism as being His public assumption of His Messianic office,
and at this descent of the Holy Spirit as the anointing or coronation of
the King. As His meek head rose, glistening from the waters of the
baptism, there fluttered down upon Him the gentle token of the manifest
designation from the Heavens, which solemnly declared Him to be the Son
of God, anointed Messias, King of Israel and of the world.

So in looking at this incident, I take simply two points of view, and
consider its bearing on Jesus, and on us.

I. As to the former, we have here the Coronation of the King.

We need not spend time upon the question which we have no materials for
answering, viz.--What was the 'objective material reality' here? We do
not know enough about what constitutes 'objective material reality,' nor
about what are the laws of prophetic ecstasy and vision, to discuss such
a question as that. Nor is there any need to moot it. It does not matter
one rush whether bystanders would have seen anything or not. It does not
matter in the least whether there was any actual excitation of auditory
or visual nerves. It does not matter whether there was anything which
people are contented to call _material_--a word which covers a depth of
ignorance. Enough for us that this was no fancy, born in a man's brain,
but an actual manifestation, whether through sense or apart from sense,
to consciousness, of a divine outpouring and communication. Enough for
us that the voice which spoke was God's, and that that which descended
was the Spirit of God. As to all other questions, they may be amusing
and interesting, but they are insoluble, and therefore unimportant.

Well, then, taking that point of view, the next question that arises is
as to the purpose of this descent of the Spirit. Plainly, as I have
said, it was the coronation and anointing of the Monarch. But a man is
king before he is crowned. Coronation is the consequence and not the
cause of his royalty. It is but the official and solemn announcement of
a previous fact. No additional power, no fresh authority, comes of the
crowning. And so the first purpose of this great fact is distinctly
stated, in John's Gospel, as having been the solemn, divine pointing out
of Messiah to the Baptist primarily, but in order that he might bear
witness of Him to others. The words which follow are a commentary on,
and part of the explanation of, the descent of the Holy Spirit. They
are God's finger, pointing to Jesus and saying, 'Arise, anoint Him, for
this is He.'

But it must be remembered always that this was neither the beginning of
that divine Spirit's operation upon Jesus, nor the beginning of His
Messianic nature and consciousness; nor the beginning of His Sonship.
That day was not in deepest truth the 'day' on which the Son was
'begotten.' Before the baptism there was the consciousness of
Messiahship witnessed in these words, so singularly compacted of
humility and authority: 'Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us
to fulfil all righteousness'; and before His baptism, and even before
His birth, that divine Spirit wrought His manhood, and ere the heavens
opened, or the dove fluttered down upon His head, He from everlasting
was the Son in the bosom of the Father.

So we see here, I think, if we follow the lead of the Scriptural
teaching, not the beginning of powers or communications, but an advance
in these. Christ's baptism was an epoch in His human development,
inasmuch as it was the public official assumption of His Messianic
office. He came from out of the sheltering obscurity of the Galilean
village nestling among its hills. He had now put His foot upon the path,
set with knives and hot ploughshares, along which He had to walk to the
Cross. Inasmuch as it was an epoch in His development (for His manhood
was capable of growth and maturing), and inasmuch as new tasks needed
increase of gifts, and inasmuch as His man's nature was subject to the
conditions of time, and capable of expansion and increase of capacity,
therefore, I believe that when Christ rose from the waters of baptism,
no new gift indeed was His, but such an advance in the communication to
His manhood of the sustaining Spirit, as fully equipped Him for the new
calls of His Messianic work.

His manhood needed, as ours does, the continual communication of the
divine Spirit, and His manhood, because it was sinless, was capable of a
complete reception of that Spirit. Sinless though He knew Himself to be,
as His own words declare, He yet bowed His head to the baptism of
repentance, which He needed not for Himself, just as He afterwards bowed
His head to a darker, a sadder baptism, which He had to be baptized
with, though it likewise He needed not for Himself, because in both the
one and the other He would make Himself one with His brethren. The
Spirit of God had shaped His manhood ere His birth. The Spirit of God
had been abiding in His holy infancy and growing youth, but now it came
in larger measure for new needs and His Messiah's work.

So, dear friends, we see in Christ, baptized with the Spirit of God, the
realised ideal of manhood, ever dependent, ever needing for its purity
that holy influence, and receiving at every pore that divine gift. What
a contrast to our limited partial reception, broken and interrupted so
often! All the doors that are barred in our hearts by sin, all the
windows that are darkened in our souls by vice and self, in Him stood
open to the day, and brilliantly receptive of the illumination. And so
'the Father giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.'

Notice, too, the meaning of the symbol. Think of what John, with his
incomplete though not inaccurate conceptions, expected in the Messiah
whom he proclaimed. To him the coming of the King was first and chiefly
a coming to judgment. There is nothing more remarkable than the aspect
of terror which drapes the old hope of Israel as it comes from John's
lips. He believes that the King is coming, that His coming is to be an
awful thing. Judgment is to go before Him, He bears 'His fan in His
hand,' and kindles 'unquenchable fire,' into which the leafy trees that
have no fruit upon them are to be flung, there to shrivel and crackle
and disappear. This is what he expects at the worst, and at the best a
baptism in the Holy Ghost, from Messiah's hands, which, however, is
likewise to be fiery even whilst it quickens, and searching and
destructive even whilst it gladdens. When, then, his carpenter cousin is
designated as Messiah, John sees two wonders: that this is the Christ,
and that the Spirit which he had thought of as searching and consuming,
should come fluttering down upon His head in the likeness of a dove. Old
Testament symbols and natural poetry unite in giving felicity to that
emblem. 'The Spirit of God brooded on the face of the deep,' says
Genesis; and the word employed describes accurately the action of the
mother-bird, with her soft breast and outstretched wings quickening the
life that lies beneath. The dove was pure and allowed for sacrifice. All
nations have made it the symbol of meekness, gentleness, faithfulness.
All these associations determined the form which the descending
Benediction took.

What then does it proclaim as to the character of the King? Purity is
the very foundation of His royalty. Meekness and gentleness are the very
weapons of His conquest and the sceptre of His rule. The dove will
outfly all Rome's eagles and all rapacious, unclean feeders, with their
strong wings, and curved talons, and sharp beaks. The lesson as to the
true nature of the true Kingdom, which was taught of old when the
prophet said 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, thy King cometh unto
thee, meek, riding on an ass,' and not upon the warhorse of secular
force; the lesson which was taught unwittingly, as to the true nature of
the true Kingdom, when the scoffers, speaking a deeper truth than they
understood, put upon His brow the crown of thorns, and forced into His
hand the sceptre of reed, was taught here--the lesson that meekness
conquers, and that His kingdom is founded in suffering, and wielded in
gentleness. The lesson of the ancient psalm, which in rapture of
prophetic vision beheld the coming of the Bridegroom, and said with
strange blending of images of war and of peace: 'Thine arrows are sharp
in the heart of the King's enemies; in Thy majesty ride prosperously,
because of meekness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible
things';--that same lesson was taught when the King was crowned, and in
the day of His coronation, that which fell upon His bowed, glistening
head, was the Dove from Heaven, the proclamation that meekness and
gentleness are the garment of Omnipotence.

II. Consider this incident as showing us the gifts of the King to His
subjects.

Christ has nothing which He keeps to Himself. Christ received the Spirit
that He might diffuse it through the whole world. Whatsoever He has
received of the Father He gives unto us. This conception of the gift
that Christ has to bestow upon men, as being the very life-spirit that
dwelt in His manhood, and made and kept it pure, is the highest thought
that we can have of what the gospel does for us. You do not understand
its meaning if you content yourself with thinking of it as simply the
means of escape from wrath. You do not understand its meaning--though,
blessed be God! that is the first part of its mercy to us--if you think
of Christ's gift as only pardon by means of His sacrifice on the Cross.
We must rise higher than that; we must feel, if we would understand the
'unspeakable gift,' that it is the gift of Himself to dwell within us by
His Spirit as the very spirit of our lives. Assimilation by reception of
a supernatural life from Him, is the teaching of Pentecost. Christ is
our life; 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made us
free from the law of sin and death.'

Therefore, all Christian men are spoken of in the New Testament in the
same language which is used in reference to their Master. Is He the Son
of God? They are sons through Him. Is He the High Priest? They are
priests unto God. Is He the Light of the World? They are, in their
places, kindled and derived lights. Is He the Christ, the Messias, the
Anointed? 'Ye have an unction from the Holy One,' and He hath anointed
us in Him. So that it is no arrogance, though it may be a questionably
wise form of expression, when we say that the object of Christ's coming
is to make us all Christs, God's anointed, and to make us so because He
Himself in His Spirit dwells in us.

Christ can do that. He can give this Spirit. That is the very thing that
all other teachers cannot do. They can teach tricks of imitation, they
can galvanise men, for a little while, into some kind of copy of their
characteristics. They can give them the principles which they themselves
have been living on, but to repeat and to continue the spirit of the
Teacher is the very thing that cannot be done. 'Let a double portion
fall upon me,' said Elisha; and Elijah, knowing the limits of the human
relationship between master and disciple, could only shake his head in
doubt and say, 'Thou askest a hard thing; perhaps thou wilt get it,
perhaps thou wilt not, but it will not be I that will give it you.' But
Christ says: 'I give My Spirit to you all.'

And let us remember, too, how full of blessed teaching, of rebuke, and
of instruction that symbol is, in reference to ourselves. To all of us
there is offered, if we like to have it, this dove-like Spirit. What
does that mean? Let us for a moment dwell upon the various uses of the
emblem, for they all carry important lessons. Our hearts are like that
wild chaos which preceded the present ordered state of things. And over
the seething darkness, full of all formless horrors and half-discerned
dead monstrosities, over all the chaos of disordered wills, rebellious
appetites, stinging conscience, darkened perceptions, there will come,
if we will (and we may will by His help, which is never far away from
us), gently, but quickening us into life and reducing confusion into
order, and flooding our cloudy night with light, that divine Spirit. The
dove that brooded over Chaos and made it Cosmos, will brood over your
nature, and re-create the whole. 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new
creation.' 'The old things are passed away.' Creator Spirit! create a
clean heart in me.

And then again let me remind you that this emblem brings to us another
cognate and yet distinct hope, inasmuch as the dove was the emblem of
purity and clean for sacrifice. This is the characteristic of the
scriptural doctrine of inspiration, by which it is distinguished from
all heathen and secular conceptions of a similar sort, viz., that it
puts the moral in the foreground, and that the Spirit, which is the
Spirit of truth, and of wisdom and of power, is first and foremost the
Spirit of holiness. So that if a man is not clean, no matter what his
gifts, no matter what his wisdom, no matter what his intellectual force,
no matter what his supernatural and miraculous power, he has not the
Spirit of God in him. The Dove comes, and where it comes there is peace,
there is purity, there is sacrifice. If any man have not the Spirit of
holiness he is none of Christ's.

So, brethren, remember that not in shining faculty, not in piercing
vision into mystery, not in the eloquence of honeyed tongue, nor the
power of a swift hand, not in any of the lesser and subordinate gifts
which the world exclusively honours as inspiration, is the power of the
indwelling Spirit to be manifested. If the Spirit of God is in you, it
is making you clean.

Still further, remember how, as for the King so for His subjects, the
Dove that crowns Him and that dwells in them is the Spirit of meekness
and of gentleness. That is the true force. Light, which is silent, is
mightier than all lightnings. The Spirit, which is the 'Spirit of love,'
is therefore 'the Spirit of power.' The true type of Christian
character, which the gospel has brought into being, looks modest,
inconspicuous and humdrum, by the side of the more brilliant and vulgar
beauties of the world's ideals. Just as the iridescent hues on a dove's
neck, and the quiet blue of its plumage, look modest and Quaker-like
beside gaudy parroquets and other bedizened birds, so the Christian type
of character, patient, meek, gentle, not self-asserting, seems pale and
sober-tinted beside the world's heroes. But gentleness is the mightiest
and will conquer at last. For Christ and Christ's followers go forth,
through universal love to universal power.

And the last suggestion that I offer to you about the significance of
this symbol is one that I freely admit to be fanciful, and yet it
strikes me as being very beautiful. Noah's dove came back to the ark
with one leaf in his beak. That was the prophecy and the foretaste of a
whole world of beauty and of verdure. The dove that comes to us, bearing
with it some leaf plucked from the tree of life, which is in the midst
of the paradise of God, is the earnest of our inheritance until the day
of redemption. All the gifts of that divine Spirit, gifts of holiness,
of gentleness, of wisdom, of truth--all these are forecasts and
anticipations of the perfectness of the heavens. To us, sailing over a
dismal sea, the Spirit comes bearing with it a message that tells us of
the far-off land and the fair garden of God in which the blessed shall
walk.

Dear friends, remember the one condition on which is suspended our
possession of the Spirit of God. It is that we shall have Christ for our
very own by our humble faith. If we are trusting in Him, He will come
and put His Spirit within our hearts. Without Him these hearts are cages
of unclean and hateful birds. But the meek presence of the dove of God
will drive out the obscene, twilight-loving creatures that build and
scream there, and will fill our hearts with the tranquillity, the
purity, the gentleness, the hope, which are 'the fruit of the Spirit.'


THE VICTORY OF THE KING

     'Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be
     tempted of the devil. 2. And when He had fasted forty days and
     forty nights, He was afterward an hungred. 3. And when the tempter
     came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these
     stones be made bread. 4. But He answered and said, It is written,
     Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that
     proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5. Then the devil taketh Him up
     into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6.
     And saith unto Him, If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down:
     for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee:
     and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou
     dash Thy foot against a stone. 7. Jesus said unto him, It is
     written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8. Again, the
     devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth
     Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9. And
     saith unto Him, All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt
     fall down and worship me. 10. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee
     hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy
     God, and Him only shalt thou serve. 11. Then the devil leaveth Him,
     and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.'--MATT. iv. 1-11.

Every word of the first verses of this narrative is full of meaning.
'Then' marks the immediate connection, not only in time but in
causation, between the baptism and the temptation. The latter followed
necessarily on the former. 'Of the Spirit'--then God does lead His Son
into temptation. For us all, as for Christ, it is true that, though God
does not tempt as wishing us to fall, He does so order our lives that
they carry us into places where the metal of our religion is tried. 'To
be tempted'--then a pure, sinless human nature is capable of temptation,
and the King has to begin his career by a battle. 'Of the devil'--then
there is a dark kingdom of evil, and a personal head of it, the prince
of darkness. He knows His rival, and yet He knows him but partially. He
strides out to meet him in desperate duel, as Goliath did the stripling
whom he despised; and both hosts pause and gaze. To a sinless nature no
temptation can arise from within, but must be presented from without.

We leave untouched the question as to the manner of this temptation,
which remains equally real, whether we conceive that the tempter
appeared in bodily form, and actually carried the body of our Lord from
place to place, or whether we suppose that, during it all, Christ sat
silent, and apparently alone in the wilderness. We only divert attention
from the true importance of the incident by giving prominence to
picturesque or questionable externals of it.

I. The first assault and repulse, in the desert.

Unlike John the Baptist, whose austere spirit was unfolded in the
desert, Jesus grew up among men, passing through and sanctifying
childhood and youth, home duties, and innocent pleasures. But ere He
enters on His work, the need which every soul appointed to high and hard
tasks has felt, namely, the need for seclusion and communion with God in
solitude, was felt by Him. As it had been for Moses and Elijah, the
wilderness was His school; and as the collective Israel, so the personal
Son of God, has to be led into the wilderness, that there God may 'speak
to His heart.' So deep and rapt was the communion, that, for forty days,
spirit so mastered flesh that the need and desire for food were
suspended. But when He touched earth again, the pinch of hunger began.
Analogous cases of the power of high emotion to hold physical wants in
abeyance are sufficiently familiar to make so extreme an instance
explicable.

We have to distinguish in the first temptation between the sphere in
which it moves, the act suggested, and the true nature of the act as
dragged to light in Christ's answer. The sphere is that of the physical
nature. Hunger has nothing to do with right or wrong. It asserts itself
independent of all considerations. In itself neutral, it may, like all
physical cravings, lead to sin. Most men are most tempted by fleshly
desires. Satan had tried the same bait before on the first Adam. It had
answered so well then, that he thinks himself wise in bringing it out
once more. Adam, in his garden, surrounded by all that sense needed, had
yielded, and thereby had turned the garden into desert; Christ, in the
desert, pressed by hunger, does not yield, and thereby turns the desert
into a garden again. At the beginning of His course He is tempted by the
innocent desire to secure physical support; at its close He is tempted
by the innocent desire to avoid physical pain. He overcomes both, and by
His victories in the wilderness so unlike the garden, and in Gethsemane,
another garden, so unlike the first, He brings 'a statelier Eden back to
man.'

The act suggested seems not only innocent, but in accordance with His
dignity. It was a strange anomaly for 'the Son of God,' on whose head
the dove had descended, and in whose ears the voice had sounded, to be
at the point of starving. What more unbecoming than that one possessed
of His mysterious closeness to God should be suffering from such ignoble
necessities? What more foolish than to continue to hunger, when a word
could spread a table in the wilderness? John had said that God could
make children of Abraham out of these stones. Could He not make bread
out of them? The suggestion sounds benevolent, sensible, almost
religious. The need is real, the remedy possible and easy; the result
desirable as preserving valuable life, and putting an end to an anomaly,
and the objections apparently _nil_. The bait is skilfully wound over
the barbed hook.

Christ's answer tears it away, and discloses the sharp points. He will
not discuss with Satan whether He is Son of God or no. To the Jews He
was wont to answer, 'I say unto you'; to Satan He answers, 'It is
written.' He puts honour on 'the sword of the Spirit, which is the word
of God,' and sets us an example of how to wield it. The words quoted are
found in the account of Israel's miraculous sustenance in the desert by
the manna, and are applied by Christ to Himself, not as Son of God, but
as simple man. They contain the great truth that God can feed men, in
their physical life, by bread or without bread. When He does it by bread
or other ordinary means, it is even then not the material substance in
itself, but His will operating through it, which feeds. He can abolish
all the outward means, and still keep a man alive. There is no reference
to the truth which is sometimes forcibly inserted into this saying, that
man has a higher than bodily life, and needs more than material bread to
feed the hunger of the soul. The whole scope of the words is to state
the law of physical nourishment as dependent at last on the divine will,
and therefore equally capable of being accomplished with or without
bread, by ordinary means or apart from these.

The bearing of the words on Christ's hunger is twofold: First, He will
not use His miraculous powers to provide food, for that would be to
distrust God, and so to cast off His filial dependence; second, He will
not separate Himself from His brethren, and provide for Himself by a way
not open to them, for that would really be to reverse the very purpose
of His incarnation and to defeat His whole work. He has come to bear all
man's burdens, and shall He begin by separating Himself from them?
Therefore He answers in words which declare the law for 'man,' and
thereby merges all that was distinctive in His position in a loving
participation in our lot. If the Captain of our Salvation had begun by
refusing to share the privations of the rank and file, and had provided
dainties for Himself, what would have become of His making common cause
with them? The temptation addressed to Christ's physical nature was, to
put it roughly, 'Look out for yourself.' His answer was, 'As Son of God,
I hold by My filial dependence. As man, I share My brethren's lot, and
am content to live as they live.'

II. The second assault and repulse, on the temple.

We need not touch on the questions as to whether our Lord's body was
really transported to the temple, and, if so, to what part of it. But we
may point out that there is nothing in the narrative to warrant the
usual interpretation of this temptation, as being addressed to the
desire of recognition, and as equivalent to the suggestion that our Lord
should show Himself, by a stupendous miracle before the multitude, as
the Messiah. There is nothing about spectators, and no sign that the
dread solitude wrapping these two was broken by others. We must seek
for the point of the second temptation in another direction.

The very locality chosen for it helps us to the right understanding of
it. There were plenty of cliffs in the desert, down which a fall would
have been fatal. Why not choose one of them? The temple was God's house,
the fitting scene for an attempt to work disaster by the abuse of
religious ideas. The former temptation underlies this. That had sought
to move Jesus to cast off His filial confidence; this seeks to pervert
that confidence, and through it to lead Him to cast off filial
obedience. Therefore 'the Devil quotes Scripture for his purpose.' What
could be more religious than an act of daring based upon faith, which
again was based on a word which proceeded 'out of the mouth of God'? It
is not in the suppression of certain words in the quotation that Satan's
error lies. The omitted words are not material. What did he hope to
accomplish by this suggestion? If Jesus was, in bodily reality, standing
on the summit of the temple, the tempter, profoundly disbelieving the
promise, may have thought that the leap would end his anxieties by the
death of his rival. But, at any rate, he sought to lead His faith into
wrong paths, and to incite to what was really sinful self-will under the
guise of absolute trust.

Our Lord's answer, again drawn from Deuteronomy, strips off the disguise
from the action which seemed so trustful. He changes the plural verb of
the original passage into the singular, thus at once taking as His own
personal obligation the general command, and pointing a sharp arrow at
His foe, who was now knowingly or unknowingly so flagrantly breaking
that law. If God had bidden Jesus cast Himself down, to do it would have
been right. As He had not, to do it was not faith, but self-will. To
cast Himself into dangers needlessly, and then to trust God (whom He had
not consulted about going into them) to get Him out, was to 'tempt God.'
True faith is ever accompanied with true docility. He had come to do His
Father's will. A divine 'must' ruled His life. Was He to begin His
career by throwing off His allegiance on pretext of trust? If the
Captain of our Salvation commences the campaign by rebellion, how can He
lead the rank and file to that surrender of their own wills which is
victory?

The lessons for us from the second temptation are weighty. Faith may be
perverted. It may even lead to abandoning filial submission. God's
promised protection is available, not in paths of our own choosing, but
only where He has sent us. If we take the leap without His command, we
shall fall mangled on the very temple pavement. It is when we are 'in
the way' which He has prescribed that 'the angels of God' whom He has
promised 'meet' us. How many scandals in the falls of good men would
have been avoided, and how many mad enterprises would have been
unattempted, and how much more clearly would the relations of filial
faith and filial obedience have been understood, if the teaching of this
second temptation had been laid to heart!

III. The final assault and repulse, on the mountain.

Again the scene changes, because the stress of the temptation is
different. The 'exceeding high mountain' is not to be looked for in our
atlases. The manner in which all the glories of the world's kingdoms
were flashed in one dazzling panorama, like an instantaneous photograph,
before Christ's eyes, is beyond our knowledge. We note that Satan has no
more to say about 'the Son of God.' He has been foiled in both his
assaults on Christ in that character. If He stood firm in filial trust
and in filial submission, there was no more to be done. So the tempter
tries new weapons, and seeks to pervert the desire for that dominion
over the world which was to be a consequence of the sonship. He has not
been able to touch Him as Son; can he not spoil Him as King? They are
rivals: can they not strike up a treaty? Jesus thinks that He is going
to reign as God's viceroy; can He not be induced, as a much quicker way
of getting to His end, to become Satan's? Such a scheme sounds very
stupid; but Satan is very stupid, for all his wisdom, and the hopeless
folly of his proposal is typical of the absurdities which lie in all
sins. There is an old play, the title of which would be coarse if it
were not so true, 'The Devil is an Ass.'

His boast, like all his wiles, is a little truth and a great lie. It is
true that his servants do often manage to climb into thrones and other
high places. It is true that beggars and worse than beggars on
horseback, and princes and better than princes walking, is often the
rule. It is true that the crowned saints of the world might be counted
on the fingers. But, for all that, the Father of lies was like himself
in this promise. He did not say that, if he gives a kingdom to one of
his servants, he takes it from another. He did not say that his gifts
are shams, and fade away when the daylight comes. He did not say that
he and his are, after all, tools in God's hands.

What was it that he thought he was appealing to in Christ? Ambition? He
knew that Jesus was destined to be King of the earth, and he blunders to
the conclusion that His reign is to be such as he could help Him to. How
impossible it is for Satan to penetrate the depths of that loving heart!
How mole-blind evil is to the radiant light of goodness! How hate fails
when it tries to fathom love! If all that Satan meant by 'the glory' of
the world had been Christ's, He would have been no nearer His heart's
desire.

The temptation was not only to fling away the ideal of His kingdom, but
to reverse the means for its establishment. Neither temptation could
originate within Christ's heart, but both beset Him all His life. The
cravings of His followers, the expectations of His race, the certainty
of an enthusiastic response if He would put Himself at their head, and
the equal certainty of death if He would not, were always urging Him to
the very same thing.

'There is nothing weaker,' says an old school-man, 'than the Devil
stripped naked.' The mask is thrown off at last, and swift and smiting
comes the gesture and the word of abhorrence, 'Get thee hence,
Satan,'--now revealed in thy true colours. Jesus still couches His
refusal in Scripture words, as if sheltering Himself behind their broad
shield. It is safest to meet temptation, not by our own reasonings and
thoughts, but by the words which cannot lie. As He had held unmoved, by
His filial trust and His filial submission, now He clings to the
foundation principle of all religion,--the exclusive worship and service
of God. His kingdom is to be a kingdom of priests; therefore to begin it
by such an act would be suicide. It is to be the victorious antagonist
of Satan's kingdom, because it is to lead all men to worship God alone;
therefore enmity, not alliance, is to be between these two. Christ's
last words are not only His final refusal of all the baits, but the
ringing proclamation of war to the death, and that a war which will end
in victory. The enemy's quiver is empty. He feels that he has met more
than his match, so he skulks from the field, beaten for the first time
by having encountered a heart which all his fiery darts failed to
inflame, and dimly foreseeing yet more utter defeat.

The last temptation teaches us both the nature of Christ's kingdom and
the means of its establishment. It is a rule over men's hearts and
wills, swaying them to goodness and the exclusive worship and service of
God. That being so, the way to found it follows of course. It can only
be set up by suffering, utter self-sacrifice, gentleness, and goodness.
Christ is King of all because He is servant of all. His cross is His
throne. His realm is of hearts softened, cleansed, made gladly obedient,
and growingly like Himself. For such a king, weapons of force are
impossible, and for His subjects the same law holds. They have often
tried to fight for Christ with the Devil's weapons, to make compliance
with him for ends which they thought good, to keep terms with evil, or
to adopt worldly policy, craft, or force. They have never succeeded,
and, thank God! they never will.

That duel was fought for us. There we all conquered, if we will hold
fast by Him who conquered then, and thereby taught our 'hands to war'
and our 'fingers to fight.' The strong man is bound. The spoiling of his
house follows of course, and is but a question of time.


THE SPRINGING OF THE GREAT LIGHT

     'Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He
     departed into Galilee; 13. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt
     in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of
     Zabulon and Nephthalim: 14. That it might be fulfilled which was
     spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 15. The land of Zabulon, and
     the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan,
     Galilee of the Gentiles; 16. The people which sat in darkness saw
     great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of
     death light is sprung up.'--MATT. iv. 12-16.

Though the narrative of the Temptation is immediately followed by the
notice of Jesus' return to Galilee, there was a space between wide
enough to hold all that John's Gospel tells of the gathering of the
first disciples, the brief stay in Galilee, the Jerusalem ministry, and
the journey through Samaria. John i. 43 refers to the same point of time
as verses 12-16 of this chapter. It is rash to conclude Matthew's
ignorance from his silence, and it is plain, from his own words, that he
did not suppose that the return to Galilee followed the Temptation as
closely in time as it does in his narrative. For he does link the
Temptation to the Baptism immediately, by '_Then_ was Jesus led up of
the Spirit' (verse 1), and so some interval of time must be allowed,
during which Jesus left the wilderness, and went to some place where He
could hear of John's imprisonment. A gap is necessary. Its extent is not
indicated, nor are the reasons for silence as to its contents. But we
may as reasonably conjecture that Matthew's eagerness to get to his main
subject, the Galilean ministry, led him to regard the short visit to
Jerusalem as an episode from which little came, as put his silence down
to a very improbable ignorance. The same explanation may account for the
slight mention made of His 'leaving Nazareth,' of which Luke has given
the memorable story.

John was silenced, and that moved Jesus to go back to Galilee and take
up His ministry there. His reason has been thought to have been the wish
to avoid a similar fate, but He was safer from Herod in Jerusalem than
in Capernaum, within reach of the tyrant's arm, stretched out from
Tiberias close by, and the supposition is more probable, as well as more
worthy, that a directly opposite motive impelled Him. The voice that had
cried, 'After me cometh a greater than I,' was stifled in a dungeon. It
was fitting that He, of whom John had spoken, should at once stand
forth. There must be no interval between the ringing proclamation by the
herald and the appearance of the king, lest men should say that one more
hope had been dashed, and one more prophet proved a dreamer. And is
there not a lesson for all times in the fact that when John is silenced,
Jesus begins to speak? Is not the quenching of a light kindled to bear
witness to the true Light, ever the occasion for that unkindled and
unquenchable Light to burn the more brightly, though tear-dimmed eyes
often fail to see it?

The choice of Capernaum as a residence suggested to Matthew Isaiah's
prophecy, which he quotes freely, fusing into one sentence the
geographical terms, in verse 15, which, in the Hebrew, are the close of
one paragraph, and the prophecy in verse 16 which, in the Hebrew, begins
another. The territory of Zabulon lay in what is now called Lower
Galilee, stretching right across from the northern end of the Sea of
Gennesaret to the coast of the Mediterranean, while that of Naphtali lay
further north. 'The way of the sea' is here not the designation of
another district, but a specification of those named in the preceding
clauses, and may be rendered 'towards the sea,' while 'beyond Jordan' is
the almost heathen territory on the east bank of the river, and 'Galilee
of the Gentiles' is the general name for all three, the two tribal
territories and the trans-Jordanic district. These are all smelted into
one designation, 'the people which sat in darkness,' and thus the whole
of verse 15 and the first clause of verse 16 make the nominative of the
verb 'saw.' There is something very impressive in that long-drawn-out
accumulation of geographical names, and in their being all massed in the
one sad description of their inert darkness, and then equally massed as
seeing the great light that springs up. The intense pathos of that
description and its sad truth to experience should not be unnoticed.
They sit in the dark--the attitude of listless languor and constrained
inaction, too true an emblem of the paralysis which falls on all the
highest activities of the spirit, if the light from God has been
quenched. It is only wild beasts that are active in the night. The lower
parts of man's nature may work energetically in that darkness, but all
that makes his glory is torpid in it. Christ's light has been the great
impulse to progress. Races without it sit and do not march. But that is
not all, for the sad picture is sketched again with blacker shadows in
the next clause, which substitutes for 'darkness' the still more tragic
words, 'the region and shadow of death.' The realm of darkness is the
region of death. That dread figure is the lord of it, and, grimly
enough, its very intensity of blackness has power to throw a shadow even
there where there is no light, and to deepen the gloom. The second
clause advances on the first in another respect, for while the former
spoke only of 'seeing' the light, the latter tells of the blessed
suddenness with which it 'sprung up.' The one clause speaks of the human
perception, the other of the divine revelation which precedes it and
makes it possible.

But had Matthew any right to see in Jesus' Galilean ministry the
fulfilment of a prophecy which, as spoken, was simply a promise that the
northern parts of Israel which, by geographical position, had to bear
the first and worst brunt of Assyrian invasion, should have deliverance
from the oppressor? Yes; for Isaiah's vision of the light rising on
Israel, crushed beneath foreign oppression, was based on a distinctly
Messianic prediction. It was because Messiah should come that he
expected Assyria to be flung off and Israel to be set free, and he was
right in the expectation, for though the Messiah did not come visibly
then, His coming was the guarantee, and in some sense the cause, of
Israel's deliverance. Nor was Matthew less right in seeing in that
earlier deliverance but a germinant accomplishment of the prophecy,
which, by its very transiency, outwardness, and incompleteness, pointed
onwards to a better spring of the Light, and a fuller deliverance from
a murkier darkness and a more mortal death. 'The life was the light of
men,' the teacher of all knowledge of God, the source of all light of
true joy, the giver of all light of white purity, and He has risen on a
world sitting in darkness that all men may walk in the light, and be
children of the light.


THE EARLY WELCOME AND THE FIRST MINISTERS OF THE KING

     'From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the
     kingdom of heaven is at hand. 18. And Jesus, walking by the sea of
     Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his
     brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19. And
     He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
     20. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him. 21. And
     going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of
     Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father,
     mending their nets: and He called them. 22. And they immediately
     left the ship and their father, and followed Him. 23. And Jesus
     went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching
     the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and
     all manner of disease among the people. 24. And His fame went
     throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people
     that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which
     were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and
     those that had the palsy; and He healed them. 25. And there
     followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from
     Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judæa, and from beyond
     Jordan.'--MATT. iv. 17-25.

In these verses we have a summary of our Lord's early Galilean
ministry. The events are so presented and combined as to give an
impression as of a triumphal progress of the newly anointed monarch. He
sweeps through the northern regions, everywhere exercising the twofold
office of teaching and healing, and everywhere followed by eager crowds.
This joyous burst of the new power, like some strong fountain leaping
into the sunshine, and this rush of popular enthusiasm, are meant to
heighten the impression of the subsequent hostility of the people. The
King welcomed at first is crucified at last. It was 'roses, roses, all
the way' in these early days, but they withered soon. There are three
points in these verses: the King acting as His own herald; the King
calling His first servants; and the King wielding His power and welcomed
by His subjects.

I. In verse 17 we have a striking picture of the King as His own herald.
The word rendered 'preach' of course means, literally, to proclaim as a
herald does. It is remarkable that this earliest phase of our Lord's
teaching is described in the same words as John's preaching. The stern
voice was silenced. Instead of the free wilderness, John had now the
gloomy walls of Machæus for the bound of his activity. But Jesus takes
up his message, though with a difference. The severe imagery of the axe,
the fan, the fire, is not repeated, as it would seem. Sterner words than
John's could fall hot from the lips into which grace was poured; but the
time for these was not yet come. It may seem singular that Christ should
have spoken of the kingdom, and been silent concerning the King. But
such silence was only of a piece with the reticence which marked His
whole teaching, and was a sign of His wise adaptation of His words to
the capacity of His hearers, as well as of His lowliness. He veiled His
royalty by deigning to be His own herald; by substituting the
proclamation of the abstract, the kingdom, for the concrete, the King;
by seeming to careless hearers to be but the continuer of the
forerunner's message; by the simple, remote region which He chose for
His earliest work. The belief that the kingdom was at hand was equally
necessary, and repentance equally indispensable as preparation for it,
whoever the King might be. The same law of congruity between message and
hearers, which He enjoined on His followers, when He bade them be
careful where they flung their pearls, and which governed His own
fullest final revelations to His truest friends, when He said, 'I have
yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot carry them now,' moulded
His first words to the excited but ignorant crowds.

II. The King's mandate summoning His servants. The call of the first
four disciples is so told as to make prominent these points: the
brotherhood of the two pairs; their occupation at the moment of their
call; the brief, authoritative word of Christ; His investiture of them
with new functions, which yet in some sense were the prolongation of the
old; their unhesitating, instantaneous obedience and willing abandonment
of their all. These points all help the impression of regal power, and
do something to explain the nature of the kingdom and the heart of the
King. Matthew does not seem to have known of the previous intercourse of
the four with Jesus, as recorded In John 1. His narrative, taken alone,
would lay stress on the strange influence wielded by Jesus over these
busy fishermen. But that influence is no less remarkable, and becomes
more explicable, on taking John's supplemental account into
consideration. It tells us that one brother of each pair--namely Andrew,
and probably John--had sought Jesus on the Baptist's testimony, and in
that never-to-be-forgotten night had acquired the conviction that He was
the King of Israel. It tells us, too, that Andrew first found his own
brother, Simon; from which we may infer that the other one of the two
next found his brother James, and that each brought his own brother to
Jesus. The bond of discipleship was then riveted. But apparently, when
Jesus went up to Jerusalem on that first journey recorded only in John's
Gospel, the four went back to their fishing, and waited for His further
call. It came in the manner which Matthew describes. The background,
which John enables us to fill in, shows us that their following was no
sudden blind impulse, but the deliberate surrender of men who knew well
what they were doing, though they had not fathomed the whole truth as to
His kingdom and their place in it. They knew, at any rate, that He was
the Messiah and that they were called by a voice, which they ought to
obey, to be His soldiers and partisans. They could not but know that the
call meant danger, hardship, conflict. They rallied to the call, as
soldiers might when the commander honours them by reading out their
names, as picked for leaders of the storming-party.

Was this the same incident which St. Luke narrates as following the
first miraculous draught of fishes? That is one of the difficulties in
harmonising the synoptic narratives which will always divide opinions.
On the whole, I incline to think it most natural to answer 'no.' The
reasons would take us too far afield. But accepting that view, we may
note through how many stages Jesus led this group of His disciples
before they were fully recognised as apostles. First there was their
attachment to Him as disciples, which in no degree interfered with their
trade. Then came this call to more close attendance on Him, which,
however, was probably still somewhat intermittent. Then followed the
call recorded by Luke, which finally tore them from their homes; and,
last of all, their appointment as apostles. At each stage they 'might
have had opportunity to have returned.' Their vocation in the kingdom
dawns on them slowly. They and we are led on, by little and little and
little, to posts and tasks of which we do not dream at the beginning.
Duty opens before the docile heart bit by bit. Abram is led to Harran,
and only there learns his ultimate destination. Obedience is rewarded by
the summons to more complete surrender, which is also fuller possession
of Him for whom the surrender is made.

'The word of a king is with power.' Christ's call is authoritative in
its brevity. All duty lies in 'Come ye after Me.' He does not need to
use arguments. From the very first this meek and lowly man assumes a
tone which on other lips we call arrogant. His style is royal. His mouth
is autocratic. He knows that He has the right to command. And, strangely
enough, the world admits the right, and finds nothing unworthy of His
meekness--a meekness of which He was fully conscious, which is another
paradox--in this unconditional claim of absolute submission to his curt
orders. What is the explanation of this tone of authority? How comes it
that the kingdom which is liberty is, from its very foundation, an
absolute despotism? That same peremptory summons reaches beyond these
four fishermen to us all. They were the first to hear it, and continued
to hold pre-eminence among the disciples, for they make up the first
group of the three quaternions into which the list of the apostles is
always divided. But the very same voice speaks to us, and we are as
truly summoned by the King to be His servants and soldiers as were they.

Their prompt self-surrendering response is the witness of the power over
their hearts which Jesus had won. The one pair of brothers left their
nets floating in the water; the other left their father with the mesh
and the twine in his old hands. It was not much wealth to leave. But he
surrenders much who surrenders all, however little that all may be; and
he surrenders nothing who keeps back anything. One sweet portion of
their earthly happiness He left them to enjoy, heightened by
discipleship, for each had his brother by his side, and natural
affection was ennobled by common faith and service. If Zebedee was left,
John still had James. True, Herod's sword cut their union asunder, and
James died first, and John last, of the twelve; but years of happy
brotherhood were to come before then. So both the surrender which
outwardly gives up possessions or friends, and that which keeps them,
sanctified by being held and used as for and from Him, were exemplified
in the swift obedience of these four to the call of the King.

'I will make you fishers of men.' That shows a kindly wish to make as
little as may be of the change of occupation. Their old craft is to be
theirs still, only in nobler form. The patience, the brave facing of the
storm and the night, the observance of the indications which taught
where to cast, the perseverance which toiled all night though not a fin
glistened in the net, would all find place in their new career. Nor are
these words less royal than was the call. They contain profound hints as
to the nature of the kingdom which could scarcely be apprehended at
first. But this at least would be clear, that Jesus summoned them to
service, to gather in men out of the dreary waves of worldly care and
toil into a kingdom of stable rest, and that by summoning them to
service He endowed them with power. So He does still. All whom He
summons to follow Him are meant by Him to be fishers of men. It was not
as apostles, but as simple disciples, that these four received this
charge and ability. The same command and fitness are given to all
Christians. Following Christ, surrender, the obligation of effort to win
others, capacity to do so, belong to all the subjects of Christ's
kingdom.

III. The triumphal progress of the King. Our evangelist evidently masses
together without regard to chronological order the broad features of the
early Galilean ministry. He paints it as a time of joyful activity, of
universal recognition, of swift and far-spreading fame. We do not
exaggerate the impression of victorious publicity which they give, when
we call these closing verses the record of the King's triumphal progress
through His dominions. Observe the reiterated use of 'all,'--all
Galilee, all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, all Syria,
all that were sick. Matthew labours to convey the feeling of universal
stir and wide-reaching, 'full-throated' welcome. Observe, too, that the
activity of Christ is confined to Galilee, but the fame of Him crosses
the border into heathendom. The King stays on His own territory, but He
conquers beyond the frontier. Syria and the mostly heathen Decapolis,
and Peræa ('beyond Jordan'), are moved. The odour of the ointment not
only fills the house, but enriches the scentless outside air. The
prophecy contained in the coming of the Magi is beginning to be
fulfilled. From its first preaching, the kingdom is diffusive. Note,
too, the contrast between John's ministry and Christ's, in that the
former stayed in one spot, and the crowds had to go out to him, while
the very genius of Christ's mission expressed itself in that this
shepherd king sought the sad and sick, and 'went about in all Galilee.'
Observe, too, that He teaches and preaches the good news of the kingdom,
before He heals. John's proclamation of the kingdom had been so charged
with threatenings and mingled with fire that it could scarcely be called
a 'gospel'; but here that joyous word, used for the first time, is in
place. As the tidings came from Christ's lips, they were good tidings,
and to proclaim them was His first task. The miracles of healing came
second. They were not 'the bell before the sermon,' but the benediction
after it. They flowed from Christ in rich abundance. The eager
receptiveness of the people, ignorant as it was, was greater then than
ever afterwards. Therefore the flow of miraculous power was more
unimpeded. But it may be questioned whether we generally have an
adequate notion of the immense number of Christ's miracles. Those
recorded are but a small proportion of those done. There were more
grapes in the vineyards of Eshcol than the messengers brought in
evidence to the camp. Our Lord's miracles are told by units; they seem
to have been wrought by scores. These early ones were not only
attestations of His claim to be the King, but illustrations of the
nature of His kingdom He had conquered and bound the strong man, and now
He was 'spoiling his house.' They were parables of His higher work on
men's souls, which He comes to cleanse from the oppression of demons,
from the foamings of epilepsy, from impotence as to doing right. They
were tokens of the inexhaustible fountain of power, and of the swift and
equally inexhaustible treasures of sympathy, which dwelt in Him. They
were His first trophies in His holy war, His first gifts to His
subjects.

Thus compassed with enthusiasm, and shedding on the wearied new hopes,
and on the sick unwonted health, and stirring in sluggish souls some
aspirations that greatened and inspired, the King appeared. But no
illusions deceived His calm prescience. From the beginning He knew the
path which stretched before Him; and while the transient loyalty of the
ignorant shouted hosannas around His steps, He saw the cross at the end,
and the sight did not make Him falter.


THE NEW SINAI

     'And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He
     was set, His disciples came unto Him: 2. And He opened his mouth,
     and taught them, saying, 3. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for
     theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4. Blessed are they that mourn:
     for they shall be comforted. 5. Blessed are the meek: for they
     shall inherit the earth. 6. Blessed are they which do hunger and
     thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. 7. Blessed
     are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 8. Blessed are the
     pure in heart: for they shall see God. 9. Blessed are the
     peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God, 10.
     Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for
     theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11. Blessed are ye, when men shall
     revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil
     against you falsely, for My sake. 12. Rejoice, and be exceeding
     glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they
     the prophets which were before you. 13. Ye are the salt of the
     earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be
     salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be oast out, and
     to be trodden under foot of men. 14. Ye are the light of the world.
     A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15. Neither do men
     light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick;
     and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16. Let your
     light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and
     glorify your Father which is in heaven.'--MATT. v. 1-16.

An unnamed mountain somewhere on the Sea of Galilee is the Sinai of the
new covenant. The contrast between the savage desolation of the
wilderness and the smiling beauty of the sunny slope near the haunts of
men symbolises the contrast in the genius of the two codes, given from
each. There God came down in majesty, and the cloud hid Him from the
people's gaze; here Jesus sits amidst His followers, God with us. The
King proclaims the fundamental laws of His kingdom, and reveals much of
its nature by the fact that He begins by describing the characteristics
of its subjects, as well as by the fact that the description is cast in
the form of beatitudes.

We must leave unsettled the question as to the relation between the
Sermon on the Mount and the shorter edition of part of it given by Luke,
only pointing out that in this first part of Matthew's Gospel we are
evidently presented with general summaries; as, for example, the summary
of the Galilean ministry in the previous verses, and the grand
procession of miracles which follows in chapters viii. and ix. It is
therefore no violent supposition that here too the evangelist has
brought together, as specimens of our Lord's preaching, words which were
not all spoken at the same time. His description of the Galilean
ministry in ch. iv. 23, as 'teaching' and 'healing,' governs the
arrangement of his materials from chapter v. to the end of chapter ix.
First comes the sermon, then the miracles follow.

The Beatitudes, as a whole, are a set of paradoxes to the 'mind of the
flesh.' They were meant to tear away the foolish illusions of the
multitude as to the nature of the kingdom; and they must have disgusted
and turned back many would-be sharers in it. They are like a dash of
cold water on the fiery, impure enthusiasms which were eager for a
kingdom of gross delights and vulgar conquest. And, no doubt, Jesus
intended them to act like Gideon's test, and to sift out those whose
appetite for carnal good was uppermost. But they were tests simply
because they embodied everlasting truths as to the characters of His
subjects. Our narrow space allows of only the most superficial treatment
of these deep words.

I. The foundation of all is laid in poverty of spirit. The word rendered
'poor' does not only signify one in a condition of want, but rather one
who is aware of the condition, and seeks relief. If we may refer to
Latin words here, it is mendicus rather than _pauper_, a beggar rather
than a poor man, who is meant. So that to be poor in spirit is to be in
inmost reality conscious of need, of emptiness, of dependence on God, of
demerit; the true estimate of self, as blind, evil, weak, is intended;
the characteristic tone of feeling pointed to is self-abnegation, like
that of the publican smiting his breast, or that of the
disease-weakened, hunger-tortured prodigal, or that of the once
self-righteous Paul, 'O wretched man that I am!' People who do not like
evangelical teaching sometimes say, 'Give me the Sermon on the Mount.'
So say I. Only let us take all of it; and if we do, we shall come, as we
shall have frequent occasion to point out, in subsequent passages, to
something uncommonly like the evangelical theology to which it is
sometimes set up as antithetic. For Christ begins His portraiture of a
citizen of the kingdom with the consciousness of want and sin. All the
rest of the morality of the Sermon is founded on this. It is the root of
all that is heavenly and divine in character. So this teaching is dead
against the modern pagan doctrine of self-reliance, and really embodies
the very principle for the supposed omission of which some folk like
this Sermon; namely, that our proud self-confidence must be broken down
before God can do any good with us, or we can enter His kingdom.

The promises attached to the Beatitudes are in each case the results
which flow from the quality, rather than the rewards arbitrarily given
for it. So here, the possession of the kingdom comes by consequence from
poverty of spirit. Of course, such a kingdom as could be so inherited
was the opposite of that which the narrow and fleshly nationalism of the
Jews wanted, and these first words must have cooled many incipient
disciples. The 'kingdom of heaven' is the rule of God through Christ. It
is present wherever wills bow to Him; it is future, as to complete
realisation, in the heaven from which it comes, and to which, like its
King, it belongs even while on earth. Obviously, its subjects can only
be those who feel their dependence, and in poverty of spirit have cast
off self-will and self-reliance. 'Theirs is the kingdom' does not mean
'they shall rule,' but 'of them shall be its subjects.' True, they shall
rule in the perfected form of it; but the first, and in a real sense the
only, blessedness is to obey God; and that blessedness can only come
when we have learned poverty of spirit, because we see ourselves as in
need of all things.

II. Each Beatitude springs from the preceding, and all twined together
make an ornament of grace upon the neck, a chain of jewels. The second
sounds a more violent paradox than even the first. Sorrowing is blessed.
This, of course, cannot mean mere sorrow as such. That may or may not
be a blessing. Grief makes men worse quite as often as it makes them
better. Its waves often flow over us like the sea over marshes, leaving
them as salt and barren as it found them. Nor is sorrow always sure of
comfort. We must necessarily understand the word here so as to bring it
into harmony with the context, and link it with the former Beatitude as
flowing from it, as well as with the succeeding. The only intelligible
explanation is that this sorrow arises from the contemplation of the
same facts concerning self as lead to poverty of spirit, and is, in
fact, the emotional side of the same disposition. He who takes the true
measure of himself cannot but sorrow over the frightful gulf between
what he should and might be and what he is, for he knows that there is
more than misfortune or unavoidable creatural weakness at work. The grim
reality of sin has to be reckoned in. Personal responsibility and guilt
are facts. The soul that has once seen its own past as it is, and looked
steadily down into the depths of its own being, cannot choose but
'mourn.' Such contrition underlies all moral progress. The ethical
teaching of the Sermon on the Mount puts these two, poverty of spirit
and tears for sin, at the foundation. Do its admirers lay that fact to
heart? This is Christ's account of discipleship. We have to creep
through a narrow gate, which we shall not pass but on our knees and
leaving all our treasures outside. But once through, we are in a great
temple with far-reaching aisles and lofty roof. Such sorrow is sure of
comfort. Other sorrow is not. The comfort it needs is the assurance of
forgiveness and cleansing, and that assurance has never been sought from
the King in vain. The comfort is filtered to us in drops here; it pours
in a flood hereafter. Blessed the sorrow which leads to experience of
the tender touch of the hand that wipes away tears from the face, and
plucks evil from the heart! Blessed the mourning, which prepares for the
festal garland and the oil of gladness and the robe of praise, instead
of ashes on the head and sackcloth on the spirit!

III. Meekness here seems to be considered principally as exercised to
men, and it thus constitutes the first of the social virtues, which
henceforward alternate with those having exclusive reference to God. It
is the grace which opposes patient gentleness to hatred, injury, or
antagonism. The prominence given to it in Christ's teaching is one of
the peculiarities of Christian morals, and is a standing condemnation of
much so-called Christianity. Pride and anger and self-assertion and
retaliation flaunt in fine names, and are called manly virtues. Meekness
is smiled at, or trampled on, and the men who exercise it are called
'Quakers' and 'poor-spirited' and 'chicken-hearted' and the like. Social
life among us is in flagrant contradiction of this Beatitude; and as for
national life, all 'Christian nations' agree that to apply Christ's
precept to it would be absurd and suicidal. He said that the meek should
inherit the earth; statesmen say that the only way to keep a country is
to be armed to the teeth, and let no man insult its flag with impunity.
There does not seem much room for 'a spirited foreign policy' or for
'proper regard to one's own dignity' inside this Beatitude, does there?
But notice that this meekness naturally follows the preceding
dispositions. He who knows himself and has learned the depth of his own
evil will not be swift to blaze up at slights or wrongs. The true
meekness is not mere natural disposition, but the direct outcome of
poverty of spirit and the consequent sorrow. So, it is a test of their
reality. Many a man will indulge in confessions of sin, and crackle up
in sputtering heat of indignation at some slight or offence. If he
does, his lowly words have had little meaning, and the benediction of
these promises will come scantily to his heart.

Does Christ mean merely to say that meek men will acquire landed
properly? Is there not a present inheritance of the earth by them,
though they may not own a foot of it? They have the world who enjoy it,
whom it helps nearer God, who see Him in it, to whom it is the field for
service and the means for growing character. But in the future the
kingdom of heaven will be a kingdom of the earth, and the meek saints
shall reign with the King who is meek and lowly of heart.

IV. Righteousness is conformity to the will of God, or moral perfection.
Hunger and thirst are energetic metaphors for passionate desire, and
imply that righteousness is the true nourishment of the Spirit. Every
longing of a noble spirit is blessed. Aspiration after the unreached is
the salt of all lofty life. It is better to be conscious of want than to
be content. There are hungers which are all unblessed, greedy appetites
for the swine's husks, which are misery when unsatisfied, and disgust
when satiated. But we are meant to be righteous, and shall not in vain
desire to be so. God never sends mouths but He sends meat to fill them.
Such longings prophesy their fruition.

Notice that this hunger follows the experience of the former Beatitudes.
It is the issue of poverty of spirit and of that blessed sorrow.
Observe, too, that the desire after, and not the possession or
achievement of, righteousness is blessed. Is not this the first hint of
the Christian teaching that we do not work out or win but receive it?
God gives it. Our attitude towards that gift should be earnest longing.
Such a blessed hungerer shall 'receive ... righteousness from the God of
his salvation.' The certainty that he will do so rests at last on the
faithfulness of God, who cannot but respond to all desires which He
inspires. They are premonitions of His purposes, like rosy clouds that
run before the chariot of the sunrise. The desire to be righteous is
already righteousness in heart and will, and reveals the true bent of
the soul. Its realisation in life is a question of time. The progressive
fulfilment here points to completeness in heaven, when we shall behold
His face in righteousness, and be satisfied when we awake in His
likeness.

V. Again we have a grace which is exercised to men. Mercy is more than
meekness. That implied opposition, and was largely negative. This does
not regard the conduct of others at all, and is really love in exercise
to the needy, especially the unworthy. It embraces pity, charitable
forbearance, beneficence, and is revealed in acts, in words, in tears.
It is blessed in itself. A life of selfishness is hell; a life of mercy
is sweet with some savour of heaven. It is the consequence of mercy
received from God. Poverty of spirit, sorrow, hunger after righteousness
bring deep experiences of God's gentle forbearance and bestowing love,
and will make us like Him in proportion as they are real. Our
mercifulness, then, is a reflection from His. His ought to be the
measure and pattern of ours in depth, scope, extent of self-sacrifice,
and freeness of its gifts. A stringent requirement!

Our exercise of mercy is the condition of our receiving it. On the
whole, the world gives us back, as a mirror does, the reflection of our
own faces; and merciful men generally get what they give. But that is a
law with many exceptions, and Jesus means more than that. Merciful men
get mercy from God--not, of course, that we deserve mercy by being
merciful. That is a contradiction in terms; for mercy is precisely that
which we do not deserve. The place of mercy in this series shows that
Jesus regarded it as the consequence, not the cause, of our experience
of God's mercy. But He teaches over and over again that a hard,
unmerciful heart forfeits the divine mercy. It does so, because such a
disposition tends to obscure the very state of mind to which alone God's
mercy can be given. Such a man must have forgotten his poverty and
sorrow, his longings and their rich reward, and so must have, for the
time, passed from the place where he can take in God's gift. A life
inconsistent with Christian motives will rob a Christian of Christian
privileges. The hand on his brother's throat destroys the servant's own
forgiveness. He cannot be at once a rapacious creditor and a discharged
bankrupt.

VI. If detached from its connection, there is little blessedness in the
next Beatitude. What is the use of telling us how happy purity of heart
will make us? It only provokes the despairing question, 'And how am I to
be pure?' But when we set this word in its place here, it does bring
hope. For it teaches that purity is the result of all that has gone
before, and comes from that purifying which is the sure answer of God to
our poverty, mourning, and longing. Such purity is plainly progressive,
and as it increases, so does the vision of God grow. The more the
glasses of the telescope are cleansed, the brighter does the great star
shine to the gazer. 'No man hath seen God,' nor can see Him, either
amid the mists of earth or in the cloudless sky of heaven, if by seeing
we mean perceiving by sense, or full, direct comprehension by spirit.
But seeing Him is possible even now, if by it we understand the
knowledge of His character, the assurance of His presence, the sense of
communion with Him. Our earthly consciousness of God may become so
clear, direct, real, and certain, that it deserves the name of vision.
Such blessed intuition of Him is the prerogative of those whose hearts
Christ has cleansed, and whose inward eye is therefore able to behold
God, because it is like Him. 'Unless the eye were sunlike, how could it
see the sun?' We can blind ourselves to Him, by wallowing in filth.
Impurity unfits for seeing purity. Swedenborg profoundly said that the
wicked see only blackness where the sun is.

Like all these Beatitudes, this has a double fulfilment, as the kingdom
has two stages of here and hereafter. Purity of heart is the condition
of the vision of God in heaven. Without holiness, 'no man shall see the
Lord.' The sight makes us pure, and purity makes us see. Thus heaven
will be a state of ever-increasing, reciprocally acting sight and
holiness. Like Him because we see Him, we shall see Him more because we
have assimilated what we see, as the sunshine opens the petals, and
tints the flower with its own colours the more deeply, the wider it
opens.

VII. Once more we have the alternation of a grace exercised to men. If
we give due weight to the order of these Beatitudes, we shall feel that
Christ's peacemaker must be something more than a mere composer of men's
quarrels. For he has to be trained by all the preceding experiences, and
has to be emptied of self, penitent, hungering for and filled with
righteousness, and therefore pure in heart as well as, in regard to men,
meek and merciful, ere he can hope to fill this part. That
apprenticeship deepens the conception of the peace which Christ's
subjects are to diffuse. It is, first and chiefly, the peace which
enters the soul that has traversed all these stages; that is to say, the
Christian peacemaker is first to seek to bring about peace between men
and God, by beseeching them to be reconciled to Him, and then
afterwards, as a consequence of this, is to seek to diffuse through all
human relations the blessed unity and amity which flow most surely from
the common possession of the peace of God. Of course, the relation which
the subjects of the true King bear to all wars and fightings, to all
discord and strife, is not excluded, but is grounded on this deeper
meaning. The centuries that have passed since the words were spoken,
have not yet brought up the Christian conscience to the full perception
of their meaning and obligation. Too many of us still believe that
'great doors and effectual' can be blown open with gunpowder, and regard
this Beatitude as a counsel of perfection, rather than as one of the
fundamental laws of the kingdom.

The Christian who moves thus among men seeking to diffuse everywhere the
peace with God which fills his own soul, and the peace with all men
which they only who have the higher peace can preserve unbroken in their
quiet, meek hearts, will be more or less recognised as God-like by men,
and will have in his own heart the witness that he is called by God His
child. He will bear visibly the image of his Father, and will hear the
voice that speaks to him too as unto a son.

VIII. The last Beatitude crowns all the paradoxes of the series with
what sounds to flesh as a stark contradiction. The persecuted are
blessed. The previous seven sayings have perfected the portraiture of
what a child of the kingdom is to be. This appends a calm prophecy,
which must have shattered many a rosy dream among the listeners, of what
his reception by the world will certainly turn out. Jesus is not
summoning men to dominion, honour, and victory; but to scorn and
suffering. His own crown, He knew, was first to be twisted of thorns,
and copies of it were to wound His followers' brows. Yet even that fate
was blessed; for to suffer for righteousness, which is to suffer for
Him, brings elevation of spirit, a solemn joy, secret supplies of
strength, and sweet intimacies of communion else unknown. The noble army
of martyrs rose before His thoughts as He spoke; and now, eighteen
hundred years after, heaven is crowded with those who by axe and stake
and gibbet have entered there. 'The glory dies not, and the grief is
past.' They stoop from their thrones to witness to us that Christ is
true, and that the light affliction has wrought an eternal weight of
glory.


THE FIRST BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of
     Heaven.'--MATT. v. 2.

'Ye are not come unto the mount that burned with fire, nor unto the
sound of a trumpet, and the voice of "awful" words.' With such
accompaniments the old law was promulgated, but here, in this Sermon on
the Mount, as it is called, the laws of the Kingdom are proclaimed by
the King Himself; and He does not lay them down with the sternness of
those written on tables of stone. No rigid 'thou shalt' compels, no iron
'thou shalt not' forbids; but each precept is linked with a blessing,
and every characteristic that is required is enforced by the thought
that it contributes to our highest good. It fitted well Christ's
character and the lips 'into which grace is poured,' that He spake His
laws under the guise of these Beatitudes.

This, the first of them, is dead in the teeth of flesh and sense, a
paradox to the men who judge good and evil by things external and
visible, but deeply, everlastingly, unconditionally, and inwardly true.
All that the world commends and pats on the back, Christ condemns, and
all that the world shrinks from and dreads, Christ bids us make our own,
and assures us that in it we shall find our true blessing. 'The poor in
spirit,' they are the happy men.

The reason for the benediction is as foreign to law and earthly thoughts
as is the benediction of which it is the reason--'for theirs is the
Kingdom of Heaven.' Poverty of spirit will not further earthly designs,
nor be an instrument for what the world calls success and prosperity.
But it will give us something better than earth, it will give us heaven.
Do you think that that _is_ better than earth, and should you be
disposed to acquiesce in the benediction of those who may lose the
world's gifts but are sure to have heaven's felicities?

Now, I think I shall best deal with these words by considering, most
simply, the fundamental characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ,
and the blessed issues of that character.

I. First, then, the fundamental characteristic of Christ's disciples.

Now it is to be noticed that Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount,
which is much briefer than Matthew's, omits the words 'in spirit,' and
so seems at first sight to be an encomium and benediction upon the
outward condition of earthly poverty. Matthew, on the other hand, says
'poor in spirit.' And the difference between the two evangelists has
given occasion to some to maintain that one or the other of them
misunderstood Christ's meaning, and modified His expression either by
omission or enlargement. But if you will notice another difference
between the two forms of the saying in the two Gospels, you will, I
think, find an explanation of the one already referred to; for Matthew's
Beatitudes are general statements, 'Blessed are'; and Luke's are
addressed to the circle of the disciples, 'Blessed are ye.' And if we
duly consider that difference, we shall see that the general statement
necessarily required the explanation which Matthew's version appends to
it, in order to prevent the misunderstanding that our Lord was setting
so much store by earthly conditions as to suppose that virtue and
blessedness were uniformly attached to any of these. Jesus Christ was no
vulgar demagogue flattering the poor and inveighing against the rich.
Luke's 'ye poor' shows at once that Christ was not speaking about all
the poor in outward condition, but about a certain class of such. No
doubt the bulk of His disciples were poor men who had been drawn or
driven by their sense of need to open their hearts to Him. Outward
poverty is a blessing if it drives men to God; it is not a blessing if,
as is often the case, it drives men from Him; or if, as is still oftener
the case, it leaves men negligent of Him. So that Matthew's enlargement
is identical in meaning with Luke's condensed form, regard being had to
the difference in the structure of the two Beatitudes.

And so we come just to this question--What is this poverty of spirit? I
do not need to waste your time in saying what it is not. To me it seems
to be a lowly and just estimate of ourselves, our character, our
achievements, based upon a clear recognition of our own necessities,
weaknesses, and sins.

The 'poor in spirit.'--I wonder if it would be very reasonable for a
moth that flits about the light, or a gnat that dances its hour in the
sunbeam, to be proud because it had longer wings, or prettier markings
on them, than some of its fellows? Is it much more reasonable for us to
plume ourselves on, and set much store by, anything that we are or have
done? Two or three plain questions, to which the answers are quite as
plain, ought to rip up this swollen bladder of self-esteem which we are
all apt to blow. 'What hast thou that thou hast not received?' Where did
you get it? How came you by it? How long is it going to last? Is it such
a very big thing after all? You have written a book; you are clever as
an operator, an experimenter; you are a successful student. You have
made a pile of money; you have been prosperous in your earthly career,
and can afford to look upon men that are failures and beneath you in
social position with a smile of pity or of contempt, as the case may be.
Well! I suppose the distance to the nearest fixed star is pretty much
the same from the top of one ant-hill in a wood as from the top of the
next one, though the one may be a foot higher than the other. I suppose
that we have all come out of nothing, and are anything, simply because
God is everything. If He were to withhold His upholding and inbreathing
power from any of us for one moment, we should shrivel into nothingness
like a piece of paper calcined in the fire, and go back into that
vacuity out of which His fiat, and His fiat alone, called us. And yet
here we are, setting great store, some of us, by our qualities or
belongings, and thinking ever so much of ourselves because we possess
them, and all the while we are but great emptinesses; and the things of
which we are so proud are what God has poured into us.

You think that is all commonplace. Bring it into your lives, brethren;
apply it to your estimate of yourselves, and your expectations from
other people, and you will be delivered from a large part of the
annoyances and the miseries of your present.

But the deepest reason for a habitual and fixed lowly opinion of
ourselves lies in a sadder fact. We are not only recipient
nothingnesses; we have something that is our own, and that is our will,
and we have lifted it up against God. And if a man's position as a
dependent creature should take all lofty looks and high spirit out of
him, his condition as a sinful man before God should lay him flat on his
face in the presence of that Majesty; and should make him put his hand
on his lips and say, from behind the covering, 'Unclean! unclean!' Oh,
brethren, if we would only go down into the depths of our own hearts,
every one of us would find there more than enough to make all
self-complacency and self-conceit utterly impossible, as it ought to be,
for us for ever. I have no wish, and God knows I have no need, to
exaggerate about this matter; but we all know that if we were turned
inside out, and every foul, creeping thing, and every blotch and spot
upon these hearts of ours spread in the light, we could not face one
another; we could scarcely face ourselves. If you or I were set, as they
used to set criminals, up in a pillory with a board hanging round our
necks, telling all the world what we were, and what we had done, there
would be no need for rotten eggs to be flung at us; we should abhor
ourselves. You know that is so. I know that it is so about myself, 'and
heart answereth to heart as in a glass.' And are we the people to perk
ourselves up amongst our fellows, and say, 'I am rich and increased with
goods, and have need of nothing'? Do we not know that we are poor and
miserable and blind and naked? Oh, brethren, the proud old saying of the
Greeks, 'Know thyself,' if it were followed out unflinchingly and
honestly by the purest saint this side heaven, would result in this
profound abnegation of all claims, in this poverty of spirit.

So little has the world been influenced by Christ's teaching that it
uses 'poor-spirited creature' as a term of opprobrium and depreciation.
It ought to be the very opposite; for only the man who has been down
into the dungeons of his own character, and has cried unto God out of
the depths, will be able to make the house of his soul a fabric which
may be a temple of God, and with its shining apex may pierce the clouds
and seem almost to touch the heavens. A great poet has told us that the
things which lead life to sovereign power are self-knowledge,
self-reverence, and self-control. And in a noble sense it is true, but
the deepest self-knowledge will lead to self-abhorrence rather than to
self-reverence; and self-control is only possible when, knowing our own
inability to cope with our own evil, we cast ourselves on that Lamb of
God who beareth away the sin of the world, and ask Him to guide and to
keep us. The right attitude for us is, 'He did not so much as lift up
his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful
to me a sinner.' And then, sweeter than angels' voices fluttering down
amid the blue, there will come that gracious word, 'Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.'

II. Turn, now, to the blessed issues of this characteristic.

Christ does not say 'joyful,' 'mirthful,' 'glad.' These are poor, vulgar
words by the side of the depth and calmness and permanence which are
involved in that great word 'blessed.' It is far more than joy, which
may be turbulent and is often impure. It is far deeper than any gladness
which has its sources in the outer world, and it abides when joys have
vanished, and all the song-birds of the spring are silent in the winter
of the soul. 'Blessed are the poor ... for theirs is the Kingdom of
Heaven.'

The bulk of the remaining Beatitudes point onward to a future; this
deals with the present. It does not say '_shall be_,' but '_is_ the
Kingdom.' It is an all-comprehensive promise, holding the succeeding
ones within itself, for they are but diverse aspects--modified according
to the necessities which they supply--of that one encyclopædia of
blessings, the possession of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) is a state in which the will of
God is absolutely and perfectly obeyed. It is capable of partial
realisation here, and is sure of complete fulfilment hereafter. To the
early hearers of these words the phrase would necessarily suggest the
idea which bulked so large in prophecy and in Judaism, of the Messianic
Kingdom; and we may well lay hold of that thought to suggest the first
of the elements of this blessedness. That poverty of spirit is blessed
because it is an indispensable condition of becoming Christ's men and
subjects. I believe, dear friends, for my part, that the main reason why
so many of us are not out-and-out Christian men and women, having
entered really into that Kingdom which is obedience to God in Christ, is
because we have a superficial knowledge, or no knowledge at all, of our
own sinful condition, and of the gravity of that fact. Intellectually, I
take it that an under-estimate of the universality and of the awfulness
of sin has a great deal to do in shaping all the maimed, imperfect,
partial views of Christ, His character and nature, which afflict the
world. It is the mother of most of our heresies. And, practically, if
you do not feel any burden, you do not care to hear about One who will
carry it. If you have no sense of need, the message that there is a
supply will fall perfectly ineffectual upon your ears. If you have not
realised the truth that whatever else you may be, of which you might be
proud--wise, clever, beautiful, accomplished, rich, prosperous--you have
this to take all the self-conceit out of you, that you are a sinful
man--if you have not realised that, it will be no gospel to you that
Jesus Christ has died, the just for the unjust, and lives to cleanse us.

Brethren, there is only one way into the true and full possession of
Christ's salvation, and that is through poverty of spirit. It is the
narrow door, like the mere low slits in the wall which in ancient times
were the access to some wealth-adorned palace or stately
structure--narrow openings that a man had to stoop his lofty crest in
order to enter. If you have never been down on your knees before God,
feeling what a wicked man or woman you are, I doubt hugely whether you
will ever stand with radiant face before God, and praise Him through
eternity for His mercy to you. If you wish to have Christ for yours, you
must begin, where He begins His Beatitudes, with poverty of spirit.

It is blessed because it invites the riches of God to come and make us
wealthy. It draws towards itself communication of God's infinite self,
with all His quickening and cleansing and humbling powers. Grace is
attracted by the sense of need, just as the lifted finger of the
lightning rod brings down fire from heaven. The heights are barren; it
is in the valleys that rivers run, and flowers bloom. 'God resisteth the
proud, and giveth grace to the humble.' If we desire to have Him, who is
the one source of all blessedness, in our hearts, as a true possession,
we must open the door for His entrance by poverty of spirit. Desire
brings fulfilment; and they who know their wants, and only they, will
truly long that they may be supplied.

This poverty of spirit is blessed because it is its own reward. All
self-esteem and self-complacency are like a hedgehog, as some one has
said, 'rolled up the wrong way, tormenting itself with its prickles.'
And the man that is always, or often, thinking how much above A, B, or C
he is, and how much A, B, or C ought to offer of incense to him, is sure
to get more cuffs than compliments, more enmity than affection; and will
be sore all over with wounded vanities of all sorts. But if we have
learned ourselves, and have departed from these lofty thoughts, then to
be humble in spirit is to be wise, cheerful, contented, simple, restful
in all circumstances. You remember John Bunyan's shepherd boy, down in
the valley of humiliation. _Heart's-ease_ grew there, and his song was,
'He that is low need fear no fall.' If we have this true, deep-rooted
poverty of spirit, we shall be below the tempest, which will go clean
over our heads. The oaks catch the lightnings; the grass and the
primroses are unscorched. 'The day of the Lord shall be upon all high
things, and the loftiness of men shall be brought low.'

So, dear brethren, blessedness is not to be found outside us. We need
not ask 'who shall go up into the heavens, or who shall descend into the
deep,' to bring it. It is in thee, if at all. Christ teaches us that the
sources of all true blessedness are within us; there or nowhere is
Eden. If we have the tempers and dispositions set forth in these
Beatitudes, condition matters but very little. If the source of all
blessedness is within us, the first step to it all is poverty of spirit.
'Be ye clothed with humility.' The Master girt Himself with the
servant's towel, and His disciples are to copy Him who said: 'Take My
yoke upon you.... I am meek and lowly in heart ... and ye shall find
rest'--and is not that blessedness?--'ye shall find rest unto your
souls.'


THE SECOND BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.'--MATT.
     v. 4.

An ordinary superficial view of these so-called Beatitudes is that they
are simply a collection of unrelated sayings. But they are a great deal
more than that. There is a vital connection and progress in them. The
jewels are not flung down in a heap; they are wreathed into a chain,
which whosoever wears shall have 'an ornament of grace about his neck.'
They are an outgrowth from a common root; stages in the evolution of
Christian character.

Now, I tried to show in the former sermon how the root of them all is
the poverty of spirit which is spoken of in the preceding verse; and how
it really does lie at the foundation of the highest type of human
character, and in its very self is sure of possessing the Kingdom of
Heaven. And now I turn to the second of these Beatitudes. Like all the
others, it is a paradox, for it starts from a wholly different
conception from the common one, of what is man's chief good. If the aims
which usually engross us are really the true aims of life, then there is
no meaning in this saying of our Lord, for then it had been better not
to sorrow at all than to sorrow and be comforted. But if the true
purpose for which we are all gifted with this solemn gift of life is
that we may become 'imitators of God as dear children,' then there are
few things for which men should be more thankful than the sacred sorrow,
than which there are few instruments more powerful for creating the type
of character which we are set here to make our own. All lofty,
dignified, serious thinkers and poets (who for the most of men are the
best teachers) had spoken this same thought as well as Christ. But He
speaks it with a difference all His own, which deepens incalculably its
solemnity, and sets the truth of the otherwise sentimental saying, which
flies often in the face of human nature, upon immovable foundations.

Let me ask you, then, to look with me, in the simplest possible way, at
the two thoughts of our text, as to who are the mourners that are
'blessed,' and as to what is the consolation that they receive.

I. The mourners who are blessed.

'Blessed are they that mourn.' Ah! that is not a universal bliss. All
mourners are _not_ blessed. It would be good news, indeed, to a world so
full of miseries that men sometimes think it were better not to be, and
holding so many wrecked and broken hearts, if every sorrow had its
benediction. But just as we saw in the preceding discourse that the
poverty which Christ pronounced blessed is not mere straitness of
circumstances, or lack of material wealth, so here the sorrow, round the
head of which He casts this halo of glory, is not that which springs
from the mere alteration of external circumstances, or from any natural
causes. The influence of the first saying runs through all the
Beatitudes, and since it is 'the poor in spirit' who are there
pronounced happy, so here we must go far deeper than mere outward
condition, in order to find the ground of the benediction pronounced.
Let us be sure, to begin with, of this, that no condition, be it of
wealth or woe, is absolutely and necessarily good, but that the seat of
all true blessedness lies within, in the disposition which rightly meets
the conditions which God sends.

So I would say, first, that the mourners whom Christ pronounces
'blessed' are those who are 'poor in spirit.' The mourning is the
emotion which follows upon that poverty. The one is the recognition of
the true estimate of our own characters and failings; the other is the
feeling that follows upon that recognition. The one is the prophet's
clear-sighted 'I am a man of unclean lips'; the other is the same
prophet's contemporaneous wail, 'Woe is me, for I am undone!'

And surely, brethren, if you and I have ever had anything like a glimpse
of what we really are, and have brought ourselves into the light of
God's face, and have pondered upon our characters and our doings in
that--not 'fierce' but all-searching, 'light' that flashes from Him,
there can be no attitude, no disposition, more becoming the best, the
purest, the noblest of us, than that 'Woe is me, for I am undone!'

Oh, dear friends, if--not as a theological term, but as a clinging,
personal fact--we realise what sin against God is, what must necessarily
come from it, what aggravations His gentleness, His graciousness, His
constant beneficence cause, how facilely we do the evil thing and then
wipe our lips and say, 'We have done no harm,' we should be more
familiar than we are with the depths of this experience of mourning for
sin.

I cannot too strongly urge upon you my own conviction--it may be worth
little, but I am bound to speak it--that there are few things which the
so-called Christianity of this day needs more than an intenser
realisation of the fact, and the gravity of the fact, of personal
sinfulness. There lies the root of the shallowness of so much that calls
itself Christianity in the world to-day. It is the source of almost all
the evils under which the Church is groaning. And sure I am that if
millions of the people that complacently put themselves down in the
census as Christians could but once see themselves as they are, and
connect their conduct with God's thought about it, they would get shocks
that would sober them. And sure I am that if they do not thus see
themselves here and now, they will one day get shocks that will stupefy
them. And so, dear friends, I urge upon you, as I would upon myself, as
the foundation and first step towards all the sunny heights of
God-likeness and blessedness, to go down, down deep into the hidden
corners, and see how, like the elders of Israel whom the prophet beheld
in the dark chamber, we worship creeping things, abominable things,
lustful things, in the recesses within. And then we shall possess more
of that poverty of spirit, and the conscious recognition of our own true
character will merge into the mourning which is altogether blessed.

Now, note, again, how such sorrow will refine and ennoble character. How
different our claims upon other men would be if we possessed this sober,
saddened estimate of what we really are! How our petulance, and
arrogance, and insisting upon what is due to us of respect and homage
and deference would all disappear! How much more rigid would be our
guard upon ourselves, our own emotions, our own inclinations and tastes!
How much more lenient would be our judgment of the openly and
confessedly naughty ones, who have gone a little further in act, but not
an inch further in essence, than we have done! How different our
attitude to our fellows; and how lowly our attitude to God! Such sorrow
would sober us, would deliver us from our lusting after the gauds of
earth, would make us serious and reflective, would bring us to that
'sad, wise valour' which is the conquering characteristic of humanity.

There is nothing more contemptible than the lives which, for want of
this self-knowledge, foam away in idle mirth, and effervesce in what the
world calls 'high spirits.'

    'There is no music in the life
       That sounds with idiot laughter solely,
     There's not a string attuned to mirth
       But has its chords in melancholy.'

So said one whose reputation in English literature is mainly that of a
humorist. He had learned that the only noble humanity is that in which
the fountains of laughter and of tears lie so close together that their
waters intermingle. I beseech you not to confound the 'laughter of
fools,' which is the 'crackling of thorns under the pot,' with the true,
solemn, ennobling gladness which lives along with this sorrow of my
text.

Further, such mourning infused into the sorrow that comes from external
disasters will make it blessed too. As I have said, there is nothing in
any condition of life which necessarily and universally makes it
blessed. Though poets and moralists and Christian people have talked a
great deal, and beautifully and truly, about the sanctifying and
sweetening influences of calamity, do not let us forget that there are
perhaps as many people made worse by their sorrows as are made better by
them. There is such a thing as being made sullen, hard, selfish,
negligent of duty, resentful against God, hopeless, by the pressure of
our calamities. Blessed be God, there is such a thing as being drawn to
Him by them! Then they, too, come within the sweep of this benediction
of the Master, and outward distress is glorified into the sorrow which
is blessed. A drop or two of this tincture, the mourning which comes
from poverty of spirit, slipped into the cup of affliction, clears and
sweetens the waters, and makes them a tonic bitter. Brethren, if our
outward losses and disappointments and pains help us to apprehend, and
are accepted by us in the remembrance of, our own unworthiness, then
these, too, are God's sweet gifts to us.

One word more. This mourning is perfectly compatible with, and indeed is
experienced in its purest form only along with, the highest and purest
joy. I have been speaking about the indispensable necessity of such
sadness for all noble life. But let us remember, on the other hand, that
no one has so much reason to be glad as he has who, in poverty of
spirit, has clasped and possesses the wealth of the Kingdom. And if a
man, side by side with this profound and saddened sense of his own
sinfulness, has not a hold of the higher thing--Christ's righteousness
given to penitence and faith--then his knowledge of his own unworthiness
is still too shallow to inherit a benediction. There is no reason why,
side by side in the Christian heart, there should not lie--there is
every reason why there should lie--these two emotions, not mutually
discrepant and contradictory, but capable of being blended together--the
mourning which is blessed, and the joy which is unspeakable and full of
glory.

II. And now a word or two with regard to the consolation which such
mourning is sure to receive.

It is not true, whatever sentimentalists may say, that all sorrow is
comforted and therefore blessed. It may be forgotten. Pain may sting
less; men may betake themselves to trivial, or false, unworthy, low
alleviations, and fancy that they are comforted when they are only
diverted. But the sorrow meant in my text necessarily ensures for every
man who possesses it the consolation which follows. That consolation is
both present and future.

As for the present, the mourning which is based, as our text bases it,
on poverty of spirit, will certainly bring after it the consolation of
forgiveness arid of cleansing. Christ's gentle hand laid upon us, to
cause our guilt to pass away, and the inveterate habits of inclination
towards evil to melt out of our nature, is His answer to His child's
cry, 'Woe is me, for I am undone!' And anything is more probable than
that Christ, hearing a man thus complain of himself before Him, should
fail to send His swift answer.

Ah, brethren! you will never know how deep and ineffably precious are
the consolations which Christ can give, unless you have learned despair
of self, and have come helpless, hopeless, and yet confident, to that
great Lord. Make your hearts empty, and He will fill them; recognise
your desperate condition, and He will lift you up. The deeper down we go
into the depths, the surer is the rebound and the higher the soaring to
the zenith. It is they who have poverty of spirit, and mourning based
upon it, and only they, who pass into the sweetest, sacredest, secretest
recesses of Christ's heart, and there find all-sufficient consolation.

In like manner, that consolation will come in its noblest and most
sufficing form to those who take their outward sorrows and link them
with this sense of their own ill-desert. Oh, dear friends, if I am
speaking to any one who to-day has a burdened heart, let such be sure of
this, that the way to consolation lies through submission; and that the
way to submission lies through recognition of our own sin. If we will
only 'lie still, let Him strike home, and bless the rod,' the rod will
blossom and bear fruit. The water of the cataract would not flash into
rainbow tints against the sunshine, unless it had been dashed into spray
against black rocks. And if we will but say with good old Dr. Watts,

    'When His strokes are felt,
      His strokes are fewer than our crimes,
    And lighter than our guilt,'

it will not be hard to bow down and say, 'Thy will be done,' and with
submission consolation will be ours.

Is there anything to say about that future consolation? Very little, for
we know very little. But 'God Himself shall wipe away all tears from
their eyes.' The hope of that consolation is itself consolation, and
the hope becomes all the more bright when we know and measure the depths
of our own evil. Earth needs to be darkened in order that the magic,
ethereal beauty of the glow in the western heavens may be truly seen.
The sorrow of earth is the background on which the light of heaven is
painted.

So, dear friends, be sure of this, that the one thing which ought to
move a man to sadness is his own character. For all other causes of
grief are instruments for good. And be sure of this, too, that the one
thing which can ensure consolation adequate to the grief is bringing the
grief to the Lord Christ and asking Him to deal with it. His first word
of ministry ran parallel with these two Beatitudes. When He spoke them
He began with poverty of spirit, and passed to mourning and consolation,
and when He opened His lips in the synagogue of Nazareth He began with,
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to
preach good tidings unto the poor, to give unto them that mourn in Zion
a diadem for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise
for the spirit of heaviness.'


THE THIRD BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are the meek! for they shall inherit the earth,'--MATT, v.
     5.

The originality of Christ's moral teaching lies not so much in the
novelty of His precepts as in the new relation in which He sets them,
the deepening which He gives them, the motives on which He bases them,
and the power which He communicates to keep them. Others before Him had
pronounced a benediction on the meek, but our Lord means far more than
they did, and, both in His description of the character and in the
promise which He attaches to it, He vindicates the uniqueness of His
notion of a perfect man.

The world's ideal is, on the whole, very different from His. It inclines
to the more conspicuous and so-called heroic virtues; it prefers a
great, flaring, yellow sunflower to the violet hiding among the grass,
and making its presence known only by fragrance. 'Blessed are the
strong, who can hold their own,' says the world. 'Blessed are the meek,'
says Christ.

The Psalmist had said it before Him, and had attached verbally the same
promise to the word. But our Lord means more than David did when he
said, 'The meek shall inherit the earth.' I ask you to think with me
now, first, what this Christian meekness is; then, whence it issues; and
then, whither it leads.

I. What Christian meekness is.

Now, the ordinary use of the word is to describe an attitude, or more
properly a disposition, in regard to men, especially in regard to those
who depreciate, or wrong, or harm us. But the Christian conception of
meekness, whilst it includes that, goes far deeper; and, primarily, has
reference to our attitude, or rather our disposition, towards God. And
in that aspect, what is it? Meek endurance and meek obedience, the
accepting of His dealings, of whatever complexion they are, and however
they may tear or desolate our hearts, without murmuring, without
sulking, without rebellion or resistance, is the deepest conception of
the meekness which Christ pronounces blessed. When sorrow comes upon us,
unless we have something more than natural strength bestowed upon us, we
are all but certain, like fractious children when beaten, to kick and
plunge and scream, or to take the infliction of the sorrow as being an
affront and an injury. If we have any claim to this benediction, we must
earn it by accepting our sorrows; then the accepted sorrow becomes a
solemn joy, or almost akin thereto. The ox that kicks against the goads
only does two things thereby; it does not get away from them, but it
wounds its own hocks, and it drives the sharp points deeper into the
ragged wounds. Let Him strike, dear friend, for when He strikes He cuts
clean; and there is no poison on the edge of His knife. Meekness towards
God is, first, patient endurance of His Will.

And, in reference to Him, it is, next, unquestioning docility and
obedience. Its seat is in the will. When the will is bowed, a man is far
on his road to perfection; and the meaning of all that God does with
us--joys and sorrows, light and darkness, when His hand gives, and when
His hand withdraws, as when His authoritative voice commands, and the
sweet impulses of His love graciously constrain--is that our wills may
be made plastic and flexible, like a piece of wrought leather, to every
touch of His hand. True meekness goes far deeper down than any attitude
towards men. It lays hold on the sovereign will of God as our supreme
good, and delights in absolutely and perfectly conforming itself
thereto.

And then there follows, as a matter of course, that which is usually the
whole significance of the word, the meekness which is displayed in our
attitude towards men. The truly meek heart remains unprovoked amidst all
provocation. Most men are like dogs that answer bark for bark, and only
make night hideous and themselves hoarse thereby. But it is our business
to meet evil with good; and the more we are depreciated, the more we are
harmed, the more we are circled about by malice and by scorn, the more
patiently and persistently to love on.

Ah, brethren, it is easy to say and hard to do thus; but it is a plain
Christian duty. Old-fashioned people believe that the sun puts out the
fire. I know not how that may be, but sure I am that the one thing that
puts out the fire of antagonism and wrath and malice in those who
dislike or would harm us is that we should persistently shine upon, and
perchance overcome, evil with good. Provoked, we remain, if we are truly
meek, masters of ourselves and calm and equable, and so are blessed in
ourselves. Meekness makes no claims upon others. Plenty of people are
sore all over with the irritation caused by not getting what they
consider due respect. They howl and whine because they are not
appreciated. Do not expect much of men. Make no demands, if for no
better reason than because the more you demand the less you will get;
and the less you seem to think to be your due, the more likely you are
to receive what you desire.

But that is a poor, shallow ground. The true exhortation is, 'Be ye
imitators of God, as dear children.'

Ah, what a different world we should live in if the people that say,
'Oh, the Sermon on the Mount is my religion,' really made it their
religion! How much friction would be taken out of all our lives; how all
society would be revolutionised, and earth would become a Paradise!

But there is another thing to be taken into account in the description
of meekness. That grace, as the example of our Lord shows, harmonises
with undaunted bravery and strenuous resistance to the evil in the
world. On our own personal account, there are to be no bounds to our
patient acceptance of personal wrong; on the world's account, there are
to be no bounds to our militant attitude against public evils. Only let
us remember that 'the wrath of men worketh not the righteousness of
God.' If contending theologians, and angry philanthropists, and social
reformers, that are ready to fly at each other's throats for the sacred
cause of humanity, would only remember that there is no good to be done
except in this spirit, there would be more likelihood of the errors and
miseries of mankind being redressed than, alas! there is to-day.
Gentleness is the strongest force in the world, and the soldiers of
Christ are to be priests, and to fight the battles of the Kingdom,
robed, not in jingling, shining armour or with sharp swords, nor with
fierce and eager bitterness of controversy, but in the meekness which
overcomes. You may take all the steam-hammers that ever were forged and
batter at an iceberg, and, except for the comparatively little heat that
is developed by the blows and melts some smell portion, it will be ice
still, though pulverised instead of whole. But let it get into the
silent drift of the Arctic current, and let it move quietly down to the
southward, then the sunbeams smite its coldness to death, and it is
dissipated in the warm ocean. Meekness is conqueror. 'Be not overcome of
evil, but overcome evil with good.'

II. Notice whence this Christian meekness flows.

You observe the place which this Beatitude holds in the linked series of
these precious sayings. It follows upon 'poverty of spirit' and
'mourning.' And it follows, too, upon the 'comfort' which the mourner is
promised that he will receive. It is the conduct and disposition towards
God and man which follows from the inward experience described in the
two former Beatitudes, which had relation only to ourselves.

The only thing that can be relied upon as an adequate cold water
_douche_ to our sparks of anger, resentment, retaliation, and rebellion
is that we shall have passed through the previous experiences, have
learned a just and lowly estimate of ourselves, have learned to come to
God with penitence in our hearts, and have been raised by His gracious
hand from the dust where we lay at His feet, and been welcomed to His
embrace. He who thus has learned himself, and has felt repentance, and
has received the comfort of forgiveness and cleansing, he, and he only,
is the man who, under all provocation and in any and every circumstance,
can be absolutely trusted to live in the spirit of meekness.

If I have found out anything of my own sin, if my eyes have been filled
with tears and my heart with conscious unworthiness before Him, oh,
then, surely I shall not kick or murmur against discipline of which the
main purpose is to rid me of the evil which is slaying me; but rather I
shall recognise in the sorrows that do fall upon me, in the losses and
disappointments and empty places in my life and heart, one way of God's
fulfilling His great promise, 'From all your filthiness, and from all
your idols, I will cleanse you.' The man who has thus learned the
purpose, the highest purpose, of sorrow, is not likely to remonstrate
with God for giving him too much of the cleansing medium.

In like manner, if we have, in any real way, received for our own the
comfort which God gives to the penitent heart, we shall be easily
pleased with anything that He sends. And if we have measured ourselves,
not against ourselves, but against His law, and have found out how much
we owe unto our Lord, it is not likely that we shall take our brother by
the throat and say, 'Pay me that thou owest.' If any treat me badly, try
to rob me, harm me, sneer at me, or turn the cold shoulder to me, who am
I that I should resent that? Oh, brethren, we need, for our right
relation to our fellows, a deeper conviction of our sinfulness before
Him. Many of us are blessed with natural tendencies to meekness, but
these are insufficient. Many of us seek to cultivate this grace from
true and right, though not the deepest, motives. Let us reinforce them
by that which comes from the consideration of the place which this
Beatitude holds in the wreathed chain, and remember that 'poverty of
spirit' and 'mourning' must precede it.

Now, _there_ is a sharp test for us Christian people. If I have learned
myself, and have penitently received God's pardon, I shall be meek with
God and with man. If I am not meek with God and with man, have I
received God's pardon? One great reason why so many of you Christian
people have so little consciousness of God's forgiving mercy, as a
constant joy in your lives, is because you have so little obeyed the
commandment, 'Be ye imitators of God, and walk in love, as God hath
forgiven and loved us.'

III. And now, lastly, note whither this meekness leads.

'They shall inherit the earth.' The words are quoted, as I have already
said, from one of the psalms, and in the Psalmist's mouth they had, I
suppose, especial reference to Israel's peaceful possession of the
promised land, which in that Old Dispensation was made contingent on the
people's faithfulness. In that aspect, and looking at this Sermon on the
Mount as the programme of the King Himself, what a bucket of cold water
such words as these must have poured on the hot Messianic expectations
of the carnal Jew! Here was a King that did not expect to win back the
land by armed rebellion against the Roman legions, but said, 'Be meek,
and you will truly possess it, whether there is a Pilate in the
procurator's house at Cæsarea or not.'

But for us the words have a double reference, as all the promises
annexed to these Beatitudes have. They apply to the present; they apply
to the future. And that is no mere looseness of interpretation, eking
out an insufficient verification of them here upon earth by some dim
hopes of a future fulfilment, but it flows from the plain fact that the
gifts which a man receives on condition of his being a true disciple are
one and the same in essence, and only differ in degree, here and
hereafter. Circumstances alter, no doubt, and there will be much in that
heavenly state unlike that which we experience here. But the essence of
Christian blessedness is the same in this world and in the furthest
reach of the shining but dim eternity beyond. And so we take the double
reference of these words to be inherent in the facts of the case, and
not to be a makeshift of interpretation.

There is a present inheritance of the earth which goes, as certainly as
the shadow with the sunshine, with the meekness spoken of in our text.
Not literal, of course, for it is not true that this Christian grace
has in it any tendency whatever to draw to itself material good of any
sort. The world in outward possession belongs to the strong men, to the
men of faculty, of force and push and ambition. If you want to get
through a crowd, make your elbows as sharp, and your feet upon the toes
of your neighbours as heavy as you can, and a road will be made for you;
but, in the majority of cases, the meek man on the edge of the crowd
will stop there.

Nor is it true that there would be any real blessedness, though the
earth were ours in that outward sense. For you cannot measure happiness
by the acre, nor does an outward condition of the most full-fed
abundance, and of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and above the
gnawings of care, ensure to any man even the shabby blessedness that the
world knows, to say nothing of the solid beatitude that Christ
proclaims.

So we must go deeper than that for the meaning of 'inherit.' Whatever
are our circumstances, it is true that this calm, equable, submissive
acceptance of the divine will and obedience to it, and this loving and
unresentful attitude towards men, bring with them necessarily a
peacefulness of heart which gets the highest good out of the modicum of
material supplies which God's providence may send us. It used to be the
idea that gods and beatified spirits were nourished, not by the gross,
material flesh of the sacrifices, but by a certain subtle aroma and
essence that went up in the incense smoke. So Christ's meek men do live
and thrive, and are blessed in a true possession of earthly good, even
though their outward portion of it may be very small. 'Better is a
little that a righteous man hath than the riches of many wicked.'

And, beyond that, there is a further fulfilment of this promise, upon
which I venture to say but very little. It seems to me very probable
that our Lord's words here fall in with what appears to be a general
stream of representation throughout Scripture, to the effect that the
perfected form of the Kingdom of God is to be realised in this renovated
earth, when it becomes the 'new earth in which dwelleth righteousness.'
Whether that be so or no, at all events we may fairly gather from the
words the thought that in the ultimate state of assimilation and
fellowship with God and Christ to which Christian people have a right to
look forward, there will be an external universe on which they will
exercise their activities, and from which they will draw as yet
unimagined delights.

But, at all events, dear brethren, we may be sure of this blessed
thought, that they who meekly live, knowing and mourning their sin, and
who meekly take to their hearts as their only hope the comfort of
Christ's pardon and cleansing, who are meekly recipient, meekly
enduring, meekly obedient, shall have in their hearts, even here, a
quiet fountain of peace which shall make the wilderness rejoice and
blossom as the rose, and hereafter shall be crowned with the lordship of
all. Meekness overcomes, 'and he that overcometh shall inherit all
things.'


THE FOURTH BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:
     for they shall be filled.'--MATT. v. 6.

Two preliminary remarks will give us the point of view from which I
desire to consider these words now. First, we have seen, in previous
sermons, that these paradoxes of the Christian life which we call the
Beatitudes are a linked chain, or, rather, an outgrowth from a common
root. Each presupposes all the preceding. Now, of course, it is a
mistake to expect uniformity in the process of building up character,
and stages which are separable and successive in thought may be
simultaneous and coalesce in fact. But none the less is our Lord here
outlining successive stages in the growth of a true Christian life. I
shall have more to say about the place in the series which this
Beatitude holds, but for the present I simply ask you to remember that
it has a background and set of previous experiences, out of which it
springs, and that we shall not understand the depth of Christ's meaning
if we isolate it from these and regard it as standing alone.

Then, another consideration is the remarkable divergence in this
Beatitude from the others. The 'meek,' the 'merciful,' the 'pure in
heart' the 'peacemakers,' have all attained to certain characteristics.
But this is not a benediction pronounced upon those who have attained to
righteousness, but upon those who long after it. Desire, which has
reached such a pitch as to be comparable to the physical craving of a
hungry man for food or to the imperious thirst of parched throats, seems
a strange kind of blessedness; but it is better to long for a
higher--though it be unattained--good than to be content with a lower
which is possessed. Better to climb, though the summit be far and the
path be steep, than to browse amongst the herds in the fat valleys.
Aspiration is blessedness when it is worthily directed. Let us, then,
look at these two points of this Beatitude; this divine hunger of the
soul, and its satisfaction which is sure.

I. Note, then, the hunger which is blessed.

Now 'righteousness' has come to be a kind of theological term which
people use without attaching any very distinct meaning to it. And it
would be little improvement to substitute for 'righteousness' the
abstraction of moral conformity to the will of God. Suppose we try to
turn the words of my text into modern English, and instead of saying,
'Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness,' say,
Blessed are the men and women that long more than for anything else to
be good. Does not that sound a little more near our daily lives than the
well-worn and threadbare word of my text? Righteousness is neither more
nor less than in spirit a will submitted to God, and in conduct the
practice of whatsoever things are noble and lovely and of good report.

The production of such a character, the aiming after the perfection of
spirit and of conduct, is the highest aim that a man can set before him.
There are plenty of other hungers of the soul that are legitimate. There
are many of them that are bracing and ennobling and elevating. It is
impossible not to hunger for the supply of physical necessities. It is
good to long for love, for wisdom. It is better to long most to be good
men and women. For what are we here for? To enjoy? To work? To know?
Yes! But it is not conduct, and it is still less thought, and it is
least of all enjoyment, in any of its forms, which is the purpose of
life, and ought to be our aim here upon earth. We are here to learn to
_be_; and the cultivation and production of characters that lie parallel
with the will of God is the Omega of all our life in the flesh. All
these other things, even the highest of them, the yearning desire

    'To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
     Beyond the furthest bounds of human thought,'

ought to be subordinate to this further purpose of being good men and
women. All these are scaffolding; the building is a character conformed
to God's will and assimilated to Christ's likeness.

That commends itself as a statement of man's chief end to all reasonable
and thoughtful men in their deepest and truest moments. And so, whilst
we must let our desires go out on the lower levels, and seek to draw to
ourselves the various gifts that are necessary for the various phases
and sides of our being, here is one that a man's own conscience tells
him should stand clearly supreme and dominant--the hunger and thirst
after righteousness.

Still further, notice how this desire, on which our Lord pronounces His
benediction, comes in a series. I know that all men have latent, and
sometimes partially and fragmentarily operative in their lives and
manifest on the surface, sporadic desires after goodness. The existence
of these draws the line between man and devil. And there is no soul on
earth which has not sometimes felt the longing to be better than it is,
to its own consciousness, to-day. But the yearning which our Lord
blesses comes after, and is the result of, the previous characteristics
which He has described. There must be the poverty of spirit which
recognises our own insufficiency and unworthiness; or, to put it into
simpler words, we must know ourselves to be sinners. There must be the
mourning which follows upon that revelation of ourselves; the penitence
which does not wash away sin, but which makes us capable of receiving
forgiveness. There must be the comfort which comes from pardon received;
and there must be the yielding of ourselves to the Supreme Will, which
is the true root of all meekness, in the face of antagonism from
creatures and of opposition from circumstances. When thus a man's
self-conceit is beaten out of him, and he knows how far he is from the
possession of any real, deep righteousness of his own; and when,
further, his heart has glowed with the consciousness of forgiveness; and
when, further, his will has bowed itself before the Father in heaven,
then there will spring in his heart a hungering and thirsting, deeper
far and far more certain of fruition, than ever can be realised in
another heart, a stranger to such experiences. Brethren, if we are ever
to possess the righteousness which is itself blessed, it must be because
we have the hunger and the thirst which are sharpened and accentuated by
profound discovery of our own evil, lowly penitence before God, and glad
assurance of free and full forgiveness.

Then note, still further, how that which is pronounced blessed is not
the realisation of a desire, but the desire itself. And that is so, not
only because, as I said, all noble aspiration is good, fulfilled or
unfulfilled, and aim is of more importance than achievement, and what a
man strongly wishes is often the revelation of his deepest self, and the
prophecy of what he will be; but Christ puts the _desire_ for a certain
quality here as in line with the _possession_ of a number of other
qualities attained, because He would hint to us that such a
righteousness as shall satisfy the immortal hunger and thirst of our
souls is one to be received in answer to longing, and not to be
manufactured by our own efforts.

It is a gift; and the condition of receiving the gift is to wish it
honestly, earnestly, deeply, continually. The Psalmist had a glimpse of
the same truth when he crowned his description of the man who was fit to
ascend the hill of the Lord, and to stand in His holy place, with, 'he
shall _receive_ the blessing from the Lord, and _righteousness_ from the
God of his salvation.'

Of course, in saying that the first step towards the possession of this
divinely bestowed and divinely blessed righteousness is not effort but
longing, I do not forget that the retention of it, and the working of it
into our characters, and out in our conduct, must be the result of our
own continual diligence. But it is effort based on faith; and it is
mainly, as I believe, the effort to keep open the line of communication
between us and God, the great Giver, which ensures our possession of
this gift of God. Dear friends, the righteousness that avails for us is
not of our making, but of God's giving, through Jesus Christ.

So, before I pass to the other thoughts of my text, may I pause here for
a moment? 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst'--think of the
picture that that suggests--the ravenous desire of a starving man, the
almost fierce longing of a parched throat. Is that a picture of the
intensity, of the depth, of our desires to be good? Do we professing
Christian men and women long to be delivered from our evils and to be
clothed in righteousness, with an honesty and an earnestness and a
continuity of longing which would make such words as these of my text
anything else, if applied to us, than the bitterest irony? Oh, one looks
out over the Christian Church, and one looks--which is more to the
purpose--into one's own heart, and contrasts the tepid, the lazy, the
occasional, and, I am afraid, the only half-sincere wishes to be better,
with the unmistakable earnestness and reality of our longings to be
rich, or wise, or prosperous, or famous, or happy in our domestic
relationships, and the like. Alas! alas! that the whole current of the
great river of so many professing Christians' desires runs towards earth
and creatures, and the tiniest little trickle is taken off, like a lade
for a mill, from the great stream, and directed towards higher things.
It is hunger and thirst after righteousness that is blessed. You and I
can tell whether our desires deserve such a name as that.

II. And now, secondly, the satisfying of this divine hunger of the soul.

'They shall be filled,' says our Lord. Now all these promises appended
to the Beatitudes have a double reference--to the certainty of the
present, and to the perfection of the future. That there is such a
double reference may be made very obvious if we notice that the first of
the promises, which includes them all, and of which the others are but
aspects and phases, is cast into the present tense, whilst the remainder
stand in the future. 'Theirs _is_ the Kingdom of Heaven,' not _shall
be_--'they _shall be_ comforted,' they '_shall_ inherit the earth,' and
so on. So, then, we are warranted, indeed we are obliged, to regard this
great promise in the text as having two epochs of fulfilment--one
partially here upon earth, one complete hereafter. And these two differ,
not in kind, but in degree.

So then, with regard even to the present, 'they shall be filled.' Should
not that be a gospel to the seeking spirit of man, who knows so well
what it is to be crucified with the pangs of a vain desire, and to set
his heart upon that which never comes into his hands? There is one
region in which nothing is so impossible as that any desire should be in
vain, or any wish should be unfulfilled, and it is the region into which
Christ points us in these great words of my text. Turn away from earth,
where fulfilled desires and unfulfilled are often equally disappointed
ones. Turn away from the questionable satisfactions which come to those
whose hearts go out in longing for love, wisdom, wealth, transitory
felicity; and be sure of this, that the one longing which never will be
disappointed, nor, when answered, will prove to have given us but ashes
instead of bread, is the longing to be like God and like Christ. That
desire alone is sure to be fulfilled, and, being fulfilled, is sure to
be blessed.

It is not true that all desires after righteousness are fulfilled. Those
which spring up, as I have said, in men's hearts sporadically, and apart
from the background of the experiences of my text, are not always, not
often, even partially accomplished. There are in every land, no doubt,
souls that thirst after righteousness, as they are able to discern it.
And we are sure of this, that no such effort and longing passes
unnoticed by Him 'who hears the young ravens when they cry,' and is not
deaf to the prayer of men who long to be good. But the experience of the
bulk of us, apart from Jesus Christ, is 'the things that I would not,
these I do, and the things that I would, these I do not.' The hunger
and thirst after righteousness, imperfect as they are, which are felt
at intervals by all men, do not avail to break the awful continuity of
their conduct as evil in the sight of God and of their own consciences.
And so, just because every man knows something of the sting of this
desire after righteousness, which yet remains for the most part
unfulfilled, the world is full of sadness. 'Oh, wretched man that I am,
who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' comes to be the
expression of the noblest amongst us. Then this great Gospel comes to
us, and the Nazarene confidently fronts a world dimly conscious of its
need, and sometimes miserable because it is bad, and says: 'Ho! every
one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.... Come to Me, and drink.'

What right had He to stand thus and promise that every desire after
goodness should be fulfilled in Him? He had the right, because He
Himself had the power and the purpose to fulfil it. For this is the very
heart of His Gospel: that He will give to every one who asks it that
spirit of life which was His own, and which 'shall make us free from the
law of sin and death.'

Thus, dear friends, we have to be content to take the place of
recipients, and to accept, not to work out for ourselves, this
righteousness for which, more or less feebly, and all of us too feebly,
we do sometimes long. Oh, believe me, away from Him you will never
receive into your characters a goodness that will satisfy yourselves.
Siberian prisoners sometimes break their chains and escape for some
distance. They are generally taken back and again shut up in their
captivity. If we are able, as we are in some measure, to break the
bondage of evil in ourselves, we are not able to complete our
emancipation by any skill, effort, or act of ours. We must be content to
receive the blessing. There is no loom of earth which can weave, and no
needle that man's hands can use which can stitch together, the pure
garment that befits a soul. We must be content to take the robe of
righteousness which Jesus Christ has wrought, and to strip off, by His
help, the ancient self, splashed with the filth of the world, and
spotted by the flesh: and to 'put on the new man,' which Christ, and
Christ alone, bestows.

As for the future fulfilment of this promise--desire will live in
heaven, desire will dilate the spirit, the dilated spirit will be
capable of fuller gifts of God-likeness, and increased capacity will
ensure increased reception. Thus, through eternity, in blessed
alternation, we shall experience the desire that brings new gifts and
the satisfying that produces new desires.

Dear friends, all that I have been trying to say in this sermon is
gathered up into the one word--'that I may be found in Him, not having
my own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the
righteousness which is of God by faith.'


THE FIFTH BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.'--MATT. v.
     7.

THE divine simplicity of the Beatitudes covers a divine depth, both in
regard to the single precepts and to the sequence of the whole. I have
already pointed out that the first of the series Is to be regarded as
the root and germ of all the subsequent ones. If for a moment we set it
aside and consider only the fruits which are successively developed from
it, we shall see that the remaining members of the sequence are arranged
in pairs, of which each contains, first, a characteristic more inward
and relating to the deep things of individual religion; and, second, a
characteristic which has its field of action in our relations to men.
For example, the 'mourners' and the 'meek' are paired. Those who 'hunger
and thirst after righteousness' and the 'merciful' are paired. 'The pure
in heart' and 'the peacemakers' are paired.

Now that sequence can scarcely be accidental. It is the application in
detail of the great principle which our Lord endorsed in its Old
Testament form when He said that the first great commandment, the love
of God, had a companion consequent on and like unto it, the love of our
neighbour. Religion without beneficence, and beneficence without
religion, are equally maimed. The one is a root without fruit, and the
other a fruit without a root. The selectest emotions, the lowliest
faith, the loftiest aspirations, the deepest consciousness of one's own
unworthiness--these priceless elements of personal religion--are of
little worth unless there are inseparably linked with them meekness,
mercifulness, and peacemaking. 'What God hath joined together, let not
man put asunder.' If any Christian people have neglected the service of
man for the worship of God, they are flying in the face of Christ's
teaching. If any antagonists of Christianity attack it on the ground
that it fosters such neglect, they mistake the system that they
criticise, and are judging it by the imperfect practice of the disciples
instead of by the perfect precepts of the Master.

So, then, here we have a characteristic lodged in the very heart of this
series of Beatitudes which refers wholly to our demeanour to one
another. My remarks now will, therefore, be of a very homely,
commonplace, and practical kind.

I. Note the characteristic on which our Lord here pours out His
blessing--Mercy.

Now, like all the other members of this sequence, with the exception,
perhaps, of the last, this quality refers to disposition much rather
than to action. Conduct is included, of course; but conduct only
secondarily. Jesus Christ always puts conduct second, as all wise and
great teachers do. 'As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.' That is
the keynote of all noble morality. And none has ever carried it out more
thoroughly than has the morality of the Gospel. It is a poor translation
and limitation of this great word which puts in the foreground merely
merciful actions. The mercifulness of my text is, first and foremost, a
certain habitual way of looking at and feeling towards men, especially
to men in suffering and need, and most especially to men who have proved
themselves bad and blameworthy. It is implied that a rigid retribution
would lead to severer methods of judgment and of action.

Therefore the first characteristic of the merciful man is that he is
merciful in his judgments; not making the worst of people, no Devil's
Advocate in his estimates of his fellows; but, endlessly, and, as the
world calls it, foolishly and incredibly, gentle in his censures, and
ever ready to take the charitable--which is generally the
truer--construction of acts and motives. That is a very threadbare
thought, brother, but the way to invest commonplace with startling power
is to bring it into immediate connection with our own life and conduct.
And if you will try to walk by this threadbare commonplace for a week,
I am mistaken if you do not find out that it has teeth to bite and a
firm grip to lay upon you. Threadbare truth is not effete until it is
obeyed, and when we try to obey it, it ceases to be commonplace.

Again, I may remind you that this mercifulness, which is primarily an
inward emotion, and a way, as I said, of thinking of, and of looking at,
unworthy people, must necessarily, of course, find its manifestation in
our outward conduct. And there will be, what I need not dilate upon, a
readiness to help, to give, to forgive not only offences against society
and morality, but offences against ourselves.

I need not dwell longer upon this first part of my subject. I wished
mainly to emphasise that to begin with action, in our understanding of
mercifulness, is a mistake; and that we must clear our hearts of
antipathies, and antagonisms, and cynical suspicions, if we would
inherit the blessings of our text.

Before I go further, I would point out the connection between this
incumbent duty of mercifulness and the preceding virtue of meekness. It
is hard enough to bear 'the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy
takes,' without one spot of red in the cheek, one perturbation or flush
of anger in the heart; and to do that might task us all to the utmost.
But that is not all that Christ's ethics require of us. It is not
sufficient to exercise the passive virtue of meekness; there must be the
active one of mercifulness. And to call for that is to lay an additional
weight upon our consciences, and to strain and stretch still further the
obligation under which we come. We have not done what the worst men and
our most malicious enemies have a right to receive from us when we say,
with the cowardly insincerity of the world, 'I can forgive but I cannot
forget.' That is no forgiveness, and that is no mercifulness It is not
enough to stand still, unresisting. There must be a hand of helpfulness
stretched out, and a gush of pity and mercifulness in the heart, if we
are to do what our Master has done for us all, and what our Master
requires us to do for one another. Mercifulness is the active side of
the passive meekness.

Further, in a word, I would note here another thing, and that is--what a
sad, stern, true view of the condition of men in the world results from
noticing that the only three qualities in regard to our relation to them
which Christ sets in this sevenfold tiara of diamonds are meekness in
the face of hatred and injustice; mercifulness in the face of weakness
and wickedness; peacemaking in the face of hostility and wrangling. What
a world in which we have to live, where the crowning graces are those
which presuppose such vices as do these! Ah! dear friends, 'as sheep in
the midst of wolves' is true to-day. And the one conquering power is
patient gentleness, which recompenses all evil with good, and is the
sole means of transforming and thus overcoming it.

People talk a great deal, and a good deal of it very insincerely, about
their admiration for these precepts gathered together in this chapter.
If they would try to live them for a fortnight, they would perhaps pause
a little longer than some of them do before they said, as do people that
detest the theology of the New Testament, 'The Sermon on the Mount is
_my_ religion.' Is it? It does not look very like it. At all events, if
it is, it is a religion behind which practice most wofully limps.

II. Let me ask you to look at what I have already in part referred
to--the place in this series which Mercifulness holds.

Now, of course, I know, and nothing that I say now is to be taken for a
moment as questioning or underestimating it, that, altogether apart from
religion, there is interwoven into the structure of human nature that
sentiment of mercifulness which our Lord here crowns with His
benediction. But it is not that natural, instinctive sentiment--which is
partially unreliable, and has little power apart from the reinforcement
of higher thoughts to carry itself consistently through life--that our
Lord is here speaking about; but it is a mercifulness which is more than
an instinct, more than a sentiment, more than the natural answer of the
human heart to the sight of compassion and distress, which is, in fact,
the product of all that has preceded it in this linked chain of
characteristics and their blessings.

And so I ask you to recall these. 'Poor in spirit,' 'mourning,' 'meek,'
'hungering and thirsting after righteousness'--these are the springs
that feed the flow of this river; and if it be not fed from them, but
from the surface-waters of human sentiment and instinct, it will dry up
long before it has availed to refresh barren places, and to cool thirsty
lips. And note also the preceding promises, 'theirs is the kingdom of
heaven'; 'they shall be comforted'; 'they shall inherit the earth; 'they
shall be filled.' These are experiences which, again, are another
collection of the head-waters of this stream.

That is to say, the true, lasting, reliable, conquering mercifulness has
a double source. The consciousness of our own weakness, the sadness that
creeps over the heart when it makes the discovery of its own sin, the
bowed submission primarily to the will of God, and secondarily to the
antagonisms which, in subservience to that will, we may meet in life,
and the yearning desire for a fuller righteousness and a more lustrous
purity in our own lives and characters--these are the experiences which
will make a man gentle in his judgment of his brother, and full of
melting charity in all his dealings with him. If I know how dark my own
nature is, how prone to uncommitted evils, how little I have to thank
myself for the virtues that I have practised, which are largely due to
my exemption from temptation and to my opportunities, and how little I
have in my own self that I can venture to bring to the stern judgment
which I am tempted to apply to other people, then the words of censure
will falter on my tongue, and the bitter construction of my brother's
conduct and character will be muffled in silence. 'Except as to open
outbreakings,' said one of the very saintliest of men, 'I want nothing
of what Judas and Cain had.' If we feel this, we shall ask ourselves,
'Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?' and the condemnation
of others will stick in our throats when we try to utter it.

And, on the other hand, if I, through these paths of self-knowledge, and
lowly estimate of self, and penitent confession of sin, and flexibility
of will to God, and yearning, as for my highest food and good, after a
righteousness which I feel I do not possess, have come into the position
in which my poverty is, by His gift, made rich, and the tears are wiped
away from off my face by His gracious hand, and a full possession of
large blessings bestowed on my humble will, and the righteousness for
which I long imparted to me, shall I not have learned how divine a thing
it is to give to the unworthy, and so be impelled to communicate what I
have already received? 'Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved
children; and walk in love as Christ also hath loved us.' They only are
deeply, through and through, universally and always merciful who have
received mercy. The light is reflected at the same angle as it falls,
and the only way by which there can come from our faces and lives a
glory that shall lighten many dark hearts, and make sunshine in many a
shady place, is that these hearts shall have turned full to the very
fountain itself of heavenly radiance, and so 'have received of the Lord
that which also' they 'deliver' unto men.

And so, brethren, there are two plain, practical exhortations from these
thoughts. One is, let us Christian people learn the fruits of God's
mercy, and be sure of this, that our own mercifulness in regard to men
is an accurate measure of the amount of the divine mercy which we have
received. The other is, let all of us learn the root of man's mercy to
men. There is plenty, of a sort, of philanthropy and beneficent and
benevolent work and feeling to-day, entirely apart from all perception
of, and all faith in, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in so far as the
individuals who exercise that beneficence are concerned. I, for my part,
am narrow enough to believe that the streams of non-Christian
charitableness, which run in our land and in other lands to-day, have
been fed from Christ's fountain, though the supply has come underground,
and bursts into light apparently unconnected with its source. If there
had been no New Testament there would have been very little of the
beneficence which flouts the New Testament to-day. Historically, it is
the great truths, which we conveniently summarise as being evangelical
Christianity, that have been mother to the new charity that, since
Christ, has been breathed over the world. I, for my part, believe that
if you strike out the doctrine of universal sinfulness, if you cover
over the Cross of Christ, if you do not find in it the manifestation of
a God who is endlessly merciful to the most unworthy, you have destroyed
the basis on which true and operative benevolence will rest. So then,
dear brethren, let us all seek to get a humbler and a truer conception
of what we ourselves are, and a loftier and truer faith of what God in
Christ is; and then to remember that if we have these, we are bound to,
and we shall, show that we have them, by making that which is the anchor
of our hope the pattern of our lives.

III. Lastly, notice the requital, 'They shall obtain mercy.'

Now, it is a wretched weakening of that great thought to suppose that it
means that if A. is merciful to B., B. will be merciful to A.
That is sometimes true, and sometimes it is not. It does not so very
much matter whether it is true or not; that is not what Jesus Christ
means. All these Beatitudes are God's gifts, and this is God's gift too.
It is His mercy which the merciful man obtains.

But you say: 'Have you not just been telling us that this sense and
experience of God's mercy must precede my mercy, and now you say that my
mercy must precede God's?' No; I do not say that it must precede it; I
do say that my mercifulness is, as it were, lodged between the segments
of a golden circle, and has on one side the experience of the divine
mercy which quickens mine by thankfulness and imitation; on the other
side, the larger experience of the divine mercy which follows upon my
walking after the example of my Lord.

This is only one case of the broad general principle, 'to him that hath
shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken even that
which he hath.' Salvation is no such irreversible gift as that once
bestowed a man can go on anyhow and it will continue; but it is given in
such a fashion as that, for its retention, and still more for its
increase, there must be a certain line of feeling and of action.

Our Lord does not mean to say, of course, that this one isolated member
of a series carries with it the whole power of bringing down upon a man
the blessings which are only due to the combination of the whole series,
but that it stands as one of that linked band which shall receive the
blessing from on high. And the blessing here is stated in accordance
with the particular Grace in question, according to that great law of
retaliation which brings life unto life and death unto death.

No man who, having received the mercy of God, lives harsh, hard,
self-absorbed, implacable, and uncommunicative, will keep that mercy in
any vivid consciousness or to any blessed issue. The servant took his
fellow-servant by the throat, and said, 'Pay me that thou owest,' and
his master said, 'Deliver him to the tormentors until he pay the
uttermost farthing.' You receive your salvation as a free gift; you keep
it by feelings and conduct correspondent to the gift.

Though benevolence which has an eye to self is no benevolence, it is
perfectly legitimate, and indeed absolutely necessary, that whilst the
motive for mercifulness is mercy received, the encouragement to
mercifulness should be mercy still to be given. 'Walk in love, as Christ
also hath loved us'; and when you think of your own unworthiness, and of
the great gifts which a gracious God has given, let these impel you to
move amongst men as copies of God, and be sure that you deepen your
spiritual life, not only by meditation and by faith, but by practical
work, and by showing towards all men mercy like the mercy which God has
bestowed upon you.


THE SIXTH BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.'--MATT. v.
     8.

AT first hearing one scarcely knows whether the character described in
this great saying, or the promise held out, is the more inaccessible to
men. 'The pure in heart': who may they be? Is there one of us that can
imagine himself possessed of a character fitting him for the vision of
God, or such as to make him bear with delight that dazzling blaze? 'They
shall see God,' whom 'no man hath seen at any time, nor can see.' Surely
the requirement is impossible, and the promise not less so. But does
Jesus Christ mock us with demands that cannot be satisfied, and dangle
before us hopes that can never be realised? There have been many
moralists and would-be teachers who have done that. What would be the
use of saying to a man lying on a battlefield sore wounded, and with
both legs shot off, 'If you will only get up and run, you will be safe'?
What would be the use of telling men how blessed they would be if they
were the opposite of what they are? But that is not Christ's way.

These words, lofty and remote as they seem, are in truth amongst the
most hopeful and radiant that ever came from even His lips. For they
offer the realisation of an apparently impossible character, they
promise the possession of an apparently impossible vision; and they
soothe fears, and tell us that the sight from which, were it possible,
we should sometimes fain shrink, is the source of our purest gladness.
So there are three things, it seems to me, worth our notice in these
great words--How hearts can be made pure; how the pure heart can see
God; and how the sight can be simple blessedness.

I. How hearts can be made pure.

Now, the key which has unlocked for us, in previous sermons, the
treasures of meaning in these Beatitudes, is especially necessary here.
For, as I have said, if you take this to be a mere isolated saying, it
becomes a mockery and a pain. But if you connect it, as our Lord would
have us connect it, with all the preceding links of this wreathed chain
describing the characteristics of a devout soul, then it assumes an
altogether different appearance. 'The pure in heart' are they who have
exercised and received the previous qualifications and bestowments from
God. That is to say, there must precede all such purity as is capable of
the divine vision, the poverty of spirit which recognises its true
condition, the mourning which rightly feels the gravity and awfulness of
that condition, the desire for its opposite, which will never be the
'hunger and thirst' of a soul, except it is preceded by a profound sense
of sin and the penitence that ensues thereupon.

But when these things have gone before, and when they have been
accompanied, as they surely will be, with the results that flow from
them without an interval of time--viz. enrichment with possession of the
kingdom, the comforting and drying of the tears of penitence, and the
possession of a righteousness bestowed because it is desired, and not
won because it is worked for--then, and only then, will the heart be
purged and defecated from its evils and its self-regard, and its eyes
opened and couched and strengthened to behold undazzled the eternal
light of God. The word of my text, standing alone, ministers despair.
Regarded where Christ set it, as one of the series of characteristics
which He has been describing, it kindles the brightest and surest hope.

'Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?' No; but
God can change them; and the implication of my text, regarded in its due
relation to these other Beatitudes, is just that the requisite purity is
not of man's working, but is God's gift. The same truth which here
results from the study of the place of our text in this series is
condensed into a briefer, but substantially equivalent, form in the
saying of another part of the New Testament, about 'purifying their
hearts by faith.'

Dear brethren, we come back to the old truth--all a man's hope of, and
effort after, reformation and self-improvement must begin with the
consciousness of sin, the lament over it, the longing for divine
goodness, the opening of the heart for the reception thereof; and only
then can we rise to these serene heights of purity of heart. This, and
this alone, is the way by which 'a clean thing' can be brought 'out of
an unclean one.' and men stained and foul with evil, and bound under the
chains of that which is the mother of all evil, the undue making
themselves the centres of their lives, can be washed and cleansed and
emancipated, and God be made the end and the aim, the motive and the
goal, the power and the reward, of all their work. Righteousness is a
gift to begin with, and it is a gift bestowed on condition of
'repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.' We all have
longings after purity, suppressed, dashed, contradicted a thousand times
in our lives day by day, but there they are; and the only way by which
they can be fully satisfied is when we go with our foul hands, empty as
well as foul, and lift them up to God, and say, 'Give what Thou
commandest, even the clean heart, and we shall be clean.'

But then, do not let us forget, either, that this gift bestowed not once
and for ever, but continuously if there be continuous desire, is to be
utilised, appropriated, worked into our characters, and worked out in
our lives, by our own efforts, as well as by our own faith. 'Having,
therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from
all filthiniess of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of
the Lord.' 'Every man that hath this' gift bestowed, 'purifieth
_himself_ even as He is pure.' He that brings to us the gift of
regeneration, by which we receive the new nature which is free from sin,
calls to each of us as He presents to us the basin with the cleansing
water, 'Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings; ...
cease to do evil, learn to do well.' 'What God hath joined together let
not man put asunder,' viz. the act of faith by which we receive, the act
of diligence by which we use, the purifying power.

II. Note how the pure heart sees God.

One is tempted to plunge into mystical depths when speaking upon such a
text as this, but I wish to resist the temptation now, and to deal with
it in a plain, practical fashion. Of course I need not remind you, or
do more than simply remind you, that the matter in question here is no
perception by sense of Him who is invisible, nor is it, either, an
adequate and direct knowledge and comprehension of Him who is infinite,
and whom a man can no more comprehend than he can stretch his short arms
round the flaming orb of the central sun. But still, there is a relation
to God possible for sinful men when they have been purified through the
faith that is in Jesus Christ, which is so direct, so immediate, that it
deserves the name of vision; and which, as I believe, is the ground of a
firmer certitude, and of a no less clear apprehension, than is the sense
from which the name is borrowed. For the illusions of sense have no
place in the sight which the pure heart has of its Father, God.

Only, remember that here, and in the interpretation of all such
Scriptural words, we have ever to be guided and governed by the great
principle which our Lord laid down, under very solemn circumstances,
when He said: 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.' Jesus Christ,
whose name from eternity is the Word, is, from eternity to eternity,
that which the name indicates--viz. the revealing activity of the
eternal God. And, as I believe, wherever there have been kindled in
men's hearts, either by the contemplation of nature and providence, or
by the intuitions of their own spirits, any glints or glimpses of a God,
there has been the operation of 'the Light that lighteth every man that
cometh into the world.' And far beyond the limits of historical
Revelation within Israel, as recorded in Scripture, that Eternal Word
has been unveiling, as men's dim eyes were capable of perceiving it, the
light of the knowledge of the glory of God. But for us who stand in the
full blaze of that historical manifestation in the character and work of
Jesus Christ our Saviour, our vision of God is neither more nor less
than the apprehension and the realisation of Christ as 'God manifest in
the flesh.'

Whether you call it the vision of God, or whether you call it communion
with God in Jesus Christ, or whether you fall back upon the other
metaphor of God dwelling in us and we dwelling in God, it all comes to
the same thing, the consciousness of His presence, the realisation of
His character, the blessed assurance of loving relations with Him, and
the communion in mind, heart, will, and conduct, with God who has come
near to us all in Jesus Christ.

Now, I need not remind you, I suppose, that for such a realisation and
active, real communion, purity of heart is indispensable. That is no
arbitrary requirement, but inherent, as we all know, in the very nature
of the case. If we think of what He is, we shall feel that only the pure
in heart can really pass into loving fellowship with Him. 'How can two
walk together except they be agreed?' And if we reflect upon the history
of our own feelings and realisation of God's presence with us, we shall
see that impurity always drew a membrane over the eye of our souls, or
cast a mist of invisibility over the heavens. The smallest sin hides God
from us. A very, very little grain of dye stuff will darken miles of a
river, and make it incapable of reflecting the blue sky and the
sparkling stars. The least evil done and loved blurs and blots, if it
does not eclipse, for us the doers the very Sun of Righteousness
Himself. No sinful men can walk in the midst of that fiery furnace and
not be consumed. 'The pure in heart'--and only they--'shall see God.'

Nor need I remind you, I suppose, that in this, as in all these
Beatitudes, the germinal fulfilment in the present life is not to be
parted off by a great gap from the perfect fulfilment in the life which
is to come. And so I do not dwell so much on the differences, great and
wonderful as these must necessarily be, between the manner of
apprehension and communion with God which it is reserved for heaven to
bestow upon us, and the manner of those which we may enjoy here; but I
rather would point to the blessed thought that in essence they are one,
however in degree they may be different. No doubt, changed
circumstances, new capacities, the withdrawal of time and sense, the
dropping away of the veil of flesh, which is the barrier between us and
the unseen order of things in which 'we live and move and have our
being,' will induce changes and progresses in the manner and in the
degree of that vision about which it would be folly for us to speak. If
there were anything here with which we could compare the state of the
blessed in heaven, in so far as it differs from their state on earth, we
could form some conception of these differences; but if there were
anything here with which we could compare it, it would be less glorious
than it is. It is well that we should have to say, 'Eye hath not seen,
nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things
that God hath prepared.' So let us be thankful that 'it doth not yet
appear what we shall be'; and let us never allow our ignorance of the
manner to make us doubt or neglect the fact, seeing that we know 'that
when He shall appear ... we shall see Him as He is.'

III. Lastly, notice how this sight brings blessedness.

There is nothing else that will 'satisfy the eye with seeing.' The
vision of God, even in that incipient and imperfect form which is
possible upon earth, is the one thing that will calm our distractions,
that will supply our needs, that will lift our lives to a level of
serene power and blessedness, unattainable by any other way. Such a
sight will dim all the dazzling illusions of earth, as, when the sun
leaps into the heavens, the stars hide their faces and faint into
invisibility. It will make us lords of ourselves, masters of the world,
kings over time and sense and the universe. Everything will be different
when 'earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with
God.' That is what is possible for a Christian holding fast by Jesus
Christ, and in Him having communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Brethren, I venture to say no word about the blessedness of that future.
Heaven's golden gates keep their secret well. Even the purest joys of
earth, about which poets have sung for untold centuries, after all
singing need to be tasted before they are conceived of; and all our
imaginings about the blessedness yonder is but like what a chrysalis
might dream in its tomb as to the life of the radiant winged creature
which it would one day become. Let us be content to be ignorant, and
believe with confidence that we shall find that the vision of God is the
heaven of heavens.

We shall owe that eternal vision to the eternal Revealer; for, as I
believe, Scripture teaches us that it is only in Him that the glorified
saints see the Father, as it is only in Him that here on earth we have
the vision of God. That sight is not, like the bodily sense to which it
is compared, a far-off perception of an ungrasped brightness, but it is
the actual possession of what we behold. We see God when we have God.
When we have God we have enough.

But I dare not close without one other word. There _is_ a vision of God
possible to an impure heart, in which there is no blessedness. There
comes a day in which 'they shall call upon the rocks to fall and cover
them from the face of Him that sits upon the throne.' The alternative is
before each of us, dear friends--either 'every eye shall see Him, and
they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail
because of Him'; or, 'I shall behold Thy face in righteousness. I shall
be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.' If we cry, 'Create a
clean heart in me, O God!' He will answer, 'I will give you a new heart,
and take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a
heart of flesh, and I will pour clean water upon you, and ye shall be
clean.'


THE SEVENTH BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children
     of God.' MATT. v. 9.

This is the last Beatitude descriptive of the character of the
Christian. There follows one more, which describes his reception by the
world. But this one sets the top stone, the shining apex, upon the whole
temple-structure which the previous Beatitudes had been gradually
building up. You may remember that I have pointed out in previous
sermons how all these various traits of the Christian life are deduced
from the root of poverty of spirit. You may also remember how I have had
occasion to show that if we consider that first Beatitude, 'Blessed are
the poor in spirit,' as the root and mother of all the rest, the
remainder are so arranged as that we have alternately a grace which
regards mainly the man himself and his relations to God, and one which
also includes his relations to man.

Now there are three of these which look out into the world, and these
three are consummated by this one of my text. These are 'the meek,'
which describes a man's attitude to opposition and hatred; 'the
merciful,' which describes his indulgence in judgment and his
pitifulness in action; and 'the peacemakers.' For Christian people are
not merely to bear injuries and to recompense them with pity and with
love, but they are actively to try to bring about a wholesomer and purer
state of humanity, and to breathe the peace of God, which passes
understanding, over all the janglings and struggles of this world.

So, I think, if we give a due depth of significance to that name
'peacemaker,' we shall find that this grace worthily completes the whole
linked series, and is the very jewel which clasps the whole chain of
Christian and Christ-like characteristics.

I. How are Christ's peacemakers made?

Now there are certain people whose natural disposition has in it a fine
element, which diffuses soothing and concord all around them. I dare say
we all have known such--perhaps some good woman, without any very
shining gifts of intellect, who yet dwelt in such peace of heart herself
that conflict and jangling were rebuked in her presence. And there are
other people who love peace, and seek after it in the cowardly fashion
of letting things alone; whose 'peacemaking' has no nobler source than
hatred of trouble, and a wish to let sleeping dogs lie. These, instead
of being peacemakers, are war-makers, for they are laying up materials
for a tremendous explosion some day.

But it is a very different temper that Jesus Christ has in view here,
and I need only ask you to do again what we have had occasion to do in
the previous sermons of this series--to link this characteristic with
those that go before it, of which it is regarded as being the bright and
consummate flower and final outcome. No man can bring to others that
which he does not possess. Vainly will he whose own heart is torn by
contending passions, whose own life is full of animosities and
unreconciled outstanding causes of alienation and divergence between him
and God, between him and duty, between him and himself, ever seek to
shed any deep or real peace amongst men. He may superficially solder
some external quarrels, but that is not all that Jesus Christ means. His
peacemakers are created by having passed through all the previous
experiences which the preceding verses bring out. They have learned the
poverty of their own spirits. They have wept tears, if not real and
literal, yet those which are far more agonising--tears of spirit and
conscience--when they have thought of their own demerits and foulnesses.
They have bowed in humble submission to the will of God, and even to
that will as expressed by the antagonisms of man. They have yearned
after the possession of a fuller and nobler righteousness than they have
attained. They have learned to judge others with a gentle judgment
because they know how much they themselves need it, and to extend to
others a helping hand because they are aware of their own impotence and
need of succour. They have been led through all these, often painful,
experiences into a purity of heart which has been blessed by some
measure of vision of God; and, having thus been equipped and prepared,
they are fit to go out into the world and say, in the presence of all
its tempests, 'Peace! be still.' Something of the miracle-working energy
of the Master whom they serve will be shed upon those who serve Him.

Brethren, the peacemaker who is worthy of the name must have gone
through these deep spiritual experiences. I do not say that they are to
come in regular stages, separable from each other. That is not the way
in which a character mounts towards God. It does so not by a flight of
steps, at distinctly different elevations, but rather by an ascending
slope. And, although these various Christian graces which precede that
of my text are separable in thought, and are linked in the fashion that
our Lord sets forth in experience, they may be, and often are,
contemporaneous.

But whether separated from one another in time or not, whether this
life-preparation, of which the previous verses give us the outline, has
been realised drop by drop, or whether it has been all flooded on to the
soul at once, as it quite possibly has, in some fashion or other it must
precede our being the sort of peacemakers that Christ desires and
blesses.

There is only one more point that I would make here before I go on, and
that is, that it is well to notice that the climax of Christian
character, according to Jesus Christ Himself, is found in our relations
to men, and not in our relation to God. Worship of heart and spirit,
devout emotions of the sacredest, sweetest, most hallowed and hallowing
sort, are absolutely indispensable, as I have tried to show you. But
equally, if not more, important is it for us to remember that the purest
communion with God, and the selectest emotional experiences of the
Christian life, are meant to be the bases of active service; and that,
if such service does not follow these, there is good reason for
supposing that these are spurious, and worth very little. The service of
man is the outcome of the love of God. He who begins with poverty of
spirit is perfected when, forgetting himself, and coming down from the
mountain-top, where the Shekinah cloud of the Glory and the audible
voice are, he plunges into the struggles of the multitude below, and
frees the devil-ridden boy from the demon that possesses him. Begin by
all means with poverty of spirit, or you will never get to
this--'Blessed are the peacemakers.' But see to it that poverty of
spirit leads to the meekness, the mercifulness, the peace-bringing
influence which Christ has pronounced blessed.

II. What is the peace which Christ's peacemakers bring?

This is a very favourite text with people that know very little of the
depths of Christianity. They fancy that it appeals to common sense and
men's natural consciences, apart altogether from minutenesses of
doctrine or of Christian experience. They are very much mistaken. No
doubt there is a surface of truth, but only a surface, in the
application that is generally given to these words of our text, as if it
meant nothing more than 'he is a good man that goes about and tries to
make contending people give up their quarrels, and produces a healing
atmosphere of tranquillity wherever he goes.' That is perfectly true,
but there is a great deal more in the text than that. If we consider the
Scriptural usage of this great word 'peace,' and all the ground that it
covers in human experience; if we remember that it enters as an element
into Christ's own name, the 'Peace-Bringer,' the 'Prince of Peace'; and
if we notice, as I have already done, the place which this Beatitude
occupies in the series, we shall be obliged to look for some far deeper
meaning before we can understand the sweep of our Lord's intention here.

I do not think that I am going one inch too far, or forcing meanings
into His words which they are not intended to bear, when I say that the
first characteristic of the peace, which His disciples have been passed
through their apprenticeship in order to fit them to bring, is the peace
of reconciliation with God. The cause of all the other fightings in the
world is that men's relation to the Father in heaven is disturbed, and
that, whilst there flow out from Him only amity and love, these are met
by us with antagonism often, with opposition of will often, with
alienation of heart often, and with indifference and forgetfulness
almost uniformly. So the first thing to be done to make men at peace
with one another and with themselves is to rectify their relation to
God, and bring peace there.

We often hear in these days complaints of Christian Churches and
Christian people because they do not fling themselves, with sufficient
energy to please the censors, into movements which are intended to bring
about happier relations in society. The longest way round is sometimes
the shortest way home. It does not belong to all of us Christians, and I
doubt whether it belongs to the Christian Church as such at all, to
fling itself into the movements to which I have referred. But if a man
go and carry to men the great message of a reconciled and a reconciling
God manifest in Jesus Christ, and bringing peace between men and God, he
will have done more to sweeten society and put an end to hostility than
I think he will be likely to do by any other method. Christian men and
women, whatever else you and I are here for, we are here mainly that we
may preach, by lip and life, the great message that in Christ is our
peace, and that God 'was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.'

We are not to leave out, of course, that which is so often taken as
being the sole meaning of the great word of my text. There is much that
we are all bound to do to carry the tranquillising and soothing
influences of Gospel principles and of Christ's example into the
littlenesses of daily life. Any fool can stick a lucifer match into a
haystack and make a blaze. It is easy to promote strife. There is a
malicious love of it in us all; and ill-natured gossip has a great deal
to do in bringing it about. But it takes something more to put the fire
out than it did to light it, and there is no nobler office for
Christians than to seek to damp down all these devil's flames of envy
and jealousy and mutual animosity. We have to do it, first, by making
very sure that we do not answer scorn with scorn, gibes with gibes, hate
with hate, but 'seek to overcome evil with good.' It takes two to make a
quarrel, and your most hostile antagonist cannot break the peace unless
you help him. If you are resolved to keep it, kept it will be.

May I say another word? I think that our text, though it goes a good
deal deeper, does also very plainly tell us Christian folk what is our
duty in relation to literal warfare. There is no need for me to discuss
here the question as to whether actual fighting with armies and swords
is ever legitimate or not. It is a curious kind of Christian duty
certainly, if it ever gets to be one. And when one thinks of the
militarism that is crushing Europe and driving her ignorant classes to
wild schemes of revolution; and when one thinks of the hell of
battlefields, of the miseries of the wounded, of mourning widows, of
ruined peaceful peasants, of the devil's passions that war sets loose,
some of us find it extremely hard to believe that all that is ever in
accordance with the mind of Christ. But whether you agree with me in
that or no, surely my text points to the duty of the Christian Church to
take up a very much more decisive position in reference to the military
spirit than, alas! it ever has done. Certainly it does seem to be not
very obviously in accordance with Christ's teachings that men-of-war
should be launched with a religious service, or that _Te Deums_ should
be sung because thousands have been killed. It certainly does seem to be
something like a satire on European Christianity that one of the chief
lessons we have taught the East is that we have instructed the Japanese
how to use Western weapons to fight their enemies. Surely, surely, if
Christian churches laid to heart as they ought these plain words of the
Master, they would bring their united influence to bear against that
demon of war, and that pinchbeck, spurious glory which is connected with
it. 'Blessed are the peacemakers': let us try to earn the benediction.

III. Lastly, note the issue of this peacemaking.

'They shall be called the sons of God.' Called? By whom? Christ does not
say, but it should not be difficult to ascertain. It seems to me that to
suppose that it is by men degrades this promise, instead of making it
the climax of the whole series. Besides, it is not true that if a
Christian man lives as I have been trying to describe, protesting
against certain evils, trying to diffuse an atmosphere of peace round
about him; and, above all, seeking to make known the Name of the great
Peacemaker, men will generally call him a 'son of God.' The next verse
but one tells us what they will call him. 'Blessed are ye when men shall
revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you
falsely for My sake.' They are a great deal more likely to have stones
and rotten eggs flung at them than to be pelted with bouquets of scented
roses of popular approval. No! no! it is not man's judgment that is
meant here. It matters very little what men call us. It matters
everything what God calls us. It is He who will call them 'sons of God.'
So the Apostle John thought that Christ meant, for he very beautifully
and touchingly quotes this passage when he says, 'Beloved! behold what
manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be
called the sons of God.'

God's calling is a recognition of men for what they are. God owns the
man that lives in the fashion that we have been trying to outline--God
owns him for His child; manifestly a son, because he has the Father's
likeness. 'Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children, and
walk in love.' God in Christ is the first Peacemaker, and they who go
about the world proclaiming His peace and making peace, bear the image
of the heavenly, and are owned by God as His sons.

What does that owning mean? Well, it means a great deal which has yet to
be disclosed, but it means this, too, that the whisper of the Voice
which owns us for children will be heard by ourselves. The Spirit which
cries, 'Abba, Father!' will open our ears to hear Him say, 'Thou art My
beloved Son.' Or, to put it into plain English, there is no surer way by
which we can come to the calm, happy, continual consciousness of being
the children of God than by this living like Him, to spread the peace
of God over all hearts.

I have said in former sermons that all these promises, which are but the
natural outcome of the characteristics to which they are attached, have
a double reference, being fulfilled in germ here, and in maturity
hereafter. Like the rest, this one has that double reference. For the
consciousness, here and now, that we are the children of God is but, as
it were, the morning twilight of what shall hereafter be an typesetting
meridian sunshine. What depths of divine assimilation, what mysteries of
calm, peaceful, filial fellowship, what riches beyond count of divine
inheritance, lie in the name of son, the possession of these alone can
tell. For the same Apostle, whose comment upon these words we have
already quoted, goes on to say, 'It doth not yet appear what we shall
be.'

Only we have one assurance, wide enough for all anticipation, and firm
enough for solid hope: 'If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and
joint-heirs with Christ.' He must make us sons before we can be called
sons of God. He must give us peace with God, with ourselves, with men,
with circumstances, before we can go forth effectually to bring peace to
others. If He has given us these good things, He has bound us to spread
them. Let us do so. And if our peace ever is spoken in vain as regards
others, it will come back to us again; and we shall be kept in perfect
peace, even in the midst of strife, until we enter at last into the city
of peace and serve the King of Peace for ever.


THE EIGHTH BEATITUDE

     'Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for
      theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'--MATT. v. 10.

We have seen the description of the true subjects of the kingdom growing
into form and completeness before our eyes in the preceding verses,
which tell us what they are in their own consciousness, what they are in
their longings, what they become in inward nature by God's gift of
purity, how they move among men as angels of God, meek, merciful,
peace-bringing. Is anything more needed for complete portraiture, any
added touch to the picture? Yes--what the world is to them, what are its
wages for such work, what its perception of such characters. Their
relations to it are those of peace-bringers, reconcilers; its to them
are those of hostility and dislike. Blessed are the persecuted for
righteousness' sake.

I take these words to be as universal and permanent in their application
as any which have preceded them. This characteristic is, like all the
others, the result of those which go before it and presupposes their
continuous operation. The benediction which is attached is not an
arbitrary promise, but stands in as close a relation of consequence to
the characteristic as do the others. And it is marked out as the last in
the series by being a repetition of the first, to express the idea of
completeness, a rounded whole; to suggest that all the others are but
elements of this, and that the initial blessing given to the poor in
spirit is identical with that which is the reward of the highest
Christian character, the one possessing implicitly what the other has in
full development.

1. The world's recompense to the peace-bringers.

It may be thought that this clause, at all events, has reference to
special epochs only, and especially to the first founding of
Christianity. Such a reference, of course, there is. And very
remarkable is it how clearly and honestly Christ always warned would-be
disciples of what they would earn in this world by following Him.

But He seems to take especial pains to show that He here proclaims a
principle of equal generality with the others, by separating the
application of it to His immediate hearers which follows in the next
verse, from the universal statement in the text. Their individual
experience was but to illustrate the general rule, not to exhaust it.
And you remember how frequently the same thought is set forth in
Scripture in the most perfectly general terms.

1. Notice that antagonism is inevitable between a true Christian and the
world.

Take the character as it is sketched in verses preceding. Point by point
it is alien from the sympathies and habits of irreligious men. The
principles are different, the practices are different.

A true Christian ought to be a standing rebuke to the world, an
incarnate conscience.

There are but two ways of ending that antagonism: either by bringing the
world up to Christian character, or letting Christian character down to
the world.

2. The certain and uniform result is opposition and dislike--persecution
in its reality.

Darkness hateth light.

Some will, no doubt, be touched; there is that in all men which
acknowledges how awful goodness is. But the loftier character is not
loved by the lower which if loves.

Aristides 'the Just.' Christ Himself.

As to practice--a righteous life will not make a man 'popular.' And as
for 'opinions'--earnest religious opinions of any sort are distasteful.
Not the profession of them, but the reality of them--especially those
which seem in any way new or strange--make the average man angrily
intolerant of an earnest Christianity which takes its creed seriously
and insists on testing conventional life by it. Indolence,
self-complacency, and inborn conservatism join forces in resenting the
presence of such inconvenient enthusiasts, who upset everything and want
to 'turn the world upside down.'

    'The moping owl doth to the moon complain
     Of such as, wandering near her ivy tower.
     Molest her ancient, solitary reign.'

The seeds of the persecuting temper are in human nature, and they
germinate in the storms which Christianity brings with it.

3. The phases vary according to circumstances.

We have not to look for the more severe and gross kinds of persecution.

The tendency of the age is to visit no man with penalties for his
belief, but to allow the utmost freedom of thought.

The effect of Christianity upon popular morality has been to bring men
up towards the standard of Christ's righteousness.

The long proclamation of Christian truth in England has the effect of
making mere profession of it a perfectly safe and even proper thing.

But the antagonism remains at bottom the same.

Let a man earnestly accept even the creeds of established religion and
live by them, and he will find that out. Let him seek to proclaim and
enforce some of those truths of Christianity whose bearing upon social
and economical and ecclesiastical questions is but partially understood.
Let him set up and stick to a high standard of Christian morality and
see what comes of it, in business, say, or in social life.

'All that will live godly will suffer persecution.'

4. The present forms are perhaps not less hard to bear than the old
ones.

They are, no doubt, very small in contrast with the lions in the arena
or the fires of Smithfield. The curled lip, the civil scorn, the
alienation of some whose good opinion we would fain have, or, if we
stand in some public position, the poisonous slanders of the press, and
the contumacious epithets, are trivial but very real tokens of dislike.
We have the assassin's tongue instead of the assassin's dagger. But yet
such things may call for as much heroism as braving a rack, and the
spirit that shoots out the tongue may be as bad as the spirit that
yelled, _'Christianos ad leones.'_

5. The great reason why professing Christians now know so little about
persecution is because there is so little real antagonism. 'If ye were
of the world, the world would love his own.' The Church has leavened the
world, but the world has also leavened the Church; and it seems agreed
by common consent that there is to be no fanatical goodness of the early
primitive pattern. Of course, then, there will be no persecution, where
religion goes in silver slippers, and you find Christian men running
neck and neck with others, and no man can tell which is which.

Then, again, many escape by avoiding plain Christian duty, shutting
themselves up in their own little côteries.

(a) Let us be sure that we never flinch from our Christian character to
buy anybody's good opinion.

It is not for us to lower our flags to whoever fires across our bows. Do
you never feel it an effort to avow your principles? Do you never feel
that they are being smiled away in society? Are you not flattered by
being shown that this religion of yours is the one thing that stands
between you and cordial reception by these people?

(b) Let us be sure that it is righteousness and Christ which are the
grounds of anything of the sort we have to bear, and not our own faults
of temper and character.

(c) Let us be sure that we are not persecutors our selves.

To be so is inherent in human nature.

Men have often been both confessors and inquisitors. The spirit of
censorious judgment, of fierce hate, of impatient intolerance, has
often disgraced Christian men. It is for us to be only and always meek,
merciful peace-bringers; and if men will not accept truth, to seek to
win and woo them, not to be angry.

It is very hard to be both firm and tolerant, not letting the foolish
heart expand into a lazy glow of benevolence to all beliefs, and so
perilling one's own, nor letting intense adherence to our own
convictions darken into impotent wrath against their harshest opponents.
But let us remember that as God is our great example of mercy, so Christ
is our great example of patience, both under the world's unbelief and
the world's persecution.

II. God's Gift to the persecuted.

'The kingdom of heaven.'

This last promise is the same as the first--to express completeness, a
rounded whole. All the others are but elements of this.

That highest reward given to the perfectest saint is but the fuller
possession of what is given in germ to the humblest and sinfullest at
the very first. The poor in spirit gets it at the beginning.

It is not implied by this promise that a Christian man's blessedness
depends on the accident of some other person's behaviour to him, or that
martyrs have a place which none others can reach. But theirs is the
kingdom of heaven as a natural result of the character which brings
about persecution, and as a natural result of the development of that
character which persecution brings about. This promise, like all the
others, has its twofold fulfilment.

There is a present recompense.

Persecution is the result of a character which brings Christians into
the kingdom. Theirs is the kingdom--they are subjects. To them it is
given to enter.

Persecution makes the present consciousness of the possession of the
kingdom more vivid and joyous. It brings the enforced sense of a
vocation separate from the hostile world's. As Thomas Fuller puts it
somewhere, in troublous times the Church builds high, just as the men do
in cities where there is little room to expand on the ground level.

Persecution brightens and solidifies hope, and thus may become
infinitely sweet and blessed. How often it has been given to the martyr,
as it was given to Stephen, to see heaven opened and Jesus standing at
the right hand of God, as if risen to His feet to uphold as well as to
receive His servant. Paul and Silas made the prison walls ring with
their praises, though their backs were livid with wales and stained with
blood. And we, in our far smaller trials for Christ's sake, may have the
same more conscious possession of the kingdom and brightened hope of yet
fuller possession of it.

There is a future recompense in the perfect kingdom, where men are
rewarded according to their capacities. And if the way in which we have
met the world's evil has been right, then that will have made us fit for
a fuller possession.

In closing we recur to the thought of all these Beatitudes as a chain
and the beginning of all as being penitence and faith.

Many a poor man, or many a little child, may have a higher place in
heaven than some who have died at the stake for their Lord, for not our
history, but our character, determines our place there, and all the
fulness of the kingdom belongs to every one who with penitent heart
comes to God in Christ, and then by slow degrees from that root brings
forth first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.

Here is Jesus' ideal of character--poor in spirit, mourning, meek,
hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart,
peacemakers, persecuted for righteousness' sake. To be these is to be
blessed. And here is Jesus' ideal of what, over and above the inherent
blessedness of such a character, constitutes the true blessedness of a
soul--the possession of the kingdom of heaven, comfort from God, the
inheritance of the earth of which the inheritor may not own a yard, full
satisfaction of the longing after righteousness, the obtaining of mercy
from God, the name of sons of God, and, last as first, the possession of
the kingdom of heaven. Is Jesus' ideal yours? Do you believe that such a
character is the highest that a man can attain, that in itself it is
truly blessed, and will bring about results in contrast with which all
baser-born joys are coarse and false? Happy will you be if you so
believe, and if so believing you make the ideal which He paints your
aim, and therefore secure the blessedness which He attaches to it as
your exceeding great reward.


SALT WITHOUT SAVOUR

     'Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his
     savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for
     nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of
     men.'--MATT. v. 13.

These words must have seemed ridiculously presumptuous when they were
first spoken, and they have too often seemed mere mockery and irony in
the ages since. A Galilean peasant, with a few of his rude countrymen
who had gathered round him, stands up there on the mountain, and says to
them, 'You, a handful, are the people who are to keep the world from
rotting, and to bring it to all its best light.' Strange when we think
that Christ believed that these men were able to do these grand
functions because they drew their power from Himself! Stranger still to
think that, notwithstanding all the miserable inconsistencies of the
professing Church ever since, yet, on the whole, the experience of
history has verified these words! And although some wise men may curl
their lips with a sneer as they say about us Christians, '_Ye_ are the
salt of the earth!' yet the most progressive, and the most enlightened,
and the most moral portion of humanity has derived its impulse to
progress, its enlightenment as to the loftiest truths, and the purest
portion of its morality, from the men who received their power to impart
these from Jesus Christ.

And so, dear brethren, I have to say two or three things now, which I
hope will be plain and earnest and searching, about the function of the
Christian Church, and of each individual member of it, as set forth in
these words; about the solemn possibility that the qualification for
that function may go away from a man; about the grave question as to
whether such a loss can ever be repaired; and about the certain end of
the saltless salt.

I. First, then, as to the high task of Christ's disciples as here set
forth.

'Ye are the salt of the earth'! The metaphor wants very little
explanation, however much enforcement it may require. It involves two
things: a grave judgment as to the actual state of society, and a lofty
claim as to what Christ's followers are able to do to it.

A grave judgment as to the actual state of society--it is corrupt and
tending to corruption. You do not salt a living thing. You salt a dead
one that it may not be a rotting one. And, Christ says by implication
here, what He says plainly more than once in other places:--'Human
society, without My influence, is a carcass that is rotting away and
disintegrating; and you, faithful handful, who have partially
apprehended the meaning of My mission, and have caught something of the
spirit of My life, you are to be rubbed into that rotting mass to
sweeten it, to arrest decomposition, to stay corruption, to give flavour
to its insipidity, and to save it from falling to pieces of its own
wickedness. Ye are the _salt_ of the earth.'

Now, it is not merely because we are the bearers of a truth that will do
all this that we are thus spoken of, but we Christian men are to do it
by the influence of conduct and character.

There are two or three thoughts suggested by this metaphor. The chief
one is that of our power, and therefore our obligation, to arrest the
corruption round us, by our own purity. The presence of a good man
hinders the devil from having elbow-room to do his work. Do you and I
exercise a repressive influence (if we do not do anything better), so
that evil and low-toned life is ashamed to show itself in our presence,
and skulks back as do wrong-doers from the bull's-eye of a policeman's
lantern? It is not a high function, but it is a very necessary one, and
it is one that all Christian men and women ought to discharge--that of
rebuking and hindering the operation of corruption, even if they have
not the power to breathe a better spirit into the dead mass.

But the example of Christian men is not only repressive. It ought to
tempt forth all that is best and purest and highest in the people with
whom they come in contact. Every man who does right helps to make public
opinion in favour of doing right; and every man who lowers the standard
of morality in his own life helps to lower it in the community of which
he is a part. And so in a thousand ways that I have no need to dwell
upon here, the men that have Christ in their hearts and something of
Christ's conduct and character repeated in theirs are to be the
preserving and purifying influence in the midst of this corrupt world.

There are two other points that I name, and do not enlarge upon. The
first of them is--salt does its work by being brought into close contact
with the substance upon which it is to work. And so we, brought into
contact as we are with much evil and wickedness, by many common
relations of friendship, of kindred, of business, of proximity, of
citizenship, and the like,--we are not to seek to withdraw ourselves
from contact with the evil. The only way by which the salt can purify is
by being rubbed into the corrupted thing.

And once more, salt does its work silently, inconspicuously, gradually.
'Ye are the light of the world,' says Christ in the next verse. Light is
far-reaching and brilliant, flashing that it may be seen. That is one
side of Christian work, the side that most of us like best, the
conspicuous kind of it. Ay! but there is a very much humbler, and, as I
fancy, a very much more useful, kind of work that we have all to do. We
shall never be the 'light of the world,' except on condition of being
'the salt of the earth.' You have to play the humble, inconspicuous,
silent part of checking corruption by a pure example before you can
aspire to play the other part of raying out light into the darkness, and
so drawing men to Christ Himself.

Now, brethren, why do I repeat all these common, threadbare platitudes,
as I know they are? Simply in order to plant upon them this one question
to the heart and conscience of you Christian men and women:--Is there
anything in your life that makes this text, in its application to you,
other else than the bitterest mockery?

II. The grave possibility of the salt losing its savour.

There is no need for asking the question whether such loss is a physical
fact or not, whether in the natural realm it is possible for any forms
of matter that have saline taste to lose it by any cause. That does not
at all concern us. The point is that it is possible for us, who call
ourselves--and are--Christians, to lose our penetrating pungency, which
stays corruption; to lose all that distinguishes us from the men that we
are to better.

Now I think that nobody can look upon the present condition of
professing Christendom; or, in a narrower aspect, upon the present
condition of English Christianity; or in a still narrower, nobody can
look round upon this congregation; or in the narrowest view, none of us
can look into our own hearts--without feeling that this saying comes
perilously near being true of us. And I beg you, dear Christian friends,
while I try to dwell on this point, to ask yourselves this
question--Lord, is it I? and not to be thinking of other people whom you
may suppose the cap will fit.

There is, then, manifest on every side--first of all, the obliteration
of the distinction between the salt and the mass into which it is
inserted, or to put it into other words, Christian men and women swallow
down bodily, and practise thoroughly, the maxims of the world, as to
life, as to what is pleasant and what is desirable, and as to the
application of morality to business. There is not a hair of difference
in that respect between hundreds and thousands of professing Christian
men, and the irreligious man that has his office up the same staircase.
I know, of course, that there are in every communion saintly men and
women who are labouring to keep themselves unspotted from the world, but
I know too that in every communion there are those, whose religion has
next to no influence on their general conduct, and does not even keep
them from corruption, to say nothing of making them sources of purifying
influence. You cannot lay the flattering unction to your souls that the
reason why there is so little difference between the Church and the
world to-day is because the world has grown so much better. I know that
to a large extent the principles of Christian ethics have permeated the
consciousness of a country like this, and have found their way even
amongst people who make no profession at all of being Christians. Thank
God for it; but that does not explain it all.

If you take a red-hot ball out of a furnace and lay it down upon a
frosty moor, two processes will go on--the ball will lose heat and the
surrounding atmosphere will gain it. There are two ways by which you
equalise the temperature of a hotter and a colder body: the one is by
the hot one getting cold, and the other is by the cold one getting hot.
If you are not heating the world, the world is freezing you. Every man
influences all men round him, and receives influences from them, and if
there be not more exports than imports, if there be not more influences
and mightier influences raying out from him than are coming into him, he
is a poor creature, and at the mercy of circumstances. 'Men must either
be hammers or anvil';--must either give blows or receive them. I am
afraid that a great many of us who call ourselves Christians get a great
deal more harm from the world than we ever dream of doing good to it.
Remember this, 'you are the salt of the earth,' and if you do not salt
the world, the world will rot you.

Is there any difference between your ideal of happiness and the
irreligious one? Is there any difference between your notion of what is
pleasure, and the irreligious one? Is there any difference in your
application of the rules of morality to daily life, any difference in
your general way of looking at things from the way of the ungodly world?
Yes, or No? Is the salt being infected by the carcass, or is it
purifying the corruption? Answer the question, brother, as before God
and your own conscience.

Then there is another thing. There can be no doubt but that all round
and shared by us, there are instances of the cooling of the fervour of
Christian devotion. That is the reason for the small distinction in
character and conduct between the world and the Church to-day. An Arctic
climate will not grow tropical fruits, and if the heat have been let
down, as it has been let down, you cannot expect the glories of
character and the pure unworldliness of conduct that you would have had
at a higher temperature. Nor is there any doubt but that the present
temperature is, with some of us, a distinct _loss_ of heat. It was
not always so low. The thermometer has gone down.

There are, no doubt, some among us who had once a far more vigorous
Christian life than they have to-day; who were once far more aflame with
the love of God than they are now. And although I know, of course, that
as years go on emotion will become less vivid, and feeling may give
place to principle, yet I know no reason why, as years go on, fervour
should become less, or the warmth of our love to our Master should
decline. There will be less spluttering and crackling when the fire
burns up; there may be fewer flames; but there will be a hotter glow of
ruddy, unflaming heat. That is what ought to be in our Christian
experience.

Nor can there be any doubt, I think, but that the partial obliteration
of the distinction between the Church and the world, and the decay of
the fervour of devotion which leads to it, are both to be traced to a
yet deeper cause, and that is the loss or diminution of actual
fellowship with Jesus Christ. It was that which made these early
disciples 'salt.' It was that which made them 'light.' It is that, and
that alone, which makes devotion burn fervid, and which makes characters
glow with the strange saintliness that rebukes iniquity, and works for
the purifying of the world. And so I would remind you that fellowship
with Jesus Christ is no vague exercise of the mind but is to be
cultivated by three things, which I fear me are becoming less and less
habitual amongst professing Christians:--Meditation, the study of the
Bible, private prayer. If you have not these--and you know best whether
you have them or not--no power in heaven or earth can prevent you from
losing the savour that makes you salt.

III. Now I come to the next point, and that is the solemn question: Is
there a possibility of re-salting the saltless salt, of restoring the
lost savour?

'Wherewithal shall it be salted?' says the Master. That is plain enough,
but do not let us push it too far. If the Church is meant for the
purifying of the world, and the Church itself needs purifying, is there
any power in the world that will do it? If the army joins the rebels, is
there any force that will bring back the army to submission? Our Lord is
speaking about ordinary means and agencies. He is saying in effect, if
the one thing that is intended to preserve the meat loses its power, is
there anything lying about that will salt that? So far, then, the answer
seems to be--No.

But Christ has no intention that these words should be pushed to the
extreme of asserting that if salt loses its savour, if a man loses the
pungency of his Christian life, he cannot win it back, by going again to
the source from which he received it at first. There is no such
implication in these words. There is no obstacle in the way of a
penitent returning to the fountain of all power and purity, nor of the
full restoration of the lost savour, if a man will only bring about a
full reunion of himself with the source of the savour.

Dear brethren, the message is to each of us; the same pleading words,
which the Apocalyptic seer heard from Heaven, come to you and me:
'Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do
the first works.' And all the savour and the sweetness that flow from
fellowship with Jesus Christ will come back to us in larger measure than
ever, if we will come back to the Lord. Repentance and returning will
bring back the saltness to the salt, and the brilliancy to the light.

IV. But one last word warns us what is the certain end of the saltless
salt.

As the other Evangelist puts it: 'It is neither good for the land nor
for the dunghill.' You cannot put it upon the soil; there is no
fertilising virtue in it. You cannot even fling it into the
rubbish-heap; it will do mischief there. Pitch it out into the road; it
will stop a cranny somewhere between the stones when once it is well
trodden down by men's heels. That is all it is fit for. God has no use
for it, man has no use for it. If it has failed in doing the only thing
it was created for, it has failed altogether. Like a knife that will not
cut, or a lamp that will not burn, which may have a beautiful handle, or
a beautiful stem, and may be highly artistic and decorated; but the
question is, Does it cut, does it burn? If not, it is a failure
altogether, and in this world there is no room for failures. The poorest
living thing of the lowest type will jostle the dead thing out of the
way. And so, for the salt that has lost its savour, there is only one
thing to be done with it--cast it out, and tread it under foot.

Yes; where are the Churches of Asia Minor, the patriarchates of
Alexandria, of Antioch, of Constantinople; the whole of that early
Syrian, Palestinian Christianity: where are they? Where is the Church of
North Africa, the Church of Augustine? 'Trodden under foot of men!' Over
the archway of a mosque in Damascus you can read the half-obliterated
inscription--'Thy Kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting Kingdom,' and
above it--'There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His prophet!' The
salt has lost his savour, and been cast out.

And does any one believe that the Churches of Christendom are eternal in
their present shape? I see everywhere the signs of disintegration in the
existing embodiments and organisations that set forth Christian life.
And I am sure of this, that in the days that are coming to us, the storm
in which we are already caught, all dead branches will be whirled out of
the tree. So much the better for the tree! And a great deal that calls
itself organised Christianity will have to go down because there is not
vitality enough in it to stand. For you know it is low vitality that
catches all the diseases that are going; and it is out of the sick
sheep's eyeholes that the ravens peck the eyes. And it will be the
feeble types of spiritual life, the inconsistent Christianities of our
churches, that will yield the crop of apostates and heretics and
renegades, and that will fall before temptation.

Brethren, remember this: Unless you go back close to your Lord, you will
go further away from Him. The deadness will deepen, the coldness will
become icier and icier; you will lose more and more of the life, and
show less and less of the likeness, and purity, of Jesus Christ until
you come to this--I pray God that none of us come to it--'Thou hast a
name that thou livest, and art dead.' Dead!

My brother, let us return unto the Lord our God, and keep nearer Him
than we ever have done, and bring our hearts more under the influence of
His grace, and cultivate the habit of communion with Him; and pray and
trust, and leave ourselves in His hands, that His power may come into
us, and that we in the beauty of our characters, and the purity of our
lives, and the elevation of our spirits, may witness to all men that we
have been with Christ; and may, in some measure, check the corruption
that is in the world through lust.


THE LAMP AND THE BUSHEL

     'Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill
     cannot be hid. 15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under
     a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that
     are in the house. 16. Let your light so shine before men, that they
     may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in
     heaven.'--Matt. v. 14-16.

The conception of the office of Christ's disciples contained in these
words is a still bolder one than that expressed by the preceding
metaphor, which we considered in the last sermon. 'Ye are the salt of
the earth' implied superior moral purity and power to arrest corruption.
'Ye are the light of the world' implies superior spiritual illumination,
and power to scatter ignorance.

That is not all the meaning of the words, but that is certainly in them.
So then, our Lord here gives His solemn judgment that the world, without
Him and those who have learned from Him, is in a state of darkness; and
that His followers have that to impart which will bring certitude and
clearness of knowledge, together with purity and joy and all the other
blessed things which are 'the fruit of the light.'

That high claim is illustrated by a very homely metaphor. In every
humble house from which His peasant-followers came, there would be a
lamp--some earthen saucer with a little oil in it, in which a wick
floated, a rude stand to put it upon, a meal-chest or a flour-bin, and a
humble pallet on which to lie. These simple pieces of furniture are
taken to point this solemn lesson. 'When you light your lamp you put it
on the stand, do you not? You light it in order that it may give light;
you do not put it under the meal-measure or the bed. So I have kindled
you that you may shine, and put you where you are that you may give
light.'

And the same thought, with a slightly different turn in the application,
lies in that other metaphor, which is enclosed in the middle of this
parable about the light: 'a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.'
Where they stood on the mountain, no doubt they could see some village
perched upon a ridge for safety, with its white walls gleaming in the
strong Syrian sunlight; a landmark for many a mile round. So says
Christ: 'The City which I found, the true Jerusalem, like its prototype
in the Psalm, is to be conspicuous for situation, that it may be the joy
of the whole earth.'

I take all this somewhat long text now because all the parts of it hold
so closely together, and converge upon the one solemn exhortation with
which it closes, and which I desire to lay upon your hearts and
consciences, 'Let your light so shine before men.' I make no pretensions
to anything like an artificial arrangement of my remarks, but simply
follow the words in the order in which they lie before us.

I. First, just a word about the great conception of a Christian man's
office which is set forth in that metaphor, 'Ye are the light of the
world.'

That expression is wide, 'generic,' as they say. Then in the unfolding
of this little parable our Lord goes on to explain what kind of a light
it is to which He would compare His people--the light of a lamp kindled.
Now that is the first point that I wish to deal with. Christian men
individually, and the Christian Church as a whole, shine by derived
light. There is but One who is light in Himself. He who said, 'I am the
light of the world, he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness,'
was comparing Himself to the sunshine, whereas when He said to us, 'Ye
are the light of the world; men do not light a lamp and put it under a
bushel,' He was comparing us to the kindled light of the lamp, which had
a beginning and will have an end.

Before, and independent of, His historical manifestation in the flesh,
the Eternal Word of God, who from the beginning was the Life, was also
the light of men; and all the light of reason and of conscience, all
which guides and illumines, comes from that one source, the Everlasting
Word, by whom all things came to be and consist. 'He was the true light
which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.' And further, the
historic Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the source for men of all true
revelation of God and themselves, and of the relations between them; the
Incarnate Ideal of humanity, the Perfect Pattern of conduct, who alone
sheds beams of certainty on the darkness of life, who has left a long
trail of light as He has passed into the dim regions beyond the grave.
In both these senses He is the light, and we gather our radiance from
Him.

We shall be 'light' if we are 'in the Lord.' It is by union with Jesus
Christ that we partake of His illumination. A sunbeam has no more power
to shine if it be severed from the sun than a man has to give light in
this dark world if He be parted from Jesus Christ. Cut the current and
the electric light dies; slacken the engine and the electric arc becomes
dim, quicken it and it burns bright. So the condition of my being light
is my keeping unbroken my communication with Jesus Christ; and every
variation in the extent to which I receive into my heart the influx of
His power and of His love is correctly measured and represented by the
greater or the lesser brilliancy of the light with which I reflect His
radiance. Ye were some time darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.'
Keep near to Him, and a firm hold of His hand, and then you will be
light.

And now I need not dwell for more than a moment or two upon what I have
already said is included in this conception of the Christian man as
being light. There are two sides to it: one is that all Christian people
who have learned to know Jesus Christ and have been truly taught of Him,
do possess a certitude and clearness of knowledge which make them the
lights of the world. We advance no claims to any illumination as to
other than moral or religious truth. We leave all the other fields
uncontested. We bow humbly with confessed ignorance and with unfeigned
gratitude and admiration before those who have laboured in them, as
before our teachers, but if we are true to our Master, and true to the
position in which He has placed us, we shall not be ashamed to say that
we believe ourselves to know the truth, in so far as men can ever know
it, about the all-important subject of God and man, and the bond between
them.

To-day there is need, I think, that Christian men and women should not
be reasoned or sophisticated or cowed out of their confidence that they
have the light because they do know God. It is proclaimed as the
ultimate word of modern thought that we stand in the presence of a power
which certainly is, but of which we can know nothing except that it is
altogether different from ourselves, and that it ever tempts us to
believe that we can know it, and ever repels us into despair. Our answer
is Yes! we could have told you that long ago, though not altogether in
your sense; you have got hold of half a truth, and here is the whole of
it:--'No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see Him!' (a Gospel of
despair, verified by the last words of modern thinkers), 'the only
begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared
Him.'

Christian men and women, 'Ye are the light of the world.' Darkness in
yourselves, ignorant about many things, ungifted with lofty talent, you
have possession of the deepest truth; do not be ashamed to stand up and
say, even in the presence of Mars' Hill, with all its Stoics and
Epicureans:--'Whom ye ignorantly'--alas! not 'worship'--'Whom ye
ignorantly speak of, Him declare we unto you.'

And then there is the other side, which I only name, moral purity. Light
is the emblem of purity as well as the emblem of knowledge, and if we
are Christians we have within us, by virtue of our possession of an
indwelling Christ, a power which teaches and enables us to practise a
morality high above the theories and doings of the world. But upon this
there is the less need to dwell, as it was involved in our consideration
of the previous figure of the salt.

II. And now the next point that I would make is this, following the
words before us--the certainty that if we are light we shall shine.

The nature and property of light is to radiate. It cannot choose but
shine; and in like manner the little village perched upon a hill there,
glittering and twinkling in the sunlight, cannot choose but be seen. So,
says Christ, 'If you have Christian character in you, if you have Me in
you, such is the nature of the Christian life that it will certainly
manifest itself.' Let us dwell upon that for a moment or two. Take two
thoughts: All earnest Christian conviction will demand expression; and
all deep experience of the purifying power of Christ upon character will
show itself in conduct.

All earnest conviction will demand expression. Everything that a man
believes has a tendency to convert its believer into its apostle. That
is not so in regard to common every-day truths, nor in regard even to
truths of science, but it is so in regard to all moral truth. For
example, if a man gets a vivid and intense conviction of the evils of
intemperance and the blessings of abstinence, look what a fiery
vehemence of propagandism is at once set to work. And so all round the
horizon of moral truth which is intended to affect conduct; it is of
such a sort that a man cannot get it into brain and heart without
causing him before long to say--'This thing has mastered me, and turned
me into its slave; and I must speak according to my convictions.'

That experience works most mightily in regard to Christian truth, as the
highest. What shall we say, then, of the condition of Christian men and
women if they have not such an instinctive need of utterance? Do you
ever feel this in your heart:--'Thy word shut up in my bones was like a
fire. I was weary of forbearing, and I could not stay'? Professing
Christians, do you know anything of the longing to speak your deepest
convictions, the feeling that the fire within you is burning through all
envelopings, and will be out? What shall we say of the men that have it
not? God forbid I should say there is no fire, but I do say that if the
fountain never rises into the sunlight above the dead level of the pool,
there can be very little pressure at the main; that if a man has not the
longing to speak his religious convictions, those convictions must be
very hesitating and very feeble; that if you never felt 'I must say to
somebody I have found the Messias,' you have not found Him in any very
deep sense, and that if the light that is in you can be buried under a
bushel, it is not much of a light after all, and needs a great deal of
feeding and trimming before it can be what it ought to be.

On the other hand, all deep experience of the purifying power of Christ
upon character will show itself in conduct. It is all very well for
people to profess that they have received the forgiveness of sins and
the inner sanctification of God's Spirit. If you have, let us see it,
and let us see it in the commonest, pettiest affairs of daily life. The
communication between the inmost experience and the outermost conduct is
such as that if there be any real revolution deep down, it will manifest
itself in the daily life. I make all allowance for the loss of power in
transmission, for the loss of power in friction. I am glad to believe
that you and I, and all our imperfect brethren, are a great deal better
in heart than we ever manage to show ourselves to be in life. Thank God
for the consolation that may come out of that thought--but
notwithstanding I press on you my point that, making all such allowance,
and setting up no impossible standard of absolute identity between duty
and conduct in this present life, yet, on the whole, if we are Christian
people with any deep central experience of the cleansing power and
influence of Christ and His grace, we shall show it in life and in
conduct. Or, to put it into the graphic and plain image of my text, If
we are light we shall shine.

III. Again, and very briefly, this obligation of giving light is still
further enforced by the thought that that was Christ's very purpose in
all that He has done with us and for us.

The homely figure here implies that _He_ has not kindled the lamp to put
it under the bushel, but that _His_ purpose in lighting it was that it
might give light. God has made us partakers of His grace, and has given
to us to be light in the Lord, for this among other purposes, that we
should impart that light to others. No creature is so small that it has
not the right to expect that its happiness and welfare shall be regarded
by God as an end in His dealings with it; but no creature is so great
that it has the right to expect that its happiness or well-being shall
be regarded by God and itself as God's only end in His dealings with it.
He gives us His grace, His pardon, His love, the quickening of His
Spirit by our union with Jesus Christ; He gives us our knowledge of Him,
and our likeness to Him--what for? 'For my own salvation, for my
happiness and well-being,' you say. Certainly, blessed be His name for
His love and goodness! But is that all His purpose? Paul did not think
so when he said, 'God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness
hath shined into our hearts that we might give to others the light of
the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.' And
Christ did not think so when He said, 'Men do not light a candle and put
it under a bushel, but that it may give light to all that are in the
house.' 'Heaven doth with us as we with torches do: not light them for
themselves.' The purpose of God is that we may shine. The lamp is
kindled not to illumine itself, but that it may 'give light to all that
are in the house.'

Consider again, that whilst all these things are true, there is yet a
solemn possibility that men--even good men--may stifle and smother and
shroud their light. You can do, and I am afraid a very large number of
you do do, this; by two ways. You can bury the light of a holy character
under a whole mountain of inconsistencies. If one were to be fanciful,
one might say that the bushel or meal-chest meant material well-being,
and the bed, indolence and love of ease. I wonder how many of us
Christian men and women have buried their light under the flour-bin and
the bed, so interpreted? How many of us have drowned our consecration
and devotion in foul waters of worldly lusts, and have let the love of
earth's goods, of wealth and pleasure and creature love, come like a
poisonous atmosphere round the lamp of our Christian character, making
it burn dim and blue?

And we can bury the light of the Word under cowardly and sheepish and
indifferent silence. I wonder how many of us have done that? Like
blue-ribbon men that button their great-coats over their blue ribbons
when they go into company where they are afraid to show them, there are
many Christian people that are devout Christians at the Communion Table,
but would be ashamed to say they were so in the miscellaneous company of
a railway carriage or a _table d'hote_. There are professing Christians
who have gone through life in their relationships to their fathers,
sisters, wives, children, friends, kindred, their servants and
dependants, and have never spoken a loving word for their Master. That
is a sinful hiding of your light under the bushel and the bed.

IV. And so the last word, into which all this converges, is the plain
duty: If you are light, shine!

'Let your light so shine before men,' nays the text, 'that they may see
your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.' In the next
chapter our Lord says: 'Take heed that ye do not your alms before men to
be seen of them. Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love
to pray standing in the synagogues that they may be seen of men.' What
is the difference between the two sets of men and the two kinds of
conduct? The motive makes the difference for one thing, and for another
thing, 'Let your light so shine' does not mean 'take precautions that
your goodness may come out into public,' but it means 'Shine!' You find
the light, and the world will find the eyes, no fear of that! You do not
need to seek 'to be seen of men,' but you do need to shine that men may
see.

The lighthouse keeper takes no pains that the ships tossing away out at
sea may behold the beam that shines from his lamp; all that he does is
to feed it and tend it. And that is all that you and I have to do--tend
the light, and do not, like cowards, cover it up. Modestly, but yet
bravely, carry out your Christianity, and men will see it. Do not be as
a dark lantern, burning with the slides down and illuminating nothing
and nobody. Live your Christianity, and it will be beheld.

And remember, candles are not lit to be looked at. Candles are lit that
something else may be seen by them. Men may see God through your words,
through your conduct, who never would have beheld Him otherwise, because
His beams are too bright for their dim eyes. And it is an awful thing to
think that the world always--_always_--takes its conception of
Christianity from the Church, and neither from the Bible nor from
Christ; and that it is you and your like, you inconsistent Christians,
you people that say your sins are forgiven and yet are doing the old
sins day by day which you say are pardoned, you low-toned, unpraying,
worldly Christian men, who have no elevation of character and no
self-restraint of life and no purity of conduct above the men in your
own profession and in your own circumstances all round you--it is you
that are hindering the coming of Christ's Kingdom, it is you that are
the standing disgraces of the Church, and the weaknesses and diseases of
Christendom. I speak strongly, not half as strongly as the facts of the
case would warrant; but I lay it upon all your consciences as professing
Christian people to see to it that no longer your frivolities, or
doubtful commercial practices, or low, unspiritual tone of life, your
self-indulgence in household arrangements, and a dozen other things that
I might name--that no longer do they mar the clearness of your testimony
for your Master, and disturb with envious streaks of darkness the light
that shines from His followers.

How effectual such a witness may be none who have not seen its power can
suppose. Example does tell. A holy life curbs evil, ashamed to show
itself in that pure presence. A good man or woman reveals the ugliness
of evil by showing the beauty of holiness. More converts would be made
by a Christ-like Church than by many sermons. Oh! if you professing
Christians knew your power and would use it, if you would come closer to
Christ, and catch more of the light from His face, you might walk among
men like very angels, and at your bright presence darkness would flee
away, ignorance would grow wise, impurity be abashed, and sorrow
comforted.

Be not content, I pray you, till your own hearts are fully illumined by
Christ, having no part dark--and then live as remembering that you have
been made light that you may shine. 'Arise, shine, for thy light is
come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.'


THE NEW FORM OF THE OLD LAW

     'Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am
     not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18. For verily I say unto you,
     Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise
     pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19. Whosoever therefore
     shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men
     so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but
     whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great
     in the kingdom of heaven. 20. For I say unto you, That except your
     righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and
     Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
     21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt
     not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the
     judgment: 22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his
     brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and
     whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the
     council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of
     hell-fire. 23. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and
     there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24.
     Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be
     reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25.
     Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with
     him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and
     the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into
     prison. 26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out
     thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.'--MATT. v.
     17-26.

This passage falls naturally into two parts--the former extending from
verse 17 to 20 inclusive; the latter, from verse 21 to the end. In the
former, the King of the true kingdom lays down the general principles of
the relation between its laws and the earlier revelation of the divine
will; in the latter, He exemplifies this relation in one case, which is
followed, in the remainder of the chapter, by three other illustrative
examples.

I. The King laying down the law of His kingdom in its relation to the
older law of God.

The four verses included in this section give a regular sequence of
thought: verse 17 declaring our Lord's personal relation to the former
revelation as fulfilling it; verse 18 basing that statement of the
purpose of His coming on the essential permanence of the old law; verses
19 and 20 deducing thence the relation of His disciples to that law, and
that in such a way that verse 19 corresponds to verse 18, and affirms
that this permanent law is binding in its minutest details on His
subjects, while verse 20 corresponds to verse 17, and requires their
deepened righteousness as answering to His fulfilment of the law.

The first thing that strikes one in looking at these verses is their
authoritative tone. There may, even thus early in Christ's career, have
been some murmurs that He was taking up a position of antagonism to
Mosaism, which may account for the 'think not' which introduces the
section. But however that may be, the swift transition from the
Beatitudes to speak of Himself and of the meaning of His work is all of
a piece with His whole manner; for certainly never did religious teacher
open his mouth, who spoke so perpetually about Himself as did the meek
Jesus. 'I came' declares that He is 'the coming One,' and is really a
claim to have voluntarily appeared among men, as well as to be the
long-expected Messiah. With absolute decisiveness He states the purpose
of His coming. He knows the meaning of His own work, which so few of us
do, and it is safe to take His own account of what He intends, as it so
seldom is. His opening declaration is singularly composed of blended
humility and majesty. Its humility lies in His placing Himself, as it
were, in line with previous messengers, and representing Himself as
carrying on the sequence of divine revelation. It would not have been
humble for anybody but Him to say that, but it was so for Him. Its
majesty lies in His claim to 'fulfil' all former utterances from God.
His fulfilment of the law properly so called is twofold: first, in His
own proper person and life, He completes obedience to it, realises its
ideal; second, in His exposition of it, both by lip and life, He deepens
and intensifies its meaning, changing it from a letter which regulates
the actions, to a spirit which moves the inward man.

So these first words point to the peculiarity of His coming as being His
own act, and make two daring assertions, as to His character, which He
claims to be sinless, and as to His teaching, which he claims to be an
advance upon all the former divine revelation. As to the former, He
speaks here as He did to John, 'thus it becometh us to fulfil all
righteousness.' No trace of consciousness of sin or defect appears in
any words or acts of His. The calmest conviction that He was perfectly
righteous is always manifest. How comes it that we are not repelled by
such a tone? We do not usually admire self-complacent religious
teachers. Why has nobody ever given Christ the lie, or pointed to His
unconsciousness of faults as itself the gravest fault? Strange inaugural
discourse for a humble sage and saint to assert his own immaculate
perfection, stranger still that a listening world has said, 'Amen!'
Note, too, the royal style here. In this part of the 'Sermon' our Lord
twice uses the phrase, 'I say unto you,' which He once introduces with
His characteristic 'verily.' Once He employs it to give solemnity to the
asseveration which stretches forward to the end of this solid-seeming
world, and once He introduces by it the stringent demand for His
followers' loftier righteousness. His unsupported word is given us as
our surest light in the dark future, His bare command as the most
imperative authority. This style goes kingly; it calls for absolute
credence and unhesitating submission. When He speaks, even if we have
nothing but His word, it is ours neither 'to make reply' nor 'to reason
why,' but simply to believe, and swiftly to do. Rabbis might split hairs
and quote other rabbis by the hour; philosophers may argue and base
their teachings on elaborate demonstrations; moralists may seek to sway
the conscience through reason; legislators to appeal to fear and hope.
He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast. There is
nothing else in the world the least like the superb and mysterious
authority with which He fronts the world, and, as Fountain of knowledge
and Source of obligation, summons us all to submit and believe, by that
'Verily, I say unto you.'

Verse 18. Next we have to notice the exuberant testimony to the
permanence of the law. Not the smallest of its letters, not even the
little marks which distinguished some of them, or the flourishes at the
top of some of them, should pass,--as we might say, not even the stroke
across a written 't,' which shows that it is not 'l.' The law shall last
as long as the world. It shall last till it be accomplished. And what
then? The righteousness which it requires can never be so realised that
we shall not need to realise it any more, and in the new heavens
righteousness dwelleth. But in a very real sense law shall cease when
fulfilled. There is no law to him who can say, 'Thy law is within my
heart.' When law has become both 'law and impulse,' it has ceased to be
law, in so far as it no longer stands over against the doer as an
external constraint.

Verse 19. On this permanence of the law Christ builds its imperative
authority in His kingdom. Obviously, the 'kingdom of heaven' in verse 19
means the earthly form of that kingdom. The King republishes, as it
were, the old code, and adopts it as the basis of His law. He thus
assumes the absolute right of determining precedence and dignity in that
kingdom. The sovereign is the 'fountain of honour,' whose word ennobles.
Observe the merciful accuracy of the language. The breach of the
commandments either in theory or in practice does not exclude from the
kingdom, for it is, while realised on earth, a kingdom of sinful men
aiming after holiness; but the smallest deflection from the law of
right, in theory or in practice, does lower a man's standing therein,
inasmuch as it makes him less capable of that conformity to the King,
and consequent nearness to Him, which determines greatness and smallness
there. Dignity in the kingdom depends on Christ-likeness, and
Christ-likeness depends on fulfilling, as He did, all righteousness.
Small flaws are most dangerous because least noticeable. More Christian
men lose their chance of promotion in the kingdom by a multitude of
little sins than by single great ones.

Verse 20. As the King has Himself by His perfect obedience fulfilled the
law, His subjects likewise must, in their obedience, transcend the
righteousness of those who best knew and most punctiliously kept it. The
scribes and Pharisees are not here regarded as hypocrites, but taken as
types of the highest conformity with the law which the old dispensation
afforded. The new kingdom demands a higher, namely a more spiritual and
inward righteousness, one corresponding to the profounder meaning which
the King gives to the old commandment. And this loftier fulfilment is
not merely the condition of dignity in, but of entrance at all into, the
kingdom. Inward holiness is the essence of the character of all its
subjects. How that holiness is to be ours is not here told, except in so
far as it is hinted by the fact that it is regarded as the issue of the
King's fulfilling the law. These last words would have been terrible and
excluding if they had stood alone. When they follow 'I am come to
fulfil,' they are a veiled gospel, implying that by His fulfilment the
righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us.

II. We have an illustrative example in the case of the old commandment
against murder. This part of the passage falls into three
divisions--each occupying two verses. First we have the deepening and
expansion of the commandment. This part begins with the royal style
again. 'What was said to them of old' is left in its full authority.
'But I say unto you' represents Jesus as possessing co-ordinate
authority with that law, of which the speaker is unnamed, perhaps
because the same Word of God which now spoke in Him had spoken it. We
need but refer here to the Jewish courts and Sanhedrim, and to that
valley of Hinnom, where the offal of Jerusalem and the corpses of
criminals were burned, nor need we discuss the precise force of 'Raca'
and 'thou fool.' The main points to be observed are, the distinct
extension of the conception of 'killing' to embrace malevolent anger,
whether it find vent or is kept close in the heart; the clear
recognition that, whilst the emotion which is the source of the overt
act is of the same nature as the act, and that therefore he who 'hateth
his brother is a murderer,' there are degrees in criminality, according
as the anger remains unexpressed, or finds utterance in more or less
bitter and contemptuous language; that consequently there are degrees in
the severity of the punishment which is administered by no earthly
tribunal; and that, finally, this stern sentence has hidden in it the
possibility of forgiveness, inasmuch as the consequence of the sin is
liability to punishment, but not necessarily suffering of it. The old
law had no such mitigation of its sentence.

Verses 23, 24. The second part of this illustrative example intensifies
the command by putting obedience to it before acts of external worship.
The language is vividly picturesque. We see a worshipper standing at the
very altar while the priest is offering his sacrifice. In that sacred
moment, while he is confessing his sins, a flash across his memory shows
him a brother offended,--rightly or wrongly it matters not. The solemn
sacrifice is to pause while he seeks the offended one, and, whatever the
other man's reception of his advances may be, he cleanses his own bosom
of its perilous stuff; then he may come back and go on with the
interrupted worship. Nothing could put in a clearer light the prime
importance of the command than this setting aside of sacred religious
acts for its sake. 'Obedience is better than sacrifice.' And the little
word 'therefore,' at the beginning of verse 23, points to the terrible
penalties as the reason for this urgency. If such destruction may light
on the angry man, nothing should come between him and the conquest of
his anger. Such self-conquest, which will often seem like degradation,
is more acceptable service to the King, and truer worship, than all
words or ceremonial acts. Deep truths as to the relations between
worship, strictly so called, and life, lie in these words, which may
well be taken to heart by those whose altar is Calvary, and their gift
the thank-offering of themselves.

Verses 25, 26. The third part is a further exhortation to the same
swiftness in casting out anger from the heart, thrown into a parabolic
form. When you quarrel with a man, says Christ in effect, prudence
enjoins to make it up as soon as possible, before he sets the law in
motion. If once he, as plaintiff, has brought you before the judge, the
law will go on mechanically through the stages of trial, condemnation,
surrender to the prison authorities, and confinement till the last
farthing has been paid. So, if you are conscious that you have an
adversary,--and any man that you hate is your adversary, for he will
appear against you at that solemn judgment to come,--agree with him,
put away the anger out of your heart at once. In the special case in
hand, the 'adversary' is the man with whom we are angry. In the general
application of the precept to the whole series of offences against the
law, the adversary may be regarded as the law itself. In either
interpretation, the stages of appearing before the judge and so on up
till the shutting up in prison are the stages of the judgment before the
tribunal, not of earth, but of the kingdom of heaven. They point to the
same dread realities as are presented in the previous verses under the
imagery of the Jewish courts and the foul fires of the valley of Hinnom.
Christ closes the grave parable with His solemn 'Verily I say unto
thee'--as looking on the future judgment, and telling us what His eyes
saw. The words have no bearing on the question of the duration of the
imprisonment, for He does not tell us whether the last farthing could
ever be paid or not; but they do teach this lesson, that, if once we
fall under the punishments of the kingdom, there is no end to them until
the last tittle of the consequences of our breach of its law has been
paid. To delay obedience, and still more to delay abandoning
disobedience, is madness, in view of