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´╗┐Title: Expositions of Holy Scripture - Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and First Book of Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, and Second Kings chapters I to VII
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.


DEUTERONOMY, JOSHUA, JUDGES, RUTH, AND FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL

SECOND SAMUEL, FIRST KINGS, AND SECOND KINGS _CHAPTERS I to VII_



CONTENTS


THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY


  GOD'S FAITHFULNESS (Deut. vii. 9)
  THE LESSON OF MEMORY (Deut. viii. 2)
  THE EATING OF THE PEACE-OFFERING (Deut. xii. 18)
  PROPHETS AND THE PROPHET (Deut. xviii. 9-22)
  A CHOICE OF MASTERS (Deut. xxviii. 47, 48)
  THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW (Deut. xxx. 11-20)
  GOD'S TRUE TREASURE IN MAN (Deut. xxxii. 9; TITUS ii. 14)
  THE EAGLE AND ITS BROOD (Deut. xxxii. 11)
  THEIR ROCK AND OUR ROCK (Deut. xxxii. 31)
  GOD AND HIS SAINTS (Deut. xxxiii. 3)
  ISRAEL THE BELOVED (Deut. xxxiii. 12)
  'AT THE BUSH' (Deut. xxxiii. 16)
  SHOD FOR THE ROAD (Deut. xxxiii. 25)
  A DEATH IN THE DESERT (Deut. xxxiv. 5, 6)


THE BOOK OF JOSHUA


  THE NEW LEADER'S COMMISSION (Joshua i. 1-11)
  THE CHARGE TO THE SOLDIER OF THE LORD (Joshua i. 7, 8)
  THE UNTRODDEN PATH AND THE GUIDING ARK (Joshua iii. 4)
  'THE WATERS SAW THEE; THEY WERE AFRAID' (Joshua iii. 5-17)
  STONES CRYING OUT (Joshua iv. 10-24)
  THE CAPTAIN OF THE LORD'S HOST (Joshua v. 14)
  THE SIEGE OF JERICHO (Joshua vi. 10, 11)
  RAHAB (Joshua vi. 25)
  ACHAN'S SIN, ISRAEL'S DEFEAT (Joshua vii. 1-12)
  THE SUN STAYED (Joshua x. 12)
  UNWON BUT CLAIMED (Joshua xiii. 1-6)
  CALEB-A GREEN OLD AGE (Joshua xiv. 6)
  THE CITIES OF REFUGE (Joshua xx. 1-9)
  THE END OF THE WAR (Joshua xxi. 43-45; xxii. 1-9)
  THE NATIONAL OATH AT SHECHEM (Joshua xxiv. 19-28)


THE BOOK OF JUDGES


  A SUMMARY OF ISRAEL'S FAITHLESSNESS AND GOD'S PATIENCE (Judges ii. 1-10)
  ISRAEL'S OBSTINACY AND GOD'S PATIENCE (Judges ii. 11-23)
  RECREANT REUBEN (Judges v. 16, R.V.)
  'ALL THINGS ARE YOURS' (Judges v. 20; Job v. 23)
  LOVE MAKES SUNS (Judges v. 31)
  GIDEON'S ALTAR (Judges vi. 24)
  GIDEON'S FLEECE (Judges vi. 37)
  'FIT, THOUGH FEW'(Judges vii. 1-8)
  A BATTLE WITHOUT A SWORD (Judges vii. 13-23)
  STRENGTH PROFANED AND LOST (Judges xvi. 21-31)


THE BOOK OF RUTH


GENTLE HEROINE, A GENTILE CONVERT (Ruth i. 16-22)


THE FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL


  THE CHILD PROPHET (1 Samuel iii. 1-14)
  FAITHLESSNESS AND DEFEAT (1 Samuel iv. 1-18)
  REPENTANCE AND VICTORY (1 Samuel vii, 1-12)
  'MAKE US A KING' (1 Samuel viii. 4-20)
  THE OLD JUDGE AND THE YOUNG KING (1 Samuel ix. 16-27)
  THE KING AFTER MAN'S HEART (1 Samuel x. 17-27)
  SAMUEL'S CHALLENGE AND CHARGE (1 Samuel xii. 1-15)
  OLD TRUTH FOR A NEW EPOCH (1 Samuel xii. 13-25)
  SAUL REJECTED (1 Samuel xv. 10-23)
  THE SHEPHERD-KING (1 Samuel xvi. 1-13)
  THE VICTORY OF UNARMED FAITH (1 Samuel xvii. 32-51)
  A SOUL'S TRAGEDY (1 Samuel xviii. 5-16)
  JONATHAN, THE PATTERN OF FRIENDSHIP (1 Samuel xx.1-13)
  LOVE FOR HATE, THE TRUE _QUID PRO QUO_ (1 Samuel xxiv.4-17)
  LOVE AND REMORSE (1 Samuel xxvi. 5-12; 21-25)
  SAUL (1 Samuel xxviii. 15)
  'WHAT DOEST THOU HERE?' (1 Samuel xxix. 3; I Kings xix. 9)
  THE SECRET OF COURAGE (1 Samuel xxx. 6)
  AT THE FRONT OR THE BASE (1 Samuel xxx. 24)
  THE END OF SELF-WILL (1 Samuel xxxi. 1-13)



THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY


GOD'S FAITHFULNESS

'Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God,
which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him.'--DEUT. vii.
9.


'Faithful,' like most Hebrew words, has a picture in it. It means
something that can be (1) leant on, or (2) builded on.

This leads to a double signification--(1) trustworthy, and that because
(2) rigidly observant of obligations. So the word applies to a steward,
a friend, or a witness. Its most wonderful and sublime application is
to God. It presents to our adoring love--

I. God as coming under obligations to us.

A marvellous and blessed idea. He limits His action, regards Himself as
bound to a certain line of conduct.

1. Obligations from His act of creation.

'A faithful Creator,' bound to take care of those whom He has made. To
supply their necessities. To satisfy their desires. To give to each the
possibility of discharging its ideal.

2. Obligations from His past self.

'God is faithful by whom ye were called,' therefore He will do all that
is imposed on Him by His act of calling.

He cannot begin without completing. There are no abandoned mines. There
are no half-hewn stones in His quarries, like the block at Baalbec. And
this because the divine nature is inexhaustible in power and
unchangeable in purpose.

3. Obligations from His own word.

A revelation is presupposed by the notion of faithfulness. It is not
possible in heathenism. 'Dumb idols,' which have given their
worshippers no promises, cannot be thought of as faithful. By its grand
conception of Jehovah as entering into a covenant with Israel, the Old
Testament presents Him to our trust as having bound Himself to a known
line of action. Thereby He becomes, if we may so phrase it, a
constitutional monarch.

That conception of a Covenant is the negation of caprice, of arbitrary
sovereignty, of mystery. We know the principles of His government. His
majestic 'I wills' cover the whole ground of human life and needs for
the present and the future. We can go into no region of life but we
find that God has defined His conduct to us there by some word spoken
to our heart and binding Him.

4. Obligations from His new Covenant and highest word in Jesus Christ.

'He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.'

II. God as recognising and discharging these obligations.

That He will do so comes from His very nature. With Him there is no
change of disposition, no emergence of unseen circumstances, no failure
or exhaustion of power.

That He does so is matter of fact. Moses in the preceding context had
pointed to facts of history, on which he built the 'know therefore' of
the text. On the broad scale the whole world's history is full of
illustrations of God's faithfulness to His promises and His threats.
The history of Judaism, the sorrows of nations, and the complications
of national events, all illustrate this fact.

The personal history of each of us. The experience of all Christian
souls. No man ever trusted in Him and was ashamed. He wills that we
should put Him to the proof.

III. God as claiming our trust.

He is faithful, worthy to be trusted, as His deeds show.

Faith is our attitude corresponding to His faithfulness. Faith is the
germ of all that He requires from us. How much we need it! How firm it
might be! How blessed it would make us!

The thought of God as 'faithful' is, like a precious stone, turned in
many directions in Scripture, and wherever turned it flashes light.
Sometimes it is laid as the foundation for the confidence that even our
weakness will be upheld to the end, as when Paul tells the Corinthians
that they will be confirmed to the end, because 'God is faithful,
through whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son' (1 Cor. i.
9). Sometimes there is built on it the assurance of complete
sanctification, as when he prays for the Thessalonians that their
'whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the
coming of our Lord' and finds it in his heart to pray thus because
'Faithful is He that calleth you, who will also do it' (1 Thess. v.
24). Sometimes it is presented as the steadfast stay grasping which
faith can expect apparent impossibilities, as when Sara 'judged Him
faithful who had promised' (Heb. xi. 11). Sometimes it is adduced as
bringing strong consolation to souls conscious of their own feeble and
fluctuating faith, as when Paul tells Timothy that 'If we are
faithless, He abideth faithful; for He cannot deny Himself' (2 Tim. ii.
13). Sometimes it is presented as an anodyne to souls disturbed by
experience of men's unreliableness, as when the apostle heartens the
Thessalonians and himself to bear human untrustworthiness by the
thought that though men are faithless, God 'is faithful, who shall
establish you and keep you from evil' (2 Thess. in. 2, 3). Sometimes it
is put forward to breathe patience into tempted spirits, as when the
Corinthians are comforted by the assurance that 'God is faithful, who
will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able' (1 Cor. x.
13). Sometimes it is laid as the firm foundation for our assurance of
pardon, as when John tells us that 'If we confess our sins, He is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins' (1 John i. 9). And sometimes
that great attribute of the divine nature is proposed as holding forth
a pattern for us to follow, and the faith in it as tending to make us
in a measure steadfast like Himself, as when Paul indignantly rebuts
his enemies' charge of levity of purpose and vacillation, and avers
that 'as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yea and nay' (2
Cor. L 18).



THE LESSON OF MEMORY

'Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these
lofty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to
know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His
commandments, or no.'--DEUT. viii.2.


The strand of our lives usually slips away smoothly enough, but days
such as this, the last Sunday in a year, are like the knots on a
sailor's log, which, as they pass through his fingers, tell him how
fast it is being paid out from the reel, and how far it has run off.

They suggest a momentary consciousness of the swift passage of life,
and naturally lead us to a glance backwards and forwards, both of which
occupations ought to be very good for us. The dead flat upon which some
of us live may be taken as an emblem of the low present in which most
of us are content to pass our lives, affording nowhere a distant view,
and never enabling us to see more than a street's length ahead of us.
It is a good thing to get up upon some little elevation and take a
wider view, backwards and forwards.

And so now I venture to let the season preach to us, and to confine
myself simply to suggesting for you one or two very plain and obvious
thoughts which may help to make our retrospect wise and useful. And
there are two main considerations which I wish to submit. The first
is--what we ought to be chiefly occupied with as we look back; and
secondly, what the issue of such a retrospect ought to be.

I. With what we should be mainly occupied as we look back. Memory, like
all other faculties, may either help us or hinder us. As is the man, so
will be his remembrance. The tastes which rule his present will
determine the things that he likes best to think about in the past.
There are many ways of going wrong in our retrospects. Some of us, for
instance, prefer to think with pleasure about things that ought never
to have been done, and to give a wicked immortality to thoughts that
ought never to have had a being. Some men's tastes and inclinations are
so vitiated and corrupted that they find a joy in living their
badnesses over again. Some of us, looking back on the days that are
gone, select by instinctive preference for remembrance, the vanities
and frivolities and trifles which were the main things in them whilst
they lasted. Such a use of the great faculty of memory is like the
folly of the Egyptians who embalmed cats and vermin. Do not let us be
of those, who have in their memories nothing but rubbish, or something
worse, who let down the drag-net into the depths of the past and bring
it up full only of mud and foulnesses, and of ugly monsters that never
ought to have been dragged into the daylight.

Then there are some of us who abuse memory just as much by picking out,
with perverse ingenuity, every black bit that lies in the distance
behind us, all the disappointments, all the losses, all the pains, all
the sorrows. Some men look back and say, with Jacob in one of his
moods, 'Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life!' Yes!
and the same man, when he was in a better spirit, said, and a great
deal more truly, 'The God that fed me all my life long, the Angel which
redeemed me from all evil.' Do not paint like Rembrandt, even if you do
not paint like Turner. Do not dip your brush only in the blackness,
even if you cannot always dip it in molten sunshine.

And there are some of us who, in like manner, spoil all the good that
we could get out of a wise retrospect, by only looking back in such a
fashion as to feed a sentimental melancholy, which is, perhaps, the
most profitless of all the ways of looking backwards.

Now here are the two points, in this verse of my text, which would put
all these blunders and all others right, telling us what we should
chiefly think about when we look back, and from what point of view the
retrospect of the past must be taken in order that it should be
salutary. 'Thou shalt remember all the way by which the Lord thy God
hath led thee.' Let memory work under the distinct recognition of
divine guidance in every part of the past. That is the _first_
condition of making the retrospect blessed. 'To humble thee and to
prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest
keep His commandments, or no'; let us look back with a clear
recognition of the fact that the use of life is to test, and reveal,
and to make, character. This world, and all its outward engagements,
duties, and occupations, is but a scaffolding, on which the builders
may stand to rear the true temple, and when the building is reared you
may do what you like with the scaffolding. So we have to look back on
life from this point of view, that its joys and sorrows, its ups and
downs, its work and repose, the vicissitudes and sometimes contrariety
of its circumstances and conditions, are all for the purpose of making
_us_, and of making plain to ourselves, what we are. 'To humble thee,'
that is, to knock the self-confidence out of us, and to bring us to
say: 'I am nothing and Thou art everything; I myself am a poor weak rag
of a creature that needs Thy hand to stiffen me, or I shall not be able
to resist or to do.' That is one main lesson that life is meant to
teach us. Whoever has learnt to say by reason of the battering and
shocks of time, by reason of sorrows and failures, by reason of joys,
too, and fruition,--'Lord, I come to Thee as depending upon Thee for
everything,' has wrung its supreme good out of life, and has fulfilled
the purpose of the Father, who has led us all these years, to humble us
into the wholesome diffidence that says: 'Not in myself, but in Thee
are all my strength and my hope.'

I need not do more than remind you of the other cognate purposes which
are suggested here. Life is meant, not only to bring us to humble
self-distrust, as a step towards devout dependence on God, but also to
reveal us to ourselves; for we only know what we are by reflecting on
what we have done, and the only path by which self-knowledge can be
attained is the path of observant recollection of our conduct in daily
life.

Another purpose for which the whole panorama of life is made to pass
before us, and for which all the gymnastic of life exercises us, is
that we may be made submissive to the great Will, and may keep His
commandments.

These thoughts should be with us in our retrospect, and then our
retrospect will be blessed: First, we are to look back and see God's
guidance everywhere, and second, we are to judge of the things that we
remember by their tendency to make character, to make us humble, to
reveal us to ourselves, and to knit us in glad obedience to our Father
God.

II. And now turn to the other consideration which may help to make
remembrance a good, viz., the issues to which our retrospect must tend,
if it is to be anything more than sentimental recollection.

First, let me say: Remember and be thankful. If what I have been saying
as to the standard by which events are to be tried be true; if it be
the case that the main fact about things is their power to mould
persons and to make character, then there follows, very plainly and
clearly, that all things that come within the sweep of our memory may
equally contribute to our highest good.

Good does not mean pleasure. Bright-being may not always be well-being,
and the highest good has a very much nobler meaning than comfort and
satisfaction. And so, realising the fact that the best of things is
that they shall make us like God, then we can turn to the past and
judge it wisely, because then we shall see that all the diversity, and
even the opposition, of circumstances and events, may co-operate
towards the same end. Suppose two wheels in a great machine, one turns
from right to left and the other from left to right, but they fit into
one another, and they both produce one final result of motion. So the
moments in my life which I call blessings and gladness, and the moments
in my life which I call sorrows and tortures, may work into each other,
and they will do so if I take hold of them rightly, and use them as
they ought to be used. They will tend to the highest good whether they
be light or dark; even as night with its darkness and its dews has its
ministration and mission of mercy for the wearied eye no less than day
with its brilliancy and sunshine; even as the summer and the winter are
equally needful, and equally good for the crop. So in our lives it is
good for us, sometimes, that we be brought into the dark places; it is
good for us sometimes that the leaves be stripped from the trees, and
the ground be bound with frost.

And so for both kinds of weather, dear brethren, we have to remember
and be thankful. It is a hard lesson, I know, for some of us. There may
be some listening to me whose memory goes back to this dying year as
the year that has held the sorest sorrow of their lives; to whom it has
brought some loss that has made earth dark. And it seems hard to tell
quivering lips to be thankful, and to bid a man be grateful though his
eyes fill with tears as he looks back on such a past. But yet it is
true that it is good for us to be drawn, or to be driven, to Him; it is
good for us to have to tread even a lonely path if it makes us lean
more on the arm of our Beloved. It is good for us to have places made
empty if, as in the year when Israel's King died, we shall thereby have
our eyes purged to behold the Lord sitting on the Royal Seat.

               'Take it on trust a little while,
                  Thou soon shalt read the mystery right,
                In the full sunshine of His smile.'

And for the present let us try to remember that He dwelleth in the
darkness as in the light, and that we are to be thankful for the things
that help us to be near Him, and not only for the things that make us
outwardly glad. So I venture to say even to those of you who may be
struggling with sad remembrances, remember and be thankful.

I have no doubt there are many of us who have to look back, if not upon
a year desolated by some blow that never can be repaired, yet upon a
year in which failing resources and declining business, or diminished
health, or broken spirits, or a multitude of minute but most disturbing
cares and sorrows, do make it hard to recognise the loving Hand in all
that comes. Yet to such, too, I would say: 'All things work together
for good,' therefore all things are to be embraced in the thankfulness
of our retrospect.

The second and simple practical suggestion that I make is this:
Remember, and let the memory lead to contrition. Perhaps I am speaking
to some men or women for whom this dying year holds the memory of some
great lapse from goodness; some young man who for the first time has
been tempted to sensuous sin; some man who may have been led into
slippery places in regard to business integrity. I draw a 'bow at a
venture' when I speak of such things--perhaps some one is listening to
me who would give a great deal if he or she could forget a certain past
moment of this dying year, which makes their cheeks hot yet whilst they
think of it. To such I say: Remember, go close into the presence of the
black thing, and get the consciousness of it driven into your heart;
for such remembrance is the first step to deliverance from the load,
and to your passing, emancipated from the bitterness, into the year
that lies before you.

But even if there are none of us to whom such remarks would specially
apply, let us summon up to ourselves the memories of these bygone days.
In all the three hundred and sixty-five of them, my friend, how many
moments stand out distinct before you as moments of high communion with
God? How many times can you remember of devout consecration to Him? How
many, when--as visitors to the Riviera reckon the number of days in the
season in which, far across the water, they have seen Corsica--you can
remember this year to have beheld, faint and far away, 'the mountains
that are round about' the 'Jerusalem that is above'? How many moments
do you remember of consecration and service, of devotion to your God
and your fellows? Oh! what a miserable, low-lying stretch of
God-forgetting monotony our lives look when we are looking back at them
in the mass. One film of mist is scarcely perceptible, but when you get
a mile of it you can tell what it is--oppressive darkness. One drop of
muddy water does not show its pollution, but when you have a pitcherful
of it you can see how thick it is. And so a day or an hour looked back
upon may not reveal the true godlessness of the average life, but if
you will take the twelvemonth and think about it, and ask yourself a
question or two about it, I think you will feel that the only attitude
for any of us in looking back across a stretch of such brown barren
moorland is that of penitent prayer for forgiveness and for cleansing.

But I dare say that some of you say: 'Oh! I look back and I do not feel
anything of that kind of regret that you describe; I have done my duty,
and nobody can blame me. I am quite comfortable in my retrospect. Of
course there have been imperfections; we are all human, and these need
not trouble a man.' Let me ask you, dear brother, one question: Do you
believe that the law of a man's life is, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself'? Do you
believe that that is what you ought to do? Have you done it? If you
have not, let me beseech you not to go out of this year, across the
artificial and imaginary boundary that separates you from the next,
with the old guilt upon your back, but go to Jesus Christ, and ask Him
to forgive you, and then you may pass into the coming twelvemonth
without the intolerable burden of unremembered, unconfessed, and
therefore unforgiven, sin.

The next point that I would suggest is this: Let us remember in order
that from the retrospect we may gain practical wisdom. It is
astonishing what unteachable, untamable creatures men are. They learn
wisdom about all the little matters of daily life by experience, but
they do not seem to do so about the higher. Even a sparrow comes to
understand a scarecrow after a time or two, and any rat in a hole will
learn the trick of a trap. But you can trick men over and over again
with the same inducement, and, even whilst the hook is sticking in
their jaws, the same bait will tempt them once more. That is very
largely the case because they do not observe and remember what has
happened to them in bygone days.

There are two things that any man, who will bring his reason and
common-sense to bear upon the honest estimate and retrospect of the
facts of his life, may be fully convinced of. These are, first, his own
weakness. One main use of a wise retrospect is to teach us where we are
weakest. What an absurd thing it would be if the inhabitants of a Dutch
village were to let the sea come in at the same gap in the same dyke a
dozen times! What an absurd thing it would be if a city were captured
over and over again by assaults at the same point, and did not
strengthen its defences there! But that is exactly what you do; and all
the while, if you would only think about your own past lives wisely and
reasonably, and like men with brains in your heads, you might find out
where it was that you were most open to attack; what it was in your
character that most needed strengthening, what it was wherein the devil
caught you most quickly, and might so build yourselves up in the most
defenceless points.

Do not look back for sentimental melancholy; do not look back with
unavailing regrets; do not look back to torment yourselves with useless
self-accusation; but look back to see how good God has been, and look
back to see where you are weak, and pile the wall, higher there, and so
learn practical wisdom from retrospect.

Another phase of the practical wisdom which memory should give is
deliverance from the illusions of sense and time. Remember how little
the world has ever done for you in bygone days. Why should you let it
befool you once again? If it has proved itself a liar when it has
tempted you with gilded offers that came to nothing, and with beauty
that was no more solid than the 'Easter-eggs' that you buy in the
shops--painted sugar with nothing inside--why should you believe it
when it comes to you once more? Why not say: 'Ah! once burnt, twice
shy! You have tried that trick on me before, and I have found it out!'
Let the retrospect teach us how hollow life is without God, and so let
it draw us near to Him.

The last thing that I would say is: 'Let us remember that we may hope.
It is the prerogative of Christian remembrance, that it merges into
Christian hope. The forward look and the backward look are really but
the exercise of the same faculty in two different directions. Memory
does not always imply hope, we remember sometimes because we do not
hope, and try to gather round ourselves the vanished past because we
know it never again can be a present or a future. But when we are
occupied with an unchanging Friend, whose love is inexhaustible, and
whose arm is unwearied, it is good logic to say: 'It has been,
therefore it shall be.'

With regard to this fleeting life, it is a delusion to say 'to-morrow
shall be as this day, and much more abundant'; but with regard to the
life of the soul that lives in God, that is true, and true for ever.
The past is a specimen of the future. The future for the man who lives
in Christ is but the prolongation, and the heightening into superlative
excellence and beauty, of all that is good in the past and in the
present. As the radiance of some rising sun may cast its bright beams
into the opposite sky, even so the glowing past behind us flings its
purples and its golds and its scarlets on to the else dim curtain of
the future.

Remember that you may hope. A paradox, but a paradox that is a truth in
the case of Christians whose memory is of a God that has loved and
blessed them whose hope is in a God that changes never; whose memory is
charged with 'every good and perfect gift that came down from the
Father of Lights,' whose hope is in that same Father, 'with whom is no
variableness, neither shadow of turning.' So on every stone of
remembrance, every Ebenezer on which is graved: 'Hitherto hath the Lord
helped us,' we can mount a telescope--if I may so say--that will look
into the furthest glories of the heavens, and be sure that the past
will be magnified and perpetuated in the future. Our prayer may
legitimately be; 'Thou hast been my help, leave me not, neither forsake
me!' And His answer will be: 'I will not leave thee until I have done
that which I have spoken to thee of.' Remember that you may hope, and
hope because you remember.



THE EATING OF THE PEACE-OFFERING

'But thou must eat them before the Lord thy God in the place which the
Lord thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy
manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy
gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God in all that thou
puttest thine hands unto.'--DEUT. xii. 18.


There were three bloody sacrifices, the sin-offering, the
burnt-offering, and the peace-offering. In all three expiation was the
first idea, but in the second of them the act of burning symbolised a
further thought, namely, that of offering to God, while in the third,
the peace-offering, there was added to both of these the still further
thought of the offerer's participation with God, as symbolised by the
eating of the sacrifice. So we have great verities of the most
spiritual religion adumbrated in this external rite. The rind is hard
and forbidding, the kernel is juicy and sweet.

I. Communion with God based on atonement.

II. Feeding on Christ.

What was sacrifice becomes food. The same Person and facts, apprehended
by faith, are, in regard to their bearing on the divine government, the
ground of pardon, and in regard to their operation within us, the
source of spiritual sustenance. Christ for us is our pardon; Christ in
us is our life.

III. The restoration to the offerer of all which he lays on God's altar.

The sacrifice was transformed and elevated into a sacrament. By being
offered the sacrifice was ennobled. The offerer did not lose what he
laid on the altar, but it came back to him, far more precious than
before. It was no longer mere food for the body, and to eat it became
not an ordinary meal, but a sacrament and means of union with God. It
was a hundredfold more the offerer's even in this life. All its savour
was more savoury, all its nutritive qualities were more nutritious. It
had suffered a fiery change, and was turned into something more rich
and rare.

That is blessedly true as to all which we lay on God's altar. It is far
more ours than it ever was or could be, while we kept it for ourselves,
and our enjoyment of, and nourishment from, our good things, when
offered as sacrifices, are greater than when we eat our morsel alone.
If we make earthly joys and possessions the materials of our sacrifice,
they will not only become more joyful and richer, but they will become
means of closer union with Him, instead of parting us from Him, as they
do when used in selfish disregard of Him.

Nor must we forget the wonderful thought, also mirrored in this piece
of ancient ritual, that God delights in men's sacrifices and surrenders
and services. 'If I were hungry, I would not tell thee,' said the
Psalmist in God's name in regard to outward sacrifices; 'Will I eat the
flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?' But he does 'eat' the
better sacrifices that loving hearts or obedient wills lay on His
altar. He seeks for these, and delights when they are offered to Him.
'He hungered, and seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He came to it.' He
still hungers for the fruit that we can yield to Him, and if we will,
He will enter in and sup with us, not disdaining to sit at the poor
table which we can spread for Him, nor to partake of the humble fare
which we can lay upon it, but mending the banquet by what He brings for
_our_ nourishment, and hallowing the hour by His presence.



PROPHETS AND THE PROPHET

'When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,
thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10.
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his
daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an
observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11. Or a charmer, or a
consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12. For
all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because
of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before
thee. 13. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. 14. For these
nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times,
and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered
thee so to do. 15. The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet
from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye
shall hearken; 16. According to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy
God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again
the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any
more, that I die not. 17. And the Lord said unto me, They have well
spoken that which they have spoken. 18. I will raise them up a Prophet
from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in His
mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him. 19.
And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto My words
which He shall speak in My name, I will require it of him. 20. But the
prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in My name, which I have
not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other
gods, even that prophet shall die. 21. And if thou say in thine heart,
How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? 22. When a
prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor
come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the
prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of
him.'--DEUT. xviii. 9-22.


It is evident from the connection in which the promise of 'a prophet
like unto Moses' is here introduced that it does not refer to Jesus
only; for it is presented as Israel's continuous defence against the
temptation of seeking knowledge of the divine will by the illegitimate
methods of divination, soothsaying, necromancy, and the like, which
were rampant among the inhabitants of the land. A distant hope of a
prophet in the far-off future could afford no motive to shun these
superstitions. We cannot understand this passage unless we recognise
that the direct reference is to the institution of the prophetic order
as the standing means of imparting the reliable knowledge of God's
will, possessing which, Israel had no need to turn to them 'that peep
and mutter' and bring false oracles from imagined gods. But that
primary reference of the words does not exclude, but rather demands,
their ultimate reference to Him in whom the divine word is perfectly
enshrined, and who is the bright, consummate flower of the prophetic
order, which 'spake of Him,' not only in its individual predictions,
but by its very existence.

A glance must be given to the exhaustive list of pretenders to
knowledge of the future or to power of shaping it magically, which
occurs in verses 10,11, and suggests a terrible picture of the burdens
of superstition which weighed on men in these days of ignorance, as the
like burdens do still, wherever Jesus is not known as the one Revealer
of God, and the sole Lord of all things. Of the eight terms employed,
the first three refer to different means of reading the future, the
next two to different means of influencing events, and the last three
to different ways of consulting the dead. The first of these eight
properly refers to drawing lots, but includes other methods; the second
is an obscure word, which is supposed by some to mean a 'murmurer,' and
may refer rather to the low mutterings of the soothsayer than to the
method of his working; the third is probably a general expression for
an interpreter of omens, especially of those given by the play of
liquid in a 'cup,' such as Joseph 'divined' by.

Two names for magicians follow, of which the former seems to mean one
who worked with charms such as African or American Indian 'medicine
men' use, and the latter, one who binds by incantations, or one who
ties magic knots, which are supposed to have the power of hindering the
designs of the person against whom they are directed. The word employed
means 'binding,' and maybe used either literally or metaphorically. The
malicious tying of knots in order to work harm is not dead yet in some
backward corners of Britain. Then follow three names for traffickers
with spirits,--those who raise ghosts as did the witch of Endor, those
who have a 'familiar spirit,' and those who in any way consult the
dead. It is a grim catalogue, bearing witness to the deep-rooted
longing in men to peer into the darkness ahead, and to get some
knowledge of the purposes of the awful unseen Power who rules there.
The longing is here recognised as legitimate, while the methods are
branded as bad, and Israel is warned from them, by being pointed to the
merciful divine institution which meets the longing.

It is clear, from this glance at the context, that the 'prophet'
promised to Israel must mean the order, not the individual; and it is
interesting to note, first, the relation in which that order is
presented as standing towards all that rabble of diviners and
sorcerers, with their rubbish of charms and muttered spells. It sweeps
them off the field, because it is truly what they pretend to be. God
knows men's longings, and God will meet them so far as meeting them is
for men's good. But the characteristics of the prophet are set in
strong contrast to those of the diviners and magicians, and lift the
order high above all the filth and folly of these others. First, the
prophet is 'raised up' by God; the individual holder of the office has
his 'call' and does not 'prophesy out of his own heart.' The man who
takes this office on himself without such a call is _ipso facto_
branded as a false prophet. Then he is 'from the midst of thee, of thy
brethren,'--springing from the people, not an alien, like so many of
these wandering soothsayers, but with the national life throbbing in
his veins, and himself participant of the thoughts and emotions of his
brethren. Then he is to be 'like unto' Moses,--not in all points, but
in his receiving direct communications from God, and in his authority
as God's messenger. The crowning characteristic, 'I will put My words
into his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command
him,' invests his words with divine authority, calls for obedience to
them as the words of God Himself, widens out his sphere far beyond that
of merely foretelling, brings in the moral and religious element which
had no place in the oracles of the soothsayer, and opens up the
prospect of a continuous progressive revelation throughout the ages
('all that I _shall_ command him'). We mutilate the grand idea of the
prophet in Israel if we think of his work as mainly prediction, and we
mutilate it no less if we exclude prediction from it. We mutilate it
still more fatally if we try to account for it on naturalistic
principles, and fail to see in the prophet a man directly conscious of
a divine call, or to hear in his words the solemn accents of the voice
of God.

The loftiness and the limitations of 'the goodly fellowship of the
prophets' alike point onwards to Jesus Christ. In Him, and in Him
alone, the idea of the prophet is fully realised. The imperfect
embodiments of it in the past were prophecies as well as prophets. The
fact that God has 'spoken unto the fathers by the prophets,' leads us
to expect that He will speak 'to us in a Son,' and that not by
fragments of His mighty voice, but in one full, eternal, all-embracing
and all-sufficient Word. Every divine idea, which has been imperfectly
manifested in fragmentary and sinful men and in the material creation,
is completely incarnated in Him. He is the King to whom the sins and
the saintlinesses of Israel's kings alike pointed. He is the Priest,
whom Aaron and his sons foreshadowed, who perfectly exercises the
sympathy which they could only feel partially, because they were
compassed with infirmity and self-regard, and who offers the true
sacrifice of efficacy higher than 'the blood of bulls and goats.' He is
the Prophet, who makes all other means of knowing the divine will
unnecessary, hearing whom we hear the very voice of God speaking in His
gentle words of love, in His authoritative words of command, in His
illuminating words of wisdom, and speaking yet more loudly and
heart-touchingly in the eloquence of deeds no less than divine; who is
'not ashamed to call us brethren,' and is 'bone of our bone and flesh
of our flesh'; who is like, but greater than, the great lawgiver of
Israel, being the Son and Lord of the 'house' in which Moses was but a
servant. 'To Him give all the prophets witness,' and the greatest of
them was honoured when, with Moses, Elijah stood on the Mount of
Transfiguration, subordinate and attesting, and then faded away when
the voice proclaimed, 'This is My beloved Son, hear Him,'--and they
'saw no one save Jesus only.'



A CHOICE OF MASTERS

'Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with
gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; 48. Therefore shalt
thou serve thine enemies ... in want of all things: and He shall put a
yoke of iron upon thy neck, until He have destroyed thee.'--DEUT.
xxviii. 47, 48


The history of Israel is a picture on the large scale of what befalls
every man.

A service--we are all born to obedience, to depend on and follow some
person or thing. There is only a choice of services; and he who boasts
himself free is but a more abject slave, as the choice for a nation is
either the rule of settled order and the sanctities of an established
law, or the usurpation of a mob and the intolerable tyranny of
unbridled and irresponsible force.

I. The service of God or the service of our enemies.

Israel was the servant in turn of Egypt, Philistia, Edom, Assyria,
Babylon, Syria, and Rome. It was every invader's prey. God's invisible
arm was its only guard from these, and an all-sufficient guard as long
as it leaned on Him. When it turned from Him it fell under their yoke.
Its lawful Lord loved it; its tyrants hated it.

So with us. We have to serve God or enemies. Our lusts, our passions,
the world, evil habits--in a word, our sins ring us round. God is the
only defence against them.

The contrast between the one and the many--a king or an ochlocracy. The
contrast of the loving Lord and the hostile sins.

II. A service which is honour or a service which is degradation.

God alone is worthy of our absolute submission and service. How low a
man sinks when he is ruled by any lesser authority! Such obedience is a
crime against the dignity of human nature, and the soul is not without
a galling sense of this now and then, when its chains rattle.

III. A service which is freedom because it is rendered by love, or a
service which is hard slavery.

'With joy for the abundance of all things.' How sin palls upon us, and
yet we commit it. The will is overborne, conscience is stifled.

IV. A service which feeds the spirit or a service which starves it.

The soul can only in God get what it wants. Prison fare is what it
receives in the other service. The unsatisfying character of all sin;
it cloys, and yet leaves one hungry. It is 'that which satisfieth not.'
'Broken cisterns which hold no water.'

V. A service which is life or a service which is death.

The dark forebodings of the text grow darker as it goes on. The grim
slavery which it threatens as the only alternative to joyful service of
God is declared to be lifelong 'penal servitude,' and not only is there
no deliverance from it, but it directly tends to wear away the life of
the hopeless slaves. For the words that follow our text are 'and he
shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.'
That is dismally true in regard to any and every life that has shaken
off the service of God which is perfect freedom, and has persisted in
the service of sin. Such service is suicidal; it rivets an iron yoke on
our necks, and there is no locksmith who can undo the shackles and lift
it off, so long as we refuse to take service with God. Stubbornly
rebellious wills forge their own fetters. Like many a slave-owner, our
tyrants have a cruel delight in killing their slaves, and our sins not
only lead to death, but are themselves death.

But there is a bright possibility before the most down-trodden vassal
of sin. 'The bond-servant abideth not in the house for ever.' He is not
a son of the house, but has been brought into it, stolen from his home.
He may be carried back to his Father's house, and there 'have bread
enough and to spare,' if a deliverer can be found. And He has been
found. Christ the Son makes us free, and if we trust Him for our
emancipation we 'shall be free indeed,' 'that we, being delivered out
of the hand of our enemies, should serve Him without fear, in holiness
and righteousness before Him all our days.'



THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW

'For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden
from thee, neither is it far off. 12. It is not in heaven, that thou
shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us,
that we may hear it, and do it? 13. Neither is it beyond the sea, that
thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto
us, that we may hear it, and do it? 14. But the word is very nigh unto
thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. 15. See,
I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; 16.
In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in
His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His
judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply; and the Lord thy God
shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. 17. But
if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be
drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18. I denounce unto
you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not
prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go
to possess it. 19. I call heaven and earth to record this day against
you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing:
therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: 20. That
thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey His voice,
and that thou mayest cleave unto Him: for He is thy life, and the
length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord
sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give
them.'--DEUT. xxx. 11-20.


This paragraph closes the legislation of this book, the succeeding
chapters being in the nature of an epilogue or appendix. It sums up the
whole law, makes plain its inmost essence and its tremendous
alternatives. As in the closing strains of some great symphony, the
themes which have run through the preceding movements are woven
together in the final burst of music. Let us try to discover the
component threads of the web.

The first point to note is the lofty conception of the true essence of
the whole law, which is enshrined here. 'This commandment which I
command thee this day' is twice defined in the section (vs. 16, 20),
and in both instances 'to love Jehovah thy God' is presented as the
all-important precept. Love is recognised as the great commandment.
Leviticus may deal with minute regulations for worship, but these are
subordinate, and the sovereign commandment is love. Nor is the motive
which should sway to love omitted; for what a tender drawing by the
memories of what He had done for Israel is put forth in the name of
'Jehovah, _thy_ God!' The Old Testament system is a spiritual system,
and it too places the very heart of religion in love to God, drawn out
by the contemplation of his self-revelation in his loving dealings with
us. We have here clearly recognised that the obedience which pleases
God is obedience born of love, and that the love which really sets
towards God will, like a powerful stream, turn all the wheels of life
in conformity to His will. When Paul proclaimed that 'love is the
fulfilling of the law,' he was only repeating the teaching of this
passage, when it puts 'to walk in His ways,' or 'to obey His voice,'
after 'to love Jehovah thy God.' Obedience is the result and test of
love; love is the only parent of real obedience.

The second point strongly insisted on here is the blessedness of
possessing such a knowledge as the law gives. Verses 11-14 present that
thought in three ways. The revelation is not that of duties far beyond
our capacity: 'It is not too hard for thee.' No doubt, complete
conformity with it is beyond our powers, and entire, whole-hearted, and
whole-souled love of God is not attained even by those who love Him
most. Paul's position that the law gives the knowledge of sin, just
because it presents an impossible elevation in its ideal, is not
opposed to the point of view of this context; for he is thinking of
complete conformity as impossible, while it is thinking of real, though
imperfect, obedience as within the reach of all men. No man can love as
he ought; every man can love. It is blessed to have our obligations all
gathered into such a commandment.

Again, the possession of the law is a blessing, because its
authoritative voice ends the weary quest after some reliable guide to
conduct, and we need neither try to climb to heaven, nor to traverse
the wide world and cross the ocean, to find certitude and enlightenment
enough for our need. They err who think of God's commandments as
grievous burdens; they are merciful guide-posts. They do not so much
lay weights on our backs as give light to our eyes.

Still further, the law has its echo 'in thy heart.' It is 'graven on
the fleshly tables of the heart,' and we all respond to it when it
gathers up all duty into 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,' and our
consciences say to it, 'Thou speakest well.' The worst man knows it
better than the best man keeps it. Blurred and illegible often, like
the half-defaced inscriptions disinterred from the rubbish mounds that
once were Nineveh or Babylon, that law remains written on the hearts of
all men.

A further point to be well laid to heart is the merciful plainness and
emphasis with which the issues that are suspended on obedience or
disobedience are declared. The solemn alternatives are before every man
that hears. Life or death, blessing or cursing, are held out to him,
and it is for him to elect which shall be realised in his case. Of
course, it may be said that the words 'life' and 'death' are here used
in their merely physical sense, and that the context shows (vs. 17, 18)
that life here means only 'length of days, that thou mayest dwell in
the land.' No doubt that is so, though we can scarcely refuse to see
some glimmer of a deeper conception gleaming through the words, 'He is
thy life,' though it is but a glimmer. We have no space here to enter
upon the question of how far it is now true that obedience brings
material blessings. It was true for Israel, as many a sad experience
that it was a bitter as well as an evil thing to forsake Jehovah was to
show in the future. But though the connection between well-doing and
material gain is not so clear now, it is by no means abrogated, either
for nations or for individuals. Moral and religious law has social and
economic consequences, and though the perplexed distribution of earthly
good and ill often bewilders faith and emboldens scepticism, there
still is visible in human affairs a drift towards recompensing in the
world the righteous and the wicked.

But to us, with our Christian consciousness, 'life' means more than
living, and 'He is our life' in a deeper and more blessed sense than
that our physical existence is sustained by His continual energy. The
love of God and consequent union with Him give us the only true life.
Jesus is 'our life,' and He enters the spirit which opens to Him by
faith, and communicates to it a spark of His own immortal life. He that
is joined to Jesus lives; he that is separated from Him 'is dead while
he liveth.'

The last point here is the solemn responsibility for choosing one's
part, which the revelation of the law brings with it. 'I have set
before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse, therefore
choose life.' We each determine for ourselves whether the knowledge of
what we ought to be will lead to life or to death, and by choosing
obedience we choose life. Every ray of light from God is capable of
producing a double effect. It either gladdens or pains, it either gives
vision or blindness. The gospel, which is the perfect revelation of God
in Christ, brings every one of us face to face with the great
alternative, and urgently demands from each his personal act of choice
whether he will accept it or neglect or reject it. Not to choose to
accept _is_ to choose to reject. To do nothing is to choose death. The
knowledge of the law was not enough, and neither is an intellectual
reception of the gospel. The one bred Pharisees, who were 'whited
sepulchres'; the other breeds orthodox professors, who have 'a name to
live and are dead.' The clearer our light, the heavier our
responsibility. If we are to live, we have to 'choose life'; and if we
do not, by the vigorous exercise of our will, turn away from earth and
self, and take Jesus for our Saviour and Lord, loving and obeying whom
we love and obey God, we have effectually chosen a worse death than
that of the body, and flung away a better life than that of earth.



GOD'S TRUE TREASURE IN MAN

'The Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His
inheritance.'--DEUT, xxxii.9.

'Jesus Christ (Who) gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from
all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people.'--TITUS ii. 14.


I choose these two texts because they together present us with the
other side of the thought to that which I have elsewhere considered,
that man's true treasure is in God. That great axiom of the religious
consciousness, which pervades the whole of Scripture, is rapturously
expressed in many a psalm, and never more assuredly than in that one
which struggles up from the miry clay in which the Psalmist's 'steps
had well-nigh slipped' and soars and sings thus: 'The Lord is the
portion of my inheritance and of my cup; Thou maintainest my lot,' 'The
lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly
heritage.'

You observe the correspondence between these words and those of my
first text: 'The Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His
inheritance.' The correspondence in the original is not quite so marked
as it is in our Authorised Version, but still the idea in the two
passages is the same. Now it is plain that persons can possess persons
only by love, sympathy, and communion. From that it follows that the
possession must be mutual; or, in other words, that only he can say
'Thou art mine' who can say 'I am Thine.' And so to possess God, and to
be possessed by God, are but two ways of putting the same fact. 'The
Lord is the portion of His people, and the Lord's portion is His
people,' are only two ways of stating the same truth.

Then my second text clearly quotes the well-known utterance that lies
at the foundation of the national life of Israel: 'Ye shall be unto Me
a peculiar treasure above all people,' and claims that privilege, like
all Israel's privileges, for the Christian Church. In like manner Peter
(1 Pet. ii. 9) quotes the same words, 'a peculiar people,' as properly
applying to Christians. I need scarcely remind you that 'peculiar' here
is used in its proper original sense of belonging to, or, as the
Revised Version gives it, 'a people for God's own possession' and has
no trace of the modern signification of 'singular.' Similarly we find
Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians giving both sides of the idea of
the inheritance in intentional juxtaposition, when he speaks (i. 14) of
the 'earnest of our inheritance ... unto the redemption of God's own
possession.' In the words before us we have the same idea; and this
text besides tells us how Christ, the Revealer of God, wins men for
Himself, and what manner of men they must be whom He counts as His.

Therefore there are, as I take it, three things to be spoken about now.
First, God has a special ownership in some people. Second, God owns
these people because He has given Himself to them. Third, God
possesses, and is possessed by, His inheritance, that He may give and
receive services of love. Or, in briefer words, I have to speak about
this wonderful thought of a special divine ownership, what it rests
upon, and what it involves.

I. God has special ownership in some people.

'The Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His
inheritance.' Put side by side with those other words of the Old
Testament: 'All souls are Mine,' or the utterance of the 100th Psalm
rightly translated: 'It is He that hath made us, and to Him we belong.'
There is a right of absolute and utter ownership and possession
inherent in the very relation of Creator and creature; so that the
being made is wholly and altogether at the disposal, and is the
property, of Him that makes him.

But is that enough for God's heart? Is that worth calling ownership at
all? An arbitrary tyrant in an unconstitutional kingdom, or a
slave-owner, may have the most absolute right of property over his
subject or his slave; may have the right of entire disposal of all his
industry, of the profit of all his labour; may be able to do anything
he likes with him, may have the power of life and death; but such
ownership is only of the husk and case of a man: the man himself may be
free, and may smile at the claim of possession. 'They may '_own_' the
body, and after that have no more than they can do.' That kind of
authority and ownership, absolute and utter, to the point of death, may
satisfy a tyrant or a slave-driver, it does not satisfy the loving
heart of God. It is not real possession at all. In what sense did Nero
own Paul when he shut him up in prison, and cut his head off? Does the
slave-owner own the man whom he whips within an inch of his life, and
who dare not do anything without his permission? Does God, in any sense
that corresponds with the longing of infinite love, own the men that
reluctantly obey Him, and are simply, as it were, tools in His hands?
He covets and longs for a deeper relationship and tenderer ties, and
though all creatures are His, and all men are His servants and His
possession, yet, like certain regiments in our own British army, there
are some who have the right to bear in a special manner on their
uniform and on their banners the emblazonment, 'The King's Own.' 'The
Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.'

Well, then, the next thought is that the special relationship of
possession is constituted by mutual love. I said at the beginning of
these remarks that as concerns men's relations, the only real
possession is through love, sympathy, and communion, and that that must
necessarily be mutual. We have a perfect right to apply the human
analogy here; in fact, we are bound to do it if we would rightly
understand such words as those of my text; and it just leads us to
this, that the one thing whereby God reckons that He possesses a man at
all is when His love falls upon that man's heart and soaks into it, and
when there springs up in the heart a corresponding emotion and
affection. The men who welcome the divine love that goes through the
whole world, seeking such to worship it, and to trust it, and to become
its own; and who therefore lovingly yield to the loving divine will,
and take it for their law--these are the men whom He regards as His
'portion' and 'the lot of His inheritance.' So that God is mine, and
that 'I am God's,' are two ends of one truth; 'I possess Him,' and 'I
am possessed by Him,' are but the statement of one fact expressed from
two points of view. In the one case you look upon it from above, in the
other case you look upon it from beneath. All the sweet commerce of
mutual surrender and possession which makes the joy of our hearts, in
friendship and in domestic life, we have the right to lift up into this
loftier region, and find in it the last teaching of what makes the
special bond of mutual possession between God and man.

And deep words of Scripture point in that direction. Those parables of
our Lord's: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, in their
infinite beauty, whilst they contain a great deal besides this, do
contain this in their several ways; the money, the animal, the man
belong to the woman of the house, to the shepherd, to the father. Each
is 'lost' in a different fashion, but the most clear revelation is
given in the last parable of the three, which explains the other two.
The son was 'lost' when he did not love the father; and he was 'found'
by the father when he returned the yearning of the father's heart.

And so, dear brethren, it ever is; the one thing that knits men to God
is that the silken cord of love let down from Heaven should by our own
hand be wrapped round our own hearts, and then we are united to Him. We
are His and He is ours by the double action of His love manifested by
Him, and His love received by us.

Now there is nothing in all that of favouritism. The declaration that
there are people who have a special relationship to the divine heart
may be so stated as to have a very ugly look, and it often has been so
stated as to be nothing more than self-complacent Pharisaism, which
values a privilege principally because its possession is an insult to
somebody else that has it not.

There has been plenty of Christianity of that sort in the world, but
there is nothing of it in the thoughts of these texts rightly looked
at. There is only this: it cannot but be that men who yield to God and
love Him, and try to live near Him and to do righteousness, are His in
a manner that those who steel themselves against Him and turn away from
Him are not. Whilst all creatures have a place in His heart, and are
flooded with His benefits, and get as much of Him as they can hold, the
men who recognise the source of their blessing, and turn to it with
grateful hearts, are nearer Him than those that do not do so. Let us
take care, lest for the sake of seeming to preserve the impartiality of
His love, we have destroyed all in Him that makes His love worth
having. If to Him the good and the bad, the men who fear Him and the
men who fear Him not, are equally satisfactory, and, in the same
manner, the objects of an equal love, then He is not a God that has
pleasure in righteousness; and if He is not a God that 'has pleasure in
righteousness,' He is not a God for us to trust to. We are not giving
countenance to the notion that God has any step-children, any petted
members of His family, when we cleave to this--they that have welcomed
His love into their hearts are nearer to Him than those that have
closed the door against it.

And there is one more point here about this matter of ownership on
which I dwell for a moment, namely, that this conception of certain men
being in a special sense God's possession and inheritance means also
that He has a special delight in, and lofty appreciation of, them. All
this material creation exists for the sake of growing good men and
women. That is the use of the things that are seen and temporal; they
are like greenhouses built for the great Gardener's use in striking and
furthering the growth of His plants; and when He has got the plants He
has got what He wanted, and you may pull the greenhouse down if you
like. And so God estimates, and teaches us to estimate, the relative
value and greatness of the material and the spiritual in this fashion,
that He says to us in effect: 'All these magnificences and magnitudes
round you are small and vulgar as compared with this--a heart in which
wisdom and divine truth and the love and likeness of God have attained
to some tolerable measure of maturity and of strength.' These are His
'jewels,' as the Roman matron said about her two boys. The great Father
looks upon the men that love Him as His jewels, and, having got the
jewels, the rock in which they were embedded and preserved may be
crushed when you like. 'They shall be Mine,' saith the Lord, 'My
treasures in that day of judgment which I make.'

And so, my brother, all the insignificance of man, as compared with the
magnitude and duration of the universe, need not stagger our faith that
the divinest thing in the universe is a heart that has learnt to love
God and aspires after Him, and should but increase our wonder and our
gratitude that He has been mindful of man and has visited him, in order
that He might give Himself to men, and so might win men for Himself.

II. That brings me, and very briefly, to the other points that I desire
to deal with now. The second one, which is suggested to us from my
second text in the Epistle to Titus, is that this possession, by God,
of man, like man's possession of God, comes because God has given
Himself to man.

The Apostle puts it very strongly in the Epistle to Titus: 'The
glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who
gave Himself for us that He might purify unto Himself _a people for a
possession_.' Israel, according to one metaphor, was God's 'son,'
begotten by that great redeeming act of deliverance from the captivity
of Egypt (Deut. xxxii. 6-19). According to another metaphor, Israel was
God's bride, wooed and won for His own by that same act. Both of these
figures point to the thought that in order to get man for His own He
has to give Himself to man.

And the very height and sublimity of that truth is found in the
Christian fact which the Apostle points to here. We need not depart
from human analogies here either. Christ gave Himself to us that He
might acquire us for Himself. Absolute possession of others is only
possible at the price of absolute surrender to them. No human heart
ever gave itself away unless it was convinced that the heart to which
it gave itself had given itself to it.

And on the lower levels of gratitude and obligation, the only thing
that binds a man to another in utter submission is the conviction that
that other has given himself in absolute sacrifice for him. A doctor
goes into the wards of an hospital with his life in his hands, and
because he does, he wins the full confidence and affection of those
whom he treats. You cannot buy a heart with anything less than a heart.
In the barter of the world it is not 'skin for skin,' but it is 'self
for self'; and if you want to own me, you must give yourself altogether
to me. And the measure in which teachers and guides and preachers and
philanthropists of all sorts make conquests of men is the measure in
which they make themselves sacrifices for men.

Now all that is true, and is lifted to its superlative truth, in the
great central fact of the Christian faith. But there is more than human
analogy here. Christ is not only self-sacrifice in the sense of
surrender, but He is sacrifice in the sense of giving Himself for our
redemption and forgiveness. He has not only given Himself to us, He has
given Himself for us. And there, and on that, is builded, and on that
alone has He a right to build, or have we a right to yield to it, His
claim to absolute authority and utter command over each of us.

He has died for us, therefore the springs of our life are at His
disposal; and the strongest motives which can sway our lives are set in
motion by His touch. His death, says this text, redeems us from
iniquity and purifies us. That points to its power in delivering us
from the service and practice of sin. He buys us from the despot whose
slaves we were, and makes us His own in the hatred of evil and the
doing of righteousness. Moved by His death, we become capable of
heroisms and martyrdoms of devotion to Him. Brethren, it is only as
that self-sacrificing love touches us, which died for our sins upon the
Cross, that the diabolical chain of selfishness will be broken from our
affections and our wills, and we shall be led into the large place of
glad surrender of ourselves to the sweetness and the gentle authority
of His omnipotent love.

III. The last thought that I suggest is the issues to which this mutual
possession points. God owns men, and is owned by them, in order that
there may be a giving and receiving of mutual services of love.

'The Lord's portion is His people.' That in the Old Testament is always
laid as the foundation of certain obligations under which He has come,
and which He will abundantly discharge. What is a great landlord
expected to do to his estate? 'What ought I to have done to my
vineyard?' the divine Proprietor asks through the mouth of His servant
the prophet. He ought to till it, He ought not to starve it, He ought
to fence it, He ought to cast a wall about it, He ought to reap the
fruits. And He does all that for His inheritance. God's honour is
concerned in His portion not being waste. It is not to be a 'garden of
the sluggard,' by which people who pass can see the thorns growing
there. So He will till it, He will plough it, He will pick out the
weeds, and all the disciplines of life will come to us, and the
ploughshare will be driven deep into the heart, that 'the peaceable
fruit of righteousness' may spring up. He will fence His vineyard.
Round about His inheritance His hand will be cast, within His people
His Spirit will dwell. No harm shall come near thee if thy love is
given to Him; safe and untouched by evil thou shalt walk if thou walk
with God. 'He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye.' The
soul that trusts Him He takes in charge, and before any evil can fall
to it 'the pillared firmament must be rottenness, and earth be built on
stubble.' 'He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him
against that day.' 'The Lord's portion is His people,' and 'none shall
pluck them out of His hand.'

And on the other side, we belong to God in Christ. What do we owe Him?
What does the vineyard owe the husbandman? Fruit. We are His, therefore
we are bound to absolute submission. 'Ye are not your own.' Life,
circumstances, occupations, all--we hold them at His will. We have no
more right of property in anything than a slave in the bad old days had
in his cabin and patch of ground. They belonged to the master to whom
he belonged. Let us recognise our stewardship, and be glad to know
ourselves His, and all events and things which we sometimes think ours,
His also.

We are His, therefore we owe absolute trust. The slave has at least
this blessing in his lot, that he need have no anxieties; nor need we.
We belong to God, and He will take care of us. A rich man's horses and
dogs are well cared for, and our Owner will not leave us unheeded. Our
well-being involves His good name. Leave anxious thought to masterless
hearts which have to front the world with nobody at their backs. If you
are God's you will be looked after.

We are His, therefore we are bound to live to His praise. That is the
conclusion which one Old Testament passage draws. 'This people have I
formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise' (Isaiah xliii. 21).
The Apostle Peter quotes these words immediately after those from
Exodus, which describe Israel as 'a people for God's own possession,'
when he says 'that ye should show forth the praise of Him who hath
called you.' Let us, then, live to His glory, and remember that the
servants of the King are bound to stand to their colours amid rebels,
and that they who know the sweetness of possessing God, and the
blessedness of yielding to His supreme control, should acknowledge what
they have found of His goodness, and 'tell forth the honour of His
name, and make His praise glorious.' Let not all the magnificent and
wonderful expenditure of divine longing and love be in vain, nor run
off your hearts like water poured upon a rock. Surely the sun's flames
leaping leagues high, they tell us, in tongues of burning gas, must
melt everything that is near them. Shall we keep our hearts sullen and
cold before such a fire of love? Surely that superb and wonderful
manifestation of the love of God in the Cross of Christ should melt
into running rivers of gratitude all the ice of our hearts.

'He gave Himself for me!' Let us turn to Him and say: 'Lo! I give
myself to Thee. Thou art mine. Make me Thine by the constraint of Thy
love, so utterly, and so saturate my spirit with Thyself, that it shall
not only be Thine, but in a very deep sense it shall be Thee, and that
it may be "no more I that live, but Christ that liveth in me."'



THE EAGLE AND ITS BROOD

'As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth
abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings.'--DEUT.
xxxii. 11.


This is an incomplete sentence in the Authorised Version, but really it
should be rendered as a complete one; the description of the eagle's
action including only the two first clauses, and (the figure being
still retained) the person spoken of in the last clauses being God
Himself. That is to say, it should read thus, 'As an eagle stirreth up
his nest, fluttereth over his young, _He_ spreads abroad His wings,
takes them, bears them on His pinions.' That is far grander, as well as
more compact, than the somewhat dragging comparison which, according to
the Authorised Version, is spread over the whole verse and tardily
explained, in the following, by a clause introduced by an unwarranted
'So'--'the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with
him.'

Now, of course, we all know that the original reference of these words
is to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, and their training
in the desert. In the solemn address by Jehovah at the giving of the
law (Exodus xix. 4), the same metaphor is employed, and, no doubt, that
passage was the source of the extended imagery here. There we read, 'Ye
know what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings,
and brought you unto Myself.' The meaning of the glowing metaphor, with
its vivid details, is just that Jehovah brought Israel out of its fixed
abode in Goshen, and trained it for mature national life by its varied
desert experiences. As one of the prophets puts the same idea, 'I
taught Ephraim to go,' where the figure of the parent bird training its
callow fledglings for flight is exchanged for that of the nurse
teaching a child to walk. While, then, the text primarily refers to the
experience of the infant nation in the forty years' wanderings, it
carries large truths about us all; and sets forth the true meaning and
importance of life. There seem to me to be three thoughts here, which I
desire to touch on briefly: first, a great thought about God; then an
illuminating thought about the true meaning and aspect of life; and
lastly a calming thought about the variety of the methods by which God
carries out our training.

I. Here is a great thought about God.

Now, it may come as something of a shock if I say that the bird that is
selected for the comparison is not really the eagle, but one which, in
our estimation, is of a very much lower order--viz. the carnivorous
vulture. But a poetical emblem is not the less fitting, though, besides
the points of resemblance, the thing which is so used has others less
noble. Our modern repugnance to the vulture as feeding on carcasses was
probably not felt by the singer of this song. What he brings into view
are the characteristics common to the eagle and the vulture; superb
strength in beak and claw, keenness of vision almost incredible,
magnificent sweep of pinion and power of rapid, unwearied flight. And
these characteristics, we may say, have their analogues in the divine
nature, and the emblem not unfitly shadows forth one aspect of the God
of Israel, who is 'fearful in praises,' who is strong to destroy as
well as to save, whose all-seeing eye marks every foul thing, and who
often pounces on it swiftly to rend it to pieces, though the sky seemed
empty a moment before.

But the action described in the text is not destructive, terrible, or
fierce. The monarch of the sky busies itself with tender cares for its
brood. Then, there is gentleness along with the terribleness. The
strong beak and claw, the gaze that can see so far, and the mighty
spread of wings that can lift it till it is an invisible speck in the
blue vault, go along with the instinct of paternity: and the fledglings
in the nest look up at the fierce beak and bright eyes, and know no
terror. The impression of this blending of power and gentleness is
greatly deepened, as it seems to me, if we notice that it is the male
bird that is spoken about in the text, which should be rendered: 'As
the eagle stirreth up _his_ nest and fluttereth over _his_ young.'

So we just come to the thought that we must keep the true balance
between these two aspects of that great divine nature--the majesty, the
terror, the awfulness, the soaring elevation, the all-penetrating
vision, the power of the mighty pinion, one stroke of which could crush
a universe into nothing; and, on the other side, the yearning instinct
of Fatherhood, the love and gentleness, and all the tender ministries
for us, His children, to which these lead. Brethren, unless we keep
hold of both of these in due equipoise and inseparably intertwining, we
damage the one which we retain almost as much as the one which we
dismiss. For there is no love like the love that is strong, and can be
fierce, and there is no condescension like the condescension of Him who
is the Highest, in order that He may be, and because He is ready to be,
the lowest. Modern tendencies, legitimately recoiling from the
one-sidedness of a past generation, are now turning away far too much
from the Old Testament conceptions of Jehovah, which are concentrated
in that metaphor of the vulture in the sky. And thereby we destroy the
love, in the name of which we scout the wrath.

                    'Infinite mercy, but, I wis,
                     As infinite a justice too.'

'As the vulture stirreth up his nest,'--that is the Old Testament
revelation of the terribleness and gentleness of Jehovah. 'How often
would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth
her chickens under her wing?'--that is the New Testament modification
of the image. But you never could have had the New unless you first had
had the Old. And you are a foolish man if, in the name of the sanctity
of the New, you cast away the teaching of the Old. Keep both the
metaphors, and they will explain and confirm each other.

II. Here we have an illuminating thought of the meaning of life.

What is it all for? To teach us to fly, to exercise our half-fledged
wings in short flights, that may prepare us for, and make it possible
to take, longer ones. Every event that befalls us has a meaning beyond
itself; and every task that we have to do reacts upon us, the doers,
and either fits or hinders us for larger work. Life as a whole, and in
its minutest detail, is worthy of God to give, and worthy of us to
possess, only if we recognise the teaching that is put into picturesque
form in this text--that the meaning of all which God does to us is to
train us for something greater yonder. Life as a whole is 'full of
sound and fury, signifying nothing,' unless it is an apprenticeship
training. What are we here for? To make character. That is the aim and
end of all--to make character; to get experience; to learn the use of
our tools. I declare it seems to me that the world had better be wiped
out altogether, incontinently, unless there is a world beyond, where a
man shall use the force which here he made his own. 'Thou hast been
faithful in a few things; behold I will make thee ruler over many
things.' No man gets to the heart of the mystery of life or has in his
hand the key which will enable him to unlock all the doors and
difficulties of human experience, unless he gets to this--that it is
all meant as training.

If we could only carry that clear conviction with us day by day into
the little things of life, what different things these, which we call
the monotonous trifles of our daily duties, would become! The things
may be small and unimportant, but the way in which we do them is not
unimportant. The same fidelity may be exercised, and must be brought to
bear, in order to do the veriest trifle of our daily lives rightly, as
needs to be invoked, in order to get us safely through the crises and
great times of life. There are no great principles for great duties,
and little ones for little duties. We have to regulate all our conduct
by the same laws. Life is built up of trifles, as mica-flakes, if there
be enough of them, make the Alpine summits towering thousands of feet
into the blue. Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it
is made in the small ones. So, life is meant for discipline, and unless
we use it for that, however much enjoyment we get out of it, we misuse
it.

III. Lastly, there is here a calming thought as to the variety of God's
methods with us.

'As the eagle stirreth up his nest.' No doubt the callow brood are much
warmer and more comfortable in the nest than when they are turned out
of it. The Israelites were by no means enamoured with the prospect of
leaving the flesh-pots and the onions and the farmhouses that they had
got for themselves in Goshen, to tramp with their cattle through the
wilderness. They went after Moses with considerable disinclination.

Here we have, then, as the first thing needed, God's loving compulsion
to effort. To 'stir up the nest' means to make a man uncomfortable
where he is;--sometimes by the prickings of his conscience, which are
often the voices of God's Spirit; sometimes by changes of
circumstances, either for the better or for the worse; and oftentimes
by sorrows. The straw is pulled out of the nest, and it is not so
comfortable to lie in; or a bit of it develops a sharp point that runs
into the half-feathered skin, and makes the fledgling glad to come
forth into the air. We all shrink from change. What should we do if we
had it not? We should stiffen into habits that would dwarf and weaken
us. We all recoil from storms. What should we do if we had them not?
Sea and air would stagnate, and become heavy and putrid and
pestilential, if it were not for the wild west wind and the hurtling
storms. So all our changes, instead of being whimpered over, and all
our sorrows, instead of being taken reluctantly, should be recognised
as being what they are, loving summonses to effort. Then their pressure
would be modified, and their blessing would be secured when their
purpose was served.

But the training of the father-eagle is not confined to stirring up the
nest. What is to become of the young ones when they get out of it, and
have never been accustomed to bear themselves up in the invisible ether
about them? So 'he fluttereth over his young.' It is a very beautiful
word that is employed here, which 'flutter' scarcely gives us. It is
the same word that is used in the first chapter of Genesis, about the
Spirit of God '_brooding_ on the face of the waters'; and it suggests
how near, how all-protecting with expanded wings, the divine Father
comes to the child whose restfulness He has disturbed.

And is not that true? Had you ever trouble that you took as from Him,
which did not bring that hovering presence nearer you, until you could
almost feel the motion of the wing, and be brushed by it as it passed
protectingly above your head? Ah, yes! 'Stirring the nest' is meant to
be the precursor of closer approach of the Father to us; and if we take
our changes and our sorrows as loving summonses from Him to effort, be
sure that we shall realise Him as near to us, in a fashion that we
never did before.

That is not all. There is sustaining power. 'He spreadeth abroad his
wings; he taketh them; beareth them on his wings.' On those broad
pinions we are lifted, and by them we are guarded. It matters little
whether the belief that the parent bird thus carries the young, when
wearied with their short flights, is correct or not. The truth which
underlies the representation is what concerns us. The beautiful
metaphor is a picturesque way of saying, 'In all their afflictions He
was afflicted; and the Angel of His presence saved them.' It is a
picturesque way of saying, 'Thou canst do all things through Christ
which strengtheneth thee.' And we may be very sure that if we let Him
'stir up our nests' and obey His loving summons to effort, He will come
very near to strengthen us for our attempts, and to bear us up when our
own weak wings fail. The Psalmist sang that angels' hands should bear
up God's servant. That is little compared with this promise of being
carried heavenwards on Jehovah's own pinions. A vile piece of Greek
mythology tells how Jove once, in the guise of an eagle, bore away a
boy between his great wings. It is foul where it stands, but it is
blessedly true about Christian experience. If only we lay ourselves on
God's wings--and that not in idleness, but having ourselves tried our
poor little flight--He will see that no harm comes to us.

During life this training will go on; and after life, what then? Then,
in the deepest sense, the old word will be true, 'Ye know how I bore
you on eagle's wings and brought you _to Myself_'; and the great
promise shall be fulfilled, when the half-fledged young brood are
matured and full grown, 'They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they
shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.'



THEIR ROCK AND OUR ROCK

'Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being
Judges.' DEUT. xxxii. 31.


Moses is about to leave the people whom he had led so long, and his
last words are words of solemn warning. He exhorts them to cleave to
God. The words of the text simply mean that the history of the nation
had sufficiently proved that God, their God, was 'above all gods.' The
Canaanites and all the enemies whom Israel had fought had been beaten,
and in their awe of this warrior people acknowledged that their idols
had found their lord. The great suit of 'Jehovah _versus_ Idols' has
long since been decided. Every one acknowledges that Christianity is
the only religion possible for twentieth century men. But the words of
the text lend themselves to a wider application, and clothe in a
picturesque garb the universal truth that the experience of godless men
proves the futility of their objects of trust, when compared with that
of him whose refuge is in God.

I. God is a Rock to them that trust Him.

We note the singular frequency of that designation in this song, in
which it occurs six times. It is also found often in the Psalms. If
Moses were the singer, we might see in this often-repeated metaphor a
trace of influence of the scenery of the Sinaitic peninsula, which
would be doubly striking to eyes accustomed to the alluvial plains of
Egypt. What are the aspects of the divine nature set forth by this name?

(1) Firm foundation: the solid eternity of the rock on which we can
build.

Petra: faithfulness to promises, unchanging.

(2) Refuge: 'refuge from the storm'; 'my rock and my fortress and my
high tower.'

(3) Refreshment: rock from which water gushed out; and (4) Repose:
'shadow of a great rock'; 'shadow from the heat.'

Trace the image through Scripture, from this song till Christ's parable
of the man who 'built his house on a rock.'

II. Every man's experience shows him that there is no such refuge
anywhere else.

We do not assert that every man consciously comes to that conclusion.
All we say is that he would do so if he rightly pondered the facts. The
history of every life is a history of disappointment. Take these
particulars just stated and ask yourselves: What does experience say as
to the possibility of our possessing such blessings apart from God?
There is no need for us to exaggerate, for the naked reality is sad
enough. If God is not our best Good, we have no solid good. Every other
'rock' crumbles into sand. Else why this restless change, why this
disquiet, why the constant repetition, generation after generation, of
the old, old wail, 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity'? Why does every
heart say Amen to the poet and the dramatist singing of 'the fever and
the fret,' the tragic fare of man's life?

Our appeal is not to men in the flush of excitement, but to them in
their hours of solitary sane reflection. It is from 'Philip drunk to
Philip sober.' We each have material for judging in our own case, and
in the cases of some others. The experiment of living with other
'rocks' than God has been tried for millenniums now. What has been the
issue? You know what Christianity claims that it can do to make a life
stable and safe. Do you know anything else that can? You know what
Christian men will calmly say that they have found. Can you say as
much? Let us hear some dying testimonies. Hearken to Jacob: 'The God
which hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which
redeemed me from all evil.' Hearken to Moses: 'The Rock, His work is
perfect, for all His ways are judgment, a God of faithfulness and
without iniquity, just and right is He.' Hearken to Joshua: 'Not one
good thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God
spake.' Hearken to David: 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
.... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my
life.' Hearken to Paul: 'The Lord stood by me and strengthened me, and
I was delivered ... the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and
will save me unto His heavenly kingdom.' What man who has chosen to
take refuge or build on men and creatures can look backward and forward
in such fashion?

III. Every man's own nature tells him that God is his true Rock.

Again I say that here I do not appeal to the surface of our
consciousness, nor to men who have sophisticated themselves, nor to
people who have sinned themselves, into hardness, but to the voice of
the inner man which speaks in the depths of each man's being.

There is the cry of Want: the manifest want of the soul for God.

There is the voice of Reason.

There is the voice of Conscience.

IV. Yet many of us will not take God for our Rock.

Surely it is a most extraordinary thing that men should be 'judges,'
being convinced in their deepest consciousness that God is the only
Foundation and Refuge, and yet that the conviction should have
absolutely no influence on their conduct. The same stark, staring
inconsequence is visible in many other departments of life, but in this
region it works its most tragic results. The message which many of my
hearers need most is--follow out your deepest convictions, and be true
to the inward voice which condenses all your experience into the one
counsel to take God for the 'strength of your hearts and your portion
for ever,' for only in Him will you find what you need for life and
strength and riches. If He is 'our Rock,' then we shall have a firm
foundation, a safe refuge, inexhaustible refreshment and untroubled
rest. Lives founded on aught beside are built on sand and will be full
of tremors and unsettlements, and at last the despairing builder and
his ruined house will be washed away with the dissolving 'sandbank and
shoal of time' on which he built.



GOD AND HIS SAINTS

'He loved the people; all His saints are in Thy hand: and they sat down
at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.'--DEUT. xxxiii. 3.


The great ode of which these words are a part is called 'the blessing
wherewith Moses blessed the children of Israel before his death.' It is
mainly an invocation of blessing from Heaven on the various tribes, but
it begins, as the national existence of Israel began, with the
revelation of God on Sinai, and it lays that as the foundation of
everything. It does not matter, for my purposes, in the smallest
degree, who was the author of this great song. Whoever he was, he has,
by dint of divine inspiration and of his own sympathy with the inmost
spirit of the Old Covenant, anticipated the deepest things of Christian
truth; and these are here in the words of our text.

I. The first thing that I would point out is the Divine Love which is
the foundation of all.

'He loved the people.' That is the beginning of everything. The word
that this singer uses is one that only appears in this place, and if we
regard its etymology, there lies in it a very tender and beautiful
expression of the warmth of the divine love, for it is probably
connected with words in an allied language which mean the _bosom_ and a
_tender embrace_, and so the picture that we have is of that great
divine Lover folding 'the people' to His heart, as a mother might her
child, and cherishing them in His bosom.

Still further, the word is in a form in the Hebrew which implies that
the act spoken about is neither past, present, nor future only, but
continuous and perpetual. Thus it suggests to us the thought of
timeless, eternal love, which has no beginning, and therefore has no
end, which does not grow, and therefore will never decline nor decay,
but which runs on upon one lofty level, with neither ups nor downs, and
with no variation of the impulse which sends it forth; always the same,
and always holding its objects in the fervent embrace of which the text
speaks.

Further, mark the place in this great song where this thought comes in.
As I said, it is laid as the beginning of everything. 'We love Him
because He first loved us' was the height to which the last of the
Apostles attained in the last of his writings. But this old singer,
with the mists of antiquity around him, who knew nothing about the
Cross, nothing about the historical Christ, who had only that which
modern thinkers tell us is a revelation of a wrathful God, somehow or
other rose to the height of the evangelical conception of God's love as
the foundation of the very existence of a people who are His. Like an
orchid growing on a block of dry wood and putting forth a gorgeous
bloom, this singer, with so much less to feed his faith than we have,
has yet borne this fair flower of deep and devout insight into the
secret of things and the heart of God. 'He loved the people'--therefore
He formed them for Himself; therefore He brought them out of bondage;
therefore He came down in flashing fire on Sinai and made known His
will, which to know and do is life. All begins from the tender,
timeless love of God.

And if the question is asked, Why does God thus love? the only answer
is, Because he is God. 'Not for your sakes, O house of Israel ... but
for Mine own name's sake.' The love of God is self-originated. In it,
as in all His acts, He is His own motive, as His name, 'I am that I
am,' proclaims. It is inseparable from His being, and flows forth
before, and independent of, anything in the creature which could draw
it out. Men's love is attracted by their perception or their
imagination of something loveable in its objects. It is like a well,
where there has to be much work of the pump-handle before the gush
comes. God's love is like an artesian well, or a fountain springing up
from unknown depths in obedience to its own impulse. All that we can
say is, 'Thou art God. It is Thy nature and property to be merciful.'

'God loved the people.' The bed-rock is the spontaneous, unalterable,
inexhaustible, ever-active, fervent love of God, like that with which a
mother clasps her child to her maternal breast. The fair flower of this
great thought was a product of Judaism. Let no man say that the God of
Love is unknown to the Old Testament.

II. Notice how, with this for a basis, we have next the guardian care
extended to all those that answer love by love.

The singer goes on to say, mixing up his pronouns, in the fashion of
Hebrew poetry, somewhat arbitrarily, 'all _His_ saints are in _Thy_
hand.' Now, what is a 'saint'? A man who answers God's love by his
love. The notion of a saint has been marred and mutilated by the Church
and the world. It has been taken as a special designation of certain
selected individuals, mostly of the ascetic and monastic type, whereas
it belongs to every one of God's people. It has been taken by the world
to mean sanctimoniousness and not sanctity, and is a term of contempt
rather than of admiration on their lips. And even those of us, who have
got beyond thinking that it is a title of honour belonging only to the
aristocracy of Christ's Kingdom, are too apt to mistake what it really
does mean. It may be useful to say a word about the Scriptural use and
true meaning of that much-abused term. The root idea of sanctity or
holiness is not moral character, goodness of disposition and of action,
but it is separation from the world and consecration to God. As surely
as a magnet applied to a heap of miscellaneous filings will pick out
every little bit of iron there, so surely will that love which He bears
to the people, when it is responded to, draw to itself, and therefore
draw out of the heap, the men that feel its impulse and its
preciousness. And so 'saint' means, secondly, righteous and pure, but
it means, first, knit to God, separated from evil, and separated by the
power of His received love.

Now, brethren, here is a question for each of us: Do I yield to that
timeless, tender clasp of the divine Father and Mother in one? Do I
answer it by my love? If I do, then I am a 'saint,' because I belong to
Him, and He belongs to me, and in that commerce I have broken with the
world. If we are true to ourselves, and true to our Lord, and true to
the relation between us, the purity of character, which is popularly
supposed to be the meaning of _holiness_, will come. Not without
effort, not without set-backs, not without slow advance, but it will
come; for he that is consecrated to the Lord is 'separated' from
iniquity. Such is the meaning of 'saint.'

'All His saints are in Thy hand.' The first metaphor of our text spoke
of God's bosom, to which He drew the people and folded them there. This
one speaks of His 'hand.' They lie in it. That means two things. It
means absolute security, for will He not close His fingers over His
palm to keep the soul that has laid itself there? And 'none shall pluck
them out of My Father's hand.' No one but yourself can do that. And you
can do it, if you cease to respond to His love, and so cease to be a
saint. Then you will fall out of His hand, and how far you will fall
God only knows.

Being in God's hand means also submission. Loyola said to his black
army, 'Be like a stick in a man's hand.' That meant utter submission
and abnegation of self, the willingness to be put anywhere, and used
anyhow, and done anything with. And if I by my reception of, and
response to, that timeless love, am a saint belonging to God, then not
only shall I be secure, but I must be submissive. 'All His saints are
in Thy hand.' Do not try to get out of it; be content to let it guide
you as the steersman's hand turns the spokes of the wheel and directs
the ship.

Now, there is a last thought here. I have spoken of the foundation of
all as being divine love, of the security and guardian care of the
saints, and there follows one thought more:--

III. The docile obedience of those that are thus guarded.

As the words stand in our Bible, they are as follow:--'They sat down at
Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.' These two clauses make
up one picture, and one easily understands what it is. It represents a
group of docile scholars, sitting at the Master's feet. He is teaching
them, and they listen open-mouthed and open-eared to what he says, and
will take his words into their lives, like Mary sitting at Christ's
feet, whilst Martha was bustling about His meal. But, beautiful as that
picture is, there has been suggested a little variation in the words
which gives another one that strikes me as being even more beautiful.
There are some difficulties of language with which I need not trouble
you. But the general result is this, that perhaps instead of 'sitting
down at Thy feet' we should read 'followed at Thy feet.' That suggests
the familiar metaphor of a guide and those led by him who, without him,
know not their road. As a dog follows his master, as the sheep their
shepherd, so, this singer felt, will saints follow the God whom they
love. Religion is imitation of God. That was a deep thought for such a
stage of revelation, and it in part anticipates Christ's tender words:
'He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His
voice.' They follow at His feet. That is the blessedness and the power
of Christian morality, that it is keeping close at Christ's heels, and
that instead of its being said to us, 'Go,' He says, 'Come,' and
instead of our being bid to hew out for ourselves a path of duty, He
says to us, 'He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall
have the light of life.' They follow at His feet, as the dog at his
master's, as the sheep at their shepherd's.

They 'receive His words.' Yes, if you will keep close to Him, He will
turn round and speak to you. If you are near enough to Him to catch His
whisper He will not leave you without guidance. That is one side of the
thought, that following we receive what He says, whereas the people
that are away far behind Him scarcely know what His will is, and never
can catch the low whisper which will come to us by providences, by
movements in our own spirits, through the exercise of our own faculties
of judgment and common-sense, if only we will keep near to Him. 'Be ye
not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose
mouths must be held in with bit and with bridle, else they will not
come near to thee,' but walk close behind Him, and then the promise
will be fulfilled: 'I will guide thee with Mine eye.' A glance tells
two people who are in sympathy what each wishes, and Jesus Christ will
speak to us, if we keep close at His heels.

They that follow Him will 'receive His words' in another sense. They
will take them in, and His words will not be wasted. And they will
receive them in yet another sense. They will carry them out and do
them, and His words will not be in vain.

So, dear brethren, the peace, the strength, the blessedness, the
goodness, of our lives flow from these three stages, which this singer
so long ago had found to be the essence of everything, recognition of
the timeless tenderness of God, the yielding to and answering that
love, so that it separates us for Himself, the calm security and happy
submission which follow thereon, the imitation of Him in daily life,
and the walking in His steps, which is rewarded and made more perfect
by hearing more distinctly the whisper of His loving, commanding voice.



ISRAEL THE BELOVED

'The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him; and the Lord
shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His
shoulders.'--DEUT. xxxiii. 12.


Benjamin was his father's favourite child, and the imagery of this
promise is throughout drawn from the relations between such a child and
its father. So far as the future history of the tribes is shadowed in
these 'blessings' of this great ode, the reference of the text may be
to the tribe of Benjamin, as specially distinguished by Saul having
been a member of it, and by the Temple having been built on its soil.
But we find that each of the promises of the text is repeated
elsewhere, with distinct reference to the whole nation. For example,
the first one, of safe dwelling, reappears in verse 28 in reference to
Israel; the second one, of God's protecting covering, is extended to
the nation in many places; and the third, of dwelling between His
shoulders, is in substance found again in chap. i. 31, 'the Lord thy
God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son.' So that we may give the
text a wider extension, and take it as setting forth under a lovely
metaphor, and with a restricted reference, what is true of all God's
children everywhere and always.

I. Who are the 'beloved of the Lord'?

The first answer to that question must be--all men. But these great
blessings, so beautifully shadowed in this text, do not belong to all
men; nor does the designation, 'the beloved of the Lord,' belong to all
men, but to those who have entered into a special relation to Him. In
these words of the Hebrew singer there sound the first faint tones of a
music that was to swell into clear notes, when Jesus said: 'If a man
love Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will
come unto him, and make Our abode with him.' They who are knit by faith
and love to God's only-begotten and beloved Son, by that union receive
'power to become the sons of God,' and share in the love which is ever
pouring out from the Father's heart on 'the Son of His love.'

II. What are their blessed privileges?

The three clauses of the text express substantially the same idea, but
with a striking variety of metaphors.

1. They have a sure dwelling-place.

There is a very slight change of rendering of the first clause, which
greatly increases its 'force, and preserves the figure that is obscured
by the usual translation. We should read 'shall dwell safely _on_,'
rather than '_by_, Him.' And the effect of that small change in the
preposition is to bring out the thought that God is regarded as the
foundation on which His beloved build their house of life, and dwell in
security and calm. If we are sons through the Son, we shall build our
houses or pitch our tents on that firm ground, and, being founded on
the Rock of ages, they will not fall when all created foundations reel
to the overthrow of whatever is built on _them_. It is not
companionship only, blessed as that is, that is promised here. We have
a larger privilege than dwelling _by_ Him, for if we love His Son, we
build _on_ God, and 'God dwelleth in us and we in Him.'

What spiritual reality underlies the metaphor of dwelling or building
on God? The fact of habitual communion.

Note the blessed results of such grounding of our lives on God through
such habitual communion. We shall 'dwell safely.' We may think of that
as being objective safety--that is, freedom from peril, or as being
subjective--that is, freedom from care or fear, or as meaning
'trustfully,' confidently, as the expression is rendered in Psalm xvi.
9 (margin), which is for us the ground of both these. He who dwells in
God trustfully dwells both safely and securely, and none else is free
either from danger or from dread.

2. They have a sure shelter.

God is for His beloved not only the foundation on which they dwell in
safety, but their perpetual covering. They dwell safely because He is
so. There are many tender shapes in which this great promise is
presented to our faith. Sometimes God is thought of as covering the
weak fugitive, as the arching sides of His cave sheltered David from
Saul. Sometimes He is represented as covering His beloved, who cower
under His wings, 'as the hen gathereth her chickens' when hawks are in
the sky. Sometimes He appears as covering them from tempest, 'when the
blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall,' and 'the
shadow of a great rock' shields from its fury. Sometimes He is pictured
as stretching out protection over His beloved's heads, as the Pillar of
cloud lay, long-drawn-out, over the Tabernacle when at rest, and 'on
all the Glory was a defence.' But under whatever emblem the general
idea of a covering shelter was conceived, there was always a
correlative duty on our side. For the root-meaning of one of the Old
Testament words for 'faith' is 'fleeing to a refuge,' and we shall not
be safe in God unless by faith we flee for refuge to Him in Christ.

3. They have a Father who bears them on His shoulders.

The image is the same as in chap. i. already referred to. It recurs
also in Isaiah (xlvi. 3, 4), 'Even to hoar hairs will I carry you, and
I have made and I will bear, yea, I will carry, and will deliver'; and
in Hosea (xi. 3), 'I taught Ephraim to go; I took them on My arms.'

The image beautifully suggests the thought of the favourite child
riding high and happy on the strong shoulder, which lifts it above
rough places and miry ways. The prose reality is: 'My grace is
sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'

The Cross carries those who carry it. They who carry God in their
hearts are carried by God through all the long pilgrimage of life.
Because they are thus upheld by a strength not their own, 'they shall
run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint,' and though
marches be long and limbs strained, they shall 'go from strength to
strength till every one of them appears before God in Zion.'



'AT THE BUSH'

'.. The goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.'-DEUT. xxxiii. 16.


I Think this is the only reference in the Old Testament to that great
vision which underlay Moses' call and Israel's deliverance. It occurs
in what is called 'the blessing wherewith Moses, the man of God,
blessed the children of Israel before his death,' although modern
opinion tends to decide that this hymn is indeed much more recent than
the days of Moses. There seems a peculiar appropriateness in this
reference being put into the mouth of the ancient Lawgiver, for to him
even Sinai, with all its glories, cannot have been so impressive and so
formative of his character as was the vision granted to him when
solitary in the wilderness. It is to be noticed that the characteristic
by which God is designated here never occurs elsewhere than in this one
place. It is intended to intensify the conception of the greatness, and
preciousness, and all-sufficiency of that 'goodwill.' If it is that 'of
Him that dwelt in the bush,' it is sure to be all that a man can need.
I need not remind you that the words occur in the blessing pronounced
on 'Joseph'--that is, the two tribes which represented Joseph--in which
all the greatest material gifts that could be desired by a pastoral
people are first called down upon them, and then the ground of all
these is laid in 'the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.' 'The
blessing--let it come on the head of Joseph.'

So then here, first, is a great thought as to what for us all is the
blessing of blessings--God's 'goodwill.' 'Goodwill'-the word, perhaps,
might bear a little stronger rendering. 'Goodwill' is somewhat tepid. A
man may have a good enough will, and yet no very strong emotion of
favour or delight, and may do nothing to carry his goodwill into
action. But the word that is employed here, and is a common enough one
in Scripture, always carries with it a certain intensity and warmth of
feeling. It is more than 'goodwill'; it is more than 'favour'; perhaps
'delight' would be nearer the meaning. It implies, too, not only the
inward sentiment of complacency, but also the active purpose of action
in conformity with it, on God's part. Now it needs few words to show
that these two things, which are inseparable, do make the blessing of
blessings for every one of us--the delight, the complacency, of God in
us, and the active purpose of good in God for us. These are the things
that will make a man happy wherever he is.

If I might dwell for a moment upon other scriptural passages, I would
just recall to you, as bringing up very strongly and beautifully the
all-sufficiency and the blessed effects of having this delight and
loving purpose directed towards us like a sunbeam, the various great
things that a chorus of psalmists say that it will do for a man. Here
is one of their triumphant utterances: 'Thou wilt bless the righteous;
with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield.' That crystal
battlement, if I may so vary the figure, is round a man, keeping far
away from him all manner of real evil, and filling his quiet heart as
he stands erect behind the rampart, with the sense of absolute
security. That is one of the blessings that God's favour or goodwill
will secure for us. Again, we read: 'By Thy favour Thou hast made my
mountain to stand strong.' He that knows himself to be the object of
the divine delight, and who by faith knows himself to be the object of
the divine activity in protection, stands firm, and his purposes will
be carried through, because they will be purposes in accordance with
the divine mind, and nothing has power to shake him. So he that grasps
the hand of God can say, not because of his grasp, but because of the
Hand that he holds, 'The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not be
greatly moved. By Thy favour Thou hast made our mountain to stand
strong.' And again, in another analogous but yet diversified
representation, we read: 'In Thee shall we rejoice all the day, and in
Thy favour shall our horn be exalted.' That is the emblem, not only of
victory, but of joyful confidence, and so he who knows himself to have
God for his friend and his helper, can go through the world keeping a
sunny face, whatever the clouds may be, erect and secure, light of
heart and buoyant, holding up his chin above the stormiest waters, and
breasting all difficulties and dangers with a confidence far away from
presumption, because it is the consequence of the realisation of God's
presence. So the goodwill of God is the chiefest good.

Now, if we turn to the remarkable designation of the divine nature
which is here, consider what rivers of strength and of blessedness flow
out of the thought that for each of us 'the goodwill of Him that dwelt
in the bush' may be our possession.

What does that pregnant designation of God say? That was a strange
shrine for God, that poor, ragged, dry desert bush, with apparently no
sap in its gray stem, prickly with thorns, with 'no beauty that we
should desire it,' fragile and insignificant, yet it was 'God's house.'
Not in the cedars of Lebanon, not in the great monarchs of the forest,
but in the forlorn child of the desert did He abide. 'The goodwill of
Him that dwelt in the bush' may dwell in you and me. Never mind how
small, never mind how sapless, never mind how lightly esteemed among
men, never mind though we make a very poor show by the side of the
'oaks of Bashan' or the 'cedars of Lebanon.' It is all right; the Fire
does not dwell in them. 'Unto this man will I look, and with him will I
dwell, who is of a humble and a contrite heart, and who trembleth at My
word.' Let no sense of poverty, weakness, unworthiness, ever draw the
faintest film of fear across our confidence, for even with us He will
sojourn. For it is 'the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush' that we
evoke for ours.

Again, what more does that name say? He 'that dwelt in the bush' filled
it with fire, and it 'burned and was not consumed.' Now there is good
ground to object to the ordinary interpretation, as if the burning of
the bush which yet remains unconsumed was meant to symbolise Israel,
or, in the New Testament application, the Church which, notwithstanding
all persecution, still remains undestroyed. Our brethren of the
Presbyterian churches have taken the Latin form of the words in the
context for their motto--_Nec Tamen Consumebatur_. But I venture to
think that that is a mistake; and that what is meant by the symbol is
just what is expressed by the verbal revelation which accompanied it,
and that was this: 'I AM THAT I AM.' The fire that did not burn out is
the emblem of the divine nature which does not tend to death because it
lives, nor to exhaustion because it energises, nor to emptiness because
it bestows, but after all times is the same; lives by its own energy
and is independent. 'I am that I have become,'--that is what men have
to say. 'I am that I once was not, and again once shall not be,' is
what men have to say. 'I am that I am' is God's name. And this eternal,
ever-living, self-sufficing, absolute, independent, unwearied,
inexhaustible God is the God whose favour is as inexhaustible as
Himself, and eternal as His own being. 'Therefore the sons of men shall
put their trust beneath the shadow of Thy wings,' and, if they have
'the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush,' will be able to say,
'Because Thou livest we shall live also.'

What more does the name say? He 'that dwelt in the bush' dwelt there in
order to deliver; and, dwelling there, declared 'I have seen the
affliction of My people, and am come down to deliver them.' So, then,
if the goodwill of that eternal, delivering God is with us, we, too,
may feel that our trivial troubles and our heavy burdens, all the needs
of our prisoned wills and captive souls, are known to Him, and that we
shall have deliverance from them by Him. Brethren, in that name, with
its historical associations, with its deep revelations of the divine
nature, with its large promises of the divine sympathy and help, there
lie surely abundant strengths and consolations for us all. The
goodwill, the delight, of God, and the active help of God, may be ours,
and if these be ours we shall be blessed and strong.

Do not let us forget the place in this blessing on the head of Joseph
which my text holds. It is preceded by an invoking of the precious
things of Heaven, and 'the precious fruits brought forth by the sun...
of the chief things of the ancient mountains, and the precious things
of the lasting hills, and the precious things of the earth and the
fulness thereof.' They are all heaped together in one great mass for
the beloved Joseph. And then, like the golden spire that tops some of
those campaniles in Italian cities, and completes their beauty, above
them all there is set, as the shining apex of all, 'the goodwill of Him
that dwelt in the bush.' That is more precious than all other precious
things; set last because it is to be sought first; set last as in
building some great structure the top stone is put on last of all; set
last because it gathers all others into itself, secures that all others
shall be ours in the measure in which we need them, and arms us against
all possibilities of evil. So the blessing of blessings is the
'goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.'

In my text this is an invocation only; but we can go further than that.
You and I can make sure that we have it, if we will. How to secure it?
One of the texts which I have already quoted helps us a little way
along t he road in answer to that question, for it says, 'Thou, Lord,
wilt bless the righteous. With favour wilt thou compass him as with a
shield.' But it is of little use to tell me that if I am 'righteous'
God will 'bless me,' and 'compass me with favour.' If you will tell me
how to become righteous, you will do me more good. And we have been
told how to be righteous--'If a man keep My commandments My Father will
love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.' If we
knit ourselves to Jesus Christ, and we can all do that if we like, by
faith that trusts Him, and by love, the child of faith, that obeys Him,
and grows daily more like Him--then, without a doubt, that delight of
God in us, and that active purpose of good in God's mind towards us,
will assuredly be ours; and on no other terms.

So, dear brethren, the upshot of my homily is just this--Men may strive
and scheme, and wear their finger-nails down to the quick, to get some
lesser good, and fail after all. The greatest good is certainly ours by
that easy road which, however hard it may be otherwise, is made easy
because it is so certain to bring us to what we want. Holiness is the
condition of God's delight in us, and a genuine faith in Christ, and
the love which faith evokes, are the conditions. So it is a very simple
matter You never can be sure of getting the lower good You can be quite
sure of getting the highest. You never can be certain that the precious
things of the earth and the fulness thereof will be yours, or that if
they were, they would be so very precious; but you can be quite sure
that the 'goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush' may lie like light
upon your hearts, and be strength to your limbs.

And so I commend to you the words of the Apostle, 'Wherefore we labour
that, whether present or absent, we may be well-pleasing to Him.' To
minister to God's delight is the highest glory of man. To have the
favour of Him that dwelt in the bush resting upon us is the highest
blessing for man. He will say 'Well done! good and faithful servant.'
'The Lord taketh pleasure'--wonderful as it sounds--'in them that fear
Him, in them that hope in His mercy,' and that, hoping in His mercy,
live as He would have them live.



SHOD FOR THE ROAD

'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy
strength be.' DEUT. xxxiii. 25.


There is a general correspondence between those blessings wherewith
Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before his death, and the
circumstances and territory of each tribe in the promised land. The
portion of Asher, in whose blessing the words of our text occurs, was
partly the rocky northern coast and partly the fertile lands stretching
to the base of the Lebanon. In the inland part of their territory they
cultivated large olive groves, the produce of which was trodden out in
great rock-hewn cisterns. So the clause before my text is a benediction
upon that industry-'let him dip his foot in oil.' And then the metaphor
naturally suggested by the mention of the foot is carried on into the
next words, 'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass,' the tribe being
located upon rocky sea-coast, having rough roads to travel, and so
needing to be well shod. The substance, then, of that promise seems to
be--strength adequate to, and unworn by, exercise; while the second
clause, though not altogether plain, seems to put a somewhat similar
idea in unmetaphorical shape. 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be,'
probably means the promise of power that grows with growing years.

So, then, we have first that thought that God gives us an equipment of
strength proportioned to our work,--shoes fit for our road. God does
not turn people out to scramble over rough mountains with thin-soled
boots on; that is the plain English of the words. When an Alpine
climber is preparing to go away into Switzerland for rock work, the
first thing he does is to get a pair of strong shoes, with plenty of
iron nails in the soles of them. So Asher had to be shod for his rough
roads, and so each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony
paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and will not send us out on
any journey for which He does not equip us well.

There are no difficulties to be found in any path of duty, for which he
that is called to tread it is not prepared by Him that sent him.
Whatsoever may be the road, our equipment is calculated for it, and is
given to us from Him that has appointed it.

Is there not a suggestion here, too, as to the sort of travelling we
may expect to have? An old saying tells us that we do not go to heaven
in silver slippers, and the reason is because the road is rough. The
'primrose way' leads somewhere else, and it may be walked on
'delicately.' But if we need shoes of iron and brass, we may pretty
well guess the kind of road we have before us. If a man is equipped
with such coverings on his feet, depend upon it that there will be use
for them before he gets to the end of his day's journey. The thickest
sole will make the easiest travelling over rocky roads. So be quite
sure of this, that if God gives to us certain endowments and equipments
which are only calculated for very toilsome paths, the roughness of the
road will match the stoutness of the shoes.

And see what He does give. See the provision which is made for patience
and strength, for endurance and courage, in all the messages of His
mercy, in all the words of His love, in all the powers of His Gospel,
and then say whether that looks as if we should have an easy life of it
on our way home. Those two ships that went away a while ago upon the
brave, and, as some people thought, desperate task of finding the North
Pole--any one that looked upon them as they lay in Portsmouth Roads,
might know that it was no holiday cruise they were meant for. The
thickness of the sides, the strength of the cordage, the massiveness of
the equipment, did not look like pleasure-sailing.

And so, dear brethren, if we think of all that is given to us in God's
Gospel in the way of stimulus and encouragement, and exhortation, and
actual communication of powers, we may calculate, from the abundance of
the resources, how great will be the strain upon us before we come to
the end, and our 'feet stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.'  Go into
some of the great fortresses in continental countries, and you will
find the store-rooms full of ammunition and provisions; bread enough
and biscuits enough, as it seems, for half the country, laid up there,
and a deep well somewhere or other in the courtyard. What does that
mean? It means fighting, that is what it means. So if we are brought
into this strong pavilion, so well provisioned, so massively fortified
and defended, that means that we shall need all the strength that is to
be found in those thick walls, and all the sustenance that is to be
found in those gorged magazines, and all the refreshment that is to be
drawn from that free, and full, and inexhaustible fountain, before the
battle is over and the victory won. Depend upon it, the promise 'Thy
shoes shall be iron and brass.' means, 'Thy road shall be rocky and
flinty'; and so it is.

And yet, thank God! whilst it is true that it is very hard and very
difficult for many of us, and hard and difficult--even if without the
'very'--for us all, it is also true that we have the adequate provision
sufficient for all our necessities--and far more than sufficient! It is
a poor compliment to the strength that He gives to us to say that it is
enough to carry us through. God does not deal out His gifts to people
with such an economical correspondence to necessities as that. There is
always a wide margin. More than we can ask, more than we can think,
more than we can need is given us.

If He were to deal with us as men often deal with one another, asking
us, 'Well, how much do you want? cannot you do with a little less?
there is the exact quantity that you need for your support'--if you got
your bread by weight and your water by measure, it would be a very poor
affair. See how He actually does--He says, 'Child, there is Mine own
strength for you'; and we think that we honour Him when we say, 'God
has given us enough for our necessities!' Rather the old word is always
true: 'So they did eat and were filled; and they took up of the
fragments that remained seven baskets-full,' and after they were
satisfied and replete with the provision, there was more at the end
than when they began.

That suggests another possible thought to be drawn from this promise,
namely, that it assures not only of strength adequate to the
difficulties and perils of the journey, but also of a strength which is
not worn out by use.

The 'portion' of Asher was the rocky sea-coast. The sharp, jagged rocks
would cut to pieces anything made of leather long before the day's
march was over; but the travellers have their feet shod with metal, and
the rocks which they have to stumble over will only strike fire from
their shoes. They need not step timidly for fear of wearing them out;
but, wherever they have to march, may go with full confidence that
their shoeing will not fail them. A wise general looks after that part
of his soldiers' outfit with special care, knowing that if _it_ gives
out, all the rest is of no use. So our Captain provides us with an
inexhaustible strength, to which we may fully trust. We shall not
exhaust it by any demands that we can make upon it. We shall only
brighten it up, like the nails in a well-used shoe, the heads of which
are polished by stumbling and scrambling over rocky roads.

So we may be bold in the march, and draw upon our stock of strength to
the utmost. There is no fear that it will fail us. We may put all our
force into our work, we shall not weaken the power which 'by reason of
use is exercised,' not exhausted. For the grace which Christ gives us
to serve Him, being divine, is subject to no weariness, and neither
faints nor fails. The bush that burned unconsumed is a type of that
Infinite Being who works unexhausted, and lives undying, after all
expenditure is rich, after all pouring forth is full. And of His
strength we partake.

Whensoever a man puts forth an effort of any kind whatever--when I
speak, when I lift my hand, when I run, when I think-there is waste of
muscular tissue. Some of my strength goes in the act, and thus every
effort means expenditure and diminution of force. Hence weariness that
needs sleep, waste that needs food, languor that needs rest. We belong
to an order of being in which work is death, in regard to our physical
nature; but our spirits may lay hold of God, and enter into an order of
things in which work is not death, nor effort exhaustion, nor is there
loss of power in the expenditure of power.

That sounds strange, and yet it is not strange. Think of that electric
light which is made by directing a strong stream upon two small pieces
of carbon. As the electricity strikes upon these and turns their
blackness into a fiery blaze, it eats away their substance while it
changes them into light. But there is an arrangement in the lamp by
which a fresh surface is continually being brought into the path of the
beam, and so the light continues without wavering and blazes on. The
carbon is our human nature, black and dull in itself; the electric beam
is the swift energy of God, which makes us 'light in the Lord.' For the
one, decay is the end of effort; for the other, there is none. 'Though
our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.'
Though we belong to the perishing order of nature by our bodily frame,
we belong to the undecaying realm of grace by the spirit that lays hold
upon God. And if our work weary us, as it must do so long as we
continue here, yet in the deepest sanctuary of our being, our strength
is greatened by exercise. 'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass.' 'Thy
raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these
forty years.' 'Stand, therefore, having your feet shod with the
preparedness of the Gospel of peace.'

But this is not all. There is an advance even upon these great promises
in the closing words. That second clause of our text says more than the
first one. 'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass,' that promises us powers
and provision adapted to, and unexhausted by, the weary pilgrimage and
rough road of life. But 'as thy days, so shall thy strength be,' says
even more than that. The meaning of the word rendered 'strength' in our
version is very doubtful, and most modern translators are inclined to
render it 'rest.' But if we adhere to the translation of our version,
we get a forcible and relevant promise, which fits on well to the
previous clause, understood as it has been in my previous remarks. The
usual understanding of the words is 'strength proportioned to thy day,'
an idea which we have found already suggested by the previous clause.
But that explanation rests on, or at any rate derives support from, the
common misquotation of the words. They are not, as we generally hear
them quoted, 'As thy day, so shall thy strength be,'--but 'day' is in
the plural, and that makes a great difference. 'As thy days, so shall
thy strength be,' that is to say: the two sums--of 'thy days' and of
'thy strength'--keep growing side by side, the one as fast as the other
and no faster. The days increase. Well, what then? The strength
increases too. As I said, we are allied to two worlds. According to the
law of one of them, the outer world of physical life, we soon reach the
summit of human strength. For a little while it is true, even in the
life of nature, that our power grows with our days. But we soon reach
the watershed, and then the opposite comes to be true. Down, steadily
down, we go. With diminishing power, with diminishing vitality, with a
dimmer eye, with an obtuser ear, with a slower-beating heart, with a
feebler frame, we march on and on to our grave. 'As thy days, so shall
thy weakness be,' is the law for all of us mature men and women in
regard to our outward life.

But, dear brethren, we may be emancipated from that dreary law in
regard to the true life of our spirits, and instead of growing weaker
as we grow older, we may and we should grow stronger. We may be and we
should be moving on a course that has no limit to its advance. We may
be travelling on a shining path through the heavens, that has no
noon-tide height from which it must slowly and sadly decline, but tends
steadily and for ever upwards, nearer and nearer to the very fountain
itself of heavenly radiance. 'The path of the just is as the shining
light, which shineth more and more till the noon-tide of the day.' But
the reality surpasses even that grand thought, for it discloses to us
an endless approximation to an infinite beauty, and an ever-growing
possession of never exhausted fulness, as the law for the progress of
all Christ's servants. The life of each of us may and should be
continual accession and increase of power through all the days here,
through all the ages beyond. Why? Because 'the life which I live, I
live by the faith of the Son of God.' Christ liveth in me. It is not my
strength that grows, so much as God's strength in me which is given
more abundantly as the days roll. It is so given on one condition. If
my faith has laid hold of the infinite, the exhaustless, the immortal
energy of God, unless there is something fearfully wrong about me, I
shall be becoming purer, nobler, wiser, more observant of His will,
gentler, liker Christ, every way fitter for His service, and for larger
service, as the days increase.

Those of us who have reached middle life, or perhaps gone a little over
the watershed, ought to have this experience as our own in a very
distinct degree. The years that are past ought to have drawn us
somewhat away from our hot pursuing after earthly and perishable
things. They should have added something to the clearness and
completeness of our perception of the deep simplicity of God's gospel.
They should have tightened our hold and increased our possession of
Christ, and unfolded more and more of His all-sufficiency. They should
have enriched us with memories of God's loving care, and lighted all
the sky behind with a glow which is reflected on the path before us,
and kindles calm confidence in His unfailing goodness. They should have
given us power and skill for the conflicts that yet remain, as the Red
Indians believe that the strength of every defeated and scalped enemy
passes into his conqueror's arm. They should have given force to our
better nature, and weakening, progressive weakening, to our worse. They
should have rooted us more firmly and abidingly in Him from whom all
our power comes, and so have given us more and fuller supplies of His
exhaustless and ever-flowing might.

So it may be with us if we abide in Him, without whom we are nothing,
but partaking of whose strength 'the weakest shall be as David, and
David as an angel of God.'

If for us, drawing nearer to the end is drawing nearer to the light,
our faces will be brightened more and more with that light which we
approach, and our path will be 'as the shining light which shines more
and more unto the noon-tide of the day,' because we are closer to the
very fountain of heavenly radiance, and growingly bathed and flooded
with the outgoings of His glory. 'As thy days, so shall thy strength
be.'

The promise ought to be true for us all. It _is_ true for all who use
the things that are freely given to them of God. And whilst thus it is
the law for the devout life here, its most glorious fulfilment remains
for the life beyond. There each new moment shall bring new strength,
and growing millenniums but add fresh vigour to our immortal life. Here
the unresting beat of the waves of the sea of time gnaws away the bank
and shoal whereon we stand, but there each roll of the great ocean of
eternity shall but spread new treasures at our feet and add new acres
to our immortal heritage. 'The oldest angels,' says Swedenborg, 'look
the youngest.' When life is immortal, the longer it lasts the stronger
it becomes, and so the spirits that have stood for countless days
before His throne, when they appear to human eyes, appear as--'young
men clothed in long white garments,'--full of unaging youth and energy
that cannot wane. So, whilst in the flesh we must obey the law of
decay, the spirit may be subject to this better law of life, and 'while
the outward man perisheth, the inward man be renewed day by day.' 'Even
the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly
fall; but they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.'



A DEATH IN THE DESERT

'So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab,
according to the word of the Lord. 6. And he buried him in a valley in
the land of Moab, ... but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this
day.'--DEUT. xxxiv.5, 6.


A fitting end to such a life! The great law-giver and leader had been
all his days a lonely man; and now, surrounded by a new generation, and
all the old familiar faces vanished, he is more solitary than ever. He
had lived alone with God, and it was fitting that alone with God he
should die.

How the silent congregation must have watched, as, alone, with 'natural
strength unabated,' he breasted the mountain, and went up to be seen no
more! With dignified reticence our chapter tells us no details. He
'died there,' in that dreary solitude, and in some cleft he was buried,
and no man knows where. The lessons of that solitary death and unknown
tomb may best be learned by contrast with another death and another
grave--those of the Leader of the New Covenant, the Law-giver and
Deliverer from a worse bondage, and Guide into a better Canaan, the Son
who was faithful over His own house, as Moses was 'faithful in all his
house, as a servant.' That lonely and forgotten grave among the savage
cliffs was in keeping with the whole character and work of him who lay
there.

  Here,--here's his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
    Lightnings are loosened,
  Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
    Peace let the dew send!
  Lofty designs must close in like effects;     Loftily lying,
  Leave him--still loftier than the world suspects,
    Living and dying.'

Contrast that grave with the sepulchre in the garden where Jesus lay,
close by a city wall, guarded by foes, haunted by troops of weeping
friends, visited by a great light of angel faces. The one was hidden
and solitary, as teaching the loneliness and mystery of death; the
other revealed light in the darkness, and companionship in the
loneliness. The one faded from men's memory because it was nothing to
any man; no impulses, nor hopes, nor gifts, could come from it. The
other forever draws hearts and memories, because in it was wrought out
the victory in which all our hopes are rooted. An endured cross, an
empty grave, an occupied throne, are as the threefold cord on which all
our hopes hang. Moses was solitary as God's servant in life and death,
and oblivion covered his mountain grave. Christ's 'delights were with
the sons of men.' He lived among them, and all men 'know his sepulchre
to this day.'

I. Note, then, first, as a lesson gathered from this lonely death, the
penalty of transgression.

One of the great truths which the old law and ordinances given by Moses
were intended to burn in on the conscience of the Jew, and through him
on the conscience of the world, was that indissoluble connection
between evil done and evil suffered, which reaches its highest
exemplification in the death which is the 'wages of sin.' And just as
some men that have invented instruments for capital punishment have
themselves had to prove the sharpness of their own axe, so the
lawgiver, whose message it had been to declare, 'the soul that sinneth
it shall die,' had himself to go up alone to the mountain-top to
receive in his own person the exemplification of the law that had been
spoken by his own lips. He sinned when, in a moment of passion  (with
many palliations and excuses), he smote the rock that he was bidden to
address, and forgot therein, and in his angry words to the rebels, that
he was only an instrument in the divine hand. It was a momentary
wavering in a hundred and twenty years of obedience. It was one failure
in a life of self-abnegation and suppression. The stern sentence came.

People say, 'A heavy penalty for a small offence.' Yes; but an offence
of Moses could not be a small offence.' _Noblesse oblige!_ The higher a
man rises in communion with God, and the more glorious the message and
office which are put into his hands, the more intolerable in him is the
slightest deflection from the loftiest level. A splash of mud, that
would never be seen on a navvy's clothes, stains the white satin of a
bride or the embroidered garment of a noble. And so a little sin done
by a loftily endowed and inspired man ceases to be small.

Nor are we to regard that momentary lapse only from the outside and the
surface. One little mark under the armpit of a plague-sufferer tells
the physician that the fatal disease is there. A tiny leaf above ground
may tell that, deep below, lurks the root of a poison plant. That
little deflection, coming as it did at the beginning of the resumption
of his functions by the Lawgiver after seven-and-thirty years of
comparative abeyance, and on his first encounter with the new
generation that he had to lead, was a very significant indication that
his character had begun to yield and suffer from the strain that had
been put upon it; and that, in fact, he was scarcely fit for the
responsibilities that the new circumstances brought. So the penalty was
not so disproportionate to the fault as it may seem.

And was the penalty such a very great one? Do you think that a man who
had been toiling for eighty years at a very thankless task would
consider it a very severe punishment to be told, 'Go home and take your
wages'? It did not mean the withdrawal of the divine favour. 'Moses and
Aaron among his priests. ... Thou wast a God that forgavest them,
though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.' The penalty of a
forgiven sin is never hard to bear, and the penalty of a forgiven sin
is very often punctually and mercifully exacted.

But still we are not to ignore the fact that this lonely death, with
which we are now concerned, is of the nature of a penal infliction. And
so it stands forth in consonance with the whole tone of the Mosaic
teaching. I admit, of course, that the mere physical fact of the
separation between body and spirit is simply the result of natural law.
But that is not the death that you and I know. Death as we know it, the
ugly thing that flings its long shadows across all life, and that comes
armed with terrors for conscience and spirit, is 'the wages of sin,'
and is only experienced by men who have transgressed the law of God. So
far Moses in his life and in his death carries us--that no
transgression escapes the appropriate punishment; that the smallest sin
has in it the seeds of mortal consequences; that the loftiest saint
does not escape the law of retribution.

And no further does Moses with his Law and his death carry us. But we
turn to the other death. And there we find the confirmation, in an
eminent degree, of that Law, and yet the repeal of it. It is confirmed
and exhausted in Jesus Christ. His death was 'the wages of sin.' Whose?
Not His. Mine, yours, every man's. And because He died, surrounded by
men, outside the old city wall, pure and sinless in Himself, He therein
both said 'Amen' to the Law of Moses, and swept it away. For all the
sins of the world were laid upon His head, He bore the curse for us
all, and has emptied the bitter cup which men's transgressions have
mingled. Therefore the solitary death in the desert proclaims 'the
wages of sin'; that death outside the city wall proclaims 'the gift of
God,' which is 'eternal life.'

II. Another of the lessons of our incident is the withdrawal, by a hard
fate, of the worker on the very eve of the completion of his work.

For all these forty years there had gleamed before the fixed and
steadfast spirit of the sorely tried leader one hope that he never
abandoned, and that was that he might look upon and enter into the
blessed land which God had promised. And now he stands on the heights
of Moab. Half a dozen miles onwards, as the crow flies, and his feet
would tread its soil. He lifts his eyes, and away up yonder, in the far
north, he sees the rolling uplands of Gilead, and across the deep gash
where the Jordan runs, he catches a glimpse of the blue hills of
Naphtali or of Galilee, and the central mountain masses of Ephraim and
Manasseh, where Ebal and Gerizim lift their heads; and then, further
south, the stony summits of the Judaean hills, where Jerusalem and
Bethlehem lie, and, through some gap in the mountains, a gleam as of
sunshine upon armour tells where the ocean is. And then his eye falls
upon the waterless plateau of the South, and at his feet the fertile
valley of Jordan, with Jericho glittering amongst its palm trees like a
diamond set in emeralds, and on some spur of the lower hill bounding
the plain, the little Zoar. This was the land which the Lord had
promised to the fathers, for which he had been yearning, and to which
all his work had been directed all these years; and now he is to die,
as my text puts it, with such pathetic emphasis, 'there in Moab,' and
to have no part in the fair inheritance.

It is the lot of all epoch-making men, of all great constructive and
reforming geniuses, whether in the Church or in the world, that they
should toil at a task, the full issues of which will not be known until
their heads are laid low in the dust. But if, on the one hand, that
seems hard, on the other hand there is the compensation of 'the vision
of the future and all the wonder that shall be,' which is granted many
a time to the faithful worker ere he closes his eyes. But that is not
the fate of epoch-making and great men only; it is the law for our
little lives. If these are worth anything, they are constructed on a
scale too large to bring out all their results here and now. It is easy
for a man to secure immediate consequences of an earthly kind; easy
enough for him to make certain that he shall have the fruit of his
toil. But quick returns mean small profits; and an unfinished life that
succeeds in nothing may be far better than a completed one, that has
realised all its shabby purposes and accomplished all its petty
desires. Do you, my brother, live for the far-off; and seek not for the
immediate issues and fruits that the world can give, but be contented
to be of those whose toil waits for eternity to disclose its
significance. Better a half-finished temple than a finished pigstye or
huckster's shop. Better a life, the beginning of much and the
completion of nothing, than a life directed to and hitting an earthly
aim. 'He that soweth to the spirit shall of the Spirit reap life
everlasting,' and his harvest and garner are beyond the grave.

III. Again, notice here the lesson of the solitude and mystery of death.

Moses dies alone, with no hand to clasp his, none to close his eyes;
but God's finger does it. The outward form of his death is but putting
into symbol and visibility the awful characteristics of that last
moment for us all. However closely we have been twined with others,
each of us has to unclasp dear hands, and make that journey through the
narrow, dark tunnel by himself. We live alone in a very real sense, but
we each have to die as if there were not another human being in the
whole universe but only ourselves. But the solitude may be a solitude
with God. Up there, alone with the stars and the sky and the
everlasting rocks and menacing death, Moses had for companion the
supporting God. That awful path is not too desolate and lonely to be
trodden if we tread it with Him.

Moses' lonely death leads to a society yonder. If you refer to the
thirty-second chapter you will find that, when he was summoned to the
mountain, God said to him, 'Die in the mount whither thou goest up, and
be gathered to thy people.' He was to be buried there, up amongst the
rocks of Moab, and no man was ever to visit his sepulchre to drop a
tear over it. How, then, was he 'gathered to his people'? Surely only
thus, that, dying in the desert alone, he opened his eyes in 'the
City,' surrounded by 'solemn troops and sweet societies' of those to
whom he was kindred. So the solitude of a moment leads on to blessed
and eternal companionship.

So far the death of Moses carries us. What does the other death say?
Moses had none but God with him when he died. There is a drearier
desolation than that, and Jesus Christ proved it when He cried, 'My
God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' That was solitude indeed, and
in that hour of mysterious, and to us unfathomable, desertion and
misery, the lonely Christ sounded a depth, of which the lawgiver in His
death but skimmed the surface. Christ was parted from God in His death,
because He bore on Him the sins that separate us from our Father, and
in order that none of us may ever need to tread that dark passage
alone, but may be able to say, 'I will fear no evil, for Thou art with
me'--Thou, who hast trodden every step in its rough and dreary path,
uncheered by the presence which cheers us and millions more. Christ
died that we might live. He died alone that, when we come to die, we
may hold His hand and the solitude may vanish.

Then, again, our incident teaches us the mystery that wrapped death to
that ancient world, of which we may regard that unknown and forgotten
sepulchre as the visible symbol. Deep darkness lies over the Old
Testament in reference to what is beyond the grave, broken by gleams of
light, when the religious consciousness asserted its indestructibility,
in spite of all appearance to the contrary; but never growing to the
brightness of serene and continuous assurance of immortal life and
resurrection. We may conceive that mysteriousness as set forth for us
by that grave that was hidden away in the defiles of Moab, unvisited
and uncared for by any.

We turn to the other grave, and there, as the stone is rolled away, and
the rising sunshine of the Easter morning pours into it, we have a
visible symbol of the life and immortality which Jesus Christ then
brought to light by His Gospel. The buried grave speaks of the
inscrutable mystery that wrapped the future: the open sepulchre
proclaims the risen Lord of life, and the sunlight certainty of future
blessedness which we owe to Him. Death is solitary no more, though it
be lonely as far as human companionship is concerned; and a mystery no
more, though what is beyond is hidden from our view, and none but
Christ has ever returned to tell the tale, and He has told us little
but the fact that we shall live with Him.

We rejoice that we have not to turn to a grave hid amongst the hills
where our dead Leader lies, but to an open sepulchre by the city wall
in the sunshine, from whence has come forth the ever-living 'Captain of
our salvation.'

IV. The last lesson is the uselessness of a dead leader to a generation
with new conflicts.

Commentators have spent a great deal of ingenuity in trying to assign
reasons why God concealed the grave of Moses. The text does not say
that God concealed it at all. The ignorance of the place of his
sepulchre does not seem to have been part of the divine design, but
simply a consequence of the circumstances of his death, and of the fact
that he lay in an enemy's land, and that they had had something else to
do than go to look for the grave of a dead commander. They had to
conquer the land, and a living Joshua was what they wanted, not a dead
Moses.

So we may learn from this how easily the gaps fill. 'Thirty days'
mourning,' and says my text, with almost a bitter touch,' so the days
of mourning for Moses were ended.' A month of it, that was all; and
then everybody turned to the new man that was appointed for the new
work. God has many tools in His tool-chest, and He needs them all
before the work is done. Joshua could no more have wielded Moses' rod
than Moses could have wielded Joshua's sword. The one did his work, and
was laid aside. New circumstances required a new type of character--the
smaller man better fitted for the rougher work. And so it always is.
Each generation, each period, has its own men that do some little part
of the work which has to be done, and then drop it and hand over the
task to others. The division of labour is the multiplication of joy at
the end, and 'he that soweth and he that reapeth rejoice together.' But
whilst the one grave tells us, 'This man served his generation by the
will of God, and was laid asleep and saw corruption,' the other grave
proclaims One whom all generations need, whose work is comprehensive
and complete, who dies never. 'He liveth and was dead, and is alive for
evermore.' Christ, and Christ alone, can never be antiquated. This day
requires Him, and has in Him as complete an answer to all its
necessities as if no other generation had ever possessed Him. He liveth
for ever, and for ever is the Shepherd of men.

So Aaron dies and is buried on Hor, and Moses dies and is buried on
Pisgah, and Joshua steps into his place, and, in turn, he disappears.
The one eternal Word of God worked through them all, and came at last
Himself in human flesh to be the Everlasting Deliverer, Redeemer,
Founder of the Covenant, Lawgiver, Guide through the wilderness,
Captain of the warfare, and all that the world or a single soul can
need until the last generation has crossed the flood, and the wandering
pilgrims are gathered in the land of their inheritance. The dead Moses
pre-supposes and points to the living Christ. Let us take Him for our
all-sufficing and eternal Guide.



THE BOOK OF JOSHUA



THE NEW LEADERS COMMISSION

'Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass,
that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister,
saying, 2. Moses My servant is dead: now therefore arise, go over this
Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to
them, even to the children of Israel. 3. Every place that the sole of
your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto
Moses. 4. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great
river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the
great sea, toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast. 5.
There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of
thy life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail
thee, nor forsake thee. 6. Be strong and of a good courage; for unto
this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land which I sware
unto their fathers to give them. 7. Only be thou strong and very
courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law,
which Moses My servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right
hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
8. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou
shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do
according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy
way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. 9. Have not I
commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither
be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou
goest. 10. Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying,
11. Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you
victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go
in to possess the land, which the Lord your God giveth you to possess
it.'--JOSHUA I. 1-11.


The closest connection exists between Deuteronomy and Joshua. The
narrative may be read as running on without a break. It turns away from
the lonely grave up on the mountain to the bustling camp and the new
leader. No man is indispensable. God's work goes on uninterrupted. The
instruments are changed, but the Master-hand is the same, and lays one
tool aside and takes another out of the tool-chest as He will. Moses is
dead,--what then? Does his death paralyse the march of the tribes? No;
it is but the ground for the ringing command, 'Therefore arise, go over
this Jordan.' The immediate installation of his successor, and the
uninterrupted continuance of the advance, do not mean that Moses is not
honoured or is forgotten, for the narrative lovingly links his
honorific title, 'the servant of the Lord,' with the mention of his
death; and God Himself does the same, for he is thrice referred to in
the divine command to Joshua, as the recipient of the promise of the
conquest, as the example of the highest experience of God's
all-sufficing companionship, and as the medium by which Israel received
the law. Joshua steps into the empty place, receives the same great
promise, is assured of the same Presence, and is to obey the same law.
The change of leaders is great, but nothing else is changed; and even
it is not so great as faint hearts in their sorrow are apt to think,
for the real Leader lives, and Moses and Joshua alike are but the
transmitters of His orders and His aids to Israel.

The first command given to Joshua was a trial of his faith, for 'Jordan
was in flood' (Joshua iii. 15),--and how was that crowd to get across,
when fords were impassable and ferry-boats were wanting, to say nothing
of the watchful eyes that were upon them from the other bank? To cross
a stream in the face of the enemy is a ticklish operation, even for
modern armies; what must it have been, then, for Joshua and his horde?
Not a hint is given him as to the means by which the crossing is to be
made possible. He has Jehovah's command to do it, and Jehovah's promise
to be with him, and that is to be enough. We too have sometimes to face
undertakings which we cannot see how to carry through; but if we do see
that the path is one appointed by God, and will boldly tread it, we may
be quite sure that, when we come to what at present seems like a
mountain wall across it, we shall find that the glen opens as we
advance, and that there is a way,--narrow, perhaps, and dangerous, but
practicable. 'One step enough for me' should be our motto. We may trust
God not to command impossibilities, nor to lead us into a _cul de sac._

The promise to Moses (Deut. ii. 24) is repeated almost verbally in
verse 4. The boundaries of the land are summarily given as from 'the
wilderness' in the south to 'this Lebanon' in the north, and from the
Euphrates in the east to the Mediterranean in the west. 'The land of
the Hittites' is not found in the original passage in Deuteronomy, and
it seems to be a designation of the territory between Lebanon and the
Euphrates, which we now know to have been the seat of the northern
Hittites, while the southern branch was planted round Hebron and the
surrounding district. But these wide boundaries were not attained till
late in the history, and were not long retained. Did the promise, then,
fail? No, for it, like all the promises, was contingent on conditions,
and Israel's unfaithfulness cut short its extent of territory. We, too,
fail to possess all the land destined for us. Our charter is much wider
than our actual wealth. God gives more than we take, and we are content
to occupy but a corner of the broad land which He has given us. In like
manner Joshua did not realise to the full the following promise of
uniform victory, but was defeated at Ai and elsewhere. The reason was
the same,--the faithlessness of the people. Unbelief and sin turn a
Samson into a weakling, and make Israel flee before the ranks of the
Philistines.

The great encouragement given to Joshua in entering on his hard and
perilous enterprise is twice repeated here: 'As I was with Moses, so
will I be with thee.' Did Joshua remember how, nearly forty years
since, he had fronted the mob of cowards with the very same assurance,
and how the answer had been a shower of stones? The cowards are all
dead,--will their sons believe the assurance now? If we do believe that
God is with us, we shall be ready to cross Jordan in flood, and to meet
the enemies that are waiting on the other bank. If we do not, we shall
not dare greatly, nor succeed in what we attempt. The small successes
of material wealth and gratified ambition may be ours, but for all the
higher duties and nobler conflicts that become a man, the condition of
achievement and victory is steadfast faith in God's presence and help.

That assurance--which we may all have if we cling to Jesus, in whom God
comes to be with every believing soul--is the only basis on which the
command to Joshua, thrice repeated, can wisely or securely be rested.
It is mockery to say to a man conscious of weakness, and knowing that
there are evils which must surely come, and evils which may possibly
come, against which he is powerless, 'Don't be afraid' unless you can
show him good reason why he need not be. And there is only one reason
which can still reasonable dread in a human heart that has to front
'all the ills that flesh is heir to,' and sees behind them all the grim
form of death. He ought to be afraid, unless--unless what? Unless he
has heard and taken into his inmost soul the Voice that said to Joshua,
'I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee: be strong and of a good
courage,' or, still more sweet and peace-bringing, the Voice that said
to the frightened crew of the fishing-boat in the storm and the
darkness,' It is I; be not afraid.' If we know that Christ is with us,
it is wise to be strong and courageous; if we are meeting the tempest
alone, the best thing we can do is to fear, for the fear may drive us
to seek for His help, and He ever stretches out His hand to him who is
afraid, as he ought to be, when he feels the cold water rising above
his knees, and by his very fear is driven to faith, and cries, 'Lord,
save; I perish!'

Courage that does not rest on Christ's presence is audacity rather than
courage, and is sure to collapse, like a pricked bladder, when the
sharp point of a real peril comes in contact with it. If we sit down
and reckon the forces that we have to oppose to the foes that we are
sure to meet, we shall find ourselves unequal to the fight, and, if we
are wise, shall 'send the ambassage' of a humble desire to the great
King, who will come to our help with His all-conquering powers. Then,
and only then, shall we be safe in saying,' I will not fear what man
can do unto me, or devils either,' when we have said,' In God have I
put my trust,' and have heard Him answering, 'I will not fail thee, nor
forsake thee.



THE CHARGE TO THE SOLDIER OF THE LORD

'Only be then strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to
do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded thee...
that thou mayest prosper wheresoever thou goest. 8. This book of the
law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shall meditate therein
day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is
written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then
thou shalt have good success.'--JOSHUA i. 7,8.


This is the central portion of the charge given to the successor of
Moses. Joshua was a very small man in comparison with his predecessor.
He was no prophet nor constructive genius; he was not capable of the
heights of communion and revelation which the lofty spirit of Moses was
able to mount. He was only a plain, fiery soldier, with energy, swift
decision, promptitude, self-command, and all the military virtues in
the highest degree. The one thing that he needed was to be 'strong and
courageous'; and over and over again in this chapter you will find that
injunction pealed into his ears. He is the type of the militant servant
of the Lord, and the charge to him embodies the duties of all such.

I. We have here the duty of courageous strength.

Christianity has altered the perspective of human virtues, has thrown
the gentler ones into prominence altogether unknown before, and has
dimmed the brilliancy of the old heroic type of character; but it has
not struck those virtues out of its list. Whilst the perspective is
altered, there is as much need in the lowliest Christian life for the
loftiest heroism as ever there was. For in no mere metaphor, but in
grim earnest, all Christian progress is conflict, and we have to fight,
not only with the evils that are within, but, if we would be true to
the obligations of our profession and loyal to the commands of our
Master, we have to take our part in the great campaign which He has
inaugurated and is ever carrying on against every abuse and oppression,
iniquity and sin, that grinds down the world and makes our brethren
miserable and servile. So, then, in these words we have directions in
regard to a side of the Christian character, indispensable to-day as
ever, and the lack of which cannot be made up for by any amount of
sweet and contemplative graces.

Jesus Christ is the type of both. The Conqueror of Canaan and the
Redeemer of the world bear the same name. The Jesus whom we trust was a
Joshua. And let us learn the lesson that neither the conqueror of the
typical and material land of promise nor the Redeemer who has won the
everlasting heaven for our portion could do their work without the
heroic side of human excellence being manifestly developed. Do you
remember 'He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem'? Do you
remember that the Apostle whom a hasty misconception has thought of as
the gentlest of the Twelve, because he had most to say about love, is
the Apostle that more emphatically than any other rings into our ears
over and over again the thought of the Christ, militant and victorious,
the Hero as well as the patient Sufferer, the 'Captain of our
salvation'? And so let us recognise how both the gentler and the
stronger graces, the pacific and the warlike side of human excellence,
have their highest development in Jesus Christ, and learn that the
firmest strength must be accompanied with the tenderest love and
swathed in meekest gentleness. As another Apostle has it in his
pregnant, brief injunctions, ringing and laconic like a general's word
of command, 'Quit you like men I be strong! let all your deeds be done
in love!' Braid the two things together, for the mightiest strength is
the love that conquers hate, and the only love that is worthy of a man
is the love that is strong to contend and to overcome.

'Be strong.' Then strength is a duty; then weakness is a sin. Then the
amount of strength that we possess and wield is regulated by ourselves.
We have our hands on the sluice. We may open it to let the whole full
tide run in, or we may close it till a mere dribble reaches us. For the
strength which is strength, and not merely weakness in a fever, is a
strength derived, and ours because derived. The Apostle gives the
complete version of the exhortation when he says: 'Finally, my
brethren,' that Omega of command which is the Alpha of performance, 'be
strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.' Let Christ's
strength in. Open the heart wide that it may come. Keep yourself in
continual touch with God, the fountain of all power. Trust is strength,
because trust touches the Rock of Ages.

For this reason the commandment to be strong and of good courage is in
the text based upon this: 'As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.
I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.' Our strength depends on
ourselves, because our strength is the fruit of our faith. And if we
live with Him, grasping His hand and, in the realising consciousness of
our own weakness, looking beyond ourselves, then power will come to us
above our desire and equal to our need. The old victories of faith will
be reproduced in us when we say with the ancient king, 'Lord! We know
not what to do, but our eyes are up unto Thee.' Then He will come to
us, to make us 'strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.'
'Wait on the Lord and He will strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on
the Lord.'

But courage is duty, too, as well as strength. Power and the
consciousness of power do not always go together. In regard to the
strength of nature, courage and might are quite separable. There may be
a strong coward and a weak hero. But in the spiritual region, strength
and courage do go together. The consciousness of the divine power with
us, and that alone, will make us bold with a boldness that has no taint
of levity and presumption mingled with it, and never will overestimate
its own strength. The charge to Joshua, then, not only insists upon the
duty of strength, but on the duty of conscious strength, and on the
duty of measuring the strength that is at my back with the weakness
that is against me, and of being bold because I know that more and
'greater is He that is with me than are they that be with them.'

II. So much, then, for the first of the exhortations here. Now look
next at the duty of implicit obedience to the word of command.

That is another soldierly virtue, the exercise of which sheds a
nobility over the repulsive horrors of the battlefield. Joshua had to
be fitted to command by learning to obey, and, like that other soldier
whose rough trade had led him to some inkling of Christ's authority by
its familiarising him with the idea of the strange power of the word of
command, had to realise that he himself was 'under authority' before he
could issue his orders.

Courage and strength come first, and on them follows the command to do
all according to the law, to keep it without deflection to right or
left, and to meditate on it day and night. These two virtues make the
perfect soldier-courage and obedience. Daring and discipline must go
together, and to know how to follow orders is as essential as to know
how to despise dangers.

But the connection between these two, as set forth in this charge, is
not merely that they must co-exist, but that courage and strength are
needed for, and are to find their noblest field of exercise in,
absolute acceptance of, and unhesitating, swift, complete, unmurmuring
obedience to, everything that is discerned to be God's will and our
duty.

For the Christian soldier, then, God's law is his marching orders. The
written word, and especially the Incarnate Word, are our law of
conduct. The whole science of our warfare and plan of campaign are
there. We have not to take our orders from men's lips, but we must
often disregard them, that we may listen to the 'Captain of our
salvation.' The soldier stands where his officer has posted him, and
does what he was bid, no matter what may happen. Only one voice can
relieve him. Though a thousand should bid him flee, and his heart
should echo their advices, he is recreant if he deserts his post at the
command of any but him who set him there. Obedience to others is
mutiny. Nor does the Christian need another law to supplement that
which Christ has given him in His pattern and teaching. Men have
appended huge comments to it, and have softened some of its plain
precepts which bear hard on popular sins. But the Lawgiver's law is one
thing, and the lawyers' explanations which explain it away or darken
what was clear enough, however unwelcome, are quite another. Christ has
given us Himself, and therein has given a sufficient directory for
conduct and conflict which fits close to all our needs, and will prove
definite and practical enough if we honestly try to apply it.

The application of Christ's law to daily life takes some courage, and
is the proper field for the exercise of Christian strength. 'Be very
courageous that thou mayest observe.' If you are not a bold Christian
you will very soon get frightened out of obedience to your Master's
commandments. Courage, springing from the realisation of God's helping
strength, is indispensable to make any man, in any age, live out
thoroughly and consistently the principles of the law of Jesus Christ.
No man in _this_ generation will work out a punctual obedience to what
he knows to be the will of God, without finding out that all the
'Canaanites' are not dead yet; but that there are enough of them left
to make a very thorny life for the persistent follower of Jesus Christ.

And not only is there courage needed for the application of the
principles of conduct which God has given us, but you will never have
them handy for swift application unless, in many a quiet hour of
silent, solitary, patient meditation you have become familiar with
them. The recruit that has to learn on the battle-field how to use his
rifle has a good chance of being dead before he has mastered the
mysteries of firing. And Christian people that have their Christian
principles to dig out of the Bible when the necessity comes, will
likely find that the necessity is past before they have completed the
excavation. The actual battle-field is no place to learn drill. If a
soldier does not know how his sword hangs, and cannot get at it in a
moment, he will probably draw it too late.

I am afraid that the practice of such meditation as is meant here has
come to be, like the art of making ecclesiastical stained glass, almost
extinct in modern times. You have all so many newspapers and magazines
to read that the Bible has a chance of being shoved out of sight,
except on Sundays and in chapels. The 'meditating' that is enjoined in
my text is no mere intellectual study of Scripture, either from an
antiquarian or a literary or a theological point of view, but it is the
mastering of the principles of conduct as laid down there, and the
appropriating of all the power for guidance and for sustaining which
that word of the Lord gives. Meditation, the familiarising ourselves
with the ethics of Scripture, and with the hopes and powers that are
treasured in Jesus Christ, so that our minds are made up upon a great
many thorny questions as to what we ought to do, and that when crises
or dangers come, as they have a knack of coming, very suddenly, and are
sprung upon us unexpectedly, we shall be able, without much difficulty,
or much time spent in perplexed searching, to fall back upon the
principles that decide our conduct--that is essential to all successful
and victorious Christian life.

And it is the secret of all blessed Christian life. For there is a
lovely echo of these vigorous words of command to Joshua in a very much
more peaceful form in the 1st Psalm: 'Blessed is the man that walketh
not in the counsel of the ungodly, ... but his delight is in the law of
the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night'--the very
words that are employed in the text to describe the duty of the
soldier--therefore 'all that he doeth shall prosper.'

III. That leads to the last thought here--the sure victory of such bold
obedience.

'Thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest'; 'Thou shalt make thy
way prosperous, and then shalt thou have good success,' or, as the last
word might be rendered, 'then shalt thou _act wisely_' You may not get
victory from an earthly point of view, for many a man that lives strong
and courageous and joyfully obeying God's law, as far as he knows it
and because he loves the Lawgiver, goes through life, and finds that,
as far as the world's estimate is concerned, there is nothing but
failure as his portion. Ah I but the world's way is not the true way of
estimating victory. 'Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,' said
Jesus Christ when within arm's-length of the Cross. And His way is the
way in which we must conquer the world, if we conquer it at all. The
success which my text means is the carrying out of conscientious
convictions of God's will into practice. That is the only success that
is worth talking about or looking for. The man that succeeds in obeying
and translating God's will into conduct is the victor, whatever be the
outward fruits of his life. He may go out of the field beaten,
according to the estimate of men that can see no higher than their own
height, and little further than their own finger tips can reach; he may
himself feel that the world has gone past him, and that he has not made
much of it; he may have to lie down at last unknown, poor, with all his
bright hopes that danced before him in childhood gone, and sore beaten
by the enemies; but if he is able to say in the strength that Christ
gives, 'I have finished my course; I have kept the faith,' his 'way has
prospered,' and he has had' good success.' 'We are more than conquerors
through Him that loved us.'

THE UNTRODDEN PATH AND THE GUIDING ARK

'Come not near unto the ark, that ye may know the way by which ye must
go; for ye have not passed this way heretofore.'--JOSHUA iii. 4.

It was eminently true of Israel that they had 'not passed this way
heretofore,' inasmuch as the path which was opening before them,
through the oozy bed of the river, had never been seen by human eye,
nor trodden by man's foot. Their old leader was dead. There were only
two of the whole host that had ever been out of the desert in their
lives. They had a hard task before them. Jericho lay there, gleaming
across the plain, among the palm-trees, backed by the savage cliffs, up
the passes in which they would have to fight their way. So that we need
not wonder that, over and over again, in these early chapters of this
book, the advice in reiterated, 'Be of good courage. Be strong and fear
not!' They needed special guidance, and they received very special
guidance, and my text tells us what they had to do, in order to realise
the full blessing and guidance that was given them. 'Let there be a
space of 2000 cubits by measure between you and the
ark'--three-quarters of a mile or thereabouts--'do not press close upon
the heels of the bearers, for you will not be able to see where they
are going if you crowd on them. Be patient. Let the course of the ark
disclose itself before you try to follow it, that ye may know the way
by which ye must go, for ye have not passed this way heretofore.'

I. Note the untrodden path.

I suppose that most of us have to travel a very well-worn road, and
that our course, in the cases of all except those in early life, is
liker that of a millhorse than an untrodden path. Most of us are
continually treading again in the prints of our own footsteps. A long,
weary stretch of monotonous duties, and the repetition of the same
things to-day that we did yesterday is the destiny of most of us.

Some of us, perhaps, may be standing upon the verge of some new scenes
in our lives. Some of you young people may have come up to a great city
for the first time to carve out a position for yourselves, and are for
the first time encompassed by the temptations of being unknown in a
crowd. Some of you may be in new domestic circumstances, some with new
sorrows, or tasks, or difficulties pressing upon you, calling for
wisdom and patience. It is quite likely that there may be some who, in
the most prosaic and literal sense of the words, are entering on a path
altogether new and untrodden. But they will be in the minority, and for
the most of us the days that were full of new possibilities are at an
end, and we have to expect little more than the monotonous repetition
of the habitual, humdrum duties of mature life. We have climbed the
winding paths up the hill, and most of us are upon the long plateau
that stretches unvaried, until it begins to dip at the further edge.
And some of us are going down that other side of the hill.

But whatever may be the variety in regard to the mere externals of our
lives, how true it is about us all that even the most familiar duties
of to-day are not quite like the same duties when they had to be done
yesterday; and that the path for each of us--though, as we go along, we
find in it nothing new--is yet an untrodden path! For we are not quite
the same as we were yesterday, though our work may be the same, and the
difference in us makes it in some measure different.

But what mainly makes even the most well-beaten paths new at the
thousandth time of traversing them is our ignorance of what may be
waiting round the next turn of the road. The veil that hangs before and
hides the future is a blessing, though we sometimes grumble at it, and
sometimes petulantly try to make pinholes through it, and peep in to
see a little of what is behind it. It brings freshness into our lives,
and a possibility of anticipation, and even of wonder and expectation,
that prevents us from stagnating. Even in the most habitual repetition
of the same tasks 'ye have not passed this way heretofore.' And life
for every one of us is still full of possibilities so great and so
terrible that we may well feel that the mist that covers the future is
a blessing and a source of strength for us all.

Our march through time is like that of men in a mist, in which things
loom in strangely distorted shapes, unlike their real selves, until we
get close up to them, and only then do we discover them.

So for us all the path is new and unknown by reason of the sudden
surprises that may be sprung upon us, by reason of the sudden
temptations that may start up at any moment in our course, by reason of
the earthquakes that may shatter the most solid-seeming lives, by
reason of the sudden calamities that may fall upon us. The sorrows that
we anticipate seldom come, and those that do come are seldom
anticipated. The most fatal bolts are generally from the blue. One
flash, all unlooked for, is enough to blast the tree in all its leafy
pride. Many of us, I have no doubt, can look back to times in our lives
when, without anticipation on our parts, or warning from anything
outside of us, a smiting hand fell upon some of our blessings. The
morning dawned upon the gourd in full vigour of growth, and in the
evening it was stretched yellow and wilted upon the turf. Dear
brethren, anything may come out of that dark cloud through which our
life's course has to pass, and there are some things concerning which
all that we know is that they must come.

These are very old threadbare thoughts; I dare say you think it was not
worth your while to come to hear them, nor mine to speak them; but if
we would lay them to heart, and realise how true it is about every step
of our earthly course that 'ye have not passed this way heretofore,' we
should complain less than we do of the weariness and prosaic character
of our commonplace lives, and feel that all was mystical and great and
awful; and yet most blessed in its possibilities and its uncertainties.

II. Note, again, the guiding ark.

It was a new thing that the ark should become the guide of the people.
All through the wilderness, according to the history, it had been
carried in the centre of the march, and had had no share in the
direction of the course. That had been done by the pillar of cloud.
But, just as the manna ceased when the tribes got across the Jordan and
could eat the bread of the land, the miracle ending and they being left
to trust to ordinary means of supply at the earliest possible moment,
so there ensued an approximation to ordinary guidance, which is none
the less real because it is granted without miracle. The pillar of
cloud ceased to move before the people in the crossing of the Jordan,
and its place was taken by the material symbol of the presence of God,
which contained the tables of the law as the basis of the covenant. And
that ark moved at the commandment of the leader Joshua, for he was the
mouthpiece of the divine will in the matter. And so when the ark moved
at the bidding of the leader, and became the guide of the people, there
was a kind of a drop down from the pure supernatural of the guiding
pillar.

For us a similar thing is true. Jesus Christ is the true Ark of God.
For what was the ark? the symbol of the divine Presence; and Christ is
the reality of the divine Presence with men. The whole content of that
ark was the 'law of the Lord,' and Jesus Christ is the embodied law of
the present God. The ark was the sign that God had entered into this
covenant with these people, and that they had a right to say to Him,
'Thou art our God, and we are Thy people,' and the same double
assurance of reciprocal possession and mutual delight in possession is
granted to us in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So He becomes the guiding Ark, the Shepherd of Israel. His presence and
will are our directors. The law, which is contained and incorporated in
Him, is that by which we are to walk. The covenant which He has
established in His own blood between God and man contains in itself not
only the direction for conduct, but also the motives which will impel
us to walk where and as He enjoins.

And so, every way we may say, by His providences which He appoints, by
His example which He sets us, by His gracious word in which He sums up
all human duties in the one sweet obligation, 'Follow Me,' and even
more by His Spirit that dwells in us, and whispers in our ears, 'This
is the way; walk ye in it,' and enlightens every perplexity, and
strengthens all feebleness, and directs our footsteps into the way of
peace; that living and personal Ark of the covenant of the Lord of the
whole earth is still the guide of waiting and docile hearts. Jesus
Christ's one word to us is, 'If any man serve Me, let him follow Me.
And where I am'--of course, seeing he is a follower--'there shall also
My servant be.'

The one Pattern for us, the one Example that we need to follow, the one
Strength in our perplexities, the true Director of our feet, is that
dear Lord, if we will only listen to Him. And that direction will be
given to us in regard to the trifles, as in regard to the great things
of our lives.

III. And so the last thought that is here is the watchful following.

'Come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye ought to
go.' In a shipwreck, the chances are that the boats will be swamped by
the people scrambling into them in too great a hurry. In the Christian
life most of the mistakes that people make arise from their not letting
the ark go far enough ahead of them before they gather up their
belongings and follow it. An impatience of the half-declared divine
will, a running before we are sent, an acting before we are quite sure
that God wills us to do so-and-so, are at the root of most of the
failures of Christian effort, and of a large number of the miseries of
Christian men. If we would only have patience! Three-quarters of a mile
the ark went ahead before a man lifted a foot to follow it, and there
was no mistake possible then.

Now do not be in a hurry to act. 'Raw haste' is 'half-sister to delay.'
We are all impatient of uncertainty, either in opinion or in conduct;
but if you are not quite sure what God wants you to do, you may be
quite sure that He does not at present want you to do anything. Wait
till you see what He does wish you to do. Better, better far, to spend
hours in silent--although people that know nothing about what we are
doing may call it indolent--waiting for the clear declaration of God's
will, than to hurry on paths which, after we have gone on them far
enough to make it a mortification and a weariness to turn back, we
shall find out to have been not His at all, but only our own mistakes
as to where the ark would have us go.

And that there may be this patience the one thing needful-as, indeed,
it is the one thing needful for all strength of all kinds in the
Christian life--is the rigid suppression of our own wills. That is the
secret of goodness, and its opposite is the secret of evil. To live by
my own will is to die. Nothing but blunders, nothing but miseries,
nothing but failures, nothing but remorse, will be the fruit of such a
life. And a great many of us who call ourselves Christians are not
Christians in the sense of having Christ's will for our absolute law,
and keeping our own will entirely in subordination thereto. As is the
will, so is the man, and whoever does not bow himself absolutely, and
hush all the babble of his own inclinations and tastes and decisions,
in order that that great Voice may speak, has small chance of ever
walking in the paths of righteousness, or finding that his ways please
the Lord.

Suppress your own wills, dwell near God, that you may hear His lightest
whisper. 'I will guide thee with Mine eye.' What is the use of the
glance of an eye if the man for whom it is meant is half a mile off,
and staring about him at everything except the eye that would guide?
And that is what some of us that call ourselves Christian people are.
God might look guidance at us for a week, and we should never know that
He was doing it; we have so many other things to look after. And we are
so far away from Him that it would need a telescope for us to see His
face. 'I will guide thee with Mine eye.' Keep near Him, and you will
not lack direction.


And so, dear brethren, if we stay ourselves on, and wait patiently for,
Him, and are content to do what He wishes, and never to run without a
clear commission, nor to act without a full conviction of duty, then
the old story of my text will repeat itself in our daily life, as well
as in the noblest form in the last act of life, which is death. The
Lord will move before us and open a safe, dry path for us between the
heaped waters; and where the feet of our great High Priest, bearing the
Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, stood, amidst the slime and the mud,
we may plant our firm feet on the stones that He has left there. And so
the stream of life, like the river of death, will be parted for
Christ's followers, and they will pass over on dry ground, 'until all
the people are passed clean over Jordan.'



'THE WATERS SAW THEE; THEY WERE AFRAID'

'And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the
Lord will do wonders among you. 6. And Joshua spake unto the priests,
saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the
people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the
people. 7. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to
magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I
was with Moses, so I will be with thee. 8 And thou shalt command the
priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to
the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan. 8.
And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the
words of the Lord your God. 10. And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know
that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive
out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites,
and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the
Jebusites. 11. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the
earth passeth Over before you into Jordan. 12. Now therefore take you
twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. 13.
And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the
priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall
rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be out
off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand
upon an heap. 14. And it came to pass, when the people removed from
their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of
the covenant before the people; 15. And as they that bare the ark were
come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were
dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks
all the time of harvest,) 16. That the waters which came down from
above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that
is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the
plain, even the salt sea failed, and were cut off: and the people
passed over right against Jericho. 17. And the priests that bare the
ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst
of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all
the people were passed clean over Jordan.'--JOSHUA iii 5-17.


The arrangement of the narrative of the passage of Jordan, which
occupies chapters iii. and iv., is remarkable, and has led to
suggestions of interpolation and blending of two accounts, which are
quite unnecessary. It is divided into four sections,--the preparations
(Joshua in. 1-6), the passage (Joshua in. 7-17), the lifting of the
memorial stones from the river's bed and the fixing of one set of them
in it (Joshua iv. 1-14), the return of the waters, and the erection of
the second set of memorial stones at Gilgal (Joshua iv. 15-24).

Each section closes with a summary of the whole transaction, after the
common manner of Old Testament history, which gives to a hasty reader
the impression of confusion and repetition; but a little attention
shows a very symmetrical arrangement, negativing the possibility of
interpolation. The last three sections are all built on the same lines.
In each there is a triple division,--God's command to Joshua, Joshua's
communication of it to the people, and the actual fact, fulfilling
these. So each stage passes thrice before the view, and the
impressiveness of the history is heightened by our seeing it first in
the mirror of the divine Word, and then in the orders of the commander,
before we see it as a thing actually happening.

Verses 5 and 6 of the chapter belong to the section which deals with
the preparation. General instructions had been already issued that the
host was to follow the ark, leaving two thousand cubits between them
and it; but nothing had been said as to how Jordan was to be crossed.
No doubt many a question and doubt had been muttered by the
watch-fires, as the people looked at the muddy, turbid stream, swirling
in flood. The spies probably managed to swim it, but that was a feat
worthy to be named in the epitaph of heroes (1 Chron. xii. 15), and
impossible for the crowd of all ages and both sexes which followed
Joshua. There was the rushing stream, swollen as it always is in
harvest. How were they to get over? And if the people of Jericho, right
over against them, chose to fall upon them as they were struggling
across, what could hinder utter defeat? No doubt, all that was
canvassed, in all sorts of tones; but no inkling of the miracle seems
to have been given.

God often opens His hand by one finger at a time, and leaves us face to
face with some plain but difficult duty, without letting us see the
helps to its performance, till we need to use them. If we go right on
the road which He has traced out, it will never lead us into a blind
alley. The mountains will part before us as we come near what looked
their impassable wall; and some narrow gorge or other, wide enough to
run a track through, but not wide enough to be noticed before we are
close on it, will be sure to open. The attitude of expectation of God's
help, while its nature is unrevealed, is kept up in Joshua's last
instruction. The people are bidden to 'sanctify themselves, because
to-morrow the Lord will do wonders' among them. That sanctifying was
not external, but included the hallowing of spirit by docile waiting
for His intervention, and by obedience while the manner of it was
hidden. The secret of to-morrow is partly made known, and the faith of
the people is nourished by the mystery remaining, as well as by the
light given. The best security for to-morrow's wonders is to-day's
sanctifying.

The command to the priests discloses to them a little more, in bidding
them pass over before the people, but the additional disclosure would
only be an additional trial of faith; for the silence as to how so
impossible a command was to be made possible is absolute. The swollen
river had obliterated all fords; and how were priests, staggering under
the weight of the ark on their shoulders, to 'pass over'? The question
is not answered till the ark is on their shoulders. To-day often sees
to-morrow's duty without seeing how it is to be done. But the bearers
of the ark need never fear but that the God to whom it belongs will
take care of it and of them. The last sentence of verse 6 is the
anticipatory summary which closes each section.

In verses 7-17 we have the narrative of the actual crossing, in its
three divisions of God's command (vs. 7-8), Joshua's repetition of it
(vs. 9-13), and the historical fact (vs. 14-17). The final instructions
were only given on the morning of the day of crossing. The report of
God's commands given in verses 7 and 8 is condensed, as is evident from
the fuller statement of them in Joshua's address to the people, which
immediately follows. In it Joshua is fully aware of the manner of the
miracle and of the details of the crossing, but we have no record of
his having received them. The summary of that eventful morning's
instructions to him emphasises first the bearing of the miracle on his
reputation. The passage of the Red Sea had authenticated the mission of
Moses to the past generation, who, in consequence of it, 'believed God
and His servant Moses.' The new generation are to have a parallel
authentication of Joshua's commission. It is noteworthy that this is
not the purpose of the miracle which the leader announces to the people
in verse 10. It was a message from God to himself, a kind of gracious
whisper meant for his own encouragement. What a thought to fill a man's
heart with humble devotion, that God would work such a wonder in order
to demonstrate that He was with him! And what a glimpse of more to
follow lay in that promise, 'This day will I _begin_ to magnify thee I'

The command to the priests in verse 8 is also obviously condensed; for
Joshua's version of it, which follows, is much more detailed, and
contains particular instructions, which must have been derived from the
divine word to him on that morning.

We may pass on, then, to the second division of the narrative; namely,
Joshua's communication of God's commands to the people. Observe the
form which the purpose of the miracle assumes there. It is the
confirmation of the divine Presence, not with the leader, but with the
people and their consequent victory. Joshua grasped the inmost meaning
of God's Word to himself, and showed noble self-suppression, when he
thus turned the direction of the miracle. The true servant of God knows
that God is with him, not for his personal glorification, but for the
welfare of God's people, and cares little for the estimation in which
men hold him, if they will only believe that the conquering God is with
them. We too often make great leaders and teachers in the church opaque
barriers to hide God from us, instead of transparent windows through
which He shines upon His people. We are a great deal more ready to say,
'God is with him,' than to add, 'and therefore God is with us, in our
Joshuas, and without them.'

Observe the grand emphasis of that name, 'the living God,' tacitly
contrasted with the dead idols of the enemies, and sealing the
assurance of His swift and all-conquering might. Observe, too, the
triumphant contempt in the enumeration of the many tribes of the foe
with their barbarous names. Five of them had been enough, when named by
the spies' trembling lips, to terrify the congregation, but here the
list of the whole seven but strengthens confidence. Faith delights to
look steadily at its enemies, knowing that the one Helper is more than
they all. This catalogue breathes the same spirit as Paul's rapturous
list of the foes impotent to separate from the love of God. Mark, too,
the long-drawn-out designation of the ark, with its accumulation of
nouns, which grammatical purists have found difficult,--'the ark of the
covenant of the Lord of all the earth'; where it leads they need not
fear to follow. It was the pledge of His presence, it contained the Ten
Words on which His covenant was concluded. That covenant enlisted on
their side Him who was Lord of the swollen river as of all the fierce
clans beyond; and with His ark in front, their victory was sure. If
ever the contemplation of His power and covenant relation was in place,
it was on that morning, as Israel stood ranked for the march that was
to lead them through Jordan, and to plant their feet on the soil of
Canaan. Nor must we omit the peculiar appropriateness of this solemn
designation, on the occasion of the ark's first becoming the leader of
the march. Hitherto it had been carried in the centre; now it was moved
to the van, and took the place of the pillar, which blazed no more. But
the guidance was no less divine. The simple coffer which Bezaleel had
made was as august and reliable a symbol of God's presence as the
pillar; and the tables of the law, shut in it, were henceforth to be
the best directors of the nation.

Then follows the command to elect twelve representatives of the tribes,
for a purpose not yet explained; and then, at the last moment, the
manner of crossing is disclosed, to the silencing of wise doubters and
the confirmation of ignorant faith. The brief anticipatory announcement
of the miracle puts stress on the arrest of the waters at the instant
when the priests' feet touched them, and tells what is to befall the
arrested torrent above the point where the ark stood, saying nothing
about the lower stretch of the river, and just hinting by one word
'heap' the parallel between this miracle and that of the passing of the
Red Sea: 'The floods stood upright as an heap' (Exod. xv. 8).

Verses 14-17 narrate the actual crossing. One long sentence, like the
roll of an Atlantic wave, or a long-drawn shout of triumph, masses
together the stages of the march; the breaking up of the encampment;
the solemn advance of the ark, watched by the motionless crowd; its
approach to the foaming stream, running bank-full, as is its wont in
the early harvest months; the decisive moment when the naked feet of
the priests were dipped in the water. What a hush of almost painful
expectation would fall on the gazers! Then, with a rush of triumph, the
long sentence pours on, like a river escaping from some rocky gorge,
and tells the details of the transcendent fact. Looking up stream, the
water 'stood'; and, as the flow above went on, it was dammed up, and,
as would appear, swept back to a point not now known, but apparently
some miles up. Looking down the course, the water flowed naturally to
the Dead Sea; and, in effect, the whole bed southwards was quickly left
bare, giving room for the advance of the people with wide-extended
front, while the priests, with the ark on their shoulders, stood silent
in the midst of the bed, between the heaped waters and the hasting
host. Verse 17 gives the usual summary sentence, which partly
anticipates what is still to follow, but here comes in with special
force, as gathering up the whole wonderful scene, and recounting once
more, and not without a ring of astonished triumph, how the priests
stood firm on dry ground in that strange place, 'until all the nation
were passed clean over Jordan'

From verses 7 and 10 we learn the purpose of this miracle as being
twofold. It was intended to stamp the seal of God's approbation on
Joshua, and to hearten the people by the assurance of God's fighting
for them. The leader was thereby put on the level of Moses, the people,
on that of the generation before whom the Red Sea had been divided. The
parallel with that event is obvious and significant. The miracle which
led Israel into the wilderness is repeated as they pass from it. The
first stage of their deliverance and the second are begun with
analogous displays of divine power. The same arm which cleft the sea is
stretched out, after all sins, for the new generation, and 'is not
shortened that it cannot save.' God does not disdain to duplicate His
wonders, even for very unworthy servants. The unchanging,
long-suffering patience, and the unwearied strength to which all
generations in succession can turn with confidence, are wonderfully set
forth by these two miracles. And though we have passed into the higher
stage, where miracles have ceased, the principle which dictated the
parallelism still holds good, and we too can look back to all these
ancient wonders, and be sure that they are done over and over again
according to our needs. 'As we have heard, so have we seen,' might have
been Israel's song that day, as it may be ours every day.

The beautiful application made of the parted waters of Jordan in
Christian literature, which sees in them the prophecy of conquered
death, is perhaps scarcely in accordance with truth, for the divided
Jordan was the introduction, not to peace, but to warfare. But it is
too deeply impressed on the heart to be lightly put aside, and we may
well allow faith and hope to discern in the stream, whose swollen
waters shrink backwards as soon as the ark is borne into their turbid
and swift current, an emblem of that dark flood that rolled between the
host of God and their home, and was dried up as soon as the pierced
foot of the Christ touched its cold waters.

'What ailest thee, thou sea, that thou fleest; thou Jordan, that thou
turnest back?' Christ has gone up before us. He has shaken His hand
over the river, and caused men to go over dry shod.



STONES CRYING OUT

'For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until
every thing was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto
the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the
people hasted and passed over. 11. And it came to pass, when all the
people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over,
and the priests, in the presence of the people. 12. And the children of
Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed
over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them: 13.
About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto
battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14. On that day the Lord magnified
Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared
Moses, all the days of his life. 15. And the Lord spake unto Joshua,
saying, 16. Command the priests that bare the ark of the testimony,
that they come up out of Jordan. 17. Joshua therefore commanded the
priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan. 18. And it came to pass,
when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord were
come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet
were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned
unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.
19. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first
month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho. 80. And
those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in
Gilgal. 21. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your
children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean
these stones? 22. Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel
came over this Jordan on dry land. 23. For the Lord your God dried up
the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the
Lord your God did to the Red sea, which He dried up from before us,
until we were gone over: 24. That all the people of the earth might
know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the
Lord your God for ever.'--JOSHUA iv. 10-24.


This chapter is divided into two sections. The first (from verses 1 to
14) has as its main subject the bringing up of the twelve memorial
stones from the bed of Jordan; the second (verse 15 to the end) gives
the conclusion of the whole incident. The plan of arrangement, already
pointed out in a former chapter, is very plain in this. Each section
has God's commands to Joshua, Joshua's to the people, and the execution
of these. To each is appended a summary, which anticipates the more
detailed particulars that follow. Our text begins in the middle of the
first section, but we must glance at the preceding verses. These tell
how, when the people were all across, Joshua, who had apparently
remained on the eastern bank with the twelve representatives of the
tribes, received God's command to tell these the purpose for which they
had been chosen, and to set them to execute it. This additional
instruction is the explanation of the apparent discrepancy between
Joshua iii. 12 and iv. 2. Verses 4-8 tell Joshua's communication of the
instructions to the men; verse 8 narrates the execution of them by each
man's wrenching up from the river's bed a great stone, with which he
toiled through the muddy ooze to the western shore, and thence over the
hot plain to Gilgal, where the host camped; verse 9 tells that twelve
other stones were set up where the priests had stood, and were visible
at some time after date, when it was written; but when that was, or
whether the verse is part of the original or a later note, we cannot
say. At any rate, there were two memorials, one on the bank, one in the
stream--'a grand jury of great stones,' as Thomas Fuller calls them.
There is no difficulty in supposing that the monument in the river was
firm enough to resist its current, and high enough to be visible either
above the surface or beneath the ordinarily shallow water.

I. The first picture here brought before us is that of the motionless
ark in the midst of what had been Jordan. There is an obvious intention
to contrast the stillness of the priests, bearing it on their
shoulders, and standing rooted in that strange place all these long
hours, with the hurry around. 'The priests stood ... and the people
hasted.' However broad the front and swift the march, the crossing must
have taken many hours. The haste was not from fear, but eagerness. It
was 'an industrious speed and mannerly quickness, as not willing to
make God wait upon them, in continuing a miracle longer than necessity
did require.' When all were over, then came the twelve and Joshua, who
would spend some time in gathering the stones and rearing the memorial
in the river-bed. Through all the stir the ark was still. Over all the
march it watched. So long as one Israelite was in the channel it
remained, a silent presence, to ensure his safety. It let their rate of
speed determine the length of its standing there. It waited for the
slowest foot and the weariest laggard. God makes His 'very present
help' of the same length as our necessities, and lets us beat the time
to which He conforms. Not till the last loiterer has struggled to the
farther shore does He cease by His presence to keep His people safe on
the strange road which by His presence He has opened for them.

The silent presence of the ark is enough to dam up the stream. There is
vehement action around, but the cause of it all is in absolute repose.
God moves all things, Himself unmoved. He 'worketh hitherto,' and no
intensity of energy breaks the depth of His perfect rest. His activity
implies no effort, and is followed by no exhaustion. The ark is still,
while it holds back a swollen river for hours. The centre of the
swiftest revolution is a point of rest.

The form of the miracle was a condescension to weak faith, to which
help was ministered by giving sense something to grasp. It was easier
to believe that the torrent would not rush down on them when they could
look at the priests standing there motionless, with the visible symbol
of God's presence on their shoulders. The ark was no more the cause of
the miracle than were its carriers; but, just as Jesus helped one blind
man by laying moistened earth on his eyes, and another by sending him
to Siloam to wash, so God did here. Children learn best when they have
something to look at. Sight is sometimes the servant of faith.

We need not dwell on the summary, beginning with verse 11, which
anticipates the subject of the next section, and adds that the fighting
men of the tribes who had already received their inheritance on the
east bank of Jordan, loyally kept their promise, and marched with their
brethren to the campaign.

II. Verses 15-18 finish the story with the return of the waters to
their bed. The triple division appears again. First God commands
Joshua, who then transmits the command to the people, who, in turn,
then obey. And thus at each stage the divine causality, Joshua's
delegated but absolute authority, and the people's prompt obedience,
are signalised; and the whole incident, in all its parts, is set forth
as on the one hand a conspicuous instance of God's interposition, and,
on the other, of Israel's willing service.

We can fancy how the people who had reached the western shore lined the
bank, gazing on the group in the channel, who still stood waiting God's
command to relieve them at their post. The word comes at last, and is
immediately obeyed. May we not learn the lesson to stand fixed and
patient wherever God sets us, as long as He does not call us thence?
God's priests should be like the legionary on guard in Pompeii, who
stuck to his post while the ashes were falling thick, and was smothered
by them, rather than leave his charge without his commander's orders.
One graphic word pictures the priests lifting, or, as it might be
translated, 'plucking,' the soles of their feet from the slimy bottom
into which they had settled down by reason of long standing still. They
reach the bank, marching as steadily with their sacred burden as might
be over so rough and slippery a road. The first to enter were the last
to leave the river's bed. God's ark 'goes before us,' and 'is our
rearward.' He besets us behind and before, and all dangerous service is
safe if begun and ended in Him. The one point made prominent is the
instantaneous rush back of the impatient torrent as soon as the curb
was taken off. Like some horse rejoicing to be free, the tawny flood
pours down, and soon everything looks 'as aforetime,' except for the
new rock, piled by human hands, round which the waters chafed. The
dullest would understand what had wrought the miracle when they saw the
immediate consequence of the ark's leaving its place. Cause and effect
seldom come thus close together in God's dealings; but sometimes He
lets us see them as near each other as the lightning and the thunder,
that we may learn to trace them in faith, when centuries part them. How
the people would gaze as the hurrying stream covered up their path, and
would look across to the further shore, almost doubting if they had
really stood there that morning I They were indeed 'Hebrews'--men from
the other side-now, and would set themselves to the dangerous task
before them with courage. 'Well begun is half done'; and God would not
divide the river for them to thrust them into a tiger's den, where they
would be torn to pieces. Retreat was impossible now. A new page in
their history was turned. The desert was as unreachable as Egypt, The
passage of the Jordan rounded off the epoch which the passage of the
Bed Sea introduced, and began a new era.

That parallelism of the two crossings is suggested by the notice of
date in verse 19. 'The tenth day of the first month' was just forty
years to a day since the first Paschal lamb had been chosen, and four
days short of the Passover, which was solemnised at Gilgal (Joshua v.
10) where they encamped that night. It was a short march from the point
of crossing, and a still shorter from Jericho. It would have been easy
to fall upon the invaders as they straggled across the river, but no
attempt was made to dispute the passage, though, no doubt, many a keen
pair of eyes watched it from the neighbouring hills. In the beginning
of the next chapter we are told why there was this singular supineness.
'Their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more,' or, in
more modern language, panic laid hold of the enemy, and they could not
pluck up courage to oppose the advance of Israel. If we add this result
to those mentioned in chapter in., we find sufficient motive for the
miracle to take it out of the class of purposeless, legendary wonders.
Given the importance of Israel as the depositaries of revelation, there
is nothing unreasonable in a miracle which so powerfully contributed to
their conquest of Canaan, and we have yet to learn that there is
anything unreasonable in the belief that they were the depositaries of
revelation. The fundamental postulate of the Old Testament is a
supernatural revelation, and that opens the door for any miracle
needful for its accomplishment. It is folly to seek to conciliate by
minimising the miraculous element. However much may be thrown out to
the wolves, they will not cease to pursue and show their teeth. We
should be very slow to pronounce on what is worthy of God; but any man
who believes in a divine revelation, given to the world through Israel,
may well believe in such a miracle as this at such a moment of their
history.

III. The memorial stones (verses 20-24). Gilgal, the first encampment,
lay defenceless in the open plain, and the first thing to be done would
be to throw up some earthwork round the camp. It seems to have been the
resting-place of the ark and probably of the non-combatants, during the
conquest, and to have derived thence a sacredness which long clung to
it, and finally led, singularly enough, to its becoming a centre of
idolatrous worship. The rude circle of unhewn stones without
inscription was, no doubt, exactly like the many prehistoric monuments
found all over the world, which forgotten races have raised to keep in
everlasting remembrance forgotten fights and heroes. It was a
comparatively small thing; for each stone was but a load for one man,
and it would seem mean enough by the side of Stonehenge or Carnac, just
as Israel's history is on a small scale, as compared with the
world-embracing empires of old. Size is not greatness; and Joshua's
little circle told a more wonderful story than its taller kindred, or
Egyptian obelisks or colossi.

These grey stones preached at once the duty of remembering, and the
danger of forgetting, the past mercies of God. When they were reared,
they would seem needless; but the deepest impressions get filled up by
degrees, as the river of time deposits its sands on them. We do not
forget pain so quickly as joy, and most men have a longer and keener
remembrance of their injurers than of their benefactors, human or
divine. The stones were set up because Israel remembered, but also lest
Israel should forget. We often think of the Jews as monsters of
ingratitude; but we should more truly learn the lesson of their
history, if we regarded them as fair, average men, and asked ourselves
whether our recollection of God's goodness to us is much more vivid
than theirs. Unless we make distinct and frequent efforts to recall, we
shall certainly forget 'all His benefits.' The cultivation of thankful
remembrance is a very large part of practical religion; and it is not
by accident that the Psalmist puts it in the middle, between hope and
obedience, when he says 'that they might set their hope in God, and not
forget the works of God, but keep His commandments' (Psalm lxxviii.7).

The memorial stones further proclaimed the duty of parental instruction
in God's mercies. They speak of a time when tradition was the vehicle
of history; when books were rare, and monuments were relied upon to
awaken curiosity which a father's words would satisfy. Notwithstanding
all differences in means of obtaining knowledge, the old law remains in
full force, that the parent is the natural and most powerful instructor
in the ways of God. The Jewish father was not to send his child to some
Levite or other to get his question answered, but was to answer it
himself. I am afraid that a good many English parents, who call
themselves Christians, are too apt to say, 'Ask your Sunday-school
teacher,' when such questions are put to them. The decay of parental
religious teaching is working enormous mischief in Christian
households; and the happiest results would follow if Joshua's homely
advice were attended to, '_Ye_ shall let your children know.'

The same principle which led to the erection of this simple monument
reaches its highest and sacredest instance in the institution of the
Lord's Supper, in which Jesus, with wonderful lowliness, condescends to
avail Himself of material symbols in order to secure a firmer place in
treacherous memories. He might well have expected that such stupendous
love could never be forgotten; but He 'knoweth our frame,' and trusts
some share in keeping His death vividly in the hearts of His people to
the humble ministry of bread and wine, Strange that we should need to
be reminded of the death which it is life to remember! Blessed that,
needing it, we have the need so tenderly met, and that He does not
disdain to accept loving memories which slumber till stirred by such
poor reminders of His unspeakable love!



THE CAPTAIN OF THE LORD'S HOST

And he said, Nay, but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.
JOSHUA v. 14.


The army of Israel was just beginning a hard conflict under an untried
leader. Behind them the Jordan barred their retreat, in front of them
Jericho forbade their advance. Most of them had never seen a fortified
city, and had no experience nor engines for a siege. So we may well
suppose that many doubts and fears shook the courage of the host, as it
drew around the doomed city. Their chief had his own heavy burden. He
seems to have gone apart to meditate on what his next step was to be.
Absorbed in thought, he lifts up his eyes mechanically, as brooding men
will, not expecting to see anything, and is startled by the silent
figure of 'a man with a sword drawn' in his hand, close beside him.
There is nothing supernatural in his appearance; and the immediate
thought of the leader is, 'Is this one of the enemy that has stolen
upon my solitude?' So, promptly and boldly, he strides up to him with
the quick challenge: 'Whose side are you on? Are you one of us, or from
the enemy's camp?' And then the silent lips open. 'Upon neither the one
nor the other. I am not on your side, you are on mine, for as Captain
of the Lord's host, am I come up.' And then Joshua falls on his face,
recognises his Commander-in-Chief, owns himself a subordinate, and asks
for orders. 'What saith my Lord unto his servant?'

Now let us try to gather the meaning and the lessons of this striking
incident.

I. I see in it a transient revelation of an eternal truth.

I believe, as the vast majority of careful students of the course of
Old Testament revelation and its relation to the New Testament
completion believe, that we have here not a record of the appearance of
a created superhuman person, but that of a preliminary manifestation of
the Eternal Word of God, who, in the fulness of time, 'became flesh and
dwelt among us.'

You will observe that there run throughout the whole of the Old
Testament notices of the occasional manifestation of a mysterious
person who is named '_the_ Angel,' 'the Angel of the Lord.' For
instance, in the great scene in the wilderness, where the bush burned
and was not consumed, he who appeared is named 'the Angel of the Lord';
and his lips declare 'I am that I am.' In like manner, soon after, the
divine voice speaks to Moses of 'the Angel in whom is My name.'

When Balaam had his path blocked amongst the vineyards, it was a
_replica_ of the figure of my text that stayed his way, a man with a
drawn sword in his hand, who spoke in autocratic and divine fashion.
When the parents of Samson were apprised of the coming birth of the
hero, it was 'the Angel of the Lord' that appeared to them, accepted
their sacrifice, declared the divine will, and disappeared in a flame
of fire from the altar. A psalm speaks of 'the Angel of the Lord' as
encamping round about them that fear him, and delivering them. Isaiah
tells us of the 'Angel of his face,' who was 'afflicted in all Israel's
afflictions, and saved them.' And the last prophetic utterance of the
Old Testament is most distinct and remarkable in its strange
identification and separation of Jehovah and the Angel, when it says,
'the Lord shall suddenly come to His Temple, even the Angel of the
Covenant.' Now, if we put all these passages--and they are but select
instances--if we put all these passages together, I think we cannot
help seeing that there runs, as I said, throughout the whole of the Old
Testament a singular strain of revelation in regard to a Person who, in
a remarkable manner, is distinguished from the created hosts of angel
beings, and also is distinguished from, and yet in name, attributes,
and worship all but identified with, the Lord Himself.

If we turn to the narrative before us, we find there similar phenomena
marked out. For this mysterious 'man with the sword drawn' in his hand,
quotes the very words which were spoken at the bush, when he says,
'Loose thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest
is holy.' And by fair implication, He would have us to identify the
persons in these two great theophanies. He ascribes to Himself, in the
further conversation in the next chapter, directly divine attributes,
and is named by the sacred name; 'The Lord said unto Joshua, see, I
have given into thy hand Jericho and its king.'

If we turn to the New Testament, we find that there under another image
the same strain of thought is presented. The Word of God, who from
everlasting 'was with God, and was God,' is represented as being the
Agent of Creation, the Source of all human illumination, the Director
of Providence, the Lord of the Universe. 'By him were all things, and
in him all things consists.' So, surely, these two halves make a whole;
and the Angel of the Lord, separate and yet so strangely identified
with Jehovah, who at the crises of the nation's history, and stages of
the development of the process of Revelation, is manifested, and the
Eternal Word of God, whom the New Testament reveals to us, are one and
the same.

This truth was transiently manifested in our text. The vision passed,
the ground that was hallowed by His foot is undistinguished now in the
sweltering plain round the mound that once was Jericho. But the fact
remains, the humanity, that was only in appearance, and for a few
minutes, assumed then, has now been taken up into everlasting union
with the divine nature, and a Man reigns on the Throne, and is
Commander of all who battle for the truth and the right. The eternal
order of the universe is before us here.

It only remains to say a word in reference to the sweep of the command
which our vision assigns to the Angel of the Lord. 'Captain of the
Lord's host' means a great deal more than the true General of Israel's
little army. It does mean that, or the words and the vision would cease
to have relevance and bearing on the moment's circumstances and need.
But it includes also, as the usage of Scripture would sufficiently
show, if it were needful to adduce instances of it, all the ordered
ranks of loftier intelligent beings, and all the powers and forces of
the universe. These are conceived of as an embattled host, comparable
to an army in the strictness of their discipline and their obedience to
a single will. It is the modern thought that the universe is a Cosmos
and not a Chaos, an ordered unit, with the addition of the truth beyond
the reach and range of science, that its unity is the expression of a
personal will. It is the same thought which the centurion had, to
Christ's wonder, when he compared his own power as an officer in a
legion, where his will was implicitly obeyed, to the power of Christ
over diseases and sorrows and miseries and death, and recognised that
all these were His servants, to whom, if His autocratic lips chose to
say 'Go,' they went, and if He said, 'Do this,' they did it.

So the Lord of the universe and its ordered ranks is Jesus Christ. That
is the truth which was flashed from the unknown, like a vanishing
meteor in the midnight, before the face of Joshua, and which stands
like the noonday sun, unsetting and irradiating for us who live under
the Gospel.

II. I see here the Leader of all the warfare against the world's evil.

'The Captain of the Lord's host.' He Himself takes part in the fight.
He is not like a general who, on some safe knoll behind the army, sends
his soldiers to death, and keeps his own skin whole. But He _has_
fought, and He _is_ fighting. Do you remember that wonderful picture in
two halves, at the end of one of the Gospels, 'the Lord went up into
Heaven and sat at the right hand of God, ... they went forth everywhere
preaching the Word'? Strange contrast between the repose of the seated
Christ and the toils of His peripatetic servants! Yes, strange
contrast; but the next words harmonise the two halves of it; 'the Lord
also working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.'
The Leader does not so rest as that He does not fight; and the servants
do not need so to fight, as that they cannot rest. Thus the old legends
of many a land and tongue have a glorious truth in them to the eye of
faith, and at the head of all the armies that are charging against any
form of the world's misery and sin, there moves the form of the Son of
Man, whose aid we have to invoke, even from His crowned repose at the
right hand of God. 'Gird thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Most Mighty, and
in Thy majesty ride forth prosperously, and Thy right hand shall teach
Thee terrible things.'

If this, then, be for us, as truly as for Joshua and his host, a
revelation of who is our true leader, surely all of us in our various
degrees, and especially any of us who have any 'Quixotic crusade' for
the world's good on our consciences and on our hands, may take the
lessons and the encouragements that are here. Own your Leader; that is
one plain duty. And recognise this fact, that by no other power than by
His, and with no other weapons than those which He puts into our hands,
in His Cross and meekness, can a world's evils be overcome, and the
victory be won for the right and the truth. I have no faith in crusades
which are not under the Captain of our salvation. And I would that the
earnest men, and there are many of them, the laborious and the
self-sacrificing men in many departments of philanthropy and
benevolence and social reformation--who labour unaware of who is their
Leader, and not dependent upon His help, nor trusting in His
strength--would take to heart this vision of my text, and see beside
them the 'man with the drawn sword in his hand,' the Christ with the
'sharp two-edged sword going out of his mouth,' by whom, and by whom
alone, the world's evil can be overcome and slain.

Own your General; submit to His authority; pick the weapons that He can
bless; trust absolutely in His help. We _may_ have, we _shall_ have, in
all enterprises for God and man that are worth doing, 'need of
patience,' just as the army of Israel had to parade for six weary days
round Jericho blowing their useless trumpets, whilst the impregnable
walls stood firm, and the defenders flouted and jeered their aimless
procession. But the seventh day will come, and at the trumpet blast
down will go the loftiest ramparts of the cities that are 'walled up to
heaven' with a rush and a crash, and through the dust and over the
ruined rubbish Christ's soldiers will march and take possession. So
trust in your Leader, and be sure of the victory, and have patience and
keep on at your work.

Do not make Joshua's mistake. 'Art Thou for us?'--'Nay! Thou art for
_me._' That is a very different thing. We have the right to be sure
that God is on our side, when we have made sure that we are on God's.
So take care of self-will and self-regard, and human passions, and all
the other parasitical insects that creep round philanthropic religious
work, lest they spoil your service. There is a great deal that calls
itself after Jehu's fashion, 'My zeal for the Lord,' which is nothing
better than zeal for my own notions and their preponderance. Therefore
we must strip ourselves of all that, and not fancy that the cause is
ours, and then graciously admit Christ to help us, but recognise that
it is _His_, and lowly submit ourselves to His direction, and what we
do, do, and when we fight, fight, in His name and for His sake.

III. Here is the Ally in all our warfare with ourselves.

That is the worst fight. Far worse than all these Hittites and Hivites,
and the other tribes with their barbarous names, far worse than all
external foes, are the foes that each man carries about in his own
heart. In that slow hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot struggle I do not
believe that there is any conquering power available for a man that can
for a moment be compared with the power that comes through submission
to Christ's command and acceptance of Christ's help. He has fought
every foot of the ground before us. We have to 'run the race'--to take
another metaphor--'that is set before us, looking unto Jesus,' the
great Leader, and in His own self the Perfecter of the faith which
conquers. In Him, His example, the actual communication of His divine
Spirit, and in the motives for brave and persistent conflict which flow
from His Cross and Passion, we shall find that which alone will make us
the victors in this internecine warfare. There can be no better
directory given to any man than to tread in Christ's footsteps, and
learn how to fight, from Him who in the wilderness repelled the triple
assault with the single 'It is written'; thus recognising the word and
will of God as the only directory and defence.

Thus, brethren, if we humbly take service in His ranks, and ask Him to
show us where our foes within are, and to give us the grace to grapple
with them, and cast them out, anything is possible rather than ultimate
defeat, and however long and sore the struggle may be, its length and
its severity are precious parts of the discipline that makes us strong,
and we shall at last be more than conquerors through Him that loveth us.

IV. Lastly, I see here the Power which it is madness to resist.

Think of this vision. Think of the deep truths, partially shadowed and
symbolised by it. Think of Christ, what He is, and what resources He
has at His back, of what are His claims for our service, and our loyal,
militant obedience. Think of the certain victory of all who follow Him
amongst 'the armies of Heaven, clad in fine linen, clean and white.'
Think of the crown and the throne for him that 'overcomes.'

Remember the destructive powers that sleep in Him: the 'drawn sword in
His hand,' the 'two-edged sword out of His mouth' the 'wrath of the
Lamb.' Think of the ultimate certain defeat of all antagonisms; of that
last campaign when He goes forth with the 'name written on His vesture
and on His thigh "King of kings and Lord of lords."' Think of how He
'strikes through kings in the day of His wrath, and fills the place
with the bodies of the dead'; and how His 'enemies become His
footstool.'

Ponder His own solemn word, 'He that is not with Me, is against Me.'
There is no neutrality in this warfare. Either we are for Him or we are
for His adversary. 'Under which King? speak or die!' As sensible men,
not indifferent to your highest and lasting well-being, ask yourselves,
'Can I, with my ten thousand, meet Him with His twenty thousand?' Put
yourselves under His orders, and He will be on your side. He will teach
your hands to war, and your fingers to fight; will cover your heads in
the day of battle, and bring you at last, palm-bearing and
laurel-crowned, to that blissful state where there will still be
service, and He still be the 'Captain of the Lord's host,' but where
'swords will be beaten into ploughshares' and the victors shall need to
'learn war no more.'



THE SIEGE OF JERICHO

'And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor
make any noise with your voice, ... until the day I bid you shout; then
shall ye shout. 11. So the ark of the Lord compassed the city, going
about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the
camp.'--JOSHUA vi.10, 11.

The cheerful uniform obedience of Israel to Joshua stands in very
remarkable contrast with their perpetual murmurings and rebellions
under Moses. Many reasons probably concurred in bringing about this
change of tone. For one thing the long period of suspense was over; and
to average sense-bound people there is no greater trial of faith and
submission than waiting, inactive, for something that is to come. Now
they are face to face with their enemies, and it is a great deal easier
to fight than to expect; and their courage mounts higher as dangers
come nearer. Then there were great miracles which left their impression
upon the people, such as the passage of the Jordan, and so on.

So that the Epistle to the Hebrews is right when it says, 'By faith the
walls of Jericho fell down after they were compassed about seven days.'
And that faith was as manifest in the six days' march round the city,
as on the seventh day of victorious entrance. For, if you will read the
narrative carefully, you will see that it says that the Israelites were
not told what was to be the end of that apparently useless and aimless
promenade. It was only on the morning of the day of the miracle that it
was announced. So there are two stages in this instance of faith. There
is the protracted trial of it, in doing an apparently useless thing;
and there is the victory, which explains and vindicates it. Let us look
at these two points now.

I. Consider that strange protracted trial of faith.

The command comes to the people, through Joshua's lips, unaccompanied
by any explanation or reasons. If Moses had called for a like obedience
from the people in their wilderness mood, there would have been no end
of grumbling. But whatever some of them may have thought, there is
nothing recorded now but prompt submission. Notice, too, the order of
the procession. First come the armed men, then seven white-robed
priests, blowing, probably, discordant music upon their ram's horn
trumpets; then the Ark, the symbol and token of God's presence; and
then the rereward. So the _Ark_ is the centre; and it is not only
Israel that is marching round the city, but rather it is God who is
circling the walls. Very impressive would be the grim silence of it
all. Tramp, tramp, tramp, round and round, six days on end, without a
word spoken (though no doubt taunts in plenty were being showered down
from the walls), they marched, and went back to the camp, and subsided
into inactivity for another four-and-twenty hours, until they 'turned
out' for the procession once more.

Now, what did all that mean? The blast of the trumpet was, in the
Jewish feasts, the solemn proclamation of the presence of God. And
hence the purpose of that singular march circumambulating Jericho was
to declare 'Here is the Lord of the whole earth, weaving His invisible
cordon and network around the doomed city.' In fact the meaning of the
procession, emphasised by the silence of the soldiers, was that God
Himself was saying, in the long-drawn blasts of the priestly trumpet,
'Lift up your heads, O ye gates! even lift them up, ye everlasting
doors; and the King of Glory shall come in.' Now, whatever Jericho and
its people thought about that, Israel, according to the commentary of
the New Testament, had to some extent, at all events, learnt the
lesson, and knew, of course very rudimentarily and with a great deal of
mere human passion mingled with it, but still knew, that this was God's
summons, and the manifestation of God's presence. And so round the city
they went, and day by day they did the thing in which their faith
apprehended its true meaning, and which, by reason of their faith, they
were willing to do. Let us take some lessons from that.

Here is a confidence in the divine presence, manifested by
unquestioning obedience to a divine command.

                       'Theirs not to make reply,
                        Theirs not to reason why.'

Joshua had spoken; God had spoken through him. And so here goes! up
with the Ark and the trumpets, and out on to the hot sand for the
march! It would have been a great deal easier to have stopped in the
tents. It was disheartening work marching round thus. The sceptical
spirit in the host--the folk of whom there are many great-grandchildren
living to-day, who always have objections to urge when disagreeable
duties are crammed up against their faces--would have enough to say on
that occasion, but the bulk of the people were true, and obeyed. Now,
we do not need to put out the eyes of our understanding in order to
practise the obedience of faith. And we have to exercise common-sense
about the things that seem to us to be duties.

But this is plain, that if once we see a thing to be, in Christian
language, the will of our Father in heaven, then everything is settled;
and there is only one course for us, and that is, unquestioning
submission, active submission, or, what is as hard, passive submission.

Then here again is faith manifesting itself by an obedience which was
altogether ignorant of what was coming. I think that is quite plain in
the story, if you will read it carefully, though I think that it is not
quite what people generally understand as its meaning. But it makes the
incident more in accordance with God's uniform way of dealing with us
that the host should be told on the morning of the first day of the
week that they were to march round the city, and told the same on the
second day, and on the third the same, and so on until the sixth; and
that not until the morning of the seventh, were they told what was to
be the end of it all. That is the way in which God generally deals with
us. In the passage of the Jordan, too, you will find, if you will look
at the narrative carefully, that although Joshua was told what was
coming, the people were not told till the morning of the day, when the
priests' feet were dipped in the brink of the water. We, too, have to
do our day's march, knowing very little about tomorrow; and we have to
carry on all through life 'doing the duty that lies nearest us,'
entirely ignorant of the strange issues to which it may conduct. Life
is like a voyage down some winding stream, shut in by hills, sometimes
sunny and vine-clad, like the Rhine, sometimes grim and black, like an
American canon. As the traveller looks ahead he wonders how the stream
will find a passage beyond the next bend; and as he looks back, he
cannot trace the course by which he has come. It is only when he rounds
the last shoulder that he sees a narrow opening flashing in the
sunshine, and making a way for his keel. So, seeing that we know
nothing about the issues, let us make sure of the motives; and seeing
that we do not know what to-morrow may bring forth, nor even what the
next moment may bring, let us see that we fill the present instant as
full as it will hold with active obedience to God, based upon simple
faith in Him. He does not open His whole hand at once; He opens a
finger at a time, as you do sometimes with your children when you are
trying to coax them to take something out of the palm. He gives us
enough light for the moment, He says, 'March round Jericho; and be sure
that I mean something. What I do mean I will tell you some day.' And so
we have to put all into His hands.

Then here, again, is faith manifesting itself by persistency. A week
was not long, but it was a long while during which to do that one
apparently useless thing and nothing else. It would take about an hour
or so to march round the city, and there were twenty-three hours of
idleness. Little progress in reducing Jericho was made by the progress
round it, and it must have got rather wearisome about the sixth day.
Familiarity would breed monotony, but notwithstanding the deadly
influences of habit, the obedient host turned out for their daily
round. 'Let us not be weary in well-doing,' for there is a time for
everything. There is a time for sowing and for reaping, and in the
season of the reaping 'we shall reap, if we faint not.' Dear brethren!
we all get weary of our work. Custom presses upon us, 'with a weight
heavy as frost, and deep almost as life.' It is easy to do things with
a spurt, but it is the keeping on at the monotonous, trivial, and
sometimes unintelligible duties that is the test of a man's grit, and
of his goodness too. So, although it is a very, very threadbare
lesson--one that you may think it was not worth while for me to bring you
all here to receive--I am sure that there are few things needed more by us
all, and especially by those of us who are on the wrong side of middle
life, as people call it--though I think it is the right side in many
respects--than that old familiar lesson. Keep on as you have begun, and
for the six weary days turn out, however hot the sun, however
comfortable the carpets in the tent, however burning the sand, however
wearisome and flat it may seem to be perpetually tramping round the
same walls of the same old city; keep on, for in due season the trumpet
will sound and the walls will fall.

II. So that brings me to the second stage--viz., the sudden victory
which vindicates and explains the protracted trial of faith.

I do not need to tell the story of how, on the seventh day, the host
encompassed the city seven times, and at last they were allowed to
break the long silence with a shout. You will observe the prominence
given to the sacred seven, both in the number of days, of circuits
made, and the number of the priests' trumpets. Probably the last day
was a Sabbath, for there must have been one somewhere in the week, and
it is improbable that it was one of the undistinguished days. That was
a shout, we may be sure, by which the week's silence was avenged, and
all the repressed emotions gained utterance at last. The fierce yell
from many throats, which startled the wild creatures in the hills
behind Jericho, blended discordantly with the trumpets' clang which
proclaimed a present God; and at His summons the fortifications toppled
into hideous ruin, and over the fallen stones the men of Israel
clambered, each soldier, in all that terrible circle of avengers that
surrounded the doomed city, marching straight forward, and so all
converging on the centre.

Now, we can discover good reasons for this first incident in the
campaign being marked by miracle. The fact that it was the first is a
reason. It is a law of God's progressive revelation that each new epoch
is inaugurated by miraculous works which do not continue throughout its
course. For instance, it is observable that, in the _Acts of the
Apostles,_ the first example of each class of incidents recorded there,
such as the first preaching, the first persecution, the first
martyrdom, the first expansion of the Gospel beyond Jews, its first
entrance into Europe, has usually the stamp of miracle impressed on it,
and is narrated at great length, while subsequent events of the same
class have neither of those marks of distinction. Take, for example,
the account of Stephen, the first martyr. He saw 'the heavens opened'
and the Son of Man 'standing at the right hand of God.' We do not read
that the heavens opened when Herod struck off the head of James with
the sword. But was Jesus any the less near to help His servant?
Certainly not.

In like manner it was fitting that the first time that Israel crossed
swords with these deadly and dreaded enemies should be marked by a
miraculous intervention to hearten God's warriors. But let us take care
that we understand the teaching of any miracle. Surely it does not
secularise and degrade the other incidents of a similar sort in which
no miracle was experienced. The very opposite lesson is the true one to
draw from a miracle. In its form it is extraordinary, and presents
God's direct action on men or on nature, so obviously that all eyes can
see it. But the conclusion to be drawn is not that God acts only in a
supernatural' manner, but that He is acting as really, though in a less
obvious fashion, in the 'natural' order. In these turning-points, the
inauguration of new stages in revelation or history, the cause which
always produces all nearer effects and the ultimate effects, which are
usually separated or united (as one may choose to regard it) by many
intervening links, are brought together. But the originating power
works as truly when it is transmitted through these many links as when
it dispenses with them. Miracle shows us in abbreviated fashion, and
therefore conspicuously, the divine will acting directly, that we may
see it working when it acts indirectly. In miracle God makes bare His
arm,' that we may be sure of its operation when it is draped and
partially hid, as by a vesture, by second causes.

We are not to argue that, because there is no miracle, God is not
present or active. He was as truly with Israel when there was no Ark
present, and no blast of the trumpet heard. He was as truly with Israel
when they fought apparently unhelped, as He was when Jericho fell. The
teaching of all the miracles in the Old and the New Testaments is that
the order of the universe is maintained by the continual action of the
will of God on men and things. So this story is a transient revelation
of an eternal fact. God is as much with you and me in our fights as He
was with the Israelites when they marched round Jericho, and as
certainly will He help. If by faith we endure the days of often blind
obedience, we shall share the rapture of the sudden victory.

Now, I have said that the last day of this incident was probably a
Sabbath day. Does not that suggest the thought that we may take this
story as a prophetic symbol? There is for us a week of work, and a
seventh day of victory, when we shall enter, not into the city of
confusion which has come to nought, but into the city which 'hath the
foundations, whose builder and maker is God.' The old fathers of the
Christian Church were not far wrong, when they saw in this story a type
of the final coming of the Lord. Did you ever notice how St. Paul, in
writing to the Thessalonians about that coming, seems to have his mind
turned back to the incident before us? Remember that in this incident
the two things which signalised the fall of the city were the trumpet
and the shout. What does Paul say? 'The Lord Himself shall descend from
heaven with a _shout_, with the voice of the archangel, and with the
_trump_ of God.' Jericho over again! And then, 'Babylon is fallen, is
fallen!' 'And I saw the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, like a
bride adorned for her husband.'



RAHAB

'And Joanna paved Rahab the harlot alive... and she dwelleth in Israel
even unto this day.'--JOSHUA vi. 25.


This story comes in like an oasis in these terrible narratives of
Canaanite extermination. There is much about it that is beautiful and
striking, but the main thing is that it teaches the universality of
God's mercy, and the great truth that trust in Him unites to Him and
brings deliverance, how black soever may have been the previous life.

I need not tell over again the story, told with such inimitable
picturesqueness here: how the two spies, swimming the Jordan in flood,
set out on their dangerous mission and found themselves in the house of
Rahab, a harlot; how the king sent to capture them, how she hid them
among the flax-stalks bleaching on the flat roof, confessed faith in
Israel's God and lied steadfastly to save them, how they escaped to the
Quarantania hills, how she 'perished not' in the capture, entered into
the community of Israel, was married, and took her place--hers!--in the
line of David's and Christ's ancestresses.

The point of interest is her being, notwithstanding her previous
position and history, one of the few instances in which heathen were
brought into Israel. The _Epistle to the Hebrews_ and _James_ both
refer to her. We now consider her story as embodying for us some
important truths about faith in its nature, its origin, its power.

I. Faith in its constant essence and its varying objects.

Her creed was very short and simple. She abjured idols, and believed
that Jehovah was the one God. She knew nothing of even the Mosaic
revelation, nothing of its moral law or of its sacrifices. And yet the
_Epistle to the Hebrews_ has no scruple in ascribing faith to her. The
object of that Epistle is to show that Christianity is Judaism
perfected. It labours to establish that objectively there has been
advance, not contradiction, and that subjectively there is absolute
identity. It has always been faith that has bound men to God. That
faith may co-exist with very different degrees of illumination. Not the
creed, but the trust, is the all-important matter. This applies to all
pre-Christian times and to all heathen lands. _Our_ faith has a fuller
gospel to lay hold of. Do not neglect it.

Beware lest people with less light and more love get in before you,
'who shall come from the east and the west.'

II. Faith in its origin in fear.

There are many roads to faith, and it matters little which we take, so
long as we get to the goal. This is one, and some people seem to think
that it is a very low and unworthy one, and one which we should never
urge upon men. But there are a side of the divine nature and a mode of
the divine government which properly evoke fear.

God's moral government, His justice and retribution, are facts.

Fear is an inevitable and natural consequence of feeling that His
justice is antagonistic to us. The work of conscience is precisely to
create such fear. Not to feel it is to fall below manhood or to be
hardened by sin.

That fear is meant to lead us to God and love. Rahab fled to God. Peter
'girt his fisher's coat to him,' and lost his fear in the sunshine of
Christ's face, as a rainbow trembles out of a thunder-cloud when
touched by sunbeams.

We have all grounds enough to _fear_.

Urge these as a reason for _trust_.

III. Faith in its relation to the previous life.

It is a strange instance of blindness that attempts have been made to
soften down the Bible's plain speaking about Rahab's character.

In her story we have an anticipation of New Testament teaching.

The 'woman that was a sinner.'

Mary Magdalene.

'Then drew near all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him.'

She shows us that there is no hopeless guilt. None is so in regard to
the effects of sin on a soul. There is no heart so indurated as that
its capacity for being stirred by the divine message is killed.

There is none hopeless in regard to God.

His love embraces all, however bad. The bond which unites to Him is not
blamelessness of life but simple trust.

The grossest vice is not so thorough a barrier as self-satisfied
self-righteousness.

A thin slice of crystal will bar the entrance of air more effectually
than many folds of stuff.

IV. Faith in its practical effects.

Rahab's story shows how living faith, like a living stream, will cut a
channel for itself, and must needs flow out into the life.

Hence James is right in using her as an example of how 'we are
justified by works and not by faith only,' and the author of the
_Epistle to the Hebrews_ is equally right in enrolling her in his great
muster-roll of heroes and heroines of faith, and asserting that 'by
faith' she 'perished not among them who believed not.' The one writer
fastens on a later stage in her experience than does the other. James
points to the rich fruit, the Epistle to the Hebrews goes deeper and
lays bare the root from which the life rose to the clusters.

The faith that saves is not a barren intellectual process, nor an idle
trust in Christ's salvation, but a practical power. If genuine it
_will_ mould and impel the life.

So Rahab's faith led her, as ours, if real, will lead us, to break with
old habits and associations contrary to itself. She ceased to be 'Rahab
the harlot,' she forsook 'her own people and her father's house.' But
her conquest of her old self was gradual. A lie was a strange kind of
first-fruits of faith. Its true fruit takes time to flower and swell
and come to ripeness and sweetness.

So we should not expect old heads on young shoulders, nor wonder if
people, lifted from the dunghills of the world, have some stench and
rags of their old vices hanging about them still. That thought should
moderate our expectations of the characters of converts from
heathenism, or from the degraded classes at home. And it should be
present to ourselves, when we find in ourselves sad recurrences of
faults and sins that we know should have been cast out, and that we
hoped had been so.

This thought enhances our wondering gratitude for the divine
long-suffering which bears with our slow progress. Our great Teacher
never loses patience with His dull scholars.

V. Faith as the means of deliverance and safety.

From external evils it delivers us or not, as God may will. James was
no less dear, and no less faithful, than John, though he was early
'slain with the sword,' and his brother died in extreme old age in
Ephesus. Paul looked forward to being 'delivered from every evil work,'
though he knew that the time of his being 'offered' was at hand,
because the deliverance that he looked for was his being 'saved _into_
His heavenly kingdom.'

That true deliverance is infallibly ours, if by faith we have made the
Deliverer ours.

There is a more terrible fall of a worse city than Jericho, in that day
when 'the city of the terrible ones shall be laid low,' and _our_
Joshua brings it 'to the ground, even to the dust.' 'In that same day
shall this song be sung in the land of Judah: we have a strong city,
salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks,' and into that
eternal home He will certainly lead all who are joined to Him, and
separated from their foul old selves, and from 'the city of
destruction,' by faith in Him.



ACHAN'S SIN, ISRAEL'S DEFEAT

'But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing:
for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the
tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the Lord
was kindled against the children of Israel. 2. And Joshua sent men from
Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Beth-ei,
and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men
went up and viewed Ai. 3. And they returned to Joshua, and said unto
him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand
men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither;
for they are but few. 4. So there went up thither of the people about
three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. 5. And the men
of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from
before the Irate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down;
wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water. 6. And
Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the
ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and
put dust upon their heads. 7. And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord God,
wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver
us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had
been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! 8. O Lord, what shall
I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! 9. For the
Canaanites, and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and
shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what
wilt Thou do unto Thy great name? 10. And the Lord said unto Joshua,
Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 11. Israel hath
sinned, and they have also trangressed My covenant which I commanded
them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also
stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own
stuff. 12. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before
their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because
they were accursed; neither will I be with you any more, except ye
destroy the accursed from among you.'--JOSHUA vii. 1-12.


This passage naturally parts itself into--1. The hidden sin (v. 1); 2.
The repulse by which it is punished (vs. 2-5); 3. The prayer of
remonstrance (vs. 6-9); and 4. The answer revealing the cause (vs.
10-12). We may briefly note the salient points in these four divisions,
and then consider the general lessons of the whole.

I. Observe, then, that the sin is laid at the doors of the whole
nation, while yet it was the secret act of one man. That Is a strange
'for' in verse 1--the people did it; 'for' Achan did it. Observe, too,
with what bitter particularity his descent is counted back through
three generations, as if to diffuse the shame and guilt over a wide
area, and to blacken the ancestors of the culprit. Note also the
description of the sin. Its details are not given, but its inmost
nature is. The specification of the 'Babylonish garment,' the 'shekels
of silver,' and the 'wedge of gold,' is reserved for the sinner's own
confession; but the blackness of the deed is set forth in its principle
in verse 1. It was a 'breach of trust,' for so the phrase 'committed a
trespass' might be rendered. The expression is frequent in the
Pentateuch to describe Israel's treacherous departure from God, and has
this full meaning here. The sphere in which Achan's treason was
evidenced was 'in the devoted thing.' The spoil of Jericho was set
aside for Jehovah, and to appropriate any part of it was sacrilege. His
sin, then, was double, being at once covetousness and robbing God.
Achan, at the beginning of Israel's warfare for Canaan, and Ananias, at
the beginning of the Church's conquest of the world, are brothers alike
in guilt and in doom. Note the wide sweep of 'the anger of the Lord,'
involving in its range not only the one transgressor, but the whole
people.

II. All unconscious of the sin, and flushed with victory, Joshua let no
grass grow under his feet, but was prepared to push his advantage to
the utmost with soldierly promptitude. The commander's faith and
courage were contagious, and the spies came back from their perilous
reconnaissance of Ai with the advice that a small detachment was enough
for its reduction. They had not spied the mound in the middle of
Achan's tent, or their note would have been changed. Three thousand, or
three hundred, would have been enough, if God had been with them. The
whole army would not have been enough since He was not. The site of Ai
seems to have been satisfactorily identified on a small plateau among
the intricate network of wild wadys and bare hills that rise behind
Jericho. The valley to the north, the place where the ambush lay at the
successful assault, and a great mound, still bearing the name 'Et Tel'
(the heap), are all there. The attacking force does not seem to have
been commanded by Joshua. The ark stayed at Gilgal, The contempt for
the resistance likely to be met makes the panic which ensued the more
remarkable. What turned the hearts of the confident assailants to
water? There was no serious fighting, or the slaughter would have been
more than thirty-six. 'There went up ... about three thousand and
they'--did what? fought and conquered? Alas, no, but 'they fled before
the men of Ai,' rushing in wild terror down the steep pass which they
had so confidently breasted in the morning, till the pursuers caught
them up at some 'quarries,' where, perhaps, the ground was difficult,
and there slew the few who fell, while the remainder got away by
swiftness of foot, and brought back their terror and their shame to the
camp. As the disordered fugitives poured in, they infected the whole
with their panic. Such unwieldy undisciplined hosts are peculiarly
liable to such contagious terror, and we find many instances in
Scripture and elsewhere of the utter disorganisation which ensues. The
whole conquest hung in the balance. A little more and the army would be
a mob; and the mob would break into twos and threes, which would get
short shrift from the Amorites.

Ill. Mark, then, Joshua's action in the crisis. He does not try to
encourage the people, but turns from them to God. The spectacle of the
leader and the elders prone before the ark, with rent garments and
dust-bestrewn hair, in sign of mourning, would not be likely to hearten
the alarmed people; but the defeat had clearly shown that something had
disturbed the relation to God, and the first necessity was to know what
it was. Joshua's prayer is perplexed, and not free from a wistful,
backward look, nor from regard to his own reputation; but the soul of
it is an earnest desire to know the 'wherefore' of this disaster. It
traces the defeat to God, and means really, 'Show me wherefore Thou
contendest with me.' No doubt it runs perilously near to repeating the
old complaints at Kadesh and elsewhere, which are almost verbally
reproduced in its first words. But the same things said by different
people are not the same; and Joshua's question is the voice of a faith
struggling to find footing, and his backward look is not because he
doubts God's power to help, or hankers after Egypt, but because he sees
that, for some unknown reason, they have lost the divine protection.
His reference to himself betrays the crushing weight of responsibility
which he felt, and comes not from carefulness for his own good fame so
much as from his dread of being unable to vindicate himself, if the
people should turn on him as the author of their misfortunes. His fear
of the news of the check at Ai emboldening not only the neighbouring
Amorites (highlanders) of the western Palestine, but the remoter
Canaanites (lowlanders) of the coast, to make a combined attack, and
sweep Israel out of existence, was a perfectly reasonable forecast of
what would follow. The naive simplicity of the appeal to God, 'What
wilt Thou do for Thy great name?' becomes the soldier, whose words went
the shortest way to their aim, as his spear did. We cannot fancy this
prayer coming from Moses; but, for all that, it has the ring of faith
in it, and beneath its blunt, simple words throbs a true heart.

IV. The answer sounds strange at first. God almost rebukes him for
praying. He gives Joshua back his own 'wherefore' in the question that
sounds so harsh, 'Wherefore art thou thus fallen upon thy face?' but
the harshness is only apparent, and serves to point the lesson that
follows, that the cause of the disaster is with Israel, not with God,
and that therefore the remedy is not in prayer, but in active steps to
cast out 'the unclean thing.' The prayer had asked two things,--the
disclosure of the cause of God's having left them, and His return. The
answer lays bare the cause, and therein shows the conditions of His
return. Note the indignant accumulation of verbs in verse 11,
describing the sin in all its aspects. The first three of the six point
out its heinousness in reference to God, as sin, as a breach of
covenant, and as an appropriation of what was specially His. The second
three describe it in terms of ordinary morality, as theft, lying, and
concealment; so many black sides has one sin when God's eye scrutinises
it. Note, too, the attribution of the sin to the whole people, the
emphatic reduplication of the shameful picture of their defeat, the
singular transference to them of the properties of 'the devoted thing'
which Achan has taken, and the plain, stringent conditions of God's
return. Joshua's prayer is answered. He knows now why little Ai has
beaten them back. He asked, 'What shall I say?' He has got something of
grave import to say. So far this passage carries us, leaving the
pitiful last hour of the wretched troubler of Israel untouched. What
lessons are taught here?

First, God's soldiers must be pure. The conditions of God's help are
the same to-day as when that panic-stricken crowd ignominiously fled
down the rocky pass, foiled before an insignificant fortress, because
sin clave to them, and God was gone from them. The age of miracles may
have ceased, but the law of the divine intervention which governed the
miracles has not ceased. It is true to-day, and will always be true,
that the victories of the Church are won by its holiness far more than
by any gifts or powers of mind, culture, wealth, eloquence, or the
like. Its conquests are the conquests of an indwelling God, and He
cannot share His temples with idols. When God is with us, Jericho is
not too strong to be captured; when He is driven from us by our own
sin, Ai is not too weak to defeat us. A shattered wall keeps us out, if
we fight in our own strength. Fortifications that reach to heaven fall
flat before us when God is at our side. If Christian effort seems ever
fruitless, the first thing to do is to look for the 'Babylonish
garment' and the glittering shekels hidden in our tents. Nine times out
of ten we shall find the cause in our own spiritual deficiencies. Our
success depends on God's presence, and God's presence depends on our
keeping His dwelling-place holy. When the Church is 'fair as the moon,'
reflecting in silvery whiteness the ardours of the sun which gives her
all her light, and without such spots as dim the moon's brightness, she
will be 'terrible as an army with banners.' This page of Old Testament
history has a living application to the many efforts and few victories
of the churches of to-day, which seem scarce able to hold their own
amid the natural increase of population in so-called Christian lands,
and are so often apparently repulsed when they go up to attack the
outlying heathenism.

            'His strength was as the strength of ten,
             Because his heart was pure,'

is true of the Christian soldier.

Again, we learn the power of one man to infect a whole community and to
inflict disaster on it. One sick sheep taints a flock. The effects of
the individual's sin are not confined to the doer. We have got a fine
new modern word to express this solemn law, and we talk now of
'solidarity,' which sounds very learned and 'advanced.' But it means
just what we see in this story; Achan was the sinner, all Israel
suffered. We are knit together by a mystical but real bond, so that 'no
man,' be he good or bad, 'liveth to himself,' and no man's sin
terminates in himself. We see the working of that unity in families,
communities, churches, nations. Men are not merely aggregated together
like a pile of cannon balls, but are knit together like the myriad
lives in a coral rock. Put a drop of poison anywhere, and it runs by a
thousand branching veins through the mass, and tints and taints it all.
No man can tell how far the blight of his secret sins may reach, nor
how wide the blessing of his modest goodness may extend. We should seek
to cultivate the sense of being members of a great whole, and to ponder
our individual responsibility for the moral and religious health of the
church, the city, the nation. We are not without danger from an
exaggerated individualism, and we need to realise more constantly and
strongly that we are but threads in a great network, endowed with
mysterious vitality and power of transmitting electric impulses, both
of good and evil.

Again, we have one more illustration in this story of the well-worn
lesson,--never too threadbare to be repeated, until it is habitually
realised,--that God's eye sees the hidden sins. Nobody saw Achan carry
the spoil to his tent, or dig the hole to hide it. His friends walked
across the floor without suspicion of what was beneath. No doubt, he
held his place in his tribe as an honourable man, and his conscience
traced no connection between that recently disturbed patch on the floor
and the helter-skelter flight from Ai; but when the lot began to be
cast, he would have his own thought, and when the tribe of Judah was
taken, some creeping fear would begin to coil round his heart, which
tightened its folds, and hissed more loudly, as each step in the lot
brought discovery nearer home; and when, at last, his own name fell
from the vase, how terribly the thought would glare in on him,--'And
God knew it all the while, and I fancied I had covered it all up so
safely.' It is an awful thing to hear the bloodhounds following up the
scent which leads them straight to our lurking-place. God's judgments
may be long in being put on our tracks, but, once loose, they are sure
of scent, and cannot be baffled. It is an old, old thought, 'Thou God
seest me'; but kept well in mind, it would save from many a sin, and
make sunshine in many a shady place.

Again, we have in Achan a lesson which the professing Christians of
great commercial nations, like England, sorely need. I have already
pointed out the singular parallel between him and Ananias and Sapphira.
Covetousness was the sin of all three. It is the sin of the Church
to-day. The whole atmosphere in which some of us live is charged with
the subtle poison of it. Men are estimated by their wealth. The great
aim of life is to get money, or to keep it, or to gain influence and
notoriety by spending it. Did anybody ever hear of church discipline
being exercised on men who committed Achan's sin? _He_ was stoned to
death, but we set _our_ Achans in high places in the Church. Perhaps if
we went and fell on our faces before the ark when we are beaten, we
should be directed to some tent where a very 'influential member' of
Israel lived, and should find that to put an end to his ecclesiastical
life had a wonderful effect in bringing back courage to the army, and
leading to more unmingled dependence on God. Covetousness was stoned to
death in Israel, and struck with sudden destruction in the Apostolic
Church. It has been reserved for the modern Church to tolerate and
almost to canonise it; and yet we wonder how it comes that we are so
often foiled before some little Ai, and so seldom see any walls falling
by our assault. Let us listen to that stern sentence,  'I will not be
with you any more, except ye destroy the devoted thing from among you.'



THE SUN STAYED

Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon.'-JOSHUA x. 12


'The last time,' what a sad sound that has! In all minds there is a
shrinking from the last time of doing even some common act. The walk
down a street that we have passed every day for twenty years, and never
cared in the least about, and the very doorsteps and the children in
the streets, have an interest for us, as pensively we leave the
commonplace familiar scene.

On this last Sunday of another year, there comes a tone of sober
meditation over us, as we think that it _is_ the last. I would fain let
the hour preach. I have little to say but to give voice to its lessons.

My text is only taken as a starting-point, and I shall say nothing
about Joshua and his prayer. I do not discuss whether this was a
miracle or not. It seems, at any rate, to be taken by the writer of the
story as one. What a picture he draws of the fugitives rushing down the
rocky pass, blind in their fear, behind them the flushed and eager
conqueror, the burst of the sudden tempest and far in the west the
crescent moon, the leader on the hilltop with his prayer for but one
hour or two more of daylight to finish the wild work so well begun!
And, says the story, his wish was granted, and no day has been 'like it
before or since, in which the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man.'
Once, and only once, did time seem to stand still; from the beginning
till now it has been going steadily on, and even then it only seemed to
stand. That day seemed longer, but life was passing all the same.

And so the first thought forced upon us here by our narrative and by
the season is the old one, so commonplace and yet so solemn.

I. Life inexorably slides away from us.

Once, and only once, it seemed to pause. How often since has Joshua's
prayer been prayed again! By the fearful,--the wretch to be hanged at
eight o'clock to-morrow morning, the man whom the next train will part
from all he loves. By the hopeful,--the child wearying for the
holidays, the bridegroom,

             'Gallop apace, ye fiery-footed steeds!'

By the suffering,--

             'Would God it were evening!'

By the martyr amid the flames,

             'Come quickly, Lord Jesus!'

But all in vain. We cannot expand the moments to hours, nor compress
the hours to moments. Leaden or winged, the hours are hours. The
cold-blooded pendulum ticks on, equable and unaltered, and after sixty
minutes, no sooner and no later, the hour strikes. 'There is a time for
every purpose.'

How solemn is the thought of that constant process! It goes on for
ever, like the sea fog creeping up from the wide ocean and burying life
and sunshine in its fatal folds, or like the ever-flowing river, or
like the fall plunging over the edge of the cliff, or like the motions
of the midnight sky. Each moment in its turn passes into the colourless
stony past, and the shadow creeps up the hillside.

And how unnoticed it is! We only know motion by the jolts. The
revolution of the earth and its rush along its orbit are unfelt by us.
We are constantly startled to feel how long ago such and such a thing
took place. The mother sees her little girl at her knee, and in a few
days, as it seems, finds her a woman. How immense is our life in the
prospect, how awfully it collapses in the retrospect! Only by seeing
constellation after constellation set, do we know that the heavens are
in motion. We have need of an effort of serious reflection to realise
that it is of _us_ and of _our_ lives that all these old commonplaces
are true.

That constant, unnoticed progress has an end. Our life is a definite
period, having a bounded past behind it, a present, and a bounded
future before it. We have a sandglass and it runs out. We are like men
sliding down a rope or hauling a boat towards a fixed point. The sea is
washing away our sandy island, and is creeping nearer and nearer to
where we stand, and will wash over us soon. No cries, nor prayers, nor
wishes will avail. It is vain for _us_ to say, 'Sun! stand thou still!'

II. Therefore our chief care should be to finish our work in our day.

Joshua had his day lengthened; we can come to the same result by
crowding ours with service. What is the purpose of life? Is it a shop?
or a garden? a school? No. Our 'chief end' is to become like God and a
little to help forward His cause. All is intended to develop character;
all life is disciplinary.

God's purpose should be our desire. That desire should mould all our
thoughts and acts. There should be no mere sentimental regrets for the
past, but the spirit of consecration should affect our thoughts about
it. There should be penitence, thankfulness, not vain mourning over
what is gone. There should be no waste or selfish use of the present.
What is it given us for but to use for God?

Strenuous work is the true way to lengthen each day. Time is infinitely
elastic. The noblest work is to do 'the works of Him that sent me.'
There should be no care for the future. It is in His hand. There will
be room in it for doing all His will.

                  'Lord, it belongs not to my care,
                   Whether I die or live.'

III. If so, the passing day will have results that never pass.

Joshua's day was long enough for his work, and that work was a victory
which told on future generations. So life, short as it is, will be long
enough for all that we have to do and learn and be.

Christ's servant is immortal till his work is done.

God gives every man time enough for his salvation.

What may we bring out of life? Character, Christ-likeness, thankful
memories, union with God, capacity for heaven. The transient leaves the
abiding. The flood foams itself away, but deposits rich soil on the
plain.

IV. Thus the passing away of what must pass may become a joy.

Why should we be sad? There are reasons enough, as many sad, lonely
hearts among us know too well To some men dark thoughts of death and
judgment make the crumbling away of life too gloomy a fact to be
contemplated, but it may and should be calm joy to us that the weary
world ends and a blessed life begins. We may count the moments and see
them pass, as a bride watches the hours rolling on to her marriage
morning; not, indeed, without tremor and sadness at leaving her old
home, but yet with meek hope and gentle joy.

It is possible for men to see that life is but 'as a shadow that
declineth,' and yet to be glad. By faith in Christ, united to 'Him Who
is for ever and ever,' our souls shall 'triumph over death and thee, O
time.'

We need not cry, 'Sun! stand still!' but rather, 'Come quickly, Lord
Jesus!'

Then Time shall be 'the lackey to eternity,' and Death be the porter of
heaven's gate, and we shall pass from the land of setting suns and
waning moons and change and sorrow, to that land where 'thy sun shall
no more go down,' and 'there shall be no more time.'



UNWON BUT CLAIMED

'There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed, ... them will I
drive out from before the children of Israel; only divide thou it by
lot unto Israel for an inheritance'--Joshua xiii. 1-8.

Joshua was now a very old man and had occupied seven years in the
conquest. His work was over, and now he had only to take steps to
secure the completion by others of the triumph which he would never
see. This incident has many applications to the work of the Church in
the world, but not less important ones to individual progress, and we
consider these mainly now.

I. The clear recognition of present imperfection.

That is essential in all regions, 'Not as though'; the higher up, the
more clearly we see the summit. The ideal grows loftier, as partially
realised. The mountain seems comparatively low and easy till we begin
to climb. We should be continually driven by a sense of our
incompleteness, and drawn by the fair vision of unattained
possibilities. In all regions, to be satisfied with the attained is to
cease to grow.

This is eminently so in the Christian life, with its goal of absolute
completeness.

How blessed this dissatisfaction is! It keeps life fresh: it is the
secret of perpetual youth.

Joshua's work was incomplete, as every man's must be. We each have our
limitations, the defects of our qualities, the barriers of our
environment, the brevity of our day of toil, and we have to be content
to carry the fiery cross a little way and then to give it up to other
hands. There is only One who could say,' It is done.' Let us see that
we do our own fragment.

II. The confident reckoning on complete possession.

Joshua's conquest was very partial. He subdued part of the central
mountain nucleus, but the low-lying stretch of country on the coast,
Philistia and the maritime plain up to Tyre and Sidon and other
outlying districts, remained unsubdued. Yet the whole land was now to
be allotted out to the tribes. That allotment must have strengthened
faith in their ultimate possession, and encouraged effort to make the
ideal a reality, and to appropriate as their own in fact what was
already theirs in God's purpose. So a great part of Christian duty, and
a great secret of Christian progress, is to familiarise ourselves with
the hope of complete victory. We should acquire the habit of
contemplating as certainly meant by God to be ours, complete conformity
to Christ's character, complete appropriation of Christ's gifts. God
bade Jeremiah buy a 'field that was in Anathoth' at the time an
invading army held the land. A Roman paid down money for the ground on
which the besiegers of Rome were encamped. It does not become
Christians to be less confident of victory. But we have to take heed
that our confidence is grounded on the right foundation. God's
commandment to Joshua to allot the land, even while the formidable foes
enumerated in the context held it firmly, was based on the assurance
(verse 6): 'Them will I drive out before the children of Israel.'
Confidence based on self is presumption, and will end in defeat;
confidence based on God will brace to noble effort, which is all the
more vigorous and will surely lead to victory, because it distrusts
self.

III. The vigorous effort animated by both the preceding.

How the habit of thinking the unconquered land theirs would encourage
Israel. Efforts without hope are feeble; hope without effort is
fallacious.

Israel's history is significant. The land was never actually all
conquered. God's promises are all conditional, and if we do not work,
or if we work in any other spirit than in faith, we shall not win our
allotted part in the 'inheritance of the saints in light.' It is
possible to lose 'thy crow.' 'Work out your own salvation.' 'Trust in
the Lord and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land.'



CALEB--A GREEN OLD AGE

'And Caleb... said unto him (Joshua), Thou knowest the thing that the
Lord said unto Moses the man of God concerning me and thee in
Kadesh-barnea.'--JOSHUA xiv. 6.


Five and forty years had passed since the Lord had 'said this thing.'
It was the promise to these two, now old men, of the prolongation of
their lives, and to Caleb of his inheritance in the land. Seven years
of fighting have been got through, and the preparations are being made
for the division of the land by lot. But, before that is done, it is
fitting that Caleb, whose portion had been specially secured to him by
that old promise, should have the promise specially recognised and
endorsed by the action of the leader, and independent of the operation
of the lot. So he appears before Joshua, accompanied by the head men of
his tribe, whose presence expresses their official consent to the
exceptional treatment of their tribesman, and urges his request in a
little speech, full of pathos and beauty and unconscious portraiture of
the speaker. I take it as a picture of an ideal old age, showing in an
actual instance how happy, vigorous, full of buoyant energy and
undiminished appetite for enterprise a devout old age may be. And my
purpose now is not merely to comment on the few words of our text, but
upon the whole of what falls from the lips of Caleb here.

I. I see then here, first, a life all built upon God's promise.

Five times in the course of his short plea with Joshua does he use the
expression 'the Lord spake.' On the first occasion of the five he
unites Joshua with himself as a recipient of the promise, 'Thou knowest
the thing that the Lord said concerning me and thee.' But in the other
four he takes it all to himself; not because it concerned him only, but
because his confidence, laying hold of the promise, forgot his brother
in the earnestness of his personal appropriation of it. And so,
whatsoever general words God speaks to the world, a true believer will
make them his very own; and when Christ says, 'God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him
should not perish,' faith translates it into 'He loved me, and gave
Himself for me.' This is the first characteristic of a life built upon
the promise of God, that it lays its hand upon that promise and claims
it all for its very own.

Then notice, still further, how for all these forty-five years Caleb
had 'hid the word in his heart,' had lived upon it and thought about it
and believed it, and recognised the partial fulfilment of it, and
cherished the secret fire unknown to any besides. And now at last,
after so long an interval, he comes forward and stretches out a hand,
unweakened by the long delay, to claim the perfect fulfilment at the
end of his days. So 'the vision may tarry,' but a life based upon God's
promise has another estimate of swiftness and slowness than is current
amongst men who have only the years of earthly life to reckon by; and
that which to sense seems a long, weary delay, to faith seems but as 'a
watch in the night'. The world, which only measures time by its own
revolutions, has to lament over what seem to the sufferers long years
of pains and tears, but in the calendar of faith 'weeping endures for a
night, joy cometh in the morning.' The weary days dwindle into a point
when they are looked at with an eye that has been accustomed to gaze on
the solemn eternities of a promising and a faithful God. To it, as to
Him, 'a thousand years are as one day'; and 'one day,' in the
possibilities of divine favour and spiritual growth which it may
enfold, 'as a thousand years.' To the men who measure time as God
measures it, His help, howsoever long it may tarry, ever comes 'right
early.'

Further, note how this life, built upon faith in the divine promise,
was nourished and nurtured by instalments of fulfilment all along the
road. Two promises were given to Caleb--one, that his life should be
prolonged, and the other, that he should possess the territory into
which he had so bravely ventured. The daily fulfilment of the one fed
the fire of his faith in the ultimate accomplishment of the other, and
he gratefully recounts it now, as part of his plea with Joshua--'Now,
behold, the Lord hath kept me alive as He spake, these forty and five
years, even since the Lord spake this word unto Moses. And now, lo! I
am this day fourscore and five years old.'

Whosoever builds his life on the promise of God has in the present the
guarantee of the better future. As we are journeying onwards to that
great fountain-head of all sweetness and felicity, there are ever
trickling brooks from it by the way, at which we may refresh our
thirsty lips and invigorate our fainting strength. The present
instalment carries with it the pledge of the full discharge of the
obligation, and he whose heart and hope is fixed with a forward look on
the divine inheritance, may, as he looks backward over all the years,
see clearly in them one unbroken mass of preserving providences, and
thankfully say, 'The Lord hath kept me alive, as He spake.'

And, still further, the life that is built upon faith like this man's,
is a life of buoyant hopefulness till the very end. The hopes of age
are few and tremulous. When the feast is nearly over, and the appetite
is dulled, there is little more to be done, but to push back our chairs
and go away. But God keeps 'the good wine' until the last. And when all
earthly hopes are beginning to wear thin and to burn dim, then the
great hope of 'the mountain of the inheritance' will rise brighter and
clearer upon our horizon. It is something to have a hope so far in
front of us that we never get up to it, to find it either less than our
expectations or more than our desires; and this is not the least of the
blessednesses of the living 'hope that maketh not ashamed,' that it
lies before us till the very end, and beckons and draws us across the
gulf of darkness. 'The Lord hath kept me alive, as He said; now give me
this mountain whereof the Lord spake.'

II. Further, I see here a life that bears to be looked back at.

Caleb becomes almost garrulous in telling over the old story of that
never-to-be-forgotten day, when he and Joshua stood alone and tried to
put some heart into the cowardly mob before them. There is no mock
modesty about the man. He says that, amidst many temptations to be
untrue, he gave his report with sincerity and veracity, 'speaking as it
was in mine heart,' and then he quotes twice, with a permissible
satisfaction, the eulogium that had come upon him from the divine lips,
'I wholly followed the Lord my God.' The private soldier's cheek may
well flush and his eye glitter as he repeats over again his general's
praise. And for Caleb, half a century has not dimmed the impression
that was made on his heart when he received that praise, through the
lips of Moses, from God.

Now, of course, such a tone of speaking about one's past savours of an
earlier stage in revelation than that in which we live, and, if this
were to be taken as a man's total account of his whole life, we could
not free it from the charge of unpleasing self-complacency and
self-righteousness. But for all that, it is not the same thing in the
retrospect whether you and I have to look back upon years that have
been given to self, and the world, and passion, and pride, and
covetousness, and frivolities and trifles of all sorts, or upon years
that in the main, and regard being had to their deepest desires and
governing direction, have been given to God and to His service. Many a
man looking back upon his life--I wonder if there are any such men
listening to me now--can only see such a sight as Abraham did on that
morning when he looked down on the plain of Sodom, and 'Lo! the smoke
of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace.' Dear friends I the only
thing that makes life in the retrospect tolerable is that it shall have
been given to God, and that we can say, 'I wholly followed the Lord my
God.'

III. Again, I see here a life which has discovered the secret of
perpetual youth.

'I,' says the old man--'am as strong this day as I was in the day when
Moses sent me. As my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for
war, both to go out and to come in.' For fighting, and for all the
intercourse and manifold activities of life, his sinews are as braced,
his eyes as clear, his spirit and limbs as alert as they were in those
old days. No doubt you will say that was due to miraculous
intervention. No doubt it was; but is it not true that, in a very real
sense, a man may keep himself young all his life, if he will go the
right way to work? And the secret of perpetual youthfulness lies here,
in giving our hearts to God and in living for Him. Christianity, with
its self-restraint and its exhortations to all, and especially to the
young, to be chaste and temperate and to subdue the animal passions,
has a direct tendency to conserve physical vigour; and Christianity, by
the inspiration that it imparts, the stimulus that it gives, and the
hopes that it permits us to cherish, has a direct tendency to keep
alive in old age all the best of the characteristics of youth. Its
buoyancy, its undimmed interest, its cheeriness, its freedom from
anxiety and care--all these things are directly ministered to, and
preserved by, a life of simple faith that casts itself upon God, and
dwells securely, in joy and in restfulness, and not without a great
light of hope, even when the shadows of evening are falling.

One of the greatest and most blessed of the characteristics of youth is
the consciousness that the most of life lies before us; and to a
Christian man, in any stage of his earthly life, that consciousness is
possible. When he stands on the verge of the last sinking sandbank of
time, and the water is up to his ankles, he may well feel that the best
and the most of life is yet to be.

     'The last of life, for which the first was made:
      Our times are in His hand
      Who saith, "A whole I planned.
      Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid."'

'They shall still bring forth fruit in old age, they shall be full of
sap and green.' A gnarled old tree may be green in all its branches,
and blossom and fruit may hang together there. The ideal of life is,
that into each stage we shall carry the best of the preceding,
harmonised with the best of the new, and that is possible to a
Christian soul. The fountain of perpetual youth, of which the ancients
fabled, is no fable, but a fact; and it rises, where the prophet in his
vision saw the stream coming out, from beneath the threshold of the
Temple door.

IV. So, lastly, I see here a beautiful example of a life which to the
last is ready for danger and enterprise.

Caleb's words as to his undiminished strength were not meant for a
boast. They express thankfulness and praise, and they are put as the
ground of the request that he has to make. He gives a chivalrous reason
for his petition when he says,' Now, therefore, give me this mountain,
_for_ the Anakims (the giants) are there; and the cities great and
fenced.'

Caleb's readiness for one more fight was fed by his reliance on God's
help in it. When he says, 'It may be the Lord will be with me,' the
_perhaps_ is that of humility, not of doubt. The old warrior's eye
flashes, and his voice sounds strong and full, as he ends his words
with 'I _shall_ drive them out, as _the Lord spake_.' That has the true
ring. What were the three Anak chiefs, with their barbarous names,
Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, and their giant stature, to the onset
of a warrior faith like that? Of course, 'Caleb drove out thence the
three sons of Anak,' and Hebron became his inheritance. Nothing can
stand against us, if we seek for our portion, not where advantages are
greatest, but where difficulties and dangers are most rife, and cast
ourselves into the conflict, sure that God is with us, though humbly
wondering that we should be worthy of His all-conquering presence, and
sure, therefore, that victory marches by our sides.

Old age is generally much more disposed to talk about its past
victories than to fight new ones; to rest upon its arms, or upon its
laurels, than to undertake fresh conflicts. Now and then we see a man,
statesman or other, who, bearing the burden of threescore years and ten
lightly, is still as alert of spirit, as eager for work, as bold for
enterprise, as he was years before. And in nine cases out of ten such a
man is a Christian; and his brilliant energy of service is due, not
only, nor so much, to natural vigour of constitution as to religion,
which has preserved his vigour because it has preserved his purity, and
been to him a stimulus and an inspiration.

Danger is an attraction to the generous mind. It is the coward and the
selfish man who are always looking for an easy place, where somebody
else will do the work. This man felt that this miraculously prolonged
life of his bound him to special service, and the fact that up in
Hebron there were a fenced city and tall giants behind the battlements,
was an additional reason for picking out that bit of the field as the
place where he ought to be. Thank God, that spirit is not dead yet! It
has lived all through the Christian Church, and flamed up in times of
martyrdom. On missionary fields to-day, if one man falls two are ready
to step into his place. It is the true spirit of the Christian soldier.
'A great door and effectual is opened,' says Paul, 'and there are many
adversaries.' He knew the door was opened because the adversaries were
many. And because there were so many of them, would he run away? Some
of us would have said: 'I must abandon that work, it bristles with
difficulties; I cannot stop in that post, the bullets are whistling too
fast.' Nay! says Paul; 'I abide till Pentecost'--a good long
while--because the post is dangerous, and promises to be fruitful.

So, dear friends, if we would have lives on which we can look back,
lives in which early freshness will last beyond the 'morning dew,'
lives in which there shall come, day by day and moment by moment,
abundant foretastes to stay our hunger until we sit at Christ's table
in His kingdom, we must 'follow the Lord alway,' with no half-hearted
surrender, nor partial devotion, but give ourselves to Him utterly, to
be guided and sent where He will. And then, like Caleb, we shall be
able to say, with a 'perhaps,' not of doubt, but of wonder, that it
should be so, to us unworthy, 'It may be the Lord will be with me, arid
I shall drive them out.' In all these things 'we are more than
conquerors through Him that loved us.'



THE CITIES OF REFUGE

'The Lord also spake unto Joshua, saying, 2. Speak to the children of
Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake
unto you by the hand of Moses: 3. That the slayer that killeth any
person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be
your refuge from the avenger of blood. 4. And when he that doth flee
unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the
city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that
city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a
place, that he may dwell among them. 5. And if the avenger of blood
pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his
hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not
beforetime. 6. And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before
the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest
that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come
unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he
fled. 7. And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and
Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron, in the
mountain of Judah. 8. And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward,
they assigned Bezer in the wilderness upon the plain out of the tribe
of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in
Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh. 9. These were the cities appointed
for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth
among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee
thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he
stood before the congregation.'--JOSHUA xx. 1-9.


Our Lord has taught us that parts of the Mosaic legislation were given
because of the 'hardness' of the people's hearts. The moral and
religious condition of the recipients of revelation determines and is
taken into account in the form and contents of revelation. That is
strikingly obvious in this institution of the 'cities of refuge.' They
have no typical meaning, though they may illustrate Christian truth.
But their true significance is that they are instances of revelation
permitting, and, while permitting, checking, a custom for the abolition
of which Israel was not ready.

I. Cities of refuge were needed, because the 'avenger of blood' was
recognised as performing an imperative duty. 'Blood for blood' was the
law for the then stage of civilisation. The weaker the central
authority, the more need for supplementing it with the wild justice of
personal avenging. Neither Israel nor surrounding nations were fit for
the higher commandment of the Sermon on the Mount. 'An eye for an eye,
and a tooth for a tooth,' corresponded to their stage of progress; and
to have hurried them forward to 'I say unto you, Resist not evil,'
would only have led to weakening the restraint on evil, and would have
had no response in the hearers' consciences. It is a commonplace that
legislation which is too far ahead of public opinion is useless, except
to make hypocrites. And the divine law was shaped in accordance with
that truth. Therefore the _goel_, or kinsman-avenger of blood, was not
only permitted but enjoined by Moses.

But the evils inherent in his existence were great. Blood feuds were
handed down through generations, involving an ever-increasing number of
innocent people, and finally leading to more murders than they
prevented. But the thing could not be abolished. Therefore it was
checked by this institution. The lessons taught by it are the gracious
forbearance of God with the imperfections attaching to each stage of
His people's moral and religious progress; the uselessness of violent
changes forced on people who are not ready for them; the presence of a
temporary element in the Old Testament law and ethics.

No doubt many things in the present institutions of so-called Christian
nations and in the churches are destined to drop away, as the
principles of Christianity become more clearly discerned and more
honestly applied to social and national life. But the good shepherd
does not overdrive his flock, but, like Jacob, 'leads on softly,
according to the pace of the cattle that is before' him. We must be
content to bring the world gradually to the Christian ideal. To abolish
or to impose institutions or customs by force is useless. Revolutions
made by violence never last. To fell the upas-tree maybe very heroic,
but what is the use of doing it, if the soil is full of seeds of
others, and the climate and conditions favourable to their growth?
Change the elevation of the land, and the `flora' will change itself.
Institutions are the outcome of the whole mental and moral state of a
nation, and when that changes, and not till then, do they change. The
New Testament in its treatment of slavery and war shows us the
Christian way of destroying evils; namely, by establishing the
principles which will make them impossible. It is better to girdle the
tree and leave it to die than to fell it.

II. Another striking lesson from the cities of refuge is the now
well-worn truth that the same act, when done from different motives, is
not the same. The kinsman-avenger took no heed of the motive of the
slaying. His duty was to slay, whatever the slayer's intention had
been. The asylum of the city of refuge was open for the unintentional
homicide, and for him only, Deliberate murder had no escape thither. So
the lesson was taught that motive is of supreme importance in
determining the nature of an act. In God's sight, a deed is done when
it is determined on, and it is not done, though done, when it was not
meant by the doer. 'Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer,' and he
that killeth his brother unawares is none. We suppose ourselves to have
learned that so thoroughly that it is trivial to repeat the lesson.

What, then, of our thoughts and desires which never come to light in
acts? Do we recognise our criminality in regard to these as vividly as
we should? Do we regulate the hidden man of the heart accordingly? A
man may break all the commandments sitting in an easy-chair and doing
nothing. Von Moltke fought the Austro-Prussian war in his cabinet in
Berlin, bending over maps. The soldiers on the field were but pawns in
the dreadful game. So our battles are waged, and we are beaten or
conquerors, on the field of our inner desires and purposes. 'Keep thy
heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.'

III. The elaborately careful specification of cases which gave the
fugitive a right to shelter in the city is set forth at length in
Numbers xxxv. 15-24, and Deuteronomy xix. 4-13. The broad principle is
there laid down that the cities were open for one who slew a man
'unwittingly.' But the plea of not intending to slay was held to be
negatived, not only if intention could be otherwise shown but if the
weapon used was such as would probably kill; such, for instance, as 'an
instrument of iron,' or a stone, or a 'weapon of wood, whereby a man
may die.' If we do what is likely to have a given result, we are
responsible for that result, should it come about, even though we did
not consciously seek to bring it. That is plain common sense. 'I never
thought the house would catch fire' is no defence from the guilt of
burning it down, if we fired a revolver into a powder barrel. Further,
if the fatal blow was struck in 'hatred,' or if the slayer had lain in
ambush to catch his victim, he was not allowed shelter. These careful
definitions freed the cities from becoming nests of desperate
criminals, as the 'sanctuaries' of the Middle Ages in Europe became.
They were not harbours for the guilty, but asylums for the innocent.

IV. The procedure by which the fugitive secured protection is described
at length in the passages cited, with which the briefer account here
should be compared. It is not quite free from obscurity, but probably
the process was as follows. Suppose the poor hunted man arrived panting
at the limits of the city, perhaps with the avenger's sword within half
a foot of his neck; he was safe for the time. But before he could enter
the city, a preliminary inquiry was held 'at the gate' by the city
elders. That could only be of a rough-and-ready kind; most frequently
there would be no evidence available but the man's own word. It,
however, secured _interim_ protection. A fuller investigation followed,
and, as would appear, was held in another place,--perhaps at the scene
of the accident. 'The congregation' was the judge in this second
examination, where the whole facts would be fully gone into, probably
in the presence of the avenger. If the plea of non-intention was
sustained, the fugitive was 'restored to his city of refuge,' and there
remained safely till the death of the high-priest, when he was at
liberty to return to his home, and to stay there without fear.

Attempts have been made to find a spiritual significance in this last
provision of the law, and to make out a lame parallel between the death
of the high-priest, which cancelled the crime of the fugitive, and the
death of Christ, which takes away our sins. But--to say nothing of the
fact that the fugitive was where he was just because he had done no
crime--the parallel breaks down at other points. It is more probable
that the death of one high-priest and the accession of another were
regarded simply as closing one epoch and beginning another, just as a
king's accession is often attended with an amnesty. It was natural to
begin a new era with a clean sheet, as it were.

V. The selection of the cities brings out a difference between the
Jewish right of asylum and the somewhat similar right in heathen and
mediaeval times. The temples or churches were usually the sanctuaries
in these. But not the Tabernacle or Temple, but the priestly cities,
were chosen here. Their inhabitants represented God to Israel, and as
such were the fit persons to cast a shield over the fugitives; while
yet their cities were less sacred than the Temple, and in them the
innocent man-slayer could live for long years. The sanctity of the
Temple was preserved intact, the necessary provision for possibly
protracted stay was made, evils attendant on the use of the place of
worship as a refuge were avoided.

Another reason--namely, accessibility swiftly from all parts of the
land--dictated the choice of the cities, and also their number and
locality. There were three on each side of Jordan, though the
population was scantier on the east than on the west side, for the
extent of country was about the same. They stood, roughly speaking,
opposite each other,--Kedesh and Golan in the north, Shechem and Ramoth
central, Hebron and Bezer in the south. So, wherever a fugitive was, he
had no long distance between himself and safety.

We too have a 'strong city' to which we may 'continually resort.' The
Israelite had right to enter only if his act had been inadvertent, but
we have the right to hide ourselves in Christ just because we have
sinned wilfully. The hurried, eager flight of the man who heard the
tread of the avenger behind him, and dreaded every moment to be struck
to the heart by his sword, may well set forth what should be the
earnestness of our flight to 'lay hold on the hope set before us in the
gospel.' His safety, as soon as he was within the gate, and could turn
round and look calmly at the pursuer shaking his useless spear and
grinding his teeth in disappointment, is but a feeble shadow of the
security of those who rest in Christ's love, and are sheltered by His
work for sinners. 'I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never
perish, and no one shall pluck them out of My hand.'



THE END OF THE WAR

'And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto
their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. 44. And the
Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that He sware unto
their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before
them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. 45. There
failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the
house of Israel; all came to pass.

'Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe
of Manasseh, 2. And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses, the
servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that
I commanded you: 3. Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto
this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your
God. 4. And now the Lord your God hath given rest unto your brethren,
as He promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your
tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of
the Lord gave you on the other side Jordan. 5. But take diligent heed
to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord
charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all His ways,
and to keep His commandments, and to cleave unto Him, and to serve Him
with all your heart, and with all your soul. 6. So Joshua blessed them,
and sent them away: and they went unto their tents. 7. Now to the one
half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but
unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this
side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their
tents, then he blessed them, 8. And he spake unto them, saying, Return
with much riches unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with
silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very
much raiment: divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren. 9.
And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe
of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of
Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of
Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed,
according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.'--JOSHUA xxi.
43-45; xxii. 1-9.


'The old order changeth, giving place to new.' In this passage we have
the breaking up of the congregation and the disbanding of the
victorious army. The seven years of fighting had come to an end. The
swords were to be 'beaten into plowshares,' and the comrades who had
marched shoulder to shoulder, and shared the fierce excitement of many
a bloody field, were to be scattered, each becoming a peaceful farmer
or shepherd. A picturesque historian, of the modern 'special
correspondent' sort, would have overlaid the narrative with sentiment
and description; but how quietly the writer tells it, so that we have
to bethink ourselves before we apprehend that we are reading the
account of an epoch-making event! He fixes attention on two
things,--the complete fulfilment of God's promises (xxi. 43-45) and the
dismissal to their homes of the contingent from the trans-Jordanic
tribes, whose departure was the signal that the war was ended (xxii.
1-8). We may consider the lessons from these two separately.

I. The triumphant record of God's faithfulness (xxi. 43-45). These
three verses are the trophy reared on the battlefield, like the lion of
Marathon, which the Greeks set on its sacred soil. But the only name
inscribed on this monument is Jehovah's. Other memorials of victories
have borne the pompous titles of commanders who arrogated the glory to
themselves; but the Bible knows of only one conqueror, and that is God.
'The help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself.' The military
genius and heroic constancy of Joshua, the eagerness for perilous
honour that flamed, undimmed by age, in Caleb, the daring and strong
arms of many a humble private in the ranks, have their due recognition
and reward; but when the history that tells of these comes to sum up
the whole, and to put the 'philosophy' of the conquest into a sentence,
it has only one name to speak as cause of Israel's victory.

That is the true point of view from which to look at the history of the
world and of the church in the world. The difference between the
'miraculous' conquest of Canaan and the 'ordinary' facts of history is
not that God did the one and men do the other; both are equally, though
in different methods, His acts. In the field of human affairs, as in
the realm of nature, God is immanent, though in the former His working
is complicated by the mysterious power of man's will to set itself in
antagonism to His; while yet, in manner insoluble to us, His will is
supreme. The very powers which are arrayed against Him are His gift,
and the issues which they finally subserve are His appointment. It does
not need that we should be able to pierce to the bottom of the
bottomless in order to attain and hold fast by the great conviction
that 'there is no power but of God,' and that 'from Him are all things,
and to Him are all things.'

Especially does this trophy on the battlefield teach a needful lesson
to us in the Christian warfare. We are ever apt to think too much of
our visible weapons and leaders, and to forget our unseen and
ever-present Commander, from whom comes all our power. We 'burn incense
to our own net, and sacrifice to our own drag,' and, like the heathen
conqueror of whom Habakkuk speaks, make our swords our gods (Hab. i.
11, 16). The Church has always been prone to hero-worship, and to the
idolatry of its organisation, its methods, or its theology. Augustine
did so and so; Luther smote the 'whited wall' (the Pope) a blow that
made him reel; the Pilgrim Fathers carried a slip of the plant of
religious liberty in a tiny pot across the Atlantic, and watered it
with tears till it has grown a great tree; the Wesleys revived a formal
Church,--let us sing hallelujahs to these great names! By all means;
but do not let us forget whence they drew their power; and let us
listen to Paul's question, 'Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but
servants through whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?'

And let us carve, deep-cut and indelible, in solitary conspicuousness,
on the trophy that we rear on each well-fought field, the name of no
man save 'Jesus only.' We read that on a pyramid in Egypt the name and
sounding titles of the king in whose reign it was erected were blazoned
on the plaster facing, but beneath that transitory inscription the name
of the architect was hewn, imperishable, in the granite, and stood out
when the plaster dropped away. So, when all the short-lived records
which ascribe the events of the Church's progress to her great men have
perished, the one name of the true builder will shine out, and 'at the
name of Jesus every knee shall bow.' Let us not rely on our own skill,
courage, talents, orthodoxy, or methods, nor try to 'build tabernacles'
for the witnessing servants beside the central one for the supreme
Lord, but ever seek to deepen our conviction that Christ, and Christ
only, gives all their powers to all, and that to Him, and Him only, is
all victory to be ascribed. That is an elementary and simple truth; but
if we really lived in its power we should go into the battle with more
confidence, and come out of it with less self-gratulation.

We may note, too, in these verses, the threefold repetition of one
thought, that of God's punctual and perfect fulfilment of His word. He
'gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give'; 'He gave them
rest, ... according to all that He sware'; 'there failed not aught of
any good thing which the Lord had spoken.' It is the joy of thankful
hearts to compare the promise with the reality, to lay the one upon the
other, as it were, and to declare how precisely their outlines
correspond. The finished building is exactly according to the plans
drawn long before. God gives us the power of checking His work, and we
are unworthy to receive His gifts if we do not take delight in marking
and proclaiming how completely He has fulfilled His contract. It is no
small part of Christian duty, and a still greater part of Christian
blessedness, to do this. Many a fulfilment passes unnoticed, and many a
joy, which might be sacred and sweet as a token of love from His own
hand, remains common and unhallowed, because we fail to see that it is
a fulfilled promise. The eye that is trained to watch for God's being
as good as His word will never have long to wait for proofs that He is
so. 'Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even he shall
understand the loving kindness of the Lord.' And to such a one faith
will become easier, being sustained by experience; and a present thus
manifestly studded with indications of God's faithfulness will merge
into a future still fuller of these. For it does not need that we
should wait for the end of the war to have many a token that His every
word is true. The struggling soldier can say, 'No good thing has failed
of all that the Lord has spoken.' We look, indeed, for completer
fulfilment when the fighting is done; but there are 'brooks by the way'
for the warriors in the thick of the fight, of which they drink, and,
refreshed, 'lift up the head.' We need not postpone this glad
acknowledgment till we can look back and down from the land of peace on
the completed campaign, but may rear this trophy on many a field,
whilst still we look for another conflict to-morrow.

II. The disbanding of the contingent from the tribes across Jordan
(xxii. 1-8). Forty thousand fighting men, of the tribes of Reuben, Gad,
and the half of Manasseh, had willingly helped in the conquest, leaving
their own newly-won homes on the eastern side of Jordan, and for seven
long years taking their share in the hardships and dangers of their
brethren. It was no small tax which they had thus cheerfully paid for
the sake of brotherly unity. Their aid had not only been valuable as
strengthening Joshua's force, but still more so as a witness of the
unbroken oneness of the nation, and of the sympathy which the tribes
already settled bore to the others. Politically, it was wise to
associate the whole people in the whole conquest; for nothing welds a
nation together like the glories of common victories and the
remembrance of common dangers survived. The separation of the
trans-Jordanic tribes by the rapid river, and by their pastoral life,
was a possible source of weakness, and would, no doubt, have led to
more complete severance, if it had not been for the uniting power of
the campaign. If the forty thousand had been quietly feeding sheep on
the uplands while their brethren were fighting among the stony hills of
Canaan, a great gulf would have opened between them. Even as it was,
the eastern tribes drifted somewhat away from the western; but the
disintegration would have been still more complete if no memories of
the war, when all Israel stood side by side, had lived on among them.
Their share in the conquest was not only a piece of policy,--it was the
natural expression of the national brotherhood. Even I Joshua had not
ordered their presence, it would have been impossible for them to stop
in their peacefulness and let their brethren bear the brunt of battle.

The law for us is the same as for these warriors. In the family, the
city, the nation, the Church, and the world, union with others binds us
to help them in their conflicts, and that especially if we are blessed
with secure possessions, while they have to struggle for theirs. We are
tempted to selfish lives of indulgence in our quiet peace, and
sometimes think it hard that we should be expected to buckle on our
armour, and leave our leisurely repose, because our brethren ask the
help of our arms. If we did as Reuben and Gad did, would there be so
many rich men who never stir a finger to relieve poverty, so many
Christians whose religion is much more selfish than beneficent? Would
so many souls be left to toil without help, to struggle without allies,
to weep without comforters, to wander in the dark without a guide? All
God's gifts in providence and in the Gospel are given that we may have
somewhat wherewith to bless our less happy brethren. 'The service of
man' is not the substitute for, but the expression of, Christianity.
Are we not kept here, on this side Jordan, away for a time from our
inheritance, for the very same reason that these men were separated
from theirs,--that we may strike some strokes for God and our fellows
in the great war? Dives, who lolls on his soft cushions, and has less
pity for Lazarus than the dogs have, is Cain come to life again; and
every Christian is either his brother's keeper or his murderer. Would
that the Church of to-day, with infinitely deeper and sacreder ties
knitting it to suffering, struggling humanity, had a tithe of the
willing relinquishment of legitimate possessions and patient
participation in the long campaign for God which kept these rude
soldiers faithful to their flag and forgetful of home and ease, till
their general gave them their discharge!

Note the commander's parting charge. They were about to depart for a
life of comparative separation from the mass of the nation. Their
remoteness and their occupations drew them away from the current of the
national life, and gave them a kind of quasi-independence. They would
necessarily be less directly under Joshua's control than the other
tribes were. He sends them away with one commandment, the Imperative
stringency of which is expressed by the accumulation of expressions in
verse 5. They are to give diligent heed to the law of Moses. Their
obedience is to be based on love to God, who is their God no less than
the God of the other tribes. It is to be comprehensive--they are 'to
walk in all His ways'; it is to be resolute--they are 'to cleave to
Him'; it is to be wholehearted and whole-souled service, that will be
the true bond between the separated parts of the whole. Independence so
limited will be harmless; and, however wide apart their paths may lie,
Israel will be one. In like manner the bond that knits all divisions of
God's people together, however different their modes of life and
thought, however unlike their homes and their work, is the similarity
of relation to God. They are one in a common faith, a common love, a
common obedience. Wider waters than Jordan part them. Graver
differences of tasks and outlooks than separated these two sections of
Israel part them. But all are one who love and obey the one Lord. The
closer we cleave to Him, the nearer we shall be to all His tribes.

We need only note in a word how these departing soldiers, leaving the
battlefield with their commander's praise and benediction, laden with
much wealth, the spoil of their enemies, and fording the stream to
reach the peaceful homes, which had long stood ready for them, may be
taken, by a permissible play of fancy, as symbols of the faithful
servants and soldiers of the true Joshua, at the end of their long
warfare passing to the 'kingdom prepared for them before the foundation
of the world,' bearing in their hands the wealth which, by God's grace,
they had conquered from out of things here. _They_ are not sent away by
their Commander, but summoned by Him to the great peace of His own
presence; and while His lips give them the praise which is praise
indeed, they inscribe on the perpetual memorial which they rear no name
but His, who first wrought all their works in them, and now has
ordained eternal peace for them.



THE NATIONAL OATH AT SHECHEM

'And Joshua said unto the people. Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is
an holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your
transgressions nor your sins. 20. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve
strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after
that He hath done you good. 21. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay;
but we will serve the Lord. 22. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are
witnesses against yourselves, that ye have chosen you the Lord, to
serve Him. And they said, We are witnesses. 23. Now therefore put away,
said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart
unto the Lord God of Israel. 24. And the people said unto Joshua, The
Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey. 25. So Joshua
made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an
ordinance in Shechem. 26. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of
the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an
oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27. And Joshua said unto
all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it
hath heard all the words of the Lord which He spake unto us: it shall
be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God. 28. So Joshua
let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.'-JOSHUA xxiv.
19-28.


We reach in this passage the close of an epoch. It narrates the last
public act of Joshua and the last of the assembled people before they
scatter 'every man unto his inheritance.' It was fitting that the
transition from the nomad stage to that of settled abode in the land
should be marked by the solemn renewal of the covenant, which is thus
declared to be the willingly accepted law for the future national life.
We have here the closing scene of that solemn assembly set before us.

The narrative carries us to Shechem, the lovely valley in the heart of
the land, already consecrated by many patriarchal associations, and by
that picturesque scene (Joshua viii. 30-35), when the gathered nation,
ranged on the slopes of Ebal and Gerizim, listened to Joshua reading
'all that Moses commanded.' There, too, the coffin of Joseph, which had
been reverently carried all through the desert and the war, was laid in
the ground that Jacob had bought five hundred years ago, and which now
had fallen to Joseph's descendants, the tribe of Ephraim. There was
another reason for the selection of Shechem for this renewal of the
covenant. The gathered representatives of Israel stood, at Shechem, on
the very soil where, long ago, Abram had made his first resting-place
as a stranger in the land, and had received the first divine pledge,
'unto thy seed will I give this land,' and had piled beneath the oak of
Moreh his first altar (of which the weathered stones might still be
there) to 'the Lord, who appeared unto him.' It was fitting that this
cradle of the nation should witness their vow, as it witnessed the
fulfilment of God's promise. What Plymouth Rock is to one side of the
Atlantic, or Hastings Field to the other, Shechem was to Israel. Vows
sworn there had sanctity added by the place. Nor did these remembrances
exhaust the appropriateness of the site. The oak, which had waved green
above Abram's altar, had looked down on another significant incident in
the life of Jacob, when, in preparation for his journey to Bethel, he
had made a clean sweep of the idols of his household, and buried them
'under the oak which was by Shechem' (Gen. xxxv. 2-4). His very words
are quoted by Joshua in his command, in verse 23, and it is impossible
to overlook the intention to parallel the two events. The spot which
had seen the earlier act of purification from idolatry was for that
very reason chosen for the later. It is possible that the same tree at
whose roots the idols from beyond the river, which Leah and Rachel had
brought, had been buried, was that under which Joshua set up his
memorial stone; and it is possible that the very stone had been part of
Abram's altar. But, in any case, the place was sacred by these past
manifestations of God and devotions of the fathers, so that we need not
wonder that Joshua selected it rather than Shiloh, where the ark was,
for the scene of this national oath of obedience. Patriotism and
devotion would both burn brighter in such an atmosphere. These
considerations explain also the designation of the place as 'the
sanctuary of the Lord,'--a phrase which has led some to think of the
Tabernacle, and apparently occasioned the Septuagint reading of
'Shiloh' instead of 'Shechem' in verses 1 and 25. The precise rendering
of the preposition in verse 26 (which the Revised Version has put in
the margin) shows that the Tabernacle is not meant; for how could the
oak-tree be 'in' the Tabernacle? Clearly, the open space, hallowed by
so many remembrances, and by the appearance to Abram, was regarded as a
sanctuary.

The earlier part of this chapter shows that the people, by their
representatives, responded with alacrity--which to Joshua seemed too
eager--to his charge, and enumerated with too facile tongues God's
deliverances and benefits. His ear must have caught some tones of
levity, if not of insincerity, in the lightly-made vow. So he meets it
with a douche of cold water in verses 19, 20, because he wishes to
condense vaporous resolutions into something more tangible and
permanent. Cold, judiciously applied, solidifies. Discouragements,
rightly put, encourage. The best way to deepen and confirm good
resolutions which have been too swiftly and inconsiderately formed, is
to state very plainly all the difficulty of keeping them. The hand that
seems to repel, often most powerfully attracts. There is no better way
of turning a somewhat careless 'we will' into a persistent 'nay, but we
_will_' than to interpose a 'ye cannot.' Many a boy has been made a
sailor by the stories of hardships which his parents have meant as
dissuasives. Joshua here is doing exactly what Jesus Christ often did.
He refused glib vows because He desired whole hearts. His very longing
that men should follow Him made Him send them back to bethink
themselves when they promised to do it. 'Master, I will follow Thee
whithersoever Thou goest!' was answered by no recognition of the
speaker's enthusiasm, and by no word of pleasure or invitation, but by
the apparently cold repulse: 'Foxes have holes, birds of the air
roosting-places; but the Son of Man has not where to lay His head. That
is what you are offering to share. Do you stand to your words?' So,
when once 'great multitudes' came to Him He turned on them, with no
invitation in His words, and told them the hard conditions of
discipleship as being entire self-renunciation. He will have no
soldiers enlisted under false pretences. They shall know the full
difficulties and trials which they must meet; and if, knowing these,
they still are willing to take His yoke upon them, then how exuberant
and warm the welcome which He gives!

There is a real danger that this side of the evangelist's work should
be overlooked in the earnestness with which the other side is done. We
cannot be too emphatic in our reiteration of Christ's call to all the
'weary and heavy-laden' to come unto Him, nor too confident in our
assurance that whosoever comes will not be 'cast out'; but we may be,
and, I fear, often are, defective in our repetition of Christ's demand
for entire surrender, and of His warning to intending disciples of what
they are taking upon them. We shall repel no true seeker by duly
emphasising the difficulties of the Christian course. Perhaps, if there
were more plain speaking about these at the beginning, there would be
fewer backsliders and dead professors with 'a name to live.' Christ ran
the risk of the rich ruler's going away sorrowful, and so should His
messengers do. The sorrow tells of real desire, and the departure will
sooner or later be exchanged for return with a deeper and more thorough
purpose, if the earlier wish had any substance in it. If it had not,
better that the consciousness of its hollowness should be forced upon
the man, than that he should outwardly become what he is not really,--a
Christian; for, in the one case, he may be led to reflection which may
issue in thorough surrender; and in the other he will be a
self-deceived deceiver, and probably an apostate.

Note the special form of Joshua's warning. It turns mainly on two
points,--the extent of the obligations which they were so lightly
incurring, and the heavy penalties of their infraction. As to the
former, the vow to 'serve the Lord' had been made, as he fears, with
small consideration of what it meant. In heathenism, the 'service' of a
god is a mere matter of outward acts of so-called worship. There is
absolutely no connection between religion and morality in idolatrous
systems. The notion that the service of a god implies any duties in
common life beyond ceremonial ones is wholly foreign to paganism in all
its forms. The establishment of the opposite idea is wholly the
consequence of revelation. So we need not wonder if the pagan
conception of service was here in the minds of the vowing assembly. If
we look at their vow, as recorded in verses 16-18, we see nothing in it
which necessarily implies a loftier idea. Jehovah is their national
God, who has fought and conquered for them, therefore they will 'serve
Him.' If we substitute Baal, or Chemosh, or Nebo, or Ra, for Jehovah,
this is exactly what we read on Moabite stones and Assyrian tablets and
Egyptian tombs. The reasons for the service, and the service itself,
are both suspiciously external. We are not judging the people more
harshly than Joshua did; for he clearly was not satisfied with them,
and the tone of his answer sufficiently shows what he thought wrong in
them. Observe that he does not call Jehovah 'your God.' He does so
afterwards; but in this grave reply to their exuberant enthusiasm he
speaks of Him only as 'the Lord,' as if he would put stress on the
monotheistic conception, which, at all events, does not appear in the
people's words, and was probably dim in their thoughts. Then observe
that he broadly asserts the impossibility of their serving the Lord;
that is, of course, so long as they continued in their then tone of
feeling about Him and His service.

Then observe the points in the character of God on which he dwells, as
indicating the points which were left out of view by the people, and as
fitted to rectify their notions of service. First, 'He is an holy God.'
The scriptural idea of the holiness of God has a wider sweep than we
often recognise. It fundamentally means His supreme and inaccessible
elevation above the creature; which, of course, is manifested in His
perfect separation from all sin, but has not regard to this only.
Joshua here urges the infinite distance between man and God, and
especially the infinite moral distance, in order to enforce a
profounder conception of what goes to God's service. A holy God cannot
have unholy worshippers. His service can be no mere ceremonial, but
must be the bowing of the whole man before His majesty, the aspiration
of the whole man after His loftiness, the transformation of the whole
man into the reflection of His purity, the approach of the unholy to
the Holy through a sacrifice which puts away sin.

Further, He is 'a jealous God.' 'Jealous' is an ugly word, with
repulsive associations, and its application to God has sometimes been
explained in ugly fashion, and has actually repelled men. But, rightly
looked at, what does it mean but that God desires our whole hearts for
His own, and loves us so much, and is so desirous to pour His love into
us, that He will have no rivals in our love? The metaphor of marriage,
which puts His love to men in the tenderest form, underlies this word,
so harsh on the surface, but so gracious at the core.

There is still abundant need for Joshua's warning. We rejoice that it
takes so little to be a Christian that the feeblest and simplest act of
faith knits the soul to the all-forgiving Christ. But let us not forget
that, on the other hand, it is hard to be a Christian indeed; for it
means 'forsaking all that we have,' and loving God with all our powers.
The measure of His love is the measure of His 'jealousy,' and He loves
us no less than He did Israel. Unless our conceptions of His service
are based upon our recognition of His holiness and demand for our all,
we, too, 'cannot serve the Lord.'

The other half of Joshua's warnings refers to the penalties of the
broken vows. These are put with extraordinary force. The declaration
that the sins of the servants of God would not be forgiven is not, of
course, to be taken so as to contradict the whole teaching of
Scripture, but as meaning that the sins of His people cannot be left
unpunished. The closer relation between God and them made retribution
certain. The law of Israel's existence, which its history ever since
has exemplified, was here laid down, that their prosperity depended on
their allegiance, and that their nearness to Him ensured His
chastisement for their sin. 'You only have I known of all the families
of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.'

The remainder of the incident must be briefly disposed of. These
warnings produced the desired effect; for Joshua did not seek to
prevent, but to make more intelligent and firm, the people's
allegiance. The resolve, repeated after fuller knowledge, is the best
reward, as it is the earnest hope, of the faithful teacher, whose
apparent discouragements are meant to purify and deepen, not to
repress, the faintest wish to serve God. Having tested their sincerity,
he calls them to witness that their resolution is perfectly voluntary;
and, on their endorsing it as their free choice, he requires the
putting away of their 'strange gods,' and the surrender of their inward
selves to Him who, by this their action as well as by His benefits,
becomes in truth 'the God of Israel.' Attempts have been made to evade
the implication that idolatry had crept in among the people; but there
can be no doubt of the plain, sad meaning of the words. They are a
quotation of Jacob's, at the same spot, on a similar occasion centuries
before. If there were no idols buried now under the old oak, it was not
because there were none in Israel, but because they had not been
brought by the people from their homes. Joshua's commands are the
practical outcome of his previous words. If God be 'holy' and
'jealous,' serving Him must demand the forsaking of all other gods, and
the surrender of heart and self to Him. That is as true to-day as ever
it was. The people accept the stringent requirement, and their repeated
shout of obedience has a deeper tone than their first hasty utterance
had. They have learned what service means,--that it includes more than
ceremonies; and they are willing to obey His voice. Blessed those for
whom the plain disclosure of all that they must give up to follow Him,
only leads to the more assured and hearty response of willing surrender!

The simple but impressive ceremony which ratified the covenant thus
renewed consisted of two parts,--the writing of the account of the
transaction in 'the book of the law'; and the erection of a great
stone, whose grey strength stood beneath the green oak, a silent
witness that Israel, by his own choice, after full knowledge of all
that the vow meant, had reiterated his vow to be the Lord's. Thus on
the spot made sacred by so many ancient memories, the people ended
their wandering and homeless life, and passed into the possession of
the inheritance, through the portal of this fresh acceptance of the
covenant, proclaiming thereby that they held the land on condition of
serving God, and writing their own sentence in case of unfaithfulness.
It was the last act of the assembled people, and the crown and close of
Joshua's career.



THE BOOK OF JUDGES



A SUMMARY OF ISRAEL'S FAITHLESSNESS AND GOD'S PATIENCE

'And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I
made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land
which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my
covenant with you. 2. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants
of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed
my voice: why have ye done this? 3. Wherefore I also said, I will not
drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your
sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. 4. And it came to
pass, when the angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the
children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept. 5.
And they called the name of that place Bochim: and they sacrificed
there unto the Lord. 6. And when Joshua had let the people go, the
children of Israel went every man unto his inheritance to possess the
land. 7. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all
the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great
works of the Lord that He did for Israel. 8. And Joshua the son of Nun,
the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. 9.
And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-heres,
in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. 10. And
also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there
arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet
the works which He had done for Israel.'--JUDGES II. 1-10.


The Book of Judges begins a new era, the development of the nation in
its land. Chapters i. to iii. 6 contain two summaries: first, of the
progress of the conquest; and second, of the history about to be
unfolded in the book. The first part of this passage (verses 1-5)
belongs to the former, and closes it; the second (verses 6-10)
introduces the latter, and contrasts it with the state of things
prevailing as long as the soldiers of Joshua lived.

I. 'The Angel of the Lord' had appeared to Joshua in Gilgal at the
beginning of the war, and issued his orders as 'Captain of the Lord's
host.' Now He reappears to ask why his orders had not been carried out,
and to announce that victory was no longer to attend Israel's arms.
Nothing can be plainer than that the Angel speaks as one in whom the
divine name dwells. His reiterated 'I's' are incomprehensible on any
other hypothesis than that He is that mysterious person, distinct from
and yet one with Jehovah, whom we know as the 'Word made flesh.' His
words here are stern. He enumerates the favours which He had showed to
Israel, and which should have inspired them to glad obedience. He
recalls the conditions on which they had received the land; namely,
that they were to enter into no entangling alliances with the remnant
of the inhabitants, and especially to have no tolerance for their
idolatry. Here we may observe that, according to Joshua's last charge,
the extermination of the native peoples was not contemplated, but that
there should be no such alliances as would peril Israel's observance of
the covenant (Joshua xxiii. 7, 12). He charges them with disobedience,
and asks the same question as had been asked of Eve, 'What is this ye
have done?' And He declares the punishment about to follow, in the
paralysing of Israel's conquering arm by the withdrawal of His
conquering might, and in the seductions from the native inhabitants to
which they would fall victims.

Note, then, how God's benefits aggravate our disobedience, and how He
bases His right to command on them. Further, note how His promises are
contingent on our fulfilment of their conditions, and how a covenant
which He has sworn that He will never break He does count as
non-existent when men break it. Again, observe the sharp arraignment of
the faithless, and the forcing of them to bethink themselves of the
true character of their deeds, or, if we adopt the Revised Version's
rendering, of the unreasonableness of departing from God. No man dare
answer when God asks, 'What hast thou done?' No man can answer
reasonably when He asks, 'Why hast thou done it?' Once more, note that
His servants sin when they allow themselves to be so mixed up with the
world that they are in peril of learning its ways and getting a snare
to their souls. We have all unconquered 'Canaanites' in our hearts, and
amity with them is supreme folly and crying wickedness. 'Thorough' must
be our motto. Many times have the conquered overcome their conquerors,
as in Rome's conquest of Greece, the Goths' conquest of Rome, the
Normans' conquest of England. Israel was in some respects conquered by
Canaanites and other conquered tribes. Let us take care that we are not
overcome by our inward foes, whom we fancy we have subdued and can
afford to treat leniently.

Again, God punishes our making truce with our spiritual foes by letting
the effects of the truce work themselves out. He said to Israel, in
effect: 'If you make alliances with the people of the land, you shall
no longer have power to cast them out. The swift rush of the stream of
victory shall be stayed. You have chosen to make them your friends, and
their friendship shall produce its natural effects, of tempting you to
imitation.' The increased power of our unsubdued evils is the
punishment, as it is the result, of tolerance of them. We wanted to
keep them, and dreamed that we could control them. Keep them we shall,
control them we cannot. They will master us if we do not expel them. No
wonder that the place was named Bochim ('Weepers'), when such stern
words were thundered forth. Tears flow easily; and many a sin is wept
for once, and afterwards repeated often. So it was with Israel, as the
narrative goes on to tell. Let us take the warning, and give heed to
make repentance deep and lasting.

II. Verses 6-10 go back to an earlier period than the appearance of the
Angel. We do not know how long the survivors of the conquering army
lived in sufficient numbers to leaven opinion and practice. We may,
however, roughly calculate that the youngest of these would be about
twenty when the war began, and that about fifty years would see the end
of the host that had crossed Jordan and stormed Jericho. If Joshua was
of about the same age as Caleb, he would be about eighty at the
beginning of the conquest, and lived thirty years afterwards, so that
about twenty years after his death would be the limit of 'the elders
that outlived Joshua.'

Verses 6-9 substantially repeat Joshua xxiv. 28-31, and are here
inserted to mark not only the connection with the former book, but to
indicate the beginning of a new epoch. The facts narrated in this
paragraph are but too sadly in accord with the uniform tendencies of
our poor weak nature. As long as some strong personality leads a nation
or a church, it keeps true to its early fervour. The first generation
which has lived through some great epoch, when God's arm has been made
bare, retains the impression of His power. But when the leader falls,
it is like withdrawing a magnet, and the heap of iron filings tumbles
back to the ground inert. Think of the post-Apostolic age of the
Church, of Germany in the generation after Luther, not to come nearer
home, and we must see that Israel's experience was an all but universal
one. It is hard to keep a community even of professing Christians on
the high level. No great cause is ever launched which does not lose
'way' as it continues. 'Having begun in the Spirit,' all such are too
apt to continue 'in the flesh.' The original impulses wane, friction
begins to tell. Custom clogs the wheels. The fiery lava-stream cools
and slackens. So it always has been. Therefore God has to change His
instruments, and churches need to be shaken up, and sometimes broken
up, 'lest one good,' when it has degenerated into 'custom,' should
'corrupt the world.'

But we shall miss the lesson here taught if we do not apply it to
tendencies in ourselves, and humbly recognise that we are in danger of
being 'hindered,' however 'well' we may have begun to 'run,' and that
our only remedy is to renew continually our first-hand vision of 'the
great works of the Lord,' and our consecration to His service. It is a
poor affair if, like Israel, our devotion to God depends on Joshua's
life, or, like King Joash, we do that which is 'right in the eyes of
the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.'



ISRAEL'S OBSTINACY AND GOD'S PATIENCE

'And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and
served Baalim; 12. And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers,
which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods,
of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed
themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger. 13. And they
forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. 14. And the anger of
the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands
of spoilers that spoiled them, and He sold them into the hands of their
enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before
their enemies. 15. Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the Lord
was against them for evil, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had
sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed. 16. Nevertheless the
Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those
that spoiled them. 17. And yet they would not hearken unto their
judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves
unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers
walked in, obeying the commandments of the Lord; but they did not so.
18. And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the
judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days
of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings, by
reason of them that oppressed them, and vexed them. 19. And it came to
pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted
themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve
them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings,
nor from their stubborn way. 20. And the anger of the Lord was hot
against Israel; and He said, Because that this people hath transgressed
My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened
unto My voice; 21. I also will not henceforth drive out any from before
them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: 22. That through
them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord, to
walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not. 23. Therefore the
Lord left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither
delivered He them into the hand of Joshua.'--JUDGES ii. 11-23.


This passage sums up the Book of Judges, and also the history of Israel
for over four hundred years. Like the overture of an oratorio, it
sounds the main themes of the story which follows. That story has four
chapters, repeated with dreary monotony over and over again. They are:
Relapse into idolatry, retribution, respite and deliverance, and brief
return to God. The last of these phases soon passes into fresh relapse,
and then the old round is gone all over again, as regularly as the
white and red lights and the darkness reappear in a revolving
lighthouse lantern, or the figures recur in a circulating decimal
fraction. That sad phrase which begins this lesson, 'The children of
Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord,' is repeated at the beginning
of each new record of apostacy, on which duly follow, as outlined here,
the oppression by the enemy, the raising up of a deliverer, the gleam
of brightness which dies with him, and then, _da capo_, 'the children
of Israel did evil,' and all the rest as before. The names change, but
the incidents are the same. There is something extremely impressive in
this uniformity of the plan of the book, which thus sets in so strong
light the persistence through generations of the same bad strain in the
nation's blood, and the unwearying patience of God. The story of these
successive recurrences of the same sequence of events occupies the book
to the end of chapter xvi., and the remainder of it is taken up with
two wild stories deeply stained with the lawlessness and moral laxity
of these anarchic times. We may best bring out the force of this
summary by considering in their order the four stages signalised.

I. The first is the continual tendency to relapse into idolatry. The
fact itself, and the frank prominence given to it in the Old Testament,
are both remarkable. As to the latter, certainly, if the Old Testament
histories have the same origin as the chronicles of other nations, they
present most anomalous features. Where do we find any other people
whose annals contain nothing that can minister to national vanity, and
have for one of their chief themes the sins of the nation? The history
of Israel, as told in Scripture, is one long indictment of Israel. The
peculiarity is explicable, if we believe that, whoever or how numerous
soever its authors, God was its true Author, as He is its true theme,
and that the object of its histories is not to tell the deeds of
Israel, but those of God for Israel.

As to the fact of the continual relapses into idolatry, nothing could
be more natural than that the recently received and but imperfectly
assimilated revelation of the one God, with its stringent requirements
of purity, and its severe prohibition of idols, should easily slip off
from these rude and merely outward worshippers. Joshua's death without
a successor, the dispersion of the tribes, the difficulty of
communication when much of the country was still in the hands of its
former possessors, would all weaken the sense of unity, which was too
recent to be firm, and would expose the isolated Israelites to the full
force of the temptation to idolatry. It is difficult for us fairly to
judge the immense strain required for resistance to it. The conception
of one sole God was too high to be easily retained. A shrine without a
deity seemed bare and empty. The Law stringently bridled passions which
the hideous worship of the Canaanites stimulated. No wonder that, when
the first generation of the conquerors had passed away, their
successors lapsed into the universal polytheism, with its attendant
idolatry and immorality. Instead of thinking of the Israelites as
monsters of ingratitude and backsliding, we come nearer the truth, and
make a better use of the history, when we see in it a mirror which
shows us our own image. The strong earthward pull is ever acting on us,
and, unless God hold us up, we too shall slide downwards. 'Hath a
nation changed their gods, which yet are no gods? but My people hath
changed their glory for that which doth not profit.' Idolatry and
worldliness are persistent; for they are natural. Firm adherence to God
is less common, because it goes against the strong forces, within and
without, which bind us to earth.

Apparently the relapses into idolatry did not imply the entire
abandonment of the worship of Jehovah, but the worship of Baalim and
Ashtaroth along with it. Such illegitimate mixing up of deities was
accordant with the very essence of polytheism, and repugnant to that of
the true worship of God. The one may be tolerant, the other cannot be.
To unite Baal with Jehovah was to forsake Jehovah.

These continual relapses have an important bearing on the question of
the origin of the 'Jewish conception of God.' They are intelligible
only if we take the old-fashioned explanation, that its origin was a
divine revelation, given to a rude people. They are unintelligible if
we take the new-fashioned explanation that the monotheism of Israel was
the product of natural evolution, or was anything but a treasure put by
God into their hands, which they did not appreciate, and would
willingly have thrown away. The foul Canaanitish worship was the kind
of thing in which, if left to themselves, they would have wallowed. How
came such people by such thoughts as these? The history of Israel's
idolatry is not the least conclusive proof of the supernatural
revelation which made Israel's religion.

II. Note the swift-following retribution. We have two sections in the
context dealing with this, each introduced by that terrible phrase,
which recurs so often in the subsequent parts of the book, 'The anger
of the Lord was kindled against Israel.' That phrase is no sign of a
lower conception of God than that which the gospel brings. Wrath is an
integral part of love, when the lover is perfectly righteous and the
loved are sinful. The most terrible anger is the anger of perfect
gentleness, as expressed in that solemn paradox of the Apostle of love,
when he speaks of 'the wrath of the Lamb.' God was angry with Israel
because He loved them, and desired their love for their own good. The
fact of His choice of the nation for His own and the intensity of His
love were shown no less by the swift certainty with which suffering
dogged sin, than by the blessings which crowned obedience. The first
section, referring to the punishment, is in verses 14 and 15, which
seems to describe mainly the defeats and plunderings which outside
surrounding nations inflicted. The brief description is extraordinarily
energetic. It ascribes all their miseries to God's direct act. He
'delivered' them over, or, as the next clause says still more strongly,
'sold' them, to plunderers, who stripped them bare. Their defeats were
the result of His having thus ceased to regard them as His. But though
He had 'sold' them, He had not done with them; for it was not only the
foeman's hand that struck them, but God's 'hand was against them,' and
its grip crushed them. His judgments were not occasional, but
continuous, and went with them 'whithersoever they went out.'
Everything went wrong with them; there were no gleams breaking the
black thunder-cloud. God's anger darkened the whole sky, and blasted
the whole earth. And the misery was the more miserable and awful
because it had all been foretold, and in it God was but doing 'as He
had said' and sworn. It is a dreadful picture of the all-withering
effect of God's anger,--a picture which is repeated in inmost verity in
many an outwardly prosperous life to-day.

The second section is in verses 20-23, and describes the consequence of
Israel's relapse in reference to the surviving Canaanite and other
tribes in the land itself. Note that 'nation' in verse 20 is the term
usually applied, not to Israel, but to the Gentile peoples; and that
its use here seems equivalent to cancelling the choice of Israel as
God's special possession, and reducing them to the level of the other
nations in Canaan, to whom the same term is applied in verse 21. The
stern words which are here put into the mouth of God may possibly refer
to the actual message recorded in the first verses of the chapter; but,
more probably, 'the Lord said' does not here mean any divine
communication, but only the divine resolve, conceived as spoken to
himself. It embodies the divine _lex talionis_. The punishment is
analogous to the crime. Israel had broken the covenant; God would not
keep His promise. That involves a great principle as to all God's
promises,--that they are all conditional, and voidable by men's failure
to fulfil their conditions. Observe, too, that the punishment is the
retention of the occasions of the sin. Is not that, too, a law of the
divine procedure to-day? Whips to scourge us are made of our pleasant
vices. Sin is the punishment of sin. If we yield to some temptation,
part of the avenging retribution is that the temptation abides by us,
and has power over us. The 'Canaanites' whom we have allowed to lead us
astray will stay beside us when their power to seduce us is done, and
will pull off their masks and show themselves for what they are, our
spoilers and foes.

The rate of Israel's conquest was determined by Israel's faithful
adherence to God. That is a standing law. Victory for us in all the
good fight of life depends on our cleaving to Him, and forsaking all
other.

The divine motive, if we may so say, in leaving the unsubdued nations
in the land, was to provide the means of proving Israel. Would it not
have been better, since Israel was so weak, to secure for it an
untempted period? Surely, it is a strange way of helping a man who has
stumbled, to make provision that future occasions of stumbling shall
lie in his path. But so the perfect wisdom which is perfect love ever
ordains. There shall be no unnatural greenhouse shelter provided for
weak plants. The liability to fall imposes the necessity of trial, but
the trial does not impose the necessity of falling! The Devil tempts,
because he hopes that we shall fall. God tries, in order that we may
stand, and that our feet may be strengthened by the trial. 'I cannot
praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed,
that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the
race, where that immortal garland is to be run for,--not without dust
and heat.'

III. Respite and deliverance are described in verses 16 and 18. The
Revised Version has wisely substituted a simple 'and' for
'nevertheless' at the beginning of verse 16. The latter word implies
that the raising up of the judges was a reversal of what had gone
before; 'and' implies that it was a continuation. And its use here is
not merely an instance of inartificial Hebrew style, but carries the
lesson that God's judgment and deliverance come from the same source,
and are harmonious parts of one educational process. Nor is this
thought negatived by the statement in verse 18 that 'it repented the
Lord.' That strong metaphorical ascription to Him of human emotion
simply implies that His action, which of necessity is the expression of
His will, was changed. The will of the moment before had been to
punish; the will of the next moment was to deliver, because their
'groaning' showed that the punishment had done its work. But the two
wills were one in ultimate purpose, and the two sets of acts were
equally and harmoniously parts of one design. The surgeon is carrying
out one plan when he cuts deep into the quivering flesh, and when he
sews up the wounds which he himself has made. God's deliverances are
linked to His chastisements by 'and,' not by 'nevertheless.' We need
not discuss that remarkable series of judges, who were champions rather
than the peaceful functionaries whom we understand by the name. The
vivid and stirring stories associated with their names make the bulk of
this book, and move the most peace-loving among us like the sound of a
trumpet. These wild warriors, with many a roughness and flaw in their
characters, of whom no saintly traits are recorded, are yet treated in
this section as directly inspired, and as continually upheld by God.
The writer of the _Epistle to the Hebrews_ claims some of them as
heroes of 'faith.' And one chief lesson for us to learn, as we look on
the strange garb in which in them faith has arrayed itself, and the
strange work which it does in nerving hands to strike with sharp
swords, is the oneness of the principle amid the most diverse
manifestations, and the nobleness and strength which the sense of
belonging to God and reliance on His help breathe into the rudest life
and shed over the wildest scenes.

These judges were raised up indiscriminately from different tribes.
They belonged to different ranks, and were of different occupations.
One of them was a woman. The when and the where and the how of their
appearance were incalculable. They authenticated their commission by no
miracles except victory. For a time they started to the front, and then
passed, leaving no successors, and founding no dynasty. They were an
entirely unique order, plainly raised up by God, and drawing all their
power from Him. Let us be thankful for the weaknesses, and even sins,
recorded of some of them, and for the boldness with which the book
traces the physical strength of a Samson, in spite of his wild
animalism, and the bravery of a Jephthah, notwithstanding his savage
vow and subsequent lapse into idolatry, to God's inspiration. Their
faith was limited, and acted but imperfectly on their moral nature; but
it was true faith, in the judgment of the _Epistle to the Hebrews_.
Their work was rough and bloody, and they were rough tools, as such
work needed; but it was God's work, and He had made them for His
instruments, in the judgment of the Book of _Judges_. If we try to
understand the reasons for such judgments, we may learn some useful
lessons.

IV. A word only can be given to the last stage in the dreary round. It
comes back to the first. The religion of the delivered people lasted as
long as the judge's life. When he died, it died. There is intense
bitterness in the remark to that effect in verse 19. Did God then die
with the judge? Was it Samson, or Jehovah, that had delivered? Why
should the death of the instrument affect gratitude to the hand that
gave it its edge? What a lurid light is thrown back on the unreality of
the people's return to God by their swift relapse! If it needed a human
hand to keep them from departing, had they ever come near? We may press
the questions on ourselves; for none of us knows how much of our
religion is owing to the influence of men upon us, or how much of it
would drop away if we were left to ourselves.

This miserable repetition of the same weary round of sin, punishment,
respite, and renewed sin, sets in a strong light the two great wonders
of man's obstinate persistency in unfaithfulness and sin, and of God's
unwearied persistency in discipline and patient forgiveness. His
charity 'suffers long and is kind, is not easily provoked.' We can
weary out all forbearance but His, which is endless. We weary Him
indeed, but we do not weary Him out, with our iniquities. Man's sin
stretches far; but God's patient love overlaps it. It lasts long; but
God's love is eternal. It resists miracles of chastisement and love;
but He does not cease His use of the rod and the staff. We can tire out
all other forbearance, but not His. And however old and obstinate our
rebellion, He waits to pardon, and smites but to heal.



RECREANT REUBEN


'Why satest then among the sheepfolds, to hear the pipings for the
flocks? At the watercourses of Reuben there were great searchings of
heart.'--JUDGES v. 16 (R.V.).


I. The fight.

The warfare is ever repeated, though in new forms. In the highest form
it is Christ _versus_ the World, And that conflict must be fought out
in our own souls first. Our religion should lead not only to accept and
rely on what Christ does for us, but to do and dare for Christ. He has
given Himself for us, and has thereby won the right to recruit us as
His soldiers. We have to fight against ourselves to establish His reign
over ourselves.

And then we have to give our personal service in the great battle for
right and truth, for establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. There
come national crises when every man must take up arms, but in Christ's
kingdom that is a permanent obligation. There the nation is the army.
Each subject is not only His servant but His soldier. The metaphor is
well worn, but it carries everlasting truth, and to take it seriously
to heart would revolutionise our lives.

II. The reason for standing aloof. Reuben 'abode in the sheepfolds to
hear the pipings to the flocks.' For Dan his ships, for Asher his
havens held them apart. Reuben and the other trans-Jordanic tribes held
loosely by the national unity. They had fallen in love with an easy
life of pastoral wealth, they did not care to venture anything for the
national good. It is still too true that like reasons are largely
operative in producing like results. It is seldom from the wealthy and
leisurely classes that the bold fighters for great social reformations
are recruited. Times of commercial prosperity are usually times of
stagnation in regard to these. Reuben lies lazily listening to the
'drowsy tinklings' that 'lull' not only 'the distant folds' but himself
to inglorious slumber, while Zebulon and Naphtali are 'venturing their
lives on the high places of the field.' The love of ease enervates many
a one who should be doing valiantly for the 'Captain of his salvation.'
The men of Reuben cared more for their sheep than for their nation.
They were not minded to hazard these by listening to Deborah's call.
And what their flocks were to that pastoral tribe, their business is to
shoals of professing Christians. The love of the world depletes the
ranks of Christ's army, and they are comparatively few who stick by the
colours and are 'ready, aye ready' for service, as the brave motto of
one English regiment has it. The lives of multitudes of so-called
Christians are divided between strained energy in their business or
trade or profession and self-regarding repose. No doubt competition is
fierce, and, no doubt, a Christian man is bound, 'whatsoever his hand
finds to do, to do it with his might,' and, no doubt, rest is as much a
duty as work. But must not loyalty to Jesus have become tepid, if a
servant of His has so little interest in the purposes for which He gave
His life that he can hear no call to take active part in promoting
them, nor find rest in the work by which he becomes a fellow-worker
with his Lord?

III. The recreant's brave resolves which came to nothing. The indignant
question of our text is, as it were, framed between two clauses which
contrast Reuben's indolent holding aloof with his valorous resolves.
'By the watercourses of Reuben there were great resolves of heart.' ...
'At the watercourses of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.'
Resolves came first, but they were not immediately acted on, and as the
Reubenites sate among the sheepfolds and felt the charm of their
peaceful lives, the 'native hue of resolution was sicklied o'er,' and
doubts of the wisdom of their gallant determination crept in, and their
valour oozed out. And so for all their fine resolves, they had no share
in the fight nor in the triumph.

So let us lay the warning of that example to heart, and if we are
stirred by noble impulses to take our place in the ranks of the
fighters for God, let us act on these at once. Emotions evaporate very
soon if they are not used to drive the wheels of conduct. The Psalmist
was wise who 'delayed not, but made haste and delayed not to keep God's
commandments.' Many a man has over and over again resolved to serve God
in some specific fashion, and to enlist in the 'effective force' of
Christ's army, and has died without ever having done it.

IV. The question in the hour of victory. 'Why?'

Deborah asks it with vehement contempt.

That victory is certain. Are _you_ to have part in it?

The question will be asked on the judgment day by Christ, and by our
own consciences. 'And he was speechless.'

To be neutral is to be on the side of the enemy, against whom the
'stars fight,' and whom Kishon sweeps away.

'Who is on the Lord's side?'--Who?



'ALL THINGS ARE YOURS'

'They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against
Sisera.'--JUDGES v. 20.


'For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the
beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.'--Job v. 23.

These two poetical fragments present the same truth on opposite sides.
The first of them comes from Deborah's triumphant chant. The singer
identifies God with the cause of Israel, and declares that heaven
itself fought against those who fought against God's people. There may
be an allusion to the tempest which Jewish tradition tells us burst
over the ranks of the enemy, or there may be some trace of ancient
astrological notions, or the words may simply be an elevated way of
saying that Heaven fought for Israel. The silent stars, as they swept
on their paths through the sky, advanced like an avenging host
embattled against the foes of Israel and of God. All things fight
against the man who fights against God.

The other text gives the other side of the same truth. One of Job's
friends is rubbing salt into his wounds by insisting on the
commonplace, which needs a great many explanations and limitations
before it can be accepted as true, that sin is the cause of sorrow, and
that righteousness brings happiness; and in the course of trying to
establish this heartless thesis to a heavy heart he breaks into a
strain of the loftiest poetry in describing the blessedness of the
righteous. All things, animate and inanimate, are upon his side. The
ground, which Genesis tells us is 'cursed for his sake,' becomes his
ally, and the very creatures whom man's sin set at enmity against him
are at peace with him. All things are the friends and servants of him
who is the friend and servant of God.

I. So, putting these two texts together, we have first the great
conviction to which religion clings, that God being on our side all
things are for us, and not against us.

Now, that is the standing faith of the Old Testament, which no doubt
was more easily held in those days, because, if we accept its teaching,
we shall recognise that Israel lived under a system in so far
supernatural as that moral goodness and material prosperity were a
great deal more closely and indissolubly connected than they are
to-day. So, many a psalmist and many a prophet breaks out into
apostrophes, warranted by the whole history of Israel, and declaring
how blessed are the men who, apart from all other defences and sources
of prosperity, have God for their help and Him for their hope.

But we are not to dismiss this conviction as belonging only to a system
where the supernatural comes in, as it does in the Old Testament
history, and as antiquated under a dispensation such as that in which
we live. For the New Testament is not a whit behind the Old in
insisting upon this truth. 'All things work together for good to them
that love God.' 'All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ
is God's.' 'Who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that
which is good?' The New Testament is committed to the same conviction
as that to which the faith of Old Testament saints clung as the sheet
anchor of their lives.

That conviction cannot be struck out of the creed of any man, who
believes in the God to whom the Old and the New Testament alike bear
witness. For it rests upon this plain principle, that all this great
universe is not a chaos, but a cosmos, that all these forces and
creatures are not a rabble, but an ordered host.

What is the meaning of that great Name by which, from of old, God in
His relations to the whole universe has been described--the 'Lord of
Hosts'? Who are the 'hosts' of which He is 'the Lord,' and to whom, as
the centurion said, He says to this one, 'Go!' and he goeth; and to
another, 'Come!' and he cometh; and to another, 'Do this!' and he doeth
it? Who are 'the hosts'? Not only these beings who are dimly revealed
to us as rational and intelligent, who 'excel in strength,' because
they 'hearken to the voice of His word', but in the ranks of that great
army are also embattled all the forces of the universe, and all things
living or dead. 'All are Thy servants; they continue this day'--angels,
stars, creatures of earth--' according to Thine ordinances.'

And if it be true that the All is an ordered whole, which is obedient
to the touch and to the will of that divine Commander, then all His
servants must be on the same side, and cannot turn their arms against
each other. As an old hymn says with another reference--

               'All the servants of our King
                In heaven and earth are one,'

and none of them can injure, wound, or slay a fellow-servant. If all
are travelling in the same direction there can be no collision. If all
are enlisted under the same standard they can never turn their weapons
against each other. If God sways all things, then all things which God
sways must be on the side of the men that are on the side of God. 'Thou
shalt make a league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the
field shall be at peace with thee.'

II, Note the difficulties arising from experience, in the way of
holding fast by this conviction of faith.

The grim facts of the world, seen from their lowest level, seem to
shatter it to atoms. Talk about 'the stars in their courses fighting'
for or against anybody! In one aspect it is superstition, in another
aspect it is a dream and an illusion. The prose truth is that they
shine down silent, pitiless, cold, indifferent, on battlefields or on
peaceful homes; and the moonlight is as pure when it falls upon broken
hearts as when it falls upon glad ones. Nature is utterly indifferent
to the moral or the religious character of its victims. It goes on its
way unswerving and pitiless; and whether the man who stands in its path
is good or bad matters not. If he gets into a typhoon he will be
wrecked; if he tumbles over Niagara he will be drowned. And what
becomes of all the talk about an embattled universe on the side of
goodness, in the face of the plain facts of life--of nature's
indifference, nature's cruelty which has led some men to believe in two
sovereign powers, one beneficent and one malicious, and has led others
to say, 'God is a superfluous hypothesis, and to believe in Him brings
more enigmas than it solves,' and has led still others to say, 'Why, if
there _is_ a God, does it look as if either He was not all-powerful, or
was not all-merciful?' Nature has but ambiguous evidence to give in
support of this conviction.

Then, if we turn to what we call Providence and its mysteries, the very
book of Job, from which my second text is taken, is one of the earliest
attempts to grapple with the difficulty and to untie the knot; and I
suppose everybody will admit that, whatever may be the solution which
is suggested by that enigmatical book, the solution is by no means a
complete one, though it is as complete as the state of religious
knowledge at the time at which the book was written made possible to be
attained. The seventy-third psalm shows that even in that old time
when, as I have said, supernatural sanctions were introduced into the
ordinary dealings of life, the difficulties that cropped up were great
enough to bring a devout heart to a stand, and to make the Psalmist
say, 'My feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped.'
Providence, with all its depths and mysteries, often to our aching
hearts seems in our own lives to contradict the conviction, and when we
look out over the sadness of humanity, still more does it seem
impossible for us to hold fast by the faith 'that all which we behold
is full of blessings.'

I doubt not that there are many of ourselves whose lives, shadowed,
darkened, hemmed in, perplexed, or made solitary for ever, seem to them
to be hard to reconcile with this cheerful faith upon which I am trying
to insist. Brethren, cling to it even in the darkness. Be sure of this,
that amongst all our mercies there are none more truly merciful than
those which come to us shrouded in dark garments, and in questionable
shapes. Let nothing rob us of the confidence that 'all things work
together for good.'

III. I come, lastly, to consider the higher form in which this
conviction is true for ever.

I have said that the facts of life seem often to us, and are felt often
by some of us, to shatter it to atoms; to riddle it through and through
with shot. But, if we bring the Pattern-life to bear upon the
illumination of all life, and if we learn the lessons of the Cradle and
the Cross, and rise to the view of human life which emerges from the
example of Jesus Christ, then we get back the old conviction,
transfigured indeed, but firmer than ever. We have to alter the point
of view. Everything always depends on the point of view. We have to
alter one or two definitions. Definitions come first in geometry and in
everything else. Get _them_ right, and you will get your theorems and
problems right.

So, looking at life in the light of Christ, we have to give new
contents to the two words 'good' and 'evil,' and a new meaning to the
two words 'for' and 'against.' And when we do that, then the
difficulties straighten themselves out, and there are not any more
knots, but all is plain; and the old faith of the Old Testament, which
reposed very largely upon abnormal and extraordinary conditions of
life, comes back in a still nobler form, as possible to be held by us
amidst the commonplace of our daily existence.

For everything is my friend, is for me and not against me, that helps
me nearer to God. To live for Him, to live with Him, to be conscious
ever of communion with Himself, to feel the touch of His hand on my
hand, and the pressure of His breast against mine, at all moments of my
life, is my true and the highest good. And if it is true that the
'river of the water of life' which 'flows from the Throne of God' is
the only draught that can ever satisfy the immortal thirst of a soul,
then whatever drives me away from the cisterns and to the fountain, is
on my side. Better to dwell in a 'dry and thirsty land, where no water
is,' if it makes me long for the water that rises at the gate of the
true Bethlehem--the house of bread--than to dwell in a land flowing
with milk and honey, and well watered in every part! If the cup that I
would fain lift to my lips has poison in it, or if its sweetness is
making me lose my relish for the pure and tasteless river that flows
from the Throne of God, there can be no truer friend than that
calamity, as men call it, which strikes the cup from my hands, and
shivers the glass before I have raised it to my lips. Everything is my
friend that helps me towards God.

Everything is my friend that leads me to submission and obedience. The
joy of life, and the perfection of human nature, is an absolutely
submitted will, identified with the divine, both in regard to doing and
to enduring. And whatever tends to make my will flexible, so that it
corresponds to all the sinuosities, so to speak, of the divine will,
and fits into all its bends and turns, is a blessing to me. Raw hides,
stiff with dirt and blood, are put into a bath of bitter infusion of
oak-bark. What for? For the same end as, when they are taken out, they
are scraped with sharp steels,--that they may become flexible. When
that is done the useless hide is worth something.

            'Our wills are ours, we know not how;
             Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.'

And whatever helps me to that is my friend.

Everything is a friend to the man that loves God, in a far sweeter and
deeper sense than it can ever be to any other. Like a sudden burst of
sunshine upon a gloomy landscape, the light of union with God and
friendship with Him flooding my daily life flashes it all up into
brightness. The dark ribbon of the river that went creeping through the
black copses, when the sun glints upon it, gleams up into links of
silver, and the trees by its bank blaze out into green and gold.
Brethren! 'Who follows pleasure follows pain'; who follows God finds
pleasure following him. There can be no surer way to set the world
against me than to try to make it for me, and to make it my all They
tell us that if you want to count those stars that 'like a swarm of
fire-flies tangled in a silver braid' make up the Pleiades, the surest
way to see the greatest number of them is to look a little on one side
of them. Look away from the joys and friendships of creatural things
right up to God, and you will see these sparkling and dancing in the
skies, as you never see them when you gaze at them only. Make them
second and they are good and on your side. Make them first, and they
will turn to be your enemies and fight against you.

This conviction will be established still more irrefragably and
wonderfully in that future. Nothing lasts but goodness. 'He that doeth
the will of God abideth for ever.' To oppose it is like stretching a
piece of pack-thread across the rails before the express comes; or
putting up some thin wooden partition on the beach on one of the
Western Hebrides, exposed to the whole roll of the Atlantic, which will
be battered into ruin by the first winter's storm. Such is the end of
all those who set themselves against God.

But there comes a future in which, as dim hints tell us, these texts of
ours shall receive a fulfilment beyond that realised in the present
condition of things. 'Then comes the statelier Eden back to man,' and
in a renewed and redeemed earth 'they shall not hurt nor destroy in all
My holy mountain'; and the ancient story will be repeated in higher
form. The servants shall be like the Lord who, when He had conquered
temptation, 'was with the wild beasts' that forgot their enmity, and
'angels ministered unto Him.' That scene in the desert may serve as a
prophecy of the future when, under conditions of which we know nothing,
all God's servants shall, even more markedly and manifestly than here,
help each other; and every man that loves God will find a friend in
every creature.

If we take Him for our Commander, and enlist ourselves in that
embattled host, then all weathers will be good; 'stormy winds,
fulfilling His word,' will blow us to our port; 'the wilderness will
rejoice and blossom as the rose'; and the whole universe will be
radiant with the light of His presence, and ringing with the music of
His voice. But if we elect to join the other army--for there is another
army, and men have wills that enable them to lift themselves up against
God, the Ruler of all things--then the old story, from which my first
text is taken, will fulfil itself again in regard to us--'the stars in
their courses will fight against' us; and Sisera, lying stiff and
stark, with Jael's tent-peg through his temples, and the swollen
corpses being swirled down to the stormy sea by 'that ancient river,
the river Kishon,' will be a grim parable of the end of the men that
set themselves against God, and so have the universe against them.
'Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.'



LOVE MAKES SUNS 'Let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth
forth in his might.' JUDGES V. 51.


These are the closing words of Deborah, the great warrior-prophetess of
Israel. They are in singular contrast with the tone of fierce
enthusiasm for battle which throbs through the rest of the chant, and
with its stern approval of the deed of Jael when she slew Sisera. Here,
in its last notes, we have an anticipation of the highest and best
truths of the Gospel. 'Let them that love Him be as the sun when he
goeth forth in His might.' If we think of the singer, of the age and
the occasion of the song, such purely spiritual, lofty words must seem
very remarkable.

I. Note, then, first of all, how here we have a penetrating insight
into the essence of religion.

This woman had been nourished upon a more or less perfect edition of
what we know as the 'Mosaic Law.' Her faith had been fed by forms. She
moved amidst a world full of the cruelties and dark conceptions of a
mysterious divine power which torture heathenism apart from
Christianity. She had forced her way through all that, and laid hold of
the vital centre. And there, a way out amidst cruelty and murder,
amidst the unutterable abominations and terrors of heathenism, in the
centre of a rigid system of ceremonial and retaliation, the woman's
heart spoke out, and taught her what was the great commandment.
Prophetess she was, fighter she was, she could burst into triumphant
approval of Jael's bloody deed; and yet with the same lips could speak
this profound word. She had learned that 'Thou shalt _love_ the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
strength, and with all thy mind,' summed up all duty, and was the
beginning of all good in man. That precept found an echo in her heart.
Whatever part in her religious development may have been played by the
externalisms of ceremonial, she had pierced to the core of religion.
Advanced modern critics admit the antiquity of Deborah's song, and this
closing stanza witnesses to the existence, at that early period, of a
highly spiritual conception of the bond between God and man. Deborah
had got as far, in a moment of exaltation and insight, as the teaching
of the Apostle John, although her thought was strangely blended with
the fierceness of the times in which she lived. Her approval of Jael's
deed by no means warrants our approving it, but we may thankfully see
that though she felt the fierce throbbing of desire for vengeance, she
also felt this--'Them that _love_ Him; that is the Alpha and the Omega
of all.'

Our love must depend on our knowledge. Deborah's knowledge was a mere
skeleton outline as compared with ours. Contrast the fervour of
emotional affection that manifestly throbbed in her heart with the
poor, cold pulsations which we dignify by the name of love, and the
contrast may put us to shame. There is a religion of fear which
dominates hundreds of professing Christians in this land of ours. There
is a religion of duty, in which there is no delight, which has many
adherents amongst us. There is a religion of form, which contents
itself with the externals of Christianity, and that is the religion of
many men and women in all our churches. And I may further say, there is
a religion of faith, in its narrower and imperfect sense, which lays
hold of and believes a body of Christian truth, and has never passed
through faith into love. Not he who 'believes that God is,' and comes
to Him with formal service and an alienated or negligent heart; not he
who recognises the duty of worship, and discharges it because his
conscience pricks him, but has no buoyancy within bearing him upwards
towards the object of his love; not he who cowers before the dark
shadow which some call God; but he who, knowing, trusts, and who,
knowing and trusting 'the love which God hath to us,' pulses back the
throbs of a recipient heart, and loves Him in return--he, and he only,
is a worshipper. Let us learn the lesson that Deborah learnt below the
palm-trees of Lapidoth, and if we want to understand what a religious
man is, recognise that he is a man who loves God.

II. Further, note the grand conception of the character which such a
love produces.

'Let them be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.' Think of the
fierce Eastern sun, with 'sunbeams like swords,' that springs up from
the East, and rushes to the zenith, and 'nothing is hid from the heat
thereof'--a sun the like of which we, in our cloudy skies, never see
nor feel, but which, to the Oriental, is the very emblem of splendour
and of continuous, victorious power. There are two things here,
radiance and energy, light and might.

'As the sun when he goeth forth in his strength.' Deborah was a
'prophetess,' and people say, 'What did she prophesy?' Well, she
prophesied the heart of religion--as I have tried to show--in reference
to its essence, and, as one sees by this phrase, in reference to its
effects. What is her word but a partial anticipation of Christ's
saying, 'Ye are the light of the world'; and of His disciple's
utterance, 'Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the
Lord: walk as children of light'?

It is too plain to need any talking about, that the direct tendency of
what we venture to call love to God, meaning thereby the turning of the
whole nature to Him, in aspiration, admiration, longing for likeness,
and practical imitation, is to elevate, ennoble, and illuminate the
whole character. It was said about one woman that 'to love her was an
education.' That was exaggeration; but it is below the truth about God.
The true way to refine and elevate and educate is to cultivate love to
God. And when we get near to Him, and hold by Him, and are continually
occupied with Him; when our being is one continual aspiration after
union with Him, and we experience the glow and rapture included in the
simple word 'love,' then it cannot but be that we shall be like Him.

That is what Paul meant when he said, 'Now are ye light in the Lord.'
Union with Him illuminates. The true radiance of saintly character will
come in the measure in which we are in fellowship with Jesus Christ.
Deborah's astronomy was not her strong point. The sun shines by its own
light. We are planets, and are darkness in ourselves, and it is only
the reflection of the central sun that ever makes us look silvery white
and radiant before men. But though it be derived, it is none the less
our light, if it has passed into us, as it surely will, and if it
streams out from us, as it no less surely will, in the measure in which
love to God dominates our whole lives.

If that is so, dear brethren, is not the shortest and the surest way to
have our faces shining like that of Moses when he came down from the
mountain, or like Stephen's when he 'saw the heavens opened,' to keep
near Jesus Christ? It is slow work to hammer bits of ore out of the
rock with a chisel and a mallet. Throw the whole mass into the furnace,
and the metal will come out separated from the dross. Get up the heat,
and the light, which is the consequence of the heat, will take care of
itself. 'In the Lord' ye shall be 'light.'

Is Deborah's aspiration fulfilled about me? Let each of us ask that.
'As the sun when he goeth forth in his strength'--would anybody say
that about my Christian character? Why not? Only because the springs
have run low within is the stream low through the meadows. Only because
the love is cold is the light feeble.

There is another thought here. There is power in sunlight as well as
radiance. On that truth the prophetess especially lays a finger; 'as
the sun when he goeth forth in his _strength_.' She did not know what
we know, that solar energy is the source of all energy on this earth,
and that, just as in the deepest spiritual analysis 'there is no power
but of God,' so in the material region we may say that the only force
is the force of the sun, which not only stimulates vegetation and
brings light and warmth--as the pre-scientific prophetess knew--but in
a hundred other ways, unknown to her and known to modern science, is
the author of all change, the parent of all life, and the reservoir of
all energy.

So we come to this thought: The true love of God is no weak,
sentimental thing, such as narrow and sectional piety has often
represented it to be, but it is a power which will invigorate the whole
of a man, and make him strong and manly as well as gentle and gracious;
being, indeed, the parent of all the so-called heroic and of all the
so-called saintly virtues.

The sun 'goeth forth in his strength,' rushing through the heavens to
the zenith. As one of the other editions of this metaphor in the Old
Testament has it, 'The path of the just is as the shining light, that
shineth more and more until the noontide of the day.' That light,
indeed, declines, but that fact does not come into view in the metaphor
of the progressive growth towards perfection of the man in whom is the
all-conquering might of the true love of Jesus Christ.

Note the context of these words of our text, which, I said, presents so
singular a contrast to them. It is a strange thing that so fierce a
battle-chant should at the end settle down into such a sweet swan-song
as this. It is a strange thing that in the same soul there should throb
the delight in battle and almost the delight in murder, and these lofty
thoughts. But let us learn the lesson that true love to God means
hearty hatred of God's enemy, and that it will always have to be
militant and sometimes stern and what people call fierce. Amidst the
amenities and sentimentalities of modern life there is much necessity
for remembering that the Apostle of love was a 'son of thunder,' and
that it was the lips which summoned Israel to the fight, and chanted
hymns of triumph over the corpses borne down by the rushing Kishon,
which also said: 'Let them that love Him be as the sun when he shineth
forth in his strength.' If you love God, you will surely be a strong
man as well as an emotional and affectionate Christian.

That energy is to be continuous and progressive. The sun that Deborah
saw day by day spring from his station in the east, and climb to his
height in the heavens, and ray down his beams, has been doing that for
millions of years, and it will probably keep doing it for uncounted
periods still. And so the Christian man, with continuity unbroken and
progressive brilliance and power, should shine 'more and more till the
unsetting noontide of the day.'

III. That brings me to the last thought, which passes beyond the limits
of the prophetess' vision. Here is a prophecy of which the utterer was
unaware.

There is a contrast drawn in the words of our text and in those
immediately preceding. "So," says Deborah, after the fierce description
of the slaughter of Sisera--'So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord!
but let them that love Thee be as the sun when he shineth in his
strength.' She contrasts the transiency of the lives that pit
themselves against God with the perpetuity that belongs to those which
are in harmony with Him. The truth goes further than she probably knew;
certainly further than she was thinking when she chanted these words.
Let us widen them by other words which use the same metaphor, and say,
'they that be wise'--that is a shallower word than 'them that love
Thee'--'they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the
firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for
ever and ever.' Let us widen and deepen them by sacreder words still;
for Jesus Christ laid hold of this old metaphor, and said, describing
the time when all the enemies shall have perished, and the weeds have
been flung out of the vineyard, 'Then shall the righteous shine forth
like the sun, in the Kingdom of their Father,' with a brilliancy that
will fill heaven with new splendours, bright beyond all that we see
here amidst the thick atmosphere and mists and clouds of the present
life!

Nor need we stop even there, for Jesus Christ not only laid hold of
this metaphor in order to describe the eternal glory of the children of
the Kingdom, but at the last time that human eyes on earth saw Him, the
glorified Man Christ Jesus is thus described: 'His countenance was as
the sun shineth in his strength.' Love always tends to likeness; and
love to Christ will bring conformity with Him. The perfect love of
heaven will issue in perfect and perpetual assimilation to Him. Science
tells us that the light of the sun probably comes from its contraction;
and that that process of contraction will go on until, at some point
within the bounds of time, though far beyond the measure of our
calculations, the sun himself shall die, the ineffectual beams will be
paled, and there will be a black orb, with neither life nor light nor
power. And then, then, and after that for ever, 'they that love Him'
shall continue to be as that dead sun once was, when he went forth in
his hot might.



GIDEON'S ALTAR

'Then Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord, and called it
Jehovah-shalom [God is peace].'--JUDGES vi. 24.


I need not tell over again, less vividly, the picturesque story in this
chapter, of the simple husbandman up in the hills, engaged furtively in
threshing out a little wheat in some hollow in the rock where he might
hide it from the keen eyes of the oppressors; and of how the angel of
the Lord, unrecognised at first, appeared to him; and gradually there
dawned upon his mind the suspicion of who He was who spoke. Then follow
the offering, the discovery by fire, the shrinking of the man from
contact with the divine, the wonderfully tranquillizing and
condescending assurance, cast into the form of the ordinary salutation
of domestic life: 'And the Lord said unto him Peace be unto thee!'--as
any man might have said to any other--'fear not! thou shalt not die.'
Then Gideon piles up the unhewn stones on the hillside into a rude
altar, apparently not for the purpose of offering sacrifice, but for a
monument, to which is given this strange name, strange upon such
warrior lips, and strange in contemplation of the fierce conflict into
which he was immediately to plunge, 'the Lord is peace.'

How I think that this name, imposed for such a reason and under such
circumstances, may teach us a good many things.

I. The first thing that it seems to me to suggest is the great
discovery which this man had made, and in the rapture of which he named
his altar,--that the sight of God is _not_ death, but life and peace.

Gideon was a plain, rude man, with no very deep religious experience.
Apparently up to the moment of this vision he had been contentedly
tolerating the idolatrous practices which had spread over all the
country. He had heard of 'Jehovah.' It was a name, a tradition, which
his fathers had told him. That was all that he knew of the God of
Israel. Into this hearsay religion, as in a flash, while Gideon is busy
about his threshing floor, thinking of his wheat or of the misery of
his nation, there comes, all at once, this crushing conviction,--'the
_hearsay_ God is beside you, speaking to you! You have personal
relations to Him, He is nearer you than any human being is, He is no
mere Name, here He stands!'

And whenever the lightning edge of a conviction like that cuts its way
through the formalisms and traditionalisms and hearsay repetitions of
conventional religion, then there comes what came to Gideon, the swift
thought, 'And if this be true, if I really do touch, and am touched by,
that living Person whose name is Jehovah, what is to become of me?
Shall I not shrivel up when His fiery finger is laid upon me? I have
seen Him face to face, and I must die.'

I believe that, in the case of the vast majority of men, the first
living, real apprehension of a real, living God is accompanied with a
shock, and has mingled with it something of awe, and even of terror.
Were there no sin there would be no fear, and pure hearts would open in
silent blessedness and yield their sweetest fragrance of love and
adoration, when shone on by Him, as flowers do to the kiss of the
sunbeams. But, taking into account the sad and universal fact of sin,
it is inevitable that men should shrink from the Light which reveals
their evil, and that the consciousness of God's presence should strike
a chill. It is sad that it should be so. But it is sadder still when it
is not so, but when, as is sometimes the case, the sight of God
produces no sense of sin, and no consciousness of discord, or
foreboding of judgment. For, only through that valley of the shadow of
death lies the path to the happy confidence of peace with God, and
unless there has been trembling at the beginning, there will be no firm
and reasonable trust afterwards.

For Gideon's terror opened the way for the gracious proclamation, which
would have been needless but for it--'Peace be unto thee; fear not,
thou shalt not die.'

The sight of God passes from being a fear to a joy, from being a
fountain of death to a spring of life, Terror is turned to tranquil
trust. The narrow and rough path of conscious unworthiness leads to the
large place of happy peace. The divine word fits Gideon's condition,
and corresponds to his then deepest necessity; and so he drinks it in
as the thirsty ground drinks in the water; and in the rapture of the
discovery that the Name, that had come down from his fathers to him,
was the Name of a real Person, with whom he stood in real
relationships, and those of simple friendship and pure amity, he piles
up the rough stones of the place, and makes the name of his altar the
echo of the divine voice. It is as if he had said with rapture of
surprise, 'Then Jehovah _is_ peace; which I never dreamed of before.'

Dear friends, do you know anything of such an experience? Can you build
your altar, and give it this same name? Can you write upon the memorial
of your experiences, 'The Lord is my peace'? Have you passed from
hearsay into personal contact? Can you say, 'I have heard of Thee by
the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee'? Do you know the
further experience expressed in the subsequent words of the same
quotation: 'Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes'?
And have you passed out of that stormy ocean of terror and
self-condemnation into the quiet haven of trust in Him in whom we have
peace with God, where your little boat lies quiet, moored for ever to
the Rock of Ages, to 'Jehovah, who is Peace'?

In connection with this rapturous discovery, and to Gideon strange new
thought, we may gather the lesson that peace with God will give peace
in all the soul. The 'peace with God' will pass into a wider thing, the
'peace of God.' There is tranquillity in trust. There is rest in
submission. There is repose in satisfied desires. When we live near
Him, and have ceased from our own works, and let Him take control of us
and direct us in all our ways, then the storms abate. The things that
disturb us are by no means so much external as inward; and there is a
charm and a fascination in the thought, 'the Lord is peace,' which
stills the inward tempest, and makes us quiet, waiting upon His will
and drawing in His grace. The secret of rest is to cease from self,
from self as guide, from self as aim, from self as safety. And when
self-will is cast out, and self-dependence is overcome, and
self-reliance is sublimed into hanging upon God's hand, and when He,
not mine own inclination, is my Director, and the Arbiter of my fate,
then all the fever of unrest is swept wholly out of my heart, and there
is nothing left in it on which the gnawing tooth of anxiety or of care
can prey. God being my peace, and I yielding myself to Him, 'in
quietness and confidence' is my 'strength.' 'Thou shalt keep him in
perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon Thee, because he trusteth in
Thee.'

II. We may look upon this inscription from another point of view, as
suggesting the thought that God's peace is the best preparation for,
and may be experienced in the midst of, the intensest conflict.

Remember what the purpose of this vision was,--to raise up a man to
fight an almost desperate fight, no metaphorical war, but one with real
sharp swords, against real strong enemies. The first blow in the
campaign was to be struck that night. Gideon was being summoned by the
vision, to long years of hardship and bitter warfare, and his
preparation for the conflict consisted largely in the revelation to his
inmost spirit that 'Jehovah is peace.' We might rather have looked for
a manifestation of the divine nature as ready to go forth to battle
with the raw levies of timid peasants. We should have expected the
thought which inspired their captain to have been 'The Lord is a man of
war,' rather than 'The Lord is peace.' But it is not so--and therein
lies the deep truth that the peace of God is the best preparation for
strife. It gives courage, it leaves the heart at leisure to fling all
its power into the conflict, it inspires with the consciousness of a
divine ally. As Paul puts it, in his picture of the fully-armed
Christian soldier, the feet are 'shod with the preparedness of alacrity
which is produced by the gospel of peace.' That will make us 'ready,
aye ready' for the roughest march, and enable us to stand firm against
the most violent charges of the enemy. There is no such preparation for
the conflict of life, whether it be waged against our own inward evil,
or against opposing forces without, as to have deep within the soul the
settled and substantial peace of God. If we are to come out of the
battle with victory sitting on our helmets, we must go into it with the
Dove of God brooding in our hearts. As the Lord said to Gideon, 'Go in
_this_ thy might, and thou shalt save Israel, ... have not I sent thee?'

But, besides this thought that the knowledge of Jehovah as peace fits
us for strife, that hastily-reared altar with its seemingly
inappropriate name, may remind us that it is possible, in the midst of
the deadliest hand-to-hand grip with evil, and whilst fighting the
'good fight of faith' with the most entire self-surrender to the divine
will, to bear within us, deeper than all the surface strife, that
inward tranquillity which knows no disturbance, though the outward life
is agitated by fierce storms. Deep in the centre of the ocean the
waters lie quiet, though the wildest tempests are raging above, and the
fiercest currents running. Over the tortured and plunging waters of the
cataract there lies unmoving, though its particles are in perpetual
flux, the bow of promise and of peace. So over all the rush and thunder
of life there may stretch, radiant and many-coloured, and dyed with
beauty by the very sun himself, the abiding bow of beauty, the emblem
and the reality of the divine tranquillity. The Christian life is
continual warfare, but in it all, 'the peace of God which passeth
understanding' may 'garrison our hearts and minds.' In the inmost keep
of the castle, though the storm of war may be breaking against the
walls, there will be a quiet chamber where no noise of the archers can
penetrate, and the shouts of the fight are never heard. Let us seek to
live in the 'secret place of the Most High'; and in still communion
with Him, keep our inmost souls in quiet, while we bravely front
difficulties and enemies. You are to be God's warriors; see to it that
on every battlefield there stands the altar 'Jehovah Shalom.'

III. Lastly, we may draw yet another lesson, and say that that altar,
with its significant inscription, expressed the aim of the conflict and
the hope which sustains in the fight.

Gideon was fighting for peace, and what he desired was that victory
should bring tranquillity. The hope which beckoned him on, when he
flung himself into his else desperate enterprise, was that God would so
prosper his work that the swords might be beaten into ploughshares, and
the spears into pruning hooks. Which things may stand as an allegory,
and suggest to us that the Christian warfare, whilst it rests upon, and
is prompted by, the revelation of God who is peace, aims in all its
blows, at the conquering of that sure and settled peace which shall be
broken by no rebellious outbursts of self-will, nor by any risings of
passions and desires. The aim of our warfare should ever be that the
peace of God may be throned in our hearts, and sit there a gentle
queen. The true tranquillity of the blessed life is the prize of
conflict. David, 'the man of war from his youth,' prepares the throne
for Solomon, in whose reign no alarms of war are heard. If you would
enter into peace, you must fight your way to it, and every step of the
road must be a battle. The land of peace is won by the good fight of
faith.

But Gideon's altar not only expressed his purpose in his taking up
arms, but his confidence of accomplishing it, based upon the assurance
that the Lord would give peace. It was a trophy erected before the
fight, and built, not by arrogant presumption or frivolous
underestimate of the enemy's strength, but by humble reliance on the
power of that Lord who had promised His presence, and had assured
triumph. So the hope that named this altar was the hope that war meant
victory, and that victory would bring peace. That hope should animate
every Christian soldier. Across the dust of the conflict, the fair
vision of unbroken and eternal peace should gleam before each of us,
and we should renew fainting strength and revive drooping courage by
many a wistful gaze.

We may realise that hope in large measure here. But its fulfilment is
reserved for the land of peace which we enter by the last conflict with
the last enemy.

Every Christian man's gravestone is an altar on which is written 'Our
God is peace'; in token that the warrior has passed into the land where
'violence shall no more be heard, wasting, nor destruction within its
borders,' but all shall be deep repose, and the unarmed, because
unattacked, peace of tranquil communion with, and likeness to, 'Jehovah
our Peace.'

So, dear brethren, let us pass from tradition and hearsay into personal
intercourse with God, and from shrinking and doubt into the sunshine of
the conviction that He is our peace. And then, with His tranquillity in
our hearts let us go out, the elect apostles of the peace of God, and
fight for Him, after the pattern of the Captain of our salvation, who
had to conquer peace through conflict; and was 'first of all King of
Righteousness, and _after that_ also King of Peace.'



GIDEON'S FLEECE

'Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on
the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I
know that Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast
said.'--JUDGES vi. 37.


The decisive moment had come when Gideon, with his hastily gathered raw
levies, was about to plunge down to the plain to face immensely
superior forces trained to warfare. No wonder that the equally
untrained leader's heart heat faster. Many a soldier, who will be
steadfastly brave in the actual shock of battle, has tremors and
throbbings on its eve. Gideon's hand shook a little as he drew his
sword.

I. Gideon's request.

His petition for a sign was not the voice of unbelief or of doubt or of
presumption, but in it spoke real, though struggling faith, seeking to
be confirmed. Therefore it was not regarded by God as a sin. When a
'wicked and adulterous generation asked for a sign,' no sign was given
it, but when faith asks for one to help it to grasp God's hand, and to
go on His warfare in His strength and as His instrument, it does not
ask in vain.

Gideon's prayer was wrapped, as it were, in an enfolding promise, for
it is preceded and followed by the quotation of words of the Angel of
the Lord who had 'looked on him,' and said, 'Go in this thy might and
save Israel from the hand of Midian: have not I sent thee?' Prayers
that begin and end with 'as Thou hast spoken' are not likely to be
repulsed.

II. God's answer.

God wonderfully allows Gideon to dictate the nature of the sign. He
stoops to work it both ways, backwards and forwards, as it were. First
the fleece is to be wet and the ground to be dry, then the fleece is to
be dry and the ground wet. Miracle was a necessary accompaniment of
revelation in those early days, as picture-books are of childhood. But,
though we are far enough from being 'men' in Christ, yet we have not
the same need for 'childish things' as Gideon and his contemporaries
had. We have Christ and the Spirit, and so have a 'word made more sure'
than to require signs. But still it is true that the same gracious
willingness to help a tremulous faith, which carries its tremulousness
to God in prayer, moves the Father's heart to-day, and that to such
petitions the answer is given even before they are offered: 'Ask what
ye will, and it shall be done unto you.' No sign that eyes can see is
given, but inward whispers speak assurance and communicate the
assurance which they speak.

III. The meaning of the sign.

Many explanations have been offered. The main point is that the fleece
is to be made different from the soil around it. It is to be a proof of
God's power to endow with characteristics not derived from, and
resulting in qualities unlike, the surroundings.

Gideon had no thought of any significance beyond that. But we may
allowably let the Scripture usage of the symbol of dew influence our
reading into the symbol a deeper meaning than it bore to him.

God makes the fleece wet with dew, while all the threshing-floor is
dry. Dew is the symbol of divine grace, of the silently formed moisture
which, coming from no apparent source, freshens by night the wilted
plants, and hangs in myriad drops, that twinkle into green and gold as
the early sunshine strikes them, on the humblest twig. That grace is
plainly not a natural product nor to be accounted for by environment.
The dew of the Spirit, which God and God only, can give, can freshen
our worn and drooping souls, can give joy in sorrow, can keep us from
being touched by surrounding evils, and from being parched by
surrounding drought, can silently 'distil' its supplies of strength
according to our need into our else dry hearts.

The wet fleece on the dry ground was not only a revelation of God's
power, but may be taken as a pattern of what God's soldiers must ever
be. A prophet long after Gideon said: 'The remnant of Jacob shall be in
the midst of many peoples as dew from the Lord,' bringing to others the
grace which they have received that they may diffuse it, and turning
the dry and thirsty land where no water is into fertility, and the
'parched ground' into a 'pool.'

We have said that the main point of Gideon's petition was that the
fleece should be made unlike the threshing-floor, and that that
unlikeness, which could obviously not be naturally brought about, was
to be to him the sure token that God was at work to produce it. The
strongest demonstration that the Church can give the world of its
really being God's Church is its unlikeness to the world. If it is wet
with divine dew when all the threshing-floor is dry, and if, when all
the floor is drenched with poisonous miasma, it is dry from the
diffused and clinging malaria, the world will take knowledge of it, and
some souls be set to ask how this unlikeness comes. When Haman has to
say: 'There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among
the peoples ... and their laws are diverse from those of every people,'
he may meditate murder, but 'many from among the people of the land'
will join their ranks. Gideon may or may not have thought of the fleece
as a symbol of his little host, but we may learn from it the old
lesson, 'Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the
renewing of your minds.'



'FIT, THOUGH FEW'

'Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him,
rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host
of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh,
in the valley. 2. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are
with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands,
lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath
saved me. 3. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people,
saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart
early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and
two thousand; and there remained ten thousand. 4. And the Lord said
unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the
water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of
whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with
thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee. This shall not go with thee,
the same shall not go. 5. So he brought down the people unto the water:
and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with
his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise
every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. 6. And the number
of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three
hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees
to drink water. 7. And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred
men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine
hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place. 8. So
the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent
all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those
three hundred men. And the host of Midian was beneath him in the
valley.'--JUDGES vii 1-8.


Gideon is the noblest of the judges. Courage, constancy, and caution
are strongly marked in his character. The youngest son of an obscure
family in a small tribe, he humbly shrinks from the task imposed on
him,--not from cowardice or indolence, but from conscious weakness. Men
who are worthy to do such work as his are never forward to begin it,
nor backward in it when they are sure that it is God's will. He began
his war against Midian by warring against Baal, whose worship had
brought the oppressor. If any thorough deliverance from the misery
which departure from God has wrought is to be effected, we must destroy
the idols before we attack the spoilers. Cast out sin, and you cast out
sorrow. So he first earns his new name of Jerubbaal ('Let Baal plead'),
and is known as Baal's antagonist, before he blows the trumpet of
revolt. The name is an omen of victory. The hand that had smitten the
idol, and had not been withered, would smite Midian. Therefore that new
name is used in this chapter, which tells of the preparations for the
fight and its triumphant issue. From his home among the hills, he had
sent the fiery cross to the three northern tribes, who had been the
mainstay of Deborah's victory, and who now rallied around Gideon to the
number of thirty-two thousand. The narrative shows us the two armies
confronting each other on the opposite slopes of the valley of Jezreel,
where it begins to dip steeply towards the Jordan. Gideon and his men
are on the south side of the valley, above the fountain of Harod, or
'Trembling,' apparently so called from the confessed terror which
thinned his army. The word 'is afraid,' in verse 3, comes from the same
root. On the other side of the glen, not far from the site of the
Philistine camp on the day of Saul's last defeat, lay the
far-stretching camp of the invaders, outnumbering Israel by four to
one. For seven years these Midianite marauders had paralysed Israel,
and year by year had swarmed up this valley from the eastern desert,
and thence by the great plain had penetrated into every corner of the
land, as far south as Gaza, devouring like locusts. It is the same easy
route by which, to this day, the Bedouin find their way into Palestine,
whenever the weak Turkish Government is a little weaker or more corrupt
than usual. Apparently, the Midianites were on their homeward march,
laden with spoil, and very contemptuous of the small force across the
valley, who, on their part, had not shaken off their terror of the
fierce nomads who had used them as they pleased for seven years.

I. Note, as the first lesson taught here, the divinely appointed
disproportion between means and end, and its purpose. Many an Israelite
would look across to the long lines of black tents, and think, 'We are
too few for our task'; but to God's eye they were too many, and the
first necessity was to weed them out. The numbers must be so reduced
that the victory shall be unmistakably God's, not theirs. The same sort
of procedure, and for the same reason, runs through all God's dealings.
It is illustrated in a hundred Scripture instances, and is stated most
plainly by Paul in his triumphant eloquence. He revels in telling how
foolish, weak, base things, that are _no_ things in the world's
estimate, have been chosen to cover with shame wise, strong, honoured
things, which seem to be somewhat; and he gives the same reason as our
lesson does, 'that no flesh should glory in His presence.' Eleven poor
men on one side, and all the world on the other, made fearful odds. The
more unevenly matched are the respective forces, the more plainly does
the victory of the weaker demand for its explanation the intervention
of God. The old sneer, that 'Providence is always on the side of the
strongest battalions,' is an audacious misreading of history, and is
the very opposite of the truth. It is the weak battalions which win in
the long run, for the history of every good cause is the same. First,
it kindles a fire in the hearts of two or three nobodies, who are
burned in earlier times, and laughed at as fools, fanatics,
impracticable dreamers, in later ages, but whose convictions grow till,
one day, the world wakes up to find that everybody believes them, and
then it 'builds the tombs of the prophets.'

Why should God desire that there shall be no mistake as to who wins the
battle? The answer may very easily be so given as to make what is
really a token of His love become an unlovely and repellent trait in
His character. It is not eagerness for praise that moves Him, but
longing that men may have the blessedness of recognising His hand
fighting for them. It is for Israel's sake that He is so solicitous to
deliver them from the delusion of their having won the victory. It is
because He loves us and would fain have us made restful, confident, and
strong, in the assurance of His fighting for us, that He takes pains so
to order the history of His Church in the world, that it is one long
attestation of the omnipotence of weakness when His power flows through
it. To say 'Mine own hand hath saved me,' is to lose unspeakable peace
and blessing; to say 'Not I, but the grace of God in me,' is to be
serene and of good cheer in the face of outnumbering foes, and sure of
victory in all conflicts. Therefore God is careful to save us from
self-gratulation and self-confidence.

One lesson we may learn from this thinning of the ranks; namely, that
we need not be anxious to count heads, when we are sure that we are
doing His work, nor even be afraid of being in a minority. Minorities
are generally right when they are the apostles of new thoughts, though
the minorities which cleave to some old fossil are ordinarily wrong.
The prophet and his man were alone and ringed around with enemies, when
he said, 'They that be with us are more than they that be with them';
and yet he was right, for the mountain was full of horses and chariots
of fire. Let us be sure that we are on God's side, and then let us not
mind how few are in the ranks with us, nor be afraid, though the
far-extended front of the enemy threatens to curl around our flanks and
enclose us. The three hundred heroes had God with them, and that was
enough.

II. Note the self-applied test of courage which swept away so much
chaff. According to Deuteronomy xx. 8, the standing enactment was that
such a proclamation as that in verse 3 should precede every battle.
Much difficulty has been raised about the mention of Mount Gilead here,
as the only Mount Gilead otherwise mentioned in Scripture lay to the
east of Jordan. But perhaps the simplest solution is the true one,-that
there was another hilly region so named on the western side. The map of
the Palestine Exploration Fund attaches the name to the northern slopes
of the western end of Gilboa, where Gideon was now encamped, and that
is probably right. Be that as it may, the effect of the proclamation
was startling. Two-thirds of the army melted away. No doubt, many who
had flocked to Gideon's standard felt their valour oozing out at their
finger ends, when they came close to the enemy, and saw their long
array across the valley. It must have required some courage to confess
being afraid, but the cowards were numerous enough to keep each other
in countenance. Two out of three were panic-struck. I wonder if the
proportion would be less in Christ's army to-day, if professing
Christians were as frank as Gideon's men?

Why were the 'fearful' dismissed? Because fear is contagious; and, in
undisciplined armies like Gideon's, panic, once started, spreads
swiftly, and becomes frenzied confusion. The same thing is true in the
work of the Church to-day. Who that has had much to do with guiding its
operations has not groaned over the dead weight of the timid and
sluggish souls, who always see difficulties and never the way to get
over them? And who that has had to lead a company of Christian men has
not often been ready to wish that he could sound out Gideon's
proclamation, and bid the 'fearful and afraid' take away the chilling
encumbrance of their presence, and leave him with thinned ranks of
trusty men? Cowardice, dressed up as cautious prudence, weakens the
efficiency of every regiment in Christ's army.

Another reason for getting rid of the fearful is that fear is the
opposite of faith, and that therefore, where it is uppermost, the door
by which God's power can enter to strengthen is closed. Not that faith
must be free of all admixture of fear, but that it must subdue fear, if
a man is to be God's warrior, fighting in His strength. Many a tremor
would rock the hearts of the ten thousand who remained, but they so
controlled their terror that it did not overcome their faith. We do not
need, for our efficiency in Christ's service, complete exemption from
fear, but we do need to make the psalmist's resolve ours: 'I will
trust, and not be afraid.' Terror shuts the door against the entrance
of the grace which makes us conquerors, and so fulfils its own
forebodings; faith opens the door, and so fulfils its own confidences.

III. Note the final test. God required but few men, but He required
that these should be fit. The first test had sifted out the brave and
willing. The liquor was none the less, though so much froth had been
blown off. As Thomas Fuller says, there were 'fewer persons, but not
fewer men,' after the poltroons had disappeared. The second test, 'a
purgatory of water,' as the same wise and witty author calls it, was
still more stringent. The dwindled ranks were led down from their camp
on the slopes to the fountain and brook which lay in the valley near
the Midianites' camp. Gideon alone seems to have known that a test was
to be applied there; but he did not know what it was to be till they
reached the spring, and the soldiers did not know that they were
determining their fate when they drank. The two ways of drinking
clearly indicated a difference in the men. Those who glued their lips
to the stream and swilled till they were full, were plainly more
self-indulgent, less engrossed with their work, less patient of fatigue
and thirst, than those who caught up enough in their curved palms to
moisten their lips without stopping in their stride or breaking rank.
The former test was self-applied, and consciously so. This is no less
self-applied, though unconsciously. God shuts out no man from His army,
but men shut themselves out; sometimes knowingly, by avowed
disinclination for the warfare, sometimes unknowingly, by
self-indulgent habits, which proclaim their unfitness.

The great lesson taught here is that self-restraint in the use of the
world's goods is essential to all true Christian warfare. There are two
ways of looking at and partaking of these. We may either 'drink for
strength' or 'for drunkenness.' Life is to some men first a place for
strenuous endeavour, and only secondly a place of refreshment. Such
think of duty first and of water afterwards. To them, all the innocent
joys and pleasures of the natural life are as brooks by the way, of
which Christ's soldier should drink, mainly that he may be
re-invigorated for conflict. There are others whose conception of life
is a scene of enjoyment, for which work is unfortunately a necessary
but disagreeable preliminary. One does not often see such a character
in its pure perfection of sensualism; but plenty of approximations to
it are visible, and ugly sights they are. The roots of it are in us
all; and it cannot be too strongly insisted on that, unless it be
subdued, we cannot enlist in Christ's army, and shall never be counted
worthy to be His instruments. Such self-restraint is especially needful
to be earnestly inculcated on young men and women, to whom life is
opening as if it were a garden of delight, whose passions are strong,
whose sense is keen, whose experience is slender, and to whom all
earth's joys appeal more strongly than they do to those who have drunk
of the cup, and know how bitter is its sediment. It is especially
needful to be pealed into the ears of a generation like ours, in which
senseless luxury, the result of wealth which has increased faster than
the power of rightly using it, has attained such enormous proportions,
and is threatening, in commercial communities especially, to drown all
noble aspirations, and Spartan simplicity, and Christian self-devotion,
in its muddy flood. Surely never was Gideon's test more wanted for the
army of the Lord of hosts than it is to-day.

Such self-restraint gives double sweetness to enjoyments, which, when
partaken of more freely, pall on the jaded palate. 'The full soul
loatheth a honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is
sweet.' The senses are kept fine-edged, and the rare holidays are
sweeter because they are rare. The most refined prudence of the mere
sensualist would prescribe the same regimen as the Christian moralist
does. But from how different a motive! Christ calls for self-restraint
that we may be fit organs for His power, and bids us endure hardness
that we may be good soldiers of His. If we know anything of the true
sweetness of His fellowship and service, it will not be hard to drink
sparingly of earthly fountains, when we have the river of His pleasures
to drink from; nor will it be painful sacrifice to cast away imitation
jewels, in order to clasp in our hands the true riches of His love and
imparted life.



A BATTLE WITHOUT A SWORD

'And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream
unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake
of barley-bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent,
and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along.
14. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the
sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand
hath God delivered Midian, and all the host. 15, And it was so, when
Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof,
that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said,
Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.
16. And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he
put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps
within the pitchers. 17. And he said unto them, Look on me, and do
likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall
be, that as I do, so shall ye do. 18. When I blow with a trumpet, I and
all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of
all the camp, and say, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. 19. So
Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside
of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but
newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers
that were in their hands. 20. And the three companies blew the
trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left
hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they
cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. 21. And they stood every
man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried,
and fled. 22. And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the Lord set
every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and
the host fled to Beth-shittah in Zererath, and to the border of
Abel-meholah, unto Tabbath. 23. And the men of Israel gathered
themselves together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all
Manasseh, and pursued after the Midianites.'--JUDGES vii. 13-23.


To reduce thirty-two thousand to three hundred was a strange way of
preparing for a fight; and, no doubt, the handful left felt some
sinking of their courage when they looked on their own small number and
then on the widespread Midianite host. Gideon, too, would need
heartening. So the first thing to be noted is the encouragement given
him. God strengthens faith when it needs strengthening, and He has many
ways of doing so. Note that Gideon's visit to the Midianite camp was on
'the same night' on which his little band was left alone after the
ordeal by water. How punctually to meet our need, when it begins to be
felt, does God's help come! It was by God's command that he undertook
the daring adventure of stealing down to the camp. We can fancy how
silently he and Phurah crept down the hillside, and, with hushed breath
and wary steps, lest they should stumble on and wake some sleeper, or
even rouse some tethered camel, picked their way among the tents. But
they had God's command and promise, and these make men brave, and turn
what would else be foolhardy into prudence. Ho put his ear to the black
camel's-hair wall of one tent, and heard what his faith could not but
recognise as God's message to him.

The soldier's dream was just such as such a man would dream in such
circumstances. A round loaf of barley (the commonest kind of bread) was
dreamed of as rolling down from a height and upsetting '_the_ tent.'
The use of the definite article seems to point to some particular tent,
perhaps simply the one in which the dreamer lay, or perhaps the
general's; but the noun may be used as a collective, and what is meant
may be that the loaf went through the camp, overturning all the tents
in its way. The interpretation needed no Daniel, but the immediate
explanation given, shows not only the transparency of the symbol, but
the dread in the Midianite ranks of Gideon's prowess. A nameless awe,
which goes far to produce the defeat it dreads, was beginning to creep
over them. It finds utterance both in the dream and in its translation.
The tiny loaf worked effects disproportioned to its size. A rock
thundering down the hillside might have mass and momentum enough to
level a line of tents, but one poor loaf to do it! Some mightier than
human hand must have set it going on its career. So the soldier
interprets that God had delivered the army into Gideon's hand.

This dream suggests two or three considerations. In several instances
we find God speaking to those outside Israel by dreams; for example, to
Pharaoh and his two officers, Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate's wife. It is the
lowest form of divine communication, and, like other lower forms, is
not to be looked for when the higher teaching of the Spirit of Christ
is open to us all.

Again, while both dream and interpretation might be accounted for on
simply natural grounds, a deeper insight into the so-called 'natural'
brings us to see it as all penetrated by the operations of the
ever-present God. And the coincidences which brought Gideon to just
that tent among the thousands along the valley at just the moment when
the two startled sleepers were talking, might well strike Gideon, as
they did, as being God's own fulfilment of the promise that 'what they
say' would strengthen his hands for the attack (v. 11).

Further, Gideon had already had the sign of the fleece and the dew; but
God does not disdain to let him have an additional encouragement, and
to let him draw confirmation of his own token from the talk of two
Midianites. Faith may be buttressed by men's words, albeit its only
foundation is God's.

Gideon has a place in the muster-roll of heroes of faith in Hebrews
xi., and his whole conduct in this incident proves his right to stand
there. 'He worshipped,' for his soul went out in trust to God, whose
voice he heard through the two Midianites, and bowed in thankfulness
and submissive obedience. There could be no outward worship there, with
an army of sleepers close by, but the silent uplifting of confidence
and desire reaches God and strengthens the man. So he went back with
new assurance of victory, and roused his sleeping band.

Mark his words as another token of his faith. The Midianite interpreter
had said, '_God_ has delivered'; Gideon says, 'The _Lord_ has
delivered.' The former name is the more general, and is natural on the
lips of a heathen; the latter is the covenant name, and to use it
implies reliance on the Jehovah revealed by His acts to Israel. The
Midianite had said that the host was delivered into Gideon's hand; he
says that it is delivered into the hands of the three hundred,
suppressing himself and honouring them. God's soldiers must be willing
to 'esteem others better than themselves,' and to fight for God's
glory, not their own. The Midianite had said, 'This is ... the sword of
Gideon'; he bid his men cry 'the sword of _the Lord, and_ of Gideon.'
It was God's cause for which they were contending, not his; and yet it
was his, inasmuch as he was God's instrument. 'Excellent mixture,' says
Thomas Fuller, 'both joined together; admirable method, God put in the
first place. Where divine blessing leads up the van, and man's valour
brings up the battle, must not victory needs follow in the rear?'

Gideon does not seem to have been divinely directed to the stratagem by
which the Midianites were thrown into panic. He had been promised
victory, but that does not lead him to idle waiting for fulfilment of
the promise. 'To wait for God's performance in doing nothing is to
abuse that divine providence, which will so work that it will not allow
us to idle' (_Bishop Hall_). True faith will wisely adopt means to
reach promised ends, and, having used brain and hand as if all depended
on ourselves, will look to Him, as if nothing depended on us, but all
on Him.

There was strong faith as well as daring and skilful generalship in
leading down the three hundred, with no weapons but trumpets and
pitchers, to close quarters with an armed enemy so superior in numbers.
And did it not need some faith, too, not only in Gideon but in God, on
the part of his band, to plunge down the hill on such an errand, each
man with both his hands full, and so unable to strike a blow? The other
three hundred at Thermopylae have been wept over and sung; were not
these three hundred as true heroes? Let us not count heads when we are
called on to take God's side. His soldiers are always in the minority,
but, if He is reckoned in, the minority becomes the majority. 'They
that be with us are more than they that be with them.'

One can fancy the sleepers starting up dazed by the sudden bray of the
trumpets and the wild shout of that war-cry yelled from every side. As
they stumbled out of their tents, without leaders, without knowledge of
the numbers of their foe, and saw all around the flaring torches, and
heard the trumpet-blasts, which seemed to speak of an immense attacking
force, no wonder that panic shook them, and they fled. Huge mobs of
undisciplined men, as Eastern armies are, and these eminently were, are
especially liable to such infectious alarms; and the larger the force,
the faster does panic spread, the more unmanageable does the army
become, and the more fatal are the results. Each man reflects, and so
increases, his neighbour's fear. 'Great armies, once struck with
amazement, are like wounded whales. Give them but line enough, and the
fishes will be the fishermen to catch themselves.'

So the host broke up in wild disorder, and hurried in fragments towards
the Jordan fords, trampling each other down as they raced through the
darkness, and each man, as he ran, dreading to feel the enemy's sword
in his back next moment. `The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the
righteous is bold as a lion.' Thus without stroke of weapon was the
victory won. The battle was the Lord's.

And the story is not antiquated in substance, however the form of the
contests which God's soldiers have to-day to fight has changed. Still
it is true that we shall only wage war aright when we feel that it is
His cause for which we contend, and His sword which wins the victory.
If Gideon had put himself first in his warcry, or had put his own name
only in it, the issue would have been different.

May we not also venture to apply the peculiar accoutrements of the
victorious three hundred to ourselves? Christ's men have no weapons to
wield but the sounding out from them, as from a trumpet, of the word of
the Lord, and the light of a Christian life shining through earthen
vessels. If we boldly lift up our voices in the ancient war-cry, and
let that word peal forth from us, and flash the light of holy lives on
a dark world, we may break the sleeper's slumbers to a glad waking, and
win the noblest of victories by leading them to enlist in the army of
our Captain, and to become partakers of His conquests by letting Him
conquer, and thereby save them.



STRENGTH PROFANED AND LOST

'But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him
down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in
the prison-house. 22, Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again
after he was shaven. 23. Then the lords of the Philistines gathered
them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and
to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into
our hand. 24. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for
they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the
destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. 25. And it came to
pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson,
that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the
prison-house; and he made them sport; and they set him between the
pillars. 20. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand.
Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth,
that I may lean upon them. 27. Now the house was full of men and women;
and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon
the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson
made sport. 28. And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God,
remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this
once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Phillistines.  And he
bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords,
and upon all the people that were therein.  So the dead which he slew
at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.  31. Then
his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him,
and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Ishtaol in the
burying place of Munnah his father.  And he judged Israel twenty
years.'--Judges xvi. 21-31.


Nobody could be less like the ordinary idea of an Old Testament 'saint'
than Samson. His gift from 'the spirit of the Lord' was simply physical
strength, and it was associated with the defects of his qualities. His
passions were strong, and apparently uncontrolled. He had no moral
elevation or religious fervour. He led no army against the Philistines,
nor seems to have had any fixed design of resisting them. He seeks a
wife among them, and is ready to feast and play at riddles with them.
When he does attack them, it is because he is stung by personal
injuries; and it is only with his own arm that he strikes. His exploits
have a mixture of grim humour and fierce hatred quite unlike anything
else in Scripture, and more resembling the horse-play of Homeric or
Norse heroes than the stern purpose and righteous wrath of a soldier
who felt that he was God's instrument. We seem to hear his loud
laughter as he ties the firebrands to the struggling jackals, or swings
the jaw-bone. A strange champion for Jehovah! But we must not leave out
of sight, in estimating his character, the Nazarite vow, which his
parents had made before his birth, and he had endorsed all his life.


That supplies the substratum which is lacking, The unshorn hair and the
abstinence from wine were the signs of consecration to God, which might
often fail of reaching the deepest recesses of the will and spirit, but
still was real, and gave the point of contact for the divine gift of
strength. Samson's strength depended on his keeping the vow, of which
the outward sign was the long, matted locks; and therefore, when he let
these be shorn, he voluntarily cast away his dependence on and
consecration to God, and his strength ebbed from him. He had broken the
conditions on which he received it, and it disappeared. So the story
which connects the loss of his long hair with the loss of his
superhuman power has a worthy meaning, and puts in a picturesque form
an eternal truth.

We see here, first, Samson the prisoner. Milton has caught the spirit
of the sad picture in verses 21 and 22, in that wonderful line,

           'Eyeless, in Gaza, at the mill, with slaves,'

in which the clauses drop heavily like slow tears, each adding a new
touch of woe. The savage manners of the times used the literal forcing
out of the eyes from their sockets as the easiest way of reducing
dangerous enemies to harmlessness. Pitiable as the loss was, Samson was
better blind than seeing. The lust of the eye had led him astray, and
the loss of his sight showed him his sin. Fetters of brass betrayed his
jailers' dread of his possibly returning strength; and the menial task
to which he was set was meant as a humiliation, in giving him woman's
work to do, as if this were all for which the eclipsed hero was now
fit. Generous enemies are merciful; the baser sort reveal their former
terror by the indignities they offer to their prisoner.

In Samson we see an impersonation of Israel. Like him, the nation was
strong so long as it kept the covenant of its God. Like him, it was
ever prone to follow after strange loves. Its Delilahs were the gods of
the heathen, in whose laps it laid its anointed head, and at whose
hands it suffered the loss of its God-given strength; for, like Samson,
Israel was weak when it forgot its consecration, and its punishment
came from the objects of its infatuated desires. Like him, it was
blinded, bound, and reduced to slavery, for all its power was held, as
was his, on condition of loyalty to God. His life is as a mirror, in
which the nation might see their own history reflected; and the lesson
taught by the story of the captive hero, once so strong, and now so
weak, is the lesson which Moses taught the nation: 'Because thou
servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of
heart, by reason of the abundance of all things: therefore shalt thou
serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger,
and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things, and He
shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck' (Deut. xxviii. 47, 48). The
blind Samson, chained, at the mill, has a warning for us, too. That is
what God's heroes come to, if once they prostitute the God-given
strength to the base loves of self and the flattering world. We are
strong only as we keep our hearts clear of lower loves, and lean on God
alone. Delilah is most dangerous when honeyed words drop from her lips.
The world's praise is more harmful than its censure. Its favours are
only meant to draw the secret of our strength from us, that we may be
made weak; and nothing gives the Philistines so much pleasure as the
sight of God's warriors caught in their toils and robbed of power.

But Samson's misery was Samson's blessedness. The 'howbeit' of verse 22
is more than a compensation for all the wretchedness. The growth of his
hair is not there mentioned as a mere natural fact, nor with the
superstitious notion that his hair made him strong. God made him strong
on condition of his keeping his vow of consecration. The long matted
locks were the visible sign that he kept it. Their loss was the
consequence of his own voluntary breach of it. So their growth was the
visible token that the fault was being repaired. Chastisement wrought
sorrow; and in the bondage of the prison he found freedom from the
worse chains of sin, and in its darkness felt the dawning of a better
light. As Bishop Hall puts it: 'His hair grew together with his
repentance, and his strength with his hair.' The cruelties of the
Philistines were better for him than their kindness. The world outwits
itself when it presses hard on God's deserters, and thus drives them to
repent. God mercifully takes care that His wandering children shall not
have an easy time of it; and his chastisements, at their sharpest, are
calls to us to come back to Him. Well for those, even if in chains, who
know their meaning, and yield to it.

II. We have here Samson,--the occasion of godless triumph. The worst
consequence of the fall of a servant of God is that it gives occasion
for God's enemies to blaspheme, and reflects discredit on Him, as if He
were vanquished. Samson's capture is Dagon's glory. The strife between
Philistia and Israel was, in the eyes of both combatants, a struggle
between their gods; and so the men of Gaza lit their sacrificial fires
and sent up their hymns to their monstrous deity as victor. What would
Samson's bitter thoughts be, as the sound of the wild rejoicings
reached him in his prison? And is not all this true to-day? If ever
some conspicuous Christian champion falls into sin or inconsistency,
how the sky is rent with shouts of malicious pleasure! What paragons of
virtue worldly men become all at once! How swiftly the conclusion is
drawn that all Christians are alike, and none of them any better than
the non-Christian world! How much more harm the one flaw does than all
the good which a life of service has done! The faults of Christians are
the bulwarks of unbelief. `The name of God is blasphemed among the
Gentiles through you.' The honour of Christ is a sacred trust, and it
is in the keeping of us His followers. Our sins do not only darken our
own reputation, but they cloud His. Dagon's worshippers have a right to
rejoice when they have Samson safe in their prison, with his eyes out.

III. We have Samson made a buffoon for drunkards. The feasts of
heathenism were wild orgies, very unlike the pure joy of the
sacrificial meals in Jehovah's worship. Dagon's temple was filled with
a drunken crowd, whose mirth would be made more boisterous by a spice
of cruelty. So, a roar of many voices calls for Samson, and this
deepest degradation is not spared him. The words employed for 'make
sport' seem to require that we should understand that he was not
brought out to be the passive object of their gibes and drunken
mockery, but was set to play the fool for their delectation. They imply
that he had to dance and laugh, while three thousand gaping
Philistines, any one of whom would have run for his life if he had been
free, fed their hatred by the sight. Perhaps his former reputation for
mirth and riddles suggested this new cruelty. Surely there is no more
pathetic picture than that of the blind hero, with such thoughts as we
know were seething in him, dragged out to make a Philistine holiday,
and set to play the clown, while the bitterness of death was in his
soul. And this is what God's soldiers come down to, when they forget
Him: 'they that wasted us required of us mirth.'

Wearied with his humiliating exertions, the blind captive begs the boy
who guided him to let him lean, till he can breathe again, on the
pillars that held up the light roof. We need not discuss the probable
architecture of Dagon's temple, of which we know nothing. Only we may
notice that it is not said that there were only _two_ pillars, but
rather necessarily implied that there were more than two, for those
against which he leaned were 'the two middle' ones. It is quite easy to
understand how, if there were a row of them, knocking out the two
strongest central ones would bring the whole thing down, especially
when there was such a load on the flat roof. Apparently the principal
people were in the best places on the ground floor, sheltered from the
sun by the roof, on which the commonalty were clustered, all waiting
for what their newly discovered mountebank would do next, after he had
breathed himself. The pause was short, and they little dreamed of what
was to follow.

IV. We have the last cry and heroic death of Samson. It is not to be
supposed that his prayer was audible to the crowd, even if it were
spoken aloud. It is not an elevated prayer, but is, like all the rest
of his actions at their best, deeply marked with purely personal
motives. The loss of his two eyes is uppermost in his mind, and he
wants to be revenged for them. Instead of trying to make a lofty hero
out of him, it is far better to recognise frankly the limitations of
his character and the imperfections of his religion. The distance
between him and the New Testament type of God's soldier measures the
progress which the revelation of God's will has made, and the debt we
owe to the Captain of the host for the perfect example which He has
set. The defects and impurity of Samson's zeal, which yet was accepted
of God, preach the precious lesson that God does not require virtues
beyond the standard of the epoch of revelation at which His servants
stand, and that imperfection does not make service unacceptable. If the
merely human passion of vengeance throbbed fiercely in Samson's prayer,
he had never heard 'Love your enemies'; and, for his epoch, the
destruction of the enemies of God and Israel was duty. He was not the
only soldier of God who has let personal antagonism blend with his zeal
for God; and we have less excuse, if we do it, than he had.

But there is the true core of religion in the prayer. It is penitence
which pleads, 'Remember me, O Lord God!' He knows that his sin has
broken the flow of loving divine thought to him, but he asks that the
broken current may be renewed. Many a silent tear had fallen from
Samson's blind eyes, before that prayer could have come to his lips, as
he leaned on the great pillars. Clear recognition of the Source of his
strength is in the prayer; if ever he had forgotten, in Delilah's lap,
where it came from, he had recovered his conscious dependence amid the
misery of the prison. There is humility in the prayer 'Only this once.'
He feels that, after such a fall, no more of the brilliant exploits of
former days are possible. They who have brought such despite on Jehovah
and such honour to Dagon may be forgiven, and even restored to much of
their old vigour, but they must not be judges in Israel any more. The
best thing left for the penitent Samson is death.

He had been unconscious of the departure of his strength, but he seems
to have felt it rushing back into his muscles; so he grasps the two
pillars with his mighty hands; the crowd sees that the pause for breath
is over, and prepares to watch the new feats. Perhaps we may suppose
that his last words were shouted aloud, 'Let me die with the
Philistines!' and before they have been rightly taken in by the mob, he
sways himself backwards for a moment, and then, with one desperate
forward push, brings down the two supports, and the whole thing rushes
down to hideous ruin amid shrieks and curses and groans. But Samson
lies quiet below the ruins, satisfied to die in such a cause.

He 'counted not his life dear' unto himself, that he might be God's
instrument for God's terrible work. The last of the judges teaches us
that we too, in a nobler cause, and for men's life, not their
destruction, must be ready to hazard and give our lives for the great
Captain, who in His death has slain more of our foes than He did in His
life, and has laid it down as the law for all His army, 'He that loseth
his life for My sake shall find it.'

How beautifully the quiet close of the story follows the stormy scene
of the riotous assembly and the sudden destruction. The Philistines,
crushed by this last blow, let the dead hero's kindred search for his
body amid the chaos, and bear it reverently up from the plain to the
quiet grave among the hills of Dan, where Manoah his father slept.
There they lay that mighty frame to rest. It will be troubled no more
by fierce passions or degrading chains. Nothing in his life became him
like the leaving of it. The penitent heroism of its end makes us
lenient to the flaws in its course; and we leave the last of the judges
to sleep in his grave, recognising in him, with all his faults and
grossness, a true soldier of God, though in strange garb.



THE BOOK OF RUTH



A GENTLE HEROINE, A GENTILE CONVERT

'And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from
following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou
lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my
God: 17. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the
Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
18. When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then
she left speaking unto her. 19. So they two went until they came to
Beth-lehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Beth-lehem,
that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
20. And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the
Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. 21. I went out full, And the
Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi,
seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath
afflicted me? 22. So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her
daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab:
and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley harvest.'--RUTH
1 16-22.


The lovely idyl of _Ruth_ is in sharp contrast with the bloody and
turbulent annals of _Judges_. It completes, but does not contradict,
these, and happily reminds us of what we are apt to forget in reading
such pages, that no times are so wild but that in them are quiet
corners, green oases, all the greener for their surroundings, where
life glides on in peaceful isolation from the tumult. Men and women
love and work and weep and laugh, the gossips of Bethlehem talk over
Naomi's return ('they said,' in verse 19, is feminine), Boaz stands
among his corn, and no sounds of war disturb them. Thank God! the
blackest times were not so dismal in reality as they look in history.
There are clefts in the grim rock, and flowers blooming, sheltered in
the clefts. The peaceful pictures of this little book, multiplied many
thousand times, have to be set as a background to the lurid pictures of
the _Book of Judges_.

The text begins in the middle of Naomi's remonstrance with her two
daughters-in-law. We need not deal with the former part of the
conversation, nor follow Orpah as she goes back to her home and her
gods. She is the first in the sad series of those, 'not far from the
kingdom of God,' who needed but a little more resolution at the
critical moment, and, for want of it, shut themselves out from the
covenant, and sank back to a world which they had half renounced.

So these two lonely widows are left, each seeking to sacrifice herself
for the other. Who shall decide which was the more noble and truly
womanly in her self-forgetfulness,--the elder, sadder heart, which
strove to secure for the other some joy and fellowship at the price of
its own deepened solitude; or the younger, which steeled itself against
entreaties, and cast away friends and country for love's sweet sake? We
rightly praise Ruth's vow, but we should not forget Naomi's unselfish
pleading to be left to tread her weary path alone.

Ruth's passionate burst of tenderness is immortal. It has put into
fitting words for all generations the deepest thoughts of loving
hearts, and comes to us over all the centuries between, as warm and
living as when it welled up from that gentle, heroic soul. The two
strongest emotions of our nature are blended in it, and each gives a
portion of its fervour--love and religion. So closely are they
interwoven that it is difficult to allot to each its share in the
united stream; but, without trying to determine to which of them the
greater part of its volume and force is due, and while conscious of the
danger of spoiling such words by comments weaker than themselves, we
may seek to put into distinct form the impressions which they make.

We see in them the heroism of gentleness. Put the sweet figure of the
Moabitess beside the heroes of the _Book of Judges_, and we feel the
contrast. But is there anything in its pages more truly heroic than her
deed, as she turned her back on the blue hills of Moab, and chose the
joyless lot of the widowed companion of a widow aged and poor, in a
land of strangers, the enemies of her country and its gods? It is
easier far to rush on the spears of the foe, amid the whirl and
excitement of battle, than to choose with open eyes so dreary a
lifelong path. The gentleness of a true woman covers a courage of the
patient, silent sort, which, in its meek steadfastness, is nobler than
the contempt of personal danger, which is vulgarly called bravery. It
is harder to endure than to strike. The supreme type of heroic, as of
all, virtue is Jesus Christ, whose gentleness was the velvet glove on
the iron hand of an inflexible will. Of that best kind of heroes there
are few brighter examples, even in the annals of the Church which
numbers its virgin martyrs by the score, than this sweet figure of
Ruth, as the eager vow comes from her young lips, which had already
tasted sorrow, and were ready to drink its bitterest cup at the call of
duty. She may well teach us to rectify our judgments, and to recognise
the quiet heroism of many a modest life of uncomplaining suffering. Her
example has a special message to women, and exhorts them to see to it
that, in the cultivation of the so-called womanly excellence of
gentleness, they do not let it run into weakness, nor, on the other
hand, aim at strength, to the loss of meekness. The yielding
birch-tree, the 'lady of the woods,' bends in all its elastic branches
and tossing ringlets of foliage to the wind; but it stands upright
after storms that level oaks and pines. God's strength is gentle
strength, and ours is likest His when it is meek and lowly, like that
of the 'strong Son of God.'

Ruth's great words may suggest, too, the surrender which is the natural
language of true love. Her story comes in among all these records of
bloodshed and hate, like a bit of calm blue sky among piles of ragged
thunder-clouds, or a breath of fresh air in the oppressive atmosphere
of a slaughter-house. Even in these wild times there was still a quiet
corner where love could spread his wings. The question has often been
asked, what the purpose of the _Book of Ruth_ is, and various answers
have been given. The genealogical table at the end, showing David's
descent from her, the example which it supplies of the reception of a
Gentile into Israel, and other reasons for its presence in Scripture,
have been alleged, and, no doubt, correctly. But the Bible is a very
human book, just because it is a divine one; and surely it would be no
unworthy object to enshrine in its pages a picture of the noble working
of that human love which makes so much of human life. The hallowing of
the family is a distinct purpose of the Old Testament, and the
beautiful example which this narrative gives of the elevating influence
of domestic affection entitles it to a place in the canon. How many
hearts, since Ruth spoke her vow, have found in it the words that
fitted their love best! How often they have been repeated by quivering
lips, and heard as music by loving ears! How solemn, and even awful, is
that perennial freshness of words which came hot and broken by tears,
from lips that have long ago mouldered into dust! What has made them
thus 'enduring for ever,' is that they express most purely the
self-sacrifice which is essential to all noble love. The very inmost
longing of love is to give itself away to the object beloved. It is not
so much a desire to acquire as to bestow, or, rather, the antithesis of
giving and receiving melts into one action which has a twofold
motion,--one outwards, to give; one inwards, to receive. To love is to
give one's self away, therefore all lesser givings are its food and
delight; and, when Ruth threw herself on Naomi's withered breast, and
sobbed out her passionate resolve, she was speaking the eternal
language of love, and claiming Naomi for her own, in the very act of
giving herself to Naomi, Human love should be the parent of all
self-sacrificing as of all heroic virtues; and in our homes we do not
live in love, as we ought, unless it leads us to the daily exercise of
self-suppression and surrender, which is not felt to be loss but the
natural expression of our love, which it would be a crime against it,
and a pain to ourselves, to withhold. If Ruth's temper lived in our
families, they would be true 'houses of God' and 'gates of heaven.'

We hear in Ruth's words also that forsaking of all things which is an
essential of all true religion. We have said that it was difficult to
separate, in the words, the effects of love to Naomi from those of
adoption of Naomi's faith. Apparently Ruth's adhesion to the worship of
Jehovah was originally due to her love for her mother-in-law. It is in
order to be one with her in all things that she says, 'Thy God shall be
my God.' And it was because Jehovah was Naomi's God that Ruth chose Him
for hers. But whatever the origin of her faith, it was genuine and
robust enough to bear the strain of casting Chemosh and the gods of
Moab behind her, and setting herself with full purpose of heart to seek
the Lord. Abandoning them was digging an impassable gulf between
herself and all her past, with its friendships, loves, and habits. She
is one of the first, and not the least noble, of the long series of
those who 'suffer the loss of all things, and count them but dung, that
they may win' God for their dearest treasure. We have seen how, in her,
human love wrought self-sacrifice. But it was not human love alone that
did it. The cord that drew her was twisted of two strands, and her love
to Naomi melted into her love of Naomi's God. Blessed they who are
drawn to the knowledge and love of the fountain of all love in heaven
by the sweetness of the characters of His representatives in their
homes, and who feel that they have learned to know God by seeing Him in
dear ones, whose tenderness has revealed His, and whose gracious words
have spoken of His grace! If Ruth teaches us that we must give up all,
in order truly to follow the Lord, the way by which she came to her
religion may teach us how great are the possibilities, and consequently
the duties, of Christians to the members of their own families. If we
had more elder women like Naomi, we should have more younger women like
Ruth.

The self-sacrifice which is possible and blessed, even to inferior
natures, at the bidding of love, is too precious to be squandered on
earthly objects. Men's capacities for it, at the call of dear ones
here, should be the rebuke of their grudging surrender to God. He gave
the capacity that it might find its true field of operation in our
relation to Him. But how much more ready we all are to give up
everything for the sake of our Naomis than for His sake: and how we may
be our own accusers, if the measure of our devotion to them be
contrasted with the measure of our devotion to God!

Finally, we may see, in Ruth's entrance into the religion of Israel, a
picture of what was intended to be the effect of Israel's relation with
the Gentile world.

The household of Elimelech emigrated to Moab in a famine, and, whether
that were right or wrong, they were there among heathens as Jehovah
worshippers. They were meant to be missionaries, and, in Ruth's case,
the purpose was fulfilled. She became the 'first-fruits of the
Gentiles'; and one aim of the book, no doubt, is to show how the
believing Gentile was to be incorporated into Israel. Boaz rejoices
over her, and especially over her conversion, and prays, 'A full reward
be given thee of Jehovah, the God of Israel, under whose wings thou art
come to trust.' She is married to him, and becomes the ancestress of
David, and, through him, of the Messiah. All this is a beautiful
completion to the other side of the picture which the fierce fighting
in Judges makes prominent, and teaches that Israel's relation to the
nations around was not to be one of mere antagonism, but that they had
another mission than destruction, and were set in their land, as the
candlestick in the Tabernacle, that light might stream out into the
darkness of the desert. The story of the Moabitess, whose blood flowed
in David's veins, was a standing protest against the later narrow
exclusiveness which called Gentiles 'dogs,' and prided itself on
outward connection with the nation, in the exact degree in which it
lost real union with the nation's God, and real understanding of the
nation's mission.

We have left ourselves no space to speak of the remainder of this
passage, which is of less importance. It gives us a lively picture of
the stir in the little town of Bethlehem, as the two way-worn women
came into it, in their strange attire, and attracting notice by
travelling alone. As we have observed, 'they said,' in verse 19, is
feminine. The women of the village buzzed round the strangers, as they
sat in silence, perhaps by that well at the gate, of which, long after,
David longed to drink. Wonder, curiosity, and possibly a spice of
malice, mingle in the question, 'Is _this_ Naomi?' It is heartless, at
any rate; it had been better to have found them food and shelter than
to have let them sit, the mark for sharp tongues. Naomi's bitter words
seem to be moved partly by a sense of the coldness of the reception.
She realises that she has indeed come back to a changed world, where
there will be little sympathy except such as Ruth can give. It is with
almost passion that she abjures her name 'Pleasant,' as a satire on her
woful lot, and bids them call her 'Bitter,' as truer to fact now. The
burst of sorrow is natural, as she finds herself again where she had
been a wife and mother, and 'remembers happier things.' Her faith
wavers, and her words almost reproach God. The exaggerations in which
memory is apt to indulge colour them. 'I went out full.' She has
forgotten that they 'went out' to seek for bread. She only remembers
that four went away, and three sleep in Moab. Possibly she thinks of
their emigration as a sin, and traces her dear ones' deaths to God's
displeasure on its account. His 'testifying' against her probably means
that His providence in bereaving her witnessed to His disapprobation.
But, whether that be so or not, her wild words are not those of a
patient sufferer, who bows to His will. But true faith may sometimes
break down, and Ruth's 'trusting under the wings of Jehovah' is proof
enough that, in the long years of lonely sorrow, Naomi's example had
shown how peaceful and safe was the shelter there.



THE FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL



THE CHILD PROPHET

'And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word
of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision. 2.
And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place,
and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; 8. And ere the
lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God
was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; 4. That the Lord called Samuel:
and he answered, Here am I. 5. And he ran onto Eli, and said, Here am
I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And
he went and lay down. 6. And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And
Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call
me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. 7. Now
Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet
revealed unto him. 8. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time.
And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call
me. And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child. 9. Therefore
Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if He call thee,
that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth. So Samuel
went and lay down in his place. 10. And the Lord came, and stood, and
called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak;
for Thy servant heareth. 11. And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I
will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that
heareth it shall tingle. 12. In that day I will perform against Eli all
things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will
also make an end. 13. For I have told him that I will judge his house
for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made
themselves vile, and he restrained them not. 14. And therefore I have
sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not
be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.'--1 SAMUEL ill. 1-14.


The opening words of this passage are substantially repeated from 1
Samuel ii. 11,18. They come as a kind of refrain, contrasting the
quiet, continuous growth and holy service of the child Samuel with the
black narrative of Eli's riotous sons. While the hereditary priests
were plunging into debauchery, and making men turn away from the
Tabernacle services, Hannah's son was ministering unto the Lord, and,
though no priest, was 'girt with an ephod.' This white flower blossomed
on a dunghill. The continuous growth of a character, from a child
serving God, and to old age walking in the same path, is the great
lesson which the story of Samuel teaches us. 'The child is father of
the man,' and all his long days are 'bound each to each' by true
religion. There are two types of experience among God's greatest
servants. Paul, made an Apostle from a persecutor, heads the one class.
Timothy in the New Testament and Samuel in the Old, represent the
other. An Augustine or a Bunyan is made the more earnest, humble, and
whole-hearted by the remembrance of a wasted youth and of God's
arresting mercy. But there are a serenity and continuity about a life
which has grown up in the fear of God that have their own charm and
blessing. It is well to have 'much transgression' forgiven, but it may
be better to have always been 'innocent' and ignorant of it. Pardon
cleanses sin, and even turns the memory of it into an ally of holiness;
but traces are left on character, and, at the best, years have been
squandered which do not return. Samuel is the pattern of child religion
and service, to which teachers should aim that their children may be
conformed. How beautifully his double obedience is expressed in the
simple words! His service was 'unto the Lord,' and it was 'before Eli';
that is to say, he learned his work from the old man, and in obeying
him he served God. The child's religion is largely obedience to human
guides, and he serves God best by doing what he is bid,--a lesson
needed in our days by both parents and children.

Samuel's peaceful service is contrasted, in the second half of the
first verse, with the sad cessation of divine revelations in that
dreary time of national laxity. A demoralised priesthood, an alienated
people, a silent God,--these are the outstanding features of the period
when this fair life of continuous worship unfolded itself. This flower
grew in a desert. The voice of God had become a tradition of the past,
not an experience of the present. 'Rare' conveys the idea better than
'precious.' The intention is not to tell the estimate in which the word
was held, but the infrequency of its utterance, as appears from the
following parallel clause. The fact is mentioned in order to complete
the picture of Samuel's 'environment' to fling into relief against that
background his service, and to prepare the way for the narrative of the
beginning of an epoch of divine speech. When priests are faithless and
people careless, God's voice will often sound from lowly childlike
lips. The man who is to be His instrument in carrying on His work will
often come from the very centre of the old order, into which he is to
breathe new life, and on which he is to impress a new stamp.

The artless description of the night in the Tabernacle is broken by the
more general notice of Eli's dim sight, which the Revised Version
rightly throws into a parenthesis. It is somewhat marred, too, by the
transposition which the Authorised Version, following some more ancient
ones, has made, in order to avoid saying, as the Hebrew plainly does,
that Samuel slept in the 'Temple of the Lord, where the ark was.' The
picture is much more vivid and tender, if we conceive of the dim-eyed
old man, lying somewhat apart; of the glimmering light, nearly extinct
but still faintly burning; and of the child laid to sleep in the
Tabernacle. Surely the picturesque contrast between the sanctity of the
ark and the innocent sleep of childhood is meant to strike us, and to
serve as connecting the place with the subsequent revelation. Childlike
hearts, which thus quietly rest in the 'secret place of the Most High,'
and day and night are near His ark, will not fail of hearing His voice.
He sleeps secure who sleeps 'beneath the shadow of the Almighty.' May
not these particulars, too, be meant to have some symbolic
significance? Night hung over the nation. The spiritual eye of the
priest was dim, and the order seemed growing old and decrepit, but the
lamp of God had not altogether gone out; and if Eli was growing blind,
Samuel was full of fresh young life. The darkest hour is that before
the dawn; and that silent sanctuary, with the slumbering old half-blind
priest and the expiring lamp, may stand for an emblem of the state of
Israel.

The thrice-repeated and misunderstood call may yield lessons of value.
We note the familiar form of the call. There is no vision, no symbol of
the divine glory, such as other prophets had, but an articulate voice,
so human-like that it is thought to be Eli's. Such a kind of call
fitted the child's stature best. We note the swift, cheery obedience to
what he supposes to be Eli's voice. He sprang up at once, and 'ran to
Eli,'--a pretty picture of cheerful service, grudging not his broken
sleep, which, no doubt, had often been similarly broken by similar
calls. Perhaps it was in order to wait on Eli, quite as much as to tend
the lamp or open the gates, that the singular arrangement was made of
his sleeping in the Temple; and the reason for the previous parenthesis
about Eli's blindness may have been to explain why Samuel slept near
him. Where were Eli's sons? They should have been their father's
attendants, and the watchers 'by night ... in the house of the Lord';
but they were away rioting, and the care of both Temple and priest was
left to a child.

The old man's heart evidently went out to the boy. How tenderly he bids
him lie down again! How affectionately he calls him 'my son,' as if he
was already beginning to feel that this was his true successor, and not
the blackguards that were breaking his heart! The two were a pair of
friends: on the one side were sedulous care and swift obedience by
night and by day; on the other were affection and a discernment of
coming greatness, made the clearer by the bitter contrast with his own
children's lives. The old and the young are good companions for one
another, and often understand each other better and help each other
more than either does his contemporaries.

Samuel mistook God's voice for Eli's, as we all often do. And not less
often we make the converse blunder, and mistake Eli's voice for God's.
It needs a very attentive ear, and a heart purged from selfishness and
self-will, and ready for obedience, to know when God speaks, though men
may be His mouthpieces, and when men speak, though they may call
themselves His messengers. The child's mistake was venial. It is less
pardonable and more dangerous when repeated by us. If we would be
guarded against it, we must be continually where Samuel was, and we
must not _sleep_ in the Temple, but 'watch and be sober.'

Eli's perception that it was God who spoke must have had a pang in it.
It is not easy for the old to recognise that the young hear God's voice
more clearly than they, nor for the superior to be glad when he is
passed over and new truth dawns on the inferior. But, if there were any
such feeling, it is silenced with beautiful self-abnegation, and he
tells the wondering child the meaning of the voice and the answer he
must make. What higher service can any man do to his fellows, old or
young, than to help them to discern God's call and to obey it? What
nobler conception of a teacher's work is there than that? Eli heard no
voice, from which we may probably conclude that, however real the
voice, it was not audible to sense; but he taught Samuel to interpret
and answer the voice which he heard, and thus won some share of a
prophet's reward.

With what expectation in his young heart Samuel lay down again in his
place! This time there is an advance in the form of the call, for only
now do we read that the Lord 'came, and stood, and called' as before. A
manifestation, addressed to the inward eye, accompanied that to the
ear. There is no attempt at describing, nor at softening down, the
frank 'anthropomorphism' of the representation, which is the less
likely to mislead the more complete it is. Samuel had heard Him before;
he sees Him now, and mistake is impossible. But there is no terror nor
recoil from the presence. The child's simplicity saves from that, and
the child's purity; for his little life had been a growing in service
and 'in favour with God and man.'

The answer that came from the child's lips meant far more than the
child knew. It is the answer which we are all bound to make. Let us see
how deep and wide its scope is. It expresses the entire surrender of
the will to the will of God. That is the secret of all peace and
nobleness. There is nothing happy or great for man in this world but to
love and do God's will. All else is nought. This is solid. 'The world
passeth away, ... but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.'
Everything besides is show and delusion, and a life directed to it is
fleeting as the cloud-wrack that sweeps across the sky, and, whether it
is shone on or is black, is equally melting away. Happy the child who
begins with such surrender of self to be God's instrument, and who,
like Samuel, can stand up at the end and challenge men's judgment on
his course!

The answer vows prompt obedience to yet undisclosed duty. God ever
calls His servants to tasks which only by degrees are made known. So
Paul in his conversion was bid to go into Damascus, and there learn
what more he was to do. We must first put ourselves in God's hands, and
then He will lead us round the turn in the road, and show us our work.
We get it set for us bit by bit, but the surrender must be entire. The
details of His will are revealed as we need them for the moment's
guidance. Let us accept them in bulk, and stand to the acceptance in
each single case! That is no obedience at all which says, 'Tell me
first what you are going to bid me do, and then I will see whether I
will do it.' The true spirit of filial submission says, 'I delight to
do Thy will; now show me what it is.' It was a strange, long road on
which Samuel put his foot when he answered this call, and he little
knew where it was to lead him. But the blessing of submission is that
we do not need to know. It is enough to see where to put our lifted
foot. What comes next we can let God settle.

The answer supplicated further light because of present obedience.
'Speak! for Thy servant heareth,' is a plea never urged in vain. The
servant's open ear is a reason for the Lord's open lips. We may be
quite sure that, if we are willing to hear, He is more than willing to
speak; and anything is possible rather than that His children shall be
left, like ill-commanded soldiers on a battlefield, waiting for orders
which never come. 'If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know.'

The sad prophecy which is committed to such apparently incongruous lips
reiterates a former message by 'a man of God.' Eli was a kindly, and,
in his way, good man, but wanting in firmness, and acquiescent in evil,
partly, perhaps, from lack of moral courage and partly from lack of
fervent religion. He is not charged with faults in his own
administration of his office, but with not curbing his disreputable
sons. The threatenings are directed, not against himself, but against
his 'house,' who are to be removed from the high priestly office.
Nothing less than a revolution is foretold. The deposition of Eli's
family would shake the whole framework of society. It is to be utterly
destroyed, and no sacrifice nor offering can purge it. The ulcer must
have eaten deep which required such stern measures for its excision.
The sin was mainly the sons'; but the guilt was largely the father's.
We may learn how cruel paternal laxity is, and how fatal mischief may
be done, by neglect of the plain duty of restraining children. He who
tolerates evil which it is his province to suppress, is an accomplice,
and the blood of the doers is red on his hands.

It was a terrible message to give to a child; but Samuel's calling was
to be the guide of Israel in a period of transition, and he had to be
broken early into the work, which needed severity as well as
tenderness. Perhaps, too, the stern message was somewhat softened, for
the poor old man, by the lips through which it came to him. All that
reverent love could do, we may be sure, the young prophet would do, to
lighten the heavy tidings. Secrecy would be secured, too; for Samuel,
who was so unwilling to tell even Eli what the Lord had said, would
tell none besides.

God calls each child in our homes as truly as He did Samuel. From each
the same obedience is asked. Each may, like the boy in the Tabernacle,
grow up 'in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,' and so escape the
many scars and sorrows of a life wrongly begun. Let parents see to it
that they think rightly of their work, and do not content themselves
with conveying information, but aim at nothing short of helping all
their children to hear and lovingly to yield to the gentle call of the
incarnate God!



FAITHLESSNESS AND DEFEAT

'And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against
the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Eben-ezer: and the
Philistines pitched in Aphek. 2. And the Philistines put themselves in
array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten
before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about
four thousand men. 3. And when the people were come into the camp, the
elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before
the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out
of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of
the hand of our enemies. 4. So the people sent to Shiloh, that they
might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts,
which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni
and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5. And
when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel
shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. 6. And when
the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth
the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they
understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp. 7. And the
Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And
they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing
heretofore. 8. Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of
these mighty gods? these are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all
the plagues in the wilderness. 9. Be strong, and quit yourselves like
men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as
they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight. 10. And the
Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man
into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of
Israel thirty thousand footmen. 11. And the ark of God was taken; and
the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain. 12. And there ran
a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with
his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head. 13. And when he came,
lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled
for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it,
all the city cried out. 14. And when Eli heard the noise of the crying,
he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in
hastily, and told Eli. 15. Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and
his eyes were dim, that he could not see. 16. And the man said unto
Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to-day out of the
army. And he said, What is there done, my son? 17. And the messenger
answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there
hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons
also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God Is taken. 18.
And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he
fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck
brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged
Israel forty years.'--1 SAMUEL iv. 1-18.


The first words of verse 1 are closely connected with the end of
chapter iii., and complete the account of Samuel's inauguration. 'The
word of the Lord' came to Samuel, and 'the word of Samuel came to all
Israel.' The one clause tells of the prophet's inspiration, the other
of his message and its reception by the nation. This bond of union
between the clauses has been broken by the chapter division, apparently
for the sake of representing the revolt against the Philistines as due
to Samuel's instigation. But its being so is very doubtful. If God had
sent the army into the field, He would have prepared it, by penitent
return to Him, for victory, as no defeat follows on war which He
commands. Probably Samuel's mission made an unwholesome ferment in
minds which were quite untouched by its highest significance, and so
led to a precipitate rebellion, preceded by no religious reformation,
and therefore sure to fail. It was twenty years too soon (1 Sam. vii.
3). Samuel took no part in the struggle, and his name is never
mentioned till, at the end of that period, he emphatically condemns all
that had been done, and points the true path of deliverance, in 'return
to the Lord with all your heart.' So the great lesson of this story is
that when Israel fights Philistines, unbidden and unrepentant, it is
sure to be beaten,--a truth with manifold wide applications.

The first disastrous defeat took place on a field, which was afterwards
made memorable by a great victory, and by a name which lives still as a
watchword for hope and gratitude. Happy they who at last conquer where
they once failed, and in the retrospect can say, 'Hitherto the Lord
helped,' both by defeat and by the victory for which defeat prepared a
way! That opening struggle, bloody and grave as it was, was not
decisive; for the Israelites regained their fortified camp unmolested,
and held together, and kept their communications open, as appears from
what followed.

Verses 3 to 5 give us a glimpse into the camp of Israel, and verses 6
to 9 into that of the Philistines. These two companion pictures are
worth looking at. The two armies are very much alike, and we may say
that the purpose of the picture is to show how Israel was practically
heathen, taking just the same views of its relation to God which the
Philistines did. Note, too, the absence of central authority. 'The
elders' hold a kind of council. Where were Eli the judge and Samuel the
prophet? Neither had part in this war. The question of the elders was
right, inasmuch as it recognised that the Lord had smitten them, but
wrong inasmuch as it betrayed that they had not the faintest notion
that the reason was their own moral and religious apostasy. They had
not learned the A B C of their history, and of the conditions of
national prosperity. They stand precisely on the Pagan level, believing
in a national God, who ought to help his votaries, but from some
inexplicable caprice does not; or who, perhaps, is angry at the
omission of some ritual observance. What an answer they would have got
if Samuel had been there! There ought to have been no need for the
question, or, rather, there was need for it, and the answer ought to
have been clear to them; their sin was the all-sufficient reason for
their defeat. There are plenty of Christians, like these elders, who,
when they find themselves beaten by the world and the devil, puzzle
their brains to invent all sorts of reasons for God's smiting, except
the true one,--their own departure from Him.

The remedy suggested by the united wisdom of the leaders was as heathen
as the consultation which resulted in it. 'Let us send for the ark'
'Those who regarded not the God of the ark,' says Bishop Hall, 'think
themselves safe and happy in the ark of God.' They thought, with that
confusion between symbol and reality which runs through all heathen
worship, and makes the danger of 'images,' whether in heathenism or in
sensuous Christianity, that if they brought the ark, they brought God
with it. It was a kind of charm, which would help them, they hardly
knew how. Its very name might have taught them better. They call it
'the ark of the covenant of the Lord'; and a covenant has two parties
to it, and promises favour on conditions. If they had kept the
conditions, these four thousand corpses would not have been lying stiff
and stark outside the rude encampment. As they did not keep them,
bringing the chest which contained the transcript of them into their
midst was bringing a witness of their apostasy, not a helper of their
feebleness. Repentance would have brought God. Dragging the ark thither
only removed Him farther away. We need not be too hard upon these
people; for the natural disposition of us all is to trust to the
externals of worship, and to put a punctilious attention to these in
the place of a true cleaving of heart to the God who dwells near us,
and is in us and on our side, if we cling to Him with penitent love.
Even God-appointed symbols become snares. Baptism and the Lord's Supper
are treated by multitudes as these elders did the ark. The fewer and
simpler the outward observances of worship are, the less danger is
there of the poor sense-bound soul tarrying in them, instead of passing
by means of them into the higher, purer air beyond.

What right had these presumptuous elders to bring the ark from Shiloh?
Eli was its guardian; and he, as appears probable from his anxiety
about its fate, did not approve of its removal. But 'the people' took
the law into their own hands. There seems some hint that their action
was presumptuous profanation, in the solemn, full title given in verse
4: 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts which dwelleth between
the cherubim,'--as if contrasting His awful majesty, His universal
dominion over the armies of heaven and the embattled powers of the
universe, and the dazzling light of that 'glory,' which shone in the
innermost chamber of the Tabernacle, with the unanointed hands that
presumed to press in thither and drag so sacred a thing into the light
of common day and the tumult of the camp. Nor is the profanation
lessened, but rather increased, by the priestly attendants, Eli's two
sons, themselves amongst the worst men in Israel. When Hophni and
Phinehas are its priests, the ark can bring no help. Heathenism
separates religion from morality altogether. In it there is no
connection between worship and purity, and the Old Testament religion
for the first time welded these two inseparably together. That
tumultuous procession from Shiloh, with these two profligates for the
priests of God, and the bearers thinking that they were sure of their
God's favour now, whatever their sin, shows how completely Israel had
forgotten its own law, and, whilst professedly worshipping Jehovah, had
really become a heathen people. The reception of the ark with that
fierce shout, which echoed among the hills and was heard in the
Philistines' encampment, shows the same thing. Not so should the ark
have been received, but with tears and confessions and silent awe. No
man in all that host had ever looked upon it before. No man ought to
have seen it _then_. Once a year, and not without blood sprinkled on
its cover, the high priest might look on it through the cloud of
incense which kept him from death, while all the people waited hushed
till he came forth, but now it is dragged into the camp, and welcomed
with a yell of mad delight, as a pledge of victory. What could display
more strikingly the practical heathenism of the people?

Verses 6 to 9 take us into the other camp, and show us the undisguised
heathens. The Philistines think just as the other side did, only, in
their polytheistic way, they do not use the name 'Jehovah,' but speak
first of 'God' and then of 'gods' as having arrived in the camp. The
nations dreaded each other's gods, though they worshipped their own;
and the Philistines believed quite as much that 'Jehovah' was the
Hebrew's God, as that 'Dagon' was theirs. There was to be a duel then
between the two superhuman powers. The vague reports which they had
heard of the Exodus, nearly five hundred years ago, filled the
Philistines with panic. They had but a confused notion of the facts of
that old story, and thought that Egypt had met the ten plagues 'in the
wilderness.' The blunder is very characteristic, and helps to show the
accuracy of our narrative. It would not have occurred to a
legend-maker. It sounds strange to us that the Philistines' belief that
the Hebrews' God had come to their help should issue in exhortations to
'fight like men.' But polytheism makes that quite a natural conclusion;
and there is something almost fine in the truculent boldness with which
they set their teeth for a fierce struggle. They reiterate to one
another the charge to 'quit themselves like men'; and while they do not
hide from themselves that the question whether they are to be still
masters is hanging on the coming struggle, a dash of contempt for the
'Hebrews' who had been their 'slaves' is perceptible.

According to verse 10, the Philistines appear to have begun the attack,
perhaps taking the enemy by surprise. The rout this time was complete.
The grim catalogue of disaster in verses 10 and 11 is strangely tragic
in its dreadful, monotonous plainness, each clause adding something to
the terrible story, and each linked to the preceding by a simple 'and.'
The Israelites seem to have been scattered. 'They fled, every man to
his tent.' The army, with little cohesion and no strong leaders, melted
away. The ark was captured, and its two unworthy attendants slain.
Bringing it had not brought God, then. It was but a chest of
shittimwood, with two slabs of lettered stone in it,--and what help was
in that? But its capture was the sign that the covenant with Israel was
for the time annulled. The whole framework of the nation was
disorganised. The keystone was struck out of their worship, and they
had fallen, by their own sin, to the level of the nations, and even
below these; for they had their gods, but Israel had turned away from
their God, and He had departed from them. Superstition fancied that the
presence of the ark secured to impenitent men the favour of God; but it
was no superstition which saw in its absence from Shiloh His averted
face.

Is there in poetry or drama a more vivid and pathetic passage than the
closing verses of this narrative, which tell of the panting messenger
and the old blind Eli?

'Eben-ezer' cannot have been very far from Shiloh, for the fugitive had
seen the end of the fight, and reached the city before night. He came
with the signs of mourning, and, as it would appear from verse 13,
passed the old man at the gate without pausing, and burst into the city
with his heavy tidings. One can almost hear the shrill shrieks of wrath
and despair which first told Eli that something was wrong. Blind and
unwieldy and heavy-hearted, he sat by the gate to which the news would
first come; but yet he is the last to hear,--perhaps because all shrank
from telling him, perhaps because in the confusion no one remembered
him. Only after he had asked the meaning of the tumult, of which his
foreboding heart and conscience told him the meaning before it was
spoken, is the messenger brought to the man to whom he should have gone
first. How touchingly the story pauses, even at this crisis, to paint
the poor old man! A stronger word is used to describe his blindness
than in 1 Samuel iii. 2, as the Revised Version shows. His fixed
eyeballs were sightless now; and there he sat, dreading and longing to
hear. The fugitive's account of himself is shameless in its avowal of
his cowardice, and prepares Eli for the worst. But note how he speaks
gently and with a certain dignity, crushing down his anxiety,--'How
went the matter, my son?' Then, with no merciful circumlocution or
veiling, out comes the whole dismal story once again.

Eli spoke no more. His sons' death had been the sign given him years
before that the threatenings against his house should be fulfilled; but
even that blow he can bear. But the capture of the ark is more than a
personal sorrow, and his start of horror overbalances him, and he falls
from his seat (which probably had no back to it), and dies, silent, of
a broken neck and a broken heart. His forty years of judgeship ended
thus. He was in many respects good and lovable, gentle, courteous,
devout. His kindly treatment of Hannah, his fatherly training of
Samuel, his submission to the divine message through the child, his
'trembling for the ark,' his death at the news of its being taken, all
indicate a character of real sweetness and true godliness. But all was
marred by a fatal lack of strong, stern resolve to tolerate no evil
which he ought to suppress. Good, weak men, especially when they let
foolish tenderness hinder righteous severity, bring terrible evils on
themselves, their families, and their nation. It was Eli who, at
bottom, was the cause of the defeat and the disasters which slew his
sons and broke his own heart. Nothing is more cruel than the weak
indulgence which, when men are bringing a curse on themselves by their
sin, 'restrains them not.'



REPENTANCE AND VICTORY

'And the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the
Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and
sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. 2. And it came
to pans, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long;
for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the
Lord. 3. And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye
do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange
gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the
Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of
the Philistines. 4. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and
Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only. 5. And Samuel said, Gather all
Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord. 6. And they
gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before
the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned
against the Lord. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.
7. And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were
gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up
against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were
afraid of the Philistines. 8. And the children of Israel said to
Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that He will
save us out of the hand of the Philistines. 9. And Samuel took a
sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt-offering wholly unto the Lord:
and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him. 10.
And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew
near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great
thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them: and
they were smitten before Israel. 11. And the men of Israel went out of
Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came
under Beth-car. 12. Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh
and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath
the Lord helped us.'-1 SAMUEL vii 1-12.


The ark had spread disaster in Philistia and Beth-shemesh, and the
willingness of the men of Kirjath-jearim to receive it was a token of
their devotion. They must have been in some measure free from idolatry
and penetrated with reverence. The name of the city (_City of the
Woods_, like our _Woodville_) suggests the situation of the little
town, 'bosomed high in tufted trees,' where the ark lay for so long,
apparently without sacrifices, and simply watched over by Eleazar, who
was probably of the house of Aaron. Eli's family was exterminated;
Shiloh seems to have been destroyed, or, at all events, forsaken; and
for twenty years internal disorganisation and foreign oppression,
relieved only by Samuel's growing influence, prevailed. But during
these dark days a better mind was slowly appearing among the people.
'All ... Israel lamented after the Lord.' Lost blessings are precious.
God was more prized when withdrawn. Happy they to whom darkness
brightens that Light which brightens all darkness! Our text gives us
three main points,--the preparation for victory in repentance and
return (verses 3-9); the victory (verses 10, 11); the thankful
commemoration of victory (verse 12).

I. We have first the preparation for victory in repentance and return.
At the time of the first fight at Eben-ezer, Israel was full of
idolatry and immorality. Then their preparation for battle was the mere
bringing the ark into the camp, as if it were a fetish or magic charm.
That was pure heathenism, and they were idolaters in such worship of
Jehovah, just as much as if they had been bowing to Baal. Many of us
rely on our baptism or on churchgoing precisely in the same spirit, and
are as truly pagans. Not the name of the Deity, but the spirit of the
worshipper, makes the 'idolater.'

How different this second preparation! Samuel, who had never been named
in the narrative of defeat, now reappears as the acknowledged prophet
and, in a sense, dictator. The first requirement is to come back to the
Lord 'with the whole heart,' and that return is to be practically
exhibited in the complete forsaking of Baal and the Ashtoreths. 'Ye
cannot serve God and mammon.' It must be 'Him only,' if it is Him at
all. Real religion is exclusive, as real love is. In its very nature it
is indivisible, and if given to two is accepted by neither. So there
was some kind of general and perhaps public giving up of the idols, and
some, though probably not the fully appointed, public service of
Jehovah. If we are to have His strength infused for victory, we must
cast away our idols, and come back to Him with all our hearts. The
hands that would clasp Him, and be upheld by the clasp, must be emptied
of trifles. To yield ourselves wholly to God is the secret of strength.

The next step was a solemn national assembly at Samuel's town of
Mizpeh, situated on a conspicuous hill, north-west of Jerusalem, which
still is called 'the prophet Samuel.' Sacrifices were offered, which
are no part of the Mosaic ritual. A significant part of these consisted
in the pouring out of water 'before the Lord,' probably as emblematic
of the pouring out of soul in penitence; for it was accompanied by
fasting and confession of sin. The surest way to the true victory,
which is the conquest of our sins, is confessing them to God. When once
we have seen any sin in its true character clearly enough to speak to
Him about it, we have gone far to emancipate ourselves from it, and
have quickened our consciences towards more complete intolerance of its
hideousness. Confession breaks the entail of sin, and substitutes for
the dreary expectation of its continuance the glad conviction of
forgiveness and cleansing. It does not make a stiff fight unnecessary;
for assured freedom from sin is not the easy prize of confession, but
the hard-won issue of sturdy effort in God's strength. But it is like
blowing the trumpet of revolt,--it gives the signal for, and itself
begins, the conflict. The night before the battle should be spent, not
in feasting, but in prayer and lowly shriving of our souls before the
great Confessor.

The watchful Philistines seem to have had their attention attracted by
the unusual stir among their turbulent subjects, and especially by this
suspicious gathering at Mizpeh, and they come suddenly up the passes
from their low-lying territory to disperse it. A whiff of the old
terror blows across the spirits of the people, not unwholesomely; for
it sets them, not to desire the outward presence of the ark, not to run
from their post, but to beseech Samuel's intercession. They are afraid,
but they mean to fight all the same, and, because they are afraid, they
long for God's help. That is the right temper, which, if a man cherish,
he will not be defeated, however many Philistines rush at him. Twenty
years of slavery had naturally bred fear in them, but it is a wise fear
which breeds reliance on God. Our enemy is strong, and no fault is more
fatal than an underestimate of his power. If we go into battle singing,
we shall probably come out of it weeping, or never come out at all. If
we begin bragging, we shall end bleeding. It is only he who looks on
the advancing foe, and feels 'They are too strong for me,' who will
have to say, as he watches them retreating, 'He delivered me from my
strong enemy.' We should think much of our foes and little of
ourselves. Such a temper will lead to caution, watchfulness, wise
suspicion, vigorous strain of all our little power, and, above all, it
will send us to our knees to plead with our great Captain and Advocate.

Samuel acts as priest and intercessor, offering a burnt-offering,
which, like the pouring out of water, is no part of the Mosaic
sacrifices. The fact is plain, but it is neither unaccountable nor
large enough to warrant the sweeping inferences which have been drawn
from it and its like, as to the non-existence at this period of the
developed ceremonial in Leviticus. We need only remember Samuel's
special office, and the seclusion in which the ark lay, to have a
sufficient explanation of the cessation of the appointed worship and
the substitution of such 'irregular' sacrifices. We are on surer ground
when we see here the incident to which Psalm xcix. 6 refers ('Samuel
among them that call upon His name. They called upon the Lord, and He
answered them'), and when we learn the lesson that there is a power in
intercession which we can use for one another, and which reaches its
perfection in the prevailing prayer of our great High-priest, who, like
Samuel and Moses, is on the mountain praying, while we fight in the
plain.

II. We have next the victory on the field of the former defeat. The
battle is joined on the old ground. Strategic considerations probably
determined the choice as they did in the case of the many battles on
the plain of Esdraelon, for instance, or on the fields of the
Netherlands. Probably the armies met on some piece of level ground in
one of the wadies, up which the Philistines marched to the attack. At
all events, there they were, face to face once more on the old spot. On
both sides might be men who had been in the former engagement.
Depressing remembrances or burning eagerness to wipe out the shame
would stir in those on the one side; contemptuous remembrance of the
ease with which the last victory had been won would animate the other.
God Himself helped them by the thunderstorm, the solemn roll of which
was 'the voice of the Lord' answering Samuel's prayer. The ark had
brought only defeat to the impure host; the sacrifice brings victory to
the penitent army. Observe that the defeat is accomplished before 'the
men of Israel went out of Mizpeh.' God scattered the enemy, and Israel
had only to pursue flying foes, as they hurried in wild confusion down
the pass, with the lightning flashing behind them. The same pregnant
expression is used for the rout of the Philistines as for the previous
one of Israel. 'They were smitten _before_,' not _by_, the victors. The
true victor was God.

The story gives boundless hope of victory, even on the fields of our
former defeats. We can master rooted faults of character, and overcome
temptations which have often conquered us. Let no man say: 'Ah! I have
been beaten so often that I may as well give up the fight altogether.
Years and years I have been a slave, and everywhere I tread on old
battlefields, where I have come off second-best. It will never be
different. I may as well cease struggling.' However obstinate the
fault, however often it has re-established its dominion and dragged us
back to slavery, when we thought that we had made good our
escape,--that is no reason to 'bate one jot of heart or hope.' We have
every reason to hope bravely and boundlessly in the possibility of
victory. True, we should rightly despair if we had only our own powers
to depend on. But the grounds of our confidence lie in the
inexhaustible fulness of God's Spirit, and the certain purpose of His
will that we should be purified from all iniquity, as well as in the
proved tendency of the principles and motives of the gospel to produce
characters of perfect goodness, and, above all, in the sacrifice and
intercession of our Captain on high. Since we have Christ to dwell in
us, and be the seed of a new life, which will unfold into the likeness
of that life from which it has sprung; since we have a perfect Example
in Him who became like us in lowliness of flesh, that we might become
like Him in purity of spirit; since we have a gospel which enjoins and
supplies the mightiest motives for complete obedience; and since the
most rooted and inveterate evils are no part of ourselves, but 'vipers'
which may be 'shaken from the hand' into which they have struck their
fangs, we commit faithless treason against God, His message, and
ourselves, when we doubt that we shall overcome all our sins. We should
not, then, go into the fight downhearted, with our banners drooping, as
if defeat sat on them. The belief that we shall conquer has much to do
with victory. That is true in all sorts of conflicts. So, though the
whole field may be strewed with relics, eloquent of former disgrace, we
may renew the struggle with confidence that the future will not always
copy the past. We 'are saved by hope'; by hope we are made strong. It
is the very helmet on our heads. The warfare with our own evils should
be waged in the assurance that every field of our defeat shall one day
see set up on it the trophy of, not our victory, but God's in us.

III. We have here the grateful commemoration of victory. Where that
gray stone stands no man knows to-day, but its name lives for ever.
This trophy bore no vaunts of leader's skill or soldier's bravery. One
name only is associated with it. It is 'the stone of help,' and its
message to succeeding generations is: 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped
us.' That Hitherto' is the word of a mighty faith. It includes as parts
of one whole the disaster no less than the victory. The Lord was
helping Israel no less by sorrow and oppression than by joy and
deliverance. The defeat which guided them back to Him was tender
kindness and precious help. He helps us by griefs and losses, by
disappointments and defeats; for whatever brings us closer to Him, and
makes us feel that all our bliss and wellbeing lie in knowing and
loving Him, is helpful beyond all other aid, and strength-giving above
all other gifts.

Such remembrance has in it a half-uttered prayer and hope for the
future. 'Hitherto' means more than it says. It looks forward as well as
backward, and sees the future in the past. Memory passes into hope, and
the radiance in the sky behind throws light on to our forward path.
God's 'hitherto' carries 'henceforward' wrapped up in it. His past
reveals the eternal principles which will mould His future acts. He has
helped, therefore he will help, is no good argument concerning men; but
it is valid concerning God.

The devout man's 'gratitude' is, and ought to be, 'a lively sense of
favours to come.' We should never doubt but that, as good John Newton
puts it, in words which bid fair to last longer than Samuel's gray
stone:--

       'Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review
        Confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through.'

We may write that on every field of our life's conflicts, and have it
engraved at last on our gravestones, where we rest in hope.

The best use of memory is to mark more plainly than it could be seen at
the moment the divine help which has filled our lives. Like some track
on a mountain side, it is less discernible to us, when treading it,
than when we look at it from the other side of the glen. Many parts of
our lives, that seemed unmarked by any consciousness of God's help
while they were present, flash up into clearness when seen through the
revealing light of memory, and gleam purple in it, while they looked
but bare rocks as long as we were stumbling among them. It is blessed
to remember, and to see everywhere God's help. We do not remember
aright unless we do. The stone that commemorates our lives should bear
no name but one, and this should be all that is read upon it: 'Now unto
Him that kept us from falling, unto Him be glory!'



'MAKE US A KING'

'Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came
to Samuel, onto Ramah, 5. And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and
thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all
the nations. 6. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give
us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. 7. And the Lord
said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they
say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected
Me, that I should not reign over them. 8. According to all the works
which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt
even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken Me, and served other
gods, so do they also unto thee. 9. Now therefore hearken unto their
voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner
of the king that shall reign over them. 10. And Samuel told all the
words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king. 11. And he
said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He
will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots,
and to be his horsemen: and some shall run before his chariots, 12. And
he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties;
and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to
make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. 13. And
he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and
to be bakers. 14. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and
your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and
give to his officers, and to his servants. 16. And he will take your
men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and
your asses, and put them to his work. 17. He will take the tenth of
your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. 18. And ye shall cry out in
that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the
Lord will not hear you in that day. 19. Nevertheless the people refused
to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a
king over us; 20. That we also may be like all the nations; and that
our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.'--I
SAMUEL viii. 4-20.


The office of judge was as little capable of transmission from father
to son as that of prophet, so that Samuel's appointment of his sons as
judges must be regarded as contrary to its true idea. It was God who
made the judges, and the introduction, in however slight a degree, of
the hereditary principle, was not only politically a blunder, but
religiously wrong. Our narrative, like Scripture generally, pronounces
no opinion on the facts it records, but its unfavourable judgment may
be safely inferred from its explanation that Samuel was 'old' when he
made the appointment, and that his sons were corrupt and unjust. Our
text deals with the unexpectedly wide consequences of that act, in the
clamour for a king.

I. Note the ill-omened request. A formal delegation of the
representatives of the nation comes to Ramah, unsummoned by Samuel,
with the demand for a king. There must have been much talk through
Israel before the general mind could have been ascertained, and this
step taken. Not a whisper of what was passing seems to have reached
Samuel, and the request is flung at him in harsh language. It is not
pleasant for any one, least of all for a ruler, to be told that
everybody sees that he is getting old, and should provide for what is
to come next. Fathers do not like to be told that their sons are
disreputable, but Samuel had to hear the bitter truth. The old man was
pained by it, and felt that the people were tired of him, as is plain
enough from the divine words which followed, and bade him look beyond
the ingratitude displayed towards himself, to that shown to God. But
from the 'practical' point of view, there was a great deal to be said
for the reasonableness and political wisdom of the elders' suggestion.
Samuel had shown that he felt the danger of leaving the nation without
a leader, by his nomination of his sons, and the proposal of a king is
but carrying his policy a little farther. The hereditary principle once
admitted, a full-blown king was evidently the best. There were many
inconveniences in the rule by judges. They had no power but that of
force of personal character and the authority of an unseen Lord. They
left no successors; and long intervals had elapsed, and might again
elapse, between the death of one and the rise of another, during which
the nation appeared to have no head to guide nor arm to defend it.
Examples of strong monarchies surrounded them, and they wanted to have
a centre of unity and a defender in the person of a king.

Samuel's displeasure seems to have been mainly on the ground of the
insult to himself in the proposal, and its bearing on the rule of
Jehovah over the people does not seem to have occurred to him till it
was pointed out by the divine voice. But, like a good and wise man, he
took his perplexity and trouble to God; and there he got light. The
divine judgment of the request cuts down to its hidden, and probably
unconscious, motive, and shows Samuel that weariness of him was only
its surface, while the true bottom of it was rejection of God. The
parallel drawn with idolatry is very instructive. The two things were
but diverse forms of the same sense-ridden disposition: the one being
an inability to grasp the thought of the unseen God; the other, a
precisely similar inability to keep on the high level of trust in an
unseen defender, and obedience to an unseen monarch. They wished for a
king 'to go out before them' and 'fight their battles' (v. 20). Had
they forgotten Eben-ezer, and many another field, where they and their
fathers had but to stand still and see the Lord fight for them?

The very same difficulty in living in quiet reliance on a power which
is perceptible by no sense, besets us. We too are ever being tempted to
prefer the solid security, as our foolish senses call it, of visible
supports and delights, to the shadowy help of an unseen Arm. How many
of us would feel safer with a good balance at our banker's than with
God's promises! How many of us live as if we thought that men or women
were better recipients of our love and of our trust than God! How few,
even of professing Christians, really and habitually 'walk by faith,
not by sight'! Do we not see ourselves in the mirror of this story? If
we do not, we should. Note that the elders had, apparently, no idea
that they were rejecting God in wanting a king. Samuel says nothing of
the sort to them, and they could scarcely have made the request so
boldly and briefly if they had been conscious that it was upsetting the
very basis of their national life. Men are slow to appreciate the full
force of their craving for visible good. The petitioners could plead
many strong reasons, and, no doubt, fancied themselves simply taking
proper precautions for the future. A great deal of unavowed and
unconscious unbelief wears the mask of wise foresight. We rather pride
ourselves on our prudence, when we should be ashamed of our distrust.

Note, too, that we cannot combine reliance on the seen and the unseen.
Life must be moulded by one or the other. The craving for a king was
the rejection of Jehovah. We must elect by which we shall live, and
from which we shall draw our supreme good.

The desire to be like their neighbours was another motive with the
elders. It is hard to be singular, and to foster reliance on the
invisible, when all around us are dazzling examples of the success
attending the other course. One of the first lessons which we have to
learn, and one of the last which we have to practise, is a wholesome
disregard of other people's ways. If we are to do anything worth doing,
we must be content to be in a minority of one, if needful.

II. Note God's concession of the foolish wish. The divine word to
Samuel throws light on the nature of prophetic inspiration. He is
bidden to 'hearken to the people's voice'--a procedure directly
opposite to his own ideas. This is not a case of subsequent reflection
modifying first impressions, but of an authoritative voice discerned by
the hearer to be not his own, contradicting his own thoughts, and
leaving no room for further consideration.

Further, the granting to Israel of the king whom they desired, is but
one instance of the law which is exemplified in God's dealing with
nations and individuals, according to which He lets them have their own
way, that they may 'be filled with their own devices.' Such experience
is the best teacher, though her school fees are high. The surest way to
disgust men with their own folly, is to let it work out its
results,--just as boys in sweetmeat shops are allowed to eat as much as
they like at first, and so get a distaste for the dainties. 'Try it,
then, and see how you like it,' is not an unkind thing to say, and God
often says it to us. When argument and appeals to duty and the like
fail, there is nothing more to be done but to let us have our request,
and find out the poison that lurked under the fair outside. The
prodigal son gets his coveted portion, and is allowed to go into the
far country, that he may prove how good and happy it is to starve among
the swine, not because his father is angry with him, but because such
experience is the only way to re-awaken his dormant love, and to make
him long for the despised place in his father's house. There are some
fevers of the desires which must run their course before the patient
can be well again. Let us keep a careful watch over ourselves, that we
entertain no wishes but such as run parallel with God's manifest will,
lest He may have in His anger, which is still love, to give us our
request, that we may find out our error by the bitter fruits of a
granted desire.

III. Note the obstinacy that, with eyes open to the consequences,
persists in its demands. Samuel is bidden to 'show them the manner of
the king that shall reign over them.' He sketches, in sombre outline,
the picture of an Eastern despot, the only kind of king which the world
then knew. The darker features of these monarchies are not included.
There is no harem, nor cruelty, nor monstrous vice, in the picture; but
the diversion of labour to minister to royal pomp, the establishment of
a standing army, the alienation of land to officials, heavy taxation
and forced labour make up the items. To these is added (v. 18) that the
royalty, now so eagerly desired, would sooner or later become a burden,
and that then they or their sons would find it was easier to put on
than to put off the yoke; for 'the Lord will not hear you in that day,'
in reference, that is, to the removal of the king. They were exchanging
an unseen King who gave all things for one who would take, and not
give. A wise exchange! The consequences of our wishes are not always
drawn out so clearly before us as in this instance; but we are not left
in darkness as to the broad issues, and we all know enough to make our
persistence in evil, after such warnings, the deepest mystery and most
flagrant sin. The drunkard is not deterred by his knowledge that there
is such a thing as _delirium tremens_; nor the thief, by the certainty
that the officer's hand will be laid on his shoulder one day or other;
nor the young profligate, by the danger that his bones shall be 'full
of the sin of his youth'; nor are any of us kept from our sins, by the
clear sight of their end. 'I have loved strangers, and after them will
I go,' notwithstanding all knowledge of the fatal issue. Surely there
is nothing sadder than that power of neglecting the most certain known
result of our acts. Wilfully blind, and hurried on by lust, passion, or
other impulse, like bulls which shut their eyes when they charge, we
rush at our mark, and often dash ourselves to pieces on it. If a man
saw the consequences of his sin at the moment of temptation, he would
not do it; but this is the wonder, that he does not see them, though he
knows them well enough, and that the knowledge has no power to restrain
him.

IV. Note the divine purpose which uses man's sin as its instrument in
advancing its designs. God had promised Israel a king (Deut. xvii. 14,
etc.), and the elders may have thought that they were only asking for
what was in accordance with His plan. So they were; but their motive
was wrong, and so their prayer, though for what God meant to give, was
wrong. In this case, as always, God uses men's sins as occasions for
the furtherance of His own eternal purpose, as that profound saying has
it, 'Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee.' The kingly office was
a step in advance, and gave occasion to the development of Messianic
expectations of the true King of Israel and of men, which would have
been impossible without it, In many ways it was for the good of the
nation, and the holders of the office were 'the Lord's anointed.'
Modern criticism has found traces of two opposite views in this story,
as compared with the passage in Deuteronomy above referred to; but
surely it is a more sober, though less novel, view, to regard the whole
incident as illustrating the two truths, that men may wish for right
things in a wrong way, and that God uses sin as well as obedience as
His instrument. No barriers can stop the march of His great purpose
through the ages, any more than a bit of glass can stay a sunbeam.
However the currents run and the storms howl, they carry the ship to
the haven; for He holds the helm, and all winds help. The people
rejected Him, and in seeking a king followed but their own earthly
minds; but they prepared the way for David and David's Son. Their
children long after, moved by the same spirit, shouted, 'We have no
king but Caesar!' but they prepared the throne for the true King, for
whom they destined a Cross. Man's greatest sin, the rejection of the
visible King of the world, brought about the firm establishment of His
dominion on earth and in heaven. The cross is the great instance of the
same law as is embodied in this history,--the overruling providence
which bends the antagonism of men into a tool for effecting the purpose
of God.

Alas for those who only thus carry on God's designs! They perish, and
their work is none the less their sin, because God has used it. How
much better to enter with a willing heart and a clear intelligence into
sympathy with His designs, and, delighting to do His will, to share in
the eternal duration of His triumphant purpose! 'The world passeth
away, and the fashion thereof: but he that doeth the will of God
abideth for ever.'



THE OLD JUDGE AND THE YOUNG KING

'Now the Lord had told Samuel In his ear a day before Saul came,
saying, 16, To-morrow, about this time I will send thee a man out of
the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over My
people Israel, that he may save My people out of the hand of the
Philistines: for I have looked upon My people, because their cry is
come unto Me. 17. And when Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said unto him,
Behold the man whom I spake to thee of! this same shall reign over My
people. 18. Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, Tell
me, I pray thee, where the seer's house is. 19. And Samuel answered
Saul, and said, I am the seer: go up before me unto the high place; for
ye shall eat with me to-day, and to-morrow I will let thee go, and will
tell thee all that is in thine heart. 20. And as for thine asses that
were lost three days ago, set not thy mind on them; for they are found.
And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on thee, and on all
thy father's house? 21. And Saul answered and said, Am not I a
Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the
least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then
speakest thou so to me? 22. And Samuel took Saul and his servant, and
brought them into the parlour, and made them sit in the chiefest place
among them that were bidden, which were about thirty persons. 23. And
Samuel said unto the cook, Bring the portion which I gave thee, of
which I said unto thee, Set it by thee. 24. And the cook took up the
shoulder, and that which was upon it, and set it before Saul. And
Samuel said, Behold that which is left I set it before thee, and eat:
for unto this time hath it been kept for thee since I said, I have
invited the people. So Saul did eat with Samuel that day. 25. And when
they were come down from the high place into the city, Samuel communed
with Saul upon the top of the house. 26. And they arose early: and it
came to pass about the spring of the day, that Samuel called Saul to
the top of the house, saying, Up, that I may send thee away. And Saul
arose, and they went out both of them, he and Samuel, abroad. 27. And
as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul,
Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou
still a while, that I may shew thee the word of God.'--1 SAMUEL ix.
15-27.


Both the time and the place of the incidents here told are unknown. No
note is given of the interval that had elapsed since the elders'
deputation. All that we know is that on the previous day Samuel had had
the divine communication mentioned in verse 15, and that some days are
implied as spent by Saul in his quest for his fathers asses, Equally
uncertain is the name of the city. It was not Samuel's ordinary
residence; it was in the 'land of Zuph,' an unknown district; it was
perched, like most of the cities, on a hill; it had fountains lower
down the slope, and a 'high place' farther up, where there was a
building large enough for a feast. How strangely vivid the picture of
this anonymous city is, and how we can yet see the maidens coming down
to the fountains, the wearied travellers toiling up, and the voluble
abundance of the directions given them!

I. The first thing we have to note is the premonitory word of the Lord.
Observe the picturesque and forcible expression, 'had uncovered the ear
of Samuel.' It is more than picturesque. It gives in the strongest form
the fact of a revelation, both as to its origin and its secrecy. It is
vain to represent the transition from judgeship to monarchy as a mere
political revolution, inaugurated by Samuel as a fore-seeing statesman.
It is misleading to speak of him, as Dean Stanley does, as one of the
men who mediate between the old and the new. His opinions and views go
for just nothing in the transaction, and he is simply God's instrument.
The people's desire for the king, and God's answer to it, were equally
independent of him. His own ideas were dead against the change, and at
each step in bringing it about the divine causality is everything, and
he is nothing but its obedient servant. It is hopeless to sift out a
naturalistic explanation from the narrative, which is either
supernatural or nothing. Note the three points of this
communication,--God's sending Saul, the command to anoint, and the
motive ascribed to God. As to the first, how striking that full-toned
authoritative 'I will send' is! Think of the chain of ordinary events
which brought Saul to the little city,--the wandering of a drove of
asses, the failure to get on their tracks, the accident of being in the
land of Zuph when he got tired of the search, the suggestion of the
servant; and behind all these, and working through them, the will and
hand of God, thrusting this man, all unconscious, along a path which he
knew not. Our own purposes we may know, but God's we do not know. There
is something awful in the thought of the issues that may spring from
the smallest affairs, and we shall be bewildered and paralysed if once
we get a glimpse of the complicated web which is ever being woven in
the loom of time, unless we, too, can, by faith, see the Weaver, and
then we shall be at rest. Call nothing trivial, and seek to be
conscious of His guiding hand.

The command to Samuel to anoint Saul is no product of Samuel's own
reflection, but comes to him, in this imperative form, before he has
seen Saul, like a commission in blank, in regard to which he has no
option, and in the origin of which he had no share. It was a piece of
painful work to devolve his authority, like Aaron's having to strip off
his robes before he died, and to put them on his son. But there is no
trace of wounded feeling in Samuel. He is true to his childhood's word,
'Speak, for Thy servant heareth,' and, no doubt, he had the reward
which obedience ever has to sweeten the bitterest draught, the reward
of a quiet heart.

The reason as given in the last clause of the verse ought to have made
Samuel's self-abnegation easier. God sets him the example. Israel had
rejected Him, but He still calls them 'My people,' and looks upon them
in tender care, and hears their cry. There is no contradiction here
with the aspect of the concession to the people's wish, which appeared
in the former section. Hasty criticism tries to make out discrepancies
in the accounts, because it does not recognise one of the plainest
characteristics of Scripture; namely, its habit of stating strongly and
exclusively that side of a complicated matter which is relevant to the
purpose in hand, and leaving the other sides to be presented in due
time. The three accounts of the election give three different reasons
for it. In chapter viii., the people put it on the ground of Samuel's
age and his son's unfitness, and God treats it as national rejection of
Him. Here it appears as due, on the part of the people, to their fear
of the Philistines, and on the part of God to His loving yielding to
their cry. In 1 Samuel xii. 12, Samuel traces it to the fear of
Ammonite invasion. Are these contradictory or supplementary accounts?
Certainly the latter. Though Israel had in heart rejected God, and He
gave them a king that they might learn how much better they would have
been without one, it is as true that He lovingly listened to the cry of
their fear, and answered them, in pity and tender care, by giving them
the king whom they desired, and who would deliver them from their
enemies. Let us learn how patient of our faithless follies, and how
full of long-suffering love, even in 'anger,' He is. The same gift of
His providence, regarded in one light, is loving chastisement, and in
another is loving compliance with our cry and swift help to our need in
the shape that we desire, but in both aspects is good and perfect.
Note, too, that God's look is active, and is the bringing of the needed
aid, and that He waits for our cry before He comes with His help.

II. The meeting of Samuel and Saul. They encounter each other in the
gate,--the prophet on his way to the sacrifice, the future king with
his head full of his humble quest. Samuel knows Saul by divine
intimation as soon as he sees him, but Saul does not know Samuel. His
question indicates the noble simplicity, without attendants or
trappings, of the judge's life; but it also suggests the strange
isolation of these early days, and the probable indifference of Saul to
religion. If he had cared much about God's rule in Israel, he could
scarcely have been so ignorant as his servant's words about 'the seer,'
and his failure to know him when he saw him, show Saul to have been. He
had not cared to see Samuel in any of the latter's circuits, and now he
only wants to get some information from a diviner about these
unfortunate asses. What a contrast between the thoughts of the two, as
they looked at each other! Saul begins by consulting Samuel as a
magician; he ends by seeking counsel from the witch at Endor. Samuel's
words are beautiful in their smothering of all personal feeling, and
dignified in their authority. He at once takes command of Saul, and
prepares him by half-hints for something great to come. The direction
to 'go up before me' is a sign of honour. The invitation to the
sacrificial feast is another. The promise to disclose his own secret
thoughts to Saul may, perhaps, point to some hidden ambitions, the
knowledge of which would prove Samuel's prophetic character. The
assurance as to the asses answers the small immediate occasion of
Saul's resort to him, and the dim hint in the last words of verse 20,
rightly translated, tells him that 'all that is desirable in Israel' is
for him, and for all his father's house. He went out to look for his
father's asses, and he found a kingdom. The words were enigmatical; but
if Saul knew of the impending revolution, they could scarcely fail to
dazzle him and take away his breath. His answer is more than mere
Oriental self-depreciation. Its bashful modesty contrasts sadly with
the almost insane masterfulness and arrogant self-will of his later
years. Fair beginnings may end ill, and those who are set in positions
of influence have hard work to keep steady heads, and to sail with low
sails.

III. The feast. Up at the high place was some chamber used for the
feasts which followed the sacrifices. A company of thirty--or,
according to another reading, of seventy--persons had been invited, and
the stately young stranger from Benjamin, with his servant (a trait of
the simple manners of these days), is set in the place of honour, where
wondering eyes fasten on him. Attention is still more emphatically
centred on him when Samuel bids 'the cook' bring a part of the
sacrifice which he had been ordered to set aside. It proves to be the
'shoulder' or 'thigh,' the priest's perquisite, and therefore probably
Samuel's. To give this to another was equivalent to putting him in
Samuel's place; and Samuel's words in handing it to Saul make its
meaning plain. It is 'that which hath been reserved.' It has been 'kept
for thee' till 'the appointed time,' and that with a view to the
assembled guests. All this is in true prophetic fashion, which
delighted in symbols, and these of the homeliest sort. The whole
transaction expressed the transference of power to Saul, the divine
reserving of the monarchy for him, and the public investiture with it,
by the prophet himself. The veil was intentional, and intentionally
thin. Cannot we see the flush of surprise and modesty on Saul's cheek,
as he tore the pieces from the significant 'shoulder,' and hear the
whispers that ran through the guest-chamber?

IV. The private colloquy. When the simple feast was over, the strangely
assorted pair went down to Samuel's house, and there, on the quiet
house-top, where were no curious ears, held long and earnest talk. No
doubt Samuel told Saul all that was in his heart, as he had said that
he would, and convinced him thereby that it was God who was speaking to
him through the prophet. Nor would exhortations and warnings be
wanting, which the old man's experience would be anxious to give, and
the young one's modesty not unwilling to receive. Saul is a listener,
not a speaker, in this unreported interview; and Samuel is in it, as
throughout, the superior. The characteristic which marked the beginning
of the Jewish monarchy was stamped on it till the end. The king was
inferior to the prophet, and was meant to take his instructions from
him when he appeared. Saul was docile on that first day, when he was
half dazed with his new prospects, and wholly grateful to Samuel; but
the history will show us how soon the fair promise of concord was
darkened, and how fiercely he chafed at Samuel's attempted control.

One can fancy his thoughts as he lay in the starlight, on the
house-top, that night, and gazed into the astounding future that had
opened before him. Had there been any true religion in him, it would
have been a wakeful night of prayer. But, more likely, as the event
proves, the ambition and arrogance which were deep in his nature,
though hitherto undeveloped, were his counsellors, and drove Samuel's
wisdom out of his head.

As soon as the morning-red began to rise in the East, Samuel sent him
away, to secure, as would appear, privacy in his departure. With simple
courtesy the prophet accompanied his guest, and as soon as they had got
down the hill beyond the last house of the city, he bids Saul send on
his servant, that he may speak a last word to him alone. Our text stops
before the solemn anointing, and leaves these two standing there, in
the fresh morning, type of the new career opening for one of them. What
a contrast in the men! The one has all his long life been true to his
first vow, 'Speak, for Thy servant heareth,' and now has come, in
fulness of years, and reverenced by all men, near the end of his
patient, faithful service. His work is all but done, and his heart is
quiet in the peace which is the best reward of loving and doing God's
law. Ripened wisdom, calm trust, unhesitating submission cast a glory
round the old man, who is now performing the supreme act of
self-abnegation of his lifetime, and, not without a sense of relief, is
laying the burden, so long and uncomplainingly borne, on the great
shoulders of this young giant. The other has a humble past of a few
years rapidly sinking out of his dazzled sight, and is in a whirl of
emotion at the startling suddenness of his new dignity. When one thinks
of Gilboa, and the desperate suicide there, how pathetic is that
strong, jubilant young figure, in the morning light, below the city, as
he bows his head to receive the anointing which, little as he knew it,
was to prove his ruin! A life begun by obedient listening to God's
voice, and continued in the same, comes at last to a blessed end, and
is crowned with many goods. A life which but partially accepts God's
will as its law, and rather takes counsel of its own passions and
arrogant self-sufficiency, may have much that is bright and lovable at
its beginning, but will steadily darken as it goes on, and will set at
last in eclipse and gloom.



THE KING AFTER MAN'S HEART

'And Samuel called the people together unto the Lord to Mizpeh; 18. And
said unto the children of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I
brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of
the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that
oppressed you; 19. And ye have this day rejected your God, who Himself
saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye
have said unto Him, Nay, but set a king over us. Now therefore present
yourselves before the Lord by your tribes, and by your thousands. 20.
And when Samuel had caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, the
tribe of Benjamin was taken. 21. When he had caused the tribe of
Benjamin to come near by their families, the family of Matri was taken,
and Saul the son of Kish was taken: and when they sought him, he could
not be found. 22. Therefore they enquired of the Lord further, if the
man should yet come thither. And the Lord answered, Behold, he hath hid
himself among the stuff. 23. And they ran and fetched him thence: and
when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people
from his shoulders and upward. 24. And Samuel said to all the people,
See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among
all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the
king. 25. Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and
wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord. And Samuel sent all
the people away, every man to his house. 26. And Saul also went home to
Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had
touched. 27. But the children of Belial said, How shall this man save
us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his
peace.'--1 SAMUEL x. 17-27.


These verses fit on to chapter viii., chapters ix. to x. 16, being
probably from another source, inserted here because the anointing of
Saul, told in them, did occur between Samuel's dismissal of the people
and his summoning of the national assembly which is here related. That
private anointing of Saul was the divine call to him individually; the
text tells of his public designation to the nation. The two are
perfectly consistent, and, indeed, the private anointing is presupposed
in the incident recorded in this passage, of Saul's hiding himself, for
he could not have known the result that he would be 'taken,' unless he
had had that previous intimation. The assembly at Mizpah was not
convened in order to choose a king, but to accept God's choice, which
was then to be declared.

But before the choice was announced, a last appeal was made to the
people, if, perchance, they might still be persuaded to forgo their
rebellious desire. It is not, indeed, said that this final, all but
hopeless attempt was made by Samuel at the divine command, and we are
not told that he had any further revelation than that in chapter viii.
7-9. But, no doubt, he was speaking as Jehovah's mouthpiece, and so we
have here one more instance of that long-suffering divine patience and
love which 'hopeth all things,' and lingers pleadingly round the
alienated heart, seeking to woo it back to itself, and never ceasing to
labour to avert the evil deed, till it is actually and irrevocably
done. It may be said that God knew that the appeal was sure to fail,
and therefore could not have made it. But is not that mysterious
continuance of effort, foreknown to be futile, the very paradox of
God's love? Did not Jesus give the traitor the sop, as a last token of
friendship, a last appeal to his heart? And does not God still in like
manner deal with us all?

Observe how He seeks to win Israel back. It is not by threatenings, but
by reminders of His great benefits. He will not drive men back to His
service, like a slave-driver with brandished whip, but He wishes to
draw them back by 'the cords of love.' It is service from hearts melted
by thankfulness, and therefore overflowing in joyful, willing obedience
and grateful acts, that He desires. 'The mercies of God' should lead to
men offering themselves as 'living sacrifices.'

The last appeal failed, and Samuel at once went on to give the people
the desired bitter which they thought so sweet. Of course, it was by
their representatives that the tribes presented themselves before God.
The manner of making God's choice known is not told, and speculations
as to it are idle. Probably a simple yes or no, as each tribe, family
or individual was 'presented' was the mode, but how it was conveyed is
quite unknown. That is a small matter; more important is it to note
that Saul was chosen simply because he was the very type of the
national ideal of a hero-king. Both here and in chapter ix. 2 his
stature and bravery are the only qualities mentioned. What Israel
wanted was a rough fighter, with physical strength, plenty of bone and
muscle. About moral, intellectual or spiritual qualities they did not
care, and they got the kind of king that they wanted,--the only kind
that they could appreciate. The only way to teach them that one who was
a head and shoulders taller than any of them was not thereby certified
to be the ideal king, was to give them such a man, and let them see
what good he would do them.

There is no surer index nor sharper test of national or individual
character than the sort of 'heroes' they worship. _Vox populi_ has not
been very much refined since Saul's day. Athletes and soldiers still
captivate the crowd, and a mere prophet like Samuel has no chance
beside the man of broad shoulders and well-developed biceps. And very
often communities, especially democratic ones, get the 'king' they
desire, the leader, statesman or the like, who comes near their ideal.
The man whom they choose is the man whom, generally, they deserve.
Israel had an excuse for its burst of ardour for a soldier, for it was
in deadly danger from the Philistines. Is there as good an excuse for
us in Britain, in our recent adoration of successful generals? Israel
found out that its idol lacked higher gifts than thews and sinews, and
experience taught them the falseness of their ideal.

Saul's hiding among the piles of miscellaneous baggage, which the
multitude of representatives had brought with them, is usually set down
to his credit, as indicating an engaging modesty; but there is another
and more probable explanation of it, less creditable to him. Was it not
rather occasioned by his shrinking from the heavy task that God was
laying on him? He was not being summoned to a secure throne, but to 'go
out before us, and fight our battles.' He might well shrink, but if he
had been God-fearing and God-obeying and God-trusting, he would have
cried, 'Here am I! send me,' instead of skulking among the stuff. There
was another Saul, who could say, 'I was not disobedient unto the
heavenly vision.' It had been better for the son of Kish if he had been
like the young Pharisee from Tarsus. We too have divine calls in _our_
lives, and alas! we too not seldom hide ourselves among the stuff, and
try to avoid taking up some heavy duty, by absorbing our minds in
material good. Few things have greater power of obscuring 'the heavenly
vision,' and of rendering us unwilling to obey it, than the clinging to
the things of this world, which are in their place as the traveller's
luggage needful on the road, but very much out of their place when they
become a hiding-place for a man whom God is calling to service.

The 'manner of the kingdom,' which Samuel wrote and laid up before the
Lord, was probably not the same as 'the manner of the king' (chapter
viii. 9-18), but a kind of constitution, or solemn statement of the
principles which were to govern the monarchy. The reading in verse 26
should probably be 'the men of valour,' instead of 'a band of men.'
They were brave men, 'whose hearts God had touched.' Now that Saul was
chosen by God, loyalty to God was shown by loyalty to Saul. The sin of
the people's desire, and the drop from the high ideal of the theocracy,
and the lack of lofty qualities in Saul, may all be admitted. But God
has made him king, and that is enough. Henceforward, God's servants
will be Saul's partisans. The malcontents were apparently but a small
faction. They, perhaps, had had a candidate of their own, but, at all
events, they criticised God's appointed deliverer, and saw nothing in
him to warrant the expectation that he would be able to do much for
Israel. Disparaging criticism of God's chosen instruments comes from
distrust of God who chose them. To doubt _the_ divinely sent
Deliverer's power to 'save' is to accuse God of not knowing our needs
and of miscalculating the power of His supply of them. But not a few of
us put that same question in various tones of incredulity, scorn or
indifference. Sense makes many mistakes when it takes to trying to
weigh Christ in its vulgar balances, and to settling whether He looks
like a Saviour and a King.

SAMUEL'S CHALLENGE AND CHARGE

'And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your
voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. 2.
And now, behold, the king walketh before you: and I am old and
grayheaded; and, behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before
you from my childhood unto this day. 3. Behold, here I am: witness
against me before the Lord, and before His anointed: whose ox have I
taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I
oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine
eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. 4. And they said, Thou hast
not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of
any man's hand. 5. And he said unto them, The Lord is witness against
you, and His anointed is witness this day, that ye have not found ought
in my hand. And they answered, He is witness. 6. And Samuel said unto
the people, It is the Lord that advanced Moses and Aaron, and that
brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. 7. Now therefore
stand still, that I may reason with you before the Lord of all the
righteous acts of the Lord, which he did to you and to your fathers. 8.
When Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried unto the Lord,
then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, which brought forth your fathers
out of Egypt, and them dwell in this place. 9. And when they forgat the
Lord their God, He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the
host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand
of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. 10. And they cried
unto the Lord, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken the
Lord, and have served Baalim and Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of
the hand of our enemies, and we will serve Thee. 11. And the Lord sent
Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out
of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe. 12. And
when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against
you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the
Lord your God was your king. 13. Now therefore behold the king whom ye
have chosen, and whom ye have desired! and, behold, the Lord hath set a
king over you. 14. If ye will fear the Lord, and serve Him, and obey
His voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then
shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue
following the Lord your God: 15. But if ye will not obey the voice of
the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall the
hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers.'--1
SAMUEL xii. 1-15.

The portion of Samuel's address included in this passage has three main
sections: his noble and dignified assertion of his official purity, his
summary of the past history, and his solemn declaration of the
conditions of future wellbeing for the nation with its new king.

I. Probably the war with the Ammonite king Nahash, which had postponed
the formal inauguration of the king, had been carried on in the
neighbourhood of the Jordan valley; and thus Gilgal would be a
convenient rendezvous. But it was chosen for other reasons also, and,
as appears from 1 Samuel x. 8, had been fixed on by Samuel at his first
interview with Saul. There the Covenant had been renewed, after the
wanderers had crossed the river, with Joshua at their head, and it was
fitting that the beginnings of the new form of the national life should
be consecrated by worship on the same site as had witnessed the
beginnings of the national life on the soil of the promised land.
Perhaps the silent stones, which Joshua reared, stood there yet. At all
events, sacred memories could scarcely fail, as the rejoicing crowd,
standing where their fathers had renewed the Covenant, saw the
blackened ruins of Jericho, and the foaming river, now, as then,
filling all its banks in the time of harvest, which their fathers had
crossed with the ark, that was now hidden at Kirjath-jearim, for their
guide. The very place spoke the same lessons from the past which Samuel
was about to teach them.

There is just a faint trace of Samuel's disapproval of the new order in
his first words. He takes care to throw the whole responsibility on the
people; but, at the same time, he assumes the authoritative tone which
becomes him, and quietly takes the position of superiority to the king
whom he has made. I Samuel xi. 15 seems to imply that he took no part
in the rejoicings. It was 'Saul and all the men of Israel' who were so
glad. He was still hesitant as to the issue, and obeyed the divine
command with clearer insight into its purpose than the shouting crowd
and the proud young king had. There is something very pathetic in the
contrast he draws between Saul and himself. 'The king walketh before
you,' in all the vigour of his young activity, and delighting all your
eyes, and 'I am old and gray-headed,' feeble, and fit for little more
work, and therefore, as happens to such worn-out public servants, cast
aside for a new man. Samuel was not a monster of perfection without
human feelings. His sense of Israel's ingratitude to himself and
practical revolt from God lay together in his mind, and colour this
whole speech, which has a certain tone of severity, and an absence of
all congratulation. Probably that accounts for the mention of his sons.
The elders' frank statement of their low opinion of them had been a
sore point with Samuel, and he cannot help alluding to it. It was not
for want of possible successors in his own house that they had cried
out for a king. If this be not the bearing of the allusion to his sons,
it is difficult to explain; and this obvious explanation would never
have been overlooked if Samuel had not been idealised into a faultless
saint. The dash of human infirmity and fatherly blindness gives reality
to the picture. 'I have walked before you from my youth unto this day.'
Note the recurrence of the same expression as is applied to Saul in the
former part of the verse. It is as if he had said, 'Once I was as he is
now,--young and active in your sight, and for your service. Remember
these past years. May your new fancy's record be as stainless as mine
is, when he is old and grayheaded!' The words bring into view the
characteristic of Samuel's life which is often insisted on in the
earlier chapters,--its calm, unbroken continuity and uniformity of
direction, from the long-past days when he wore 'the little coat' his
mother made him, with so many tears dropped on it, till this closing
hour. While everything was rushing down to destruction in Eli's time,
and his sons were rioting at the Tabernacle door, the child was growing
up in the stillness; and from then till now, amid all changes, his
course had been steady, and pointed to one aim. Blessed they whose age
is but the fruitage of the promise of their youth! Blessed they who
begin as 'little children,' with the forgiveness of sin and the
knowledge of the Father, and who go on, as 'young men,' to overcome the
Evil One, and end, as 'fathers,' with the deeper knowledge of Him who
is 'from the beginning,' which is the reward of childhood's trust and
manhood's struggles!

Samuel is still a prophet, but he is ceasing to be the sole authority,
and, in his conscious integrity, calls for a public, full discharge, in
the presence of the king. Note that verse 3 gives the first instance of
the use of the name 'Messiah,' and think of the contrast between Saul
and Jesus. Observe, too, the simple manners of these times, when 'ox
and ass' were the wealth. They would be poor plunder nowadays. Note
also the various forms of injustice of which he challenges any one to
convict him. Forcible seizure of live stock, fraud, harsh oppression,
and letting suitors put gold on his eyes that he might not see, are the
vices of the Eastern ruler to-day, and rampant in that unhappy land, as
they have been ever since Samuel's time. I think I have heard of
politicians in some other countries further west than Gilgal, who have
axes to grind and logs to roll, and of the wonderful effects, in many
places of business, of certain circular gold discs applied to the eyes.
This man went away a poor man. He does not seem to have had salary, or
retiring pension; but he carried away a pair of clean hands, as the
voice of a nation witnessed.

II. Having cleared himself, Samuel recounts the outlines of the past,
in order to emphasise the law that cleaving to God had ever brought
deliverance; departure, disaster; and penitence, restoration. It is
history with a purpose, and less careful about chronology than
principles. Facts are good, if illuminated by the clear recognition of
the law which they obey; but, without that, they are lumber. The
'philosophy of history' is not reached without the plain recognition of
the working of the divine will. No doubt the principles which Samuel
discerned written as with a sunbeam on the past of Israel were
illustrated there with a certainty and directness which belonged to it
alone; but we shall make a bad use of the history of Israel, if we say,
'It is all miraculous, and therefore inapplicable to modern national
life.' It would be much nearer the mark to say, 'It is all miraculous,
and therefore meant as an exhibition for blind eyes of the eternal
principles which govern the history of all nations.' It is as true in
Britain to-day as ever it was in Judea, that righteousness and the fear
of God are the sure foundations of real national as of individual
prosperity. The kingdoms of this world are not the devil's, though
diplomatists and soldiers seem to think so. If any nation were to live
universally by the laws of God, it might not have what the world calls
national success; it would have no story of wholesale robbery, called
military glory, but it would have peace within its borders, and life
would go nobly and sweetly there. 'Happy is the people, that is in such
a case: yea, happy is the people, whose God is the Lord.'

The details of Samuel's _resume_ need not occupy much time. Note the
word in verse 7, 'reason,' or, as the Revised Version renders, 'plead.'
He takes the position of God's advocate in the suit, and what he will
prove for his client is the 'righteousness' of his dealings in the
past. The story, says he, can be brought down to very simple
elements,--a cry to God, an answer of deliverance, a relapse,
punishment, a renewed cry to God, and all the rest of the series as
before. It is like a repeating decimal, over and over again, each
figure drawing the next after it. The list of oppressors in verse 9,
and that of deliverers in verse 11, do not follow the same order, but
that matters nothing. Clearly the facts are assumed as well known, and
needing only summary reference. The new-fashioned way of treating
Biblical history, of course, takes that as an irrefutable proof of the
late date and spuriousness of this manufactured speech put into
Samuel's mouth. Less omniscient students will be content with accepting
the witness to the history. Nobody knows anything of a judge named
Bedan, and the conjectural emendation 'Barak' is probable, especially
remembering the roll-call in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where Gideon,
Barak, and Jephthah appear in the same order, with the addition of
Samson. The supposition that 'Samuel,' in this verse, is an error for
'Samson,' is unnecessary; for the prophet's mention of himself thus is
not unnatural, in the circumstances, and is less obtrusive than to have
said 'me.'

The retrospect here given points the lesson of the sin and folly of the
demand for a king. The old way had been to cry to God in their
distresses, and the old experience had been that the answer came swift
and sufficient; but this generation had tried a new method, and fear of
'Nahash the Ammonite' had driven them to look for a man to help them.
The experience of God's responses to prayer does not always wean even
those who receive them from casting about for visible helpers. Still
less does the experience of our predecessors keep us from it. Strange
that after a hundred plain instances of His aid, the hundred and first
distress should find us almost as slow to turn to Him, and as eager to
secure earthly stays, as if there were no past of our own, or of many
generations, all crowded and bright with tokens of His care! We are
always disposed to doubt whether the power that delivered from Sisera,
Philistines, and Moab, will be able to deliver us from Nahash. The new
danger looks the very worst of all, and this time we must have a king.
All the while Israel had God for its king. Our dim eyes cannot see the
realities of the invisible world, and so we cleave to the illusions of
the visible, which, at their best, are but shadows of the real, and are
often made, by our weak hearts, its rival and substitute. What does the
soldier, who has an impenetrable armour to wear, want with pasteboard
imitations, like those worn in a play? It is doubtful wisdom to fling
away the substance in grasping at the shadow. Saul was brave, and a
head and shoulders above the people, and he had beaten Nahash for them;
but Saul for God is a poor exchange. Do we do better, when we hanker
after something more tangible than an unseen Guide, Helper, Stay, Joy,
and Peace-bringer for our hearts, and declare plainly, by our eager
race after created good, that we do not reckon God by Himself enough
for us?

III. The part of Samuel's address with which we are concerned here
closes with the application of the history to the present time. The
great point of the last three verses is that the new order of things
has not changed the old law, which bound up well-being inseparably with
obedience. They have got their king, and there he stands; but if they
think that that is to secure their prosperity, they are much mistaken.
There is a touch of rebuke, and possibly of sarcasm, in pointing to
Saul, and making so emphatic, as in verse 13, the vehemence of their
anxiety to get him. It is almost as if Samuel had said, 'Look at him,
and say whether he is worth all that eagerness. Do you like him as
well, now that you have him, as you did before?' There are not many of
this world's goods which stand that test. The shell that looked silvery
and iridescent when in the sea is but a poor, pale reminder of its
former self, when we hold it dry in our hands. One object of desire,
and only one, brings no disappointment in possessing it. He, and only
he, who sets his hope on God, will never have to feel that he is not so
satisfied with the fulfilment as with the dream.

Israel had rejected God in demanding a king; but the giver of their
demand had been God, and their rejection had not abolished the divine
government, nor altered one jot of the old law. They and their king
were equally its subjects. There is great emphasis in the special
mention of 'your king' as bound to obedience as much as they; and, if
we follow the Septuagint reading of verse 15, the mention is repeated
there in the threatening of punishment. No abundance of earthly
supports or objects of our love or trust in the least alters the
unalterable conditions of well-being. Whether surrounded with these or
stripped of all, to fear and serve the Lord and to hearken to His voice
is equally the requisite for all true blessedness, and is so equally to
the helper and the helped, the lover and the loved. We are ever tempted
to think that, when our wishes are granted, and some dear or strong
hand is stretched out for aid, all will be well; and we are terribly
apt to forget that we need God as much as before, and that the way of
being blessed has not changed. Those whose hearts and homes are bright
with loved faces, and whose lives are guarded by strong and wise hands,
have need to remember that they and their dear ones are under the same
conditions of well-being as are the loneliest and saddest; and they who
'have none other that fighteth for' them have no less need to remember
that, if God be their companion, they cannot be utterly solitary, nor
altogether helpless if He be their aid.



OLD TRUTH FOR A NEW EPOCH

'Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have
desired! and, behold, the Lord hath set a king over yon. 14. If ye will
fear the Lord, and serve Him, and obey His voice, and not rebel against
the commandment of the Lord; then shall both ye, and also the king that
reigneth over you, continue following the Lord your God: 15. But if ye
will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment
of the Lord; then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was
against your fathers. 16. Now therefore stand and see this great thing,
which the Lord will do before your eyes. 17. Is it not wheat-harvest
to-day! I will call unto the Lord, and He shall send thunder and rain;
that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye
have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king. 18. So Samuel
called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and
all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. 19. And all the
people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God,
that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask
us a king. 20. And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done
all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but
serve the Lord with all your heart; 21. And turn ye not aside: for then
should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver, for
they are vain. 22. For the Lord will not forsake His people for His
great name's sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His
people. 23. Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against
the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and
the right way: 24. Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all
your heart: for consider how great things He hath done for you. 25. But
if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your
king.'--1 SAMUEL xii. 13-25.


Samuel's office as judge necessarily ended when Saul was made king, but
his office of prophet continued. This chapter deals with both the
cessation and the continuance, giving at first his dignified, and
somewhat pained, vindication of his integrity, and then passing on to
show him exercising his prophetic function in exhortation, miracle, and
authoritative declaration of Jehovah's will.

I. The first point is the sign which Samuel gave. Usually there is no
rain in Palestine from about the end of April till October. Samuel was
speaking during the wheat harvest, which falls about the beginning of
June. We note that he volunteered the sign, and, what is still more
remarkable, that he is sure that God will send it in answer to his
prayer. Why was he thus certain? Because he recognised that the impulse
to proffer the sign came from God. We know little of the mental
processes by which a prophet could discriminate between his own
thinkings and God's speech, but such discrimination was possible, or
there could have been no ring of confidence in the prophet's 'Thus
saith the Lord.' Not even a 'Samuel among them that call upon His name'
had a right to assume that every asking would certainly have an answer.
It is when we ask 'anything according to His will' that we know that
'He heareth us,' and are entitled to predict to others the sure answer.

It seems a long leap logically from hearing the thunder and seeing the
rain rushing down on the harvest field, to recognising the sin of
asking for a king. But the connecting steps are plain. Samuel announced
the storm, he asked God to send it, it came at his word; therefore he
was approved of God and was His messenger; therefore his words about
the desire for a king were God's words. Again, God sent the tempest;
therefore God ruled the elemental powers, and wielded them so as to
affect Israel, and therefore it had been folly and sin to wish for
another defender. So the result of the thunder-burst was twofold--they
'feared Jehovah and Samuel,' and they confessed their sin in desiring a
king. They were but rude and sense-bound men, like children in many
respects; their religion was little more than outward worship and a
vague awe; they needed 'signs' as children need picture-books. The very
slightness and superficiality of their religion made their confession
easy and swift, and neither the one nor the other went deep enough to
be lasting. The faith that is built on 'signs and wonders' is easily
battered down; the repentance that is due to a thunderstorm is over as
soon as the sun comes out again. The shallowness of the contrition in
this case is shown by two things,--the request to Samuel to pray for
them, and the boon which they begged him to ask, 'that we die not.'
They had better have prayed for themselves, and they had better have
asked for strength to cleave to Jehovah. They were like Simon Magus
cowering before Peter, and beseeching him, 'Pray ye for me to the Lord,
that none of the things which ye have spoken may come upon me.' That is
not the voice of true repentance, the 'godly sorrow' which works
healing and life, but that of the 'sorrow of the world which worketh
death.' The real penitent will press the closer to the forgiving
Father, and his cry will be for purity even more than for pardon.

II. Samuel's closing words are tender, wise, and full of great truths.
He begins with encouragement blended with reiteration of the people's
sin. It is not safe for a forgiven man to forget his sin quickly. The
more sure he is that God has forgotten, the more careful he should be
to remember it, for gratitude, humility and watchfulness. But it should
never loom so large before him as to shut out the sunshine of God's
love, for no fruits of goodness will ripen in character without that
light. It is a great piece of practical wisdom always to keep one's
forgiven sin in mind, and yet not to let it paralyse hopefulness and
effort. 'Ye have indeed done all this evil, ... yet turn not aside from
following Jehovah.' That is a truly evangelical exhortation. The memory
of past failures is never to set the tune for future service. Again,
Samuel based the exhortation to whole-hearted service of Jehovah on
Jehovah's faithfulness and great benefits (vs. 22-24), It is suicidal
folly to turn away from Him who never turns away from us; it is black
ingratitude, as well as suicidal folly, to refuse to serve Him whose
mercies encompass us. That divine good pleasure, which has no source
but in Himself, flows out like an artesian well, unceasing. His 'nature
and property' is to love. His past is the prophecy of His future. He
will always be what He has been, and always do what He has done.
Therefore we need not fear, though we change and are faithless. 'He
cannot deny Himself.' His revealed character would be dimmed if He
abandoned a soul that clung to Him. So our faith should, in some
measure, match His faithfulness, and we should build firmly on the firm
foundation.

III. Samuel answers the people's request for his prayers with a wise
word, full of affection, and also full of dignity and warning, all the
more impressive because veiled. He promises his continued intercession,
but he puts it as a duty which he owes to God rather than to them only,
and he thus sufficiently asserts his God-appointed office. He promises
to do more than pray for them; namely, to continue as their ethical and
religious guide, which they had not asked him to be. That at once makes
his future position in the monarchy clear. He is still the prophet,
though no longer the judge, and, as the future was to show, he has to
direct monarch as well as people. But it also hints to the people that
his prayers for them will be of little avail unless they listen to his
teaching. Whether a Samuel prays for us or not, if we do not listen to
the voices that bid us serve God, we 'shall be consumed.'



SAUL REJECTED

'Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, 11. It repenteth
Me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from
following Me, and hath not performed My commandments. And it grieved
Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night. 12. And when Samuel rose
early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul
came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about,
and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal. 13. And Samuel came to Saul:
and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed
the commandment of the Lord. 14. And Samuel said, What meaneth then
this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen
which I hear? 15. And Saul said, They have brought them from the
Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the
oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lore thy God; and the rest we have utterly
destroyed. 16. Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee
what the Lord hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on.
17. And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast
thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed
thee king over Israel? 18. And the Lord sent thee on a journey, and
said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight
against them until they be consumed. 19. Wherefore then didst thou not
obey the voice of the Lord, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst
evil in the sight of the Lord? 20. And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I
have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord
sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly
destroyed the Amalekites. 21. But the people took of the spoil, sheep
and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly
destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal. 22. And Samuel
said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than
sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. 23. For rebellion is as
the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected
thee from being king.'--1 SAMUEL xv. 10-23.


Again the narrative takes us to Gilgal,--a fateful place for Saul,
There they 'made Saul king before the Lord'; there he had taken the
first step on his dark way of gloomy, proud self-will, down which he
was destined to plunge so far and fatally. There he had, in
consequence, received the message of the transference of the kingdom
from his house, though not from himself. Now, flushed with his victory
over Amalek, he has come there with his troops, laden with spoil. They
had made a swift march from the south where Amalek dwelt, passing by
Nabal's Carmel, where they had put up some sort of monument of their
exploit in a temper of vain-glory, very unlike the spirit which reared
the stone of help at Eben-ezer; and apparently they purpose sacrifices
and a feast. But Samuel comes into camp with no look of congratulation.
Probably the vigorous old man had walked that day from his home, some
fifteen miles off, and on the way seems to have picked up tidings of
Saul's victory and position, which ought to have reached him from the
king himself, and would have done so if Saul's conscience had been
clear. The omission to tell him was studied neglect, which revealed
much.

Samuel had 'cried unto the Lord all night,' if perchance the terrible
sentence might be reversed; and his cries had not been in vain, for
they had brought him into complete submission, and had nerved him to do
his work calmly, without a quiver or a pang of personal feeling, as
becomes God's prophet.


I. We must go back a step beyond this passage to understand it. Note,
first, the command which was disobeyed. The campaign against Amalek was
undertaken by express divine direction through Samuel's lips. It was
the delayed fulfilment of a sentence passed in the times of the
Conquest, but not executed then. The terrible old usages of that period
are brought into play again, and the whole nation with its possessions
is 'devoted'. The word explains the dreadful usage. There are two kinds
of devotion to God: that of willing, and that of unwilling, men; the
one brings life, the other, death. The massacre of the foul nations of
Canaan was thereby made a direct divine judgment, and removed wholly
from the region of ferocious warfare. No doubt, the whole plane of
morals in the earlier revelation is lower than that of the New
Testament. If Jesus has not taught a higher law than was given to 'them
of old time,' one large part of His gift to men disappears. The
wholesale destruction of 'babe and suckling' with the guilty makes us
shudder; and we are meant to feel the difference between the atmosphere
of that time and ours. But we are not meant to question the reality of
the divine command, nor His right to give it. He slays, and makes
alive. His judgments strike the innocent with the guilty. In many a
case, and often, the sin is one generation's, and the bitter fruit
another's. The destruction of Canaanites and Amalekites does not change
its nature because God used men to do it; and the question is not
whether the Israelites were fiercely barbarous in their warfare, but
whether God has the right of life and death. We grant all the
dreadfulness, and joyfully admit the distance between such acts and
Jesus Christ; but we recognise them as not incongruous with the whole
revealed character of the God who is justice as well as love, as
parallel in substance, though different in instrument, with many of His
dealings with men,--as the execution of righteous sentence on rank
corruption, and as sweetening the world by its removal. Most of the
difficulty and repugnance has been caused by forgetting that Israel was
but the sword, while the hand was God's.

II. Note the disobedience. Partial obedience is complete disobedience.
Saul and his men obeyed as far as suited them; that is to say, they did
not obey God at all, but their own inclinations, both in sparing the
good and in destroying the worthless. What was not worth carrying off
they destroyed,--not because of the command, but to save trouble. This
one fault seems but a small thing to entail the loss of a kingdom. But
is it so? It was obviously not an isolated act on Saul's part, but
indicated his growing impatience of the divine control, exercised on
him through Samuel. He was in a difficult position. He owed his kingdom
to the prophet; and the very condition on which he held it was that of
submission to Samuel's authority. No wonder that his elevation
quickened the growth of his masterfulness and gloomy, impetuous
self-will,--traits in his character which showed themselves very early
in his reign! No wonder either that such a king, held in
leading-strings by a prophet, should chafe! The more insignificant the
act in itself, the more significant it may be as a flag of revolt.
Disobedience which will not do a little thing is great disobedience.
Nor was this the first time that Saul had 'kicked,' like another Saul,
'against the pricks,' Gilgal had seen a previous instance of his
impetuous self-assertion, masked by apparent deference; and the
inference is fair that the interval between the two pieces of rebellion
had been of a piece with them. Trivial acts, especially when repeated,
show deep-seated evil. There may be only a coil of the snake visible,
but that betrays the presence of the slimy folds, though they are
covered from sight among the leaves. The tiny shoot of a plant, peeping
above the ground, does not augur that the roots are short; they may run
for yards. Nor can any act be called small, of which the motive is
disregard of God's plain command: 'He that is unjust in the least is
unjust also in much.' Saul had never much religion. He had never heard
of Samuel till that day when he came to consult him about the asses. It
was a wonder to his acquaintances to find him 'among the prophets'; and
all his acts of worship have about them a smack of self, and an
exclusive regard to the mere externals of sacrifice, which imply a
shallow notion of religion and a spirit unsubdued by its deeper
influences.

Such a man habitually acts in disregard of God's will; and that is
great sin, though it be manifested in small acts. It is to be
remembered, too, that the excepting of the best of the spoil from the
general destruction, changed the whole character of the transaction,
and brought it down from the level of a solemn act of divine justice,
of which Saul and his army were the executors by divine mandate, to
that of a mere cattle-lifting foray, in which they were but thieves for
their own gain. The mingling of personal advantage with any sort of
service of God, ruins the whole, and turns it into mere selfishness.
Samuel, in verse 19, puts the two sides of this 'evil in the sight of
the Lord' as being disobedience and swooping down on the booty, like
some bird of prey,

III. Note Saul's excuses. Throughout the whole interview he plays a
sorry part, and is evidently cowed by the hated authority and
personality of the old man; while Samuel, on his side, is curt, stern,
and takes the upper hand, as becomes God's messenger. The relative
positions of the two men are the normal ones of their offices, and
explain both Saul's revolt and the chronic impatience of kings at the
interference of prophets. Here we have Saul coming to meet Samuel with
affected heartiness and welcome, and with the bold lie, 'I have
performed the commandment of the Lord.' That is more than true
obedience is quick to say. If Saul had done it, he would have been
slower to boast of it. 'Those vessels yield the most sound that have
the least liquor.' He 'doth protest too much'; and the protestation
comes from an uneasy conscience. Or did he, like a great many other men
who have no deep sense of the sanctity of every jot and tittle of a
divine law, please himself with the notion that it was enough to keep
it approximately, in the 'spirit' of the precept, without slavish
obedience to the 'letter'? In a later part of the interview (v. 20) he
insists that he has obeyed, and tries to prove it by dwelling on the
points in which he did so, and gliding lightly over the others.

'Samuel had reason to believe the sheep and oxen above Saul'; and there
is a tone of almost contempt for the shuffling liar in his quiet
question: 'What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears,
and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?' There was no answering that;
so Saul shifts his ground without a blush or a moment's hesitation.
'The people spared.' It is a new character for him to appear in,--that
of a weak ruler who cannot keep his unruly men in order! Had he tried
to restrain them? If he had, and had failed, he was not fit to be a
king. If he had not, he was a coward to shift the blame on to them. How
ready men are to vilify themselves in some other direction, in order to
escape the consciousness of sin, which God is seeking to force home on
them! No doubt the people were very willing to have a finger in the
affair; but so was he. And if the cattle was their share, Agag, who
could be held to ransom, was his; and the arrangement suited all round.
As to the purpose of sacrificing at Gilgal, perhaps that was true; but
if it were, no doubt the same process of selection, which had destroyed
the worthless and kept the best, would have been repeated; and the net
result would have been a sacrifice of the least valuable, and 'the
survival of the fittest' in many a pasture and stall.

But note Saul's attitude towards Jehovah, betrayed by him in that one
word: 'the Lord _thy_ God,' No wonder that he had been content with a
partial and perfunctory obedience, if he had no closer sense of
connection with God than that! There is almost a sneer in it, too, as
if he had said, 'What needs all this fuss about saving the cattle? You
should be pleased; for this Jehovah, with whom you profess to have
special communication, will be honoured with sacrifice, and you will
share in the feast.' If the words do not mean abjuring Jehovah, they go
very near it, and, at all events, betray the shallowness of Saul's
religion. Samuel, in his answer, reminds him of his early modesty and
self-distrust, and of the source of his elevation. He then sweeps away
the flimsy cobwebs of excuses, by the curt repetition of the plain,
dreadful terms of Saul's commission, and then flashes out the piercing
question, like a sword, 'Wherefore then didst thou not?' The reminder
of past benefits, and the reiteration of the plain injunctions which
have been broken, are the way to cut through the poor palliations which
men wrap around their sins.

It speaks of a very obstinate and gloomy determination that, in answer,
Saul should reiterate his protestation of having done as he was bid. He
doggedly says over again all that he had said before, unmoved by the
prophet's solemn words. He is steeling his heart against reproof; and
there is only one end to that. Sin unacknowledged, after God has
disclosed it, is doubly sin. The heart that answers the touch of God's
rebukes by sullenly closing more tightly on its evil, is preparing
itself for the blow of the hammer which will crush it. 'He that being
often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and
that without remedy.' Let us beware of meeting God's prophet with
shuffling lies about our obedience, and of opposing to the words which
are loving though they pierce, the armour of impenetrable
self-righteousness and conceit.

IV. Note the punishment. To the vain talk about honouring God by
sacrifice, Samuel opposes the great principle which was the special
message committed to every prophet in Israel, and which was repeated
all through its history, side by side with the divinely appointed
sacrificial system. In the intensity of his spiritual emotion, Samuel
speaks in lyric strains, in the measured parallelism which was the
Hebrew dress of poetry, and gives forth in words 'which will live for
ever' the great truth that God delights in obedience more than in
sacrifice. Whilst, on the one hand, he lifts the surrender of the will,
and the consequent submission of the life, high above all mere ritual,
on the other hand, by the same process, he sinks the rebellion of the
will and the stubbornness of the nature, unsubdued either by kindness
or threats, as Saul was showing his to be, to the level of actual
idolatry.

             'Rebellion is divination,
              And stubbornness is idols and teraphim.'

Then comes the stern sentence of rejection. Why was Saul thus
irrevocably set aside? Was it not a harsh punishment for such a crime?
As we have already remarked, Saul's act is not to be judged as an
isolated deed, but as the outcome of a deep tendency in him, which
meant revolt from God. It was not because of the single act, but
because of that which it showed him to be, that he was set aside. The
sentence is pronounced, not because 'thou didst spare Amalek,' but
because 'thou didst reject the word of the Lord.' Further, it is to be
remembered that the punishment was but the carrying out of his act. His
own hand had cut the bond between him and God, and had disqualified
himself for the office which he filled. Saul had said, 'I will reign by
myself.' God said, 'Be it so! By thyself thou shalt reign.' For the
consequence of his deposition was not outward change in his royalty.
David indeed was anointed but in secret, so Samuel consented to honour
Saul before the people. All the external difference was that Samuel
never saw him again, and he was relieved from the incubus of the
prophet's 'interference'; that is to say, he ceased to be God's king,
and became a phantom, ruling only by his own will and power, as he had
wished to do. How profound may be the difference while all externals
remain unchanged! When we set up ourselves as our own lords, and shake
off God's rule, we cast away His sanction and help in all the deeds of
our self-will, however unaltered their outward appearance may remain.
But God left him to 'walk in his own ways, and be filled with the fruit
of his own devices,' by no irrevocable abandonment, however the decree
of rejection from the kingship was irrevocable. The gates of repentance
stood open for him; and the very sentence that came stern and laconic
from Samuel's lips, rightly accepted, might have drawn him in true
penitence to a forgiving God. His subsequent confession was rejected
because it expressed no real contrition; and the worship which he
proceeded to offer, without the sanction of the prophet's presence, was
as unreal as his protestation of obedience, and showed how little he
had learned the lesson of the great words, 'To obey is better than
sacrifice.'



THE SHEPHERD-KING

'And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt them mourn for Saul,
seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel! fill thine horn
with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I
have provided Me a king among his sons. 2. And Samuel said, How can I
go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer
with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. 3. And call
Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do: and
thou shalt anoint unto Me him whom I name unto thee. 4. And Samuel did
that which the Lord spake, and came to Beth-lehem. And the elders of
the town trembled at his coming, and said, Comest thou peaceably? 5.
And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord: sanctify
yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse
and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice. 6. And it came to pass,
when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the
Lord's anointed is before him. 7. But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look
not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have
refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on
the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. 8. Then
Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said,
Neither hath the Lord chosen this. 9. Then Jesse made Shammah to pass
by. And he said, Neither hath the Lord chosen this. 10. Again, Jesse
made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto
Jesse, The Lord hath not chosen these. 11. And Samuel said unto Jesse,
Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the
youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto
Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come
hither. 12. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and
withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord
said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. 13. Then Samuel took the horn
of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit
of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up,
and went to Ramah.'--1 SAMUEL xvi 1-13.


The chief purpose in these verses is to bring out that the choice of
David was purely God's. The most consummate art could have taken no
better way of heightening the effect of his first appearance than that
adopted in this perfectly unartificial story, which leads us up a long
avenue to where the shepherd-boy stands. First, we have Samuel, with
his regrets and objections; then Jesse with his seven stalwart sons;
and at last, when expectation has been heightened by delay and by the
minute previous details, the future king is disclosed,--a stripling
with his ruddy locks glistening with the anointing oil, and his lovely
eyes. We shall best catch the spirit by simply following the letter of
the story.

I. We have Samuel and his errand to Bethlehem. After that sad day at
Gilgal, he and Saul met no more, though their homes were but a few
miles apart, and it must have been difficult to avoid each other.
Samuel yearned over the man whom he had learned to love, and it must
have been pain to him to see the shattering of the vessel which he had
formed. However natural his mourning, and however indicative of his
sweet nature, it was wrong, because it showed that he had not yet
reconciled himself to God's purpose, though his conduct obeyed. The
mourning which submits while it weeps, and which interferes with no
duty, is never rebuked by God. He never says,' How long dost thou
mourn?' unless sorrow has deepened into accusation of His providence,
or tears have blinded us to the duty that ensues. But the true cure for
overmuch sorrow is work, and, for vain regrets after vanished good, the
welcome to the new good which God ever sends to fill the empty place.
His resources are not exhausted because one man has failed. 'There are
as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it.' Saul has been
rejected, but a king shall be found; and Samuel is to dry his tears and
anoint him. He evidently had no thought of a successor to Saul till
this command came; and when it comes, how little it tells him! He gets
light enough for the next step, but no more. That is always God's way.
Duty opens by degrees, and the way to see farther ahead is to go as far
as we see.

Samuel's sorrow and the incomplete command show plainly that he was but
an instrument. At every step the view is confuted which makes him a
far-seeing statesman who inaugurated and carried through a peaceful
revolution. The history, which is our only source, tells another story,
and makes God the actor, and the prophet only a tool in His hands. If
we cut the supernatural out of the story, the fragments do not hang
together, and no reason is forthcoming why they should be any more true
than are the rejected pieces. Samuel does not show to advantage in
either of the two things mentioned about him here. In neither was he
true to his early vow, 'Speak, for Thy servant heareth.' But there was
much reason for his fear, if once God was left out of the account; for
Saul's ever-wakeful suspicion had become a disease, and it was not
wonderful that he should be on the watch for any act which looked like
putting the sentence of deposition into effect. If ever a man lived
with a sword hanging by a hair over him, it was this unhappy king, who
knew that he was dethroned, and did not know when or by whom the divine
rejection would be made visible to all men. But Samuel had faced worse
dangers without a murmur; and no doubt his alarm now, which makes him
venture all but flatly to refuse to obey, indicates that, to some
extent, he had lost his hold of God by his indulgence in his sorrow. If
he had been true to his high calling, he would have 'filled his horn,'
and gone on God's errand, careless of a hundred Sauls or a hundred
deaths. But it is easy for us, who have never perilled anything for
obedience, to sit in judgment on him. 'Wherein thou judgest another,
thou condemnest thyself.' God judges him mercifully, and provides a
shelter for his weakness, which he should not have needed. To hide his
true errand behind the cloak of the sacrifice was second-best, and only
permitted in consideration of his fear which had a touch of sin in it.
He was not, at the moment, up to treading the heroic plain path; and
God opened an easier one for him. It is sometimes allowable to use an
avowed purpose to conceal the real one, but it is a permission which
should be very sparingly used.

II. We have Samuel at Bethlehem, with Jesse and his sons. An old man is
suddenly seen coming up the hill to the gate of the little city on
foot, driving or leading a heifer, and carrying a horn in his hand. In
such humble fashion did the prophet travel; but reverential awe met
him, and his long years of noble service surrounded him as with a halo.
Apparently, Bethlehem had not been included in his usual circuits, and
the village elders were somewhat scared by his sudden appearance. Their
question may give a glimpse into the severity which Samuel sometimes
had to show, and is a strange testimony to the reality of his power:
'Comest thou peaceably?' One old man was no very formidable assailant
of a village, even if he did not come with friendly intent; but, if he
is recognised as God's messenger, his words are sharper than any
two-edged sword, and his unarmed hand bears weapons mighty to 'pull
down strongholds.' Why should the elders have thought that he came
'with a rod'? Because they knew that they and their fellow-villagers
deserved it. If men were not dimly conscious of sin, they would not be
afraid of God's messenger or of God.

The narrative does not tell whether or not the sacrifice preceded the
review of Jesse's sons. Probably it did, and the interval between it
and the feast was occupied in the interview. It is evident that Samuel
kept the reason of his wish to see Jesse's sons to himself; for
disclosure would have brought about the danger which he was so anxious
to avoid. It appears, too, from verse 13, that only the family of Jesse
were present. So we have to fancy the wondering little cluster of burly
husbandmen with their father surrounding the prophet, and: one by one,
bracing themselves to meet his searching gaze. Again the choice is
emphatically represented as God's, by the mention of Samuel's hasty
conclusion, from the look of the eldest, that he was the man. Had not
Samuel had enough of kings of towering stature? Strange that he should
have been in such a hurry to fix on a second edition of Saul! The most
obedient waiters on God sometimes outrun His intimations, and they
always go wrong when they do. Samuel has to learn two lessons, as he is
bidden to repress the too quick thought: one, that he is not choosing,
but only registering God's choice; and one, that the qualifications for
God's king are inward, not bodily. In these old days, the world's
monarchs had to be men of thews and sinews, for power rested on mere
brute force: but God's chosen had to rule, not by the strength of his
own arm, but by leaning on God's. The genius of the kingdom determined
the principle of selection of its king. Samuel does not again attempt
to forecast the choice; but he lets the other six pass, and, hearing no
inward voice from God, tells Jesse, as it would seem, that the Lord has
not chosen them for whatsoever mysterious purpose was in His mind.

III. We have 'the Lord's chosen.' Samuel was staggered by the apparent
failure of his errand. God had told him that he had provided a king
from this family, and now they had passed in review before him, and
none was chosen. Again he is made to feel his own impotence, and his
question, 'Are here all thy children?' has a touch of bewilderment in
it. God seldom shows us His choice at first; and both in thought and
practice we get at the precious and the true by a process of exclusion,
having often to reject 'seven' before we find in some all-but-forgotten
'eighth' that which we seek. David's insignificance in Jesse's eyes was
such that his father would never have remembered his existence but for
the question, and his answer is a kind of assurance to the prophet that
he need not take the trouble to see the boy, for he will never do for
whatever he may have in view. His youth and occupation put him out of
the question. We know, from the other parts of his story, that his
brothers had no love for him; nor does his father seem to have had
much. Probably the lad had the usual lot of genius,--to grow up among
uncongenial, commonplace people, understanding him little, and liking
him less. It is a hard school; but where it does not sour, it makes
strong men. His solitary shepherd life taught him many precious
lessons, and, at any rate, gave him the priceless gift of solitude,
which is the nurse of poetry, heroism, and religion. The glorious
night-piece in Psalm viii., and its companion day-piece in Psalm xix.,
may bear the impress of the shepherd life; which is idealised and
sanctified for ever in the immortal sweetness of Psalm xxiii. There
were many worse schools for the future king than a solitary shepherd's
life on the bare hills round Bethlehem.

The delay of the feast and the pause of idle waiting heighten the
expectation with which we look for David's coming. When he does come,
what a bright young figure is lovingly painted for us! He is 'ruddy,
and withal fair of eyes, and goodly to look upon,'--of fair complexion,
with golden hair (rare among these swarthy Orientals), and with
lustrous poet's eyes. What a contrast to Saul's grim face and
figure,--like a sunbeam streaming athwart a thunder-cloud seamed with
its own lightning! Silently the divine voice spoke, and silently, as it
would seem, Samuel poured the oil on the boy's bowed curls. No word of
the purpose escaped his lips, and the awestruck youth was left to
wonder for what high destiny he was chosen. One can fancy the looks of
his brothers as they bitterly watched the anointing with hearts full of
envy, contempt, and rage. I Samuel xvii. 28 shows what they felt to
David.

What was the use of this enigmatical anointing for an undisclosed
purpose? It is Samuel's last act, and his last appearance, except for
the mention of David's flight to him from the court of Saul, and that
weird scene of Saul prophesying and lying naked before Samuel and David
for a day and a night. It was therefore the solemn final act of the
prophet,--transferring the monarchy; but it was for David the beginning
of his training for the throne, in two ways, 'The Spirit of the Lord
came upon David from that day forward.' There was an actual
communication of divine gifts fitting him for his unknown office, and
he was conscious of a new spirit stirring in him. Beside this, the
consciousness of a call to unknown tasks would mature him fast, and
bring graver thoughts, humbler sense of weakness, and clinging trust in
God who had laid the burden on him; and the necessity for repressing
his dreams of the future, in order to do his obscure present duties,
would add patience and self-control to his youthful ardour. What a
whirl of thoughts he carried back to his flock, and how welcome would
the solitude be!

The great lesson here is the one so continually reiterated in
Scripture, from Isaac downwards, that God 'chooses the weak things of
the world to confound the things that are mighty,' and thereby
magnifies both the sovereign freedom of His choice and the power of His
Spirit, which takes the stripling from the sheepcotes and qualifies him
to be the antagonist of the grim Saul, and the king of Israel. There
are subsidiary lessons, especially for young and ardent souls confined
for the present to lowly tasks, and feeling some call to something
higher in a dim future. Patience, the faithful doing of to-day's
trivial tasks, the habit of self-repression, the quiet trust in God who
opens the way in due time,--these, and such like, were the signs that
David was called to a throne, and that God's Spirit was preparing him
for it. They are the virtues which will best prepare us for whatever
the future may have in store for us, and will be in themselves abundant
reward, whether they draw after them a high position, which is a heavy
burden, or, more happily, leave us in our sheltered obscurity.



THE VICTORY OF UNARMED FAITH

'And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy
servant will go and fight with this Philistine. 33. And Saul said to
David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with
him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. 34.
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and
there came a lion and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock; 35. And
I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth:
and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him,
and slew him. 36. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this
uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied
the armies of the living God. 37. David said moreover, The Lord that
delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the
bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul
said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee. 38. And Saul armed
David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head;
also he armed him with a coat of mail. 39. And David girded his sword
upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And
David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved
them. And David put them off him. 40. And he took his staff in his
hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them
in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in
his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine. 41. And the Philistine
came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went
before him. 42. And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he
disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair
countenance. 43. And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that
thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his
gods. 44. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give
thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
45. Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword,
and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of
the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast
defied. 46. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I
will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the
carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the
air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know
that there is a God in Israel. 47. And all this assembly shall know
that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the
Lord's, and He will give you into our hands. 48. And it came to pass,
when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that
David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. 49. And
David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it,
and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his
forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. 50. So David
prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote
the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of
David. 51. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took
his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut
off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was
dead, they fled.'--1 SAMUEL xvii. 32-51.


The scene of David's victory has been identified in the present Wady
Es-Sunt, which still possesses one of the terebinth-trees which gave it
its name of 'Elah.' At that point it is about a quarter of a mile wide,
and runs nearly east and west. In the centre is 'a deep trench or
gulley, the sides and bed of which are strewn with rounded and
water-worn pebbles.' This is the 'valley,' or rather 'ravine' of verse
3 of this chapter, which is described by a different word from that for
'vale' in verse 2--the one meaning a much broader opening than the
other--and from it came the 'five smooth stones.' Notice the minute
topographical accuracy, which indicates history, not legend. The
pebble-bed may supply a missile to hit the modern 'giant' of sceptical
criticism, who boasts much after Goliath's fashion.

The two armies lay looking at each other across the valley, with
occasional skirmishes; and for forty days (probably a round number)
Goliath paraded on his own, the south, side of the gulley, shouting out
his taunts and challenge with a voice like a bull. Many a similar scene
in classical and mediaeval warfare confirms the truth of the picture,
so unlike modern battles. The story is, for all time, the example of
the victory of unarmed faith over the world's utmost might. It is in
little the history of the Church and the type of all battles for God.
It is a pattern for the young especially. The youthful athlete leaps
into the arena, and overcomes, not because of his own strength, but
because he trusts in God.

I. Note the glowing youthful enthusiasm which dares the conflict. When
the Spirit of the Lord left Saul, his courage seems to have gone too,
and he is cowed, like the rest, by Goliath. His interview with David
shows him as timid and unlike his former self, when he dashed at Nahash
and any odds. Now he is hardly to be roused, even by David's contagious
boldness, and is full of objections and precautions. The temper of the
two, as they front each other in Saul's tent, shows that the one has
lost, and the other received, the Spirit which strengthens. David has
become the encourager, and his cheery words bring some hopefulness to
the gloomy, faint-hearted king. The Septuagint has a variant reading in
verse 32, which brings this out and suits the context, 'Let not my
lord's heart fail.' But, whether this be adopted or no, David appears
as quite unaffected by the terror which had unmanned the army, and as
bringing a buoyant disregard of the enemy, like a reviving breeze. It
was not merely youthful daring, nor foolish under-estimation of the
danger, which prompted his stimulating words. The ring of true faith is
in them, and they show us how we may surround ourselves with an
atmosphere which will keep prevailing faint-heartedness off us, and
make us, like Gideon's fleece, impervious to the chill mists of
faithless fear which saturate all around. He who trusts in God should
be as a pillar of fire, burning bright in the darkness of terror, and
making a rallying point for weaker hearts. When panic has seized
others, the Christian soul has the more reason for courage. David
conquered the temptation to share in the general cowardice, before he
conquered Goliath, and perhaps the former fight was the worse of the
two.

While David is the embodiment of the courage of faith, Saul embodies
worldly wisdom and calculating prudence. A touch of tenderness blends
with his attempt to dissuade the lad from the unequal conflict. He
speaks of probabilities, and, like all such calculation, his results
are quite right, only that he has not taken all the forces into
account, and the omission vitiates the conclusion. It is quite true
that David is but a youth, and Goliath a giant and a veteran; but is
that all that is to be said? If it be, then the lad cannot fight the
Philistine bully; but if Saul has made the small omission of leaving
out God, that makes a difference. The same mistake is constantly made
still, and so the victories of faith are a constant surprise to the
world and to a worldly Church. David's eager story of his fights with
wild beasts is meant both to answer Saul's objection on his own ground,
by showing him that, youth as the speaker was, he had proved his power,
and still more to supply the lacking element in the calculation. So he
tells, first, how 'I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew
him,' and then at the end brings in the true ground of his confidence:
'The Lord that delivered me ... He will deliver.' As Thomas Fuller
says, 'He made an experimental syllogism, and from most practical
premises (major a lion, minor a bear), inferred the direct conclusion
that God would give him victory over Goliath. Faith has the right thus
to argue from the past to the future, because it draws from God whose
resources and patience are equally inexhaustible. An echo of the words
comes from Paul's 'Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth
deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver.' There is infinite
pathos in Saul's parting blessing. 'The Lord be with thee!' is spoken
as if from the consciousness that the Lord had left _him_, and that
_his_ day for going into battle with the assurance of His help was gone
for ever. If that softened mood had lasted, how different his future
might have been! If we modestly and boldly show the power of faith in
our lives, we may kindle yearnings in some gloomy hearts, that would
lead them to peace, if followed out.

II. The equipment of faith. Saul meant to honour as well as to secure
David by dressing him in his own royal attire, and by encumbering him
by the help of sword and helmet. And David was willing to be so fitted
out, for it is no part of the courage of faith to disdain any outward
helps. But he soon found that he could not move freely in the
unaccustomed armour, and flung it off, like a wise man. His motive was
partly common sense, which told him not to choose weapons that his
antagonist could handle better than he; and partly reliance on God,
which told him that he was safer with no armour but his shepherd's
dress and with only his sling in his hand. So there he stands, drawn
for us with wonderful vividness, in one hand his staff, in the other
his sling, both familiar and often used, and by his side the simple
wallet which had held his frugal meal, and now received the smooth
pebbles that he picked up as he passed the gulley to the Philistine
side of the valley.

How graphically the contrast is drawn between him and Goliath, as the
latter conies forth swelling with his own magnificence, and preceded by
his shield-bearer! He was 'brass' all over; note the kind of amused
emphasis with which the word is repeated in the half-satirical and
marvellously lifelike portrait of him in verses 5-8; 'brass' here,
'brass' there, 'brass' everywhere; and, not content with one shield
dangling at his back, he has a man to carry another in front of him as
he struts. David seems to have crossed the ravine, and to have come
close up to Goliath before he was observed; and then, with almost a
snort of contempt, the giant resents the insult of sending such a foe
to fight _him_ with such weapons. Perhaps he was nearer the truth than
he thought, when he asked if he was a dog; and any stick will do, as
the proverb says, to beat that animal, especially if God guards the
hand that holds it.

The five smooth stones have become the symbol of the insignificant
means, in the world's estimate, which God uses in faithful hands to
slay the giants of evil. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but
they are mighty. Faith unarmed is armed with more than triple steel,
and a sling in its hand is more fatal than a sword. Sometimes in
kindness and sometimes in malice, the world tempts us to fight evil
with its own weapons, and to put on its unfamiliar armour. The Church
as a whole, and individual Christians, have often been hampered, and
all but smothered, in Saul's harness. The more simply we keep ourselves
to the simple methods which the word of God enjoins, and to the simple
weapons which ought to be the easiest for a Christian, the more likely
shall we be to conquer. Goliath is not to be encountered with sword and
armour which is, after all, but a shabby copy of the tons of brass
which he wears, but he does not know what to make of the sling, and
does not see the stone till it crashes his skull in.

III. Note faith's anticipation of victory. The dialogue before the
battle has many parallels in classical times and among savage peoples.
Goliath's bluster is full of contempt of David and truculent
self-confidence. Its coarseness is characteristic,--he will make his
boyish antagonist food for vultures and jackals. It is exactly what a
bully would say. David's answer throbs with buoyant confidence, and
stands as a stimulating example of the temper in which God's soldiers
should go out to every fight, no matter against what odds. It fully
recognises the formidable armoury of the enemy,--sword for close
quarters, spear to thrust with, and javelin to fling from a distance,
every weapon that ingenuity could fashion and trained skill could
wield. Goliath was a walking arsenal, and little David took count of
his weapons as they clanked and flashed. It is no part of faith's
triumph to ignore the number and sharpness of the enemy's arms. But
faith sees them all, and keeps unterrified and unashamed of the poor
leathern sling and smooth stones. The unarmed hand which grasps God's
hand should never tremble; and he who can say 'I come ... in the name
of the Lord of hosts,' has no need to be afraid of an army of Goliaths,
though each bristled with swords and spears like a porcupine.

The great name on which David's faith rested, 'the Lord of hosts,'
appears to have sprung into use in this epoch, and to have been one
precious fruit of its frequent wars. Conflict is blessed if it teaches
the knowledge of the unseen Commander who marshals not only men, but
all the forces of the universe and the armies of heaven, for the
defence of His servants and the victory of His own cause. The fulness
of the divine name is learned by degrees, as our needs impress the
various aspects of His character; and the revelation contained in this
appellation is the gift of that fierce and stormy time, a possession
for ever. He who defies the armies of Israel has to reckon with the
Lord of these armies, whose name proclaims at once His eternal,
self-originated, and self-sustained being, His covenant, His presence
with His earthly host, and the infinite ranks of obedient creatures who
are His soldiers and their allies. That is 'the Name' in the strength
of which we may 'set up our banners' and be sure of victory. Note how
David flings back Goliath's taunts in his teeth. He is sure that God
will conquer through him, and, though he has no sword, that he will
somehow hack the big head off; and that it is the host of the
Philistines on whom the vultures and jackals are to feed to-day.

His faith sees the victory before the battle is begun, and trusts, not
in his own weak power, but only 'in the name of the Lord.' Note, too,
the result which he expects--no glory for himself, though that came
unsought, when the shrill songs from the women of Israel met the
victors, but to all the world the proof that Israel had a God, and to
Israel ('this assembly') the renewed lesson of their true weapons and
of their Almighty Helper. Such utter suppression of self is inseparable
from trust in God, and without it no soldier of His has a right to
expect victory. To fight 'in the name of the Lord' requires hiding our
own name. If we are really going to war for Him, and in His strength,
we ought to expect to conquer. Believe that you will be beaten, and you
will be. Trust to Him to make you 'more than conquerors,' and the trust
will bring about its own fulfilment.

IV. Observe the contrast in verse 48 between the slow movements of the
heavy-armed Philistine and the quick run of the shepherd, whose 'feet
were as hind's feet' (Psalm xviii. 33). Agility and confident alacrity
were both expressed. His feet were shod with 'the preparedness of
faith.' Observe, too, the impetuous brevity of the account in verse 49,
of the actual fall of Goliath. The short clauses, coupled by a series
of 'ands,' reproduce the swift succession of events, which ended the
fight before it had begun; and one can almost hear the whiz of the
stone as it crashes into the thick head, so strangely left unprotected
by all the profusion of brass that clattered about him. The vulnerable
heel of Achilles and the unarmed forehead of Goliath illustrate the
truth, ever forgotten and needing to be repeated, that, after all
precautions, some spot is bare, and that 'there is no armour against
fate.'

The picture of the huge 'man-mountain' fallen upon his face to the
earth, a huddled heap of useless mail, recalls the words of a psalm,
'When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up
my flesh, they stumbled and fell' (Psalm xxvii. 2). Is it fanciful to
hear in that triumphant chant an echo of Goliath's boast about giving
his flesh to the fowls and the beasts, and a vision of the braggart as
he tottered and lay prostrate? Observe, too, the contemptuous
reiteration of 'the Philistine,' which occurs six times in the four
verses (48-51). National feeling speaks in that. There is triumph in
the sarcastic repetition of the dreaded name in such a connection. This
was what one of the brood had got, and his fate was an omen of what
would befall the rest. The champion of Israel, the soldier of God,
standing over the dead Philistine, all whose brazen armour had been
useless and his brazen insolence abased, and sawing off his head with
his own sword, was a prophecy for the Israel of that day, and will be a
symbol till the end of time of the true equipment, the true temper, and
the certain victory, of all who, in the name of the Lord of hosts, go
forth in their weakness against the giants of ignorance, vice, and sin.
'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.'



A SOUL'S TRAGEDY

'And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself
wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war; and he was accepted in
the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul's servants.
6. And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the
slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of
Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tabrets, with joy,
and with instruments of musick. 7. And the women answered one another
as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his
ten thousands. 8. And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased
him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to
me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the
kingdom? 9. And Saul eyed David from that day and forward. 10. And it
came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon
Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played
with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul's
hand. 11. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David
even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice.
12. And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and
was departed from Saul. 13. Therefore Saul removed him from him, and
made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in
before the people. 14. And David behaved himself wisely in all his
ways; and the Lord was with him. 15. Wherefore, when Saul saw that he
behaved himself very wisely, he was afraid of him. 16. But all Israel
and Judah loved David, because he went out and came in before them.'--1
SAMUEL xviii. 5-16.


Verse 5 anticipates verses 13-16. It is the last verse of a section
which interrupts the even flow of the story, and which is absent from
the Septuagint. Verse 6 follows immediately on xvii. 54 in that
version. Taking that verse as our starting-point, we have three stages
in Saul's growing hatred and awe of the young champion, and of David's
growing influence and reputation. It is deeply tragic to watch the
gradual darkening of the once bright light, side by side with the
irresistible increase in brilliance of the new star. 'He must increase,
but I must decrease,' became Saul's bitter conviction; but instead of
meekly accepting the necessity, his gloomy spirit struggled against it,
like stormy waves against a breakwater, and, like them, was shivered
into foam in the vain effort.

I. The first stage was Saul's jealousy of David's fame as a warrior.
The returning victorious army was met, in Oriental fashion, by a
triumphal chorus of women, with their shrill songs, accompanied by the
dissonant noises which do duty for music to Eastern ears. The words of
their chant were startlingly and ominously plain-spoken, and became
more emphatic and insulting in Saul's ears, because they were sung by
two answering bands, one of which rang out, 'Saul hath slain his
thousands,' while the other overtopped them by pealing out still more
loudly and exultantly, 'And David his ten thousands.' To be brought
into comparison with this unknown stripling was bitter enough, but to
be used as a foil to set off his superiority was too much to be borne.
There are few men, holding high places in any walk of life, who could
have stood such a comparison without wincing. Suppose a great soldier
in our day, coming home from a successful campaign, and having his
prowess dimmed in every newspaper by the praises lavished on a young
lieutenant who had done some brave feat that caught the public
fancy--would he be likely to be in a very amiable mood towards either
the singers or the object of their triumphal songs? Do great authors
rejoice in the rising of young reputations that dim theirs? or do great
orators smile when some 'boy' takes the public ear more than they do?
Poor Saul had to drink the bitter cup, which all who love the sweet
draught of popular applause have sooner or later to taste; and we need
not think him a monster of badness because he found it bitter.

It will be more to the purpose that we take care lest we do the very
same thing in our little lives and humble spheres; for envy and
jealousy of those who threaten to out-shine, or in any way to out-do,
us is not confined to people in high places or with great reputations.
The roots of them are in us all, and the only way to keep them from
growing up rank is to think less of our reputation and more of our
duty, to count it a very small matter what men think of us, and the
all-important matter what God thinks.

Saul was moved, too, by the consciousness that he had been really
deposed by Jehovah, and was only a phantom king, and, as his angry
soliloquy shows, what troubled him most in the women's song was that it
pointed to David as likely to come in and rob him, not only of glory,
but of the kingdom. Ever since Samuel had pronounced his rejection, his
uneasy eyes had been furtively scanning men for his possible
supplanter, and no wonder that his gloomy suspicions focussed
themselves on the gallant youth, who conquered men's hearts and made
women's tongues eloquent in his praise. Stormy and dark as Saul's
nature had become, and grave as had been his failure to be worthy of
the monarchy, one cannot but feel the infinite pathos and pity of his
life.

II. The second stage was the attempt on David's life. Verses 10 and 11,
which record it, are not in the Septuagint, and the narrative does run
more smoothly without them. But if they are retained, they show how the
moody suspicion with which Saul 'eyed David' came to a swift, murderous
climax. He stands as a terrible example of how suspicion and jealousy,
working in a nature utterly without self-control, transport it into the
wildest excesses. In the strange phraseology of verse 9, 'an evil
spirit from God' laid hold of him, dominating his personality. The
writer of this book felt that God was the ultimate cause of all things,
and that all beings were under His control; and his devout recognition
of that fact led him to the apparent paradox of tracing an 'evil
spirit' to God. But we must not be so startled as to overlook the truth
that Saul had prepared the fit abode for that evil spirit by his own
indulgence in a whirl of sinful passions and acts, and that these were
punished by their 'natural' consequence. Any man who lets his own baser
nature have full fling invites the devil. Saul had what would now be
called a paroxysm of insanity. But perhaps the modern medical phrase is
not to be preferred to the old scriptural one. The former is innocent
of any explanation of the fact which it designates, and it may possibly
be that insanity is sometimes, even now, 'possession.' At all events,
since science gives no explanation of it, and a great dim region of
consciousness is now being recognised,--'subliminal,' to speak in the
new phraseology,--he is a bold man who ventures to deny that
possibility.

But be that as it may, what a striking picture is given of Saul, worn
with passion and swept away by ungovernable impulses, 'prophesying' or
'raving' with wild gestures and uttering wilder sounds; and of David,
young, calm, giving forth melodies on his harp and songs from his lips,
that sought to soothe the paroxysms of fury. Browning has drawn the
picture in immortal words, which all who can should read. It has been
suggested that Saul did not 'cast' his spear, but only brandished it in
his fierce threat to pin David to the wall. But the youthful harper
would scarcely have 'avoided out of his presence' for a mere threat and
the flourish of a lance; and a man, raging mad and madly hostile, would
not be likely to waste breath in mere threats. The attempt was more
probably a serious one, and the spear, flung by an arm made stronger
than ever by insane hatred, quivered in the wall very near the lithe
athlete who had agilely escaped it. Envy, allowed to have its way,
becomes murderous. Let us suppress its beginning. A tiger pup can be
held in and its claws cut, but a full-grown tiger cannot.

III. The third stage is Saul's getting rid of David. The growing awe of
him is marked in verses 12 and 15, and the word in the latter verse is
stronger than that in the former. It is a pathetic picture of the
gradual creeping over a strong man of a nameless terror.
Ever-thickening folds of cold dread, like a wet mist, wrap a soul once
bright and energetic. And the reason is twofold: first, that God had
left that tempestuous, rebellious soul because it had left Him; and
second, that, in its desolate solitude, in which there was no trace of
softening or penitence, that lightning-riven soul knew that the
sunshine, which it had repelled, was now pouring on David. Saul's
suspicions were hardened into certainties. He was sure now that what
his jealousy had whispered, when the women chanted their chorus, was
grim fact. And he could but helplessly watch his supplanter's steady
advance in favour with men and God. The two processes of growing
darkness and growing light go on side by side in the two men, and each
makes the other more striking by contrast. Twice is it repeated that
Saul was in awe of David. Twice is it repeated that Jehovah was with
David, and that he 'behaved himself wisely,' which last statement
includes in the Hebrew word both the idea of prudence and that of
success. So, on the one hand, there is a steady growth in all good,
godly, and happy qualities and experiences; and on the other, a
tragical increase of darkness and gloom, godlessness and despair. And
yet Saul had begun so well! And Saul might have been what David
was,--companioned by God, prosperous, and the idol of his people. Two
souls stand side by side for a moment on the same platform, with the
same divine goodness and love encircling them, and the one steadily
rises, while the other steadily sinks. How awful are the endless
possibilities of progress in either direction that lie open for every
soul of man!



JONATHAN, THE PATTERN OF FRIENDSHIP

'And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before
Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin
before thy father, that he seeketh my life? 2. And he said unto him,
God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing
either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my
father hide this thing from me? it is not so. 3. And David sware
moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found
grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he
be grieved: but truly, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth,
there is but a step between me and death. 4. Then said Jonathan unto
David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee. 5. And
David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to-morrow is the new moon, and I
should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may
hide myself in the field unto the third day at even. 6. If thy father
at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he
might run to Beth-lehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there
for all the family. 7. If he say thus, it is well; thy servant shall
have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is
determined by him. 8. Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy
servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the Lord
with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me
thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father? 9. And Jonathan
said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were
determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it
thee? 10. Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if
thy father answer thee roughly? 11. And Jonathan said unto David, Come,
and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into
the field. 12. And Jonathan said unto David, O Lord God of Israel when
I have sounded my father about to-morrow any time, or the third day,
and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto
thee, and shew it thee; 13. The Lord do so and much more to Jonathan:
but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee,
and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the Lord be with
thee, as He hath been with my father.'--1 SAMUEL xx. 1-13.


The friendship of Jonathan for David comes like a breath of pure air in
the midst of the heavy-laden atmosphere of hate and mad fury, or like
some clear fountain sparkling up among the sulphurous slag and barren
scoriae of a volcano. There is no more beautiful page in history or
poetry than the story of the passionate love of the heir to the throne
for the young champion, whom he had so much cause to regard as a rival.
What a proof of the victory of love over self is his saying, 'Thou
shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee'! (1 Samuel
xxiii. 17). Truly did David sing in his elegy, 'Thy love to me was
wonderful, passing the love of women'; for in that old world, in which
the relations between the sexes had not yet received the hallowing and
refinement of Christian times, much of what is now chiefly found in
these was manifested in friendship, such as that of these two young
men. Jonathan is the foremost figure in it, and the nobility and
self-oblivion of his love are beautifully brought out, while David's
part is rather that of the loved than of the lover. The scene is laid
in Gibeah, where Saul kept his court, and to which all the persons of
the story seem to have come back from Samuel's house at Kamah. Saul's
strange subjugation to the hallowing influences of the prophet's
presence had been but momentary and superficial; and it had been
followed by a renewed outburst of the old hate, obvious to David's
sharpened sight, though not to Jonathan. In the interview between them,
David is pardonably but obviously absorbed in self, while Jonathan
bends all his soul to cheer and reassure his friend.

There are four turns in the conversation, in each of which David speaks
and Jonathan answers. David's first question presupposes that his
friend knows that his death is determined, and is privy to Saul's
thoughts. If he had been less harassed, he would have done Jonathan
more justice than to suppose him capable of knowing everything without
telling him anything; but fear is suspicious. He should have remembered
that, when Saul first harboured murderous purposes, Jonathan had not
waited to be asked, but had disclosed the plot to him, and perilled his
own life by his remonstrances with his father. He should have trusted
his friend. His question breathes consciousness of innocence of any
hostility to Saul, but unconsciously betrays some defect in his
confidence in Jonathan. The answer is magnanimous in its silence as to
that aspect of the question, though the subsequent story seems to imply
that Jonathan felt it. He tries to hearten David by strong assurances
that his life is safe. He does not directly contradict David's
implication that he knew more than he had told, but, without asserting
his ignorance, takes it for granted, and quietly argues from it the
incorrectness of David's suspicions. Incidentally he gives us, in the
picture of the perfect confidence between Saul and himself, an inkling
of how much he had to sacrifice to his friendship. Wild as was Saul's
fury when aroused, and narrow as had been his escape from it at an
earlier time (1 Samuel xiv. 44), there was yet love between them, and
the king made a confidant of his gallant eldest son. They 'were lovely
and pleasant in their lives.' However gloomy and savage in his
paroxysms Saul was, the relations between them were sweet. The most
self-introverted and solitary soul needs some heart to pour itself out
to, and this poor king found one in Jonathan. All the harder, then, was
the trial of friendship when the trusted son had to take the part of
the friend whom his father deemed an enemy, and had the pain of
breaking such close ties. How his heart must have been torn asunder! On
the one side was the lonely father who clung to him: on the other, the
hunted friend to whom he clung. It is a sore wrench when kindred are on
one side, and congeniality and the voice of the heart on the other. But
there are ties more sacred than those of flesh and blood; and the
putting of them second, which is sometimes needful in obedience to
earthly love or duty, is always needful if we would rightly entertain
our heavenly Friend.

Jonathan's soothing assurances did not satisfy David, and he 'sware' in
the earnestness of his conviction. David gives a very good reason for
his friend's ignorance, which he has at once believed, in the
suggestion that Saul had not taken him into his confidence, out of
tenderness to his feelings. Their friendship, then, was notorious, and,
indeed, was an element in Saul's dread of David, who seemed to have
some charm to steal hearts, and had bewitched both Saul's son and his
daughter, thus making a painful rift in the family unity. It does not
appear how David came to be so sure of Saul's designs. The incident at
Ramah might have seemed to augur some improvement in his mood; and
certainly there could have been no overt acts, or Jonathan could not
have disputed the suspicions. Possibly some whispers may have reached
David through his wife Michal, Saul's daughter, or in the course of his
attendance on the king, which he had now resumed, his quick eye may
have noticed ominous signs. At all events, he is so sure, that he makes
solemn attestation to his friend, and convinces him that, in the
picturesque phrase which has become so familiar, 'There is but a step
between me and death.' Such temper was scarcely in accordance with 'the
prophecies which went before on' him. If he had been walking by faith,
he would have called Samuel's anointing to mind, and have drawn
arguments from the victory over Goliath, for trust in victory over
Saul, as he had done for the former from that over the lion and the
bear. But faith does not always keep high-water mark, and we can only
too easily sympathise with this momentary ebb of its waters.

None the less is it true that David's terror was unworthy, and showed
that the strain of his anxious position was telling on his spirit, and
making him not only suspect his earthly friend, but half forget his
heavenly One. There was but a step between him and death; but, if he
had been living in the serenity of trust, he would have known that the
narrow space was as good as a thousand miles, and that Saul could not
force him across it, for all his hatred and power.

Jonathan does not attempt to alter his conviction and probably is
obliged to admit the justice of the explanation of his own ignorance
and the truth of the impression of Saul's purposes. But he does what is
more to the purpose; he pledges himself to do whatever David desires.
It is an unconditional desertion of his father and alliance with David;
it is the true voice of friendship or love, which ever has its delight
in knowing and doing the will of the beloved. It answers David's
thoughts rather than his words. He will not discuss any more whether he
or David is right; but, in any event, he is his friend's.

The touchstone of friendship is practical help and readiness to do what
the friend wishes. It is so in our friendships here, which are best
cemented so. It is so in the highest degree in our friendship with the
true Friend and Lover of us all, the sweetness and power of our
friendship with whom we do not know until we say, 'Whatsoever thou
desirest, I will do it,' and so lose the burden of self-will, and find
that He does for us what we desire when we make His desires our law of
conduct.

Secure of Jonathan's help, David proposed the stratagem for finding out
Saul's disposition, which had probably been in his mind all along. It
says more for his subtlety than for his truthfulness. With all his
nobility, he had a streak of true Oriental craft and stood on the moral
level of his times and country, in his readiness to eke out the lion's
skin with the fox's tail. It was a shrewd idea to make Saul betray
himself by the way in which he took David's absence; but a lie is a
lie, and cannot be justified, though it may be palliated, by the
straits of the liar. At the same time it is fair to remember the
extremity of David's danger and the morality of his age, in estimating,
not the nature of his action, but the extent of his guilt in doing it.
The same relaxation of the vigour of his faith which left him a prey to
fear, led him to walk in crooked paths, and the impartial narrative
tells of them without a word of comment. We have to form our own
estimate of the fitness of a lie to form the armour of a saint. The
proposal informs us of two facts,--the custom of having a feast for
three days at the new moon, and that of having an annual family feast
and sacrifice, neither of which is prescribed in the law. I do not here
deal with the grave question as to the date of the ceremonial law, as
affected by these and similar phenomena; but I may be allowed the
passing remark that the irregularities do not prove the non-existence
of the law, but may be accounted for by supposing that, in such
unsettled times, it had been loosely observed, and that many accretions
and omissions, some of them inevitable in the absence of a recognised
centre of worship, had crept in. That is a much less brilliant and much
more old-fashioned explanation than the new one, but perhaps it is none
the worse for that. This generation is fond of making 'originality' and
'brilliancy' the tests of truth.

David's words in verse 8 have a touch of suspicion in them, in their
very appeal for kind treatment, in their reminder of the 'covenant' of
friendship, as if Jonathan needed either, and still more in the bitter
request to slay him himself instead of delivering him to Saul. He
almost thinks that Jonathan is in the plot, and means to carry him off
a prisoner. Note, too, that he does not say, 'We made a covenant,' but
'Thou hast brought me into' it, as if it had been the other's wish
rather than his. All this was beneath true friendship, and it hurt
Jonathan, who next speaks with unusual emotion, beseeching David to
clear all this fog out of his heart, and to believe in the genuineness
and depth of his love, and in the frankness of his speech. True love
'is not easily provoked,' is not soon angry, and his was true in spite
of many obstacles which might have made him as jealous as his father,
and in the face of misconstruction and suspicion. May we not think of a
yet higher love, which bears with our suspicions and faithless doubts,
and ever answers our incredulity by its gentle 'If it were not so, I
would have told you'?

David is not yet at the end of his difficulties, and next suggests, how
is he to know Saul's mind? Jonathan takes him out into the privacy of
the open country (they had apparently been in Gibeah), and there
solemnly calls God to witness that he will disclose his father's
purposes, whatever they are. The language is obscure and broken,
whether owing to corruption in the text, or to the emotion of the
speaker. In half-shaped sentences, which betray how much he felt his
friend's doubts, and how sincere he was, he invokes evil on himself if
he fails to tell all. He then unfolds his ingenious scheme for
conveying the information, on which we do not touch. But note the final
words of Jonathan,--that prayer, so pathetic, so unselfish in its
recognition of David as the inheritor of the kingdom that had dropped
from his own grasp, so sad in its clear-eyed assurance of his father's
abandonment, so deeply imbued with faith in the divine word, and so
resigned to its behests. Both in the purity of his friendship and in
the strength of his faith and submission, Jonathan stands here above
David, and is far surer than the latter himself is of his high destiny
and final triumph. It was hard for him to believe in the victory which
was to displace his own house, harder still to rejoice in it, without
one trace of bitterness mingling in the sweetness of his love, hardest
of all actively to help it and to take sides against his father; but
all these difficulties his unselfish heart overcame, and he stands for
all time as the noblest example of human friendship, and as not
unworthy to remind us, as from afar off and dimly, of the perfect love
of the Firstborn Son of the true King, who has loved us all with a yet
deeper, more patient, more self-sacrificing love. If men can love one
another as Jonathan loved David, how should they love the Christ who
has loved them so much! And what sacrilege it is to pour such treasures
of affection at the feet of dear ones here, and to give so grudgingly
such miserable doles of heart's love to Him!



LOVE FOR HATE, THE TRUE QUID PRO QUO

'And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the Lord
said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand,
that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David
arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily. 5. And it came to
pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had out off
Saul's skirt. 6. And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I
should do this thing unto my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch
forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord. 7.
So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to
rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his
way. 8. David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried
after Saul, saying, My Lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him,
David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself, 9. And
David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold,
David seeketh thy hurt? 10. Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how
that the Lord had delivered thee to-day into mine hand in the cave: and
some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will
not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the Lord's anointed.
11. Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my
hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not,
know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine
hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to
take it. 12. The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me
Of thee; but mine hand shall not be upon thee. 13. As saith the proverb
of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand
shall not be upon thee. 14. After whom is the king of Israel come out?
after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea. 15. The
Lord therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and
plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand. 16. And it came to
pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul,
that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his
voice, and wept. 17. And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than
I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee
evil.'--1 SAMUEL xxiv. 4-17.


A sudden Philistine invasion had saved David, when hard pressed by
Saul, and had given him the opportunity of flight to the wild country
on the west of the Dead Sea, near the place where En-Gedi ('the
Fountain of the Wild Goat') sparkles into light on the hill above the
weird lake. In these savage gorges Saul's three thousand men would be
of little use against the light-footed outlaw and his troop. The whole
district is seamed with ravines, and these are honeycombed with great
caverns, where dangerous outcasts still lurk and defy capture.
Travellers go into raptures over the beauty of some of these 'fairy
grottoes' draped with maiden-hair fern, cool and moist, and blessedly
dark after the fierce light outside. In some one of these the beautiful
story which makes our lesson occurred.

I. We have the scene in the cave. The interior would be black as night
to one looking inward with eyes fresh from the blinding glare of such
sunlight upon limestone, but it would hold a glimmering twilight for
one looking outward, with eyes accustomed to the gloom. David and his
men, keeping close to the walls and hiding behind angles, might well be
unobserved by Saul at the mouth, and probably never looking in at all.
How vividly the whispered eagerness of the outcasts round David is
reproduced! They think it would be 'tempting Providence' to let such a
chance slip. They put a religious varnish on their advice. It would be
almost impious not to kill Saul, for here was the hand of God evidently
fulfilling a prophecy! There may have been some unrecorded prediction
of the sort which they seem to quote; but more probably they are only
referring to David's designation to the crown, which they had come to
know. It never struck them as possible that it could 'seem good' to a
wise man not to cut his enemy's throat when he could do it without
danger to himself. So they would watch David stealing down quietly to
the place where the unconscious king was crouching, and getting close
behind him, knife in hand. How disgusted they must have been when the
blade, that flashed for a moment in the light at the cave's mouth, was
not buried in Saul's great back, but only hacked off the end of his
robe spread out behind him! No personal animosity was in David. However
he had been driven to consort with outlaws, and to live a kind of
freebooter's life, his natural sweetness was unspoiled, and was
reinforced by solemn veneration for the sanctity of the Lord's
anointing, which he reverenced all the more because himself had
received it. He clambered back to his disappointed men, and, as soon as
he was up in the dark again, his chivalry and his religion made him
ashamed of his coarse practical jest. The humour of the thing had
tempted him to do it; but it was a rude insult, which lowered him more
than it did Saul, and, like a true man, he blushes there in the gloom
at what he has done. Then he has to defend himself to his men for not
coming up to their expectations, and he does it by insisting on the
sacredness which still surrounded Saul as 'the Lord's anointed.' David
knew that the unhappy king had been rejected and forsaken by 'the
Spirit of the Lord,' and that he himself was the true bearer of the
regal unction; but he will not take the law into his own hands, and
still regards Saul as his 'lord.' He sets the example, much needed by
us all, of leaving God to carry out His purposes at His own time, and
patiently waiting till that time comes. He had hard work to keep his
men from rushing down on the king; but, having commanded himself, is
able to restrain them. How many virtues may be in exercise in one
action! Here we have generosity, clemency, sensitiveness of conscience,
reverence, self-abnegation, patience, loyalty, firmness, sway over
lower natures for high ends,--a whole constellation shining star-like
in the dark cavern.

II. We have, next, David's pathetic remonstrance. Saul was alone, and
David could easily escape among the cliffs, if the king summoned his
men; but he risks capture, in the gush of ancient friendship. His words
are full of nobleness, and his silence is no less so. He has no
reproaches, no anger nor hate. He will not even suppose that Saul has
followed his own impulses in his persecution, but assumes that he has
been led astray by calumnies. He points to the fragment of Saul's robe
in his hand as the disproof of the lie that he had designs against him,
and passionately asserts his innocence now and in all the past. He
compares himself to some timid wild thing, like one of the goats among
the cliffs, and Saul to a hunter. He solemnly calls God to judge
between them, and appeals from the slanders and misjudgings of men to
the perfect tribunal of God, to whom he commits his cause. He abjures
all intention of striking at Saul in his own defence. He quotes, in
true Eastern manner, a scrap of proverbial wisdom, which contains the
homely truth that character determines action; for it needs a wicked
man to do a wicked thing, and he implies that he is not wicked, and
that Saul knows that well enough,--by what has just happened, if by
nothing else. Then he puts his own insignificance and the disproportion
between him and his ragged band and the imposing force of Saul in vivid
light by his half-humorous and wholly humble description of himself as
a 'dead dog,' and a 'flea'; as harmless as the one, as hard to catch as
the other, as little important as either. Finally, he reiterates his
devout reference of the whole cause to God, and his fixed resolution to
take no steps to right himself, but to leave all to Him.

So ought we to deal with slanders and enmity. The eternal law for us in
all opposition and hostility is enshrined in David's noble words and
deeds. To repay evil with benefits, to abstain from retaliation when it
is in our power, to keep our tongues from bitter and wounding words, to
appeal to the adversary's better self, even at the cost of our own
'dignity,'--all that is not easy nor usual among professing Christians.
But it ought to be. David's Lord, 'when He suffered, threatened not;
but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.' We are poor
followers of Him, if David surpasses us in patience and magnanimity. It
has taken nineteen hundred years to teach us that passive endurance is
more heroic than fighting for our own hand, and that repaying scorn and
hate with their like is less noble than meeting them with endless
forgiveness.

Psalm vii. is all but universally regarded as David's, and as belonging
to this period. In it we find a clause, 'I have delivered him that
without cause was mine enemy,' which may fairly be supposed to refer to
the scene in the cave, and we read the same vehement protestations of
innocence, the same figure of himself as a hunted wild animal, the same
appeal to God's judgment, as in his remonstrance with Saul. The psalm
is the poetic echo of our lesson.

III. We have the momentary melting of Saul's heart. He breaks into
passionate weeping. With that sudden flashing out into vehement
emotion, so characteristic of him throughout, and, in these latter days
of his life, so significant of enfeebled self-control, he recognises
David's generous forbearance in its contrast to his own hate, which,
for the moment, he feels to be causeless. There is a piteous
remembrance of the days when David soothed him by song, in his mention
of the sweet 'voice,' and some rekindling of ancient love in his
calling him 'My son.' Then follow the sad words which confess the
hopelessness of his struggle against the divine purpose, and his appeal
for mercy to his house. The picture may well move solemn thoughts and
pity for that scathed and solitary soul, seeing for a moment, as by a
lightning flash, the madness of his course, and yet held so fast in the
grip of his dark passions that he cannot shake off their tyranny.

Two great lessons are taught by that tragic figure of the weeping and
yet unchanged king. One is of the power of forbearing gentleness to
exorcise hate. The true way to 'overcome evil' is to melt it by fiery
coals of gentleness. That is God's way. An iceberg may be crushed to
powder, but every fragment is still ice. Only sunshine that melts it
will turn it into sweet water. Love is conqueror, and the only
conqueror, and its conquest is to transform hate into love. The other
lesson is the worthlessness of mere feeling, which by its very nature
passes away, and, like unstored rain, leaves the rock in its obstinate
hardness more exposed. Saul only increased his guilt by reason of the
fleeting glimpse of his folly which he did not follow up; and our
gleams of insight into some sin and madness of ours but add to our
responsibility. Emotion which does not lead to action hardens the
heart, and adds to our guilt and condemnation.



LOVE AND REMORSE

'And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched: and
David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Xer, the
captain of his host: and Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched
round about him. 6. Then answered David and said to Ahimelech the
Hittite, and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, saying,
Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp? And Abishai said, I will
go down with thee. 7. So David and Abishai came to the people by night:
and, behold, Saul lay sleeping within the trench, and his spear stuck
in the ground at his bolster: but Abner and the people lay round about
him. 8. Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into
thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with
the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the
second time. 9. And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can
stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?
10. David said furthermore, As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite
him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and
perish. 11. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand
against the Lord's anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear
that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go. 12. So
David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's bolster; and
they gat them away, and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked: for
they were all asleep; because a deep sleep from the Lord was fallen
upon them .... 21. Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David:
for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine
eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred
exceedingly. 22. And David answered and said, Behold the king's spear!
and let one of the young men come over and fetch it. 23. The Lord
render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the
Lord delivered thee into my hand today, but I would not stretch forth
mine hand against the Lord's anointed. 24. And, behold, as thy life was
much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in the
eyes of the Lord, and let Him deliver me out of all tribulation. 25.
Then Saul said to David, Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both
do great things, and also shalt still prevail. So David went on his
way, and Saul returned to his place.'--1 SAMUEL xxvi 5-12; 21-25.


It is fashionable at present to regard this incident and the other
instance of David's sparing Saul, when in his power, as two versions of
one event. But it if not improbable that the hunted outlaw should twice
have taken refuge in the same place, or that his hiding-place should
have been twice betrayed. He had but a small choice of safe retreats,
and the Ziphites had motive for a second betrayal in the fact of the
first, and of its failure to secure David's capture. The whole cast of
the two incidents is so different that it is impossible to see how the
one could have been evolved from the other, and either they are both
true, or they are both unhistorical, or, at best, are both the product
of fancy working on, and arbitrarily filling up, a very meagre skeleton
of fact. Many of the advocates of the identity of the incident at the
bottom of the two accounts would accept the latter explanation; we take
the former.

Saul had three thousand men with him; David had left his little troop
'in the wilderness,' and seems to have come with only his two
companions, Ahimelech and his own nephew, Abishai, to reconnoitre. He
sees, from some height, the camp, with the transport wagons making a
kind of barricade in the centre--just as camps are still arranged in
South Africa and elsewhere,--and Saul established therein as in a rude
fortification. A bold thought flashes into his mind as he looks.
Perhaps he remembered Gideon's daring visit to the camp of Midian. He
will go down, and not only into the camp, but 'to Saul,' through the
ranks and over the barrier. What to do he does not say, but the two
fierce fighters beside him think of only one thing as sufficient motive
for such an adventure. Abishai volunteers to go with him; no doubt
Ahimelech would have been ready also, but two were enough, and three
would only have increased risk. So they lay close hid till night fell,
and then stole down through the sleeping ranks with silent movements,
like a couple of Indians on the war-trail, climbed the barricade, and
stood at last where Saul lay, with his spear, as the emblem of
kingship, stuck upright at his head, and a cruse of water for slaking
thirst, if he awoke, beside him. Those who should have been his guards
lay sleeping round him, for a 'deep sleep from Jehovah was fallen upon
them.' What a vivid, strange picture it is, and how characteristic of
the careless discipline of unscientific Eastern warfare!

The tigerish lust for blood awoke in Abishai. Whatever sad, pitying,
half-tender thoughts stirred in David as he looked at the mighty form
of Saul, with limbs relaxed in slumber, and perhaps some of the gloom
and evil passions charmed out of his face, his nephew's only thought
was,' What a fair mark! what an easy blow!' He was brutally eager to
strike once, and truculently sure that his arm would make sure that
once would be enough. He was religious too, after a strange fierce
fashion. God-significantly he does not say 'Jehovah'; his religion was
only the vague belief in a deity-had delivered Saul into David's hands,
and it would be a kind of sin not to kill him. How many bloody
tragedies that same unnatural alliance of religion and murderous hate
has varnished over! Very beautifully does David's spirit contrast with
this. Abishai represents the natural impulse of us all--to strike at
our enemies when we can, to meet hate with hate, and do to another the
evil that he would do to us.

David here, though he could be fierce and cruel enough sometimes, and
had plenty of the devil in him, listens to his nobler self, which
listens to God, and, at a time when everything tempted him to avenge
himself, resists and overcomes. He is here a saint after the New
Testament pattern. Abishai had, in effect, said, 'Thou shalt love thy
neighbour, and hate thine enemy.' David's finely-tuned ear heard, long
before they were spoken on earth, the great Christian words, 11 say
unto you, Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you.' He knew
that Saul had been 'rejected,' but he was 'Jehovah's anointed,' and the
unction which had rested on that sleeping head lingered still. It was
not for David to be the executor of God's retribution. He left himself
and his cause in Jehovah's hands, and no doubt it was with sorrow and
pitying love, not altogether quenched by Saul's mad hate, that he
foresaw that the life which he spared now was certain one day to be
smitten. We may well learn the lesson of this story, and apply it to
the small antagonisms and comparatively harmless enmities which may
beset our more quiet lives. David in Saul's 'laager,' Stephen outside
the wall, alike lead up our thoughts to Jesus' prayer,' Father, forgive
them; for they know not what they do.'

The carrying off of the spear and the cruse was a couch of almost
humour, and it, with the ironical taunt flung across the valley to
Abner, gives relief to the strain of emotion in the story. Saul's burst
of passionate remorse is morbid, paroxysmal, like his fits of fury, and
is sure to foam itself away. The man had no self-control. He had let
wild, ungoverned moods master him, and was truly 'possessed.' One
passion indulged had pushed him over the precipice into insanity, or
something like it. Let us take care not to let any passion, emotion, or
mood get the upper hand. 'That way madness lies.' 'He that hath no rule
over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, without walls.'

And let us not confound remorse with repentance 'The sorrow of the
world worketh death.' Saul grovelled in agony that day, but tomorrow he
was raging again with more than the old frenzy of hate. Many a man
says, 'I have played the fool,' and yet goes on playing it again when
the paroxysm of remorse has stormed itself out. David's answer was by
no means effusive, for he had learned how little Saul's regrets were to
be trusted. He takes no notice of the honeyed words of invitation to
return, and will not this time venture to take back the spear and
cruse, as he had done, on the previous occasion, the skirt of Saul's
robe. He solemnly appeals to Jehovah's righteous judgment to determine
his and Saul's respective 'righteousness and faithfulness.' He is
silent as to what that judgment may have in reserve for Saul, but for
himself he is calmly conscious that, in the matter of sparing Saul's
life, he has done right, and expects that God will deliver him 'out of
all tribulation.' That is not self-righteous boasting, although it does
not exactly smack of the Christian spirit; but it is faith clinging to
the confidence that God is 'not unrighteous to forget' his servant's
obedience, and that the innocent will not always be the oppressor's
victim.

What a strange, bewildered, self-contradictory chaos of belief and
intention is revealed in poor, miserable Saul's parting words! He
blesses the man whom he is hunting to slay. He knows that all his wild
efforts to destroy him are foredoomed to failure, and that David 'shall
surely prevail'; and yet he cannot give up fighting against the
inevitable,--that is, against God. How many of us are doing the very
same thing--rushing on in a course of life which we know, when we are
sane, to be dead against God's will, and therefore doomed to utter
collapse some day!

'And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war
against me, and God is departed from me.'-1 Samuel xxviii. 15.

Among all the persons of Scripture who are represented as having fallen
away from God and wrecked their lives, perhaps there is none so
impressive as the giant form of the first king of Israel. Huge and
black, seamed and scarred with lightning marks of passions, moody and
suspicious, devil-ridden and lonely, doubting his truest friends, and
even his son, striking blindly in his fury at the gracious, sunny
poet-warrior who shows so bright, so full of resource, so nimble, so
generous, by contrast with the heavy strength of the moody giant, and
ever escapes the javelin that quivers harmlessly in the wall, with an
inevitable destiny hanging over his head, and at last creeping to
'wizards that peep and mutter,' and dying a suicide, with his army in
full flight and his son dead at his feet--what a course and what an end
for the chosen of the Lord, on whom the Spirit of the Lord came with
the anointing oil, and gave him a new heart for his kingly office.

I know not anywhere a sadder story: and I know not where human lips
ever poured out a more awful wail--like a Titan in his rage of
pain--than these words of our text. Bright hopes and fair promise, and
much that was good and true in performance--all came to this. A few
hours more and the 'battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit
him, and he was greatly distressed by reason of the archers.' Madness,
despair, defeat, death, all were the sequel of, 'Because thou hast
rejected the commandment of the Lord, the Lord hath also rejected thee
from being king.' A true soul's tragedy! Let us look together at its
course, and gather the lessons that lie on the surface. We have neither
space nor wish here to enter upon the many points of minute interest
and curiosity which are in the story. We have to be contented with
large outlines.

Look then

I. At the bright dawn.

The early story gives us many traits of beauty in Saul's character. Not
only physical strength but a winning personality are apparent. His
modesty and humility when Samuel salutes him are made plain. And we are
distinctly told that as he turned away from Samuel, 'God gave him
another heart,' by which we are to understand not 'regeneration' but an
inspiration, that equipped him for his office.

How many a man finds that sudden elevation ruins him! But often it
evokes what is good, brings an entire change of disposition, as with
'Harry of Mon-mouth.' But it was not only his new responsibility which
brought into action powers that had previously been dormant. New
circumstances, no doubt, did something, but Saul's 'new' heart was
God's gift.

The story of the beginning of his reign reveals a very noble and
lovable character. We can but mention his modesty in hiding among the
stuff, his disregard of the murmurs of those who would not do homage
('made as though he had been deaf'), his return, as it would seem, to
his home-life and farm-work, his chivalrous boldness and warlike
energy, which sprung at once to activity on the call of a great
exigency in Jabesh-Gilead, his humane and sweet repression of the
people's desire, in their first flush of pride in their soldier king,
to slay his enemies, and his devout acknowledgment that not he but God
has wrought this salvation.

So for the first year of his reign all went well.

How much of divine influence a man may have and yet fling it all away!
How unreliable a thing mere natural goodness is! How much apparent
goodness may coexist with deep-seated evil! How bright a beginning may
darken into a tempestuous day! How seeds of evil may lurk in the
fairest character! How little one can be judged by part of his life!
How it is not the possession, but the retention, of goodness and devout
impressions that makes a man good.

II. The gathering clouds.


The acts recorded as darkening the fair dawn of Saul's reign may seem
too trivial to deserve the stern retribution that followed them, but
small acts may be great sins. The first of them was his offering
sacrifices without authority, an act which Samuel stigmatised as
wanton, deliberate disobedience to 'the commandment of the Lord thy
God.' Next came his rash and absurd laying of a curse on any soldier
who should eat food before evening, and his consequent mad
determination to kill Jonathan, for 'taking a little honey' on the end
of his rod. Next came his flagrant disobedience to the divine command
transmitted to him through Samuel, to 'smite Amalek, and utterly
destroy all that they have, and spare them not,' We shudder at such
ferocious extermination, but we are to remember that Saul was moved by
no pity, but by mere lust for loot, and tried to deceive God, in the
person of His representative Samuel, by the lie that the people had
coerced him, and that the motive for preserving the best of the cattle
was to sacrifice them to the Lord. Samuel's blaze of indignation gave
the world the great word: 'Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.'

Putting all these acts together, we have the sad picture of a character
steadily deteriorating. He is growing daily more self-willed and
impatient of the restraint of God's commanding will. He is chafing at
his position as a viceroy, not an absolute sovereign. He is becoming
tyrannical, careless of his subjects' lives, intolerant of opposition,
remonstrance, or advice. The tragedy of his decadence is summed up in
Samuel's stern word: 'Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord,
He hath also rejected thee from being king.'

Trivial acts may show great and deep-seated evil. A small swelling
under the arm-pit is the sign of the plague and the precursor of swift
death.

The master-sin is disobedience, self-willed departure from God. That
disobedience may be as virulently active in a trifle as in a deed that
men call great. Self-will is the tap root of all sin, however
labyrinthine the outgrowth from it.

Disobedience honeycombs a soul. The attractive early traits in Saul's
character slowly perhaps but steadily, disappeared. The fair morning
sky was heavy with thunder-clouds by midday, and they all began with a
light fleecy film that none noticed at first.

III. The long eclipse.

'An evil spirit from the Lord troubled him, and the Spirit of God
departed from him.'

Modern psychologists would call Saul's case an instance of insanity
brought about by indulgence in passion and self-will. Is there any
reason why the deeper, more religious explanation should not be united
with the scientific one? Does not God work in the working of 'natural'
phenomena?

What we nowadays call insanity is not very far off from a man who
habitually indulges in passionate self will, and spurns God from any
authority over his life. What were Saul's characteristics now? The
story tells of bursts of ungovernable fury, of unslumbering and
universal suspicions, of utter misery, seeing enemies everywhere and
complaining, 'None of you hath pity upon me,' of ferocious cruelty and
gloomy despair, of paroxysms of agonising but transient remorse.

It is an awful picture, and it grimly teaches lessons that we shall be
wise to write deeply on our hearts.

What a ruin a man makes of himself!

How hideous a godless soul is!

What unhappiness is certain if we dismiss God from ruling our lives!

How useless remorse is unless it leads to repentance!

IV. The stormy sunset.

The scene at Endor makes one's flesh creep. No more tragic picture of
failure and despair was ever painted. The greatest dramatists, whose
creations move the terror and pity of the world, have imagined no more
heart-touching figure.

It matters very little--nothing at all in fact--either for the dramatic
force or for the religious impressiveness of the scene, whether the
woman 'brought up' Samuel, or whether she was as much awed as Saul was,
by the coming up of 'an old man' covered with the well-known 'mantle.'
The boding prophecy of to-morrow's defeat and death filled yet fuller
the cup that had seemed to be already full of all misery. And that
collapse of strength in the huddled figure, prostrate in the witch's
den, may well stand for a prophecy of what will be the upshot at the
last of a self-will that boasts of its own power, and tries to shake
off dependence on God.



WHAT DOEST THOU HERE?

'Then said the princes of the Philistines, What do these Hebrews
here!'--1 SAMUEL xxix. 3.

'The word of the Lord came to him, and He said unto him, What doest
thou here, Elijah?'--1 KINGS xix. 9.


I have put these two verses together, not only because of their
identity in form, though that is striking, but because they bear upon
one and the same subject, as will appear, if, in a word or two, I set
each of them in its setting. David was almost at the lowest point of
his fortunes when he fled into foreign territory, and for awhile took
service under one of the kings of the Philistines. He served him
faithfully, and so, when the last great fight, in which Saul lost his
life, was about to be waged between Philistia and Israel, David and his
men came as a contingent to the army of the former. The Philistine
commanders, very naturally, were suspicious of these allies, just as
Englishmen would have been if, on the night before Waterloo, a brigade
of Frenchmen had deserted and offered their help to fight Napoleon. So
the question 'What do these Hebrews here?'--amongst our ranks--was an
extremely natural one, and it was answered in the only possible way, by
the subsequent departure of David and his men from the unnatural and
ill-omened alliance.

Now, that suggests to us that Christian people are out of their places,
even in the eyes of worldly people, when they are fighting shoulder to
shoulder with them in certain causes; and it suggests the propriety of
keeping apart. 'Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith
the Lord' 'What do these Hebrews here?' is a question that Philistia
often asks. But now turn to the other question. Elijah had fallen into
the mood of depression which so often follows great nervous tension. He
had just offered the sacrifice on Carmel, and brought all Israel back
to the Lord, and Jezebel had flamed out and threatened his life. The
usually undaunted prophet, in the reaction after his great effort, was
fearful for his life and deserted his work, flung himself into solitude
and shook the dust off his feet against Israel. Was that not just doing
what I have been saying that Christian people ought to do--separating
himself from the world? In a sense, yes, but the voice came, 'What dost
thou here, Elijah?' 'Go back to your work; to Ahab, to Jezebel. Go back
to death if need be. Do not shirk your duty on the pretence of
separating yourself from the world.'

So we put the two questions together. They limit one another, and they
suggest the _via media,_ the course between, and lead me to say one or
two plain things about that duty of Christian separation from an evil
world.

I. The first thing that I would suggest to you is the inevitable
intermingling, which is the law of God, and therefore can never be
broken with impunity.

Christ's parable about the Kingdom of Heaven in the world being like a
man that sowed good seed in his field, which sprung up intermingled
with tares, contains the lesson, not so much of the purity or nonpurity
of the Church as of the inseparable intertwining in the world of
Christian people with others. The roots are matted together, and you
cannot pull up a tare without danger of pulling up a wheat-stalk that
has got interlaced with it. That is but to say that Society at present,
and the earthly form of the Kingdom of God, are not organised on the
basis of religious affinity, but upon a great many other things, such
as family, kindred, business, a thousand ties of all sorts which mat
men together, and make it undesirable, impossible, contrary to God's
intention, that the good people should club themselves together, and
leave the bad ones to rot and stink. The two are meant to be in close
contact. 'Let both grow together till the harvest.' If any Christian
man were to do as the monks of old did, fly into solitude to look after
his own soul, then the question which came to Elijah would be suitable
to him, 'What doest thou here?' Is there not work enough for you out
there, in that wicked world? Is that not the place for you? Where is
the place for the 'salt'? Where the meat is in danger of putrefaction.
Rub it in! That is what it was meant for. 'Ye are the light of the
world.' That suggests the picture of a lamp upon a pedestal that it may
send out its rays, but itself remains apart. But the companion metaphor
suggests the closest possible contact, and such contact is duty for us
Christian people. Elijah ran away from his work. There are types of
Christian life to-day unwholesomely self-engrossed, and too much
occupied with their own spiritual condition, to realise and discharge
the duty of witnessing in the world. Wherever you find a Christian
man--whether he is a monk with bare foot, and a rope round his brown
robe, and shaven head, or whether he is in the garb of modern
Protestantism--that tries more to keep himself apart, in the enjoyment
and cultivation of his own religious life, than to fling himself into
the midst of the world's worst evil, in order to fight and to cure it,
you get a man who is sharing in Elijah's transgression, and needs
Elijah's rebuke. The intermingling is inevitable in the present state
of things; and family, kindred, business, social and political
movements, all require that Christian people should work side by side
with men who are not possessors of 'like precious faith.' If ever there
have been individuals or communities that have tried to traverse that
law, they have developed narrowness and bitterness and stunted growth,
and a hundred evils that we all know.

II. And now let me say a word about the second thing, and that is--the
imperative separation.

'What do these Israelites here?' is the question. Much of all our lives
lies outside these necessary connections with the world, of which I
have been speaking. And the question for each of us is, What do we do
when we are left to do as we like? Where do we go? When the iron weight
fastened by the bit of string is taken off the sapling, it starts back
to its original uprightness. Is that what your Christianity does for
you? When you are left to yourself, when you have done all the work
that is required, and you are free, where do you turn naturally? It is
of no use to lay down special regulations. There has been far too much
regulation and red-tape in our Christianity all along. Do not let us
put so much stress upon individual acts. Let us look at the spirit.
Whither do I turn? What do I like to do? Who are my chosen companions?
What are my recreations? Is my life of such a sort as that the world
will point to me, and say, 'What! you here I a professing Christian;
what are you doing here?'

I remember that in the autobiography of Mr. Spurgeon, there is a story
told about what he did when a child, and living with his grandfather,
the pastor of a little country church. There was a very prominent
member of that church who was in the habit of going into the
public-house occasionally; and the small boy stepped into the sanded
parlour where this inconsistent man was sitting, walked up to him, and
said, 'What doest thou here, Elijah?' It was the turning-point of the
man's life. That is the question that I desire us all to ask
ourselves--where do we go, and what sort of lives do we live in the
moments when our own voluntary choice determines our action?

'A man is known by the company he keeps,' says an old Latin proverb,
and I am bound to say that I do not think that it is a good sign of the
depth of a Christian professor's religion if he feels himself more at
home in the company of people who do not share his religion than in the
company of those that do. I do not wish to be strait-laced and narrow,
but I do not wish, either, to be so broad as to obliterate altogether
the distinction between Christian people and others. The fact of the
case is this, dear friends; if we are Christ's servants we have more in
common with the most uncongenial Christians than we have with the most
congenial man who is not a Christian. And if we were nearer our Master
we should feel that it was so. 'Being let go they went to their own
company.' Where do you go when you can make your choice?

I am not going to speak in detail about occupations or recreations. I
can quite believe that the theatre might be made an instrument of
morality. I can quite believe that a race-course might be a perfectly
innocent place. I can quite believe that there may be no harm in a
dance. All that I say is that there are two questions which every
Christian professor ought to ask himself about such subjects. One is,
Can I ask God to bless this thing, and my doing it? And the other is,
Does this help or hinder my religion? If we will take these two
questions with us as tests of conduct and companionship, I do not think
that we shall go far wrong, either in the choice of our companions, or
in the choice of our surroundings of any kind, or in the choice of our
recreations and our occupations. But if we do not, then I am quite sure
that we shall go wrong in them all. 'What communion hath light with
darkness?' 'What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? Come ye
out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.'

The main question is, do I grasp the aim of life with clearness and
decision as being to make myself by God's help such a character as God
has pleasure in? If I do I shall regulate all these things thereby.

III. Now there is one last suggestion that I wish to make, and that is
the double questioning that we shall have to stand.

The lords of the Philistines said, 'What do these Hebrews here?' They
saw the inconsistency, if David and his men did not. They were sharp to
detect it, and David and his band did not rise in their opinion, but
decidedly went down, when they saw them marching there, in such an
unnatural place as 'behind Achish,' and ready to flesh their swords in
the blood of their brethren. So let me tell you, you will neither
recommend your religion nor yourselves to men of the world, by
inconsistently trying to identify yourselves with them. There are a
great many professing Christians nowadays whose mouths are full of the
word 'liberality,' and who seem to try to show how absolutely identical
with a godless man's a God-fearing one's life may be made. Do you think
that the world respects that type of Christian, or regards his religion
as the kind of thing to be admired? No; the question that they fling at
such people is the question which David was humiliated by having
pitched at his head--'What do these Hebrews here?' 'Let them go back to
their mountains. This is no place for _them_.' The world respects an
out-and-out Christian; but neither God nor the world respects an
inconsistent one.

But there is another question, and another Questioner--'What doest thou
here, Elijah?' God did not ask Elijah the question because he did not
know the answer; but because he wished to make Elijah put his mood into
words, since then Elijah would understand it a little better, and, when
he found the tremendous difficulty of making a decent excuse, would
begin to suspect that the conduct that wanted so much glozing was not
exactly the conduct fit for a prophet. And so let us think that God is
looking down upon us, in all our occupation of our free time, and that
He is wishing us to put into words what we are about, and why we are
where we are.

What do you think you would say if, in some of these moments of
unnecessary intermingling with questionable things and doubtful people,
you were brought suddenly to this, that you had to formulate into some
kind of plausibility your reason for being there? I am afraid it would
be a very lame and ragged set of reasons that many of us would have to
give. Well! better that we should now have to answer the question 'What
doest thou here?' than that we should have to fail in answering the
future question, after we have done with the world: 'What didst thou
there?'

Dear brethren, let us cleave to Christ, and that will separate us from
the world. If we cleave to the world, that will separate us from
Christ. I do not insist on details of conduct, but I do beseech you,
professing Christians, to recognise that you are set in the world in
order to grow like your Master, and that their tendency to help you to
that likeness is the one test of all occupations, recreations, and
companionships, by which we may know whether we are in or out of the
place that pleases Him. And if we are in it, that blessed hope which is
held forth in the parable to which I have already referred, will come
full of sweetness and of strength to us, that, yonder, men will be
grouped according to their moral and religious character; that the
tares will be taken away from the wheat, and, that as Christ says,
'Then shall the righteous flame as the sun in their heavenly Father's
Kingdom.'



THE SECRET OF COURAGE

'But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.'--1 Samuel xxx. 6.


David was at perhaps the very lowest ebb of his fortunes. He had long
been a wandering outlaw, and had finally been driven, by Saul's
persistent hostility, to take refuge in the Philistines' country. He
had gathered around himself a band of desperate men, and was living
very much like a freebooter. He had found refuge in a little city of
the Philistines, far down in the South, from which he and his men had
marched as a contingent in the Philistine army, which was preparing an
attack upon Saul. But, naturally, the Philistine soldiers doubted their
ally, and he was obliged to take himself and his troops back again to
their temporary home.

When he came there it was a heap of smoking ruins. Everything was gone;
property, cattle, wives, children--and all was desolation. His
turbulent followers rose against him, a mutiny broke out--a dangerous
thing amongst such a crew--and they were ready to stone him. And at
that moment what did he do? Nothing. Was he cast down? No. Was he
agitated? No. 'But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.'

Now the first thing I notice is

I. The grand assurance which this man gripped fast at such a time.

It is not by accident, nor is it a mere piece of tautology, that we
read 'the Lord _his_ God.' For, if you will remember, the very keynote
of the psalms which are ascribed to David is just that expression, 'My
God,' 'My God.' So far as the very fragmentary records of Jewish
literature go, it would appear as if David was the very first of all
the ancient singers to grapple that thought that he stood in a
personal, individual relation to God, and God to him. And so it was
_his_ God that he laid hold of at that dark hour.

Now I am not putting too much into a little word when I insist upon it
that the very essence and nerve of what strengthened David, at that
supreme moment of desolation, was the conviction that welled up in his
heart that, in spite of it all, he had a grip of God's hand as his very
own, and God had hold of him. Just think of the difference between the
attitude of mind and heart expressed in the names that were more
familiar to the Israelitish people, and this name for Jehovah. 'The God
of Israel'--that is wide, general; and a man might use it and yet fail
to feel that it implied that each individual of the community stood by
himself in a personal relation to God. But David penetrated through the
broad, general thought, and got into the heart of the matter. It was
not enough for him, in his time of need, to stay himself upon a vague
universal goodness, but he had to clasp to his burdened heart the
individualising thought, 'the God of Israel is _my_ God.'

Think, too, of the contrast of the thoughts and emotions suggested by
'My God,' and by 'the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.'
Great as that name is, it carries the mind away back into the past, and
speaks of a historical relation in former days, which may or may not
continue in all its tenderness and sweetness and power into the prosaic
present. But when a man feels, not only 'the God of Jacob is our
Refuge,' but, 'the God of Jacob is my God,' then the whole thing
flashes up into new power. 'My sun'--will one man claim property in
that great luminary that pours its light down on the whole world? Yes.

          'The sun whose beams most glorious are,
           Disdaineth no beholder,'

as the old song has it. Each man's eye receives the straight impact of
its universal beams. It is my sun, though it be the light that lightens
all men that come into the world. 'My atmosphere'--will one man claim
the free, unappropriated winds of heaven as his? Yes, for they will
pour into his lungs; and yet his brother will be none the poorer.

I would not go the length of saying that the living realisation, in
heart and mind, of this personal possession of God is the difference
between a traditional and vague profession of religion and a vital
possession of religion, but if it is not the difference, it goes a long
way towards explaining the difference. The man who contents himself
with the generality of a Gospel for the world, and who can say no more
than that Jesus Christ died for all, has yet to learn the most intimate
sweetness, and the most quickening and transforming power, of that
Gospel, and he only learns it when he says, 'Who loved _me_, and gave
Himself for _me_.'

So do not let us be content with saying, 'the God of Israel,' and its
many thousands, or 'the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob,'
who filled the past with His lustre, but let us bring the general good
into our own houses, as men might draw the waters of Niagara into their
homes through pipes, and let us cry: 'My Lord and my God!' 'David
encouraged himself in the Lord his God.'

II. Now note, secondly, the sufficiency of this one conviction and
assurance.

Here is one of the many eloquent 'buts' of the Bible. On the one hand
is piled up a black heap of calamities, loss, treachery and peril; and
opposed to them is only that one clause: 'But David encouraged himself
in the Lord his God.' There was only one possession in all the world,
except his body and the clothes that he stood in, that he could call
his own at that moment. Everything else was gone; his property was
carried off by raiders, his home was smouldering embers. But the
Amalekites had not stolen God from him. Though he could no longer say,
'My house, my city, my possessions,' he could say, 'My God.' Whatever
else we lose, as long as we have Him we are rich; and whatever else we
possess, we are poor as long as we have not Him. God is enough;
whatever else may go. The Lord his God was the sufficient portion for
this man when he stood a homeless pauper. He had lost everything that
his heart clung to; wives, children; Abigail and Abinoam were captives
in the arms of some Amalekites; his house was left to him desolate; his
heart was bleeding. 'But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God'
and the bleeding heart was stanched, and the yearning for some one to
love and be loved by was satisfied, when he turned himself from the
desolation of earth to the riches in the heavens. He was standing on
the edge of possible death, for his followers were ready to stone him.
He had come through many perils in the past, but he had never been
nearer a fatal end than he was at that moment. But the thought of the
undying Friend lifted him buoyantly above the dread of death, and he
could look with an unwinking eye right into the fleshless eye-sockets
of the skeleton, and say, 'I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.'

So for poverty, loss, the blasting of earthly hopes, the crushing of
earthly affections, the extremity of danger, and the utmost threatening
of death, here is the sufficient remedy--that one mighty assurance:
'The Lord is my God.' For if He is 'the strength of my heart,' He will
be  my portion for ever.' He is not poor who has God for his, nor does
he wander with a hungry heart who can rest his heart on God's; nor need
he fear death who possesses God, and in Him eternal life.

So, brethren, in all our changing circumstances, there is more than
enough for us in that sweet, simple, strong thought. The end of sorrow
(that is to say, the purpose thereof) is to breed in us the conviction
that God is ours, to drive us to Him by lack of all beside; and the end
of sorrow (that is to say, the termination thereof) is the kindling in
our hearts of the light of that blessed assurance, for with Him we
shall fear no evil.  You never know the good of the breakwater until
the storm is rolling the waves against its outer side. Light a little
candle in a room, and you will not see the lightning when it flashes
outside, however stormy the sky, and seamed with the fiery darts. If we
have God in our hearts, we have enough for courage and for strength.

I need not remind you, I suppose, how this darkest moment of David's
fortunes was the moment at which the darkness broke. Three days after
this _emeute_ of his turbulent followers, there came a fugitive into
the camp with news that Saul was dead and David was king. So it was not
in vain that he had 'strengthened himself in the Lord his God.' Our
'light affliction which is but for a moment' leads on to a
manifestation of the true power of God our Friend, and to the breaking
of the day.

III. And now the last thing to be noted is the effort by which this
assurance is attained and sustained.

The words of the original convey even more forcibly than those of our
translation the thought of David's own action in securing him the hold
of God as his. He 'strengthened _himself_ in the Lord his God.' The
Hebrew conveys the notion of effort, persistent and continuous; and it
tells us this, that when things are as black as they were round David
at that hour--it is not a matter of course, even for a good man, that
there shall well up in his heart this tranquillising and victorious
conviction; but he has to set himself to reach and to keep it. God will
give it, but He will not give it unless the man strains after it. David
'strengthened himself in the Lord,' and if he had not doggedly set
about resisting the pressure of circumstances, and flinging himself as
it were, by an effort, into the arms of God, circumstances would have
been too strong for him, and despair would have shrouded his soul. In
the darkest moment it is possible for a man to surround himself with
God's light, but even in the brightest it is not possible to do so
unless he makes a serious effort.

That effort must consist mainly in two things. One is that we shall
honestly try to occupy our minds, as well as our hearts, with the truth
which certifies to us that God is, in very deed, ours. If we never
think, or think languidly and rarely, about what God has revealed to
us, by the word and life and death and intercession of Jesus Christ,
concerning Himself, His heart of love towards us, and His relations to
us, then we shall not have, either in the time of disaster or of joy,
the blessed sense that He is indeed ours. If a man will not think about
Christian truth he will not have the blessedness of Christian
possession of God. There is no mystery about the road to the sweetness
and holiness and power that may belong to a Christian. The only way to
win them is to be occupied, far more than most of us are, with the
plain truths of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. If you never think
about them they cannot affect you, and they will not make you sure that
God is yours.

But we cannot occupy ourselves with these truths unless we have a
distinct and resolute purpose running through our lives, of averting
our eyes from the things that might make us lose sight of them and of
Him. David had his choice. He could either, as a great many of us do,
stand there and look, and look, and look, and see nothing but his
disasters, or he could look past them; and see beyond them God. Peter
had his choice whether he would look at the water, or whether he would
look at Jesus Christ. He chose to look at the water; 'and when he saw
the wind boisterous he began to sink'--of course, and when he looked at
Christ and cried: 'Lord, save me!' he was held up--equally of course.
Make the effort not to let the sorrowful things, or the difficult
things, or the fearful things, or the joyous things, in your life,
absorb you, but turn away, and, as the writer of the Epistle to the
Hebrews says, in another connection, 'look off unto Jesus, the Author
and Finisher of faith.' David had to put constraint upon himself, to
admit any other thoughts into his mind than those that were pressed
into it by the facts before his eyes; but he put on the constraint, and
so he was encouraged because he encouraged himself.

There is another thing which we have to make an effort to do, if we
would have the blessedness of this conviction filling and flooding our
hearts. For the possession is reciprocal; we say, 'My God,' and He
says, 'My people.' Unless we yield ourselves to Him and say, 'I am
Thine,' we shall never be able to say, 'Thou art mine.' We must
recognise His possession of us; we must yield ourselves; we must obey;
we must elect Him as our chief good, we must feel that we are not our
own, but bought with a price. And then when we look up into the heavens
thus submissive, thus obedient, thus owning His authority and His
rights, as well as claiming His love and His tenderness, and cry: 'My
Father,' He will bend down and whisper into our hearts: 'Thou art My
beloved son.' Then we shall be 'strong, and of a good courage,' however
weak and timid, and we shall be rich, though, like David, we have lost
all things.



AT THE FRONT OR THE BASE

'As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be
that tarrieth by the stuff.'--1 Samuel xxx. 24.


David's city of Ziklag had been captured by the Amalekites, while he
and all his men who could carry arms were absent, serving in the army
of Achish, the Philistine king of Gath. On their return they found
ruin, their homes harried, their wives, children, and property carried
off. Wearied already with their long march, they set off at once in
pursuit of the spoilers, who had had a long start of them. When they
reached the brook Besor, two hundred of them were too weary and
footsore to ford it, and so had to be left behind. But these were not
useless, for the heavy baggage was left in their charge, and the other
four hundred were thus enabled to march more lightly, and therefore
more swiftly. They picked up a sick slave, whom his Amalekite master
had heartlessly abandoned to die on the 'veldt.' He was almost dead, so
they fed him, and when he was able to answer, questioned him. He
undertook to guide David and his band, and thus, as twilight was
beginning to fall and the Amalekites were 'spread abroad over all the
ground, eating and drinking and feasting because of all the great spoil
that they had taken.' the four hundred burst on them, routed them
utterly, and won back all their goods and much more.

Then came a quarrel. The four hundred who had gone to the fight
insisted that the booty was theirs, and that the two hundred who had
had no hand in winning it should have no share in the distribution. But
David over-ruled this and laid down a principle of distribution which
was adopted as the standing law of Israel--that the soldiers who were
actually in the fight and those who stayed behind guarding the baggage,
looking after 'the base of operations,' should share alike. It was fair
that they should do so, for the two hundred would willingly have been
in the thick of battle, and, further, though they did not fight, they
helped the fighters, and by guarding the heavy baggage contributed to
the victory as really as if they had been in the fray and come out of
it with swords dripping with Amalekite blood.

I. God's battle requires two forms of service.

In David's raid, as in every campaign, some of the available strength
has to be taken to guard the camp, the place where the supplies are,
the base of operations, and pickets and detachments have to be left
behind all the way, to keep open the communication. The sword is not
more needful than the long train of baggage carts, and the forwarding
of supplies to the front is as indispensable to the conduct of the war
as the headlong charge.

In every great work there is the same distinction of parts and
functions, all co-operating to produce the effect which seems to be
entirely due to that cause which happens to come last in the series.
Organisation of labour associates many hands in the different stages of
the one result. There are very few things in this world which are the
product of one simple cause alone. You cannot grow a grain of corn
without the seed with its vital germ, the soil with its mysterious
influences, the sunshine and the rain, the sower's hand and basket, the
plougher's plough, and all these, except the blessed sunshine, are the
results of a series of other causes which lie forgotten, but are really
represented in the issue. If one of them were struck out, all the rest
would be ineffectual. In a great machine all its parts are equally
necessary, and a defect in a cog on a wheel would be as fatal as a flaw
in the cylinder or a crack in the mighty shaft. What would become of a
ship if the pintle that the rudder works on were away? The effect of a
whole orchestra may depend on the coming in of the flute at the right
place.

So in the work which God has given to the Church to do, there are the
two forms of service, the direct and the indirect. There are the
fighters and the guards of the baggage. And these two are equally
necessary. That without which a great work could not have been done is
great. When Luther came out from the Diet of Worms, and a knight
clapped him on the shoulder, and said, 'Well done! little monk,' he had
a share in the memorable deed of that day. The man who gave Luther a
flagon of beer when his lips were dry with speaking there before
emperor and cardinals, was included in the promise to the giver 'of a
cup of cold water in the name of a disciple.'

We have brethren in Christ who have gone to the front, hazarding their
lives on the high places of the field. Their hands will droop if they
do not feel that a chain of sympathy stretches between them and us, for
they in their solitude need all the strength which the confidence of a
multitude at home feeling with them can give. They are powerfully
influenced by the tone of feeling among us. When devotion languishes
and faith droops here, these will generally pass through the same
phases among them. When we are strong and bold, their hearts will be
quickened by the pulsations of ours, and their courage heightened by
thoughts of those from whom they come. Our disorders, our heresies, our
struggles are all reproduced on the mission field. An epidemic here
travels thither before long, and the spiritual condition of the Church
at home is one of the most powerful means of determining that of the
churches abroad. A blight among our vines soon shows itself in the
little gardens just reclaimed from the waste.

The fighters need material helps and appliances for their work. The
days in which the law for apostles and missionaries was, 'Go forth
without purse or scrip,' ended before Jesus said, 'Go ye into all the
world.' That condition was solemnly revoked by our Lord Himself, when
He said, 'When I sent you forth without purse and scrip and shoes,
lacked ye anything? But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and
likewise his scrip.' The fighters' material wants are now to be met by
Christ's administration of natural means, even as before they had been
met by Christ's administration of supernatural ones. His messengers
cannot live, do their work, or extend the kingdom, but by the help of
material appliances. Those who 'abide by the stuff' are to organise the
commissariat department, and to see that those who are far ahead, among
the ranks of the foe, do not want for either food or weapons, and are
not left isolated, hemmed in by the enemy, and languishing because they
feel that they are forgotten by those who 'live at home at ease.'

There has always been that division of labour. Our Lord Himself 'had
need of' many humble instruments as helpers. There were the woman who
ministered to His wants, the faithful few whose presence and sympathy
were joyful to Him even on the Mount of Transfiguration, and longed for
even in the awful solitude of the agony in Gethsemane, the sisters of
Bethany whose humble home was His last shelter before the Cross, the
owner of the Upper Room, the sad women who prepared sweet spices, the
ruler who consecrated his new sepulchre in a garden by His body. Even
He, treading the wine-press alone, needed helpers in the background,
and, while conquering for us in the awful duel with our enemy, had
humble friends who 'tarried by the stuff.' Similarly Paul had his
helpers, on whose names he lovingly lingers and has made immortal, a
'Gaius, mine host, and of the whole church,' an 'Epaphroditus, my
fellow soldier, who ministered to my wants,' and therefore was a
soldier, though he did not fight, an 'Onesiphorus, who oft refreshed
me, and was not ashamed of my chain.'

But let us remember that these two forms of service which are equally
necessary are equally binding on us all, in the measure of our
opportunity and capacity. Our performing the indirect is no excuse for
our neglecting the direct. The conversion of the world is _our_
business and not to be handed over to any society or missionary. No
Christian can be only and always a non-combatant, without sin and loss.
He is bound to take some share in the actual conflict in one or other
of its many parts.

II. Service may be different in kind and one in essence.

The determining element in our actions is their motive. Not what we
work in, but what we work for, gives the principle of classification.
Not the spots on the skin or the colour of the feathers, but the bony
skeleton, is the basis of zoological classification. It is not the size
or binding of a book, be it quarto or folio or octavo, be it in leather
or cloth or paper covers, but its subject, that settles its place in a
catalogue. The Christian motives of love to Christ, self-sacrifice,
devotion, love to men, make all deeds the same which have these in them
in like strength. It matters not whether the copy of a great picture be
in oils or an engraving or a photograph, so long as it _is_ a copy. The
smallest piece of indirect Christian service may be thus elevated to
the same plane as the greatest.

'Mere money-giving' may have in it all these qualities, as truly and in
as great a degree, as the deeds of Apostles and martyrs. Remember how
Peter puts in one category these two forms of service, as equally
flowing from 'the manifold grace of God,' and equally to be exercised
as 'good stewards' thereof--'If any man speaketh, speaking as it were
the oracles of God; if any man ministereth, ministering as of the
strength which God supplieth.' Remember how Paul classes all varieties
of service as equally 'gifts according to the grace given to us,' and
to be exercised in the same spirit whatever are the difference in their
forms: 'or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that
teacheth, to his teaching: he that giveth, let him do it with
liberality ... he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.'

Let us learn, then, how we ought to help Christian fighters for
Christ--as associating ourselves with them and their work by sympathy
and sharing in their spirit and motives.

Let us learn how loftily we ought to think of the possible sacredness
of the most secular forms of help, and to try thus to consecrate our
indirect service.

III. All work done from the same motive will receive the same reward.


None need be startled by the thought that Christian work is rewarded.
Essentially, it is not deeds but character that is rewarded. The
'reward' is the possession of God of which such a character is capable,
and the consequent blessedness which fills such a soul, and cannot but
fill it, and which can be enjoyed by no other. The faithful servant
enters into the joy of the Lord; the faithful administrator of his
Lord's talents enters on the rule over cities in number the same as the
talents. Capacity for service is the result of stewardship rightly
administered here, and new opportunities yonder are sure to be provided
for new capacities.

God's judgment takes little note of that which men's judgment all but
exclusively notes. The conspicuousness or success of a man's deeds is
nothing to Him. Differences of power are of no account. It is
_faithfulness_ that is required in a steward, and it is all the same
whether the stewardship is of millions or of farthings. The saints
nearest the glory in heaven will not always be the men whose words or
deeds fill the pages of Church history and resound through the ages.
There will be astounding new principles of nearness and comparative
remoteness then.

Christ was repeating what David made a law in Israel, when He said: 'He
that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a
prophet's reward.' Therein He recognises the identity in spiritual
stature and motive for service, of the prophet and of his dumb helper,
and assures us that those who, in widely different ways but under the
guidance of the same spirit and motives, have contributed their
respective shares to the one triumphant result shall be associated and
equalised in the immortal reward.

So remember that what is necessary in our indirect work, if it is to be
thus honoured, is that it should have our devotion, and our love to
Jesus and to men, throbbing in it, and that it should be accompanied by
direct work, in so far as we have opportunities for that. Moneygiving
may be made sacred, and by it, exercised in the right spirit, we may
'lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation' and may 'lay hold
upon eternal life.'



THE END OF SELF-WILL

'Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled
from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. 2.
And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the
Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchi-shua, Saul's sons.
3. And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and
he was sore wounded of the archers. 4. Then said Saul unto his
armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest
these uncircumsised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his
armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a
sword, and fell upon it 5. And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was
dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. 6. So Saul
died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that
same day together. 7. And when the men of Israel that were on the other
side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw
that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they
forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in
them. 8. And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came
to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in
mount Gilboa. 9. And they out off his head, and stripped off his
armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to
publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. 10. And
they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his
body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11. And when the inhabitants of
Jabesh-gilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; 12.
All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of
Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and came to
Jabesh, and burnt them there. 19. And they took their bones, and buried
them under a tree at Jabesh. and fasted seven days.'--1 Samuel xxxi.
1-13.


The story of Saul's tragic last days is broken in two by the account,
in chapters xxix. and xxx., of David's fortunate dismissal from the
invading army, and his exploits against Amalek. The contrast between
the two lives, so closely intertwined and powerful for good and evil on
each other, reaches its climax at the end of Saul's. While the one sets
in dark thunderclouds, the other is bright with victory. While the fall
of Saul lays all northern Israel bleeding at the feet of the enemy,
David is sending the spoils of his conquest to the elders of Judah.
Saul's headless and dishonoured body hangs rotting in the sun on the
walk of Bethshan, while David sits a conqueror in Ziklag. The
introduction of the brightness of the two preceding chapters is
intended to heighten the darkness that broods over this one, and to
deepen the stern teaching of that terrible death. Defeat, desolation,
despair, attend to his self-dug grave the unhappy king, whose end
teaches us all what comes of self-willed resistance to the law and the
Spirit of God. Everything else is subordinated in the narrative to the
account of his death. Next to nothing is said about the battle, the
very site of which is left obscure. We cannot tell whether it was
fought down in the plain by the fountain at Jezreel, where Israel was
encamped, according to 1 Samuel xxix. 1, or whether both sides
manoeuvred and changed their ground, and the decisive struggle was on
the slope of Gilboa. In any case, the site was almost identical with
that of Gideon's victory, but there was no Gideon in command on that
dark day. The language of verse 1 seems to imply that the battle was
over and the rout begun before the Israelites reached Gilboa. If so, we
have to conceive of a short, hopeless struggle on the plain, and then a
rush to the hills for safety, in which Saul and his sons and bodyguard
were borne along, but held together, closely followed by the 'red
pursuing spear' of the conquerors, fierce with ancestral hate and the
memories of defeat. There, on the hillside, stands the towering form of
Saul with a little ring of his children and retainers round him, the
words he had heard last night in the sorceress' tent unnerving his arm,
and many a past crime rising before him, and whispering in his ear,

               'In the battle think on me,
                And fall thy edgeless sword; despair and die.'

There seems to have been a close encounter with some of the pursuers,
and a hand-to-hand fight, in which Jonathan and his two brothers fell,
and the rest of the bodyguard were slain or scattered. The prophecy of
that mantle-swathed shape last night was in part fulfilled--'To-morrow
shalt thou and thy sons be with me.' They lay stark at his feet, and he
knew that he would soon join them. The last heart that loved him had
ceased to beat in Jonathan's noble breast, and his own crimes had slain
his sons. Who can paint the storm of contending passions in that lonely
black soul? or were they all frozen into the numbness of despair?

But whatever else was in his soul, repentance was not there. He may
have been seared by remorse, but he was not softened by penitence, and
was fierce and proud in despair as he had been in prosperity. The
Revised Version substitutes 'overtook' for 'hit' in verse 3; but Saul's
fear 'lest these uncircumcised come' is against that rendering, and the
fact that the enemy did not know of his death till next day (v. 8) is a
difficulty in the way of accepting it. The word is literally 'found'
and possibly means that the archers recognised him, and were making for
him, though, as would appear, from some cause they missed him in the
confusion. The other change in the Revised Version, that of 'greatly
distressed' for 'sore wounded' fits the context; and if it be adopted,
we have the picture of the unwounded but desperate man, once brave, but
now stricken with a panic which opens his lips for his only word. In
grim silence he had met the loss of battle, sons, and kingdom; but the
proud sense of personal dignity is strong to the end, and he fiercely
issues his last command, and embraces death to escape insult. The
haughty spirit was unchanged, crushed but the same, unsoftened, and
therefore roused to madder defiance of God and man. What an awful last
saying for 'the anointed of Jehovah,' and how the overweening self-will
and vehemence and passionate pride of his whole life are gathered up in
it!

His last command is disobeyed by the trembling armour-bearer, whose
very awe makes him disobedient, Did Saul, at that last moment, send a
thought to an armour-bearer whom he had had in happier days, and who
was to inherit his lost kingdom? The enemy are coming nearer. No time
is to be lost if he would escape the savage mutilations and torments
which ancient warfare made the portion of captive kings. Not another
word passes his lips, but, in the same grim silence, he fixes his sword
upright in the ground, and flings himself on its point, and dies. All
through his reign no hand had injured him but his own; and, as he
lived, so he died, his own undoer and his own murderer. Suicide, the
refuge of defeated monarchs and praised by heathen moralists as heroic,
was rare in Israel. Saul, Ahithophel, and Judas are the instances of
it. The most rudimentary recognition of the truths taught by the Old
Testament would prevent it. If Saul had had any faith in God, any
submission, any repentance, he could not have finished a life of
rebellion by a self-inflicted death, which was itself the very
desperation of rebellion. We have not to pronounce on his fate, but his
act was a sin of the darkest dye.

Yet note how the narrative abstains from all comment. It neither
condemns nor pities, though a profound sense of the tragic eclipse is
audible in that summing up in verse 6: 'So Saul died, and his three
sons, and his armour-bearer, and all his men (that is, immediate
followers or escort), that same day together.' And there they all lay,
bloody corpses in the fellowship of death, on the slopes of Gilboa.
Where Scripture Is silent, it is not our part to speak; but we can
scarcely turn from that mighty form, prone by his own rash act, without
seeking to learn the lesson of his life and fate. Saul had many noble
and lovable qualities, such as bravery, promptitude, in his earlier
days modesty and generosity. All these he had by nature, but there is
no sign that he ever sought to cultivate his moral character, or to win
any grace that did not come naturally to him; nor is there any reason
to suppose that religion had ever any strong hold on him. His whole
character may be summed up in Samuel's words in announcing his
rejection: 'Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is
as idolatry.' Rebellion persisted in, in spite of all remonstrances and
checks, till it becomes master of the whole man, is the keynote of his
later years. Before that baleful influence, as before some hot poison
wind, all the flowers of good dispositions were burned up, and the bad
stimulated to growth. His early virtues disappeared, and passed into
their opposites. Modesty became arrogance, and a long course of
indulgence in self-will developed cruelty, gloomy suspicion, and
passionate anger, and left him the victim and slave of his own
causeless hate. He who rebels against God mars his own character. The
miserable later years of Saul, haunted and hunted as by a demon by his
own indulged and swollen rebellion and unsleeping suspicion, are an
example of the sorrows that ever dog sin; and, as he lies there on
Gilboa, the terrible saying recurs to our memory: 'He that being often
reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that
without remedy.'

The remainder of the chapter is occupied with three points, bearing on
the solemn tragedy just recorded. First, we have the disastrous effects
of it in the complete loss of the northern territories. 'The men ...
that were on the other side of the valley' are the tribes to the north
of the great plain; and 'they that were on the other side Jordan' are
probably those on the east bank. So thorough was the defeat, especially
as Saul and the royal house were slain, that they abandoned their
homes, and the Philistines took possession. 'One sinner destroyeth much
good.' When Israel's king was madly rebellious, Israel was smitten, and
its inheritance diminished.

Next we have the insults to the headless corpses. The Philistines did
not know till the following day how complete was their victory. The
account in 1 Chronicles x. adds that Saul's head was sent to the temple
of Dagon, probably as a kind of effacing of the shame wrought there by
the presence of the ark. The false gods had triumphed, as their
worshippers thought, and Saul's death was Jehovah's defeat. That
apparent victory of the idols and the mocking exultation over the
bloody trophy and dinted armour are, to the historian, not the least
bitter consequences of the battle.

The last point is the brave midnight march of the men of Jabesh from
their home on the eastern uplands beyond Jordan, across the river and
up to Bethshan, perched on its lofty cliff, and overlooking the valley
of the Jordan. It was a requital of Saul's deed in his early bright
days, when, with his hastily raised levies, he scattered the Ammonites.
It is one gleam of light amid the stormy sunset. There were men ready
to hazard their lives even then, because of the noblest of Saul's acts,
which no tyrannical arbitrariness or fierceness of later days had
blotted out. So the little band of grateful heroes carried back their
ghastly load to Jabesh, and burned the mutilated bodies there,
employing an unfamiliar mode, as we may suppose, by reason of their
mutilation and decomposition, and then reverently gathering the white
bones from the pyre, and laying them below the well-known tamarisk.
Saul's one good deed as king sowed seeds of gratitude which flourished
again, when the opportunity came. His many evil ones sowed evil seed
which bore fatal fruit; and both were seen in his end.



EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.


SECOND SAMUEL AND THE BOOKS OF KINGS TO SECOND KINGS VII



CONTENTS


THE SECOND BOOK OF SAMUEL

THE BRIGHT DAWN OF A REIGN (2 Samuel ii. 1-11) ONE FOLD AND ONE
SHEPHERD (2 Samuel v. 1-12) DEATH AND LIFE FROM THE ARK (2 Samuel vi.
1-12) THE ARK IN THE HOUSE OF OBED-EDOM (2 Samuel vi. 11) THE PROMISED
KING AND TEMPLE-BUILDER (2 Samuel vii. 4-16) DAVID'S GRATITUDE (2
Samuel vii. 18-29) DAVID AND JONATHAN'S SON (2 Samuel ix. 1-13) 'MORE
THAN CONQUERORS THROUGH HIM' (2 Samuel x. 8-19) THOU ART THE MAN (2
Samuel xii. 5-7) DAVID AND NATHAN (2 Samuel xii. 13) GOD'S BANISHED
ONES (2 Samuel xiv. 14) PARDONED SIN PUNISHED (2 Samuel xv. 1-12) A
LOYAL VOW (2 Samuel xv. 15) ITTAI OF GATH (2 Samuel xv. 21) THE WAIL OF
A BROKEN HEART (2 Samuel xviii. 18-33) BARZILLAI (2 Samuel xix. 34-37)
DAVID'S HYMN OF VICTORY (2 Samuel xxii. 40-51) THE DYING KING'S LAST
VISION AND PSALM (2 Samuel xxiii. 1-7) THE ROYAL JUBILEE (2 Samuel
xxiii. 3, 4) A LIBATION TO JEHOVAH (2 Samuel xxiii. 15-17)


THE FIRST BOOK OF KINGS

DAVID APPOINTING SOLOMON (1 KINGS i. 28-39) A YOUNG MAN'S WISE CHOICE
OF WISDOM (1 Kings iii. 5-15) THE GREAT GAIN OF GODLINESS (1 Kings iv.
25-34) GREAT PREPARATIONS FOR A GREAT WORK (1 Kings v. 1-12) BUILDING
IN SILENCE (1 Kings vi. 7) THE KING 'BLESSING' HIS PEOPLE (1 KINGS
viii. 51-63) 'THE MATTER OF A DAY IN ITS DAY' (1 Kings viii. 59)
PROMISES AND THREATENINGS (1 Kings ix. 1-9) A ROYAL SEEKER AFTER WISDOM
(1 Kings x. 1-13) THE FALL OF SOLOMON (1 Kings xi. 4-13) THE NEW
GARMENT RENT (1 Kings xi. 26-43) HOW TO SPLIT A KINGDOM (1 Kings xii.
1-17) POLITICAL RELIGION (1 Kings xii. 25-33) THE RECORD OF TWO KINGS
(1 Kings xvi. 23-33) A PROPHET'S STRANGE PROVIDERS (1 Kings xvii. 1-16)
ELIJAH STANDING BEFORE THE LORD (1 Kings xvii. 1) OBADIAH (1 Kings
xviii. 12) THE TRIAL BY FIRE (1 Kings xviii. 25-39) ELIJAH'S WEAKNESS,
AND ITS CURE (1 Kings xix. 1-18) PUTTING ON THE ARMOUR (1 Kings xx. 11)
ROYAL MURDERERS (1 Kings xxi. 1-16) AHAB AND ELIJAH (1 Kings xxi. 20)
UNPOSSESSED POSSESSIONS (1 Kings xxii. 3) AHAB AND MICAIAH (1 Kings
xxii. 7, 8)


THE SECOND BOOK OF KINGS

THE CHARIOT OF FIRE (2 Kings ii. 1-11) THE TRANSLATION OF ELIJAH AND
THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST (2 Kings ii. 11; Luke xxiv. 51) ELIJAH'S
TRANSLATION AND ELISHA'S DEATHBED (2 Kings ii. 12; Kings xiii. II)
GENTLENESS SUCCEEDING STRENGTH (2 Kings ii. 13-22) WHEN THE OIL FLOWS
(2 Kings iv. 6) A MIRACLE NEEDING EFFORT (2 Kings iv. 25-37) NAAMAN'S
WRATH (2 Kings v. 10, 11) NAAMAN'S IMPERFECT FAITH (2 Kings v. 15-27)
SIGHT AND BLINDNESS (2 Kings vi. 3-18) 'IMPOSSIBLE,--ONLY I SAW IT' (2
Kings vii. 1-16) SILENT CHRISTIANS (2 Kings vii. 9)



THE SECOND BOOK OF SAMUEL



THE BRIGHT DAWN OF A REIGN

'And it came to pass after this, that David enquired of the Lord,
saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the Lord
said unto him, Go up. And David said, Whither shall I go up? And He
said, Unto Hebron. 2. So David went up thither, and his two wives also,
Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail, Nabal's wife, the Carmelite. 3.
And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his
household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron. 4. And the men of
Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.
And they told David, saying, That the men of Jabesh-gilead were they
that buried Saul. 5. And David sent messengers unto the men of
Jabesh-gilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the Lord, that ye
have shewed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have
buried him. 6. And now the Lord shew kindness and truth unto you: and I
also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing.
7. Therefore now let your hands be strengthened, and be ye valiant: for
your master Saul is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me
king over them. 8. But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host,
took Ishb-osheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; 9.
And he made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over
Jezreel, and over Ephraim,  and over Benjamin, and over all Israel. 10.
Ish-bosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over
Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.
11. And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah
was seven years and six months.'--2 SAMUEL ii. 1-11.


The last stage of David's wanderings had brought him to Ziklag, a
Philistine city. There he had been for over a year, during which he had
won the regard of Achish, the Philistine king of Gath. He had, at
Achish's request, accompanied him with his contingent, in the invasion
of Israel, which crushed Saul's house at Gilboa; but jealousy on the
part of the other Philistine leaders had obliged his patron to send him
back to Ziklag. He found it a heap of ashes. An Amalekite raid had
carried off all the women and children, and his soldiers were on the
point of mutiny. His fortunes seemed desperate, but his courage and
faith were high, and he paused not a moment for useless sorrow, but
swept after the robbers, swooped down on them like a bolt out of the
blue, and scattered them, recovering the captives and spoil. He went
back to the ruins which had been Ziklag, and three days after heard of
Saul's death.

The lowest point of his fortunes suddenly turned into the highest, for
now the path to the throne was open. But the tidings did not move him
to joy. His first thought was not for himself, but for Saul and
Jonathan, whose old love to him shone out again, glorified by their
deaths. Swift vengeance from his hand struck Saul's slayer; the lovely
elegy on the great king and his son eased his heart. Then he turned to
front his new circumstances, and this passage shows how a God-fearing
man will meet the summons to dignity which is duty. It sets forth
David's conduct in three aspects-his assumption of his kingdom, his
loving regard for Saul's memory, and his demeanour in the face of
rebellion.

I. David was now about thirty years old, and had had his character
tested and matured by his hard experiences. He 'learned in suffering
what he taught in song.' Exile, poverty, and danger are harsh but
effectual teachers, if accepted by a devout spirit, and fronted with
brave effort. The fugitive's cave was a good preparation for the king's
palace. The throne to which he was called was no soft seat for repose.
The Philistine invasion had torn away all the northern territory. He
took the helm in a tempest. What was he to do? Ziklag was untenable;
where was he to take his men? He could not stop in the Philistine
territory, and he saw no way clear.

God's servants generally find that their promotion means harder duties
and multiplied perplexities. 'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.'
David did what we shall do, if we are wise--he asked God to guide him.
How that guidance was asked and given we are not here told; but the
analogy of 1 Samuel xxx. 7, 8, suggests that it was by the Urim and
Thummim, interpreted by the high-priest. The form of inquiry seems to
have been that a course of action, suggested by the inquirer, was
decided for him by a 'Yes' or a 'No.' So that there was the exercise of
common-sense and judgment in formulating the proposed course, as well
as that of God's direction in determining it.

That is how we still get divine direction. Bring your own wits to bear
on your action, and then do not obstinately stick to what seems right
to you, but ask God to negative it if it is wrong, and to confirm you
in it if it is right. If we humbly ask Him, 'Am I to go, or not to go?'
we shall not be left unanswered. We note the contrast between David's
submission to God's guidance and Saul's self-willed taking his own way,
in spite of Samuel. He began right, and, in the main, he continued as
he began. Self-will is sin and ruin. Submission is joy, and peace, and
success. God's kings are viceroys. They have to rule themselves and the
world, but they have to be ruled by His will. If they faithfully
continue as His servants, they are masters of all besides.

Hebron was a good capital for the new king, for it was a defensible
position, in the centre of his own tribe, and sacred by association
with the patriarchs. Established there, David was recognised as king by
his fellow-tribesmen, and by them only. No doubt, tribal jealousy was
partly the cause of this limited recognition, but probably the
confusion incident to the Philistine victory contributed to it. The
result was that, though David's designation by Samuel to the kingship
was universally known, and his candidature had been popular, he had
seven years of precarious sway over this mere fraction of the nation.
We read of no impatience on his part. He let events shape themselves,
or, rather, he let God shape events.

Passiveness is not always indolence. There are two ways of compassing
our desires. One is that which David himself tells us is the 'young
lions' way, of struggling and fighting, and that often ends in 'lacking
and suffering hunger'; the other is that of waiting on the Lord, and
that always ends in 'not lacking any good.' If we are sure that God has
promised us anything, and if He does not seem to have yet opened the
way to obtaining it, our 'strength is to sit still.' If He has given us
Hebron, we can be patient till He please to give us Jerusalem.

II. Another side of David's character comes beautifully out in his
treatment of the men of Jabesh-gilead. That town owed much to Saul (1
Samuel xi.), and its gratitude lasted, and dared much for him. It was a
brave dash that they made across Jordan to carry off Saul's corpse from
its ignominious exposure; for it both defied the Philistines, and might
be construed as hostile to David. But his heart was too true to ancient
friendship to do anything but glow with admiring sympathy at that
exhibition of affectionate remembrance. Reconciling death had swept
away all memories of Saul's insane jealousy, and he owned a brother in
every one who showed kindness to the unfortunate king.

If the Jabesh-Gileadites are a pattern of long-memoried gratitude,
David's commendation of them is a model of love which survives
injuries, and of forgivingness which forgets them. It was as politic as
it was generous. Nothing could have been better calculated to attach
Saul's most devoted partisans to him than showing that he honoured
their faithful attachment to Saul, and nothing could have more clearly
defined his own position during his wanderings as being no rebel. The
dictates of true policy and those of devout generosity always coincide.
It is ever a blunder to be unforgiving, and mercifulness is always
expedient.

But David did not hide his claim to the allegiance of these true
hearts. He called on them to transfer their loyalty to himself, and he
asserted, not his anointing by Samuel, but his recognition by Judah,
the premier tribe, as the motive. No doubt the divine appointment is
implied, as it was generally known, but Judah's action is put forward
as showing the beginning of the realisation of the divine designation.
The men of Jabesh needed to 'be valiant' if they were to acknowledge
him; for it was a far cry to Hebron, and the forces of the rival son of
Saul were overrunning the northern districts.

We have to take our sides in the age-long and worldwide warfare between
God's King and the pretenders to His throne, and it often wants much
courage to do so when surrounded by antagonists. It seems a long way
off to the true monarch, and Abner's army is a very solid reality, and
very near. But it is safest to take the side of the distant, rightful
king.

III. David's bearing in the face of opposition and rebellion comes out
in verses 8-11. Abner, Saul's cousin, who had been in high position
when the stripling from Bethlehem fought Goliath, was not capable of
the self-effacement involved in acquiescing in David's accession,
though he knew that the Lord had 'sworn to David.' So he set up a 'King
Do-nothing' in the person of a weak lad, the only survivor of Saul's
sons. A strange state of mind that, which struggles against a
recognised divine appointment!

But is it only Abner who knew that he was trying to thwart God's will?
Thousands of us are doing the same, and the attempt answers as well as
it did in his case.

The puppet king is named Ishbosheth in the lesson, but I Chronicles
viii. 33 and ix. 39 show that his real name was Esh-baal. The former
word means 'The man of shame'; the latter, 'The man of Baal.' The
existence of Baal as an element in names seems to indicate the
incompleteness of the emancipation from idolatry in Saul's time, and
the change will then indicate the keener monotheistic conscience of
later days. Another explanation is that Baal (' Lord') was in these
cases used as a name for Jehovah, and was 'changed at a later period
for the purpose of avoiding what was interpreted then as a compound of
the name of the Phoenician deity Baal' (Driver, _Notes on Hebrew Text
of the Books of Samuel_).

Abner set up his tool in Mahanaim, sacred for its associations with
Jacob, but, no doubt, recommended to him rather by its position on the
east side of Jordan, safe from the attacks of the victorious
Philistines. From that fastness he made raids to recover the territory
which the victory at Gilboa had won for them. First Gilead, on the same
side of the river as Mahanaim; then the territory of the
'Ashurites'--probably a scribe's error for 'Asherites,' the most
northern tribe; and then, coming southward, the great plain, with its
cities, Ephraim and Benjamin,--in fact, all Israel except Judah's
country was reconquered for Saul's house.

The account of the distribution of territory between the two monarchies
is broken by the parenthesis in verse 10, which, both by its awkward
interposition in the middle of a sentence and by its difficult
chronological statements, looks like a late addition.

For seven and a half years David reigned in Hebron, but was rather shut
up there than ruling thence. The most noteworthy fact is that he,
soldier as he was, took no steps to put down Abner's rebellion. He
defended himself when attacked, but that was all. The three figures of
David, Ishbosheth, and Abner point lessons. Silent, still, trustful,
and therefore patient, David shows us how faith in God can lead to
possessing one's soul in patience till 'the vision' comes. We may have
to wait for it, but 'it will surely come,' and what is time enough for
God should be time enough for us. Saul's son was a poor, weak creature,
who would never have thought of resisting David but for the stronger
will behind him. To be weak is, in this world full of tempters, to
drift into being wicked. We have to learn betimes to say 'No,' and to
stick to it. Moral weakness attracts tempters as surely as a camel
fallen by the caravan track draws vultures from every corner of the
sky. The fierce soldier who fought for his own hand while professing to
be moved by loyalty to the dead king, may stand as a type of the
self-deception with which we gloss over our ugliest selfishness with
fine names, and for an instance of the madness which leads men to set
themselves against God's plans, and therefore to be dashed in pieces,
as some slim barrier reared across the track of a train would be. To
'rush against the thick bosses of the Almighty's buckler' does no harm
to the buckler, but kills the insane assailant.



ONE FOLD AND ONE SHEPHERD

'Then came all the tribes of Israel to David unto Hebron, and spake,
saying, Behold, we are thy bone and thy flesh. 2. Also in time past,
when Saul was king over us, thou wast he that leddest out and
broughtest in Israel: and the Lord said to thee, Thou shalt feed My
people Israel, and thou shalt be a captain over Israel. 3. So all the
elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and king David made a
league with them in Hebron before the Lord: and they anointed David
king over Israel. 4. David was thirty years old when he began to reign;
and he reigned forty years. 5. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven
years and six months; and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three
years over all Israel and Judah, 6. And the king and his men went to
Jerusalem unto the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land; which spake
unto David, saying, Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou
shalt not come in hither: thinking, David cannot come in hither. 7.
Nevertheless, David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city
of David. 8. And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the
gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind, that are
hated of David's soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they
said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house. 9. So David
dwelt in the fort, and called it the city of David. And David built
round about from Millo and inward. 10. And David went on, and grew
great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him. 11. And Hiram king of
Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters, and
masons: and they built David an house. 12. And David perceived that the
Lord had established him king over Israel, and that He had exalted his
kingdom for His people Israel's sake.'--2 SAMUEL v. 1-12.


The dark day on Gilboa put the Philistines in possession of most of
Saul's kingdom. Only in the south David held his ground, and Abner had
to cross Jordan to find a place of security for the remnants of the
royal house. The completeness of the Philistine conquest is marked, not
only by Abner's flight to Mahanaim, but by the reckoning that David
reigned for seven and a half years and Ishbosheth two; for these
periods must be supposed to have ended very nearly at the same time,
and thus there would be about five years before the invaders were so
far got rid of that Ishbosheth exercised sovereignty over his part of
Israel. It is singular that David should have been left unattacked by
the Philistines, and it is probably to be explained by the friendly
relations which had sprung up between Achish, king of Gath, and him (1
Samuel xxix.). However that may be, his power was continually
increasing during his reign at Hebron over Judah, and at last Abner's
death and the assassination of the poor phantom king, Ishbosheth,
brought about the total collapse of opposition.

I. This passage deals first with the submission of the tribes and the
reunion of the divided kingdom. A comparison of verse I with verse 3
shows that a formal delegation of elders from all the tribes which had
held by Ishbosheth, came to Hebron with their submission. The account
in I Chronicles is a _verbatim_ copy of this one, with the addition of
a glowing picture of the accompanying feasting and joy. It also places
much emphasis on the sincerity of David's new subjects, which needed
some endorsement; for loyalty which has been disloyal as long as it
durst, may be suspected. The elders have their mouths full of excellent
reasons for recognising David's kingship,--he is their brother; he was
their true leader in war, even in Saul's time; he has been appointed by
God to be king and commander. Unfortunately, it had taken the elders
seven and a half years to feel the force of these reasons, and probably
their perceptions would still have remained dull if Abner and
Ishbosheth had lived. But David is both magnanimous and politic, and
neither bloodshed nor reproaches mar the close of the strife. Seldom
has so formidable a civil war been ended with so complete an amnesty.
Observe the expression that David 'made a league with them... before
the Lord.' The Israelitish monarch was no despot, but, in modern
language, a constitutional king, between whom and his subjects there
was a compact, which he as well as they had to observe. In what sense
was it made 'before the Lord'? The ark was not at Hebron, though the
priests were; and the phrase is at once a testimony to the religious
character of the 'league' and to the consciousness of God's presence,
apart from the symbol of His presence. It points to a higher conception
than that which brought the ark to Ebenezer, and dreamed that the ark
had brought God to the army. Modern theories of the religious
development of the Old Testament ask us to recognise these two
conceptions as successive. The fact is that they were contemporaneous,
and that the difference between them is not one of time, but of
spiritual susceptibility. Who anointed David for this third time?
Apparently the elders, for priests are not mentioned. Samuel had
anointed him, as token of the divine choice and symbol of the divine
gifts for his office. The men of Judah had anointed him, and finally
the elders did so, in token of the popular confirmation of God's choice.

So David has reached the throne at last. Schooled by suffering, and in
the full maturity of his powers, enriched by the singularly varied
experiences of his changeful life, tempered by the swift alternations
of heat and cold, polished by friction, consolidated by heavy blows, he
has been welded into a fitting instrument for God's purposes. Thus does
He ever prepare for larger service. Thus does He ever reward patient
trust. Through trials to a throne is the law for all noble lives in
regard to their earthly progress, as well as in regard to the relation
between earth and heaven. But David is not only a pattern instance of
how God trains His servants, but he is a prophetic person; and in his
progress to his kingdom we have dimly, but really, shadowed the path by
which his Son and Lord attains to His,--a path thickly strewn with
thorns, and plunging into 'valleys of the shadow of death' compared
with which David's darkest hour was sunny. The psalms of the persecuted
exile have sounding through them a deeper sorrow; for they 'testified
beforehand the sufferings of Christ.' 'No cross, no crown,' is the
lesson of David's earlier life.

II. We have, next, the first victory of the reunited nation. Hebron was
too far south for the capital of the whole kingdom. Jerusalem was more
central, and, from its position, surrounded on three sides with steep
ravines, was a strong military post. David's soldier's eye saw its
advantages; and he, no doubt, desired to weld the monarchy together by
participation in danger and triumph. The new glow of national unity
would seek some great exploit, and would resent as an insult the
presence of the Jebusites in their stronghold. The attack on it
immediately follows the recognition of David's kingship. It is not
necessary here to discuss the difficulties in verses 6-8; but we note
that they give, first, the insolent boast of the besieged, then the
twofold answer to it in fact and in word, and last, the memorial of the
victory in a proverb. Apparently the Jebusites' taunt is best
understood as in the margin of the Revised Version,' Thou shalt not
come in hither, but the blind and the lame shall turn thee away,' They
were so sure that their ravines made them safe, that they either
actually manned their walls with blind men and cripples, or jeeringly
shouted to the enemy across the valley that these would do for a
garrison. The other possible meaning of the words as they stand in the
Authorised Version would make 'the blind and lame' refer to David's
men, and the taunt would mean, 'You will have to weed out your men. It
will take sharper eyes and more agile limbs than theirs to clamber up
here'; but the former explanation is the more probable. Such braggart
speeches were quite in the manner of ancient warfare.

Verse 7 tells what the answer to this mocking shout from the ramparts
was, David did the impossible, and took the city. Courage built on
faith has a way of making the world's predictions of what it cannot do
look rather ridiculous. David wastes no words in answering the taunt;
but it stirs him to fierce anger, and nerves him and his men for their
desperate charge. The obscure words in verse 8, which he speaks to his
soldiers, do not need the supplement given in the Authorised Version.
The king's quick eye had seen a practical path for scaling the cliffs
up some watercourse, where there might be projections or vegetation to
pull oneself up by, or shelter which would hide the assailants from the
defenders; and he bids any one who would smite the Jebusites take that
road up, and, when he is up, 'smite.' He heartens his men for the
assault by his description of the enemy. They had talked about 'blind
and lame'; that is what they really are, or as unable to stand against
the Israelites' fierce and sudden burst as if they were: and
furthermore, they are' hated of David's soul.' It is a flash of the
rage of battle which shows us David in a new light. He was a born
captain as well as king; and here he exhibits the general's power to
see, as by instinct, the weak point and to hurl his men on it. His
swift decision and fiery eloquence stir his men's blood like the sound
of a trumpet. The proverb that rose from the capture is best read as in
the Revised Version: 'There are the blind and the lame; he cannot come
into the house.' The point of it seems to be that, notwithstanding the
bragging Jebusites, he did 'come into the house'; and so its use would
be to ridicule boasting confidence that was falsified by events, as the
Jebusites' had been. It was worth while to record the boast and its
end; for they teach the always seasonable lesson of the folly of
over-confidence in apparently impregnable defences. It is a lesson of
worldly prudence, but still more of religion. There is always some
'watercourse' overlooked by us, up which the enemy may make his way.
Overestimate of our own strength and its companion folly, flippant
underestimate of the enemy's power, are, in all worldly affairs, the
sure precursors of disaster; and in the Christian life the only safe
temper is that of the man who 'feareth always,' as knowing his own
weakness and the strength of his foe, and thereby is driven to that
trust which casts out fear.

On the other hand, David's exploit reads us anew the lesson that to the
Christian soldier there is nothing impossible, with Jesus Christ for
our Captain. There are many unconquered fortresses of evil still to be
carried by assault, and they look steep and inaccessible enough; but
there is some way up, and He will show it us. For our own personal
struggle with sin, and for the Church's conflict with social evils,
this story is an encouragement and a prophecy.

Jerusalem was captured by a reunited nation with its king at its head.
As long as our miserable divisions weaken and disgrace us, the Church
fights at a disadvantage; and the hoary fortresses of the foe will not
be won till Judah ceases to vex Ephraim, and Ephraim no more envies
Judah, but all Christ's servants in one host, with the King known by
each to be with them, make the assault.

III. We have, lastly, the growth of the kingdom. I pass over
topographical questions, which need not concern us here. The points
recorded are David's establishment in the stronghold, his additions to
the city, his increasing greatness and its reason in the presence and
favour of 'the God of hosts,' the special instance of this in the
friendly intercourse with Hiram of Tyre and the employment of Tyrian
workmen, and the recognition of the source and the purpose of his
prosperity by the devout king. We see here the conditions of true
success,--'The Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.' We see also the
right use of it,--'David perceived that the Lord had established him
king.' He was not puffed up into self-importance by his elevation, but
devoutly and clearly saw who had set him in his lofty place. And, as he
traced his royalty to God, so he recognised that he had received it,
not for himself, but as a trust to be used, not in self-indulgence, but
for the national good,--'and that He had exalted his kingdom for His
people Israel's sake.' Whosoever holds firmly by these two thoughts,
and lives them, will adorn his position, whatever it may be, and will
be one of God's crowned kings, however obscure his lot and small his
duties. He who lacks them will misuse his gifts and mar his life, and
the more splendid his endowments and the higher his position, the more
conspicuous will be his ruin and the heavier his guilt.



DEATH AND LIFE FROM THE ARK

'Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty
thousand. 2. And David arose, and went with all the people that were
with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God,
whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth
between the cherubims. 3. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart,
and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and
Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. 4. And they
brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah,
accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. 5. And David
and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of
instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on
timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. 6. And when they came to
Nachon's thrashing-floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God,
and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. 7. And the anger of the
Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error;
and there he died by the ark of God. 8. And David was displeased,
because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name
of the place Perez-uzzah to this day. 9. And David was afraid of the
Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of the Lord come to me? 10.
So David would not remove the ark of the Lord unto him into the city of
David: but David carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom the
Gittite. 11. And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of
Obed-edom the Gittite three months: and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and
all his household. 12. And it was told king David, saying, The Lord
hath blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that pertaineth unto him,
because of the ark of God. So David went and brought up the ark of God
from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness.'-2
SAMUEL vi. 1-12.


I. The first section (verses 1-5) describes the joyful reception and
procession. The parallel account in 1 Chronicles states that Baalah, or
Baale, was Kirjath-jearim. Probably the former was the more ancient
Canaanitish name, and indicates that it had been a Baal sanctuary. If
so, the presence of the ark there was at once a symbol and an omen,
showing Jehovah's conquest over the obscene and bloody gods of the
land, and forecasting His triumph over all the gods of the nations.
Every Baale shall one day be a resting-place of the ark of God. The
solemn designation of the ark, as 'called by the Name, the name of the
Lord of Hosts, that dwelleth between the cherubim,' is significant on
this, its reappearance after so long eclipse, and, by emphasising its
awful sanctity, prepares for the incidents which are to follow. The
manner of the ark's transport was irregular; for the law strictly
enjoined its being carried by the Levites by means of bearing-poles
resting on their shoulders; and the copying of the Philistines' cart,
though a new one was made for the purpose, indicates the desuetude into
which the decencies of worship had fallen in seventy years. In 1
Chronicles, the singular words in verse 5, which describe David as
playing before the Lord on the very unlikely things for such a
purpose,' all manner of instruments of fir wood,' become 'with all
their might: even with songs' which seems much more reasonable. A
slight alteration in three letters and the transposition of two would
bring our text into conformity with I Chronicles, and the conjectural
emendation is tempting. Who ever heard of fir-wood musical instruments?
The specified ones which follow were certainly not made of it, and
songs could scarcely fail to be mentioned.

At all events, we see the glad procession streaming out of the little
city buried among its woods; the cart drawn by meek oxen, and loaded
with the unadorned wooden chest, in the midst; the two sons or
descendants of its faithful custodian honoured to be the teamsters; the
king with the harp which had cheered him in many a sad hour of exile;
and the crowd 'making a joyful noise before the Lord,' which might
sound discord in our ears, as some lifted up shrill songs, some touched
stringed instruments, some beat on timbrels, some rattled metal rods
with movable rings, and some clashed cymbals together. It was a wild
scene, in which there was a dangerous resemblance to the frantic
jubilations of idolatrous worship. No doubt there were true hearts in
that crowd, and none truer than David's. No doubt we have to beware of
applying our Christian standards to these early times, and must let a
good deal that is sensuous and turbid pass, as, no doubt, God let it
pass. But confession of sin in leaving the ark so long forgotten would
have been better than this tumultuous joy; and if there had been more
trembling in it, it would not have passed so soon into wild terror.
Still, on the other hand, that rejoicing crowd does represent, though
in crude form, the effect which the consciousness of God's presence
should ever have. His felt nearness should be, as the Psalmist says,
'the gladness of my joy.' Much of our modern religion is far too
gloomy, and it is thought to be a sign of devotion and
spiritual-mindedness to be sad and of a mortified countenance.
Unquestionably, Christianity brings men into the continual presence of
very solemn truths about themselves and the world which may well sober
them, and make what the world calls mirth incongruous.

             'There is no music in the life
              That rings with idiot laughter solely.'

But the Man of Sorrows said that His purpose for us was that 'His joy
might remain in us, and that our joy might be full'; and we but
imperfectly apprehend the gospel if we do not feel that its joys 'much
more abound' than its sorrows, and that they even burn brightest, like
the lights on safety-buoys, when drenched by stormy seas.

II. The second section contains the dread vindication of the sanctity
of the ark, which changed joy into terror, and silenced the songs. At
some bad place in the rocky and steep track, the oxen stumbled or were
restive. The spot is called in Samuel 'the threshing-floor of Nachon,'
but in Chronicles the owner is named 'Chidon.' As the former word means
'a stroke' and the latter 'destruction,' they are probably not to be
taken as proper names, but as applied to the place after this event.
The name given by David, however--Perez-uzzah--proved the more
permanent 'to this day.' Uzzah, who was driving while his brother went
in front to pilot the way, naturally stretched out his hand to steady
his freight, just as if it had been a sack of corn; and, as if he had
touched an electric wire, fell dead, as the story graphically says, 'by
the ark of God.' What confusion and panic would agitate the joyous
singers, and how their songs would die on their lips!

What harm was there in Uzzah's action? It was most natural, and, in one
point of view, commendable. Any careful waggoner would have done the
same with any valuable article he had in charge. Yes; that was just the
point of his error and sin, that he saw no difference between the ark
and any other valuable article. His intention to help was right enough;
but there was profound insensibility to the awful sacredness of the
ark, on which even its Levitical bearers were forbidden to lay hands.
All his life Uzzah had been accustomed to its presence. It had been one
of the familiar pieces of furniture in Abinadab's house, and, no doubt,
familiarity had had its usual effect. Do none of us ministers,
teachers, and others, to whom the gospel and the worship and ordinances
of the Church have been familiar from infancy, treat them in the same
fashion? Many a hand is laid on the ark, sometimes to keep it from
falling, with more criminal carelessness of its sacredness than Uzzah
showed. Note, too, how swiftly an irreverent habit of treating holy
things grows. The first error was in breaking the commanded order for
removal of the ark by the Levites. Once in the cart, the rest follows.
The smallest breach in the feeling of awe and reverence will soon lead
to more complete profanation. There is nothing more delicate than the
sense of awe. Trifled with ever so little, it speedily disappears.
There is far too little of it in our modern religion. Perfect love
casts out fear and deepens awe which hath not torment.

Was not the punishment in excess of the sin? We must remember the
times, the long neglect of the ark, the decay of religion in Saul's
reign, the critical character of the moment as the beginning of a new
era, when it was all-important to print deep the impression of
sanctity, and the rude material which had to be dealt with; and we must
not forget that God, in His punishments, does not adopt men's ideas of
death as such a very dreadful thing. Many since have followed in
David's wake, and been 'displeased, because the Lord broke forth upon
Uzzah'; but he and they have been wrong. He ought to have known better,
and to have understood the lesson of the solemn corpse that lay there
by the ark; instead of which he gives way to mere terror, and was
'afraid of the Lord.' David afraid of the Lord! What had become of the
rapturous love and strong trust which ring clear through his psalms? Is
this the man who called God his rock and fortress and deliverer, his
buckler and the horn of his salvation and his high tower, and poured
out his soul in burning words, which glow yet through all the centuries
and the darkness of earth? It was ill for David to fall thus below
himself, but well for us that the eclipse of his faith and love should
be recorded, to hearten us, when the like emotions fall asleep in our
souls. His consciousness of impurity was wholesome and sound, but his
cowering before the ark, as if it were the seat of arbitrary anger,
which might flame out destruction for no discernible reason, was a
woful darkening of his loving insight into the heart of God.

III. The last section (verses 10-12) gives us the blessings on the
house of Obed-edom and the glad removal of the ark to Jerusalem.
Obed-edom is called a 'Gittite,' or man of Gath; but he does not appear
to have been a Philistine immigrant, but a native of another Gath, a
Levitical city, and himself a Levite. There is an Obededom in the lists
of David's Levites in Chronicles who is probably the same man. He did
not fear to receive the ark, and, worthily received, the presence which
had been a source of disaster and death to idolaters, to profanely
curious pryers into its secret, and to presumptuous irreverence, became
a fountain of unbroken blessing. This twofold effect of the same
presence is but a symbol of a solemn law which runs through all life,
and is especially manifest in the effects of Christ's work upon men.
Everything has two handles, and it depends on ourselves by which of
them we lay hold of it, and whether we shall receive a shock that
kills, or blessings. The same circumstances of poverty, or wealth, or
sorrow, or temptation, make one man better and another worse. The same
presence of God will be to one man a joy; to another, a terror. 'What
maketh heaven, that maketh hell.' The same gospel received is the
fountain of life, purity, peace; and, rejected or neglected, is the
source of harm and death. Jesus Christ is 'set for the fall and rising
again of many.' Either He is the savour of life unto life, the rock on
which we build, or He is the savour of death unto death, the stone on
which we stumble and break our limbs.



THE ARK OF THE HOUSE OF OBED-EDOM

'The ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite
three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household.'-2
SAMUEL vi.11.


Nearly seventy years had elapsed since the capture of the ark by the
Philistines on the fatal field of Aphek. They had carried it and set it
in insolent triumph in the Temple of Dagon, as if to proclaim that the
Jehovah of Israel was the conquered prisoner of the Philistine god. But
the morning showed Dagon's stump prone on the threshold. And so the
terrified priests got rid of their dangerous trophy as swiftly as they
could. From one Philistine city to another it passed, and everywhere
its presence was marked by disease and calamity. So at last they
huddled it into some rude cart, leaving the draught-oxen to drag it
whither they would. They made straight for the Judaean hills, and in
the first little village were welcomed by the inhabitants at their
harvest, as they saw them coming across the plain. But again death
attended the Presence, and curiosity, which was profanity, was
punished. So the villagers were as eager to get rid of the ark as they
had been to welcome it, and they passed it on to the little city of
_Kirjath-jearim_,'the city of the woods,' as the name means, or, as we
might say, 'Woodville.' And there it lay, neglected and all but
forgotten, for nearly seventy years. But as soon as David was
established in his newly-won capital he set himself to reorganise the
national worship, which had fallen into neglect and almost into disuse.
The first step was to bring the ark. And so he passed with a joyful
company to _Kirjath._ But again swift death overtakes Uzzah with his
irreverent hand. And David shrinks, in the consciousness of his
impurity, and bestows the symbol of the awful Presence in the house of
Obed-edom. As we have already noted, he was probably not a Philistine,
as the name 'Gittite' at first sight suggests. There is an Obed-edom in
the lists of David's Levites, who was an inhabitant of another Gath,
and himself of the tribe of Levi.

He was not afraid to receive the ark. There were no idols, no
irreverent curiosity, no rash presumption in his house. He feared and
served the God of the ark, and so the Presence, which had been a source
of disaster to the unworthy, was a source of unbroken blessing to him
and to his household.

I have been the more particular in this enumeration of the wanderings
of the ark and the opposite effects which its presence produced
according to the manner of its reception, because these effects are
symbols of a great truth which runs all through human life, and is most
especially manifested in the message and the mission of Jesus Christ.

Let us, then, just trace out two or three of the spheres in which we
may see the application of this great principle, which makes life so
solemn and so awful, which may make it so sad or so glad, so base or so
noble.

I. First, then, note the twofold operation of all God's outward
dealings.

Everything that befalls us, every object with which we come in contact,
all the variety of condition, all the variations of our experience,
have one distinct and specific purpose. They are all meant to tell upon
character, to make us better in sundry ways, to bring us closer to God,
and to fill us more full of Him. And that one effect may be produced by
the most opposite incidents, just as in some great machine you may have
two wheels turning in opposite ways, and yet contributing to one
resulting motion; or, just as the summer and the winter, with all their
antitheses, have a single result in the abundant harvest. One force
attracts the planet to the sun, one force tends to drive it out into
the fields of space; but the two, working together, make it circle in
its orbit around its centre. And so, by sorrow and by joy, by light and
by dark, by giving and withholding, by granting and refusing, by all
the varieties of our circumstances, and by everything that lies around
us, God works to prepare us for Himself and to polish His instruments,
sometimes plunging the iron into 'baths of hissing tears,' and
sometimes heating it 'hot with hopes and fears,' and sometimes
'battering' it 'with the shocks of doom,' but all for the one
purpose--that it may be a polished shaft in His quiver.

And whilst, thus, the most opposite things may produce the same effect,
the same thing will produce opposite effects according to the way in
which we take it. There is nothing that can be relied upon to do a man
only good; there is nothing about which we need fear that its mission
is only to do evil. For all depends on the recipient, who can make
everything to fulfil the purpose for which God has sent him everything.

Here are two men tried by the same poverty. It beats the one down,
makes him squalid, querulous, faithless, irreligious, drives him to
drink, crushes him; and the other man it steadies and quiets and
hardens, and teaches him to look beyond the things seen and temporal to
the exceeding riches at God's right hand.

Here are two men tried by wealth; the gold gets into the one man's
veins and makes him yellow as with jaundice, and kills him, destroying
all that is noble, generous, impulsive, quenching his early dreams and
enthusiasms, closing his heart to sweet charity, puffing him up with a
false sense of Importance, and laying upon him the dreadful
responsibility of misused and selfishly employed possessions. And the
other man, tried in the same fashion, out of his wealth makes for
himself friends that welcome him into everlasting habitations, and lays
up for himself treasures in heaven. The one man is damned and the other
man is saved by their use of the same thing.

Here are two men subjected to the same sorrows; the one is absorbed by
his selfish regard to his own misery, blinded to all the blessings that
still remain, made negligent of tasks and oblivious of the plainest
duty. And he goes about saying, 'Oh, if thou hadst been here!' or if,
if something else had happened, then this would not have happened. And
the other man, passing through the same circumstances, finds that, when
his props are taken away, he flings himself on God's breast, and, when
the world becomes dark and all the paths dim about him, he looks up to
a heaven that fills fuller of meek and swiftly gathering stars as the
night falls, and he says, 'It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him
good.'

Here are two men tried by the same temptation; it leads the one man
away captive 'with a dart through his liver'; the other man by God's
grace overcomes it, and is the stronger and the sweeter and the gentler
and the humbler because of the dreadful fight. And so you might go the
whole round of diverse circumstances, and about each of them find the
same double result. Nothing is sure to do a man good; nothing
necessarily does him hurt. All depends upon the man himself, and the
use he makes of what God in His mercy sends. Two plants may grow in the
same soil, be fed by the same dews and benediction from the heavens, be
shone upon by the same sunshine, and the one of them will elaborate
from all, sweet juices and fragrance, and the other will elaborate a
deadly poison. So, my brother, life is what you and I will to make it,
and the events which befall us are for our rising or our falling
according as we determine they shall be, and according as we use them.

Think, then, how solemn, how awful, how great a thing it is to stand
here a free agent, able to determine my character and my condition,
surrounded by all these circumstances and the subject of all these wise
and manifold divine dealings, in each of which there lie dormant, to be
evoked by me, tremendous possibilities of elevation even to the very
presence of God, or of sinking into the depths of separation from Him.
The ark of God, that overthrew Dagon and smote Uzzah, was nothing but a
fountain of blessing in the household of Obed-edom.

II. Secondly, note the twofold operation of God's character and
presence.

The ark was the symbol of a present God, and His presence is meant to
be the life and joy of all creatures, and the revelation of Him is
meant to be only for our good, giving strength, righteousness, and
peace. But the same double possibility which I have been pointing out
as inherent in all externals belongs here too, and a man can determine
to which aspect of the many-sided infinitude of the divine nature he
shall stand in relation. The glass in stained windows is so coloured as
that parts of it cut off, and prevent from passing through, different
rays of the pure white light. And men's moral natures, the inclination
of their hearts, and the set of their wills and energies, cut off, if I
may say so, parts of the infinite, white light of the many-sided divine
character, and put them into relations only with some part and aspect
of that great whole which we call God. The man that loves the world,
the man that is living for self, still more the man that is embruted in
the pig-sty of sensuality and vice, cannot see the God whom the pure
heart, which loves Him and is purified by its faith, discerns at the
centre of all things. But the lower man sees either some very far-off
Awfulness, in which he hopes vaguely that there is a kind of good
nature that will let him off; or, if he has been shaken out of that
superficial creed, which is only a creed for men whose consciences have
not been touched, then he can see only a God whose love darkens into
retribution, and who is the Judge and the Avenger. And no man can say
that such a conception is not part of the truth; but, alas! he on whom
the form of such a God glares has incapacitated himself, by his misuse
of his powers and of God's world, from seeing the beauty of the love of
the Father of us all, the righteous Father who in Christ loves every
man.

And thus the thought of God, the consciousness of His Presence, may be
like the ark which was its symbol, either dreadful and to be put away,
or to be welcomed and blessing to be drawn from it. To many of us I am
sure--though I do not know anything about many of you--that thought,'
Thou God seest me,' breeds feelings like the uneasy discomfort of a
prisoner when he knows that somewhere in the wall there is a spy-hole
at which at any moment a warder's eye may be. And to some of us,
blessed be His name, that same thought, 'Thou art near me,' seems to
bathe the heart in a sea of sweet rest, and to bring the assurance of a
divine Companion that cheers all the solitude. And why is the
difference? There are two people sitting in one pew; to the one man the
thought of God is his ghastliest doubt, to the other it is his deepest
joy. Wherefore? And which is it to me?

Then, again, this same duality of aspect attaches to the character and
presence of God in another way. Because, according to the variety of
men's characters, God is obliged to treat them as standing in different
relations. He must manifest His judgment, His justice, His punitive
justice. There is a solemn verse in one of the Psalms which I may quote
in lieu of all words of my own of this matter. 'With the merciful Thou
wilt show Thyself merciful, with the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure,
with the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward.' The present God has
to modify His dealings according to the characters of men.

And so, dear friends, for the present life, and, as I believe, for the
next life in a far more emphatic and awful way, the same thing makes
blessedness and misery, the same thing makes life and death. The
sunshine will kill and wither the slimy plants that grow in the dark
recesses of some dripping cave; and if you take a fish out of the
water, the air clogs its gills and it dies. Bring a man, such as some
of you are, into a close, constant contact with the consciousness of
the divine righteousness and presence, and you want nothing else to
make a hell. The ark of the Lord will flash out its lightnings and
Uzzah will die. That great Infinite Being, before whom we stand, holds
in His right hand blessings beyond count or price, even the gift of
Himself, and in His left His lightnings and His arrows. On which hand
are you standing?

III. Lastly, note the twofold operation of God's gospel.

His dealings, His character and presence, and, most markedly and
eminently of all, the gospel that is treasured in Jesus Christ and
proclaimed amongst us, have this twofold operation. God sent His Son to
be the Saviour of the world. It was meant that His mission and message
should only be for life, and that with ever-increasing abundance. But
God cannot save men by magic, nor by indiscriminate bestowment of
spiritual blessings. It is not in His power to force His salvation upon
any one, and whether the Gospel shall turn out to be a man's salvation
or his ruin depends on the man himself. The preaching of the gospel and
your contact with it, if you have ever come into contact with it really
and not by mere outward hearing, leaves no man as it found him. My poor
words--and God knows how poor I feel them to be--leave none of you as
they find you; and that is what makes our meeting together so solemn
and awful, and sometimes weighs one down as with a sense of
insufficiency for these things.

That twofold operation is seen first in the permanent effects of the
Gospel upon character. If it has been offered to me, and if I accept
it, then blessings beyond all enumeration, and which none but they who
have them fully know, follow in its wake. Received by simple faith in
Jesus Christ, God's sacrifice for a world's sin, it brings to us the
clear consciousness of pardon, the calm sense of communion, the joyful
spirit of adoption, righteousness rooted in our hearts and to be
manifested day by day in our lives; it brings all elevation and
strengthening and ennobling for the whole nature, and is the one power
that makes us really men as God would have us all to be.

Rejected or neglected or passed by apparently without our having done
anything in regard to it, what are the issues? What does it do? Well,
it does this for one thing, it turns unconscious worldliness into
conscious worldliness. If the offer has been clearly before your minds,
'Christ or the world?' and you have said 'I take the world!' you know
that you have made the choice, and the act will tell on your character.

Rejection strengthens all the evil motives for rejection, and adds to
the insensibility of the man who has rejected. The ice on our pavements
in the winter time, that melts on the surface in the day and freezes
again at night, becomes dense and slippery beyond all other. And a
heart, like that which beats in some of our bosoms, that has been
melted and then has frozen again, is harder than ever it was before.
Hammering that does not break solidifies and makes tougher the thing
that is struck. There are no men so hard to get at as men and women,
like multitudes of you, that have been hammered at by preaching ever
since they were children, and have not yielded their hearts to God. The
ark has done you hurt if it has not done you good.

I do not dwell upon the other solemn thought, of the harmful results of
contact with a gospel which we do not accept, as exemplified in the
increase of responsibility and the consequent increase of condemnation.
I only quote Christ's words, 'The servant that knew his Lord's will,
and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.'

My brother, Christ's gospel is never inert, one thing or other it does
for every soul that it reaches. Either it softens or it hardens. Either
it saves or it condemns. 'This Child is set for the rise or for the
fall of many.' Jesus Christ may be for me and for you the Rock on which
we build. If He is not, He is the Stone against which we stumble and
break our limbs. Jesus Christ may be for you and for me the Pillar that
gives light by night to those on the one side; He either is that, or He
is the Pillar that sheds darkness and dismay on those on the other.
Jesus Christ and His Gospel may be to each of us 'the savour of life
unto life'; He either is that, or He is 'the savour of death unto
death.' Oh! dear friends, if you have neglected, turned away, delayed
to receive Him or have forgotten impressions in the midst of the whirl
of daily life, do not do so any longer. Take Him for yours, your
Brother, Friend, Sacrifice, Inspirer, Lord, Aim, End, Reward, and very
Heaven of Heaven. Take Him for your own by simple trusting; and say to
Him, 'Arise! O Lord, into Thy rest, Thou and the Ark of Thy strength.'
So He will come into your hearts and smile His gladness as He whispers:
'Here will I dwell for ever; this is My rest, for I have desired it.'



THE PROMISED KING AND TEMPLE-BUILDER

'And it came to pass that night, that the word of the Lord came unto
Nathan, saying, 5. Go and tell My servant David, Thus saith the Lord,
Shalt thou build Me an house for Me to dwell in! 6. Whereas I have not
dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of
Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in
a tabernacle. 7. In all the places wherein I have walked with all the
children of Israel spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel,
whom I commanded to feed My people Israel, saying, Why build ye not Me
an house of cedar! 8. Now therefore so shalt thou say unto My servant
David, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote,
from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel: 9.
And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all
thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like
unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. 10. Moreover I
will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that
they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall
the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime, 11.
And as since the time that I commanded judges to be over My people
Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the
Lord telleth thee that He will make thee an house. 12. And when thy
days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up
thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will
establish His kingdom. 13. He shall build an house for My name; and I
will establish the throne of His kingdom for ever. 14. I will be his
father, and He shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten
Him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:
16. But My mercy shall not depart away from Him, as I took it from
Saul, whom I put away before thee. 16. And thine home and thy kingdom
shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be
established for ever.'-2 SAMUEL vii.4-16.


The removal of the ark to Jerusalem was but the first step in a process
which was intended to end in the erection of a permanent Temple. The
time for the next step appeared to David to have come when he had no
longer to fight for his throne. Rest from enemies should lead to larger
work for God, else repose will be our worst enemy, and peace will
degenerate into self-indulgent sloth. A devout heart will not be
content with personal comfort and dwelling in a house of cedar, while
the ark has but a tent for its abode. There should be a proportion
between expenditure on self and on religious objects. How many
professing Christians might go to school to David! Luxury at home and
niggardliness in God's work make an ugly pair, but, alas! a common one.

Nathan approved, as was natural. But he knew the difference between his
own thoughts and 'the word of the Lord' that came to him, and, like a
true man, he went in the morning and contradicted, by God's authority,
his own precipitate sanction of the king's proposal. Clearly, divine
communications were unmistakably distinguishable from the recipient's
own thoughts.

The divine message first negatives the intention to build a house. In 1
Chronicles a positive prohibition takes the place of the question in
verse 5, but that is only a difference of form, for the question
implies a negative answer. From David's last words (1 Chron. xxviii. 3)
we learn that a reason for the prohibition was 'because thou art a man
of war, and hast shed blood.' His wars were necessary, and tended to
establish the kingdom, but their existence showed that the time for
building the Temple had not come, and there was a certain incongruity
in a warrior king rearing a house for the God whose kingdom was in its
essence peace.

The prohibition rests on a deep insight into the nature of Jehovah's
reign, and draws a broad distinction between His worship and the
surrounding paganism. But the reason given in the text is very
remarkable. God did not desire a permanent Temple. If we may so say, He
preferred the less solid Tabernacle, as corresponding better to the
simplicity and spirituality of His worship. A gorgeous stone Temple
might easily become the sepulchre, rather than the shrine, of true
devotion. The movable tent answered to the temporary character of the
'dispensation.' The more fixed and elaborate the externals of worship,
the more danger of the spirit being stifled by them. The Old Testament
worship was necessarily ceremonial, but here is a caveat against the
stiffening of ceremonial into stereotyped formalism.

The prohibition was accompanied by gracious and far-reaching promises,
designed to assure David of God's approbation of his motive, and to
open up to him the vision of the future and the wonders that should be.
We need say little about the retrospective part of the message (verses
8, 9 a). God had been the agent in all David's past, had lifted him
from the quiet following of his sheep, had given him rule, which was
but a delegated authority. Israel was 'My people,' and therefore he was
but an instrument in God's hand, and was not to govern by his own
fancies or for his own advantage.

Every devout man's life is the realisation of a plan of God's, and we
sin against ourselves as well as Him if we do not often let thankful
thoughts retrace all the way by which the Lord our God has led us.

With verse 9 _b_ the prophecy turns to the future. David personally is
promised the continuance of God's help; then a permanent, peaceful
possession of the land is promised to the nation, and finally the
perpetuity of the kingdom in the Davidic line is promised. The prophecy
as to the nation, like all such prophecies, is contingent on national
obedience. The future of the kingdom will stand in blessed contrast
with the wild times of the Judges, if--and only if--Israel behaves as
'My people' should.

But the main point of the prophecy is the promise to David's 'seed.' In
form it attaches itself very significantly to David's intention to
build a house for Jehovah. That would invert the true order, for
Jehovah was about to build a house, that is, a permanent posterity, for
David. God must first give before man can requite. All our relations to
Him begin with His free mercy to us. And our building for Him should
ever be the result of His building for us, and will, in some humble
way, resemble the divine beneficence by which it has been quickened
into action. The very foundation principles of Christian service are
expressed here, in guise fitted to the then epoch of revelation.

But the relation of the two things, God's building and Solomon's, is
not exhausted by such considerations. The consolidation of the monarchy
in David's family was an essential preliminary to the rearing of the
Temple. That work needed tranquil times, abundant resources, leisure,
and assured dominion. So the prophet goes on to promise that David
shall be succeeded by his 'seed,' who shall build the Temple.

Further, three great promises are given in reference to David's
seed,--a perpetual kingdom, a personal relation of sonship to Jehovah,
and paternal chastisement, if necessary, but no such departure of
Jehovah's mercy as had darkened the close of Saul's sad reign. Then,
finally, the assurance is reiterated of the perpetuity of David's house
and throne. The remarkable expression in verse 16, 'established before
thee' (that is, David), if it is the true reading, suggests a hint of
the life after death, and conceives of the long-dead king as in some
manner cognisant of the fortunes of his descendants. But the Septuagint
reads 'before Me,' and that reading is confirmed by verses 26 and 29,
and by Psalm lxxxix.36 _b_.

Now it is clear that these promises were in part directed to, and
fulfilled in, Solomon. But it is as clear that the great promise of an
eternal dominion, which is emphatically repeated thrice, goes far
beyond him. We are obliged to recognise a second meaning in the
prophecy, in accordance with Old Testament usage, which often means by
'seed' a line of successive generations of descendants. But no
succession of mortal men can reach to eternal duration.

Apart from the fact that the kingdom, in the form in which David's
descendants ruled over it, has long since crumbled away, the large
words of the promise must be regarded as inflated and exaggerated, if
by 'for ever' is only meant 'for long generations.' A 'seed,' or line
of perishable men, can only last for ever if it closes in a Person who
is not subject to the law of mortality. Unless we can with our hearts
rejoicingly confess, 'Thou art the King of glory, O Christ! Thy kingdom
is an everlasting kingdom,' we do not pierce to the full understanding
of Nathan's prophecy.

All the glorious prerogatives shadowed in it were but partially
fulfilled in Israel's monarchs. Their failures and their successes,
their sins and their virtues, equally declared them to be but shadowy
forerunners of Him in whom all that they at the best imperfectly aimed
at and possessed is completely and for ever fulfilled. They were
prophetic persons by their office, and pointed on to Him.

He has built the true Temple, in that His body is the seat of sacrifice
and of revelation, and the meeting-place of God and man, and inasmuch
as through Him we are built up into a spiritual house for an habitation
of God. In Him is fulfilled the great prophecy of 'My Servant the
Branch,' who 'shall build the Temple of the Lord' and 'be a Priest upon
His throne.' In Him, too, is fulfilled in highest truth the filial
relationship. The Israelitish kings were by office sons of God. He is
_the_ Son in ineffable derivation and eternal unity of life with the
Father, and their communion is in closest oneness of will and mutual
interchange of love. In that filial relation lies the assurance of
Christ's everlasting kingdom, for 'the Father loveth the Son, and hath
given all things into His hand.'

The prophecy is echoed in many places of Scripture, and is ever taken
to refer to a single person. The angel of the annunciation moulded his
salutation to the meek Virgin on it, when he declared that her Son
'shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give
unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the
house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.'



DAVID'S GRATITUDE

'Then went king David in, and sat before the Lord, and he said, Who am
I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that Thou hast brought me
hitherto? 19. And this was yet a small thing in Thy sight, O Lord God;
but Thou hast spoken also of Thy servant's house for a great while to
come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord God? 20. And what can David
say more unto Thee? for Thou, Lord God, knowest Thy servant. 21. For
Thy word's sake, and according to Thine own heart, hast Thou done all
these great things, to make Thy servant know them. 22. Wherefore Thou
art great, O Lord God: for there is none like Thee, neither is there
any God besides Thee, according to all that we have heard with our
ears. 23. And what one nation in the earth is like Thy people, even
like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to Himself, and to
make Him a name, and to do for you great things and terrible, for Thy
land, before Thy people, which Thou redeemedst to Thee from Egypt, from
the nations and their gods? 24. For Thou hast confirmed to Thyself Thy
people Israel to be a people unto Thee for ever: and Thou, Lord, art
become their God. 25. And now, O Lord God, the word that Thou hast
spoken concerning Thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it
for ever, and do as Thou hast said. 26. And let Thy name be magnified
for ever, saying, The Lord of hosts is the God over Israel; and let the
house of Thy servant David be established before Thee. 27. For Thou, O
Lord of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to Thy servant, saying, I
will build thee an house: therefore hath Thy servant found in his heart
to pray this prayer unto Thee. 28. And now, O Lord God, Thou art that
God, and Thy words be true, and Thou hast promised this goodness unto
Thy servant: 29. Therefore now let it please Thee to bless the house of
Thy servant, that it may continue for ever before Thee: for Thou, O
Lord God, hast spoken it: and with Thy blessing let the house of Thy
servant be blessed for ever.'--2 SAMUEL vii. 18-29.


God's promise by Nathan of the perpetuity of the kingdom in David's
house made an era in the progress of revelation. A new element was
thereby added to devout hope, and a new object presented to faith. The
prophecy of the Messiah entered upon a new stage, bearing a relation,
as its successive stages always did, to the history which supplies a
framework for it. Now, for the first time, He can be set forth as the
king of Israel; now the width of the promise, which at first embraced
the seed of the woman, and then was limited to the seed of Abraham, and
thereafter to the tribe of Judah, is still further limited to the house
of David. The beam is narrowed as it is focussed into greater
brilliance, and the personal Messiah begins to be faintly discerned in
words which are to have a partial, preparatory fulfilment, in itself
prophetic, in the collective Davidic monarchs whose office is itself a
prophecy. This passage is the wonderful burst of praise which sprang
from David's heart in answer to Nathan's words. In many of the Psalms
later than this prophecy we find clear traces of that expectation of
the personal Messiah, which gradually shaped itself, under divine
inspiration, in David, as contained in Nathan's message But this
thanksgiving prayer, which was the immediate reflection of the
astounding new message, has not yet penetrated its depth nor discovered
its rich contents, but sees in it only the promise of the continuance
of kingship in his descendants. We do not learn the fulness of God's
gracious promises on first hearing them. Life and experience and the
teaching of His Spirit are needed to enable us to count our treasure,
and we are richer than we know.

This prayer is a prose psalm outside the Psalter. It consists of two
parts,--a burst of astonished thanksgiving and a stream of earnest
petition, grasping the divine promise and turning it into a prayer.

I. Note the burst of thanksgiving (vs. 18-24). The ark dwelt 'in
curtains,' and into the temporary sanctuary went the king with his full
heart. The somewhat peculiar attitude of sitting, while he poured it
out to God, has offended some punctilious commentators, who will have
it that we should translate 'remained,' and not 'sat'; but there is no
need for the change. The decencies of public worship may require a
posture which expresses devotion; but individual communion is free from
such externals, and absorbed contemplation naturally disposes of the
body so as least to hinder the spirit. The tone of almost bewildered
surprise at the greatness of the gift is strong all through the prayer.
The man's breath is almost taken away, and his words are sometimes
broken, and throughout palpitating with emotion. Yet there is a plain
progress of feeling and thought in them, and they may serve as a
pattern of thanksgiving. Note the abrupt beginning, as if pent-up
feeling forced its way, regardless of forms of devotion. The first
emotion excited by God's great goodness is the sense of unworthiness.
'I do not deserve it,' is the instinctive answer of the heart to any
lavish human kindness, and how much more to God's! 'I am not worthy of
the least of all the mercies,' springs to the devout lips most swiftly,
when gazing on His miracles of bestowing love. He must know little of
himself, and less of God, who is not most surely melted down to
contrition, which has no bitterness or pain in it, by the coals of
loving fire heaped by God on his head.

The consciousness of unworthiness passes, in verse 19, to adoring
contemplation of God's astounding mercy, and especially of the new
element in Nathan's prophecy,--the perpetuity of the Davidic
sovereignty in the dim, far-off future. Thankfulness delights to praise
the Giver for the greatness of His gift. Faith strengthens its hold of
its blessings by telling them over, as a miser does his treasure. To
recount them to God is the way to possess them more fully.

The difficult close of the verse cannot be discussed here. 'The law for
man' is nearer the literal meaning of the words than 'the manner of
men' (Rev. Ver.); and, unfortunately, man's manner is not the same as
man's law. But the usual explanations are unsatisfactory. We would
hazard the suggestion that 'this' means that which God has spoken 'of
thy servant's house,' and that to call it 'the law for man' is
equivalent to an expression of absolute confidence in the authority,
universality, and certain fulfilment of the promise. The speech of God
is ever the law for man, and this new utterance stands on a level with
the older law, and shall rule all mankind. The king's faith not only
gazes on the great words of promise, but sees them triumphant on earth.

Then in verse 20 comes another bend of the stream of praise. The more
full the heart, the more is it conscious of the weakness of all words.
The deepest praise, like the truest love, speaks best in silence. It is
blessed when, in earthly relations, we can trust our dear ones'
knowledge of us to interpret our poor words. It is more blessed when,
in our speech to God, we can feel that our love and faith are deeper
than our word, and that He does not judge them by it, but it by them.

            'Silence is His least injurious praise.'

Here, too, we may note the two instances, in this verse, of what runs
through the whole prayer,--David's avoidance of using 'I.' Except in
the lowly 'What am I?' at the beginning, it never occurs; but he calls
himself 'David' twice and 'Thy servant' ten times,--a striking, because
unconscious, proof of his lowly sense of unworthiness.

But he can say more; and what he does further say goes yet deeper than
his former words. The personal aspect of the promise retreats into the
background, and the ground of all God's mercy in His 'own heart' fills
the thoughts. Some previous promise, perhaps that through Samuel, is
referred to; but the great truth that God is His own motive, and that
His love is not drawn forth by our deserts, but wells up by its own
energy, like a perennial fountain, is the main thought of the verse.
God is self-moved to bless, and He blesses that we may know Him through
His gifts. The one thought is the central truth, level to our
apprehension, concerning His nature; the other is the key to the
meaning of all His workings. All comes to pass because He loves with a
self-originated love, and in order that we may know the motive and
principle of His acts. We can get no farther into the secret of God
than that. We need nothing more for peaceful acceptance of His
providences for ourselves and our brethren. All is from love; all is
for the manifestation of love. He who has learned these truths sits at
the centre and lives in light.

Verse 22 strikes a new note. The effect of God's dealing with David is
to magnify His name, to teach His incomparable greatness, and to
confirm by experience ancient words which celebrate it. The thankful
heart rejoices in hearsay being changed into personal knowledge. 'As we
have heard, so have we seen.' Old truths flash up into new meaning, and
only he who tastes and sees that God is good to him to-day really
enters into the sweetness of His recorded past goodness.

Note the widening of David's horizon in verses 23 and 24 to embrace all
Israel. His blessings are theirs. He feels his own relation to them as
the culmination of the long series of past deliverances, and at the
same time loses self in joy over Israel's confirmation as God's people
by his kingship. True thankfulness regards personal blessings in their
bearing on others, and shrinks from selfish use of them. Note, too, the
parallel, if we may call it so, between Israel and Israel's God, in
that 'there is none like Thee,' and by reason of its choice by this
incomparable Jehovah, no nation on earth is like 'Thy people, even like
Israel.'

Thus steadily does this model of thanksgiving climb up from a sense of
unworthiness, through adoration and gazing on its treasures, to God's
unmotived love as His impulse, and men's knowledge of that love as His
aim, and pauses at last, rapt and hushed, before the solitary loftiness
of the incomparable God, and the mystery of the love, which has
intertwined the personal blessings which it celebrates, with its great
designs for the welfare of the people, whose unique position
corresponds to the unapproachable elevation of its God.

II. Verses 25 to 29 are prayer built on promise and winged by
thankfulness. The whole of these verses are but the expansion of 'do as
Thou hast said.' But they are not vain repetitions. Rather they are the
outpourings of wondering thankfulness and faith, that cannot turn away
from dwelling on the miracle of mercy revealed to it unworthy. God
delights in the sweet monotony and persistence of such reiterated
prayers, each of which represents a fresh throb of desire and a renewed
bliss in thinking of His goodness. Observe the frequency and variety of
the divine names in these verses,--in each, one, at least: Jehovah God
(v. 25); Jehovah of hosts (v. 26); Jehovah of hosts, God of Israel (v.
27); Lord Jehovah (vs. 28, 29). Strong love delights to speak the
beloved name. Each fresh utterance of it is a fresh appeal to His
revealed nature, and betokens another wave of blessedness passing over
David's spirit as he thinks of God. Observe, also, the other repetition
of 'Thy servant,' which occurs in every verse, and twice in two of
them. The king is never tired of realising his absolute subjection, and
feels that it is dignity, and a blessed bond with God, that he should
be His servant. The true purpose of honour and office bestowed by God
is the service of God, and the name of 'servant' is a plea with Him
which He cannot but regard. Observe, too, how echoes of the promise
ring all through these verses, especially the phrases 'establish the
house' and 'for ever.' They show how profoundly David had been moved,
and how he is labouring, as it were, to make himself familiar with the
astonishing vista that has begun to open before his believing eyes.
Well is it for us if we, in like manner, seek to fix our thoughts on
the yet grander 'for ever' disclosed to us, and if it colours all our
look ahead, and makes the refrain of all our hopes and prayers.

But the main lesson of the prayer is that God's promise should ever be
the basis and measure of prayer. The mould into which our petitions
should run is, 'Do as Thou hast said.' Because God's promise had come
to David, 'therefore hath Thy servant found in his heart to pray this
prayer unto Thee.' There is no presumption in taking God at His word.
True prayer catches up the promises that have fallen from heaven, and
sends them back again, as feathers to the arrows of its petitions. Nor
does the promise make the prayer needless. We know that 'if we ask
anything according to His will, He heareth us'; and we know that we
shall not receive the promised blessings, which are according to His
will, unless we do ask. Let us seek to stretch our desires to the width
of God's promises, and to confine our wishes within their bounds.



DAVID AND JONATHAN'S SON

'And David said, is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul,
that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan's sake? 2. And there was of
the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba. And when they had
called him unto David, the king said unto him, Art thou Ziba? And he
said, Thy servant is he. 3. And the king said, Is there not yet any of
the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And
Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his
feet. 4. And the king said unto him, Where is he? And Ziba said unto
the king, Behold, he is in the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, in
Lo-debar. 5. Then king David sent, and fetched him out of the house of
Machir, the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar., 6. Now when Mephibosheth,
the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, was come unto David, he fell on
his face, and did reverence. And David said, Mephibosheth. And he
answered, Behold thy servant! 7. And David said unto him. Fear not; for
I will surely shew then kindness for Jonathan thy father's sake, and
will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father: and thou shalt eat
bread at my table continually. 8. And he bowed himself, and said, What
is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?
9. Then the king called to Ziba, Saul's servant, and said unto him, I
hare given unto thy master's son all that pertained to Saul and to all
his house. 10. Thou therefore, and thy sons, and thy servants, shall
till the land for him, and thou shalt bring in the fruits, that thy
master's son may have food to eat: but Mephibosheth thy master's son
shall eat bread alway at my table. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty
servants. 11. Then said Ziba unto the king, According to all that my
lord the king hath commanded his servant, so shall thy servant do. As
for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of
the king's sons. 12. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was
Micha: and all that dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants unto
Mephibosheth. 13. So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat
continually at the king's table; and was lame on both his feet.'--2
SAMUEL ix.1-13.


This charming idyl of faithful love to a dead friend and generous
kindness comes in amid stories of battle like a green oasis in a
wilderness of wild rocks and sand. The natural sweetness and chivalry
of David's disposition, which fascinated all who had to do with him,
comes beautifully out in it, and it may well stand as an object lesson
of the great Christian duty of practical mercifulness.

I. So regarded, the narrative brings out first the motives of true
kindliness. Saul and three of his four sons had fallen on the fatal
field of Gilboa; the fourth, the weak Ishbosheth, had been murdered
after his abortive attempt at setting up a rival kingdom had come to
nothing. There were only left Saul's daughters and some sons by a
concubine. So low had the proud house sunk, while David was
consolidating his kingdom, and gaining victory wherever he went.

But neither his own prosperity, nor the absence of any trace of Saul's
legitimate male descendants, made him forget his ancient oath to
Jonathan. Years had not weakened his love, his sufferings at Saul's
hands had not embittered it. His elevation had not lifted him too high
to see the old days of lowliness, and the dear memory of the
self-forgetting friend whose love had once been an honour to the
shepherd lad. Jonathan's name had been written on his heart when it was
impressionable, and the lettering was as if 'graven on the rock for
ever.' A heart so faithful to its old love needed no prompting either
from men or circumstances. Hence the inquiry after 'any that is left of
the house of Saul' was occasioned by nothing external, but came welling
up from the depth of the king's own soul.

That is the highest type of kindliness which is spontaneous and
self-motived. It is well to be easily moved to beneficence either by
the sight of need or by the appeals of others, but it is best to kindle
our own fire, and be our own impulse to gracious thoughts and acts. We
may humbly say that human mercy then shows likest God's, when, in such
imitation as is possible, it springs in us, as His does in Him, from
the depths of our own being. He loves and is kind because He is God. He
is His own motive and law. So, in our measure, should we aim at
becoming.

But David's remarkable language in his questions to Ziba goes still
deeper in unfolding his motives. For he speaks of showing 'the kindness
of God' to any remaining of Saul's house. Now that expression is no
mere synonym for kindness exceeding great, but it unfolds what was at
once David's deepest motive and his bright ideal. No doubt, it may
include a reminiscence of the sacred obligation of the oath to
Jonathan, but it hallows David's purposed 'mercy' as the echo of God's
to him, and so anticipates the Christian teaching, 'Be ye merciful,
even as your Father is merciful.' We must receive mercy from Him before
our hearts are softened, so as to give it to others, just as the wire
must be charged from the electric source before it can communicate the
tingle and the light.

The best basis for the beneficent service of man is experience of the
mercy of God. Philanthropy has no roots unless it is planted in
religion. That is a lesson which this age needs. And the other side of
the thought is as true and needful; namely, that our 'religion' is not
'pure and undefiled' unless it manifests itself in the service of man.
How serene and lofty, then, the ideal! How impossible ever to be too
forgiving or too beneficent! 'As your heavenly Father is,'--that is our
pattern. We have not shown our brother all the kindness which we owe
him unless we have shown him 'the kindness of God.'

II. The progress of the story brings out next the characteristics of
David's kindliness, and these may be patterns for us. Ziba does not
seem to be very communicative, and appears a rather unwilling witness,
who needs to have the truth extracted bit by bit. He evidently had
nothing to do with Mephibosheth, and was quite content that he should
be left obscurely stowed away across Jordan in the house of the rich
Machir (2 Sam. xvii. 27-29). Lo-debar was near Mahanaim, on the eastern
side of the river, where Ishbosheth's short-lived kingdom had been
planted, and probably the population there still clung to Saul's
solitary representative. There he lived so privately that none of
David's people knew whether he was alive or dead. Perhaps the savage
practice of Eastern monarchs, who are wont to get rid of rivals by
killing them, led the cripple son of Jonathan to 'lie low,' and Ziba's
reticence may have been loyalty to him. It is noteworthy that Ziba is
not said to have been sent to bring him, though that would have been
natural.

At any rate, Mephibosheth came, apparently dreading whether his summons
to court was not his death-warrant. But he is quickly reassured. David
again recalls the dear memory of Jonathan, which was, no doubt, stirred
to deeper tenderness by the sight of his helpless son; but he swiftly
passes to practical arrangements, full of common-sense and grasp of the
case. The restoration of Saul's landed estate implies that it was in
David's power. It had probably been 'forfeited to the crown,' as we in
England say, or perhaps had been 'squatted on' by people who had no
right to it. David, at any rate, will see that it reverts to its owner.

But what is a lame man to do with it? and will it be wise to let a
representative of the former dynasty loose in the territory of
Benjamin, where Saul's memory was still cherished? Apparently, David's
disposition of affairs was prompted partly by consideration for
Mephibosheth, partly by affection for Jonathan, and partly by policy.
So Ziba, who had not been present, is sent for, and installed as
overseer of the estate, to work it for his new master's benefit, while
the owner is to remain at Jerusalem in David's establishment. It was
prudent to keep Mephibosheth at hand. The best way to weaken a
pretender's claims was to make a pensioner of him, and the best way to
hinder his doing mischief was to keep him in sight.


But we need not suppose that this was David's only motive. He gratified
his heart by retaining the poor young man beside himself, and, no
doubt, sought to win his confidence and love. The recipient of his
kindness receives it in characteristic Eastern fashion, with
exaggerated words of self-depreciation, which sound almost too humble
to be quite sincere. A little gratitude is better than whining
professions of un worthiness.

And how did Ziba like his task? The singular remark that he had
'fifteen sons and twenty servants' perhaps suggests that he was a
person of some importance; and the subsequent one that 'all in his
house were servants to Mephibosheth' may imply that neither they nor he
quite liked their being handed over thus cavalierly.

But, however that may be, we may note that common-sense and practical
sagacity should guide our mercifulness. Kindly impulses are good, but
they need cool heads to direct them, or they do more harm than good. It
is useless to set lame men to work an estate, even if they get a gift
of it. And it is wise not to put untried ones in positions where they
may plot against their benefactor. Mercifulness does not mean rash
trust in its objects. They will often have to be watched very closely
to keep them from going wrong. How many most charitable impulses have
been so unwisely worked out that they have injured their objects and
disappointed their subjects! We may note, too, in David's kindliness,
that it was prompt to make sacrifice, if, as is probable, he had become
owner of the estate. The pattern of all mercy, who is God, has not
loved us with a love which cost Him nothing. Sacrifice is the
life-blood of service.

III. The subsequent history of Mephibosheth and Ziba is somewhat
enigmatical. Usually the former is supposed to have been slandered by
the latter, and to have been truly attached to David. But it is at
least questionable whether Ziba was such a villain, and Mephibosheth
such an injured innocent, as is supposed. This, at least, is plain,
that Ziba demonstrated attachment to David at the time when self-love
would have kept him silent. It took some courage to come with gifts to
a discrowned king (2 Sam. xvi. 1-4); and his allegation about his
master has at least this support, that the latter did not come with the
rest of David's court to share his fortunes, and that the dream that he
might fish to advantage in troubled waters is extremely likely to have
occurred to him. Nor does it appear clear that, if Ziba's motive was to
get hold of the estate, his adherence to David would have seemed, at
that moment, the best way of effecting it.

If we look at the sequel (xix. 24-30) Mephibosheth's excuse for not
joining David seems almost as lame as himself. He says that Ziba
'deceived him,' and did not bring him the ass for riding on, and
therefore he could not come. Was there only one ass available in
Jerusalem? and, when all David's _entourage_ were streaming out to
Olivet after him, could not he easily have got there too if he had
wished? His demonstration of mourning looks very like a blind, and his
language to David has a disagreeable ring of untruthfulness, in its
extreme professions of humility and loyalty. 'Me thinks the _cripple_
doth protest too much. David evidently did not feel sure about him, and
stopped his voluble utterances somewhat brusquely: 'Why speakest thou
any more of thy matters?' That is as much as to say, 'Hold your
tongue.' And the final disposition of the property, while it gives
Mephibosheth the benefit of the doubt, yet looks as if there was a
considerable doubt in the king's mind.

We may take up the same somewhat doubting position. If he requited
David's kindness thus unworthily, is it not the too common experience
that one way of making enemies is to load with benefits? But no cynical
wisdom of that sort should interfere with our showing mercy; and if we
are to take 'the kindness of God' for our pattern, we must let our
sunshine and rain fall, as His do, on 'the unthankful and the evil.'



'MORE THAN CONQUERORS THROUGH HIM'

'And the children of Ammon came out, and put the battle in array at the
entering in of the gate: and the Syrians of Zoba, and of Rehob, and
Ish-tob, and Maacah, were by themselves in the field. 9. When Joab saw
that the front of the battle was against him before and behind, he
chose of all the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against
the Syrians: 10. And the rest of the people he delivered into the hand
of Abishai his brother, that he might put them in array against the
children of Ammon. 11. And he said, if the Syrians be too strong for
me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong
for thee, then I will come and help thee. 12. Be of good courage, and
let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and
the Lord do that which seemeth Him good. 13. And Joab drew nigh, and
the people that were with him, unto the battle against the Syrians: and
they fled before him. 14. And when the children of Ammon saw that the
Syrians were fled, then fled they also before Abishai, and entered into
the city. So Joab returned from the children of Ammon, and came to
Jerusalem. 15. And when the Syrians saw that they were smitten before
Israel, they gathered themselves together. 16. And Hadarezer sent, and
brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river: and they came to
Helam: and Shobach the captain of the host of Hadarezer went before
them. 17. And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together,
and passed over Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Syrians set
themselves in array against David, and fought with him. 18. And the
Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred
chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach
the captain of their host, who died there. 19. And when all the kings
that were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were smitten before
Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians
feared to help the children of Ammon any more.'--2 SAMUEL x. 8-19.


David's growing power would naturally be regarded by neighbouring
states as a menace. Success provokes envy, and in this selfish world
strength usually encroaches on weakness, and weakness dreads strength.
So it was quite according to the way of the world that David's friendly
embassy to the king of Ammon should be suspected of covering hostile
intentions. Those who have no kindness in their own hearts are slow to
believe in kindness in others. 'What does he want to get by it?' is the
question put by cynical 'shrewd men,' when they see a good man doing a
gracious, self-forgetting act.

But the Ammonite courtiers need not have rejected David's overtures so
insolently as by shaving half his ambassadors' beards and docking their
robes. The insult meant war to the knife. Probably it was deliberately
intended as a declaration of hostilities, as it was immediately
followed by the preparation of a formidable coalition against Israel.
Possibly, indeed, the coalition preceded and occasioned the rejection
of David's conciliatory message. But, in any case, the Ammonite king
summoned his Syrian allies from a number of small states of which we
barely know the names, the chief of which was Zobah.

That state had apparently started into prominence under its king
Hadar-ezer, as he is called in this chapter, which is obviously a
clerical error for Hadad-ezer, as in 2 Samuel viii. 3, etc. The name
Hadad occurs again in Ben-hadad, and belonged to a Syrian god; so that
the king of Zobah's name, meaning 'Hadad [is] help,' may be taken as
the banner flaunted in the face of the army of Israel, and as making
the war a struggle of the false against the true God.

The war with the same enemies narrated in 2 Samuel viii. 3-13 is now
generally supposed to be the same as that recorded in the latter part
of this passage. It certainly seems more probable that there has been
some dislocation of the text, than that so crushing a defeat as that
retold in chapter viii. should have been followed by a revival of the
same coalition within a short time. If, however, there was such a
revival, it may remind us of the conditions of all warfare for God and
goodness, either in our own lives or in the world. Sins and vicious
institutions, once defeated, have a terrible power of swift recovery.
The thorns cut down sprout fast again. Let no man say, 'I have
extirpated that sin from my nature,' for, if he does, it will surprise
him when he is lulled in false security. Hadad-ezer is not so easily
got rid of. He does not know when he is beaten.

David took the bull by the horns, and did not wait to be attacked. It
was good policy to carry the war into the enemies' country, as it
generally is. God's soldiers have to be aggressive, and there is no
better way of losing what they have won than by being contented with
it. We must advance if we are not to retrograde. From I Chronicles we
learn that the Ammonites had begun the campaign by besieging Medeba, a
trans-Jordanic Israelitish city. The answer of Joab was to lay siege to
Rabbath, the capital of Ammon, an almost impregnable fastness, perched
on a cliff, and surrounded on all sides but one by steep ravines.

Apparently his bold strategy led to the abandonment of the attack on
Medeba, and to the hurried march of its besiegers to relieve Rabbath.
Probably the Syrian allies had been before Medeba, and suddenly
appeared in Joab's rear. Their advance led the besieged to attempt a
sortie, so that Joab was between two fires. It was a difficult
position. Whichever foe he attacked, his retreat was cut off, and
another enemy was ready to hurl itself on his rear. There was no time
for manoeuvring, and nothing for it but to face both assailants. So,
without hesitation he made his dispositions. The new-comers, the
Syrians, were evidently the more formidable, and Joab picked the best
men to deal with them under his own command, while his brother Abishai
was to give account of the Ammonites, who were pouring out of Rabbath.
There is sometimes advantage in being 'Mr. Facing-both-ways.' We are
often surrounded by allied evils or sins; for all our vices are
kindred, and help each other, and all public or social iniquities are
in league against the army of righteousness. We have to be many-sided
in our attacks on what is wrong, as well as in our development of what
is right.

Danger woke the best in Joab, Fierce and truculent as he often was, he
had a hero's mettle in him, and in that dark hour he flamed like a
pillar of light. His ringing words to his brother as they parted, not
knowing if they would ever meet again, are like a clarion call. They
extract encouragement out of the separation of forces, which might have
depressed, and cheerily pledge the two divisions to mutual help. What
was to happen, Joab, if the Syrians were too strong for thee, and the
Ammonites for Abishai? That very possible contingency is not
contemplated in his words. Rash confidence is unwise, but God's
soldiers have a right to go into battle not anticipating utter defeat.
Such expectation is apt to fulfil itself, and, on the other hand, to
believe that we shall conquer goes a long way towards making us
conquerors.

Does not Joab's pledge of mutual help carry in it a lesson applicable
to all the divisions of God's great army? In the presence of the
coalition of evil, is not the separation of the friends of good,
madness? When bad men unite, should not good men hold together? The
defeat or victory of one is the defeat or victory of all. We serve
under the same banner, and, instead of shutting up our sympathies
within the narrow limits of our own regiment, and even having a certain
satisfaction at the difficulties into which another has got, we should
feel that, if 'one member suffer, all the members suffer with it,' and
should be ready to help all our fellow-soldiers who need help.
Self-preservation as well as comradeship, and, above all, loyalty to
Him for whom we fight, should lead to that; for, if Abishai is crushed,
Joab will be in sorer peril.

His other word is equally pregnant. 'Be of good courage' is an
exhortation always in season for Christ's soldiers, for, whatever are
their foes, 'He that is with them is more than they that are with'
their enemies. One man with Christ to back him may always be sure of
victory. Calculations of probabilities and of resources may often yield
occasion for despondency if we calculate only what appears to sense,
but if we bring Christ into the calculation we shall be of good cheer.
'The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?'

We may note, too, the stimulating motive drawn from the thought of what
Israel's army fought for,--'Our people, and the cities of our God.'
Patriotism and devotion coalesced, and, like two contiguous flames in
some duplex lamp, each made the other burn the brighter. So we may feel
that we have the highest good of 'our people,' our brethren, in view,
and that, in helping them and warring against evil, we are fighting for
what belongs to God.

High courage, the effort to do their very best, and not to spare blood
or life in the fight, blended nobly in Joab and his brother with
recognition of God's supreme determination of the event. Nothing can
stand before men who live and fight in such a temper as that. The early
conquests of Mohammedanism were secured by just such a blending of
courage and submission. These were vulgar and poor, compared with the
victories that would attend a Church which was animated by these
principles in the higher form in which Christianity presents them.

The account of the victory is remarkable. It is surely not by accident
that no word is said about fighting. Note that it was as Joab 'drew
nigh unto the battle' that the Syrians fled as if in sudden panic, and
infected the Ammonites with their terror. We hear nothing of men slain,
or of any actual crossing of swords. Contrast verse 18, which tells of
a real fight. It is, perhaps, not pressing omissions too far to suggest
that the narrative favours the supposition of a bloodless victory. The
dangers that often appal Christ's servants have a way of often
disappearing when they are marched boldly up to. Like ghosts, they
vanish when accosted.

So ended one campaign. But Hadad-ezer, the soul of the coalition, was
not crushed, and the latter part of the passage tells of his renewed
attempt. Partial defeat stirs up our foes to stronger struggles. The
league was extended to include Syrian states farther east, and a still
more formidable expedition was fitted out to attack this dangerous
upstart king of Israel, who was casting his shadow so far. Such is
always the case. We are never in more danger of fresh assailants than
when we have won some victory over evil in ourselves or around us.
David repeated his former tactics. Not waiting to be attacked, and to
have the soil of Israel profaned and wasted by enemies, he crossed
Jordan to meet the would-be invader, and, when he met him, struck hard,
and crushed him and his host, slew the commander, and dispersed the
thunder-cloud. The coalition broke down. Hadad-ezer's tributaries were
glad to shake off his yoke and transfer their allegiance to David.

'Nothing succeeds like success.' The alliances between worldly men
banded against God's soldiers are held together by self-interest, and,
when that can be best secured by deserting a man when he is down, away
go all the allies, tumbling over each other in their haste to be the
first to desert and bring feigned submission to the conqueror. The
jackals leave the sick lion. The Syrians had had enough of helping
Ammon, and Rabbath might fall without their lifting a finger. So hollow
are the world's coalitions against God and His anointed!



THOU ART THE MAN

'And David said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done
this thing shall surely die; because he did this thing, and because he
had no pity. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.'--2 SAMUEL
xii. 5-7.


Nathan's apologue, so tenderly beautiful, takes the poet-king on the
most susceptible side of his character. All his history shows him as a
man of wonderfully sweet, chivalrous, generous, swiftly compassionate
nature. And so, when he hears the story of a mean, heartless
selfishness, all that is best in him kindles into a generous
indignation, and flames out into instinctive condemnation. 'The man
that did this thing shall die because he had no pity.'

And then, on to that hot fervour of righteous wrath, comes this dash of
cold water, 'And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.' Like some
keen spear-point, sharpened almost to invisibility, this short sentence
(two words in the original) driven by a strong hand, goes right through
the armour to the very heart. What a collapse there would be in the
king when the pointed forefinger of the prophet emphasised and drove
home the application!

I. This dramatic scene before us may be taken as suggesting first that
we are all strangely blind to our own faults.

If a man's own sin is held up before him a little disguised, he says,
'How ugly it is!' And if only for a moment he can be persuaded that it
is not his own conduct but some other sinner's that he is judging, the
instinctive condemnation comes. We have two sets of names for vices:
one set which rather mitigates and excuses them, and another set which
puts them in their real hideousness. We keep the palliative set for
home consumption, and liberally distribute the plain-spoken, ugly set
amongst the vices and faults of our friends. The same thing which I
call in myself prudence I call in you meanness. The same thing which
you call in yourselves generous living, you call in your friend filthy
sensualism. That which, to the doer of it, is only righteous
indignation, to the onlooker is passionate anger. That which, in the
practiser of it, is no more than a due regard for the interests of his
own family and himself in the future, is, to the envious lookers-on,
shabbiness and meanness in money matters. That which, to the liar, is
only prudent diplomatic reticence, to the listener is falsehood. That
which, in the man that judges his own conduct, is but 'a choleric
word,' is, in his friend, when he judges him, 'flat blasphemy.'

And so we go all round the circle, and condemn our own vices, when we
see them in other people. So the king who had never thought, when he
stole away Uriah's one ewe lamb, and did him to death by traitorous
commands, setting him in the front of the battle, that he was wanting
in compassion, blazes up at once, and righteously sentences the other
'man' to death, 'because he had no pity.' He had never thought of
himself or of his crime as cruel, as mean, as selfish, as heartless.
But when he sees a partially disguised picture of it he knows it for
the devil's child that it is.

          'O wad some Power the giftie gie us
           To see oursels as ithers see us!
           It wad frae mony a blunder free us,'

and so it would, to see ourselves as we see others. We judge our
brother and ourselves by two different standards.

And that is only one phase of a more general principle, one case that
comes under a yet wider law, viz. that we are all blind, strangely
blind, to our own faults. Why that is so I do not need to spend time in
inquiring, except for a distinctly practical purpose. Let me just
remind you how a strong wish for a thing that seems desirable always
tends to confuse to a man the plain distinction between right and
wrong; and how passions once excited, or the animal lusts and desires
once kindled in a man, go straight to their object without the smallest
regard to whether that object is to be reached by the breach of all
laws, human and divine, or not. Excite any passion, and the passion is
but a blind propensity towards certain good, and takes no question or
consideration of whether right or wrong is involved at all.

And further, habit familiarises with evil and diminishes our sense of
it as evil. A man that has been for half a day in some ill-ventilated
room does not notice the poisonous atmosphere; if you go into it you
are half suffocated at first, and breathe more easily as you get used
to it. A man can live amidst the foulest poison of evil; and, as the
Styrian peasants get fat upon arsenic, his whole nature may seem to
thrive by the poison that it absorbs. They tell us that the breed of
fish that live in the lightless caverns in the bowels of some
mountains, by long disuse have had their eyes atrophied out of them,
and are blind because they have lived out of the light. And so men that
live in the love of evil lose the capacity of discerning the evil, and
'he that walketh in darkness' becomes blind, blind to his sin, and
blind to all the realities of life.

Then is it not true, too, that many of us systematically and of set
purpose, continually avoid all questions as to the moral nature of our
conduct? How many a man and woman who reads these words never sits down
to think whether what they have been doing is right or wrong, because
they have deep down in their consciences an uneasy suspicion as to what
the answer would be. So, by reason of fostering passion, by reason of
listening to wishes, by reason of the habit of wrongdoing, by reason of
the systematic avoidance of all careful investigation of our character
and of our conduct, we lose the power of fairly deciding upon the
nature of our own acts.

Then self-love comes in, and still another thing tends to blind us. We
are all ready to acquiesce in the general indictment, and so to shirk
the particular application of it. That is what people do about all
great moral principles that ought to affect conduct,--they admit them
in words, as general truths applying to mankind, and then hide
themselves in the crowd, and think that they escape the incidence and
particular application of the truths. No one of us would, I suppose,
venture in plain words to stand up and say: 'I am an exception to your
general confessions of sin,' and most of us would be ready to unite in
the acknowledgment: 'We have all come short of the glory of God,'
though in our consciences there has never stirred the faintest movement
of self-condemnation even whilst our lips have been uttering the
confession. Do not shrink away in the crowd, my brother! Come out to
the front, and stand by yourself as God sees you, isolated. Look at
your own actions; never mind about other men's. Do not content
yourselves with saying,' _We_ have sinned'; say, '_I_ have sinned
against _Thee._' God and you are as if alone in the universe. 'Against
Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.' There are no crowds in God's eyes; He
deals with single souls. Every one of us,--thou, and thou, and
thou,--must give account of himself to God.

II. In the next place, let me ask you to think how this story suggests
that the true work of God's message is to tear down the veil and to
show the ugly thing.

'Nathan said unto David, Thou art the man.' It needed a prophet to do
that, with divine authority. Nothing less would suffice to get through
the thick bosses of the buckler of self-conceit and ignorance which he
had to penetrate. As God's messenger, he gathered up, as I said, into
one sharp-pointed, keen-edged, steel-bright sentence, the very spirit
of the whole ancient Law, which seeks to individualise the sinner, and
to drive home to the conscience the consciousness of wrong-doing.

The remarks that I have been making, in the former part of this sermon,
imperfect as they must necessarily be, may at least serve one or two
purposes in reference to this part of my discourse.

It seems to me that if what I have been saying as to a man's blindness
to his own true moral character be at all correct, there flows from
that thought a strong presumption in favour of a divine revelation. We
need another than our own voice to lay down the law of conduct, and to
accuse and condemn the breaches of it. Conscience is not a wholly
reliable guide, and is neither an impartial nor an all-knowing judge.
Unconsciousness of evil is not innocence. It is not the purest of women
who 'wipes her mouth and says, I have done no harm.' My conscience says
to me, 'It is wrong to do wrong'; but when I say to my conscience,
'Yes, and pray what is wrong?' a large variety of answers is possible.
A man may sophisticate his conscience, or bribe his conscience, or
throttle his conscience, or sear his conscience. And so the man who is
worst, who, therefore, ought to be most chastised by his conscience,
has most immunity from it, and where, if it is to be of use, it ought
to be most powerful, there it is weakest.

What then? Why this, then--a standard that varies is not a standard; we
are left with a leaden rule. My conscience, your conscience, is like
the standard measures which we at present possess, which by their very
names--foot, handbreadth, nail, and the like, tell us that they were
originally but the length of one man's limb. And so your measure of
right and wrong, and another man's measure, though they may
substantially correspond, yet differ according to your differences of
education, character, and a thousand other things. So that the
individual man's standard needs to be rectified. You have to send all
the weights and measures up to the Tower now and then, to get them
stamped and certified. And, as I believe, this fluctuation of our moral
judgments shows the need for a fixed pattern and firm unchangeable
standard, external to our mutable selves. A light on deck which pitches
with the pitching ship is no guide. It must flash from a white pillar
founded on a rock and immovable amid the restless waves. Our need of
such a standard raises a strong presumption that a good God will give
us what we need, if He can. Such a standard He has given, as I believe,
in the revelation of Himself which lies in this book, and culminates in
the life and character of Jesus Christ our Lord. There, and by that, we
can set our watches. There we can read the law of morality, and by our
deflections from it we can measure the amount of our guilt.

But beyond that, the remarks which I have already made in the former
part of my sermon may suggest to us, along with this utterance of the
prophet's, that one indispensable characteristic and certain criterion
of a true message and gospel from God is that it pierces the conscience
and kindles the sense of sin. My dear brethren, there is a great deal
of so-called Christian teaching, both from pulpits and books in this
day, which, to my mind, is altogether defective by reason of its
underestimate of the cardinal fact of sin, and its consequent failure
to represent the fundamental characteristic of the gospel as being
deliverance and redemption. I am quite sure that the root of
nine-tenths of all the heresies that have ever afflicted the Christian
Church, and of the weakness of so much popular Christianity, is none
other than this failure adequately to recognise the universality and
the gravity of the fact of transgression. If a word comes to you, calls
itself God's message, and does not start with man's sin, nor put in the
forefront of its utterances the way by which the dominion of that sin
in your own heart can be broken, and the penalties of that sin in your
present and future life can be swept away, it is condemned, _ipso
facto_, as not a gospel from God, or fit for man. O my brother! it
sounds harsh; but it is the truest kindness, when Nathan stands before
the king, and with his flashing eye and stern, calm voice says, 'Thou
art the man.' Was not that nobler, truer, tenderer, worthier of God,
than if he had smoothed David down with soft speeches that would not
have roused his conscience? Is it not the truest benevolence that keeps
the surgeon's hand steady whilst his heart is touched by the pain that
he inflicts, as he thrusts his gleaming instrument of tender cruelty
into the poisonous sore? And are not God's mercy and love manifest for
us in this, that He begins all His work on us with the grave, solemn
indictment of each soul by itself, 'Thou art the man'?

               'He showed me all the mercy,
                For He taught me all the sin.'

III. Lastly, let me say that God accuses us and condemns us one by one
that He may save us one by one.

The meaning of Nathan's sharp sentence was speedily disclosed when the
broken-down king exclaimed, 'I have sinned against the Lord,' and when,
with laconic force as great as that which barbed the condemnation, the
prophet stanched the wound with the brief words, 'And the Lord hath
made to pass the iniquity of thy sin.' The intention of the accusation
is the extension of the mercy and forgiveness. God, as the Apostle puts
it, 'hath concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.'

And now, mark, for the carrying out of that divine purpose in regard to
us, and for our possession of the proffered mercy, the same
individualising and isolating process is needful as was needful for the
conviction of the sin. God desires to save the world, but God can only
save men one at a time. There must be an individual access to Him for
the reception of forgiveness, as there must be in regard to the
conviction of sin, just as if He and I were the only two beings in the
whole universe. There is no wholesale entrance into God's Church or
into God's kingdom. God's mercy is not given to crowds, except as
composed of individuals who have individually received it. There must
be the personal act of faith; there must be my solitary coming to Him.
As the old mystics used to define prayer, so I might define the whole
process by which men are saved from their sins, 'the flight of the
lonely soul to the lonely God.' My brother, it is not enough for you to
say, 'We have sinned'; say, 'I have sinned.' It is not enough that from
a gathered congregation there should go up the united litany, 'Lord,
have mercy upon us! Christ, have mercy upon us! Lord, have mercy upon
us!' You must make the prayer your own: 'Lord, have mercy upon _me_!'
It is not enough that you should believe, as I suppose most of you
fancy that you believe, that Christ has died for the sins of the whole
world. That belief will give you no share in His forgiveness. You must
come to closer grips with Him than that; and you must be able to say,
'Who loved _me_, and gave Himself for _me_.' Let us have no running
away into the crowd. Come out, and stand by yourselves, and for
yourselves stretch out your own band, and take Christ for yourselves.

A man may die of starvation in a granary. You may be lost in the midst
of this abundance which Christ has provided for you. And the difference
between really possessing salvation and not possessing it, lies very
largely in the difference between saying 'us' and 'me.' 'Thou art the
man' in regard to the general accusation of sin; 'Thou art the man' in
regard to the solemn law which proclaims that 'the soul that sinneth it
shall die'; and, blessed be God, 'Thou art the man' in regard to the
great promise that says, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and
drink.' Christ gives you a blank cheque in His word: 'Whoso cometh unto
Me, I will in no wise cast out.' Write thine own name in, and by thy
personal faith in the Lamb of God that died for thee, thy sins shall
pass away; and all the fulness of God shall be thy very own for ever.
'If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself, and if thou scornest,
thou alone shall bear it.'



DAVID AND NATHAN

'And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan
said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin.'--2 SAMUEL xii.
13.


We ought to be very thankful that Scripture never conceals the faults
of its noblest men. High among the highest of them stands the
poet-king. Whoever, for nearly three thousand years, has wished to
express the emotions of trust in God, longing after purity, aspiration,
and rapture of devotion, has found that his words have been before him.

And this man sins; black, inexcusable, aggravated transgression. You
know the shameful story; I need not tell it over again. The Bible gives
it us in all its naked ugliness, and there are precious lessons to be
got out of it; such, for instance, as that it is not innocence that
makes men good. '_This_ is the man after God's own heart!' people
sneer. Yes! Not because saints have a peculiar morality, and atone for
adultery and murder by making or singing psalms, but because, having
fallen into foul sin, he learned to abhor it, and with many tears, with
unconquerable resolution, with deepened trust in God, set his face once
more to press toward the mark. That is a lesson worth learning.

And, again, David was not a hypocrite because he thus fell. All sin is
inconsistent with devotion; but, thank God, we cannot say how much or
how dark the sin must be which is incompatible with devotion, nor how
much evil there may still lurk and linger in a heart of which the main
set and aspiration are towards purity and God.

And, again, the worst transgressions are not the passionate outbursts
contradictory of the main direction of a life which sometimes come; but
the habitual, though they be far smaller, evils which are honey-combing
the moral nature. White ants will pick a carcase clean sooner than a
lion. And many a man who calls himself a Christian, and thinks himself
one, is in far more danger, from little pieces of chronic meanness in
his daily life, or sharp practice in his business, than ever David was
in his blackest evil.

But the main lesson of all is that great and blessed one of the
possibility of any evil and sin like this black one, being annihilated
and caused to pass away through repentance and confession. It is to
that aspect of our text that I turn, and ask you to look with me at the
three things that come out of it: David's penitence; David's pardon
consequent upon his penitence; and David's punishment, notwithstanding
his penitence and pardon.

I. First, then, the penitence.

What a divine simplicity there is in the words of our text: 'David said
unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.' That is all. In the
original, two words are enough to revolutionise the man's whole life,
and to alter all his relations to the divine justice and the divine
Friend. 'I have sinned against the Lord.' Not an easy thing to say; and
as the story shows us, a thing that David took a long time to mount up
to.

Remember the narrative. A year has passed since his transgression. What
sort of a year has it been? One of the Psalms tells us, 'When I kept
silence my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long; for day
and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture was turned into the
drought of summer.' There were long months of sullen silence, in which
a clear apprehension and a torturing experience of divine
disapprobation, like a serpent's fang, struck poison into his veins.
His very physical frame seems to have suffered. His heart was as dry as
the parched grass upon the steppes. That was what he got by his sin. A
moment of turbid animal delight, and long days of agony; dumb suffering
in which the sense of evil had not yet broken him down into a rain of
sweet tears, but lay, like a burning consciousness, within his heart.

And then came the prophet with his parable, so tender, so ingenious, so
powerful. And the quick flash of generous indignation, which showed how
noble the man was after all, with which he responded to the picture,
unknowing that it was a picture of his own dastardly conduct, led on to
the solemn words in which Nathan tore away the veil; and with a
threefold lever, if I may so say, overthrew the toppling structure of
his impenitence.

First of all, and most chiefly, he seeks to win him to repentance by a
picture of God's great love and goodness. 'I have done this and that
and the other thing for thee. What hast thou done for Me?' Ah, that is
the true beginning. You cannot frighten men into penitence, you may
frighten them into remorse; and the remorse may or may not lead on to
repentance. But bring to bear upon a man's heart the thought of the
infinite and perfect love of God, and that is the solvent of all his
obstinate impenitence, and melts him to cry, 'I have sinned.' And along
with that element there is the other, the plain striking away of all
disguises from the ugly fact of the sin. The prophet gives it its
hideous name, and that is one element in the process which leads to
true repentance. For so strange and subtle are the veils which we cast
over our own evils, that it comes sometimes to us with a shock and a
start when some word, that we know to connote wickedness of the deepest
dye, is applied to them. David had very likely so sophisticated his
conscience that, though he had been writhing under the sense that he
was a wrongdoer, it came to him with a kind of ugly surprise when the
naked words 'adultery' and 'murder' were pressed up against his
consciousness.

And the third element that brought him to his senses, and to his knees,
was the threatening of punishment, which is salutary when it follows
these other two, the revelation of a divine love and the unveiling of
the essential nature of my own act; but which without these is but 'the
hangman's whip' to which only inferior natures will respond. And these
three, the appeal to God's love, the revelation of his own sin, the
solemn warning of its consequences--these three brought to bear upon
David's heart, broke him down into a passion of penitence in which he
has only the two words to say, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' That
is all. That is enough.

And what is it? It is the recognition--which is essential to all real
penitence--that I have not merely broken some impersonal law, or done
something that hurts my fellows, but that I have broken the relations
which I ought to sustain to a living, loving Person, who is God. We
commit crimes against society, we commit faults against one another, we
commit sins against God, and the very notion of sin involves, as its
correlative, the thought of the divine Lawgiver.

So, dear brethren, penitence goes deeper than a recognition of demerit
and unworthiness. It is more than an acknowledgment of imperfection and
breach of morality. It is something different altogether from the
acknowledgment that I have committed a fault against my fellow. David
had done Bathsheba and Uriah, and in them his whole kingdom, foul
wrong, but, as he says in Psalm li., 'Against Thee, Thee _only,_ have I
_sinned._' His account with these is of a less grave character, but
'against Thee I sinned.'

And in like manner, this penitence contains in it the recognition of
transgression against a loving Friend and Father, which had been
brought home to his mind by all the words of the rebuking prophet, who
was a kind of incarnate conscience for him now. And it contains, still
further, confession to God against whom he had sinned. The first
impulse of a man when he dimly discerns how far he has departed from
God's law, is that which the old story represents was the first impulse
of the first sinners--to hide himself in the trees of the garden. The
second impulse is to go to Him against whom we have sinned, and who
only therefore can deal with the sin in the way of forgiveness, and to
pour it all out before Him. Once an Apostle, when he caught a partial
glimpse of his own demerit and transgression, said to the Master with a
natural impulse, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!' But
Peter had a deeper sense of his own sin, and a happier knowledge of
what Christ could do for his sin, when his brother Apostle whispering
to him in the boat, 'It is the Lord,' the traitor Apostle cast himself
into the shallow water and floundered through it anyhow, to get as
close as he could to the Master's feet.

Do not go away from God because you feel that you have sinned against
Him. Where should you go but to your mother's bosom, and hide your face
there, if you have committed faults against her? Where should you go
but to God if against Him you have transgressed? Look, my brother, at
your own character and conduct; measure the deficiencies and
imperfections, the transgressions and faults; ay! perhaps with some of
you, the crimes against men and society and human laws; but see beneath
all these a deeper thought; and stifle not the words that would come to
your lips as a relief, like a surgeon's lancet struck into some foul
gathering, 'I have sinned against the Lord.'

II. And now, secondly, notice with me David's pardon consequent upon
his repentance.

Can there be anything more striking--I do not say dramatic, for the
circumstances are far too serious for terms of art--can there be
anything more in the nature of a gospel to us all than that brief
dialogue? David said unto Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' And
Nathan said unto David, 'The Lord also hath put away thy sin.'

Immediate forgiveness, that is the first lesson that I would press upon
you. Dear brethren, it is an experience which you may each repeat in
your own history at this moment. It needs but the confession in order
that the forgiveness should come. At this end of the telephone whisper
your confession, and before it has well passed your lips there comes
back the voice sweet as that of angels, 'The Lord hath forgiven thy
sin.' One word, one motion of a heart aware of, and hating, and
desiring to escape from, its evil, brings with a rush the whole fulness
of fatherly and forgiving love into any heart. And that one confession
may be the turning-point of a man's life, and may obliterate all the
sinful past, and may bring him into loving, reconciled, harmonious
relations with the Almighty Judge.

Learn, too, not only the immediacy of the answer and the simplicity of
the means, but learn how thorough and complete God's dealing with your
sin may be. The original language of my text might be rendered, 'The
Lord hath caused thy sin to pass away'; the thought being substantially
that of some impediment or veil between man and Him which, with a touch
of His hand, He dissolves as it were into vapour, and so leaves all the
sky clear for His warmth and sunshine to pour down upon the heart. We
do not need to enter upon theological language in talking about this
great gift of forgiveness. It means substantially that howsoever you
and I have piled up mountain upon mountain, Alp upon Alp, of our evils
and transgressions, all pass away and become non-existent. Another word
of the Old Testament expresses the same idea when it speaks about sin
being 'covered.' Another word expresses the same idea when it speaks
about God as 'casting' men's sins 'into the depths of the sea'--all
meaning this one thing, that they no longer stand as barriers between
the free flow of His love and our poor hearts. He takes away the sense
of guilt, touches the wounded conscience, and there is healing in His
hand. As, according to the old belief, the sovereign, by laying his
hand upon sufferers from 'the King's evil' healed them and cleansed
them, so the touch of His forgiving love takes away the sense of guilt
and heals the spirit. He removes all the impediments between His love
and us. His love can now come undisturbed. His deepest and solemnest
judgments do not need to come; and no more does there stand frowning
between us and Him the spectre of our past.

People tell us that forgiveness is impossible, 'that whatsoever a man
soweth, that must he also reap'; that law is law, and that the
consequences cannot be averted. That is all quite true if there is not
a God. It is not true if there is; and if there is no God, there is no
sin. So if there is a God, there is forgiveness.

Consequences, as I shall have to show you in a moment, may still
remain, but pardon may be ours all the same. When you forgive your
child, does it mean that you do not thrash it, or does it mean that you
take it to your heart? And when God pardons, does it mean that He
waives His laws, or does it mean that He lets us come into the whole
warmth and sunshine of His love? Will you go there?

Forgiveness was to Jews a thing difficult to apprehend. It was hard for
them to understand the harmony of it with the rigid retribution on
which their whole system of religion reposed. But you and I have come
further into the light than Nathan and David had. And I have to preach
a modification of the words of my text which is not a limitation of
them, but the unveiling of their basis and the surest confirmation of
them, when I say 'In Him'--Jesus Christ--'we have redemption through
His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.'

The New Testament teaches us that the Cross of Christ threw its power
back upon former transgressions as well as forward upon future ones;
and that in Him past ages, though they knew Him not, received
remission. Christ is the Medium of the divine forgiveness; Christ's
Cross is the ground of the divine pardon; Christ's sacrifice is the
guarantee for us that the sin which He has borne He has borne away. 'By
His stripes we are healed.' 'Wherefore, men and brethren, be it known
unto you, that through this Man is preached unto _us_ the forgiveness
of _our_ sins.'

III. Third and lastly, look at the punishment which follows--shall I
say _notwithstanding_ or _because of_?--the penitence and the pardon.

In David's life there came the immediate retribution in kind, which was
signalised as such by the divine message--the death of the child  'who
was conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity.' But beyond that, look at
David's life after his great fall. There was no more brightness in it.
His own sin and example of lust loosed the bonds of morality in his
household, and his son followed his example and improved upon it. And
from that came Absalom's murder of his brother, and from that Absalom's
exile, and from that Absalom's rebellion, and from that Absalom's
death, which nearly killed his poor old father. And for all the rest of
his days his home was troubled, and his last years ended with the
turmoil of a disputed succession before his eyes were closed, all
traceable to this one foul crime.

Joab was the torment of David's later days, and Joab's power over him
depended upon his having been the instrument of Uriah's murder; and so
the master of the king, whose bidding he had done. Ahithophel was the
brain of Absalom's conspiracy. His defection struck a sharp arrow into
David's heart--'mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted.' He
evidently hated the king with fierce hatred. He was Bathsheba's
grandfather; and we are not going wrong, I think, in tracing his
passionate hatred, and the peculiar form of insult which he counselled
Absalom to adopt, to the sense of foul wrong which had been done to his
house by David's crime.

And so all through his days this poor old king had to do what you and I
have to do--to bear the temporal results of sin. 'Be not deceived, God
is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.'

So 'of our pleasant vices the gods make whips to scourge us.' And it is
in mercy that we have to drink as we have brewed, that we have to lie
upon the beds that we have made; that in regard to outward
consequences, and in regard to our own hearts and inward history, we
are the architects of our own fortunes, and cannot escape the penalties
of our sins and of our faults. Better to have it so than be cursed with
impunity!

Some of you young men are sowing diseases in your bones that will
either make you invalids or will kill you before your time. All of us
are bearing about with us, in some measure and sense, the issues, which
are the punishments, of our evil. Let us thank Him and take up the
praise of the old psalm, 'Thou wast a God that forgivest them, though
Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.' There is either merciful
chastisement here, that we may be parted from our sins, or there is
judgment hereafter.

O my brother! let me beseech you, do not commit the suicide of
impenitence, but go to Christ, in whom all our sins are taken away, and
lay your hands on the head of that great Sacrifice, and 'the Lord shall
cause to pass the iniquity of your sin.'



GOD'S BANISHED ONES

'God doth devise means, that His banished be not expelled from Him.' 2
SAMUEL xiv. 14.


David's good-for-nothing son Absalom had brought about the murder of
one of his brothers, and had fled the country. His father weakly loved
the brilliant blackguard, and would fain have had him back, but was
restrained by a sense of kingly duty. Joab, the astute
Commander-in-chief, a devoted friend of David, saw how the land lay,
and formed a plan to give the king an excuse for doing what he wished
to do. So he got hold of a person who is called 'a wise woman' from the
country, dressed her as a mourner, and sent her with an ingeniously
made-up story of how she was a widow with two sons, one of whom had
killed the other, and of how the relatives insisted on their right of
avenging blood, and demanded the surrender of the murderer; by which,
as she pathetically said, 'the coal' that was left her would be
'quenched.' The king's sympathy was quickly roused--as was natural in
so impulsive and poetic a nature--and he pledged his word, and finally
his oath, that the offender should be safe.

So the woman has him in a trap, having induced him to waive justice and
to absolve the guilty by an arbitrary act. Then she turns upon him with
an application to his own case, and bids him free himself from the
guilt of double measures and inconsistency by doing with his banished
son the same thing--viz. abrogating law and bringing back the offender.
In our text she urges still higher considerations--viz. those of God's
way of treating criminals against His law, of whom she says that He
spares their lives, and devises means-or, as the words might perhaps be
rendered, 'plans plannings'--by which He may bring them back. She would
imply that human power and sovereignty are then noblest and likest
God's when they remit penalties and restore wanderers.

I do not further follow the story, which ends, as we all know, with
Absalom's ill-omened return. But the wise woman's saying goes very
deep, and, in its picturesque form, may help to bring out more vividly
some truths--all-important ones--of which I wish to beg your very
earnest consideration and acceptance.

I. Note, then, who are God's banished ones.

The woman's words are one of the few glimpses which we have of the
condition of religious thought amongst the masses of Israel. Clearly
she had laid to heart the teaching which declared the great, solemn,
universal fact of sin and consequent separation from God. For the
'banished ones' of whom she speaks are no particular class of glaring
criminals, but she includes within the designation the whole human
race, or, at all events, the whole Israel to which she and David
belonged. There may have been in her words--though that is very
doubtful--a reference to the old story of Cain after the murder of his
brother. For that narrative symbolises the consequences of all
evil-doing and evil-loving, in that he was cast out from the presence
of God, and went away into a 'land of wandering,' there to hide from
the face of the Father. On the one hand, it was banishment; on the
other hand, it was flight. So had Absalom's departure been, and so is
ours.

Strip away the metaphor, dear brethren, and it just comes to this
thought, which I seek to lay upon the hearts of all my hearers now--you
cannot be blessedly and peacefully near God, unless you are far away
from sin. If you take two polished plates of metal, and lay them
together, they will adhere. If you put half a dozen tiny grains of sand
or dust between them, they will fall apart. So our sins have come
between us and our God. They have not separated God from us, blessed be
His name! for His love, and His care, and His desire to bless, His
thought, and His knowledge, and His tenderness, all come to every soul
of man. But they have rent us apart from Him, in so far as they make us
unwilling to be near Him, incapable of receiving the truest nearness
and blessedness of His presence, and sometimes desirous to hustle Him
out of our thoughts, and, if we could, out of our world, rather than to
expatiate in the calm sunlight of His presence.

That banishment is self-inflicted. God spurns away no man, but men
spurn Him, and flee from Him. Many of us know what it is to pass whole
days, and weeks, and years, as practical Atheists. God is not in all
our thoughts.

And more than that, the miserable disgrace and solitude of a soul that
is godless in the world is what many of us like. The Prodigal Son
scraped all his goods together, and thought himself freed from a very
unwelcome bondage, and a fine independent youth, when he went away into
'the far country.' It was not quite so pleasant when provisions and
clothing fell short, and the swine's trough was the only table that was
spread before him. But yet there are many of us, I fear, who are
perfectly comfortable away from God, in so far as we can get away from
Him, and who never are aware of the degradation that lies in a soul's
having lowered itself to this, that it had rather not have God
inconveniently near.

Away down in the luxurious islands of the Southern Sea you will find
degraded Englishmen who have chosen rather to cast in their lot with
savages than to have to strain and work and grow. These poor
beach-combers of the Pacific, not happy in their degradation, but
wallowing in it, are no exaggerated pictures of the condition, in
reality, of thousands of us who dwell far from God, and far therefore
from righteousness and peace.

II. Notice God's yearning over His banished ones.

The woman in our story hints at, or suggests, a parallel which, though
inadequate, is deeply true. David was Absalom's father and Absalom's
king; and the two relationships fought against each other in his heart.
The king had to think of law and justice; the father cried out for his
son. The young man's offence had neither altered his relationship nor
affected the father's heart.

All that is true, far more deeply, blessedly true, in regard to our
relation, the wandering exiles' relation, to God. For, whilst I believe
that the highest form of sonship is only realised in the hearts of men
who have been made partakers of a new life through Jesus Christ, I
believe, just as firmly and earnestly, that every man and woman on the
face of the earth, by virtue of physical life derived from God, by
virtue of a spiritual being, which, in a very real and deep sense,
still bears the image of God, and by reason of His continued love and
care over them, is a child of His. The banished son is still a son, and
is '_His_ banished one.' If there is love--wonderful as the thought is,
and heart-melting as it ought to be--there must be loss when the child
goes away. Human love would not have the same name as God's unless
there were some analogy between the two. And though we walk in dark
places, and had better acknowledge that the less we speak upon such
profound subjects the less likely we are to err, yet it seems to me
that the whole preciousness of the revelation of God in Scripture is
imperilled unless we frankly recognise this--that His love is like
ours, delights in being returned like ours, and is like ours in that it
rejoices in presence and knows a sense of loss in absence. If you think
that that is too bold a thing to say, remember who it was that taught
us that the father fell on the neck of the returning prodigal, and
kissed him; and that the rapture of his joy was the token and measure
of the reality of his regret, and that it was the father to whom the
prodigal son was 'lost.' Deep as is the mystery, let nothing, dear
brethren, rob us of the plain fact that God's love moves all around the
worst, the unworthiest, the most rebellious in the far-off land, and
'desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from
his iniquity and live.'

And it is you, _you_, whom He wants back; you whom He would fain rescue
from your aversion to good and your carelessness of Him. It is you whom
He seeks, according to the great saying of the Master, 'the Father
seeketh' for worshippers in spirit and in truth.

III. Note the formidable obstacles to the restoration of the banished.

The words 'banished' and 'expelled' in our text are in the original the
same; and the force of the whole would be better expressed if the same
English word was employed as the equivalent of both. We should then see
more clearly than the variation of rendering in our text enables us to
see, that the being 'expelled' is no further stage which God devises
means to prevent, but that what is meant is that He provides methods by
which the banished should not be banished--that is, should be restored
to Himself.

Now, note that the language of this 'wise woman,' unconsciously to
herself, confesses that the parallel that she was trying to draw did
not go on all fours; for what she was asking the king to do was simply,
by an arbitrary act, to sweep aside law and to remit penalty. She
instinctively feels that that is not what can be done by God, and so
she says that He 'devises means' by which He can restore His banished.

That is to say, forgiveness and the obliteration of the consequences of
a man's sin, and his restoration to the blessed nearness to God, which
is life, are by no means such easy and simple matters as people
sometimes suppose them to be. The whole drift of popular thinking
to-day goes in the direction of a very superficial and easy gospel,
which merely says, 'Oh, of course, of course God forgives! Is not God
Love? Is not God our Father? What more do you want than that?' Ah! you
want a great deal more than that, my friends. Let me press upon you two
or three plain considerations. There are formidable obstacles in the
way of divine forgiveness.

If there are to be any pardon and restoration at all, they must be such
as will leave untouched the sovereign majesty of God's law, and,
untampered with, the eternal gulf between good and evil. That easygoing
gospel which says, 'God will pardon, of course!' sounds very charitable
and very catholic, but at bottom it is very cruel. For it shakes the
very foundations on which the government of God must repose. God's law
is the manifestation of God's character; and that is no flexible thing
which can be bent about at the bidding of a weak good-nature. I believe
that men are right in holding that certainly God must pardon, but I
believe that they are fatally wrong in not recognising this--that the
only kind of forgiveness which is possible for Him to bestow is one in
which there shall be no tampering with the tremendous sanctions of His
awful law; and no tendency to teach that it matters little whether a
man is good or bad. The pardon, which many of us seem to think is quite
sufficient, is a pardon that is nothing more noble than good-natured
winking at transgression. And oh! if this be all that men have to lean
on, they are leaning on a broken reed. The motto on the blue cover of
the _Edinburgh Review_, for over a hundred years now, is true: 'The
judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted.' David struck a fatal
blow at the prestige of his own rule, when he weakly let his son off
from penalty. And, if it were possible to imagine such a thing, God
Himself would strike as fatal a blow at the justice and judgment which
are the foundations of His throne, if His forgiveness was such as to be
capable of being confounded with love which was too weakly indulgent to
be righteous.

Further, if there are to be forgiveness and restoration at all, they
must be such as will turn away the heart of the pardoned man from his
evil. The very story before us shows that it is not every kind of
pardon which makes a man better. The scapegrace Absalom came back
unsoftened, without one touch of gratitude to his father in his base
heart, without the least gleam of a better nature dawning upon him, and
went flaunting about the court until his viciousness culminated in his
unnatural rebellion. That is to say, there is a forgiveness which
nourishes the seeds of the crimes that it pardons. We have only to look
into our own hearts, and we have only to look at the sort of people
round us, to be very sure that, unless the forgiveness that is granted
us from the heavens has in it an element which will avert our wills and
desires from evil, the pardon will be very soon needed again, for the
evil will very soon be done again.

If there are to be forgiveness and restoration at all, they must come
in such a fashion as that there shall be no doubt whatsoever of their
reality and power. The vague kind of trust in a doubtful mercy, about
which I have been speaking, may do all very well for people that have
never probed the depths of their own hearts. Superficial notions of our
sin, which so many of us have, are contented with superficial remedies
for it. But let a man get a glimpse of his own real self, and I think
that he will wish for something a great deal more solid to grip hold
of, than nebulous talk of the kind that I have been describing. If once
we feel ourselves to be struggling in the black flood of that awful
river, we shall want a firmer hold upon the bank than is given to us by
some rootless tree or other. We must clutch something that will stand a
pull, if we are to be drawn from the muddy waters.

People say to us, 'Oh, God will forgive, of course!' Does this world
look like a place where forgiveness is such an easy thing? Is there
anything more certain than that consequences are inevitable when deeds
have been done, and 'that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also
reap' and whatsoever he brews that shall he also drink? And is it into
a grim, stern world of retribution like this that people will come,
with their smiling, sunny gospel of a matter-of-course forgiveness,
upon very easy terms of a slight penitence?

Brethren, God has to 'devise means,' which is a strong way of saying,
in analogy to the limitations of humanity, that He cannot, by an
arbitrary act of His will, pardon a sinful man. His eternal nature
forbids it. His established law forbids it. The fabric of His universe
forbids it. The good of men forbids it. The problem is insoluble by
human thought. The love of God is like some great river that pours its
waters down its channel, and is stayed by a black dam across its
course, along which it feels for any cranny through which it may pour
itself. We could never save ourselves, but

          'He that might the vengeance best have took,
           Found out the remedy.'

IV. And so the last word that I have to say is to note the triumphant,
divine solution of these difficulties.

The work of Jesus Christ, and the work of Jesus Christ alone, meets all
the requirements. It vindicates the majesty of law, it deepens the gulf
between righteousness and sin. Where is there such a demonstration of
the awful truth that 'the wages of sin is death' as on that Cross on
which the Son of God died for us and for all 'His banished ones'? Where
is there such a demonstration of the fixedness of the divine law as in
that death to which the Son of God submitted Himself for us all? Where
do we learn the hideousness of sin, the endless antagonism between God
and it, and the fatal consequences of it, as we learn them in the
sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour? Where do we find the misery and
desolation of banishment from God so tragically uttered as in that cry
which rent the darkness of eclipse,' My God! My God! why hast Thou
forsaken Me?'

That work of Christ's is the only way by which it is made absolutely
certain that sins forgiven shall be sins abhorred; and that a man once
restored shall cleave to his Restorer as to his Life. That work is the
only way by which a man can be absolutely certain that there is
forgiveness, in spite of all the accusations of his own conscience; in
spite of all the inexorable working out of penalties in the system of
the world which seems to contradict the fond belief; in spite of all
that a foreboding gaze tells, or ought to tell, of a judgment that is
to follow.

Brethren, God has devised a means. None else could have done so. I
beseech you, realise these facts that I have been trying to bring
before you, and the considerations that I have based upon them, so far
as they commend themselves to your hearts and consciences; and do not
be content with acquiescing in them, but act upon them. We are all
exiles from God, unless we have been 'brought nigh by the blood of
Christ.' In Him, and in Him alone, can God restore His banished ones.
In Him, and in Him alone, can we find a pardon which cleanses the
heart, and ensures the removal of the sin which it forgives. In Him,
and in Him alone, can we find, not a peradventure, not a subjective
certainty, but an external fact which proclaims that verily there is
forgiveness for us all. I pray you, dear friends, do not be content
with that half-truth, which is ever the most dangerous lie, of divine
pardon apart from Jesus Christ. Lay your sins upon His head, and your
hand in the hand of the Elder Brother, who has come to the far-off land
to seek us, and He will lead you back to the Father's house and the
Father's heart, and you will be 'no more strangers and foreigners, but
fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.'



PARDONED SIN PUNISHED

'And It came to pass after this, that Absalom prepared him chariots and
horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2. And Absalom rose up early,
and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man
that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom
called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy
servant is of one of the tribes of Israel. 3. And Absalom said unto
him. See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed
of the king to hear thee. 4. Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made
judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might
come unto me, and I would do him justice! 5. And it was so, that when
any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand,
and took him, and kissed him. 6. And on this manner did Absalom to all
Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts
of the men of Israel. 7. And it came to pass after forty years, that
Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow,
which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron. 8. For thy servant vowed a
vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the Lord shall bring
me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the Lord. 9. And the
king said unto him, Go in peace. So he arose, and went to Hebron. 10.
But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As
soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom
reigneth in Hebron. 11. And with Absalom went two hundred men out of
Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and
they knew not any thing. 12. And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the
Gilonite, David's counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he
offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people
increased continually with Absalom.'--2 SAMUEL xv. 1-12.


There was little brightness in David's life after his great sin. Nathan
had told him, even while announcing his forgiveness, that the sword
should never depart from his house; and this revolt of Absalom's may be
directly traced to his father's disgraceful crime. The solemn lesson
that pardoned sin works out its consequences, so that 'whatsoever a man
soweth, that shall he also reap,' is taught by it. The portion of the
story with which we are concerned has two stages,--the slow hatching of
the plot, and its final outburst.

I. Verses 1 to 6 give us the preparation of the mine. It takes four
years, during which Absalom plays all the tricks usual to aspirants for
the most sweet voices of the multitude. He seems to have been but a
poor creature; but it does not take much brain to do a great deal of
mischief. He was vain, headstrong, with a dash of craft and a large
amount of ambition. He had no love for his father, and no ballast of
high principle, to say nothing of religion. He was a spoiled child
grown to be a man, with a child's petulance and unreason, but a man's
passions. He loved his unfortunate sister, but it was as much wounded
honour as love which led him to the murder of his elder brother Amnon.
That crime cleared his way to the throne; and David's half-and-half
treatment of him after it, neither sternly punishing nor freely
pardoning, set the son against the father, and left a sense of injury.
So he became a rebel.

The story tells very vividly how he adopted the familiar tactics of
pretenders. How old, and yet how modern, it reads! We who live in a
country where everybody is an 'elector' of some sort, and candidates
are plentiful, see the same things going on, in a little different
dress, before our eyes. Absalom begins operations by dazzling people
with ostentatious splendour. In better days Samuel had trudged on foot,
driving a heifer before him, to anoint his father; and royalty had
retained a noble simplicity in the hands of Saul and David. But 'plain
living and high thinking' did not suit Absalom; and he had gauged the
popular taste accurately enough in setting up his chariot with its
fifty runners. That was a show something like a king, and, no doubt,
much more approved than David's simplicity. But it was an evil omen to
any one who looked below the surface. When luxury grows, devotion
languishes. The senseless ostentation which creeps into the families of
good men, and is sustained by their weak compliance with their spoiled
children's wishes, does a world of harm. We in Lancashire have a
proverb, 'Clogs, carriage, clogs,' which puts into three words the
history of three generations, and is verified over and over again.

How well Absalom has learned the arts of the office-seeker! Along with
his handsome equipage he shows admirable devotion to the interests of
his 'constituents.' He is early at the gate, so great is his appetite
for work; he is accessible to everybody; he flatters each with the
assurance that his case is clear; he gently drops hints of sad
negligence in high quarters, which he could so soon set right, if only
he were in power; and he will not have the respectful salutation of
inferiors, but grasps every hard hand, and kisses each tanned cheek,
with an affectation of equality very soothing to the dupes.
'Electioneering' is much the same all the world over; and Absalom has a
good many imitators nearer home.

There was, no doubt, truth in the charge he made against David of
negligence in his judicial and other duties. Ever since his great sin,
the king seems to have been stunned into inaction. The heavy sense of
demerit had taken the buoyancy out of him, and, though forgiven, he
could never regain the elastic energy of purer days. The psalms which
possibly belong to this period show a singular passivity. If we suppose
that he was much in the seclusion of his palace, a heavily-burdened and
spirit-broken man, we can understand how his condition tempted his
heartless, dashing son to grasp at the reins which seemed to be
dropping from his slack hands, and how his passivity gave opportunity
for Absalom's carrying on his schemes undisturbed, and a colour of
reasonableness to his charges. For four years this went on unchecked,
and apparently unsuspected by the king, who must have been much
withdrawn from public life not to have taken alarm. Nothing takes the
spring out of a man like the humiliating sense of sin. The whole tone
of David's conduct throughout the revolt is, 'I deserve it all. Let
them smite, for God hath bidden them.' To this resourceless,
unresisting submission to his enemies, sin had brought the daring
soldier. It is not old age that has broken his courage and spirit, but
the consciousness of his foul guilt, which weighs on him all the more
heavily because he knows that it is pardoned.

II. The second part of our subject tells of the explosion of the
long-prepared mine. It was necessary to hoist the flag of revolt
elsewhere than in Jerusalem, and some skill is shown in choosing
Hebron, which had been the capital before the capture of the Jebusite
city, and in which there would be natural jealousy of the new
metropolis. The pretext of the sacrifice at Hebron, in pursuance of a
vow made by Absalom in his exile, was meant to touch David's heart in
two ways,--by appealing to his devotional feelings, and by presenting a
pathetic picture of his suffering and devout son vowing in the land
where his father's wrath had driven him. It is not the first time that
religion has been made the stalking-horse for criminal ambition, nor is
it the last. Politicians are but too apt to use it as a cloak for their
personal ends. Absalom talking about his vow is a spectacle that might
have made the most unsuspecting sure that there was something in the
wind. Such a use of religious observances shows more than anything else
could do, the utter irreligion of the man who can make it. A son
rebelling against his father is an ugly sight, but rebellion disguised
as religion adds to the ugliness. David suspects nothing; or, if he
does, is too broken to resist, and, perhaps glad at any sign of grace
in his son, or pleased to gratify any of his wishes, sends him away
with a benediction. What a parting,--the last, though neither knew it!

The plot had spread widely in four years, and messengers had been sent
through all Israel to summon its adherents to Hebron. If David had been
as popular as in his early days, it would have been impossible for such
a widely spread conspiracy to have come so near a head without some
faithful soul having been found to tell him of it. But obviously there
was much smouldering discontent, arising, no doubt, from such causes as
the pressure of taxation, the gloom that hung over the king, the
partial paralysis of justice, the transference of the capital, the
weight of wars, and, at lowest, the craving for something new. Few
reigns or lives set in unclouded brightness. The western horizon is
often filled with a bank of blackness. Strangely enough, Absalom
invited two hundred men to accompany him, who were ignorant of the
plot. That looks as if its strength was outside Jerusalem, as was
natural. These innocents were sufficiently associated with Absalom to
be asked to accompany him, and, no doubt, he expected to secure their
complicity when he got them away. Unsuspecting people are the best
tools of knaves. It is better not to be on friendly terms with Absalom,
if we would be true to David. The last piece of preparation recorded is
the summoning of Abithophel to come and be the brain of the plot. He
had been David's wisest counsellor, and is probably the 'familiar
friend, in whom I trusted,' whose defection the Psalmist mourns so
bitterly, and whose treachery was a marvellous foreshadowing of the
traitor who dipped in the dish with David's Lord. Note that he had
already withdrawn from Jerusalem to his own city, from which he came at
once to Hebron. Absalom could flatter and play the well-worn tricks of
a pretender, but a subtler, cooler head was wanted now, and the
treacherous son was backed up by the traitor friend. 'And the
conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with
Absalom.' What a tragical issue to the joyous loyalty of early days!
What a strange madness must have laid hold on the nation to have led
them to prefer such a piece of petulance and vanity to their
hero-poet-king! What did it mean?

The answer is not far to seek, and it is the great lesson of this
story. David's sin was truly repented and freely forgiven, but not left
unpunished. God is too loving to shield men from the natural
consequences, in the physical and social world, of their sins. The
penitent drunkard's hand shakes, and his constitution is not renewed,
though his spirit is. Only, punishment is changed into discipline, when
the heart rests in the assurance of pardon, and is accepted as a token
of a Father's love. In every way God made of the vice the whip to
scourge the sinner, and David, like us all, had to drink as he had
brewed, though he was forgiven the sin.



A LOYAL VOW

'And the king's servants said unto the king, Behold, thy servants are
ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall appoint.'--2 SAMUEL xv.
15.


We stand here at the darkest hour of King David's life. Bowed down by
the consciousness of his past sin, and recognising in the rebellion of
his favourite son the divine chastisement, his early courage and
buoyant daring seem to have ebbed from him wholly. He is forsaken by
the mass of his subjects, he is preparing to abandon Jerusalem, and to
flee as an exile, as he says himself so pathetically, 'whither I may.'
And at that moment of deepest depression there comes one little gleam
of consolation and one piece of chivalrous devotion which brightens the
whole story. His special retainers, apparently a bodyguard mostly of
foreigners, rally round him. Mostly foreigners, I say, for these hard
words 'Cherethites and Pelethites' most probably mean inhabitants of
the island of Crete, and Philistines. And as to six hundred of them, at
all events, there can be no doubt, for they are expressly said to be
'men of Gath who followed after him.' At all events, there was a little
nucleus of men, not his own subjects, who determined to share his fate,
whatever it was. And the words of my text are their words, 'Behold, thy
servants are ready to do whatsoever the king shall appoint.' Or, as the
word stands in the original, in an abrupt, half-finished sentence, even
more pathetic, 'According to all that my lord the king shall appoint,
behold thy servants.' These men were foreigners, not bound to render
obedience to the king, but giving it because their hearts were touched.
They were loyal amongst rebels, so many Abdiels, 'among the faithless,
faithful only' these, and they avowed their determination to cleave to
the sovereign of their choice at a time when his back was at the wall,
and their determination to follow him meant only peril and privation.
They were filled with a passionate personal attachment to the king, and
that personal attachment was ready to manifest itself as a willing
sacrifice, as such love always is ready.

Now surely in all this there is a lesson for us. The heroism of men
towards a man, the uncalculating devotion and magnificent
self-sacrifice of which the poorest human soul is capable when touched
to fine issues by some heart-love, are surely not all meant to be
lavished on fellow-creatures, who, alas! generally receive the most of
them. But these rude Philistines and Gittites, Goliath's
fellow-townsmen, may preach to us Christians a lesson. Why should not
we say as they said, 'According to all that my Lord the King shall
appoint, behold Thy servants'?

I. So then, first, our King's will ought to be our will.

The obedience that is promised in these words is not the obedience of
action only, but it is the bowing down of the heart. And for us
Christian men there is neither peace nor nobleness in our lives, except
in the measure in which the will of Jesus Christ and our wills are
accurately conterminous and identical. Wheresoever the two coincide,
there is strength for us; wheresoever they diverge, there are weakness
and certain ruin. These two wills ought to be like two of Euclid's
triangles, or other geometric figures, the one laid upon the other, and
each line and curve and angle accurately corresponding and coinciding,
so that the two cover precisely the same ground.

Christ's will my will; that is religion. And you and I are Christians
just in the measure in which that coincidence of wills is true about
us, and not one hair's-breadth further, for all our professions.
Wheresoever my will diverges from Christ, in that particular I am not
His man; and 'Christian' simply means 'Christ's man.' I belong to Him
when I think as He does, love as He does, will as He does, accept His
commandment as the law of my life, His pattern as my example, His
providence as sufficient and as good. Where we thus yield ourselves to
Him, there we are strong, and so far, and only so far, have we a right
to say that we are the King's servants at all.

This absolute submission we do render to one another when our hearts
are touched; and the fact that men can and do give it--husbands to
wives, wives to husbands, children to parents, friends to one
another--the fact that there is the capacity for that giving of one's
self away, lodged deep in our nature, tells us what we are meant to do
with it. 'Whose image and superscription hath it?' Was it meant that we
should thus live in slavish submission even to the dearest loved ones?
Surely not; for that is the destruction of individuality. No, but it
was meant that we should lay our wills down at Christ's feet and say,
'Not my will, but Thine,' and Thine mine because I have made it mine by
love. Then there is rest, and then we have solved the secret of the
world, and are what our Lord would have us to be. Oh! do not our
relations to our dear ones, with all that infinite power of
self-sacrifice that our love brings with it, rebuke the partial extent
of our surrender to our Master? and may we not be ashamed when we
contrast the joy that we feel in giving up to those that we love, and
the reluctance with which, too often, we obey the Master's
commandments, and the long years of repining and murmuring before we
'submit,' as we call it, which too often means accept His providences
as inevitable, though not as welcome? To be 'ready to do whatsoever my
Lord the King shall choose,' believing that His choice is wisdom and
kindness for us, and His commandments a blessing and a gift, is the
attitude and temper for us all. Is there any other attitude to Jesus
Christ which corresponds to our relation to Him, to what He has done
for us, to what we say that He is to us? He has the right to us,
because He has given us Himself. He asks nothing from us but that of
which He has already set us the example. 'He gave Himself for us, as
the Apostle says with emphasis that is often unnoticed. 'He _gave
Himself_ for us' that He might '_purchase us_ for _Himself_.' He who
would possess another must impart Himself, and love, that yields a
whole man to the loved one, only springs when the loved one mutually
yields her whole heart. The King does not command from above, but He
comes down amongst us, and He says, 'I gave Myself for thee; what
givest thou to Me?' O brethren, let us answer with that brave,
chivalrous old Gittite:--'As the Lord liveth, and as my Lord the King
liveth, surely in what place my Lord the King shall be, whether in
death or life, even there also will Thy servant be.'

II. Then notice again, still sticking to our story, that this yielding
up of will, if it is worth anything, will become the more intense and
fervent when surrounded by rebels.

All Israel, with that poor feather-headed, vain Absalom, were on the
one side, and David and these foreigners were on the other. Years of
quiet uneventful life would never have brought out such magnificent
heroism of devotion and self-surrender, as was crowded into that one
moment of loyalty asserted in the face of triumphant rebels and
traitors.

In like manner, the more Christ's reign is set at nought by the people
about us, and the less they recognise the blessedness and the duty of
submission to Him, the more strong and unmistakable should be the
utterance of our loyalty. We should grasp His hand tighter by reason of
the storms that may rage round about us. And if we dwell amongst those
who, in any measure, deny or neglect His merciful dominion, let us see
to it that we all the more hoist our colours at our doors, and stand by
them when they are hoisted, that nobody may mistake under which King we
serve.

You in your places of business, you young men in your warehouses, and
all of us in our several spheres, have to come across many people who
have no share in our loyalty and offer no allegiance to our King. That
is the reason for intenser loyalty on our part. Never you mind what
others say or do; do not take your orders from them. Better be with the
handful that rally round David than with the crowds that run after
Absalom! Better be amongst the few that are faithful than amongst the
multitudes that depart! Dare to be singular, if it comes to that; and
at all events remember that your relationship to your Master is a thing
that concerns Him and you chiefly, and that you are not to take the
pattern of your loyalty, nor the orders for your lives, from any lips
but His own.

Hush all other voices that would command, and hush them that you may
listen to Him. It is always difficult enough for Christian men to
ascertain, in perplexed circumstances, the clear path of duty; but it
is impossible if, along with His voice, we let the buzz of the crowd be
audible in our ears. There is only one way by which we can hear what
our 'Lord the King appoints,' and that is by making a great stillness
in our souls, and neither letting our own yelping inclinations give
tongue, nor the babble of men round us, and their notions of life and
of what is right, have influence upon us, but waiting to hear what God
the Lord, speaking in Christ the King, has to say to us. And, remember,
the more rebels there are, the more need for us to be conspicuously
loyal to our King.

III. Again, this complete yielding of ourselves in practical obedience
and heart submission to command merits and providences is to be
maintained, whatsoever it may lead to in the way of privation and
difficulty.

It was no holiday vow, made upon some parade day, that these brave
foreigners were bringing to their king now, but it meant 'we are ready
to suffer, starve, fight, lose everything, die if need be, to be true
to thee.' And the very thought of the impending danger elevated the
men's consciousness, and made heroes out of very common people. And
perhaps that is the best effect of our difficulties and sorrows, that
they strike fire sometimes (if they are rightly accepted and used) out
of what seems to be only dead, lumpish matter, and many a Christian
shoots up into a stature of greatness and nobleness in his sorrow, who
was but a very commonplace creature when all things went well with him.
That is the kind of obedience that Christ delights to accept, obedience
that is ready for anything, and does not wait to make sure that there
is no danger of forfeiting a whole skin and a quiet life, before it
vows itself to service. Are we only to be 'fair-weather Christians,' or
are we to be prepared for all the trials and sufferings that may befall
us? A Christianity that does not bring any worldly penalties along with
it is not worth much. Christians of Christ's pattern have generally to
give up something for their Christianity. They give up nothing that it
is not gain to lose, nothing that they are not better without, but they
have to surrender much in which other people find great enjoyment, and
which their weaker selves would delight in too. Are you ready, my
brother, for that? 'Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving
against sin.' The old days of heroism and martyrdom are done with, as
far as we are concerned, whatever may lie in the future. But do we make
willingly and gladly the surrenders and the self-abnegations that are
demanded by our loyalty to our Master? Have we ever learned to say
about any line of action that our poor, lower nature grasps at, and our
higher, enlightened by communion with Jesus Christ, forbids: 'So did
not I because of the fear of the Lord'? We can talk about following
Christ's footsteps; do you think that if we had stood where these rude
soldiers stood, or had anything as dark in prospect, as the price of
our faithfulness to our King, as they had as the price of faithfulness
to theirs, there would have rung from our lips the utterly sincere vow
that sprang joyously from theirs: 'Behold Thy servants, ready to do
whatever our Lord the King shall appoint'?

IV. A final thought, which travels beyond my text, is that such
thorough-going obedience, irrespective of consequences, is the secret
of all blessedness.

'Great peace have they which love Thy law': the peace of conscience;
the peace of ceasing from that which is our worst enemy, self-will; the
peace of self-surrender; the peace of feeling ''Tis His to command;
'tis mine to obey'; the peace of casting the whole settling of the
campaign on the King's shoulders, and of finding our duty restricted to
tramping along with cheery heart on the path that He has appointed.
That is worth having. Oh! if we could cease from self and lay our wills
down before Him, then we should be quiet. The tranquil heart is the
heart which has the law of Christ within it, and the true delight of
life belongs to those who truly say, 'I delight to do Thy will.' So
yielding, so obeying, so submitting, so surrendering one's self, life
becomes quiet, and strong, and sweet. And, if I might so turn the story
that we have been considering, the faithful soldiers who have been true
to the King when His throne was contested, will march with laurelled
heads in His triumphant train when He comes back after His final and
complete victory, and reign with Him in the true City of Peace, where
His will shall be perfectly done by loving hearts, and all His servants
shall be kings.



ITTAI OF GATH

'And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the Lord liveth, and as my
lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be,
whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.'--2
SAMUEL xv. 21.


It was the darkest hour in David's life. No more pathetic page is found
in the Old Testament than that which tells the story of his flight
before Absalom. He is crushed by the consciousness that his punishment
is deserved--the bitter fruit of the sin that filled all his later life
with darkness. His courage and his buoyancy have left him. He has no
spirit to make a stand or strike a blow. If Shimei runs along the
hillside abreast of him, shrieking curses as he goes, all he says is:
'Let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him.'


So, heartbroken and spiritless, he leaves Jerusalem. And as soon as he
has got clear of the city he calls a halt, in order that he may muster
his followers and see on whom he may depend. Foremost among the little
band come six hundred men from Gath--Philistines--from Goliath's city.
These men, singularly enough, the king had chosen as his bodyguard;
perhaps he was not altogether sure of the loyalty of his own subjects,
and possibly felt safer with foreign mercenaries, who could have no
secret leanings to the deposed house of Saul. Be that as it may, the
narrative tells us that these men had 'come after him from Gath.' He
had been there twice in the old days, in his flight from Saul, and the
second visit had extended over something more than a year. Probably
during that period his personal attraction, and his reputation as a
brilliant leader, had led these rough soldiers to attach themselves to
his service, and to be ready to forsake home and kindred in order to
fight beside him.

At all events here they are, 'faithful among the faithless,' as foreign
soldiers surrounding a king often are--notably, for instance, the Swiss
guard in the French Revolution. Their strong arms might have been of
great use to David, but his generosity cannot think of involving them
in his fall, and so he says to them: 'I am not going to fight; I have
no plan. I am going where I can. You go back and "worship the rising
sun." Absalom will take you and be glad of your help. And as for me, I
thank you for your past loyalty. Mercy and peace be with you!'

It is a beautiful nature that in the depth of sorrow shrinks from
dragging other people down with itself. Generosity breeds generosity,
and this Philistine captain breaks out into a burst of passionate
devotion, garnished, in soldier fashion, with an unnecessary oath or
two, but ringing very sincere and meaning a great deal. As for himself
and his men, they have chosen their side. Whoever goes, they stay.
Whatever befalls, they stick by David; and if the worst come to the
worst they can all die together, and their corpses lie in firm ranks
round about their dead king. David's heart is touched and warmed by
their outspoken loyalty; he yields and accepts their service. Ittai and
his noble six hundred tramp on, out of our sight, and all their
households behind them. Now what is there in all that, to make a sermon
out of?

I. First, look at the picture of that Philistine soldier, as teaching
us what grand passionate self-sacrifice may be evolved out of the
roughest natures.

Analyse his words, and do you not hear, ringing in them, three things,
which are the seed of all nobility and splendour in human character?
First, a passionate personal attachment; then, that love issuing, as
such love always does, in willing sacrifice that recks not for a moment
of personal consequences; that is ready to accept anything for itself
if it can serve the object of its devotion, and will count life well
expended if it is flung away in such a service. And we see, lastly, in
these words a supreme restful delight in the presence of him whom the
heart loves. For Ittai and his men, the one thing needful was to be
beside him in whose eye they had lived, from whose presence they had
caught inspiration; their trusted leader, before whom their souls bowed
down. So then this vehement speech is the pure language of love.

Now these three things,--a passionate personal attachment, issuing in
spontaneous heroism of self-abandonment, and in supreme satisfaction in
the beloved presence,--may spring up in the rudest, roughest nature. A
Philistine soldier was not a very likely man in whom to find refined
and lofty emotion. He was hard by nature, hardened by his rough trade;
and unconscious that he was doing anything at all heroic or great.
Something had smitten this rock, and out of it there came the pure
refreshing stream. And so I say to you, the weakest and the lowest, the
roughest and the hardest, the most selfishly absorbed man and woman
among us, has lying in him and her dormant capacities for flaming up
into such a splendour of devotion and magnificence of heroic
self-sacrifice as is represented in these words of my text. A mother
will do it for her child, and never think that she has done anything
extraordinary; husbands will do such things for wives; wives for
husbands; friends and lovers for one another. All who know the
sweetness and power of the bond of affection know that there is nothing
more gladsome than to fling oneself away for the sake of those whom we
love. And the capacity for such love and sacrifice lies in all of us.
Prosaic, commonplace people as we are, with no great field on which to
work out our heroisms; yet we have it in us to love and give ourselves
away thus, if once the heart be stirred.

And lastly, this capacity which lies dormant in all of us, if once it
is roused to action, will make a man blessed and dignified as nothing
else will. The joy of unselfish love is the purest joy that man can
taste; the joy of perfect self-sacrifice is the highest joy that
humanity can possess, and they lie open for us all.

And wherever, in some humble measure, these emotions of which I have
been speaking are realised, there you see weakness springing up into
strength, and the ignoble into loftiness. Astronomers tell us that
sometimes a star that has shone inconspicuous, and stood low down in
their catalogues as of fifth or sixth magnitude, will all at once flame
out, having kindled and caught fire somehow, and will blaze in the
heavens, outshining Jupiter and Venus. And so some poor, vulgar, narrow
nature, touched by this Promethean fire of pure love that leads to
perfect sacrifice, will 'flame in the forehead of the morning sky' an
undying splendour, and a light for evermore.

Brethren, my appeal to you is a very plain and simple one, founded on
these facts:--You all have that capacity in you, and you all are
responsible for the use of it. What have you done with it? Is there any
person or thing in this world that has ever been able to lift you up
out of your miserable selves? Is there any magnet that has proved
strong enough to raise you from the low levels along which your life
creeps? Have you ever known the thrill of resolving to become the
bondservant and the slave of some great cause not your own? Or are you,
as so many of you are, like spiders living in the midst of your web,
mainly intent upon what you can catch by it? You have these capacities
slumbering in you. Have you ever set a light to that inert mass of
enthusiasm that lies within you? Have you ever woke up the sleeper?
Look at this rough soldier of my text, and learn from him the lesson
that there is nothing that so ennobles and dignifies a commonplace
nature as enthusiasm for a great cause, or self-sacrificing love for a
worthy heart.

II. The second remark which I make is this:--These possibilities of
love and sacrifice point plainly to God in Christ as their true object.

'Whose image and superscription hath it?' said Christ, looking at the
Roman _denarius_ that they brought and laid on His palm. If the
Emperor's head is on it, why, then, he has a right to it as tribute.
And then He went on to say, 'Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things
which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.' So there
are things that have God's image and superscription stamped on them,
and such are our hearts, our whole constitution and nature. As plainly
as the penny had the head of Tiberius on it, and therefore proclaimed
that he was Emperor where it was current, so plainly does every soul
carry in the image of God the witness that He is its owner and that it
should be rendered in tribute to Him.

And amongst all these marks of a divine possession and a divine
destination printed upon human nature, it seems to me that none is
plainer than this fact, that we can all of us thus give ourselves away
in the abandonment of a profound and all-surrendering love. That
capacity unmistakably proclaims that it is destined to be directed
towards God and to find its rest in Him. As distinctly as some silver
cup, with its owner's initials and arms engraved upon it, declares
itself to be 'meet for the master's use,' so distinctly does your soul,
by reason of this capacity, proclaim that it is meant to be turned to
Him in whom alone all love can find its perfect satisfaction; for whom
alone it is supremely blessed and great to lose life itself; and who
only has authority over human spirits.

We are made with hearts that need to rest upon an absolute love; we are
made with understandings that need to grasp a pure, a perfect, and, as
I believe, paradoxical though it may sound, a personal Truth. We are
made with wills that crave for an absolute authoritative command, and
we are made with a moral nature that needs a perfect holiness. And we
need all that love, truth, authority, purity, to be gathered into one,
for our misery is that, when we set out to look for treasures, we have
to go into many lands and to many merchants, to buy many goodly pearls.
But we need One of great price, in which all our wealth may be
invested. We need that One to be an undying and perpetual possession.
There is One to whom our love can ever cleave, and fear none of the
sorrows or imperfections that make earthward-turned love a rose with
many a thorn, One for whom it is pure gain to lose ourselves, One who
is plainly the only worthy recipient of the whole love and
self-surrender of the heart.

That One is God, revealed and brought near to us in Jesus Christ. In
that great Saviour we have a love at once divine and human, we have the
great transcendent instance of love leading to sacrifice. On that love
and sacrifice for us Christ builds His claim on us for our hearts, and
our all. Life alone can communicate life; it is only light that can
diffuse light. It is only love that can kindle love; it is only
sacrifice that can inspire sacrifice. And so He comes to us, and asks
that we should just love Him back again as He has loved us. He first
gives Himself utterly for and to us, and then asks us to give ourselves
wholly to Him. He first yields up His own life, and then He says: 'He
that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.' The object, the true
object, for all this depth of love which lies slumbering in our hearts,
is God in Christ, the Christ that died for us.

III. And now, lastly, observe that the terrible misdirection of these
capacities is the sin and the misery of the world.

I will not say that such emotions, even when expended on creatures, are
ever wasted. For however unworthy may be the objects on which they are
lavished, the man himself is the better and the higher for having
cherished them. The mother, when she forgets self in her child, though
her love and self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice may, in some
respects, be called but an animal instinct, is elevated and ennobled by
the exercise of them. The patriot and the thinker, the philanthropist,
ay! even--although I take him to be the lowest in the scale--the
soldier who, in some cause which he thinks to be a good one, and not
merely in the tigerish madness of the battlefield, throws away his
life--are lifted in the scale of being by their self-abnegation.

And so I am not going to say that when men love each other passionately
and deeply, and sacrifice themselves for one another, or for some cause
or purpose affecting only temporal matters, the precious elixir of love
is wasted. God forbid! But I do say that all these objects, sweet and
gracious as some of them are, ennobling and elevating as some of them
are, if they are taken apart from God, are insufficient to fill your
hearts: and that if they are slipped in between you and God, as they
often are, then they bring sin and sorrow.

There is nothing more tragic in this world than the misdirection of
man's capacity for love and sacrifice. It is like the old story in the
Book of Daniel, which tells how the heathen monarch made a great feast,
and when the wine began to inflame the guests, sent for the sacred
vessels taken from the Temple of Jerusalem, that had been used for
Jehovah's worship; and (as the narrative says, with a kind of shudder
at the profanation), 'They brought the golden vessels that were taken
out of the temple of the House of God, which was at Jerusalem, and the
king and his princes, his wives and his concubines, drank in them. They
drank wine and praised the gods.' So this heart of mine, which, as I
said, has the Master's initials and His arms engraven upon it, in token
that it is His cup, I too often fill with the poisonous and
intoxicating draught of earthly pleasure and earthly affections; and as
I drink it, the madness goes through my veins, and I praise gods of my
own making instead of Him whom alone I ought to love.

Ah, brethren! we should be our own rebukers in this matter, and the
heroism of the world should put to shame the cowardice and the
selfishness of the Church. Contrast the depth of your affection for
your household with the tepidity of your love for your Saviour.
Contrast the willingness with which you sacrifice yourself for some
dear one with the grudgingness with which you yield yourselves to Him.
Contrast the rest and the sense of satisfaction in the presence of
those whom you love, and your desolation when they are absent, with the
indifference whether you have Christ beside you or not. And remember
that the measure of your power of loving is the measure of your
obligation to love your Lord; and that if you are all frost to Him and
all fervour to them, then in a very solemn sense 'a man's foes shall be
they of his own household.' 'He that loveth father or mother more than
Me is not worthy of Me.'

And so let me gather all that I have been saying into the one earnest
beseeching of you that you would bring that power of uncalculating love
and self-sacrificing affection which is in you, and would fasten it
where it ought to fix--on Christ who died on the cross for you. Such a
love will bring blessedness to you. Such a love will ennoble and
dignify your whole nature, and make you a far greater and fairer man or
woman than you ever otherwise could be. Like some little bit of black
carbon put into an electric current, my poor nature will flame into
beauty and radiance when that spark touches it. So love Him and be at
peace; give yourselves to Him and He will give you back yourselves,
ennobled and transfigured by the surrender. Lay yourselves on His
altar, and that altar will sanctify both the giver and the gift. If you
can take this rough Philistine soldier's words in their spirit, and in
a higher sense say, 'Whether I live I live unto the Lord, or whether I
die I die unto the Lord; living or dying, I am the Lord's,' He will let
you enlist in His army; and give you for your marching orders this
command and this hope, 'If any man serve Me let him follow Me; and
where I am there shall also My servant be.'



THE WAIL OF A BROKEN HEART

'Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a
pillar, which is in the king's dale; for he said, I have no son to keep
my name in remembrance; and he called the pillar after his own name:
and it is called unto this day, Absalom's Place. 19. Then said Ahimaaz
the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that
the Lord hath avenged him of his enemies. 20. And Joab said unto him.
Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings
another day; but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the
king's son is dead. 21. Then said Joab to Cushi, Go tell the king what
thou hast seen. And Cushi bowed himself unto Joab, and ran. 22 Then
said Ahimaaz the ton of Zadok yet again to Joab, But howsoever, let me,
I pray thee, also run after Cushi. And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou
run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready? 23. But howsoever,
said he, let me run. And he said unto him, Run. Then Ahimaaz ran by the
way of the plain, and overran Cushi. 24. And David sat between the two
gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the
wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running
alone. 25. And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king
said, If he be alone, there is tidings in his mouth. And he came apace,
and drew near. 26. And the watchman saw another man running: and the
watchman called unto the porter, and said, Behold another man running
alone. And the king said, He also bringeth tidings. 27. And the
watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the
running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good
man, and cometh with good tidings. 28. And Ahimaaz called, and said
unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face
before the king, and said, Blessed be the Lord thy God, which hath
delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the
king. 29. And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz
answered, When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw
a great tumult, but I knew not what it was. 30. And the king said unto
him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.
31. And, behold, Cushi came; and Cushi said, Tidings, my lord the king:
for the Lord hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up
against thee. 32. And the king said unto Cushi, Is the young man
Absalom safe I And Cushi answered, The enemies of my lord the king, and
all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.
33. And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the
gate, and wept; and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom! My son,
my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my
son!--2 SAMUEL xviii. 18-33.


The first verse of this passage and the one preceding it give a
striking contrast between the actual and the designed burial-place of
Absalom. The great pit among the sombre trees, where his bloody corpse
was hastily flung, with three darts through his heart, and the rude
cairn piled over it, were a very different grave from the ostentatious
tomb 'in the king's dale,' which he had built to keep his memory green.
This was what all his restless intrigues and unbridled passions and
dazzling hopes had come to. He wanted to be remembered, and he got his
wish; but what a remembrance! That gloomy pit preaches anew the vanity
of 'vaulting ambition which o'erleaps itself,' and tells us once more
that

                   Only the actions of the just
                   Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust.'

I. The first picture here shows a glimpse of the battlefield, and
brings before us three men, each in different ways exhibiting how small
a thing Absalom's death was to all but the heartbroken father, and each
going his own road, heedless of what lay below the heap of stones. The
world goes on all the same, though death is busy, and some
heart-strings be cracked. The minute details which fill the most part
of the story, lead up to, and throw into prominence, David's burst of
agony at the close. The three men, Ahimaaz, Joab, and the Cushite
(Ethiopian), are types of different kinds of self-engrossment, which is
little touched by others' sorrows. The first, Ahimaaz, the young priest
who had already done good service to David as a spy, is full of the
joyous excitement of victory, and eager to run with what he thinks such
good tidings. The word in verse 19, 'bear tidings,' always implies good
news; and the youthful warrior-priest cannot conceive that the death of
the head of the revolt can darken to the king the joy of victory, He is
truly loyal, but, in his youthful impetuosity and excitement, cannot
sympathise with the desolate father, who sits expectant at Mahanaim.
Right feeling and real affection often fail in sympathy, for want of
putting oneself in another's place; and, with the best intentions,
wound where they mean to cheer. A little imagination; guided by
affection, would have taught Ahimaaz that the messenger who told David
of Absalom's death would thrust a sharper spear into his heart than
Joab had driven into Absalom's.

Joab is a very different type of indifference. He is too much
accustomed to battle to be much flushed with victory, and has killed
too many men to care much about killing another. He is cool enough to
measure the full effect of the news on David; and though he clearly
discerns the sorrow, has not one grain of participation in it. He has
some liking for Ahimaaz, and so does not wish him to run, but dissuades
him on the ground (verse 22, Revised Version) that he will win no
reward. That is the true spirit of the mercenary, who cannot conceive
of a man taking trouble unless he gets paid for it somehow, and will
fight and kill, all in the way of business, without the least spark of
enthusiasm for a cause. Hard stolidity and brutal carelessness shielded
him from any 'womanish' tenderness. Absalom was dead, and he had killed
him. It was a good thing, for it had put out the fire of revolt. No
doubt David would be sorry, but that mattered little. Only it was
better for the message to go by some one whose fate was of no
consequence. So he picks out 'the Cushite,' probably an Ethiopian
slave; and if David in his anguish should harm him, nobody will be hurt
but a friendless stranger.

The Cushite gets his orders; and he too is, in another fashion,
careless of their contents and effect. Without a word, he bows himself
to Joab, and runs, as unconcerned as the paper of a letter that may
break a heart. Ahimaaz still pleads to go, and, gaining leave, takes
the road across the Jordan valley, which was probably easier, though
longer; while the other messenger went by the hills, which was a
shorter and rougher road.

II. The scene shifts to Mahanaim, where David had found refuge. He can
scarcely have failed to take an omen from the name, which commemorated
how another anxious heart had camped there, and been comforted, when it
saw the vision of the encamping angels above its own feeble, undefended
tents, and Jacob 'called the name of that place Mahanaim' (that is,
'Two Camps'). How the change of scene in the narrative helps its
vividness, and makes us share in the strain of expectancy and the
tension of watching the approaching messengers! The king, restless for
news, has come out to the space between the outer and inner gates, and
planted a lookout on the gate-house roof. The sharp eyes see a solitary
figure making for the city, across the plain. David recognises that,
since he is alone, he must be a messenger; and now the question is,
What has he to tell? We see him coming nearer, and share the suspense.
Then the second man appears; and clearly something more had happened,
to require two. What was it? They run fast; but the moments are long
till they arrive. The watchman recognises Ahimaaz by his style of
running; and David wistfully tries to forecast his tidings from his
character. It is a pathetic effort, and reveals how anxiously his heart
was beating.

As soon as Ahimaaz is within earshot, though panting with running, no
doubt, he shouts, with what breath is left, the one word, 'Peace!' and
then, at David's feet, tells the victory, 'Blessed be the Lord thy
God'; the triumph was Jehovah's gift, and in it He had shown Himself
David's God, and vindicated His servant's trust. But Ahimaaz is more
devout and thankful than David. The king has neither praise and
thankfulness to God nor to man. He has no pleasure in the victory; no
interest in the details of the fight; no thankfulness for a restored
kingdom; no word of eulogium for his soldiers; nothing but devouring
anxiety for his unworthy son. How chilling to Ahimaaz, all flushed with
eagerness, and proud of victory, and panting with running, and hungry
for some word of praise, it must have been, to get for sole answer the
question about Absalom! He shrinks from telling the whole truth, which,
indeed, the Cushite was officially despatched to tell; but his
enigmatic story of a great tumult as he left the field, of which he did
not know the meaning, was meant to prepare for the bitter news. So he
is bid to stand aside, and no words more vouchsafed to him. A cool
reception, unworthy of David! As Ahimaaz stood there, neglected, he
would think that the politic Joab was right after all.

The Cushite must have been close behind him, for he comes up as soon as
the brief conversation is over. A deeper anxiety must have waited his
tidings; for he must have something more to tell than victory. His
first words add nothing to Ahimaaz's information. What, then, had he
come for? David forebodes evil, and, with the monotony of a man
absorbed in one anxiety, repeats verbatim his former question. Poor
king! He more than half knew the answer, before it was given. The
Cushite with some tenderness veils the fate of Absalom in the wish that
all the king's enemies may be 'as that young man is.' But the veil was
thin, and the attempt to console by reminding of the fact that the dead
man was an enemy as well as a son, was swept away like a straw before
the father's torrent of grief.

III. The sobs of a broken heart cannot be analysed; and this wail of
almost inarticulate agony, with its infinitely pathetic reiteration, is
too sacred for many words. Grief, even if passionate, is not forbidden
by religion; and David's sensitive poet-nature felt all emotions
keenly. We are meant to weep; else wherefore is there calamity? But
there were elements in David's mourning which were not good. It blinded
him to blessings and to duties. His son was dead; but his rebellion was
dead with him, and that should have been more present to his mind. His
soldiers had fought well, and his first task should have been to honour
and to thank them. He had no right to sink the king in the father, and
Joab's unfeeling remonstrance, which followed, was wise and true in
substance, though rough almost to brutality in tone. Sorrow which sees
none of the blue because of one cloud, however heavy and thunderous, is
sinful. Sorrow which sits with folded hands, like the sisters of
Lazarus, and lets duties drift, that it may indulge in the luxury of
unrestrained tears, is sinful. There is no tone of 'It is the Lord! let
Him do what seemeth Him good,' in this passionate plaint; and so there
is no soothing for the grief. The one consolation lies in submission.
Submissive tears wash the heart clean; rebellious ones blister it.

David's grief was the bitter fruit of his own sin. He had weakly
indulged Absalom, and had probably spared the rod, in the boy's youth,
as he certainly spared the sword when Absalom had murdered his brother.
His own immorality had loosened the bonds of family purity, and made
him ashamed to punish his children. He had let Absalom flaunt and
swagger and live in luxury, and put no curb on him; and here was the
end of his foolish softness. How many fathers and mothers are the
destroyers of their children to-day in the very same fashion! That
grave in the wood might teach parents how their fatal fondness may end.
Children, too, may learn from David's grief what an unworthy son can do
to stuff his father's pillow with thorns, and to break his heart at
last.

But there is another side to this grief. It witnesses to the depth and
self-sacrificing energy of a father's love. The dead son's faults are
all forgotten and obliterated by death's 'effacing fingers.' The
headstrong, thankless rebel is, in David's mind, a child again, and the
happy old days of his innocence and love are all that remain in memory.
The prodigal is still a son. The father's love is immortal, and cannot
be turned away by any faults. The father is willing to die for the
disobedient child. Such purity and depth of affection lives in human
hearts. So self-forgetting and incapable of being provoked is an
earthly father's love. May we not see in this disclosure of David's
paternal love, stripping it of its faults and excesses, some dim shadow
of the greater love of God for His prodigals,--a love which cannot be
dammed back or turned away by any sin, and which has found a way to
fulfil David's impossible wish, in that it has given Jesus Christ to
die for His rebellious children, and so made them sharers of His own
kingdom?



BARZILLAI

'And Barzillai said unto the king, How long have I to live, that I
should go up with the king unto Jerusalem? 35. I am this day fourscore
years old: and can I discern between good and evil! can thy servant
taste what I eat or what I drink? can I hear any more the voice of
singing men and singing women? wherefore then should thy servant be yet
a burden unto my lord the king? 36. Thy servant will go a little way
over Jordan with the king: and why should the king recompense it me
with such a reward? 37. Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again,
that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my
father and of my mother. But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go
over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto
thee.'-2 SAMUEL xix. 34-37.


_To the Young._

People often fancy that religion is only good to die by, and many
exhortations are addressed to the young, founded on the possibility
that an early death may be their lot. That, no doubt, is a very solemn
consideration, but it is by no means the sole ground on which such an
appeal may or should be rested. To some of you an early death is
destined. To the larger number of you will be granted a life protracted
to middle age, and to some of you silver hair will come, and you may
see your children's children. I wish to win you seriously to look
forward to the life on earth that is before you, and to the end to
which it is likely to come, if you be spared in the world long enough.

The little picture in these verses is a very beautiful one. David had
been fleeing from his rebellious Absalom, and his adversity had
winnowed his friends. He had crossed the Jordan to the hill-country
beyond, and there, while he was lurking with his crown in peril, and a
price on his head, and old friends dropping from him in their eagerness
to worship the rising sun, this Barzillai with others brought him
seasonable help (xvii. 23), When David returned victorious, Barzillai
met him again. David offered to take him to Jerusalem and to set him in
honour there, The old man answered in the words of our text.

Now I take them for the sake of the picture of old age which they give
us. Look at them: the intellectual powers are dimmed, all taste for the
pleasures and delights of sense is gone, ambition is dead, capacity for
change is departed. What is left? This old man lives in the past and in
the future; the early child-love of the father and mother who, eighty
years ago, rejoiced over his cradle, remains fresh; he cannot 'any more
hear the voice of the singing men and women,' but he can hear the
tones, clear over all these years, of the dear ones whom he first
learned to love. The furthest past is fresh and vivid, and his heart
and memory are true to it. Also he looks forward familiarly and calmly
to the very near end, and lives with the thought of death. He keeps
house with it now. It is nearer to him than the world of living men. In
memory is half of his being, and in hope is the other half. All his
hopes are now simplified and reduced to _one,_ a hope to die and be
united again with the dear ones whom he had so long remembered. And so
he goes back to his city, and passes out of the record--an example of a
green and good old age.

Now, young people, is not that picture one to touch your hearts? You
think in your youthful flush of power and interest, that life will go
on for ever as it has begun, and it is all but impossible to get you to
look forward to what life must come to. I want you to learn from that
picture of a calm, bright old age, a lesson or two of what life will
certainly do to you, that I may found on these certainties the old, old
appeal, 'Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth'.

I. Life will gradually rob you of your interest in all earthly things.

Your time of life is full of ebullient feeling, and sees freshness,
glory, and beauty everywhere. Even the least enthusiastic men are
enthusiastic in their early days. You have physical strength, the
keenness of unpalled senses, the delights of new powers, the
blessedness of mere living. All this springs partly from physical
causes, partly from the novelty of your position. Thank God! all young
creatures are happy, and you among the rest.

Now, I do not ask you to restrain and mortify these things. But I do
ask you to remember the end. It is as certain that joys will pall, it
is as certain that subjects of interest will be exhausted, it is as
certain that powers will decay, as that they now are what they are. All
these grave, middle-aged, careful people round you were like you once.
You, if you live, will be like them. The spring tints are natural, but
they are transient; the blossoms are not always on the fruit-trees.

Think, then, of the End: to make you thankful; to stimulate you; but
also to lead you to take for your object what will never pall. All
created things go. Only the gospel provides you with a theme which
never becomes stale, with objects which are inexhaustible.

Here is a lesson for--

(a) Thinkers: 'Knowledge, it shall vanish away.'

(b) Sensualists: 'Man delights me not, nor woman either.' How old was
he who said that?

(c) Ambitious, self-advancing men.

Is it worth your while to devote yourself to transient aims?

Is it congruous with your dignity as immortal souls?

Is it innocent or guilty?

Is the gospel not a thing to live by as well as to die by?

II. Life will certainly rob you of the power to change.

Barzillai knew that David's court was no place for him; he had been
bred on the mountains of Gilead, and his habits suited only a simple
country life. The court might be better, but he could not fit into it.
But there was his boy Chimham; take him, he was young enough to bend
and mould.

Now this is true in a far loftier way. I need not dwell on the
universality of this law, how it applies to all manner of men, but I
use it now in reference only to the gospel and your relation to it. You
will never again be so likely to become a Christian, if you let these
early days pass.

You say, 'I will have my fling, sow my wild oats, will wait a little
longer, and then'--and then what? You will find that it is infinitely
harder to close with Christ than it would have been before.

While you delay, you are stiffening into the habit of rejection. Custom
is one of our mightiest friends or foes.

While you delay, you are doing violence to conscience, and so weakening
that to which the gospel appeals.

While you delay, you are becoming more familiar with the unreceived
message and so weakening the power of the gospel.

While you delay, you are adding to the long list of your sins.

While you delay, youth is slipping from you.

Make a mark with a straw on the clay and it abides; hammer on the brick
with iron and it only breaks. Youth is a brief season. It is the season
for forming habit, for receiving impression, for building up character.
'The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold, therefore shall he
beg in harvest and have nothing.' Your present time is seed time. God
forbid that I should say that it is impossible, but I do say that it is
hard, for 'a man to be born again when he is old.'

If you do become Christ's servant later in life, your whole condition
will be different from what it would have been if you had begun when
young to trust and love Him. Think of the difficulty of rooting out
habits and memories. Think of the horrid familiarity with evil. Think
of the painful contrition for wasted years, which must be theirs who
are hired at the eleventh hour, after standing all the day idle.

Contrast the experience of him who can say, 'I Thy servant fear God
from my youth,' who has been led by God's mercy from childhood in the
narrow way, who by early faith in Christ has been kept in the slippery
ways of youth.

Of the one we can but say, 'Is not this a brand plucked from the
burning?' The other is 'innocent of much transgression.'

I have small hope of changing middle-aged and old men. To you I turn,
you young men and women, you children, and to each of you I say, 'Wilt
thou not from this time say, My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth?'

III. Life will certainly deepen your early impressions.

The old Barzillai dying looks back to his early days.

So I point the lesson: 'Keep thy heart with all diligence,' and let
your early thoughts be bright and pure ones.

Remember that you will never find any love like a father's and
mother's. Don't do what will load your memories in after days with
sharp reproaches.

IV. Life will bring you nearer and nearer to the grave.

Hope after hope dies out, and there is nothing left but the hope to
die. How beautiful the facing of it so as to become calmly familiar
with it, making it an object of hope, with bright visions of reunion!

How can such an old age so bright and beautiful be secured? Surely the
one answer is,--by faith in Jesus Christ.

Think of an old Christian resting, full of years, full of memories,
full of hopes, to whom the stir of the present is nothing, who has come
so near the place where the river falls into the great sea that the
sounds on the banks are unheard. It is calm above the cataract, and
though there be a shock when the stream plunges over the precipice, yet
a rainbow spans the fall, and the river peacefully mingles with the
shoreless, boundless ocean.

Dear young friends, 'what shall the end be'? It is for yourselves to
settle. Oh, take Christ for your Lord! Then, though so far as regards
the bodily life the 'youths shall faint and be weary,' as regards the
true self the life may be one of growing maturity, and at last you may
'come to the grave as a shock of corn that is fully ripe.'

Trust, love, and serve Jesus, that thus calm, thus beautiful, may be
your days here below, that if you die young you may die ripe enough for
heaven, and that if God spares you to 'reverence and the silver hairs,'
you may crown a holy life by a peaceful departure, and, sitting in the
antechamber of death, may not grieve for the departure of youth and
strength and buoyancy and activity, knowing that 'they also serve who
only stand and wait,' and then may shake off the clog and hindrance of
old age when you pass into the presence of God, and there, as being the
latest-born of heaven, may more than renew your youth, and may enter on
a life which weariness and decay never afflict, but with which immortal
youth, with its prerogatives of endless hope, of keenest delight, of
unwearying novelty, of boundless joy, abides for evermore.



DAVID'S HYMN OF VICTORY

'For Thou hast girded me with strength to battle: them that, rose up
against me hast Thou subdued under me. 41. Thou hast also given me the
necks of mine enemies, that I might destroy them that hate me. 42. They
looked, but there was none to save; even unto the Lord, but He answered
them not. 43. Then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I
did stamp them as the mire of the street, and did spread them abroad.
44. Thou also hast delivered me from the strivings of my people, Thou
hast kept me to be head of the heathen: a people which I knew not shall
serve me. 45. Strangers shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as
they hear, they shall be obedient unto me. 46. Strangers shall fade
away, and they shall be afraid out of their close places. 47. The Lord
liveth; and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of the rock of
my salvation. 48. It is God that avengeth me, and that bringeth down
the people under me, 49. And that bringeth me forth from mine enemies:
Thou also hast lifted me up on high above them that rose up against me:
Thou hast delivered me from the violent man. 50. Therefore I will give
thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and I will sing praises
unto Thy name. 51. He is the tower of salvation for His king; and
sheweth mercy to His anointed, unto David, and to his seed for
evermore.'--2 SAMUEL xxii. 40-51.


The Davidic authorship of this great hymn has been admitted even by
critics who are in general too slow to recognise it. One of these says
that 'there is no Israelite king to whom the expressions in the psalm
apply so closely as to David.' The favourite alternative theory that
the speaker is the personified nation is hard to accept. The voice of
individual trust and of personal experience sounds clear in the glowing
words. Two editions of the hymn are preserved for us,--in Psalm xviii.
and 2 Samuel. Slight variations exist in the two copies, which may
probably be merely accidental. Nothing important depends on them. The
text begins with the closing words of a description of God's arming the
singer for his victories, and goes on to paint the tumult of battle and
the rout of the foe (verses 40-43); then follows triumphant expectation
of future wider victories (verses 44-46); and that leads up to the
closing burst of grateful praise (verses 47-51).

I. We are not to forget that what is described in verses 40-43 is a
literal fight, with real swords against very real enemies. We may draw
lessons of encouragement from it for our conflict with spiritual
wickednesses, but we must not lose sight of the bloody combat with
flesh and blood which the singer had waged. He felt that God had braced
his armour on him, had given him the impenetrable 'shield' which he
wore on his arm, and had strengthened his arms to bend the 'bow of
steel.' We see him in swift pursuit, pressing hard on the flying foe,
crushing them with his fierce charge, trampling them under foot. 'I did
beat them small as the dust of the earth.' His blows fell like those of
a great pestle, pulverising some substance in a mortar. 'I did stamp
them as the mire of the streets,'--a vivid picture of trampling down
the prostrate wretches, for which Psalm xviii. gives the less
picturesque variant, 'did cast them out.' In their despair the
fugitives shriek aloud for God's help, and the Psalmist has a stern joy
in knowing their cries to be unheard.

Now, such delight in an enemy's despair and destruction, such
gratification at the vanity of his prayers, are far away from being
Christian sentiments, and the gulf is not wholly bridged by the
consideration that David felt himself to be God's Anointed, and enmity
to him to be, consequently, treason against God. His feelings were most
natural and entirely consistent with the stage of revelation in which
he lived. They were capable of being purified into that triumph in the
victory of good and the ruin of evil without which there is no vigorous
sympathy with Christ's conflict. They kindle, by their splendid energy
and condensed rapidity, an answering glow even in readers so far away
from the scene as we are. But still they do belong to a lower level of
feeling, and result from a less full revelation than belongs to
Christianity. The light of battle which blazes in them is not the fire
which Jesus longed to kindle on earth.

But we may well take a pattern from the stern soldier's recognition
that all his victory was due to God alone. The strength that he put
forth was God's gift. It was God who subdued the insurgents, not David.
The panic which made the foe take to flight was infused into them by
God. No name but Jehovah's was to be carved on the trophy reared on the
battlefield. The human victor was but the instrument of the divine
Conqueror. Such lowly reference of all our power and success to Him
will save us from overweening self-adulation, and is the surest way to
retain the power which He gives, and which is lost most surely when we
take the credit of it to ourselves.

II. The enemies thus far have been from among his own subjects, but in
verses 44-46 a transition is made to victory over 'strangers'; that is,
foreign nations. The triumph over 'the strivings of my people' heartens
the singer to expect that he will be' head of the nations.' The other
version of the hymn (Psalm xviii.) reads simply '_the_ people.'

The picture of hasty surrender 'as soon as they hear of me' is graphic.
His very name conquers. 'The strangers shall submit themselves unto me'
is literally 'shall lie,' or yield feigned obedience. They 'fade away'
as if withered by the hot wind of the desert. 'They shall come limping'
(as the word here used signifies), as if wounded in the fight, for
which Psalm xviii. reads 'trembling.'

Now this vision of extended conquests, based as it is on past smaller
victories, carries valuable lessons. David here lays hold of the great
promises to his house of a wide dominion, and expects the beginnings of
their fulfilment to himself. And he _did_ extend his conquests beyond
the territory of Israel. But we may take the hope as an instance in a
particular direction of what should be the issue of all experience of
God's mercies. 'To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more
abundant.' Smaller victories will be followed by greater. Our reception
of God's favouring help should widen our anticipations. Our gratitude
to Him should be 'a lively sense of favours to come.' Progressive
victory should be the experience of every believer.

We may see, too, dimly apparent through the large hope of the
Psalmist-King, the prophecy of the worldwide victories of his Son, in
whom the great promises of a dominion 'from sea to sea, and from the
river unto the ends of the earth,' are fulfilled.

III. Verses 46-51 make a noble close to a noble hymn, in which the
singer's strong wing never flags, nor the rush of thought and feeling
ever slackens. In it, even more absolutely than in the rest of the
psalm, his victory is all ascribed to Jehovah. He alone acts, David
simply receives. To have learned by experience that' He lives,' and is
'my Rock,' and to gather all the feelings excited by the retrospect of
a long life into 'Blessed be my Rock,' is to have reaped and garnered
the richest harvest which earth can yield. So at last sings the man
whose early years had been full of struggles and privations. A morning
of tempest has cleared into sunny evening calm, as it will with us all
if the tempest blows us into our true shelter.

This psalm begins with a rapturous heaping together of the precious
names of God, as the singer has had them revealed to him by experience.
Foremost among these stands that one, 'my Rock,' which is caught up
again in this closing burst of thanksgiving. That great Rock towers
unchangeable above fleeting things. The river runs past its base, the
woods nestling at its feet bud, and shed their pride of foliage, but it
stands the same. David had many a time hid in 'the clefts of the rocks'
in his years of wandering, and the figure is eloquent on his lips.

These closing strains gather together once more the main points of the
previous verses, his deliverance from domestic foes, and his conquests
over external enemies. These are wholly God's work. True thankfulness
delights to repeat its acknowledgments. God does not weary of giving,
we should not weary of praising the Giver and His gifts. We renew our
enjoyment of our long-past mercies by reiterating our thankfulness for
them. They do not die as long as gratitude keeps their remembrance
green.

But the Psalmist's experience impels him to a vow (verse 50). He will
give thanks to God among the nations. God's mercies bind, and, if
rightly felt, will joyfully impel, the receiver to spread His name as
far as his voice can reach. Love is sometimes silent, but gratitude
must speak. The most unmusical voice is tuned to melody by God's great
blessings received and appreciated, and they need never want a theme
who can tell what the Lord has done for their souls. 'Then shall... the
tongue of the dumb sing.' A dumb Christian is a monstrosity. We are
'the secretaries of His praise,' and have been saved ourselves that we
may declare His goodness.

Verse 51 has been supposed by some to be a liturgical addition, on the
ground that, if David were the author, he would not be likely to name
himself thus. But there does not seem to be anything unnatural in his
mentioning himself by name in such a connection, and the reference to
his dynasty, based as it is on Nathan's promise, is most fitting. The
last thought about his mercies which the humble gratitude of the
Psalmist utters is that they were not given to him for any good in
himself, nor to be selfishly enjoyed, but that they were bestowed on
him because of the place that he filled in the divine purposes, and
belonged to 'his seed' as truly as to himself. So lowly had his
prosperity made him. So truly had he sunk himself in his office, and in
the great things that God meant to do through him and his house. We
know better than David did what these were, and how the promise on
which he rested his hopes of the duration of his house is fulfilled in
his Son, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and who bears God's
name to all the nations.



THE DYING KING'S LAST VISION AND PSALM

'Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and
the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob,
and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, 2. The Spirit of the Lord spake
by me, and His word was in my tongue. 3. The God of Israel said, the
Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just,
ruling in the fear of God. 4. And he shall be as the light of the
morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the
tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. 5.
Although my house be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an
everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all
my salvation, and all my desire, although He make it not to grow. 6.
But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away,
because they cannot be taken with hands: 7. But the man that shall
touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear; and they
shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place.'--2 SAMUEL xxiii,
1-7.


It was fitting that 'the last words of David' should be a prophecy of
the true King, whom his own failures and sins, no less than his
consecration and victories, had taught him to expect. His dying eyes
see on the horizon of the far-off future the form of Him who is to be a
just and perfect Ruler, before the brightness of whose presence and the
refreshing of whose influence, verdure and beauty shall clothe the
world. As the shades gather round the dying monarch, the radiant glory
to come brightens. He departs in peace, having seen the salvation from
afar, and stretched out longing hands of greeting toward it. Then his
harp is silent, as if the rapture which thrilled the trembling strings
had snapped them.

1. We have first a prelude extending to the middle of verse 3. In it
there is first a fourfold designation of the personality of the
Psalmist-prophet, and then a fourfold designation of the divine oracle
spoken through him. The word rendered in verse 1 'saith' is really a
noun, and usually employed with 'the Lord' following, as in the
familiar phrase 'saith the Lord.' It is used, as here, with the
genitive of the human recipient, in Balaam's prophecy, on which this is
evidently modelled. It distinctly claims a divine source for the oracle
following, and declares, at the outset, that these last words of David
were really the faithful sayings of Jehovah. The human and divine
elements are smelted together. Note the description of the human
personality. First, the natural 'David the son of Jesse,' like 'Balaam
the son of Beor' in the earlier oracle. The aged king looks back with
adoring thankfulness to his early days and humble birth, as if he were
saying, 'Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this
grace given, that I should proclaim the coming King.' Then follow three
clauses descriptive of what 'the son of Jesse' had been made by the
grace of God, in that he had been raised on high from his low condition
of a shepherd boy, and anointed as ruler, not only by Samuel and the
people, but by the God of their great ancestor, whose career had
presented so many points of resemblance to his own, the God who still
wrought among the nation which bore the patriarch's name, as He had
wrought of old; and that, besides his royalty, he had been taught to
sing the sweet songs which already were the heritage of the nation.
This last designation shows what David counted God's chief gift to
him,--not his crown, but his harp. It further shows that he regarded
his psalms as divinely inspired, and it proves that already they had
become the property of the nation. This first verse heightens the
importance of the subsequent oracle by dwelling on the claims of the
recipient of the revelation to be heard and heeded.

Similarly, the fourfold designation of the divine source has the same
purpose, and corresponds with the four clauses of verse 1, 'The Spirit
of the Lord spake in [or "into"] me.' That gives the Psalmist's
consciousness that in his prophecy he was but the recipient of a
message. It wonderfully describes the penetrating power of that inward
voice which clearly came to him from without, and as clearly spoke to
him within. Words could not more plainly declare the prophetic
consciousness of the distinction between himself and the Voice which he
heard in the depths of his spirit. It spoke in him before he spoke his
lyric prophecy. 'His word was upon my tongue.' There we have the
utterance succeeding the inward voice, and the guarantee that the
Psalmist's word was a true transcript of the inward voice. 'The God of
Israel said,' and therefore Israel is concerned in the divine word,
which is not of private reference, but meant for all. 'The Rock of
Israel spake,' and therefore Israel may trust the Word, which rests on
His immutable faithfulness and eternal being.

II. The divine oracle thus solemnly introduced and guaranteed must be
worthy of such a prelude. Abruptly, and in clauses without verbs, the
picture of the righteous Ruler is divinely flashed before the seer's
inward eye. The broken construction may perhaps indicate that he is
describing what he beholds in vision. There is no need for any
supplement such as 'There shall be,' which, however true in meaning,
mars the vividness of the presentation of the Ruler to the prophet's
sight. David sees him painted on the else blank wall of the future.
When and where the realisation may be he knows not. What are the
majestic outlines? A universal sovereign over collective humanity,
righteous and God-fearing. In the same manner as he described the
vision of the King, David goes on, as a man on some height telling what
he saw to the people below, and paints the blessed issues of the King's
coming.

It had been night before He came,--the night of ignorance, sorrow, and
sin,--but His coming is like one of these glorious Eastern sunrises
without a cloud, when everything laughs in the early beams, and, with
tropical swiftness, the tender herbage bursts from the ground, as born
from the dazzling brightness and the fertilising rain. So all things
shall rejoice in the reign of the King, and humanity be productive,
under His glad and quickening influences, of growths of beauty and
fruitfulness impossible to it without these.

The abrupt form of the prophecy has led some interpreters to construe
it as, 'When a king over men is righteous... then it is as a morning,'
etc. But surely such a platitude is not worthy of being David's last
word, nor did it need divine inspiration to disclose to him that a just
king is a great blessing. The only worthy meaning is that which sees
here, in words so solemnly marked as a special revelation closing the
life of David, 'the vision of the future and all the wonder that should
be,' when a real Person should thus reign over men. The explanation
that we have here simply the ideal of the collective Davidic monarchy
is a lame attempt to escape from the recognition of prophecy properly
so called. It is the work of poetry to paint ideals, of prophecy to
foretell, with God's authority, their realisation. The picture here is
too radiant to be realised in any mere human king, and, as a matter of
fact, never was so in any of David's successors, or in the whole of
them put together. It either swings _in vacuo,_ a dream unrealised, or
it is a distinct prophecy from God of the reign of the coming Messiah,
of whom David and all his sons, as anointed kings, were living
prophecies. 'The Messianic idea entered on a new stage of development
with the monarchy, and that not as if the history stimulated men's
imaginations, but that God used the history as a means of further
revelation by His prophetic Spirit.

III. The difficult verse 5, whether its first and last clauses be taken
interrogatively or negatively, in its central part bases the assurance
of the coming of the king on God's covenant (2 Samuel vii.), which is
glorified as being everlasting, provided with all requisites for its
realisation, and therefore 'sure,' or perhaps 'preserved,' as if
guarded by God's inviolable sanctity and faithfulness. The fulfilment
of the dying saint's hopes depends on God's truth. Whatever sense might
say, or doubt whisper, he silences them by gazing on that great Word.
So we all have to do. If we found our hopes and forecasts on it, we can
go down to the grave calmly, though they be not fulfilled, sure that
'no good thing can fail us of all that He hath spoken.' Living or
dying, faith and hope must stay themselves on God's word. Happy they
whose closing eyes see the form of the King, and whose last thoughts
are of God's faithful promise! Happy they whose forecasts of the
future, nearer or more remote, are shaped by His word! Happy they who,
in the triumphant energy of such a faith, can with dying lips proclaim
that His promises overlap, and contain, all their salvation and all
their desire!

If we read the first and last clauses negatively, with Revised Version
and others, they, as it were, surround the kernel of clear-eyed faith,
in the middle of the verse, with a husk, not of doubt, but of
consciousness how far the present is from fulfilling the great promise.
The poor dying king looks back on the scandals of his later reign, on
his own sin, on his children's lust, rebellion, and tragic deaths, and
feels how far from the ideal he and they have been. He sees little
token of growth toward realisation of that promise; but yet in spite of
a stained past and a wintry present, he holds fast his confidence. That
is the true temper of faith, which calls things that are not as though
they were, and is hindered by no sense of unworthiness nor by any
discouragements born of sense, from grasping with full assurance the
promise of God. But the consensus of the most careful expositors
inclines to take both clauses as questions, and then the meaning would
be, 'Does not my house stand in such a relation to God that the
righteous king will spring from it? It is, in this view, a triumphant
question, expressing the strongest assurance, and the next clause would
then lay bare the foundation of that relation of David's house as not
its goodness, but God's covenant ('_for_ He hath made'). Similarly the
last clause would be a triumphant question of certainty, asserting in
the strongest manner that God would cause that future salvation for the
world, which was wrapped up in the coming of the king, and in which the
dying man was sure that he should somehow have a share, dead though he
were, to blossom and grow, though he had to die as in the winter,
before the buds began to swell. The assurance of immortality, and of a
share in all the blessings to come, bursts from the lips that are so
soon to be silent.

IV. But the oracle cannot end with painting only blessings as flowing
from the king's reign. If he is to rule in righteousness and the fear
of the Lord, then he must fight against evil. If his coming causes the
tender grass to spring, it will quicken ugly growths too. The former
representation is only half the truth; and the threatening of
destruction for the evil is as much a part of the divine oracle as the
other. Strictly, it is 'wickedness'--the abstract quality rather than
the concrete persons who embody it--which is spoken of. May we recall
the old distinction that God loves the sinner while He hates the sin?
The picture is vivid. The wicked--and all the enemies of this King are
wicked, in the prophet's view--are like some of these thorn-brakes,
that cannot be laid hold of, even to root them out, but need to be
attacked with sharp pruning-hooks on long shafts, or burned where they
grow. There is a destructive side to the coming of the King, shadowed
in every prophecy of him, and brought emphatically to prominence in his
own descriptions of his reign and its final issues. It is a poor
kindness to suppress that side of the truth. Thorns as well as tender
grass spring up in the quickening beams; and the best commentary on the
solemn words which close David's closing song is the saying of the King
himself: 'In the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather
up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them.'



THE ROYAL JUBILEE [Footnote: Preached on the occasion of Queen
Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.]

'... He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
4. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth,
even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the
earth, by clear shining after rain.'--2 SAMUEL xxiii. 3, 4.


One of the Psalms ascribed to David sounds like the resolves of a new
monarch on his accession. In it the Psalmist draws the ideal of a king,
and says such things as, 'I will behave myself wisely, in a perfect
way. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes. I hate the work of
them that turn aside. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land,
that they may dwell with me.' That psalm we may regard as the first
words of the king when, after long, weary years, the promise of
Samuel's anointing was fulfilled, and he sat on the throne.

My text comes from what purports to be the last words of the same king.

He looks back, and again the ideal of a monarch rises before him. The
psalm, for it is a psalm, though it is not in the Psalter, is
compressed to the verge of obscurity; and there may be many questions
raised about its translation and its bearing. These do not need to
occupy us now, but the words which I have selected for my text may,
perhaps, best be represented to an English reader in some such sentence
as this--'If (or when) one rules over men justly, ruling in the fear of
God, then it shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth,
even a morning without clouds.'  With such a monarch all the interests
of his people will prosper. His reign will be like the radiant dawn of
a cloudless day, and his land like the spring pastures when the fresh,
green grass is wooed out of the baked earth by the combined influence
of rain and sunshine. David's little kingdom was surrounded by giant
empires, in which brute force, wielded by despotic will, ground men
down, or squandered their lives recklessly. But the King of Israel had
learned, partly by the experience of his own reign, and partly by
divine inspiration, that such rulers are not true types of a monarch
after God's own heart. This ideal king is neither a warrior nor a
despot. Two qualities mark him, Justice and Godliness. Pharaoh and his
like, oppressors, were as the lightning which blasts and scorches. The
true king was to be as the sunshine that vitalises and gladdens. 'He
shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that
water the earth.'

We do not need to ask the question here, though it might be very
relevant on another occasion, whether this portraiture is a mere ideal,
floating _in vacuo,_ or whether it is a direct prophecy of that
expected Messianic king who was to realise the divine ideal of
sovereignty. At all events we know that, in its highest and deepest
significance, the picture of my text has lived and breathed human
breath, in Jesus Christ, who both in His character and in His influence
on the world, fulfilled the ideal that floated before the eyes of the
aged king.

I do not need to follow the course of thought in this psalm any
farther. You will have anticipated my motive for selecting this text
now. It seems to me to gather up, in vivid and picturesque form, the
thoughts and feelings which to-day are thrilling through an Empire, to
which the most extended dominion of these warrior kings of old was but
a speck. On such an occasion as this I need not make any apology, I am
sure, for diverging from the ordinary topics of pulpit address, and
associating ourselves with the many millions who to-day are giving
thanks for Queen Victoria.

My text suggests two lines along which the course of our thoughts may
run. The one is the personal character of this ideal monarch; the other
is its effects on his subjects.

I. Now, with regard to the former, the pulpit is, in my judgment, not
the place either for the discussion of current events or the
pronouncing of personal eulogiums. But I shall not be wandering beyond
my legitimate province, if I venture to try to gather into a few words
the reasons, in the character and public life of our Queen, for the
thankfulness of this day. Our text brings out, as I have said, two
great qualities as those on which a throne is to be established,
Justice and Godliness. Now, the ancient type of monarch was the
fountain of justice, in a very direct sense; inasmuch as it was his
office, not only to pronounce sentence on criminals, but to give
decisions on disputed questions of right. These functions have long
ceased to be exercised by our monarchs, but there is still room for
both of those qualities--the Justice which holds an even balance
between parties and strifes, the Righteousness which has supreme regard
to the primary duties that press alike upon prince and pauper, and the
Godliness which, as I believe, is the root from which all
righteousness, as between man and man, and as between prince and
subject, must ever flow. Morality is the garb of religion; religion is
the root of morality. He, and only he, will hold an even balance and
discharge his obligations to man, whose life is rooted in, and his acts
under the continual influence of, the fear of God which has in it no
torment, but is the parent of all things good.

We shall not be flatterers if we thankfully recognise in our Sovereign
Lady the presence of both these qualities. I have spoken of the first
inaugural words of the King of Israel, and the resolutions that he
made. It is recorded that when, to the child of eleven years of age,
the announcement was made that she stood near in the line of succession
to the throne, the tremulous young lips answered, 'It is a great
responsibility; but I will be good.' And all round the world to-day her
subjects attest that the aged monarch has kept the little maiden's vow.
Contrast that life with the lives of the other women who have sat on
the throne of England. Think of the brilliant Queen, whose glories our
greatest poets were not ashamed to sing, with the Tudor masterfulness
in her, and not a little of the Tudor grossness and passion, and
remember the blots that stained her glories. Think of her sister, the
morbidly melancholy tool of priests, who goes down the ages branded
with an epithet only too sadly earned. Think of another woman that
ruled over England in name, the weak instrument of base intrigues. And
then turn to this life which we are looking upon to-day. Think of the
nameless scandals, the hideous immorality of the reigns that preceded
hers, and you will not wonder that every decent man and every modest
woman was thankful that, with the young girl, there came a breath of
purer air into the foul atmosphere. I am old enough to remember
hearing, as a boy, the talk of my elders as to the probabilities of
insurrection if, instead of our Queen, there had come to the throne the
brother of her two predecessors. The hopes of those early days have
been more than fulfilled.


It is not for us to determine the religious character of others, and
that is too sacred a region for us to enter; but this we may say, that
in all these sixty years of diversified trial, there has been no act
known to us outsiders inconsistent with the highest motive, the fear of
the Lord; and some of us who have worshipped in the humble Highland
church where she has bowed have felt that on the throne of Britain sat
a Christian.

Nor need we forget how, from that root of fear of God, there has come
that wondrous patience and faithfulness to duty, the form of 'Justice'
which is possible for a constitutional monarch. We have little notion
of how pressing and numerous and continual the royal duties must
necessarily be. They have been discharged, even when the blow that
struck all sunshine out of life left an irrepressible shrinking from
pageantry and pomp. Joys come; joys go. Duties abide, and they have
been done.

Nor can we forget, either, how the very difficult position of a
constitutional monarch, with the semblance of power and the reality of
narrow restrictions, has been filled. Our Sovereign has never set
herself against the will of the people, expressed by its legitimate
representatives, even when that will may have imposed upon her the
sanction of changes which she did not approve. And that is much to say.
We have seen young despots whose self-will has threatened to wreck a
nation's prosperity.

Nor can we forget how all the immense influence of position and
personality has been thrown on the side of purity and righteousness.
Even we outsiders know how, more than once or twice, she has
steadfastly set her face against the admission to her presence of men
and women of evil repute, and has in effect repeated David's
proclamation against vice and immorality at his accession: 'He that
worketh wickedness shall not dwell within my house.'

Nor must we forget, either, the simplicity, the beauty, the tenderness
of her wedded and family life, her love of rural quiet, and of
wholesome communion with Nature, and her eagerness to take her people
into her confidence, as set forth in the book which, whatever its
literary merits, speaks of her earnest appreciation of Nature and her
wish for the sympathy of her subjects.

Then came the bolt from the blue, that sudden crash that wrecked the
happiness of a life. Many of us, I have no doubt, remember that dreary
December Sunday morning when, while the nation was standing in
expectation of another calamity from across the Atlantic, there flashed
through the land the news of the Prince's death; thrilling all hearts,
and bringing all nearer to her, the lonely widow, than they had ever
been in her days of radiant happiness. How pathetically, silently,
nobly, devoutly, that sorrow has been borne, it is not for us to speak.
She has become one of the great company of sad and lonely hearts, and
in her sadness has shown an eager desire to send messages of sympathy
to all whom she could reach, who were in like darkness and sorrow.

Brethren, I have ventured to diverge so far from the ordinary run of
pulpit ministrations because I feel that to-day all of us, whatever may
be our political or ecclesiastical relationships and proclivities, are
one in thanking God for the monarch whose life has been without a
stain, and her reign without a blot.

II. Now let me say a word as to the other line of thought which my text
suggests, the effect of such a reign on the condition of the subject.

Now, of course, in the narrowly limited domain of that strange
creation, a constitutional monarchy, there is far less opportunity for
the Sovereign's direct influence on the Subject than there was in the
ancient kingdoms of which David was thinking in his psalm. The
marvellous progress of Britain during these sixty years is due, not to
our Sovereign, but to a multitude of strenuous workers and earnest
thinkers in a hundred different departments, as well as to the
evolution of the gifts that come down to us from our ancient
inheritance of freedom. But we shall much mistake if, for that reason,
we set aside the monarch's character and influence as of no account in
the progress,

A supposition, which is a violent one, may be made which will set this
matter in clearer light. Suppose that during these sixty years we had
had a king on the throne of England like some of the kings we have had.
The sentiment of loyalty is not now of such a character as that it will
survive a vicious sovereign. If we had had such a monarch as I have
hinted at, the loyalty of the good would for all these years have been
suffering a severe strain, and the forces that make for evil would have
been disastrously strengthened. Dangers escaped are unnoticed, but one
twelvemonth of the reign of a profligate would shake the foundations of
the monarchy, and would open the floodgates of vice; and we should then
know how much the nation owed to the Queen whose life was pure, and who
cast all her influence on the side of 'things that are lovely and of
good report.'

Take another supposition. Suppose that during these years of wonderful
transition, when the whole aspect of English politics and society has
been transformed, we had had a king like George III., who set his
opinion against the nation's will constitutionally expressed. Then no
man knows with what storm and tumult, with what strife and injury, the
inevitable transition would have been effected. Be sure of this, that
the wise self-effacement of our Sovereign during these critical years
of change is largely the reason why they have been years of peace, in
which the new has mingled itself with the old without revolution or
disturbance. It is due to her in a very large degree that
                 'Freedom broadens slowly down
                  From precedent to precedent.'

I need not dilate on the changed Britain that she looks out upon and
rules to-day. I need not speak--there will be many voices to do that,
in not altogether agreeable notes, for there will be a dash of too much
self-complacency in them--about progress in material wealth, colonial
expansion, the increase of education, the gentler manners, the new life
that has been breathed over art and literature, the achievements in
science and philosophy, the drawing together of classes, the bridging
over of the great gulf between rich and poor by some incipient and
tentative attempts at sympathy and brotherhood.

Nor need I dwell upon the ecclesiastical signs of the times, in which,
mingled as they are, there is at least this one great good, that never
since the early days have so large a proportion of Christian men been
'seeking after the things that make for peace,' and realising the
oneness of all believers who hold the Headship of Christ.

All this review falls more properly into other hands than mine. Only I
would put in a caution--do not let us mingle self-conceit with our
congratulations; and, above all, do not let us 'rest and be thankful.'
There is much to be done yet. Listening ears can catch on every side
vague sounds that tell of unrest and of the stirrings into wakefulness
of
                'The spirit of the years to come,
                 Yearning to mix itself with life.'

I seem to hear all around me the rushing in the dark of a mighty
current that is bearing down upon us. Great social questions are
rapidly coming to the front--the questions of distribution of wealth,
abolition of privilege, the relations of labour and capital, and many
others are clamant to be dealt with at least, if not solved. There Is
much to be done before Jesus Christ is throned as King of England. War
has to be frowned down; the brotherhood of man has to be realised,
temperance has to be much more largely practised than it is.

I need not go over the catalogue of _desiderata,_ of _agenda_--things
that have to be done--in the near future. Only this I would
say--Christian men and women are the last people who should be ready to
'rest and be thankful,' for the principles of the Gospel that we
profess, which have never been applied to the life of nations as they
ought to be, will solve the questions which make the despair of so many
in this generation. We shall best express our thankfulness for these
past sixty years by each of us taking our part in the great movement
which, in the inevitable drift of things to democracy, is going to
'cast the kingdom old into another mould,' and which will, I pray, make
our people more of what John Milton long ago called them, 'God's
Englishmen.' We have taught the nations many things. Our Parliament is
called the Mother of Parliaments. Ours is
           'The land where, girt with friends or foes,
            A man may say the thing he will.'

It has taught the nations a tempered freedom, and that a monarchy may
be a true republic. May we rise to the height of our privileges and
responsibilities, and teach our subject peoples, not only mechanics,
science, law, free trade, but a loftier morality, and the name of Him
by whom kings reign and princes decree justice!

We, members of the free Churches of England, come seldom under the
notice of royalty, and have little acquaintance with courts, but we
yield to none in our recognition of the virtues and in our sympathy
with the sorrows of the Sovereign Lady, the good woman, who rules these
lands, and we all heartily thank God for her to-day, and pray that for
long years still to come the familiar letters V.R. may stand, as they
have stood to two generations, as the symbol of womanly purity and of
the faithful discharge of queenly duty.



A LIBATION TO JEHOVAH

'And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the
water of the well of Beth-lehem, which is by the gate! 16. And the
three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew
water out of the well of Beth-lehem, that was by the gate, and took it
and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but
poured it out unto the Lord. 17. And he said, Be it far from me, O
Lord, that I should do this; is not this the blood of the men that went
in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These
things did these three mighty men.'--2 SAMUEL xxiii. 15-17.


David's fortunes were at a low ebb. He was in hiding in his cave of
Adullam, and a Philistine garrison held Bethlehem, his native place. He
was little different from an outlaw at the head of a band of 'broken
men,' but there were depths of chivalry and poetry in his heart.
Sweltering in his cave in the fierce heat of harvest, he thought of his
native Bethlehem; he remembered the old days when he had watered his
flock at the well by its gate, or mingled with the people of the little
town, in their evening assemblies round it. The memories of boyhood
rose up radiant before him, and as he was immersed in the past, the
grim present, the perils that threatened his life, the savage, gaunt
rocks without a trace of greenness that girded him, the privations to
which he was exposed, were all forgotten, and he longed for one more
draught of the water that tasted so cool and sweet to memory. Three of
his 'mighty men,' bound to him by loyal devotion and unselfish love,
were ready to die to win for their chief a momentary gratification. So
they slipped away from Adullam, 'brake through the host of the
Philistines,' and brought back the longed-for draught. David's
reception of the dearly-bought, sparkling gift was due to a noble
impulse. The water seemed to him to be dyed with blood, and to be not
water so much as 'lives of men.' It had become too precious to be used
to satisfy his longing. It would be base self-indulgence to drink what
had been won by such self-forgetting devotion. God only had the right
to receive what men had risked their lives to obtain, and therefore he
'poured it out unto the Lord.'

The story gleams out of the fierce narratives in which it is embedded,
like a flower blooming on some grim cliff. May we not learn lessons
from it?

I. David's longing.

David, a fugitive in the cave, haunted by the 'nostalgia' that made
Bethlehem seem so fair and dear, may stand for us as an example of the
longings and thirsts that sometimes force themselves into consciousness
in every soul. Below the bustle and strife of daily life, occupied as
it must be with material and often ignoble things, below the hardness
into which the world has compressed men's surface nature, there lies a
yearning for the cool water that rises hard by the gate of our native
home. True, it is with many of us overlaid for the most part by coarser
desires, and may be as unlike our usual dominant longings and aims, as
David's tender outbreak of sentiment was to the prevailing tenor of his
life, in those days when he was an outlaw and a freebooter. But the
longing, though often stifled, is not wholly quenched. It is
misinterpreted by the man who is conscious of it, and far too often he
tries to slake the thirst by fiery and drugged liquors which but make
it more intense. Happy are they who know what it is that their parched
palates crave, and have learned, while yet the knowledge avails, to
say, 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God'! 'Blessed are they
who thirst after' the water of the well of Bethlehem, 'for they shall
be filled!'

II. The three heroes' devotion.

These three rough soldiers, lawless and fierce as they were, had been
so mastered by their chief that they were ready to dare anything to
pleasure him. Who would have looked for such delicacy of feeling and
such enthusiastic self-surrender in such men?

They stand as grand instances of the height of devotion of which the
rudest nature is capable, when once its love and loyalty to the Beloved
are evoked.

How such deeds ennoble the lowest types of character, and make us think
better of men, and more sadly of the contrast between their habitual
characteristics and the possibilities that lie slumbering in their
ignoble lives! There are sparks in the hard cold flint, if only they
could be struck out. There is water in the rock, if only the right
hand, armed with the wonder-working rod, smites it.


Let us not judge men too harshly by what they do and are, but let us
try to bring their sleeping possibilities into conscious exercise.

Let us remember that love and self-sacrifice, which is the very outcome
and natural voice of love, ennoble the most degraded.

But these heroic three may suggest to us a sadder thought. They were
ready to die for David; would they have been as ready to die for God?
These noble emotions of love, leading to glad flinging away of life to
pleasure the beloved, are freely given to men, but too often withheld
from God, We lavish on our beloveds or on our chosen leaders, a
devotion that ought to shame us, when contrasted with the scantiness of
our grudging devotion and self-surrender to Him. If we loved God a
tenth part as ardently as we love our wives or husbands or parents or
children, and were willing to do and bear as much for Him as we are
willing to bear for them, how different our lives would be! We can love
utterly, enthusiastically, self-forget-tingly, absorbed in the beloved,
and counting all surrender of self to, and the sacrifice of life itself
for, him or her a delight. Many of us do love men so. Do we love God so?

But these heroic three may suggest another thought. Their
self-sacrificing love was illustrious; but there is a nobler, more
wonderful, more soul-subduing instance of such love. They broke through
the ranks of the Philistines to bring David a draught from the well of
Bethlehem. Jesus has broken through the ranks of our enemies to bring
us the water of which 'if a man drink, he shall live for ever.' If we
would see the highest example of self-sacrificing love, we must turn to
look, not on the instances of it that shine through the ages on the
page of history, and make men thrill as they gaze, and think better of
the human nature that can do such things, but on the Christ hanging on
the Cross because He loved those who did not love Him, and giving His
life a ransom for sinners.


III. David's reception of the water.

The chivalrous devotion of the three touched an answering chord in
their chivalrous chief. His heart filled at the thought of what they
had risked, and revolted from employing what had been thus won for no
higher use than to gratify a piece of sentiment in himself. The
sparkling water was too sacred to be taken for any baser use than as a
libation to Jehovah. And who can doubt that the three were more fully
repaid for their devotion, as David poured it out unto the Lord, than
if he had drunk it eagerly up? His feeling and his act indicate
beautiful delicacy of instinct, and swiftness of perception of how to
requite the devotion of the three.

We may separate into its two parts the generous impulse which sprang as
one whole in David's breast. There was the shrinking from using the
water to slake his thirst merely, and there was the resolve to pour it
out as a libation to God. Both parts of that whole may yield us
profitable thoughts.

To risk their lives for the water was noble in the three; to have
quaffed it as if it had been drawn like any other water from a well,
would have been ignoble in David. There are things that it may be noble
to give and ignoble to accept. There are sacrifices which we are not
entitled to allow others to make for our sakes. Gratifications which
can only be procured at the hazard of men's lives are too dearly bought.

Would not a civilisation, that draws much of its comforts and
appliances from 'sweated industries,' and is languidly amused by seeing
men and women performers peril their lives nightly, and lose them too,
for its gratification, be the better for copying David's recoil from
drinking 'the blood of men that went in jeopardy of their lives'? Is
there not 'blood' on many a woman's ball-dress, on many an article of
luxury, on many an amusement?

There are sacrifices which we have no right to accept from others. The
three had no right to risk life for such a purpose, and David would
have been selfish if he had drunk the water. Do not such thoughts lead
us by contrast to Him who has done what none other can do? 'None of
them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give his life a ransom
for him'; but Jesus can and Jesus does, and what it would be
impossible, and wrong if it were possible, for one man to do for
another, He has done for us all, and what it would be base for a man to
accept from another if that other could give it, it is blessed and the
beginning of all nobleness of character for us to accept from Him.
David would not drink because the cup seemed to him to be red with
blood. Jesus offers to us a cup, not of cold water only but of 'water
and blood,' and bids us drink of it and remember Him.

The generous devotion of the three kindled answering emotions in
David's breast. It would be a churlish soul that was not warmed into
some faint replica of such self-sacrifice, and most of us would be
ashamed of ourselves if we were unmoved by such love. But does the
supreme example of it affect us as much as the lesser examples of it
do? How many of us stand before it like the peaks of the Alps that
front full south, and lift an unmelted breastplate of snow to the
midday sun! How many of us have lived all our lives in presence of
Jesus' infinite love and self-surrender for us each, and never have
felt one transient touch of answering love!

The other part of David's impulse was to offer to God what was too
precious for his own use. That is the fitting destination of our most
precious and prized possessions. And whatever is thus offered becomes
more precious by being offered. The altar sanctifies and enhances the
worth of the gift. What we give to God is more our own than if we had
kept it to ourselves, and develops richer capacities of ministering to
our delight. It is so with our greatest surrender, the surrender of
ourselves. When we give ourselves to Jesus, He renders us back to
ourselves, far better worth having than before. We are never so much
our own as when we are wholly Christ's. And the same thing is true as
to all our riches of mind, heart, or worldly wealth. If we wish to
taste their most delicate and refined sweetness, let us give them to
Jesus, and the touch of His hand, as He accepts them and gives them
back to us, will leave a lingering fragrance that nothing else can
impart. Was not the water from the well of Bethlehem sweeter to David
as he poured it out unto the Lord than if he had greedily gulped it
down?



THE FIRST BOOK OF KINGS



DAVID APPOINTING SOLOMON

'Then king David answered and said, Call me Bath-sheba. And she came
into the king's presence, and stood before the king. 29. And the king
sware, and said, As the Lord liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of
all distress, 30. Even as I sware unto thee by the Lord God of Israel,
saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall
sit upon my throne in my stead; even so will I certainly do this day.
31. Then Bath-sheba bowed with her face to the earth, and did reverence
to the king, and said, Let my lord king David live for ever. 32. And
king David said, Call me Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and
Benaiah the son of Jehoiada. And they came before the king. 33. The
king also said unto them, Take with you the servants of your lord, and
cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule, and bring him down to
Gihon: 34. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him
there king over Israel: and blow ye with the trumpet, and say, God save
king Solomon. 35. Then ye shall come up after him, that he may come and
sit upon my throne; for he shall be king in my stead: and I have
appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah. 36. And Benaiah
the son of Jehoiada answered the king, and said, Amen; the Lord God of
my lord the king say so too. 37. As the Lord hath been with my lord the
king, even so be he with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the
throne of my lord king David. 38. So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the
prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the
Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David's
mule, and brought him to Gihon. 39. And Zadok the priest took an horn
of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the
trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon.'--1 KINGS i.
28-39.


The earlier part of this chapter must be taken into account in order to
get the right view of this incident. David's eldest surviving son,
Adonijah, had claimed the succession, and gathered his partisans to a
feast. Nathan, alarmed at the prospect of such a successor, had
arranged with Bathsheba that she should go to David and ask his public
confirmation of his promise to her that Solomon should succeed him, and
that then Nathan should seek an audience while she was with the king,
and, as independently, should prefer the same request.

The plan was carried out, and here we see its results. The old king was
roused to a flash of his ancient vigour, confirmed his oath to
Bathsheba, and promptly cut the ground from under Adonijah's feet by
sending for the three who had remained true to him--Nathan, Benaiah,
and Zadok--and despatching them without a moment's delay to proclaim
Solomon king, and then to bring him up to the palace and enthrone him.
The swift execution of these decisive orders, and the burst of popular
acclamation which welcomed Solomon's accession, shattered the nascent
conspiracy, and its supporters scattered in haste, to preserve their
lives. The story may be best dealt with, for our purpose, by taking
this brief summary and trying to draw lessons from it.

I. It points anew the truth that 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall
he also reap.' As Absalom, so Adonijah, had been spoiled by David's
over-indulgence (verse 6), and having never had his wishes checked, was
now letting his unbridled wishes hurry him into rebellion. Nor was that
fault of David's the only one which brought about the miserable
squabbles round his deathbed, as to who should wear the crown which had
not yet fallen from his head. Eastern monarchies are familiar with
struggles for the crown between the sons of different mothers when
their father dies. David had indulged in a multitude of wives, and his
last days were darkened by the resulting intrigues of his sons. No
doubt, too, Solomon was disliked by his brethren as the child of
Bathsheba, and the shame of David's crime was an obstacle in his
younger son's way. Thus, as ever, his evil deeds came home to roost,
and the poisonous seed which he had sown grew up and waved, a bitter
harvest, which he had to reap. Repentance and forgiveness did not
neutralise the natural consequences of his sin. Nor will they do so for
us. God often leaves them to be experienced, that the experience may
make us hate the sins the more.

II. The sad defection to Adonijah of such tried friends as Joab and
Abiathar has its lesson. The reason for Joab's treachery is plain. He
had been steadily drifting away from David for years. His fierce temper
could not brook the king's displeasure on account of his murders of
Abner and Amasa, and his slaying of Absalom had made the breach
irreparable. No doubt, David had made him feel that he loved and
trusted him no longer; and his old comrade in many a fight, Benaiah,
had stepped into the place which he had once filled. Professional
rivalry had darkened into bitter bate. Joab commanded the native-born
Israelites; Benaiah, the 'Cherethites and Pelethites,' who are now
generally regarded as foreign mercenaries. They were David's bodyguard,
and were probably as heartily hated by Joab and the other Israelite
soldiers as they were trusted by David. So there were reasons enough
for Joab's abetting an insurrection which would again make him the
foremost soldier. He wanted to be indispensable, and would prop the
throne as long as its occupant looked only to him as its defender.
Besides, he probably felt that he would have little chance of winning
distinction in a kingdom which was to be a peaceful one.

Abiathar's motives are unexplained, but if we notice that he had been
obliged to acquiesce in the irregular arrangement of putting the
high-priest's office into commission, we can understand that he bore no
goodwill to Zadok, his colleague, or to David for making the latter so.
Self was at the bottom of these two renegades' action. The fair
fellowship, which had been made the closer because of dangers and
privations faced together, crumbled away before the disintegrating
influences of petty personal jealousies. When once self-regard gets in,
it is like the trickle of water in the cracks of a rock, which freezes
in winter and splits the hardest stone. No common action for a great
cause is possible without the suppression of sidelong looks towards
private advantage. Joab and Abiathar tarnished a life's devotion and
broke sacred bonds, because they thought of themselves rather than of
God's will. Surely they must have had some pangs as they sat at
Adonijah's feast, when they thought of the decrepit old king lying in
his chamber up on Zion, and remembered what he and they had come
through together.

III. We may note the pathetic picture of decaying old age which is seen
in David. He was not very old in years, being about seventy, but he was
a worn-out man. His early hardships had told on him, and now he lay in
the inner chamber, the shadow of himself. His love for Bathsheba had
died down, as would appear both from her demeanour before him, and from
her ignorance of his intentions as to his successor. She was little or
nothing to him now. He seems to have been torpidly unaware of what was
going on. The noise of Adonijah's revels had not disturbed his quiet.
He had not even taken the trouble to designate his successor, though
'the eyes of all Israel were upon him that he should tell who was to
sit on his throne after him' (v. 20). Such neglect was criminal in the
circumstances, and brings out forcibly the weary indifference which had
crept over him. Contrast that picture with the early days of swift
energy and eager interest in all things. Is this half-comatose old man
the David who flashed like a meteor and struck swift as a thunderbolt
but a few years before? Yes, and a like collapse of power befalls us
all, if life is prolonged. Those who most need the lesson will be least
touched by it; but let not the young glory in their strength, for it
soon fades away; and let them give the vigour of their early days to
God, that, when the years come in which they shall say, 'I have no
pleasure in them,' they may be able, like David, to look back over a
long life and say, with him, that the Lord 'hath redeemed my soul out
of all adversity.'

IV. We note the flash of fire which blazed up in the dying embers of
David's life. The old lion could be roused yet, and could strike when
roused. It took much to shake him out of his torpor. Nathan's plan of
bringing the double influence of Bathsheba and himself to bear was
successful beyond what he had hoped. All that they desired was a formal
declaration of Solomon as successor. They knew that the king's name was
still dear enough to all Israel to ensure that his wish would settle
the succession; and they would have been content to have left the
actual entrance of Solomon on office till after David's death, so sure
were they that his word was still a spell. But the old king, shaking
off his languor, as a lion does the drops from his mane, goes beyond
their wishes, and strikes one decisive blow as with a great paw, and no
second is needed. Without a moment's delay, he sends for the trusty
three, and bids them act on the instant. So down to Gihon goes the
procession, with the youthful prince seated on his father's mule, in
token of his accession, the trusty bodyguard round him with Benaiah at
their head, and the great prophet Nathan, side by side with the
high-priest Zadok, representing the divine sanction of the solemn act.

It would take stronger men than the spoiled Adonijah and his revellers
to upset anything which that determined company resolved to do. The lad
is anointed with the holy oil which Zadok as high-priest had the right
to bring forth from the temporary sanctuary. That signified and
effected the communication from above of qualifications for the kingly
office, and indicated divine appointment. Then out blared the trumpets,
and the glad people shouted 'God save the king!' What thoughts filled
the young heart of Solomon as he stood silent there his vision in
Gibeon may partly tell. But the distant roar of acclaim reached
Adonijah and his gang as they sat at their too hasty banquet.

They had begun at the wrong end. The feast should have closed, not
inaugurated, the dash for the crown. They who feast when they should
fight are likely to end their mirth with sorrow. David's one stroke was
enough. They were as sure as Nathan and Bathsheba had been that the
declaration of his wish would carry all Israel with it, and so they saw
that the game was up, and there was a rush for dear life. The empty
banqueting-hall proclaimed the collapse of a rebellion which had no
brains to guide it, and no reason to justify it. Let us learn that,
though 'the race is not always to the swift,' promptitude of action,
when we are sure of God's will, is usually a condition of success. Life
is too short, and the work to be done too pressing and great, to allow
of dawdling. 'I made haste, and delayed not, but made haste to keep Thy
commandments.' Let us learn, too, from Adonijah's fiasco, to see the
end of a thing before we commit ourselves to it, and to have the work
done first before we think of the feast.

Nathan and Bathsheba and David all believed that God had willed
Solomon's succeeding to the throne. No doubt, the reason for their
belief was the divine word to David through Nathan (2 Samuel vii. 12),
which designated a son not yet born as his successor, and therefore
excluded Adonijah as well as Absalom. But, while they believed this,
they did not therefore let Adonijah work his will, and leave God to
carry out His purposes. Their belief animated their action. They knew
what God willed, and therefore they worked strenuously to effect that
will. We may bewilder our brains with speculations about the relation
between God's sovereignty and man's freedom, but, when it comes to
practical work, we have to put out the best and most that is in us to
prevent God's will from being thwarted by rebellious men, and to ensure
its being carried into effect through our efforts, 'for we are God's
fellow-workers.'



A YOUNG MAN'S WISE CHOICE OP WISDOM

'In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God
said, Ask what I shall give thee. 6. And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed
unto Thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked
before Thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart
with Thee; and Thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that Thou
hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7. And
now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant king instead of David my
father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come
in. 8. And Thy servant is in the midst of Thy people which Thou hast
chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for
multitude. 9. Give therefore Thy servant an understanding heart to
judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is
able to judge this Thy so great a people? 10. And the speech pleased
the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. 11. And God said unto him,
Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long
life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of
thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern
judgment; 12. Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have
given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none
like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto
thee. 13. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked,
both riches and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings
like unto thee all thy days. 14. And if thou wilt walk in My ways, to
keep My statutes and My commandments, as