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´╗┐Title: Expositions of Holy Scripture - Second Kings Chapters VIII to End and Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Esther, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes
Author: Maclaren, Alexander, 1826-1910
Language: English
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EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.



EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.

SECOND KINGS FROM CHAP. VIII, AND CHRONICLES, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

ESTHER, JOB, PROVERBS
AND ECCLESIASTES



CONTENTS


THE SECOND BOOK OF KINGS


THE STORY OF HAZAEL (2 Kings viii. 9-15)

IMPURE ZEAL (2 Kings x. 18-31)

JEHOIADA AND JOASH (2 Kings xi. 1-16)

METHODICAL LIBERALITY (2 Kings xii. 4-15)

THE SPIRIT OF POWER (2 Kings xiii. 16)

A KINGDOM'S EPITAPH (2 Kings xvii. 6-18)

DIVIDED WORSHIP (2 Kings xvii. 33)

HEZEKIAH, A PATTERN OF DEVOUT LIFE (2 Kings xviii. 5, 6)

'HE UTTERED HIS VOICE, THE EARTH MELTED' (2 Kings xix. 20-22; 28-37)

THE REDISCOVERED LAW AND ITS EFFECTS (2 Kings xxii. 8-20)

THE END (2 Kings xxv. 1-12)

THE KING'S POTTERS (1 Chron. iv. 23)

DAVID'S CHORISTERS (1 Chron. vi. 32, R.V. margin)

DRILL AND ENTHUSIASM (1 Chron. xii. 33)

DAVID'S PROHIBITED DESIRE AND PERMITTED SERVICE (1 Chron. xxii. 6-16)

DAVID'S CHARGE TO SOLOMON (1 Chron. xxviii. 1-10)

THE WAVES OF TIME (1 Chron. xxix. 30)


THE SECOND BOOK OF CHRONICLES


THE DUTY OF EVERY DAY (2 Chron. viii. 12-13, R.V.)

CONTRASTED SERVICES (2 Chron. xii. 8)

THE SECRET OF VICTORY (2 Chron. xiii. 18)

ASA'S REFORMATION, AND CONSEQUENT PEACE AND VICTORY (2 Chron. xiv.
2-8)

ASA'S PRAYER (2 Chron. xiv. 11)

THE SEARCH THAT ALWAYS FINDS (2 Chron. xv. 15)

JEHOSHAPHAT'S REFORM (2 Chron. xvii. 1-10)

AMASIAH (2 Chron. xvii. 16)

'A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES' (2 Chron. xix. 1-11)

A STRANGE BATTLE (2 Chron. xx. 12)

HOLDING FAST AND HELD FAST (2 Chron. xx. 20)

JOASH (2 Chron. xxiv. 2, 17)

GLAD GIVERS AND FAITHFUL WORKERS (2 Chron. xxiv. 4-14)

PRUDENCE AND FAITH (2 Chron. xxv. 9)

JOTHAM (2 Chron. xxvii. 6)

COSTLY AND FATAL HELP (2 Chron. xxviii. 23)

A GODLY REFORMATION (2 Chron. xxix. 1-11)

SACRIFICE RENEWED (2 Chron. xxix. 18-31)

A LOVING CALL TO REUNION (2 Chron. xxx. 1-13)

A STRANGE REWARD FOR FAITHFULNESS (2 Chron. xxxii. 1)

MANASSEH'S SIN AND REPENTANCE (2 Chron. xxxiii. 9-16)

JOSIAH (2 Chron. xxxiv. 1-13)

JOSIAH AND THE NEWLY FOUND LAW (2 Chron. xxxiv. 11-28)

THE FALL OF JUDAH (2 Chron. xxxvi. 11-21)


EZRA


THE EVE OF THE RESTORATION (Ezra i. 1-11)

ALTAR AND TEMPLE (Ezra iii. 1-13)

BUILDING IN TROUBLOUS TIMES (Ezra iv. 1-5)

THE NEW TEMPLE AND ITS WORSHIP (Ezra vi. 14-22)

GOD THE JOY-BRINGER (Ezra vi. 22)

HEROIC FAITH (Ezra viii. 22, 23, 31, 32)

THE CHARGE OF THE PILGRIM PRIESTS (Ezra viii. 29)


THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH


A REFORMER'S SCHOOLING (Neh. i. 1-11)

THE CHURCH AND SOCIAL EVILS (Neh. i. 4)

'OVER AGAINST HIS HOUSE' (Neh. iii. 28)

DISCOURAGEMENTS AND COURAGE (Neh. iv. 9-21)

AN ANCIENT NONCONFORMIST (Neh. v. 15)

READING THE LAW WITH TEARS AND JOY (Neh. viii. 1-12)

THE JOY OF THE LORD (Neh. viii. 10)

SABBATH OBSERVANCE (Neh. xiii. l5-22)


THE BOOK OF ESTHER


THE NET SPREAD (Esther iii. 1-11)

ESTHER'S VENTURE (Esther iv. 10-17; v. 1-3)

MORDECAI AND ESTHER (Esther iv. 14)

THE NET BROKEN (Esther viii.3-8,15-17)


THE BOOK OF JOB


SORROW THAT WORSHIPS (Job i. 21)

THE PEACEABLE FRUITS OF SORROWS RIGHTLY BORNE
(Job v. 17-27)

TWO KINDS OF HOPE (Job viii. 14; Romans v. 5)

JOB'S QUESTION, JESUS' ANSWER (Job xiv. 14; John xi. 25,26)

KNOWLEDGE AND PEACE (Job xxii. 21)

WHAT LIFE MAY BE MADE (Job xxii. 26-29)

'THE END OF THE LORD' (Job xlii. 1-10)


THE PROVERBS


A YOUNG MAN'S BEST COUNSELLOR (Proverbs i. 1-19)

WISDOM'S CALL (Proverbs i. 20-33)

THE SECRET OF WELL-BEING (Proverbs iii. 1-10)

THE GIFTS OF HEAVENLY WISDOM (Proverbs iii. 11-24)

THE TWO PATHS (Proverbs iv. 10-19)

MONOTONY AND CRISES (Proverbs iv. 12)

FROM DAWN TO NOON (Proverbs iv. 18; Matt. xiii. 43)

KEEPING AND KEPT (Proverbs iv. 23; I Peter i. 5)

THE CORDS OF SIN (Proverbs v. 22)

WISDOM'S GIFT (Proverbs viii. 21)

WISDOM AND CHRIST (Proverbs viii. 30, 31)

THE TWO-FOLD ASPECT OF THE DIVINE WORKING (Proverbs
x. 29)

THE MANY-SIDED CONTRAST OF WISDOM AND FOLLY (Proverbs
xii. 1-15)

THE POOR RICH AND THE RICH POOR (Proverbs xiii. 7)

THE TILLAGE OF THE POOR (Proverbs xiii. 23)

SIN THE MOCKER (Proverbs xiv. 9)

HOLLOW LAUGHTER, SOLID JOY (Prov. xiv. 13; John xv. 11)

SATISFIED FROM SELF (Proverbs xiv. 14)

WHAT I THINK OF MYSELF AND WHAT GOD THINKS OF
ME (Proverbs xvi. 2)

A BUNDLE OF PROVERBS (Proverbs xvi. 22-33)

TWO FORTRESSES (Proverbs xviii. 10, 11)

A STRING OF PEARLS (Proverbs xx. 1-7)

THE SLUGGARD IN HARVEST (Proverbs xx. 4)

BREAD AND GRAVEL (Proverbs xx. 17)

A CONDENSED GUIDE FOR LIFE (Proverbs xxiii. 15-23)

THE AFTERWARDS AND OUR HOPE (Proverbs xxiii. 17, 18)

THE PORTRAIT OF A DRUNKARD (Proverbs xxiii, 29-35)

THE CRIME OF NEGLIGENCE (Proverbs xxiv. 11, 12)

THE SLUGGARD'S GARDEN (Proverbs xxiv. 30, 31)

AN UNWALLED CITY (Proverbs xxv. 28)

THE WEIGHT OF SAND (Proverbs xxvii. 3)

PORTRAIT OF A MATRON (Proverbs xxxi. 10-31)


ECCLESIASTES; OR, THE PREACHER


WHAT PASSES AND WHAT ABIDES (Eccles. i. 4; I John
ii. 17)

THE PAST AND THE FUTURE (Eccles. i. 9; I Peter iv. 2, 3)

TWO VIEWS OF LIFE (Eccles. i. 13; Hebrews xii. 10)

'A TIME TO PLANT' (Eccles. iii. 2)

ETERNITY IN THE HEART (Eccles. iii. 11)

LESSONS FOR WORSHIP AND FOR WORK (Eccles. v. 1-12)

NAKED OR CLOTHED? (Eccles. v. 15; Rev. xiv. 13)

FINIS CORONAT OPUS (Eccles. vii. 8)

MISUSED RESPITE (Eccles. viii. 11)

FENCES AND SERPENTS (Eccles. x. 8)

THE WAY TO THE CITY (Eccles. x. 15)

A NEW YEAR'S SERMON TO THE YOUNG (Eccles. xi. 9; xii. 1)

THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER (Eccles. xii. 1-7, 13-14)



THE SECOND BOOK OF KINGS


THE STORY OF HAZAEL

'So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of
every good thing of Damascus, forty camels' burden, and came and stood
before him, and said, Thy son Ben-hadad king of Syria hath sent me to
thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease? 10. And Elisha said
unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the
Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die. 11. And he settled his
countenance stedfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.
12. And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I
know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their
strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay
with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women
with child. 13. And Hazael said. But what, is thy servant a dog, that
he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The Lord hath
shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. 14. So he departed from
Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to
thee? and he answered, He told me that thou shouldest surely recover.
15. And it came to pass on the morrow, that he took a thick cloth, and
dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died: and
Hazael reigned in his stead.'--2 KINGS viii. 9-15.


This is a strange, wild story. That Damascene monarchy burst into
sudden power, warlike and commercial--for the two things went together
in those days. As is usually the case, Hazael the successful soldier
becomes ambitious. His sword seems to be the real sceptre, and he will
have the dominion. Many years before this Elijah had anointed him to
be king over Syria. That had wrought upon him and stirred ambition in
him. Elijah's other appointments, coeval with his own, had already
taken effect, Jehu was king of Israel, Elisha was prophet, and he only
had not attained the dignity to which he had been designated.

He comes now with his message from the king of Damascus to Elisha. No
doubt he had been often contrasting his own vigour with the decrepit,
nominal king, and many a time had thought of the anointing, and had
nursed ambitious hopes, which gradually turned to dark resolves.

He hoped, no doubt, that Ben-hadad was mortally sick, and it must have
been a cruel, crushing disappointment when he heard that there was
nothing deadly in the illness. Another hope was gone from him. The
throne seemed further off than ever. I suppose that, at that instant,
there sprang in his heart the resolve that he would kill Ben-hadad.
The recoil of disappointment spurred Hazael to the resolution which he
then and there took. It had been gathering form, no doubt, through
some years, but now it became definite and settled. While his face
glowed with the new determination, and his lips clenched themselves in
the firmness of his purpose, the even voice of the prophet went on,
'howbeit he shall certainly die,' and the eye of the man of God
searched him till he turned away ashamed because aware that his inmost
heart was read.

Then there followed the prophet's weeping, and the solemn announcement
of what Hazael would do when he had climbed to the throne. He shrank
in real horror from the thought of such enormity of sin. 'Is thy
servant a dog that he should do such a thing?' Elisha sternly answers:
'The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.' The
certainty is that in his character occasion will develop evil. The
certainty is that a course begun by such crime will be of a piece, and
consistent with itself.

This conversation with Elisha seems to have accelerated Hazael's
purpose, as if the prediction were to his mind a justification of his
means of fulfilling it.

How like Macbeth he is!--the successful soldier, stirred by
supernatural monitions of a greatness which he should achieve, and at
last a murderer.

This narrative opens to us some of the solemn, dark places of human
life, of men's hearts, of God's ways. Let us look at some of the
lessons which lie here.

I. Man's responsibility for the sin which God foresees.

It seems as if the prophet's words had much to do in exciting the
ambitious desires which led to the crime. Hazael's purpose of
executing the deed is clearly known to the prophet. His ascending the
throne is part of the divine purpose. He could find excuses for his
guilt, and fling the responsibility for firing his ambition on the
divine messenger. It may be asked--What sort of God is this who works
on the mind of a man by exciting promises, and having done so, and
having it fixed in His purposes that the man is to do the crime, yet
treats it when done as guilt?

But now, whatever you may say, or whatever excuses Hazael might have
found for himself, here is just in its most naked form that which is
true about all sin. God foresees it all. God puts men into
circumstances where they will fall, God presents to them things which
they will make temptations. God takes the consequences of their
wrongdoing and works them into His great scheme. That is undeniable on
one side, and on the other it is as undeniable that God's foreseeing
leaves men free. God's putting men into circumstances where they fall
is not His tempting them. God's non-prevention of sin is not
permission to sin. God's overruling the consequences of sin is not His
condoning of sin as part of the scheme of His providence.

Man is free. Man is responsible. God hates sin. God foresees and
permits sin.

It is all a terrible mystery, but the facts are as undeniable as the
mystery of their co-existence is inscrutable.

II. The slumbering possibilities of sin.

Hazael indignantly protests against the thought that he should do such
a thing. There is conscience left in him yet. His example suggests how
little any of us know what it is in us to be or to do. We are all of
us a mystery to ourselves. Slumbering powers lie in us. We are like
quiescent volcanoes.

So much in us lies dormant, needing occasion for its development, like
seeds that may sleep for centuries. That is true in regard to both the
good and the bad in us. Life reveals us to ourselves. We learn to know
ourselves by our actions, better than by mental self-inspection.

All sin is one in essence, and may pass into diverse forms according
to circumstances. Of course characters differ, but the root of sin is
in us all. We are largely good because not tempted, as a house may
well stand firm when there are no floods. By the nature of the case,
thorough self-knowledge is impossible.

Sin has the power of blinding us to its presence. It comes in a cloud
as the old gods were fabled to do. The lungs get accustomed to a
vitiated atmosphere, and scarcely are conscious of oppression till
they cease to play.

All this should teach us--

Lessons of wary walking and humility. We are good because we have not
been tried.

Lessons of charity and brotherly kindness. Every thief in the hulks,
every prostitute on the streets, is our brother and sister, and they
prove their fraternity by their sin. 'Whatever man has done man may
do.' '_Nihil humanum alienum a me puto_.' 'Let him that is
without sin cast the first stone.'

III. The fatal necessity by which sin repeats itself in aggravated
forms.

See how Hazael is drifted into his worst crimes. His first one leads
on by fell necessity to others. A man who has done no sin is
conceivable, but a man who has done only one is impossible. Did you
ever see a dam bursting or breaking down? Through a little crack comes
one drop: will it stop there--the gap or the trickle? No! The drop has
widened the crack, it has softened the earth around, it has cleared
away some impediments. So another and another follow ever more
rapidly, until the water pours out in a flood and the retaining
embankment is swept away.

No sin 'is dead, being alone.' The demon brings seven other devils
worse than himself. The reason for that aggravation is plain.

There is, first, habit.

There is, second, growing inclination.

There is, third, weakened restraint.

There is, fourth, a craving for excitement to still conscience.

There is, fifth, the necessity of the man's position.

There is, sixth, the strange love of consistency which tones all life
down or up to one tint, as near as may be. There comes at last
despair.

But not merely does every sin tend to repeat itself and to draw others
after it. It tends to repeat itself in aggravated forms. There is
growth, the law of increase as well as of perpetuity. The seed
produces 'some sixty and some an hundredfold.'

And so the slaughtered soldiers and desolated homesteads of Israel
were the sequel of the cloth on Ben-hadad's face. The secret of much
enormous crime is the kind of relief from conscience which is found in
committing a yet greater sin. The Furies drive with whips of
scorpions, and the poor wretch goes plunging and kicking deeper and
deeper in the mire, further and farther from the path. So you can
never say: 'I will only do this one wrong thing.'

We see here how powerless against sin are all restraints. The prophecy
did not prevent Hazael from his sins. The clear sense that they were
sins did not prevent him. The horror-struck shudder of conscience did
not prevent him. It was soon gagged.

Hear, then, the conclusion of the whole matter. Christ reveals us to
ourselves. Christ breaks the chain of sin, makes a new beginning, cuts
off the entail, reverses the irreversible, erases the indelible,
cancels the irrevocable, forgives all the faultful past, and by the
power of His love in the soul, works a mightier miracle than changing
the Ethiopian's skin; teaches them that are accustomed to evil to do
well, and though sins be as scarlet, makes them white as snow. He
gives us a cleansed past and a bright future, and out of all our sins
and wasted years makes pardoned sinners and glorified, perfected
saints.



IMPURE ZEAL

'And Jehu gathered all the people together, and said unto them, Ahab
served Baal a little; but Jehu shall serve him much. 19. Now therefore
call unto me all the prophets of Baal, all his servants, and all his
priests; let none be wanting: for I have a great sacrifice to do to
Baal; whosoever shall be wanting, he shall not live. But Jehu did it
in subtilty, to the intent that he might destroy the worshippers of
Baal. 20. And Jehu said, Proclaim a solemn assembly for Baal. And they
proclaimed it. 21. And Jehu sent through all Israel: and all the
worshippers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left that came
not. And they came into the house of Baal; and the house of Baal was
full from one end to another. 22. And he said unto him that was over
the vestry, Bring forth vestments for all the worshippers of Baal. And
he brought them forth vestments. 23. And Jehu went, and Jehonadab the
son of Rechab, into the house of Baal, and said unto the worshippers
of Baal, Search, and look that there be here with you none of the
servants of the Lord, but the worshippers of Baal only. 24. And when
they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings, Jehu appointed
fourscore men without, and said, If any of the men whom I have brought
into your hands escape, he that letteth him go, his life shall be for
the life of him. 25. And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an
end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to
the captains, Go in, and slay them; let none come forth. And they
smote them with the edge of the sword; and the guard and the captains
cast them out, and went to the city of the house of Baal. 26. And they
brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them.
27. And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of
Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day. 28. Thus Jehu
destroyed Baal out of Israel. 29. Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam
the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after
them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Beth-el, and that were in
Dan. 30. And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in
executing that which is right in Mine eyes, and hast done unto the
house of Ahab according to all that was in Mine heart, thy children of
the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel. 31. But Jehu
took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his
heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made
Israel to sin.'--2 KINGS x. 18-31.


The details of this story of bloodshed need little elucidation. Jehu
had 'driven furiously' to some purpose. Secrecy and swiftness joined
to unhesitating severity had crushed the dynasty of Ahab, which fell
unlamented and unsupported, as if lightning-struck. The nobler
elements had gathered to Jehu, as represented by the Rechabite,
Jehonadab, evidently a Jehovah worshipper, and closely associated with
the fierce soldier in this chapter. Jehu first secured his position,
and then smote the Baal worship as heavily and conclusively as he had
done the royal family. He struck once, and struck no more; for the
single blow pulverised.

The audacious pretext of an intention to outdo the fallen dynasty in
Baal worship must have sounded strange to those who knew how his
massacre of Ahab's house had been represented by him as fulfilling
Jehovah's purpose, but it was not too gross to be believed. So we can
fancy the joyous revival of hope with which from every corner of the
land the Baal priests, prophets, and worshippers, recovered from their
fright, came flocking to the great temple in Samaria, till it was like
a cup filled with wine from brim to brim. The worship cannot have
numbered many adherents if one temple could hold the bulk of them.
Probably it had never been more than a court fashion, and, now that
Jezebel was dead, had lost ground. A token of royal favour was given
to each of the crowd, in the gift of a vestment from the royal
wardrobe. Then Jehu himself, accompanied by the ascetic Jehonadab,
entered the court of the temple, a strangely assorted pair, and a
couple of very 'distinguished' converts. The Baal priests would thrill
with gratified pride when these two came to worship. The usual
precautions against the intrusion of non-worshippers were taken at
Jehu's command, but with a sinister meaning, undreamed of by the eager
searchers. That was a sifting for destruction, not for preservation.
So they all passed into the inner court to offer sacrifice.

The story gives a double picture in verse 24. Within are the jubilant
worshippers; without, the grim company of their executioners, waiting
the signal to draw their swords and burst in on the unarmed mob. Jehu
carried his deception so far that he himself offered the burnt
offering, with Jehonadab standing by, and then withdrew, followed, no
doubt, by grateful acclamations. A step or two brought him to the
'eighty men without.' Two stern words, 'Go, smite them,' are enough.
They storm in, and 'the songs of the temple' are turned to 'howlings
in that day.' The defenceless, surprised crowd, huddled together in
the dimly lighted shrine, were massacred to a man. The innermost
sanctuary was then wrecked, corpses and statues thrown pell-mell into
the outer courts or beyond the precincts, fires lit to burn the
abominations, and busy hands, always more ready for pillage and
destruction than for good work, pulled down the temple, the ruins of
which were turned to base uses. The writer, picturing the wild scene,
sums up with a touch of exultation: 'Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of
Israel'--where note the emphatic prominence of the three names of the
king, the god, and the nation. That is the vindication of the terrible
deed.

Now the main interest of this passage lies in its disclosure of the
strangely mingled character of Jehu, and in the fact that his bloody
severity was approved by God, and rewarded by the continuance of his
dynasty for a longer time than any other on the throne of Israel.

Jehu was influenced by 'zeal for the Lord,' however much smoke mingled
with the flame. He acted under the conviction that he was God's
instrument, and at each new deed of blood asserted his fulfilment of
prophecy. His profession to Jehonadab (ver. 16) was not hypocrisy nor
ostentation. The Rechabite sheikh was evidently a man of mark, and
apparently one of the leaders of those who had not 'bowed the knee to
Baal'; and Jehu's disclosure of his animating motive was meant to
secure the alliance of that party through one of its chiefs. No doubt
many elements of selfishness and many stains mingled with Jehu's zeal.
It was much on the same level as the fanaticism of the immediate
successors of Mohammed; but, low as it was, look at its power. Jehu
swept like a whirlwind, or like leaping fire among stubble, from
Ramoth to Jezreel, from Jezreel to Samaria, and nothing stood before
his fierce onset. Promptitude, decision, secrecy,--the qualities which
carry enterprises to success--marked his character; partly, no doubt,
from natural temperament, for God chooses right instruments, but from
temperament heightened and invigorated by the conviction of being the
instrument whom God had chosen. We may learn how even a very imperfect
form of this conviction gives irresistible force to a man, annihilates
fear, draws the teeth of danger, and gathers up all one's faculties to
a point which can pierce any opposition. We may all recognise that God
has sent us on His errands; and if we cherish that conviction, we
shall put away from us slothfulness and fear, and out of weakness
shall be made strong.

But Jehu sets forth the possible imperfections of 'zeal for the Lord.'
We may defer for a moment the consideration of the morality of his
slaughter of the royal house and the Baal worshippers, and point to
the taint of selfishness and to the leaven of deceit in his
enthusiasm. We have not to analyse it. That is God's work. But clearly
the object which he had in view was not merely fulfilment of prophecy,
but securing the throne; and there was more passion, as well as
selfish policy, in his massacres, than befitted a minister of the
divine justice, who should let no anger disturb the solemnity of his
terrible task. Such dangers ever attend the path of the great men who
feel themselves to be sent by God. In our humbler lives they dog our
steps, and religious fervour needs ever to keep careful watch on
itself, lest it should degenerate unconsciously into self-will, and
should allow the muddy stream of earth-born passion to darken its
crystal waters.

Many a great name in the annals of the Church has fallen before that
temptation. We all need to remember that 'the wrath of man worketh not
the righteousness of God,' and to take heed lest we should be guided
by our own stormy impatience of contradiction, and by a determination
to have our own way, while we think ourselves the humble instruments
of a divine purpose. There was a 'Zelotes' in the Apostolate; but the
coarse, sanguinary 'zeal' of his party must have needed much purifying
before it learned what manner of spirit the zeal of a true disciple
was of.

Another point of interest is the divine emphatic approval of Jehu's
bloody acts (ver. 30). The massacre of the Baal worshippers is not
included in the acts which God declares to have been 'according to all
that was in Mine heart,' and it may be argued that it was not part of
Jehu's commission. Certainly the accompanying deceit was not 'right in
God's eyes,' but the slaughter in Baal's temple was the natural sequel
of the civil revolution, and is most probably included in the deeds
approved.

Perhaps Elisha brought Jehu the message in verse 30. If so, what a
contrast between the two instruments of God's purposes! At all events,
Jehovah's approval was distinctly given. What then? There need be no
hesitation in recognising the progressive character of Scripture
morality, as well as the growth of the revelation of the divine
character, of which the morality of each epoch is the reflection. The
full revelation of the God of love had to be preceded by the clear
revelation of the God of righteousness; and whilst the Old Testament
does make known the love of God in many a gracious act and word, it
especially teaches His righteous condemnation of sin, without which
His love were mere facile indulgence and impunity. The slaughter of
that wicked house of Ahab and of the Baal priests was the act of
divine justice, and the question is simply whether that justice was
entitled to slay them. To that question believers in a divine
providence can give but one answer. The destruction of Baal worship
and the annihilation of its stronghold in Ahab's family were
sufficient reasons, as even we can see, for such a deed. To bring in
Jehu into the problem is unnecessary. He was the sword, but God's was
the hand that struck. It is not for men to arraign the Lord of life
and death for His methods and times of sending death to evil-doers.
Granted that the 'long-suffering' which is 'not willing that any
should perish' speaks more powerfully to our hearts than the justice
which smites with death, the later and more blessed revelation is
possible and precious only on the foundation of the former. Nor will a
loose-braced generation like ours, which affects to be horrified at
the thought of the 'wrath of God,' and recoils from the contemplation
of His judgments, ever reach the innermost secrets of the tenderness
of His love.

From the merely human point of view, we may say that revolutions are
not made with rose-water, and that, at all crises in a nation's
history, when some ancient evil is to be thrown off, and some powerful
system is to be crushed, there will be violence, at which easy-going
people, who have never passed through like times, will hold up their
hands in horror and with cheap censure. No doubt we have a higher law
than Jehu knew, and Christ has put His own gentle commandment of love
in the place of what was 'said to them of old time.' But let us, while
we obey it for ourselves, and abjure violence and blood, judge the men
of old 'according to that which they had, and not according to that
which they had not.' Jehu's bloody deeds are not held up for
admiration. His obedience is what is praised and rewarded. Well for us
if we obey our better law as faithfully!

The last point in the story is the imperfection of the obedience of
Jehu. He contented himself with rooting out Baal, but left the calves.
That shows the impurity of his 'zeal,' which flamed only against what
it was for his advantage to destroy, and left the more popular and
older idolatry undisturbed. Obedience has to be 'all in all, or not at
all.' We may not 'compound for sins we are inclined to, by' zeal
against those 'we have no mind to.' Our consciences are apt to have
insensitive spots in them, like witch-marks. We often think it enough
to remove the grosser evils, and leave the less, but white ants will
eat up a carcass faster than a lion. Putting away Baal is of little
use if we keep the calves at Dan and Beth-el. Nothing but walking in
the law of the Lord 'with all the heart' will secure our walking
safely. 'Unite my heart to fear Thy name' needs to be our daily
prayer. 'One foot on sea and one on shore' is not the attitude in
which steadfastness or progress is possible.



JEHOIADA AND JOASH

'And when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead,
she arose and destroyed all the seed royal. 2. But Jehosheba, the
daughter of king Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of
Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king's sons which were slain;
and they hid him, even him and his nurse, in the bedchamber from
Athaliah, so that he was not slain. 3. And he was with her hid in the
house of the Lord six years. And Athaliah did reign over the land. 4.
And the seventh year Jehoiada sent and fetched the rulers over
hundreds, with the captains and the guard, and brought them to him
into the house of the Lord, and made a covenant with them, and took an
oath of them in the house of the Lord, and shewed them the king's son.
5. And he commanded them, saying, This is the thing that ye shall do;
A third part of you that enter in on the sabbath shall even be keepers
of the watch of the king's house; 6. And a third part shall be at the
gate of Sur; and a third part at the gate behind the guard: so shall
ye keep the watch of the house, that it be not broken down. 7. And two
parts of all you that go forth on the sabbath, even they shall keep
the watch of the house of the Lord about the king. 8. And ye shall
compass the king round about, every man with his weapons in his hand:
and he that cometh within the ranges, let him be slain: and be ye with
the king as he goeth out and as he cometh in. 9. And the captains over
the hundreds did according to all things that Jehoiada the priest
commanded: and they took every man his men that were to come in on the
sabbath, with them that should go out on the sabbath, and came to
Jehoiada the priest. 10, And to the captains over hundreds did the
priest give king David's spears and shields, that were in the temple
of the Lord. 11. And the guard stood, every man with his weapons in
his hand, round about the king, from the right corner of the temple to
the left corner of the temple, along by the altar and the temple. 12.
And he brought forth the king's son, and put the crown upon him, and
gave him the testimony; and they made him king, and anointed him; and
they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king. 13. And when
Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she came to
the people into the temple of the Lord. 14. And when she looked,
behold, the king stood by a pillar, as the manner was, and the princes
and the trumpeters by the king, and all the people of the land
rejoiced, and blew with trumpets: and Athaliah rent her clothes, and
cried, Treason, Treason. 15. But Jehoiada the priest commanded the
captains of the hundreds, the officers of the host, and said unto
them, Have her forth without the ranges: and him that followeth her
kill with the sword. For the priest had said, Let her not be slain in
the house of the Lord. 16. And they laid hands on her; and she went by
the way by the which the horses came into the king's house: and there
was she slain.'--2 KINGS xi. 1-16.


The king of Judah has been killed, his alliance with the king of
Israel having involved him in the latter's fate. Jehu had also
murdered 'the brethren of Ahaziah,' forty-two in number. Next,
Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah and a daughter of Ahab, killed all the
males of the royal family, and planted herself on the throne. She had
Jezebel's force of character, unscrupulousness and disregard of human
life. She was a tigress of a woman, and, no doubt, her six years'
usurpation was stained with blood and with the nameless abominations
of Baal worship. Never had the kingdom of Judah been at a lower ebb.
One infant was all that was left of David's descendants. The whole
promises of God seemed to depend for fulfilment on one little, feeble
life. The tree had been cut down, and there was but this one sucker
pushing forth a tiny shoot from 'the root of Jesse.'

We have in the passage, first, the six years of hiding in the temple.
It is a pathetic picture, that of the infant rescued by his brave aunt
from the blood-bath, and stowed away in the storeroom where the mats
and cushions which served for beds were kept when not in use, watched
over by two loving and courageous women, and taught infantile lessons
by the husband of his aunt, Jehoiada the high priest. Many must have
been aware of his existence, and there must have been loyal guarding
of the secret, or Athaliah's sword would have been reddened with the
baby's blood. Like the child Samuel, he had the Temple for his home,
and his first impressions would be of daily sacrifices and white-robed
priests. It was a better school for him than if he had been in the
palace close by. The opening flower would have been soon besmirched
there, but in the holy calm of the Temple courts it unfolded
unstained. A Christian home should breathe the same atmosphere as
surrounded Joash, and it, too, should be a temple, where holy peace
rules, and where the first impressions printed on plastic little minds
are of God and His service.

We have next the disclosure and coronation of the boy king. The
narrative here has to be supplemented from that in 2 Chron. xxiii.,
which does not contradict that in this passage, as is often said, but
completes it. It informs us that before the final scene in the Temple,
Jehoiada had in Jerusalem assembled a large force of Levites and of
the 'heads of the fathers' houses' from all the kingdom. That
statement implies that the revolution was mainly religious in its
motive, and was national in its extent. Obviously Jehoiada would have
been courting destruction for Joash and himself unless he had made
sure of a strong backing before he hoisted the standard of the house
of David. There must, therefore, have been long preparation and much
stir; and all the while the foreign woman was sitting in the palace,
close by the Temple, and not a whisper reached her. Evidently she had
no party in Judah, and held her own only by her indomitable will and
by the help of foreign troops. Anybody who remembers how the Austrians
in Italy were shunned, will understand how Athaliah heard nothing of
the plot that was rapidly developing a stone's throw from her isolated
throne. Strange delusion, to covet such a seat, yet no stranger than
many another mistaking of serpents for fish, into which we fall!

Jehoiada's caution was as great as his daring. He does not appear to
have given the Levites and elders any inkling of his purpose till he
had them safe in the Temple, and then he opened his mind, swore them
to stand by him, and 'showed them the king's son.' What a scene that
would be--the seven-year-old child there among all these strange men,
the joyful surprise flashing in their eyes, the exultation of the
faithful women that had watched him so lovingly, the stern facing of
the dangers ahead. Most of the assembly must have thought that none of
David's house remained, and that thought would have had much to do
with their submitting to Athaliah's usurpation. Now that they saw the
true heir, they could not hesitate to risk their lives to set him on
his throne. Show a man his true king, and many a tyranny submitted to
before becomes at once intolerable. The boy Joash makes Athaliah look
very ugly.

Jehoiada's plans are somewhat difficult to understand, owing to our
ignorance of the details as to the usual arrangements of the guards of
the palace, but the general drift of them is plain enough. The main
thing was to secure the person of the king, and, for that purpose, the
two companies of priests who were relieved on the Sabbath were for
once kept on duty, and their numbers augmented by the company that
would, in the ordinary course, have relieved them. This augmented
force was so disposed as, first, to secure the Temple from attack;
and, second, to 'compass the king'--in his chamber, that is. We learn
from 2 Chronicles that it consisted of priests and Levites, and some
would see in that statement a tampering with the account in this
passage, in the interests of a later conception of the sanctity of the
Temple and of the priestly order. Our narrative is said to make the
foreign mercenaries of the palace guard the persons referred to; but
surely that cannot be maintained in the face of the plain statement of
verse 7, that they kept the watch of the Temple, for that was the
office of the priests. Besides, how should foreign soldiers have
needed to be armed from the Temple armoury? And is it probable on the
face of it that the palace guard, who were Athaliah's men, and
therefore antagonistic to Joash, and Baal worshippers, should have
been gained over to his side, or should have been the guards of the
house of Jehovah? If, however, we understand that these guards were
Levites, all is plain, and the arming of them with 'the spears and
shields that had been king David's' becomes intelligible, and would
rouse them to enthusiasm and daring.

Not till all these dispositions for the boy king's safety, and for
preventing an assault on the Temple, had been carried out, did the
prudent Jehoiada venture to bring Joash out from his place of
concealment. Note that in verse 12 he is not called 'the king,' as in
the previous verses, but, as in verse 4, 'the king's son.' He was king
by right, but not technically, till he had been presented to, and
accepted by, the representatives of the people, had had 'the
testimony' placed in his hands, and been anointed by the high-priest.
So 'they _made_ him king.' The three parts of the ceremony were
all significant. The delivering of 'the testimony' (the Book of the
Law--Deut. xvii 18, 19) taught him that he was no despot to rule by
his own pleasure and for his own glory, but the viceroy of the true
King of Judah, and himself subject to law. The people's making him
king taught him and them that a true royalty rules over willing
subjects, and both guarded the rights of the nation and set limits to
the power of the ruler. The priest's anointing witnessed to the divine
appointment of the monarch and the divine endowment with fitness for
his office. Would that these truths were more recognised and felt by
all rulers! What a different thing the page of history would be!

The vigilance of the tigress had been eluded, and Athaliah had a rude
awakening. But she had her mother's courage, and as soon as she heard
in the palace the shouts, she dashed to the Temple, alone as she was,
and fronted the crowd. The sight might have made the boldest quail.
Who was that child standing in the royal place? Where had he come
from? How had he been hidden all these years? What was all this frenzy
of rejoicing, this blare of trumpets, these ranks of grim men with
weapons in their hands? The stunning truth fell on her; but, though
she felt that all was lost, not a whit did she blench, but fronted
them all as proudly as ever. One cannot but admire the dauntless
woman, 'magnificent in sin.' But her cry of 'Treason! treason!'
brought none to her side. As she stood solitary there, she must have
felt that her day was over, and that nothing remained but to die like
a queen. Proudly as ever, she passed down the ranks and not a face
looked pity on her, nor a voice blessed her. She was reaping what she
had sown, and she who had killed without compunction the innocents who
stood between her and her ambitions, was pitilessly slain, and all the
land rejoiced at her death.

So ended the all but bloodless revolution which crushed Baal worship
in Judah. It had been begun by Elijah and Elisha, but it was completed
by a high priest. It was religious even more than political. It was a
national movement, though Jehoiada's courage and wisdom engineered it
to its triumph. It teaches us how God watches over His purposes and
their instruments when they seem nearest to failure, for one poor
infant was all that was left of the seed of David; and how, therefore,
we are never to despair, even in the darkest hour, of the fulfilment
of His promises. It teaches us how much one brave, good man and woman
can do to change the whole face of things, and how often there needs
but one man to direct and voice the thoughts and acts of the silent
multitude, and to light a fire that consumes evil.



METHODICAL LIBERALITY

'4. And Jehoash said to the priests, All the money of the dedicated
things that is brought into the house of the Lord, even the money of
every one that passeth the account, the money that every man is set
at, and all the money that cometh into any man's heart to bring into
the house of the Lord, 5. Let the priests take it to them, every man
of his acquaintance; and let them repair the breaches of the house,
wheresoever any breach shall be found. 6. But it was so, that in the
three and twentieth year of king Jehoash the priests had not repaired
the breaches of the house. 7. Then king Jehoash called for Jehoiada
the priest, and the other priests, and said unto them, Why repair ye
not the breaches of the house? Now therefore receive no more money of
your acquaintance, but deliver it for the breaches of the house. 8.
And the priests consented to receive no more money of the people,
neither to repair the breaches of the house. 9. But Jehoiada the
priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it
beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of
the Lord: and the priests that kept the door put therein all the money
that was brought into the house of the Lord. 10. And it was so, when
they saw that there was much money in the chest, that the king's
scribe and the high priest came up, and they put up in bags, and told
the money that was found in the house of the Lord. 11. And they gave
the money, being told, into the hands of them that did the work, that
had the oversight of the house of the Lord: and they laid it out to
the carpenters and builders that wrought upon the house of the Lord,
12. And to masons, and hewers of stone, and to buy timber and hewed
stone to repair the breaches of the house of the Lord, and for all
that wast laid out for the house to repair it. 13. Howbeit there were
not made for the house of the Lord bowls of silver, snuffers, basons,
trumpets, any vessels of gold, or vessels of silver, of the money that
was brought into the house of the Lord: 14. But they gave that to the
workmen, and repaired therewith the house of the Lord. 15. Moreover
they reckoned not with the men, into whose hand they delivered the
money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully.'--2 KINGS
xii. 4-15.


'The sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman, had broken up the house of
God,' says Chronicles. The dilapidation had not been complete, but had
been extensive, as may be gathered from the large expenditure recorded
in this passage for repairs, and the enumeration of the artisans
employed. No doubt Joash was guided by Jehoiada in setting about the
restoration, but the fact that he gives the orders, while the high
priest is not mentioned, throws light on the relative position of the
two authorities, and on the king's office as guardian of the Temple
and official 'head of the church.' The story comes in refreshingly and
strangely among the bloody pages in which it is embedded, and it
suggests some lessons as to the virtue of plain common sense and
business principles applied to religious affairs. If 'the outward
business of the house of God' were always guided with as much
practical reasonableness as Joash brought to bear on it, there would
be fewer failures or sarcastic critics.

We note, first, the true source of money for religious purposes. There
was a fixed amount for which 'each man is rated,' and that made the
minimum, but there was also that which 'cometh into any man's heart to
bring,' and that was infinitely more precious than the exacted tax.
The former was appropriate to the Old Testament, of which the
animating principle was law and the voice: 'Thou shalt' or 'Thou shalt
not.' The latter alone fits the New Testament, of which the animating
principle is love and the voice: 'Though I have all boldness in Christ
to enjoin thee ... yet for love's sake I rather beseech.' What
disasters and what stifling of the spirit of Christian liberality have
marred the Church for many centuries, and in many lands, because the
great anachronism has prevailed of binding its growing limbs in Jewish
swaddling bands, and degrading Christian giving into an assessment!
And how shrunken the stream that is squeezed out by such a process,
compared with the abundant gush of the fountain of love opened in a
grateful, trusting heart!

Next, we have the negligent, if not dishonest, officials. We do not
know how long Joash tried the experiment of letting the priests
receive the money and superintend the repairs; but probably the
restoration project was begun early in his reign, and if so, he gave
the experiment of trusting all to the officials, a fair, patient
trial, till the twenty-third year of his reign. Years gone and nothing
done, or at least nothing completed! We do not need to accuse them of
intentional embezzlement, but certainly they were guilty of carelessly
letting the money slip through their fingers, and a good deal of it
stick to their hands. It is always the temptation of the clergy to
think of their own support as a first charge on the church, nor is it
quite unheard of that the ministry should be less enthusiastic in
religious objects than the 'laity,' and should work the enthusiasm of
the latter for their own advantage. Human nature is the same in
Jerusalem in Joash's time, and to-day in Manchester, or New York, or
Philadelphia, and all men who live by the gifts of Christian people
have need to watch themselves, lest they, like Ezekiel's false
shepherds, feed themselves and not the flock, and seek the wool and
the fat and not the good of the sheep.

Next we have the application of businesslike methods to religious
work. It was clearly time to take the whole matter out of the priests'
hands, and Joash is not afraid to assume a high tone with the
culprits, and even with Jehoiada as their official head. He was in
some sense responsible for his subordinates, and probably, though his
own hands were clean, he may have been too lax in looking after the
disposal of the funds. Note that while Joash rebuked the priests, and
determined the new arrangements, it was Jehoiada who carried them out
and provided the chest for receiving the contributions. The king
wills, the high priest executes, the rank and file of the priests,
however against the grain, consent. The arrangement for collecting the
contributions 'saved the faces' of the priests to some extent, for the
gifts were handed to them, and by them put into the chest. But, of
course, that was done at once, in the donor's presence. If changes
involving loss of position are to work smoothly, it is wise to let the
deposed officials down as easily as may be.

Similar common sense is shown in the second step, the arrangement for
ascertaining the amounts given. The king's secretary and the
high-priest (or a representative) jointly opened the chest, counted
and bagged up the money. They checked each other, and prevented
suspicion on either side. No man who regards his own reputation will
consent to handle public money without some one to stand over him and
see what he does with it. One would be wise always to suspect people
who appeal for help 'for the Lord's work' and are too 'spiritual' to
have such worldly things as committees or auditors of their books.
Accurate accounts are as essential to Christian work as spirituality
or enthusiasm. The next stage was to hand over the money to the
'contractors,' as we should call them; and there similar precautions
were taken against possible peculation on the part of the two
officials who had received the money, for it was apparently 'weighed
out into the hands' of the overseers, who would thus be able to check
what they received by what the secretary and the high-priest had taken
from the chest, and would be responsible for the expenditure of the
amount which the two officials knew that they had received.

But all this system of checks seems to break down at the very point
where it should have worked most searchingly, for 'they reckoned not
with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money' to pay the
workmen, 'for they dealt faithfully.' That last clause looks like a
hit at the priests who had not dealt so, and contrasts the methods of
plain business men of no pretensions, with those of men whose very
calling should have guaranteed their trustworthiness. The contrast has
been repeated in times and places nearer home. But another suggestion
may also be made about this singular lapse into what looks like unwise
confidence. These overseers had proved their faithfulness and earned
the right to be trusted entirely, and the way to get the best out of a
man, if he has any reliableness in him, is to trust him utterly, and
to show him that you do. 'It is a shame to tell Arnold a lie; he
always believes us,' said the Rugby boys about their great
head-master. There is a time for using all precautions, and a time for
using none. Businesslike methods do not consist in spying at the heels
of one's agents, but in picking the right men, and, having proved
them, giving them a free hand. And is not that what the great Lord and
Employer does with His servants, and is it not part of the reason why
Jesus gets more out of us than any one else can do, that He trusts us
more?

One more point may be noticed; namely, the order of precedence in
which the necessary works were done. Not a coin went to provide the
utensils for sacrifice till the Temple was completely repaired. After
they had 'set up the house of God in its state,' as Chronicles tells
us, they took the balance of the funds to the king and Jehoiada, and
spent that on 'vessels for the house.' A clear insight to discern what
most needs to be done, and a firm resolve to 'do the duty that lies
nearest thee,' and to let everything else, however necessary, wait
till it is done, is a great part of Christian prudence, and goes far
to make works or lives truly prosperous. 'First things first'!--it is
a maxim that carries us far and as right as far.



THE SPIRIT OF POWER

'And Elisha said to the king of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow.
And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king's
hands.'--2 KINGS xiii. 16.


This is part of one of the strangest narratives in the Old Testament.
Elisha is on his deathbed, 'sick of the sickness' wherewith he 'should
die.' A very different scene, that close sick-chamber, from the open
plain beyond Jordan from which Elijah had gone up; a very different
way of passing from life by wasting sickness than by fiery chariot!
But God is as near His servant in the one place as in the other, and
the slow wasting away is as much His messenger as the sudden
apocalypse of the horsemen of fire. The king of Israel comes to the
old prophet, and very significantly repeats over him his own
exclamation over Elijah, 'My father! My father! the chariot of Israel
and the horsemen thereof.' Elisha takes no notice of the grief and
reverence expressed by the exclamation, but goes straight to his work,
and what follows is remarkable indeed.

Here is a prophet dying; and his last words are not edifying moral and
religious reflections, nor does he seem to be much concerned to leave
with the king his final protest against Israel's sin, but his thoughts
are all of warfare, and his last effort is to stir up the sluggish
young monarch to some of his own enthusiasm in the conflict with the
enemy. It does not sound like an edifying deathbed. People might have
said, 'Ah! secular and political affairs should be all out of a man's
mind when he comes to his last moments.' But Elisha thought that to
stick to his life's work till the last breath was out of him, and to
devote the last breath to stimulating successors who might catch up
the torch that dropped from his failing hands, was no unworthy end of
a prophet's life.

So there followed what perhaps is not very familiar to some of us,
that strange scene in which the dying man is far fuller of energy and
vigour than the young king, and takes the upper hand of him, giving
him a series of curt, authoritative commands, each of which he
punctiliously obeys. 'Take bow and arrow,' and he took them. Then the
prophet lays his wasted hand for a moment on the strong, young hand,
and having thus either in symbol or reality--never mind
which--communicated power, he says to him, 'Fling open the casement
towards the quarter where the enemy's territory lies,' and he flings
it open. 'Now, shoot,' and he shoots. Then the old man gathers himself
up on his bed, and with a triumphant shout exclaims, 'The Lord's arrow
of victory!... Thou shalt smite the Syrians till they be consumed.'

That is not all. There is a second stage. The promise is given; the
possibility is opened before the king, and now all depends on the
question whether he will rise to the height of the occasion. So the
prophet says to him, 'Take the sheaf of arrows in your hand'; and he
takes them. And then he says, 'Now smite upon the ground.' It is a
test. If he had been roused and stirred by what had gone before; if he
had any earnestness of belief in the power that was communicated, and
any eagerness of desire to realise the promises that had been given of
complete victory, what would he have done? What would Elisha have done
if he had had the quiver in his hand? This king smites three
perfunctory taps on the floor, and having done what will satisfy the
old man's whim, and what in decency he had to do, he stops, as if
weary of the whole performance. So the prophet bursts out in
indignation on his dying bed--'Thou shouldst have smitten five or six
times; then hadst thou conquered utterly. Now thou shalt conquer but
thrice.' A strange story; very far away from our atmosphere and
latitude! Yet are there not obviously in it great principles which may
be disentangled from their singular setting, and fully applied to us?
I think so. Let us try and draw them from it.

I. Here we have the power communicated.

Now the story seems to indicate that it was only for a moment that the
prophet's hands were laid on the king's hands, because, after they had
been so laid, he is bidden to go to the window and fling it open, and
the bedridden man could not go there with him; then he is bidden to
draw the bow, and another hand upon his would have been a hindrance
rather than a help. So it was but a momentary touch, a communication
of power in reality or in symbol that the muscular young hand needed,
and the wasted old one could give. And is that not a parable for us?
We, too, if we are Christian men and women, have a gospel of which the
very kernel is that there is to us a communication of power, and the
very name of that divine Spirit whom it is Christ's greatest work to
send flashing and flaming through the world, is the 'Spirit of Power.'
And so the old promise that ye shall be clothed with strength from on
high is the standing prerogative of the Christian Church. There is not
merely some partial communication, as when hand touched hand, but
every organ is vitalised and quickened; as in the case of the other
miracle of this prophet, when he stretched himself on the dead child
eye to eye, and mouth to mouth, and hand to hand; and each part
received the vitalising influence. We have, if we are Christian
people, a Spirit given to us, and are 'strengthened with might by the
Spirit in the inner man.'

That gift, that strength comes to us by contact, not with Elisha, but
with Elisha's Lord and Master. Christ's touch, when He was on earth,
brought sight to the blind, healing to the sick, vigour to the limbs
of the lame, life to the dead. And you and I can have that touch, far
more truly, and far more mightily operative upon us than they had, who
only felt the contact of His finger, and only derived corporeal
blessing. For we can draw near to Him, and in union with Him by faith
and love and obedience, can have His Spirit in close contact with our
spirits, and strengthening us for all service, and for every task.
Brethren! that touch which gives strength is a real thing. It is no
mere piece of mystical exaggeration when we speak of our spirits being
in actual contact with Christ's Spirit. Many of us have no clear
conception, and still less a firm realisation, of that closer than
corporeal contact, more real than bodily presence, and more intimate
than any possible physical union, which is the great gift of God in
Jesus Christ, and brings to us, if we will, life and strength
according to our need. I would that the popular Christianity of this
day had a far larger infusion of the sound, mystical element that lies
in the New Testament Christianity, and did not talk so exclusively
about a Christ that is for us as to have all but lost sight of the
second stage of our relation to Christ, and lost a faith in a Christ
that is in us Brethren! He can lay His hand upon your spirit's hand.
He can flash light into your spirit's eye from His eye. He can put
breath and eloquence into your spirit's lips from His lips, and His
heart beating against yours can transfuse--if I may so say--into you
His own life-blood, which cleanses from all sin, and fits for all
conflict.

Then, further, let me remind you that this power, which is bestowed on
condition of contact, is given before duties are commanded. This king,
in our acted parable, first had the touch of Elisha's fingers, and
then received the command from Elisha's lips, 'Shoot!' So Jesus Christ
gives before He commands, and commands nothing which He has not fitted
us to perform. He is not 'an austere man, reaping where He did not
sow, and gathering where He did not straw'; but He comes first to us
saying, 'I give thee Myself,' and then He looks us in the eyes and
says, 'Wilt thou not give Me thyself?' He bestows the strength first,
and He commands the consequent duty afterwards.

Further, this strength communicated is realised in the effort to obey
Christ's great commands. Joash felt nothing when the prophet's hand
was laid upon his but, perhaps, some tingling. But when he got the bow
in his hand and drew the arrow to its head, the infused power
stiffened his muscles and strengthened him to pull; and though he
could not distinguish between his own natural corporeal ability and
that which had been thus imparted to him, the two co-operated in the
one act, and it was when he drew his bow that he felt his strength.
'Stretch forth thine hand,' said Christ to the lame man. But the very
infirmity to be dealt with was his inability to stretch it forth. At
the command he tried, and, to his wonder, the stiffened sinews
relaxed, and the joint that had been immovable had free play, and he
stretched out his hand, and it was restored whole as the other. So He
gives what He commands, and in obeying the command we realise and are
conscious of the power. Elisha and Joash but act an illustration of
the great word of Paul: 'Work out your own salvation ... for it is God
that worketh in you.'

II. And now, secondly, look at the perfected victory that is possible.

When the arrows, by God's strength operating through Joash's arm, had
been shot, the prophet says, 'The arrow of the Lord's victory! ...
thou shalt smite ... till thou have consumed.' Yes, of course; if the
arrow is the Lord's arrow, and the strength is His strength, then the
only issue corresponding to the power is perfect victory. I would that
Christian people realised more than they do practically in their lives
that while men's ideals and aims may be all unaccomplished, or but
partially approximated to, since God is God, His nature is perfection,
and nothing that He does can fall beneath His ideal and purpose in
doing it. All that comes from Him must correspond to Him from whom it
comes. He never leaves off till He has completed, nor can any one say
about any of His work, 'He began to build, and was not able to
finish.' So, Christian people! I would that we should rise to the
height of our prerogatives, and realise the fact that perfect victory
is possible, regard being had to the power which 'teaches our hands to
war and our fingers to fight.' A great deal of not altogether
profitable jangling goes on at present in reference to the question of
whether absolute sinlessness is possible for a Christian man on earth.
Whatever view we take upon that question, it ought not to hide from us
the fact which should loom very much more largely in our daily
operative belief than it does with most of us, that in so far as the
power which is given to us is concerned, perfect victory is within our
grasp, and is the only worthy and correspondent result to the perfect
power which worketh in us. So there is no reason, as from any defect
of the divine gift to the weakest of us, why our Christian lives
should have ups and downs, why there should be interruptions in our
devotion, fallings short in our consecration, contradictions in our
conduct, slidings backward in our progress. There is no reason why, in
our Christian year, there should be summer and winter; but according
to the symbolical saying of one of the old prophets, 'The ploughman
may overtake the reaper, and he that treadeth out the grapes him that
soweth the seed.' In so far as our Christian life is concerned, the
perfection of the power that is granted to us involves the possibility
of perfection in the recipient.

And the same thing is true in reference to a Christian man's work in
the world. God's Church has ample resources to overcome the evil of
the world. The fire is tremendous, but the Christian Church has
possession of the floods that can extinguish the fire. If we utilised
all that we have, we might 'smite till we had consumed,' and turned
the world into the Church of God. That is the ideal, the possibility,
when we look at the Christian man as possessor of the communicated
power of God. And then we turn to the reality, to our own consciences,
to the state of our religious communities everywhere, and we see what
seems to be blank contradiction of the possibility. Where is the
explanation?

III. That brings me to my last point, the partial victory that is
actually won.

'Thou shouldst have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten
the Syrians till they were consumed. But now thou shalt conquer but
thrice.' All God's promises and prophecies are conditional. There is
no such thing as an unconditional promise of victory or of defeat;
there is always an 'if.' There is always man's freedom as a factor. It
is strange. I suppose no thinking, metaphysical or theological, ever
has solved or ever will, that great paradox of the power of a finite
will to lift itself up in the face of, and antagonism to, an Infinite
Will backed by infinite power, and to thwart its purposes. 'How often
_would I_ have gathered ... and ye _would not.'_ Here is all
the power for a perfect victory, and yet the man that has it has to be
contented with a very partial one.

It is a solemn thought that the Church's unbelief can limit and hinder
Christ's work in the world, and we have here another illustration of
that truth. You will find now and then in the newspapers,
stories--they may be true or false--about caterpillars stopping a
train. There is an old legend of that fabulous creature the remora, a
tiny thing that fastened itself to the keel of a ship, and arrested it
in mid-ocean. That is what we do with God and His purposes, and with
His power granted to us.

A low expectation limits the power. This king did not believe, did not
expect, that he would conquer utterly, and so he did not. You believe
that you can do a thing, and in nine cases out of ten that goes
nine-tenths of the way towards doing it. If we cast ourselves into our
fight expecting victory, the expectation will realise itself in nine
cases out of ten. And the man who in faith refuses to say 'that beast
of a word--impossible!' will find that 'all things are possible to him
that believeth.' 'Expect great things of God,' and you will feel His
power tingling to your very fingertips, and will be able to draw the
arrow to its head, and send it whizzing home to its mark.

Small desires block the power. Where there is an iron-bound coast
running in one straight line, the whole ocean may dash itself on the
cliffs at the base, but it enters not into the land; but where the
shore opens itself out into some deep gulf far inland, and broad
across at the entrance, then the glad water rushes in and fills it
all. Make room for God in your lives by your desires and you will get
Him in the fullness of His power.

The use of our power increases our power. Joash had an unused quiver
full of arrows, and he only smote thrice. 'To him that hath shall be
given, and from him that hath not shall be taken.' The reason why many
of us professing Christians have so little of the strength of God in
our lives is because we have made so little use of the strength that
we have. Stow away your seed-corn in a granary and do not let the air
into it, and weevils and rats will consume it. Sow it broadcast on the
fields with liberal hand, and it will spring up, 'some thirty, some
sixty, some an hundredfold.' Use increases strength in all regions,
and unused organs atrophy and wither.

So, dear friends! if we will keep ourselves in contact with Christ,
and tremulously sensitive to His touch, if we will expect power
according to our tasks and our needs, if we will desire more of His
grace, and if we will honestly and manfully use the strength that we
have, then He will 'teach our hands to war and our fingers to fight,'
and will give us strength, 'so that a bow of brass is bent by' our
arms, and we shall be 'more than conquerors through Him that loved
us.'



A KINGDOM'S EPITAPH

'In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and
carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in
Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. 7. For so
it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their
God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under
the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, 8. And
walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from
before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they
had made. 9. And the children of Israel did secretly those things that
were not right against the Lord their God, and they built them high
places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the
fenced city. 10. And they set them up images and groves in every high
hill, and under every green tree: 11. And there they burnt incense in
all the high places, as did the heathen whom the Lord carried away
before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger:
12. For they served idols, whereof the Lord had said unto them, Ye
shall not do this thing. 13. Yet the Lord testified against Israel,
and against Judah, by all the prophets and by all the seers, saying,
Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes,
according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I
sent to you by My servants the prophets. 14. Notwithstanding they
would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their
fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God. 15. And they
rejected His statutes, and His covenant that He made with their
fathers, and His testimonies which He testified against them; and they
followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were
round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they
should not do like them. 16. And they left all the commandments of the
Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made
a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 17.
And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the
fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do
evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. 18. Therefore
the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of His
sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.'--2 KINGS
xvii. 6-18.


The brevity of the account of the fall of Samaria in verse 6 contrasts
with the long enumeration of the sins which caused it, in the rest of
this passage. Modern critics assume that verses 7-23 are 'an
interpolation by the Deuteronomic writer,' apparently for no reason
but because they trace Israel's fall to its cause in idolatry. But
surely the bare notice in verse 6, immediately followed by verse 24,
cannot have been all that the original historian had to say about so
tragic an end of so large a part of the people of God. The whole
purpose of the Old Testament history is not to chronicle events, but
to declare God's dealings, and the fall of a kingdom was of little
moment, except as revealing the righteousness of God.

The main part of this passage, then, is the exposition of the causes
of the national ruin. It is a _post mortem_ inquiry into the
diseases that killed a kingdom. At first sight, these verses seem a
mere heaping together, not without some repetition, of one or two
charges; but, more closely looked at, they disclose a very striking
progress of thought. In the centre stands verse 13, telling of the
mission of the prophets. Before it, verses 7-12, narrate Israel's sin,
which culminates in provoking the Lord to anger (ver. 11). After it,
the sins are reiterated with noticeable increase of emphasis, and
again culminate in provoking the Lord to anger (ver. 17). So we have
two degrees of guilt--one before and one after the prophets' messages;
and two kindlings of God's anger--one which led to the sending of the
prophets, and one which led to the destruction of Israel. The lessons
that flow from this obvious progress of thought are plain.

I. The less culpable apostasy before the prophets' warnings. The first
words of verse 7, rendered as in the Revised Version, give the purpose
of all that follows; namely, to declare the causes of the calamity
just told. Note that the first characteristic of Israel's sin was
ungrateful departure from God. There is a world of pathos and meaning
in that 'their God,' which is enhanced by the allusion to the Egyptian
deliverance. All sins are attempts to break the chain which binds us
to God--a chain woven of a thousand linked benefits. All practically
deny His possession of us, and ours of Him, and display the short
memory which ingratitude has. All have that other feature hinted at
here--the contrast, so absurd if it were not so sad, between the worth
and power of the God who is left and the other gods who are preferred.
The essential meanness and folly of Israel are repeated by every heart
departing from the living God.

The double origin of the idolatry is next set forth. It was in part
imported and in part home-made. We have little conception of the
strength of faith and courage which were needed to keep the Jews from
becoming idolaters, surrounded as they were by such. But the same are
needed to-day to keep us from learning the ways of the world and
getting a snare to our souls. Now, as ever, walking with God means
walking in the opposite direction from the crowd, and that requires
some firm nerve. The home-made idolatry is gibbeted as being according
to 'the statutes of the kings.' What right had they to prescribe their
subjects' religion? The influence of influential people, especially if
exerted against the service of God, is hard to resist; but it is no
excuse for sin that it is fashionable.

The blindness of Israel to the consequences of their sin is hinted in
the reference to the fate of the nations whom they imitated. They had
been cast out; would not their copyists learn the lesson? We, too,
have examples enough of what godless lives come to, if we had the
sense to profit by them. The God who cast out the vile Canaanites and
all the rest of the wicked crew before the sons of the desert has not
changed, and will treat Israel as He did them, if Israel come down to
their level. Outward privileges make idolatry or any sin more sinful,
and its punishment more severe.

Another characteristic of Israel's sin is its being done 'secretly.'
Of the various meanings proposed for that word (ver. 9) the best seems
to be that it refers to the attempt to combine the worship of God and
of idols, of which the calf worship is an instance. Elijah had long
ago taunted the people with trying 'to hobble on both knees,' or on
'two opinions' at once; and here the charge is of covering idolatry
with a cloak of Jehovah worship. A varnish of religion is convenient
and cheap, and often effectual in deceiving ourselves as well as
others; but 'as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,' whatever his
cloak may be; and the thing which we count most precious and long most
for is our god, whatever our professions of orthodox religion.

The idolatry is then described, in rapid touches, as universal.
Wherever there was a solitary watchman's tower among the pastures
there was a high place, and they were reared in every city. Images and
Asherim deformed every hill-top and stood under every spreading tree.
Everywhere incense loaded the heavy air with its foul fragrance. The
old scenes of unnamable abomination, which had been so terribly
avenged, seemed to have come back, and to cry aloud for another
purging by fire and sword.

The terrible upshot of all was 'to provoke the Lord to anger.' The New
Testament is as emphatic as the Old in asserting that there is the
capacity of anger in the God whose name is love, and that sin calls it
forth. The special characteristic of sin, by which it thus attracts
that lightning, is that it is disobedience. As in the first sin, so in
all others, God has said, 'Ye shall not do this thing'; and we say,
'Do it we will.' What can the end of that be but the anger of the
Lord? 'Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the
children of disobedience.'

II. Verse 13 gives the pleading of Jehovah. The mission of the
prophets was God's reply to Israel's rebellion, and was equally the
sign of His anger and of His love. The more sin abounds, the more does
God multiply means to draw back to Himself. The deafer the ears, the
louder the beseeching voice of His grieved and yet pitying love. His
anger clothes itself in more stringent appeals and clearer revelations
of Himself before it takes its slaughtering weapons in hand. The
darker the background of sin, the brighter the beams of His light show
against it. Man's sin is made the occasion for a more glorious display
of God's character and heart. It is on the storm-cloud that the sun
paints the rainbow. Each successive stage in man's departure from God
evoked a corresponding increase in the divine effort to attract him
back, till 'last of all He sent unto them His Son.' In nature,
attraction diminishes as distance increases; in the realms of grace,
it grows with distance. The one desire of God's heart is that sinners
would return from their evil ways, and He presses on them the solemn
thought of the abundant intimations of His will which have been given
from of old, and are pealed again into all ears by living voices. His
law for us is not merely an old story spoken centuries ago, but is
vocal in our consciences to-day, and fresh as when Sinai flamed and
thundered above the camp, and the trumpet thrilled each heart.

III. The heavier sin that followed the divine pleading. That divine
voice leaves no man as it finds him. If it does not sway him to
obedience, it deepens his guilt, and makes him more obstinate. Like
some perverse ox in the yoke, he stiffens his neck, and stands the
very picture of brute obduracy. There is an awful alternative involved
in our hearing of God's message, which never returns to Him void, but
ever does something to the hearer, either softening or hardening,
either scaling the eyes or adding another film on them, either being
the 'savour of life unto life or of death unto death.' The mission of
the prophets changed forgetfulness of God's 'statutes' into
'rejection' of them, and made idolatry self-conscious rebellion. Alas,
that men should make what is meant to be a bond to unite them to God
into a wedge to part them farther from Him! But how constantly that is
the effect of the gospel, and for the same reason as in Israel--that
they 'did not believe in the Lord their God'!

The miserable result on the sinners' own natures is described with
pregnant brevity in verse 15. 'They followed vanity, and became vain.'
The worshipper became like the thing worshipped, as is always the
case. The idol is vanity, utter emptiness and nonentity; and whoever
worships nothingness will become in his own inmost life as empty and
vain as it is. That is the retribution attendant on all trust in, and
longing after, the trifles of earth, that we come down to the level of
what we set our hearts upon. We see the effects of that principle in
the moral degradation of idolaters. Gods lustful, cruel, capricious,
make men like themselves. We see it working upwards in Christianity,
in which God becomes man that men may become like God, and of which
the whole law is put into one precept, which is sure to be kept, in
the measure of the reality of a man's religion. 'Be ye therefore
imitators of God, as beloved children.'

In verses 16 and 17 the details of the idolatry follow the general
statement, as in verses 9 to 12, but with additions and with increased
severity of tone. We hear now of calves and star worship, and Baal,
and burning children to Moloch, and divination and enchantment. The
catalogue is enlarged, and there is added to it the terrible
declaration that Israel had 'sold themselves to do evil in the sight
of the Lord.' The same thing was said by Elijah to Ahab--a noble
instance of courage. The sinner who steels himself against the divine
remonstrance, does not merely go on in his old sins, but adds new
ones. Begin with the calves, and fancy that you are worshipping
Jehovah, and you will end with Baal and Moloch. Refuse to hear God's
pleadings, and you will sell your freedom, and become the lowest and
only real kind of slave--the bondsman of evil. When that point of
entire abandonment to sin, which Paul calls being 'sold under sin,' is
reached, as it may be reached, at all events by a nation, and
corruption has struck too deep to be cast out, once again the anger of
the Lord is provoked; but this time it comes in a different guise. The
armies of the Assyrians, not the prophets, are its messengers now.
Israel had made itself like the nations whom God had used it to
destroy, and now it shall be destroyed as they were.

To be swept out of His sight is the fate of obstinate rejection of His
commandments and pleadings. Israel made itself the slave of evil, and
was made the captive of Assyria. Self-willed freedom, which does as it
likes, and heeds not God, ends in bondage, and is itself bondage.
God's anger against sin speaks pleadingly to us all, saying, 'Do not
this abominable thing that I hate.' Well for us if we hearken to His
voice when 'His anger is kindled but a little.' If we do not yield to
Him, and cast away our idols, we shall become vain as they. Our evil
will be more fatal, and our obstinacy more criminal, because He
called, and we refused. 'Who may abide the day of His coming? and who
shall stand when He appeareth?' These captives, dragging their weary
limbs, with despair in their hearts, across the desert to a land of
bondage, were but shadows, in the visible region of things, of the far
more doleful and dreary fate that sooner or later must fall on those
who would none of God's counsel, and despised all His reproof, but
cling to their idol till they and it are destroyed together.



DIVIDED WORSHIP

'These nations feared the Lord, and served their own gods.'--2 KINGS
xvii. 33.


The kingdom of Israel had come to its fated end. Its king and people
had been carried away captives in accordance with the cruel policy of
the great Eastern despotisms, which had so much to do with weakening
them by their very conquests. The land had lain desolate and
uncultivated for many years, savage beasts had increased in the
untilled solitudes, even as weeds and nettles grew in the gardens and
vineyards of Samaria. At last the king of Assyria resolved to people
the country; and for this purpose he sent a mixed multitude from the
different nationalities of his empire to the land of Israel. They were
men of five nationalities, most of them recently conquered. Israel had
been deported to different parts of the Assyrian empire; men from
different parts of the empire were deported to the land of Israel.
Such cruel uprootings seemed to be wisdom, but were really a policy
that kept alive disaffection. It was the same mistake (and bore the
same fruits) as Austria pursued in sending Hungarian regiments to keep
down Venice, and Venetian-born soldiers to overawe Hungary.

These new settlers brought with them their national peculiarities, and
among the rest, their gods. They knew nothing about the Jehovah whom
they supposed to be the local deity of Israel; and when they were
troubled by the wild beasts which had, of course, rapidly increased in
the land, they attributed it to their neglect of His worship, and sent
an embassy to the king of Assyria telling that as they 'know not the
manners of the God of the land,' He has sent lions among them.

This is an instructive example of the heathen way of thinking. They
have their local deities. Each land, each valley, each mountain top,
has its own. They are ready to worship them all, for they have no real
worship for any. Their reason for worship is to escape from harm, to
pay the tribute to which the god has a right on his own territory,
lest he should make it the worse for them if they neglect it. 'The
mild tolerance of heathendom' simply means the utter absence of
religion and an altogether inadequate notion of deity.

So the settlers have sent to them one of these schismatic priests who
had belonged to the extinct sanctuary at Beth-el, and he, apparently,
not having any truer notions of God or of worship than they had,
nothing loth, teaches them the rites of the Israelite worship, which
was not like that of Judah, as is distinctly stated in the context.
This worship of Jehovah was, however, blended by them with their own
national idolatry. How contemptuously the historian enumerates the
hard names of their gods and the rabble rout of them which each nation
made! 'The men of Babylon _made_ Succoth-benoth' (probably a
deity, though the name may mean booths for purposes of prostitution)
and the others '_made_ Nergal and Ashima and Nibhaz and Tartak.'
What names, and what a pantheon! 'They feared the Lord and served
their own gods.'

This was the beginning of the Samaritan people, whom we find through
the rest of Scripture even down to the Acts of the Apostles, retaining
some trace of their heathen origin. Simon Magus bewitched them in his
sorceries. They began as heathen, though in lapse of years they came
to be pure monotheists, even more rigid than the Jews themselves, and
today, if you went to Nablus, you would find the small remnant of
their descendants adhering to Moses and the law, guarding their sacred
copy of the Pentateuch with unintelligent awe, and eating the Paschal
Lamb with wild rites. They have changed the object of their worship,
but one fears that it is little more real and deep than in old days,
2500 years ago, when their forefathers 'feared the Lord and served
their own gods.'

Now I venture to take this verse as indicative of a tendency which
belongs to a great many more people than the confused mass of settlers
that were shot down on the hills of Israel by the king of Assyria. It
is really a description of a great deal of what goes by the name of
religion amongst us.

I. The Religion of Fear.

These people would never have thought about God if it had not been for
the lions. When they did think of Him it was only to tremble before
Him. The reason for their trembling was that they did not know the
etiquette of His worship; that they thought of Him as having rights
over them because they had come into His territory, which He would
exact, or punish them for omitting. In a word, their notion of God was
that of a jealous, capricious tyrant, whose ways were inscrutable to
them, in whose territory they found themselves without their will, and
who needed to be propitiated if they would live in peace.

And this is the thought which is most operative in many minds, though
it is veiled in more seemly phrases, and which darkens and injures all
those on whom it lays hold. Need I spend time in showing you how,
point by point, this picture is a picture of many among us? How many
of you think of God when you are ill, and forget Him when you are
well? How many of you pour out a prayer when you are in trouble, and
forget all about Him and it when you are prosperous? How many of you
see God in your calamities and not in your joys? Why do people call
sudden deaths and the like the 'visitation of God'? How many of us are
like Italian sailors who burn candles and shriek out to the Madonna
when the storm catches them, and get drunk in the first wine-shop
which they come to when they land! Is not many a man's thought of God,
'I knew Thee that Thou wert an austere Man, and I was afraid'?

The popular religion is largely a religion of fear.

There is a fear which is right and noble. That is reverend, humble
adoration at the sight or thought of God's great perfections. Angels
veil their faces with their wings. Such awe has no thought of personal
consequences--is inseparable from all true knowledge of God; for all
greatness of character is perfected by love. Of such fear we are not
now speaking.

Terror of God is deep in men's hearts.

Fear is the apprehension of personal evil from some person or thing.
Now I believe that terror has its place in the human economy, and in
religion, as the sense of pain has. There is something in man's
relations to God to cause it.

The Bible sets forth 'the terror of the Lord,' that men may tremble
before Him. Moses said, 'I exceedingly fear and quake.' But that
terror is only right when it proceeds from a sense of God's holiness
and a consciousness of my own sinfulness. It is not right when it is a
mere dread of a hard tyrant. That terror is only right when it leads
to a joyful acceptance of God's revelation of His love in Christ.

Fear was never meant to be permanent, it is only the alarum-bell which
rings to wake up the soul that sleeps on when in mortal peril. And it
should pass into penitence, faith, joy in Jesus. 'We have access with
confidence by the faith of Him.' The brightness is great and awful,
but go nearer, as you can in Jesus, and lo! there is love in the
brightness. You see it all tender and sweet. A heart and a hand are
there, and from the midst of it the Father's voice speaks, and says,
'My son, give Me thine heart.'

The religion of fear is worthless. It produces no holiness, it does
nothing for a man, it does not bind him to God. He is none the
stronger for it. It paralyses so far as it does anything.

It is spasmodic and intermittent. It is impossible to keep it up, so
it comes in fits and starts. When the morning comes men laugh at their
terrors. It leads to wild endeavours to forget God--atheism--to
insensibility. He who begins by fearing when there was no need, ends
by not fearing when he ought.

II. The Religion of Form.

The Samaritans' whole worship was outward worship. They did the things
which the Beth-el priest taught them to do, and that was all.

And this again is a type, very common in our day. Religion must have
forms. The forms often help to bring us the spirit. But we are always
in danger of trusting to them too much.

How many of us have our Christianity only in outward seeming? The only
thing that unites men to God is love.

So your external connection with God's worship is of no use at all
unless you have that.

Church and chapel-goers are alike exposed to the danger of erecting
the forms of worship to a place in which they cannot be put without
marring the spirit of worship. Whether our worship be more or less
symbolic, whether we have a more or less elaborate ritual, whether we
think more or less of sacraments, whether we put hearing a sermon as
more or less prominent, or even if we follow the formless forms of the
Friends, we are all tempted to substitute our forms for the spirit
which alone is worship.

III. The Religion of Compromise or Worldliness.

They had God and they had gods. They liked the latter best. They gave
God formal worship, but they gave the others more active service.

Such a kind of religion is a type of much that we see around us; the
attempt to be Christians and worldlings, the indecision under which
many men labour all their lives, being drawn one way by their
consciences, another by their inclinations.

You cannot unite the two. God requires all. He fills the heart, and
claims supreme control over all the nature. There cannot be two
supreme in the soul. It cannot be God and self. It must be God or
self. You may look now one way and now another, but the way the heart
goes is the thing. Mr. Facing-both-ways does not really face both
ways. He only turns quickly round from one to the other.

Such divided religion is impossible in the nature of God--of the
soul--of religion.

To attempt it, then, is really to decide against God.

It is weak and unmanly to be thus vague and decided by circumstances.
You would have been a Mohammedan if you had been born in Turkey.

You ought to decide for God.

He claims, He deserves, He will reward and bless, your whole soul.

'Choose you this day whom ye will serve. If the Lord be God, follow
Him' If Baal or Succoth-benoth, then follow him. 'You cannot serve God
and Mammon.' 'He that is not for us is against us.' Be one thing or
the other.



HEZEKIAH, A PATTERN OF DEVOUT LIFE

'Hezekiah trusted in the Lord God of Israel.... 6. He clave to the
Lord, and departed not from following Him, but kept His
commandments.'--2 KINGS xviii. 5,6.


Devout people in all ages and stations are very much like each other.
The elements of godliness are always the same. This king of Israel,
something like two thousand six hundred years ago, and the humblest
Christian to-day have the family likeness on their faces. These words,
which are an outline sketch of the king's character, are really a
sketch of the religious life at all times and in all places. He
realised it; why may not we? He achieved it amid much ignorance; why
should not we amid our blaze of knowledge? He accomplished it amid the
temptations of a monarchy; why should not we in our humbler spheres?

There are four things set forth here as constituting a religious life.
We begin at the bottom with the foundation of everything. 'He trusted
in the Lord God of Israel.' The Old Testament is just as emphatic in
declaring that there is no religion without trust, and that trust is
the very nerve and life-blood of religion, as is the New. Only that in
the one half of the book our translators have chosen to use the word
'trust,' and in the other half of the book they have chosen to use,
for the very same act, the word 'faith.' They have thus somewhat
obscured the absolute identity which exists in the teaching of the Old
and of the New Testament as regards the bond which unites men to God.
That union always was, and always will be, begun in the simple
attitude and exercise of trust, and everything else will come out of
that, and without that nothing else will come.

So this king had a certain measure of knowledge about the character of
God, and that measure of knowledge led him to lean all his weight upon
the Lord. You and I know a great deal more about God and His ways and
purposes than Hezekiah did, but we can make no better use of it than
he did--translate our knowledge into faith, and rely with simple,
absolute confidence on Him whose name we know in Christ more fully and
blessedly than was possible to Hezekiah.

And need I remind you of how, in this life of which the outline is
here given and the inmost secret is here disclosed, there were
significant and magnificent instances of the power of humble trust to
bring to an else helpless man all the blessings that he needs, and to
put a crystal wall round about him that will preserve him from every
evil, howsoever threatening it may seem?

'It has come addressed to me, but it is meant for Thee. Vindicate
Thine own cause by delivering Thine own servant.' And so, 'when the
morning dawned, they were all dead men,' and faith rejoiced in a
perfect deliverance. And you and I may get the same answer, in the
midst of all our trials, difficulties, toils, and conflicts, if only
we will go the same way to get it, and let our faith work, as
Hezekiah's worked, and take everything that troubles us to our Father
in the heavens, and be quite sure that He is the God 'who daily bears
our burdens.' Let us begin with the simple act of confidence in Him.
That is the foundation, and on that we may build everything besides.

Let us see what this man further built upon it. The second story, if I
may so say, of the temple-fortress of his life, upon the foundation of
faith, was, 'He clave to the Lord.'

That is to say, the act of confidence must be followed and perfected
by tenacious adherence with all the tendrils of a man's nature to the
God in whom he says that he trusts. The metaphor is a very forcible
one, so familiar in Scripture as that we are apt to overlook its
emphasis. Let me recall one or two of the instances in which it is
employed about other matters which throw light on its force here.

First of all, remember that sweet picture of the widow woman from Moab
and the two daughters-in-law, one sent back, not reluctantly, to her
home; and the other persisting in keeping by Naomi's side, in spite of
difficulties and remonstrances. With kisses of real love Orpah went
back, but she did go back, to her people and her gods, but 'Ruth clave
unto her.' So should we cling to God, as Ruth flung her arms round
Naomi, and twined her else lonely and desolate heart about her dear
and only friend, for whose sweet sake she became a willing exile from
kindred and country. Is that how we cleave to the Lord?

More sacred still are the lessons that are suggested by the fact that
this is the word employed to describe the blessed and holy union of
man and woman in pure wedded life, and I suppose some allusion to that
use of the expression underlies its constant application to the
relation of the believing soul to Jehovah. For by trust the soul is
wedded to Him, and so 'joined to the Lord' as to be 'one spirit.'

Or if we do not care to go so deep as that, let us take the metaphor
that lies in the word itself, without reference to its Scriptural
applications. As the limpet holds on to its rock, as the ivy clings to
the wall, as a shipwrecked sailor grasps the spar which keeps his head
above water, so a Christian man ought to hold on to God, with all his
energy, and with all parts of his nature. The metaphor implies
tenacity; closeness of adhesion, in heart and will, in thought, in
desire, and in all the parts of our receptive humanity, all of which
can touch God and be touched by Him, and all of which are blessed only
in the measure in which, yielding to Him, they are filled and steadied
and glorified.

And there is implied, too, not only tenacity of adherence, but
tenacity in the face of obstacles. There must be resistance to all the
forces which would detach, if there is to be union with God in the
midst of life in the world. Or, to recur for a moment to the figure
that I employed a moment ago, as the sailor clings to a spar, though
the waves dash round him, and his fingers get stiffened with cold and
cramped with keeping the one position, and can scarcely hold on, but
he knows that it is life to cling and death to loosen, and so tightens
his grasp; thus have we to lay hold of God, and in spite of all
obstacles, to keep hold of Him. Our grasp tends to slacken, and is
feeble at the best, even if there were nothing outside of us to make
it difficult for us to get a good grip. But there are howling winds
and battering waves blowing and beating on us, and making it hard to
keep our hold.

Do not let us yield to these, but in spite of them all let our hearts
tighten round Him, for it is only in His sweet, eternal, perfect love
that they can be at rest. And let our thoughts keep close to Him in
spite of all distractions, for it is only in the measure in which His
light fills our minds and His truth occupies our thoughts that our
thinking spirits will be at rest. And let our desires, as the
tentacles of some shell-fish fasten upon the rock, and feel out
towards the ocean that is coming to it, let our desires go all out
towards Him until they touch that after which they feel, and curl
round it in repose and in blessedness.

The whole secret of a joyful, strong, noble Christian life lies
here--that on the foundation of faith we should rear tenacious
adherence to Him in spite of all obstacles. So it was a most
encyclopaedic, though laconic, exhortation that that 'good man' sent
down from Jerusalem to encourage the first heathen converts gave, when
instead of all other instruction or advice, or inculcation of less
important, and yet real, Christian duties, Barnabas exhorted them all
'that with purpose of heart'--the full devotion of their inmost
natures--'they should cleave to the Lord.'

Then the third stage, or the third story, in this building is that,
cleaving to the Lord, 'he departed not from following Him.' The
metaphor of cleaving implies proximity and union; the metaphor of
following implies distance which is being diminished. These two are
incongruous, and the very incongruity helps to give point to the
representation. The same two ideas of union and yet of pursuit are
brought still more closely together in other parts of Scripture. For
instance, there is a remarkable saying in one of the Psalms,
translated in our Bible--'My soul followeth hard after Thee. Thy right
hand upholdeth me,' where the expression 'followeth hard after' is a
lame attempt at translating the perhaps impossible-to-be-translated
fullness of the original, which reads 'My soul cleaveth after Thee.'
It is an incongruous combination of ideas, by its very incongruity and
paradoxical form suggesting a profound truth--viz. that in all the
conscious union and tenacious adherence to God which makes the
Christian life, there is ever, also, a sense of distance which kindles
aspiration and leads to the effort after continual progress. However
close we may be to God, it is always possible to press closer. However
full may be the union, it may always be made fuller; and the cleaving
spirit will always be longing for a closer contact and a more blessed
sense of being in touch with God.

So, as we climb, new heights reveal themselves, and the further we
advance in the Christian life the more are we conscious of the
infinite depths that yet remain to be traversed. Hence arises one
great element of the blessedness of being a Christian--namely, that we
need not fear ever coming to the end of the growth in holiness and the
increase of joy and power that are possible to us. So that weariness,
and the sense of having reached the limits that are possible on a
given path, which sooner or later fall upon men that live for anything
but God, can never be ours if we live for Him. But the oldest and most
experienced will have the same forward-looking glances of hope and
forward-directed steps of strenuous effort as the youngest beginner on
the path; and a Paul will be able to say when he is 'Paul the aged,'
and 'the time of his departure is at hand,' that he 'forgets the
things that are behind, and reaches forth unto the things that are
before, while he presses towards the mark.' Let us be thankful for the
endless progress which is possible to the Christian, and let us see to
it that we are never paralysed into supposing that 'to-morrow must be
_as_ this day,' but trust the infinite resources of our God, and
be sure that we growingly make our own the growing gifts which He
bestows.

And so, lastly, the fourth element in this analysis of a devout life
is 'He kept the commandments of the Lord.' That is the outcome of them
all. Faith, adhesion, aspiration, and progress, all vindicate their
value and reality in the simple, homely way of practical obedience.

Let us learn two things. One as to the worthlessness of all these
others, if they do not issue in this. Not that these inward emotions
are ever to be despised, but that, if they are genuine in our hearts,
they cannot but manifest themselves in our lives. And so, dear
Christian friends! do you not build upon your faith, on your adherence
to God, on your aspirations after Him, unless you can bring into
court, as witnesses for these, daily and hourly, your efforts after
the conformity of your will to His, in the great things and in the
small. Then, and only then, may we be sure that our confidence is not
a delusion, and that it is to Him that we cleave when our feet tread
in the paths of goodness.

And on the other hand, let us learn that all attempts to be obedient
to a divine will which do not begin with trust and cleaving to Him are
vain. There is no other way to get that conformity of will except by
that union of spirit. All other attempts are beginning at the wrong
end. You do not begin building your houses with the chimney-pots, but
many a man who seeks to obey without trusting does precisely commit
that fault. Let us be sure that the foundations are in, and then let
us be sure that we do not stop half-way up, lest all that pass by
should mock and say, 'This man began to build and was not able to
finish.'

How many professing Christians' lives are half-finished and unroofed
houses, because they have not 'added to their faith'--that is, to
their 'cleaving to the Lord'--endless aspiration and continual
progress, and to their aspiration and their progress the peaceable
fruit of practical righteousness! If these things be in us and abound,
they mark us as devout men after God's pattern. And if we want to be
devout men after God's pattern, we must follow God's sequence, which
begins with trust and ends with obedience.



'HE UTTERED HIS VOICE, THE EARTH MELTED'

'Then Isaiah the son of Amos sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the
Lord God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to Me against
Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. 21. This is the word that
the Lord hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion,
hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of
Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. 22. Whom hast thou reproached
and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and
lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel....
28. Because thy rage against Me and thy tumult is come up into Mine
ears, therefore I will put My hook in thy nose, and My bridle in thy
lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. 29.
And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such things
as grow of themselves, and in the second year that which springeth of
the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards,
and eat the fruits thereof. 30. And the remnant that is escaped of the
house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit
upward. 31. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they
that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do
this. 32. Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of
Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there,
nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. 33. By the
way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into
this city, saith the Lord. 34. For I will defend this city, to save
it, for Mine own sake, and for My servant David's sake. 35. And it
came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and
smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five
thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were
all dead corpses. 36. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and
went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 37. And it came to pass, as
he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech
and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into
the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.'--2
KINGS xix. 20-22; 28-37.


At an earlier stage of the Assyrian invasion Hezekiah had sent to
Isaiah, asking him to pray to his God for deliverance, and had
received an explicit assurance that the invasion would be foiled. When
the second stage was reached, and Hezekiah was personally summoned to
surrender, by a letter which scoffed at Isaiah's promise, he himself
prayed before the Lord. Isaiah does not seem to have been present, and
may not have known of the prayer. At all events, the answer was given
to him to give to the king; and it is noteworthy that, as in the
former case, he does not himself come, but sends to Hezekiah. He did
come when he had to bring a message of death, and again when he had to
rebuke (chap. xx.), but now he only sends. As the chosen speaker of
Jehovah's will, he was mightier than kings, and must not imperil the
dignity of the message by the behaviour of the messenger. In a
sentence, Hezekiah's prayer is answered, and then the prophet, in
Jehovah's name, bursts into a wonderful song of triumph over the
defeated invader. 'I have heard.' That is enough. Hezekiah's prayer
has, as it were, fired the fuse or pulled the trigger, and the
explosion follows, and the shot is sped. 'Whereas thou hast prayed,
... I have heard,' is ever true, and God's hearing is God's acting in
answer. The methods of His response vary, the fact that He responds to
the cry of despair driven to faith by extremity of need does not vary.

But it is noteworthy that, with that brief, sufficient assurance,
Hezekiah, as it were, is put aside, and instead of three fighters in
the field, the king, with God to back him, and on the other side
Sennacherib, two only, appear. It is a duel between Jehovah and the
arrogant heathen who had despised Him. Jerusalem appears for a moment,
in a magnificent piece of poetical scorn, as despising and making
gestures of contempt at the baffled would-be conqueror, as Miriam and
her maidens did by the Red Sea. The city is 'virgin,' as many a
fortress in other lands has been named, because uncaptured. But she,
too, passes out of sight, and Jehovah and Sennacherib stand opposed on
the field. God speaks now not 'concerning,' but to, him, and indicts
him for insane pride, which was really a denial of dependence on God,
and passionate antagonism to Him, as manifested not only in his war
against Jehovah's people, but also in the tone of his insolent
defiances of Hezekiah, in which he scoffed at the vain trust which the
latter was placing in his God, and paralleled Jehovah with the gods of
the nations whom he had already conquered (Isaiah xix. 12).

The designation of God, characteristic of Isaiah, as 'the Holy One of
Israel,' expresses at once His elevation above, and separation from,
all mundane, creatural limitations, and His special relation to His
people, and both thoughts intensify Sennacherib's sin. The Highest,
before whose transcendent height all human elevations sink to a
uniform level, has so joined Israel to Himself that to touch it is to
strike at Him, and to vaunt one's self against it is to be arrogant
towards God. That mighty name has received wider extension now, but
the wider sweep does not bring diminished depth, and lowly souls who
take that name for their strong tower can still run into it and be
safe from 'the oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,' and the
strongest foes.

There is tremendous scorn in the threat with which the divine address to
Sennacherib ends. The dreaded world-conqueror is no more in God's eyes
than a wild beast, which He can ring and lead as He will, and not even
as formidable as that, but like a horse or a mule, that can easily be
bridled and directed. What majestic assertion lies in these figures and
in '_My_ hook' and '_My_ bridle!' How many conquerors and mighty men
since then have been so mastered, and their schemes balked! Sennacherib
had to return by 'the way that he came,' and to tramp back, foiled and
disappointed, over all the weary miles which he had trodden before with
such insolent confidence of victory. A modern parallel is Napoleon's
retreat from Moscow. But the same experience really befalls all who
order life regardless of God. Their schemes may seem to succeed, but in
deepest truth they fail, and the schemers never reach their goal.

In verse 29 the prophet turns away abruptly and almost contemptuously
from Sennacherib to speak comfortably to Jerusalem, addressing
Hezekiah first, but turning immediately to the people. The substance
of his words to them is, first, the assurance that the Assyrian
invasion had limits of time set to it by God; and, second, that beyond
it lay prosperous times, when the prophetic visions of a flourishing
Israel should be realised in fact. For two seed-times only field work
was to be impossible on account of the Assyrian occupation, but it was
to foam itself away, like a winter torrent, before a third season for
sowing came round.

But how could this sequence of events, which required time for its
unfolding, be 'a sign'? We must somewhat modify our notions of a sign
to understand the prophet. The Scripture usage does not only designate
by that name a present event or thing which guarantees the truth of a
prophecy, but it sometimes means an event, or sequence of events, in
the future, which, when they have come to pass in accordance with the
divine prediction of them, will shed back light on other divine words
or acts, and demonstrate that they were of God. Thus Moses was given
as a sign of his mission the worshipping in Mount Sinai, which was to
take place only after the Exodus. So with Isaiah's sign here. When the
harvest of the third year was gathered in, then Israel would know that
the prophet had spoken from God when he had sung Sennacherib's defeat.
For the present, Hezekiah and Judah had to live by faith; but when the
deliverance was complete, and they were enjoying the fruits of their
labours and of God's salvation, then they could look back on the weary
years, and recognise more clearly than while these were slowly passing
how God had been in all the trouble, and had been carrying on His
purposes of mercy through it all. And there will be a 'sign' for us in
like manner when we look back from eternity on the transitory
conflicts of earthly life, and are satisfied with the harvest which He
has caused to spring from our poor sowings to the Spirit.

The definite promise of deliverance in verses 32-34 is addressed to
Judah, and emphasises the completeness of the frustration of the
invader's efforts. There is a climax in the enumeration of the things
that he will not be allowed to do--he will not make his entry into the
city, nor even shoot an arrow there, nor even make preparation for a
siege. His whole design will be overturned, and as had already been
said (ver. 28), he will retrace his steps a baffled man.

Note the strong antithesis: 'He shall not come into this city, ... for
I will defend this city.' Zion is impregnable because Jehovah defends
it. Sennacherib can do nothing, for he is fighting against God. And if
we 'are come unto the city of the living God,' we can take the same
promise for the strength of our lives. God saves Zion 'for His own
sake,' for His name is concerned in its security, both because He has
taken it for His own and because He has pledged His word to guard it.
It would be a blot on His faithfulness, a slur on His power, if it
should be conquered while it remains true to Him, its King. His honour
is involved in protecting us if we enter into the strong city of which
the builder and maker is God. And 'for David's sake,' too, He defends
Zion, because He had sworn to David to dwell there. But Zion's
security becomes an illusion if Zion breaks away from God. If it
becomes as Sodom, it shares Sodom's fate.

It is remarkable that neither in the song of triumph nor in the
prophecy of deliverance is there allusion to the destruction of the
Assyrian army. How the exultant taunts of the one and the definite
promises of the other were to be fulfilled was not declared till the
event declared it. But faithful expectation had not long to wait, for
'that night' the blow fell, and no second was needed. We are not told
where the Assyrian army was, but clearly it was not before Jerusalem.
Nor do we learn what was the instrument of destruction wielded by the
'angel of the Lord,' if there was any. The catastrophe may have been
brought about by a pestilence, but however effected, it was 'the act
of God,' the fulfilment of His promise, the making bare of His arm.
'By terrible things in righteousness' did He answer the prayer of
Hezekiah, and give to all humble souls who are oppressed and cry to
Him a pledge that 'as they have heard, so' will they 'see, in the city
of' their 'God.' How much more impressive is the stern, naked brevity
of the Scriptural account than a more emotional expansion of it, like,
for instance, Byron's well-known, and in their way powerful lines,
would have been! To the writer of this book it seemed the most natural
thing in the world that the foes of Zion should be annihilated by one
blow of the divine hand. His business is to tell the facts; he leaves
commentary and wonder and triumph or terror to others.

There is but one touch of patriotic exultation apparent in the
half-sarcastic and half-rejoicing accumulation of synonyms descriptive
of Sennacherib's retreat. He 'departed, and went and returned.' It is
like the picture in Psalm xlviii., which probably refers to the same
events: 'They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and
hasted away.'

About twenty years elapsed between Sennacherib's retreat and his
assassination. During all that time he 'dwelt at Nineveh,' so far as
Judah was concerned. He had had enough of attacking it and its God.
But the notice of his death is introduced here, not only to complete
the narrative, but to point a lesson, which is suggested by the fact
that he was murdered 'as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch
his god.' Hezekiah had gone into the house of _his_ God with
Sennacherib's letter, and the dead corpses of an army showed what
Jehovah could do for His servant; Sennacherib was praying in the
temple of _his_ god, and his corpse lay stretched before his
idol, an object lesson of the impotence of Nisroch and all his like to
hear or help their worshippers.



THE REDISCOVERED LAW AND ITS EFFECTS

'And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have
found the book of the law in the house of the Lord: and Hilkiah gave
the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9. And Shaphan the scribe came to
the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Thy servants have
gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it
into the hand of them that do the work, that have the oversight of the
house of the Lord. 10. And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying,
Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book: and Shaphan read it
before the king. 11. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the
words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes. 12. And the
king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and
Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a
servant of the king's, saying, 13. Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me,
and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this
book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled
against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of
this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning
us. 14. So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan,
and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the
son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she
dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her. 15.
And she said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the
man that sent you to me, 16. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring
evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the
words of the book which the king of Judah hath read: 17. Because they
have forsaken Me, and have burnt incense unto other gods, that they
might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore
My wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be
quenched. 18. But to the king of Judah, which sent you to enquire of
the Lord, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel,
As touching the words which thou hast heard; 19. Because thine heart
was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou
heardest what I speak against this place, and against the inhabitants
thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast
rent thy clothes, and wept before Me; I also have heard thee, saith
the Lord. 20. Behold, therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers,
and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes
shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And
they brought the king word again.'--2 KINGS xxii. 8-20.


We get but a glimpse into a wild time of revolution and
counter-revolution in the brief notice that the 'servants of Amon,'
Josiah's father, conspired and murdered him in his palace, but were
themselves killed by a popular rising, in which the 'people of the
land made Josiah his son king in his stead,' and so no doubt balked
the conspirators' plans. Poor boy! he was only eight years old when he
made his first acquaintance with rebellion and bloodshed. There must
have been some wise heads and strong arms and loyal hearts round him,
but their names have perished. The name of David was still a spell in
Judah, and guarded his childish descendant's royal rights. In the
eighteenth year of his reign, the twenty-sixth of his age, he felt
himself firm enough in the saddle to begin a work of religious
reformation, and the first reward of his zeal was the finding of the
book of the law. Josiah, like the rest of us, gained fuller knowledge
of God's will in the act of trying to do it so far as he knew it.
'Light is sown for the upright.'

I. We have, first, the discovery of the law. The important and
complicated critical questions raised by the narrative cannot be
discussed here, nor do they affect the broad lines of teaching in the
incident. Nothing is more truthful-like than the statement that, in
course of the repairs of the Temple, the book should be
found,--probably in the holiest place, to which the high priest would
have exclusive access. How it came to have been lost is a more
puzzling question; but if we recall that seventy-five years had passed
since Hezekiah, and that these were almost entirely years of apostasy
and of tumult, we shall not wonder that it was so. Unvalued things
easily slip out of sight, and if the preservation of Scripture
depended on the estimation which some of us have of it, it would have
been lost long ago. But the fact of the loss suggests the wonder of
the preservation. It would appear that this copy was the only one
existing,--at all events, the only one known. It alone transmitted the
law to later days, like some slender thread of water that finds its
way through the sand and brings the river down to broad plains beyond.
Think of the millions of copies now, and the one dusty, forgotten roll
tossing unregarded in the dilapidated Temple, and be thankful for the
Providence that has watched over the transmission. Let us take care,
too, that the whole Scripture is not as much lost to us, though we
have half a dozen Bibles each, as the roll was to Josiah and his men.

Hilkiah's announcement to Shaphan has a ring of wonder and of awe in
it. It sounds as if he had not known that such a book was anywhere in
the Temple. And it is noteworthy that not he, but Shaphan, is said to
have read it. Perhaps he could not,--though, if he did not, how did he
know what the book was? At all events, he and Shaphan seem to have
felt the importance of the find, and to have consulted what was to be
done. Observe how the latter goes cautiously to work, and at first
only says that he has received 'a book.' He gives it no name, but
leaves it to tell its own story,--which it was then, and is still,
well able to do. Scripture is its own best credentials and witnesses
whence it comes. Again Shaphan is the reader, as it was natural that a
'scribe' should be, and again the possibility is that Josiah could not
read.

II. One can easily picture the scene while the reader's voice went
steadily through the commandments, threatenings, and promises,--the
deepening eagerness of the king, the gradual shaping out before his
conscience of God's ideal for him and his people, and the gradual
waking of the sense of sin in him, like a dormant serpent beginning to
stir in the first spring sunshine.

The effect of God's law on the sinful heart is vividly pictured in
Josiah's emotion. 'By the law is the knowledge of sin.' To many of us
that law, in spite of our outward knowledge of it, is as completely
absent from our consciousness as it had been from the most ignorant of
Josiah's subjects; and if for once its searchlight were thrown into
the hidden corners of our hearts and lives, it would show up in
dreadful clearness the skulking foes that are stealing to assail us,
and the foul things that have made good their lodgment in our hearts
and lives. It always makes an epoch in a life when it is really
brought to the standard of God's law; and it is well for us if, like
Josiah, we rend our clothes, or rather 'our heart, and not our
garments,' and take home the conviction, 'I have sinned against the
Lord.'

The dread of punishment sprang up in the young king's heart, and
though that emotion is not the highest motive for seeking the Lord, it
is not an unworthy one, and is meant to lead on to nobler ones than
itself. There is too much unwillingness, in many modern conceptions of
Christ's gospel, to recognise the place which the apprehension of
personal evil consequences from sin has in the initial stages of the
process by which we are 'translated from the kingdom of darkness into
that of God's dear Son.'

III. The message to Huldah is remarkable. The persons sent with it
show its importance. The high priest, the royal secretary, and one of
the king's personal attendants, who was, no doubt, in his confidence,
and two other influential men, one of whom, Ahikam, is known as
Jeremiah's staunch friend, would make some stir in 'the second
quarter,' on their way to the modest house of the keeper of the
wardrobe. The weight and number of the deputation did honour to the
prophetess, as well as showed the king's anxiety as to the matter in
hand. Jeremiah and Zephaniah were both living at this time, and we do
not know why Huldah was preferred. Perhaps she was more accessible.
But conjecture is idle. Enough that she was recognised as having, and
declared herself to have, direct authoritative communications from
God.

For what did Josiah need to inquire of the Lord 'concerning the words
of this book'? They were plain enough. Did he hope to have their
sternness somewhat mollified by the words of a prophetess who might be
more amenable to entreaties or personal considerations than the
unalterable page was? Evidently he recognised Huldah as speaking with
divine authority, and he might have known that two depositories of
God's voice could not contradict each other. But possibly his embassy
simply reflected his extreme perturbation and alarm, and like many
another man when God's law startles him into consciousness of sin, he
betook himself to one who was supposed to be in God's counsels, half
hoping for a mitigated sentence, and half uncertain of what he really
wished. He confusedly groped for some support or guide. But, confused
as he was, his message to the prophetess implied repentance, eager
desire to know what to do, and humble docility. If dread of evil
consequences leads us to such a temper, we shall hear, as Josiah did,
answers of peace as authoritative and divine as were the threatenings
that brought us to our senses and our knees.

IV. The answer which Josiah received falls into two parts, the former
of which confirms the threatenings of evil to Jerusalem, while the
latter casts a gleam athwart the thundercloud, and promises Josiah
escape from the national calamities. Observe the difference in the
designation given him in the two parts. When the threatenings are
confirmed, his individuality is, as it were, sunk; for that part of
the message applies to any and every member of the nation, and
therefore he is simply called 'the man that sent you.' Any other man
would have received the same answer. But when his own fate is to be
disclosed, then he is 'the king of Judah, who sent you,' and is
described by the official position which set him apart from his
subjects.

Huldah has but to confirm the dread predictions of evil which the roll
had contained. What else can a faithful messenger of God do than
reiterate its threatenings? Vainly do men seek to induce the living
prophet to soften down God's own warnings. Foolishly do they think
that the messenger or the messenger's Sender has any 'pleasure in the
death of the wicked'; and as foolishly do they take the message to be
unkind, for surely to warn that destruction waits the evildoer is
gracious. The signal-man who waves the red flag to stop the train
rushing to ruin is a friend. Huldah was serving Judah best by plain
reiteration of the 'words of the book.'

But the second half of her message told that in wrath God remembered
mercy. And that is for ever true. His thunderbolts do not strike
indiscriminately, even when they smite a nation. Judah's corruption
had gone too far for recovery, and the carcase called for the
gathering together of the vultures, but Josiah's penitence was not in
vain. 'I have heard thee' is always said to the true penitent, and
even if he is involved in widespread retribution, its strokes become
different to him. Josiah was assured that the evil should not come in
his days. But Huldah's promise seems contradicted by the circumstances
of his death. It was a strange kind of being gathered to his grave in
peace when he fell on the fatal field of Megiddo, and 'his servants
carried him in a chariot dead, ... and buried him in his own
sepulchre' (2 Kings xxiii. 30). But the promise is fulfilled in its
real meaning by the fact that the threatenings which he was inquiring
about did not fall on Judah in his time, and so far as these were
concerned, he _did_ come to his grave in peace.



THE END

'1. And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth
month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of
Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched
against it; and they built forts against it round about. 2. And the
city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. 3. And on
the ninth day of the fourth month the famine prevailed in the city,
and there was no bread for the people of the land. 4. And the city was
broken up, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the
gate, between two walls, which is by the king's garden; (now the
Chaldees were against the city round about;) and the king went the way
toward the plain. 5. And the army of the Chaldees pursued after the
king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho: and all his army were
scattered from him. 6. So they took the king, and brought him up to
the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgment upon him. 7. And
they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes
of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to
Babylon. 8. And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month,
which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,
came Nebuzar-adan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of
Babylon, unto Jerusalem: 9. And he burnt the house of the Lord, and
the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great
man's house burnt he with fire. 10. And all the army of the Chaldees,
that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of
Jerusalem round about. 11. Now the rest of the people that were left
in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the king of Babylon,
with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzar-adan, the captain of
the guard, carry away. 12. But the captain of the guard left of the
poor of the land to be vine-dressers and husbandmen.'--2 KINGS xxv.
1-12.


Eighteen months of long-drawn-out misery and daily increasing famine
preceded the fall of the doomed city. The siege was a blockade. No
assaults by the enemy, nor sorties by the inhabitants, are narrated,
but the former grimly and watchfully drew their net closer, and the
latter sat still in their despair. The passionless tone of the
narrative here is very remarkable. Not a word escapes the writer to
show his feelings, though he is telling his country's fall. We must
turn to Lamentations for sighs and groans. There we have the emotions
of devout hearts; here we have the calm record of God's judgment. It
is all one long sentence, for in the Hebrew each verse begins with
'and,' clause heaped on clause, as if each were a footstep of the
destroying angel in his slow, irresistible march.

The narrative falls into two principal parts--the fate of the king and
that of the city. It is unnecessary to dwell on the details. The
confusion of counsels, the party strife, the fierce hatred of God's
prophet, the agony of famine, are all suppressed here, but painted
with terrible vividness in the Book of Jeremiah. At last the fatal day
came. On the north side a breach was made in the wall, and through it
the fierce besiegers poured--the 'princes of the king of Babylon,'
with their idolatrous and barbarous names, 'came in, and sat in the
middle gate.' It was night. The sudden appearance of the conquerors in
the heart of the city shot panic into the feeble king and his 'men of
war' who had never struck one blow for deliverance; and they hurried
under cover of darkness, and hidden between two walls, down the ravine
to the king's garden, once the scene of pleasure, but waste now, and
thence, as best they could, round or over Olivet to the road to
Jericho. The king's flight by night had been foretold by Ezekiel far
away in captivity (Ezek. xii. 12); and the same prophet received on
that very day a divine message announcing the fall of the city, and
bidding him 'write thee the name of the day, even of this selfsame
day,' as that on which the king of Babylon 'drew close unto Jerusalem'
(Ezek. xxiv. 1 _et seq._).

Down the rocky road went the flying host, with 'their shaftless,
broken bows' closely followed by the avenging foe with 'red pursuing
spear.' Where Israel had first set foot on its inheritance, the last
king of David's line was captured and his monarchy shattered. The
scene of the first victory, when Jericho fell before unarmed men
trusting in God, was the scene of the last defeat. The spot where the
covenant was renewed, and the reproach of Israel rolled away, was the
spot where the broken covenant was finally avenged and abrogated. The
end came back to the beginning, and the cradle was the coffin.

Away up to Riblah, in the far north, under the shadow of Lebanon, the
captive was dragged to meet the conqueror. The name of each is a
profession of belief. The one means 'Jehovah is righteousness'; the
other, 'Nebo, protect the crown.' The idol seemed to have overcome,
but the defeat of the unbelieving confessor of the true God at the
hands of the idolater is really the victory of the righteousness which
the name celebrated and the bearer of the name insulted. His murdered
sons were the last sight which he saw before he was blinded, according
to the ferocious practice of the East. It was ingenuity of cruelty to
let him see for so long, and then to give him that as the last thing
seen, and therefore often remembered. Note how the enigma of Ezekiel's
prophecy (Ezek. xii. 13) and its apparent contradiction of Jeremiah's
(Jer. xxxii. 4; xxxiv. 3) are reconciled, and learn how easily the
fact, when it comes, clears the riddles of prophecy, and how easily,
probably, the whole facts, if we knew them, would clear the
difficulties of Scripture history. The blinded king was harmless, but
according to Jewish tradition, was set to work in a mill (though that
is probably only an application of Samson's story), and according to
Jeremiah (Jer. lii. 11), was kept in prison till his death. So ended
the monarchy of Judah.

The fate of the city was not settled for a month, during which, no
doubt, there was much consultation at Riblah whether to garrison or
destroy it. The king of Babylon did not go in person, but despatched a
force commanded by a high officer, to burn palace, Temple, the more
important houses (the poorer people would probably be lodged in huts
not worth burning), and to raze the fortifications. In accordance with
the practice of the great Eastern despotisms, deportation followed
victory--a clever though cruel device for securing conquests. But some
were left behind; for the land, if deserted, would have fallen out of
cultivation, and been profitless to Babylon. The bulk of the people of
Jerusalem, the fugitives who had joined the invaders during the siege,
and the mass of the general population, were carried off, in such a
long string of misery as we may still see on the monuments, and a
handful left behind, too poor to plot, and stirred to diligence by
necessity. So ended the possession by Israel of its promised
inheritance.

Now this fall of Jerusalem is like an object-lesson to teach
everlasting truth as to the retributive providence of God. What does
it say?

It declares plainly what brings down God's judgments. The terms on
which Israel prospered and held its land were obedience to God's law.
We cannot directly apply the principles of God's government of it to
modern nations. The present analogue of Israel is the Church, not the
nation. But when all deductions have been made, it is still true that
a nation's religious attitude is a most potent factor in its
prosperous development. It is not accidental that, on the whole,
stagnant Europe and America are Roman Catholic, and the progressive
parts Protestant. Nor was it causes independent of religion that
scattered a decaying Christianity in the lands of the Eastern Church
before the onslaught of wild Arabs, who, at all events, did believe in
Allah. So there are abundant lessons for politics and sociology in the
story of Jerusalem's fall.

But these lessons have direct application to the individual and to the
Christian Church. All departure from God is ruin. We slay ourselves by
forsaking Him, and every sinner is a suicide. We live under a moral
government, and in a system of things so knit together as that even
here every transgression receives its just recompense--if not visibly
and palpably in outward circumstances, yet really and punctually in
effects on mind and heart, which are more solemn and awful. 'Behold
the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked
and the sinner.' Sin and sorrow are root and fruit.

Especially does that crash of Jerusalem's fall thunder the lesson to
all churches that their life and prosperity are inseparably connected
with faithful obedience and turning away from all worldliness, which
is idolatry. They stand in the place that was made empty by Israel's
later fall. Our very privileges call us to beware. 'Because of
unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith.' That great
seven-branched candlestick was removed out of its place, and all that
is left of it is its sculptured image among the spoils on the
triumphal arch to its captor. Other lesser candlesticks have been
removed from their places, and Turkish oppression brings night where
Sardis and Laodicea once gave a feeble light. The warning is needed
to-day; for worldliness is rampant in the Church. 'If God spared not
the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.' The fall
of Jerusalem is not merely a tragic story from the past. It is a
revelation, for the present, of the everlasting truth, that the
professing people of God deserve and receive the sorest chastisement,
if they turn again to folly.

Further, we learn the method of present retribution. Nebuchadnezzar
knew nothing of the purposes which he fulfilled. 'He meaneth not so,
neither doth his heart think so.' He was but the 'axe' with which God
hewed. Therefore, though he was God's tool, he was also responsible,
and would be punished even for performing God's 'whole work upon
Jerusalem,' because of 'the glory of his high looks.' The retribution
of disobedience, so far as that retribution is outward, needs no
'miracle.' The ordinary operations of Providence amply suffice to
bring it. If God wills to sting, He will 'hiss for the fly,' and it
will come. The ferocity and ambition of a grim and bloody despot,
impelled by vainglory and lust of cruel conquest, do God's work, and
yet the doing is sin. The world is full of God's instruments, and He
sends punishments by the ordinary play of motives and circumstances,
which we best understand when we see behind all His mighty hand and
sovereign will. The short-sighted view of history says 'Nebuchadnezzar
captured Jerusalem B.C. so and so,' and then discourses about the
tendencies of which Babylonia was exponent and creature. The deeper
view says, God smote the disobedient city, as He had said, and
Nebuchadnezzar was 'the rod of His anger.'

Again, we learn the Divine reluctance to smite. More than four hundred
years had passed since Solomon began idolatry, and steadily, through
all that time, a stream of prophecy of varying force and width had
flowed, while smaller disasters had confirmed the prophets' voices.
'Rising up early and sending' his servants, God had been in earnest in
seeking to save Israel from itself. Men said then, 'Where is the
promise of His coming?' and mocked His warnings and would none of His
reproof; but at last the hour struck and the crash came. 'As a dream
when one awaketh; so, O Lord! when Thou awakest, Thou shalt despise
their image.' His judgment seems to slumber, but its eyes are open,
and it remains inactive, that His long-suffering may have free scope.
As long as His gaze can discern the possibility of repentance, He will
not strike; and when that is hopeless, He will not delay. The
explanation of the marvellous tolerance of evil which sometimes tries
faith and always evokes wonder, lies in the great words, which might
well be written over the chair of every teacher of history: 'The Lord
is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but
is long-suffering to us-ward.' Alas, that that divine patience should
ever be twisted into the ground of indurated disobedience! 'Because
sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the
heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.'

God's reluctance to punish is no reason for doubting that He will.
Judgment is His 'strange work,' less congenial, if we may so
paraphrase that strong word of the prophet's, than pure mercy, but it
will be done nevertheless. The tears over Jerusalem that witnessed
Christ's sorrow did not blind the eyes like a flame of fire, nor stay
the outstretched hand of the Judge, when the time of her final fall
came. The longer the delay, the worse the ruin. The more protracted
the respite and the fuller it has been of entreaties to return, the
more terrible the punishment. 'Behold, therefore, the goodness and
severity of God: towards them which fell, severity; but toward thee,
goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shalt
be cut off.'



THE FIRST BOOK OF CHRONICLES


THE KING'S POTTERS

'There they dwelt with the king for his work.'--1 CHRON. iv. 23.


In these dry lists of names which abound in Chronicles, we now and
then come across points of interest, oases in the desert, which need
but to be pondered sympathetically to yield interesting suggestions.
Here for example, buried in a dreary genealogical table, is a little
touch which repays meditating on. Among the members of the tribe of
Judah were a hereditary caste of potters who lived in 'Netaim and
Gederah,' if we adhere to the Revised Version's text, or 'among
plantations and hedges' if we prefer the margin. But they are also
described as dwelling 'with the king.' That can only mean on the royal
estates, for the king himself resided in Jerusalem. He, however, held
large domains in the territory of Judah, on some of which these
ceramic artists were settled down and followed their calling. They
were kept on the royal estates and kept in comfort, not needing to
till, but fed and cared for, that they might be free to mould, out of
common clay, forms of beauty and 'vessels meet for the master's use.'
Surely we may read into the brief statement of the text a meaning of
which the writer of it never dreamt, and see in the description of
these forgotten artisans, a symbol of our Christian relations to our
Lord and of our life's work.

I. We, too, dwell with the King.

The Davidic king was in Jerusalem, and the potters were 'among
plantations and hedges,' yet in a real sense they 'dwelt with the
king,' though some of them might never have seen his face or trod the
streets of the sacred city. Perhaps now and then he came to visit them
on his outlying domains, but they were always parts of his household.
And have we, Christ's servants, not His gracious parting word: 'I am
with you always'? True, we are not beside Him in the great city, but
He is beside us in His outlying domains, and we may be with Him in His
glory, if while we still outwardly live among the 'plantations and
hedges' of this life, we dwell in spirit, by faith and aspiration,
with our risen and ascended Lord. If we so 'dwell with the King,' He
will dwell with us, and fill our humble abode with the radiance of His
presence, 'making that place of His feet glorious.' That He should be
with us is supreme condescension, that we should be with Him is the
perfection of exaltation. How low He stoops, how high we can rise! The
vigour of our Christian life largely depends on our keeping vivid the
consciousness of our communion with Jesus and the sense of His real
presence with us. How life's burdens would be lightened if we faced
them all in the strength of the felt nearness of our Lord! How
impossible it would be that we should ever feel the dreary sense of
solitude, if we felt that unseen, but most real, Presence wrapping us
round! It is only when our faith in it has fallen asleep that any
earthly good allures, or any earthly evil frightens us. To be sure, in
our thrilling consciousness, that we dwell with Jesus is an
impenetrable cuirass that blunts the points of all arrows and keeps
the breast that wears it unwounded in the fray. The world has no
voices which can make themselves heard above that low sovereign
whisper: 'I am with you always, even to the end of the world'--and
after the end has come, then we shall be with Him.

But we find in this notice a hint that leads us in yet another
direction. They 'dwelt with the king' in the sense that they were
housed and cared for on his lands. And in like manner, the true
conception of the Christian life is that each of us is 'a sojourner
with Thee,' set down on Christ's domains, and looked after by Him in
regard to provision for outward wants. We have nothing in property,
but all is His and held by His gift and to be used for Him. The slave
owns nothing. The patch of ground which he cultivates for his food and
what grows on it, are his master's. These workmen were not slaves, but
they were not owners either. And we hold nothing as our own, if we are
true to the terms on which it is given us to hold.

So if we rightly appreciate our position as dwelling on the King's
lands, our delusion of possession will vanish, and we shall feel more
keenly the pressure of responsibility while we feel less keenly the
grip of anxiety. We are for the time being entrusted with a tiny piece
of the royal estates. Let us not strut about as if we were owners, nor
be for ever afraid that we shall not have enough for our needs. One
sometimes comes on a model village close to the gates of some ducal
palace, and notes how the lordly owner's honour prompts its being kept
up to a high standard of comfort and beauty. We may be sure that the
potters were well lodged and looked after, and that care for their
personal wants was shifted from their shoulders to the king's. So
should ours be. He will not leave His servants to starve. They should
not dishonour Him and disturb themselves by worries and cares that
would be reasonable only if they had no Provider. He has said, 'All
things are given to Me of My Father,' and He gives us all that God has
given Him.

II. We dwell with the King for His work.

The king's potters had not to till the land nor do any work but to
mould clay into vessels for use and beauty. For that purpose they had
their huts and bits of ground assigned them. So with us, Christ has a
purpose in His provision for us. We are set down on His domains, and
we enjoy His presence and providing in order that, set free from
carking cares and low ends, we may, with free and joyous hearts, yield
ourselves to His joyful service. The law of our life should be that we
please not ourselves, nor consult our own will in choosing our tasks,
nor seek our own profit or gratification in doing them, but ever ask
of Him: 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' and when the answer
comes, as come it will to all who ask with real desire to learn and
with real inclination to do His will, that we 'make haste and delay
not, but make haste to keep His commandments.' The spirit which should
animate our active lives is plainly enough taught us in that little
word, they 'dwelt with the king for his work.'

Nor are we to forget that, in a very profound sense, dwelling with the
King must go before doing His work. Unless we are living continually
under the operation of the stimulus of communion with Jesus, we shall
have neither quickness of ear to know what He wishes us to do, nor any
resolute concentration of ourselves on our Christ-appointed tasks. The
spring of all noble living is communion with noble ideals, and
fellowship with Jesus sets men agoing, as nothing else will, in
practical lives of obedience to Jesus. Time given to silent, retired
meditation on that sweet, sacred bond that knits the believing soul to
the redeeming Lord is not lost with reference to active work for
Jesus. The meditative and the practical life are not antagonistic, but
complementary, Mary and Martha are sisters, though sometimes they
differ, and foolish people try to set them against each other.

But we must beware of a common misconception of what the King's work
is. The royal potters did not make only things of beauty, but very
common vessels designed for common and ignoble uses. There were
vessels of dishonour dried in their kilns as well as vessels 'meet for
the master's use.' There is a usual and lamentable narrowing of the
term 'Christian work,' to certain conventional forms of service, which
has done and is doing an immense amount of harm. The King's work is
far wider in scope than teaching in Sunday-schools, or visiting the
sick, or any similar acts that are usually labelled with the name. It
covers all the common duties of life. A shallow religion tickets some
selected items with the name; a robuster, truer conception extends the
designation to everything. It is not only when we are definitely
trying to bring others into touch with Jesus that we are doing Him
service, but we may be equally serving Him in everything. The
difference between the king's work and the poor potters' own lay not
so much in the nature as in the motive of it, and whatever we do for
Christ's sake and with a view to His will is work that He owns, while
a regard to self in our motive or in our end decisively strikes any
service tainted by it out of the category.

We are to hallow all our deeds by drawing the motive for them from the
King and by laying the fruits of them at His feet. Thus, and only
thus, will the most 'secular' actions be sanctified and the narrowest
life be widened to contain a present Christ.

There are subsidiary motives which may legitimately blend with the
supreme one. The potters would be stimulated to work hard and with
their utmost skill when they thought of how well they were paid in
house and store for their work. We have ample reasons for dedicating
our whole selves to Jesus when we think of His gift of Himself to us,
of His wages beforehand, of His joyful presence with His eye ever on
us, marking our purity of motive and our diligence.

There is a final thought that may well stimulate us to put all our
skill and effort into our work. The potters' work went to Jerusalem.
It was for the king. What can be too good for him? He will see it,
therefore let us put our best into it. And we shall see it too, when
we too enter 'the city of the great King.' Jars that perhaps were
wrought by these very workmen of whom we have been speaking turn up
to-day in the excavations in Palestine. So much has perished and they
remain, speaking symbols of the solemn truth that nothing human ever
dies. Our 'works do follow us.' Let us so live that these may be
'found unto praise and honour and glory' at the appearing of 'the
King.'



DAVID'S CHORISTERS

'They stood in their office, according to their order.'--1 CHRON. vi.
32 (R.V. margin).


This brief note is buried in the catalogue of the singers appointed by
David for 'the service of song in the house of the Lord.' The waves of
their choral praise have long ages since ceased to eddy round the
'tabernacle of the tent of meeting,' and all that is left of their
melodious companies is a dry list of names, in spite of which the dead
owners of them are nameless. But the chronicler's description of them
may carry some lessons for us, for is not the Church of Christ a
choir, chosen to 'shew forth the praises of Him who has called us out
of darkness into His marvellous light'? We take a permissible liberty
with this fragment, when we use it to point lessons that may help that
great band of choristers who are charged with the office of making the
name of Jesus ring through the world. Now, in making such a use of the
text, we may linger on each important word in it and find each
fruitful in suggestions which we shall be the better for expanding in
our own meditations.

We pause on the first word, which is rendered in the Authorised and
Revised Versions 'waited,' and in the margin of the latter 'stood.'
The former rendering brings into prominence the mental attitude with
which the singers held themselves ready to take their turns in the
service, the latter points rather to their bodily attitude as they
fulfilled their office. We get a picture of the ranked files gathered
round their three leaders, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan. These three names
are familiar to us from the Psalter, but how all the ranks behind them
have fallen dim to us, and how their song has floated into inaudible
distance! They 'stood,' a melodious multitude, girt and attent on
their song, or waiting their turn to fill the else silent air with the
high praises of Jehovah, and glad when it came to their turn to open
their lips in full-throated melody.

Now may we not catch the spirit of that long vanished chorus, and find
in the two possible renderings of this word a twofold example, the
faithful following of which would put new vigour into our service? We
are called to a loftier office, and have heavenly harmonies entrusted
to us to be made vocal by our lips, compared with which theirs were
poor. 'They waited on' their office, and shall not we, in a higher
fashion, wait on our ministry, and suffer no inferior claims to block
our way or hamper our preparedness to discharge it? To let ourselves
be entangled with 'the affairs of this life,' or to 'drowse in idle
cell,' sleepily letting summonses that should wake us to work sound
unheeded and almost unheard, is flagrant despite done to our high
vocation as Christians. 'They also serve who only stand and wait,' but
not if in their waiting their eyes are straying everywhere but to
their Master's pointing hand or directing eye. The world is full of
voices calling Christ's folk to help; but what a host of so-called
Christians fail to hear these piteous and despairing cries, because
the noise of their own whims, fancies, and self-centred desires keeps
buzzing in their ears. A constant accompaniment of deafness is
constant noises in the head; and the Christians who are hardest of
hearing when Christ calls are generally afflicted with noises which
are probably the cause, and not merely an accompaniment, of their
deafness. For indeed it demands no little detachment of spirit from
self and sense, from the world and its clamant suitors, if a Christian
soul is to be ready to mark the first signal of the great Conductor's
baton, and to answer the lightest whisper, intrusting it with a task
for Him, with its self-consecrating 'Here am I. Send me.'

It used to be said that they who watched for providences never wanted
providences to watch for; it is equally true that they who are on the
watch for opportunities for service never fail to find them, and that
ears pricked to 'hear what God the Lord shall speak,' summoning to
work for Him, will not listen in vain. Paul saw in a vision 'a
_man_ of Macedonia' begging for his help, and 'straightway' he
concluded that '_God_ had called' him to preach in Europe. Happy
are these Christian workers who hear God's voice speaking through
men's needs, and recognise a divine imperative in human cries!

May we not see in the attitude of David's choristers as they sang,
hints for our own discharge of the tasks of our Christian service?
There was a curse of old on him who did the work of the Lord
'negligently,' and its weight falls still on workers and work. For who
can measure the harm done to the Christian life of the negligent
worker, and who can expect any blessing to come either to him or to
others from such half-hearted seeming service? The devil's kingdom is
not to be cast down nor Christ's to be builded up by workers who put
less than their whole selves, the entire weight of their bodies, into
their toil. A pavior on the street brings down his rammer at every
stroke with an accompanying exclamation expressing effort, and there
is no place in Christ's service for dainty people who will not sweat
at their task, and are in mortal fear of over-work. Strenuousness, the
gathering together of all our powers, are implied in the attitude of
Heman and his band as they 'stood' in their office. Idle revellers
might loll on their rose-strewn couches as they 'sing idle songs to
the sound of the viol and devise for themselves instruments of music,
like David,' but the austerer choir of the Temple despised ease, and
stood ready for service and in the best bodily posture for song.

The second important word of the text brings other thoughts no less
valuable and rich in practical counsel. The singers in the Temple
stood in their 'office,' which was song. Their special work was
praise. And that is the highest task of the Church. As a matter of
fact, every period of quickened earnestness in the Church's life has
been a period marked by a great outburst of Christian song. All
intense emotion seeks expression in poetry, and music is the natural
speech of a vivid faith. Luther chanted the Marseillaise of the
Reformation, 'A safe stronghold our God is still,' and many another
sweet strain blended strangely with the fiery and sometimes savage
words from his lips. The Scottish Reformation, grim in some of its
features as it was, had yet its 'Gude and Godly Ballads.' At the birth
of Methodism, as round the cradle at Bethlehem, hovered as it were
angel voices singing, 'Glory to God in the highest.' A flock of
singing birds let loose attends every revival of Christian life.

The Church's praise is the noblest expression of the Church's life.
Its hymns go deeper than its creeds, touch hearts more to the quick,
minister to the faith which they enshrine, and often draw others to
see the preciousness of the Christ whom they celebrate. How little we
should have known of Old Testament religion, notwithstanding law and
prophets, if the Psalter had perished!

And it is true, in a very deep sense, that we shall do more for Christ
and men by voicing our own deep thankfulness for His great gifts and
speaking simply our valuation of, and our thankfulness for, what we
draw from Him than by any other form of so-called Christian work. We
can offend none by saying: 'We have found the Messias,' and are
adoringly glad that we have. The most effectual way of moving other
souls to participate in our joy is to let our joy speak. 'If you wish
me to weep,' your own tears must not be held back, and if you wish
others to know the preciousness of Christ, you must ring out His name
with fervour of emotion and the triumphant confidence. We are the
'secretaries of God's praise,' as George Herbert has it, for we have
possession of His greatest gift, and have learned to know Him in
loftier fashion than Heman's choristers dreamed of, having seen 'the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,' and tasted the sweetness of
redeeming love. The Apocalyptic seer sets forth a great truth when he
tells us that he first heard a new song from the lips of the
representatives of the Church, who could sing, 'Thou wast slain and
didst redeem us to God with Thy blood,' and then heard their adoration
echoed from 'many angels round about the throne,' and finally heard
the song reverberated from every created thing in heaven and earth, in
the sea and all deep places. A praising Church has experiences of its
own which angels cannot share, and it sets in motion the great sea of
praise whose surges break in music and roll from every side of the
universe in melodious thunder to the great white throne. Without our
song even angel voices would lack somewhat.

  'God said, "A praise is in Mine ear;
  There is no doubt in it, no fear:
  Clearer loves sound other ways:
  I miss My little human praise."'

The song of the redeemed has in it a minor strain that gives a
sweetness far more poignant than belongs to those who cannot say: 'Out
of the depths I cried unto Thee.' 'The sweetest songs are those which
tell of saddest thought,' and recount experiences of conquered sin and
life springing from death.

But it is also true that no kind of Christian service will be
effectual, if it lacks the element of grateful praise as its motive
and mainspring. Perhaps there would be fewer complaints of toiling all
night and wearily hauling in empty nets, if the nets were oftener let
down not only 'at Thy word' but with glad remembrance of the
fishermen's debt to Jesus, and in the spirit of praise. When all our
work is a sacrifice of praise, it is pleasing to God and profitable to
ourselves and to others. If we would oftener bethink ourselves, and
herald every deed with a silent dedication of it and of ourselves to
Him who died for us, we should less often have to complain that we
have sowed much and brought back little. A pinch of incense cast into
the common domestic fire makes its flame sacrificial and fragrant.

The last important word of the text is also fertile in hints for us.
The singers stood in their office 'according to their order.' That
last expression may either refer to rotation of service or to
distribution of parts in the chorus. They did not sing in unison,
grand as the effect of such a song from a multitude sometimes is, but
they had their several parts. The harmonious complexity of a great
chorus is the ideal for the Church. Paul puts the same thought in a
sterner metaphor when he tells the Colossian Christians that he joys
'beholding your order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ,'
where he is evidently thinking of the Roman legion with its rigid
discipline and its solid, irresistible, ranked weight. Division of
function and consequent concordant action of different parts is the
lesson taught by both metaphors, and by the many modern examples of
the immense results gained in machinery that almost simulates vital
action, and by organisations for great purposes in which men combine.
The Church should be the highest example of such combination, for it
is the shrine of the noblest life, even the life of its indwelling
Lord. Every member of it should have and know his place. Every
Christian should know his part in the great chorus, for he has a part,
even if it is only that of tinkling the triangle in the orchestra or
beating a drum. That division of function and concordance of action
apply to all forms of the Church's action, and are enforced most
chiefly by the great Apostolic metaphor of the body and its members.
Paul did not delight in 'uniformity.' Inferiors calling themselves his
successors have often aimed at enforcing it, but nature has been too
strong for them, and the hedge will grow its own way in spite of
pedants' shears. 'If the whole body were an eye, where the hearing?'
The monotony of a church in which uniformity was the ideal would be
intolerable. The chorus has its parts, and the soprano cannot say to
the bass, 'I have no need of you,' nor the bass to the tenor, 'I have
no need of thee.'

So let us see that we find our own place, and see that we fill it,
singing our own part lustily, and not being either confused or made
dumb because another has other notes to sing than are written on our
score. Let us recognise unity made more melodious by diversity, the
importance of the humblest, and 'having gifts differing according to
the grace given unto us let us wait on our ministry,' and stand in our
office according to our order.



DRILL AND ENTHUSIASM

'[Men that] could keep rank, they were not of double heart.'--1 CHRON.
xii. 33.


These words come from the muster-roll of the hastily raised army that
brought David up to Hebron and made him King. The catalogue abounds in
brief characterisations of the qualities of each tribe's contingent.
For example, Issachar had 'understanding of the times.' Our text is
spoken of the warriors of Zebulon, who had left their hills and their
flocks in the far north, and poured down from their seats by the blue
waters of Tiberias to gather round their king. They were not only like
their brethren expert in war and fully equipped, but they had some
measure of discipline too, a rare thing in the days when there were no
standing armies. They 'could keep rank,' could march together, had
been drilled to some unanimity of step and action, could work and
fight together, were an army, not a crowd, and not only so, but also
'they were not of double heart.' Each man, and the whole body, had a
brave single resolve; they had one spirit animating the whole, and
that was to make David king, an enthusiastic loyalty which made them
brave, and a discipline which kept the courage from running to waste.

I take, then, this text as bringing before us two very important
characteristics which ought to be found in every Christian church, and
without which no real prosperity and growth is possible. These two may
be put very briefly: organisation and enthusiastic devotion. These are
both important, but in very different degrees. Organisation without
valour is in a worse plight than valour without organisation. The one
is fundamental, the other secondary. The one is the true cause, so far
as men are concerned, of victory, the other is but the instrument by
which the cause works. There have been many victories won by
undisciplined valour, but disciplined cowardice and apathy come to no
good.

These two have been separated and made antagonistic, and churches are
to be found which glory in the one, and others in the other. Some have
gone in for order, and are like butterflies in a cabinet all ticketed
and displayed in place, but a pin is run through their bodies and they
are dead; and others have prided themselves on unfettered freedom, and
been not an army, but a mob. The true relation, of course, is that
life should shape and inform organisation, and organisation should
preserve, manifest and obey life. There must be body to hold spirit,
there must be spirit to keep body from rotting.

I. Organisation.

This is not the strong point of Nonconformist churches. We pride
ourselves on our individualism, and that is all very well. We believe
in direct access of each soul to Christ, that men must come to Him one
by one, that religion is purely a personal matter, and the firmness
with which we hold this tends to make us weak in combined action. It
cannot be truthfully denied that both in the relations of our churches
to one another, and in the internal organisation of these, we are and
have been too loosely compacted, and have forgotten that two is more
than one _plus_ one, so that we are only helping to redress the
balance a little when we insist upon the importance of organisation in
our churches.

And first of all--remember the principles in subordination to which
our organisation must be framed.

What are we united by? Common love and faith to Christ, or rather
Christ Himself. 'One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are
brethren.' So there must be nothing in our organisation which is
inconsistent with Christ's supreme place among us, and with our
individual obedience to Him. There are to be no 'lords over God's
heritage' in the Church of Christ. There are churches in which the
temptation to be such affects the official chiefly, and there are
others, with a different polity, in which it is chiefly a Diotrephes,
who loves to have pre-eminence. Character, zeal, social station, even
wealth will always confer a certain influence, and their possessors
will be tempted to set up their own will or opinions as dominant in
the Church. Such men are sinning against the very bond of Christian
union. Organisation which is bought by investing one man with
authority, is too dearly purchased at the cost of individual
development on the individual's own lines. A row of clipped yew-trees
is not an inspiring sight.

And yet again what are we organised for? Not merely for our own growth
or spiritual advantage, but also, and more especially, for spreading
faith in Christ and advancing His glory. All our organisation, then,
is but an arrangement for doing our work, and if it hinders that, it
is cumbrous and must be cut away or modified, at all hazards.
Ecclesiastical martinets are still to be found, to whom drill is
all-important, and who see no use in irregular valour, but they are a
diminishing number, and they may be recommended to ponder the old wise
saying: 'Where no oxen are, the crib is clean, but much increase is by
the strength of the ox.' If the one aim is a 'clean crib' the best way
to secure that is to keep it empty; but if a harvest is the aim, there
must be cultivation, and one must accept the consequences of having a
strong team to plough. The end of drill is fighting. The parade-ground
and its exercising is in order that a corps may be hurled against the
enemy, or may stand unmoved, like a solid breakwater against a charge
which it flings off in idle spray, and the end of the Church's
organisation is that it may move _en masse_, without waste,
against the enemy.

But a further guiding principle to shape Christian organisation is
that of the Church as the body of Christ. That requires that there
shall be work for every member. Christ has endowed His members with
varying gifts, powers, opportunities, and has set them in diverse
circumstances, that each may give his own contribution to the general
stock of work. Our theory is that each man has his own proper gift
from God, 'one after this manner, and another after that.' But what is
our practice? Take any congregation of Christian people in any of our
churches, and especially in the Free Churches of which I know most,
and is there anything like this wide diversity of forms of service, to
which each contributes? A handful of people do all the work, and the
remainder are idlers. The same small section are in evidence always,
and the rest are nowhere. There are but a few bits of coloured glass
in a kaleidoscope, they take different patterns when the tube is
turned, but they are always the same bits of glass.

There needs to be a far greater variety of forms of work for our
people and more workers in the field. There are too few wheels for the
quantity of water in the river, and, partly for that reason, the
amount of water that runs waste over the sluice is deplorable. There
is a danger in having too many spindles for the power available, but
the danger in modern church organisation is exactly the other way.

Every one should have his own work. In all living creatures,
differentiation of organs increases as the creature rises in the scale
of being, from the simple sac which does everything up to the human
body with a distinct function for every finger. It should not be
possible for a lazy Christian to plead truly as his vindication that
'no man had hired' him. It should be the Church's business to find
work for the unemployed.

The example in our text should enforce the necessity of united work.
David's levies could keep rank. They did not let each man go at his
own rate and by his own road, but kept together, shoulder to shoulder,
with equal stride. They were content to co-operate and be each a part
of a greater whole. That keeping rank is a difficult problem in all
societies, where individual judgments, weaknesses, wills, and
crotchets are at work, but it is apt to be especially difficult in
Christian communities, where one may expect to find individual
characteristics intensified, a luxuriant growth of personal
peculiarities, an intense grip of partial aspects of the great truths
and a corresponding dislike of other aspects of these, and of those
whose favourite truths they are. One would do nothing to clip that
growth, but still Christians who have not learned to subordinate
themselves in and for united work are of little use to God or man.
What does such united work require? Mainly the bridling of self, the
curbing of one's own will, not insisting on forcing one's opinions on
one's brother, not being careful of having one's place secured and
one's honour asserted. Without such virtues no association of man
could survive for a year. If the world managed its societies as the
Church manages its unity, they would collapse quickly. Indeed it is a
strong presumption in favour of Christianity that the Churches have
not killed it long ago. Vanity, pride, self-importance, masterfulness,
pettishness get full play among us. Diotrephes has many descendants
to-day. A cotton mill, even if it were a co-operative one, could not
work long without going into bankruptcy, if there were no more power
of working together than some Christian congregations have. A watch
would be a poor timekeeper, where every wheel tried to set the pace
and be a mainspring, or sulked because the hands moved on the face in
sight of all men, while it had to move round and fit into its brother
wheel in the dark.

Subordination is required as well as co-operation. For if there be
harmonious co-operation in varying offices, there must be degrees and
ranks. The differences of power and gift make degrees, and in every
society there will be leaders. Of course there is no commanding
authority in the Churches. Its leaders are brethren, whose most
imperative highest word is, 'We beseech you.'

Of course, too, these varieties and degrees do not mean real
superiority or inferiority in the eye of God. From the highest point
of view nothing is great or small, there is no higher or lower. The
only measure is quality, the only gauge is motive. 'Small service is
true service while it lasts.' He that receiveth a prophet in the name
of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward. But yet there are, so
far as our work here is concerned, degrees and orders, and we need a
hearty and ungrudging recognition of superiority wherever we find it.
If the 'brother of high degree' needs to be exhorted to beware of
arrogance and imposing his own will on his fellows, the 'brother of
low degree' needs not less to be exhorted to beware of letting envy
and self-will hiss and snarl in his heart at those who are in higher
positions than himself. If the chief of all needs to be reminded that
in Christ's household preeminence means service, the lower no less
needs to be reminded that in Christ's household service means
pre-eminence.

So much, then, for organisation. It is perfectly reconcilable with
democracy that is not mob-ocracy. In fact, democracy needs it most. If
I may venture to speak to the members of the Free Churches, with which
I am best acquainted, I would take upon myself to say that there is
nothing which they need more than that they should show their polity
to be capable of reconciling the freest development of the individual
with the most efficient organisation of the community. The object is
work for Christ, the bond of their fellowship is brotherly union with
Christ. Many eyes are on them to-day, and the task is in their hands
of showing that they can keep rank. The most perfect discipline in war
in old times was found, not amongst the subjects of Eastern despots
who were not free enough to learn to submit, but amongst the republics
of Greece, where men were all on a level in the city, and fell into
their places in the camp, because they loved liberty enough to know
the worth of discipline, and so the slaves of Xerxes were scattered
before the resistless onset of the phalanx of the free. The terrible
legion which moved 'altogether when it moved at all,' and could be
launched at the foe like one javelin of steel, had for its units free
men and equals. There needs freedom for organisation. There needs
organisation for freedom. Let us learn the lesson. 'God is not the
author of confusion, but of order, in all churches of saints.'

II. Enthusiastic devotion.

These men came to bring David up to Hebron with one single purpose in
their hearts. They had no sidelong glances to their own self-interest,
they had no wavering loyalty, they had no trembling fears, so we may
take their spirit as expressing generally the deepest requirements for
prosperity in a church.

The foundation of all prosperity is a passion of personal attachment
to Christ our King.

Christ is Christianity objective. Love to Christ is Christianity
subjective. The whole stress of Christian character is laid on this.
It is the mother of all grace and goodness, and in regard to the work
of the Church, it is the ardour of a soul full of love to Jesus that
conquers. The one thing in which all who have done much for Him have
been alike in that single-hearted devotion.

But such love is the child of faith. It rests upon belief of truth,
and is the response of man to God. Dwelling in the truth is the means
of it. How our modern Christianity fails in this strong personal bond
of familiar love!

Consider its effect on the individual.

It will give tenacity of purpose, will brace to strenuous effort, will
subdue self, self-regard, self-importance, will subdue fear. It is the
true anaesthetic. The soldier is unconscious of his wounds, while the
glow of devotion is in his heart and the shout of the battle in his
ears. It will give fertility of resource and patience.

Consider its effect on the community.

It will remove all difficulties in the way of discipline arising from
vanity and self which can be subdued by no other means. That flame
fuses all into one glowing mass like a stream that pours from the
blast furnace. What a power a church would be which had this! It is
itself victory. The men that go into battle with that one firm
resolve, and care for nothing else, are sure to win. Think what one
man can do who has resolved to sell his life dear!

Consider the worthlessness of discipline without this.

It is a poor mechanical accuracy. How easy to have too much machinery!
How the French Revolution men swept the Austrian martinets before
them! David was half-smothered in Saul's armour. On the other hand,
this fervid flame needs control to make it last and work. Spirit and
law are not incompatible. Valour may be disciplined, and the
combination is irresistible.

And so here, till we exchange the close array of the battlefield for
the open ranks of the festal procession on the Coronation day, and lay
aside the helmet for the crown, the sword for the palm, the
breastplate for the robe of peace, and stand for ever before the
throne, in the peaceful ranks of 'the solemn troops and sweet
societies' of the unwavering armies of the heavens who serve Him with
a perfect heart, and burn unconsumed with the ardours of an immortal
and ever brightening love, let us see to it that we too are 'men that
can keep rank and are not of double heart.'



DAVID'S PROHIBITED DESIRE AND PERMITTED SERVICE

'Then he called for Solomon his son, and charged him to build an house
for the Lord God of Israel. 7. And David said to Solomon, My son, as
for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord
my God: 8. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed
blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an
house unto My name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth
in My sight. 9. Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a
man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round
about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and
quietness unto Israel in his days. 10. He shall build an house for My
name; and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will
establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever. 11. Now, my
son, the Lord be with thee; and prosper thou, and build the house of
the Lord thy God as He hath said of thee. 12. Only the Lord give thee
wisdom and understanding, and give thee charge concerning Israel, that
thou mayest keep the law of the Lord thy God, 13. Then shalt thou
prosper, if thou takest heed to fulfil the statutes and judgments
which the Lord charged Moses with concerning Israel: be strong, and of
good courage; dread not, nor be dismayed. 14. Now, behold, in my
trouble I have prepared for the house of the Lord an hundred thousand
talents of gold, and a thousand thousand talents of silver; and of
brass and iron without weight; for it is in abundance: timber also and
stone have I prepared and thou mayest add thereto. 15. Moreover, there
are workmen with thee in abundance, hewers and workers of stone and
timber, and all manner of cunning men for every manner of work. 16. Of
the gold, the silver, and the brass, and the iron, there is no number.
Arise, therefore, and be doing, and the Lord be with thee.'--1 CHRON.
xxii. 6-16.


This passage falls into three parts. In verses 6-10 the old king tells
of the divine prohibition which checked his longing to build the
Temple; in verses 11-13 he encourages his more fortunate successor,
and points him to the only source of strength for his happy task; in
verses 14-16 he enumerates the preparations which he had made, the
possession of which laid stringent obligations on Solomon.

I. There is a tone of wistfulness in David's voice as he tells how his
heart's desire had been prohibited. The account is substantially the
same as we have in 2 Samuel vii. 4-16, but it adds as the reason for
the prohibition David's warlike career. We may note the earnestness
and the motive of the king's desire to build the Temple. 'It was in my
heart'; that implies earnest longing and fixed purpose. He had brooded
over the wish till it filled his mind, and was consolidated into a
settled resolve. Many a musing, solitary moment had fed the fire
before it burned its way out in the words addressed to Nathan. So
should our whole souls be occupied with our parts in God's service,
and so should our desires be strongly set towards carrying out what in
solitary meditation we have felt borne in on us as our duty.

The moving spring of David's design is beautifully suggested in the
simple words 'unto the name of the Lord my God.' David's religion was
eminently a personal bond between him and God. We may almost say that
he was the first to give utterance to that cry of the devout heart,
'My God,' and to translate the generalities of the name 'the God of
Israel' into the individual appropriation expressed by the former
designation. It occurs in many of the psalms attributed to him, and
may fairly be regarded as a characteristic of his ardent and
individualising devotion. The sense of a close, personal relation to
God naturally prompted the impulse to build His house. We must claim
our own portion in the universal blessings shrined in His name before
we are moved to deeds of loving sacrifice. We must feel that Christ
'loved me, and gave Himself for me,' before we are melted into
answering surrender.

The reason for the frustrating of David's desire, as here given, is
his career as a warrior king. Not only was it incongruous that hands
which had been reddened with blood should rear the Temple, but the
fact that his reign had been largely occupied with fighting for the
existence of the kingdom showed that the time for engaging in such a
work, which would task the national resources, had not yet come. We
may draw two valuable lessons from the prohibition. One is that it
indicates the true character of the kingdom of God as a kingdom of
peace, which is to be furthered, not by force, but in peace and
gentleness. The other is that various epochs and men have different
kinds of duties in relation to Christ's cause, some being called on to
fight, and others to build, and that the one set of tasks may be as
sacred and as necessary for the rearing of the Temple as the other.
Militant epochs are not usually times for building. The men who have
to do destructive work are not usually blessed with the opportunity or
the power to carry out constructive work. Controversy has its sphere,
but it is mostly preliminary to true 'edification.' In the broadest
view all the activity of the Church on earth is militant, and we have
to wait for the coming of the true 'Prince of peace' to build up the
true Temple in the land of peace, whence all foes have been cast out
for ever. To serve God in God's way, and to give up our cherished
plans, is not easy; but David sets us an example of simple-hearted,
cheerful acquiescence in a Providence that thwarted darling designs.
There is often much self-will in what looks like enthusiastic
perseverance in some form of service.

II. The charge to Solomon breathes no envy of his privilege, but
earnest desire that he may be worthy of the honour which falls to him.
Petitions and exhortations are closely blended in it, and, though the
work which Solomon is called to do is of an external sort, the
qualifications laid down for it are spiritual and moral. However
'secular' our work in connection with God's service may be, it will
not be rightly done unless the highest motives are brought to bear on
it, and it is performed as worship. The basis of all successful work
is God's presence with us, so David prays for that to be granted to
Solomon as the beginning of all his fitness for his task.

Next, David recalls to his son God's promise concerning him, that it
may hearten him to undertake and to carry on the great work. A
conviction that our service is appointed for us by God is essential
for vigorous and successful Christian work. We must have, in some way
or other, heard Him 'speak concerning us,' if we are to fling
ourselves with energy into it.

The petitions in verse 12 seem to stretch beyond the necessities of
the case, in so far as building the Temple is concerned. Wisdom and
understanding, and a clear consciousness of the duty enjoined on him
by God in reference to Israel, were surely more than that work
required. But the qualifications for God's service, however the manner
of service may be concerned with 'the outward business of the house of
God,' are always these which David asked for Solomon. The highest
result of true 'wisdom and understanding' given by God is keeping
God's law; and keeping it is the one condition on which we shall
obtain and retain that presence of God with us which David prayed for
Solomon, and without which they labour in vain that build. A life
conformed to God's will is the absolutely indispensable condition of
all prosperity in direct Christian effort. The noblest exercise of our
wisdom and understanding is to obey every word that we hear proceeding
out of the mouth of God.

III. There is something very pathetic in the old king's enumeration of
the treasures which, by the economies of a lifetime, he had amassed.
The amount stated is enormous, and probably there is some clerical
error in the numbers specified. Be that as it may, the sum was very
large. It represented many an act of self-denial, many a resolute
shearing off of superfluities and what might seem necessaries. It was
the visible token of long years of fixed attention to one object. And
that devotion was all the more noble because the result of it was
never to be seen by the man who exercised it.

Therein David is but a very conspicuous example of a law which runs
through all our work for God. None of us are privileged to perform
completed tasks. 'One soweth and another reapeth.' We have to be
content to do partial work, and to leave its completion to our
successors. There is but one Builder of whom it can be said that His
hands 'have laid the foundation of this house; His hands shall also
finish it.' He who is the 'Alpha and Omega,' and He alone, begins and
completes the work in which He has neither sharers nor predecessors
nor successors. The rest of us do our little bit of the great work
which lasts on through the ages, and, having inherited unfinished
tasks, transmit them to those who come after us. It is privilege
enough for any Christian to lay foundations on which coming days may
build. We are like the workers on some great cathedral, which was
begun long before the present generation of masons were born, and will
not be finished until long after they have dropped trowel and mallet
from their dead hands. Enough for us if we can lay one course of
stones in that great structure. The greater our aims, the less share
has each man in their attainment. But the division of labour is the
multiplication of joy, and all who have shared in the toil will be
united in the final triumph. It would be poor work that was capable of
being begun and perfected in a lifetime. The labourer that dug and
levelled the track and the engineer that drives the locomotive over it
are partners. Solomon could not have built the Temple unless, through
long, apparently idle, years, David had been patiently gathering
together the wealth which he bequeathed. So, if our work is but
preparatory for that of those who come after, let us not think it of
slight importance, and let us be sure that all who have had any
portion in the toil shall share in the victory, that 'he that soweth
and he that reapeth may rejoice together.'



DAVID'S CHARGE TO SOLOMON

'And David assembled all the princes of Israel, the princes of the
tribes, and the captains of the companies that ministered to the king
by course, and the captains over the thousands, and captains over the
hundreds, and the stewards over all the substance and possession of
the king, and of his sons, with the officers, and with the mighty men,
and with all the valiant men, unto Jerusalem. 2. Then David the king
stood up upon his feet, and said, Hear me, my brethren, and my people:
As for me, I had in mine heart to build an house of rest for the ark
of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had
made ready for the building: 3. But God said unto me, Thou shalt not
build an house for My name, because thou hast been a man of war, and
hast shed blood. 4. Howbeit the Lord God of Israel chose me before all
the house of my father to be king over Israel for ever: for He hath
chosen Judah to be the ruler; and of the house of Judah, the house of
my father; and among the sons of my father He liked me to make me king
over all Israel: 5. And of all my sons, (for the Lord hath given me
many sons), he hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of
the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. 6. And He said unto me, Solomon
thy son, he shall build My house and My courts: for I have chosen him
to be My son, and I will be his father. 7. Moreover I will establish
his kingdom for ever, if he be constant to do My commandments and My
judgments, as at this day. 8. Now therefore in the sight of all Israel
the congregation of the Lord, and in the audience of our God, keep and
seek for all the commandments of the Lord your God: that ye may
possess this good land, and leave it for an inheritance for your
children after you for ever. 9. And thou, Solomon my son, know thou
the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a
willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all
the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek Him, He will be found
of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off for ever. 10.
Take heed now; for the Lord hath chosen thee to build an house for the
sanctuary: be strong, and do it.'--1 CHRON. xxviii. 1-10.


David had established an elaborate organisation of royal officials,
details of which occupy the preceding chapters and interrupt the
course of the narrative. The passage picks up again the thread dropped
at chapter xxiii. 1. The list of the members of the assembly called in
verse 1 is interesting as showing how he tried to amalgamate the old
with the new. The princes of Israel, the princes of the tribes,
represented the primitive tribal organisation, and they receive
precedence in virtue of the antiquity of their office. Then come
successively David's immediate attendants, the military officials, the
stewards of the royal estates, the 'officers' or eunuchs attached to
the palace, and the faithful 'mighty men' who had fought by the king's
side in the old days. It was an assembly of officials and soldiers
whose adherence to Solomon it was all-important to secure, especially
in regard to the project for building the Temple, which could not be
carried through without their active support. The passage comprises
only the beginning of the proceedings of this assembly of notables.
The end is told in the next chapter; namely, that the Temple-building
scheme was unanimously and enthusiastically adopted, and large
donations given for it, and that Solomon's succession was accepted,
and loyal submission offered by the assembly to him.

David's address to this gathering is directed to secure these two
points. He begins by recalling his own intention to build the Temple
and God's prohibition of it. The reason for that prohibition differs
from that alleged by Nathan, but there is no contradiction between the
two narratives, and the chronicler has already reported Nathan's words
(chap. xvii. 3, etc.), so that the motive which is ascribed to many of
the variations in this book, a priestly desire to exalt Temple and
ritual, cannot have been at work here. Why should there not have been
a divine communication to David as well as Nathan's message? That
hands reddened with blood, even though it had been shed in justifiable
war, were not fitted to build the Temple, was a thought so far in
advance of David's time, and flowing from so spiritual a conception of
God, that it may well have been breathed into David's spirit by a
divine voice. Sword in one hand and trowel in the other are
incongruous, notwithstanding Nehemiah's example. The Temple of the God
of peace cannot be built except by men of peace. That is true in the
widest and highest application. Jesus builds the true Temple.
Controversy and strife do not. And, on a lower level, the prohibition
is for ever valid. Men do not atone for a doubtful past by building
churches, founding colleges, endowing religious or charitable
institutions.

The speech next declares emphatically that the throne belongs to David
and his descendants by real 'divine right,' and that God's choice is
Solomon, who is to inherit both the promises and obligations of the
office, and, among the latter, that of building the Temple. The
unspoken inference is that loyalty to Solomon would be obedience to
Jehovah. The connection between the true heavenly King and His earthly
representative is strongly expressed in the remarkable phrase: 'He
hath chosen Solomon ... to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of
Jehovah,' which both consecrates and limits the rule of Solomon,
making him but the viceroy of the true king of Israel. When Israel's
kings remembered that, they flourished; when they forgot it, they
destroyed their kingdom and themselves. The principle is as true
to-day, and it applies to all forms of influence, authority, and
gifts. They are God's, and we are but stewards.

The address to the assembly ends with the exhortation to these leaders
to 'observe,' and not merely to observe, but also to 'seek out' God's
commandments, and so to secure to the nation, whom they could guide,
peaceful and prosperous days. It is not enough to do God's will as far
as we know it; we must ever be endeavouring after clearer, deeper
insight into it. Would that these words were written over the doors of
all Senate and Parliament houses! What a different England we should
see!

But Solomon was present as well as the notables, and it was well that,
in their hearing, he should be reminded of his duties. David had
previously in private taught him these, but this public 'charge'
before the chief men of the kingdom bound them more solemnly upon him,
and summoned a cloud of witnesses against him if he fell below the
high ideal. It is pitched on a lofty key of spiritual religion, for it
lays 'Know thou the God of thy fathers' as the foundation of
everything. That knowledge is no mere intellectual apprehension, but,
as always in Scripture, personal acquaintanceship with a Person, which
involves communion with Him and love towards Him. For us, too, it is
the seed of all strenuous discharge of our life's tasks, whether we
are rulers or nobodies, and it means a much deeper experience than
understanding or giving assent to a set of truths about God. We know
one another when we summer and winter with each other, and not unless
we love one another, and we know God on no other terms.

After such knowledge comes an outward life of service. Active
obedience is the expression of inward communion, love, and trust. The
spring that moves the hands on the dial is love, and, if the hands do
not move, there is something wrong with the spring. Morality is the
garment of religion; religion is the animating principle of morality.
Faith without works is dead, and works without faith are dead too.

But even when we 'know God' we have to make efforts to have our
service correspond with our knowledge, for we have wayward hearts and
obstinate wills, which need to be stimulated, sometimes to be coerced
and forcibly diverted from unworthy objects. Therefore the exhortation
to serve God 'with a perfect heart and with a willing mind' is always
needful and often hard. Entire surrender and glad obedience are the
Christian ideal, and continual effort to approximate to it will be
ours in the degree in which we 'know God.' There is no worse slavery
than that of the half-hearted Christian whose yoke is not padded with
love. Reluctant obedience is disobedience in God's sight.

David solemnly reminds Solomon of those 'pure eyes and perfect
judgment,' not to frighten, but to enforce the thought of the need for
whole-hearted and glad service, and of the worthlessness of external
acts of apparent worship which have not such behind them. What a deal
of seeming wheat would turn out to be chaff if that winnowing fan
which is in Christ's hand were applied to it! How small our biggest
heaps would become!

The solemn conditions of the continuance of God's favour and of the
fulfilment of His promises are next plainly stated. God responds to
our state of heart and mind. We determine His bearing to us. The
seeker finds. If we move away from Him, He moves away from us. That is
not, thank God! all the truth, or what would become of any of us? But
it is true, and in a very solemn sense God is to us what we make Him.
'With the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure; and with the perverse Thou
wilt show Thyself froward.'

The charge ends with recalling the high honour and office to which
Jehovah had designated Solomon, and with exhortations to 'take heed'
and to 'be strong, and do it.' It is well for a young man to begin
life with a high ideal of what he is called to be and do. But many of
us have that, and miserably fail to realise it, for want of these two
characteristics, which the sight of such an ideal ought to stamp on
us. If we are to fulfil God's purposes with us, and to be such tools
as He can use for building His true Temple, we must exercise
self-control and 'take heed to our ways,' and we must brace ourselves
against opposition and crush down our own timidity. It seems to be
commanding an impossibility to say to a weak creature like any one of
us, 'Be strong,' but the impossible becomes a possibility when the
exhortation takes the full Christian form: 'Be strong in the Lord, and
in the power of His might.'



THE WAVES OF TIME

'The times that went over him.'--1 CHRON. xxix. 30.


This is a fragment from the chronicler's close of his life of King
David. He is referring in it to other written authorities in which
there are fuller particulars concerning his hero; and he says, 'the
acts of David the King, first and last, behold they are written in the
book of Samuel the seer ... with all his reign and his might, and the
times that went over him, and over all Israel, and over all the
kingdoms of the countries.'

Now I have ventured to isolate these words, because they seem to me to
suggest some very solemn and stimulating thoughts about the true
nature of life. They refer, originally, to the strange vicissitudes
and extremes of fortune and condition which characterised, so
dramatically and remarkably, the life of King David. Shepherd-boy,
soldier, court favourite, outlaw, freebooter and all but brigand;
rebel, king, fugitive, saint, sinner, psalmist, penitent--he lived a
life full of strongly marked alternations, and 'the times that went
over him' were singularly separate and different from each other.
There are very few of us who have such chequered lives as his. But the
principle which dictated the selection by the chronicler of this
somewhat strange phrase is true about the life of every man.

I. Note, first, 'the times' which make up each life.

Now, by the phrase here the writer does not merely mean the succession
of moments, but he wishes to emphasise the view that these are epochs,
sections of 'time,' each with its definite characteristics and its
special opportunities, unlike the rest that lie on either side of it.
The great broad field of time is portioned out, like the strips of
peasant allotments, which show a little bit here, with one kind of
crop upon it, bordered by another little morsel of ground bearing
another kind of crop. So the whole is patchy, and yet all harmonises
in effect if we look at it from high enough up. Thus each life is made
up of a series, not merely of successive moments, but of well-marked
epochs, each of which has its own character, its own responsibilities,
its own opportunities, in each of which there is some special work to
be done, some grace to be cultivated, some lesson to be learned, some
sacrifice to be made; and if it is let slip it never comes back any
more. 'It might have been once, and we missed it, and lost it for
ever.' The times pass over us, and every single portion has its own
errand to us. Unless we are wide awake we let it slip, and are the
poorer to all eternity for not having had in our heads the eyes of the
wise man which 'discern both time and judgment.' It is the same
thought which is suggested by the well-known words of the cynical book
of Ecclesiastes--'To every thing there is a season and a time'--an
opportunity, and a definite period--'for every purpose that is under
the sun.' It is the same thought which is suggested by Paul's words,
'As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men. In due
season we shall reap if we faint not.' There is 'a time for weeping
and a time for laughing, a time for building up and a time for casting
down.' It is the same thought of life, and its successive epochs of
opportunity never returning, which finds expression in the threadbare
lines about 'a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood,
leads on to fortune,' and neglected, condemns the rest of a career to
be hemmed in among creeks and shallows.

Through all the variety of human occupations, each moment comes to us
with its own special mission, and yet, alas! to far too many of us the
alternations do not suggest the question, what is it that I am hereby
called upon to be or to do? what is the lesson that present
circumstances are meant to teach, and the grace that my present
condition is meant to force me to cultivate or exhibit? There is one
point, as it were, upon the road where we may catch a view far away
into the distance, and, if we are not on the lookout when we come
there, we shall never get that glimpse at any other point along the
path. The old alchemists used to believe that there was what they
called the 'moment of projection,' when, into the heaving molten mass
in their crucible, if they dropped the magic powder, the whole would
turn into gold; an instant later and there would be explosion and
death; an instant earlier and there would be no effect. And so God's
moments come to us; every one of them--if we had eyes to see and hands
to grasp--a crisis, affording opportunity for something for which all
eternity will not afford a second opportunity, if the moment be let
pass. 'The times went over him,' and your life and mine is parcelled
out into seasons which have their special vocation for and message to
us.

How solemn that makes our life! How it destroys the monotony that we
sometimes complain of! How it heightens the low things and magnifies
the apparently small ones! And how it calls upon us for a sharpened
attention, that we miss not any of the blessings and gifts which God
is meaning to bestow upon us through the ministry of each moment! How
it calls upon us for not only sharpened attention, but for a desire to
know the meaning of each of the hours and of every one of His
providences! And how it bids us, as the only condition of
understanding the times, so as to know what we ought to do, to keep
our hearts in close union with Him, and ourselves ever standing, as
becomes servants, girded and ready for work; and with the question on
our lips and in our hearts, 'Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?
and what wouldst Thou have me to do _now_?' The lesson of the day
has to be learned in a day, and at the moment when it is put in
practice.

II. Another thought suggested by this text is, the Power that moves
the times.

As far as my text represents--and it is not intended to go to the
bottom of everything--these times flow on over a man, as a river
might. But is there any power that moves the stream? Unthinking and
sense-bound men--and we are all such, in the measure in which we are
unspiritual--are contented simply to accept the mechanical flow of the
stream of time. We are all tempted not to look behind the moving
screen to see the force that turns the wheel on which the painted
scene Is stretched. But, Oh! how dreary a thing it is if all that we
have to say about life is, 'The times pass over us,' like the blind
rush of a stream, or the movement of the sea around our coasts, eating
away here and depositing its spoils there, sometimes taking and
sometimes giving, but all the work of mere eyeless and purposeless
chance or of natural causes.

Oh, brethren! there is nothing more dismal or paralysing than the
contemplation of the flow of the times over our heads, unless we see
in their flow something far more than that.

It is very beautiful to notice that this same phrase, or at least the
essential part of it, is employed in one of the Psalms ascribed to
David, with a very significant addition. He says, 'My times are _in
Thy hand_.' So, then, the passage of our epochs over us is not
merely the aimless flow of a stream, but the movement of a current
which God directs. Therefore, if at any time it goes over our heads
and seems to overwhelm us, we can look up through the transparent
water and say, '_Thy_ waves and _Thy_ billows have gone over
me,' and so I die not of suffocation beneath them. God orders the
times, and therefore, though, as the bitter ingenuity of Ecclesiastes,
on the lookout for proofs of the vanity of life, complained, in a
one-sided view, as an aggravation of man's lot, that there is a time
for everything, yet that aspect of change is not its deepest or
truest. True it is that sometimes birth and sometimes death, sometimes
joy and sometimes sorrow, sometimes building up and sometimes casting
down, follow each other with monotonous uniformity of variety, and
seem to reduce life to a perpetual heaping up of what is as painfully
to be cast down the next moment, like the pitiless sport of the wind
amongst the sandhills of the desert. But the futility is only
apparent, and the changes are not meant to occasion 'man's misery' to
be 'great upon him,' as Ecclesiastes says they do. The diversity of
the 'times' comes from a unity of purpose; and all the various methods
of the divine Providence exercised upon us have one unchanging
intention. The meaning of all the 'times' is that they should bring us
nearer to God, and fill us more full of His power and grace. The web
is one, however various may be the pattern wrought upon the tapestry.
The resulting motion of the great machine is one, though there may be
a wheel turning from left to right here, and another one that fits
into it, turning from right to left there. The end of all the opposite
motions is straight progress. So the varying times do all tend to the
one great issue. Therefore let us seek to pursue, in all varying
circumstances, the one purpose which God has in them all, which the
Apostle states to be 'even your sanctification,' and let us understand
how summer and winter, springtime and harvest, tempest and fair
weather, do all together make up the year, and ensure the springing of
the seed and the fruitfulness of the stalk.

III. Lastly, let me remind you, too, how eloquently the words of my
text suggest the transiency of all the 'times.'

They 'passed over him' as the wind through an archway, that whistles
and comes not again. The old, old thought, so threadbare and yet
always so solemnising and pathetic, which we know so well that we
forget it, and are so sure of that it has little effect on life, the
old, old thought, 'this too will pass away,' underlies the phrase of
my text,

How blessed it is, brethren! to cherish that wholesome sense of the
transiency of things here below, only those who live under its
habitual power can fairly estimate. It is thought to be melancholy. We
are told that it spoils joys and kills interest, and I know not what
beside. It spoils no joys that ought to be joys. It kills no interests
that are not on other grounds unworthy to be cherished. Contrariwise,
the more fully we are penetrated with the persistent conviction of the
transiency of the things seen and temporal, the greater they become,
by a strange paradox. For then only are they seen in their true
magnitude and nobility, in their true solemnity and importance as
having a bearing on the things that are eternal. Time is the
'ceaseless lackey of eternity,' and the things that pass over us may
become, like the waves of the sea, the means of bearing us to the
unmoving shore. Oh! if only in the midst of joys and sorrows, of heavy
tasks and corroding cares, of weary work and wounded spirits, we could
feel, 'but for a moment,' all would be different, and joy would come,
and strength would come, and patience would come, and every grace
would come, in the train of the wholesome conviction that 'here we
have no continuing city.'

Cherish the thought. It will spoil nothing the spoiling of which will
be a loss. It will heighten everything the possession of which is a
gain. It will teach us to trust in the darkness, and to believe in the
light. And when the times are dreariest, and frost binds the ground,
we shall say, 'If winter comes, can spring be far behind?' The times
roll over us, like the seas that break upon some isolated rock, and
when the tide has fallen and the vain flood has subsided, the rock is
there. If the world helps us to God, we need not mind though it
passes, and the fashion thereof.

But do not let us forget that this text in its connection may teach us
another thought. The transitory 'times that went over' Israel's king
are all recorded imperishably on the pages here, and so, though
condensed into narrow space, the record of the fleeting moments lives
for ever, and 'the books shall be opened, and men shall be judged
according to their works.' We are writing an imperishable record by
our fleeting deeds. Half a dozen pages carry all the story of that
stormy life of Israel's king. It takes a thousand rose-trees to make a
vial full of essence of roses. The record and issues of life will be
condensed into small compass, but the essence of it is eternal. We
shall find it again, and have to drink as we have brewed when we get
yonder. 'Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man
soweth that shall he also reap.' 'There is a time to sow,' and that is
the present life; 'and there is a time to gather the fruits' of our
sowing, and that is the time when times have ended and eternity is
here.



THE SECOND BOOK OF CHRONICLES


THE DUTY OF EVERY DAY

'Then Solomon offered burnt offerings unto the Lord ... Even after a
certain rate every day.'--(A.V.)

'Then Solomon offered burnt offerings unto the Lord, even as the duty
of every day required it.'--2 Chron. viii. 12-13 (R. V.).


This is a description of the elaborate provision, in accordance with
the commandment of Moses, which Solomon made for the worship in his
new Temple. The writer is enlarging on the precise accordance of the
ritual with the regulations laid down in the law. He expresses, by the
phrase which we have taken as our text, not only the accordance of the
worship with the commandment, but its unbroken continuity, and also
the variety in it, according to the regulations for different days.
For the verse runs on, 'on the Sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on
the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the Feast of
unleavened bread, and in the Feast of weeks, and in the Feast of
Tabernacles.' There were, then, these characteristics in the ritual of
Solomon's Temple, precise compliance with the Divine commandment,
unbroken continuity, and beautiful flexibility and variety of method.

But passing altogether from the original application of the words, I
venture to do now what I very seldom do, and that is, to take this
verse as a kind of motto. 'Even according as the duty of every day
required'; the phrase may suggest three thoughts: that each day has
its own work, its own worship, and its own supplies, 'even as the duty
of every day required.'

Each day has its own work.

Of course there is a great uniformity in our lives, and many of us who
are set down to one continuous occupation can tell twelve months
before what, in all probability, we shall be doing at each hour of
each day in the week. But for all that, there is a certain individual
physiognomy about each new day as it comes to us; and the oldest, most
habitual, and therefore in some degree easiest and least stimulating,
work has its own special characteristics as it comes again to us day
by day for the hundredth time.

So there are three pieces of practical wisdom that I would suggest,
and one is--be content to take your work in little bits as it comes.
There is a great deal of practical wisdom in taking short views of
things, for although we have often to look ahead, yet it is better on
the whole that a man should, as far as he can, confine his
anticipations to the day that is passing, and leave the day that is
coming to look after itself. Take short views and be content to let
each day prescribe its tasks, and you have gone a long way to make all
your days quiet and peaceful. For it is far more the anticipation of
difficulties than the realisation of them that wears and wearies us.
If a man says to himself, 'This sorrow that I am carrying, or this
work that I have to do, is going to last for many days to come,' his
heart will fail. If he said to himself, 'It will be no worse to-morrow
than it is at this moment, and I can live through it, for am I not
living through it at this moment, and getting power to endure or do at
this moment? and to-morrow will probably be like today,' things would
not be so difficult.

You remember the homely old parable of the clock on the stair that
gave up ticking altogether because it began to calculate how many
thousands of seconds there are in the year, and that twice that number
of times it would have to wag backwards and forwards. The lesson that
it learned was--tick one tick and never mind the next. You will be
able to do it when the time to do it comes. Let us act 'as the duty of
every day requireth.' 'Sufficient for the day is the work thereof.'

Then there is another piece of advice from this thought of each day
having its own work, and that is--keep your ears open, and your eyes
too, to learn the lesson of what the day's work is. There is generally
abundance of direction for us if only we are content with the
one-step-at-a-time direction, which we get, and if another condition
is fulfilled, if we try to suppress our own wishes and the noisy
babble of our own yelping inclinations, and take the whip to them
until they cease their barking, that we may hear what God says. It is
not because He does not speak, but because we are too anxious to have
our own way to listen quietly to His voice, that we make most of our
blunders as to what the duty of every day requires. If we will be
still and listen, and stand in the attitude of the boy-prophet before
the glimmering lamp in the sacred place, saying, 'Speak, Lord! for Thy
servant heareth,' we shall get sufficient instruction for our next
step.

Another piece of practical wisdom that I would suggest is that if
every day has its own work, we should buckle ourselves to do the day's
work before night falls and not leave any over for to-morrow, which
will be quite full enough. 'Do the duty that lies nearest thee,' was
the preaching of one of our sages, and it is wholesome advice. For
when we do that duty, the doing of it has a wonderful power of opening
up further steps, and showing us more clearly what is the next duty.
Only let us be sure of this, that no moment comes from God which has
not in it boundless possibilities; and that no moment comes from God
which has not in it stringent obligations. We neither avail ourselves
of the one, nor discharge the other, unless we come, morning by
morning, to the new day that is dawning upon us, with some fresh
consciousness of the large issues that may be wrapped in its unseen
hours, and the great things for Him that we may do ere its evening
falls.

Each day has its tasks, and if we do not do the tasks of each day in
its day, we shall fling away life. If a man had L. 100,000 for a
fortune, and turned it all into halfpence, and tossed them out of the
window, he could soon get rid of his whole fortune. And if you fling
away your moments or live without the consciousness of their solemn
possibilities and mystic awfulness, you will find at the last that you
have made 'ducks and drakes' of your years, and have flung them away
in moments without knowing what you were doing, and without
possibility of recovery. 'Take care of the pence, the pounds will take
care of themselves.' Take care of the days, and the years will show a
fair record.

Secondly, we have here the suggestion that every day has its own
worship.

As I remarked at the beginning of my observations, the chronicler
dwells, with a certain kind of satisfaction, in accordance with the
tone of his whole writings, upon the external ritual of the Temple;
and points out its entire conformity with the divine precept, and the
unbroken continuity of worship day after day, year in year out, and
the variation of the characteristics of that worship according as the
day was more or less ritually important. From his words we may deduce
a very needful though obvious and commonplace lesson. What we want is
every-day religion, and that every-day religion is the only thing that
will enable us to do what the duty of every day requires. But that
every-day religion which will be our best ally, and power for the
discharge of the obligations that each moment brings with it, must
have its points of support, as it were, in special moments and methods
of worship.

So, then, take that first thought: What we want is a religion that
will go all through our lives. A great many of you keep your religion
where you keep your best clothes: putting it on on Sunday and locking
it away on the Sunday night in a wardrobe because it is not the dress
that you go to work in. And some of you keep your religion in your
pew, and lock it up in the little box where you put your hymn-books
and your Bibles, which you read only once a week, devoting yourselves
to ledgers or novels and newspapers for the rest of your time. We want
a religion that will go all through our life; and if there is anything
in our life that will not stand its presence, the sooner we get rid of
that element the better. A mountain road has generally a living
brooklet leaping and flashing by the side of it. So our lives will be
dusty and dead and cold and poor and prosaic unless that river runs
along by the roadside and makes music for us as it flows. Take your
religion wherever you go. If you cannot take it in to any scenes or
company, stop you outside.

There is nothing that will help a man to do his day's work so much as
the realisation of Christ's Presence. And that realisation, along with
its certain results, devotion of heart to Him and submission of will
to His commandment, and desire to shape our lives to be like His, will
make us masters of all circumstances and strong enough for the hardest
work that God can lay upon us.

There is nothing so sure to make life beautiful, and noble, and pure,
and peaceful, and strong as this--the application to its monotonous
trifles of religious principles. If you do not do little things as
Christian men and women, and under the influence of Christian
principle, pray _what_ are you going to do under the influence of
Christian principle? If you are keeping your religion to influence the
crises of your lives, and are content to let the trifles be ruled by
the devil or the world and yourselves, you will find out, when you
come to the end, that there were perhaps three or four crises in your
experience, and that all the rest of life was made of trifles, and
that when the crises came you could not lay your hand on the religious
principle that would have enabled you to deal with them. The sword had
got so rusty in its scabbard because it had never been drawn for long
years, that it could not be readily drawn in the moment of sudden
peril; and if you could have drawn it, you would have found its edge
blunted. Use your religion on the trifles, or you will not be able to
make much of it in the crises. 'He that is faithful in that which is
least is faithful also in much.' The worship of every day is the
preparation for the work of that day.

Further, that worship, that religion, wearing its common, modest suit
of workaday clothes, must also, if there is to be any power in it,
have a certain variety in its methods. 'Solomon offered burnt
offerings ... on the Sabbaths, on the new moons,' which had a little
more ceremonial than the Sabbaths, 'and on the solemn feasts three
times in a year,' which had still more ceremonial than the new moons,
'even in the Feast of unleavened bread, and in the Feast of weeks, and
in the Feast of tabernacles.' These were spring-tides when the sea of
worship rose beyond its usual level, and they kept it from stagnating.
We, too, if we wish to have this every-day religion running with any
strength of scour and current through our lives, will need to have
moments when it touches high-water mark, else it will not flush the
foulness out of our hearts and our lives.

Lastly, take the other suggestion, that every day has its own
supplies.

That does not lie in the text properly, but for the sake of
completeness I add it. Every day has its own supplies. The manna fell
every day, and was gathered and consumed on the day on which it fell.
God gives us strength measured accurately by the needs of the day. You
will get as much as you require, and if ever you do not get as much as
you require, which is very often the case with Christian people, that
is not because God did not send enough manna, but because their
_omer_ was not ready to catch it as it fell. The day's supply is
measured by the day's need. Suppose an Israelite had sat in his tent
and said, 'I am not going out to gather,' would he have had any in his
empty vessel? Certainly not. The manna lay all around the tent, but
each man had to go out and gather it. God makes no mistakes in His
weights and measures. He gives us each sufficient strength to do His
will and to walk in His ways; and if we do not do His will or walk in
His ways, or if we find our burden too heavy, our sorrows too sharp,
our loneliness too dreary, our difficulties too great, it is not
because 'the Lord's hand is shortened that it cannot' supply, but
because our hands are so slack that they will not take the sufficiency
which He gives. In the midst of abundance we are starving. We let the
water run idly through the open sluice instead of driving the wheels
of life.

My friend! God's measure of supply is correct. If we were more
faithful and humble, and if we understood better and felt more how
deep is our need and how little is our strength, we should more
continually be able to rejoice that He has given, and we have
received, 'even as the duty of every day required.'



CONTRASTED SERVICES

'They shall be his servants: that they may know My service, and the
service of the kingdoms of the countries.'--2 Chron. xii. 8.


Rehoboam was a self-willed, godless king who, like some other kings,
learned nothing by experience. His kingdom was nearly wrecked at the
very beginning of his reign, and was saved much more by the folly of
his rival than by his own wisdom. Jeroboam's religious revolution
drove all the worshippers of God among the northern kingdom into
flight. They might have endured the separate monarchy, but they could
not endure the separate Temple. So all priests and Levites in Israel,
and all the adherents of the ancestral worship in the Temple at
Jerusalem, withdrew to the southern kingdom and added much to its
strength.

Rehoboam's narrow escape taught him neither moderation nor devotion,
his new strength turned his head. He forsook the law of the Lord. The
dreary series, so often illustrated in the history of Israel, came
into operation. Prosperity produced irreligion; irreligion brought
chastisement; chastisement brought repentance; repentance brought the
removal of the invader--and then, like a spring released, back went
king and nation to their old sin.

So here--Rehoboam's sins take visible form in Sheshak's army. He has
sown the dragon's teeth and they spring up armed men. Shemaiah the
prophet, the first of the long series of noble men who curbed the
violence of Jewish monarchs, points the lesson of invasion in plain,
blunt words: 'Ye have forsaken Me.' Then follow penitence and
confession--and the promise that Jerusalem shall not be destroyed, but
at the same time they are to be left as vassals and tributaries of
Egypt--an anomalous position for them--and the reason is given in
these words of our text.

I. The contrasted Masters.

Judah was too small to be independent of the powerful warlike states
to its north and south, unless miraculously guarded and preserved. So
it must either keep near God, and therefore free and safe from
invasion, or else, departing from God and following its own ways, fall
under alien dominion. Its experience was a type of that of universal
humanity. Man is not independent. His mass is not enough for him to do
without a central orb round which he may revolve. He has a choice of
the form of service and the master that he will choose, but one or
other must dominate his life and sway his motions. 'Ye cannot serve
God and Mammon'; ye must serve God _or_ Mammon. The solemn choice
is presented to every man, but the misery of many lives is that they
drift along, making their election unawares, and infallibly choosing
the worse by the very act of lazily or weakly allowing accident to
determine their lives. Not consciously and strongly to will the right,
not resolutely and with coercion of the vagrant self to will to take
God for our aim, is to choose the low, the wrong. Perhaps none, or
very few of us, would deliberately say 'I choose Mammon, having
carefully compared the claims of the opposite systems of life that
solicit me, and with open-eyed scrutiny measured their courses, their
goods and their ends.' But how many of us there are who have in effect
made that choice, and never have given one moment's clear, patient
examination of the grounds of our choice! The policy of drift is
unworthy of a man and is sure to end in ruin.

It is not for me to attempt here to draw out the contrast between man's
chief end and all other rival claimants of our lives. Each man must do
that for himself, and I venture to assert that the more thoroughly the
process of comparison is carried out, and the more complete the analysis
not only of the rival claims and gifts, but of our capacities and needs,
the more sun-clear will be the truth of the old, well-worn answer:
'Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.' The old
woman by her solitary fireside who has learned that and practises it,
has chosen the better part which will last when many shining careers
have sunk into darkness, and many will-o'-the-wisps, which have been
pursued with immense acclamations, have danced away into the bog, and
many a man who has been envied and admired has had to sum up his
successful career in the sad words, 'I have played the fool and erred
exceedingly.' I cannot pretend to conduct the investigation for you, but
I can press on every one who does not wish to let accidents mould him,
at least to recognise that there is a choice to be made, and to make it
deliberately and with eyes open to the facts of the case. It is a shabby
way of ruining yourself to do it for want of thought. The rabble of
competitors of God catch more souls by accident than of set purpose.
Most men are godless because they have never fairly faced the question:
what does my soul require in order to reach its highest blessedness and
its noblest energy?

II. The contrasted experience of the servants.

Judah learned that the yoke of obedience to God's law was a world
lighter than the grinding oppression of the Egyptian invader.

God's service is freedom; the world's is slavery.

Liberty is unrestrained power to do what we ought. Man must be subject
to law. The solemn imperative of duty is omnipresent and sovereign. To
do as we like is not freedom, but bondage to self, and that usually
our worst self, which means crushing or coercing the better self. The
choice is to chain the beast in us or to clip the wings of the angel
in us, and he is a fool who conceits himself free because he lets his
inferior self have its full swing, and hustles his better self into
bondage to clear the course for the other. There is but one
deliverance from the sway of self, and it is realised in the liberty
wherewith Christ has made us free. To make self our master inevitably
leads to setting beggars on horseback and princes walking. Passion,
the 'flesh' is terribly apt to usurp the throne within when once God
is dethroned. Then indulgence feeds passion, and deeper draughts
become necessary in order to produce the same effects, and cravings,
once allowed free play, grow in ravenousness, while their pabulum
steadily loses its power to satisfy. The experience of the undevout
sensualist is but too faithful a type of that of all undevout livers,
in the failure of delights to delight and of acquisitions to enrich,
and in the bondage, often to nothing more worthy to be obeyed than
mere habit, and in the hopeless incapacity to shake off the adamantine
chains which they have themselves rivetted on their limbs. There are
endless varieties in the forms which the service of self assumes,
ranging from gross animalism, naked and unashamed, up to refined and
cultured godlessness, but they are one in their inmost character, one
in their disabling the spirit from a free choice of its course, one in
the limitations which they impose on its aspirations and
possibilities, one in the heavy yoke which they lay on their vassals.
The true liberty is realised only when for love's dear sake we
joyously serve God, and from the highest motive enrol ourselves in the
household of the highest Person, and by the act become 'no more
servants but sons.' Well may we all pray--

  'Lord! bind me up, and let me lie
  A prisoner to my liberty,
  If such a state at all can be
  As an imprisonment, serving Thee.'

God's service brings solid good, the world's is vain and empty.

God's service brings an approving conscience, a calm heart, strength
and gladness. It is in full accord with our best selves. Tranquil joys
attend on it. 'In keeping Thy commandments there is great reward,' and
that not merely bestowed after keeping, but realised and inherent in
the very act. On the other side, think of the stings of conscience,
the illusions on which those feed who will not eat of the heavenly
food, the husks of the swine-trough, the ashes for bread, that self
and the world, in all their forms set before men. A pathetic character
in modern fiction says, 'If you make believe very much it is nice.' It
takes a tremendous amount of make-believe to keep up an appetite for
the world's dainties or to find its meats palatable, after a little
while. No sin ever yields the fruit it was expected to produce, or if
it does it brings something which was not expected, and the bitter
tang of the addition spoils the whole. It may be wisely adapted to
secure a given end, but that end is only a means to secure the real
end, our substantial blessedness, and that is never attained but by
one course of life, the life of service of God. We may indeed win a
goodly garment, but the plague is in the stuff and, worn, it will burn
into the bones like fire. I read somewhere lately of thieves who had
stolen a cask of wine, and had their debauch, but they sickened and
died. The cask was examined and a huge snake was found dead in it. Its
poison had passed into the wine and killed the drinkers. That is how
the world serves those who swill its cup. 'What fruit had ye then in
those things whereof ye are _now_ ashamed?' The threatening
pronounced against Israel's disobedience enshrines an eternal truth:
'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 ... in hunger and in thirst, and in
nakedness and in want of all things.'

God's service has final issues and the world's service has final
issues.

Only fools try to blink the fact that all our doings have
consequences. And it augurs no less levity and insensibility to blink
the other fact that these consequences show no indications of being
broken short off at the end of our earthly life. Men die into another
life, as they have ever, dimly and with many foolish accompaniments,
believed; and dead, they are the men that they have made themselves
while living. Character is eternal, memory is eternal, death puts the
stamp of perpetuity on what life has evolved. Nothing human ever dies.
The thought is too solemn to be vulgarised by pulpit rhetoric. Enough
to say here that these two tremendous alternatives, Life and Death,
express some little part of the eternal issues of our fleeting days.
Looking fixedly into these two great symbols of the ultimate issues of
these contrasted services, we can dimly see, as in the one, a wonder
of resplendent glories moving in a sphere 'as calm as it is bright,'
so, in the other, whirling clouds and jets of vapour as in the crater
of a volcano. One shuddering glance over the rim of it should suffice
to warn from lingering near, lest the unsteady soil should crumble
beneath our feet.

But the true Lord of our lives loves us too well to let us experience
all the bitter issues of our foolish rebellion against His authority,
and yet He loves us too well not to let us taste something of them
that we may 'know and see that it is an evil thing _and a
bitter_, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God.' The experiences
of the consequences of godless living are in some measure allowed to
fall on us by God's love, lest we should persist in the evil and so
bring down on ourselves still more fatal issues. It is mercy that here
chastises the evildoer with whips, in hope of not having to chastise
him with scorpions. God desires to teach us, by the pains and
heartaches of an undevout life, by disappointments, foiled plans,
wrecked hopes, inner poverty, the difference between His service and
that of 'the kingdoms of the countries,' if haply He may not be forced
to let the full flood of fatal results overwhelm us. It is best to be
drawn to serve Him by the cords of love, but it is possible to have
the beginnings of the desire so to serve roused by the far lower
motives of weariness and disgust at the world's wages, and by dread of
what these may prove when they are paid in full. Self-interest may
sicken a man of serving Mammon, and may be transformed into the
self-surrender which makes God's service possible and blessed. The
flight into the city of refuge may be quickened by the fear of the
pursuer, whose horse's hoofs are heard thundering on the road behind
the fugitive, and whose spear is all but felt a yard from his back,
but once within the shelter of the city wall, gratitude for
deliverance will fill his heart and 'perfect love will cast out fear.'

The king concerning whom our text was spoken had to suffer humiliation
by the Egyptian invasion. His sufferings were meant to be educational,
and when they in some measure effected their purpose, God curbed the
invader and granted some measure of deliverance. So is it with us, if,
moved by whatever impulse, we betake ourselves to Jesus to save us
from the bitter fruits of our evil lives. The extreme severity of the
results of our sins does not fall on penitent, believing spirits, but
some do fall. As the Psalmist says: 'Thou wast a God that forgavest
them though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.' A profligate
course of life may be forgiven, but health or fortune is ruined all
the same. In brief, the so-called 'natural' consequences are not
removed, though the sin which caused them is pardoned. Polluted
memories, indulged habits, defiled imaginations, are not got rid of,
though the sins that inflicted them are forgiven.

Is it not, then, the part of wise men to lay to heart the lessons of
experience, and to let what we have learned of the bitter fruit of
godless living turn us away from such service, and draw us by merciful
chastisement to yield ourselves to God, whom to serve accords with our
deepest needs and brings first fruits and pre-libations of blessedness
and peace here, and fullness of joy with pleasures for evermore
hereafter?



THE SECRET OF VICTORY

'The children of Judah prevailed, because they relied upon the Lord
God of their fathers.'--2 CHRON. xiii. 18.


These words are the summing-up of the story of a strange old-world
battle between Jeroboam, the adventurer who rent the kingdom, and
Abijah, the son of the foolish Rehoboam, whose unseasonable blustering
had played into the usurper's hands. The son was a wiser and better
man than his father. It is characteristic of the ancient world, that
before battle was joined Abijah made a long speech to the enemy,
recounting the ritual deficiencies of the Northern kingdom, and
proudly contrasting the punctilious correctness of the Temple service
with the irregular cult set up by Jeroboam. He confidently pointed to
the priests 'with their trumpets' in his army as the visible sign that
'God is with us at our head,' and while charging Israel with having
'forsaken the Lord our God,' to whom he and his people had kept true,
besought them not to carry their rebellion to the extreme of fighting
against their fathers' God, and assured them that no success could
attend their weapons in such a strife. The passionate appeal had no
effect, but while Abijah was orating, Jeroboam was carrying out a
ruse, and planting part of his troops behind Judah, so as to put them
between two fires and draw a net round the outnumbered and
outmanoeuvred enemy.

Abijah and his men suddenly detected their desperate position, and did
the only wise thing. When, with a shock of surprise, they saw that
'behold! the battle was before and behind them,' they 'cried unto the
Lord, and the priests sounded with the trumpets.' The sharp, short cry
from thousands of agitated men ringed round by foes, and the blare of
the trumpets were both prayers, and heartened the suppliants for their
whirlwind charge, before which the men of Israel, double in number as
they were, broke and fled. The defeat was thorough, and, for a while,
Rehoboam and his kingdom were 'brought under,' and a comparatively
long peace followed. Our text gathers up the lesson taught, not to
Judah or Israel alone, by victory and defeat, when it declares that to
rely upon the Lord is to prevail. It opens for us the secret of
victory, in that old far-off struggle and in to-day's conflicts.

I. We note the faith of the fighters.

'They relied,' says the chronicler, 'upon the Lord.' Now the word
rendered 'relied' is one of several picturesque words by which the Old
Testament, which we are sometimes told, with a great flourish of
learning, has no mention of 'faith,' expresses 'trust,' by metaphors
drawn from bodily actions which symbolise the spiritual act. The word
here literally signifies to lean on, as a feeble hand might on a
staff, or a tremulous arm on a strong one. And does not that picture
carry with it much insight into what the essence of Old Testament
'trust' or New Testament 'faith' is? If we think of faith as leaning,
we shall not fall into that starved misconception of it which takes it
to be nothing more than intellectual assent. We shall see there is a
far fuller pulse of feeling than that beating in it. A man who leans
on some support, does so because he knows that his own strength is
insufficient for his need. The consciousness of weakness is the
beginning of faith. He who has never despaired of himself has scarcely
trusted in God. Abijah's enemies were two to one of his own men. No
wonder that they cried unto the Lord, and felt a stound of despair
shake their courage. And who of us can face life with its heavy
duties, its thick-clustering dangers and temptations, its certain
struggles, its possible failures, and not feel the cold touch of dread
gripping our hearts, though strong and brave? Surely he has had little
experience, or has learned little wisdom from the experience he has
had, who has yet to discover his own weakness. But the consciousness
of weakness is by itself debilitating, and but increases the weakness
of which it is painfully aware. There is no surer way to sap what
strength we have than to tell ourselves what poor creatures we are.
The purpose and end of self-contemplation which becomes aware of our
own feebleness is to lead us to the contemplation of God, our immortal
strength. Abijah's assurance that 'God is with us at our head' rang
out triumphantly. Faith has an upper and an under side: the under side
is self-distrust; the upper, trust in God. He will never lean all his
weight on a prop, who fancies that he can stand alone, or has other
stays to hold him up.

But Abijah's example teaches us another lesson--that for a vigorous
faith, there must be obedience to all God's known will. True, thank
God! faith often springs in its power in a soul that is conscious but
of sin, but a continuance in disobedience will inevitably kill faith.
It was because Abijah and his people had kept 'the charge of the Lord
our God,' that they were sure that God was with them. We can only be
sure of God to lean on when we are doing His will, and we shall do His
will only as we are sure that we lean on Him. Our trust in Him will be
strong and operative in the measure in which our lives are conformed
to His commandments. Much elaborate dissertation has been devoted to
expounding what faith is, and the strong, vivid Scriptural conception
of it has been woefully darkened and overlaid with cobwebs of
theology, but surely this eloquent metaphor of our text tells us more
than do many learned volumes. It bids us lean on God, rest the whole
weight of our needs, our weaknesses, and our sins on Him. Like any
human friend or helper, He is better pleased when we lean hard on Him
than when we gingerly put a finger on His arm, and lay no pressure on
it, as we do when in ceremonial fashion we seem to accept another's
support, and hold ourselves back from putting a weight on the offered
arm. We cannot rely too utterly on Him. We honour Him most when we
repose our whole selves on His strong arm.

II. The increase of faith by sudden fear.

'When Judah looked back, behold, the battle was before and behind
them.' The shock of seeing the flashing spears in the rear would make
the bravest hold their breath for one overwhelming moment, but the
next moment their faith in God surged back with tenfold force,
increased by the sudden new peril. The sharp collision of flint and
steel struck out a spark of faith. 'What time I am afraid, I will
trust in Thee,' said an expert in the genesis and growth of trust.
Peril kills a feeble trust, but vivifies it, if strong. The
recognition of danger is meant to drive us to God. If each fresh
difficulty or danger makes us tighten our clasp of Him, and lean the
harder on Him, it has done its highest service to us, and we have
conquered it, and are the stronger because of it. The storm that makes
the traveller, fighting with the wind and the rain in his face, clasp
his cloak tighter round him, does him no harm. The purpose of our
trials is to drive us to God, and a fair-weather faith which had all
but fallen asleep is often roused to energy that works wonders, by the
sudden dash of danger flung into and disturbing a life. It is wise
seamanship to make a run to get snugly behind the breakwater when a
sudden gale springs up.

III. The expression of faith in appeal to God.

When the ambush was unmasked, the surrounded men of Judah 'cried unto
the Lord, and the priests sounded with the trumpets,' before they
flung themselves on the enemy. We may be sure that their cry was short
and sharp, and poignant with appeal to God. There would be no waste
words, nor perfunctory petitions without wings of desire, in that cry.
Should we not look for the essential elements of prayer rather to such
cries, pressed from burdened hearts by a keen sense of absolute
helplessness, and very careless of proprieties so long as they were
shrill enough to pierce God's ear and touch His heart, than to the
formal petitions of well-ordered worship? A single ejaculation flung
heavenward in a moment of despair or agony is more precious in God's
sight than a whole litany of half-hearted devotions.

The text puts in a striking form another lesson well worth learning,
that, in the greatest crises, no time is better spent than time used
for prayer. A rush on the enemy would not have served Abijah's purpose
nearly so well as that moment's pause for crying to the Lord, before
his charge. Hands lifted to heaven are nerved to clutch the sword and
strike manfully. It is not only that Christ's soldiers are to fight
and pray, but that they fight by praying. That is true in the small
conflicts and antagonisms of the lives of each of us, and it is true
in regard to the agelong battle against ignorance and sin. Christian's
sword was named 'All-prayer.'

The priests, too, blew a prayer through their trumpets, for the
ordinance had appointed that 'when ye go to war ... then shall ye
sound an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before
the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.' The
clear, strident blare was not intended to hearten warriors, or to sing
defiance, but to remind God of His promises, and to bring Him on to
the battlefield, as He had said that He would be. The truest prayer is
that which but picks up the arrows of promise shot from heaven to
earth, and casts them back from earth to heaven. He prays best who
fills his mouth with God's words, turning every 'I will' of His into
'Do Thou!'

IV. The strength that comes through faith.

'As the men of Judah shouted, it came to pass that God smote Jeroboam
and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.' There is no such quickener of
all a man's natural force as even the lowest forms of faith. He who
throws himself into any enterprise sure of success will often succeed
just because he was sure he would. The world's history is full of
instances where men, with every odds against them, have plucked the
flower safety out of the nettle danger, just because they trusted in
their star, or their luck, or their destiny. We all know how a very
crude faith turned a horde of wild Arabs into a conquering army, that
in a century dominated the world from Damascus to Seville. The truth
that is in 'Christian Science' is that many forms of disease yield to
the patient's firm persuasion of recovery. And from these and many
other facts the natural power of faith is beginning to dawn on the
most matter-of-fact and unspiritual people. They are beginning to
think that perhaps Christ was right after all in saying 'All things
are possible to him that believeth,' and that it is not such a blunder
after all to make faith the first step to all holiness and purity, and
the secret of victory in life's tussle. Leaving out of view for the
moment the supernatural effects of faith, which Christianity alleges
are its constant consequences, it is clear that its natural effects
are all in the direction of increasing the force of the trusting man.
It calms, it heartens for all work, effort, and struggle. It imparts
patience, it brightens hope, it forbids discouragement, it rebukes and
cures despondency. And besides all this, there is the supernatural
communication of a strength not our own, which is the constant result
of Christian faith. Christian faith knits the soul and the Saviour in
so close a union, that all that is Christ's becomes the Christian's,
and every believer may hear His Lover's voice whispering to him what
one of His servants once heard in an hour of despondency, 'My grace is
sufficient for thee, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Faith
joins us to the Lord, and 'he that is joined to the Lord is one
spirit'; and that Lord has said to all His disciples, 'I give thee
Myself, and in Myself all that is Mine.' We do not go to warfare at
our own charges, but there will pass into and abide in our hearts the
warlike might of the true King and Captain of the Lord's host, and we
shall hear the ring of His encouraging voice saying, 'Be of good
cheer! I have overcome the world.'



ASA'S REFORMATION, AND CONSEQUENT PEACE AND VICTORY

'And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his
God; 3. For he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high
places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves: 4. And
commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to do the
law and the commandment. 5. Also he took away out of all the cities of
Judah the high places and the images: and the kingdom was quiet before
him. 6. And he built fenced cities in Judah: for the land had rest,
and he had no war in those years; because the Lord had given him rest.
7. Therefore he said unto Judah, Let us build these cities, and make
about them walls, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet
before us; because we have sought the Lord our God, we have sought
Him, and He hath given us rest on every side. So they built and
prospered. 8. And Asa had an army of men that bare targets and spears,
out of Judah three hundred thousand; and out of Benjamin, that bare
shields and drew bows, two hundred and fourscore thousand: all these
were mighty men of valour.'--2 CHRON. xiv. 2-8.


Asa was Rehoboam's grandson, and came to the throne when a young man.
The two preceding reigns had favoured idolatry, but the young king had
a will of his own, and inaugurated a religious revolution, with which
and its happy results this passage deals.

I. It first recounts the thorough clearance of idolatrous emblems and
images which Asa made. 'Strange altars,'--that is, those dedicated to
other gods; 'high places,'--that is, where illegal sacrifice to
Jehovah was offered; 'pillars,'--that is, stone columns; and
'Asherim,'--that is, trees or wooden poles, survivals of ancient
stone- or tree-worship; 'sun-images,'--that is, probably, pillars
consecrated to Baal as sun-god, were all swept away. The enumeration
vividly suggests the incongruous rabble of gods which had taken the
place of the one Lord. How vainly we try to make up for His absence
from our hearts by a multitude of finite delights and helpers! Their
multiplicity proves the insufficiency of each and of all.

1 Kings xv. 13 adds a detail which brings out still more clearly Asa's
reforming zeal; for it tells us that he had to fight against the
influence of his mother, who had been prominent in supporting
disgusting and immoral forms of worship, and who retained some
authority, of which her son was strong enough to take the extreme step
of depriving her. Remembering the Eastern reverence for a mother, we
can estimate the effort which that required, and the resolution which
it implied. But 1 Kings differs from our narrative in stating that the
'high places' were not taken away--the explanation of the variation
probably being that the one account tells what Asa attempted and
commanded, and the other records the imperfect way in which his orders
were carried out. They would be obeyed in Jerusalem and its
neighbourhood, but in many a secluded corner the old rites would be
observed.

It is vain to force religious revolutions. Laws which are not
supported by the national conscience will only be obeyed where
disobedience will involve penalties. If men's hearts cleave to Baal,
they will not be turned into Jehovah-worshippers by a king's commands.
Asa could command Judah to 'seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to
do the law,' but he could not make them do it.

II. The chronicler brings out strongly the truth which runs through
his whole book,--namely, the connection between honouring Jehovah and
national prosperity. He did not import that thought into his
narrative, but he insisted on it as moulding the history of Judah.
Modern critics charge him with writing with a bias, but he learned the
'bias' from God's own declarations, and had it confirmed by
observation, reflection, and experience. The whole history of Israel
and Judah was one long illustration of the truth which he is
constantly repeating. No doubt, the divine dealings with Israel
brought obedience and well-being into closer connection than exists
now; but in deepest truth the sure defence of our national prosperity
is the same as theirs, and it is still the case that 'righteousness
exalteth a nation.' 'The kingdom was quiet,' says the chronicler, 'and
he had no war in those years; because the Lord had given him rest.' 1
Kings makes more of the standing enmity with the northern kingdom, and
records scarcely anything of Asa's reign except the war which, as it
says, was between him and Baasha of Israel 'all their days.' But,
according to 2 Chronicles xvi. 1, Baasha did not proceed to war till
Asa's thirty-sixth year, and the halcyon time of peace evidently
followed immediately on the religious reformation at its very
beginning.

Asa's experience embodies a truth which is substantially fulfilled in
nations and in individuals; for obedience brings rest, often outward
tranquillity, always inward calm. Note the heightened earnestness
expressed in the repetition of the expression 'We have sought the
Lord' in verse 7, and the grand assurance of His favour as the source
of well-being in the clause which follows, 'and He hath given us rest
on every side.' That is always so, and will be so with us. If we seek
Him with our whole hearts, keeping Him ever before us amid the
distractions of life, taking Him as our aim and desire, and ever
stretching out the tendrils of our hearts to feel after Him and clasp
Him, all around and within will be tranquil, and even in warfare we
shall preserve unbroken peace.

Asa teaches us, too, the right use of tranquillity. He clearly and
gratefully recognised God's hand in it, and traced it not to his own
warlike skill or his people's prowess, but to Him. And he used the
time of repose to strengthen his defences, and exercise his soldiers
against possible assaults. We do not yet dwell in the land of peace,
where it is safe to be without bolts and bars, but have ever to be on
the watch for sudden attacks. Rest from war should give leisure for
building not only fortresses, but temples, as was the case with
Solomon. The time comes when, as in many an ancient fortified city of
Europe, the ramparts may be levelled, and flowers bloom where sentries
walked; but to-day we have to be on perpetual guard, and look to our
fortifications, if we would not be overcome.



ASA'S PRAYER

'And Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing
with Thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power:
help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go
against this multitude. O Lord, Thou art our God; let not man prevail
against Thee.'--2 CHRON. xiv. 11.


This King Asa, Rehoboam's grandson, had had a long reign of peace,
which the writer of the Book of Chronicles traces to the fact that he
had rooted out idolatry from Judah, 'The land had rest, and he no war
... because the Lord had given him rest.'

But there came a time when the war-cloud began to roll threateningly
over the land, and a great army--the numbers of which, from their
immense magnitude, seem to be erroneously given--came up against him.
Like a wise man he made his military dispositions first, and prayed
next. He set his troops in order, and then he fell down on his knees,
and spoke to God.

Now, it seems to me that this prayer contains the very essence of what
ought to be the Christian attitude in reference to all the conditions
and threatening dangers and conflicts of life; and so I wish to run
over it, and bring out the salient points of it, as typical of what
ought to be our disposition.

I. The wholesome consciousness of our own impotence.

It did not take much to convince Asa that he had 'no power.' His army,
according to the numbers given of the two hosts, was outnumbered two
to one; and so it did not require much reflection to say, 'We have no
might.' But although perhaps not so sufficiently obvious to us, as
truly as in the case in our text, if we look fairly in the face our
duties, our tasks, our dangers, the possibilities of life and its
certainties, the more humbly we think of our own capacity, the more
wisely we shall think about God, and the more truly we shall estimate
ourselves. The world says, 'Self-reliance is the conquering virtue';
Jesus says to us, 'Self-distrust is the condition of all victory.' And
that does not mean any mere shuffling off of responsibility from our
own shoulders, but it means looking the facts of our lives, and of our
own characters, in the face. And if we will do that, however
apparently easy may be our course, and however richly endowed in mind,
body, or estate we may be, if we all do that honestly, we shall find
that we each are like 'the man with ten thousand' that has to meet
'the King that comes against him with twenty thousand'; and we shall
not 'desire conditions of peace' with our enemy, for that is not what
in this case we have to do, but we shall look about us, and not keep
our eyes on the horizon, and on the levels of earth, but look up to
see if there is not there an Ally that we can bring into the field to
redress the balance, and to make our ten as strong as the opposing
twenty. Zerah the Ethiopian, who was coming down on Asa, is said to
have had a million fighting-men at his back, but that is probably an
erroneous figure, because Old Testament numbers are necessarily often
unreliable. Asa had only half the number; so he said, 'What can I do?'
And what _could_ he do? He did the only thing possible, he
'grasped at God's skirts, and prayed,' and that made all the
difference.

Now all that is true about the disproportion between the foes we have
to face and fight and our own strength. It is eminently true about us
Christian people, if we are doing any work for our Master. You hear
people say, 'Look at the small number of professing Christians in this
country, as compared with the numbers on the other side. What is the
use of their trying to convert the world?' Well, think of the
assembled Christian people, for instance, of Manchester, on the most
charitable supposition, and the shallowest interpretation of that word
'Christian.' What are they among so many? A mere handful. If the
Christian Church had to undertake the task of Christianising the world
by its own strength, we might well despair of success and stop
altogether. 'We have no might.' The disproportion both numerically and
in all things that the world estimates as strength (which are many of
them good things), is so great that we are in a worse case than Asa
was. It is not two to one; it is twenty to one, or an even greater
disproportion. But we are not only numerically weak. A multitude of
non-effectives, mere camp followers, loosely attached, nominal
Christians, have to be deducted from the muster-roll, and the few who
are left are so feeble as well as few that they have more than enough
to do in holding their own, to say nothing of dreaming of charging the
wide-stretching lines of the enemy. So a profound self-distrust is our
wisdom. But that should not paralyse us, but lead to something better,
as it led Asa.

II. Summoning God into the field should follow wholesome
self-distrust.

Asa uses a remarkable expression, which is, perhaps, scarcely
reproduced adequately in our Authorised Version: 'It is nothing with
Thee to help, whether with many or with them that have no power.' It
is a strange phrase, but it seems most probable that the suggested
rendering in the Revised Version is nearer the writer's meaning, which
says, 'Lord! there is none beside Thee to help between the mighty and
them that have no power,' which to our ears is a somewhat cumbrous way
of saying that God, and God only, can adjust the difference between
the mighty and the weak; can redress the balance, and by the laying of
His hand upon the feeble hand can make it strong as the mailed fist to
which it is opposed. If we know ourselves to be hopelessly
outnumbered, and send to God for reinforcements, He will clash His
sword into the scale, and make it go down. Asa turns to God and says,
'Thou only canst trim the scales and make the lighter of the two the
heavier one by casting Thy might into it. So help us, O Lord our God!'

One man with God at his back is always in the majority; and, however
many there may be on the other side, 'there are more that be with us
than they that be with them.' _There_ is encouragement for people
who have to fight unpopular causes in the world, who have been
accustomed to be in minorities all their days, in the midst of a
wicked and perverse generation. Never mind about the numbers; bring
God into the field, and the little band, which is compared in another
place in these historical Books to 'two flocks of kids' fronting the
enemy, that had flowed all over the land, is in the majority. 'God
with us'; then we are strong.

The consciousness of weakness may unnerve a man; and that is why
people in the world are always patting each other on the back and
saying 'Be of good cheer, and rely upon yourself.' But the
self-distrust that turns to God becomes the parent of a far more
reliable self-reliance than that which trusts to men. My consciousness
of need is my opening the door for God to come in. Just as you always
find the lakes in the hollows, so you will always find the grace of
God coming into men's hearts to strengthen them and make them
victorious, when there has been the preparation of the lowered
estimate of one's self. Hollow out your heart by self-distrust, and
God will fill it with the flashing waters of His strength bestowed.
The more I feel myself weak, the more I am meant not to fold my hands
and say, 'I never can do that thing; it is of no use my trying to
attempt it, I may as well give it up'; but to say, 'Lord I there is
none beside Thee that can set the balance right between the mighty and
him that hath no strength.' 'Help me, O Lord my God!' Just as those
little hermit-crabs that you see upon the seashore, with soft bodies
unprotected, make for the first empty shell they can find, and house
in that and make it their fortress, our exposed natures, our
unarmoured characters, our sense of weakness, ought to drive us to
Him. As the unarmed population of a land invaded by the enemy pack
their goods and hurry to the nearest fortified place, so when I say to
myself I have no strength, let me say, 'Thou art my Rock, my Strength,
my Fortress, and my Deliverer. My God, in whom I trust, my Buckler,
and the Horn of my Salvation, and my high Tower.'

Now, there is one more word about this matter, and that is, the way by
which we summon God into the field. Asa prays, 'Help us, O Lord our
God! for we rest on Thee'; and the word that he employs for 'rest' is
not a very frequent one. It carries with it a very striking picture.
Let me illustrate it by a reference to another case where it is
employed. It is used in that tragical story of the death of Saul, when
the man that saw the last of him came to David and drew in a sentence
the pathetic picture of the wearied, wounded, broken-hearted,
discrowned, desperate monarch, _leaning on_ his spear. You can
understand how hard he leaned, with what a grip he held it, and how
heavily his whole languid, powerless weight pressed upon it. And that
is the word that is used here. 'We lean on Thee' as the wounded Saul
leaned upon his spear. Is that a picture of your faith, my friend? Do
you lean upon God like that, laying your hand upon Him till every vein
on your hand stands out with the force and tension of the grasp? Or do
you lean lightly, as a man that does not feel much the need of a
support? Lean hard if you wish God to come quickly. 'We rest on Thee;
help us, O Lord!'

III. Courageous advance should follow self-distrust and summoning God
by faith.

It is well when self-distrust leads to confidence, when, as Charles
Wesley has it in his great hymn:

  '... I am weak,
  But confident in self-despair.'

But that is not enough. It is better when self-distrust and confidence
in God lead to courage, and as Asa goes on, 'Help us, for we rely on
Thee, and in Thy name we go against this multitude.' Never mind though
it is two to one. What does that matter? Prudence and calculation are
well enough, but there is a great deal of very rank cowardice and want
of faith in Christian people, both in regard to their own lives and in
regard to Christian work in the world, which goes masquerading under
much too respectable a name, and calls itself 'judicious caution' and
'prudence.' There is little ever done by that, especially in the
Christian course; and the old motto of one of the French republicans
holds good; 'Dare! dare! always dare!' You have more on your side than
you have against you, and creeping prudence of calculation is not the
temper in which the battle is won. 'Dash' is not always precipitate
and presumptuous. If we have God with us, let us be bold in fronting
the dangers and difficulties that beset us, and be sure that He will
help us.

IV. And now the last point that I would notice is this--the
all-powerful plea which God will answer.

'Thou art my God, let not man prevail against Thee.' That prayer
covers two things. You may be quite sure that if God is your God you
will not be beaten; and you may be quite sure that if you have made
God's cause yours He will make your cause His, and again you will not
be beaten.

'Thou art our God.' 'It takes two to make a bargain,' and God and we
have both to act before He is truly ours. He gives Himself to us, but
there is an act of ours required too, and you must take the God that
is given to you, and make Him yours because you make yourselves His.
And when I have taken Him for mine, and not unless I have, He is mine,
to all intents of strength-giving and blessedness. When I can say,
'Thou art my God, and it is impossible that Thou wilt deny Thyself,'
then nothing can snap that bond; and 'neither life nor death, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things
to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any _other_ creature' can do
it. But there is a creature that can, and that is I. For I can
separate _myself_ from the love and the guardianship of God, and
He can say to a man, 'I am thy God,' and the man _not_ answer,
'Thou art my God.'

And then there is another plea here. 'Let not man prevail against
Thee.' What business had Asa to identify his little kingdom and his
victory with God's cause and God's conquest? Only this, that he had
flung himself into God's arms, and because he had, and was trying to
do what God would have him do, he was quite sure that it was not Asa
but Jehovah that the million of Ethiopians were fighting against.
People warn us against the fanaticism of taking for granted that our
cause is God's cause. Well, we need the warning sometimes, but we may
be quite sure of this, that if we have made God's cause ours, He will
make our cause His, down to the minutest point in our daily lives.

And then, if thus we say in the depths of our hearts, and live
accordingly, 'There is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou,
O God!' it will be with us as it was with Asa in the story before us,
'the enemy fled, and could not recover themselves, for they were
destroyed before the Lord and before His hosts.'



THE SEARCH THAT ALWAYS FINDS

'They ... sought Him with their whole desire; and He was found of
them: and the Lord gave them rest round about.'--2 CHRON. xv. 15.


These words occur in one of the least familiar passages of the Old
Testament. They describe an incident in the reign of Asa, who was the
grandson of Solomon's foolish son Rehoboam, and was consequently the
third king of Judah after the secession of the North. He had just won
a great victory, and was returning with his triumphant army to
Jerusalem, when there met him a prophet, unknown otherwise, who poured
out fiery words, exhorting Asa and his people to cleave to God and to
cast away their idols. Asa, encouraged by the prophetic words of this
bold speaker for God, screwed himself up, and was able to induce also
his people, to effect a great religious reformation. He made a clean
sweep of the idols, and gathered the sadly-dwindled nation together in
Jerusalem, where they renewed the covenant with the Lord God of their
fathers. The text sums up their work and its result. 'They sought Him
with their whole heart, and He was found of them; and the Lord gave
them rest round about.' The words express in simplest form what should
be the chief desire of our hearts and occupation of our lives, and
what will then be our peaceful experience. We shall best bring out
these points if we take the words just as they lie, and consider the
seeking, the finding which certainly crowns that seeking, and the rest
which ensues on finding God.

I. The seeking.

Now, of course, there is no doubt that what the chronicler meant to
describe by the phrase, 'seeking the Lord,' was largely the mere
external acts of ritual worship, the superficial turning from idols to
a purely external recognition of God as the God of Israel. But while
there may have been nothing deeper than a change in the nominal object
of nominal worship, so far as many were concerned, no doubt a very
real turning of heart to God underlay the external change in many
other cases, of which the destruction of idols and the renewed
observance of the form of Jehovah's worship were the consequence and
sign. That turning of mind, will, and affection towards God must be
ours if we are to be among those wise and happy seekers who are sure
to find that which--or rather Him whom--they seek and to rest in Him
whom they find. That search is not after a lost treasure, nor does it
imply ignorance of where its object is to be found. We seek that which
we know, and which we may be assured of finding. Therefore there need
be no tremors of uncertainty in our quest, and the blessedness of the
search is as real as, though different from, the blessedness of the
possession which ends it. The famous saying which prefers the search
after, to the possession of truth, is more proud than wise; but the
comparison which it institutes is so far true that there is a joy in
the aspiration after and the efforts towards truth only less joyous
than that which attends its attainment. But truth divorced from God is
finite and may pall, become familiar and lose its radiance, like a
gathered flower; and hence the preference for the search is
intelligible though one-sided. But God does not pall, and the more we
find Him the more we delight in Him; the highest bliss is to find Him,
the next highest is to seek Him; and, since seeking and finding Him
are never wholly separate, these kindred joys blend their lights in
the experience of all His children.

But our text lays emphasis on the whole-heartedness of the people's
seeking of God. The search must be earnest and engaged in with the
whole energy of our whole being, if any blessing is to come from it.
Why! one reason why the great mass of professing Christians make so
little of their religion is because they are only half-hearted in it.
If you divide a river into two streams the force of each is less than
half the power of the original current; and the chances are that you
will make a stagnant marsh where there used to be a flowing stream.
'All in all, or not at all,' is the rule for life, in all departments.
It is the rule in daily business. A man that puts only half himself in
his profession or trade, while the other half of his wits is gone
woolgathering and dreaming, is predestined from all eternity to fail.
The same is true about our religion. If you and I attend to it as a
kind of by-occupation; if we give the balance of our time and the
superfluity of our energy, after we have done a hard day's work--say,
an hour upon a Sunday--to seeking God, and devote all the rest of the
week to seeking worldly prosperity, it is no wonder if our religion
languishes, and is mainly a matter of forms, as it is with such hosts
of people that call themselves Christians.

Oh! dear brethren, I do believe there is more unconscious unreality in
the average Christian man's endeavour to be a better Christian than
there is in almost anything else in the world:--

  'One foot on sea, and one on shore,
  To one thing constant never.'

That is why so many of us know nothing of a progressive strengthening
of our faith, and an increasing conquest of ourselves, and a firmer
grasp of God, and a fuller realisation of the blessedness of walking
in His ways.

'They sought Him with all their heart.' That does not mean, remember,
that there are to be no other desires, for it is a great mistake to
pit religion against other things which are meant to be its
instruments and its helps. We are not required to seek nothing else in
order to seek God wholly. He demands no impossible and fantastic
detachment of ourselves from the ordinary and legitimate occupations,
affections, and duties of human life, but He does ask that the
dominant desire after Him should be powerful enough to express itself
through all our actions, and that we should seek for God in them, and
for them in God.

Whilst thus we are to give the right interpretation to that
whole-heartedness in our seeking God, on which the text lays stress,
do not let us forget that the one token of it which the text specifies
is, casting out our idols. There must be detachment if there is to be
attachment. If some climbing plant, for instance, has twisted itself
round the unprofitable thorns in the hedge, the gardener, before he
can get it to go up the support that it is meant to encircle, has
carefully to detach it from the stays to which it has wantonly clung,
taking care that in the process he does not break its tendrils and
destroy its power of growth. So, to train our souls to cleave to God,
and to grow up round the great Stay that is provided for us, there is
needed, as an essential part of the process, the voluntary, conscious,
conscientious, and constant guarding of ourselves from the vagrancies
of our desires, which send out their shoots away from Him; and when
the objects of these become idols, then there is nothing for it but
that, like Asa and his people, we should hew them to pieces and make a
bonfire of them; and then renew our covenant before God. I desire to
press that upon you and upon myself. The heart must be emptied of
baser liquors, if the new wine of the Kingdom is to be poured into it.

True it is, of course--and thank God for it!--that the most powerful
agent in effecting that detachment of ourselves from lower things is
our fruition of higher. It is when God comes into the temple that
Dagon falls on the threshold. It is when a new affection begins to
spring in the heart that old loves are thrust out of it. But whilst
that is true, it is also true that the two processes run on
simultaneously; and that whilst, on the one hand, if we are ever to
overcome our love of the world it must be through the love of God, on
the other hand, if we are ever to be confirmed in a whole-hearted love
of God, it must be through our conquest of our love of the world.
'Unite my heart to fear Thy name' was the profound prayer of the old
Psalmist; and the 'heart,' according to Old Testament usage, is the
central fountain from which flow all the streams of conscious life. To
seek Him with the whole heart is to engage the whole self in the
quest, and that is the only kind of seeking which has the certainty of
success.

II. The finding which crowns such seeking.

'He was found of them.' Yes; anything is possible rather than that a
whole-hearted search after God should be a vain search. For there are,
in that case, two seekers--God is seeking for us more truly than we
are seeking for Him. And if the mother is seeking her child, and the
child its mother, it will be a very wide desert where they will not
meet. 'The Father seeketh such to worship Him,' that is--the divine
activity is going about the world, searching for the heart that turns
to Him, and it cannot but be that they that seek Him shall find Him,
or 'shall be found of Him.' Open the windows, and you cannot keep out
the sunshine; open your lungs and you cannot keep out the air. 'In Him
we live and move and have our being,' and if our desires turn, however
blindly, to Him, and are accompanied with the appropriate action,
heaven and earth are more likely to rush to ruin than such a searching
to be frustrated of its aim.

Brethren! is there anything else in the world of which you can say,
'Seek, and ye shall find'? You, with white hairs on your heads, have
you found anything else in which the chase was sure to result in the
capture; in which capture was sure to yield all that the hunter had
wished? There is only one direction for a man's desires and aims, in
which disappointment is an impossibility. In all other regions the
most that can be promised is 'Seek, and _perhaps_ you will find';
and, when you have found, perhaps you will feel that the prize was not
worth the finding. Or it is, 'Seek, and _possibly_ you will find;
and after you have found and kept for a little while, you will lose.'
Though it may be

  'Better to have loved and lost,
  Than never to have loved at all,'

a treasure that slips out of our fingers is not the best treasure that
we can search for. But here the assurance is, 'Seek, and ye
_shall_ find; and shall never lose. Find, and you shall always
possess.'

What would you think of a company of gold-seekers, hunting about in
some exhausted claim, for hypothetical grains, ragged, starving--and
all the while in the next gully were lying lumps of gold for the
picking up? And that figure fairly represents what people do and
suffer who seek for good and do not seek for God.

III. The rest which ensues on finding God.

'The Lord gave them rest round about.' We believe that the Jewish
nation was under special supernatural guidance, so that national
adherence to the Law was always followed by external prosperity. That
is not, of course, the case with us. But which is the better thing,
'rest round about' or rest within? We have no immunity from toil or
conflict. Seeking God does not cover our heads from the storm of
external calamities, nor arm our hearts against the darts and daggers
of many a pain, anxiety, and care, but disturbance around is a very
small matter if there be a better thing, rest within.

Do you remember who it was that said, 'In the world ye shall have
tribulation ... but in Me ye shall have peace'? Then we have, as it
were, two abodes--one, as far as regards the life of sense, in the
world of sense--another, as far as regards the inmost self, which may,
if we will, be in Christ. A vessel with an outer casing and a layer of
air between it and the inner will keep its contents hot. So we may
have round us the very opposite of repose, and, if God so wills, let
us not kick against His will; we may have conflict and stir and
strife, and yet a better rest than that of my text may be ours. 'Rest
round about' is sometimes good and sometimes bad. It is often bad, for
it is the people that 'have no changes' who most usually 'do not fear
God.' But rest within, that is sure to come when a man has sought with
all his desire for God, whom he has found in all His fullness, is only
good and best of all.

We all know, thank God! in worldly matters and in inferior degree, how
blessed and restful it is when some strong affection is gratified,
some cherished desire fulfilled. Though these satisfactions are not
perpetual, nor perfect, they may teach us what a depth of blessed and
calm repose, incapable of being broken by any storms or by any tasks,
will come to and abide with the man whose deepest love is satisfied in
God, and whose most ardent desires have found more than they sought
for in Him. Be sure of this, dear friends! that if we do thus seek,
and thus find, it is not in the power of anything 'that is at enmity
with joy' utterly to 'abolish or destroy' the quietness of our hearts.
'Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.' They who thus repose
will have peace in their hearts, even whilst tasks and temptations,
changes and sorrows, disturb their outward lives. 'In the world ye
shall have tribulation.' Be it so; it may be borne with submission and
thankfulness if in Christ we have peace.

Thus we may have the peace of God, rest in and from Him, entering into
us, and in due time, by His gracious guidance and help, we shall enter
into eternal rest. Whilst to seek is to find Him, in a very deep and
blessed sense, even in this life; in another aspect all our earthly
life may be regarded as seeking after Him, and the future as the true
finding of Him. That future will bring to those whose hearts have
turned from the shows and vanities of time to God a possession of Him
so much fuller than was experienced here that the lesser discoveries
and enjoyments of Him which are experienced here, scarcely deserve in
comparison to be called by the same name. So my text may be taken, as
in its first part, a description of the blessed life here--'They
sought Him with all their heart'--and in its second, as a shadowy
vision of the yet more blessed life hereafter, 'He was found of them,
and the Lord gave them rest round about,' as well as within, in the
land of peace, where sorrow and sighing, and toil and care, shall pass
from memory; and they that warred against us shall be far away.



JEHOSHAPHAT'S REFORM

'And Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened
himself against Israel. 2. And he placed forces in all the fenced
cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah, and in the
cities of Ephraim, which Asa his father had taken. 3. And the Lord was
with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father
David, and sought not unto Baalim; 4. But sought to the Lord God of
his father, and walked in His commandments, and not after the doings
of Israel. 5. Therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand;
and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and
honour in abundance. 6. And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the
Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.
7. Also in the third year of his reign he sent to his princes, even to
Ben-hail, and to Obadiah, and to Zechariah, and to Nethaneel, and to
Michaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah. 8. And with them he sent
Levites, even Shemaiah, and Nethaniah, and Zebadiah, and Asabel, and
Shemiramoth, and Jehonathan, and Adonijah, and Tobijah, and
Tobadonijah, Levites: and with them Elishama and Jehoram, priests. 9.
And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with
them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught
the people. 10. And the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of
the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war
against Jehoshaphat.'--2 CHRON. xvii. 1-10.


The first point to be noted in this passage is that Jehoshaphat
followed in the steps of Asa his father. Stress is laid on his
adherence to the ancestral faith, 'the first ways of his father
David,'--before his great fall,--and the paternal example, 'he sought
to the God of his father.' Such carrying on of a predecessor's work is
rare in the line of kings of Judah, where father and son were seldom
of the same mind in religion. The principle of hereditary monarchy
secures peaceful succession, but not continuity of policy. Many a king
of Judah had to say in his heart what Ecclesiastes puts into Solomon's
mouth, 'I hated all my labour, ... seeing that I must leave it unto
the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a
wise man or a fool?'

But it is not only in kings' houses that that experience is realised.
Many a home is saddened to-day because the children do not seek the
God of their fathers. 'Instead of the fathers' should 'come up thy
children'; but, alas! grandmother Lois and mother Eunice do not always
see the boy who has known the Scriptures from a child grow up into a
Timothy, in whom their unfeigned faith lives again. The neglect of
religious instruction in professedly Christian families, the
inconsistent lives of parents or their too rigid restraints, or,
sometimes, their too lax discipline, are to be blamed for many such
cases. But there are many instances in which not the parents, but the
children, are to be blamed. An earnest Sunday-school teacher may do
much to lead the children of godly parents to their father's God.
Blessed is the home where the golden chain of common faith binds
hearts together, and family love is elevated and hallowed by common
love of God!

Jehoshaphat's religion was, further, resolutely held in the face of
prevailing opposition. 'The Baalim' were popular; it was fashionable
to worship them. They were numerous, and all varieties of taste could
find a Baal to please them. But this young king turned from the
tempting ways that opened flower-strewn before him, and chose the
narrow road that led upwards. 'So did not I, because of the fear of
God,' might have been his motto. A similar determined setting of our
faces God-ward, in spite of the crowd of tempting false deities around
us, must mark us, if we are to have any religion worth calling by the
name. This king recoiled from the example of the neighbouring
monarchy, and walked 'not after the doings of Israel.' His seeking to
God was very practical, for it was not shown simply by professed
beliefs or by sentiment, but by ordering his life in obedience to
God's will. The test of real religion is, after all, a life unlike the
lives of the men who do not share our faith, and moulded in accordance
with God's known will. It is vain to allege that we are seeking the
Lord unless we are walking in His commandments.

Prosperity followed godliness, in accordance with the divinely
appointed connection between them which characterised the Old
Dispensation. 'Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament;
adversity is the blessing of the New,' says Bacon. But the epigram is
too neat to be entirely true, for the Book of Job and many a psalm
show that the eternal problem of suffering innocence was raised by
facts even in the old days, and in our days there are forms of
well-being which are the natural fruits of well-doing. Still, the
connection was closer in Judah than with us, and, in the case before
us, the establishment of Jehoshaphat in the kingdom, his subjects'
love, which showed itself in voluntary gifts over and above the taxes
imposed, and his wealth and honour, were the direct results of his
true religion.

A really devout man must be a propagandist. True faith cannot be hid
nor be dumb. As certainly as light must radiate must faith strive to
communicate itself. So the account of Jehoshaphat's efforts to spread
the worship of Jehovah follows the account of his personal godliness.
'His heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord.' There are two kinds
of lifted-up hearts; one when pride, self-sufficiency, and
forgetfulness of God, raise a man to a giddy height, from which God's
judgments are sure to cast him down and break him in the fall; one
when a lowly heart is raised to high courage and devotion, and 'set on
high,' because it fears God's name. Such elevation is consistent with
humility. It fears no fall; it is an elevation above earthly desires
and terrors, neither of which can reach it, so as to hinder the man
from walking in 'the ways of the Lord.' This king was lifted to it by
his happy experience of the blessed effects of obedience. These
encouraged him to vigorous efforts to spread the religion which had
thus gladdened and brightened his own life. Is that the use we make of
the ease which God gives us?

Jehoshaphat had to destroy first, in order to build up. The 'high
places and Asherim' had to be taken out of Judah before the true
worship could be established there. So it is still. The Christian has
to carry a sword in the one hand, and a trowel in the other. Many a
rotten old building, the stones of which have been cemented in blood,
has to be swept away before the fair temple can be reared. The Devil
is in possession of much of the world, and the lawful owner has to
dispossess the 'squatter.' No one can suppose that society is
organised on Christian principles even in so-called 'Christian
countries'; and there is much overturning work to be done before He
whose right it is to reign is really king over the whole earth. We,
too, have our 'high places and Asherim' to root out.

But that destructive work is not to be done by force. Institutions can
only be swept away when public opinion has grown to see their evils.
Forcible reformations of manners, and, still more, of religion, never
last, but are sure to be followed by violent rebounds to the old
order. So, side by side with the removal of idolatry, this king took
care to diffuse the knowledge of the true worship, by sending out a
body of influential commissioners to teach in Judah. That was a new
departure of great importance. It presents several interesting
features. The composition of the staff of instructors is remarkable.
The principal men in it are five court officers, next to whom, and
subordinate, as is shown not only by the order of enumeration, but by
the phrase 'with them,' were nine Levites, and, last and lowest of
all, two priests. We might have expected that priests should be the
most numerous and important members of such a body, and we are led to
suspect that the priesthood was so corrupted as to be careless about
religious reformation. A clerical order is not always the most ardent
in religious revival. The commissioners were probably chosen, without
regard to their being priests, Levites, or 'laymen,' because of their
zeal in the worship of Jehovah; and the five 'princes' head the list
in order to show the royal authority of the commission.

Another point is the emphasis with which their function of teaching is
thrice mentioned in three verses. Apparently the bulk of the nation
knew little or nothing of 'the law of the Lord,' either on its
spiritual and moral or its ceremonial side; and Jehoshaphat's object
was to effect an enlightened, not a forcible and superficial, change.
God's way of influencing actions is to reveal Himself to the
understanding and the heart, that these may move the will, and that
may shape the deeds. Wise men will imitate God's way. Jehoshaphat did
not issue royal commands, but sent out teachers. In chapter xix. we
find him despatching 'judges' in similar fashion throughout Judah.
They had the power to punish, but these teachers had only authority to
explain and to exhort.

The present writer accepts the chronicler's statement that the
teachers had 'the Book of the Law' with them, though he recognises it
as possible that that 'Book' was not identical with the complete
collection of documents which now bears the name. But, be that as it
may, the incident of our text is remarkable as being the only recorded
systematic and complete attempt to diffuse the remedy against idolatry
throughout the kingdom, as putting religious reformation on its only
sure ground, and as hinting at deep and widespread ignorance among the
masses.

'When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be
at peace with him.' So Judah found. 'A terror of the Lord fell upon
all the kingdoms' around. No doubt, the news filtered to them of how
Jehovah was exerting His might on the nation, and a certain
indefinable awe of this so potent god, who was defeating the Baalim,
made them think that peace was the best policy. Each nation was
supposed to have its own god, and the national god was supposed to
fight for his worshippers; so that war was a struggle of deities as
well as of men, and the stronger god won. Here was a god who had
reconquered his territory, and had cast out usurpers. Prudence
dictated keeping on good terms with him. But it never occurred to any
of these peoples that their own gods were any less real than Judah's,
or that Judah's God could ever become theirs.



AMASIAH

'Amasiah, the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the
Lord.'--1 CHRON. xvii, 16.


This is a scrap from the catalogue of Jehoshaphat's 'mighty men of
valour'; and is Amasiah's sole record. We see him for a moment and
hear his eulogium and then oblivion swallows him up. We do not know
what it was that he did to earn it. But what a fate, to live to all
generations by that one sentence!

I. Cheerful self-surrender the secret of all religion.

The words of our text contain a metaphor naturally drawn from the
sacrificial system. It comes so easily to us that we scarcely
recognise the metaphorical element, but the clear recognition of it
gives great additional energy to the words. Amasiah was both
sacrificer and sacrifice. His offering was self-immolation. As in all
love, so in that noblest kind of it which clasps God, its perfect
expression is, 'I give Thee my living, loving self.' Nor is it only
sacrifice and sacrificer that are seen in deepest truth in the
experience of the Christian life, but the reality of the Temple is
also there, for 'Ye also ... are built up a spiritual house, to be a
holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.' Only when God
dwells in us, shall we have the nerve and the firmness of hand to take
the knife and 'slay before the Lord,' the awful Guest in the sanctuary
within, the most precious of the children of our spirits.

The essence of the sacrifice of self is the sacrifice of will. In the
Christian experience 'willingly offered' is almost tautology, for
unwilling offerings are a contradiction and in fact there are no such
things. The quality of unwillingness destroys the character of the
offering and robs it of all sacredness. Reluctant Christianity is not
Christianity. That noun and that adjective can never be buckled
together.

The submission of will and the consequent surrender of myself and my
powers, opportunities, and possessions, so that I do all, enjoy all,
use all, and when need is, endure all with glad thankful reference to
God is only possible to me in the measure in which my will is made
flexible by love, and such will-subduing love comes only when we 'know
and believe the love that God hath to us.' There is the point at which
not a few moral and religious teachers go wrong and bewilder
themselves and their disciples. There, too, is the point at which
Christ and the Gospel of salvation through faith in Him stand forth as
emancipating humanity from the dreary round of efforts and vain
attempts to work up the condition needful for achieving the height of
self-surrender, which is seen to be indispensable to all true
nobleness of living, but is felt to be beyond the reach of the
ordinary man. There, too, is the point at which many good people mar
their lives as Christians. They waste their strength in trying to
bring the jibbing horse up to the leap. They try to blow up a fire of
devotion and to make themselves priests to offer themselves, but all
the while the mutinous self recoils from the leap, and the fire burns
smokily, and their sacrifice is laid on the altar with little joy,
because they have not been careful and wise enough to begin at the
beginning and to follow God's way of melting their wills, by love, the
reflection of the Infinite love of God to them. God's priests offer
themselves because they offer their wills; they offer their wills
because they love God; they love God because they know that God loves
them. That is the divine order. It is vain to try to accomplish the
end by any other.

II. This willing offering hallows all life.

No syllable is left to tell us what Amasiah did to win this praise.
Probably the words enshrine some now forgotten memory of his cheerful
courage, some heroic feat on an unrecorded battlefield. Particulars
are not given nor needed. Specific actions are unimportant; the spirit
of a life can be told with very incomplete details, and it, not the
details, is the important thing. Sometimes, as in many modern
biographies, one 'cannot see the wood for the trees,' and misses the
main drift and aim of a life in the chaos of a bewildering mass of
nothings. How much more happy the lot of this man of whom we have only
the generalised expression of the text, unweighted and undisturbed by
petty incidents! It takes tons of rose leaves to make a tiny phial of
otto of roses, but the fragrance is far more pungent in a drop of the
distillation than in armfuls of leaves. Every life shrinks into very
small compass, and the centuries do not tolerate long biographies.
Shall we not seek to order our life so that Amasiah's epitaph may
serve for us? It will be blessed if this--and nothing else--is known
about us, that we 'willingly offered ourselves to the Lord.' My
friend: will that be a true epitome of your life?

III. This willing offering is accepted by God.

We may hear a mightier voice behind the chronicler's, and the judgment
of the Judge of all pronounced by His lips. It matters little what men
say of one another, but it matters everything what God says of us. We
are but too apt to forget that He is now saying something as to each
of us, and that we have not to wait for death to put a final period to
our activities, before our lives become fit subjects for God's
judgment, Moment by moment we are writing our own sentences. But while
it is good for us to remember the continuous judgment of God on each
deed, it is not good to let dark thoughts of the principles of that
judgment paralyse our activity or chill our confidence in His
forgiving and accepting mercy. There is often a dark suspicion, like
that of the one-talented servant, which blackens God's fair fame as
being 'an austere Man,' making demands rather than imparting power,
and the effect of such an ugly conception of Him is to cut the nerve
of service and bury the talent, carefully folded up, it may be, but
none the less earning nothing. 'If we call on Him as Father, who
without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work,' let
us be sure that it will be a Fatherly judgment that He will pass upon
us and our offerings. There is a wonderful collection on His altar of
what many people would think rubbish, just as many a mother has laid
away among her treasures some worthless article which her child had
once given her--a weed plucked by the roadside in a long past summer
day, some trifle of rare preciousness in the child's eyes, and of none
in any others than her own. She opens her drawer and brings out the
poor little thing, and her eyes fill and her heart fills as she looks.
And does not God keep His children's gifts as lovingly, and set them
in places of honour in the day when He 'makes up His jewels'? There
are cups of cold water and widows' mites and much else that a
supercilious world would call 'trash' stored there. Thank God! He
accepts imperfect service, faltering faith, partial consecration, a
little love. Even our poor offering may be an 'odour of a sweet
smell,' ministering fragrance that is a delight to Him, if it is
offered with the much incense of the great Sacrifice and through the
mediation of the great High Priest.

The world forgot Amasiah, or never knew him, an obscure soldier in an
obscure kingdom, but God did not forget, and here is his epitaph, and
this is his memorial to all generations. Men's chronicles have no room
for all the names that their wearers are eager to have inscribed on
their crumbling and crowded pages, 'but the Lamb's Book of Life' has
ample space on its radiant pages for all who desire to set their names
there, and if ours are there, we need not envy the proudest whose
titles and deeds fill the most conspicuous pages in the world's
records. 'Then shall every man have praise of Christ,' and he who wins
that guerdon needs nothing more, and can have nothing more to swell
his blessedness.



'A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES'

'And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to
Jerusalem. 2. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet
him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly,
and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from
before the Lord. 3. Nevertheless there are good things found in thee,
in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast
prepared thine heart to seek God. 4. And Jehoshaphat dwelt at
Jerusalem: and he went out again through the people from Beer-sheba to
mount Ephraim, and brought them back unto the Lord God of their
fathers. 5. And he set judges in the land throughout all the fenced
cities of Judah, city by city. 6. And said to the judges, Take heed
what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with
you in the judgment. 7. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon
you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our
God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts. 8. Moreover in
Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and
of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the Lord,
and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem. 9. And he
charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord,
faithfully, and with a perfect heart. 10. And what cause soever shall
come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood
and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye
shall even warn them that they trespass not against the Lord, and so
wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not
trespass. 11. And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all
matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the
house of Judah, for all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be
officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the
good.'--2 CHRON. XIX. 1-11.


Jehoshaphat is distinguished by two measures for his people's good:
one, his sending out travelling preachers through the land (2 Chron.
xvii. 7-9); another, this provision of local judges and a central
court in Jerusalem. The former was begun as early as the third year of
his reign, but was probably interrupted, like other good things, by
his ill-omened alliance with Ahab. The prophet Jehu's plain speaking
seems to have brought the king back to his better self, and its fruit
was his going 'among the people,' from south to north, as a
missionary, 'to bring them back to Jehovah.' The religious reformation
was accompanied by his setting judges throughout the land. Our modern
way of distinguishing between religious and civil concerns is foreign
to Eastern thought, and was especially out of the question in a
theocracy. Jehovah was the King of Judah; therefore the things that
are Caesar's and the things that are God's coalesced, and these two
objects of Jehoshaphat's journeyings were pursued simultaneously. We
have travelled far from his simple institutions, and our course has
not been all progress. His supreme concern was to deal out even-handed
justice between man and man; is not ours rather to give ample doses of
law? To him the judicial function was a copy of God's, and its
exercise a true act of worship, done in His fear, and modelled after
His pattern. The first impression made in one of our courts is
scarcely that judge and counsel are engaged in worship.

There had been local judges before Jehoshaphat--elders in the
villages, the 'heads of the fathers' houses' in the tribes. We do not
know whether the great secession had flung the simple old machinery
somewhat out of gear, or whether Jehoshaphat's action was simply to
systematise and make universal the existing arrangements. But what
concerns us most is to note that all the charge which he gives to
these peasant magistrates bears on the religious aspect of their
duties. They are to think themselves as acting for Jehovah and with
Jehovah. If they recognise the former, they may be confident of the
latter. They are to 'let the fear of Jehovah be upon you,' for that
awe resting on a spirit will, like a burden or water-jar on a woman's
shoulder, make the carriage upright and the steps firm. They are not
only to act for and with Jehovah, but to do like Him, avoiding
injustice, favouritism, and corruption, the plague-spots of Eastern
law-courts. In such a state of society, the cases to be adjudicated
were mostly such as mother-wit, honesty and the fear of God could
solve; other times call for other qualifications. But still, let us
learn from this charge that even in our necessarily complicated legal
systems and political life, there is room and sore need for the
application of the same principles. What a different world it would be
if our judges and representatives carried some tincture of
Jehoshaphat's simple and devout wisdom into their duties! Civic and
political life ought to be as holy as that of cloister and cell. To
judge righteously, to vote honestly, is as much worship as to pray. A
politician may be 'a priest of the Most High God.'

And for us all the spirit of Jehoshaphat's charge is binding, and
every trivial and secular task is to be discharged for God, with God,
in the fear of God. 'On the bells of the horses shall be Holiness unto
Jehovah.' If our religion does not drive the wheels of daily life, so
much the worse for our life and our religion. But, above all, this
charge reminds us that the secret of right living is to imitate God.
These peasants were to find direction, as well as inspiration, in
gazing on Jehovah's character, and trying to copy it. And we are to be
'imitators of God, as beloved children,' though our best efforts may
only produce poor results. A masterpiece may be copied in some
wretched little newspaper blotch, but the great artist will own it for
a copy, and correct it into complete likeness.

The second step was to establish a 'supreme court' in Jerusalem, which
had two divisions, ecclesiastical and civil, as we should say, the
former presided over by the chief priest, and the latter by 'the ruler
of the house of Judah.' Murder cases and the graver questions
involving interpretation of the law were sent up thither, while the
village judges had probably to decide only points that shrewdness and
integrity could settle. But these superior judges, too, received
charges as to moral, rather than intellectual or learned
qualifications. Religiously, uprightly, 'with a perfect heart,'
courageously, they were to act, 'and Jehovah be with the good!' That
may be a prayer, like the old invocation with which heralds sent
knights to tilt at each other, and with which, in some legal
proceedings, the pleas are begun, 'God defend the right!' But more
probably it is an assurance that God will guide the judges to favour
the good cause, if they on their parts will bring the aforesaid
qualities to their decisions. And are not these qualities just such as
will, for the most part, give similar results to us, if in our various
activities we exercise them? And may we not see a sequence worth our
practically putting to the proof in these characteristics enjoined on
Jehoshaphat's supreme court? Begin with 'the fear of the Lord'; that
will help us to 'faithfulness and a perfect heart'; and these again by
taking away occasions of ignoble fear, and knitting together the else
tremulous and distracted nature, will make the fearful brave and the
weak strong.

But another thought is suggested by Jehoshaphat's language. Note how
this court does not seem to have inflicted punishments, but to have
had only counsels and warnings to wield. It was a board of
conciliation rather than a penal tribunal. Two things it had to do--to
press upon the parties the weighty consideration that crimes against
men were sins against God, and that the criminal drew down wrath on
the community. This remarkable provision brings out strongly thoughts
that modern society will be the better for incorporating. The best way
to deal with men is to get at their hearts and consciences. The deeper
aspect of civil crimes or wrongs to men should be pressed on the doer;
namely, that they are sins against God. Again, all such acts are sins
against the mystical sacred bond of brotherhood. Again, the solidarity
of a nation makes it inevitable that 'one sinner destroyeth much
good,' and pulls down with him, when God smites him, a multitude of
innocents. So finely woven is the web of the national life that, if a
thread run in any part of it, a great rent gapes. If one member sins,
all the members suffer with it. And lastly, the cruellest thing that
we can do is to be dumb when we see sin being committed. It is not
public men, judges and the like, alone, who are called on thus to warn
evil-doers, but all of us in our degree. If we do not, we are guilty
along with a guilty nation; and it is only when, to the utmost of our
power, we have warned our brethren as to national sins, that we can
wash our hands in innocency, 'This do, and ye shall not be guilty.'



A STRANGE BATTLE

'We have no might against this great company that cometh against us;
neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee.'--2 CHRON xx.
12.


A formidable combination of neighbouring nations, of which Moab and
Ammon, the ancestral enemies of Judah, were the chief, was threatening
Judah. Jehoshaphat, the king, was panic-stricken when he heard of the
heavy war-cloud that was rolling on, ready to burst in thunder on his
little kingdom. His first act was to muster the nation, not as a
military levy but as suppliants, 'to seek help of the Lord.' The enemy
was camping down by the banks of the Dead Sea, almost within striking
distance of Jerusalem. It seemed a time for fighting, not for praying,
but even at that critical moment, the king and the men, whom it might
have appeared that plain duty called to arms, were gathered in the
Temple, and, hampered by their wives and children, were praying. Would
they not have done better if they had been sturdily marching through
the wilderness of Judah to front their foes? Our text is the close and
the climax of Jehoshaphat's prayer, and, as the event proved, it was
the most powerful weapon that could have been employed, for the rest
of the chapter tells the strangest story of a campaign that was ever
written. No sword was drawn. The army was marshalled, but Levites with
their instruments of music, not fighters with their spears, led the
van, and as 'they began to sing and to praise,' sudden panic laid hold
on the invading force, who turned their arms against each other. So
when Judah came to some rising ground, on which stood a watch-tower
commanding a view over the savage grimness of 'the wilderness,' it saw
a field of corpses, stark and stiff and silent. Three days were spent
in securing the booty, and on the fourth, Jehoshaphat and his men
'assembled themselves in the Valley of Blessing,' and thence returned
a joyous multitude praising God for the victory which had been won for
them without their having struck a blow. The whole story may yield
large lessons, seasonable at all times. We deal with it, rather than
with the fragment of the narrative which we have taken as our text.

I. We see here the confidence of despair.

Jehoshaphat's prayer had stayed itself on God's self-revelation in
history, and on His gift of the land to their fathers. It had pleaded
that the enemy's hostility was a poor 'reward' for Israel's ancient
forbearance, and now, with a burst of agony, it casts down before God,
as it were, Judah's desperate plight as outnumbered by the swarm of
invaders and brought to their last shifts--'we have no might against
this great company ... neither know we what to do.' But the very depth
of despair sets them to climb to the height of trust. That is a mighty
'But,' which buckles into one sentence two such antitheses as confront
us here. 'We know not what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee'--blessed
is the desperation which catches at God's hand; firm is the trust
which leaps from despair!

The helplessness is always a fact, though most of us manage to get
along for the most part without discovering it. We are all outnumbered
and overborne by the claims, duties, hindrances, sorrows, and
entanglements of life. He is not the wisest of men who, facing all
that life may bring and take away, all that it must bring and take
away, knows no quiver of nameless fear, but jauntily professes himself
ready for all that life can inflict. But there come moments in every
life when the false security in which shallow souls wrap themselves
ignobly is broken up, and then often a paroxysm of terror or misery
grips a man, for which he has no anodyne, and his despair is as
unreasonable as his security. The meaning of all circumstances that
force our helplessness on us is to open to us Jehoshaphat's refuge in
his--'our eyes are upon Thee.' We need to be driven by the crowds of
foes and dangers around to look upwards. Our props are struck away
that we may cling to God. The tree has its lateral branches hewed off
that it may shoot up heavenward. When the valley is filled with mist
and swathed in evening gloom, it is the time to lift our gaze to the
peaks that glow in perpetual sunshine. Wise and happy shall we be if
the sense of helplessness begets in us the energy of a desperate
faith. For these two, distrust of self and glad confidence in God, are
not opposites, as naked distrust and trust are, but are complementary.
He does not turn his eyes to God who has not turned them on himself,
and seen there nothing to which to cling, nothing on which to lean.
Astronomers tell us that there are double stars revolving round one
axis and forming a unity, of which the one is black and the other
brilliant. Self-distrust and trust in God are thus knit together and
are really one.

II. We see here the peaceful assurance of victory that attends on
faith.

A flash of inspiration came to one of the Levitical singers who had,
no doubt, been deeply moved and had unconsciously fitted himself for
receiving it. Divinely breathed confidence illuminated his waiting
spirit, and a great message of encouragement poured from his lips. His
words heartened the host more than a hundred trumpets braying in their
ears. How much one man who has drunk in God's assurance of victory can
do to send a thrill of his own courage through more timorous hearts!
Courage is no less contagious than panic. This Levite becomes the
commander of the army, and Jehoshaphat and his captains 'bow their
heads' and accept his plan for to-morrow, hearing in his ringing
accents a message from Jehovah. The instructions given and at once
accepted are as unlike those of ordinary warfare as is the whole
incident; for there is to be no sword drawn nor blow struck, but they
are to 'stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.' They are told
where to find the enemy and are bid to go forth in order of battle
against them, and they are assured 'that the battle is not theirs, but
God's.' No wonder that the message was hailed as from heaven, and put
new heart into the host, or that, when the messenger's voice ceased,
his brother Levites broke into shrill praise as for a victory already
won. With what calm, triumphant hearts the camp would sleep that
night!

May we not take that inspired Levite's message as one to ourselves in
the midst of our many conflicts both in the outward life and in the
inward? If we have truly grasped God's hands, and are fighting for
what is accordant with His will, we have a right to feel that 'the
battle is not ours but God's,' and to be sure that therefore we shall
conquer. Of course we are not to say to ourselves, 'God will fight for
us, and we need not strike a blow,' Jehoshaphat's example does not fit
our case in that respect, and we may thank God that it does not. We
have a better lot than to 'stand still and see the salvation of God,'
for we are honoured by being allowed to share the stress of conflict
and the glow of battle as well as in the shout of victory. But even in
the struggles of outward life, and much more in those of our spiritual
nature, every man who watches his own career will many a time have to
recognise God's hand, unaided by any act of his own, striking for him
and giving him victory; and in the spiritual life every Christian man
knows that his best moments have come from the initiation of the
Spirit who 'bloweth where He listeth.' How often we have been
surprised by God's help; how often we have been quickened by God's
inbreathed Spirit, and have been taught that the passivity of faith
draws to us greater blessings than the activity of effort! 'They also
serve who only stand and wait,' and they also conquer who in quietness
and confidence keep themselves still and let God work for them and in
them. The first great blessing of trust in God is that we may be at
peace on the eve of battle, and the second is that in every battle it
is, in truth, not we that fight, but God who fights for and in us.

III. We learn here the best preparation for the conflict.

When the morning dawned, the array was set in order and the march
begun, and a strange array it was. In the van marched the Temple
singers singing words that are music to us still: 'Give thanks unto
the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever,' and behind them came the
ranks of Judah, no doubt swelling the volume of melody, that startled
the wild creatures of the wilderness, and perhaps travelled through
the still morning as far as the camp of the enemy. The singers had no
armour nor weapons. They were clad in 'the beauty of holiness,' the
priestly dress, and for sword and spear they carried harps and
timbrels. Our best weapons are like their equipment.

We are most likely to conquer if we lift up the voice of thanks for
victory in advance, and go into the battle expecting to triumph,
because we trust in God. The world's expectation of success is too
often a dream, a will-o'-the-wisp that tempts to bogs where the
beguiled victim is choked, though even in the world it is often true;
'screw your courage to the sticking point, and we'll not fail.' But
faith, that is the expectation of success based on God's help and
inspiring to struggles for things dear to His heart, is wont to fulfil
itself, and by bringing God into the fray, to secure the victory. A
thankful heart not seldom brings into existence that for which it is
thankful.

IV. We see here the victory and the praise for it.

The panic that laid hold on the enemy, and turned their swords against
each other, was more natural in an undisciplined horde such as these
irregular levies of ancient times, than it would be in a modern army.
Once started, the infection would spread, so we need not wonder that
by the time that Judah arrived on the field all was over. How often a
like experience attends us! We quiver with apprehension of troubles
that never attack us. We dread some impending battlefield, and when we
reach it, Jehoshaphat's surprise is repeated, 'and, behold they were
dead bodies, fallen to the earth.' Delivered from foes and fears,
Judah's first impulse was to secure the booty, for they were keen
after wealth, and their 'faith' was not very pure or elevating. But
their last act was worthier, and fitly ended the strange campaign.
They gathered in some wady among the grim cliffs of the wilderness of
Judah, which broke the dreariness of that savage stretch of country
with perhaps verdure and a brook, and there they 'blessed the Lord.'
The chronicler gives a piece of popular etymology, in deriving the
name, 'the valley of blessing,' from that morning's worship. Perhaps
the name was older than that, and was given from a feeling of the
contrast between the waste wilderness, which in its gaunt sterility
seemed an accursed land, and the glen which with its trees and stream
was indeed a 'valley of blessing.' If so, the name would be doubly
appropriate after that day's experience. Be that as it may, here we
have in vivid form the truth that all our struggles and fightings may
end in a valley of blessing, which will ring with the praise of the
God who fights for us. If we begin our warfare with an appeal to God,
and with prayerful acknowledgment of our own impotence, we shall end
it with thankful acknowledgment that we are 'more than conquerors
through Him that loved us' and fought for us, and our choral song of
praise will echo through the true Valley of Blessing, where no sound
of enemies shall ever break the settled stillness, and the host of the
redeemed, like that army of Judah, shall bear 'psalteries and harps
and trumpets,' and shall need spear and sword no more at all for ever.



HOLDING FAST AND HELD FAST

'As they went forth Jehoshaphat stood and said, Believe in the Lord
your God, so shall ye be established.'--2 CHRON. xx. 20.


Certainly no stronger army ever went forth to victory than these Jews,
who poured out of Jerusalem that morning with no weapon in all their
ranks, and having for their van, not their picked men, but singers who
'praised the beauty of holiness,' and chanted the old hymn, 'Give
thanks unto the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever.' That was all
that men had to do in the battle, for as the shrill song rose in the
morning air 'the Lord set liers in wait for the foe,' and they turned
their swords against one another, so that when Jehoshaphat and his
troops came in sight of the enemy the battle was over and the field
strewn with corpses--so great and swift is the power of devout
recognition of God's goodness and trust in His enduring mercy, even in
the hour of extremest peril.

The exhortation in our text which is Jehoshaphat's final word to his
army, has, in the original, a beauty and emphasis that are incapable
of being preserved in translation. There is a play of words which
cannot be reproduced in another language, though the sentiment of it
may be explained. The two expressions for 'believing' and 'being
established' are two varying forms of the same root-word; and although
we can only imitate the original clumsily in our language, we might
translate in some such way as this: 'Hold fast by the Lord your God,
and you will be held fast,' or 'stay yourselves on Him and you will be
stable.' These attempts at reproducing the similarity of sound between
the two verbs in the two clauses of our text, rude as they are,
preserve what is lost, so far as regards form, in the English
translation, though that is correct as to the meaning of the command
and promise. If we note this connection of the two clauses we just
come to the general principle which lies here, that the true source of
steadfastness in character and conduct, of victory over temptation,
and of standing fast in slippery places, is simple reliance, or, to
use the New Testament word, 'faith,' 'Believe and ye shall be
established.' Put out your hand and clasp Him, and He puts out His
hand and steadies you. But all the steadfastness and strength come
from the mighty Hand that is outstretched, not from the tremulous one
that grasps it.

So, then, keeping to the words of my text, let me suggest to you the
large lessons that this saying teaches us, in regard to three things,
which I may put as being the object, the nature, and the issues of
faith; or, in other words, to whom we are to cling, how we are to
cling, and what the consequence of the clinging is.

I. To whom we must cling.

'Stay yourselves on the Lord your God,' Well, then, faith is not
believing a number of theological articles, nor is it even accepting
the truth of the Gospel as it lies in Jesus Christ, but it is
accepting the Christ whom the truth of the Gospel reveals to us. And,
although we have to come to Him through the word that declares what He
is, and what He has done for us, the act of believing on Him is
something that lies beyond the mere understanding of, or giving
credence to, the message that tells us who He is and what He has done.
A man may have not the ghost of a doubt or hesitation about one tittle
of revealed truth, and if you were to cross-question him, could answer
satisfactorily all the questions of an orthodox inquisitor, and yet
there may not be one faintest flicker of faith in that man's whole
being, for all the correctness of his creed, and the comprehensiveness
of it, too. Trust is more than assent. If it is a Person on whom our
faith leans, then from that there follows clearly enough that the bond
which binds us to Him must be something far warmer, far deeper, and
far more under the control of our own will than the mere consent or
assent of our brains to a set of revealed truths. 'The Lord your God,'
and not even the Bible that tells you about Him; 'the Lord your God,'
and not even the revealed truths that manifest Him, but Him as
revealed by the truths--it is He that is the Object to which our faith
clings.

Jehoshaphat, in the same breath in which he exhorted his people to
'believe in the Lord, that they might be established,' also said,
'Believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper.' The immediate reference,
of course, was to the man who the day before had assured them of
victory. But the wider truth suggested is, that the only way to get to
God is through the word that speaks of Him, and which has come from
the lips either of prophets or of the Son who has spoken more, and
more sweetly and clearly, than all the prophets put together. If we
are to believe God, we must believe the prophets that tell us of Him.

And then there is another suggestion that may be made. The Object of
faith proposed to Judah is not only 'the Lord,' but 'the Lord
_your_ God.' I do not say that there can be no faith without the
'appropriating' action which takes the whole Godhead for mine, but I
doubt very much whether there is any. And it seems to me that to a
very large extent the difference between mere nominal, formal
Christians and men who really are living by the power of faith in God
as revealed in Jesus Christ, lies in that one little word, 'the Lord
your God.' That a man shall put out a grasping hand, and say, 'I take
for my own--for my very own--the universal blessing, I claim as my
possession that God of the spirits of all flesh, I believe that He
does stand in a real individualising relation to me, and I to Him,' is
surely of the very essence of faith. There is no presumption, but the
truest wisdom and lowliness in enclosing, if I may so say, a part of
this great common for ours, and putting a hedge about it, as it were,
and saying, 'That is mine.' We shall not have understood the sweetness
and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ until we have pointed and
condensed the general declaration, 'He so loved the world,' into the
individualising and appropriating one, 'He loved me, and gave Himself
for me.' Oh! if we could only apply that process thoroughly to all the
broad glorious words and promises of Scripture, and feel that the
whole incidence of them was meant to fall upon us, one by one, and
that just as the sun, up in the heavens there, sends all his beams
into the tiniest daisy on the grass, as if there was nothing else in
the whole world, but only its little petals to be smoothed out and
opened, I think our Christianity would be more real, and we should
have more blessings in our hands. God in Christ and I, the only two
beings in the universe, and all His fullness mine, and all my weakness
supported and supplemented by Him--that is the view that we should
sometimes take. We should set ourselves apart from all mankind, and
claim Him as our very own, and so be filled with the fullness of God.

This, then, is the Object of faith, a Person who is all mine and all
yours too. The beam of light that falls on my eye falls on yours, and
no man makes a sunbeam the smaller because he sees by it; and in like
manner we may each possess the whole of God for our very own property.

II. How we cling.

The metaphor, I suppose, is more eloquent than all explanations of it.
'Believe in the Lord'; hold fast by Him with a tight grip, continually
renewed when it tends to slacken, as it surely will, and then you will
be established.

We might run out into any number of figurative illustrations. Look at
that little child beginning to learn to walk, how it fastens its
little dimpled hands into its mother's apron, and so the tiny
tottering feet get a kind of steadfastness into them. Look at that man
lying at the door of the Temple, who never had walked since his
mother's womb, and had lain there for forty years, with his poor weak
ankles all atrophied by reason of their disuse. 'He _held_ Peter
and John.' Would not his grasp be tight? Would he not clasp their
hands as his only stay? He had not become accustomed to the astounding
miracle of walking, nor learned to balance himself and accomplish the
still more astounding feat of standing steady. So he clutched at the
two Apostles and was 'established.' Look at that man walking by a
slippery path which he does not know, holding by the hand the guide
who is able to direct and keep him up. See this other in some wild
storm, with an arm round a steadfast tree-stem, to keep him from being
blown over the precipice, how he clings like a limpet to a rock. And
that is how we are to hold on to God, with what would be despair if it
were not the perfection of confidence, with the clear sense that the
only thing between us and ruin is the strong Hand that we clasp.

And what do we mean by clasping God? I mean making daily efforts to
rivet our love on Him, and not to let the world, with all its delusive
and cloying sweets, draw us away from Him. I mean continual and
strenuous efforts to fix our _thoughts_ upon Him, and not to
allow the trivialities of life, or the claims of culture, or the
necessities of our daily position so to absorb our minds as that
thoughts of God are comparative strangers there, except, perhaps,
sometimes on a Sunday, and now and then at the sleepy end, or the
half-awake beginning, of a day. I mean continually repeated and
strenuous efforts to cleave to Him by the submission of our
_will_, letting Him 'do what seemeth Him good,' and not lifting
ourselves up against Him, or perking our own inclinations, desires,
and fancies in His face, as if we would induce Him to take them for
His guides! And I mean that we should try to commit our _way_
unto the Lord, 'to rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.' The
submissive will which cleaves to God's commandments, the waiting heart
that clings to His love, the regulated thoughts that embrace His
truth, and the childlike confidence that commits its path to
Him--these are the elements of that steadfast adherence to the Lord
which shall not be in vain.

III. The blessed effects of this clinging to God.

'So shall ye be established.' That follows, as a matter of course. The
only way to make light things stable is to fasten them to something
that is stable. And the only way to put any kind of calmness and
fixedness, and yet progress--stability in the midst of progress, and
progress in the midst of stability--into our lives, is by keeping firm
hold of God. If we grasp His hand, then a calm serenity will be ours.
In the midst of changes, sorrows, losses, disappointments, we shall
not be blown about here and there by furious winds of fortune, nor
will the heavy currents of the river of life sweep us away. We shall
have a holdfast and a mooring. And although, like some light-ship
anchored in the Channel, we may heave up and down with the waves, we
shall keep in the same place, and be steadfast in the midst of
mobility, and wholesomely mobile although anchored in the one spot
where there is safety. As the issue of faith, of this throwing the
responsibility for ourselves upon God, there will be quietness of
heart, and continuance and persistence in righteousness, and
steadfastness of purpose and continuity of advancement in the divine
life. 'The law of the Lord is in his heart,' says one of the Psalms,
'none of his steps shall slide.' The man who walks holding God's hand
can put down a firm foot, even when he is walking in slippery places.
There will be decision, and strength, and persistence of continuous
advance, in a life that derives its impulse and its motive power from
communion with God in Jesus Christ.

There will be victory, not indeed after the fashion of that in this
story before us. In it, of course, men had to do nothing but 'stand
still and see the salvation of God.' That is the law for us, in regard
to the initial blessings of acceptance, and forgiveness, and the
communication of the divine life from above. We have to be simple
recipients, and we have no co-operating share in that part of the work
of our own salvation. But for the rest we have to help God. 'Work out
your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh
in you.' But none the less, 'This is the victory that over-cometh the
world, even our faith,' and if we give heed to Jehoshaphat's
commandment, and go out to battle as his people did, with the love and
trust of God in our hearts, then we shall come back as they did, laden
with spoil, and shall name the place which was the field of conflict
'the valley of blessing,' and return to Jerusalem 'with psalteries,
and harps, and trumpets,' and 'God will give us rest from all our
enemies round about us.'



JOASH

'And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the
days of Jehoiada the priest.... 17. Now after the death of Jehoiada
came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king. Then the
king hearkened unto them.'--2 CHRON. xxiv. 2, 17.


Here we have the tragedy of a soul. Joash begins life well and for the
greater part of it remains faithful to his conscience and to his duty,
and then, when outward circumstances change, he casts all behind him,
forgets the past and commits moral suicide. It is the sad old story, a
bright commencement, an early promise all scattered to the winds. It
is a strange story, too. This seven-year-old king had been saved when
his father had been killed, and that true daughter of Jezebel, as well
by nature as by blood, Athaliah, had murdered all his brothers and
sisters, and made herself queen. He had been saved by the courage of a
woman who might worthily stand by the side of Deborah and other Jewish
heroines. By this woman, who was his aunt, he was hidden and brought
up in the Temple until, whilst yet a mere boy, he came to the throne,
the High Priest Jehoiada, the husband of his aunt, being his guardian
during his nonage. He reigns well till the lad of seven becomes a
mature man of thirty or thereabouts, and then Jehoiada dies, full of
years and honours, and they fitly lay him among the kings of Judah, a
worthy resting-place for one who had 'done good in Israel.' And now
the weakling on the throne is left alone without the strong arm to
guide him and keep him right, and we read that 'the princes of Judah
came and made obeisance to him.' They take him on his weak side, and I
dare say Jehoiada had been too true and too noble to do that, and
though we are not told what means they took to flatter and coax him,
we see very plainly what they were conspiring to do, for we read that
'they left the house of the Lord their God, the God of their fathers,
and served groves and idols,' the groves here mentioned being symbols
of Ashtaroth the goddess of the Sidonians. And so all the past is
wiped out and Joash takes his place amongst the apostates. The story
has solemn lessons.

I. Note the change from loyal adhesion to apostasy.

The strong man on whom Joash used to lean was away, and the poor, weak
king went just where the wicked princes led him. It was probably out
of sheer imbecility that he passed from the worship of God to the
acknowledgment and service of idols.

The first point that I would insist upon is a well-worn and familiar
one, as I am well aware, but I urge it upon you, and especially upon
the younger portion of my audience. It is this, that there is no
telling the amount of mischief that pure weakness of character may
lead into. The worst men we come across in the Bible are not those who
begin with a deliberate intention of doing evil. They are weak
creatures, 'reeds shaken by the wind,' who have no power of resisting
the force of circumstances. It is a truth which every one's experience
confirms, that the mother of all possible badness is weakness, and
that, not only as Milton's Satan puts it, 'To be weak is to be
miserable,' but that weakness is wickedness sooner or later. The man
who does not bar the doors and windows of his senses and his soul
against temptation, is sure to make shipwreck of his life and in the
end to become 'a fool.' There is so much wickedness lying round us in
this world that any man who lets himself be shaped and coloured by
that with which he comes in contact, is sure to go to the bad in the
long run. Where a man lays himself open to the accidents of time and
circumstances, the majority of these influences will be contrary to
what is right and good. Therefore, he must gather himself together and
learn to say 'No!' There is no foretelling the profound abysses into
which a 'good, easy' nature, with plenty of high and pure impulses,
perhaps, but which are written in water, may fall. 'Thou, therefore,
young man! be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.' Learn to
say No! or else you will be sure to say Yes! in the wrong place, and
then down you will go, like this Joash whose goodness depended on
Jehoiada, and when he died, all the virtue that had characterised this
life hitherto was laid with him in the dust.

Let us learn from this story in the next place, how little power of
continuance there is in a merely traditional religion. Many of you
call yourselves Christian people mainly because other people do the
same. It is customary to respect and regard Christianity. You have
been brought up in the midst of it. Our country is always considered a
Christian land, and so, naturally, you tacitly accept the truth of a
religion which is so influential. The lowest phase of this attitude is
that which seeks some advantage from a church connection, like the
foolish man in the Old Testament who thought he would do well because
he had a Levite for his priest. Religion is the most personal thing
about a man. To become a Christian is the most personal act one can
perform. It is a thing that a man has to do for himself, and however
friends and guides may help us in other matters, in trials and
perplexities and difficulties, by their sympathy and experience, they
are useless here. A man has here to act as if there were no other
beings in the universe but a solitary God and himself, and unless we
have ourselves done that act in the depths of our own personality, we
have not done it at all. If you young people are good, just because
you have pious parents who make you go to church or chapel on a
Sunday, and keep you out of mischief during the week, your goodness is
a sham. One great result of personal Christianity is to make a
minister, a teacher, a guide, superfluous, and when such an one
becomes so, his work has been successful and not till then. Unless you
put forth for yourself the hand of faith and for yourself yield up the
devotion and love of your own heart, your religion is nought.

However much active effort about the outside of religion there may be,
it is of itself useless. It is without bottom and without reality.
Here we have Joash busy with the externals of worship and actually
deceiving himself thereby. It was a great deal easier to make that
chest for contributions to a Temple Repairing Fund, and to get it well
filled, and to patch up the house of the Lord, than for him to get
down on his knees and pray, and he may have thought that to be busy
about the house of God was to be devout. So it may be with many
Sunday-school teachers and Church workers. Their religion may be as
merely superficial and as little personal as this man's was. It is not
for me to say so about A, B, or C. It is for you to ask of yourselves
if it is so as to you. But I do say that there is nothing that masks
his own soul from a man more than setting him to do something for
Christianity and God's Church, while in his inmost self he has not yet
yielded himself to God.

I look around and I see the devil slaying his thousands by setting
them to work in Christian associations and leaving them no time to
think about their own Christianity. My brother! if the cap fits, go
home and put it on.

We see in Joash's life for how long a time a man may go on in this
self-delusion of external and barren service and never know it. Joash
came to the throne at the age of seven. Up till that age he had lived
in the Temple in concealment. Until he was one and thirty he went on
in a steady, upright course, never knowing that there was anything
hollow in his life. Apparently, Jehoiada's long life of one hundred
and thirty years extended over the greater part of Joash's reign,
during most of which he had Jehoiada to direct him and keep him right,
and all this tragedy comes at the tag end of it.

So he went on apparently all right, like a tree that has become quite
hollow, till during some storm it is blown down and falls with a
crash, and it is seen that for years it has been only the skin of a
tree, bark outside, and inside--emptiness.

II. We come now to the second stage in the later life of Joash: His
resistance to the divine pleading.

'And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served
groves and idols, and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for their
trespass, yet He sent prophets to them to bring them again unto the
Lord.' He sent with endless pity, with long-suffering patience. He
would not be put away, and as they increased the distance between Him
and them, He increased His energies to bring them back. But they
lifted themselves up, Joash and his princes, and with that strange,
awful power of resisting the attraction of the divine pleading, and
hardening their hearts against the divine patience--'they would not.'
And then comes the affecting episode of the death of the high priest
Zechariah, who had succeeded to his father's place and likewise to his
heroism, and who, with the Spirit of God upon him, stands up and
pointing out his wickedness, rebukes the fallen monarch for his
apostasy. Joash, doubtless stung to the quick by Zechariah's just
reproaches, allowed the truculent princes to slay him in the court of
the Temple, even between the very shrine and the altar.

What a picture we have here of the divine love which follows every
wanderer with its pleadings and beseechings! It came to this man
through the lips of a prophet. It comes to us all in daily blessings,
sometimes in messages, like these poor words of mine. God will not let
us ruin ourselves without pleading with us and wooing us to love Him
and cling to Him. 'He rises up early' and daily sends us His messages,
sometimes rebukes and voices in our conscience, sometimes sunset glows
and starry heavens lifting our thoughts above this low earth,
sometimes sorrows that are meant to 'drive us to His breast,' and
above all, the 'Gospel of our salvation' in Christ, ever, in such a
land as ours, sounding in our ears.

Still further, we see in Joash what a strange, awful strength of
obstinate resistance, a character weak as regards its resistance to
man, can put forth against God. He never attempted to say 'No!' to the
princes of Judah, but he could say it again and again to his Father in
heaven. He could not but yield to the temptations which were level
with his eyes, and this poor creature, easily swayed by human
allurements and influences, could gather himself together, standing,
as it were, on his little pin point, and say to God, 'Thou dost call
and I refuse.' What a paradox, and yet repetitions of it are sitting
in these pews, only half aware that it is about them that I am
speaking!

The ever-deepening evil which began with forsaking the house of the
Lord and serving Ashtaroth, ends with Joash steeping his hands in
blood. The murder of Zechariah was beyond the common count of crimes,
for it was a foul desecration of the Temple, an act of the blackest
ingratitude to the man who had saved his infant life, and put him on
the throne, an outrage on the claims of family connections, for Joash
and Zechariah were probably blood relations. My brother! once get your
foot upon that steep incline of evil, once forsake the path of what is
good and right and true, and you are very much like a climber who
misses his footing up among the mountain peaks, and down he slides
till he reaches the edge of the precipice and then in an instant is
dashed to pieces at the bottom. Once put your foot on that slippery
slope and you know not where you may fall to.

III. Last comes the final scene: The retribution.

We have that picture of Zechariah, solemnly lifting up his eyes to
heaven and committing his cause to God. 'The Lord look upon it and
require it,' says the martyr priest in the spirit of the old Law. The
dying appeal was soon answered in the invasion of the Syrian army, a
comparatively small company, into whose hands the Lord delivered a
very great host of the Israelites. The defeat was complete, and
possibly Joash's 'great diseases,' of which the narrative speaks,
refer to wounds received in the fight. The end soon comes, for two of
his servants, neither of them Hebrews, one being the son of an
Ammonitess and the other the son of a Moabitess, who were truer to his
religion than he had been, and resolved to revenge Zechariah's death,
entered the room, of the wounded king in the fortress whither he had
retired to hide himself after the fight, and 'slew him on his bed.'
Imagine the grim scene--the two men stealing in, the sick man there on
the bed helpless, the short ghastly struggle and the swift end. What
an end for a life with such a beginning!

Now I am not going to dwell on this retribution, inflicted on Joash,
or on that which comes to us if we are like him, through a loud-voiced
conscience, and a memory which, though it may be dulled and hushed to
sleep at present, is sure to wake some day here or yonder. But I
beseech you to ask yourselves what your outlook is. 'Be not deceived,
God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also
reap.' Is that all? Zechariah said, 'The Lord look upon it and require
it.' The great doctrine of retribution is true for ever. Yes; but our
Zechariah lifts up his eyes to heaven and he says, 'Father! forgive
them, for they know not what they do.' And so, dear brother! you and
I, trusting to that dear Lord, may have all our apostasy forgiven, and
be brought near by the blood of Christ. Let us say with the Apostle
Peter, 'Lord, to whom shall we go but to Thee? Thou hast the words of
eternal life.'



GLAD GIVERS AND FAITHFUL WORKERS

'And it came to pass after this, that Joash was minded to repair the
house of the Lord. 5. And he gathered together the priests and the
Levites, and said to them, go out unto the cities of Judah, and gather
of all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year,
and see that ye hasten the matter. Howbeit the Levites hastened it
not. 6. And the king called for Jehoiada the chief, and said unto him,
Why hast thou not required of the Levites to bring in out of Judah and
out of Jerusalem the collection, according to the commandment of Moses
the servant of the Lord, and of the congregation of Israel, for the
tabernacle of witness' 7. For the sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman,
had broken up the house of God: and also all the dedicated things of
the house of the Lord did they bestow upon Baalim. 8. And at the
king's commandment they made a chest, and set it without at the gate
of the house of the Lord. 9. And they made a proclamation through
Judah and Jerusalem, to bring in to the Lord the collection that Moses
the servant of God laid upon Israel in the wilderness. 10. And all the
princes and all the people rejoiced, and brought in, and cast into the
chest, until they had made an end. 11. Now it came to pass, that at
what time the chest was brought unto the king's office by the hand of
the Levites, and when they saw that there was much money, the king's
scribe and the high priest's officer came and emptied the chest, and
took it, and carried it to his place again. Thus they did day by day,
and gathered money in abundance. 12. And the king and Jehoiada gave it
to such as did the work of the service of the house of the Lord, and
hired masons and carpenters to repair the house of the Lord, and also
such as wrought iron and brass to mend the house of the Lord. 13. So
the workmen wrought, and the work was perfected by them, and they set
the house of God in his state, and strengthened it. 11. And when they
had finished it, they brought the rest of the money before the king
and Jehoiada, whereof were made vessels for the house of the Lord,
even vessels to minister, and to offer withal, and spoons, and vessels
of gold and silver. And they offered burnt offerings in the house of
the Lord continually all the days of Jehoiada.'--2 CHRON. xxiv. 4-14.


Joash owed his life and his throne to the high-priest Jehoiada, who
was his uncle by marriage with the sister of Ahaziah, his father.
Rescued by his aunt when an infant, he 'was with them, hid in the
house of God six years,' and, when seven years old, was made king by
Jehoiada's daring revolt against 'that wicked woman,' Athaliah.
Jehoiada's influence was naturally paramount, and was as wholesome as
strong. It is remarkable, however, that this impulse to repair the
Temple seems to have originated with the king, not with the
high-priest, though no doubt the spirit which conceived the impulse
was largely moulded by the latter. The king, whose childhood had found
a safe asylum in the Temple, might well desire its restoration, even
apart from considerations of religion.

I. The story first brings into strong contrast the eager king, full of
his purpose, and the sluggards to whom he had to entrust its
execution. We can only guess the point in his reign at which Joash
summoned the priests to his help. It was after his marriage (ver. 3),
and considerably before the twenty-third year of his reign, at which
time his patience was exhausted (2 Kings xii. 6). Some years were
apparently wasted by the dawdling sluggishness of the priests, who,
for some reason or other, did not go into the proposed restoration
heartily. Joash seems to have suspected that they would push the work
languidly; for there is a distinct tinge of suspicion and 'whipping
up' in his injunction to 'hasten the matter.'

The first intention was to raise the funds by sending out the priests
and Levites to collect locally the statutory half-shekel, as well as
other contributions mentioned in 2 Kings xii. There we learn that each
collector was to go to 'his acquaintance.' The subscription was to be
spread over some years, and for a while Joash waited quietly; but in
the twenty-third year of his reign (see 2 Kings), he could stand delay
no longer. Whether the priests had been diligent in collecting or not,
they had done nothing towards repairing. Perhaps they found it
difficult to determine the proportion of the money which was needed
for the ordinary expenses of worship, and for the restoration fund;
and, as the former included their own dues and support, they would not
be likely to set it down too low. Perhaps they did not much care to
carry out a scheme which had not begun with themselves; for priests
are not usually eager to promote ecclesiastical renovations suggested
by laymen. Perhaps they did not care as much about the renovation as
the king did, and smiled at his earnestness as a pious imagining.
Possibly there was even deliberate embezzlement. But, at any rate,
there was half-heartedness, and that always means languid work, and
that always means failure. The earnest people are fretted continually
by the indifferent. Every good scheme is held back, like a ship with a
foul bottom, by the barnacles that stick to its keel and bring down
its speed. Professional ecclesiastics in all ages have succumbed to
the temptation of thinking that 'church property' was first of all to
be used for their advantage, and, secondarily, for behoof of God's
house. Eager zeal has in all ages to be yoked to torpid indifference,
and to drag its unwilling companion along, like two dogs in a leash.
Direct opposition is easier to bear than apparent assistance which
tries to slow down to half speed.

Joash's command is imperative on all workers for God. 'See that ye
hasten the matter,' for time is short, the fruit great, the evening
shadows lengthening, the interests at stake all-important, and the
Lord of the harvest will soon come to count our sheaves. Whatever work
may be done without haste, God's cannot be, and a heavy curse falls on
him who 'does the work of the Lord negligently.' The runner who keeps
well on this side of fatigue, panting, and sweat, has little chance of
the crown.

II. The next step is the withdrawal of the work from the sluggards.
They are relieved both of the collection and expenditure of the money.
Apparently (2 Kings xii. 9) the contributors handed their donations to
the doorkeepers, who put them into the chest with 'a hole in the lid
of it,' in the sight of the donors. The arrangement was not flattering
to the hierarchy, but as appearances were saved by Jehoiada's making
the chest (see 2 Kings) they had to submit with the best grace they
could. In our own times, we have seen the same thing often enough.
When clergy have maladministered church property, Parliament has
appointed ecclesiastical commissioners. Common sense prescribes taking
slovenly work out of lazy hands. The more rigidly that principle is
carried out in the church and the nation, at whatever cost of
individual humiliation, the better for both. 'The tools to the hands
that can use them' is the ideal for both. God's dealings follow the
same law, both in withdrawing opportunities of service and in giving
more of such. The reward for work is more work, and the punishment for
sloth is compulsory idleness.

III. We are next shown the glad givers. Probably suspicion had been
excited in others than the king, and had checked liberality. People
will not give freely if the expenses of the collectors' support
swallow up the funds. It is hard to get help for a vague scheme, which
unites two objects, and only gives the balance, after the first is
provided for, to the second and more important. So the whole nation,
both high and low, was glad when the new arrangement brought a clear
issue, and secured the right appropriation of the money.

No doubt, too, Joash's earnestness kindled others. Chronicles speaks
only of the 'tax,'--that is, the half-shekel,--but Kings mentions two
other sources, one of which is purely spontaneous gifts, and these are
implied by the tone of verse 10, which lays stress on the gladness of
the offerers. That is the incense which adds fragrance to our gifts.
Grudging service is no service, and money given for ever so religious
a purpose, without gladness because of the opportunity of giving, is
not, in the deepest sense, given at all. Love is a longing to give to
the beloved, and whoever truly loves God will know no keener delight
than surrender for His dear sake. Pecuniary contributions for
religious purposes afford a rough but real test of the depth of a
man's religion; but it is one available only for himself, since the
motive, and not the amount, is the determining element. We all need to
bring our hearts more under the Influence of God's love to us, that
our love to Him may be increased, and then to administer possessions,
under the impulse to glad giving which enkindled love will always
excite. Super-heated steam has most expansive power and driving force.
These glad givers may remind us not only of the one condition of
acceptable giving, but also of the need for clear and worthy objects,
and of obvious disinterestedness in those who seek for money to help
good causes. The smallest opening for suspicion that some of it sticks
to the collector's fingers is fatal, as it should be.

IV. Joash was evidently a business-like king. We next hear of the
precautions he took to secure the public confidence. There was a rough
but sufficient audit. When the chest grew heavy, and sounded full, two
officials received it at the 'king's office.' The Levites carried it
there, but were not allowed to handle the contents. The two tellers
represented the king and the chief priest, and thus both the civil and
religious authorities were satisfied, and each officer was a check on
the other. Public money should never be handled by a man alone; and an
honest one will always wish, like Paul, to have a brother associated
with him, that no man may blame him in his administration of it. If we
take 'day by day' literally, we have a measure of the liberality which
filled the chest daily; but, more probably, the expression simply
means 'from time to time,' when occasion required.

V. The application of the money is next narrated. In this Jehoiada is
associated with Joash, the king probably desiring to smooth over any
slight that might seem to have been put on the priests, as well as
being still under the influence of the high-priest's strong character
and early kindness. Together they passed over the results of the
contribution to the contractors, who in turn paid it in wages to the
workmen who repaired the fabric, such as masons and carpenters, and to
other artisans who restored other details, such as brass and iron
work. The Second Book of Kings tells us that Joash's cautious
provision against misappropriation seems to have deserted him at this
stage; for no account was required of the workmen, 'for they dealt
faithfully.' That is an indication of their goodwill. The humble
craftsmen were more reliable than the priests. They had, no doubt,
given their half-shekel like others, and now they gladly gave their
work, and were not hirelings, though they were hired. We, too, have to
give our money and our labour; and if our hearts are right, we shall
give both with the same conscientious cheerfulness, and, if we are
paid in coin for our work, will still do it for higher reasons and
looking for other wages. These Temple workmen may stand as patterns of
what religion should do for those of us whose lot is to work with our
hands,--and not less for others who have to toil with their brains,
and the sweat of whose brow is inside their heads. A Christian workman
should be a 'faithful' workman, and will be so if he is full of faith.

Joash knew when to trust and when to keep a sharp eye on men. His
experience with the priests had not soured him into suspecting
everybody. Cynical disbelief in honesty is more foolish and hurtful to
ourselves than even excessive trust. These workmen wrought all the
more faithfully because they knew that they were trusted, and in nine
cases out of ten men will try to live up to our valuation of them. The
Rugby boys used to say, 'It's a shame to tell Arnold a lie, he always
believes us.' Better to be cheated once than to treat the nine as
rogues,--better for them and better for ourselves.

'Faithful' work is prosperous work. As verse 13 picturesquely says,
'Healing went up upon the work'; and the Temple was restored to its
old fair proportions, and stood strong as before. Where there is
conscientious effort, God's blessing is not withheld. Labour 'in the
Lord' can never be empty labour, though even a prophet may often be
tempted, in a moment of weary despondency, to complain, 'I have
laboured in vain.' We may not see the results, nor have the workmen's
joy of beholding the building rise, course by course, under our hands,
but we shall see it one day, though now we have to work in the dark.

There seems a discrepancy between the statements in Chronicles and
Kings as to the source from which the cost of the sacrificial vessels
was defrayed, since, according to the former, it was from the
restoration fund, which is expressly denied by the latter. The
explanation seems reasonable, that, as Chronicles says, it was from
the balance remaining after all restoration charges were liquidated,
that this other expenditure was met. First, the whole amount was
sacredly devoted to the purpose for which it had been asked, and then,
when the honest overseers repaid the uncounted surplus, which they
might have kept, it was found sufficient to meet the extra cost of
furnishing. God blesses the faithful steward of his gifts with more
than enough for the immediate service, and the best use of the surplus
is to do more with it for Him. 'God is able to make all grace abound
unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in every thing, may
abound unto every good work, ... being enriched in every thing unto
all liberality.'



PRUDENCE AND FAITH

'And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the
hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel? And the man
of God answered, The Lord is able to give thee much more than
this.'--2 CHRON. xxv. 9.


The character of this Amaziah, one of the Kings of Judah, is summed up
by the chronicler in a damning epigram: 'He did that which was right
in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.' He was one of
your half-and-half people, or, as Hosea says, 'a cake not turned,'
burnt black on one side, and raw dough on the other. So when he came
to the throne, in the buoyancy and insolence of youth, he immediately
began to aim at conquests in the neighbouring little states; and in
order to strengthen himself he hired 'a hundred thousand mighty men of
valour' out of Israel for a hundred talents of silver. To seek help
from Israel was, in a prophet's eyes, equivalent to flinging off help
from God. So a man of God comes to him, and warns him that the Lord is
not with Israel, and that the alliance is not permissible for him.
But, instead of yielding to the prophet's advice, he parries it with
this misplaced question, 'But what shall we do for the hundred talents
that I have given to the army of Israel?' He does not care to ask
whether the counsel that he is receiving is right or wrong, or whether
what he is intending to do is in conformity with, or in opposition to,
the will of God, but, passing by all such questions, at once he
fastens on the lower consideration of expediency--'What is to become
of me if I do as this prophet would have me do? What a heavy loss one
hundred talents will be! It is too much to sacrifice to a scruple of
that sort. It cannot be done.'

A great many of us may take a lesson from this man. There are two
things in my text--a misplaced question and a triumphant answer: 'What
shall we do for the hundred talents?' 'The Lord is able to give thee
much more than this.' Now, remarkably enough, both question and answer
may be either very right or very wrong, according as they are taken,
and I purpose to look at those two aspects of each.

I. A misplaced question.

I call it misplaced because Amaziah's fault, and the fault of a great
many of us, was, not that he took consequences into account, but that
he took them into account at the wrong time. The question should have
come second, not first. Amaziah's first business should have been to
see clearly what was duty; and then, and not till then, the next
business should have been to consider consequences.

Consider the right place and way of putting this question. Many of us
make shipwreck of our lives because, with our eyes shut, we determine
upon some grand design, and fall under the condemnation of the man
that 'began to build, and was not able to finish.' He drew a great
plan of a stately mansion; and then found that he had neither money in
the bank, nor stones in his quarry, to finish it, and so it stood--a
ruin. All through our Lord's life He was engaged rather in repressing
volunteers than in soliciting recruits, and He from time to time
poured a douche of cold water upon swiftly effervescing desires to go
after Him. When the multitudes followed Him, He turned and said to
them, 'If you are counting on being My disciples, understand what it
means: take up the cross and follow Me.' When an enthusiastic man, who
had not looked consequences in the face, came rushing to Him and said:
'Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest,' His answer to him
was another pull at the string of the shower bath: 'The Son of Man
hath not where to lay His head.' When the two disciples came to him
and said: 'Grant that we may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the
other on Thy left, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom,' He said: 'Are
ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with
the baptism that I am baptized withal?' Look the facts in the face
before you make your election. Jesus Christ will enlist no man under
false pretences. Recruiting-sergeants tell country bumpkins or city
louts wonderful stories of what they will get if they take the
shilling and put on the king's uniform; but Jesus Christ does not
recruit His soldiers in that fashion. If a man does not open his eyes
to a clear vision of the consequences of his actions, his life will go
to water in all directions. And there is no region in which such clear
insight into what is going to follow upon my determinations and the
part that I take is more necessary than in the Christian life. It is
just because in certain types of character, 'the word is received with
joy,' and springs up immediately, that when 'the sun is risen with a
burning heat'--that is, as Christ explains, when the pinch of
difficulty comes--'immediately they fall away,' and all their grand
resolutions go to nothing. 'Lightly come, lightly go.' Let us face the
facts of what is involved, in the way of sacrifice, surrender, loss,
if we determine to be on Christ's side; and then, when the anticipated
difficulties come, we shall neither be perplexed nor swept away, but
be able quietly to say, 'I discounted it all beforehand; I knew it was
coming.' The storm catches the ship that is carrying full sail and
expecting nothing but light and favourable breezes; while the captain
that looked into the weather quarter and saw the black cloud beginning
to rise above the horizon, and took in his sails and made his vessel
snug and tight, rides out the gale. It is wisdom that becomes a man,
to ask this question, if first of all he has asked, 'What ought I to
do?'

But we have here an instance of a right thing in a wrong place. It was
right to ask the question, but wrong to ask it at that point. Amaziah
thought nothing about duty. There sprang up in his mind at once the
cowardly and ignoble thought: 'I cannot afford to do what is right,
because it will cost me a hundred talents,' and that was his sin.
Consequences may be, must be, faced in anticipation, or a man is a
fool. He that allows the clearest perception of disagreeable
consequences, such as pain, loss of ease, loss of reputation, loss of
money, or any other harmful results that may follow, to frighten him
out of the road that he knows he ought to take, is a worse fool still,
for he is a coward and recreant to his own conscience.

We have to look into our own hearts for the most solemn and pressing
illustrations of this sin, and I daresay we all of us can remember
clear duties that we have neglected, because we did not like to face
what would come from them. A man in business will say, 'I cannot
afford to have such a high standard of morality; I shall be hopelessly
run over in the race with my competitors if I do not do as they do,'
or he will say, 'I durst not take a stand as an out-and-out Christian;
I shall lose connections, I shall lose position. People will laugh at
me. What am I to do for the hundred talents?'

But we can find the same thing in Churches. I do not mean to enter
upon controversial questions, but as an instance, I may remind you
that one great argument that our friends who believe in an Established
Church are always bringing forward, is just a modern form of Amaziah's
question, 'What shall we do for the hundred talents? How could the
Church be maintained, how could its ministrations be continued, if its
State-provided revenues were withdrawn or given up?' But it is not
only Anglicans who put the consideration of the consequences of
obedience in the wrong place. All the Churches are but too apt to let
their eyes wander from reading the plain precepts of the New Testament
to looking for the damaging results to be expected from keeping them.
Do we not sometimes hear, as answer to would-be reformers, 'We cannot
afford to give up this, that, or the other practice? We should not be
able to hold our ground, unless we did so-and-so and so-and-so.'

But not only individuals or Churches are guilty in this matter. The
nation takes a leaf out of Amaziah's book, and puts aside many plain
duties, for no better reason than that it would cost too much to do
them. 'What is the use of talking about suppressing the liquor traffic
or housing the poor? Think of the cost.' The 'hundred talents' block
the way and bribe the national conscience. For instance, the opium
traffic; how is it defended? Some attempt is made to prove either that
we did not force it upon China, or that the talk about the evils of
opium is missionary fanaticism, but the sheet-anchor is: 'How are we
ever to raise the Indian revenue if we give up the traffic?' That is
exactly Amaziah over again, come from the dead, and resurrected in a
very ugly shape.

So national policy and Church action, and--what is of far more
importance to you and me than either the one or the other,--our own
personal relation to Jesus Christ and discipleship to Him, have been
hampered, and are being hampered, just by that persistent and unworthy
attitude of looking at the consequences of doing plain duties, and
permitting ourselves to be frightened from the duties because the
consequences are unwelcome to us.

Prudence is all right, but when prudence takes command and presumes to
guide conscience, then it is all wrong. In some courts of law and in
certain cases, the judge has an assessor sitting beside him, an expert
about some of the questions that are involved. Conscience is the
judge, prudence the assessor. But if the assessor ventures up on the
judgment-seat, and begins to give the decisions which it is not his
business to give--for _his_ only business is to give advice--then
the only thing to do with the assessor is to tell him to hold his
tongue and let the judge speak. It is no answer to the prophet's
prohibition to say, 'But what shall I do for the hundred talents?' A
yet better answer than the prophet gave Amaziah would have been,
'Never mind about the hundred talents; do what is right, and leave the
rest to God.' However, that was not the answer.

II. The triumphant answer.

'The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.' Now, this answer,
like the question, may be right or wrong, according as it is taken. In
what aspect is it wrong? In what sense is it not true? I suppose this
prophet did not mean more than the undeniable truth that God was able
to give Amaziah more than a hundred talents. He was not thinking of
the loftier meanings which we necessarily, as Christian people, at a
later stage of Revelation, and with a clearer vision of many things,
attach to the words. He simply meant, 'You will very likely get more
than the hundred talents that you have lost, if you do what pleases
God.' He was speaking from the point of view of the Old Testament;
though even in the Old Testament we have instances enough that
prosperity did not always attend righteousness. In the Old Testament
we find the Book of Job, and the Book of Ecclesiastes, and many a
psalm, all of which were written in order to grapple with the
question, 'How is it that God does not give the good man more than the
hundred talents that he has lost for the sake of being good?' It is
not true, and it is a dangerous mistake to suggest that it is true,
that a man in this world never loses by being a good, honest,
consistent Christian. He often does lose a great deal, as far as this
world is concerned; and he has to make up his mind to lose it, and it
would be a very poor thing to say to him, 'Now, live like a Christian
man, and if you are flinging away money or anything else because of
your Christianity, you will get it back.' No; you will not, in a good
many cases. Sometimes you will, and sometimes you will not. It does
not matter whether you do or do not.

But the sense in which the triumphant answer of the prophet is true is
a far higher one. 'The Lord is able to give thee much more than
this,'--what is 'more'? a thousand talents? No; the 'much more' that
Christianity has educated us to understand is meant in the depths of
such a promise as this is, first of all, character. Every man that
sacrifices anything to convictions of duty gains more than he loses
thereby, because he gains an inward nobleness and strength, to say
nothing of the genial warmth of an approving conscience. And whilst
that is true in all regions of life, it is most especially true in
regard to sacrifices made from Christian principle. No matter how
disastrous may be the results externally, the inward results of
faithfulness are so much greater and sweeter and nobler than all the
external evil consequences that may follow, that it is 'good policy'
for a man to beggar himself for Christ's sake, for the sake of the
durable riches--which our Lord Himself explains to be synonymous with
righteousness--which will come thereby. He that wins strength and
Christ-likeness of character by sacrificing for Christ has won far
more than he can ever lose.

He wins not only character, but a fuller capacity for a fuller
possession of Jesus Christ Himself, and that is infinitely more than
anything that any man has ever sacrificed for the sake of that dear
Lord. Do you remember when it was that there was granted to the
Apostle John the vision of the throned Christ, and that he felt laid
upon him the touch of the vivifying Hand from Heaven? It was 'when I
was in Patmos for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus.' He
lost Ephesus; he gained an open heaven and a visible Christ. Do you
remember who it was that said, 'I have suffered the loss of all
things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ'? It was a
good bargain, Paul! The balance-sheet showed a heavy balance to your
credit. Debit, 'all things'; credit, 'Christ.' 'The Lord is able to
give thee much more than this.'

Remember the old prophecy: 'For brass I will bring gold; and for iron,
silver.' The brass and the iron may be worth something, but if we
barter them away and get instead gold and silver, we are gainers by
the transaction. Fling out the ballast if you wish the balloon to
rise. Let the hundred talents go if you wish to get 'the more than
this.' And listen to the New Testament variation of this man of God's
promise, 'If thou wilt have treasure in heaven, go and sell all that
thou hast, and follow Me.'



JOTHAM

'So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the Lord
his God.'--2 CHRON. xxvii 6.


This King Jotham is one of the obscurer of the Jewish monarchs, and we
know next to nothing about him. The most memorable event in his reign
is that 'in the year when King Uzziah,' his father, 'died,' and
consequently in Jotham's first year, Isaiah saw the Lord sitting in
the Temple on the empty throne, and had the lips which were to utter
so many immortal words touched with fire from the altar. Whether it
were the effect of the prophet's words, or from other causes, the
little that is told of him is good, and he is eulogised as having
imitated his father's God-pleasing acts, and not having stained
himself by repeating his father's sin. The rest that we hear of him in
Chronicles is a mere sketch of campaigns, buildings, and victories,
and then he and his reign are summed up in the words of our text,
which is the analysis of the man and the disclosure of the secret of
his prosperity: 'He became mighty, because he prepared his ways'--and,
more than that, 'he prepared them before the Lord his God.'

So then, if we begin, as it were, at the bottom, as we ought to do, in
studying a character, taking the deepest thing first, and laying hold
upon the seminal and germinal principle of the whole, this text
reminds us that--The secret of true strength lies in the continual
recognition that life is lived 'Before the Lord our God.'

Now to say, 'Walk thou _before_ Me,' the command given to
Abraham, suggests a somewhat different modification of the idea from
the apparently parallel phrase, 'to walk _with_ God' which is
declared to have been the life's habit of Enoch. The one expression
suggests simple companionship and communion; the other suggests rather
the vivid and continual realisation of the thought that we are 'ever
in the great Taskmaster's eye.' To walk before God is to feel
thrillingly and continually, and yet without being abased or crushed
or discomposed, but rather being encouraged and quickened and calmed
and ennobled and gladdened thereby: 'Thou God seest me.' It seems to
me that one of the plainest pieces of Christian duty, and, alas! one
of the most neglected of them, is the cultivation, definitely and
consciously, by effort and by self-discipline, of that consciousness
as a present factor in all our lives, and an influencing motive in
everything that we do. If once we could bring before the eye of our
minds that great, blazing, white throne, and Him that sits upon it, we
should want nothing else to burn up the commonplaces of life, and to
flash its insignificance into splendour and awfulness. We should want
nothing else to lift us to a 'solemn scorn of ills,' and to deliver us
from the false sweetnesses and fading delights that grow on the low
levels of a sense-bound life! Brethren! our whole life would be
transformed and glorified, and we should be different men and women if
we ordered our ways as '_before the Lord our God_.' What meanness
could live when we knew that it was seen by those pure Eyes? How we
should be ashamed of ourselves, of our complaints, of our murmurings,
of our reluctance to do our duty, of our puerile regrets for vanished
blessings, and of all the low cares and desires that beset and spoil
our lives, if once this thought, 'before God,' were habitual with us,
and we walked in it as in an atmosphere!

Why is it not? and might it not be? and if it might not, ought it not
to be? And what are we to say to Him whom we profess to love as our
Supreme Good, if all the day long the thought of Him seldom comes into
our minds, and if any triviality, held near the eye, is large enough
and bright enough to shut Him out from our sight? With deep ethical
significance and accuracy was the command given to Abraham as the
sole, all-sufficient direction for both inward and outward life: 'Walk
before Me and (so) be thou perfect.' For indeed the full
realisation--adequate and constant and solid enough to be a motive--of
'Thou God seest me,' would be found to contain practical directions in
regard to all moral difficulties, and would unfailingly detect the
evil, howsoever wrapped up, and would carry in itself not only motive
but impulse, not only law but power to fulfil it. The Master's eye
makes diligent servants. How schoolboys bend themselves over their
slates and quicken their effort when the teacher is walking behind the
benches! And how a gang of idle labourers will buckle to the spade and
tax their muscles in an altogether different fashion when the overseer
appears upon the field! If we realised, as we should do, the presence
in all our little daily life of that great, sovereign Lord, there
would be less skulking, less superficially performed tasks, less jerry
work put into our building; more of our strength cast into all our
work, and less of ourselves in any of it.

Remember, too, how connected with this is another piece of effort
needful in the religious life, and suggested by the last words of this
text, 'Before the Lord _his_ God.' Cultivate the habit of
narrowing down the general truths of religion to their relation to
yourselves. Do not be content with 'the Lord _our_ God,' or 'the
Lord the God of the whole earth,' but put a 'my' in, and realise not
only the presence of a divine Inspector, but the closeness of the
personal bond that unites to Him; and the individual responsibility,
in all its width and depth and unshiftableness--if I may use such a
word--which results therefrom. You cannot shake off or step out of the
tasks that 'the Lord _your_ God' lays upon you. You and He are as
if alone in the world. Make Him your God by choice, by your own
personal acceptance of His authority and dependence upon His power,
and try to translate into daily life the great truth, 'Thou God seest
_me_,' and bring it to bear upon the veriest trifles and smallest
details.

Now the text follows the order of observation, so to speak, and
mentions the outward facts of Jotham's success before it goes deeper
and accounts for them. We have reversed the process and dealt first
with the cause. The spring of all lay in his conscious recognition of
his relation to God and God's to him. From that, of course, followed
that he 'prepared,' according to the Authorised Version, or 'ordered,'
according to the Revised Version, 'his ways.' There is an alternative
rendering of the word rendered 'prepared' or 'ordered' given in the
margin of the Authorised Version, which reads, 'established his ways.'
Both the ideas of ordering and establishing are contained in the word.

Now that fact, that the same word means both these, conveys a piece of
practical wisdom, which it will do us all good to note clearly and
take to heart. For it teaches us that whatever is 'ordered' is firm,
and whatever is disorderly, haphazard, done without the exercise of
one's mind on the act, being chaotic, is necessarily short-lived.

The ordered life is the established life. The life of impulse, chance,
passion, the life that is lived without choice and plan, without
reflection and consideration of consequences, the following of nature,
which some people tell us is the highest law, and which is woefully
likely to degenerate into following the _lower_ nature, which
ought not to be followed, but covered and kept under hatches--such a
life is sure to be a topsy-turvy life, which, being based upon the
narrowest point, must, by the laws of equilibrium, topple over sooner
or later. If you would have your lives established, they must be
ordered. You must bring your brains to bear upon them, and you must
bring more than brain, you must bring to bear on every part of them
the spiritual instincts that are quickened by contact with the thought
of the All-seeing God, and let these have the ordering of them. Such
lives, and only such, will endure 'when all that seems shall suffer
shock.' 'He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.'

But the lesson that is pressed upon us by this word, understood in the
other meanings of 'prepared' or 'ordered,' is that all our 'ways,'
that is, our practical life, our acts, direction of mind, habits,
should be regulated by continual consciousness of, and reference to,
the All-discerning Eye that looks down upon us, and 'the God in whose
hands our breath is, and whose are'--whether we make them so or
not--'all our ways.' To translate that into less picturesque, and less
forcible, but more modern words, it is just this: You Christian people
ought to make it a point of duty to cultivate the habit of referring
everything that you do to the will and judgment of God. Take Him into
account in everything great or small, and in nothing say, 'Thus I
will, thus I command. My will shall stand instead of all other
reasons'; but say, 'Lord! by Thee and for Thee I try to do this'; and
having done it, say, 'Lord! the seed is sown in Thy name; bless Thou
the springing thereof.' Works thus begun, continued and ended, will
never be put to confusion, and 'ways' thus ordered will be
established. A path of righteousness like that can no more fail to be
a way of peace than can God's throne ever totter or fall. An ordered
life in which He is consulted, and which is all shaped at His bidding,
and by His strength, and for His dear name, will 'stand four-square to
all the winds that blow,' and, being founded upon a rock, will never
fall.

But we may also note that in the strength of that thought, that we are
before the Lord our God, we shall best establish our ways in the sense
that we shall keep on steadily and doggedly on the path. Well begun
may be half ended, but there is often a long dreary grind before it is
wholly ended, and the last half of the march is the wearisome half.
The Bible has a great deal to say about the need of obstinate
persistence on the right road. 'Ye did run well, what did hinder you?'
'Cast not away your confidence, which hath great recompense of
reward.' 'We are made partakers of Christ if we hold fast the
beginning of our confidence firm unto the end.' 'He that overcometh
and keepeth My words unto the end, to him will I give authority.'
Lives which derive their impulse from communion with God will not come
to a dead stop half-way on their road, like a motor the fuel of which
fails; and it will be impossible for any man to 'endure unto the end'
and so to be heir of the promise--'the same shall be saved,' unless he
draws his persistency from Him who 'fainteth not, neither is weary'
and who 'reneweth strength to them that have no might' so that in all
the monotonous levels they shall 'walk and not faint,' and in all the
crises, demanding brief spurts of energy, 'they shall run and not be
weary,' and at last 'shall mount up with wings as eagles.' A path
ordered and a path persisted in ought to be the path of every
Christian man.

The text finally tells of the prosperity and growing power which
attends such a course. 'Jotham became mighty.' That was simple outward
blessing. His kingdom prospered, and, according to the theocratic
constitution of Judah, faithfulness to God and material well-being
went together. You cannot apply these words, of course, to the outward
lives of Christians. It is no doubt true that 'Godliness _is_
profitable for all things,' but there are a great many other things
besides the godliness of the man that does them which determine
whether a man's undertakings shall prosper in the world's sense or
not. It would be a pitiable thing if the full revelation of God in
Christ did not teach us Christians more about the meaning and the
worth of outward success and inward prosperity than the Old Testament
could teach. I hope we have learned that lesson; at least, it is not
the fault of our lesson book if we have not. Although it is true that
religion does make the best of both worlds, it does not do so by
taking the world's estimate of what its best for to-day is, and giving
a religious man _that_. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it does
not, and whether it does or no depends on other considerations than
the reality of the man's devotion. Good men are often made better by
being made sad and unsuccessful. And if they are not bettered by
adversity, it is not the fault of the discipline but of the people who
undergo it.

But though the husk of my text falls away--and we should thank God
that it has fallen away--the kernel of it is ever true. Whosoever will
thus root his life in the living thought of a loving, divine Eye being
perpetually upon him, and make that thought a motive for holiness and
loving obedience and effort after service, will find that the true
success, the only success and the only strength that are worth a man's
ambition to desire or his effort to secure, will assuredly be his. He
may be voted a failure as regards the world's prizes. But a man that
'orders his ways,' and perseveres in ways thus ordered, 'before the
Lord' will for reward get more power to order his ways, and a purer
and more thrilling, less interrupted and more childlike vision of the
Face that looks upon him. God's 'eyes behold the upright,' and the
upright behold His eyes, and in the interchange of glances there is
power; and in that power is the highest reward for ordered lives. We
shall get power to do, power to bear, power to think aright, power to
love, power to will, power to behold, power to deny ourselves, 'power
to become sons of God.' This is the success of life, when out of all
its changes, and by reason of all its efforts, we realise more fully
our filial possession of our Father, and our Father's changeless love
to us. We shall become mighty with the might that is born of obedience
and faith if we order our ways before the Lord our God. 'The path of
the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more until the
noontide of the day.'



COSTLY AND FATAL HELP

'He sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he
said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will
I sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of
him, and of all Israel.'--2 CHRON. xxviii. 23.


Ahaz came to the throne when a youth of twenty. From the beginning he
reversed the policy of his father, and threw himself into the arms of
the heathen party. In a comparatively short reign of sixteen years he
stamped out the worship of God, and nearly ruined the kingdom.

He did not plunge into idolatry for want of good advice. The greatest
of the prophets stood beside him. Isaiah addressed to him
remonstrances which might have made the most reckless pause, and
promises which might have kindled hope and courage in the bosom of
despair. Hosea in the northern kingdom, Micah in Judah, and other less
brilliant names were amongst the stars which shone even in that dark
night. But their light was all in vain. The foolish lad had got the
bit between his teeth, and, like many another young man, thought to
show his 'breadth' and his 'spirit' by neglecting his father's
counsellors, and abandoning his father's faith. He was ready to
worship anything that called itself a god, always excepting Jehovah.
He welcomed Baal, Moloch, Rimmon, and many more with an indiscriminate
eagerness that would have been ludicrous if it had not been tragical.
The more he multiplied his gods the more he multiplied his sorrows,
and the more he multiplied his sorrows the more he multiplied his
gods.

From all sides the invaders came. From north, northeast, east,
south-east, south, they swarmed in upon him. They tore away the
fringes of his kingdom; and hostile armies flaunted their banners
beneath the very walls of Jerusalem.

And then, in his despair, like a scorpion in a circle of fire, he
inflicted a deadly wound on himself by calling in the fatal help of
Assyria. Nothing loth, that warlike power responded, scattered his
less formidable foes, and then swallowed the prey which it had dragged
from between the teeth of the Israelites and Syrians. The result of
Ahaz's frantic appeals to false gods and faithless men may still be
read on the cuneiform inscriptions, where, amidst a long list of
unknown tributary kings, stands, with a Philistine on one side of him
and an Ammonite on the other, the shameful record, 'Ahaz of Judah.'

That was what came of forsaking the God of his fathers. It is a type
of what always has come, and always must come, of a godless life. That
is the point of view from which I wish to look at the story, and at
these words of my text which gather the whole spirit of it into one
sentence.

I. First, then, let me ask you to notice how this narrative
illustrates for us the crowd of vain helpers to which a man has to
take when he turns his back upon God.

If we compare the narrative in our chapter with the parallel in the
Second Book of Kings, we get a very vivid picture of the strange
medley of idolatries which they introduced. Amongst Ahaz's new gods
are, for instance, the golden calves of Israel and the ferocious
Moloch of Ammon, to whom he sacrificed, passing through the fire at
least one of his own children. The ancient sacred places of the
Canaanites, on every high hill and beneath every conspicuous tree,
again smoked with incense to half-forgotten local deities. In every
open space in Jerusalem he planted a brand-new altar with a brand-new
worship attendant upon it. In the Temple, he brushed aside the altar
that Solomon had made and put up a new one, copied from one which he
had seen at Damascus. The importation of the Damascene altar, I
suppose, meant, as our text tells us, the importation of the Damascene
gods along with it.

Side by side with that multiplication of false deities went the almost
entire neglect of the worship of Jehovah, until at last, as his reign
advanced and he floundered deeper into his troubles, the Temple was
spoiled, everything in it that could be laid hands upon was sent to
the melting-pot, to pay the Assyrian tribute; and then the doors were
shut, the lamps extinguished, the fire quenched on the cold altars,
and the silent Temple left to the bats and--_the Shekinah_; for
God still abode in the deserted house.

Further, side by side with this appealing all round the horizon to
whatsoever obscene and foul shape seemed to promise some help, there
went the foolish appeal to the northern invaders to come and aid him,
which they did, to his destruction. His whole career is that of a
godless and desperate man who will grasp at anything that offers
deliverance, and will worship any god or devil who will extricate him
from his troubles.

Is the breed extinct, think you? Is there any one among us who, if he
cannot get what he wants by fair ways, will try to get it by foul? Do
none of you ever bow down to Satan for a slice of the kingdoms of this
world? Ahaz has still plenty of brothers and sisters in all our
churches and chapels.

This story illustrates for us what, alas! is only too true, both on
the broad scale, as to the generation in which we live, and on the
narrower field of our own individual lives. Look at the so-called
cultured classes of Europe to-day; turning away, as so many of them
are, from the Lord God of their fathers; what sort of gods are they
worshipping instead? Scraps from Buddhism, the Vedas, any sacred books
but the Bible; quackeries, and charlatanism, arid dreams, and
fragmentary philosophies all pieced together, to try and make up a
whole, instead of the old-fashioned whole that they have left behind
them. There are men and women in many congregations who, in modern
fashion, are doing precisely the thing that Ahaz did--having abandoned
Christianity, they are trying to make up for it by hastily stitching
together shreds and patches that they have found in other systems.
'The garment is narrower than that a man can wrap himself in it,' and
a creed patched together so will never make a seamless whole which can
be trusted not to rend.

But look, further, how the same thing is true as to the individual
lives of godless men.

Many of us are trying to make up for not having the One by seeking to
stay our hearts on the many. But no accumulation of insufficiencies
will ever make a sufficiency. You may fill the heaven all over with
stars, bright and thickly set as those in the whitest spot in the
galaxy, and it will be night still. Day needs the sun, and the sun is
one, and when it comes the twinkling lights are forgotten. You cannot
make up for God by any extended series of creatures, any more than a
row of figures that stretched from here to _Sirius_ and back
again would approximate to infinitude.

The very fact of the multitude of helpers is a sign that none of them
is sufficient. There is no end of 'cures' for toothache, that is to
say there is none. There is no end of helps for men that have
abandoned God, that is to say, every one in turn when it is tried, and
the stress of the soul rests upon it, gives, and is found to be a
broken staff that pierces the hand that leans upon it.

Consult your own experience. What is the meaning of the unrest and
distraction that mark the lives of most of the men in this generation?
Why is it that you hurry from business to pleasure, from pleasure to
business, until it is scarcely possible to get a quiet breathing time
for thought at all? Why is it but because one after another of your
gods have proved insufficient, and so fresh altars must be built for
fresh idolatries, and new experiments made, of which we can safely
prophesy the result will be the old one. We have not got beyond St.
Augustine's saying:--'Oh, God! my heart was made for Thee, and in Thee
only doth it find repose.' The many idols, though you multiply them
beyond count, all put together will never make the One God. You are
seeking what you will never find. The many pearls that you seek will
never be enough for you. The true wealth is One, 'One pearl of great
price.'

II. So notice again how this story teaches the heavy cost of these
helpers' help.

Ahaz had, as he thought, two strings to his bow. He had the gods of
Damascus and of other lands on one hand, he had the king of Assyria on
another. They both of them exacted onerous terms before they would
stir a foot to his aid. As for the northern conqueror, all the wealth
of the king and of the princes and of the Temple was sent to Assyria
as the price of his hurtful help. As for the gods, his helpers, one of
his sons at least went into the furnace to secure their favour; and
what other sacrifices he may have made besides the sacrifice of his
conscience and his soul, history does not tell us. These were
considerable subsidies to have to be paid down before any aid was
granted.

Do _you_ buy this world's help any cheaper, my brother? You get
nothing for nothing in that market. It is a big price that you have to
pay before these mercenaries will come to fight on your side. Here is
a man that 'succeeds in life,' as we call it. What does it cost him?
Well! it has cost him the suppression, the atrophy by disuse, of many
capacities in his soul which were far higher and nobler than those
that have been exercised in his success. It has cost him all his days;
it has possibly cost him the dying out of generous sympathies and the
stimulating of unwholesome selfishness. Ah! he has bought his
prosperity very dear. Political economists have much to say about the
'appreciation of gold.' I think if people would estimate what they pay
for it, in an immense majority of cases, in treasure that cannot be
weighed and stamped, they would find it to be about the dearest thing
in God's universe; and that there are few men who make worse bargains
than the men who give _themselves_ for worldly success, even when
they receive what they give themselves for.

There are some of you who know how much what you call enjoyment has
cost you. Some of us have bought pleasure at the price of innocence,
of moral dignity, of stained memories, of polluted imaginations, of an
incapacity to rise above the flesh: and some of us have bought it at
the price of health. The world has a way of getting more out of you
than it gives to you.

At the best, if you are not Christian men and women, whether you are
men of business, votaries of pleasure, seekers after culture and
refinement or anything else, you have given Heaven to get earth. Is
that a good bargain? Is it much wiser than that of a horde of naked
savages that sell a great tract of fair country, with gold-bearing
reefs in it, for a bottle of rum, and a yard or two of calico? What is
the difference? You have been fooled out of the inheritance which God
meant for you; and you have got for it transient satisfaction, and
partial as it is transient. If you are not Christian people, you have
to buy this world's wealth and goods at the price of God and of your
own souls. And I ask you if that is an investment which recommends
itself to your common sense. Oh! my brother; 'what shall it profit a
man if he gain the whole world, and lose himself?' Answer the
question.

III. Lastly, we may gather from this story an illustration of the
fatal falsehood of the world's help.

Ahaz pauperised himself to buy the hireling swords of Assyria, and he
got them; but, as it says in the narrative, 'the king came unto him,
and distressed him, but strengthened him not.' He helped Ahaz at
first. He scattered the armies of which the king of Judah was afraid
like chaff, with his fierce and disciplined onset. And then, having
driven them off the bleeding prey, he put his own paw upon it, and
growled 'Mine!' And where he struck his claws there was little more
hope of life for the prostrate creature below him.

Ay! and that is what this world always does. In the case before us
there was providential guidance of the politics of the Eastern nations
in order to bring about these results; and we do not look for anything
of that sort. No! But there are natural laws at work today which are
God's laws, and which ensure the worthlessness of the help bought so
dear.

A godless life has at the best only partial satisfaction, and that
partial satisfaction soon diminishes. 'Even in laughter the heart is
sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.'

That is the experience of all men, and I need not dwell upon the
threadbare commonplaces which have survived from generation to
generation, because each generation in turn has found them so
piteously true, about the incompleteness and the fleetingness of all
the joys and treasures of this life. The awful power of habit, if
there were no other reason, takes the edge off all gratification
except in so far as God is in it. Nothing fully retains its power to
satisfy. Nothing has that power absolutely at any moment; but even
what measure of it any of our possessions or pursuits may have for a
time, soon, or at all events by degrees, passes away. The greater part
of life is but like drinking out of empty cups, and the cups drop from
our hands. What one of our purest and peacefullest poets said in his
haste about all his kind is true in spirit of all godless lives:--

  'We poets, in our youth, begin in gladness,
  But thereof cometh, in the end, despondency and madness.'

'Vanity of vanities! saith'--not the Preacher only, but the inmost
heart of every godless man and woman--'vanity of vanities! all is
vanity!'

And do not forget that, partial and transient as these satisfactions
of which I have been speaking are, they derive what power of helping
and satisfying is in them only from the silence of our consciences,
and our success in being able to shut out realities. One word, they
say, spoken too loud, brings down the avalanche, and beneath its
white, cold death, the active form is motionless and the beating heart
lies still. One word from conscience, one touch of an awakened
reflectiveness, one glance at the end--the coffin and the shroud and
what comes after these--slay your worldly satisfactions as surely as
that falling snow would crush some light-winged, gauzy butterfly that
had been dancing at the cliff's foot. Your jewellery is all imitation.
It is well enough for candle-light. Would you like to try the testing
acid upon it? Here is a drop of it. 'Know thou that for all these
things God will bring thee into judgment.' Does it smoke? or does it
stand the test? Here is another drop. 'This night thy soul shall be
required of thee.' Does it stand that test? My brother! do not be
afraid to take in all the facts of your earthly life, and do not
pretend to satisfy yourselves with satisfactions which dare not face
realities, and shrivel up at their presence.

These fatal helpers come as friends and allies, and they remain as
masters. Ahaz and a hundred other weak princes have tried the policy
of sending for a strong foreign power to scatter their enemies, and it
has always turned out one way. The foreigner has come and he has
stopped. The auxiliary has become the lord, and he that called him to
his aid becomes his tributary. Ay! and so it is with all the things of
this world. Here is some pleasant indulgence that I call to my help
lightly and thoughtlessly. It is very agreeable and does what I wanted
with it, and I try it again. Still it answers to my call. And then
after a while I say, 'I am going to give that up,' and I cannot, I
have brought in a master when I thought I was only bringing in an ally
that I could dismiss when I liked. The sides of the pit are very
slippery; it is gay travelling down them, but when the animal is
trapped at the bottom there is no possibility of getting up again. So
some of you, dear friends! have got masters in your delights, masters
in your pursuits, masters in your habits. These are your gods, these
are your tyrants, and you will find out that they are so, if ever, in
your own strength, you try to break away from them.

So let me plead with you. With some of you, perhaps, my voice, as a
familiar voice, that in some measure, however undeservedly, you trust,
may have influence. Let me plead with you--do not run after these
will-o'-the-wisps that will only lure you into destruction, but follow
the light of life which is Jesus Christ Himself. Do not take these
tyrants for your helpers, who will master you under pretence of aiding
you; and work their will of you instead of lightening your burden. The
same unwise and hopeless mode of life, which we have been describing
this evening by one symbolic illustration, as calling vain helpers to
our aid, was presented by Ahaz's great contemporary Isaiah, in words
which Ahaz himself may have heard, as 'striking a covenant with death,
and making lies our refuge.' Some of us, alas! have been doing that
all our lives. Let such hearken to the solemn words which may have
rung in the ears of this unworthy king. 'Judgment also will I lay to
the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and the hail shall sweep
away the refuge of lies.' I come to you, dear friends! to press on
your acceptance the true Guide and Helper--even Jesus Christ your
Brother, in whose single Self you will find all that you have vainly
sought dispersed 'at sundry times and in divers manners'--among
creatures. Take Him for your Saviour by trusting your whole selves to
Him. He is the Sacrifice by whose blood all our sins are washed away,
and the Indweller, by whose Spirit all our spirits are ennobled and
gladdened. I ask you to take Him for your Helper, who will never
deceive you; to call whom to our aid is to be secure and victorious
for ever. 'Behold! I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried
stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: he that believeth
shall not make haste.'



A GODLY REFORMATION

'Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he
reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was
Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. 2. And he did that which was right
in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had
done. 3. He in the first year of his reign, in the first mouth, opened
the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them. 4. And he
brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together
into the east street, 5. And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites;
Sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of
your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place. 6.
For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the
eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken Him, and have turned away
their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs.
7. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the
lamps, and have not burnt incense, nor offered burnt-offerings in the
holy place unto the God of Israel. 8. Wherefore the wrath of the Lord
was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He hath delivered them to trouble,
to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes. 9. For, lo,
our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons and our daughters
and our wives are in captivity for this. 10. Now it is in mine heart
to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath
may turn away from us. 11. My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord
hath chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that ye should
minister unto Him, and burn incense.'--2 CHRON. xxix. 1-11.


Hezekiah, the best of the later kings, had the worst for his father,
and another almost as bad for his son. His own piety was probably
deepened by the mad extravagance of his father's boundless idolatry,
which brought the kingdom to the verge of ruin. Action and reaction
are equal and contrary. Saints grown amidst fashionable and deep
corruption are generally strong, and reformers usually arise from the
midst of the systems which they overthrow. Hezekiah came to a
tottering throne and an all but beggared nation, ringed around by
triumphant enemies. His brave young heart did not quail. He sought
'first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness,' and of the two
pressing needs for Judah, political peace and religious purity, he
began with the last. The Book of Kings tells at most length the civil
history; the Book of Chronicles, as usual, lays most stress on the
ecclesiastical. The two complete each other. The present passage gives
a beautiful picture of the vigorous, devout young king setting about
the work of reformation.

We may note, first, his prompt action. Joash had to whip up the
reluctant priests with his 'See that ye hasten the matter!' Hezekiah
lets no grass grow under his feet, but begins his reforms with his
reign. 'The first month' (ver. 3) possibly, indeed, means the first
month of the calendar, not of Hezekiah, who may have come to the
throne in the later part of the Jewish year; but, in any case, no time
was lost. The statement in verse 3 may be taken as a general
_resume_ of what follows in detail, but this vigorous speech to
the priests was clearly among the new king's first acts. No doubt his
purpose had slowly grown while his father was affronting Heaven with
his mania for idols. Such decisive, swift action does not come without
protracted, previous brooding. The hidden fires gather slowly in the
silent crater, however rapidly they burst out at last.

We can never begin good things too early, and when we come into new
positions, it is always prudence as well as bravery to show our
colours unmistakably from the first. Many a young man, launched among
fresh associations, has been ruined because of beginning with
temporising timidity. It is easier to take the right standing at first
than to shift to it afterwards. Hezekiah might have been excused if he
had thought that the wretched state of political affairs left by Ahaz
needed his first attention. Edomites on the east, Philistines on the
west and south, Syrians and Assyrians on the north, 'compassed him
about like bees,' and worldly prudence would have said, 'Look after
these enemies today, and the Temple tomorrow.' He was wiser than that,
knowing that these were effects of the religious corruption, and so he
went at that first. It is useless trying to mend a nation's fortunes
unless you mend its morals and religion.

And there are some things which are best done quickly, both in
individual and national life. Leaving off bad habits by degrees is not
hopeful. The only thing to be done is to break with them utterly and
at once. One strong, swift blow, right through the heart, kills the
wild beast. Slighter cuts may make him bleed to death, but he may kill
you first. The existing state was undeniably sinful. There was no need
for deliberation as to that. Therefore there was no reason for delay.
Let us learn the lesson that, where conscience has no doubts, we
should have no dawdling. 'I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy
commandment.'

Note, too, in Hezekiah's speech, the true order of religious
reformation. The priests and Levites were not foremost in it, as
indeed is only too often the case with ecclesiastics in all ages.
Probably many of them had been content to serve Ahaz as priests of his
multiform idolatry. At all events, they needed 'sanctifying,' though
no doubt the word is here used in reference to merely ceremonial
uncleanness. Still the requirement that they should cleanse themselves
before they cleansed the Temple has more than ceremonial significance.
Impure hands are not fit for the work of religious reformation, though
they have often been employed in it. What was the weakness of the
Reformation but that the passions of princes and nobles were so soon
and generally enlisted for it, and marred it? He that enters into the
holy place, especially if his errand be to cleanse it, must have
'clean hands, and a pure heart.' The hands that wielded the whip of
small cords, and drove out the money-changers, were stainless, and
therefore strong. Some of us are very fond of trying to set churches
to rights. Let us begin with ourselves, lest, like careless servants,
we leave dirty finger-marks where we have been 'cleaning.'

The next point in the speech is the profound and painful sense of
existing corruption. Note the long-drawn-out enumeration of evils in
verses 6 and 7, starting with the general recognition of the fathers'
trespass, advancing to the more specific sin of forsaking Him and His
house, and dwelling, finally, as with fascinated horror, on all the
details of closed shrine and quenched lamps and cold altars. The
historical truth of the picture is confirmed by the close of the
previous chapter, and its vividness shows how deeply Hezekiah had felt
the shame and sin of Ahaz. It is not easy to keep clear of the
influence of prevailing corruptions of religion. Familiarity weakens
abhorrence, and the stained embodiments of the ideal hide its purity
from most eyes. But no man will be God's instrument to make society,
the church, or the home, better, unless he feels keenly the existing
evils. We do not need to cherish a censorious spirit, but we do need
to guard against an unthinking acquiescence in the present state of
things, and a self-complacent reluctance to admit their departure from
the divine purpose for the church. There is need to-day for a like
profound consciousness of evil, and like efforts after new purity. If
we individually lived nearer God, we should be less acclimatised to
the Church's imperfections. No doubt Hezekiah's clear sight of the
sinfulness of the idolatry so universal round him was largely owing to
Isaiah's influence. Eyes which have caught sight of the true King of
Israel, and of the pure light of His kingdom, will be purged to
discern the sore need for purifying the Lord's house.

The clear insight into the national sin gives as clear understanding
of the national suffering. Hezekiah speaks, in verses 8 and 9, as the
Law and the Prophets had been speaking for centuries, and as God's
providence had been uttering in act all through the national history.
But so slow are men to learn familiar truths that Ahaz had grasped at
idol after idol to rescue him; 'but they were the ruin of him, and of
all Israel.' How difficult it is to hammer plain truths, even with the
mallet of troubles, into men's heads! How blind we all are to the
causal connection between sin and sorrow! Hezekiah saw the iron link
uniting them, and his whole policy was based upon that 'wherefore.' Of
course, if we accept the Biblical statements as to the divine dealing
with Israel and Judah, obedience and disobedience were there followed
by reward and suffering more certainly and directly than is now the
case in either national or individual life. But it still remains true
that it is a 'bitter' as well as an 'evil' thing to depart from the
living God. If we would find the cause of our own or of a nation's
sorrows, we had better begin our search among our or its sins.

That phrase 'an astonishment, and an hissing' (ver. 8) is new. It
appears for the first time in Micah (Micah vi. 16), and he, we know,
exercised influence on Hezekiah (Jer. xxvi. 18, 19). Perhaps the king
is here quoting the prophet.

The exposition of the sin and its fruit is followed by the king's
resolve for himself, and, so far as may be, for his people. The phrase
'it is in my heart' expresses fixed determination, not mere wish. It
is used by David and of him, in reference to his resolve to build the
Temple. 'To make a covenant' probably means to renew the covenant,
made long ago at Sinai, but broken by sin. The king has made up his
mind, and announces his determination. He does not consult priests or
people, but expects their acquiescence. So, in the early days of
Christianity, the 'conversion' of a king meant that of his people. Of
course, the power of the kings of Israel and Judah to change the
national religion at their pleasure shows how slightly any religion
had penetrated, and how much, at the best, it was a matter of mere
ceremonial worship with the masses. People who worshipped Ahaz's
rabble of gods and godlings to-day because he bade them, and
Hezekiah's God to-morrow, had little worship for either, and were much
the same through all changes.

Hezekiah was in earnest, and his resolve was none the less right
because it was moved by a desire to turn away the fierce anger of the
Lord. Dread of sin's consequences and a desire to escape these is no
unworthy motive, however some superfine moralists nowadays may call it
so. It is becoming unfashionable to preach 'the terror of the Lord.'
The more is the pity, and the less is the likelihood of persuading
men. But, however kindled, the firm determination (which does not wait
for others to concur) that 'As for me, I will serve the Lord,' is the
grand thing for us all to imitate. That strong young heart showed
itself kingly in its resolve, as it had shown itself sensitive to evil
and tender in contemplating the widespread sorrow. If we would brace
our feeble wills, and screw them to the sticking-point of immovable
determination to make a covenant with God, let us meditate on our
departures from Him, the Lover and Benefactor of our souls, and on the
dreadfulness of His anger and the misery of those who forsake Him.

Once more the king turns to the priests. He began and he finishes with
them, as if he were not sure of their reliableness. His tone is
kindly, 'My sons,' but yet monitory. They would not have been warned
against 'negligence' unless they had obviously needed it, nor would
they have been stimulated to their duties by reminding them of their
prerogatives, unless they had been apt to slight these. Officials,
whose business is concerned with the things of God, are often apt to
drop into an easy-going pace. Negligent work may suit unimportant
offices, but is hideously inconsistent with the tasks and aims of
God's servants. If there is any work which has to be done 'with both
hands, earnestly,' it is theirs. Unless we put all our strength into
it, we shall get no good for ourselves or others out of it. The utmost
tension of all powers, the utmost husbanding of every moment, is
absolutely demanded by the greatness of the task; and the voice of the
great Master says to all His servants, 'My sons, be not now
negligent.' Ungirt loins and unlit lamps are fatal.

We should meditate, too, on the prerogatives and lofty offices to
which Christ calls those who love Him; not to minister to
self-complacency, as if we were so much better than other men, but to
deepen our sense of responsibility, and stir us to strenuous efforts
to be what we are called to be. If Christian people thought more
earnestly on what Jesus Christ means them to be to the world, they
would not so often counterwork His purpose and shirk their own duties.
Crowns are heavy to wear. Gifts are calls to service. If we are chosen
to be His ministers, we have solemn responsibilities. If we are to
burn incense before Him, our censers need to be bright and free from
strange fire. If we are the lights of the world, our business is to
shine.



SACRIFICE RENEWED

'Then they went in to Hezekiah the king, and said, We have cleansed
all the house of the Lord, and the altar of burnt-offering, with all
the vessels thereof, and the shew-bread table, with all the vessels
thereof. 19. Moreover, all the vessels, which king Ahaz in his reign
did cast away in his transgression, have we prepared and sanctified,
and, behold, they are before the altar of the Lord. 20. Then Hezekiah
the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up
to the house of the Lord. 21. And they brought seven bullocks, and
seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he goats, for a sin-offering
for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah. And he
commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar
of the Lord. 22. So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received
the blood, and sprinkled it on the altar: likewise, when they had
killed the rams, they sprinkled the blood upon the altar: they killed
also the lambs, and they sprinkled the blood upon the altar. 23. And
they brought forth the he goats for the sin-offering before the king
and the congregation; and they laid their hands upon them. 24. And the
priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood
upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king
commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin-offering should be made
for all Israel. 25. And he set the Levites in the house of the Lord
with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the
commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the
prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets. 26.
And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests
with the trumpets. 27. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the
burnt-offering upon the altar. And when the burnt-offering began, the
song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the
instruments ordained by David king of Israel. 28. And all the
congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters
sounded: and all this continued until the burnt-offering was finished.
29. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that
were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped. 30. Moreover,
Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing
praises unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer.
And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and
worshipped. 31. Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have
consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near, and bring sacrifices
and thank-offerings into the house of the Lord. And the congregation
brought in sacrifices and thank-offerings; and as many as were of a
free heart burnt offerings.--2 CHRON. xxix. 18-31.


Ahaz, Hezekiah's father, had wallowed in idolatry, worshipping any and
every god but Jehovah. He had shut up the Temple, defiled the sacred
vessels, and 'made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem.' And the
result was that he brought the kingdom very near ruin, was not allowed
to be buried in the tombs of the kings, and left his son a heavy task
to patch up the mischief he had wrought. Hezekiah began at the right
end of his task. 'In the first year of his reign, in the first month,'
he set about restoring the worship of Jehovah. The relations with
Syria and Damascus would come right if the relations with Judah's God
were right. 'First things first' was his motto, and perhaps he
discerned the true sequence more accurately than some great political
pundits do nowadays. So neglected had the Temple been that a strong
force of priests and Levites took a fortnight to 'carry forth the
filthiness out of the holy place to the brook Kidron,' and to cleanse
and ceremonially sanctify the sacred vessels. Then followed at once
the re-establishment of the Temple worship, which is narrated in the
passage.

The first thing to be noted is that the whole movement back to Jehovah
was a one-man movement. It was Hezekiah's doing and his only. No
priest is named as prominent in it, and the slowness of the whole
order is especially branded in verse 34. No prophet is named; was
there any one prompting the king? Perhaps Isaiah did, though his
chapter i. with its scathing repudiation of 'the burnt offerings of
rams and the fat of fed beasts,' suggests that he did not think the
restoration of sacrifice so important as that the nation should 'cease
to do evil and learn to do well.' The people acquiesced in the king's
worship of Jehovah, as they had acquiesced in other kings' worship of
Baal or Moloch or Hadad. When kings take to being religious reformers,
they make swift converts, but their work is as slight as it is speedy,
and as short-lived as it is rapid. Manasseh was Hezekiah's successor,
and swept away all his work after twenty-nine years, and apparently
the mass of his people followed him just as they had followed
Hezekiah. Religion must be a matter of personal conviction and
individual choice. Imposed from without, or adopted because other
people adopt it, it is worthless.

Another point to notice is that Hezekiah's reformation was mainly
directed to ritual, and does not seem to have included either theology
or ethics. Was be quite right in his estimate of what was the first
thing? Isaiah, in the passage already referred to, does not seem to
think so. To him, as to all the prophets, foul hands could not bring
acceptable sacrifices, and worship was an abomination unless preceded
by obedience to the command: 'Put away the evil of your doings from
before Mine eyes.' The filth in the hearts of the men of Judah was
more 'rank, and smelt to heaven' more offensively, than that in the
Temple, which took sixteen days to shovel into Kidron. No doubt
ceremonial bulked more largely in the days of the Old Covenant than it
does in those of the New, and both the then stage of revelation and
the then spiritual stature of the recipients of revelation required
that it should do so. But the true religious reformers, the prophets,
were never weary of insisting that, even in those days, moral and
spiritual reformation should come first, and that unless it did,
ritual worship, though it were nominally offered to Jehovah, was as
abhorrent to Him as if it had been avowedly offered to Baal. Not a
little so-called Christian worship today, judged by the same test, is
as truly heathen superstition as if it had been paid to Mumbo-Jumbo.

But when all deductions have been made, the scene depicted in the
passage is not only an affecting, but an instructive one. Strangely
unlike our notions of worship, and to us almost repulsive, must have
been the slaying of three hundred and seventy animals and the offering
of them as burnt offerings. Try to picture the rivers of blood, the
contortions of the dumb brutes, the priests bedaubed with gore, the
smell of the burnt flesh, the blare of the trumpets, the shouts of the
worshippers, the clashing cymbals, and realise what a world parts it
from 'They went up into the upper chamber where they were abiding ...
these all with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer, with the
women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren'!
Sacrifice has been the essential feature in all religions before
Christ. It has dropped out of worship wherever Christ has been
accepted. Why? Because it spoke of a deep, permanent, universal need,
and because Christ was recognised as having met the need. People who
deny the need, and people who deny that Jesus on the Cross has
satisfied it, may be invited to explain these two facts, written large
on the history of humanity.

That brings us to the most important aspect of Hezekiah's great
sacrifice. It sets forth the stages by which men can approach to God.
It is symbolic of spiritual facts, and prophetic of Christ's work and
of our way of coming to God through Him. The first requisite for
Judah's return to Jehovah, whom they had forsaken, was the
presentation of a 'sin offering.' The king and the congregation laid
their hands on the heads of the goats, thereby, as it were,
transferring their own sinful personality to them. Thus laden with the
nation's sins, they were slain, and in their death the nation, as it
were, bore the penalty of its sin. Representation and substitution
were dramatised in the sacrifice. The blood sprinkled on the altar
(which had previously been 'sanctified' by sprinkling of blood, and so
made capable of presenting what touched it to Jehovah), made
'atonement for all Israel.' We note in passing the emphasis of
'Israel' here, extending the benefit of the sacrifice to the separated
tribes of the Northern Kingdom, in a gush of yearning love and desire
that they, too, might be reconciled to Jehovah. And is not this the
first step towards any man's reconciliation with God? Is not

  'My faith would lay her hand
  On that dear head of Thine,'

the true expression of the first requisite for us all? Jesus is the
sin-offering for the world. In His death He bears the world's sin. His
blood is presented to God, and if we have associated ourselves with
Him by faith, that blood sprinkled on the altar covers all our sins.

Then followed in this parabolic ceremonial the burnt offering. And
that is the second stage of our return to God, for it expresses the
consecration of our forgiven selves, as being consumed by the holy and
blessed fire of a self-devotion, kindled by the 'unspeakable gift,'
which fire, burning away all foulness, will make us tenfold ourselves.
That fire will burn up only our bonds, and we shall walk at liberty in
it. And that burnt-offering will always be accompanied with 'the song
of Jehovah,' and the joyful sound of the trumpets and 'the instruments
of David.' The treasures of Christian poetry have always been inspired
by the Cross, and the consequent rapture of self-surrender. Calvary is
the true fountain of song.

The last stage in Hezekiah's great sacrifice was 'thank-offerings,'
brought by 'as many as were of a willing heart.' And will not the
self-devotion, kindled by the fire of love, speak in daily life by
practical service, and the whole activities of the redeemed man be a
long thank-offering for the Lamb who 'bears away the sins of the
world'? And if we do not thus offer our whole lives to God, how shall
we profess to have taken the priceless benefit of Christ's death?
Hezekiah followed the order laid down in the Law, and it is the only
order that leads to the goal. First, the atoning sacrifice of the
slain Lamb; next, our identification with Him and it by faith; then
the burnt-offering of a surrendered self, with the song of praise
sounding ever through it; and last, the life of service, offering all
our works to God, and so reaching the perfection of life on earth and
antedating the felicities of heaven.



A LOVING CALL TO REUNION

'And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to
Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord
at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel. 2. For
the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation
in Jerusalem, to keep the passover in the second month. 3. For they
could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified
themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves
together to Jerusalem. 4. And the thing pleased the king and all the
congregation. 5. So they established a decree to make proclamation
throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should
come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem:
for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was
written. 6. So the posts went with the letters from the king and his
princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the
commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again
unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to
the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of
Assyria. 7. And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren,
which trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who therefore
gave them up to desolation, as ye see. 8. Now, be ye not stiffnecked,
as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter
into His sanctuary, which He hath sanctified for ever: and serve the
Lord your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from
you. 9. For if ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your
children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so
that they shall come again into this land: for the Lord your God is
gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face from you, if ye
return unto Him. 10. So the posts passed from city to city through the
country of Ephraim and Manasseh, even unto Zebulun: but they laughed
them to scorn, and mocked them. 11. Nevertheless divers of Asher and
Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem. 12.
Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the
commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the Lord.
13. And there assembled at Jerusalem much people to keep the feast of
unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation.'--2
CHRON. xxx. 1-13.


The date of Hezekiah's passover is uncertain, for, while the immediate
connection of this narrative with the preceding account of his
cleansing the Temple and restoring the sacrificial worship suggests
that the passover followed directly on those events, which took place
at the beginning of the reign, the language employed in the message to
the northern tribes (vers. 6,7, 9) seems to imply the previous fall of
the kingdom of Israel, If so, this passover did not occur till after
721 B.C., the date of the capture of Samaria, six years after
Hezekiah's accession.

The sending of messengers from Jerusalem on such an errand would
scarcely have been possible if the northern kingdom had still been
independent. Perhaps its fall was thought by Hezekiah to open the door
to drawing 'the remnant that were escaped' back to the ancient unity
of worship, at all events, if not of polity. No doubt a large number
had been left in the northern territory, and Hezekiah may have hoped
that calamity had softened their enmity to his kingdom, and perhaps
touched them with longings for the old worship. At all events, like a
good man, he will stretch out a hand to the alienated brethren, now
that evil days have fallen on them. The hour of an enemy's calamity
should be our opportunity for seeking to help and proffering
reconciliation. We may find that trouble inclines wanderers to come
back to God.

The alteration of the time of keeping the passover from the thirteenth
day of the first month to the same day of the second was in accordance
with the liberty granted in Numbers ix. 10, 11, to persons unclean by
contact with a dead body or 'in a journey afar off.' The decision to
have the passover was not taken in time to allow of the necessary
removal of uncleanness from the priests nor of the assembling of the
people, and therefore the permission to defer it for a month was taken
advantage of, in order to allow full time for the despatch of the
messengers and the journeys of the farthest northern tribes. It is to
be observed that Hezekiah took his subjects into counsel, since the
step intended was much too great for him to venture on of his own mere
motion. So the overtures went out clothed with the authority of the
whole kingdom of Judah. It was the voice of a nation that sought to
woo back the secessionists.

The messengers were instructed to supplement the official letters of
invitation with earnest entreaties as from the king, of which the gist
is given in verses 6-9. With the skill born of intense desire to draw
the long-parted kingdoms together, the message touches on ancestral
memories, recent bitter experiences, yearnings for the captive
kinsfolk, the instinct of self-preservation, and rises at last into
the clear light of full faith in, and insight into, God's infinite
heart of pardoning pity.

Note the very first words, 'Ye children of Israel,' and consider the
effect of this frank recognition of the northern kingdom as part of
the undivided Israel. Such recognition might have been misunderstood
or spurned when Samaria was gay and prosperous; but when its palaces
were desolate, the effect of the old name, recalling happier days,
must have been as if the elder brother had come out from the father's
house and entreated the prodigal to come back to his place at the
fireside. The battle would be more than half won if the appeal that
was couched in the very name of Israel was heeded.

Note further how firmly and yet lovingly the sin of the northern
kingdom is touched on. The name of Jehovah as the God of Abraham,
Isaac, and Israel, recalls the ancient days when the undivided people
worshipped Him, and the still more ancient, and, to hearers and
speakers alike, more sacred, days when the patriarchs received
wondrous tokens that He was their God, and they were His people; while
the recurrence of 'Israel' as the name of Jacob adds force to its
previous use as the name of all His descendants. The possible
rejection of the invitation, on the ground which the men of the north,
like the Samaritan woman, might have taken, that they were true to
their fathers' worship, is cut away by the reminder that that worship
was an innovation, since the fathers of the present generation had
been apostate from the God of _their_ fathers. The appeal to
antiquity often lands men in a bog because it is not carried far
enough back. 'The fathers' may lead astray, but if the antiquity to
which we appeal is that of which the New Testament is the record, the
more conservative we are, the nearer the truth shall we be.

Again, the message touched on a chord that might easily have given a
jarring note; namely, the misfortunes of the kingdom. But it was done
with so delicate a hand, and so entirely without a trace of rejoicing
in a neighbour's calamities, that no susceptibilities could be
ruffled, while yet the solemn lesson is unfalteringly pointed. 'He
gave them up to desolation, as ye see.' Behind Assyria was Jehovah,
and Israel's fall was not wholly explained by the disparity between
its strength and the conquerors'. Under and through the play of
criminal ambition, cruelty, and earthly politics, the unseen Hand
wrought; and the teaching of all the Old Testament history is
condensed into that one sad sentence, which points to facts as plain
as tragical. In deepest truth it applies to each of us; for, if we
trespass against God, we draw down evil on our heads with both hands,
and shall find that sin brings the worst desolation--that which sheds
gloom over a godless soul.

We note further the deep true insight into God's character and ways
expressed in this message. There is a very striking variation in the
three designations of Jehovah as 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Israel' (ver. 6), 'the god of their [that is, the preceding
generation] fathers' (ver. 7), and 'your God' (ver. 8). The relation
which had subsisted from of old had not been broken by man's apostasy,
Jehovah still was, in a true sense, their God, even if His relation to
them only bound Him not to leave them unpunished. So their very
sufferings proved them His, for 'What son is he whom the father
chasteneth not?' But strong, sunny confidence in God shines from the
whole message, and reaches its climax in the closing assurance that He
is merciful and gracious. The evil results of rebellion are not
omitted, but they are not dwelt on. The true magnet to draw wanderers
back to God is the loving proclamation of His love. Unless we are sure
that He has a heart tender with all pity, and 'open as day to melting
charity,' we shall not turn to Him with our hearts.

The message puts the response which it sought in a variety of ways;
namely, turning to Jehovah, not being stiff-necked, yielding selves to
Jehovah, entering into His sanctuary. More than outward participation
in the passover ceremonial is involved. Submission of will,
abandonment of former courses of action, docility of spirit ready to
be directed anywhere, the habit of abiding with God by communion--all
these, the standing characteristics of the religious life, are at
least suggested by the invitations here. We are all summoned thus to
yield ourselves to God, and especially to do so by surrendering our
wills to Him, and to 'enter into His sanctuary,' by keeping up such
communion with Him as that, however and wherever occupied, we shall
still 'dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives.'

And the summons to return unto God is addressed to us all even more
urgently than to Israel. God Himself invites us by the voice of His
providences, by His voice within, and by the voice of Jesus Himself,
who is ever saying to each of us, by His death and passion, by His
resurrection and ascension, 'Turn ye! turn ye! why will ye die?' and
who has more than endorsed Hezekiah's messengers' assurance that
'Jehovah will not turn away His face from' us by His own gracious
promise, 'Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.'

The king's message met a mingled reception. Some mocked, some were
moved and accepted. So, alas! is it with the better message, which is
either 'a savour of life unto life or of death unto death.' The same
fire melts wax and hardens clay. May it be with all of us as it was in
Judah--that we 'have one heart, to do the commandment' and to accept
the merciful summons to the great passover!



A STRANGE REWARD FOR FAITHFULNESS

'After these things, and the establishment thereof, Sennacherib, king
of Assyria, came.'--2 CHRON. XXXII. 1.


The Revised Version gives a much more accurate and significant
rendering of a part of these words. It reads: 'After these things and
_this faithfulness_, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came.' What
are 'these things' and 'this faithfulness'? The former are the whole
of the events connected with the religious reformation in Judah, which
King Hezekiah inaugurated and carried through so brilliantly and
successfully. This 'faithfulness' directly refers to a word in a
couple of verses before the text: 'Thus did Hezekiah throughout all
Judah; and he wrought that which was good and right and
_faithfulness_ before the Lord his God.' And, after these things,
the re-establishment of religion and this 'faithfulness,' though
Hezekiah was perfect before God in all ritual observances and in
practical righteousness, and though he was seeking the Lord his God
with all his heart, here is what came of it:--'After this faithfulness
came' not blessings or prosperity, but 'Sennacherib, king of Assyria'!
The chronicler not only tells this as singular, but one can feel that
he is staggered by it. There is a tone of perplexity and wonder in his
voice as he records that _this_ was what followed the faithful
righteousness and heart-devotion of the best king that ever sat on the
throne of Judah. I think that this royal martyr's experience is really
a mirror of the experience of devout men in all ages and a revelation
of the great law and constant processes of the Divine Providence. And
from that point of view I wish to speak now, not only on the words I
have read, but on what follows them.

I. We have here the statement of the mystery.

It is the standing puzzle of the Old Testament, how good men come to
be troubled, and how bad men come to be prosperous. And although we
Christian men and women are a great deal too apt to suppose that we
have outlived that rudimentary puzzle of the religious mind, yet I do
not think by any means that we have. For we hear men, when the rod
falls upon themselves, saying, 'What have I done that I should be
smitten thus?' or when their friends suffer, saying, 'What a
marvellous thing it is that such a good man as A, B, or C should have
so much trouble!' or, when widespread calamities strike a community,
standing aghast at the broad and dark shadows that fall upon a nation
or a continent, and wondering what the meaning of all this heaped
misery is, and why the world is thus allowed to run along its course
surrounded by an atmosphere made up of the breath of sighs, and
swathed in clouds which are moist with tears.

My text gives us an illustration in the sharpest form of the mystery.
'After these things and this faithfulness, Sennacherib came'--and he
always comes in one shape or another. For, to begin with, a good man's
goodness does not lift him out of the ordinary associations and
contingencies and laws of life. If he has inherited a diseased
constitution, his devotion will not make him a healthy man. If he has
little common sense, his godliness will not make him prosper in
worldly affairs. If he is tied to unfortunate connections, he will
have to suffer. If he happens to be in a decaying branch of business,
his prayers will not make him prosperous. If he falls in the way of
poisonous gas from a sewer, his godliness will not exempt him from an
attack of fever. So all round the horizon we see this: that the godly
man is involved like any other man in the ordinary contingencies and
possible evils of life. Then, have we to say that God has nothing to
do with these?

Again, Hezekiah's story teaches us how second causes are God's
instruments, and He is at the back of everything. There are two
sources of our knowledge of the history of Judah in the time with
which we are concerned. One is the Bible, the other is the Assyrian
monuments; and it is a most curious contrast to read the two
narratives of the same events, agreeing about the facts, but
disagreeing utterly in the spirit. Why? Because the one tells the
story from the world's point of view, and the other tells it from
God's point of view. So when you take the one narrative, it is simply
this: 'There was a conspiracy down in the south against the political
supremacy of Assyria, and a lot of little confederate kinglets
gathered themselves; and Hezekiah, of Judah, was one, along with
So-and-So of such-and-such a petty land, and they leaned upon Egypt;
and I, Sennacherib, came down among them, and they tumbled to pieces,
and that is all.' Then the Bible comes in, and it says that God
ordered all those political complications, and that they were all the
working out of His purposes, and that 'the axe in His hand' as Isaiah
has it so picturesquely, was this proud king of Assyria, with his
boastful mouth and vainglorious words.

Now, that is the principle by which we have to estimate all the events
that befall us. There are two ways of looking at them. You may look at
them from the under side or from the top side. You may see them as
they appear to men who cannot look beyond their noses and only have
concern with the visible cranks and shafting, or you may look at them
from the engine-room and take account of the invisible power that
drives them all. In the one case you will regard it as a mystery that
good men should have to suffer so; in the other case, you will say,
'It is the Lord, let Him do'--even when He does it through Sennacherib
and his like, 'let Him do what seemeth Him good.'

Then there is another thing to be taken into account--that is, that
the better a man is, the more faithful he is and the more closely he
cleaves to God, and seeks, like this king, to do, with all his heart,
all his work in the service of the House of God and to seek his God,
the more sure is he to bring down upon himself certain forms of
trouble and trial. The rebellion which, from the Assyrian side of the
river, seemed to be a mere political revolt, from the Jordan side of
the river seemed to be closely connected with the religious
reformation. And it was just because Hezekiah and his people came back
to God that they rebelled against the King of Assyria and served him
not. If you provoke Sennacherib, Sennacherib will be down upon you
very quickly. That is to say, being translated, if you will live like
Christian men and women and fling down the gage of battle to the world
and to the evil that lies in every one of us, and say, 'No, I have
nothing to do with you. My law is not your law, and, God helping me,
my practice shall not be your practice,' then you will find out that
the power that you have defied has a very long arm and a very tight
grasp, and you will have to make up your minds that, in some shape or
other, the old law will be fulfilled about you. Through much
tribulation we must enter the Kingdom.

II. Now, secondly, my text and its context solve the mystery which it
raises.

The chronicler, as I said, wishes us to notice the sequence, strange
as it is, and to wonder at it for a moment, in order that we may be
prepared the better to take in the grand explanation that follows. And
the explanation lies in the facts that ensue.

Did Sennacherib come to destroy? By no means! Here were the results:
first, a stirring to wholesome energy and activity. If annoyances and
troubles and sorrows, great or small, do nothing else for us, they
would be clear and simple gain if they woke us up, for the half of men
pass half of their lives half-asleep. And anybody that has ever come
through a great sorrow and can remember what deep fountains were
opened in his heart that he knew nothing about before, and how powers
that were all unsuspected by himself suddenly came to him, and how
life, instead of being a trivial succession of nothings, all at once
became significant and solemn--any man who can remember that, will
feel that if there were nothing else that his troubles did for him
than to shake him out of torpor and rouse him to a tension of
wholesome activity, so that he cried out:

  'Call forth thy powers, my soul! and dare
  The conflict of unequal war,'

he would have occasion to bless God for the roughest handling. The
tropics are very pleasant for lazy people, but they sap the
constitution and make work impossible; and after a man has lived for a
while in their perpetual summer, he begins to long for damp and mist
and frost and east winds which bring bracing to the system and make
him fit to work. God takes us often into very ungenial climates, and
the vindication of it is that we may be set to active service. That
was the first good thing that Sennacherib's coming did.

The next was that his invasion increased dependence upon God. You will
remember the story of the insolent taunts and vulgar vaunting by him
and his servants, and the one answer that was given: 'Hezekiah, the
king, and Isaiah the son of Amoz the prophet, prayed and cried to
God.' Ah! dear brethren, any thing that drives us to His breast is
blessing. We may call it evil when we speak from the point of view of
the foolish senses and the quivering heart, but if it blows us into
His arms, any wind, the roughest and the fiercest, is to be welcomed
more than lazy calms or gentle zephyrs. If, realising our own weakness
and impotence, we are made to hang more completely upon Him, then let
us be thankful for whatever has been the means of such a blessed
issue. That was the second good thing that Sennacherib did.

The third good thing that he--not exactly did--but that was done
through him, was that experience of God's delivering power was
enriched. You remember the miracle of the destruction of the army. I
need not dilate upon it. A man who can look back and say, 'Thou hast
been with me in six troubles,' need never be afraid of the seventh;
and he who has hung upon that strong rope when he has been swinging
away down in the darkness and asphyxiating atmosphere of the pit, and
has been drawn up into the sunshine again, will trust it for all
coming time. If there were no other explanation, the enlarged and
deepened experience of the realities of God's Gospel and of God's
grace, which are bought only by sorrow, would be a sufficient
explanation of any sorrow that any of us have ever had to carry.

  'Well roars the storm to him who hears
  A deeper voice across the storm.'

There are large tracts of Scripture which have no meaning, no
blessedness to us until they have been interpreted to us by losses and
sorrows. We never know the worth of the lighthouse until the November
darkness and the howling winds come down upon us, and then we
appreciate its preciousness.

So, dear friends! the upshot of the whole is just that old teaching,
that if we realised what life is for, we should wonder less at the
sorrows that are in it. For life is meant to make us partakers of His
holiness, not to make us happy. Our happiness is a secondary purpose,
not out of view of the Divine love, but it is not the primary one. And
the direct intention and mission of sorrow, like the direct intention
and mission of joy, are to further that great purpose, that we 'should
be partakers of His holiness.' 'Every branch in Me that beareth fruit,
He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.'

III. Lastly, my text suggests a warning against letting prosperity
undo adversity's work.

Hezekiah came bravely through his trials. They did exactly what God
wanted them to do; they drove him to God, they forced him down upon
his knees. When Sennacherib's letter came, he took it to the Temple
and spread it before God, and said, 'O Lord! it is Thy business. It is
addressed to me, but it is meant for Thee; do Thou answer it.' And so
he received the help that he wanted. But he broke down after that. He
was 'exalted'; and the allies, his neighbours, that had not lifted a
finger to help him when he needed their help, sent him presents which
would have been a great deal more seasonable when he was struggling
for his life with Sennacherib. What 'came after (God's) faithfulness'?
This--'his heart was lifted up, and he rendered not according to the
benefit rendered to him.' Therefore the blow had to come down again. A
great many people take refuge in archways when it rains, and run out
as soon as it holds up, and a great many people take religion as an
umbrella, to put down when the sunshine comes. We cross the bridge and
forget it, and when the leprosy is out of us we do not care to go back
and give thanks. Sometimes too, we begin to think, 'After all, it was
we that killed Sennacherib's army, and not the angel.' And so, like
dull scholars, we need the lesson repeated once, twice, thrice, 'here
a little and there a little, precept upon precept, line upon line.'
There is none of us that has so laid to heart our past difficulties
and trials that it is safe for God to burn the rod as long as we are
in this life.

Dear friends! do not let it be said of us, 'In vain have I smitten thy
children. They have received no correction'; but rather let us keep
close to Him, and seek to learn the sweet and loving meaning of His
sharpest strokes. Then the little book, 'written within and without
with lamentation and woe,' which we all in our turn have to absorb and
make our own, may be 'bitter in the mouth,' but will be 'sweet as
honey' thereafter.



MANASSEH'S SIN AND REPENTANCE

'So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and
to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the
children of Israel. 10. And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his
people: but they would not hearken. 11. Wherefore the Lord brought
upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took
Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him
to Babylon. 12. And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord
his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers,
13. And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his
supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom.
Then Manasseh knew that the Lord He was God. 14. Now after this he
built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in
the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed
about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of
war in all the fenced cities of Judah. 15. And he took away the
strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord, and all the
altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord, and in
Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. 16. And he repaired the
altar of the Lord, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank
offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.'--2
CHRON. xxxiii. 9-16.


The story of Manasseh's sin and repentance may stand as a typical
example. Its historical authenticity is denied on the ground that it
appears only in this Book of Chronicles. I must leave others to
discuss that matter; my purpose is to bring out the teaching contained
in the story.

The first point in it is the stern indictment against Manasseh and his
people. The experience which has saddened many a humbler home was
repeated in the royal house, where a Hezekiah was followed by a
Manasseh, who scorned all that his father had worshipped, and
worshipped all that his father had loathed. Happily the father's eyes
were closed long before the idolatrous bias of his son could have
disclosed itself. Succeeding to the throne at twelve years of age, he
could not have begun his evil ways at once, and probably would have
been preserved from them if his father had lived long enough to mould
his character. A child of twelve, flung on to a throne, was likely to
catch the infection of any sin that was in the atmosphere. The
narrative specifies two points in which, as he matured in years, and
was confirmed in his course of conduct, he went wrong: first, in his
idolatry; and second, in his contempt of remonstrances and warnings.
As to the former, the preceding context gives a terrible picture. He
was smitten with a very delirium of idolatry, and wallowed in any and
every sort of false worship. No matter what strange god was presented,
there were hospitality, an altar, and an offering for him. Baal,
Moloch, 'the host of heaven,' wizards, enchanters, anybody who
pretended to have any sort of black art, all were welcome, and the
more the better. No doubt, this eager acceptance of a miscellaneous
multitude of deities was partly reaction from the monotheism of the
former reign, but also it was the natural result of being surrounded
by the worshippers of these various gods; and it was an unconscious
confession of the insufficiency of each and all of them to fill the
void in the heart, and satisfy the needs of the spirit. There are
'gods many, and lords many,' because they are insufficient; 'the Lord
our God is one Lord,' because He, in His single Self, is more than all
these, and is enough for any and every man.

We may note, too, that at the beginning of the chapter Manasseh is
said to have done '_like_ unto the abominations of the heathen,'
while in verse 9 he is said to have done 'evil _more_ than did
the nations.' When a worshipper of Jehovah does _like_ the
heathen, he does _worse_ than they. An apostate Christian is more
guilty than one who has never 'tasted the good word of God,' and is
likely to push his sins to a more flagrant wickedness. 'The corruption
of the best is the worst.' We cannot do what the world does without
being more deeply guilty than they.

The narrative lays stress on the fact that the king's inclination to
idolatry was agreeable to the people. The kings, who fought against
it, had to resist the popular current, but at the least encouragement
from those in high places the nation was ready to slide back. Rulers
who wish to lower the standard of morality or religion have an easy
task; but the people who follow their lead are not free from guilt,
though they can plead that they only followed. The second count in the
indictment is the refusal of king and people to listen to God's
remonstrances. 2 Kings, chap, xxi., gives the prophets' warnings at
greater length. 'They would not hearken'--can anything madder and
sadder be said of any of us than that? Is it not the very sin of sins,
and the climax of suicidal folly, that God should call and men stop
their ears? And yet how many of us pay no more regard to His voice, in
His providences, in our own consciences, in history, in Scripture,
and, most penetrating and beseeching of all, in Christ, than to idle
wind whistling through an archway! Our own evil deeds stop our ears,
and the stopped ears make further evil deeds more easy.

The second step in this typical story is merciful chastisement, meant
to secure a hearing for God's voice. 2 Kings tells the threat, but not
the fulfilment; Chronicles tells the fulfilment, but not the threat.
We note how emphatically God's hand is recognised behind the political
complications which brought the Assyrians to Jerusalem, and how
particularly it is stated that the invasion was not headed by
Esarhaddon, but by his generals. The place of Manasseh's captivity
also is specified, not as Nineveh, as might have been expected, but as
Babylon. These details, especially the last, look like genuine
history. It is history which carries a lesson. Here is one conspicuous
instance of the divine method, which is working to-day as it did then.
God's hand is behind the secondary causes of events. Our sorrows and
'misfortunes' are sent to us by Him, not hurled at us by human hands
only, or occurring by the working of impersonal laws. They are meant
to make us bethink ourselves, and drop evil things from our hands and
hearts. It is best to be guided by His eye, and not need 'bit and
bridle'; but if we make ourselves stubborn as 'the mule, which has no
understanding,' it is second best that we should taste the whip, that
it may bring us to run in harness on the road which He wills. If we
habitually looked at calamities as His loving chastisement, intended
to draw us to Himself, we should not have to stand perplexed so often
at what we call the mysteries of His providence.

The next step in the story is the yielding of the sinful heart when
smitten. The worst affliction is an affliction wasted, which does us
no good. And God has often to lament, 'In vain have I smitten your
children; they received no correction.' Sorrow has in itself no power
to effect the purpose for which it is sent; but all depends on how we
take it. It sometimes makes us hard, bitter, obstinate in clinging to
evil. A heart that has been disciplined by it, and still is
undisciplined, is like iron hammered on an anvil, and made the more
close-grained thereby. But this king took his chastisement wisely. An
accepted sorrow is an angel in disguise, and nothing which drives us
to God is a calamity. Manasseh praying was freer in his chains than
ever he had been in his prosperity. Manasseh humbling himself greatly
before God was higher than when, in the pride of his heart, he shut
God out from it.

Affliction should clear our sight, that we may see ourselves as we
are; and, if we do, there will be an end of high looks, and we shall
'take the lowest room.' Thus humbled, we shall pray as the
self-confident and outwardly prosperous cannot do. Sorrow has done its
best on us when, like some strong hand on our shoulders, it has
brought us to our knees. No affliction has yielded its full blessing
to us unless it has thus set us by Manasseh's side.

The next step in the story is the loving answer to the humbled heart,
and the restoration to the kingdom. 'He was entreated of him.' No
doubt, political circumstances brought about Manasseh's reinstatement,
as they had brought about his captivity, but it was God that 'brought
him again to his kingdom.' We may not receive again lost good things,
but we may be quite sure that God never fails to hear the cry of the
humble, and that, if there is one voice that more surely reaches His
ear and moves His heart than another, it is the voice of His chastened
children, who cry to Him out of the depths, and there have learned
their own sin and sore need. He will be entreated of them, and,
whether He gives back lost good or not, He will give Himself, in whom
all good is comprehended. Manasseh's experience may be repeated in us.

And the best part of it was, not that he received back his kingdom,
but that 'then Manasseh knew that the Lord He was God.' The name had
been but a name to him, but now it had become a reality. Our
traditional, second-hand belief in God is superficial and largely
unreal till it is deepened and vivified by experience. If we have
cried to Him, and been lightened, then we have a ground of conviction
that cannot be shaken. Formerly we could at most say, 'I believe in
God,' or, 'I think there is a God,' but now we can say, 'I know,' and
no criticism nor contradiction can shake that. Such knowledge is not
the knowledge won by the understanding alone, but it is acquaintance
with a living Person, like the knowledge which loving souls have of
each other; and he who has that knowledge as the issue of his own
experience may smile at doubts and questionings, and say with the
Apostle of Love, 'We know that we are of God, ... and we know that the
Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may
know Him that is true.' Then, if we have that knowledge, we shall
listen to the same Apostle's commandment, 'Keep yourselves from
idols,' even as the issue of Manasseh's knowledge of God was that 'he
took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the
Lord.'



JOSIAH

'Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in
Jerusalem one and thirty years. 2. And he did that which was right in
the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father, and
declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left. 3. For in the
eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek
after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to
purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and
the carved images, and the molten images. 4. And they brake down the
altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high
above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and
the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and
strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. 5.
And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed
Judah and Jerusalem. 6. And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and
Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round
about. 7. And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and
had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols
throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem. 8. Now in
the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the
house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor
of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the
house of the Lord his God. 9. And when they came to Hilkiah the high
priest, they delivered the money that was brought into the house of
God, which the Levites that kept the doors had gathered of the hand of
Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel, and of all
Judah and Benjamin; and they returned to Jerusalem. 10. And they put
it in the hand of the workmen that had the oversight of the house of
the Lord, and they gave it to the workmen that wrought in the house of
the Lord, to repair and amend the house: 11. Even to the artificers
and builders gave they it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for
couplings, and to floor the houses which the kings of Judah had
destroyed. 12. And the men did the work faithfully: and the overseers
of them were Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites, of the sons of Merari;
and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to set it
forward; and other of the Levites, all that could skill of instruments
of musick. 13. Also they were over the bearers of burdens, and were
overseers of all that wrought the work in any manner of service: and
of the Levites there were scribes, and officers, and porters.'--2
CHRON. xxxiv. 1-13.


Another boy king, even younger than his grandfather Manasseh had been
at his accession, and another reversal of the father's religion! These
vibrations from idolatry to Jehovah-worship, at the pleasure of the
king, sadly tell how little the people cared whom they worshipped, and
how purely a matter of ceremonies and names both their idolatry and
their Jehovah-worship were. The religion of the court was the religion
of the nation, only idolatry was more congenial than the service of
God. How far the child monarch Josiah had a deeper sense of what that
service meant we cannot decide, but the little outline sketch of him
in verses 2 and 3 is at least suggestive of his having it, and may
well stand as a fair portrait of early godliness.

A child eight years old, who had been lifted on to the throne of a
murdered father, must have had a strong will and a love of goodness to
have resisted the corrupting influences of royalty in a land full of
idols. Here again we see that, great as may be the power of
circumstances, they do not determine character; for it is always open
to us either to determine whether we yield to them or resist them. The
prevailing idolatry influenced the boy, but it influenced him to hate
it with all his heart. So out of the nettle danger we may pluck the
flower safety. The men who have smitten down some evil institution
have generally been brought up so as to feel its full force.

'He did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah'--that may mean
simply that he worshipped Jehovah by outward ceremonies, but it
probably means more; namely, that his life was pure and God-pleasing,
or, as we should say, clean and moral, free from the foul vices which
solicit a young prince. 'He walked in the ways of David his
father'--not being one of the 'emancipated' youths who think it manly
to throw off the restraints of their fathers' faith and morals. He
'turned not aside to the right hand or to the left'--but marched right
onwards on the road that conscience traced out for him, though
tempting voices called to him from many a side-alley that seemed to
lead to pleasant places. 'While he was yet young, he began to seek
after the God of David his father'--at the critical age of sixteen,
when Easterns are older than we, in the flush of early manhood, he
awoke to deeper experiences and felt the need for a closer touch of
God. A career thus begun will generally prelude a life pure,
strenuous, and blessed with a clearer and clearer vision of the God
who is always found of them that seek Him. Such a childhood,
blossoming into such a boyhood, and flowering in such a manhood, is
possible to every child among us. It will 'still bring forth fruit in
old age.'

The two incidents which the passage narrates, the purging of the land
and the repair of the Temple, are told in inverted order in 2 Kings,
but the order here is probably the more accurate, as dates are given,
whereas in 2 Kings, though the purging is related after the Temple
restoration, it is not said to have occurred after. But the order is
of small consequence. What is important is the fiery energy of Josiah
in the work of destruction of the idols. Here, there, everywhere, he
flames and consumes. He darts a flash even into the desolate ruins of
the Israelitish kingdom, where the idols had survived their devotees
and still bewitched the scanty fragments of Israel that remained. The
altars of stone were thrown down, the wooden sun-pillars were cut to
pieces, the metal images were broken and ground to powder. A clean
sweep was made.

A dash of ferocity mingled with contempt appears in Josiah's
scattering the 'dust' of the images on the graves of their
worshippers, as if he said: 'There you lie together, pounded idols and
dead worshippers, neither able to help the other!' The same feelings
prompted digging up the skeletons of priests and burning the bones on
the very altars that they had served, thus defiling the altars and
executing judgment on the priests. No doubt there were much violence
and a strong strain of the 'wrath of man' in all this. Iconoclasts are
wont to be 'violent'; and men without convictions, or who are
partisans of what the iconoclasts are rooting out, are horrified at
their want of 'moderation.' But though violence is always unchristian,
indifference to rampant evils is not conspicuously more Christian,
and, on the whole, you cannot throttle snakes in a graceful attitude
or without using some force to compress the sinuous neck.

The restoration of the Temple comes after the cleansing of the land,
in Chronicles, and naturally in the order of events, for the casting
out of idols must always precede the building or repairing of the
Temple of God. Destructive work is very poor unless it is for the
purpose of clearing a space to build the Temple on. Happy the man or
the age which is able to do both! Josiah and Joash worked at restoring
the Temple in much the same fashion, but Josiah had a priesthood more
interested than Joash had.

But we may note one or two points in his restoration. He had put his
personal effort into the preparatory extirpation of idols, but he did
not need to do so now. He could work this time by deputy. And it is
noteworthy that he chose 'laymen' to carry out the restoration.
Perhaps he knew how Joash had been balked by the knavery of the
priests who were diligent in collecting money, but slow in spending it
on the Temple. At all events, he delegated the work to three
highly-placed officials, the secretary of state, the governor of
Jerusalem, and the official historian.

It appears that for some time a collection had been going on for
Temple repairs; probably it had been begun six years before, when the
'purging' of the land began. It had been carried on by the Levites,
and had been contributed to even by 'the remnant of Israel' in the
northern kingdom, who, in their forlorn weakness, had begun to feel
the drawings of ancient brotherhood and the tie of a common worship.
This fund was in the keeping of the high priest, and the three
commissioners were instructed to require it from him. Here 2 Kings is
clearer than our passage, and shows that what the three officials had
mainly to do was to get the money from Hilkiah, and to hand it over to
the superintendents of the works.

There are two remarkable points in the narrative; one is the
observation that 'the men did the work faithfully,' which comes in
rather enigmatically here, but in 2 Kings is given as the reason why
no accounts were kept. Not an example to be imitated, and the sure way
to lead subordinates sooner or later to deal unfaithfully; but a
pleasant indication of the spirit animating all concerned.

Surely these men worked 'as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye.' That
is what makes us work faithfully, whether we have any earthly overseer
or audit or no. Another noteworthy matter is that not only were the
superintendents of the work--the 'contractors,' as we might
say--Levites, but so were also the inferior superintendents, or, as we
might say, 'foremen.'

And not only so, but they were those that 'were skilful with
instruments of music.' What were musicians doing there? Did the
building rise

  'with the sound
  Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet?'

May we not gather from this singular notice the great thought that for
all rearing of the true Temple, harps of praise are no less necessary
than swords or trowels, and that we shall do no right work for God or
man unless we do it as with melody in our hearts? Our lives must be
full of music if we are to lay even one stone in the Temple.



JOSIAH AND THE NEWLY FOUND LAW

'And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house
of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord
given by Moses. 15. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the
scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And
Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. 16 And Shaphan carried the book
to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that
was committed to thy servants, they do it. 17. And they have gathered
together the money that was found in the house of the Lord, and have
delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and to the hand of the
workmen. 18. Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah
the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.
19. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law,
that he rent his clothes. 20. And the king commanded Hilkiah, and
Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the
scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying, 21. Go, enquire of
the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah,
concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath
of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not
kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this
book. 22. And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to
Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son
of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the
college;) and they spake to her to that effect. 23. And she answered
them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you
to me. 24. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this
place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are
written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: 25.
Because they have forsaken Me, and have burned incense unto other
gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their
hands; therefore My wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and
shall not be quenched. 26. And as for the king of Judah, who sent you
to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord
God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; 27. Because
thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when
thou heardest His words against this place, and against the
inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before Me, and did rendst
thy clothes, and weep before Me; I have even heard thee also, saith
the Lord. 28. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou
shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see
all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the
inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.'--2
CHRON. xxxiv. 14-28.


About one hundred years separated Hezekiah's restoration from
Josiah's. Neither was more than a momentary arrest of the strong tide
running in the opposite direction; and Josiah's was too near the edge
of the cataract to last, or to avert the plunge. There is nothing more
tragical than the working of the law which often sets the children's
teeth on edge by reason of the fathers' eating of sour grapes.

I. The first point in this passage is the discovery of the book of the
Law.

The book had been lost before it was found. For how long we do not
know, but the fact that it had been so carelessly kept is eloquent of
the indifference of priests and kings, its appointed guardians.
Lawbreakers have a direct interest in getting rid of lawbooks, just as
shopkeepers who use short yardsticks and light weights are not anxious
the standards should be easily accessible. If we do not make God's law
our guide, we shall wish to put it out of sight, that it may not be
our accuser. What more sad or certain sign of evil can there be than
that we had rather not 'hear what God the Lord will speak'?

The straightforward story of our passage gives a most natural
explanation of the find. Hilkiah was likely to have had dark corners
cleared out in preparation for repairs and in storing the
subscriptions, and many a mislaid thing would turn up. If it be
possible that the book of the Law should have been neglected (and the
religious corruption of the last hundred years makes that only too
certain), its discovery in some dusty recess is very intelligible, and
would not have been doubted but for the exigencies of a theory.
'Reading between the lines' is fascinating, but risky; for the reader
is very likely unconsciously to do what Hilkiah is said to have
done--namely, to invent what he thinks he finds.

Accepting the narrative as it stands, we may see in it a striking
instance of the indestructibleness of God's Word. His law is
imperishable, and its written embodiment seems as if it, too, had a
charmed life. When we consider the perils attending the transmission
of ancient manuscripts, the necessary scarcity of copies before the
invention of printing, the scattering of the Jewish people, it does
appear as if a divine hand had guarded the venerable book. How came
this strange people, who never kept their Law, to swim through all
their troubles, like Caesar with his commentaries between his teeth,
bearing aloft and dry, the Word which they obeyed so badly? 'Write it
... in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever.'
The permanence of the written Word, the providence that has watched
over it, the romantic history of its preservation through ages of
neglect, and the imperishable gift to the world of an objective
standard of duty, remaining the same from age to age, are all
suggested by this reappearance of the forgotten Law.

It may suggest, too, that honest efforts after reformation are usually
rewarded by clearer knowledge of God's will. If Hilkiah had not been
busy in setting wrong things right, he would not have found the book
in its dark hiding-place. We are told that the coincidence of the
discovery at the nick of time is suspicious. So it is, if you do not
believe in Providence. If you do, the coincidence is but one instance
of His sending gifts of the right sort at the right moment. It is not
the first time nor the last that the attempt to keep God's law has led
to larger knowledge of the law. It is not the first time nor the last
that God has sent to His faithful servants an opportune gift. What the
world calls accidental coincidence deeper wisdom discerns to be the
touch of God's hand.

Again, the discovery reminds us that the true basis of all religious
reform is the Word of God. Josiah had begun to restore the Temple, but
he did not know till he heard the Law read how great the task was
which he had taken in hand. That recovered book gave impulse and
direction to his efforts. The nearest parallel is the rediscovery of
the Bible in the sixteenth century, or, if we may take one incident as
a symbol of the whole, Luther's finding the dusty Latin Bible among
the neglected convent books. The only reformation for an effete or
secularised church is in its return to the Bible. Faded flowers will
lift up their heads when plunged in water. The old Bible, discovered
and applied anew, must underlie all real renovation of dead or
moribund Christianity.

II. The next point here is the effect of the rediscovered Law. Shaphan
was closely connected with Josiah, as his office made him a confidant.
It is ordinarily taken for granted that he and the other persons named
in this lesson formed a little knot of earnest Jehovah worshippers,
fully sympathising with the Reformation, and that among them lay the
authorship of the book. But we know nothing about them except what is
told here and in the parallel in Kings. One of them, Ahikam, was a
friend and protector of Jeremiah, and Shaphan the scribe was the
father of another of Jeremiah's friends. They may all have been in
accord with the king, or they may not.

At all events, Shaphan took the book to Josiah. We can picture the
scene--the deepening awe of both men as the whole extent of the
nation's departure from God became clearer and clearer, the tremulous
tones of the reader, and the silent, fixed attention of the listener
as the solemn threatenings came from Shaphan's reluctant, pallid lips.
There was enough in them to touch a harder heart than Josiah's. We
cannot suppose that, knowing the history of the past, and being
sufficiently enlightened to 'seek after the God of David his father,'
he did not know in a general way that sin meant sorrow, and national
disobedience national death. But we all have the faculty of blunting
the cutting edge of truth, especially if it has been familiar, so that
some novelty in the manner of its presentation, or even its repetition
without novelty sometimes, may turn commonplace and impotent truth
into a mighty instrument to shake and melt.

So it seems to have been with Josiah. Whether new or old, the Word
found him as it had never done before. The venerable copy from which
Shaphan read, the coincidence of its discovery just then, the
dishonour done to it for so long, may all have helped the impression.
However it arose, it was made. If a man will give God's Word a fair
hearing, and be honest with himself, it will bring him to his knees.
No man rightly uses God's law who is not convinced by it of his sin,
and impelled to that self-abased sorrow of which the rent royal robes
were the passionate expression. Josiah was wise when he did not turn
his thoughts to other people's sins, but began with his own, even
whilst he included others. The first function of the law is to arouse
the knowledge of sin, as Paul profoundly teaches. Without that
penitent knowledge religion is superficial, and reformation merely
external. Unless we 'abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes,'
Scripture has not done its work on us, and all our reading of it is in
vain. Nor is there any good reason why familiarity with it should
weaken its power. But, alas! it too often does. How many of us would
stand in awe of God's judgments if we heard them for the first time,
but listen to them unmoved, as to thunder without lightning, merely
because wo know them so well! That is a reason for attending to them,
not for neglecting.

Josiah's sense of sin led him to long for a further word from God; and
so he called these attendants named in verse 20, and sent them to
'enquire of the Lord ... concerning the words of the book.' What more
did he wish to know? The words were plain enough, and their
application to Israel and him indubitable. Clearly, he could only wish
to know whether there was any possibility of averting the judgments,
and, if so, what was the means. The awakened conscience instinctively
feels that threatenings cannot be God's last words to it, but must
have been given that they might not need to be fulfilled. We do not
rightly sorrow for sin unless it quickens in us a desire for a word
from God to tell us how to escape. The Law prepares for the Gospel,
and is incomplete without it. 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die,'
cannot be all which a God of pity and love has to say. A faint promise
of life lies in the very fact of threatening death, faint indeed, but
sufficient to awaken earnest desire for yet another word from the
Lord. We rightly use the solemn revelations of God's law when we are
driven by them to cry, 'What must I do to be saved?'

III. So we come to the last point, the double-edged message of the
prophetess. Josiah does not seem to have told his messengers where to
go; but they knew, and went straight to a very unlikely person, the
wife of an obscure man, only known as his father's son. Where was
Jeremiah of Anathoth? Perhaps not in the city at the time. There had
been prophetesses in Israel before. Miriam, Deborah, the wife of
Isaiah, are instances of 'your daughters' prophesying; and this
embassy to Huldah is in full accord with the high position which women
held in that state, of which the framework was shaped by God Himself.
In Christ Jesus 'there is neither male nor female,' and Judaism
approximated much more closely to that ideal than other lands did.

Huldah's message has two parts: one the confirmation of the
threatenings of the Law; one the assurance to Josiah of acceptance of
his repentance and gracious promise of escape from the coming storm.
These two are precisely equivalent to the double aspect of the Gospel,
which completes the Law, endorsing its sentence and pointing the way
of escape.

Note that the former part addresses Josiah as 'the man that sent you,'
but the latter names him. The embassy had probably not disclosed his
name, and Huldah at first keeps up the veil, since the personality of
the sender had nothing to do with her answer; but when she comes to
speak of pardon and God's favour, there must be no vagueness in the
destination of the message, and the penitent heart must be tenderly
bound up by a word from God straight to itself. The threatenings are
general, but each single soul that is sorry for sin may take as its
very own the promise of forgiveness. God's great 'Whosoever' is for me
as certainly as if my name stood on the page.

The terrible message of the inevitableness of the destruction hanging
over Jerusalem is precisely parallel with the burden of all Jeremiah's
teaching. It was too late to avert the fall. The external judgments
must come now, for the emphasis of the prophecy is in its last words,
it 'shall not be quenched.' But that did not mean that repentance was
too late to alter the whole character of the punishment, which would
be fatherly chastisement if meekly accepted. So, too, Jeremiah taught,
when he exhorted submission to the 'Chaldees.' It is never too late to
seek mercy, though it may be too late to hope for averting the outward
consequences of sin.

As for Josiah, his penitence was accepted, and he was assured that he
would be gathered to his fathers. That expression, as is clear from
the places where it occurs, is not a synonym for either death or
burial, from both of which it is distinguished, but is a dim promise
of being united, beyond the grave, with the fathers, who, in some one
condition, which we may call a place, are gathered into a restful
company, and wander no more as pilgrims and sojourners in this lonely
and changeful life.

Josiah died in battle. Was that going to his grave in peace? Surely
yes! if, dying, he felt God's presence, and in the darkness saw a
great light. He who thus dies, though it be in the thick of battle,
and with his heart's blood pouring from an arrow-wound down on the
floor of the chariot, dies in peace, and into peace.



THE FALL OF JUDAH

'Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and
reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12. And he did that which was evil
in the sight of the Lord his God, and humbled not himself before
Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord. 13. And he
also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by
God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning
unto the Lord God of Israel. 14. Moreover all the chief of the
priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the
abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which
he had hallowed in Jerusalem. 15. And the Lord God of their fathers
sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending;
because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling-place:
16. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and
misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His
people, till there was no remedy. 17. Therefore he brought upon them
the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in
the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or
maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into
his hand. 18. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and
small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures
of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon. 19.
And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem,
and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the
goodly vessels thereof. 20. And them that had escaped from the sword
carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his
sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: 21. To fulfil the word
of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her
sabbaths; for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil
threescore and ten years.'--2 CHRON. xxxvi 11-21.


Bigness is not greatness, nor littleness smallness. Nebuchadnezzar's
conquest of Judah was, in his eyes, one of the least important of his
many victories, but it is the only one of them which survives in the
world's memory and keeps his name as a household word. The Jews were a
mere handful, and their country a narrow strip of land between the
desert and the sea; but little Judaea, like little Greece, has taught
the world. The tragedy of its fall has importance quite
disproportioned to its apparent magnitude. Our passage brings together
Judah's sin and Judah's punishment, and we shall best gather the
lessons of its fall by following the order of the text.

Consider the sin. There is nothing more remarkable than the tone in
which the chronicler, like all the Old Testament writers, deals with
the national sin. Patriotic historians make it a point of pride and
duty to gloss over their country's faults, but these singular
narrators paint them as strongly as they can. Their love of their
country impels them to 'make known to Israel its transgression and to
Judah its sin.' There are tears in their eyes, as who can doubt? But
there is no faltering in their voices as they speak. A higher feeling
than misguided 'patriotism' moves them. Loyalty to Israel's God forces
them to deal honestly with Israel's sin. That is the highest kind of
love of country, and might well be commended to loudmouthed 'patriots'
in modern lands.

Look at the piled-up clauses of the long indictment of Judah in verses
12 to 16. Slow, passionless, unsparing, the catalogue enumerates the
whole black list. It is like the long-drawn blast of the angel of
judgment's trumpet. Any trace of heated emotion would have weakened
the impression. The nation's sin was so crimson as to need no
heightening of colour. With like judicial calmness, with like
completeness, omitting nothing, does 'the book,' which will one day be
opened, set down every man's deeds, and he will be 'judged according
to the things that are written in this book.' Some of us will find our
page sad reading.

But the points brought out in this indictment are instructive. Judah's
idolatry and 'trespass after all the abominations of the heathen' is,
of course, prominent, but the spirit which led to their idolatry,
rather than the idolatry itself, is dwelt on. Zedekiah's doing 'evil
in the sight of the Lord' is regarded as aggravated by his not
humbling himself before Jeremiah, and the head and front of his
offending is that 'he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart from
turning unto the Lord.' Similarly, the people's sin reaches its climax
in their 'mocking' and 'scoffing' at the prophets and 'despising'
God's words by them. So then, an evil life has its roots in an
alienated heart, and the source of all sin is an obstinate self-will.
That is the sulphur-spring from which nothing but unwholesome streams
can flow, and the greatest of all sins is refusing to hear God's voice
when He speaks to us.

Further, this indictment brings out the patient love of God seeking,
in spite of all their deafness, to find a way to the sinners' ears and
hearts. In a bold transference to Him of men's ways, He is said to
have 'risen early' to send the prophets. Surely that means earnest
effort. The depths of God's heart are disclosed when we are bidden to
think of His compassion as the motive for the prophet's messages and
threatenings. What a wonderful and heart-melting revelation of God's
placableness, wistful hoping against hope, and reluctance to abandon
the most indurated sinner, is given in that centuries-long conflict of
the patient God with treacherous Israel! That divine charity suffered
long and was kind, endured all things and hoped all things.

Consider the punishment. The tragic details of the punishment are
enumerated with the same completeness and suppression of emotion as
those of the sin. The fact that all these were divine judgments brings
the chronicler to the Psalmist's attitude. 'I was dumb, I opened not
my mouth because Thou didst it.' Sorrow and pity have their place, but
the awed recognition of God's hand outstretched in righteous
retribution must come first. Modern sentimentalists, who are so
tenderhearted as to be shocked at the Christian teachings of judgment,
might learn a lesson here.

The first point to note is that a time arrives when even God can hope
for no amendment and is driven to change His methods. His patience is
not exhausted, but man's obstinacy makes another treatment inevitable.
God lavished benefits and pleadings for long years in vain, till He
saw that there was 'no remedy.' Only then did He, as if reluctantly
forced, do 'His work, His strange work.' Behold, therefore, the
'goodness and severity' of God, goodness in His long delay, severity
in the final blow, and learn that His purpose is the same though His
methods are opposite.

To the chronicler God is the true Actor in human affairs.
Nebuchadnezzar thought of his conquest as won by his own arm. Secular
historians treat the fall of Zedekiah as simply the result of the
political conditions of the time, and sometimes seem to think that it
could not be a divine judgment because it was brought about by natural
causes. But this old chronicler sees deeper, and to him, as to us, if
we are wise, 'the history of the world is the judgment of the world.'
The Nebuchadnezzars are God's axes with which He hews down fruitless
trees. They are responsible for their acts, but they are His
instruments, and it is His hand that wields them.

The iron band that binds sin and suffering is disclosed in Judah's
fall. We cannot allege that the same close connection between
godlessness and national disaster is exemplified now as it was in
Israel. Nor can we contend that for individuals suffering is always
the fruit of sin. But it is still true that 'righteousness exalteth a
nation,' and that 'by the soul only are the nations great,' in the
true sense of the word. To depart from God is always 'a bitter and an
evil thing' for communities and individuals, however sweet draughts of
outward prosperity may for a time mask the bitterness. Not armies nor
fleets, not ships, colonies and commerce, not millionaires and trusts,
not politicians and diplomatists, but the fear of the Lord and the
keeping of His commandments, are the true life of a nation. If
Christian men lived up to the ideal set them by Jesus, 'Ye are the
salt of the land,' and sought more earnestly and wisely to leaven
their nation, they would be doing more than any others to guarantee
its perpetual prosperity.

The closing words of this chapter, not included in the passage, are
significant. They are the first words of the Book of Ezra. Whoever put
them here perhaps wished to show a far-off dawn following the stormy
sunset. He opens a 'door of hope' in 'the valley of trouble.' It is an
Old Testament version of 'God hath not cast away His people whom He
foreknew.' It throws a beam of light on the black last page of the
chronicle, and reveals that God's chastisement was in love, that it
was meant for discipline, not for destruction, that it was
educational, and that the rod was burned when the lesson had been
learned. It was learned, for the Captivity cured the nation of
hankering after idolatry, and whatever defects it brought back from
Babylon, it brought back a passionate abhorrence of all the gods of
the nations.



EZRA


THE EVE OF THE RESTORATION

'Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the
Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up
the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation
throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 2.
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me
all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a
house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3. Who is there among you of
all His people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem,
which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He
is the God), which is in Jerusalem. 4. And whosoever remaineth in any
place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with
silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the
freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. 5. Then
rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the
priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised,
to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. 6. And
all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of
silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious
things, besides all that was willingly offered. 7. Also Cyrus the king
brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, which
Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in
the house of his gods; 8. Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring
forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto
Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. 9. And this is the number of them:
thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and
twenty knives, 10. Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second
sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand. 11. All the
vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All
these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were
brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.'--EZRA i. 1-11.


Cyrus captured Babylon 538 B.C., and the 'first year' here is the
first after that event. The predicted seventy years' captivity had
nearly run out, having in part done their work on the exiles. Colours
burned in on china are permanent; and the furnace of bondage had, at
least, effected this, that it fixed monotheism for ever in the inmost
substance of the Jewish people. But the bulk of them seem to have had
little of either religious or patriotic enthusiasm, and preferred
Babylonia to Judea. We are here told of the beginning of the return of
a portion of the exiles--forty-two thousand, in round numbers.

'The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.' That unveils the deepest
cause of what fell into place, to the superficial observers, as one
among many political events of similar complexion. We find among the
inscriptions a cylinder written by order of Cyrus, which shows that he
reversed the Babylonian policy of deporting conquered nations. 'All
their peoples,' says he, in reference to a number of nations of whom
he found members in exile in Babylonia, 'I assembled and restored to
their lands and the gods ... whom Nabonidos ... had brought into
Babylon, I settled in peace in their sanctuaries' (Sayce, _Fresh
Light from the Ancient Monuments_, p. 148). It was, then, part of a
wider movement, which sent back Zerubbabel and his people to
Jerusalem, and began the rebuilding of the Temple. No doubt, Cyrus had
seen that the old plan simply brought an element of possible rebellion
into the midst of the country, and acted on grounds of political
prudence.

But our passage digs deeper to find the true cause. Cyrus was God's
instrument, and the statesman's insight was the result of God's
illumination. The divine causality moves men, when they move
themselves. It was not only in the history of the chosen people that
God's purpose is wrought out by more or less conscious and willing
instruments. The principle laid down by the writer of this book is of
universal application, and the true 'philosophy of history' must
recognise as underlying all other so-called causes and forces the one
uncaused Cause, of whose purposes kings and politicians are the
executants, even while they freely act according to their own
judgments, and, it may be, in utter unconsciousness of Him. It
concerns our tranquillity and hopefulness, in the contemplation of the
bewildering maze and often heart-breaking tragedy of mundane affairs,
to hold fast by the conviction that God's unseen Hand moves the pieces
on the board, and presides over all the complications. The difference
between 'sacred' and 'profane' history is not that one is under His
direct control, and the other is not. What was true of Cyrus and his
policy is as true of England. Would that politicians and all men
recognised the fact as clearly as this historian did!

I. Cyrus's proclamation sounds as if he were a Jehovah-worshipper, but
it is to be feared that his religion was of a very accommodating kind.
It used to be said that, as a Persian, he was a monotheist, and would
consequently be in sympathy with the Jews; but the same cylinder
already quoted shatters that idea, and shows him to have been a
polytheist, ready to worship the gods of Babylon. He there ascribes
his conquest to 'Merodach, the great lord,' and distinctly calls
himself that god's 'worshipper.' Like other polytheists, he had room
in his pantheon for the gods of other nations, and admitted into it
the deities of the conquered peoples.

The use of the name 'Jehovah' would, no doubt, be most simply
accounted for by the supposition that Cyrus recognised the sole
divinity of the God of Israel; but that solution conflicts with all
that is known of him, and with his characterisation in Isaiah xlv. as
'not knowing' Jehovah. More probably, his confession of Jehovah as the
God of heaven was consistent in his mind with a similar confession as
to Bel-Merodach or the supreme god of any other of the conquered
nations. There is, however no improbability in the supposition that
the prophecies concerning him in Isaiah xlv, may have been brought to
his knowledge, and be referred to in the proclamation as the 'charge'
given to him to build Jehovah's Temple. But we must not exaggerate the
depth or exclusiveness of his belief in the God of the Jews.

Cyrus's profession of faith, then, is an example of official and
skin-deep religion, of which public and individual life afford
plentiful instances in all ages and faiths. If we are to take their
own word for it, most great conquerors have been very religious men,
and have asked a blessing over many a bloody feast. All religions are
equally true to cynical politicians, who are ready to join in
worshipping 'Jehovah, Jove, or Lord,' as may suit their policy. Nor is
it only in high places that such loosely worn professions are found.
Perhaps there is no region of life in which insincerity, which is
often quite unconscious, is so rife as in regard to religious belief.
But unless my religion is everything, it is nothing. 'All in all, or
not at all,' is the requirement of the great Lover of souls. What a
winnowing of chaff from wheat there would be, if that test could
visibly separate the mass which is gathered on His threshing-floor,
the Church!

Cyrus's belief in Jehovah illustrates the attitude which was natural
to a polytheist, and is so difficult for us to enter into. A vague
belief in One Supreme, above all other gods, and variously named by
different nations, is buried beneath mountains of myths about lesser
gods, but sometimes comes to light in many pagan minds. This blind
creed, if creed it can be called, is joined with the recognition of
deities belonging to each nation, whose worship is to be co-extensive
with the race of which they are patrons, and who may be absorbed into
the pantheon of a conqueror, just as a vanquished king may be allowed
an honourable captivity at the victor's capital. Thus Cyrus could in a
sense worship Jehovah, the God of Israel, without thereby being
rebellious to Merodach.

There are people, even among so-called Christians, who try the same
immoral and impossible division of what must in its very nature be
wholly given to One Supreme. To 'serve God and mammon' is demonstrably
an absurd attempt. The love and trust and obedience which are worthy
of Him must be wholehearted, whole-souled, whole-willed. It is as
impossible to love God with part of one's self as it is for a husband
to love his wife with half his heart, and another woman with the rest.
To divide love is to slay it. Cyrus had some kind of belief in
Jehovah; but his own words, so wonderfully recovered in the
inscription already referred to, proved that he had not listened to
the command, 'Him only shalt thou serve.' That command grips us as
closely as it did the Jews, and is as truly broken by thousands
calling themselves Christians as by any idolaters.

The substance of the proclamation is a permission to return to any one
who wished to do so, a sanction of the rebuilding of the Temple, and
an order to the native inhabitants to render help in money, goods, and
beasts. A further contribution towards the building was suggested as
'a free-will offering.' The return, then, was not to be at the expense
of the king, nor was any tax laid on for it; but neighbourly goodwill,
born of seventy years of association, was invoked, and, as we find,
not in vain. God had given the people favour in the eyes of those who
had carried them captive.

II. The long years of residence in Babylonia had weakened the
homesickness which the first generation of captives had, no doubt,
painfully experienced, and but a small part of them cared to avail
themselves of the opportunity of return. One reason is frankly given
by Josephus: 'Many remained in Babylon, not wishing to leave their
possessions behind them.' 'The heads of the fathers' houses [who may
have exercised some sort of government among the captives], the
priests and Levites,' made the bulk of the emigrants; but in each
class it was only those 'whose spirit God had stirred up' (as he had
done Cyrus') that were devout or patriotic enough to face the wrench
of removal and the difficulties of repeopling a wasted land. There was
nothing to tempt any others, and the brave little band had need of all
their fortitude. But no heart in which the flame of devotion burned,
or in which were felt the drawings of that passionate love of the city
and soil where God dwelt (which in the best days of the nation was
inseparable from devotion), could remain behind. The departing
contingent, then, were the best part of the whole; and the lingerers
were held back by love of ease, faint-heartedness, love of wealth, and
the like ignoble motives.

How many of us have had great opportunities offered for service, which
we have let slip in like manner! To have doors opened which we are too
lazy, too cowardly, too much afraid of self-denial, to enter, is the
tragedy and the crime of many a life. It is easier to live among the
low levels of the plain of Babylon, than to take to the dangers and
privations of the weary tramp across the desert. The ruins of
Jerusalem are a much less comfortable abode than the well-furnished
houses which have to be left. Prudence says, 'Be content where you
are, and let other people take the trouble of such mad schemes as
rebuilding the Temple.' A thousand excuses sing in our ears, and we
let the moment in which alone some noble resolve is possible slide
past us, and the rest of life is empty of another such. Neglected
opportunities, unobeyed calls to high deeds, we all have in our lives.
The saddest of all words is, 'It might have been.' How much wiser,
happier, nobler, were the daring souls that rose to the occasion, and
flung ease and wealth and companionship behind them, because they
heard the divine command couched in the royal permission, and humbly
answered, 'Here am I; send me'!

III. The third point in the passage is singular--the inventory of the
Temple vessels returned by Cyrus. As to its particulars, we need only
note that Sheshbazzar is the same as Zerubbabel; that the exact
translation of some of the names of the vessels is doubtful; and that
the numbers given under each head do not correspond with the sum
total, the discrepancy indicating error somewhere in the numbers.

But is not this dry enumeration a strange item to come in the
forefront of the narrative of such an event? We might have expected
some kind of production of the enthusiasm of the returning exiles,
some account of how they were sent on their journey, something which
we should have felt worthier of the occasion than a list of bowls and
nine-and-twenty knives. But it is of a piece with the whole of the
first part of this Book of Ezra, which is mostly taken up with a
similar catalogue of the members of the expedition. The list here
indicates the pride and joy with which the long hidden and often
desecrated vessels were received. We can see the priests and Levites
gazing at them as they were brought forth, their hearts, and perhaps
their eyes, filling with sacred memories. The Lord had 'turned again
the captivity of Zion,' and these sacred vessels lay there, glittering
before them, to assure them that they were not as 'them that dream.'
Small things become great when they are the witnesses of a great
thing.

We must remember, too, how strong a hold the externals of worship had
on the devout Jew. His faith was much more tied to form than ours
ought to be, and the restoration of the sacrificial implements as a
pledge of the re-establishment of the Temple worship would seem the
beginning of a new epoch of closer relation to Jehovah. It is almost
within the lifetime of living men that all Scotland was thrilled with
emotion by the discovery, in a neglected chamber, of a chest in which
lay, forgotten, the crown and sceptre of the Stuarts. A like wave of
feeling passed over the exiles as they had given back to their custody
these Temple vessels. Sacreder ones are given into our hands, to carry
across a more dangerous desert. Let us hear the charge, 'Be ye clean,
that bear the vessels of the Lord,' and see that we carry them,
untarnished and unlost, to 'the house of the Lord which is in
Jerusalem.'



ALTAR AND TEMPLE

'And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were
in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to
Jerusalem. 2. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his
brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his
brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt
offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of
God. 3. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them
because of the people of those countries; and they offered burnt
offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and
evening. 4. They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written,
and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the
custom, as the duty of every day required; 5. And afterward offered
the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the
set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that
willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord. 6. From the first
day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the
Lord. But the foundation of the Temple of the Lord was not yet laid.
7. They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and
meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to
bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the
grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia. 8. Now in the second year
of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second
month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of
Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the
Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto
Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and
upward, to set forward the work of the house of the Lord. 9. Then
stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the
sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of
God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the
Levites. 10. And when the builders laid the foundation of the Temple
of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and
the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord,
after the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11. And they sang
together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord;
because He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And
all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord,
because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12. But many
of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient
men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house
was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted
aloud for joy: 13. So that the people could not discern the noise of
the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the
people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar
off.'--EZRA iii. 1-13.


What an opportunity of 'picturesque' writing the author of this book
has missed by his silence about the incidents of the march across the
dreary levels from Babylon to the verge of Syria! But the very silence
is eloquent. It reveals the purpose of the book, which is to tell of
the re-establishment of the Temple and its worship. No doubt the tone
of the whole is somewhat prosaic, and indicative of an age in which
the externals of worship bulked largely; but still the central point
of the narrative was really the centre-point of the events. The
austere simplicity of biblical history shows the real points of
importance better than more artistic elaboration would do.

This passage has two main incidents--the renewal of the sacrifices,
and the beginning of rebuilding the Temple.

The date given in verse 1 is significant. The first day of the seventh
month was the commencement of the great festival of tabernacles, the
most joyous feast of the year, crowded with reminiscences from the
remote antiquity of the Exodus, and from the dedication of Solomon's
Temple. How long had passed since Cyrus' decree had been issued we do
not know, nor whether his 'first year' was reckoned by the same
chronology as the Jewish year, of which we here arrive at the seventh
month. But the journey across the desert must have taken some months,
and the previous preparations could not have been suddenly got
through, so that there can have been but a short time between the
arrival in Judea and the gathering together 'as one man to Jerusalem.'

There was barely interval enough for the returning exiles to take
possession of their ancestral fields before they were called to leave
them unguarded and hasten to the desolate city. Surely their glad and
unanimous obedience to the summons, or, as it may even have been,
their spontaneous assemblage unsummoned, is no small token of their
ardour of devotion, even if they were somewhat slavishly tied to
externals. It would take a good deal to draw a band of new settlers in
our days to leave their lots and set to putting up a church before
they had built themselves houses.

The leaders of the band of returned exiles demand a brief notice. They
are Jeshua, or Joshua, and Zerubbabel. In verse 2 the ecclesiastical
dignitary comes first, but in verse 8 the civil. Similarly in Ezra ii.
2, Zerubbabel precedes Jeshua. In Haggai, the priest is pre-eminent;
in Zechariah the prince. The truth seems to be that each was supreme
in his own department, and that they understood each other cordially,
or, Zechariah says, 'the counsel of peace' was 'between them both.' It
is sometimes bad for the people when priests and rulers lay their
heads together; but it is even worse when they pull different ways,
and subjects are torn in two by conflicting obligations.

Jeshua was the grandson of Seraiah, the unfortunate high-priest whose
eyes Nebuchadnezzar put out after the fall of Jerusalem. His son
Jozadak succeeded to the dignity, though there could be no sacrifices
in Babylon, and after him his son Jeshua. He cannot have been a young
man at the date of the return; but age had not dimmed his enthusiasm,
and the high-priest was where he ought to have been, in the forefront
of the returning exiles. His name recalls the other Joshua, likewise a
leader from captivity and the desert; and, if we appreciate the
significance attached to names in Scripture, we shall scarcely suppose
it accidental that these two, who had similar work to do, bore the
same name as the solitary third, of whom they were pale shadows, the
greater Joshua, who brings His people from bondage into His own land
of peace, and builds the Temple.

Zerubbabel ('Sown in Babylon') belonged to a collateral branch of the
royal family. The direct Davidic line through Solomon died with the
wretched Zedekiah and Jeconiah, but the descendants of another son of
David's, Nathan, still survived. Their representative was one
Salathiel, who, on the failure of the direct line, was regarded as the
'son of Jeconiah' (1 Chron. iii. 17). He seems to have had no son, and
Zerubbabel, who was really his nephew (1 Chron. iii. 19), was legally
adopted as his son. In this makeshift fashion, some shadow of the
ancient royalty still presided over the restored people. We see
Zerubbabel better in Haggai and Zechariah than in Ezra, and can
discern the outline of a strong, bold, prompt nature. He had a hard
task, and he did it like a man. Patient, yet vigorous, glowing with
enthusiasm, yet clear-eyed, self-forgetful, and brave, he has had
scant justice done him, and ought to be a very much more familiar and
honoured figure than he is. 'Who art thou, O great mountain? Before
Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.' Great mountains only become
plains before men of strong wills and fixed faith.

There is something very pathetic in the picture of the assembled
people groping amid the ruins on the Temple hill, to find 'the bases,'
the half-obliterated outlines, of the foundations of the old altar of
burnt offerings. What memories of Araunah's threshing-floor, and of
the hovering angel of destruction, and of the glories of Solomon's
dedication, and of the long centuries during which the column of smoke
had gone up continually from that spot, and of the tragical day when
the fire was quenched, and of the fifty years of extinction, must have
filled their hearts! What a conflict of gladness and sorrow must have
troubled their spirits as the flame again shot upwards from the hearth
of God, cold for so long!

But the reason for their so quickly rearing the altar is noteworthy.
It was because 'fear was upon them because of the people of the
countries.' The state of the Holy Land at the return must be clearly
comprehended. Samaria and the central district were in the hands of
bitter enemies. Across Jordan in the east, down on the Philistine
plain in the west, and in the south where Edom bore sway, eager
enemies sulkily watched the small beginnings of a movement which they
were interested in thwarting. There was only the territory of Judah
and Benjamin left free for the exiles, and they had reason for their
fears; for their neighbours knew that if restitution was to be the
order of the day, they would have to disgorge a good deal. What was
the defence against such foes which these frightened men thought most
impregnable? That altar!

No doubt, much superstition mingled with their religion. Haggai leaves
us under no illusions as to their moral and spiritual condition. They
were no patterns of devoutness or of morality. But still, what they
did carries an eternal truth; and they were reverting to the original
terms of Israel's tenure of their land when they acted on the
conviction that their worship of Jehovah according to His commandment
was their surest way of finding shelter from all their enemies. There
are differences plain enough between their condition and ours; but it
is as true for us as ever it was for them, that our safety is in God,
and that, if we want to find shelter from impending dangers, we shall
be wiser to betake ourselves to the altar and sit suppliant there than
to make defences for ourselves. The ruined Jerusalem was better
guarded by that altar than if its fallen walls had been rebuilt.

The whole ritual was restored, as the narrative tells with obvious
satisfaction in the enumeration. To us this punctilious attention to
the minutiae of sacrificial worship sounds trivial. But we equally err
if we try to bring such externalities into the worship of the
Christian Church, and if we are blind to their worth at an earlier
stage.

There cannot be a temple without an altar, but there may be an altar
without a temple. God meets men at the place of sacrifice, even though
there be no house for His name. The order of events here teaches us
what is essential for communion with God. It is the altar. Sacrifice
laid there is accepted, whether it stand on a bare hill-top, or have
round it the courts of the Lord's house.

The second part of the passage narrates the laying of the foundations
of the Temple. There had been contracts entered into with masons and
carpenters, and arrangements made with the Phoenicians for timber, as
soon as the exiles had returned; but of course some time elapsed
before the stone and timber were sufficient to make a beginning with.
Note in verse 7 the reference to Cyrus' grant as enabling the people
to get these stores together. Whether the whole preparations, or only
the transport of cedar wood, is intended to be traced to the influence
of that decree, there seems to be a tacit contrast, in the writer's
mind, with the glorious days when no heathen king had to be consulted,
and Hiram and Solomon worked together like brothers. Now, so fallen
are we, that Tyre and Sidon will not look at us unless we bring Cyrus'
rescript in our hands!

If the 'years' in verses 1 and 8 are calculated from the same
beginning, some seven months were spent in preparation, and then the
foundation was laid. Two things are noted--the humble attempt at
making some kind of a display on the occasion, and the conflict of
feeling in the onlookers. They had managed to get some copies of the
prescribed vestments; and the narrator emphasises the fact that the
priests were 'in their apparel,' and that the Levites had cymbals, so
that some approach to the pomp of Solomon's dedication was possible.
They did their best to adhere to the ancient prescriptions, and it was
no mere narrow love of ritual that influenced them. However we may
breathe a freer air of worship, we cannot but sympathise with that
earnest attempt to do everything 'according to the order of David king
of Israel.' Not only punctiliousness as to ritual, but the magnetism
of glorious memories, prescribed the reproduction of that past. Rites
long proscribed become very sacred, and the downtrodden successors of
mighty men will cling with firm grasp to what the greater fathers did.

The ancient strain which still rings from Christian lips, and bids
fair to be as eternal as the mercies which it hymns, rose with strange
pathos from the lips of the crowd on the desolate Temple mountain,
ringed about by the waste solitudes of the city: 'For He is good, for
His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel.' It needed some faith to
sing that song then, even with the glow of return upon them. What of
all the weary years? What of the empty homesteads, and the surrounding
enemies, and the brethren still in Babylon? No doubt some at least of
the rejoicing multitude had learned what the captivity was meant to
teach, and had come to bless God, both for the long years of exile,
which had burned away much dross, and for the incomplete work of
restoration, surrounded though they were with foes, and little as was
their strength to fight. The trustful heart finds occasion for
unmingled praise in the most mingled cup of joy and sorrow.

There can have been very few in that crowd who had seen the former
Temple, and their memories of its splendour must have been very dim.
But partly remembrance and partly hearsay made the contrast of the
past glories and the present poverty painful. Hence that pathetic and
profoundly significant incident of the blended shouts of the young and
tears of the old. One can fancy that each sound jarred on the ears of
those who uttered the other. But each was wholly natural to the years
of the two classes. Sad memories gather, like evening mists, round
aged lives, and the temptation of the old is unduly to exalt the past,
and unduly to depreciate the present. Welcoming shouts for the new
befit young lips, and they care little about the ruins that have to be
carted off the ground for the foundations of the temple which they are
to have a hand in building. However imperfect, it is better to them
than the old house where the fathers worshipped.

But each class should try to understand the other's feelings. The
friends of the old should not give a churlish welcome to the new, nor
those of the new forget the old. It is hard to blend the two, either
in individual life or in a wider sphere of thought or act. The seniors
think the juniors revolutionary and irreverent; the juniors think the
seniors fossils. It is possible to unite the shout of joy and the
weeping. Unless a spirit of reverent regard for the past presides over
the progressive movements of this or any day, they will not lay a
solid foundation for the temple of the future. We want the old and the
young to work side by side, if the work is to last and the sanctuary
is to be ample enough to embrace all shades of character and
tendencies of thought. If either the grey beards of Solomon's court or
the hot heads of Rehoboam's get the reins in their hands, they will
upset the chariot. That mingled sound of weeping and joy from the
Temple hill tells a more excellent way.



BUILDING IN TROUBLOUS TIMES

'Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the
children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of
Israel; 2. Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the
fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your
God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of
Esar-haddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. 3. But
Zerubbabel, and Joshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of
Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an
house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord
God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. 4.
Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah,
and troubled them in building, 5. And hired counsellors against them,
to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even
until the reign of Darius king of Persia.'--EZRA iv. 1-5.


Opposition began as soon as the foundations were laid, as is usually
the case with all great attempts to build God's house. It came from
the Samaritans, the mingled people who were partly descendants of the
ancient remnant of the northern kingdom, left behind after the removal
by deportation of the bulk of its population, and partly the
descendants of successive layers of immigrants, planted in the empty
territory by successive Assyrian and Babylonian kings. Esar-haddon was
the first who had sent colonists, about one hundred and thirty years
before the return. The writer calls the Samaritans 'the adversaries,'
though they began by offers of friendship and alliance. The name
implies that these offers were perfidious, and a move in the struggle.

One can easily understand that the Samaritans looked with suspicion on
the new arrivals, the ancient possessors of the land, coming under the
auspices of the new dynasty, and likely to interfere with their
position if not reduced to inferiority or neutralised somehow. The
proposal to unite in building the Temple was a political move; for, in
old-world ideas, co-operation in Temple-building was incorporation in
national unity. The calculation, no doubt, was that if the returning
exiles could be united with the much more numerous Samaritans, they
would soon be absorbed in them. The only chance for the smaller body
was to keep itself apart, and to run the risk of its isolation.

The insincere request was based on an untruth, for the Samaritans did
not worship Jehovah as the Jews, but along with their own gods (2
Kings xvii. 25-41). To divide His dominion with others was to dethrone
Him altogether. It therefore became an act of faithfulness to Jehovah
to reject the entangling alliance. To have accepted it would have been
tantamount to frustrating the very purpose of the return, and
consenting to be muzzled about the sin of idolatry. But the chief
lesson which exile had burned in on the Jewish mind was a loathing of
idolatry, which is in remarkable contrast to the inclination to it
that had marked their previous history. So one answer only was
possible, and it was given with unwelcome plainness of speech, which
might have been more courteous, and not less firm. It flatly denied
any common ground; it claimed exclusive relation to 'our God,' which
meant, 'not yours'; it underscored the claim by reiterating that
Jehovah was the 'God of Israel'; it put forward the decree of Cyrus,
as leaving no option but to confine the builders to the people whom it
had empowered to build.

Now, it is easy to represent this as a piece of impolitic narrowness,
and to say that its surly bigotry was rightly punished by the evils
that it brought down on the returning exiles. The temper of much
flaccid Christianity at present delights to expand in a lazy and
foolish 'liberality,' which will welcome anybody to come and take a
hand at the building, and accepts any profession of unity in worship.
But there is no surer way of taking the earnestness out of Christian
work and workers than drafting into it a mass of non-Christians,
whatever their motives may be. Cold water poured into a boiling pot
will soon stop its bubbling, and bring down its temperature. The
churches are clogged and impeded, and their whole tone lowered and
chilled, by a mass of worldly men and women. Nothing is gained, and
much is in danger of being lost, by obliterating the lines between the
church and the world. The Jew who thought little of the difference
between the Samaritan worship with its polytheism, and his own
monotheism, was in peril of dropping to the Samaritan level. The
Samaritan who was accepted as a true worshipper of Jehovah, though he
had a bevy of other gods in addition, would have been confirmed in his
belief that the differences were unimportant. So both would have been
harmed by what called itself 'liberality,' and was in reality
indifference.

No doubt, Zerubbabel had counted the cost of faithfulness, and he soon
had to pay it. The would-be friends threw off the mask, and, as they
could not hinder by pretending to help, took a plainer way to stop
progress. All the weapons that Eastern subtlety and intrigue could use
were persistently employed to 'weaken the hands' of the builders, and
the most potent of all methods, bribery to Persian officials, was
freely used. The opponents triumphed, and the little community began
to taste the bitterness of high hopes disappointed and noble
enterprises frustrated. How differently things had turned out from the
expectations with which the company had set forth from Babylon! The
rough awakening to realities disillusions us all when we come to turn
dreams into facts. The beginning of laying the Temple foundations is
put in 536 B.C.; the first year of Darius was 522. How soon after the
commencement of the work the Samaritan tricks succeeded we do not
know, but it must have been some time before the death of Cyrus in
529. For weary years then the sanguine band had to wait idly, and no
doubt enthusiasm died out: they had enough to do in keeping themselves
alive, and in holding their own amidst enemies. They needed, as we all
do, patience, and a willingness to wait for God's own time to fulfil
His own promise.



THE NEW TEMPLE AND ITS WORSHIP

'And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the
prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo: and
they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God
of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and
Artaxerxes king of Persia. 15. And this house was finished on the
third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign
of Darius the king. 16. And the children of Israel, the priests, and
the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the
dedication of this house of God with joy, 17. And offered at the
dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams,
four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve
he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18. And
they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their
courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is
written in the book of Moses. 19. And the children of the captivity
kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month. 20. For
the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were
pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity,
and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. 21. And the
children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all
such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the
heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat, 22. And
kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord
had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto
them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the
God of Israel.'--EZRA. vi. 14-22.


There are three events recorded in this passage,--the completion of
the Temple, its dedication, and the keeping of the passover some weeks
thereafter. Four years intervene between the resumption of building
and its successful finish, much of which time had been occupied by the
interference of the Persian governor, which compelled a reference to
Darius, and resulted in his confirmation of Cyrus' charter. The king's
stringent orders silenced opposition, and seem to have been loyally,
however unwillingly, obeyed. About twenty-three years passed between
the return of the exiles and the completion of the Temple.

I. The prosperous close of the long task (vers. 14, 15). The narrative
enumerates three points in reference to the completion of the Temple
which are very significant, and, taken together, set forth the
stimulus and law and helps of work for God.

It is expressive of deep truth that first in order is named, as the
cause of success, 'the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah.'
'Practical men,' no doubt, then as always, set little store by the two
prophets' fiery words, and thought that a couple of masons would have
done more for the building than they did. The contempt for 'ideas' is
the mark of shallow and vulgar minds. Nothing is more practical than
principles and motives which underlie and inform work, and these two
prophets did more for building the Temple by their words than an army
of labourers with their hands. 'There are diversities of operations,'
and it is not given to every man to handle a trowel; but no good work
will be prosperously accomplished unless there be engaged in it
prophets who rouse and rebuke and hearten, and toilers who by their
words are encouraged and saved from forgetting the sacred motives and
great ends of their work in the monotony and multiplicity of details.

Still more important is the next point mentioned. The work was done
'according to the commandment of the God of Israel.' There is peculiar
beauty and pathos in that name, which is common in Ezra. It speaks of
the sense of unity in the nation, though but a fragment of it had come
back. There was still an Israel, after all the dreary years, and in
spite of present separation. God was still its God, though He had
hidden His face for so long. An inextinguishable faith, wistful but
assured, in His unalterable promise, throbs in that name, so little
warranted by a superficial view of circumstances, but so amply
vindicated by a deeper insight. His 'commandment' is at once the
warrant and the standard for the work of building. In His service we
are to be sure that He bids, and then to carry out His will whoever
opposes.

We are to make certain that our building is 'according to the pattern
showed in the mount,' and, if so, to stick to it in every point. There
is no room for more than one architect in rearing the temple. The
working drawings must come from Him. We are only His workmen. And
though we may know no more of the general plan of the structure than
the day-labourer who carries a hod does, we must be sure that we have
His orders for our little bit of work, and then we may be at rest even
while we toil. They who build according to His commandment build for
eternity, and their work shall stand the trial by fire. That motive
turns what without it were but 'wood, hay, stubble,' into 'gold and
silver and precious stones.'

The last point is that the work was done according to the commandment
of the heathen kings. We need not discuss the chronological difficulty
arising from the mention of Artaxerxes here. The only king of that
name who can be meant reigned fifty years after the events here
narrated. The mention of him here has been explained by 'the
consideration that he contributed to the maintenance, though not to
the building, of the Temple.' Whatever is the solution, the intention
of the mention of the names of the friendly monarchs is plain. 'The
king's heart is in the hand of the Lord as the watercourses; He
turneth it whithersoever He will.' The wonderful providence,
surpassing all hopes, which gave the people 'favour in the eyes of
them that carried them captive,' animates the writer's thankfulness,
while he recounts that miracle that the commandment of God was
re-echoed by such lips. The repetition of the word in both clauses
underscores, as it were, the remarkable concurrence.

II. The dedication of the Temple (vers. 16-18). How long the
dedication was after the completion is not specified. The month Adar
was the last of the Jewish year, and corresponded nearly with our
March. Probably the ceremonial of dedication followed immediately on
the completion of the building. Probably few, if any, of the aged men,
who had wept at the founding, survived to see the completion of the
Temple. A new generation had no such sad contrasts of present
lowliness and former glory to shade their gladness. So many dangers
surmounted, so many long years of toil interrupted and hope deferred,
gave keener edge to joy in the fair result of them all.

We may cherish the expectation that our long tasks, and often
disappointments, will have like ending if they have been met and done
in like spirit, having been stimulated by prophets and commanded by
God. It is not wholesome nor grateful to depreciate present blessings
by contrasting them with vanished good. Let us take what God gives
to-day, and not embitter it by remembering yesterday with vain regret.
There is a remembrance of the former more splendid Temple in the name
of the new one, which is thrice repeated in the passage,--'this
house.' But that phrase expresses gratitude quite as much as, or more
than, regret. The former house is gone, but there is still 'this
house,' and it is as truly God's as the other was. Let us grasp the
blessings we have, and be sure that in them is continued the substance
of those we have lost.

The offerings were poor, if compared with Solomon's 'two and twenty
thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep' (1 Kings
viii. 63), and no doubt the despisers of the 'day of small things,'
whom Zechariah had rebuked, would be at their depreciating work again.
But 'if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to
that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.' The
thankfulness of the offerers, not the number of their bullocks and
rams, made the sacrifice well pleasing. But it would not have been so
if the exiles' resources had been equal to the great King's. How many
cattle had they in their stalls at home, not how many they brought to
the Temple, was the important question. The man who says, 'Oh! God
accepts small offerings,' and gives a mite while he keeps talents,
might as well keep his mite too; for certainly God will not have it.

A significant part of the offerings was the 'twelve he-goats,
according to the number of the tribes of Israel.' These spoke of the
same confidence as we have already noticed as being expressed by the
designation of 'the God of Israel.' Possibly scattered members of all
the tribes had come back, and so there was a kind of skeleton
framework of the nation present at the dedication; but, whether that
be so or not, that handful of people was not Israel. Thousands of
their brethren still lingered in exile, and the hope of their return
must have been faint. Yet God's promise remained, and Israel was
immortal. The tribes were still twelve, and the sacrifices were still
theirs. A thrill of emotion must have touched many hearts as the
twelve goats were led up to the altar. So an Englishman feels as he
looks at the crosses on the Union Jack.

But there was more than patriotism in that sacrifice. It witnessed to
unshaken faith. And there was still more expressed in it than the
offerers dreamed; for it prophesied of that transformation of the
national into the spiritual Israel, in virtue of which the promises
remain true, and are inherited by the Church of Christ in all lands.

The re-establishment of the Temple worship with the appointment of
priests and Levites, according to the ancient ordinance, naturally
followed on the dedication.

III. The celebration of the Passover (vers. 19-22). It took place on
the fourteenth day of the first month, and probably, therefore, very
soon after the dedication. They 'kept the feast, ... for the priests
and Levites were purified together.' The zeal of the sacerdotal class
in attending to the prescriptions for ceremonial purity made it
possible that the feast should be observed. How much of real devotion,
and how much of mere eagerness to secure their official position,
mingled with this zeal, cannot be determined. Probably there was a
touch of both. Scrupulous observance of ritual is easy religion,
especially if one's position is improved by it. But the connection
pointed out by the writer is capable of wide applications. The true
purity and earnestness of preachers and teachers of all degrees has
much to do with their hearers' and scholars' participation in the
blessings of the Gospel. If priests are not pure, they cannot kill the
passover. Earnest teachers make earnest scholars. Foul hands cannot
dispense the bread of life.

There is a slight deviation from the law in the ritual as here stated,
since it was prescribed that each householder should kill the passover
lamb for his house. But from the time of Hezekiah the Levites seem to
have done it for the congregation (2 Chron. xxx. 17), and afterwards
for the priests also (2 Chron. xxxv. 11, 14).

Verse 21 tells that not only the returned exiles, but also 'all such
as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the
heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel,' ate the
passover. It may be questioned whether these latter were Israelites,
the descendants of the residue who had not been deported, but who had
fallen into idolatry during the exile, or heathens of the mixed
populations who had been settled in the vacant country. The emphasis
put on their turning to Israel and Israel's God seems to favour the
latter supposition. But in any case, the fact presents us with an
illustration of the proper effect of the presence anywhere of a
company of God's true worshippers. If we purify ourselves, and keep
the feast of the true passover with joy as well as purity, we shall
not want for outsiders who will separate themselves from the more
subtle and not less dangerous idolatries of modern life, to seek the
Lord God of Israel. If His Israel is what it ought to be, it will
attract. A bit of scrap-iron in contact with a magnet is a magnet.
They who live in touch with Him who said, 'I will draw all men unto
Me' will share His attractive power in the measure of their union with
Him.

The week after the passover feast was, according to the ritual,
observed as the feast of unleavened bread. The narrative touches
lightly on the ceremonial, and dwells in conclusion on the joy of the
worshippers and its cause. They do well to be glad whom God makes
glad. All other joy bears in it the seeds of death. It is, in one
aspect, the end of God's dealings, that we should be glad in Him. Wise
men will not regard that as a less noble end than making us pure; in
fact, the two are united. The 'blessed God' is glad in our gladness
when it is His gladness.

Notice the exulting wonder with which God's miracle of mercy is
reported in its source and its glorious result. The heart of the king
was turned to them, and no power but God's could have done that. The
issue of that divine intervention was the completed Temple, in which
once more the God of that Israel which He had so marvellously restored
dwelt in the midst of His people.



GOD THE JOY-BRINGER

'They kept the feast ... seven days with joy; for the Lord had made
them joyful.'--EZRA vi. 22.


Twenty years of hard work and many disappointments and dangers had at
last, for the Israelites returning from the captivity, been crowned by
the completion of the Temple. It was a poor affair as compared with
the magnificent house that had stood upon Zion; and so some of them
'despised the day of small things.' They were ringed about by enemies;
they were feeble in themselves; there was a great deal to darken their
prospects and to sadden their hearts; and yet, when memories of the
ancient days came back, and once more they saw the sacrificial smoke
rising from the long cold and ruined altar, they rejoiced in God, and
they kept the passover amid the ruins, as my text tells us, for the
'seven days' of the statutory period 'with joy,' because, in spite of
all, 'the Lord had made them joyful.'

I think if we take this simple saying we get two or three thoughts,
not altogether irrelevant to universal experience, about the true and
the counterfeit gladnesses possible to us all.

I. Look at that great and wonderful thought--God the joy-maker.

We do not often realise how glad God is when we are glad, and how
worthy an object of much that He does is simply the prosperity and the
blessedness of human hearts. The poorest creature that lives has a
right to ask from God the satisfaction of its instincts, and every man
has a claim on God--because he is God's creature--to make him glad.
God honours all cheques legitimately drawn on Him, and answers all
claims, and regards Himself as occupied in a manner entirely congruous
with His magnificence and His infinitude, when He stoops to put some
kind of vibrating gladness into the wings of a gnat that dances for an
hour in the sunshine, and into the heart of a man that lives his time
for only a very little longer.

God is the Joy-maker. There are far more magnificent and sublime
thoughts about Him than that; but I do not know that there is any that
ought to come nearer to our hearts, and to silence more of our
grumblings and of our distrust, than the belief that the gladness of
His children is an end contemplated by Him in all that He does.
Whether we think it of small importance or no, He does not think it
so, that all mankind should rejoice in Himself. And this is a
marvellous revelation to break out of the very heart of that
comparatively hard system of ancient Judaism. 'The Lord hath made them
joyful.'

Turning away from the immediate connection of these words, let me
remind you of the great outlines of the divine provision for
gladdening men's hearts. I was going to say that God had only one way
of making us glad; and perhaps that is in the deepest sense true. That
way is by putting Himself into us. He gives us Himself to make us
glad; for nothing else will do it--or, at least, though there may be
many subordinate sources of joy, if there be in the innermost shrine
of our spirits an empty place, where the Shekinah ought to shine, no
other joys will suffice to settle and to rejoice the soul. The secret
of all true human well-being is close communion with God; and when He
looks at the poorest of us, desiring to make us blessed, He can but
say, 'I will give Myself to that poor man; to that ignorant creature;
to that wayward and prodigal child; to that harlot in her corruption;
to that worldling in his narrow godlessness; I will give Myself, if
they will have Me.' And thus, and only thus, does He make us truly,
perfectly, and for ever glad.

Besides that, or rather as a sequel and consequence of that, there
come such other God-given blessings as these to which my text refers.
What were the outward reasons for the restored exiles' gladness? 'The
Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king ... unto
them to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the
God of Israel.'

So, then, He pours into men's lives by His providences the secondary
and lower gifts which men, according to changing circumstances, need;
and He also satisfies the permanent physical necessities of all orders
of beings to whom He has given life. He gives Himself for the spirit;
He gives whatever is contributory to any kind of gladness; and if we
are wise we shall trace all to Him. He is the Joy-giver; and that man
has not yet understood either the sanctity of life or the full
sweetness of its sweetest things unless he sees, written over every
one of them, the name of God, their giver. Your common mercies are His
love tokens, and they all come to us, just as the gifts of parents to
their children do, with this on the fly-leaf, 'With a father's love.'
Whatever comes to God's child with that inscription, surely it ought
to kindle a thrill of gladness. That 'the king of Assyria's heart is
turned'; shall we thank the king of Assyria? Yes and No! For it was
God who 'turned' it. Oh! to carry the quiet confidence of that thought
into all our daily life, and see His name written upon everything that
contributes to make us blessed. God is the true Source and Maker of
every joy.

And by the side of that we must put this other thought--there are
sources of joy with which He has nothing to do. There are people who
are joyful--and there are some of them listening now--not because God
made them joyful, but because 'the world, the devil, and the flesh'
have given them ghastly caricatures of the true gladness. And these
rival sources of blessedness, the existence of which my text suggests,
are the enemies of all that is good and noble in us and in our joys.
God made these men joyful, and so their gladness was wholesome.

II. Note the consequent obligation and wisdom of taking our God-given
joys.

'They kept the feast with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful.'
Then it is our obligation to accept and use what it is His blessedness
to give. Be sure you take Him. When He is waiting to pour all His love
into your heart, and all His sweetness into your sensitive spirit, to
calm your anxieties, to deepen your blessedness, to strengthen
everything that is good in you, to be to you a stay in the midst of
crumbling prosperity, and a Light in the midst of gathering darkness,
be sure that you take the joy that waits your acceptance. Do not let
it be said that, when the Lord Christ has come down from heaven, and
lived upon earth, and gone back to heaven, and sent His Spirit to
dwell in you, you lock the door against the entrance of the
joy-bringing Messenger, and are sad and restless and discontented
because you have shut out the God who desires to abide in your hearts.

'They kept the feast with joy, because the Lord had made them joyful.'
Oh! how many Christian men and women there are, who in the midst of
the abundant and wonderful provision for continual cheerfulness and
buoyancy of spirit given to them in the promises of the Gospel, in the
gifts of Christ, in the indwelling of the Divine Spirit, do yet go
through life creeping and sad, burdened and anxious, perplexed and at
their wits' end, just because they will not have the God who yearns to
come to them, or at least will not have Him in anything like the
fullness and the completeness in which He desires to bestow Himself.
If God gives, surely we are bound to receive. It is an obligation upon
Christian men and women, which they do not sufficiently realise, to be
glad, and it is a commandment needing to be reiterated. 'Rejoice in
the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice.' Would that Christian
experience in this generation was more alive to the obligation and the
blessedness of perpetual joy arising from perpetual communion with
Him.

Further, another obligation is to recognise Him in all common mercies,
because He is at the back of them all. Let them always proclaim Him to
us. Oh! if we did not go through the world blinded to the real Power
that underlies all its motions, we should feel that everything was
vocal to us of the loving-kindness of our Father in heaven. Link Him,
dear friend! with everything that makes your heart glad; with
everything pleasant that comes to you. There is nothing good or sweet
but it flows from Him. There is no common delight of flesh or sense,
of sight or taste or smell, no little enjoyment that makes the moment
pass more brightly, no drop of oil that eases the friction of the
wheels of life, but it may be elevated into greatness and nobleness,
and will then first be understood in its true significance, if it is
connected with Him. God does not desire to be put away high up on a
pedestal above our lives, as if He regulated the great things and the
trifles regulated themselves; but He seeks to come, as air into the
lungs, into every particle of the mass of life, and to fill it all
with His own purifying presence.

Recognise Him in common joys. If, when we sit down to partake of them,
we would say to ourselves, 'The Lord has made us joyful,' all our home
delights, all our social pleasures, all our intellectual and all our
sensuous ones--rest and food and drink and all other goods for the
body--they would all be felt to be great, as they indeed are. Enjoyed
in Him, the smallest is great; without Him, the greatest is small.
'The Lord made them joyful'; and what is large enough for Him to give
ought not to be too small for us to receive with recognition of His
hand.

Another piece of wholesome counsel in this matter is--Be sure that you
use the joys which God does give. Many good people seem to think that
it is somehow devout and becoming to pitch most of their songs in a
minor key, and to be habitually talking about trials and
disappointments, and 'a desert land,' and 'Brief life is here our
portion,' and so on, and so on. There are two ways in which you can
look at the world and at everything that befalls you. There is enough
in everybody's life to make him sad if he sulkily selects these things
to dwell upon. There is enough in everybody's life to make him
continually glad if he wisely picks out these to think about. It
depends altogether on the angle at which you look at your life what
you see in it. For instance, you know how children do when they get a
bit of a willow wand into their possession. They cut off rings of
bark, and get the switch alternately white and black, white and black,
and so on right away to the tip. Whether will you look at the white
rings or the black ones? They are both there. But if you rightly look
at the black you will find out that there is white below it, and it
only needs a very little stripping off of a film to make it into white
too. Or, to put it into simpler words, no Christian man has the right
to regard anything that God's Providence brings to him as such
unmingled evil that it ought to make him sad. We are bound to 'rejoice
in the Lord always.'

I know how hard it is, but sure am I that it is possible for a man, if
he keeps near Jesus Christ, to reproduce Paul's paradox of being
'sorrowful yet always rejoicing,' and even in the midst of darkness
and losses and sorrows and blighted hopes and disappointed aims to
rejoice in the Lord, and to 'keep the feast with gladness, because the
Lord has made him joyful.' Nor do we discharge our duty, unless side
by side with the sorrow which is legitimate, which is blessed,
strengthening, purifying, calming, moderating, there is also 'joy
unspeakable and full of glory.'

Again, be sure that you limit your delights to God-made joys. Too many
of us have what parts of our nature recognise as satisfaction, and are
glad to have, apart from Him. There is nothing sadder than the joys
that come into a life, and do not come from God. Oh! let us see to it
that we do not fill our cisterns with poisonous sewage when God is
waiting to fill them with the pure 'river of the water of life.' Do
not let us draw our blessedness from the world and its evils. Does my
joy help me to come near to God? Does it interfere with my communion
with Him? Does it aid me in the consecration of myself? Does my
conscience go with it when my conscience is most awake? Do I recognise
Him as the Giver of the thing that is so blessed? If we can say Yes!
to these questions, we can venture to believe that our blessedness
comes from God, and leads to God, however homely, however sensuous and
material may be its immediate occasion. But if not, then the less we
have to do with such sham gladness the better. 'Even in laughter the
heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.' The
alternative presented for the choice of each of us is whether we will
have surface joy and a centre of dark discontent, or surface sorrow
and a centre of calm blessedness. The film of stagnant water on a pond
full of rottenness simulates the glories of the rainbow, in which pure
sunshine falls upon the pure drops, but it is only painted corruption
after all, a sign of rotting; and if a man puts his lips to it it will
kill him. Such is the joy which is apart from God. It is the
'crackling of thorns under a pot'--the more fiercely they burn the
sooner they are ashes. And, on the other hand, 'these things have I
spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy
might be full.'

It is not 'for seven days' that we 'keep the feast' if God has 'made
us joyful,' but for all the rest of the days of time, and for the
endless years of the calm gladnesses of the heavens.



HEROIC FAITH

'I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen
to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto
the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon them all for good that
seek Him.... 23. So we fasted and besought our God for this.... 31.
The hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of
the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. 32. And we came to
Jerusalem.'--EZRA viii. 22, 23, 31, 32.


The memory of Ezra the scribe has scarcely had fairplay among
Bible-reading people. True, neither his character nor the incidents of
his life reach the height of interest or of grandeur belonging to the
earlier men and their times. He is no hero, or prophet; only a scribe;
and there is a certain narrowness as well as a prosaic turn about his
mind, and altogether one feels that he is a smaller man than the
Elijahs and Davids of the older days. But the homely garb of the
scribe covered a very brave devout heart, and the story of his life
deserves to be more familiar to us than it is.

This scrap from the account of his preparations for the march from
Babylon to Jerusalem gives us a glimpse of a high-toned faith, and a
noble strain of feeling. He and his company had a long weary journey
of four months before them. They had had little experience of arms and
warfare, or of hardships and desert marches, in their Babylonian
homes. Their caravan was made unwieldy and feeble by the presence of a
large proportion of women and children. They had much valuable
property with them. The stony desert, which stretches unbroken from
the Euphrates to the uplands on the east of Jordan, was infested then
as now by wild bands of marauders, who might easily swoop down on the
encumbered march of Ezra and his men, and make a clean sweep of all
which they had. And he knew that he had but to ask and have an escort
from the king that would ensure their safety till they saw Jerusalem.
Artaxerxes' surname, 'the long-handed,' may have described a physical
peculiarity, but it also expressed the reach of his power; his arm
could reach these wandering plunderers, and if Ezra and his troop were
visibly under his protection, they could march secure. So it was not a
small exercise of trust in a higher Hand that is told us here so
simply. It took some strength of principle to abstain from asking what
it would have been so natural to ask, so easy to get, so comfortable
to have. But, as he says, he remembered how confidently he has spoken
of God's defence, and he feels that he must be true to his professed
creed, even if it deprives him of the king's guards. He halts his
followers for three days at the last station before the desert, and
there, with fasting and prayer, they put themselves in God's hand; and
then the band, with their wives and little ones, and their
substance,--a heavily-loaded and feeble caravan,--fling themselves
into the dangers of the long, dreary, robber-haunted march. Did not
the scribe's robe cover as brave a heart as ever beat beneath a
breastplate?

That symbolic phrase, 'the hand of our God,' as expressive of the
divine protection, occurs with remarkable frequency in the books of
Ezra and Nehemiah, and though not peculiar to them, is yet strikingly
characteristic of them. It has a certain beauty and force of its own.
The hand is of course the seat of active power. It is on or over a man
like some great shield held aloft above him, below which there is safe
hiding. So that great Hand bends itself over us, and we are secure
beneath its hollow. As a child sometimes carries a tender-winged
butterfly in the globe of its two hands that the bloom on the wings
may not be ruffled by fluttering, so He carries our feeble, unarmoured
souls enclosed in the covert of His Almighty hand. 'Who hath measured
the waters in the hollow of His hand?' 'Who hath gathered the wind in
His fists?' In that curved palm where all the seas lie as a very
little thing, we are held; the grasp that keeps back the tempests from
their wild rush, keeps us, too, from being smitten by their blast. As
a father may lay his own large muscular hand on his child's tiny
fingers to help him, or as 'Elisha put his hands on the king's hands,'
that the contact might strengthen him to shoot the 'arrow of the
Lord's deliverance,' so the hand of our God is upon us to impart power
as well as protection; and our 'bow abides in strength,' when 'the
arms of our hands are made strong by the hands of the mighty God of
Jacob.' That was Ezra's faith, and that should be ours.

Note Ezra's sensitive shrinking from anything like inconsistency
between his creed and his practice. It was easy to talk about God's
protection when he was safe behind the walls of Babylon; but now the
pinch had come. There was a real danger before him and his unwarlike
followers. No doubt, too, there were plenty of people who would have
been delighted to catch him tripping; and he felt that his cheeks
would have tingled with shame if they had been able to say, 'Ah! that
is what all his fine professions come to, is it? He wants a convoy,
does he? We thought as much. It is always so with these people who
talk in that style. They are just like the rest of us when the pinch
comes.' So, with a high and keen sense of what was required by his
avowed principles, he will have no guards for the road. _There_
was a man whose religion was at any rate not a fair-weather religion.
It did not go off in fine speeches about trusting to the protection of
God, spoken from behind the skirts of the king, or from the middle of
a phalanx of his soldiers. He clearly meant what he said, and believed
every word of it as a prose fact, which was solid enough to build
conduct on.

I am afraid a great many of us would rather have tried to reconcile
our asking for a band of horsemen with our professed trust in God's
hand; and there would have been plenty of excuses very ready about
using means as well as exercising faith, and not being called upon to
abandon advantages, and not pushing a good principle to Quixotic
lengths, and so on, and so on. But whatever truth there is in such
considerations, at any rate we may well learn the lesson of this
story--to be true to our professed principles; to beware of making our
religion a matter of words; to live, when the time for putting them
into practice comes, by the maxims which we have been forward to
proclaim when there was no risk in applying them; and to try sometimes
to look at our lives with the eyes of people who do not share our
faith, that we may bring our actions up to the mark of what they
expect of us. If 'the Church' would oftener think of what 'the world'
looks for from it, it would seldomer have cause to be ashamed of the
terrible gap between its words and its deeds.

Especially in regard to this matter of trust in an unseen Hand, and
reliance on visible helps, we all need to be very rigid in our
self-inspection. Faith in the good hand of God upon us for good should
often lead to the abandonment, and always to the subordination, of
material aids. It is a question of detail, which each man must settle
for himself as each occasion arises, whether in any given case
abandonment or subordination is our duty. This is not the place to
enter on so large and difficult a question. But, at all events, let us
remember, and try to work into our own lives, that principle which the
easy-going Christianity of this day has honeycombed with so many
exceptions, that it scarcely has any whole surface left at all; that
the absolute surrender and forsaking of external helps and goods is
sometimes essential to the preservation and due expression of reliance
on God.

There is very little fear of any of us pushing that principle to
Quixotic lengths. The danger is all the other way. So it is worth
while to notice that we have here an instance of a man's being carried
by a certain lofty enthusiasm further than the mere law of duty would
take him. There would have been no harm in Ezra's asking an escort,
seeing that his whole enterprise was made possible by the king's
support. He would not have been 'leaning on an arm of flesh' by
availing himself of the royal troops, any more than when he used the
royal firman. But a true man often feels that he cannot do the things
which he might without sin do. 'All things are lawful for me, but all
things are not expedient,' said Paul. The same Apostle eagerly
contended that he had a perfect right to money support from the
Gentile Churches; and then, in the next breath, flamed up into, 'I
have used none of these things, for it were better for me to die, than
that any man should make my glorying void.' A sensitive spirit, or one
profoundly stirred by religious emotion, will, like the apostle whose
feet were moved by love, far outrun the slower soul, whose steps are
only impelled by the thought of duty. Better that the cup should run
over than that it should not be full. Where we delight to do His will,
there will often be more than a scrupulously regulated enough; and
where there is not sometimes that 'more,' there will never be enough.

  'Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore
   Of nicely calculated less or more.'

What shall we say of people who profess that God is their portion, and
are as eager in the scramble for money as anybody? What kind of a
commentary will sharp-sighted, sharp-tongued observers have a right to
make on us, whose creed is so unlike theirs, while our lives are
identical? Do you believe, friends! that 'the hand of our God is upon
all them for good that seek Him'? Then, do you not think that racing
after the prizes of this world, with flushed cheeks and labouring
breath, or longing, with a gnawing hunger of heart, for any earthly
good, or lamenting over the removal of creatural defences and joys, as
if heaven were empty because some one's place here is, or as if God
were dead because dear ones die, may well be a shame to us, and a
taunt on the lips of our enemies? Let us learn again the lesson from
this old story,--that if our faith in God is not the veriest sham, it
demands and will produce, the abandonment sometimes and the
subordination always, of external helps and material good.

Notice, too, Ezra's preparation for receiving the divine help. There,
by the river Ahava, he halts his company like a prudent leader, to
repair omissions, and put the last touches to their organisation
before facing the wilderness. But he has another purpose also. 'I
proclaimed a fast there, to seek of God a right way for us.' There was
no foolhardiness in his courage; he was well aware of all the possible
dangers on the road; and whilst he is confident of the divine
protection, he knows that, in his own quiet, matter-of-fact words, it
is given 'to all them that _seek_ Him.' So his faith not only
impels him to the renunciation of the Babylonian guard, but to earnest
supplication for the defence in which he is so confident. He is sure
it will be given--so sure, that he will have no other shield; and yet
he fasts and prays that he and his company may receive it. He prays
because he is sure that he will receive it, and does receive it
because he prays and is sure.

So for us, the condition and preparation on and by which we are
sheltered by that great Hand, is the faith that asks, and the asking
of faith. We must forsake the earthly props, but we must also
believingly desire to be upheld by the heavenly arms. We make God
responsible for our safety when we abandon other defence, and commit
ourselves to Him. With eyes open to our dangers, and full
consciousness of our own unarmed and unwarlike weakness, let us
solemnly commend ourselves to Him, rolling all our burden on His
strong arms, knowing that He is able to keep that which we have
committed to Him. He will accept the trust, and set His guards about
us. As the song of the returning exiles, which may have been sung by
the river Ahava, has it: 'My help cometh from the Lord. The Lord is
thy keeper. The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.'

So our story ends with the triumphant vindication of this Quixotic
faith. A flash of joyful feeling breaks through the simple narrative,
as it tells how the words spoken before the king came true in the
experience of the weaponless pilgrims: 'The hand of our God _was_
upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such
as lay in wait by the way; and we came to Jerusalem.' It was no rash
venture that we made. He was all that we hoped and asked. Through all
the weary march He led us. From the wild, desert-born robbers, that
watched us from afar, ready to come down on us, from ambushes and
hidden perils, He kept us, because we had none other help, and all our
hope was in Him. The ventures of faith are ever rewarded. We cannot
set our expectations from God too high. What we dare scarcely hope now
we shall one day remember. When we come to tell the completed story of
our lives, we shall have to record the fulfilment of all God's
promises, and the accomplishment of all our prayers that were built on
these. Here let us cry, 'Be Thy hand upon us.' Here let us trust, Thy
hand will be upon us. Then we shall have to say, 'The hand of our God
was upon us,' and as we look from the watch-towers of the city, on the
desert that stretches to its very walls, and remember all the way by
which He led us, we shall rejoice over His vindication of our poor
faith, and praise Him that 'not one thing hath failed of all the
things which the Lord our God spake concerning us.'



THE CHARGE OF THE PILGRIM PRIESTS

'Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them ... at Jerusalem, in the
chambers of the house of the Lord.'--EZRA viii. 29.


The little band of Jews, seventeen hundred in number, returning from
Babylon, had just started on that long pilgrimage, and made a brief
halt in order to get everything in order for their transit across the
desert; when their leader Ezra, taking count of his men, discovers
that amongst them there are none of the priests or Levites. He then
takes measures to reinforce his little army with a contingent of
these, and entrusts to their special care a very valuable treasure in
gold, and silver, and sacred vessels, which had been given to them for
use in the house of the Lord. The words which I have taken as text are
a portion of the charge which he gave to those twelve priestly
guardians of the precious things, that were to be used in worship when
they got back to the Temple. 'Watch and keep them, until ye weigh them
in the chambers of the house of the Lord.'

So I think I may venture, without being unduly fanciful, to take these
words as a type of the injunctions which are given to us Christian
people; and to see in them a striking and picturesque representation
of the duties that devolve upon us in the course of our journey across
the desert to the Temple-Home above.

And to begin with, let me remind you, for a moment or two, what the
precious treasure is which is thus entrusted to our keeping and care.
We can scarcely, in such a connection and with such a metaphor, forget
the words of our Lord about a certain king that went to receive his
kingdom, and to return; who called together his servants, and gave to
each of them according to their several ability, with the injunction
to trade upon that until he came. The same metaphor which our Master
employed lies in this story before us--in the one case, sacrificial
vessels and sacred treasures; in the other case, the talents out of
the rich possessions of the departing king.

Nor can we forget either the other phase of the same figure which the
Apostle employs when he says to his 'own son' and substitute, Timothy:
'That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost
which dwelleth in us,' nor that other word to the same Timothy, which
says: 'O Timothy! keep that which was committed to thy trust, and
avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely
so called.' In these quotations, the treasure, and the rich deposit,
is the faith once delivered to the saints; the solemn message of love
and peace in Jesus Christ, which was entrusted, first of all to those
preachers, but as truly to every one of Christ's disciples.

So, then, the metaphor is capable of two applications. The first is to
the rich treasure and solemn trust of our own nature, of our own
souls; the faculties and capacities, precious beyond all count, rich
beyond all else that a man has ever received. Nothing that you have is
half so much as that which you are. The possession of a soul that
knows and loves, and can obey; that trusts and desires; that can yearn
and reach out to Jesus Christ, and to God in Christ; of a conscience
that can yield to His command; and faculties of comprehending and
understanding what comes to them from Jesus Christ--that is more than
any other possession, treasure, or trust. That which you and I carry
with us--the infinite possibilities of these awful spirits of
ours--the tremendous faculties which are given to every human soul,
and which, like a candle plunged into oxygen, are meant to burn far
more brightly under the stimulus of Christian faith and the possession
of God's truth, are the rich deposit committed to our charge. You
priests of the living God, you men and women, you say that you are
Christ's, and therefore are consecrated to a nobler priesthood than
any other--to you is given this solemn charge: 'That good thing which
is committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost that dwelleth in you.'
The precious treasure of your own natures, your own hearts, your own
understandings, wills, consciences, desires--keep these, until they
are weighed in the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.

And in like manner, taking the other aspect of the metaphor--we have
given to us, in order that we may do something with it, that great
deposit and treasure of truth, which is all embodied and incarnated in
Jesus Christ our Lord. It is bestowed upon us that we may use it for
ourselves, and in order that we may carry it triumphantly all through
the world. Possession involves responsibility always. The word of
salvation is given to us. If we go tampering with it, by erroneous
apprehension, by unfair usage, by failing to apply it to our own daily
life; then it will fade and disappear from our grasp. It is given to
us in order that we may keep it safe, and carry it high up across the
desert, as becomes the priests of the most high God.

The treasure is first--our own selves--with all that we are and may
be, under the stimulating and quickening influence of His grace and
Spirit. The treasure is next--His great word of salvation, once
delivered unto the saints, and to be handed on, without diminution or
alteration in its fair perspective and manifold harmonies, to the
generations that are to come. So, think of yourselves as the priests
of God, journeying through the wilderness, with the treasures of the
Temple and the vessels of the sacrifice for your special deposit and
charge.

Further, I touch on the command, the guardianship that is here set
forth. 'Watch ye, and keep them.' That is to say, I suppose, according
to the ordinary idiom of the Old Testament, 'Watch, in order that you
may keep.' Or to translate it into other words: The treasure which is
given into our hands requires, for its safe preservation, unceasing
vigilance. Take the picture of my text: These Jews were four months,
according to the narrative, in travelling from their first station
upon their journey to Jerusalem across the desert. There were enemies
lying in wait for them by the way. With noble self-restraint and grand
chivalry, the leader of the little band says: 'I was ashamed to
require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen, to help us
against the enemy in the way; because we had spoken unto the king,
saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him;
but His power and His wrath is against all that forsake Him.' And so
they would not go to him, cap in hand, and ask him to give them a
guard to take care of them; but 'We fasted and besought our God for
this; and He was intreated of us.'

Thus the little company, without arms, without protection, with
nothing but a prayer and a trust to make them strong, flung themselves
into the pathless desert with all those precious things in their
possession; and all the precaution which Ezra took was to lay hold of
the priests in the little party, and to say: 'Here! all through the
march do you stick by these precious things. Whoever sleeps, do you
watch. Whoever is careless, be you vigilant. Take these for your
charge, and remember I weigh them here before we start, and they will
be all weighed again when we get there. So be alert.'

And is not that exactly what Christ says to us? 'Watch; keep them; be
vigilant, that ye may keep; and keep them, because they will be
weighed and registered when you arrive there.'

I cannot do more than touch upon two or three of the ways in which
this charge may be worked out, in its application for ourselves,
beginning with that first one which is implied in the words of the
text--_unslumbering vigilance_; then _trust_, like the trust
which is glorified in the context, depending only on 'the good hand of
our God upon us'; then _purity_, because, as Ezra said, 'Ye are
holy unto the Lord. The vessels are holy also'; and therefore ye are
the fit persons to guard them. And besides these, there is, in our
keeping our trust, a method which does not apply to the incident
before us; namely, _use_, in order to their preservation.

That is to say, first of all, no slumber; not a moment's relaxation;
or some of those who lie in wait for us on the way will be down upon
us, and some of the precious things will go. While all the rest of the
wearied camp slept, the guardians of the treasure had to outwatch the
stars. While others might straggle on the march, lingering here or
there, or resting on some patch of green, they had to close up round
their precious charge; others might let their eyes wander from the
path, they had ever to look to their charge. For them the journey had
a double burden, and unslumbering vigilance was their constant duty.

We likewise have unslumberingly and ceaselessly to watch over that
which is committed to our charge. For, depend upon it, if for an
instant we turn away our heads, the thievish birds that flutter over
us will be down upon the precious seed that is in our basket, or that
we have sown in the furrows, and it will be gone. Watch, that ye may
keep.

And then, still further, see how in this story before us there are
brought out very picturesquely, and very simply, deeper lessons still.
It is not enough that a man shall be for ever keeping his eye upon his
own character and his own faculties, and seeking sedulously to
cultivate and improve them, as he that must give an account. There
must be another look than that. Ezra said, in effect, 'Not all the
cohorts of Babylon can help us; and we do not want them. We have one
strong hand that will keep us safe'; and so he, and his men, with all
this mass of wealth, so tempting to the wild robbers that haunted the
road, flung themselves into the desert, knowing that all along it
there were, as he says, 'such as lay in wait for them.' His confidence
was: 'God will bring us all safe out to the end there; and we shall
carry every glittering piece of the precious things that we brought
out of Babylon right into the Temple of Jerusalem.' Yet he says,
'Watch ye and keep them.'

What does that come to in reference to our religious experience? Why
this: 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is
God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His own good
pleasure.' You do not need these external helps. Fling yourself wholly
upon His keeping hand, and also watch and keep yourselves. 'I know in
whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep that which I have
committed unto Him against that day,' is the complement of the other
words, 'That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the
Holy Ghost.'

So guardianship is, first, unceasing vigilance; and then it is lowly
trust. And besides that, it is _punctilious purity_. 'I said unto
them, Ye are holy unto the Lord; the vessels are holy unto the Lord.
Watch ye, and keep them.'

It was fitting that priests should carry the things that belonged to
the Temple. No other hands but consecrated hands had a right to touch
them. To none other guardianship but the guardianship of the
possessors of a symbolic and ceremonial purity, could the vessels of a
symbolic and ceremonial worship be entrusted; and to none others but
the possessors of real and spiritual holiness can the treasures of the
true Temple, of an inward and spiritual worship, be entrusted. 'Be ye
clean that bear the vessels of the Lord,' said Isaiah using a kindred
metaphor. The only way to keep our treasure undiminished and
untarnished, is to keep ourselves pure and clean.

And, lastly, we have to exercise a guardianship which not only means
unslumbering vigilance, lowly trust, punctilious purity, but also
requires the constant use of the treasure.

'Watch ye, and keep them.' Although the vessels which those priests
bore through the desert were used for no service during all the weary
march, they weighed just the same when they got to the end as at the
beginning; though, no doubt, even their fine gold had become dim and
tarnished through disuse. But if we do not use the vessels that are
entrusted to our care, _they_ will _not_ weigh the same. The
man that wrapped up his talent in the napkin, and said, 'Lo, there
thou hast that is thine,' was too sanguine. There was never an unused
talent rolled up in a handkerchief yet, but when it was taken out and
put into the scales it was lighter than when it was committed to the
keeping of the earth. Gifts that are used fructify. Capacities that
are strained to the uttermost increase. Service strengthens the power
for service; and just as the reward for work is more work, the way for
making ourselves fit for bigger things is to do the things that are
lying by us. The blacksmith's arm, the sailor's eye, the organs of any
piece of handicraft, as we all know, are strengthened by exercise; and
so it is in this higher region.

And so, dear brethren, take these four words--vigilance, trust,
purity, exercise. 'Watch ye, and keep them, until they are weighed in
the chambers of the House of the Lord.'

And, lastly, think of that weighing in the House of the Lord. Cannot
you see the picture of the little band when they finally reach the
goal of their pilgrimage; and three days after they arrived, as the
narrative tells us, went up into the Temple, and there, by number and
by weight, rendered up their charge, and were clear of their
responsibility? 'And the first came and said, Lord, thy pound hath
gained ten pounds. And he said, Well, thou good servant, because thou
hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten
cities.'

Oh! how that thought of the day when they would empty out the rich
treasure upon the marble pavement, and clash the golden vessels into
the scales, must have filled their hearts with vigilance during all
the weary watches, when desert stars looked down upon the slumbering
encampment, and they paced wakeful all the night. And how the thought,
too, must have filled their hearts with joy, when they tried to
picture to themselves the sigh of satisfaction, and the sense of
relief with which, after all the perils, their 'feet would stand
within thy gates, O Jerusalem,' and they would be able to say, 'That
which thou hast given us, we have kept, and nothing of it is lost.'

A lifetime would be a small expenditure to secure that; and though it
cannot be that you and I will meet the trial and the weighing of that
great day without many failures and much loss, yet we may say: 'I know
in whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep my
deposit--whether it be in the sense of that which I have committed
unto Him, or in the sense of that which He has committed unto
me--against that day.' We may hope that, by His gracious help and His
pitying acceptance, even such careless stewards and negligent watchers
as we are, may lay ourselves down in peace at the last, saying, 'I
have kept the faith,' and may be awakened by the word, 'Well done!
good and faithful servant.'



THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH


A REFORMER'S SCHOOLING

'The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in
the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the
palace, 2. That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men
of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which
were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3. And they said
unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the
province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem
also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. 4.
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and
wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God
of heaven, 5. And said, I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the
great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that
love Him and observe His commandments: 6. Let Thine ear now be
attentive, and Thine eyes open, that Thou mayest hear the prayer of
Thy servant, which I pray before Thee now, day and night, for the
children of Israel Thy servants, and confess the sins of the children
of Israel, which we have sinned against Thee: both I and my father's
house have sinned. 7. We have dealt very corruptly against Thee, and
have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments,
which Thou commandedst Thy servant Moses. 8. Remember, I beseech Thee,
the word that Thou commandedst Thy servant Moses, saying, If ye
transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: 9. But if ye
turn unto Me, and keep My commandments, and do them; though there were
of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I
gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I
have chosen to set My name there. 10. Now these are Thy servants and
Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy great power, and by Thy
strong hand. 11. O Lord, I beseech Thee, let now Thine ear be
attentive to the prayer of Thy servant, and to the prayer of Thy
servants, who desire to fear Thy name: and prosper, I pray Thee, Thy
servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I
was the king's cupbearer.'--NEH. i. 1-11.


The date of the completion of the Temple is 516 B.C.; that of
Nehemiah's arrival 445 B.C. The colony of returned exiles seems to
have made little progress during that long period. Its members settled
down, and much of their enthusiasm cooled, as we see from the reforms
which Ezra had to inaugurate fourteen years before Nehemiah. The
majority of men, even if touched by spiritual fervour, find it hard to
keep on the high levels for long. Breathing is easier lower down. As
is often the case, a brighter flame of zeal burned in the bosoms of
sympathisers at a distance than in those of the actual workers, whose
contact with hard realities and petty details disenchanted them. Thus
the impulse to nobler action came, not from one of the colony, but
from a Jew in the court of the Persian king.

This passage tells us how God prepared a man for a great work, and how
the man prepared himself.

I. Sad tidings and their effect on a devout servant of God (vs. 1-4).
The time and place are precisely given. 'The month Chislev'
corresponds to the end of November and beginning of December. 'The
twentieth year' is that of Artaxerxes (Neh. ii. 1). 'Shushan,' or
Susa, was the royal winter residence, and 'the palace' was 'a distinct
quarter of the city, occupying an artificial eminence.' Note the
absence of the name of the king. Nehemiah is so familiar with his
greatness that he takes for granted that every reader can fill the
gaps. But, though the omission shows how large a space the court
occupied in his thoughts, a true Jewish heart beat below the
courtier's robe. That flexibility which enabled them to stand as
trusted servants of the kings of many lands, and yet that inflexible
adherence to, and undying love of, Israel, has always been a national
characteristic. We can think of this youthful cup-bearer as yearning
for one glimpse of the 'mountains round about Jerusalem' while he
filled his post in Shushan.

His longings were kindled into resolve by intercourse with a little
party of Jews from Judaea, among whom was his own brother. They had
been to see how things went there, and the fact that one of them was a
member of Nehemiah's family seems to imply that the same sentiments
belonged to the whole household. Eager questions brought out sorrowful
answers. The condition of the 'remnant' was one of 'great affliction
and reproach,' and the ground of the reproach was probably (Neh. ii.
17; iv. 2-4) the still ruined fortifications.

It has been supposed that the breaking down of the walls and burning
of the gates, mentioned in verse 3, were recent, and subsequent to the
events recorded in Ezra; but it is more probable that the project for
rebuilding the defences, which had been stopped by superior orders
(Ezra iv. 12-16), had not been resumed, and that the melancholy ruins
were those which had met the eyes of Zerubbabel nearly a hundred years
before. Communication between Shushan and Jerusalem cannot have been
so infrequent that the facts now borne in on Nehemiah might not have
been known before. But the impression made by facts depends largely on
their narrator, and not a little on the mood of the hearer. It was one
thing to hear general statements, and another to sit with one's
brother, and see through his eyes the dismal failure of the 'remnant'
to carry out the purpose of their return. So the story, whether fresh
or repeated with fresh force, made a deep dint in the young
cupbearer's heart, and changed his life's outlook. God prepares His
servants for their work by laying on their souls a sorrowful
realisation of the miseries which other men regard, and they
themselves have often regarded, very lightly. The men who have been
raised up to do great work for God and men, have always to begin by
greatly and sadly feeling the weight of the sins and sorrows which
they are destined to remove. No man will do worthy work at rebuilding
the walls who has not wept over the ruins.

So Nehemiah prepared himself for his work by brooding over the tidings
with tears, by fasting and by prayer. There is no other way of
preparation. Without the sad sense of men's sorrows, there will be no
earnestness in alleviating them, nor self-sacrificing devotion; and
without much prayer there will be little consciousness of weakness or
dependence on divine help.

Note the grand and apparently immediate resolution to throw up
brilliant prospects and face a life of danger and suffering and toil.
Nehemiah was evidently a favourite with the king, and had the ball at
his foot. But the ruins on Zion were more attractive to him than the
splendours of Shushan, and he willingly flung away his chances of a
great career to take his share of 'affliction and reproach.' He has
never had justice done him in popular estimation. He is not one of the
well-known biblical examples of heroic self-abandonment; but he did
just what Moses did, and the eulogium of the Epistle to the Hebrews
fits him as well as the lawgiver; for he too chose 'rather to suffer
with the people of God than to enjoy pleasures for a season.' So must
we all, in our several ways, do, if we would have a share in building
the walls of the city of God.

II. The prayer (vs. 5-11). The course of thought in this prayer is
very instructive. It begins with solemnly laying before God His own
great name, as the mightiest plea with Him, and the strongest
encouragement to the suppliant. That commencement is no mere proper
invocation, conventionally regarded as the right way of beginning, but
it expresses the petitioner's effort to lay hold on God's character as
the ground of his hope of answer. The terms employed remarkably blend
what Nehemiah had learned from Persian religion and what from a better
source. He calls upon Jehovah, the great name which was the special
possession of Israel. He also uses the characteristic Persian
designation of 'the God of heaven,' and identifies the bearer of that
name, not with the god to whom it was originally applied, but with
Israel's Jehovah. He takes the crown from the head of the false deity,
and lays it at the feet of the God of his fathers. Whatsoever names
for the Supreme Excellence any tongues have coined, they all belong to
our God, in so far as they are true and noble. The modern 'science of
comparative religion' yields many treasures which should be laid up in
Jehovah's Temple.

But the rest of the designations are taken from the Old Testament, as
was fitting. The prayer throughout is full of allusions and
quotations, and shows how this cupbearer of Artaxerxes had fed his
young soul on God's word, and drawn thence the true nourishment of
high and holy thoughts and strenuous resolutions and self-sacrificing
deeds. Prayers which are cast in the mould of God's own revelation of
Himself will not fail of answer. True prayer catches up the promises
that flutter down to us, and flings them up again like arrows.

The prayer here is all built, then, on that name of Jehovah, and on
what the name involves, chiefly on the thought of God as keeping
covenant and mercy. He has bound Himself in solemn, irrefragable
compact, to a certain line of action. Men 'know where to have Him,' if
we may venture on the familiar expression. He has given us a chart of
His course, and He will adhere to it. Therefore we can go to Him with
our prayers, so long as we keep these within the ample space of His
covenant, and ourselves within its terms, by loving obedience.

The petition that God's ears might be sharpened and His eyes open to
the prayer is cast in a familiar mould. It boldly transfers to Him not
only the semblance of man's form, but also the likeness of His
processes of action. Hearing the cry for help precedes active
intervention in the case of men's help, and the strong imagery of the
prayer conceives of similar sequence in God. But the figure is
transparent, and the 'anthropomorphism' so plain that no mistakes can
arise in its interpretation.

Note, too, the light touch with which the suppliant's relation to God
('Thy servant') and his long-continued cry ('day and night') are but
just brought in for a moment as pleas for a gracious hearing. The
prayer is 'for Thy servants the children of Israel,' in which
designation, as the next clauses show, the relation established by
God, and not the conduct of men, is pleaded as a reason for an answer.

The mention of that relation brings at once to Nehemiah's mind the
terrible unfaithfulness to it which had marked, and still continued to
mark, the whole nation. So lowly confession follows (vs. 6, 7).
Unprofitable servants they had indeed been. The more loftily we think
of our privileges, the more clearly should we discern our sins.
Nothing leads a true heart to such self-ashamed penitence as
reflection on God's mercy. If a man thinks that God has taken him for
a servant, the thought should bow him with conscious unworthiness, not
lift him in self-satisfaction. Nehemiah's confession not only sprung
from the thought of Israel's vocation, so poorly fulfilled, but it
also laid the groundwork for further petitions. It is useless to ask
God to help us to repair the wastes if we do not cast out the sins
which have made them. The beginning of all true healing of sorrow is
confession of sins. Many promising schemes for the alleviation of
national and other distresses have come to nothing because, unlike
Nehemiah's, they did not begin with prayer, or prayed for help without
acknowledging sin.

And the man who is to do work for God and to get God to bless his work
must not be content with acknowledging other people's sins, but must
always say, 'We have sinned,' and not seldom say, 'I have sinned.'
That penitent consciousness of evil is indispensible to all who would
make their fellows happier. God works with bruised reeds. The sense of
individual transgression gives wonderful tenderness, patience amid
gainsaying, submission in failure, dependence on God in difficulty,
and lowliness in success. Without it we shall do little for ourselves
or for anybody else.

The prayer next reminds God of His own words (vs. 8,9), freely quoted
and combined from several passages (Lev. xxvi. 33-45; Deut. iv. 25-31,
etc.). The application of these passages to the then condition of
things is at first sight somewhat loose, since part of the people were
already restored; and the purport of the prayer is not the restoration
of the remainder, but the deliverance of those already in the land
from their distresses. Still, the promise gives encouragement to the
prayer and is powerful with God, inasmuch as it could not be said to
have been fulfilled by so incomplete a restoration as that as that at
present realised. What God does must be perfectly done; and His great
word is not exhausted so long as any fuller accomplishment of it can
be imagined.

The reminder of the promise is clinched (v. 10) by the same appeal as
formerly to the relation to Himself into which God had been pleased to
bring the nation, with an added reference to former deeds, such as the
Exodus, in which His strong hand had delivered them. We are always
sure of an answer if we ask God not to contradict Himself. Since He
has begun He will make an end. It will never be said of Him that He
'began to build and was not able to finish.' His past is a mirror in
which we can read His future. The return from Babylon is implied in
the Exodus.

A reiteration of earlier words follows, with the addition that
Nehemiah now binds, as it were, his single prayer in a bundle with
those of the like-minded in Israel. He gathers single ears into a
sheaf, which he brings as a 'wave-offering.' And then, in one humble
little sentence at the end, he puts his only personal request. The
modesty of the man is lovely. His prayer has been all for the people.
Remarkably enough, there is no definite petition in it. He never once
says right out what he so earnestly desires, and the absence of
specific requests might be laid hold of by sceptical critics as an
argument against the genuineness of the prayer. But it is rather a
subtle trait, on which no forger would have been likely to hit.
Sometimes silence is the very result of entire occupation of mind with
a thought. He says nothing about the particular nature of his request,
just because he is so full of it. But he does ask for favour in the
eyes of 'this man,' and that he may be prospered 'this day.'

So this was his morning prayer on that eventful day, which was to
settle his life's work. The certain days of solitary meditation on his
nation's griefs had led to a resolution. He says nothing about his
long brooding, his slow decision, his conflicts with lower projects of
personal ambition. He 'burns his own smoke,' as we all should learn to
do. But he asks that the capricious and potent will of the king may be
inclined to grant his request. If our morning supplication is 'Prosper
Thy servant this day,' and our purposes are for God's glory, we need
not fear facing anybody. However powerful Artaxerxes was, he was but
'this man,' not God. The phrase does not indicate contempt or
undervaluing of the solid reality of his absolute power over Nehemiah,
but simply expresses the conviction that the king, too, was a subject
of God's, and that his heart was in the hand of Jehovah, to mould as
He would. The consciousness of dependence on God and the habit of
communion with Him give a man a clear sight of the limitations of
earthly dignities, and a modest boldness which is equally remote from
rudeness and servility.

Thus prepared for whatever might be the issue of that eventful day,
the young cupbearer rose from his knees, drew a long breath, and went
to his work. Well for us if we go to ours, whether it be a day of
crisis or of commonplace, in like fashion! Then we shall have like
defence and like calmness of heart.



THE CHURCH AND SOCIAL EVILS

'It came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept,
and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of
heaven.'--NEH. i. 4.


Ninety years had passed since the returning exiles had arrived at
Jerusalem. They had encountered many difficulties which had marred
their progress and cooled their enthusiasm. The Temple, indeed, was
rebuilt, but Jerusalem lay in ruins, and its walls remained as they
had been left, by Nebuchadnezzar's siege, some century and a half
before. A little party of pious pilgrims had gone from Persia to the
city, and had come back to Shushan with a sad story of weakness and
despondency, affliction and hostility. One of the travellers had a
brother, a youth named Nehemiah, who was a cup-bearer in the court of
the Persian king. Living in a palace, and surrounded with luxury, his
heart was with his brethren; and the ruins of Jerusalem were dearer to
him than the pomp of Shushan.

My text tells how the young cupbearer was affected by the tidings, and
how he wept and prayed before God. The accurate dates given in this
book show that this period of brooding contemplation of the miseries
of his brethren lasted for four months. Then he took a great
resolution, flung up brilliant prospects, identified himself with the
afflicted colony, and asked for leave to go and share, and, if it
might be, to redress, the sorrows which had made so deep a dint upon
his heart.

Now, I think that this vivid description, drawn by himself, of the
emotions excited in Nehemiah by his countrymen's sorrows, which
influenced his whole future, contains some very plain lessons for
Christian people, the observance of which is every day becoming more
imperative by reason of the drift of public opinion, and the new
prominence which is being given to so-called 'social questions.' I
wish to gather up one or two of these lessons for you now.

I. First, then, note the plain Christian duty of sympathetic
contemplation of surrounding sorrows. Nehemiah might have made a great
many very good excuses for treating lightly the tidings that his
brother had brought him. He might have said: 'Jerusalem is a long way
off. I have my own work to do; it is no part of my business to rebuild
the walls of Jerusalem. I am the King's cupbearer. They went with
their eyes open, and experience has shown that the people who knew
when they were well off, and stayed where they were, were a great deal
wiser.' These were not his excuses. He let the tidings fill his heart,
and burn there.

Now, the first condition of sympathy is knowledge; and the second is
attending to what we do know. Nehemiah had probably known, in a kind
of vague way, for many a day how things were going in Palestine.
Communications between it and Persia were not so difficult but that
there would come plenty of Government despatches; and a man at
headquarters who had the ear of the monarch, was not likely to be
ignorant of what was going on in that part of his dominions. But there
is all the difference between hearing vague general reports, and
sitting and hearing your own brother tell you what he had seen with
his own eyes. So the impression which had existed before was all
inoperative until it was kindled by attention to the facts which all
the time had been, in some degree, known.

Now, how many of us are there that know--and don't know--what is going
on round about us in the slums and back courts of this city? How many
of us are there who are habitually ignorant of what we actually know,
because we never, as we say, 'give heed' to it. 'I did not think of
that,' is a very poor excuse about matters concerning which there is
knowledge, whether there is thought or not. And so I want to press
upon all you Christian people the plain duty of knowing what you do
know, and of giving an ample place in your thoughts to the stark
staring facts around us.

Why! loads of people at present seem to think that the miseries, and
hideous vices, and sodden immorality, and utter heathenism, which are
found down amongst the foundations of every civic community are as
indispensable to progress as the noise of the wheels of a train is to
its advancement, or as the bilge-water in a wooden ship is to keep its
seams tight. So we prate about 'civilisation,' which means turning men
into cities. If agglomerating people into these great communities,
which makes so awful a feature of modern life, be necessarily attended
by such abominations as we live amongst and never think about, then,
better that there had never been civilisation in such a sense at all.
Every consideration of communion with and conformity to Jesus Christ,
of loyalty to His words, of a true sense of brotherhood and of lower
things--such as self-interest--every consideration demands that
Christian people shall take to their hearts, in a fashion that the
churches have never done yet, 'the condition of England question,' and
shall ask, 'Lord! what wouldst Thou have me to do?'

I do not care to enter upon controversy raised by recent utterances,
the motive of which may be worthy of admiration, though the expression
cannot be acquitted of the charge of exaggeration, to the effect that
the Christian churches as a whole have been careless of the condition
of the people. It is not true in its absolute sense. I suppose that,
taking the country over, the majority of the members of, at all events
the Nonconformist churches and congregations, are in receipt of weekly
wages or belong to the upper ranks of the working-classes, and that
the lever which has lifted them to these upper ranks has been God's
Gospel. I suppose it will be admitted that the past indifference with
which we are charged belonged to the whole community, and that the new
sense of responsibility which has marked, and blessedly marked, recent
years, is largely owing to political and other causes which have
lately come into operation. I suppose it will not be denied that, to a
very large extent, any efforts which have been made in the past for
the social, intellectual, and moral, and religious elevation of the
people have had their impulse, and to a large extent their support,
both pecuniary and active, from Christian churches and individuals.
All that is perfectly true and, I believe, undeniable. But it is also
true that there remains an enormous, shameful, dead mass of inertness
in our churches, and that, unless we can break up that, the omens are
bad, bad for society, worse for the church. If cholera is raging in
the slums, the suburbs will not escape. If the hovels are infected,
the mansions will have to pay their tribute to the disease. If we do
not recognise the brotherhood of the suffering and the sinful, in any
other fashion--'Then,' as a great teacher told us a generation ago
now, and nobody paid any attention to him, 'then they will begin and
show you that they are your brethren by killing some of you.' And so
self-preservation conjoins with loftier motives to make this
sympathetic observation of the surrounding sorrows the plainest of
Christian duties.

II. Secondly, such a realisation of the dark facts is indispensable to
all true work for alleviating them.

There is no way of helping men out by bearing what they bear. No man
will ever lighten a sorrow of which he has not himself felt the
pressure. Jesus Christ's Cross, to which we are ever appealing as the
ground of our redemption and the anchor of our hope, is these, thank
God! But it is more than these. It is the pattern for our lives, and
it lays down, with stringent accuracy and completeness, the enduring
conditions of helping the sinful and the sorrowful. The 'saviours of
society' have still, in lower fashion, to be crucified. Jesus Christ
would never have been 'the Lamb of God that bore away the sins of the
world' unless He Himself had 'taken our infirmities and borne our
sicknesses.' No work of any real use will be done except by those
whose hearts have bled with the feeling of the miseries which they set
themselves to cure.

Oh! we all want a far fuller realisation of that sympathetic spirit of
the pitying Christ, if we are ever to be of any use in the world, or
to help the miseries of any of our brethren. Such a sorrowful and
participating contemplation of men's sorrows springing from men's sins
will give tenderness to our words, will give patience, will soften our
whole bearing. Help that is flung to people, as you might fling a bone
to a dog, hurts those whom it tries to help, and patronising help is
help that does little good, and lecturing help does little more. You
must take blind beggars by the hand if you are going to make them see;
and you must not be afraid to lay your white, clean fingers upon the
feculent masses of corruption in the leper's glistening whiteness if
you are going to make him whole. Go down in order to lift, and
remember that without sympathy there is no sufficient help, and
without communion with Christ there is no sufficient sympathy.

III. Thirdly, such realisation of surrounding sorrows should drive to
communion with God.

Nehemiah wept and mourned, and that was well. But between his weeping
and mourning and his practical work there had to be still another link
of connection. 'He wept and mourned,' and because he was sad he turned
to God, 'and I fasted and prayed certain days.' There he got at once
comfort for his sorrows, his sympathies, and deepening of his
sympathies, and thence he drew inspiration that made him a hero and a
martyr. So all true service for the world must begin with close
communion with God.

There was a book published several years since which made a great
noise in its little day, and called itself _The Service of Man_,
which service it proposed to substitute for the effete conception of
worship as the service of God. The service of man is, then, best done
when it is the service of God. I suppose nowadays it is
'old-fashioned' and 'narrow,' which is the sin of sins at present, but
I for my part have very little faith in the persistence and wide
operation of any philanthropic motives except the highest--namely,
compassion caught from Jesus Christ. I do not believe that you will
get men, year in and year out, to devote themselves in any
considerable numbers to the service of man unless you appeal to this
highest of motives. You may enlist a little corps--and God forbid that
I should deny such a plain fact--of selecter spirits to do purely
secular alleviative work, with an entire ignoring of Christian
motives, but you will never get the army of workers that is needed to
grapple with the facts of our present condition, unless you touch the
very deepest springs of conduct, and these are to be found in
communion with God. All the rest is surface drainage. Get down to the
love of God, and the love of men therefrom, and you have got an
Artesian well which will bubble up unfailingly.

And I have not much faith in remedies which ignore religion, and are
brought, without communion with God, as sufficient for the disease. I
do not want to say one word that might seem to depreciate what are
good and valid and noble efforts in their several spheres. There is no
need for antagonism--rather, Christian men are bound by every
consideration to help to the utmost of their power, even in the
incomplete attempts that are made to grapple with social problems.
There is room enough for us all. But sure I am that until grapes and
waterbeds cure smallpox, and a spoonful of cold water puts out
Vesuvius, you will not cure the evils of the body politic by any
lesser means than the application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We hear a great deal to-day about a 'social gospel,' and I am glad of
the conception, and of the favour which it receives. Only let us
remember that the Gospel is social _second_, and individual
_first_. And that if you get the love of God and obedience to
Jesus Christ into a man's heart it will be like putting gas into a
balloon, it will go up, and the man will get out of the slums fast
enough; and he will not be a slave to the vices of the world much
longer, and you will have done more for him and for the wide circle
that he may influence than by any other means. I do not want to
depreciate any helpers, but I say it is the work of the Christian
church to carry to the world the only thing that will make men deeply
and abidingly happy, because it will make them good.

IV. And so, lastly, such sympathy should be the parent of a noble,
self-sacrificing life. Look at the man in our text. He had the ball at
his feet. He had the _entree_ of a court, and the ear of a king.
Brilliant prospects were opening before him, but his brethren's
sufferings drew him, and with a noble resolution of self-sacrifice, he
shut himself out from the former and went into the wilderness. He is
one of the Scripture characters that never have had due honour--a
hero, a saint, a martyr, a reformer. He did, though in a smaller
sphere, the very same thing that the writer of the Epistle to the
Hebrews magnified with his splendid eloquence, in reference to the
great Lawgiver, 'And chose rather to suffer affliction with the people
of God,' and to turn his back upon the dazzlements of a court, than to
'enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season,' whilst his brethren were
suffering.

Now, dear friends! the letter of the example may be put aside; the
spirit of it must be observed. If Christians are to do the work that
they can do, and that Christ has put them into this world that they
may do, there must be self-sacrifice with it. There is no shirking
that obligation, and there is no discharging our duty without it. You
and I, in our several ways, are as much under the sway of that
absolute law, that 'if a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,
it brings forth fruit,' as ever was Jesus Christ or His Apostles. I
have nothing to say about the manner of the sacrifice. It is no part
of my business to prescribe to you details of duty. It is my business
to insist on the principles which must regulate these, and of these
principles in application to Christian service there is none more
stringent than--'I will not offer unto my God burnt-offering of that
which doth cost me nothing.'

I am sure that, under God, the great remedy for social evils lies
mainly here, that the bulk of professing Christians shall recognise
and discharge their responsibilities. It is not ministers, city
missionaries, Bible-women, or any other paid people that can do the
work. It is by Christian men and by Christian women, and, if I might
use a very vulgar distinction which has a meaning in the present
connection, very specially by Christian ladies, taking their part in
the work amongst the degraded and the outcasts, that our sorest
difficulties and problems will be solved. If a church does not face
these, well, all I can say is, its light will go out; and the sooner
the better. 'If thou forbear to deliver them that are appointed to
death, and say, Behold! I knew it not, shall not He that weigheth the
hearts consider it, and shall He not render to every man according to
his work?' And, on the other hand, there are no blessings more rich,
select, sweet, and abiding, than are to be found in sharing the sorrow
of the Man of Sorrows, and carrying the message of His pity and His
redemption to an outcast world. 'If thou draw out thy soul to the
hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, the Lord shall satisfy thy
soul; and thou shalt be as a watered garden, and as a spring of water
whose waters fail not.'



'OVER AGAINST HIS HOUSE'

'The priests repaired every one over against his house.'--NEH. iii.
28.


The condition of our great cities has lately been forced upon public
attention, and all kinds of men have been offering their panaceas. I
am not about to enter upon that discussion, but I am glad to seize the
opportunity of saying one or two things which I think very much need
to be said to individual Christian people about their duty in the
matter. 'Every man over against his house' is the principle I desire
to commend to you as going a long way to solve the problem of how to
sweeten the foul life of our modern cities.

The story from which my text is taken does not need to detain us long.
Nehemiah and his little band of exiles have come back to a ruined
Jerusalem. Their first care is to provide for their safety, and the
first step is to know the exact extent of their defencelessness. So we
have the account of Nehemiah's midnight ride amongst the ruins of the
broken walls. And then we read of the co-operation of all classes in
the work of reconstruction. 'Many hands made light work.' Men and
women, priests and nobles, goldsmiths, apothecaries, merchants, all
seized trowel or spade, and wheeled and piled. One man puts up a long
length of wall, another can only manage a little bit; another
undertakes the locks, bolts, and bars for the gates. Roughly and
hastily the work is done. The result, of course, is very unlike the
stately structures of Solomon's or of Herod's time, but it is enough
for shelter. We can imagine the sigh of relief with which the workers
looked upon the completed circle of their rude fortifications.

The principle of division of labour in our text is repeated several
times in this list of the builders. It was a natural one; a man would
work all the better when he saw his own roof mutely appealing to be
defended, and thought of the dear ones that were there. But I take
these words mainly as suggesting some thoughts applicable to the
duties of Christian people in view of the spiritual wants of our great
cities.

I. I need not do more than say a word or two about the ruins which
need repair. If I dwell rather upon the dark side than on the bright
side of city life I shall not be understood, as forgetting that the
very causes which intensify the evil of a great city quicken the
good--the friction of multitudes and the impetus thereby given to all
kinds of mental activity. Here amongst us there is much that is
admirable and noble--much public spirit, much wise and benevolent
expenditure of thought and toil for the general good, much conjoint
action by men of different parties, earnest antagonism and earnest
co-operation, and a free, bracing intellectual atmosphere, which
stimulates activity. All that is true, though, on the other hand, it
is not good to live always within hearing of the clatter of machinery
and the strife of tongues; and the wisdom that is born of solitary
meditation and quiet thought is less frequently met with in cities
than is the cleverness that is born of intercourse with men, and
newspaper reading.

But there is a tragic other side to all that, which mostly we make up
our minds to say little about and to forget. The indifference which
has made that ignorance possible, and has in its turn been fed by the
ignorance, is in some respects a more shocking phenomenon than the
vicious life which it has allowed to rot and to reek unheeded.

Most of us have got so familiarised with the evils that stare us in
the face every time we go out upon the pavements, that we have come to
think of them as being inseparable from our modern life, like the
noise of a carriage wheel from its rotation. And is it so then? Is it
indeed inevitable that within a stone's throw of our churches and
chapels there should be thousands of men and women that have never
been inside a place of worship since they were christened; and have no
more religion than a horse? Must it be that the shining structure of
our modern society, like an old Mexican temple, must be built upon a
layer of living men, flung in for a foundation? Can it not be helped
that there should be streets in our cities into which it is unfit for
a decent woman to go by day alone, and unsafe for a brave man to
venture after nightfall? Must men and women huddle together in dens
where decency is as impossible as it is for swine in a sty? Is it an
indispensable part of our material progress and wonderful civilisation
that vice and crime and utter irreligion and hopeless squalor should
go with it? Can all that bilge water really not be pumped out of the
ship? If it be so, then I venture to say that, to a very large extent,
progress is a delusion, and that the simple life of agricultural
communities is better than this unwholesome aggregation of men.

The beginning of Nehemiah's work of repair was that sad midnight ride
round the ruined walls. So there is a solemn obligation laid on
Christian people to acquaint themselves with the awful facts, and then
to meditate on them, till sacred, Christ-like compassion, pressing
against the flood-gates of the heart, flings them open, and lets out a
stream of helpful pity and saving deeds.

II. So much for my first point. My second is--the ruin is to be
repaired mainly by the old Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far be it from me
to pit remedies against each other. The causes are complicated, and
the cure must be as manifold as the causes. For my own part I believe
that, in regard to the condition of the lowest of our outcast
population, drink and lust have done it almost all, and that for all
but an infinitesimal portion of it, intemperance is directly or
indirectly the cause. That has to be fought by the distinct preaching
of abstinence, and by the invoking of legislative restrictions upon
the traffic. Wretched homes have to be dealt with by sanitary reform,
which may require municipal and parliamentary action. Domestic
discomfort has to be dealt with by teaching wives the principles of
domestic economy. The gracious influence of art and music, pictures
and window-gardening, and the like, will lend their aid to soften and
refine. Coffee taverns, baths and wash-houses, workmen's clubs, and
many other agencies are doing real and good work. I for one say, 'God
speed to them all,' and willingly help them so far as I can.

But, as a Christian man, I believe that I know a thing that if lodged
in a man's heart will do pretty nearly all which they aspire to do;
and whilst I rejoice in the multiplied agencies for social elevation,
I believe that I shall best serve my generation, and I believe that
ninety-nine out of a hundred of you will do so too, by trying to get
men to love and fear Jesus Christ the Saviour. If you can get His love
into a man's heart, that will produce new tastes and new inclinations,
which will reform, and sweeten, and purify faster than anything else
does.

They tell us that Nonconformist ministers are never seen in the slums;
well, that is a libel! But I should like to ask why it is that the
Roman Catholic priest is seen there more than the Nonconformist
minister? Because the one man's congregation is there, and the other
man's is not--which, being translated into other words, is this: the
religion of Jesus Christ mostly keeps people out of the slums, and
certainly it will take a man out of them if once it gets into his
heart, more certainly and quickly than anything else will.

So, dear friends! if we have in our hearts and in our hands this great
message of God's love, we have in our possession the germ out of which
all things that are lovely and of good report will grow. It will
purify, elevate, and sweeten society, because it will make individuals
pure and strong, and homes holy and happy. We do not need to draw
comparisons between this and other means of reparation, and still less
to feel any antagonism to them or the benevolent men who work them;
but we should fix it in our minds that the principles of Christ's
Gospel adhered to by individuals, and therefore by communities, would
have rendered such a condition of things impossible, and that the true
repair of the ruin wrought by evil and ignorance, in the single soul,
in the family, the city, the nation, the world, is to be found in
building anew on the One Foundation which God has laid, even Jesus
Christ, the Living Stone, whose pure life passes into all that are
grounded and founded on Him.

III. Lastly, this remedy is to be applied by the individual action of
Christian men and women on the people nearest them.

'The priests repaired every one over against his house.' We are always
tempted, in the face of large disasters, to look for heroic and large
remedies, and to invoke corporate action of some sort, which is a
great deal easier for most of us than the personal effort that is
required. When a great scandal and danger like this of the condition
of the lower layers of our civic population is presented before men,
for one man that says, 'What can _I_ do?' there are twenty who
say, 'Somebody should do something. Government should do something.
The Corporation should do something. This, that, or the other
aggregate of men should do something.' And the individual calmly and
comfortably slips his neck out of the collar and leaves it on the
shoulders of these abstractions.

As I have said, there are plenty of things that need to be done by
these somebodies. But what they do (they will be a long time in doing
it), when they do get to work will only touch the fringe of the
question, and the substance and the centre of it you can set to work
upon this very day if you like, and not wait for anybody either to set
you the example or to show you the way.

If you want to do people good you can; but you must pay the price for
it. That price is personal sacrifice and effort. The example of Jesus
Christ is the all-instructive one in the case. People talk about Him
being their Pattern, but they often forget that whatever more there
was in Christ's Cross and Passion there was this in it:--the
exemplification for all time of the one law by which any reformation
can be wrought on men--that a sympathising man shall give himself to
do it, and that by personal influence alone men will be drawn and won
from out of the darkness and filth. A loving heart and a sympathetic
word, the exhibition of a Christian life and conduct, the fact of
going down into the midst of evil and trying to lift men out of it,
are the old-fashioned and only magnets by which men are drawn to purer
and higher life. That is God's way of saving the world--by the action
of single souls on single souls. Masses of men can neither save nor be
saved. Not in groups, but one by one, particle by particle, soul by
soul, Christ draws men to Himself, and He does His work in the world
through single souls on fire with His love, and tender with pity
learned of Him.

So, dear friends! do not think that any organisation, any corporate
activity, any substitution of vicarious service, will solve the
problem. It will not. There is only one way of doing it, the old way
that we must tread if we are going to do anything for God and our
fellows: 'The priests repaired every one over against his house.'

Let me briefly point out some very plain and obvious things which bear
upon this matter of individual action. Let me remind you that if you
are a Christian man you have in your possession the thing which will
cure the world's woe, and possession involves responsibility. What
would you think of a man that had a specific for some pestilence that
was raging in a city, and was contented to keep it for his own use, or
at most for his family's use, when his brethren were dying by the
thousand, and their corpses polluting the air? And what shall we say
of men and women who call themselves Christians, who have some faith
in that great Lord and His mighty sacrifice; who know that the men
they meet with every day of their lives are dying for want of it, and
who yet themselves do absolutely nothing to spread His name, and to
heal men's hurts? What shall we say? God forbid that we should say
they are not Christians! but God forbid that anybody should flatter
them with the notion that they are anything but most inconsistent
Christians!

Still further, need I remind you that if we have found anything in
Jesus Christ which has been peace and rest for ourselves, Christ has
thereby called us to this work? He has found and saved us, not only
for our own personal good. That, of course, is the prime purpose of
our salvation, but not its exclusive purpose. He has saved us, too, in
order that the Word may be spread through us to those beyond. 'The
Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three
measures of meal until the whole was leavened,' and every little bit
of the dough, as it received into itself the leaven, and was
transformed, became a medium for transmitting the transformation to
the next particle beyond it and so the whole was at last permeated by
the power. We get the grace for ourselves that we may pass it on; and
as the Apostle says: 'God hath shined into our hearts that we might
give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ.'

And you can do it, you Christian men and women, every one of you, and
preach Him to somebody. The possession of His love gives the
commission; ay! and it gives the power. There is nothing so mighty as
the confession of personal experience. Do not you think that when that
first of Christian converts, and first of Christian preachers went to
his brother, all full of what he had discovered, his simple saying,
'We have found the Messias,' was a better sermon than a far more
elaborate proclamation would have been? My brother! if you have found
Him, you can say so; and if you can say so, and your character and
your life confirm the words of your lips, you will have done more to
spread His name than much eloquence and many an orator. All can preach
who can say, 'We have found the Christ.'

The last word I have to say is this: there is no other body that can
do it but you. They say:--'What an awful thing it is that there are no
churches or chapels in these outcast districts!' If there were they
would be what the churches and chapels are now--half empty. Bricks and
mortar built up into ecclesiastical forms are not the way to
evangelise this or any other country. It is a very easy thing to build
churches and chapels. It is not such an easy thing--I believe it is an
impossible thing (and that the sooner the Christian church gives up
the attempt the better)--to get the godless classes into any church or
chapel. Conducted on the principles upon which churches and chapels
must needs at present be conducted, they are for another class
altogether; and we had better recognise it, because then we shall feel
that no multiplication of buildings like this in which we now are, for
instance, is any direct contribution to the evangelisation of the
waste spots of the country, except in so far as from a centre like
this there ought to go out much influence which will originate direct
missionary action in places and fashions adapted to the outlying
community.

Professional work is not what we want. Any man, be he minister,
clergyman, Bible-reader, city missionary, who goes among our godless
population with the suspicion of pay about him is the weaker for that.
What is needed besides is that ladies and gentlemen that are a little
higher up in the social scale than these poor creatures, should go to
them themselves; and excavate and work. Preach, if you like, in the
technical sense; have meetings, I suppose, necessarily; but the
personal contact is the thing, the familiar talk, the simple
exhibition of a loving Christian heart, and the unconventional
proclamation in free conversation of the broad message of the love of
God in Jesus Christ. Why, if all the people in this chapel who can do
that would do it, and keep on doing it, who can tell what an influence
would come from some hundreds of new workers for Christ? And why
should the existence of a church in which the workers are as numerous
as the Christians be an Utopian dream? It is simply the dream that
perhaps a church might be conceived to exist, all the members of which
had found out their plainest, most imperative duty, and were really
trying to do it.

No carelessness, no indolence, no plea of timidity or business shift
the obligation from your shoulders if you are a Christian. It is your
business, and no paid agents can represent you. You cannot buy
yourselves substitutes in Christ's army, as they used to do in the
militia, by a guinea subscription. We are thankful for the money,
because there are kinds of work to be done that unpaid effort will not
do. But men ask for your money; Jesus Christ asks for yourself, for
your work, and will not let you off as having done your duty because
you have paid your subscription. No doubt there are some of you who,
from various circumstances, cannot yourselves do work amongst the
masses of the outcast population. Well, but you have got people by
your side whom you can help. The question which I wish to ask of my
Christian brethren and sisters now is this: Is there a man, woman, or
child living to whom you ever spoke a word about Jesus Christ? Is
there? If not, do not you think it is time that you began?

There are people in your houses, people that sit by you in your
counting-house, on your college benches, who work by your side in mill
or factory or warehouse, who cross your path in a hundred ways, and
God has given them to you that you may bring them to Him. Do you set
yourself, dear brother, to work and try to bring them. Oh! if you
lived nearer Jesus Christ you would catch the sacred fire from Him;
and like a bit of cold iron lying beside a magnet, touching Him, you
would yourselves become magnetic and draw men out of their evil and up
to God.

Let me commend to you the old pattern: 'The priests repaired every one
over against his house'; and beseech you to take the trowel and spade,
or anything that comes handiest, and build, in the bit nearest you,
some living stones on the true Foundation.



DISCOURAGEMENTS AND COURAGE

'Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against
them day and night, because of them. 10. And Judah said, The strength
of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so
that we are not able to build the wall. 11. And our adversaries said,
They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among
them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease. 12. And it came to
pass, that when the Jews which dwelt by them came, they said unto us
ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be
upon you. 13. Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and
on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with
their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14. And I looked and rose
up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of
the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is
great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your
daughters, your wives, and your houses. 15. And it came to pass, when
our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their
counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one
unto his work. 16. And it came to pass from that time forth, that the
half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them
held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons;
and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. 17. They which
builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that
laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with
the other hand held a weapon. 18. For the builders, every one had his
sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the
trumpet was by me. 19. And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers,
and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we are
separated upon the wall, one far from another. 20. In what place
therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us:
our God shall fight for us. 21. So we laboured in the work: and half
of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars
appeared.'--Neh. iv. 9-21.


Common hatred has a wonderful power of uniting former foes.
Samaritans, wild Arabs of the desert, Ammonites, and inhabitants of
Ashdod in the Philistine plain would have been brought together for no
noble work, but mischief and malice fused them for a time into one.
God's work is attacked from all sides. Herod and Pilate can shake
hands over their joint antagonism.

This passage paints vividly the discouragements which are apt to dog
all good work, and the courage which refuses to be discouraged, and
conquers by bold persistence. The first verse (v. 9) may stand as a
summary of the whole, though it refers to the preceding, not to the
following, verses. The true way to meet opposition is twofold--prayer
and prudent watchfulness. 'Pray to God, and keep your powder dry,' is
not a bad compendium of the duty of a Christian soldier. The union of
appeal to God with the full use of common sense, watchfulness, and
prudence, would dissipate many hindrances to successful service.

I. In verses 10-12 Nehemiah tells, in his simple way, of the
difficulties from three several quarters which threatened to stop his
work. He had trouble from the workmen, from the enemies, and from the
mass of Jews not resident in Jerusalem. The enthusiasm of the builders
had cooled, and the magnitude of their task began to frighten them.
Verse 6 tells us that the wall was completed 'unto the half of it';
that is, to one-half the height, and half-way through is just the
critical time in all protracted work. The fervour of beginning has
passed; the animation from seeing the end at hand has not sprung up.
There is a dreary stretch in the centre, where it takes much faith and
self-command to plod on unfainting. Half-way to Australia from England
is the region of sickening calms. It is easier to work in the fresh
morning or in the cool evening than at midday. So in every great
movement there are short-winded people who sit down and pant very
soon, and their prudence croaks out undeniable facts. No doubt
strength does become exhausted; no doubt there is 'much rubbish'
(literally 'dust'). What then? The conclusion drawn is not so
unquestionable as the premises. 'We cannot build the wall' Why not?
Have you not built half of it? And was not the first half more
embarrassed by rubbish than the second will be?

It is a great piece of Christian duty to recognise difficulties, and
not be cowed by them. The true inference from the facts would have
been, 'so that we must put all our strength into the work, and trust
in our God to help us.' We may not be responsible for discouragements
suggesting themselves, but we are responsible for letting them become
dissuasives. Our one question should be, Has God appointed the work?
If so, it has to be done, however little our strength, and however
mountainous the accumulations of rubbish.

The second part in the trio was taken by the enemies--Sanballat and
Tobiah and the rest. They laid their plans for a sudden swoop down on
Jerusalem, and calculated that, if they could surprise the builders at
their work, they would have no weapons to show fight with, and so
would be easily despatched. Killing the builders was but a means; the
desired end is significantly put last (v. 11), as being the stopping
of the abhorred work. But killing the workmen does not cause the work
to cease when it is God's work, as the history of the Church in all
ages shows. Conspirators should hold their tongues. It was not a
hopeful way of beginning an attack, of which the essence was secrecy
and suddenness, to talk about it. 'A bird of the air carries the
matter.'

The third voice is that of the Jews in other parts of the land, and
especially those living on the borders of Samaria, next door to
Sanballat. Verse 12 is probably best taken as in the Revised Version,
which makes 'Ye must return to us' the imperative and often-repeated
summons from these to the contingents from their respective places of
abode, who had gone up to Jerusalem to help in building. Alarms of
invasion made the scattered villagers wish to have all their men
capable of bearing arms back again to defend their own homes. It was a
most natural demand, but in this case, as so often, audacity is truest
prudence; and in all high causes there come times when men have to
trust their homes and dear ones to God's protection. The necessity is
heartrending, and we may well pray that we may not be exposed to it;
but if it clearly arises, a devout man can have no doubt of his duty.
How many American citizens had to face it in the great Civil War! And
how character is ennobled by even so severe a sacrifice!

II. The calm heroism of Nehemiah and his wise action in the emergency
are told in verses 13-15. He made a demonstration in force, which at
once showed that the scheme of a surprise was blown to pieces. It is
difficult to make out the exact localities in which he planted his
men. 'The lower places behind the wall' probably means the points at
which the new fortifications were lowest, which would be the most
exposed to assault; and the 'higher places' (Auth. Ver.), or 'open
places' (Rev. Ver.), describes the same places from another point of
view. They afforded room for posting troops because they were without
buildings. At any rate, the walls were manned, and the enemy would
have to deal, not with unarmed labourers, but with prepared soldiers.
The work was stopped, and trowel and spade exchanged for sword and
spear. 'And I looked,' says Nehemiah. His careful eye travelled over
the lines, and, seeing all in order, he cheered the little army with
ringing words. He had prayed (Neh. i. 5) to 'the great and terrible
God,' and now he bids his men remember Him, and thence draw strength
and courage. The only real antagonist of fear is faith. If we can
grasp God, we shall not dread Sanballat and his crew. Unless we do,
the world is full of dangers which it is not folly to fear.

Note, too, that the people are animated for the fight by reminding
them of the dear ones whose lives and honour hung on the issue.
Nothing is said about fighting for God and His Temple and city, but
the motives adduced are not less sacred. Family love is God's best of
earthly gifts, and, though it is sometimes duty to 'forget thine own
people, and thy father's house,' as we have just seen, nothing short
of these highest obligations can supersede the sweet one of straining
every nerve for the well-being of dear ones in the hallowed circle of
home.

So the plan of a sudden rush came to nothing. It does not appear that
the enemy was in sight; but the news of the demonstration soon reached
them, and was effectual. Prompt preparation against possible dangers
is often the means of turning them aside. Watchfulness is
indispensable to vigour of Christian character and efficiency of work.
Suspicion is hateful and weakening; but a man who tries to serve God
in such a world as this had need to be like the living creatures in
the Revelation, having 'eyes all over.' 'Blessed is the man that [in
that sense] feareth always.'

The upshot of the alarm is very beautifully told: 'We returned all of
us to the wall, every one unto his work.' No time was wasted in
jubilation. The work was the main thing, and the moment the
interruption was ended, back to it they all went. It is a fine
illustration of persistent discharge of duty, and of that most
valuable quality, the ability and inclination to keep up the main
purpose of a life continuous through interruptions, like a stream of
sweet water running through a bog.

III. The remainder of the passage tells us of the standing
arrangements made in consequence of the alarm (vs. 16-21). First we
hear what Nehemiah did with his own special 'servants,' whether these
were slaves who had accompanied him from Shushan (as Stanley
supposes), or his body-guard as a Persian official. He divided them
into two parts--one to work, one to watch. But he did not carry out
this plan with the mass of the people, probably because it would have
too largely diminished the number of builders. So he armed them all.
The labourers who carried stones, mortar, and the like, could do their
work after a fashion with one hand, and so they had a weapon in the
other. If they worked in pairs, that would be all the easier. The
actual builders needed both hands, and so they had swords stuck in
their girdles. No doubt such arrangements hindered progress, but they
were necessary. The lesson often drawn from them is no doubt true,
that God's workers must be prepared for warfare as well as building.
There have been epochs in which that necessity was realised in a very
sad manner; and the Church on earth will always have to be the Church
militant. But it is well to remember that building is the end, and
fighting is but the means. The trowel, not the sword, is the natural
instrument. Controversy is second best--a necessity, no doubt, but an
unwelcome one, and only permissible as a subsidiary help to doing the
true work, rearing the walls of the city of God.

'He that soundeth the trumpet was by me.' The gallant leader was
everywhere, animating by his presence. He meant to be in the thick of
the fight, if it should come. And so he kept the trumpeter by his
side, and gave orders that when he sounded all should hurry to the
place; for there the enemy would be, and Nehemiah would be where they
were. 'The work is great and large, and we are separated ... one far
from another.' How naturally the words lend themselves to the old
lesson so often drawn from them! God's servants are widely parted, by
distance, by time, and, alas! by less justifiable causes. Unless they
draw together they will be overwhelmed, taken in detail, and crushed.
They must rally to help each other against the common foe.

Thank God! the longing for manifest Christian unity is deeper to-day
than ever it was. But much remains to be done before it is adequately
fulfilled in the recognition of the common bond of brotherhood, which
binds us all in one family, if we have one Father. English and
American Christians are bound to seek the tightening of the bonds
between them and to set themselves against politicians who may seek to
keep apart those who both in the flesh and in the spirit are brothers.
All Christians have one great Captain; and He will be in the forefront
of every battle. His clear trumpet-call should gather all His servants
to His side.

The closing verse tells again how Nehemiah's immediate dependants
divided work and watching, and adds to the picture the continuousness
of their toil from the first grey of morning till darkness showed the
stars and ended another day of toil. Happy they who thus 'from morn
till noon, from noon till dewy eve,' labour in the work of the Lord!
For them, every new morning will dawn with new strength, and every
evening be calm with the consciousness of 'something attempted,
something done.'



AN ANCIENT NONCONFORMIST

'... So did not I, because of the fear of God.'--Neh. v. 15.


I do not suppose that the ordinary Bible-reader knows very much about
Nehemiah. He is one of the neglected great men of Scripture. He was no
prophet, he had no glowing words, he had no lofty visions, he had no
special commission, he did not live in the heroic age. There was a
certain harshness and dryness; a tendency towards what, when it was
more fully developed, became Pharisaism, in the man, which somewhat
covers the essential nobleness of his character. But he was brave,
cautious, circumspect, disinterested; and he had Jerusalem in his
heart.

The words that I have read are a little fragment of his autobiography
which deal with a prosaic enough matter, but carry in them large
principles. When he was appointed governor of the little colony of
returned exiles in Palestine, he found that his predecessors, like
Turkish pashas and Chinese mandarins to-day, had been in the habit of
'squeezing' the people of their Government, and that they had
requisitioned sufficient supplies of provisions to keep the governor's
table well spread. It was the custom. Nobody would have wondered if
Nehemiah had conformed to it; but he felt that he must have his hands
clean. Why did he not do what everybody else had done in like
circumstances? His answer is beautifully simple: 'Because of the fear
of God.' His religion went down into the little duties of common life,
and imposed upon him a standard far above the maxims that were
prevalent round about him. And so, if you will take these words, and
disengage them from the small matter concerning which they were
originally spoken, I think you will find in them thoughts as to the
attitude which we should take to prevalent practices, the motive which
should impel us to a sturdy non-compliance, and the power which will
enable us to walk on a solitary road. 'So did not I, because of the
fear of God.' Now, then, these are my three points:--

I. The attitude to prevalent practices.

Nehemiah would not conform. And unless you can say 'No!' and do it
very often, your life will be shattered from the beginning. That
non-compliance with customary maxims and practices is the beginning,
or, at least, one of the foundation-stones, of all nobleness and
strength, of all blessedness and power. Of course it is utterly
impossible for a man to denude himself of the influences that are
brought to bear upon him by the circumstances in which he lives, and
the trend of opinion, and the maxims and practices of the world, in
the corner, and at the time, in which his lot is cast. But, on the
other hand, be sure of this, that unless you are in a very deep and
not at all a technical sense of the word, 'Nonconformists,' you will
come to no good. None! It is so easy to do as others do, partly
because of laziness, partly because of cowardice, partly because of
the instinctive imitation which is in us all. Men are gregarious. One
great teacher has drawn an illustration from a flock of sheep, and
says that if we hold up a stick, and the first of the flock jumps over
it, and then if we take away the stick, all the rest of the flock will
jump when they come to the point where the first did so. A great many
of us adopt our creeds and opinions, and shape our lives for no better
reason than because people round us are thinking in a certain
direction, and living in a certain way. It saves a great deal of
trouble, and it gratifies a certain strange instinct that is in us
all, and it avoids dangers and conflicts that we should, when we are
at Rome, do as the Romans do. 'So did not I, because of the fear of
God.'

Now, brethren! I ask you to take this plain principle of the necessity
of non-compliance (which I suppose I do not need to do much to
establish, because, theoretically, we most of us admit it), and apply
it all round the circumference of your lives. Apply it to your
opinions. There is no tyranny like the tyranny of a majority in a
democratic country like ours. It is quite as harsh as the tyranny of
the old-fashioned despots. Unless you resolve steadfastly to see with
your own eyes, to use your own brains, to stand on your own feet, to
be a voice and not an echo, you will be helplessly enslaved by the
fashion of the hour, and the opinions that prevail.

'What everybody says'--perhaps--'is true.' What most people say, at
any given time, is very likely to be false. Truth has always lived
with minorities, so do not let the current of widespread opinion sweep
you away, but try to have a mind of your own, and not to be
brow-beaten or overborne because the majority of the people round
about you are giving utterance, and it may be unmeasured utterance, to
any opinions.

Now, there is one direction in which I wish to urge that
especially--and now I speak mainly to the young men in my
congregation--and that is, in regard to the attitude that so many
amongst us are taking to Christian truth. If you have honestly thought
out the subject to the best of your ability, and have come to
conclusions diverse from those which men like me hold dearer than
their lives, that is another matter. But I know that very widely there
is spread to-day the fashion of unbelief. So many influential men,
leaders of opinion, teachers and preachers, are giving up the
old-fashioned Evangelical faith, that it takes a strong man to say
that he sticks by it. It is a poor reason to give for your attitude,
that unbelief is in the air, and nobody believes those old doctrines
now. That may be. There are currents of opinion that are transitory,
and that is one of them, depend upon it. But at all events do not be
fooled out of your faith, as some of you are tending to be, for no
better reason than because other people have given it up. An iceberg
lowers the temperature all round it, and the iceberg of unbelief is
amongst us to-day, and it has chilled a great many people who could
not tell why they have lost the fervour of their faith.

On the other hand, let me remind you that a mere traditional religion,
which is only orthodox because other people are so, and has not
verified its beliefs by personal experience, is quite as deleterious
as an imitative unbelief. Doubtless, I speak to some who plume
themselves on 'never having been affected by these currents of popular
opinion,' but whose unblemished and unquestioned orthodoxy has no more
vitality in it than the other people's heterodoxy. The one man has
said, 'What is everywhere always, and by all believed, I believe'; and
the other man has said, 'What the select spirits of this day
disbelieve, I disbelieve,' and the belief of one and the unbelief of
the other are equally worthless, and really identical.

But it is not only, nor mainly, in reference to opinion that I would
urge upon you this nonconformity with prevalent practices as the
measure of most that is noble in us. I dare not talk to you as if I
knew much about the details of Manchester commercial life, but I can
say this much, that it is no excuse for shady practices in your trade
to say, 'It is the custom of the trade, and everybody does it.'
Nehemiah might have said: 'There never was a governor yet but took his
forty shekels a day's worth'--about L. 1,800 of our money--'of
provisions from these poor people, and I am not going to give it up
because of a scruple. It is the custom, and because it is the custom I
can do it.' I am not going into details. It is commonly understood
that preachers know nothing about business; that may be true, or it
may not. But this, I am sure, is a word in season for some of my
friends this evening--do not hide behind the trade. Come out into the
open, and deal with the questions of morality involved in your
commercial life, as you will have to deal with them hereafter, by
yourself. Never mind about other people. 'Oh,' but you say, 'that
involves loss.' Very likely! Nehemiah was a poorer man because he fed
all these one hundred and fifty Jews at his table, but he did not mind
that. It may involve loss, but you will keep God, and that is gain.

Turn this searchlight in another direction. I see a number of young
people in my congregation at this moment, young men who are perhaps
just beginning their career in this city, and who possibly have been
startled when they heard the kind of talk that was going on at the
next desk, or from the man that sits beside them on the benches at
College. Do not be tempted to follow that multitude to do evil. Unless
you are prepared to say 'No!' to a great deal that will be pushed into
your face in this great city, as sure as you are living you will make
shipwreck of your lives. Do you think that in the forty years and more
that I have stood here I have not seen successive generations of young
men come into Manchester? I could people many of these pews with the
faces of such, who came here buoyant, full of hope, full of high
resolves, and with a mother's benediction hanging over their heads,
and who got into a bad set, and had not the strength to say 'No,' and
they went down and down and down, and then presently somebody asked,
'Where is so-and-so?' 'Oh! his health broke down, and he has gone home
to die.' 'His bones are full of the iniquity of his youth'--and he
made shipwreck of prospects and of life, because he did not pull
himself together when the temptation came, and say, 'So did not I,
because of the fear of God.'

II. Now let me ask you to turn with me to the second thought that my
text suggests to me; that is,

The motive that impels to this sturdy non-compliance.

Nehemiah puts it in Old Testament phraseology, 'the fear of God'; the
New Testament equivalent is 'the love of Christ.' And if you want to
take the power and the life out of both phrases, in order to find a
modern conventional equivalent, you will say 'religion.' I prefer the
old-fashioned language. 'The love of Christ' impels to this
non-compliance. Now, my point is this, that Jesus Christ requires from
each of us that we shall abstain, restrict ourselves, refuse to do a
great many things that are being done round us.

I need not remind you of how continually He spoke about taking up the
cross. I need not do more than just remind you of His parable of the
two ways, but ask you, whilst you think of it, to note that all the
characteristics of each of the ways which He sets forth are given by
Him as reasons for refusing the one and walking in the other. For
example, 'Enter ye in at the strait gate, for strait is the
gate'--that is a reason for going in; 'and narrow is the way'--that is
a reason for going in; 'and few there be that find it'--that is a
reason for going in. 'Wide is the gate'--that is a reason for stopping
out; 'and broad is the way'--that is a reason for stopping out; 'and
many there be that go in thereat'--that is a reason for stopping out.
Is not that what I said, that the minority is generally right and the
majority wrong? Just because there are so many people on the path,
suspect it, and expect that the path with fewer travellers is probably
the better and the higher.

But to pass from that, what did Jesus Christ mean by His continual
contrast between His disciples and the world? What did He mean by 'the
world'? This fair universe, with all its possibilities of help and
blessing, and all its educational influences? By no means. He meant by
'the world' the aggregate of things and men considered as separate
from God. And when He applied the term to men only, He meant by it
very much what we mean when we talk about society. Society is not
organised on Christian principles; we all know that, and until it is,
if a man is going to be a Christian he must not conform to the world.
'Know ye not that whosoever is a friend of the world is an enemy of
God.'

I would press upon you, dear friends! that our Christianity is nothing
unless it leads us to a standard, and a course of conduct in
conformity with that standard, which will be in diametrical opposition
to a great deal of what is patted on the back, and petted and praised
by society. Now, there is an easy-going kind of Christianity which
does not recognise that, and which is in great favour with many people
to-day, and is called 'liberality' and 'breadth,' and 'conciliating
and commending Christianity to outsiders,' and I know not what
besides. Well, Christ's words seem to me to come down like a hammer
upon that sort of thing. Depend upon it, 'the world'--I mean by that
the aggregate of godless men organised as they are in society--does
not think much of these trimmers. It may dislike an out-and-out
Christian, but it knows him when it sees him, and it has a kind of
hostile respect for him which the other people will never get. You
remember the story of the man that was seeking for a coachman, and
whose question to each applicant was, 'How near can you drive to the
edge of a precipice?' He took the man who said: 'I would keep away
from it as far as I could.' And the so-called Christian people that
seem to be bent on showing how much their lives can be made to
assimilate to the lives of men that have no sympathy with their
creeds, are like the rash Jehus that tried to go as near the edge as
they could. But the consistent Christian will keep as far away from it
as he can. There are some of us who seem as if we were most anxious to
show that we, whose creed is absolutely inconsistent with the world's
practices, can live lives which are all but identical with these
practices. Jesus Christ says, through the lips of His Apostle, what He
often said in other language by His own lips when He was here on
earth: 'Be ye not conformed to the world.'

Surely such a command as that, just because it involves difficulty,
self-restraint, self-denial, and sometimes self-crucifixion, ought to
appeal, and does appeal, to all that is noble in humanity, in a
fashion that that smooth, easy-going gospel of living on the level of
the people round us never can do. For remember that Christ's
commandment not to be conformed to the world is the consequence of His
commandment to be conformed to Himself. 'Thus did not I' comes second;
'This one thing I do' comes first. You will misunderstand the whole
genius of the Gospel if you suppose that, as a law of life, it is
perpetually pulling men short up, and saying: Don't, don't, don't!
There is a Christianity of that sort which is mainly prohibition and
restriction, but it is not Christ's Christianity. He begins by
enjoining: 'This do in remembrance of Me,' and the man that has
accepted that commandment must necessarily say, as he looks out on the
world, and its practices: 'So did not I, because of the fear of God.'

III. And now one last word--my text not only suggests the motive which
impels to this non-compliance, but also the power which enables us to
exercise it.

'The fear of God,' or, taking the New Testament equivalent, 'the love
of Christ,' makes it possible for a man, with all his weakness and
dependence on surroundings, with all his instinctive desire to be like
the folk that are near him, to take that brave attitude, and to refuse
to be one of the crowd that runs after evil and lies. I have no time
to dwell upon this aspect of my subject, as I should be glad to have
done. Let me sum up in a sentence or two what I would have said.
Christ will enable you to take this necessary attitude because, in
Himself He gives you the Example which it is always safe to follow.
The instinct of imitation is planted in us for a good end, and because
it is in us, examples of nobility appeal to us. And because it is in
us Jesus Christ has lived the life that it is possible for, and
therefore incumbent on, us to live. It is safe to imitate Him, and it
is easy not to do as men do, if once our main idea is to do as Christ
did.

He makes it possible for us, because He gives the strongest possible
motive for the life that He prescribes. As the Apostle puts it, 'Ye
are bought with a price, be not the servants of men.' There is nothing
that will so deliver us from the tyranny of majorities, and of what we
call general opinion and ordinary custom, as to feel that we belong to
Him because He died for us. Men become very insignificant when Christ
speaks, and the charter of our freedom from them lies in our
redemption by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ being our Redeemer is our Judge, and moment by moment He
is estimating our conduct, and judging our actions as they are done.
'With me it is a very small matter to be judged of you or of man's
judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord.' Never mind what the people
round you say; you do not take your orders from them, and you do not
answer to them. Like some official abroad, appointed by the Crown, you
do not report to the local authorities; you report to headquarters,
and what He thinks about you is the only important thing. So 'the fear
of man which bringeth a snare' dwindles down into very minute
dimensions when we think of the Pattern, the Redeemer and the Judge to
whom we give account.

And so, dear friends! if we will only open our hearts, by quiet humble
faith, for the coming of Jesus Christ into our lives, then we shall be
able to resist, to refuse compliance, to stand firm, though alone. The
servant of Christ is the master of all men. 'All things are yours,
whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas--all are yours, and ye are
Christ's.'



READING THE LAW WITH TEARS AND JOY

'And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the
street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the
scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had
commanded to Israel. 2. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the
congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with
understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. 3. And he read
therein before the street that was before the water gate, from the
morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that
could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto
the book of the law. 4. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of
wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood
Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and
Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand Pedaiah, and
Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and
Meshullam. 5. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people;
(for he was above all the people); and when he opened it, all the
people stood up: 6. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all
the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they
bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the
ground. 7. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jemin, Akkub,
Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan,
Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and
the people stood in their place. 8. So they read in the book in the
law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to
understand the reading. 9. And Nehemiah, which is the Tirashatha, and
Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people,
said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God;
mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the
words of the law. 10. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the
fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing
is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry;
for the joy of the Lord is your strength. 11. So the Levites stilled
all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither
be ye grieved. 12. And all the people went their way to eat, and to
drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had
understood the words that were declared unto them.'--Neh. viii. 1-12.


The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, which
was the sixth month. The events recorded in this passage took place on
the first day of the seventh month. The year is not given, but the
natural inference is that it was the same as that of the finishing of
the wall; namely, the twentieth of Artaxerxes. If so, the completion
of the fortifications to which Nehemiah had set himself, was
immediately followed by this reading of the law, in which Ezra takes
the lead. The two men stand in a similar relative position to that of
Zerubbabel and Joshua, the one representing the civil and the other
the religious authority.

According to Ezra vii. 9, Ezra had gone to Jerusalem about thirteen
years before Nehemiah, and had had a weary time of fighting against
the corruptions which had crept in among the returned captives. The
arrival of Nehemiah would be hailed as bringing fresh, young
enthusiasm, none the less welcome and powerful because it had the
king's authority entrusted to it. Evidently the two men thoroughly
understood one another, and pulled together heartily. We heard nothing
about Ezra while the wall was being built. But now he is the principal
figure, and Nehemiah is barely mentioned. The reasons for Ezra's
taking the prominent part in the reading of the law are given in the
two titles by which he is designated in two successive verses (vers.
1,2). He was 'the scribe' and also 'the priest,' and in both
capacities was the natural person for such a work.

The seventh month was the festival month of the year, its first day
being that of the Feast of trumpets, and the great Feast of
tabernacles as well as the solemn day of atonement occurring in it.
Possibly, the prospect of the coming of the times for these
celebrations may have led to the people's wish to hear the law, that
they might duly observe the appointed ceremonial. At all events, the
first thing to note is that it was in consequence of the people's wish
that the law was read in their hearing. Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah
originated the gathering together. They obeyed a popular impulse which
they had not created. We must not, indeed, give the multitude credit
for much more than the wish to have their ceremonial right. But there
was at least that wish, and possibly something deeper and more
spiritual. The walls were completed; but the true defence of Israel
was in God, and the condition of His defending was Israel's obedience
to His law. The people were, in some measure, beginning to realise
that condition with new clearness, in consequence of the new fervour
which Nehemiah had brought.

It is singular that, during his thirteen years of residence, Ezra is
not recorded to have promulgated the law, though it lay at the basis
of the drastic reforms which he was able to carry through. Probably he
had not been silent, but the solemn public recitation of the law was
felt to be appropriate on occasion of completing the wall. Whether the
people had heard it before, or, as seems implied, it was strange to
them, their desire to hear it may stand as a pattern for us of that
earnest wish to know God's will which is never cherished in vain. He
who does not intend to obey does not wish to know the law. If we have
no longing to know what the will of the Lord is, we may be very sure
that we prefer our own to His. If we desire to know it, we shall
desire to understand the Book which contains so much of it. Any true
religion in the heart will make us eager to perceive, and willing to
be guided by, the will of God, revealed mainly in Scripture, in the
Person, works, and words of Jesus, and also in waiting hearts by the
Spirit, and in those things which the world calls 'circumstances' and
faith names 'providences.'

II. Verses 2-8 appear to tell the same incidents twice over--first,
more generally in verses 2 and 8, and then more minutely. Such
expanded repetition is characteristic of the Old Testament historical
style. It is somewhat difficult to make sure of the real
circumstances. Clearly enough there was a solemn assembly of men,
women, and children in a great open space outside one of the gates,
and there, from dawn till noon, the law was read and explained. But
whether Ezra read it all, while the Levites named in verse 7 explained
or paraphrased or translated it, or whether they all read in turns, or
whether there were a number of groups, each of which had a teacher who
both read and expounded, is hard to determine. At all events, Ezra was
the principal figure, and began the reading.

It was a picturesque scene. The sun, rising over the slopes of Olivet,
would fall on the gathered crowd, if the water-gate was, as is
probable, on the east or south-east side of the city. Beneath the
fresh fortifications probably, which would act as a sounding-board for
the reader, was set up a scaffold high above the crowd, large enough
to hold Ezra and thirteen supporters--principal men, no doubt--seven
on one side of him and six on the other. Probably a name has dropped
out, and the numbers were equal. There, in the morning light, with the
new walls for a background, stood Ezra on his rostrum, and amid
reverent silence, lifted high the sacred roll. A common impulse swayed
the crowd, and brought them all to their feet--token at once of
respect and obedient attention. Probably many of them had never seen a
sacred roll. To them all it was comparatively unfamiliar. No wonder
that, as Ezra's voice rose in prayer, the whole assembly fell on their
faces in adoration, and every lip responded 'Amen! amen!'

Much superstition may have mingled with the reverence. No doubt, there
was then what we are often solemnly warned against now, bibliolatry.
But in this time of critical investigation it is not the divine
element in Scripture which is likely to be exaggerated; and few are
likely to go wrong in the direction of paying too much reverence to
the Book in which, as is still believed, God has revealed His will and
Himself. While welcoming all investigations which throw light on its
origin or its meaning, and perfectly recognising the human element in
it, we should learn the lesson taught by that waiting crowd prone on
their faces, and blessing God for His word. Such attitude must ever
precede reading it, if we are to read aright.

Hour after hour the recitation went on. We must let the question of
the precise form of the events remain undetermined. It is somewhat
singular that thirteen names are enumerated as of the men who stood by
Ezra, and thirteen as those of the readers or expounders. It may be
the case that the former number is complete, though uneven, and that
there was some reason unknown for dividing the audience into just so
many sections. The second set of thirteen was not composed of the same
men as the first. They seem to have been Levites, whose office of
assisting at the menial parts of the sacrifices was now elevated into
that of setting forth the law. Probably the portions read were such as
bore especially on ritual, though the tears of the listeners are
sufficient proof that they had heard some things that went deeper than
that.

The word rendered 'distinctly' in the Revised Version (margin,
_with_ an _interpretation_) is ambiguous, and may either
mean that the Levites explained or that they translated the words. The
former is the more probable, as there is no reason to suppose that the
audience, most of whom had been born in the land, were ignorant of
Hebrew. But if the ritual had been irregularly observed, and the
circle of ideas in the law become unfamiliar, many explanations would
be necessary. It strikes one as touching and strange that such an
assembly should be needed after so many centuries of national
existence. It sums up in one vivid picture the sin and suffering of
the nation. To observe that law had been the condition of their
prosperity. To bind it on their hearts should have been their delight
and would have been their life; and here, after all these generations,
the best of the nation are assembled, so ignorant of it that they
cannot even understand it when they hear it. Absorption with worldly
things has an awful power of dulling spiritual apprehension. Neglect
of God's law weakens the power of understanding it.

This scene was in the truest sense a 'revival.' We may learn the true
way of bringing men back to God; namely, the faithful exposition and
enforcement of God's will and word. We may learn, too, what should be
the aim of public teachers of religion; namely, first and foremost,
the clear setting forth of God's truth. Their first business is to
'give the sense, so that they understand the reading'; and that, not
for merely intellectual purposes, but that, like the crowd outside the
water-gate on that hot noonday, men may be moved to penitence, and
then lifted to the joy of the Lord.

The first day of the seventh month was the Feast of trumpets; and when
the reading was over, and its effects of tears and sorrow for
disobedience were seen, the preachers changed their tone, to bring
consolation and exhort to gladness. Nehemiah had taken no part in
reading the law, as Ezra the priest and his Levites were more
appropriately set to that. But he joins them in exhorting the people
to dry their tears, and go joyfully to the feast. These exhortations
contain many thoughts universally applicable. They teach that even
those who are most conscious of sin and breaches of God's law should
weep indeed, but should swiftly pass from tears to joy. They do not
teach how that passage is to be effected; and in so far they are
imperfect, and need to be supplemented by the New Testament teaching
of forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But in their
clear discernment that sorrow is not meant to be a permanent
characteristic of religion, and that gladness is a more acceptable
offering than tears, they teach a valuable lesson, needed always by
men who fancy that they must atone for their sins by their own
sadness, and that religion is gloomy, harsh, and crabbed.

Further, these exhortations to festal gladness breathe the
characteristic Old Testament tone of wholesome enjoyment of material
good as a part of religion. The way of looking at eating and drinking
and the like, as capable of being made acts of worship, has been too
often forgotten by two kinds of men--saints who have sought sanctity
in asceticism; and sensualists who have taken deep draughts of such
pleasures without calling on the name of the Lord, and so have failed
to find His gifts a cup of salvation. It is possible to 'eat and drink
and see God' as the elders of Israel did on Sinai.

Further, the plain duty of remembering the needy while we enjoy God's
gifts is beautifully enjoined here. The principle underlying the
commandment to 'send portions to them for whom nothing is
provided'--that is, for whom no feast has been dressed--is that all
gifts are held in trust, that nothing is bestowed on us for our own
good only, but that we are in all things stewards. The law extends to
the smallest and to the greatest possessions. We have no right to
feast on anything unless we share it, whether it be festal dainties or
the bread that came down from heaven. To divide our portion with
others is the way to make our portion greater as well as sweeter.

Further, 'the joy of the Lord is your strength.' By _strength_
here seems to be meant a _stronghold_. If we fix our desires on
God, and have trained our hearts to find sweeter delights in communion
with Him than in any earthly good, our religion will have lifted us
above mists and clouds into clear air above, where sorrows and changes
will have little power to affect us. If we are to rejoice in the Lord,
it will be possible for us to 'rejoice always,' and that joy will be
as a refuge from all the ills that flesh is heir to. Dwelling in God,
we shall dwell safely, and be far from the fear of evil.



THE JOY OF THE LORD

'The joy of the Lord is your strength.'--Neh. viii. 10.


Judaism, in its formal and ceremonial aspect, was a religion of
gladness. The feast was the great act of worship. It is not to be
wondered at, that Christianity, the perfecting of that ancient system,
has been less markedly felt to be a religion of joy; for it brings
with it far deeper and more solemn views about man in his nature,
condition, responsibilities, destinies, than ever prevailed before,
under any system of worship. And yet all deep religion ought to be
joyful, and all strong religion assuredly will be so.

Here, in the incident before us, there has come a time in Nehemiah's
great enterprise, when the law, long forgotten, long broken by the
captives, is now to be established again as the rule of the
newly-founded commonwealth. Naturally enough there comes a remembrance
of many sins in the past history of the people; and tears not
unnaturally mingle with the thankfulness that again they are a nation,
having a divine worship and a divine law in their midst. The leader of
them, knowing for one thing that if the spirits of his people once
began to flag, they could not face nor conquer the difficulties of
their position, said to them, 'This day is holy unto the Lord: this
feast that we are keeping is a day of devout worship; therefore mourn
not, nor weep: go your way; eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send
portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; neither be ye sorry,
for the joy of the Lord is your strength.' You will make nothing of it
by indulgence in lamentation and in mourning. You will have no more
power for obedience, you will not be fit for your work, if you fall
into a desponding state. Be thankful and glad; and remember that the
purest worship is the worship of God-fixed joy, 'the joy of the Lord
is your strength.' And that is as true, brethren! with regard to us,
as it ever was in these old times; and we, I think, need the lesson
contained in this saying of Nehemiah's, because of some prevalent
tendencies amongst us, no less than these Jews did. Take some simple
thoughts suggested by this text which are both important in themselves
and needful to be made emphatic because so often forgotten in the
ordinary type of Christian character. They are these. Religious Joy is
the natural result of faith. It is a Christian duty. It is an
important element in Christian strength.

I. Joy in the Lord is the natural result of Christian Faith.

There is a natural adaptation or provision in the Gospel, both by what
it brings to us and by what it takes away from us, to make a calm, and
settled, and deep gladness, the prevalent temper of the Christian
spirit. In what it gives us, I say, and in what it takes away from us.
It gives us what we call well a sense of acceptance with God, it gives
us God for the rest of our spirits, it gives us the communion with Him
which in proportion as it is real, will be still, and in proportion as
it is still, will be all bright and joyful. It takes away from us the
fear that lies before us, the strifes that lie within us, the
desperate conflict that is waged between a man's conscience and his
inclinations, between his will and his passions, which tears the heart
asunder, and always makes sorrow and tumult wherever it comes. It
takes away the sense of sin. It gives us, instead of the torpid
conscience, or the angrily-stinging conscience--a conscience all calm
from its accusations, with all the sting drawn out of it:--for quiet
peace lies in the heart of the man that is trusting in the Lord. The
Gospel works joy, because the soul is at rest in God; joy, because
every function of the spiritual nature has found now its haven and its
object; joy, because health has come, and the healthy working of the
body or of the spirit is itself a gladness; joy, because the dim
future is painted (where it is painted at all) with shapes of light
and beauty, and because the very vagueness of these is an element in
the greatness of its revelation. The joy that is in Christ is deep and
abiding. Faith in Him naturally works gladness.

I do not forget that, on the other side, it is equally true that the
Christian faith has as marked and almost as strong an adaptation to
produce a solemn _sorrow_--solemn, manly, noble, and strong. 'As
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,' is the rule of the Christian life.
If we think of what our faith does; of the light that it casts upon
our condition, upon our nature, upon our responsibilities, upon our
sins, and upon our destinies, we can easily see how, if gladness be
one part of its operation, no less really and truly is sadness
another. Brethren! all great thoughts have a solemn quiet in them,
which not unfrequently merges into a still sorrow. There is nothing
more contemptible in itself, and there is no more sure mark of a
trivial nature and a trivial round of occupations, than unshaded
gladness, that rests on no deep foundations of quiet, patient grief;
grief, because I know what I am and what I ought to be; grief, because
I have learnt the 'exceeding sinfulness of sin'; grief, because,
looking out upon the world, I see, as other men do not see, hell-fire
burning at the back of the mirth and the laughter, and know what it is
that men are hurrying to! Do you remember who it was that stood by the
side of the one poor dumb man, whose tongue He was going to loose, and
looking up to heaven, _sighed_ before He could say, 'Be opened'?
Do you remember that of Him it is said, 'God hath anointed Thee with
the oil of gladness above Thy fellows'; and also, 'a Man of sorrows,
and acquainted with grief'? And do you not think that both these
characteristics are to be repeated in the operations of His Gospel
upon every heart that receives it? And if, by the hopes it breathes
into us, by the fears that it takes away from us, by the union with
God that it accomplishes for us, by the fellowship that it implants in
us, it indeed anoints us all 'with the oil of gladness'; yet, on the
other hand, by the sense of mine own sin that it teaches me; by the
conflict with weakness which it makes to be the law of my life; by the
clear vision which it gives me of 'the law of my members warring
against the law of my mind, and bringing me into subjection'; by the
intensity which it breathes into all my nature, and by the thoughts
that it presents of what sin leads to, and what the world at present
is, the Gospel, wheresoever it comes, will infuse a wise, valiant
sadness as the very foundation of character. Yes, joy, but sorrow too!
the joy of the Lord, but sorrow as we look on our own sin and the
world's woe! the head anointed with the oil of gladness, but also
crowned with thorns!

These two are not contradictory. These two states of mind, both of
them the natural operations of any deep faith, may co-exist and blend
into one another, so as that the gladness is sobered, and chastened,
and made manly and noble; and that the sorrow is like some
thundercloud, all streaked with bars of sunshine, that pierce into its
deepest depths. The joy lives in the midst of the sorrow; the sorrow
springs from the same root as the gladness. The two do not clash
against each other, or reduce the emotion to a neutral indifference,
but they blend into one another; just as, in the Arctic regions, deep
down beneath the cold snow, with its white desolation and its barren
death, you will find the budding of the early spring flowers and the
fresh green grass; just as some kinds of fire burn below the water;
just as, in the midst of the barren and undrinkable sea, there may be
welling up some little fountain of fresh water that comes from a
deeper depth than the great ocean around it, and pours its sweet
streams along the surface of the salt waste. Gladness, because I love,
for love _is_ gladness; gladness, because I trust, for trust
_is_ gladness; gladness, because I obey, for obedience is a meat
that others know not of, and light comes when we do His will! But
sorrow, because still I am wrestling with sin; sorrow, because still I
have not perfect fellowship; sorrow, because mine eye, purified by my
living with God, sees earth, and sin, and life, and death, and the
generations of men, and the darkness beyond, in some measure as God
sees them! And yet, the sorrow is surface, and the joy is central; the
sorrow springs from circumstance, and the gladness from the essence of
the thing;--and therefore the sorrow is transitory, and the gladness
is perennial. For the Christian life is all like one of those sweet
spring showers in early April, when the rain-drops weave for us a mist
that hides the sunshine; and yet the hidden sun is in every sparkling
drop, and they are all saturated and steeped in its light. 'The joy of
the Lord' is the natural result and offspring of all Christian faith.

II. And now, secondly, the 'joy of the Lord' or rejoicing in God, is a
matter of Christian duty.

It is a commandment here, and it is a command in the New Testament as
well. 'Neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'
I need not quote to you the frequent repetitions of the same
injunction which the Apostle Paul gives us, 'Rejoice in the Lord
always, and again I say, Rejoice'; 'Rejoice evermore,' and the like.
The fact that this joy is enjoined us suggests to us a thought or two,
worth looking at.

You may say with truth, 'My emotions of joy and sorrow are not under
my own control: I cannot help being glad and sad as circumstances
dictate.' But yet here it lies, a commandment. It is a duty, a thing
that the Apostle enjoins; in which, of course, is implied, that
somehow or other it is to a large extent within one's own power, and
that even the indulgence in this emotion, and the degree to which a
Christian life shall be a cheerful life, is dependent in a large
measure on our own volitions, and stands on the same footing as our
obedience to God's other commandments.

We _can_ to a very great extent control even our own emotions;
but then, besides, we can do more than that. It may be quite true,
that you cannot help feeling sorrowful in the presence of sorrowful
thoughts, and glad in the presence of thoughts that naturally kindle
gladness. But I will tell you what you can do or refrain from
doing--you can either go and stand in the light, or you can go and
stand in the shadow. You can either fix your attention upon, and make
the predominant subject of your religious contemplations, a truth
which shall make you glad and strong, or a half-truth, which shall
make you sorrowful, and therefore weak. Your meditations may either
centre mainly upon your own selves, your faults and failings, and the
like; or they may centre mainly upon God and His love, Christ and His
grace, the Holy Spirit and His communion. You may either fill your
soul with joyful thoughts, or though a true Christian, a real, devout,
God-accepted believer, you may be so misapprehending the nature of the
Gospel, and your relation to it, its promises and precepts, its duties
and predictions, as that the prevalent tinge and cast of your religion
shall be solemn and almost gloomy, and not lighted up and irradiated
with the felt sense of God's presence--with the strong, healthy
consciousness that you are a forgiven and justified man, and that you
are going to be a glorified one.

And thus far (and it is a long way) by the selection or the rejection
of the appropriate and proper subjects which shall make the main
portion of our religious contemplation, and shall be the food of our
devout thoughts, we can determine the complexion of our religious
life. Just as you inject colouring matter into the fibres of some
anatomical preparation; so a Christian may, as it were, inject into
all the veins of his religious character and life, either the bright
tints of gladness or the dark ones of self-despondency; and the result
will be according to the thing that he has put into them. If your
thoughts are chiefly occupied with God, and what He has done and is
for you, then you will have peaceful joy. If, on the other hand, they
are bent ever on yourself and your own unbelief, then you will always
be sad. You can make your choice.

Christian men, the joy of the Lord is a duty. It is so because, as we
have seen, it is the natural effect of faith, because we can do much
to regulate our emotions directly, and much more to determine them by
determining what set of thoughts shall engage us. A wise and strong
faith is our duty. To keep our emotional nature well under control of
reason and will is our duty. To lose thoughts of ourselves in God's
truth about Himself is our duty. If we do these things, we cannot fail
to have Christ's joy remaining in us, and making ours full. If we have
not that blessed possession abiding with us, which He lived and died
to give us, there is something wrong in us somewhere.

It seems to me that this is a truth which we have great need, my
friends, to lay to heart. It is of no great consequence that we should
practically confute the impotent old sneer about religion as being a
gloomy thing. One does not need to mind much what some people say on
that matter. The world would call 'the joy of the Lord' gloom, just as
much as it calls 'godly sorrow' gloom. But we are losing for ourselves
a power and an energy of which we have no conception, unless we feel
that joy is a duty, and unless we believe that not to be joyful in the
Lord is, therefore, more than a misfortune, it is a fault.

I do not forget that the comparative absence of this happy, peaceful
sense of acceptance, harmony, oneness with God, springs sometimes from
temperament, and depends on our natural disposition. Of course the
natural character determines to a large extent the perspective of our
conceptions of Christian truth, and the colouring of our inner
religious life. I do not mean to say, for a moment, that there is one
uniform type to which all must be conformed, or they sin. There is
indeed one type, the perfect manhood of Jesus, but it is all
comprehensive, and each variety of our fragmentary manhood finds its
own perfecting, and not its transmutation to another fashion of man,
in being conformed to Him. Some of us are naturally fainthearted,
timid, sceptical of any success, grave, melancholy, or hard to stir to
any emotion. To such there will be an added difficulty in making quiet
confident joy any very familiar guest in their home or in their place
of prayer. But even such should remember that the 'powers of the world
to come,' the energies of the Gospel, are given to us for the very
express purpose of overcoming, as well as of hallowing, natural
dispositions. If it be our duty to rejoice in the Lord, it is no
sufficient excuse to urge for not responding to the reiterated call,
'I myself am disposed to sadness.'

Whilst making all allowances for the diversities of character, which
will always operate to diversify the cast of the inner life in each
individual, we think that, in the great majority of instances, there
are two things, both faults, which have a great deal more to do with
the absence of joy from much Christian experience, than any
unfortunate natural tendency to the dark side of things. The one is,
an actual deficiency in the depth and reality of our faith; and the
other is, a misapprehension of the position which we have a right to
take and are bound to take.

There is an actual deficiency in our faith. Oh, brethren! it is not to
be wondered at that Christians do not find that the Lord with them is
the Lord their strength and joy, as well as the Lord 'their
righteousness'; when the amount of their fellowship with Him is so
small, and the depth of it so shallow, as we usually find it. The
first true vision that a sinful soul has of God, the imperfect
beginnings of religion, usually are accompanied with intense
self-abhorrence, and sorrowing tears of penitence. A further closer
vision of the love of God in Jesus Christ brings with it 'joy and
peace in believing.' But the prolongation of these throughout life
requires the steadfast continuousness of gaze towards Him. It is only
where there is much faith and consequent love that there is much joy.
Let us search our own hearts. If there is but little heat around the
bulb of the thermometer, no wonder that the mercury marks a low
degree. If there is but small faith, there will not be much gladness.
The road into Giant Despair's castle is through doubt, which doubt
comes from an absence, a sinful absence, in our own experience, of the
felt presence of God, and the felt force of the verities of His
Gospel.

But then, besides that, there is another fault: not a fault in the
sense of crime or sin, but a fault (and a great one) in the sense of
error and misapprehension. We as Christians do not take the position
which we have a right to take and that we are bound to take. Men
venture themselves upon God's word as they do on doubtful ice, timidly
putting a light foot out, to feel if it will bear them, and always
having the tacit fear, 'Now, it is going to crack!' You must cast
yourselves on God's Gospel with all your weight, without any hanging
back, without any doubt, without even the shadow of a suspicion that
it will _give_--that the firm, pure floor will give, and let you
through into the water! A Christian shrink from saying what the
Apostle said, 'I _know_ in whom I have believed, and am persuaded
that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that
day'! A Christian fancy that salvation is a future thing, and forget
that it is a present thing! A Christian tremble to profess 'assurance
of hope,' forgetting that there is no hope strong enough to bear the
stress of a life's sorrows, which is not a conviction certain as one's
own existence! Brethren! understand that the Gospel is a Gospel which
brings a present salvation; and try to feel that it is not
presumption, but simply acting out the very fundamental principle of
it, when you are not afraid to say, 'I _know_ that my Redeemer is
yonder, and I _know_ that He loves me!' Try to feel, I say, that
by faith you have a right to take that position, 'Now, we _know_
that we are the sons of God'; that you have a right to claim for
yourselves, and that you are falling beneath the loftiness of the gift
that is given to you unless you do claim for yourselves, the place of
sons, accepted, loved, sure to be glorified at God's right hand. Am I
teaching presumption? am I teaching carelessness, or a dispensing with
self-examination? No, but I am saying this: If a man have once felt,
and feel, in however small and feeble a degree, and depressed by
whatsoever sense of daily transgressions, if he feel, faint like the
first movement of an imprisoned bird in its egg, the feeble pulse of
an almost imperceptible and fluttering faith beat--then that man has a
right to say, 'God is mine!'

As one of our great teachers, little remembered now said, 'Let me take
my personal salvation for granted'--and what? and 'be idle?' No; 'and
_work_ from it.' Ay, brethren! a Christian is not to be for ever
asking himself, 'Am I a Christian?' He is not to be for ever looking
into himself for marks and signs that he is. He _is_ to look into
himself to discover sins, that he may by God's help cast them out, to
discover sins that shall teach him to say with greater thankfulness,
'What a redemption this is which I possess!' but he is to base his
convictions that he is God's child upon something other than his own
characteristics and the feebleness of his own strength. He is to have
'joy in the Lord' whatever may be his sorrow from outward things. And
I believe that if Christian people would lay that thought to heart,
they would understand better how the natural operation of the Gospel
is to make them glad, and how rejoicing in the Lord is a Christian
duty.

III. And now with regard to the other thought that still remains to be
considered, namely, that rejoicing in the Lord is a source of
strength,--I have already anticipated, fragmentarily, nearly all that
I could have said here in a more systematic form. All gladness has
something to do with our efficiency; for it is the prerogative of man
that his force comes from his mind, and not from his body. That old
song about a sad heart tiring in a mile, is as true in regard to the
Gospel, and the works of Christian people, as in any other case. If we
have hearts full of light, and souls at rest in Christ, and the wealth
and blessedness of a tranquil gladness lying there, and filling our
being; work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrow will be
bearable, trials will not be so very hard, and above all temptations
we shall be lifted, and set upon a rock. If the soul is full, and full
of joy, what side of it will be exposed to the assault of any
temptation? If the appeal be to fear, the gladness that is there is an
answer. If the appeal be to passion, desire, wish for pleasure of any
sort, there is no need for any more-the heart is _full_. And so
the gladness which rests in Christ will be a gladness which will fit
us for all service and for all endurance, which will be unbroken by
any sorrow, and, like the magic shield of the old legends, invisible,
impenetrable, in its crystalline purity will stand before the tempted
heart, and will repel all the 'fiery darts of the wicked.'

'The joy of the Lord is your strength,' my brother! Nothing else is.
No vehement resolutions, no sense of his own sinfulness, nor even
contrite remembrance of past failures, ever yet made a man strong. It
made him weak that he might become strong, and when it had done that
it had done its work. For strength there must be hope, for strength
there must be joy. If the arm is to smite with vigour, it must smite
at the bidding of a calm and light heart. Christian work is of such a
sort as that the most dangerous opponent to it is simple despondency
and simple sorrow. 'The joy of the Lord is your strength.'

Well, then! there are two questions: How comes it that so much of the
world's joy is weakness? and how comes it that so much of the world's
notion of religion is gloom and sadness? Answer them for yourselves,
and remember: you are weak unless you are glad; you are not glad and
strong unless your faith and hope are fixed in Christ, and unless you
are working from and not towards the sense of pardon, from and not
towards the conviction of acceptance with God!



SABBATH OBSERVANCE

'In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the
sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine,
grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into
Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day
wherein they sold victuals. 16. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein,
which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath
unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17. Then I contended
with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this
that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18. Did not your fathers
thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this
city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath,
19. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be
dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut,
and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and
some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be
brought in on the sabbath day. 20. So the merchants and sellers of all
kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21. Then I
testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the
wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth
came they no more on the sabbath. 22. And I commanded the Levites that
they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the
gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning
this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Thy
mercy.'--NEH. xiii. 15-22.


Many religious and moral reformations depend for their vitality on one
man, and droop if his influence be withdrawn. It was so with
Nehemiah's work. He toiled for twelve years in Jerusalem, and then
returned for 'certain days' to the king at Babylon. The length of his
absence is not given; but it was long enough to let much of his work
be undone, and to give him much trouble to restore it to the condition
in which he had left it. This last chapter of his book is but a sad
close for a record which began with such high hope, and tells of such
strenuous, self-sacrificing effort. The last page of many a reformer's
history has been, like Nehemiah's, a sad account of efforts to stem
the ebbing tide of enthusiasm and the flowing tide of worldliness. The
heavy stone is rolled a little way up hill, and, as soon as one strong
hand is withdrawn, down it tumbles again to its old place. The
evanescence of great men's work makes much of the tragedy of history.

Our passage is particularly concerned with Nehemiah's efforts to
enforce Sabbath observance. The rest of the chapter is occupied with
similar efforts to set right other irregularities of a ceremonial
character, such as the exclusion of Gentiles from the Temple, the
exaction of the 'portions of the Levites,' and the like. The passage
falls into three parts--the abuse (vs. 15, 16), the vigorous remedies
(vs. 17-22), and the prayer (v. 22).

I. The abuse consisted in Sabbath work and trading. Nehemiah found, on
his return, that the people 'in Judaea'--that is, in the country
districts--carried on their farm labour and also brought their produce
to market to Jerusalem on the Sabbath. So he 'testified against them
in the day wherein they sold victuals'; that is, probably meaning that
he warned them either in person or by messengers before taking further
steps. Not only did Jews break the sacred day, but they let heathen do
so too. The narrative tells, with a kind of horror, the many
aggravations of this piece of wickedness. 'They'--Gentiles with whom
contact defiled--'sold on the Sabbath'--the day of rest--'to the
children of Judah'--God's people--'in Jerusalem'--the Holy City. It
was a many-barrelled crime. Tyre was far from Jerusalem, and one does
not see how fish could have been brought in good condition. Perhaps
their perishableness was the excuse for allowing their sale on the
Sabbath, as is sometimes the case in fishing-villages even in
Sabbath-keeping Scotland. Such was the abuse with which Nehemiah
struggled.

It is easy to pooh-pooh his crusade against Sabbath labour as mere
scrupulousness about externals. But it is a blunder and an injustice
to a noble character if we forget that the stage of revelation at
which he stood necessarily made him more dependent on externals than
Christians are or should be. But his vindication does not need such
considerations. He had a truer insight into what active men needed for
vigorous working days, and what devout men needed for healthy
religion, than many moderns who smile at his eagerness about 'mere
externalisms.'

It is easy to ridicule the Jewish Sabbath and 'the Puritan Sunday.' No
doubt there have been and are well-meant but mistaken efforts to
insist on too rigid observance. No doubt it has been often forgotten
by good people that the Christian Lord's Day is not the Jewish
Sabbath. Of course the religious observance of the day is not a fit
subject for legislation. But the need for a seventh day of rest is
impressed on our physical and intellectual nature; and devout hearts
will joyfully find their best rest in Christian worship and service.
The vigour of religious life demands special seasons set apart for
worship. Unless there be such reservoirs along the road, there will be
but a thin trickle of a brook by the way. It is all very well to talk
about religion diffused through the life, but it will not be so
diffused unless it is concentrated at certain times.

They are no benefactors to the community who seek to break down and
relax the stringency of the prohibition of labour. If once the idea
that Sunday is a day of amusement take root, the amusement of some
will require the hard work of others, and the custom of work will tend
to extend, till rest becomes the exception, and work the rule. There
never was a time when men lived so furiously fast as now. The pace of
modern life demands Sunday rest more than ever. If a railway car is
run continually it will wear out sooner than if it were laid aside for
a day or two occasionally; and if it is run at express speed it will
need the rest more. We are all going at top speed; and there would be
more breakdowns if it were not for that blessed institution which some
people think they are promoting the public good by destroying--a
seventh day of rest.

Our great trading centres in England have the same foreign element to
complicate matters as Nehemiah had to deal with. The Tyrian
fishmongers knew and cared nothing for Israel's Jehovah or Sabbath,
and their presence would increase the tendency to disregard the day.
So with us, foreigners of many nationalities, but alike in their
disregard of our religious observances, leaven the society, and help
to mould the opinions and practices, of our great cities. That is a
very real source of danger in regard to Sabbath observance and many
other things; and Christian people should be on their guard against
it.

II. The vigorous remedies applied by Nehemiah were administered first
to the rulers. He sent for the nobles, and laid the blame at their
doors. 'Ye profane the day,' said he. Men in authority are responsible
for crimes which they could check, but prefer to wink at. Nehemiah
seems to trace all the national calamities to the breach of the
Sabbath; but of course he is simply laying stress on the sin about
which he is speaking, as any man who sets himself earnestly to work to
fight any form of evil is apt to do. Then the men who are not in
earnest cry out about 'exaggeration.' Many other sins besides
Sabbath-breaking had a share in sending Israel into captivity; and if
Nehemiah had been fighting with idolatrous tendencies he would have
isolated idolatry as the cause of its calamities, just as, when
fighting against Sabbath-breaking, he emphasises that sin.

Nehemiah was governor for the Persian king, and so had a right to rate
these nobles. In this day the people have the same right, and there
are many social sins for which they should arraign civic and other
authorities. Christian principles unflinchingly insisted on by
Christian people, and brought to bear, by ballot-boxes and other
persuasive ways, on what stands for conscience in some high places,
would make a wonderful difference on many of the abominations of our
cities. Go to the 'nobles' first, and lay the burden on the backs that
ought to carry it.

Then Nehemiah took practical measures by shutting the city gates on
the eve of the Sabbath, and putting some of his own servants as a
watch. The thing seems to have been done without any notice; so when
the country folk came in, as usual, on the Sabbath, they could not get
into the city, and camped outside, making a visible temptation to the
citizens, to slip out and do a little business, if they could manage
to elude the guards. Once or twice this happened; and then Nehemiah
himself seems to have taken them in hand, with a very plain and
sufficiently emphatic warning: 'If ye do so again, I will lay hands on
you.'

Of course, 'from that time they came no more on the Sabbath,' as was
natural after such a volley. A man with a good strong will is apt to
get his own way, even when he is not clothed with the authority of a
governor. Then Nehemiah strengthened the guard, or perhaps withdrew
his own servants and substituted for them Levites, whose official
position would put them in full sympathy with his efforts. That
priestly guard would be inflexible, and with its appointment the abuse
appears to have been crushed.

The example of Nehemiah's enforcing Sabbath observance is not to be
taken as a pattern for Christian communities, without many
limitations. But it appears to the present writer that it is perfectly
legitimate for the civil power to insist upon, and if necessary to
enforce, the observance of Sunday as a day of rest; and that, since
legitimate, it is for the well-being of the community that it should
do so. Tyrians might believe anything they chose, and use the day of
rest as they thought proper, so long as they did not sell fish on it.
We do not interfere with religious convictions when we enjoin Sunday
observance. Nehemiah's argument has sometimes to be used, even about
such a matter: 'If ye do so again, I will lay hands on you.'

The methods adopted may yield suggestions for all who would aim at
reforming abuses or public immoralities. One most necessary step is to
cut off, as far as possible, opportunities for the sin. There will be
no trade if you shut the gates the night before. There will be little
drunkenness if there are no liquor shops. It is quite true that people
cannot be made virtuous by legislation, but it is also true that they
may be saved from temptations to become vicious by it.

Another hint comes from Nehemiah's vigorous word to the country folk
outside the wall. There is need for very strong determination and much
sanctified obstinacy in fighting popular abuses. They die hard. It is
permissible to invoke the aid of the lawful authority. But a man with
strong convictions and earnest purpose will be able to impress his
convictions on a mass, even if he have no guards at his back. The one
thing needful for Christian reformers is, not the power to appeal to
force, but the force which they can carry within them. And it is
better when the traders love the Sabbath too well to wish to drive
bargains on it, than when they are hindered from doing as they wish by
Nehemiah's strong will or formidable threats.

Once more, the guard of Levites may suggest that the execution of
measures for the reformation of manners or morals is best entrusted to
those who are in sympathy with them. Levites made faithful watchmen.
Many a promising measure for reformation has come to nothing because
committed to the hands of functionaries who did not care for its
success. The instruments are almost as important as the measures which
they carry out.

III. Nehemiah's prayer occurs thrice in this chapter, at the close of
each section recounting his reforming acts. In the first instance (v.
14) it is most full, and puts very plainly the merit of good deeds as
a plea with God. The same thing is implied in its form in verse 22.
But while, no doubt, the tone of the prayer is startling to us, and is
not such as should be offered now by Christians, it but echoes the
principle of retribution which underlies the law. 'This do, and thou
shalt live,' was the very foundation of Nehemiah's form of God's
revelation. We do not plead our own merits, because we are not under
the law, but under grace, and the principle underlying the gospel is
life by impartation of unmerited mercy and divine life. But the law of
retribution still remains valid for Christians in so far as that God
will never forget any of their works, and will give them full
recompense for their work of faith and labour of love. Eternal life
here and hereafter is wholly the gift of God; but that fact does not
exclude the notion of 'the recompense of reward' from the Christian
conception of the future. It becomes not us to present our good deeds
before the Judge, since they are stained and imperfect, and the
goodness in them is His gift. But it becomes Him to crown them with
His gracious approbation, and to proportion the cities ruled in that
future world to the talents faithfully used here. We need not be
afraid of obscuring the truth that we are saved 'not of works, lest
any man should boast,' though we insist that a Christian man is
rewarded according to his works.

Nehemiah had no false notion of his own goodness; for, while he asked
for recompense for these good deeds of his, he could not but add,
'Spare me according to the greatness of Thy mercy.' He who asks to be
'spared' must know himself in peril of destruction; and he who invokes
'mercy' must think that, if he were dealt with according to justice,
he would be in evil case. So the consciousness of weakness and sin is
an integral part of this prayer, and that takes all the apparent
self-righteousness out of the previous petition. However worthy of and
sure of reward a Christian man's acts of love and efforts for the
spread of God's honour may be, the doer of them must still be 'looking
for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.'



THE BOOK OF ESTHER


THE NET SPREAD

'After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of
Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all
the princes that were with him. 2. And all the king's servants, that
were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had
so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him
reverence. 3. Then the king's servants which were in the king's gate,
said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment? 4.
Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened
not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters
would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew. 5. And when Haman
saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman
full of wrath. 6. And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone;
for they had showed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought
to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of
Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai. 7. In the first month, that
is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast
Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to
month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar. 8. And Haman
said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad
and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom;
and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the
king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them.
9. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be
destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands
of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the
king's treasuries. 10. And the king took his ring from his hand, and
gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy.
11. And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the
people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.'--ESTHER iii.
1-11.


The stage of this passage is filled by three strongly marked and
strongly contrasted figures: Mordecai, Haman, and Ahasuerus; a sturdy
nonconformist, an arrogant and vindictive minister of state, and a
despotic and careless king. These three are the visible persons, but
behind them is an unseen and unnamed Presence, the God of Israel, who
still protects His exiled people.

We note, first, the sturdy nonconformist. 'The reverence' which the
king had commanded his servants to show to Haman was not simply a sign
of respect, but an act of worship. Eastern adulation regarded a
monarch as in some sense a god, and we know that divine honours were
in later times paid to Roman emperors, and many Christians martyred
for refusing to render them. The command indicates that Ahasuerus
desired Haman to be regarded as his representative, and possessing at
least some reflection of godhead from him. European ambassadors to
Eastern courts have often refused to prostrate themselves before the
monarch on the ground of its being degradation to their dignity; but
Mordecai stood erect while the crowd of servants lay flat on their
faces, as the great man passed through the gate, because he would have
no share in an act of worship to any but Jehovah. He might have
compromised with conscience, and found some plausible excuses if he
had wished. He could have put his own private interpretation on the
prostration, and said to himself, 'I have nothing to do with the
meaning that others attach to bowing before Haman. I mean by it only
due honour to the second man in the kingdom.' But the monotheism of
his race was too deeply ingrained in him, and so he kept 'a stiff
backbone' and 'bowed not down.'

That his refusal was based on religious scruples is the natural
inference from his having told his fellow-porters that he was a Jew.
That fact would explain his attitude, but would also isolate him still
more. His obstinacy piqued them, and they reported his contumacy to
the great man, thus at once gratifying personal dislike, racial
hatred, and religious antagonism, and recommending themselves to Haman
as solicitous for his dignity. We too are sometimes placed in
circumstances where we are tempted to take part in what may be called
constructive idolatry. There arise, in our necessary co-operation with
those who do not share in our faith, occasions when we are expected to
unite in acts which we are thought very straitlaced for refusing to
do, but which, conscience tells us, cannot be done without practical
disloyalty to Jesus Christ. Whenever that inner voice says 'Don't,' we
must disregard the persistent solicitations of others, and be ready to
be singular, and run any risk rather than comply. 'So did not I,
because of the fear of God,' has to be our motto, whatever
fellow-servants may say. The gate of Ahasuerus's palace was not a
favourable soil for the growth of a devout soul, but flowers can bloom
on dunghills, and there have been 'saints' in 'Caesar's household.'

Haman is a sharp contrast to Mordecai. He is the type of the unworthy
characters that climb or crawl to power in a despotic monarchy,
vindictive, arrogant, cunning, totally oblivious of the good of the
subjects, using his position for his own advantage, and ferociously
cruel. He had naturally not noticed the one erect figure among the
crowd of abject ones, but the insignificant Jew became important when
pointed out. If he had bowed, he would have been one more nobody, but
his not bowing made him somebody who had to be crushed. The childish
burst of passion is very characteristic, and not less true to life is
the extension of the anger and thirst for vengeance to 'all the Jews
that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.' They were 'the
people of Mordecai,' and that was enough. 'He thought scorn to lay
hands on Mordecai alone.' What a perverted notion of personal dignity
which thought the sacrifice of the one offender beneath it, and could
only be satisfied by a blood-bath into which a nation should be
plunged! Such an extreme of frantic lust for murder is only possible
in such a state as Ahasuerus's Persia, but the prostitution of public
position to personal ends, and the adoption of political measures at
the bidding of wounded vanity, and to gratify blind hatred of a race,
is possible still, and it becomes all Christian men to use their
influence that the public acts of their nation shall be clear of that
taint.

Haman was as superstitious as cruel, and so he sought for auguries
from heaven for his hellish purpose, and cast the lot to find the
favourable day for bringing it about. He is not the only one who has
sought divine approval for wicked public acts. Religion has been used
to varnish many a crime, and _Te Deums_ sung for many a victory
which was little better than Haman's plot.

The crafty denunciation of the Jews to the king is a good specimen of
the way in which a despot is hoodwinked by his favourites, and made
their tool. It was no doubt true that the Jews' laws were 'diverse
from those of every people,' but it was not true that they did not
'keep the king's laws,' except in so far as these required worship of
other gods. In all their long dispersion they have been remarkable for
two things,--their tenacious adherence to the Law, so far as possible
in exile, and their obedience to the law of the country of their
sojourn. No doubt, the exiles in Persian territory presented the same
characteristics. But Haman has had many followers in resenting the
distinctiveness of the Jew, and charging on them crimes of which they
were innocent. From Mordecai onwards it has been so, and Europe is
to-day disgraced by a crusade against them less excusable than
Haman's. Hatred still masks itself under the disguise of political
expediency, and says, 'It is not for the king's profit to suffer
them.'

But the true half of the charge was a eulogium, for it implied that
the scattered exiles were faithful to God's laws, and were marked off
by their lives. That ought to be true of professing Christians. They
should obviously be living by other principles than the world adopts.
The enemy's charge 'shall turn unto you for a testimony.' Happy shall
we be if observers are prompted to say of us that 'our laws are
diverse' from those of ungodly men around us!

The great bribe which Haman offered to the king is variously estimated
as equal to from three to four millions sterling. He, no doubt,
reckoned on making more than that out of the confiscation of Jewish
property. That such an offer should have been made by the chief
minister to the king, and that for such a purpose, reveals a depth of
corruption which would be incredible if similar horrors were not
recorded of other Eastern despots. But with Turkey still astonishing
the world, no one can call Haman's offer too atrocious to be true.

Ahasuerus is the vain-glorious king known to us as Xerxes. His conduct
in the affair corresponds well enough with his known character. The
lives of thousands of law-abiding subjects are tossed to the favourite
without inquiry or hesitation. He does not even ask the name of the
'certain people,' much less require proof of the charge against them.
The insanity of weakening his empire by killing so many of its
inhabitants does not strike him, nor does he ever seem to think that
he has duties to those under his rule. Careless of the sanctity of
human life, too indolent to take trouble to see things with his own
eyes, apparently without the rudiments of the idea of justice, he
wallowed in a sty of self-indulgence, and, while greedy of adulation
and the semblance of power, let the reality slip from his hands into
those of the favourite, who played on his vices as on an instrument,
and pulled the strings that moved the puppet. We do not produce kings
of that sort nowadays, but King Demos has his own vices, and is as
easily blinded and swayed as Ahasuerus. In every form of government,
monarchy or republic, there will be would-be leaders, who seek to gain
influence and carry their objects by tickling vanity, operating on
vices, calumniating innocent men, and the other arts of the demagogue.
Where the power is in the hands of the people, the people is very apt
to take its responsibilities as lightly as Ahasuerus did his, and to
let itself be led blindfold by men with personal ends to serve, and
hiding them under the veil of eager desire for the public good.
Christians should 'play the citizen as it becomes the gospel of
Christ,' and take care that they are not beguiled into national
enmities and public injustice by the specious talk of modern Hamans.



ESTHER'S VENTURE

'Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto
Mordecai: 11. All the king's servants, and the people of the king's
provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come
unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one
law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall
hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been
called to come in unto the king these thirty days. 12. And they told
to Mordecai Esther's words. 13. Then Mordecai commanded to answer
Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's
house, more than all the Jews. 14. For if thou altogether holdest thy
peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise
to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall
be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for
such a time as this? 15. Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this
answer, 16. Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in
Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days,
night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I
go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I
perish, I perish. 17. So Mordecai went his way, and did according to
all that Esther had commanded him. 'Now it came to pass on the third
day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner
court of the king's house, over against the king's house: and the king
sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of
the house. 2. And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen
standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the
king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So
Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre. 3. Then said the
king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request?
it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.'-ESTHER iv.
10-17; v. 1-3.


Patriotism is more evident than religion in the Book of Esther. To
turn to it after the fervours of prophets and the continual
recognition of God in history which marks the other historical books,
is like coming down from heaven to earth, as Ewald says. But that
difference in tone probably accurately represents the difference
between the saints and heroes of an earlier age and the Jews in
Persia, in whom national feeling was stronger than devotion. The
picture of their characteristics deducible from this Book shows many
of the traits which have marked them ever since,--accommodating
flexibility, strangely united with unbending tenacity; a capacity for
securing the favour of influential people, and willingness to stretch
conscience in securing it; reticence and diplomacy; and, beneath all,
unquenchable devotion to Israel, which burns alike in the politic
Mordecai and the lovely Esther.

There is not much audible religion in either, but in this lesson
Mordecai impressively enforces his assurance that Israel cannot
perish, and his belief in Providence setting people in their places
for great unselfish ends; and Esther is ready to die, if need be, in
trying to save her people, and thinks that fasting and prayer will
help her in her daring attempt. These two cousins, unlike in so much,
were alike in their devotion to Israel; and though they said little
about their religion, they acted it, which is better.

It is very like Jews that the relationship between Mordecai and Esther
should have been kept dark. Nobody but one or two trusted servants
knew that the porter was the queen's cousin, and probably her Jewish
birth was also unknown. Secrecy is, no doubt, the armour of oppressed
nations; but it is peculiarly agreeable to the descendants of Jacob,
who was a master of the art. There must have been wonderful
self-command on both sides to keep such a secret, and true affection,
to preserve intercourse through apparent indifference.

Our passage begins in the middle of Esther's conversation with the
confidential go-between, who told her of the insane decree for the
destruction of the Jews, and of Mordecai's request that she should
appeal to the king. She reminds him of what he knew well enough, the
law that unsummoned intruders into the presence are liable to death;
and adds what, of course, he did not know, that she had not been
summoned for a month. We need not dwell on this ridiculously arrogant
law, but may remark that the substantial accuracy of the statement is
confirmed by classical and other authors, and may pause for a moment
to note the glimpse given here of the delirium of self-importance in
which these Persian kings lived, and to see in it no small cause of
their vices and disasters. What chance of knowing facts or of living a
wholesome life had a man shut off thus from all but lickspittles and
slaves? No wonder that the victims of such dignity beat the sea with
rods, when it was rude enough to wreck their ships! No wonder that
they wallowed in sensuality, and lost pith and manhood! No wonder that
Greece crushed their unwieldy armies and fleets!

And what a glimpse into their heart-emptiness and degradation of
sacred ties is given in the fact that Esther the queen had not seen
Ahasuerus for a month, though living in the same palace, and his
favourite wife! No doubt, the experiences of exile had something to do
in later ages with the decided preference of the Jew for monogamy.

But, passing from this, we need only observe how clearly Esther sees
and how calmly she tells Mordecai the tremendous risk which following
his counsel would bring. Note that she does not refuse. She simply
puts the case plainly, as if she invited further communication. 'This
is how things stand. Do you still wish me to run the risk?' That is
poor courage which has to shut its eyes in order to keep itself up to
the mark. Unfortunately, the temperament which clearly sees dangers
and that which dares them are not often found together in due
proportion, and so men are over-rash and over-cautious. This young
queen with her clear eyes saw, and with her brave heart was ready to
face, peril to her life. Unless we fully realise difficulties and
dangers beforehand, our enthusiasm for great causes will ooze out at
our fingers' ends at the first rude assault of these. So let us count
the cost before we take up arms, and let us take up arms after we have
counted the cost. Cautious courage, courageous caution, are good
guides. Either alone is a bad one.

Mordecai's grand message is a condensed statement of the great reasons
which always exist for self-sacrificing efforts for others' good. His
words are none the less saturated with devout thought because they do
not name God. This porter at the palace gate had not the tongue of a
psalmist or of a prophet. He was a plain man, not uninfluenced by his
pagan surroundings, and perhaps he was careful to adapt his message to
the lips of the Gentile messenger, and therefore did not more
definitely use the sacred name.

It is very striking that Mordecai makes no attempt to minimise
Esther's peril in doing as he wished. He knew that she would take her
life in her hand, and he expects her to be willing to do it, as he
would have been willing. It is grand when love exhorts loved ones to a
course which may bring death to them, and lifelong loneliness and
quenched hopes to it. Think of Mordecai's years of care over and pride
in his fair young cousin, and how many joys and soaring visions would
perish with her, and then estimate the heroic self-sacrifice he
exercised in urging her to her course.

His first appeal is on the lowest ground. Pure selfishness should send
her to the king; for, if she did not go, she would not escape the
common ruin. So, on the one hand, she had to face certain destruction;
and, on the other, there were possible success and escape. It may seem
unlikely that the general massacre should include the favourite queen,
and especially as her nationality was apparently a secret. But when a
mob has once tasted blood, its appetite is great and its scent keen,
and there are always informers at hand to point to hidden victims. The
argument holds in reference to many forms of conflict with national
and social evils. If Christian people allow vice and godlessness to
riot unchecked, they will not escape the contagion, in some form or
other. How many good men's sons have been swept away by the
immoralities of great cities! How few families there are in which
there is not 'one dead,' the victim of drink and dissipation! How the
godliness of the Church is cooled down by the low temperature around!
At the very lowest, self-preservation should enlist all good men in a
sacred war against the sins which are slaying their countrymen. If
smallpox breaks out in the slums, it will come uptown into the grand
houses, and the outcasts will prove that they are the rich man's
brethren by infecting him, and perhaps killing him.

Mordecai goes back to the same argument in the later part of his
answer, when he foretells the destruction of Esther and her father's
house. There he puts it, however, in a rather different light. The
destruction is not now, as before, her participation in the common
tragedy, but her exceptional ruin while Israel is preserved. The
unfaithful one, who could have intervened to save, and did not, will
have a special infliction of punishment. That is true in many
applications. Certainly, neglect to do what we can do for others does
always bring some penalty on the slothful coward; and there is no more
short-sighted policy than that which shirks plain duties of
beneficence from regard to self.

But higher considerations than selfish ones are appealed to. Mordecai
is sure that deliverance will come. He does not know whence, but come
it will. How did he arrive at that serene confidence? Certainly
because he trusted God's ancient promises, and believed in the
indestructibility of the nation which a divine hand protected. How
does such a confidence agree with fear of 'destruction'? The two parts
of Mordecai's message sound contradictory; but he might well dread the
threatened catastrophe, and yet be sure that through any disaster
Israel as a nation would pass, cast down, no doubt, but not destroyed.

How did it agree with his earnestness in trying to secure Esther's
help? If he was certain of the issue, why should he have troubled her
or himself? Just for the same reason that the discernment of God's
purposes and absolute reliance on these stimulate, and do not
paralyse, devout activity in helping to carry them out. If we are sure
that a given course, however full of peril and inconvenience, is in
the line of God's purposes, that is a reason for strenuous effort to
carry it out. Since some men are to be honoured to be His instruments,
shall not we be willing to offer ourselves? There is a holy and noble
ambition which covets the dignity of being used by Him. They who
believe that their work helps forward what is dear to God's heart may
well do with their might what they find to do, and not be too careful
to keep on the safe side in doing it. The honour is more than the
danger. 'Here am I; take me,' should be the Christian feeling about
all such work.

The last argument in this noble summary of motives for self-sacrifice
for others' good is the thought of God's purpose in giving Esther her
position. It carries large truth applicable to us all. The source of
all endowments of position, possessions, or capacities, is God. His
purpose in them all goes far beyond the happiness of the receiver.
Dignities and gifts of every sort are ours for use in carrying out His
great designs of good to our fellows. Esther was made queen, not that
she might live in luxury and be the plaything of a king, but that she
might serve Israel. Power is duty. Responsibility is measured by
capacity. Obligation attends advantages. Gifts are burdens. All men
are stewards, and God gives His servants their 'talents,' not for
selfish squandering or hoarding, but to trade with, and to pay the
profits to Him. This penetrating insight into the source and intention
of all which we have, carries a solemn lesson for us all.

The fair young heroine's soul rose to the occasion, and responded with
a swift determination to her older cousin's lofty words. Her pathetic
request for the prayers of the people for whose sake she was facing
death was surely more than superstition. Little as she says about her
faith in God, it obviously underlay her courage. A soul that dares
death in obedience to His will and in dependence on His aid,
demonstrates its godliness more forcibly in silence than by many
professions.

'If I perish, I perish!' Think of the fair, soft lips set to utter
that grand surrender, and of all the flowery and silken cords which
bound the young heart to life, so bright and desirable as was assured
to her. Note the resolute calmness, the Spartan brevity, the clear
sight of the possible fatal issue, the absolute submission. No higher
strain has ever come from human lips. This womanly soul was of the
same stock as a Miriam, a Deborah, Jephthah's daughter; and the same
fire burned in her,--utter devotion to Israel because entire
consecration to Israel's God. Religion and patriotism were to her
inseparable. What was her individual life compared with her people's
weal and her God's will? She was ready without a murmur to lay her
young radiant life down. Such ecstasy of willing self-sacrifice raises
its subject above all fears and dissolves all hindrances. It may be
wrought out in uneventful details of our small lives, and may
illuminate these as truly as it sheds imperishable lustre over the
lovely figure standing in the palace court, and waiting for life or
death at the will of a sensual tyrant.

The scene there need not detain us. We can fancy Esther's beating
heart putting fire in her cheek, and her subdued excitement making her
beauty more splendid as she stood. What a contrast between her and the
arrogant king on his throne! He was a voluptuary, ruined morally by
unchecked licence,--a monster, as he could hardly help being, of lust,
self will, and caprice. She was at that moment an incarnation of
self-sacrifice and pure enthusiasm. The blind world thought that he
was the greater; but how ludicrous his condescension, how vulgar his
pomp, how coarse his kindness, how gross his prodigal promises by the
side of the heroine of faith, whose life he held in his capricious
hand!

How amazed the king would have been if he had been told that one of
his chief titles to be remembered would be that moment's interview!
Ahasuerus is the type of swollen self-indulgence, which always
degrades and coarsens; Esther is the type of self-sacrifice which as
uniformly refines, elevates, and arrays with new beauty and power. If
we would reach the highest nobleness possible to us, we must stand
with Esther at the gate, and not envy or imitate Ahasuerus on his
gaudy throne. 'He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that
loseth his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall find it.'



MORDECAI AND ESTHER

'For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall
there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another
place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who
knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as
this?'--ESTHER iv. 14.


All Christians are agreed in holding the principles which underlie our
missionary operations. They all believe that the world is a fallen
world, that without Christ the fallen world is a lost world, that the
preaching of the Gospel is the way to bring Christ to those who need
Him, that to the Church is committed the ministry of reconciliation.

These are the grand truths from which the grand missionary enterprise
has sprung. It is not my intention to enlarge on them now. But in this
and in all cases, there are secondary motives besides, and inferior to
those which are derived from the real fundamental principles. We are
stimulated to action not only because we hold certain great
principles, but because they are reinforced by certain subordinate
considerations.

It is the duty of all Christians to promote the missionary cause on
the lofty grounds already referred to. Besides that, it may be in a
special way our duty for some additional reasons drawn from
peculiarities in our condition. Circumstances do not make duties, but
they may bring a special weight of obligation on us to do them. Times
again do not make duties, but they too make a thing a special duty
now. The consideration of consequences may not decide us in matters of
conscience, but it may allowably come in to deter us from what is on
higher grounds a sin to be avoided, or a good deed to be done. Success
or failure is an alternative that must not be thought of when we are
asking ourselves, 'Ought I to do this?' but when we have answered that
question, we may go to work with a lighter heart and a firmer hand if
we are sure that we are not going to fail.

All these are inferior considerations which do not avail to determine
duty and do not go deep enough to constitute the real foundation of
our obligation. They are considerations which can scarcely be shut
out, and should be taken in determining the weight of our obligation,
in shaping the selection of our duties, in stimulating the zeal and
sedulousness with which we do what we know to be right.

To a consideration of some of these secondary reasons for energy in
the work of missions I ask your attention. The verse which I have
selected for my text is spoken by Mordecai to Esther, when urging her
to her perilous patriotism. It singularly blends the statesman and the
believer. He sees that if she selfishly refuses to identify herself
with her people, in their calamity, the wave that sweeps them away
will not be stayed outside her royal dwelling; he knows too much of
courts to think that she can stand against that burst of popular fury
should it break out. But he looks on as a devout man believing God's
promises, and seeing past all instruments; he warns her that
'deliverance and enlargement shall arise.' He is no fatalist; he
believes in man's work, therefore he urges her to let herself be the
instrument by which God's work shall be done. He is no atheist; he
believes in God's sovereign power and unchangeable faithfulness,
therefore he looks without dismay to the possibility of her failure.
He knows that if she is idle, all the evil will come on her head, who
has been unfaithful, and that in spite of that God's faithfulness
shall not be made of none effect. He believes that she has been raised
to her position for God's sake, for her brethren's sake, not her own.

'Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as
this?' There speaks the devout statesman, the court-experienced
believer. He has seen favourites tended and tossed aside, viziers
powerful and beheaded, kings half deified and deserted in their utmost
need. Sitting at the gate there, he has seen generations of Hamans go
out and in; he has seen the craft, the cruelty, the lusts which have
been the apparent causes of the puppets' rise and fall, and he has
looked beyond it all and believed in a Hand that pulled the wires, in
a King of Kings who raiseth up one and setteth down another. So he
believes that his Esther has come to the kingdom by God's appointment,
to do God's work at God's time. And these convictions keep him calm
and stir her.

We may find here a series of considerations having a special bearing
on this missionary work. To them I ask your attention.

I. God gives us our position that we may use it for His cause, for the
spread of the Gospel.

In most general terms.

(a) No man has anything for his own sake--no man liveth to himself. We
come to the kingdom for others. Here we touch the foundation of all
authority; we learn the awful burden of all talents, the dreadful
weight of every gift.

(b) No man receives the Gospel for his own sake. We are not
non-conductors, but stand all linked hand in hand. We are members of
the body that the blood may flow freely through us. For no loftier
reason did God light the candle than that it might give light. We are
beacons kindled to transmit, till every sister light flashes back the
ray.

(c) We especially have received a position in the world for the
conversion of the world. Our national character and position unite
that of the Jew in his two stages--we are set to be the 'light of the
world,' and we are 'tribes of the wandering foot.' Our history, all,
has tended to this function, our local position, our laws, our
commerce. We are citizens of a nation which 'as a nest has found the
riches' of the peoples. In every land our people dwell.

Think of our colonies. Think that we are brought into contact with
heathen, whether we will or not. We cannot help influencing them.
'Through you the name of God is blasphemed amongst the Gentiles.'
Think of our sailors. Why this position? What is plainer than that all
this is in order that the Gospel might be spread? God has ever let the
Gospel follow in the tracks made for it by commercial law.

This object does not exclude others. Our language, our literature, our
other rich spiritual treasures, we hold them all that we may impart.
But remember that all these other good things that England has will
spread themselves with little effort, people will be glad to get them.
But the Gospel will not be spread so. It must be taken to those who do
not want it. It must be held forth with outstretched hands to 'a
disobedient and gainsaying people.' It is found of them that seek it
not.

Like the Lord we must go to the wanderers, we must find them as they
lie panting and thirsty in the wild wilderness. Therefore Christian
men must make special earnest efforts or the work will not be done.
They must be as the 'dew that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for
the sons of men.'

And again, such action does not involve approval of the means by which
such a position has become ours. Mordecai knew what vile passions had
been at work to put Esther there, and did not forget poor Vashti, and
we have no need to hide conviction that England's place has often been
won by wrong, been kept by violence and fraud, that, as she has strode
to empire, her foot has trodden on many a venerable throne unjustly
thrown down, and her skirts have been dabbled with 'the blood of poor
innocents,' splashed there with her armed hoof. Be it so!--Still!
'Thou makest the wrath of man to praise Thee.' Still--'we are debtors
both to the Greek and barbarian,' and all the more debtors because of
ills inflicted. God has laid on us a solemn responsibility. Over all
the dust of base intrigues, and the smoke of bloody battles, and the
hubbub of busy commerce, His hand has been working, and though we have
been sinful, He has given us a place and a power, mighty and awful. We
have received these not for our own glory, not that we should boast of
our dominion, not that we should gather tribute of gain and glory from
subject peoples, not even that we should carry to them the great
though lesser blessings of language, united order, peaceful commerce,
sway over brute nature, but that we should give them what will make
them men--Christ.

We have a work to do, an awful work. To us all as Christians, to us
especially as citizens of this land and members of this race, to us
and to our brethren across the Atlantic the message comes, by our
history, our manners, etc., as plainly as if it were written in every
wave that beats around our coast. 'Ye are my witnesses, saith the
Lord.'

II. God lays upon us special missionary work by the special
characteristics of the times.

'Such a time as this!' Was there ever such a time?

Look at the condition of heathenism. It is everywhere tottering. 'The
idols are on the beasts, Bel boweth down.' The grim gods sit half
famished already. There is a crack in every temple wall.
Mahommedanism, Buddhism, Brahminism--they are none of them
progressive. They are none of them vital. Think how only the Gospel
outleaps space and time. How all these systems are of time and
devoured by it, as Saturn eats his own children. They are of the
things that can be shaken, and their being shaken makes more certain
the remaining of the things that cannot be shaken.

Look at the fields open. India, China, Japan, Africa, in a word, 'The
field is the world' in a degree in which it never was before. 'Such a
time'--a time of seething, and we can determine the cosmos; a plastic
time, and we can mould it; it is a deluge, push the ark boldly out and
ransom some.

III. If we neglect the voice of God's providence, harm comes on us.

The gifts unimproved are apt to be lost. One knows not all the
conditions on which England holds her sway, nor do we fathom the
strange way in which spiritual characteristics are inwrought with
material interests. But we believe in a providential government of the
world, and of this we may be very sure, that all advantages not used
for God are held by a very precarious tenure.

The fact is that selfishness is the ruin of any people. When you have
a 'Christian' nation not using their position for God's glory, they
are using it for their own sakes; and that indicates a state of mind
which will lead to numberless other evils in their relation to men,
many of which have a direct tendency to rob them of their advantages.
For instance, a selfish nation will never hold conquests with a firm
grasp. If we do not bind subject peoples to us by benefits, we shall
repel them by hatreds. Think of India and its lessons, or of South
Africa and its. We have seen the tide of material prosperity ebb away
from many a nation and land, and I for my part believe in the Hand of
God in history, and believe that the tide follows the motions of the
heavens.

The history of the Jewish people is not an exception to the laws of
God's government of the world, but a specimen of it. They who were
made a hearth in which the embers of divine truth were kept in a dark
world, when they began to think that they had the truth in order that
they might be different from other people, and forgot that they were
different from others in order that they might first preserve and then
impart the truth to all, lost the light and heat of it, stiffened into
formal hypocrisy and malice and all uncharitableness, and then the
Roman sword smote their national life in twain.

Whatever is not used for God becomes a snare first, then injures the
possessors, and tends to destroy the possessors. The march of
Providence goes on. Its purposes will be effected. Whatever stands in
the way will be mowed remorselessly down, if need be. Helps that have
become hindrances will go. The kingdoms of this world will have to
fall; and if we are not helping and hasting the coming of the Lord we
shall be destroyed by the brightness of His coming. The chariot rolls
on. For men and for nations there is only the choice of yoking
themselves to the car, and finding themselves borne along rather than
bearing it, and partaking the triumph, or of being crushed beneath its
awful wheels as they bound along their certain road, bearing Him who
rides 'forth prosperously because of truth and meekness and
righteousness.'

IV. Though we be unfaithful, God's purpose of mercy to the world shall
be accomplished.

'Deliverance and enlargement shall arise from another place.' So it is
certain that God from eternity has willed that all flesh should see
His salvation. He loves the heathen better than we do. Christ has died
not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. God hath
made of one blood all nations of men. The race is one in its need. The
race is one in its goal. The Gospel is fit for all men. The Gospel is
preached to all men. The Gospel shall yet be received by a world, and
from every corner of a believing earth will rise one roll of praise to
one Father, and the race shall be one in its hopes, one in its Lord,
one in faith, one in baptism, one in one God and Father of us all.
That grand unity shall certainly come. That true unity and fraternity
shall be realised. The blissful wave of the knowledge of the Lord
shall cover and hide and flow rejoicingly over all national
distinctions. 'In that day Israel shall be the third with Egypt and
with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth.'

This is as certain as the efficacy of a Saviour's blood can make it,
as certain as the universal adaptation and design of a preached Gospel
can make it, as certain as the oneness of human nature can make it, as
certain as the power of a Comforter who shall convince the world of
sin, of righteousness, and judgment can make it, as certain as the
misery of man can make it, as certain as the promises of God who
cannot lie can make it, as certain as His faithfulness who hangs the
rainbow in the heavens and enters into an everlasting covenant with
all the earth can make it.

And this accumulation of certainties does not depend on the
faithfulness of men. In the width of that mighty result the failure of
some single agent may be eliminated. Nay, more, though all men failed,
God hath instruments, and will use them Himself, if need were.

Only we may share the triumph and partake of the blessed result.
Decide for yourself, what share you will have in that marvellous day.
Let your work be such as that it shall abide. Stonehenge, cathedrals,
temples stand when all else has passed away. Work for God abides and
outlasts everything beside, and the smallest service for Him is only
made to flash forth light by the glorifying and revealing fires of
that awful day which will burn up the wood, the hay, and the stubble,
and flow with beautifying brightness and be flashed back with double
splendour from 'the gold, the silver, and the precious stones,' the
abiding workmanship of devout hearts in that everlasting tabernacle
which shall not be taken down, the ransomed souls builded together,
ransomed by our preaching, and 'builded up together for a temple of
God by the Spirit.'



THE NET BROKEN

'And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his
feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman
the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews. 4.
Then the king held out the golden sceptre toward Esther. So Esther
arose, and stood before the king, 5. And said, If it please the king,
and if I have found favour in his sight, and the thing seem right
before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to
reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the
Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the
king's provinces: 6. For how can I endure to see the evil that shall
come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my
kindred? 7. Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen, and to
Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and
him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon
the Jews. 8. Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the
king's name, and seal it with the king's ring: for the writing which
is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no
man reverse. 15. And Mordecai went out from the presence of the king
in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold,
and with a garment of fine linen and purple: and the city of Shushan
rejoiced and was glad. 16. The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy,
and honour. 17. And in every province, and in every city,
whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had
joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of
the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon
them.'--ESTHER viii. 3-8,15-17.


The spirit of this passage may perhaps be best caught by taking the
three persons appearing in it, and the One who does not appear, but
acts unseen through them all.

I. The heroine of the whole book and of this chapter is Esther, one of
the sweetest and noblest of the women of Scripture. The orphan girl
who had grown up into beauty under the care of her uncle Mordecai, and
was lifted suddenly from sheltered obscurity into the 'fierce light
that beats upon a throne,' like some flower culled in a shady nook and
set in a king's bosom, was true to her childhood's protector and to
her people, and kept her sweet, brave gentleness unspoiled by the
rapid elevation which ruins so many characters. Her Jewish name of
Hadassah ('myrtle') well befits her, for she is clothed with
unostentatious beauty, pure and fragrant as the blossoms that brides
twine in their hair. But, withal, she has a true woman's courage which
is always ready to endure any evil and dare any danger at the bidding
of her heart. She took her life in her hand when she sought an
audience of Ahasuerus uninvited, and she knew that she did. Nothing in
literature is nobler than her quiet words, which measure her danger
without shrinking, and front it without heroics: 'If I perish, I
perish!'

The danger was not past, though she was queen and beloved; for a
despot's love is a shifting sand-bank, which may yield anchorage
to-day, and to-morrow may be washed away. So she counted not her life
dear unto herself when, for the second time, as in our passage, she
ventured, uninvited, into the king's presence. The womanly courage
that risks life for love's sake is nobler than the soldier's that
feels the lust of battle maddening him.

Esther's words to the king are full of tact. She begins with what
seems to have been the form of address prescribed by custom, for it is
used by her in her former requests (chap. v. 8; vii. 3). But she adds
a variation of the formula, tinged with more personal reference to the
king's feeling towards her, as well as breathing entire submission to
his estimate of what was fitting. 'If the thing seem right before the
king,' appeals to the sense of justice that lay dormant beneath the
monarch's arbitrary will; 'and I be pleasing in his eyes,' drew him by
the charm of her beauty. She avoided making the king responsible for
the plot, and laid it at the door of the dead and discredited Haman.
It was his device, and since he had fallen, his policy could be
reversed without hurting the king's dignity. And then with fine tact,
as well as with a burst of genuine feeling, she flings all her
personal influence into the scale, and seeks to move the king, not by
appeals to his justice or royal duty, but to his love for her, which
surely could not bear to see her suffer. One may say that it was a low
motive to appeal to, to ask the despot to save a people in order to
keep one woman from sorrow; and so it was. It was Ahasuerus's fault
that such a reason had more weight with him than nobler ones. It was
not Esther's that she used her power over him to carry her point. She
used the weapons that she had, and that she knew would be efficacious.
The purpose for which she used them is her justification.

Esther may well teach her sisters to-day to be brave and gentle, to
use their influence over men for high purposes of public good, to be
the inspirers of their husbands, lovers, brothers, for all noble
thinking and doing; to make the cause of the oppressed their own, to
be the apostles of mercy and the hinderers of wrong, to keep true to
their early associations if prosperity comes to them, and to cherish
sympathy with their nation so deep that they cannot 'endure to see the
evil that shall come unto them' without using all their womanly
influence to avert it.

II. Ahasuerus plays a sorry part beside Esther. He knows no law but
his own will, and that is moved, not by conscience or reason, but by
ignoble passions and sensual desires. He tosses his subjects' lives as
trivial gifts to any who ask for them. Haman's wife knew that he had
only to 'speak to the king,' and Mordecai would be hanged; Haman had
no difficulty in securing the royal mandate for the murder of all the
Jews. Sated with the indulgence of low desires, he let all power slip
from his idle hands, and his manhood was rotted away by wallowing in
the pigsty of voluptuousness. But he was tenacious of the semblance of
authority, and demanded the appearance of abject submission from the
'servants' who were his masters. He yielded to Esther's prayer as
lightly as to Haman's plot. Whether the Jews were wiped out or not
mattered nothing to him, so long as he had no trouble in the affair.

To shift all responsibility off his own shoulders on to somebody
else's was his one aim. He was as untrue to his duty when he gave his
signet to Mordecai, and bade him and Esther do as they liked, as when
he had given it to Haman. And with all this slothful indifference to
his duty, he was sensitive to etiquette, and its cobwebs held him whom
the cords of his royal obligations could not hold. It mattered not to
him that the edict which he allowed Mordecai to promulgate practically
lit the flames of civil war. He had washed his hands of the whole
business.

It is a hideous picture of an Eastern despot, and has been said to be
unhistorical and unbelievable. But the world has seen many examples of
rulers whom the possession of unlimited and irresponsible power has
corrupted in like fashion. And others than rulers may take the warning
that to live to self is the mother of all sins and crimes; that no man
can safely make his own will and his own passions his guides; that
there is no slavery so abject as that of the man who is tyrannised by
his lower nature; that there is a temptation besetting us all to take
the advantages and neglect the duties of our position, and that to
yield to it is sure to end in moral ruin. We are all kings, even if
our kingdom be only our own selves, and we shall rule wisely only if
we rule as God's viceroys, and think more of duty than of delight.

III. Mordecai is a kind of duplicate of Joseph, and embodies valuable
lessons. Contented acceptance of obscurity and neglect of his
services, faithfulness to his people and his God in the foul
atmosphere of such a court, wise reticence, patient discharge of small
duties, undoubting hope when things looked blackest fed by stedfast
faith in God, unchangedness of character and purpose when lifted to
supreme dignity, the use of influence and place, not for himself, but
for his people,--all these are traits which may be imitated in any
life. We should be the same men, whether we sit unnoticed among the
lackeys at the gate, or are bearing the brunt of the hatred of
powerful foes, or are clothed 'in royal apparel of blue and white, and
with a great crown of gold.' These gauds were nothing to Mordecai, and
earthly honours should never turn our heads. He valued power because
it enabled him to save his brethren, and we should cultivate the same
spirit. The political world, with its fierce struggles for personal
ends, its often disregard of the public good, and its use of place and
power for 'making a pile' or helping relations up, would be much the
better for some infusion of the spirit of Mordecai.

IV. But we must not look only at the visible persons and forces. This
book of Esther does not say much about God, but His presence broods
over it all, and is the real spring that moves the movers that are
seen. It is all a lesson of how God works out His purposes through men
that seem to themselves to be working out theirs. The king's criminal
abandonment to lust and luxury, Haman's meanly personal pique,
Esther's beauty, the fall of the favourite, the long past services of
Mordecai, even the king's sleepless night, are all threads in the web,
and God is the weaver. The story raises the whole question of the
standing miracle of the co-existence and co-operation of the divine
and the human. Man is free and responsible, God is sovereign and
all-pervading. He 'makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and with the
remainder thereof He girdeth Himself.' To-day, as then, He is working
out His deep designs through men whom He has raised up, though they
have not known Him. Amid the clash of contending interests and worldly
passions His solemn purpose steadily advances to its end, like the
irresistible ocean current, which persists through all storms that
agitate the surface, and draws them into the drift of its silent
trend. Ahasuerus, Haman, Esther, Mordecai, are His instruments, and
yet each of them is the doer of his or her deed, and has to answer to
Him for it.



THE BOOK OF JOB


SORROW THAT WORSHIPS

'Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return
thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the
name of the Lord.'--JOB i. 21.


This book of Job wrestles with the problem of the meaning of the
mystery of sorrow. Whether history or a parable, its worth is the
same, as tortured hearts have felt for countless centuries, and will
feel to the end. Perhaps no picture that was ever painted is grander
and more touching than that of the man of Uz, in the antique wealth
and happiness of his brighter days, rich, joyful, with his children
round him, living in men's honour, and walking upright before God.
Then come the dramatic completeness and suddenness of his great
trials. One day strips him of all, and stripped of all he rises to a
loftier dignity, for there is a majesty as well as an isolation in his
sorrow.

How many spirits tossed by afflictions have found peace in these
words! How many quivering lips have tried to utter their grave, calm
accents! To how many of us are they hallowed by memories of times when
they stood between us and despair!

They seem to me to say everything that can be said about our trials
and losses, to set forth the whole truth of the facts, and to present
the whole series of feelings with which good men may and should be
exercised.

I. The vindication of sorrow.

He 'rent his clothes'--the signs and tokens of inward desolation and
loss.

It is worth our while to stay for one moment with the thought that we
are meant to feel grief. God sends sorrows in order that they may
pain. Sorrow has its manifold uses in our lives and on our hearts. It
is natural. That is enough. God set the fountain of tears in our
souls. We are bidden not to 'despise the chastening of the Lord.' It
is they who are 'exercised' thereby to whom the chastisement is
blessed.

It is sanctioned by Christ. He wept. He bade the women of Jerusalem
weep for themselves and for their children.

Religion does not destroy the natural emotions--sorrow as little as
any other. It guides, controls, curbs, comforts, and brings blessings
out of it. So do not aim at an impossible stoicism, but permit nature
to have its way, and look at the picture of this manly sorrow of
Job's--calm, silent, unless when stung by the undeserved reproaches of
these three 'orthodox liars for God,' and going to God and
worshipping.

II. The recognition of loss and sorrow as the law of life.

'Naked came I out of my mother's womb.'

We need not dwell on the figure 'mother,' suggesting the grave as the
kindly mother's bosom that gathers us all in, and the thought that
perhaps gleams forth that death, too, is a kind of birth.

But the truth picturesquely set forth is just the old and simple
one--that all possessions are transient.

The naked self gets clothed and lapped round with possessions, but
they are all outside of it, apart from its individuality. It has been
without them. It will be without them. Death at the end will rob us of
them all.

The inevitable law of loss is fixed and certain. We are losing
something every moment--not only possessions, but all our dearest ties
are knit but for a time, and sure to be snapped. They go, and then
after a while we go.

The independence of each soul of all its possessions and relations is
as certain as the loss of them. They may go and we are made naked, but
still we exist all the same. We have to learn the hard lesson which
sounds so unfeeling, that we can live on in spite of all losses.
Nothing, no one, is necessary to us.

All this is very cold and miserable; it is the standing point of law
and necessity. An atheist could say it. It is the beginning of the
Christian contemplation of life, but only the beginning.

III. The recognition of God in the law.

'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.' That is a step far
beyond the former. To bring in the thought of _the Lord_ makes a
world of difference.

The tendency is to look only at the second cause. In Job's case there
were two classes of agencies, men, Chaldeans and Sabeans, and natural
causes, fire and wind, but he did not stop with these.

The grand corrective of that tendency lies in the full theistic idea,
that God is the sole cause of all. The immanence of Deity in all
things and events is our refuge from the soul-crushing tyranny of the
reign of law.

That devout recognition of God in law is eminently to be made in
regard to death, as Job does in the text: 'The number of his months is
with Thee.' Death is not any more nor any less under His control than
all other human incidents are. It has no special sanctity, nor
abnormally close connection with His will, but it no more is exempt
from such connection than all the other events of life. The connection
is real. He opens the gate of the grave and no man shuts. He shuts,
and no man opens.

Job did not forget the Lord's gifts even while he was writhing under
the stroke of His withdrawings. Alas! that it should so often need
sorrow to bear into our hearts that we owe all to Him, but even then,
if not before, it is well to remember how much good we have received
of the Lord, and the remembrance should not be 'a sorrow's crown of
sorrow,' but a thankful one.

IV. The thankful resignation to God's loving administration of the
law.

The preceding words might be said with mere submission to an
irresistible power, but this last sentence climbs to the highest of
the true Christian idea. It recognises in loss and sorrow a reason for
praise.

Why?

Because we may be sure that all loss is for our good.

Because we may be sure that all loss is from a loving God. In loss of
dear ones, _our_ gain is in drawing nearer to God, in being
taught more to long for heaven. In our relation to them, a loftier
love, a hallowing of all the past. _Their_ gain is in their
entrance to heaven, and all the glory that they have reached.

This blessing of God for loss is not inconsistent with sorrow, but
anticipates the future when we shall know all and bless Him for all.



THE PEACEABLE FRUITS OF SORROWS RIGHTLY BORNE

'Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not
thou the chastening of the Almighty: 18. For He maketh sore, and
bindeth up: He woundeth, and His hands make whole. 19. He shall
deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch
thee. 20. In famine He shall redeem thee from death: and in war from
the power of the sword. 21. Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the
tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.
22. At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh: neither shalt thou be
afraid of the beasts of the earth. 23. For thou shalt be in league
with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at
peace with thee. 24. And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be
in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt not sin. 25.
Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring
as the grass of the earth. 26. Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full
age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season. 27. Lo this, we
have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy
good.'--JOB v. 17-27.


The close of the Book of Job shows that his friends' speeches were
defective, and in part erroneous. They all proceeded on the assumption
that suffering was the fruit of sin--a principle which, though true in
general, is not to be unconditionally applied to specific cases. They
all forgot that good men might be exposed to it, not as punishment,
nor even as correction, but as trial, to 'know what was in their
hearts.'

Eliphaz is the best of the three friends, and his speeches embody much
permanent truth, and rise, as in this passage, to a high level of
literary and artistic beauty. There are few lovelier passages in
Scripture than this glowing description of the prosperity of the man
who accepts God's chastisements; and, on the whole, the picture is
true. But the underlying belief in the uniform coincidence of inward
goodness and outward good needs to be modified by the deeper teaching
of the New Testament before it can be regarded as covering all the
facts of life.

Eliphaz is gathering up, in our passage, the threads of his speech. He
bases upon all that he has been saying the exhortation to Job to be
thankful for his sorrows. With a grand paradox, he declares the man
who is afflicted to be happy. And therein he strikes an eternally true
note. It is good to be made to drink a cup of sorrow. Flesh calls pain
evil, but spirit knows it to be good. The list of our blessings is not
only written in bright inks, but many are inscribed in black. And the
reason why the sad heart should be a happy heart is because, as
Eliphaz believed, sadness is God's fatherly correction, intended to
better the subject of it. 'Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,' says
the Epistle to the Hebrews, in full accord with Eliphaz.

But his well-meant and true words flew wide of their mark, for two
reasons. They were chillingly didactic, and it is vinegar upon nitre
to stand over an agonised soul and preach platitudes in an
unsympathetic voice. And they assumed unusual sin in Job as the
explanation of his unparalleled pains, while the prologue tells us
that his sufferings were not fruits of his sin, but trials of his
righteousness. He was horrified at Job's words, which seemed to him
full of rebellion and irreverence; and he made no allowance for the
wild cries of an agonised heart when he solemnly warned the sufferer
against 'despising' God's chastening. A more sympathetic ear would
have detected the accent of faith in the groans.

The collocation, in verse 18, of making sore and binding up, does not
merely express sequence, but also purpose. The wounding is in order to
healing. The wounds are merciful surgery; and their intention is
health, like the cuts that lay open an ulcer, or the scratches for
vaccination. The view of suffering in these two verses is not
complete, but it goes far toward completeness in tracing it to God, in
asserting its disciplinary intention, in pointing to the divine
healing which is meant to follow, and in exhorting to submission. We
may recall the beautiful expansion of that exhortation in Hebrews,
where 'faint not' is added to 'despise not,' so including the two
opposite and yet closely connected forms of misuse of sorrow,
according as we stiffen our wills against it, and try to make light of
it, or yield so utterly to it as to collapse. Either extreme equally
misses the corrective purpose of the grief.

On this general statement follows a charming picture of the
blessedness which attends the man who has taken his chastisement
rightly. After the thunderstorm come sunshine and blue, and the song
of birds. But, lovely as it is, and capable of application in many
points to the life of every man who trustfully yields to God's will,
it must not be taken as a literally and absolutely true statement of
God's dealings with His children. If so regarded, it would hopelessly
be shattered against facts; for the world is full of instances of
saintly men and women who have not experienced in their outward lives
such sunny calm and prosperity stretching to old age as are here
promised. Eliphaz is not meant to be the interpreter of the mysteries
of Providence, and his solution is decisively rejected at the close.
But still there is much in this picture which finds fulfilment in all
devout lives in a higher sense than his intended meaning.

The first point is that the devout soul is exempt from calamities
which assail those around it. These are such as are ordinarily in
Scripture recognised as God's judgments upon a people. Famine and war
devastate, but the devout soul abides in peace, and is satisfied. Now
it is not true that faith and submission make a wall round a man, so
that he escapes from such calamities. In the supernatural system of
the Old Testament such exemptions were more usual than with us, though
this very Book of Job and many a psalm show that devout hearts had
even then to wrestle with the problem of the prosperity of the wicked
and the indiscriminate fall of widespread calamities on the good and
bad.

But in its deepest sense (which, however, is not Eliphaz's sense) the
faithful man is saved from the evils which he, in common with his
faithless neighbour, experiences. Two men are smitten down by the same
disease, or lie dying on a battlefield, shattered by the same shell,
and the one receives the fulfilment of the promise, 'there shall no
evil touch thee,' and the other does not. For the evil in the evil is
all sucked out of it, and the poison is wiped off the arrow which
strikes him who is united to God by faith and submission. Two women
are grinding at the same millstone, and the same blow kills them both;
but the one is delivered, and the other is not. They who pass through
an evil, and are not drawn away from God by it, but brought nearer to
Him, are hid from its power. To die may be our deliverance from death.

Eliphaz's promises rise still higher in verses 22 and 23, in which is
set forth a truth that in its deepest meaning is of universal
application. The wild beasts of the earth and the stones of the field
will be in league with the man who submits to God's will. Of course
the beasts come into view as destructive, and the stones as injuring
the fertility of the fields. There is, probably, allusion to the story
of Paradise and the Fall. Man's relation to nature was disturbed by
sin; it will be rectified by his return to God. Such a doctrine of the
effects of sin in perverting man's relation to creatures runs all
through Scripture, and is not to be put aside as mere symbolism.

But the large truth underlying the words here is that, if we are
servants of God, we are masters of everything. 'All things work
together for good to them that love God.' All things serve the soul
that serves God; as, on the other hand, all are against him that does
not, and 'the stars in their courses fight against' those who fight
against Him. All things are ours, if we are Christ's. The many
mediaeval legends of saints attended by animals, from St. Jerome
and his lion downwards to St. Francis preaching to the birds, echo the
thoughts here. A gentle, pure soul, living in amity with dumb
creatures, has wonderful power to attract them. They who are at peace
with God can scarcely be at war with any of God's creatures.
Gentleness is stronger than iron bands. 'Cords of love' draw most
surely.

Peace and prosperity in home and possessions are the next blessings
promised (ver. 24). 'Thou shalt visit [look over] thy household, and
shalt miss nothing.' No cattle have strayed or been devoured by evil
beasts, or stolen, as all Job's had been. Alas! Eliphaz knew nothing
about commercial crises, and the great system of credit by which one
scoundrel's fall may bring down hundreds of good men and patient
widows, who look over their possessions and find nothing but worthless
shares. Yet even for those who find all at once that the herd is cut
off from the stall, their tabernacle may still be in peace, and though
the fold be empty they may miss nothing, if in the empty place they
find God. That is what Christians may make out of the words; but it is
not what was originally meant by them.

In like manner the next blessing, that of a numerous posterity, does
not depend on moral or religious condition, as Eliphaz would make out,
and in modern days is not always regarded as a blessing. But note the
singular heartlessness betrayed in telling Job, all whose flocks and
herds had been carried off, and his children laid dead in their
festival chamber, that abundant possessions and offspring were the
token of God's favour. The speaker seems serenely unconscious that he
was saying anything that could drive a knife into the tortured man. He
is so carried along on the waves of his own eloquence, and so absorbed
in stringing together the elements of an artistic whole, that he
forgets the very sorrows which he came to comfort. There are not a few
pious exhorters of bleeding hearts who are chargeable with the same
sin. The only hand that will bind up without hurting is a hand that is
sympathetic to the finger-tips. No eloquence or poetic beauty or
presentation of undeniable truths will do as substitutes for that.

The last blessing promised is that which the Old Testament places so
high in the list of good things--long life. The lovely metaphor in
which that promise is couched has become familiar to us all. The ripe
corn gathered into a sheaf at harvest-time suggests festival rather
than sadness. It speaks of growth accomplished, of fruit matured, of
the ministries of sun and rain received and used, and of a joyful
gathering into the great storehouse. There is no reference in the
speech to the uses of the sheaf after it is harvested, but we can
scarcely avoid following its history a little farther than the 'grave'
which to Eliphaz seems the garner. Are all these matured powers to
have no field for action? Were all these miracles of vegetation set in
motion only in order to grow a crop which should be reaped, and there
an end? What is to be done with the precious fruit which has taken so
long time and so much cultivation to grow? Surely it is not the
intention of the Lord of the harvest to let it rot when it has been
gathered. Surely we are grown here and ripened and carried hence for
something.

But that is not in our passage. This, however, may be drawn from
it--that maturity does not depend on length of days; and, however
Eliphaz meant to promise long life, the reality is that the devout
soul may reckon on complete life, whether it be long or short. God
will not call His children home till their schooling is done; and,
however green and young the corn may seem to our eyes, He knows which
heads in the great harvest-field are ready for removal, and gathers
only these. The child whose little coffin may be carried under a boy's
arm may be ripe for harvesting. Not length of days, but likeness to
God, makes maturity; and if we die according to the will of God, it
cannot but be that we shall come to our grave in a full age, whatever
be the number of years carved on our tombstones.

The speech ends with a somewhat self-complacent exhortation to the
poor, tortured man: 'We have searched it, so it is.' We wise men
pledge our wisdom and our reputation that this is true. Great is
authority. An ounce of sympathy would have done more to commend the
doctrine than a ton of dogmatic self-confidence. 'Hear it, and know
thou it for thyself.' Take it into thy mind. Take it into thy mind and
heart, and take it for thy good. It was a frosty ending, exasperating
in its air of patronage, of superior wisdom, and in its lack of any
note of feeling. So, of course, it set Job's impatience alight, and
his next speech is more desperate than his former. When will
well-meaning comforters learn not to rub salt into wounds while they
seem to be dressing them?



TWO KINDS OF HOPE

'Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider's
web.'--JOB viii. 14.

'And hope maketh not ashamed.'--ROMANS v. 5.


These two texts take opposite sides. Bildad was not the wisest of
Job's friends, and he gives utterance to solemn commonplaces with
partial truth in them. In the rough it is true that the hope of the
ungodly perishes, and the limits of the truth are concealed by the
splendour of the imagery and the perfection of artistic form in which
the well-worn platitude is draped. The spider's web stretched
glittering in the dewy morning on the plants, shaking its threaded
tears in the wind, the flag in the dry bed of a nullah withering while
yet green, the wall on which leaning a man will fall, are vivid
illustrations of hopes that collapse and fail. But my other text has
to do with hopes that do not fail. Paul thinks that he knows of hope
that maketh not ashamed, that is, which never disappoints. Bildad was
right if he was thinking, as he was, of hopes fixed on earth; the
Apostle was right, for he was thinking of hopes set on God. It is a
commonplace that 'hope springs immortal in the human breast'; it is
equally a commonplace that hopes are disappointed. What is the
conclusion from these two universal experiences? Is it the cynical one
that it is all illusion, or is it that somewhere there must be an
object on which hope may twine its tendrils without fear? God has
given the faculty, and we may be sure that it is not given to be for
ever balked. We must hope. Our hope may be our worst enemy; it may and
should be our purest joy.

Let us then simply consider these two sorts of hope, the earthly and
the heavenly, in their working in the three great realms of life,
death, and eternity.

I. In life.

The faculty is inseparable from man's consciousness of immortality and
of an indefinitely expansible nature which ever makes him discontented
with the present. It has great purposes to perform in strengthening
him for work, in helping him over sorrows, in making him buoyant and
elastic, in painting for him the walls of the dungeon, and hiding for
him the weight of the fetters.

But for what did he receive this great gift? Mainly that he might pass
beyond the temporal and hold converse with the skies. Its true sphere
is the unseen future which is at God's right hand.

We may run a series of antitheses, _e.g._--

Earthly hope is so uncertain that its larger part is often fear.

Heavenly hope is fixed and sure. It is as certain as history.

Earthly hope realised is always less blessed than we expected. How
universal the experience that there is little to choose between a
gratified and a frustrated hope! The wonders inside the caravan are
never so wonderful as the canvas pictures outside.

Heavenly hopes ever surpass the most rapturous anticipation. 'The half
hath not been told.'

Earthly hopes are necessarily short-winged. They are settled one way
or another, and sink hull down below our horizon.

Heavenly hope sets its object far off, and because a lifetime only
attains it in part, it blesses a lifetime and outlasts it.

II. Hope in death.

That last hour ends for us all alike our earthly joys and relations.
The slow years slip away, and each bears with it hopes that have been
outlived, whether fulfilled or disappointed. One by one the lights
that we kindle in our hall flicker out, and death quenches the last of
them. But there is one light that burns on clear through the article
of death, like the lamp in the magician's tomb. 'The righteous hath
hope in his death.' We can each settle for ourselves whether we shall
carry that radiant angel with her white wings into the great darkness,
or shall sadly part with her before we part with life. To the earthly
soul that last earthly hour is a black wall beyond which it cannot
look. To the God-trusting soul the darkness is peopled with
bright-faced hopes.

III. Hope in eternity.

It is not for our tongues to speak of what must, in the natural
working out of consequences, be the ultimate condition of a soul which
has not set its hopes on the God who alone is the right Object of the
blessed but yet awful capacity of hoping, when all the fleeting
objects which it sought as solace and mask of its own true poverty are
clean gone from its grasp. Dante's tremendous words are more than
enough to move wholesome horror in any thinking soul: 'Leave hope
behind, all ye who enter here.' They are said to be unfeeling, grim,
and mediaeval, incredible in this enlightened age; but is there any
way out of them, if we take into account what our nature is moulded to
need and cling to, and what 'godless' men have done with it?

But let us turn to the brighter of these texts. 'Hope maketh not
ashamed.' There will be an internal increase of blessedness, power,
purity in that future, a fuller possession of God, a reaching out
after completer likeness to Him. So if we can think of days in that
calm state where time will be no more, 'to-morrow shall be as this day
and much more abundant,' and the angel Hope, who kept us company
through all the weary marches of earth, will attend on us still, only
having laid aside the uncertainty that sometime veiled her smiles, but
retaining all the buoyant eagerness for the ever unfolding wonders
which gave us courage and cheer in the days of our flesh.



JOB'S QUESTION, JESUS' ANSWER

'If a man die, shall he live again?'--JOB xiv. 14.

'... I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me,
though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26. And whosoever liveth and
believeth in Me shall never die.'--JOHN xi. 25, 26.


Job's question waited long for an answer. Weary centuries rolled away;
but at last the doubting, almost despairing, cry put into the mouth of
the man of sorrows of the Old Testament is answered by the Man of
Sorrows of the New. The answer in words is this second text which may
almost be supposed to allude to the ancient question. The answer, in
fact, is the resurrection of Christ. Apart from this answer there is
none.

So we may take these two texts to help us to grasp more clearly and
feel more profoundly what the world owes to that great fact which we
are naturally led to think of to-day.

I. The ancient and ever returning question.

The Book of Job is probably a late part of the Old Testament. It deals
with problems which indicate some advance in religious thought. Solemn
and magnificent, and for the most part sad; it is like a Titan
struggling with large problems, and seldom attaining to positive
conclusions in which the heart or the head can rest in peace. Here all
Job's mind is clouded with a doubt. He has just given utterance to an
intense longing for a life beyond the grave. His abode in Sheol is
thought of as in some sense a breach in the continuity of his
consciousness, but even that would be tolerable, if only he could be
sure that, after many days, God would remember him. Then that longing
gives way before the torturing question of the text, which dashes
aside the tremulous hope with its insistent interrogation. It is not
denial, but it is a doubt which palsies hope. But though he has no
certainty, he cannot part with the possibility, and so goes on to
imagine how blessed it would be if his longing were fulfilled. He
thinks that such a renewed life would be like the 'release' of a
sentry who had long stood on guard; he thinks of it as his swift,
joyous 'answer' to God's summons, which would draw him out from the
sad crowd of pale shadows and bring him back to warmth and reality.
His hope takes a more daring flight still, and he thinks of God as
yearning for His creature, as His creature yearns for Him, and having
'a desire to the work of His hands,' as if His heaven would be
incomplete without His servant. But the rapture and the vision pass,
and the rest of the chapter is all clouded over, and the devout hope
loses its light. Once again it gathers brightness in the twenty-first
chapter, where the possibility flashes out starlike, that 'after my
skin hath been thus destroyed, yet from my flesh shall I see God.'

These fluctuations of hope and doubt reveal to us the attitude of
devout souls in Israel at a late era of the national life. And if they
show us their high-water mark, we need not suppose that similar souls
outside the Old Testament circle had solid certainty where these had
but a variable hope. We know how large a development the doctrine of a
future life had in Assyria and in Egypt, and I suppose we are entitled
to say that men have always had the idea of a future. They have always
had the thought, sometimes as a fear, sometimes as a hope, but never
as a certainty. It has lacked not only certainty but distinctness. It
has lacked solidity also, the power to hold its own and sustain itself
against the weighty pressure of intrusive things seen and temporal.

But we need not go to the ends of the earth or to past generations for
examples of a doubting, superficial hold of the truth that man lives
through death and after it. We have only to look around us, and, alas!
we have only to look within us. This age is asking the question again,
and answering it in many tones, sometimes of indifferent disregard,
sometimes flaunting a stark negative without reasoned foundation,
sometimes with affirmatives with as little reason as these negatives.
The modern world is caught in the rush and whirl of life, has its own
sorrows to front, its own battles to fight, and large sections of it
have never come as near an answer to Job's question as Job did.

II. Christ's all-sufficing answer.

He gave it there, by the grave of Lazarus, to that weeping sister, but
He spoke these great words of calm assurance to all the world. One
cannot but note the difference between His attitude in the presence of
the great Mystery and that of all other teachers. How calmly,
certainly, and confidently He speaks!

Mark that Jesus, even at that hour of agony, turns Martha's thoughts
to Himself. What He is is the all-important thing for her to know. If
she understands Him, life and death will have no insoluble problems
nor any hopelessness for her. 'I am the Resurrection and the Life.'
She had risen in her grief to a lofty height in believing that 'even
now'--at this moment when help is vain and hope is dead--'whatsoever
thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee,' but Jesus offers to her
a loftier conception of Him when He lays a sovereign hand on
resurrection and life, and discloses that both inhere in Him, and from
Him flow to all who shall possess them. He claims to have in Himself
the fountain of life, in all possible senses of the word, as well as
in the special sense relevant at that sad hour. Further, He tells
Martha that by faith in Him any and all may possess that life. And
then He majestically goes on to declare that the life which He gives
is immune from, and untouched by, death. The believer shall live
though he dies, the living believer shall never die. It is clear that,
in these two great statements, to die is used in two different
meanings, referring in the former case to the physical fact, and in
the latter carrying a heavier weight of significance, namely the
pregnant sense which it usually has in this Gospel, of separation from
God and consequently from the true life of the soul. Physical death is
not the termination of human life. The grim fact touches only the
surface life, and has nothing to do with the essential, personal
being. He that believes on Jesus, and he only, truly lives, and his
union with Jesus secures his possession of that eternal life, which
victoriously persists through the apparent, superficial change which
men call death. Nothing dies but the death which surrounds the
faithful soul. For it to die is to live more fully, more triumphantly,
more blessedly. So though the act of physical death remains, its whole
character is changed. Hence the New Testament euphemisms for death are
much more than euphemisms. Men christen it by names which drape its
ugliness, because they fear it so much, but Faith can play with
Leviathan, because it fears it not at all. Hence such names as
'sleep,' 'exodus,' are tokens of the victory won for all believers by
Jesus. He will show Martha the hope for all His followers which begins
to dawn even in the calling of her brother back from the grip of
death. And He shows us the great truth that His being the 'Life'
necessarily involved His being also the 'Resurrection,' for His
life-communicating work could not be accomplished till His
all-quickening vitality had flowed over into, and flooded with its own
conquering tides, not only the spirit which believes but its humble
companion, the soul, and its yet humbler, the body. A bodily life is
essential to perfect manhood, and Jesus will not stay His hand till
every believer is full-summed in all his powers, and is perfect in
body, soul, and spirit, after the image of Him who redeemed Him.

III. The pledge for the truth of the answer.

The words of Jesus are only words. These precious words, spoken to
that one weeping sister in a little Jewish village, and which have
brought hope to millions ever since, are as baseless as all the other
dreams and longings of the heart, unless Jesus confirms them by fact.
If He did not rise from the dead, they are but another of the noble,
exalted, but futile delusions of which the world has many others. If
Christ be not risen, His words of consolation are swelling words of
emptiness; His whole claims are ended, and the age-old question which
Job asked is unanswered still, and will always remain unanswered. If
Christ be not risen, the hopeless colloquy between Jehovah and the
prophet sums up all that can be said of the future life: 'Son of man,
can these bones live?' And I answered, 'O Lord God, Thou knowest!'

But Christ's resurrection is a fact which, taken in connection with
His words while on earth, endorses these and establishes His claims to
be the Declarer of the name of God, the Saviour of the world. It gives
us demonstration of the continuity of life through and after death.
Taken along with His ascension, which is but, so to speak, the
prolongation of the point into a line, it declares that a glorified
body and an abode in a heavenly home are waiting for all who by faith
become here partakers in Jesus and are quickened by sharing in His
life.

So in despite of sense and doubt and fear, notwithstanding teachers
who, like the supercilious philosophers on Mars Hill, mock when they
hear of a resurrection from the dead, we should rejoice in the great
light which has shined into the region of the shadow of death, we
should clasp His divine and most faithful answer to that old,
despairing question, as the anchor of our souls, and lift up our
hearts in thanksgiving in the triumphant challenge, 'O death! where is
thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?'



KNOWLEDGE AND PEACE

'Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall
come unto thee.'--JOB xxii. 21.


In the sense in which the speaker meant them, these words are not
true. They mean little more than 'It pays to be religious.' What kind
of notion of acquaintance with God Eliphaz may have had, one scarcely
knows, but at any rate, the whole meaning of the text on his lips is
poor and selfish.

The peace promised is evidently only outward tranquillity and freedom
from trouble, and the good that is to come to Job is plainly mere
worldly prosperity. This strain of thought is expressed even more
clearly in that extraordinary bit of bathos, which with solemn irony
the great dramatist who wrote this book makes this Eliphaz utter
immediately after the text, 'The Almighty shall be thy defence
and--thou shalt have plenty of silver!' It has not been left for
commercial Englishmen to recommend religion on the ground that it
produces successful merchants and makes the best of both worlds.

These friends of Job's all err in believing that suffering is always
and only the measure of sin, and that you can tell a man's great guilt
by observing his great sorrows. And so they have two main subjects on
which they preach at their poor friend, pouring vitriol into his
wounds: first, how wicked he must be to be so haunted by sorrows;
second, how surely he will be delivered if he will only be religious
after their pattern, that is, speak platitudes of conventional
devotion and say, I submit.

This is the meaning of our text as it stands. But we may surely find a
higher sense in which it is true and take that to heart.

I. What is acquainting oneself with God?

The first thing to note is that this acquaintance depends on us. So
then there must have been a previous objective manifestation on His
part. Of course there must be a God to know, and there must be a way
of knowing Him. For us Jesus Christ is the Revealer. What men know of
God apart from Him is dim, shadowy, indistinct; it lacks certainty,
and so is not knowledge. I venture to say that there is nothing
between cultivated men and the loss of certain knowledge of God and
conviction of His Being, but the historical revelation of Jesus
Christ. The Christ reveals the inmost character of God, and that not
in words but in deeds. Without Him no man knows God; 'No man knoweth
the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.'

So then the objective revelation having been made, we must on our part
embrace that revelation as ours. The act of so accepting begins with
the familiar act of faith, which includes both an exercise of the
understanding, as it embraces the facts of Christ's revelation of the
Father, and of the will as it casts itself upon and submits to Him.
But that exercise of faith is but the point which has to be drawn out
into a golden line, woven into the whole length of a life. And it is
in the continuity of that line that the average Christian so sadly
fails, and because of that failure his acquaintance with God is so
distant. How little time or thought we give to the character of God as
revealed in Jesus Christ! We must be on intimate terms with Him. To
know God, as to know a man, we must 'live with' Him, must summer and
winter with Him, must bring Him into the pettinesses of daily life,
must let our love set to Him, must be in sympathy with Him, our wills
being tuned to make harmony with His, our whole nature being in accord
with His. That is work more than enough for a lifetime, enough to task
it, enough to bless it.

II. The peace of acquaintance with God.

Eliphaz meant nothing more than mere earthly tranquillity and
exemption from trouble, but his words are true in a far loftier
region.

Knowledge of God as He really is brings peace, because His heart is
full of love. We do but need to know the actual state of the heart of
God towards us to be lapped and folded in peace that nothing outside
of God and ourselves can destroy. If we lived under the constant
benediction of the deepest truth in the universe, 'God is love,' our
peace would be full. That is enough, if we believe it to bring peace.
The thought of God which alarms and terrifies cannot be a true
thought. But, alas! in proportion as we know ourselves, it becomes
difficult to believe that God is love. The stings of conscience hiss
prophecies to us of that in God which cannot but be antagonistic to
that in us which conscience condemns. Only when our thought of God is
drawn from the revelation of Him in Jesus Christ, does it become
possible for any man to grasp in one act of his consciousness the
conviction, I am a sinner, and the conquering conviction, God is Love,
and only Love to me. So the old exhortation, 'Acquaint thyself with
God and be at peace,' comes to be in Christian language: 'Behold God
in Jesus, and thou shalt possess the peace of God to keep thy heart
and mind.'

Knowledge of God gives peace, because in it we find the satisfaction
of our whole nature. Thereby we are freed from the unrest of
tumultuous passions and storms of self-will. The internecine war
between the better and the worse selves within ceases to rage, and
when we have become God's friends, that in us which is meant to rule
rules, and that in us which is meant to serve serves, and the inner
kingdom is no longer torn asunder but is harmonised with itself.

Knowledge of God brings peace amid all changes, for he who has God for
his continual Companion draws little of his supplies from without, and
can be tranquil when the seas roar and are troubled and the mountains
are cast into the midst of the sea. He bears all his treasures with
him, and need fear no loss of any real good. And at last the angel of
peace will lead us through the momentary darkness and guide us, after
a passing shadow on our path, into 'the land of peace wherein we
trusted,' while yet in the land of warfare. Jesus still whispers the
ancient salutation with which He greeted the company in the upper room
on the evening of the day of resurrection, as He comes to His servants
here, and it will be His welcome to them when He receives them above.

III. The true good from acquaintance with God.

As we have already said, Eliphaz was only thinking, on Old Testament
lines, that prosperity in material things was the theocratic reward of
allegiance to Jehovah. He was rubbing vitriol into Job's sores, and
avowedly regarding him as a fear-inspiring instance of the converse
principle. But we have a better meaning breathed into his words, since
Jesus has taught us what is the true good for a man all the days of
his life. Acquaintance with God is, not merely procures, good. To know
Him, to clasp Him to our hearts as our Friend, our Infinite Lover, our
Source of all peace and joy, to mould our wills to His and let Him
dominate our whole selves, to seek our wellbeing in Him alone--what
else or more can a soul need to be filled with all good? Acquaintance
with God brings Him in all His sufficiency to inhabit else empty
hearts. It changes the worst, according to the judgment of sense, into
the best, transforming sorrow into loving discipline, interpreting its
meaning, fitting us to 'bear it, and securing to us its blessings. To
him that is a friend of God,

  'All is right that seems most wrong
  If it be His sweet will.'

To be acquainted with God is the quintessence of good. 'This is life
eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou
hast sent.'



WHAT LIFE MAY BE MADE

'For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift
up thy face unto God. 27. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto Him, and He
shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows. 28. Thou shalt also
decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light
shall shine upon thy ways. 29. When men are cast down, then thou shalt
say, ... lifting up; and He shall save the humble person.'--JOB xxii.
26-29.


These words are a fragment of one of the speeches of Job's friends, in
which the speaker has been harping on the old theme that affliction is
the consequence and evidence of sin. He has much ado to square his
theory with facts, and especially with the fact which brought him to
Job's dunghill. But he gets over the difficulty by the simple method
of assuming that, since his theory must be true, there must be unknown
facts which vindicate it in Job's case; and since affliction is a sign
of sin, Job's afflictions are proof that he has been a sinner. So he
charges him with grossest crimes, without a shadow of other reason;
and after having poured this oil of vitriol into his wounds by way of
consolation, he advises him to be good, on the decidedly low and
selfish ground that it will pay.

His often-quoted exhortation, 'Acquaint thyself with God, and be at
peace: thereby good shall come unto thee,' is, in his meaning of it,
an undisguised appeal to purely selfish considerations, and its
promise is not in accordance with facts. Whether that saying is noble
and true or ignoble and false, depends on the meanings attached to
'peace' and 'good.' A similar flaw mars the words of our text, as
understood by the speaker. But they can be raised to a higher level
than that on which he placed them, and regarded as describing the
sweet and wonderful prerogatives of the devout life. So understood,
they may rebuke and stimulate and encourage us to make our lives
conformed to the ideal here.

I. I note, first, that life may be full of delight and confidence in
God.

'Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Almighty, and shalt lift up
thy face unto God.' Now when we 'delight' in a thing or a person, we
recognise that that thing, or person, fits into a cleft in our hearts,
and corresponds to some need in our natures. We not only recognise its
good, sweetness, and adaptation to ourselves, but we actually possess
in real fruition the sweetness that we recognise, and the good which
we apprehend in it. And so these things, the recognition of the
supreme sweetness and all-perfect adaptation and sufficiency of God to
all that I need; the suppression of tastes and desires which may
conflict with that sweetness, and the actual enjoyment and fruition of
the sweetness and preciousness which I apprehend--these things are the
very heart of a man's religion. Without delight in God, there is no
real religion.

The bulk of men are so sunken and embruted in animal tastes and
sensuous desires and fleeting delights, that they have no care for the
pure and calm joys which come to those who live near God. But above
these stand the men, of whom there are a good many amongst us, whose
religion is a matter of fear or of duty or of effort. And above them
there stand the men who serve because they trust God, but whose
religion is seeking rather than finding, and either from deficient
consecration or from false conceptions of Him and of their relation to
Him, is overshadowed by an unnatural and unwholesome gloom. And all
these kinds of religion, the religion of fear, of duty, of effort, of
seeking, and of doubt fighting with faith, are at the best wofully
imperfect, and are, some of them, radically erroneous types of the
religious life. He is the truly devout man who not only knows God to
be great and holy, but feels Him to be sweet and sufficient; who not
only fears, but loves; who not only seeks and longs, but possesses;
or, in one word, true religion is delighting in God.

So herein is supplied a very sharp test for us. Do our tastes and
inclinations set towards Him, and is He better to us than anything
beside? Is God to me my dearest faith, the very home of my heart, to
which I instinctively turn? Is the brightness of my day the light of
His face? Is He the gladness of my joy? Is my Christianity a
mill-horse round of service that I am not glad to render? Do I worship
because I think it is duty, and are my prayers compulsory and
mechanical; or do I worship because my heart goes out to Him? And is
my life calm and sweet because I 'delight in the Lord'?

The next words of my text will help us to answer. 'Thou shalt lift up
thy face unto God.' That is a clear enough metaphor to express frank
confidence of approach to Him. The head hangs down in the
consciousness of demerit and sin. 'Mine iniquities have taken hold
upon me,' wailed the Psalmist, 'so that I am not able to look up.' But
it is possible for men to go into God's presence with a sense of
peace, and to hold up their heads before their Judge and look Him in
the eyes and not be afraid. And unless we have that confidence in Him,
not because of our merits, but because of His certain love, there will
be no 'delight in the Lord.' And there will be no such confidence in
Him unless we have 'access with confidence by faith' in that Christ
who has taken away our sins, and prepared the way for us into the
Father's presence, and by whose death and sacrifice, and by it alone,
we sinful men, with open face and uplifted foreheads, can stand to
receive upon our visage the full beams of His light, and expatiate and
be glad therein. There is no religion worth naming, of which the
inmost characteristic is not delight in God. There is no 'delighting
in God' possible for sinful men unless they can come to Him with frank
confidence, and there is no such confidence possible for us unless we
apprehend by faith, and thereby make our own, the great work of Jesus
Christ our Lord.

II. So, secondly, note, such a life of delighting in God will be
blessed by the frankest intercourse with Him.

'Thou shalt make thy prayer unto Him, and He shall hear thee, and thou
shalt pay thy vows.' These are three stages of this blessed communion
that is possible for men. And note, prayer is not regarded in this
aspect as duty, nor is it even dwelt upon as privilege, but as being
the natural outcome and issue of that delighting in God and confident
access to Him which have preceded. That is to say, if a man really has
set his heart on God, and knows that in Him is all that he needs,
then, of course, he will tell Him everything. As surely as the
sunshine draws out the odours from the opening petals of the flowers,
will the warmth of the felt divine light and love draw from our hearts
the sweet confidence, which it is impossible not to give to Him in
whom we delight.

If you have to be driven to prayer by a sense of duty, and if there be
no impulse in your heart whispering ever to you, 'Tell your Love about
it!' you have much need to examine into the reality, and certainly
into the depth of your religion. For as surely as instinctive impulse,
which needs no spurring from conscience or will, leads us to breathe
our confidences to those that we love best, and makes us restless
whilst we have a secret hid from them, so surely will a true love to
God make it the most natural thing in the world to put all our
circumstances, wants, and feeling into the shape of prayers. They may
be in briefest words. They may scarcely be vocalised at all, but there
will be, if there be a true love to Him, an instinctive turning to Him
in every circumstance; and the single-worded cry, if it be no more,
for help is sufficient. The arrow may be shot towards Heaven, though
it be but slender and short, and it will reach its goal.

For my text goes on to the second stage, 'He shall hear thee.' That
was not true as Eliphaz meant it. But it is true if we remember the
preceding conditions. The fundamental passage, which I suppose
underlies part, at least, of our text, is that great word in the
psalm, 'Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the
desires of thine heart.' Does that mean that if a man loves God he may
get everything he wants? Yes! and No! If it is supposed to mean that
our religion is a kind of key to God's storehouse, enabling us to go
in there and rifle it at our pleasure, then it is not true; if it
means that a man who delights himself in God will have his supreme
desire set upon God, and so will be sure to get it, then it is true.
Fulfil the conditions and you are sure of the promise. If our prayer
in its deepest essence be 'Not my will, but Thine,' it will be
answered. When the desires of our heart are for God, and for
conformity to His will, as they will be when we 'delight ourselves in
Him,' then we get our heart's desires. There is no promise of our
being able to impose our wills upon God, which would be a calamity,
and not a blessing, but a promise that they who make Him their joy and
their desire will never be defrauded of their desire nor robbed of
their joy.

And so the third stage of this frank intercourse comes. 'Thou shalt
pay thy vows.' All life may become a thank-offering to God for the
benefits that have flowed unceasing from His hands. First a prayer,
then the answer, then the rendered thank-offering. Thus, in swift
alternation and reciprocity, is carried on the commerce between Heaven
and earth, between man and God. The desires rise to Heaven, but Heaven
comes down to earth first; and prayer is not the initial stage, but
the second, in the process. God first gives His promise, and the best
prayer is the catching up of God's promise and tossing it back again
whence it came. Then comes the second downward motion, which is the
answer to prayer, in blessing, and on it follows, finally, the
reflection upwards, in thankful surrender and service, of the love
that has descended on us, in answer to our desires. So like sunbeams
from a mirror, or heat from polished metal, backwards and forwards, in
continual alternation and reciprocation of influence and of love,
flash and travel bright gleams between the soul and God. 'Truth
springs out of the earth, and righteousness looks down from Heaven.
Our God shall give that which is good, and the earth shall yield her
increase.' Is there any other life of which such alternation is the
privilege and the joy?

III. Then thirdly, such a life will neither know failure nor darkness.

'Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto
thee, and the light shall shine upon thy ways.' Then is my will to be
omnipotent, and am I to be delivered from the experiences of
disappointments and failures and frustrated plans that are common to
all humanity, and an essential part of its discipline, because I am a
Christian man? Eliphaz may have meant that, but we know something far
nobler. Again, I say, remember the conditions precedent. First of all,
there must be the delight in God, and the desire towards Him, the
submission of the will to Him, and the waiting before Him for
guidance. I decree a thing--if I am a true Christian, and in the
measure in which I am--only when I am quite sure that God has decreed
it. And it is only His decrees, registered in the chancery of my will,
of which I may be certain that they shall be established. There will
be no failures to the man whose life's purpose is to serve God, and to
grow like Him; but if our purpose is anything less than that, or if we
go arbitrarily and self-willedly resolving and saying, 'Thus I will;
thus I command; let my will stand instead of all reason,' we shall
have our contemptuous 'decrees' disestablished many a time. If we run
our heads against stone walls in that fashion, the walls will stand,
and our heads will be broken. To serve Him and to fall into the line
of His purpose, and to determine nothing, nor obstinately want
anything until we are sure that it is His will--that is the secret of
never failing in what we undertake.

We must understand a little more deeply than we are apt to do what is
meant by 'success,' before we predict unfailing success for any man.
But if we have obeyed the commandment from the psalm already quoted,
which may be again alluded to in the words of my text--'Commit thy way
unto the Lord; trust also in Him'--we shall inherit the ancient
promise, 'and He shall bring it to pass.' 'All things work together
for good to them that love God,' and in the measure of our love to Him
are our discernment and realisation of what is truly good. Religion
gives no screen to keep the weather off us, but it gives us an insight
into the truth that storms and rain are good for the only crop that is
worth growing here. If we understand what we are here for, we shall be
very slow to call sorrow evil, and to crown joy with the exclusive
title of blessing and good; and we shall have a deeper canon of
interpretation for the words of my text than he who is represented as
speaking them ever dreamed of.

So with the promise of light to shine upon our paths. It is 'the light
which never was on sea or land,' and not the material light which
sense-bound eyes can see. That may all go. But if we have God in our
hearts, there will be a light upon our way 'which knows no
variableness, neither shadow of turning.' The Arctic winter, sunless
though it be, has a bright heaven radiant with myriad stars, and
flashing with strange lights born of no material or visible orb. And
so you and I, if we delight ourselves 'in the Lord,' will have an
unsetting sun to light our paths; 'and at eventide,' and in the
mirkest midnight, 'there will be light' in the darkness.

IV. Lastly, such a life will be always hopeful, and finally crowned
with deliverance.

'When they'--that is, the ways that he has been speaking about--'when
they are cast down, thou shalt say, Lifting up.' That is an
exclamation or a prayer, and we might simply render, 'thou shalt say,
Up!' Even in so blessed a life as has been described, times will come
when the path plunges downwards into some 'valley of the shadow of
death.' But even then the traveller will bate no jot of hope. He will
in his heart say 'Up!' even while sense says 'Down!' either as
expressing indomitable confidence and good cheer in the face of
depressing circumstances, or as pouring out a prayer to Him who 'has
showed him great and sore troubles' that He would 'bring him up again
from the depths of the earth.' The devout life is largely independent
of circumstances, and is upheld and calmed by a quiet certainty that
the general trend of its path is upward, which enables it to trudge
hopefully down an occasional dip in the road.

Such an obstinate hopefulness and cheery confidence are the natural
result of the experiences already described in the text. If we delight
in God, hold communion with Him and have known Him as answering
prayer, prospering our purposes and illuminating our paths, how shall
we not hope? Nothing need depress nor perturb those whose joys and
treasures are safe above the region of change and loss. If our riches
are there where neither moth, rust, nor thieves can reach, our hearts
will be there also, and an inward voice will keep singing, 'Lift up
your heart.' It is the prerogative of experience to light up the
future. It is the privilege of Christian experience to make hope
certainty. If we live the life outlined in these verses we shall be
able to bring June into December, and feel the future warmth whilst
our bones are chilled with the present cold. 'When the paths are made
low, thou shalt say, Up!'

And the end will vindicate such confidence. For the issue of all will
be, 'He will save the humble person'; namely, the man who is of the
character described, and who is 'lowly of eyes' in conscious
unworthiness, even while he lifts up his face to God in confidence in
his Father's love. The 'saving' meant here is, of course, temporary
and temporal deliverance from passing outward peril. But we may
permissibly give it wider and deeper meaning. Continuous partial
deliverances lead on to and bring about final full salvation.

We read that into the words, of course. But nothing less than a
complete and conclusive deliverance can be the legitimate end of the
experience of the Christian life here. Absurdity can no further go
than to suppose that a soul which has delighted itself in God, and
looked in His face with frank confidence, and poured out his desires
to Him, and been the recipient of numberless answers, and the seat of
numberless thank-offerings, has travelled along life's common way in
cheerful godliness, has had the light of heaven shining on the path,
and has found an immortal hope springing as the natural result of
present experience, shall at the last be frustrated of all, and lie
down in unconscious sleep, which is nothingness. If that were the end
of a Christian life, then 'the pillared firmament were rottenness, and
earth's base built on stubble.' No, no! A heaven of endless
blessedness and close communion with God is the only possible ending
to the facts of the devout life on earth.

We have such a life offered to us all and made possible through faith
in Jesus Christ, in whom we may delight ourselves in the Lord, by whom
we have 'access with confidence,' who is Himself the light of our
hope, the answer of our prayers, the joy of our hearts, and who will
'deliver us from every evil work' as we travel along the road; 'and
save us' at last 'into His heavenly kingdom,' where we shall be joined
to the Delight of our souls, and drink for evermore of the fountain of
life.



'THE END OF THE LORD'

'Then Job answered the Lord, and said, 2. I know that Thou canst do
every thing, and that no thought can he withholden from Thee. 3. Who
is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered
that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
4. Hear, I beseech Thee, and I will speak: I will demand of Thee, and
declare Thou unto me. 5. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the
ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. 6. Wherefore I abhor myself, and
repent in dust and ashes. 7. And it was so, that after the Lord had
spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My
wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye
have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath.
8. Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go
to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and
My servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal
with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of Me the thing
which is right, like My servant Job. 9. So Eliphaz the Temanite and
Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did according
as the Lord commanded them: the Lord also accepted Job. 10. And the
Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also
the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.'--JOB xlii. 1-10.


The close of the Book of Job must be taken in connection with its
prologue, in order to get the full view of its solution of the mystery
of pain and suffering. Indeed the prologue is more completely the
solution than the ending is; for it shows the purpose of Job's trials
as being, not his punishment, but his testing. The whole theory that
individual sorrows were the result of individual sins, in the support
of which Job's friends poured out so many eloquent and heartless
commonplaces, is discredited from the beginning. The magnificent
prologue shows the source and purpose of sorrow. The epilogue in this
last chapter shows the effect of it in a good man's character, and
afterwards in his life.

So we have the grim thing lighted up, as it were, at the two ends.
Suffering comes with the mission of trying what stuff a man is made
of, and it leads to closer knowledge of God, which is blessed; to
lowlier self-estimation, which is also blessed; and to renewed outward
blessings, which hide the old scars and gladden the tortured heart.

Job's final word to God is in beautiful contrast with much of his
former unmeasured utterances. It breathes lowliness, submission, and
contented acquiescence in a providence partially understood. It does
not put into Job's mouth a solution of the problem, but shows how its
pressure is lightened by getting closer to God. Each verse presents a
distinct element of thought and feeling.

First comes, remarkably enough, not what might have been expected,
namely, a recognition of God's righteousness, which had been the
attribute impugned by Job's hasty words, but of His omnipotence. God
'can do everything,' and none of His 'thoughts' or purposes can be
'restrained' (Rev. Ver.). There had been frequent recognitions of that
attribute in the earlier speeches, but these had lacked the element of
submission, and been complaint rather than adoration. Now, the same
conviction has different companions in Job's mind, and so has
different effects, and is really different in itself. The Titan on his
rock, with the vulture tearing at his liver, sullenly recognised
Jove's power, but was a rebel still. Such had been Job's earlier
attitude, but now that thought comes to him along with submission, and
so is blessed. Its recurrence here, as in a very real sense a new
conviction, teaches us how old beliefs may flash out into new
significance when seen from a fresh point of view, and how the very
same thought of God may be an argument for arraigning and for
vindicating His providence.

The prominence given, both in the magnificent chapters in which God
answers Job out of the whirlwind and in this final confession, to
power instead of goodness, rests upon the unspoken principle that 'the
divine nature is not a segment, but a circle. Any one divine attribute
implies all others. Omnipotence cannot exist apart from righteousness'
(Davidson's _Job_, Cambridge Bible for Schools). A mere naked
omnipotence is not God. If we rightly understand His power, we can
rest upon it as a Hand sustaining, not crushing, us. 'He doeth all
things well' is a conviction as closely connected with 'I know that
Thou canst do all things' as light is with heat.

The second step in Job's confession is the acknowledgment of the
incompleteness of his and all men's materials and capacities for
judging God's providence. Verse 3 begins with quoting God's rebuke
(Job xxxviii 2). It had cut deep, and now Job makes it his own
confession. We should thus appropriate as our own God's merciful
indictments, and when He asks, 'Who is it?' should answer with
lowliness, 'Lord, it is I.' Job had been a critic; he is a worshipper.
He had tried to fathom the bottomless, and been angry because his
short measuring-line had not reached the depths. But now he
acknowledges that he had been talking about what passed his
comprehension, and also that his words had been foolish in their
rashness.

Is then the solution of the whole only that old commonplace of the
unsearchableness of the divine judgments? Not altogether; for the
prologue gives, if not a complete, yet a real, key to them. But still,
after all partial solutions, there remains the inscrutable element in
them. The mystery of pain and suffering is still a mystery; and while
general principles, taught us even more clearly in the New Testament
than in this book, do lighten the 'weight of all this unintelligible
world,' we have still to take Job's language as the last word on the
matter, and say, 'How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways
past finding out!'

For individuals, and on the wider field of the world, God's way is in
the sea; but that does not bewilder those who also know that it is
also in the sanctuary. Job's confession as to his rash speeches is the
best estimate of many elaborate attempts to 'vindicate the ways of God
to man.' It is better to trust than to criticise, better to wait than
to seek prematurely to understand.

Verse 4, like verse 3, quotes the words of God (Job xxxviii. 3; xl.
7). They yield a good meaning, if regarded as a repetition of God's
challenge, for the purpose of disclaiming any such presumptuous
contest. But they are perhaps better understood as expressing Job's
longing, in his new condition of humility, for fuller light, and his
new recognition of the way to pierce to a deeper understanding of the
mystery, by illumination from God granted in answer to his prayer. He
had tried to solve his problem by much, and sometimes barely reverent,
thinking. He had racked brain and heart in the effort, but he has
learned a more excellent way, as the Psalmist had, who said, 'When I
thought, in order to know this, it was too painful for me, until I
went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I.' Prayer will do
more for clearing mysteries than speculation, however acute, and it
will change the aspect of the mysteries which it does not clear from
being awful to being solemn--veils covering depths of love, not clouds
obscuring the sun.

The centre of all Job's confession is in verse 5, which contrasts his
former and present knowledge of God, as being mere hearsay before, and
eyesight now. A clearer understanding, but still more, a sense of His
nearness, and an acquaintance at first hand, are implied in the bold
words, which must not be interpreted of any outward revelation to
sense, but of the direct, full, thrilling consciousness of God which
makes all men's words about Him seem poor. That change was the master
transformation in Job's case, as it is for us all. Get closer to God,
realise His presence, live beneath His eye and with your eyes fixed on
Him, and ancient puzzles will puzzle no longer, and wounds will cease
to smart, and instead of angry expostulation or bewildered attempts at
construing His dealings, there will come submission, and with
submission, peace.

The cure for questionings of His providence is experience of His
nearness, and blessedness therein. Things that loomed large dwindle,
and dangers melt away. The landscape is the same in shadow and
sunshine; but when the sun comes out, even snow and ice sparkle, and
tender beauty starts into visibility in grim things. So, if we see
God, the black places of life are lighted; and we cease to feel the
pressure of many difficulties of speculation and practice, both as
regards His general providence and His revelation in law and gospel.

The end of the whole matter is Job's retractation of his words and his
repentance. 'I abhor' has no object expressed, and is better taken as
referring to the previous speeches than to 'myself.' He means thereby
to withdraw them all. The next clause, 'I repent in dust and ashes,'
carries the confession a step farther. He recognises guilt in his rash
speeches, and bows before his God confessing his sin. Where are his
assertions of innocence gone? One sight of God has scattered them, as
it ever does. A man who has learned his own sinfulness will find few
difficulties and no occasions for complaint in God's dealings with
him. If we would see aright the meaning of our sorrows, we must look
at them on our knees. Get near to God in heart-knowledge of Him, and
that will teach our sinfulness, and the two knowledges will combine to
explain much of the meaning of sorrow, and to make the unexplained
residue not hard to endure.

The epilogue in prose which follows Job's confession, tells of the
divine estimate of the three friends, of Job's sacrifice for them, and
of his renewed outward prosperity. The men who had tried to vindicate
God's righteousness are charged with not having spoken that which is
right; the man who has passionately impugned it is declared to have
thus spoken. No doubt, Eliphaz and his colleagues had said a great
many most excellent, pious things, and Job as many wild and untrue
ones. But their foundation principle was not a true representation of
God's providence, since it was the uniform connection of sin with
sorrow, and the accurate proportion which these bore to each other.

Job, on the other hand, had spoken truth in his denials of these
principles, and in his longings to have the righteousness of God set
in clear relation to his own afflictions. We must remember, too, that
the friends were talking commonplaces learned by rote, while Job's
words came scalding hot from his heart. Most excellent truth may be so
spoken as to be wrong; and it is so, if spoken heartlessly, regardless
of sympathy, and flung at sufferers like a stone, rather than laid on
their hearts as a balm. God lets a true heart dare much in speech; for
He knows that the sputter and foam prove that 'the heart's deeps boil
in earnest.'

Job is put in the place of intercessor for the three--a profound
humiliation for them and an honour for him. They obeyed at once,
showing that they have learned their lesson, as well as Job his. An
incidental lesson from that final picture of the sufferer become the
priest requiting accusations with intercession, is the duty of
cherishing kind feelings and doing kind acts to those who say hard
things of us. It would be harder for some of us to offer sacrifices
for our Eliphazes than to argue with them. And yet another is that
sorrow has for one of its purposes to make the heart more tender, both
for the sorrows and the faults of others.

Note, too, that it was 'when Job prayed for his friends' that the Lord
turned his captivity. That is a proverbial expression, bearing
witness, probably, to the deep traces left by the Exodus, for
reversing calamity. The turning-point was not merely the confession,
but the act, of beneficence. So, in ministering to others, one's own
griefs may be soothed.

The restoration of outward good in double measure is not meant as the
statement of a universal law of Providence, and still less as a
solution of the problem of the book. But it is putting the truth that
sorrows, rightly borne, yield peaceable fruit at the last, in the form
appropriate to the stage of revelation which the whole book
represents; that is, one in which the doctrine of immortality, though
it sometimes rises before Job's mind as an aspiration of faith, is not
set in full light.

To us, living in the blaze of light which Jesus Christ has let into
the darkness of the future, the 'end of the Lord' is that heaven
should crown the sorrows of His children on earth. We can speak of
light, transitory affliction working out an eternal weight of glory.
The book of Job is expressing substantially the same expectation, when
it paints the calm after the storm and the restoration in double
portion of vanished blessings. Many desolate yet trusting sufferers
know how little such an issue is possible for their grief, but if they
have more of God in clearer sight of Him, they will find empty places
in their hearts and homes filled.



THE PROVERBS


A YOUNG MAN'S BEST COUNSELLOR

'The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; 2. To know
wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; 3. To
receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
4. To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and
discretion, 5. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a
man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: 6. To understand
a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their
dark sayings. 7. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge:
but fools despise wisdom and instruction. 8. My son, hear the
instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: 9.
For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about
thy neck. 10. My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. 11. If
they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily
for the innocent without cause: 12. Let us swallow them up alive as
the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: 13. We shall
find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: 14.
Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: 15. My son, walk
not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: 16.
For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. 17. (Surely
in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird:) 18. And they lay
wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. 19.
So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away
the life of the owners thereof.'--PROV. i. 1-19.


This passage contains the general introduction to the book of
Proverbs. It falls into three parts--a statement of the purpose of the
book (vs. 1-6); a summary of its foundation principles, and of the
teachings to which men ought to listen (vs. 7-9); and an antithetic
statement of the voices to which they should be deaf (vs. 10-19).

I. The aim of the book is stated to be twofold--to enable men,
especially the young, to 'know wisdom,' and to help them to 'discern
the words of understanding'; that is, to familiarise, by the study of
the book, with the characteristics of wise teachings, so that there
may be no mistaking seducing words of folly for these. These two aims
are expanded in the remaining verses, the latter of them being resumed
in verse 6, while the former occupies the other verses.

We note how emphatically the field in which this wisdom is to be
exercised is declared to be the moral conduct of life. 'Righteousness
and judgment and equity' are 'wise dealing,' and the end of true
wisdom is to practise these. The wider horizon of modern science and
speculation includes much in the notion of wisdom which has no bearing
on conduct. But the intellectual progress (and conceit) of to-day will
be none the worse for the reminder that a man may take in knowledge
till he is ignorant, and that, however enriched with science and
philosophy, if he does not practise righteousness, he is a fool.

We note also the special destination of the book--for the young.
Youth, by reason of hot blood and inexperience, needs such portable
medicines as are packed in these proverbs, many of them the
condensation into a vivid sentence of world-wide truths. There are few
better guides for a young man than this book of homely sagacity, which
is wisdom about the world without being tainted by the bad sort of
worldly wisdom. But unfortunately those who need it most relish it
least, and we have for the most part to rediscover its truths for
ourselves by our own, often bitter, experience.

We note, further, the clear statement of the way by which incipient
'wisdom' will grow, and of the certainty of its growth if it is real.
It is the 'wise man' who will 'increase in learning,' the 'man of
understanding' who 'attains unto sound counsels.' The treasures are
thrown away on him who has no heart for them. You may lavish wisdom on
the 'fool,' and it will run off him like water off a rock, fertilising
nothing, and stopping outside him.

The Bible would not have met all our needs, nor gone with us into all
regions of our experience, if it had not had this book of shrewd,
practical common-sense. Christianity is the perfection of common
sense. 'Godliness hath promise of the life which now is.' The wisdom
of the serpent, which Jesus enjoins, has none of the serpent's venom
in it. It is no sign of spirituality of mind to be above such mundane
considerations as this book urges. If we hold our heads too high to
look to our road and our feet, we are sure to fall into a pit.

II. Verses 7-9 may be regarded as a summary statement of the principle
on which the whole book is based, and of the duty which it enjoins.
The principle is that true wisdom is based on religion, and the duty
is to listen to parental instruction. 'My son,' is the address of a
teacher to his disciples, rather than of a father to his child. The
characteristic Old Testament designation of religion as 'the fear of
Jehovah' corresponds to the Old Testament revelation of Him as the
Holy One,--that is, as Him who is infinitely separated from creatural
being and limitations. Therefore is He 'to be had in reverence of all'
who would be 'about Him'; that fear of reverential awe in which no
slavish dread mingles, and which is perfectly consistent with
aspiration, trust, and love. The Old Testament reveals Him as separate
from men; the New Testament reveals Him as united to men in the divine
man, Christ Jesus. Therefore its keynote is the designation of
religion as 'the love of God'; but that name is no contradiction of
the earlier, but the completion of it.

That fear is the beginning or basis of wisdom, because wisdom is
conceived of as God's gift, and the surest way to get it is to 'ask of
God' (Jas. i. 5). Religion is, further, the foundation of wisdom,
inasmuch as irreligion is the supreme folly of creatures so dependent
on God, and so hungering after Him in the depths of their being, as we
are. In whatever directions a godless man may be wise, in the most
important matter of all, his relations to God, he is unwise, and the
epitaph for all such is 'Thou fool!'

Further, religion is the fountain of wisdom, in the sense of the word
in which this book uses it, since it opens out into principles of
action, motives, and communicated powers, which lead to right
apprehension and willing discharge of the duties of life. Godless men
may be scientists, philosophers, encyclopaedias of knowledge, but for
want of religion, they blunder in the direction of their lives, and
lack wisdom enough to keep them from wrecking the ship on the rocks.

The Israelitish parent was enjoined to teach his or her children the
law of the Lord. Here the children are enjoined to listen to the
instruction. Reverence for traditional wisdom was characteristic of
that state of society, and since a divine revelation stood at the
beginning of the nation's history, it was not unreasonable to look
back for light. Nowadays, a belief's being our fathers' is with many a
reason for not making it ours. But perhaps that is no more rational
than the blind adherence to the old with which this emancipated
generation reproaches its predecessors. Possibly there are some 'old
lamps' better than the new ones now hawked about the streets by so
many loud-voiced vendors. The youth of this day have much need of the
exhortation to listen to the 'instruction' (by which is meant, not
only teaching by word, but discipline by act) of their fathers, and to
the gentler voice of the mother telling of law in accents of love.
These precepts obeyed will be fairer ornaments than jewelled necklaces
and wreathed chaplets.

III. On one side of the young man are those who would point him to the
fear of Jehovah; on the other are seducing whispers, tempting him to
sin. That is the position in which we all stand. It is not enough to
listen to the nobler voice. We have resolutely to stop our ears to the
baser, which is often the louder. Facile yielding to the cunning
inducements which strew every path, and especially that of the young,
is fatal. If we cannot say 'No' to the base, we shall not say 'Yes' to
the noble voice. To be weak is generally to be wicked; for in this
world the tempters are more numerous, and to sense and flesh, more
potent than those who invite to good.

The example selected of such enticers is not of the kind that most of
us are in danger from. But the sort of inducements held out are in all
cases substantially the same. 'Precious substance' of one sort or
another is dangled before dazzled eyes; jovial companionship draws
young hearts. The right or wrong of the thing is not mentioned, and
even murder and robbery are presented as rather pleasant excitement,
and worth doing for the sake of what is got thereby. Are the desirable
consequences so sure? Is there no chance of being caught red-handed,
and stoned then and there, as a murderer? The tempters are discreetly
silent about that possibility, as all tempters are. Sin always
deceives, and its baits artfully hide the hook; but the cruel barb is
there, below the gay silk and coloured dressing, and it--not the false
appearance of food which lured the fish--is what sticks in the
bleeding mouth.

The teacher goes on, in verses 15 to 19, to supply the truth which the
tempters tried to ignore. He does so in three weighty sentences, which
strip the tinsel off the temptation, and show its real ugliness. The
flowery way to which they coax is a way of 'evil'; that should be
enough to settle the question. The first thing to ask about any course
is not whether it is agreeable or disagreeable, but Is it right or
wrong? Verse 17 is ambiguous, but probably the 'net' means the
tempters' speech in verses 11 to 14, and the 'bird' is the young man
supposed to be addressed. The sense will then be, 'Surely you are not
foolish enough to fly right into the meshes, and to go with your eyes
open into so transparent sin!'

Verse 18 points to the grim possibility already referred to, that the
would-be murderers will be caught and executed. But its lesson is
wider than that one case, and declares the great solemn truth that all
sin is suicide. Who ever breaks God's law slays himself.

What is true about 'covetousness,' as verse 19 tells, is true about
all kinds of sin--that it takes away the life of those who yield to
it, even though it may also fill their purses, or in other ways may
gratify their desires. Surely it is folly to pursue a course which,
however it may succeed in its immediate aims, brings real death, by
separation from God, along with it. He is not a very wise man who ties
his gold round him when the ship founders. He is not parted from his
treasure certainly, but it helps to sink him. We may get what we want
by sinning, but we get also what we did not want or reckon on--that
is, eternal death. 'This their way is their folly.' Yet, strange to
tell, their posterity 'approve their sayings,' and follow their
doings.



WISDOM'S CALL

'Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: 21. She
crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates:
in the city she uttereth her words, saying, 22. How long, ye simple
ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their
scorning, and fools hate knowledge? 23. Turn you at my reproof:
behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words
unto you. 24. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched
out my hand, and no man regarded; 25. But ye have set at nought all my
counsel, and would none of my reproof: 26. I also will laugh at your
calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; 27. When your fear cometh
as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when
distress and anguish cometh upon you. 28. Then shall they call upon
me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall
not find me: 29. For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the
fear of the Lord: 30. They would none of my counsel; they despised all
my reproof. 31. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own
way, and be filled with their own devices. 32. For the turning away of
the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy
them. 33. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall
be quiet from fear of evil.'--PROVERBS i. 20-33.


Our passage begins with a striking picture. A fair and queenly woman
stands in the crowded resorts of men, and lifts up a voice of sweet
entreaty--authoritative as well as sweet. Her name is Wisdom. The word
is in the plural in the Hebrew, as if to teach that in this serene and
lovely form all manifold wisdoms are gathered and made one. Who then
is she? It is easy to say 'a poetical personification,' but that does
not add much to our understanding. It is clear that this book means
much more by Wisdom than a human quality merely; for august and divine
attributes are given to her, and she is the co-eternal associate of
God Himself. Dwelling in His bosom, she thence comes forth to inspire
all human good deeds, to plead evermore with men, to enrich those who
listen to her with choicest gifts. Intellectual clearness, moral
goodness, religious devotion, are all combined in the idea of Wisdom
as belonging to men.

The divine source of all, and the correspondence between the human and
the divine nature, are taught in the residence of this personified
Wisdom with God before she dwelt with men. The whole of the manifold
revelations, by which God makes known any part of His will to men, are
her voice. Especially the call contained in the Old Testament
revelation is the summons of Wisdom. But whether the writer of this
book had any inkling of deeper truth still, or not, we cannot but
connect the incomplete personification of divine Wisdom here with its
complete incarnation in a Person who is 'the power of God and the
wisdom of God,' and who embodies the lineaments of the grand picture
of a Wisdom crying in the streets, even while it is true of Him that
'He does not strive nor cry, nor cause His voice to be heard in the
streets'; for the crying, which is denied to be His, is ostentatious
and noisy, and the crying which is asserted to be hers is the plain,
clear, universal appeal of divine love as well as wisdom. The light of
Christ 'lighteth every man that cometh into the world.'

The call of Wisdom in this passage begins with remonstrance and plain
speech, giving their right names to men who neglect her voice. The
first step in delivering men from evil--that is, from foolish--courses
is to put very clearly before them the true character of their acts,
and still more of their inclinations. Gracious offers and rich
promises come after; but the initial message of Wisdom to such men as
we are must be the accusation of folly. 'When she is come, she will
convict the world of sin.'

The three designations of men in verse 22 are probably arranged so as
to make a climax. First come 'the simple,' or, as the word means,
'open.' There is a _sancta simplicitas_, a holy ignorance of
evil, which is sister to the highest wisdom. It is well to be ignorant
as well as 'innocent of much transgression'; and there is no more
mistaken and usually insincere excuse for going into foul places than
the plea that it is best to know the evil and so choose the good. That
knowledge comes surely and soon enough without our seeking it. But
there is a fatal simplicity, open-eared, like Eve, to the Tempter's
whisper, which believes the false promises of sin, and as Bunyan has
taught us, is companion of sloth and presumption.

Next come 'scorners,' who mock at good. A man must have gone a long
way down hill before he begins to gibe at virtue and godliness. But
the descent is steep, though the distance is long; and the 'simple'
who begins to do what is wrong will come to sneer at what is right.

Then last comes the 'fool,' the name which, in Proverbs, is shorthand
for mental stupidity, moral obstinacy, and dogged godlessness,--a foul
compound, but one which is realised oftener than we think. A great
many very superior intellects, cultivated ladies and gentlemen,
university graduates, and the like, would be unceremoniously set down
by divine wisdom as fools; and surely if account is taken of the whole
compass and duration of our being, and of all our relations to things
and persons seen and unseen, nothing can be more stupid than
godlessness, however cultured. The word literally means coarse or
thick, and may suggest the idea of stolid insensibility as the last
stage in the downward progress.

But note that the charge is directed, not against deeds, but
dispositions. Perverted love and perverted hatred underlie acts. The
simple love simplicity, preferring to be unwarned against evil; the
scorner finds delight in letting his rank tongue blossom into speech;
and the false direction given to love gives a fatal twist to its
corresponding hate, so that the fool detests 'knowledge' as a thief
the policeman's lantern. You cannot love what you should loathe,
without loathing what you should love. Inner longings and revulsions
settle character and acts.

Verse 23 passes into entreaty; for it is vain to rouse conscience by
plain speech, unless something is offered to make better life
possible. The divine Wisdom comes with a rod, but also with gifts; but
if the rod is kissed, the rewards are possessed. The relation of
clauses in verse 23 is that the first is the condition of the
fulfilment of the second and third. If we turn at her reproof, two
great gifts will be bestowed. Her spirit within will make us quick to
hear and receive her words sounding without. Whatever other good
follows on yielding to the call of divine Wisdom (and the remaining
early chapters of Proverbs magnificently detail the many rich gifts
that do follow), chief of all are spirits swift to hear and docile to
obey her voice, and then actual communications to purged ears. Outward
revelation without prepared hearts is water spilt upon rock. Prepared
hearts without a message to them would be but multiplication of vain
longings; and God never stultifies Himself, or gives mouths without
sending meat to fill them. To the submissive spirit, there will not
lack either disposition to hear or clear utterance of His will.

But now comes a pause. Wisdom has made her offers in the crowded
streets, and amid all the noise and bustle her voice has rung out.
What is the result? Nothing. Not a head has been turned, nor an eye
lifted. The bustle goes on as before. 'They bought, they sold,' as if
no voice had spoken. So, after the disappointed waiting of Wisdom, her
voice peals out again, but this time with severity in its tones. Note
how, in verses 24 and 25, the sin of sins against the pleading Wisdom
of God is represented as being simple indifference. 'Ye refused,' 'no
man regarded,' 'set at nought,' 'would none of'--these are the things
which bring down the heavy judgments. It does not need violent
opposition or black crime to wreck a soul. Simply doing nothing when
God speaks is enough to effect destruction. There is no need to lift
up angry arms in hostility. If we keep them hanging listless by our
sides, it is sufficient. The gift escapes us, if we simply keep our
hands shut or held behind our backs. Alas, for ears which have not
heard, for seeing eyes which have not seen because they loved evil
simplicity and hated knowledge!

Then note the terrible retribution. That is an awful picture of the
mocking laughter of Wisdom, accompanying the rush of the whirlwind and
the groans of anguish and shrieks of terror. It is even more solemn
and dreadful than the parallel representations in Psalm ii., for there
the laughter indicates God's knowledge that the schemes of opponents
are vain, but here it figures pleasure in calamities. Of course it is
to be remembered that the Wisdom thus represented is not to be
identified with God; but still the imagery is startling, and needs to
be taken along with declarations that God has 'no pleasure in the
death of the sinner,' and to be interpreted as indicating, with daring
anthropomorphism, the inevitable character of the 'destruction,' and
the uselessness of appeals to the Wisdom once despised. But we
joyfully remember that the Incarnate Wisdom, fairer than the ancient
personification, wept over the city which He knew must perish.

Verses 28-31 carry on the picture of too late repentance and
inevitable retribution. They who let Wisdom cry, and paid no heed,
shall cry to her in their turn, and be unnoticed. They whom she vainly
sought shall vainly seek for her. Actions have their consequences,
which are not annihilated because the doers do not like them. Thoughts
have theirs; for the foolish not only eat of the fruit of their ways
or doings, but are filled with their own devices or counsels.
'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' That inexorable
law works, deaf to all cries, in the field of earthly life, both as
regards condition and character; and that field of its operation is
all that the writer of this book has in view. He is not denying the
possibility of forgiveness, nor the efficacy of repentance, nor is he
asserting that a penitent soul ever seeks God in vain; but he is
declaring that it is too late to cry out for deliverance from
consequences of folly when the consequences have us in their grip, and
that wishes for deliverance are vain, though sighs of repentance are
not. We cannot reap where we have not sowed. We must reap what we
have. If we are such sluggards that we will 'not plough in winter by
reason of the cold,' we shall 'beg in harvest and have nothing.'

But though the writer had probably only this life in view, Jesus
Christ has extended the teaching to the next, when He has told of
those who will seek to enter in and not be able. The experience of the
fruits of their godlessness will make godless men wish to escape
eating the fruits--and that wish shall be vain. It is not for us to
enlarge on such words, but it is for us all to lay them to heart, and
to take heed that we listen now to the beseeching call of the heavenly
Wisdom in its tenderest and noblest form, as it appeared in Christ,
the Incarnate Word.

Verses 32 and 33 generalise the preceding promises and warnings in a
great antithesis. 'The backsliding [or, turning away] of the simple
slays them.' There is allusion to Wisdom's call in verse 23. The
simple had turned, but in the wrong direction--away from and not
towards her. To turn away from heavenly Wisdom is to set one's face
toward destruction. It cannot be too earnestly reiterated that we must
make our choice of one of two directions for ourselves--either towards
God, to seek whom is life, to find whom is heaven; or away from Him,
to turn our backs on whom is to embrace unrest, and to be separate
from whom is death. 'The security of fools,' by which is meant, not
their safety, but their fancy that they are safe, 'destroys them.' No
man is in such danger as the careless man of the world who thinks that
he is all right. A traveller along the edge of a precipice in the
night, who goes on as if he walked a broad road and takes no heed to
his footing, will soon repent his rashness at the bottom, mangled and
bruised. A man who in this changing world fancies that he sits as a
king, and sees no sorrow, will have a rude wakening. A moment's heed
saves hours of pain.

The alternative to this suicidal folly is in listening to Wisdom's
call. Whoever does that will 'dwell safely,' not in fancied but real
security; and in his quiet heart there need be no unrest from feared
evils, for he will have hold of a charm which turns evils into good,
and with such a guide he cannot go astray, nor with such a
defender be wounded to death, nor with such a companion ever be
solitary. If Christ be our Light, we shall not walk in darkness. If He
be our Wisdom, we shall not err. If He be our Life, we shall never see
death. If He is our Good, we shall fear no evil.



THE SECRET OF WELL-BEING

'My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments.
2. For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to
thee. 3. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy
neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: 4. So shalt thou find
favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. 5. Trust in
the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own
understanding. 6. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct
thy paths. 7. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart
from evil. 8. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy
bones. 9. Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits
of all thine increase: 10. So shall thy barns be filled with plenty,
and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.'--PROVERBS iii. 1-10.


The first ten verses of this passage form a series of five couplets,
which enforce on the young various phases of goodness by their
tendency to secure happiness or blessedness of various sorts. The
underlying axiom is that, in a world ruled by a good Being, obedience
must lead to well-being; but while that is in the general true,
exceptions do occur, and good men do encounter evil times. Therefore
the glowing promises of these verses are followed by two verses which
deal with the explanation of good men's afflictions, as being results
and tokens of God's fatherly love.

The first couplet is general in character. It inculcates obedience to
the precepts of the teacher, and gives as reason the assurance that
thereby long life and peace will be secured. True to the Old Testament
conception of revelation as a law, the teacher sets obedience in the
forefront. He is sure that his teaching contains the sufficient guide
for conduct, and coincides with the divine will. He calls, in the
first instance, for inward willing acceptance of His commandments; for
it is the heart, not primarily the hands, which he desires should
'keep' them. The mother of all graces of conduct is the bowing of the
will to divine authority. The will is the man, and where it ceases to
lift itself up in self-sacrificing and self-determining rebellion, and
dissolves into running waters of submission, these will flow through
the life and make it pure. To obey self is sin, to obey God is
righteousness. The issues of such obedience are 'length of days ...
and peace.'

Even if we allow for the difference between the Old and the New
Testaments, it remains true that a life conformed to God's will tends
to longevity, and that many forms of sin do shorten men's days.
Passion and indulged appetites eat away the very flesh, and many a
man's 'bones are full of the sin of his youth.' The profligate has
usually 'a short life,' whether he succeeds in making it 'merry' or
not.

'Peace' is a wide word, including all well-being. Ease-loving
Orientals, especially when living in warlike times, naturally used the
phrase as a shorthand expression for all good. Busy Westerns, torn by
the distractions and rapid movement of modern life, echo the sigh for
repose which breathes in the word. 'There is no joy but calm,' and the
sure way to deepest peace is to give up self-will and live in
obedience.

The second couplet deals with our relations to one another, and puts
forward the two virtues of 'loving-kindness and truth'--that is truth,
or faithfulness--as all-inclusive. They are the two which are often
jointly ascribed to God, especially in the Psalms. Our attitude to one
another should be moulded in God's to us all. The tiniest crystal has
the same facets and angles as the largest. The giant hexagonal pillars
of basalt, like our Scottish Staffa, are identical in form with the
microscopic crystals of the same substance. God is our Pattern;
goodness is likeness to Him.

These graces are to be bound about the neck, perhaps as an ornament,
but more probably as a yoke by which the harnessed ox draws its
burden. If we have them, they will fit us to bear one another's
burdens, and will lead to all human duties to our fellows.

These graces are also to be written on the 'table of the heart'; that
is, are to be objects of habitual meditation with aspiration. If so,
they will come to sight in life. He who practises them will 'find
favour with God and man,' for God looks with complacency on those who
display the right attitude to men; and men for the most part treat us
as we treat them. There are surly natures which are not won by
kindness, like black tarns among the hills, that are gloomy even in
sunshine, and requite evil for good; but the most of men reflect our
feelings to them.

'Good understanding' is another result. It is 'found' when it is
attributed to us, so that the expression substantially means that the
possessors of these graces will win the reputation of being really
wise, not only in the fallible judgment of men, but before the pure
eyes of the all-seeing God. Really wise policy coincides with
loving-kindness and truth.

The remaining couplets refer to our relations to God. The New
Testament is significantly anticipated in the pre-eminence given to
trust; that is, faith. Nor less significant and profound is the
association of self-distrust with trust in the Lord. The two things
are inseparable. They are but the under and upper sides of one thing,
or like the two growths that come from a seed--one striking downwards
becomes the root; one piercing upwards becomes the stalk. The double
attitude of trust and distrust finds expression in acknowledging Him
in all our ways; that is, ordering our conduct under a constant
consciousness of His presence, in accordance with His will, and in
dependence on His help.

Such a relation to God will certainly, and with no exceptions, issue
in His 'directing our paths,' by which is meant that He will be not
only our Guide, but also our Roadmaker, showing us the way and
clearing obstacles from it. Calm certitude follows on willingness to
accept God's will, and whoever seeks only to go where God sends him
will neither be left doubtful whither he should go, nor find his road
blocked.

The fourth couplet is, in its first part, in inverted parallelism with
the third; for it begins with self-distrust, and proceeds thence to
'fear of the Lord,' which corresponds to, and is, in fact, but one
phase of, trust in Him. It is the reverent awe which has no torment,
and is then purest when faith is strongest. It necessarily leads to
departing from evil. Morality has its roots in religion. There is no
such magnet to draw men from sin as the happy fear of God, which is
likewise faith. Whoever separates devoutness from purity of life, this
teacher does not. He knows nothing of religion which permits
association with iniquity. Such conduct will tend to physical
well-being, and in a deeper sense will secure soundness of life.
Godlessness is the true sickness. He only is healthy who has a
healthy, because healed, soul.

The fifth couplet appears at first as being a drop to a lower region.
A regulation of the Mosaic law may strike some as out of place here.
But it is to be remembered that our modern distinction of ceremonial
and moral law was non-existent for Israel, and that the command has a
wider application than to Jewish tithes. To 'honour God with our
substance' is not necessarily to give it away for religious purposes,
but to use it devoutly and as He approves.

Christianity has more to say about the distribution, as well as the
acquisition, of wealth, than professing Christians, especially in
commercial communities, practically recognise. This precept grips us
tight, and is much more than a ceremonial regulation. Many causes
besides the devout use of property tend to wealth in our highly
artificial state of society. The world tries to get it by shrewdness,
unscrupulousness, and by many other vices which are elevated to the
rank of virtues; but he who honours the Lord in getting and spending
will generally have as much as his true needs and regulated desires
require.



THE GIFTS OF HEAVENLY WISDOM

'My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of
His correction: 12. For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth; even as a
father the son in whom he delighteth. 13. Happy is the man that
findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14. For the
merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the
gain thereof than fine gold. 15. She is more precious than rubies: and
all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. 16.
Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and
honour. 17. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are
peace. 18. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and
happy is every one that retaineth her. 19. The Lord by wisdom hath
founded the earth; by understanding hath He established the heavens.
20. By His knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop
down the dew. 21. My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep
sound wisdom and discretion: 22. So shall they be life unto thy soul,
and grace to thy neck. 23. Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and
thy foot shall not stumble. 24. When thou liest down, thou shalt not
be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be
sweet.'--PROVERBS iii. 11-24.


The repetition of the words 'my son' at the beginning of this passage
marks a new section, which extends to verse 20, inclusively, another
section being similarly marked as commencing in verse 21. The fatherly
counsels of these early chapters are largely reiterations of the same
ideas, being line upon line. 'To write the same things to you, to me
indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.' Many strokes drive
the nail home. Exhortations to get Wisdom, based upon the blessings
she brings, are the staple of the whole. If we look carefully at the
section (vers. 11-20), we find in it a central core (vers. 13-18),
setting forth the blessings which Wisdom gives, preceded by two
verses, inculcating the right acceptance of God's chastisements which
are one chief means of attaining Wisdom, and followed by two verses
(vers. 19, 20), which exalt her as being divine as well as human. So
the portraiture of her working in humanity is framed by a prologue and
epilogue, setting forth two aspects of her relation to God; namely,
that she is imparted by Him through the discipline of trouble, and
that she dwells in His bosom and is the agent of His creative work.

The prologue, then, points to sorrow and trouble, rightly accepted, as
one chief means by which we acquire heavenly Wisdom. Note the profound
insight into the meaning of sorrows. They are 'instruction' and
'reproof.' The thought of the Book of Job is here fully incorporated
and assimilated. Griefs and pains are not tokens of anger, nor
punishments of sin, but love-gifts meant to help to the acquisition of
wisdom. They do not come because the sufferers are wicked, but in
order to make them good or better. Tempests are meant to blow us into
port. The lights are lowered in the theatre that fairer scenes may
become visible on the thin screen between us and eternity. Other
supports are struck away that we may lean hard on God. The voice of
all experience of earthly loss and bitterness is, 'Wisdom is the
principal thing; therefore get Wisdom.' God himself becomes our
Schoolmaster, and through the voice of the human teacher we hear His
deeper tones saying, 'My son, despise not the chastening.'

Note, too, the assurance that all discipline is the fruit of Fatherly
love. How many sad hearts in all ages these few words have calmed and
braced! How sharp a test of our childlike spirit our acceptance of
them, when our own hearts are sore, is! How deep the peace which they
bring when really believed! How far they go to solve the mystery of
pain, and turn darkness into a solemn light!

Note, further, that the words 'despise' and 'be weary' both imply
rather rejection with loathing, and thus express unsubmissive
impatience which gets no good from discipline. The beautiful rendering
of the Septuagint, which has been made familiar by its adoption in
Hebrews, makes the two words express two opposite faults. They
'despise' who steel their wills against the rod, and make as if they
did not feel the pain; they 'faint' who collapse beneath the blows,
which they feel so much that they lose sight of their purpose. Dogged
insensibility and utter prostration are equally harmful. He who meets
life's teachings, which are a Father's correction, with either, has
little prospect of getting Wisdom.

Then follows the main part of this section (vers. 13-18),--the praise
of Wisdom as in herself most precious, and as bestowing highest good.
'The man that findeth Wisdom' reminds us of the peasant in Christ's
parable, who found treasure hidden in a field, and the 'merchandise'
in verse 14, of the trader seeking goodly pearls. But the finding in
verse 13 is not like the rustic's in the parable, who was seeking
nothing when a chance stroke of his plough or kick of his heel laid
bare the glittering gold. It is the finding which rewards seeking. The
figure of acquiring by trading, like that of the pearl-merchant in the
companion parable, implies pains, effort, willingness to part with
something in order to attain.

The nature of the price is not here in question. We know who has said,
'I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.' We buy heavenly
Wisdom when we surrender ourselves. The price is desire to possess,
and willingness to accept as an undeserved, unearned gift. But that
does not come into view in our lesson. Only this is strongly put in
it--that this heavenly Wisdom outshines all jewels, outweighs all
wealth, and is indeed the only true riches. 'Rubies' is probably
rather to be taken as 'corals,' which seem to have been very highly
prized by the Jews, and, no doubt, found their way to them from the
Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. The word rendered 'things thou canst
desire' is better taken as meaning 'jewels.'

This noble and conclusive depreciation of material wealth in
comparison with Wisdom, which is not merely intellectual, but rests on
the fear of the Lord, and is goodness as well as understanding, never
needed preaching with more emphasis than in our day, when more and
more the commercial spirit invades every region of life, and rich men
are the aristocrats and envied types of success. When will England and
America believe the religion which they profess, and adjust their
estimates of the best things accordingly? How many so-called Christian
parents would think their son mad if he said, 'I do not care about
getting rich; my goal is to be wise with God's Wisdom'? How few of us
order our lives on the footing of this old teacher's lesson, and act
out the belief that Wisdom is more than wealth! The man who heaps
millions together, and masses it, fails in life, however a vulgar
world and a nominal church may admire and glorify him. The man who
wins Wisdom succeeds, however bare may be his cupboard, and however
people may pity him for having failed in life, because he has not
drawn prizes in the Devil's lottery. His blank is a prize, and their
prizes are blanks. This decisive subordination of material to
spiritual good is too plainly duty and common sense to need being
dwelt upon; but, alas! like a great many other most obvious, accepted
truths, it is disregarded as universally as believed.

The inseparable accompaniments of Wisdom are next eloquently
described. The picture is the poetical clothing of the idea that all
material good will come to him who despises it all and clasps Wisdom
to his heart. Some things flow from Wisdom possessed as usual
consequences; some are inseparable from her. The gift in her right
hand is length of days; that in her left, which, by its position, is
suggested as inferior to the former, is wealth and honour--two goods
which will attend the long life. No doubt such promises are to be
taken with limitations; but there need be no doubt that, on the whole,
loyal devotion to and real possession of heavenly Wisdom do tend in
the direction of lengthening lives, which are by it delivered from
vices and anxieties which cut many a career short, and of gathering
round silver hairs reverence and troops of friends.

These are the usual consequences, and may be fairly brought into view
as secondary encouragements to seek Wisdom. But if she is sought for
the sake of getting these attendant blessings, she will not be found.
She must be loved for herself, not for her dowry, or she will not be
won. At the same time, the overstrained and fantastic morality, which
stigmatises regard to the blessed results of a religious life as
selfishness, finds no support in Scripture, as it has none in common
sense. Would there were more of such selfishness!

Sometimes Wisdom's hands do not hold these outward gifts. But the
connection between her and the next blessings spoken of is
inseparable. Her ways are pleasantness and peace. 'In keeping'--not
_for_ keeping--'her commandments is great reward.' Inward delight
and deep tranquillity of heart attend every step taken in obedience to
Wisdom. The course of conduct so prescribed will often involve painful
crucifying of the lower nature, but its pleasure far outweighs its
pain. It will often be strewn with sharp flints, or may even have
red-hot ploughshares laid on it, as in old ordeal trials; but still it
will be pleasant to the true self. Sin is a blunder as well as a
crime, and enlightened self-interest would point out the same course
as the highest law of Wisdom. In reality, duty and delight are
co-extensive. They are two names for one thing--one taken from
consideration of its obligation; the other, from observation of its
issues. 'Calm pleasures there abide.' The only complete peace, which
fills and quiets the whole man, comes from obeying Wisdom, or what is
the same thing, from following Christ. There is no other way of
bringing all our nature into accord with itself, ending the war
between conscience and inclination, between flesh and spirit. There is
no other way of bringing us into amity with all circumstances, so that
fortunate or adverse shall be recognised as good, and nothing be able
to agitate us very much. Peace with ourselves, the world, and God, is
always the consequence of listening to Wisdom.

The whole fair picture is summed up in verse 18: 'She is a tree of
life to them that lay hold upon her.' This is a distinct allusion to
the narrative of Genesis. The flaming sword of the cherub guard is
sheathed, and access to the tree, which gives immortal life to those
who eat, is open to us. Mark how that great word 'life' is here
gathering to itself at least the beginnings of higher conceptions than
those of simple existence. It is swelling like a bud, and preparing to
open and disclose the perfect flower, the life which stands in the
knowledge of God and the Christ whom He has sent. Jesus, the incarnate
Wisdom, is Himself 'the Tree of Life in the midst of the paradise of
God.' The condition of access to it is 'laying hold' by the
outstretched hand of faith, and keeping hold with holy obstinacy of
grip, in spite of all temptations to slack our grasp. That retaining
is the condition of true blessedness.

Verses 19 and 20 invest the idea of Wisdom with still loftier
sublimity, since they declare that it is an attribute of God Himself
by which creation came into being. The meaning of the writer is
inadequately grasped if we take it to be only that creation shows
God's Wisdom. This personified Wisdom dwells with God, is the agent of
creation, comes with invitations to men, may be possessed by them, and
showers blessings on them. The planet Neptune was divined before it
was discovered, by reason of perturbations in the movements of the
exterior members of the system, unaccountable unless some great globe
of light, hitherto unseen, were swaying them in their orbits. Do we
not see here like influence streaming from the unrisen light of
Christ? Personification prepares for Incarnation. There is One who has
been with the Father from the beginning, by whom all things came into
being, whose voice sounds to all, who is the Tree of Life, whom we may
all possess, and with whose own peace we may be peaceful and blessed
for evermore.

Verses 21-24 belong to the next section of the great discourse or
hymn. They add little to the preceding. But we may observe the earnest
exhortation to let wisdom and understanding be ever in sight. Eyes are
apt to stray and clouds to hide the sun. Effort is needed to
counteract the tendency to slide out of consciousness, which our
weakness imposes on the most certain and important truths. A Wisdom
which we do not think about is as good or as bad as non-existent for
us. One prime condition of healthy spiritual life is the habit of
meditation, thereby renewing our gaze upon the facts of God's
revelation and the bearing of these on our conduct.

The blessings flowing from Wisdom are again dilated on, from a
somewhat different point of view. She is the giver of life. And then
she adorns the life she gives. One has seen homely faces so refined
and glorified by the fair soul that shone through them as to be, 'as
it were, the face of an angel.' Gracefulness should be the outward
token of inward grace. Some good people forget that they are bound to
'adorn the doctrine.' But they who have drunk most deeply of the
fountain of Wisdom will find that, like the fabled spring, its waters
confer strange loveliness. Lives spent in communion with Jesus will be
lovely, however homely their surroundings, and however vulgar eyes,
taught only to admire staring colours, may find them dull. The world
saw 'no beauty that they should desire Him,' in Him whom holy souls
and heavenly angels and the divine Father deemed 'fairer than the sons
of men'!

Safety and firm footing in active life will be ours if we walk in
Wisdom's ways. He who follows Christ's footsteps will tread surely,
and not fear foes. Quiet repose in hours of rest will be his. A day
filled with happy service will be followed by a night full of calm
slumber, 'Whether we sleep or wake, we live' with Him; and, if we do
both, sleeping and waking will be blessed, and our lives will move on
gently to the time when days and nights shall melt into one, and there
will be no need for repose; for there will be no work that wearies and
no hands that droop. The last lying down in the grave will be attended
with no terrors. The last sleep there shall be sweet; for it will
really be awaking to the full possession of the personal Wisdom, who
is our Christ, our Life in death, our Heaven in heaven.



THE TWO PATHS

'Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life
shall be many. 11. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led
thee in right paths. 12. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be
straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. 13. Take
fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy
life. 14. Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way
of evil men. 15. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass
away. 16. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and
their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. 17. For
they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. 18.
But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more
and more unto the perfect day. 19. The way of the wicked is as
darkness; they know not at what they stumble.'--PROVERBS iv. 10-19.


This passage includes much more than temperance or any other single
virtue. It is a perfectly general exhortation to that practical wisdom
which walks in the path of righteousness. The principles laid down
here are true in regard to drunkenness and abstinence, but they are
intended to receive a wider application, and to that wider application
we must first look. The theme is the old, familiar one of the two
paths, and the aim is to recommend the better way by setting forth the
contrasted effects of walking in it and in the other.

The general call to listen in verse 10 is characteristically enforced
by the Old Testament assurance that obedience prolongs life. That is a
New Testament truth as well; for there is nothing more certain than
that a life in conformity with God's will, which is the same thing as
a life in conformity with physical laws, tends to longevity. The
experience of any doctor will show that. Here in England we have
statistics which prove that total abstainers are a long-lived people,
and some insurance offices construct their tables accordingly.

After that general call to listen comes, in verse 11, the description
of the path in which long life is to be found. It is 'the way of
Wisdom'--that is, that which Wisdom prescribes, and in which therefore
it is wise to walk. It is always foolish to do wrong. The rough title
of an old play is _The Devil is an Ass_, and if that is not true
about him, it is absolutely true about those who listen to his lies.
Sin is the stupidest thing in the universe, for it ignores the
plainest facts, and never gets what it flings away so much to secure.

Another aspect of the path is presented in the designation 'paths of
uprightness,' which seems to be equivalent to those which belong to,
or perhaps which consist of, uprightness. The idea of straightness or
evenness is the primary meaning of the word, and is, of course,
appropriate to the image of a path. In the moral view, it suggests how
much more simple and easy a course of rectitude is than one of sin.
The one goes straight and unswerving to its end; the other is crooked,
devious, intricate, and wanders from the true goal. A crooked road is
a long road, and an up-and-down road is a tiring road. Wisdom's way is
straight, level, and steadily approaches its aim.

In verse 13 the image of the path is dropped for the moment, and the
picture of the way of uprightness and its travellers is translated
into the plain exhortation to keep fast hold of 'instruction,' which
is substantially equivalent to the queenly Wisdom of these early
chapters of Proverbs. The earnestness of the repeated exhortations
implies the strength of the forces that tend to sweep us, especially
those of us who are young, from our grasp of that Wisdom. Hands become
slack, and many a good gift drops from nerveless fingers; thieves
abound who will filch away 'instruction,' if we do not resolutely hold
tight by it. Who would walk through the slums of a city holding jewels
with a careless grasp, and never looking at them? How many would he
have left if he did? We do not need to do anything to lose
instruction. If we will only do nothing to keep it, the world and our
own hearts will make sure that we lose it. And if we lose it, we lose
ourselves; for 'she is thy life,' and the mere bodily life, that is
lived without her, is not worth calling the life of a man.

Verses 14 to 17 give the picture of the other path, in terrible
contrast with the preceding. It is noteworthy that, while in the
former the designation was the 'path of uprightness' or of 'wisdom,'
and the description therefore was mainly of the characteristics of the
path, here the designation is 'the path of the _wicked_,' and the
description is mainly of the travellers on it. Righteousness was dealt
with, as it were, in the abstract; but wickedness is too awful and
dark to be painted thus, and is only set forth in the concrete, as
seen in its doers. Now, it is significant that the first exhortation
here is of a negative character. In contrast with the reiterated
exhortations to keep wisdom, here are reiterated counsels to steer
clear of evil. It is all about us, and we have to make a strong effort
to keep it at arm's-length. 'Whom resist' is imperative. True,
negative virtue is incomplete, but there will be no positive virtue
without it. We must be accustomed to say 'No,' or we shall come to
little good. An outer belt of firs is sometimes planted round a centre
of more tender and valuable wood to shelter the young trees; so we
have to make a fence of abstinences round our plantation of positive
virtues. The decalogue is mostly prohibitions. 'So did _not_ I,
because of the fear of God' must be our motto. In this light, entire
abstinence from intoxicants is seen to be part of the 'way of Wisdom.'
It is one, and, in the present state of England and America, perhaps
the most important, of the ways by which we can 'turn from' the path
of the wicked and 'pass on.'

The picture of the wicked in verses 16 and 17 is that of very grossly
criminal sinners. They are only content when they have done harm, and
delight in making others as bad as themselves. But, diabolical as such
a disposition is, one sees it only too often in full operation. How
many a drunkard or impure man finds a fiendish pleasure in getting
hold of some innocent lad, and 'putting him up to a thing or two,'
which means teaching him the vices from which the teacher has ceased
to get much pleasure, and which he has to spice with the condiment of
seeing an unaccustomed sinner's eagerness! Such people infest our
streets, and there is only one way for a young man to be safe from
them,--'avoid, pass not by, turn from, and pass on.' The reference to
'bread' and 'wine' in verse 17 seems simply to mean that the wicked
men's living is won by their 'wickedness,' which procures bread, and
by their 'violence,' which brings them wine. It is the way by which
these are obtained that is culpable. We may contrast this foul source
of a degraded living with verse 13, where 'instruction' is set forth
as 'the life' of the upright.

Verses 18 and 19 bring more closely together the two paths, and set
them in final, forcible contrast. The phrase 'the perfect day' might
be rendered, vividly though clumsily, 'the steady of the day'--that
is, noon, when the sun seems to stand still in the meridian. So the
image compares the path of the just to the growing brightness of
morning dawn, becoming more and more fervid and lustrous, till the
climax of an Eastern midday. No more sublime figure of the continuous
progress in goodness, brightness, and joy, which is the best reward of
walking in the paths of uprightness, can be imagined; and it is as
true as it is sublime. Blessed they who in the morning of their days
begin to walk in the way of wisdom; for, in most cases, years will
strengthen their uprightness, and to that progress there will be no
termination, nor will the midday sun have to decline westward to
diminishing splendour or dismal setting, but that noontide glory will
be enhanced, and made eternal in a new heaven. The brighter the light,
the darker the shadow. That blaze of growing glory, possible for us
all, makes the tragic gloom to which evil men condemn themselves the
thicker and more doleful, as some dungeon in an Eastern prison seems
pitch dark to one coming in from the blaze outside. 'How great is that
darkness!' It is the darkness of sin, of ignorance, of sorrow, and
what adds deeper gloom to it is that every soul that sits in that
shadow of death might have been shining, a sun, in the spacious heaven
of God's love.



MONOTONY AND CRISES

'When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou
runnest, thou shalt not stumble.'--PROVERBS iv. 12.


The old metaphor likening life to a path has many felicities in it. It
suggests constant change, it suggests continuous progress in one
direction, and that all our days are linked together, and are not
isolated fragments; and it suggests an aim and an end. So we find it
perpetually in this Book of Proverbs. Here the 'way' has a specific
designation, 'the way of Wisdom'--that is to say, the way which Wisdom
teaches, and the way on which Wisdom accompanies us, and the way which
leads to Wisdom. Now, these two clauses of my text are not merely an
instance of the peculiar feature of Hebrew poetry called parallelism,
in which two clauses, substantially the same, occur, but with a little
pleasing difference. 'When thou goest'--that is, the monotonous tramp,
tramp, tramp of slow walking along the path of an uneventful daily
life, the humdrum 'one foot up and another foot down' which makes the
most of our days. 'When thou runnest'--that points to the crises, the
sudden spurts, the necessarily brief bursts of more than usual energy
and effort and difficulty. And about both of them, the humdrum and the
exciting, the monotonous and the startling, the promise comes that if
we walk in the path of Wisdom we shall not get disgusted with the one
and we shall not be overwhelmed by the other. 'When thou walkest, thy
steps shall not be straitened; when thou runnest, thou shalt not
stumble.'

But before I deal with these two clauses specifically, let me recall
to you the condition, and the sole condition, upon which either of
them can be fulfilled in our daily lives. The book from which my text
is taken is probably one of the very latest in the Old Testament, and
you catch in it a very significant and marvellous development of the
Old Testament thought. For there rises up, out of these early chapters
of the Book of Proverbs, that august and serene figure of the queenly
Wisdom, which is more than a personification and is less than a person
and a prophecy. It means more than the wise man that spoke it saw; it
means for us Christ, 'the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.' And so
instead of keeping ourselves merely to the word of the Book of
Proverbs, we must grasp the thing that shines through the word, and
realise that the writer's visions can only become realities when the
serene and august Wisdom that he saw shimmering through the darkness
took to itself a human Form, and 'the Word became flesh, and dwelt
among us.'

With that heightening of the meaning of the phrase, 'the path of
Wisdom' assumes a heightened meaning too, for it is the path of the
personal Wisdom, the Incarnate Wisdom, Christ Himself. And what does
it _then_ come to be to obey this command to walk in the way of
Wisdom? Put it into three sentences. Let the Christ who is not only
wise, but Wisdom, choose your path, and be sure that by the submission
of your will all your paths are His, and not only yours. Make His path
yours by following in His steps, and do in your place what you think
Christ would have done if He had been there. Keep company with Him on
the road. If we will do these three things--if we will say to Him,
'Lord, when Thou sayest go, I go; when Thou biddest me come, I come; I
am Thy slave, and I rejoice in the bondage more than in all licentious
liberty, and what Thou biddest me do, I do'--if you will further say,
'As Thou art, so am I in the world'--and if you will further say,
'Leave me not alone, and let me cling to Thee on the road, as a little
child holds on by her mother's skirt or her father's hand,' then, and
only then, will you walk in the path of Wisdom.

Now, then, these three things--submission of will, conformity of
conduct, closeness of companionship--these three things being
understood, let us look for a moment at the blessings that this text
promises, and first at the promise for long uneventful stretches of
our daily life. That, of course, is mainly the largest proportion of
all our lives. Perhaps nine-tenths at least of all our days and years
fall under the terms of this first promise, 'When thou walkest.' For
many miles there comes nothing particular, nothing at all exciting,
nothing new, nothing to break the plod, plod, plod along the road.
Everything is as it was yesterday, and the day before that, and as it
will be to-morrow, and the day after that, in all probability. 'The
trivial round, the common task' make up by far the largest percentage
of our lives. It is as in wine, the immense proportion of it is
nothing but water, and only a small proportion of alcohol is diffused
through the great mass of the tamer liquid.

Now, then, if Jesus Christ is not to help us in the monotony of our
daily lives, what, in the name of common sense, is His help good for?
If it is not true that He will be with us, not only in the moments of
crisis, but in the long commonplace hours, we may as well have no
Christ at all, for all that I can see. Unless the trivial is His
field, there is very little field for Him, in your life or mine. And
so it should come to all of us who have to take up this daily burden
of small, monotonous, constantly recurring, and therefore often
wearisome, duties, as even a more blessed promise than the other one,
that 'when thou walkest, thy steps shall not be straitened.'

I remember hearing of a man that got so disgusted with having to dress
and undress himself every day that he committed suicide to escape from
the necessity. That is a very extreme form of the feeling that comes
over us all sometimes, when we wake in a morning and look before us
along the stretch of dead level, which is a great deal more wearisome
when it lasts long than are the cheerful vicissitudes of up hill and
down dale. We all know the deadening influence of a habit. We all know
the sense of disgust that comes over us at times, and of utter
weariness, just because we have been doing the same things day after
day for so long. I know only one infallible way of preventing the
common from becoming commonplace, of preventing the small from
becoming trivial, of preventing the familiar from becoming
contemptible, and it is to link it all to Jesus Christ, and to say,
'For Thy sake, and unto Thee, I do this'; then, not only will the
rough places become plain, and the crooked things straight, and not
only will the mountains be brought low, but the valleys of the
commonplace will be exalted. 'Thy steps shall not be straitened.' 'I
will make his feet as hind's feet,' says one of the old prophets. What
a picture of light, buoyant, graceful movement that is! And each of us
may have that, instead of the grind, grind, grind! tramp, tramp,
tramp! along the level and commonplace road of our daily lives, if we
will. Walk in the path of Christ, with Christ, towards Christ, and
'thy steps shall not be straitened.'

Now, there is another aspect of this same promise--viz. if we thus are
in the path of Incarnate Wisdom, we shall not feel the restrictions of
the road to be restraints. 'Thy steps shall not be straitened';
although there is a wall on either side, and the road is the narrow
way that leads to life, it is broad enough for the sober man, because
he goes in a straight line, and does not need half the road to roll
about in. The limits which love imposes, and the limits which love
accepts, are not narrowing. 'I will walk at liberty, for--I do as I
like.' No! that is slavery; but, 'I will walk at liberty, for I keep
Thy precepts'; and I do not want to go vagrantising at large, but
limit myself thankfully to the way which Thou dost mark out. 'Thy
steps shall not be straitened.' So much for the first of these
promises.

Now what about the other one? 'When thou runnest, thou shalt not
stumble.'

As I have said, the former promise applies to the hours and the years
of life. The latter applies to but a few moments of each man's life.
Cast your thoughts back over your own days, and however changeful,
eventful, perhaps adventurous, and as we people call it, romantic,
some parts of our lives may have been, yet for all that you can put
the turning-points, the crises that have called for great efforts, and
the gathering of yourselves up, and the calling forth of all your
powers to do and to dare, you can put them all inside of a week, in
most cases. 'When thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.' The greater
the speed, the greater the risk of stumbling over some obstacle in the
way. We all know how many men there are that do very well in the
uneventful commonplaces of life, but bring them face to face with some
great difficulty or some great trial, and there is a dismal failure.
Jesus Christ is ready to make us fit for anything in the way of
difficulty, in the way of trial, that can come storming upon us from
out of the dark. And He will make us so fit if we follow the
injunctions to which I have already been referring. Without His help
it is almost certain that when we have to run, our ankles will give,
or there will be a stone in the road that we never thought of, and the
excitement will sweep us away from principle, and we shall lose our
hold on Him; and then it is all up with us.

There is a wonderful saying in one of the prophets, which uses this
same metaphor of my text with a difference, where it speaks of the
divine guidance of Israel as being like that of a horse in the
wilderness. Fancy the poor, nervous, tremulous creature trying to keep
its footing upon the smooth granite slabs of Sinai. Travellers dare
not take their horses on mountain journeys, because they are highly
nervous and are not sure-footed enough. And, so says the old prophet,
that gracious Hand will be laid on the bridle, and hold the nervous
creature's head up as it goes sliding over the slippery rocks, and so
He will bring it down to rest in the valley. 'Now unto Him that is
able to keep us from stumbling,' as is the true rendering, 'and to
present us faultless ... be glory.' Trust Him, keep near Him, let Him
choose your way, and try to be like Him in it; and whatever great
occasions may arise in your lives, either of sorrow or of duty, you
will be equal to them.

But remember the virtue that comes out victorious in the crisis must
have been nourished and cultivated in the humdrum moments. For it is
no time to make one's first acquaintance with Jesus Christ when the
eyeballs of some ravenous wild beast are staring into ours, and its
mouth is open to swallow us. Unless He has kept our feet from being
straitened in the quiet walk, He will not be able to keep us from
stumbling in the vehement run.

One word more. This same distinction is drawn by one of the prophets,
who adds another clause to it. Isaiah, or the author of the second
portion of the book which goes by his name, puts in wonderful
connection the two thoughts of my text with analogous thoughts in
regard to God, when he says, 'Hast thou not known, hast thou not
heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of
the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?' and immediately goes on to
say, 'They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They
shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.' So it is
from God, the unfainting and the unwearied, that the strength comes
which makes our steps buoyant with energy amidst the commonplace, and
steadfast and established at the crises of our lives. But before these
two great promises is put another one: 'They shall mount up with wings
as eagles,' and therefore both the other become possible. That is to
say, fellowship with God in the heavens, which is made possible on
earth by communion with Christ, is the condition both of the unwearied
running and of unfainting walking. If we will keep in the path of
Christ, He will take care of the commonplace dreary tracts and of the
brief moments of strain and effort, and will bring us at last where He
has gone, if, looking unto Him, we 'run with patience the race,' and
walk with cheerfulness the road, 'that is set before us.'



FROM DAWN TO NOON

'The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and
more unto the perfect day.'--PROVERBS iv. 18.

'Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of
their father.--MATT. xiii. 43.


The metaphor common to both these texts is not infrequent throughout
Scripture. In one of the oldest parts of the Old Testament, Deborah's
triumphal song, we find, 'Let all them that love Thee be as the sun
when he goeth forth in his might.' In one of the latest parts of the
Old Testament, Daniel's prophecy, we read, '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.' Then in the New
Testament we have Christ's comparison of His servants to light, and
the great promise which I have read as my second text. The upshot of
them all is this--the most radiant thing on earth is the character of
a good man. The world calls men of genius and intellectual force its
lights. The divine estimate, which is the true one, confers the name
on righteousness.

But my first text follows out another analogy; not only brightness,
but progressive brightness, is the characteristic of the righteous
man.

We are to think of the strong Eastern sun, whose blinding light
steadily increases till the noontide. 'The perfect day' is a somewhat
unfortunate translation. What is meant is the point of time at which
the day culminates, and for a moment, the sun seems to stand steady,
up in those southern lands, in the very zenith, raying down 'the
arrows that fly by noonday.' The text does not go any further, it does
not talk about the sad diminution of the afternoon. The parallel does
not hold; though, if we consult appearance and sense alone, it seems
to hold only too well. For, sadder than the setting of the suns, which
rise again to-morrow, is the sinking into darkness of death, from
which there seems to be no emerging. But my second text comes in to
tell us that death is but as the shadow of eclipse which passes, and
with it pass obscuring clouds and envious mists, and 'then shall the
righteous blaze forth like the sun in their Heavenly Father's
kingdom.'

And so the two texts speak to us of the progressive brightness, and
the ultimate, which is also the progressive, radiance of the
righteous.

I. In looking at them together, then, I would notice, first, what a
Christian life is meant to be.

I must not linger on the lovely thoughts that are suggested by that
attractive metaphor of life. It must be enough, for our present
purpose, to say that the light of the Christian life, like its type in
the heavens, may be analysed into three beams--purity, knowledge,
blessedness. And these three, blended together, make the pure
whiteness of a Christian soul.

But what I wish rather to dwell upon is the other thought, the
intention that every Christian life should be a life of increasing
lustre, uninterrupted, and the natural result of increasing communion
with, and conformity to, the very fountain itself of heavenly
radiance.

Remember how emphatically, in all sorts of ways, progress is laid down
in Scripture as the mark of a religious life. There is the emblem of
my text. There is our Lord's beautiful one of vegetable growth: 'First
the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.' There is the
other metaphor of the stages of human life, 'babes in Christ,' young
men in Him, old men and fathers. There is the metaphor of the growth
of the body. There is the metaphor of the gradual building up of a
structure. We are to 'edify ourselves together,' and to 'build
ourselves up on our most holy faith.' There is the other emblem of a
race--continual advance as the result of continual exertion, and the
use of the powers bestowed upon us.

And so in all these ways, and in many others that I need not now touch
upon, Scripture lays it down as a rule that life in the highest
region, like life in the lowest, is marked by continual growth. It is
so in regard to all other things. Continuity in any kind of practice
gives increasing power in the art. The artisan, the blacksmith with
his hammer, the skilled artificer at his trade, the student at his
subject, the good man in his course of life, and the bad man in his,
do equally show that use becomes second nature. And so, in passing,
let me say what incalculable importance there is in our getting habit,
with all its mystical power to mould life, on the side of
righteousness, and of becoming accustomed to do good, and so being
unfamiliar with evil.

Let me remind you, too, how this intention of continuous growth is
marked by the gifts that are bestowed upon us in Jesus Christ. He
gives us--and it is by no means the least of the gifts that He
bestows--an absolutely unattainable aim as the object of our efforts.
For He bids us not only be 'perfect, as our Father in Heaven is
perfect,' but He bids us be entirely conformed to His own Self. The
misery of men is that they pursue aims so narrow and so shabby that
they can be attained, and are therefore left behind, to sink hull down
on the backward horizon. But to have before us an aim which is
absolutely unreachable, instead of being, as ignorant people say, an
occasion of despair and of idleness, is, on the contrary, the very
salt of life. It keeps us young, it makes hope immortal, it
emancipates from lower pursuits, it diminishes the weight of sorrows,
it administers an anaesthetic to every pain. If you want to keep
life fresh, seek for that which you can never fully find.

Christ gives us infinite powers to reach that unattainable aim, for He
gives us access to all His own fullness, and there is more in His
storehouses than we can ever take, not to say more than we can ever
hope to exhaust. And therefore, because of the aim that is set before
us, and because of the powers that are bestowed upon us to reach it,
there is stamped upon every Christian life unmistakably as God's
purpose and ideal concerning it, that it should for ever and for ever
be growing nearer and nearer, as some ascending spiral that ever
circles closer and closer, and yet never absolutely unites with the
great central Perfection which is Himself.

So, brethren, for every one of us, if we are Christian people at all,
'this is the will of God, even your perfection.'

II. Consider the sad contrast of too many Christian lives.

I would not speak in terms that might seem to be reproach and
scolding. The matter is far too serious, the disease far too
widespread, to need or to warrant any exaggeration. But, dear
brethren, there are many so-called and, in a fashion, really Christian
people to whom Christ and His work are mainly, if not exclusively, the
means of escaping the consequences of sin--a kind of 'fire-escape.'
And to very many it comes as a new thought, in so far as their
practical lives are concerned, that these ought to be lives of
steadily increasing deliverance from the love and the power of sin,
and steadily increasing appropriation and manifestation of Christ's
granted righteousness. There are, I think, many of us from whom the
very notion of progress has faded away. I am sure there are some of us
who were a great deal farther on on the path of the Christian life
years ago, when we first felt that Christ was anything to us, than we
are to-day. 'When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need
that one teach you which be the first principles of the oracles of
God.'

There is an old saying of one of the prophets that a child would die a
hundred years old, which in a very sad sense is true about very many
folk within the pale of the Christian Church who are seventy-year-old
babes still, and will die so. Suns 'growing brighter and brighter
until the noonday!' Ah! there are many of us who are a great deal more
like those strange variable stars that sometimes burst out in the
heavens into a great blaze, that brings them up to the brightness of
stars of the first magnitude, for a day or two; and then they dwindle
until they become little specks of light that the telescope can hardly
see.

And there are hosts of us who are instances, if not of arrested, at
any rate of unsymmetrical, development. The head, perhaps, is
cultivated; the intellectual apprehension of Christianity increases,
while the emotional, and the moral, and the practical part of it are
all neglected. Or the converse may be the case; and we may be full of
gush and of good emotion, and of fervour when we come to worship or to
pray, and our lives may not be a hair the better for it all. Or there
may be a disproportion because of an exclusive attention to conduct
and the practical side of Christianity, while the rational side of it,
which should be the basis of all, and the emotional side of it, which
should be the driving power of all, are comparatively neglected.

So, dear brethren! what with interruptions, what with growing by fits
and starts, and long, dreary winters like the Arctic winters, coming
in between the two or three days of rapid, and therefore brief and
unwholesome, development, we must all, I think, take to heart the
condemnation suggested by this text when we compare the reality of our
lives with the divine intention concerning them. Let us ask ourselves,
'Have I more command over myself than I had twenty years ago? Do I
live nearer Jesus Christ today than I did yesterday? Have I more of
His Spirit in me? Am I growing? Would the people that know me best say
that I am growing in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Saviour?'
Astronomers tell us that there are dark suns, that have burnt
themselves out, and are wandering unseen through the skies. I wonder
if there are any extinguished suns of that sort listening to me at
this moment.

III. How the divine purpose concerning us may be realised by us.

Now the _Alpha_ and the _Omega_ of this, the one means which
includes all other, is laid down by Jesus Christ Himself in another
metaphor when He said, 'Abide in Me, and I in you; so shall ye bring
forth much fruit.' Our path will brighten, not because of any radiance
in ourselves, but in proportion as we draw nearer and nearer to the
Fountain of heavenly radiance.

The planets that move round the sun, further away than we are on
earth, get less of its light and heat; and those that circle around it
within the limits of our orbit, get proportionately more. The nearer
we are to Him, the more we shall shine. The sun shines by its own
light, drawn indeed from the shrinkage of its mass, so that it gives
away its very life in warming and illuminating its subject-worlds. But
we shine only by reflected light, and therefore the nearer we keep to
Him the more shall we be radiant.

That keeping in touch with Jesus Christ is mainly to be secured by the
direction of thought, and love, and trust to Him. If we follow close
upon Him we shall not walk in darkness. It is to be secured and
maintained very largely by what I am afraid is much neglected by
Christian people of all sorts nowadays, and that is the devotional use
of their Bibles. That is the food by which we grow. It is to be secured
and maintained still more largely by that which I, again, am afraid is
but very imperfectly attained to by Christian people now, and that is,
the habit of prayer. It is to be secured and maintained, again, by the
honest conforming of our lives, day by day, to the present amount of our
knowledge of Him and of His will. Whosoever will make all his life the
manifestation of his belief, and turn all his creed into principles of
action, will grow both in the comprehensiveness, and in the depths of
his Christian character. 'Ye are the light in the Lord.' Keep in Him,
and you will become brighter and brighter. So shall we 'go from strength
to strength, till we appear before God in Zion.'

IV. Lastly, what brighter rising will follow the earthly setting?

My second text comes in here. Beauty, intellect, power, goodness; all
go down into the dark. The sun sets, and there is left a sad and
fading glow in the darkening pensive sky, which may recall the
vanished light for a little while to a few faithful hearts, but
steadily passes into the ashen grey of forgetfulness.

But 'then shall the righteous blaze forth like the sun, in their
Heavenly Father's kingdom.' The momentary setting is but apparent. And
ere it is well accomplished, a new sun swims into the 'ampler ether,
the diviner air' of that future life, 'and with new spangled beams,
flames in the forehead of the morning sky.'

The reason for that inherent brightness suggested in our second text
is that the soul of the righteous man passes from earth into a region
out of which we 'gather all things that offend, and them that do
iniquity.' There are other reasons for it, but that is the one which
our Lord dwells on. Or, to put it into modern scientific language,
environment corresponds to character. So, when the clouds have rolled
away, and no more mists from the undrained swamps of selfishness and
sin and animal nature rise up to hide the radiance, there shall be a
fuller flood of light poured from the re-created sun.

That brightness thus promised has for its highest and most blessed
character that it is conformity to the Lord Himself. For, as you may
remember, the last use of this emblem that we find in Scripture refers
not to the servant but to the Master, whom His beloved disciple in
Apocalyptic vision saw, with His 'countenance as the sun shining in
his strength.' Thus 'we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He
is.' And therefore that radiance of the sainted dead is progressive,
too. For it has an infinite fulness to draw upon, and the soul that is
joined to Jesus Christ, and derives its lustre from Him, cannot die
until it has outgrown Jesus and emptied God. The sun will one day be a
dark, cold ball. We shall outlast it.

But, brethren, remember that it is only those who here on earth have
progressively appropriated the brightness that Christ bestows who have
a right to reckon on that better rising. It is contrary to all
probability to believe that the passage from life can change the
ingrained direction and set of a man's nature. We know nothing that
warrants us in affirming that death can revolutionise character. Do
not trust your future to such a dim peradventure. Here is a plain
truth. They who on earth are as 'the shining light that shineth more
and more unto the perfect day,' shall, beyond the shadow of eclipse,
shine on as the sun does, behind the opaque, intervening body, all
unconscious of what looks to mortal eyes on earth an eclipse, and
'shall blaze out like the sun in their Heavenly Father's kingdom.' For
all that we know and are taught by experience, religious and moral
distinctions are eternal. 'He that is righteous, let him be righteous
still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.'



KEEPING AND KEPT

'Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of
life.'--PROVERBS iv. 23.

'Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.'--1 PETER 1.
5.


The former of these texts imposes a stringent duty, the latter
promises divine help to perform it. The relation between them is that
between the Law and the Gospel. The Law commands, the Gospel gives
power to obey. The Law pays no attention to man's weakness, and points
no finger to the source of strength. Its office is to set clearly
forth what we ought to be, not to aid us in becoming so. 'Here is your
duty, do it' is, doubtless, a needful message, but it is a chilly one,
and it may well be doubted if it ever rouses a soul to right action.
Moralists have hammered away at preaching self-restraint and a close
watch over the fountain of actions within from the beginning, but
their exhortations have little effect unless they can add to their icy
injunctions the warmth of the promise of our second text, and point to
a divine Keeper who will make duty possible. We must be kept by God,
if we are ever to succeed in keeping our wayward hearts.

I. Without our guarding our hearts, no noble life is possible.

The Old Testament psychology differs from our popular allocation of
certain faculties to bodily organs. We use head and heart, roughly
speaking, as being respectively the seats of thought and of emotion.
But the Old Testament locates in the heart the centre of personal
being. It is not merely the home of the affections, but the seat of
will, moral purpose. As this text says, 'the issues of life' flow from
it in all the multitudinous variety of their forms. The stream parts
into many heads, but it has one fountain. To the Hebrew thinkers the
heart was the indivisible, central unity which manifested itself in
the whole of the outward life. 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is
he.' The heart is the man. And that personal centre has a moral
character which comes to light in, and gives unity and character to,
all his deeds.

That solemn thought that every one of us has a definite moral
character, and that our deeds are not an accidental set of outward
actions but flow from an inner fountain, needs to be driven home to
our consciences, for most of the actions of most men are done so
mechanically, and reflected on so little by the doers, that the
conviction of their having any moral character at all, or of our
incurring any responsibility for them, is almost extinct in us, unless
when something startles conscience into protest.

It is this shrouded inner self to which supreme care is to be
directed. All noble ethical teaching concurs in this--that a man who
seeks to be right must keep, in the sense both of watching and of
guarding, his inner self. Conduct is more easily regulated than
character--and less worth regulating. It avails little to plant
watchers on the stream half way to the sea. Control must be exercised
at the source, if it is to be effectual. The counsel of our first text
is a commonplace of all wholesome moral teaching since the beginning
of the world. The phrase 'with all diligence' is literally 'above all
guarding,' and energetically expresses the supremacy of this keeping.
It should be the foremost, all-pervading aim of every wise man who
would not let his life run to waste. It may be turned into more modern
language, meaning just what this ancient sage meant, if we put it as,
'Guard thy character with more carefulness than thou dost thy most
precious possessions, for it needs continual watchfulness, and,
untended, will go to rack and ruin.' The exhortation finds a response
in every heart, and may seem too familiar and trite to bear dwelling
on, but we may be allowed to touch lightly on one or two of the plain
reasons which enforce it on every man who is not what Proverbs very
unpolitely calls 'a fool.'

That guarding is plainly imposed as necessary, by the very
constitution of our manhood. Our nature is evidently not a republic,
but a monarchy. It is full of blind impulses, and hungry desires,
which take no heed of any law but their own satisfaction. If the reins
are thrown on the necks of these untamed horses, they will drag the
man to destruction. They are only safe when they are curbed and
bitted, and held well in. Then there are tastes and inclinations which
need guidance and are plainly meant to be subordinate. The will is to
govern all the lower self, and conscience is to govern the will.
Unmistakably there are parts of every man's nature which are meant to
serve, and parts which are appointed to rule, and to let the servants
usurp the place of the rulers is to bring about as wild a confusion
within as the Ecclesiast lamented that he had seen in the anarchic
times when he wrote--princes walking and beggars on horseback. As
George Herbert has it--

  'Give not thy humours way;
  God gave them to thee under lock and key.'

Then, further, that guarding is plainly imperative, because there is
an outer world which appeals to our needs and desires, irrespective
altogether of right and wrong and of the moral consequences of
gratifying these. Put a loaf before a starving man and his impulse
will be to clutch and devour it, without regard to whether it is his
or no. Show any of our animal propensities its appropriate food, and
it asks no questions as to right or wrong, but is stirred to grasp its
natural food. And even the higher and nobler parts of our nature are
but too apt to seek their gratification without having the license of
conscience for doing so, and sometimes in defiance of its plain
prohibitions. It is never safe to trust the guidance of life to
tastes, inclinations, or to anything but clear reason, set in motion
by calm will, and acting under the approbation of 'the Lord Chief
Justice, Conscience.'

But again, seeing that the world has more evil than good in it, the
keeping of the heart will always consist rather in repelling
solicitations to yielding to evil. In short, the power and the habit
of sternly saying 'No' to the whole crowd of tempters is always the
main secret of a noble life. 'He that hath no rule over his own spirit
is like a city broken down and without walls.'

II. There is no effectual guarding unless God guards.

The counsel in Proverbs is not mere toothless moral commonplace, but
is associated, in the preceding chapter, with fatherly advice to 'let
thine heart keep my commandments' and to 'trust in the Lord with all
thine heart.' The heart that so trusts will be safely guarded, and
only such a heart will be. The inherent weakness of all attempts at
self-keeping is that keeper and kept being one and the same
personality, the more we need to be kept the less able we are to
effect it. If in the very garrison are traitors, how shall the
fortress be defended? If, then, we are to exercise an effectual guard
over our characters and control over our natures, we must have an
outward standard of right and wrong which shall not be deflected by
variations in our temperature. We need a fixed light to steer towards,
which is stable on the stable shore, and is not tossing up and down on
our decks. We shall cleanse our way only when we 'take heed thereto,
according to Thy word.' For even God's viceroy within, the sovereign
conscience, can be warped, perverted, silenced, and is not immune from
the spreading infection of evil. When it turns to God, as a mirror to
the sun, it is irradiated and flashes bright illumination into dark
corners, but its power depends on its being thus lit by radiations
from the very Light of Life. And if we are ever to have a coercive
power over the rebellious powers within, we must have God's power
breathed into us, giving grip and energy to all the good within,
quickening every lofty desire, satisfying every aspiration that feels
after Him, cowing all our evil and being the very self of ourselves.

We need an outward motive which will stimulate and stir to effort. Our
wills are lamed for good, and the world has strong charms that appeal
to us. And if we are not to yield to these, there must be somewhere a
stronger motive than any that the sorceress world has in its stores,
that shall constrainingly draw us to ways that, because they tend
upward, and yield no pabulum for the lower self, are difficult for
sluggish feet. To the writer of this Book of Proverbs the name of God
bore in it such a motive. To us the name of Jesus, which is Love,
bears a yet mightier appeal, and the motive which lies in His death
for us is strong enough, and it alone is strong enough, to fire our
whole selves with enthusiastic, grateful love, which will burn up our
sloth, and sweep our evil out of our hearts, and make us swift and
glad to do all that may please Him. If there must be fresh
reinforcements thrown into the town of Mansoul, as there must be if it
is not to be captured, there is one sure way of securing these. Our
second text tells us whence the relieving force must come. If we are
to keep our hearts with all diligence, we must be 'kept by the power
of God,' and that power is not merely to make diversion outside the
beleaguered fortress which may force the besiegers to retreat and give
up their effort, but is to enter in and possess the soul which it
wills to defend. It is when the enemy sees that new succours have, in
some mysterious way, been introduced, that he gives up his siege. It
is God in us that is our security.

III. There is no keeping by God without faith.

Peter was an expert in such matters, for he had had a bitter
experience to teach him how soon and surely self-confidence became
self-despair. 'Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I,' was
said but a few hours before he denied Jesus. His faith failed, and
then the divine guard that was keeping his soul passed thence, and,
left alone, he fell.

That divine Power is exerted for our keeping on condition of our
trusting ourselves to Him and trusting Him for ourselves. And that
condition is no arbitrary one, but is prescribed by the very nature of
divine help and of human faith. If God could keep our souls without
our trust in Him He would. He does so keep them as far as is possible,
but for all the choicer blessings of His giving, and especially for
that of keeping us free from the domination of our lower selves, there
must be in us faith if there is to be in God help. The hand that lays
hold on God in Christ must be stretched out and must grasp His warm,
gentle, and strong hand, if the tingling touch of it is to infuse
strength. If the relieving force is victoriously to enter our hearts,
we must throw open the gates and welcome it. Faith is but the open
door for God's entrance. It has no efficacy in itself any more than a
door has, but all its blessedness depends on what it admits into the
hidden chambers of the heart.

I reiterate what I have tried to show in these poor words. There is no
noble life without our guarding our hearts; there is no effectual
guarding unless God guards; there is no divine guarding unless through
our faith. It is vain to preach self-governing and self-keeping.
Unless we can tell the beleaguered heart, 'The Lord is thy Keeper; He
will keep thee from all evil; He will keep thy soul,' we only add one
more impossible command to a man's burden. And we do not apprehend nor
experience the divine keeping in its most blessed and fullest reality,
unless we find it in Jesus, who is 'able to keep us from falling, and
to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with
exceeding joy.'



THE CORDS OF SIN

'His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be
holden with the cords of his sins.'--PROVERBS v. 22.


In Hosea's tender picture of the divine training of Israel which,
alas! failed of its effect, we read, 'I drew them with cords of a
man,' which is further explained as being 'with bands of love.' The
metaphor in the prophet's mind is probably that of a child being
'taught to go' and upheld in its first tottering steps by
leading-strings. God drew Israel, though Israel did not yield to the
drawing. But if these gentle, attractive influences, which ever are
raying out from Him, are resisted, another set of cords, not now
sustaining and attracting, but hampering and fettering, twine
themselves round the rebellious life, and the man is like a wild
creature snared in the hunter's toils, enmeshed in a net, and with its
once free limbs restrained. The choice is open to us all, whether we
will let God draw us to Himself with the sweet manlike cords of His
educative and forbearing love, or, flinging off these, which only
foolish self-will construes into limitations, shall condemn ourselves
to be prisoned within the narrow room of our own sins. We may choose
which condition shall be ours, but one or other of them must be ours.
We may either be drawn by the silken cord of God's love or we may be
'holden by the cords' of our sins.

In both clauses of our text evil deeds done are regarded as having a
strange, solemn life apart from the doer of them, by which they become
influential factors in his subsequent life. Their issues on others may
be important, but their issues on him are the most important of all.
The recoil of the gun on the shoulder of him who fired it is certain,
whether the cartridge that flew from its muzzle wounded anything or
not. 'His own iniquities shall take the wicked'--they ring him round,
a grim company to whom he has given an independent being, and who have
now 'taken' him prisoner and laid violent hands on him. A long since
forgotten novel told of the fate of 'a modern Prometheus,' who made
and put life into a dreadful creature in man's shape, that became the
curse of its creator's life. That tragedy is repeated over and over
again. We have not done with our evil deeds when we have done them,
but they, in a very terrible sense, begin to be when they are done. We
sow the seeds broadcast, and the seed springs up dragon's teeth.

The view of human experience set forth, especially in the second
clause of this text, directs our gaze into dark places, into which it
is not pleasant to look, and many of you will accuse me of preaching
gloomily if I try to turn a reflective eye inwards upon them, but no
one will be able to accuse me of not preaching truly. It is impossible
to enumerate all the cords that make up the net in which our own evil
doings hold us meshed, but let me point out some of these.

I. Our evil deeds become evil habits.

We all know that anything once done becomes easier to do again. That
is true about both good and bad actions, but 'ill weeds grow apace,'
and it is infinitely easier to form a bad habit than a good one. The
young shoot is green and flexible at first, but it soon becomes woody
and grows high and strikes deep. We can all verify the statement of
our text by recalling the tremors of conscience, the self-disgust, the
dread of discovery which accompanied the first commission of some evil
deed, and the silence of undisturbed, almost unconscious facility,
that accompanied later repetitions of it. Sins of sense and animal
passion afford the most conspicuous instances of this, but it is by no
means confined to these. We have but to look steadily at our own lives
to be aware of the working of this solemn law in them, however clear
we may be of the grosser forms of evil deeds. For us all it is true
that custom presses on us 'with a weight, heavy as frost and deep
almost as life,' and that it is as hard for the Ethiopian to change
his skin or the leopard his spots as for those who 'are accustomed to
do evil' to 'do good.'

But experience teaches not only that evil deeds quickly consolidate
into evil habits, but that as the habit grips us faster, the poor
pleasure for the sake of which the acts are done diminishes. The zest
which partially concealed the bitter taste of the once eagerly
swallowed morsel is all but gone, but the morsel is still sought and
swallowed. Impulses wax as motives wane, the victim is like an ox
tempted on the road to the slaughter-house at first by succulent
fodder held before it, and at last driven into it by pricking goads
and heavy blows. Many a man is so completely wrapped in the net which
his own evil deeds have made for him, that he commits the sin once
more, not because he finds any pleasure in it, but for no better
reason than that he has already committed it often, and the habit is
his master.

There are many forms of evil which compel us to repeat them for other
reasons than the force of habit. For instance, a fraudulent
book-keeper has to go on making false entries in his employer's books
in order to hide his peculations. Whoever steps on to the steeply
sloping road to which self-pleasing invites us, soon finds that he is
on an inclined plane well greased, and that compulsion is on him to go
on, though he may recoil from the descent, and be shudderingly aware
of what the end must be. Let no man say, 'I will do this doubtful
thing once only, and never again.' Sin is like an octopus, and if the
loathly thing gets the tip of one slender filament round a man, it
will envelop him altogether and drag him down to the cruel beak.

Let us then remember how swiftly deeds become habits, and how the
fetters, which were silken at first, rapidly are exchanged for iron
chains, and how the craving increases as fast as the pleasure from
gratifying it diminishes. Let us remember that there are many kinds of
evil which seem to force their own repetition, in order to escape
their consequences and to hide the sin. Let us remember that no man
can venture to say, 'This once only will I do this thing.' Let us
remember that acts become habits with dreadful swiftness, and let us
beware that we do not forge chains of darkness for ourselves out of
our own godless deeds.

II. Our evil deeds imprison us for good.

The tragedy of human life is that we weave for ourselves manacles that
fetter us from following and securing the one good for which we are
made. Our evil past holds us in a firm grip. The cords which confine
our limbs are of our own spinning. What but ourselves is the reason
why so many of us do not yield to God's merciful drawings of us to
Himself? We have riveted the chains and twined the net that holds us
captive, by our own acts. It is we ourselves who have paralysed our
wills, so that we see the light of God but as a faint gleam far away,
and dare not move to follow the gleam. It is we who have smothered or
silenced our conscience and perverted our tastes, and done violence to
all in us that 'thirsteth for God, even the living God.' Alas! how
many of us have let some strong evil habit gain such a grip of us that
it has overborne our higher impulses, and silenced the voice within us
that cries out for the living God! We are kept back from Him by our
worse selves, and whoever lets that which is lowest in him keep him
from following after God, who is his 'being's end and aim,' is caught
and prisoned by the cords woven and knitted out of his sins. Are there
none of us who know, when they are honest with themselves, that they
would have been true Christians long since, had it not been for one
darling evil that they cannot make up their minds to cast off? Wills
disabled from strongly willing the good, consciences silenced as when
the tongue is taken out of a bell-buoy on a shoal, tastes perverted
and set seeking amid the transitory treasures of earth for what God
only can give them, these are the 'cords' out of which are knotted the
nets that hold so many of us captive, and hinder our feet from
following after God, even the living God, in following and possessing
whom is the only liberty of soul, the one real joy of life.

III. Our evil deeds work their own punishment.

I do not venture to speak of the issues beyond the grave. It is not
for a man to press these on his brethren. But even from the standpoint
of this Book of Proverbs, it is certain that 'the righteous shall be
recompensed in the earth, much more the wicked and the sinner.'
Probably it was the earthly consequences of wrongdoing that were in
the mind of the proverb-maker. And we are not to let our Christian
enlightenment as to the future rob us of the certainty, written large
on human life here and now, that with whatever apparent exceptions in
regard to prosperous sin and tried righteousness, it is yet true that
'every transgression and disobedience receives its just recompense of
reward.' Life is full of consequences of evil-doing. Even here and now
we reap as we have sown. Every sin is a mistake, even if we confine
our view to the consequences sought for in this life by it, and the
consequences actually encountered. 'A rogue is a roundabout fool.'
True, we believe that there is a future reaping so complete that it
makes the partial harvests gathered here seem of small account. But
the framer of this proverb, who had little knowledge of that future,
had seen enough in the meditative survey of this present to make him
sure that the consequences of evil-doing were certain, and in a very
true sense, penal. And leaving out of sight all that lies in the dark
beyond, surely if we sum up the lamed aspirations, the perverted
tastes, the ossifying of noble emotions, the destruction of the
balance of the nature, the blinding of the eye of the soul, the
lowering and narrowing of the whole nature, and many another wound to
the best in man that come as the sure issue of evil deeds, we do not
need to doubt that every sinful man is miserably 'holden with the
cords of his sin.' Life is the time for sowing, but it is a time for
reaping too, and we do not need to wait for death to experience the
truth of the solemn warning that 'he who soweth to the flesh shall of
the flesh reap corruption.' Let us, then, do no deeds without asking
ourselves, What will the harvest be? and if from any deeds that we
have done we have to reap sorrow or inward darkness, let us be
thankful that by experience our Father is teaching us how bitter as
well as evil a thing it is to forsake Him, and cast off His fear from
our wayward spirits.

IV. The cords can be loosened.

Bitter experience teaches that the imprisoning net clings too tightly
to be stripped from our limbs by our own efforts. Nay rather, the net
and the captive are one, and he who tries to cast off the oppression
which hinders him from following that which is good is trying to cast
off himself. The desperate problem that fronts every effort at
self-emendation has two bristling impossibilities in it: one, how to
annihilate the past; one, how to extirpate the evil that is part of my
very self, and yet to keep the self entire. The very terms of the
problem show it to be insoluble, and the climax of all honest efforts
at making a clean thing of an unclean by means within reach of the
unclean thing itself, is the despairing cry, 'O wretched man that I
am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?'

But to men writhing in the grip of a sinful past, or paralysed beyond
writhing, and indifferent, because hopeless, or because they have come
to like their captivity, comes one whose name is 'the Breaker,' whose
mission it is to proclaim liberty to the captives, and whose hand laid
on the cords that bind a soul, causes them to drop harmless from the
limbs and sets the bondsman free. Many tongues praise Jesus for many
great gifts, but His proper work, and that peculiar to Himself alone,
is His work on the sin and the sins of the world. He deals with that
which no man can deal with for himself or by his own power. He can
cancel our past, so that it shall not govern our future. He can give
new power to fight the old habits. He can give a new life which owes
nothing to the former self, and is free from taint from it. He can
break the entail of sin, the 'law of the spirit of life in Christ
Jesus' can make any of us, even him who is most tied and bound by the
chain of his sins, 'free from the law of sin and death.' We cannot
break the chains that fetter us, and our own struggles, like the
plungings of a wild beast caught in the toils, but draw the bonds
tighter. But the chains that cannot be broken can be melted, and it
may befall each of us as it befell the three Hebrews in the furnace,
when the king 'was astonished' and asked, 'Did not we cast three men
bound into the midst of the fire?' and wonderingly declared, 'Lo, I
see four men loose walking in the midst of the fire, and the aspect of
the fourth is like a son of the gods.'



WISDOM'S GIFT

'That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance.'--PROVERBS
viii. 21.


The word here rendered 'substance' is peculiar. Indeed, it is used in
a unique construction in this passage. It means 'being' or
'existence,' and seems to have been laid hold of by the Hebrew
thinkers, from whom the books commonly called 'the Wisdom Books' come,
as one of their almost technical expressions. 'Substance' may be used
in our translation in its philosophical meaning as the supposed
reality underlying appearances, but if we observe that in the parallel
following clause we find 'treasures,' it seems more likely that in the
text, it is to be taken in its secondary, and much debased meaning of
wealth, material possessions. But the prize held out here to the
lovers of heavenly wisdom is much more than worldly good. In deepest
truth, the being which is theirs is God Himself. They who love and
seek the wisdom of this book possess Him, and in possessing Him become
possessed of their own true being. They are owners and lords of
themselves, and have in their hearts a fountain of life, because they
have God dwelling with and in them.

I. The quest which always finds.

'Those who love wisdom' might be a Hebrew translation of
'philosopher,' and possibly the Jewish teachers of wisdom were
influenced by Greece, but their conception of wisdom has a deeper
source than the Greek had, and what they meant by loving it was a
widely different attitude of mind and heart from that of the Greek
philosopher. It could never be said of the disciples of a Plato that
their quest was sure to end in finding what they sought. Many a man
then, and many a man since, and many a man to-day, has 'followed
knowledge, like a sinking star,' and has only caught a glimmer of a
far-off and dubious light. There is only one search which is certain
always to find what it seeks, and that is the search which knows where
the object of it is, and seeks not as for something the locality of
which is unknown, but as for that which the place of which is certain.
The manifold voices of human aims cry, 'Who will show us any good?'
The seeker who is sure to find is he who prays, 'Lord, lift Thou up
the light of Thy countenance upon us.' The heart that truly and
supremely affects God is never condemned to seek in vain. The Wisdom
of this book herself is presented as proclaiming, 'They that seek me
earnestly shall find me,' and humble souls in every age since then
have set to their seal that the word is true to their experience. For
there are two seekers in every such case, God and man. 'The Father
seeketh such to worship Him,' and His love goes through the world,
yearning and searching for hearts that will turn to Him. The shepherd
seeks for the lost sheep, and lays it on his shoulders to bear it back
to the fold. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the seeking love of
God. And the human seeker finds God, or rather is found by God, for no
aspiration after Him is vain, no longing unresponded to, no effort to
find Him unresponded to. We have as much of God as we wish, as much as
our desires have fitted us to receive. The all-penetrating atmosphere
enters every chink open to it, and no seeking soul has ever had to
say, 'I sought Him but found Him not.'

Is there any other quest of which the same can be said? Are not all
paths of human effort strewed with the skeletons of men who have
fretted and toiled away their lives in vain attempts to grasp aims
that have eluded their grip? Do we not all know the sickness of
disappointed effort, or the sadder sickness of successful effort,
which has secured the apparent good and found it not so good after
all? The Christian life is, amid all the failures of human effort, the
only life in which the seeking after good is but a little less blessed
than the finding of it is, and in which it is always true that 'he
that seeketh findeth.' Nor does such finding deaden the spirit of
seeking, for in every finding there is a fresh discovery of new depths
in God, and a consequent quickening of desire to press further into
the abyss of His Being, so that aspiration and fruition ever beget
each other, and the upward, Godward progress of the soul is eternal.

II. The finding that is always blessed.

We have seen that being is the gift promised to the lovers of wisdom,
and that the promise may either be referred to the possession of God,
who is the fountain of all being, or to the true possession of
ourselves, which is a consequence of our possession of Him. In either
aspect, that possession is blessedness. If we have God, we have real
life. We truly own ourselves when we have God. We really live when God
lives in us, the life of our lives. We are ourselves, when we have
ceased to be ourselves, and have taken God to be the Self of
ourselves.

Such a life, God-possessing, brings the one good which corresponds to
our whole nature. All other good is fragmentary, and being fragmentary
is inadequate, as men's restless search after various forms of good
but too sadly proves. Why does the merchantman wander over sea and
land seeking for many goodly pearls? Because he has not found one of
great price, but tries to make up by their number for the
insufficiency of each. But the soul is made, not to find its wealth in
the manifold but in the one, and no aggregation of incompletenesses
will make up completeness, nor any number of partial satisfactions of
this and the other appetite or desire make a man feel that he has
enough and more than enough. We must have all good in one Person, if
we are ever to know the rest of full satisfaction. It will be fatal to
our blessedness if we have to resort to a hundred different sources
for different supplies. The true blessedness is simple and yet
infinitely complex, for it comes from possessing the one Person in
whom dwell for us all forms of good, whether good be understood as
intellectual or moral or emotional. That which cannot be everything to
the soul that seeks is scarcely worth the seeking, and certainly is
not wisely proposed as the object of a life's search, for such a life
will be a failure if it fails to find its object, and scarcely less
tragically, though perhaps less conspicuously, a failure if it finds
it. All other good is but apparent; God is the one real object that
meets all man's desires and needs, and makes him blessed with real
blessedness, and fills the cup of life with the draught that slakes
thirst and satisfies the thirstiest.

III. The blessedness that always lasts.

He who finds God, as every one of us may find Him, in Christ, has
found a Good that cannot change, pass, or grow stale. His blessedness
will always last, as long as he keeps fast hold of that which he has,
and lets no man take his crown.

For the Christian's good is the only one that does not intend to grow
old and pall. We can never exhaust God. We need never grow weary of
Him. Possession robs other wealth of its glamour, and other pleasures
of their poignant sweetness. We grow weary of most good things, and
those which we have long had, we generally find get somewhat faded and
stale. Habit is a fatal enemy to enjoyment. But it only adds to the
joy which springs from the possession of God in Christ. Swedenborg
said that the oldest angels look the youngest, and they who have
longest experience of the joy of fellowship with God are they who
enjoy each instance of it most. We can never drink the chalice of His
love to the dregs, and it will be fresh and sparkling as long as we
have lips that can absorb it. He keeps the good wine till the last.

The Christian's good is the only good which cannot be taken away. Loss
and change beggars the millionaire sometimes, and the possibility of
loss shadows all earthly good with pale foreboding. Everything that is
outside the substance of the soul can be withdrawn, but the possession
of God in Christ is so intimate and inward, so interwoven with the
very deepest roots of the Christian's personal being, that it cannot
be taken out from these by any shocks of time or change. There is but
one hand that can end that possession and that is his own. He can
withdraw himself from God, by giving himself over to sin and the
world. He can empty the shrine and compel the indwelling deity to say,
as the legend told was heard in the Temple the night before Roman
soldiers desecrated the Holy of Holies: Let us depart. But besides
himself, 'neither things present, nor things to come, nor height nor
depth, nor any other creature' has power to take away that faithful
God to whom a poor soul clings, and in whom whoso thus clings finds
its unchangeable good.

The Christian's good is the only one from which we cannot be taken. A
grim psalm paints for us the life and end of men 'who trust in the
multitude of their possessions,' and whose 'inward thought is that
they have founded families that will last.' It tells how 'this their
way is folly,' and yet is approved with acclamations by the crowd. It
lets us see the founder of a family, the possessor of broad acres,
going down to the grave, carrying nothing away, stripped of his glory
and with Death for his shepherd, who has driven his flock from
pleasant pastures here into the dreariness of Sheol. But that shepherd
has a double office. Some he separates from all their possessions,
hopes, and joys. Some he, stern though his aspect and harsh though his
guidance, leads up to the green pastures of God, and as the last
messenger of the love of God in Christ, unites the souls that found
God amid the distractions of earth with the God whom they will know
better and possess more fully and blessedly, amid the unending
felicities and progressive blessednesses of Heaven.



WISDOM AND CHRIST

'Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his
delight, rejoicing always before him; 31. Rejoicing in the habitable
part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of
men.'--PROVERBS viii. 30, 31.


There is a singular difference between the two portions of this Book
of Proverbs. The bulk of it, beginning with chapter x., contains a
collection of isolated maxims which may be described as the product of
sanctified common sense. They are shrewd and homely, but not
remarkably spiritual or elevated. To these is prefixed this
introductory portion, continuous, lofty in style, and in its
personification of divine wisdom, rising to great sublimity both of
thought and of expression. It seems as if the main body of the book
had been fitted with an introduction by another hand than that of the
compilers of the various sets of proverbial sayings. It is apparently
due to an intellectual movement, perhaps not uninfluenced by Greek
thought, and chronologically the latest of the elements composing the
Old Testament scriptures. In place of the lyric fervour of prophets,
and the devout intuition of psalmists, we have the praise of Wisdom.
But that noble portrait is no copy of the Greek conception, but
contains features peculiar to itself. She stands opposed to blatant,
meretricious Folly, and seeks to draw men to herself by lofty motives
and offering pure delights. She is not a person, but she is a
personification of an aspect of the divine nature, and seeing that she
is held forth as willing to bestow herself on men, that queenly figure
shadows the great truth of God's self-communication as being the end
and climax of all His revelation.

We are on the wrong tack when we look for more or less complete
resemblances between the 'Wisdom' of Proverbs and the 'Sophia' of
Greek thinkers. It is much rather an anticipation, imperfect but real,
of Jesus than a pale reflection of Greek thought. The way for the
perfect revelation of God in the incarnation was prepared by prophet
and psalmist. Was it not also prepared by this vision of a Wisdom
which was always with God, and yet had its delights with the sons of
men, and whilst 'rejoicing always before Him,' yet rejoiced in the
habitable parts of the earth?

Let us then look, however imperfect our gaze may be, at the
self-revelation in Proverbs of the personified divine Wisdom, and
compare it with the revelation of the incarnate divine Word.

I. The Self-revelation of Wisdom.

The words translated in Authorised Version, 'As one brought up with
him,' are rendered in Revised Version, 'as a master workman,' and seem
intended to represent Wisdom--that is, of course, the divine
Wisdom--as having been God's agent in the creative act. In the
preceding context, she triumphantly proclaims her existence before His
'works of old,' and that she was with God, 'or ever the earth was.'
Before the everlasting mountains she was, before fountains flashed in
the light and refreshed the earth, her waters flowed. But that
presence is not all, Wisdom was the divine agent in creation. That
thought goes beyond the ancient one: 'He spake and it was done.'
Genesis regards the divine command as the cause of creatural being.
God said, 'Let there be--and there was': the forthputting of His will
was the impulse to which creatures sprang into existence at response.
That is a great thought, but the meditative thinker in our text has
pondered over the facts of creation, and notwithstanding all their
apparent incompletenesses and errors, has risen to the conclusion that
they can all be vindicated as 'very good.' To him, this wonderful
universe is not only the product of a sovereign will, but of one
guided in its operations by all-seeing Wisdom.

Then the relation of this divine Wisdom to God is represented as being
a continual delight and a childlike rejoicing in Him, or as the word
literally means, a 'sporting' in Him. Whatever energy of creative
action is suggested by the preceding figure of a 'master workman,'
that energy had no effort. To the divine Wisdom creation was an easy
task. She was not so occupied with it as to interrupt her delight in
contemplating God, and her task gave her infinite satisfaction, for
she 'rejoiced always' before Him, and she rejoiced in His habitable
earth. The writer does not shrink from ascribing to the agent of
creation something like the glow of satisfaction that we feel over a
piece of well-done work, the poet's or the painter's rapture as he
sees his thoughts bodied forth in melody or glowing on canvas.

But there is a greater thought than these here, for the writer adds,
'and my delight was with the sons of men.' It is noteworthy that the
same word is used in the preceding verse. The 'delight of the heavenly
Wisdom in God' is not unlike that directed to man. 'The sons of men'
are the last, noblest work of Creation, and on them, as the shining
apex, her delight settles. The words describe not only what was true
when man came into being, as the utmost possible climax of creatural
excellence, but are the revelation of what still remains true.

One cannot but feel how in all this most striking disclosure of the
depths of God, a deeper mystery is on the verge of revelation. There
is here, as we have said, a personification, but there seems to be a
Person shining through, or dimly discerned moving behind, the curtain.
Wisdom is the agent of creation. She creates with ease, and in
creating delights in God as well as in her work, which calls for no
effort in doing, and done, is all very good. She delights most of all
in the sons of men, and that delight is permanent. Does not this
unknown Jewish thinker, too, belong, as well as prophet and psalmist,
to those who went before crying, Hosanna to Him that cometh in the
name of the Lord? Let us turn to the New Testament and find an answer
to the question.

II. The higher revelation of the divine Word.

There can be no doubt that the New Testament is committed to the
teaching that the Eternal Word of God, who was incarnate in Jesus, was
the agent of creation. John, in his profound prologue to the Gospel,
utters the deepest truths in brief sentences of monosyllables, and
utters them without a trace of feeling that they needed proof. To him
they are axiomatic and self evident. 'All things were made by Him.'
The words are the words of a child; the thought takes a flight beyond
the furthest reach of the mind of men. Paul, too, adds his Amen when
he proclaims that 'All things have been created through Him and unto
Him, and He is before all things, and in Him all things hold
together.' The writer of Hebrews declares a Son 'through whom also He
made the worlds, and who upholds all things by the word of His power'
and does not scruple at transferring to Jesus the grand poetry of the
Psalmist who hymned 'Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the
foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands.'
We speak of things too deep for us when we speak of persons in the
Godhead, but yet we know that the Eternal Word, which was from the
beginning, was made flesh and dwelt among us. The personified Wisdom
of Proverbs is the personal Word of John's prologue. John almost
quotes the former when he says 'the same was in the beginning with
God.' for his word recalls the grand declaration, 'The Lord possessed
me in the beginning of His way ... I was set up in the beginning or
ever the earth was.' Then there are two beginnings, one lost in the
depths of timeless being, one, the commencement of creative activity,
and that Word was with God in the remotest, as in the nearer,
beginning.

But the ancient vision of the Jewish thinker anticipated the perfect
revelation of the New Testament still further, in its thought of an
unbroken communion between the personified Wisdom and God. That dim
thought of perfect communion and interchange of delights flashes into
wondrous clearness when we think of Him who spake of 'the glory which
I had with Thee before the foundation of the world,' and calmly
declared: 'Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.' Into
that depth of mutual love we cannot look, and our eyes are too
dim-sighted to bear the blaze of that flashing interchange of glory,
but we shall rob the earthly life of Jesus of its pathos and saving
power, if we do not recognise that in Him the personification of
Proverbs has become a person, and that when He became flesh, He not
only took on Him the garment of mortality, but laid aside 'the visible
robes of His imperial majesty,' and that His being found in fashion as
a man was humbling Himself beyond all humiliation that afterwards was
His.

But still further, the Gospel reality fills out and completes the
personification of Proverbs in that it shows us a divine person who so
turned to 'the sons of men' that He took on Him their nature and
Himself bore their sicknesses. The Jewish writer had great thoughts of
the divine condescension, and was sure that God's love still rested on
men, sinful as they were, but not even he could foresee the miracle of
long-suffering love in the Incarnate Jesus, and he had no power of
insight into the depths of the heart of God, that enabled him to
foresee the sufferings and death of Jesus. Till that supreme
self-sacrifice was a fact, it was inconceivable. Alas, now that it is
a fact, to how many hearts that need it most is it still incredible.
But passing all anticipation as it is, it is the root of all joy, the
ground of all hope, and to millions of sinful souls it is their only
refuge, and their sovereign example and pattern of life.

The Jewish thinker had a glimpse of a divine wisdom which delighted in
man, but he did not dream of the divine stooping to share in man's
sorrows, or of its so loving humanity as to take on itself its
limitations, not only to pity these as God's images, but to take part
of the same and to die. That man should minister to the divine delight
is wonderful, but that God should participate in man's grief passes
wonder. Thereby a new tenderness is given to the ancient
personification, and the august form of the divine Wisdom softens and
melts into the yet more august and tender likeness of the divine Love.
Nor is there only an adumbration of the redeeming love of Jesus as He
dwells among us here, but we have to remember that Jesus delights in
the sons of men when they love Him back again. All the sweet mysteries
of our loving communion with Him, and of His joy in our faith, love,
and obedience, all the secret treasures of His self-impartation to,
and abiding in, souls that open themselves to His entrance, are
suggested in that thought. We can minister to the joy of Jesus, and
when He is welcomed into any heart, and any man's love answers His, He
sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied.

III. The call of the personal Word to each of us.

The Wisdom of Proverbs is portrayed in her queenly dignity, as calling
men to herself, and promising them the satisfaction of all their
needs. She describes herself that the description may draw men to her.
The self-revelation of God is His mightiest means of attracting men to
Him. We but need to know Him as He really is, in order to love Him and
cling to Him. A fairer form than hers has drawn near to us, and calls
us with tenderer invitations and better promises. The divine Wisdom
has become Man with 'sweet human hands and lips and eyes.' Such was
His delight in the sons of men that He emptied Himself of His glory,
and finished a greater work than that over which he presided when the
mountains were settled and the hills brought forth. Now He calls us,
and His summons is tenderer, and gives promise of loftier blessings
than the call of Wisdom was and did. She called to the simple, 'Come
eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.' He
invites us: 'If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink,' and
He furnishes a table for us, and calls us to eat of the bread which is
His body broken for us, and to drink of the wine which is His blood
shed for many for the remission of sins. She promises 'riches and
honour, yea, durable riches and righteousness.' His voice vibrates
with sympathy, and calls the weary and heavy laden, of whom she
scarcely thinks, and offers to them a gift, which may seem humble
enough beside her more dazzling offers of fruit, better than gold and
revenues, better than choice silver, but which come closer to
universal wants, the gift of rest, which is really what all men long
for, and none but they who take His yoke upon them possess. 'See that
ye refuse not Him that speaketh,' for if they escaped not when they
refused her that spake through the Jewish thinker's lips of old, 'much
more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that beseecheth us
from heaven.' Jesus is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and it
is in Him crucified that our weakness and our folly are made strong
and wise, and Wisdom's ancient promise is fulfilled: 'Whoso findeth me
findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.'



THE TWO-FOLD ASPECT OF THE DIVINE WORKING

'The way of the Lord is strength to the upright: but destruction shall
be to the workers of iniquity.'--PROVERBS x. 29.


You observe that the words 'shall be,' in the last clause, are a
supplement. They are quite unnecessary, and in fact they rather hinder
the sense. They destroy the completeness of the antithesis between the
two halves of the verse. If you leave them out, and suppose that the
'way of the Lord' is what is spoken of in both clauses, you get a far
deeper and fuller meaning. 'The way of the Lord is strength to the
upright; but destruction to the workers of iniquity.' It is the same
way which is strength to one man and ruin to another, and the moral
nature of the man determines which it shall be to him. That is a
penetrating word, which goes deep down. The unknown thinkers, to whose
keen insight into the facts of human life we are indebted for this
Book of Proverbs, had pondered for many an hour over the perplexed and
complicated fates of men, and they crystallised their reflections at
last in this thought. They have in it struck upon a principle which
explains a great many things, and teaches us a great many solemn
lessons. Let us try to get a hold of what is meant, and then to look
at some applications and illustrations of the principle.

I. First, then, let me just try to put clearly the meaning and bearing
of these words. 'The way of the Lord' means, sometimes in the Old
Testament and sometimes in the New, religion, considered as the way in
which God desires a man to walk. So we read in the New Testament of
'the way' as the designation of the profession and practice of
Christianity; and 'the way of the Lord' is often used in the Psalms
for the path which He traces for man by His sovereign will.

But that, of course, is not the meaning here. Here it means, not the
road in which God prescribes that we should walk, but that road in
which He Himself walks; or, in other words, the sum of the divine
action, the solemn footsteps of God through creation, providence, and
history. 'His goings forth are from everlasting.' 'His way is in the
sea.' 'His way is in the sanctuary.' Modern language has a whole set
of phrases which mean the same thing as the Jew meant by 'the way of
the Lord,' only that God is left out. They talk about the 'current of
events,' 'the general tendency of things,' 'the laws of human
affairs,' and so on. I, for my part, prefer the old-fashioned
'Hebraism.' To many modern thinkers the whole drift and tendency of
human affairs affords no sign of a person directing these. They hear
the clashing and grinding of opposing forces, the thunder as of
falling avalanches, and the moaning as of a homeless wind, but they
hear the sounds of no footfalls echoing down the ages. This ancient
teacher had keener ears. Well for us if we share his faith, and see in
all the else distracting mysteries of life and history, 'the way of
the Lord!'

But not only does the expression point to the operation of a personal
divine Will in human affairs, but it conceives of that operation as
one, a uniform and consistent whole. However complicated, and
sometimes apparently contradictory, the individual events were, there
was a unity in them, and they all converged on one result. The writer
does not speak of 'ways,' but of 'the way,' as a grand unity. It is
all one continuous, connected, consistent mode of operation from
beginning to end.

The author of this proverb believed something more about the way of
the Lord. He believed that although it is higher than our way, still,
a man can know something about it; and that whatever may be
enigmatical, and sometimes almost heart-breaking, in it, one thing is
sure--that as we have been taught of late years in another dialect, it
'makes for righteousness.' 'Clouds and darkness are round about Him,'
but the Old Testament writers never falter in the conviction, which
was the soul of all their heroism and the life blood of their
religion, that in the hearts of the clouds and darkness, 'Justice and
judgment are the foundations of His throne.' The way of the Lord, says
this old thinker, _is_ hard to understand, very complicated, full
of all manner of perplexities and difficulties, and yet on the whole
the clear drift and tendency of the whole thing is discernible, and it
is this: it is all on the side of good. Everything that is good, and
everything that does good, is an ally of God's, and may be sure of the
divine favour and of the divine blessing resting upon it.

And just because that is so clear, the other side is as true; the same
way, the same set of facts, the same continuous stream of tendency,
which is all with and for every form of good, is all against every
form of evil. Or, as one of the Psalmists puts the same idea, 'The
eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto
their cry. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil.' The
same eye that beams in lambent love on 'the righteous' burns terribly
to the evil doer. 'The face of the Lord' means the side of the divine
nature which is turned to us, and is manifested by His self-revealing
activity, so that the expression comes near in meaning to 'the way of
the Lord,' and the thought in both cases is the same, that by the
eternal law of His being, God's actions must all be for the good and
against the evil.

_They_ do not change, but a man's character determines which
aspect of them he sees and has to experience. God's way has a bright
side and a dark. You may take which you like. You can lay hold of the
thing by whichever handle you choose. On the one side it is convex, on
the other concave. You can approach it from either side, as you
please. 'The way of the Lord' must touch _your_ 'way.' Your cannot
alter that necessity. Your path must either run parallel in the same
direction with His, and then all His power will be an impulse to bear
you onward; or it must run in the opposite direction, and then all His
power will be for your ruin, and the collision with it will crush you
as a ship is crushed like an egg-shell, when it strikes an iceberg.
You can choose which of these shall befall you.

And there is a still more striking beauty about the saying, if we give
the full literal meaning to the word 'strength.' It is used by our
translators, I suppose, in a somewhat archaic and peculiar
signification, namely, that of a stronghold. At all events the Hebrew
means a fortress, a place where men may live safe and secure; and if
we take that meaning, the passage gains greatly in force and beauty.
This 'way of the Lord' is like a castle for the shelter of the
shelterless good man, and behind those strong bulwarks he dwells
impregnable and safe. Just as a fortress is a security to the
garrison, and a frowning menace to the besiegers or enemies, so the
'name of the Lord is a strong tower,' and the 'way of the Lord' is a
fortress. If you choose to take shelter within it, its massive walls
are your security and your joy. If you do not, they frown down grimly
upon you, a menace and a terror. How differently, eight hundred years
ago, Normans and Saxons looked at the square towers that were built
all over England to bridle the inhabitants! To the one they were the
sign of the security of their dominion; to the other they were the
sign of their slavery and submission. Torture and prison-houses they
might become; frowning portents they necessarily were. 'The way of the
Lord' is a castle fortress to the man that does good, and to the man
that does evil it is a threatening prison, which may become a hell of
torture. It is 'ruin to the workers of iniquity.' I pray you, settle
for yourself which of these it is to be to you.

II. And now let me say a word or two by way of application, or
illustration, of these principles that are here.

First, let me remind you how the order of the universe is such that
righteousness is life and sin is death. This universe and the fortunes
of men are complicated and strange. It is hard to trace any laws,
except purely physical ones, at work. Still, on the whole, things do
work so that goodness is blessedness, and badness is ruin. That is, of
course, not always true in regard of outward things, but even about
them it is more often and obviously true than we sometimes recognise.
Hence all nations have their proverbs, embodying the generalised
experience of centuries, and asserting that, on the whole, 'honesty is
the best policy,' and that it is always a blunder to do wrong. What
modern phraseology calls 'laws of nature,' the Bible calls 'the way of
the Lord'; and the manner in which these help a man who conforms to
them, and hurt or kill him if he does not, is an illustration on a
lower level of the principle of our text. This tremendous congeries of
powers in the midst of which we live does not care whether we go with
it or against it, only if we do the one we shall prosper, and if we do
the other we shall very likely be made an end of. Try to stop a train,
and it will run over you and murder you; get into it, and it will
carry you smoothly along. Our lives are surrounded with powers, which
will carry our messages and be our slaves if we know how to command
nature by obeying it, or will impassively strike us dead if we do not.

Again, in our physical life, as a rule, virtue makes strength, sin
brings punishment. 'Riotous living' makes diseased bodies. Sins in the
flesh are avenged in the flesh, and there is no need for a miracle to
bring it about that he who sows to the flesh shall 'of the flesh reap
corruption.' God entrusts the punishment of the breach of the laws of
temperance and morality in the body to the 'natural' operation of such
breach. The inevitable connection between sins against the body and
disease in the body, is an instance of the way of the Lord--the same
set of principles and facts--being strength to one man and destruction
to another. Hundreds of young men in Manchester--some of whom are
listening to me now, no doubt--are killing themselves, or at least are
ruining their health, by flying in the face of the plain laws of
purity and self-control. They think that they must 'have their fling,'
and 'obey their instincts,' and so on. Well, if they must, then
another 'must' will insist upon coming into play--and they must reap
as they have sown, and drink as they have brewed, and the grim saying
of this book about profligate young men will be fulfilled in many of
them. 'His bones are full of the iniquity of his youth, which shall
lie down with him in the grave.' Be not deceived, God is not mocked,
and His way avenges bodily transgressions by bodily sufferings.

And then, in higher regions, on the whole, goodness makes blessedness,
and evil brings ruin. All the powers of God's universe, and all the
tenderness of God's heart are on the side of the man that does right.
The stars in their courses fight against the man that fights against
Him; and on the other side, in yielding thyself to the will of God and
following the dictates of His commandments, 'Thou shalt make a league
with the beasts of the field, and the stones of the field shall be at
peace with thee.' All things serve the soul that serves God, and all
war against him who wars against his Maker. The way of the Lord cannot
but further and help all who love and serve Him. For them all things
must work together for good. By the very laws of God's own being,
which necessarily shape all His actions, the whole 'stream of tendency
without us makes for righteousness.' In the one course of life we go
with the stream of divine activity which pours from the throne of God.
In the other we are like men trying to row a boat _up_ Niagara.
All the rush of the mighty torrent will batter us back. Our work will
be doomed to destruction, and ourselves to shame. For ever and ever to
be good is to be well. An eternal truth lies in the facts that the
same word 'good' means pleasant and right, and that sin and sorrow are
both called 'evil.' All sin is self-inflicted sorrow, and every 'rogue
is a roundabout fool.' So ask yourselves the question: 'Is my life in
harmony with, or opposed to, these omnipotent laws which rule the
whole field of life?'

Still further, this same fact of the two-fold aspect and operation of
the one way of the Lord will be made yet more evident in the future.
It becomes us to speak very reverently and reticently about the
matter, but I can conceive it possible that the one manifestation of
God in a future life may be in substance the same, and yet that it may
produce opposite effects upon oppositely disposed souls. According to
the old mystical illustration, the same heat that melts wax hardens
clay, and the same apocalypse of the divine nature in another world
may to one man be life and joy, and to another man may be terror and
despair. I do not dwell upon that; it is far too awful a thing for us
to speak about to one another, but it is worth your taking to heart
when you are indulging in easy anticipations that of course God is
merciful and will bless and save everybody after he dies. Perhaps--I
do not go any further than a perhaps--perhaps God cannot, and perhaps
if a man has got himself into such a condition as it is possible for a
man to get into, perhaps, like light upon a diseased eye, the purest
beam may be the most exquisite pain, and the natural instinct may be
to 'call upon the rocks and the hills to fall upon them' and cover
them up in a more genial darkness from that Face, to see which should
be life and blessedness.

People speak of future rewards and punishments as if they were given
and inflicted by simple and divine volition, and did not stand in any
necessary connection with holiness on the one hand or with sin on the
other. I do not deny that some portion of both bliss and sorrow may be
of such a character. But there is a very important and wide region in
which our actions here must automatically bring consequences hereafter
of joy or sorrow, without any special retributive action of God's.

We have only to keep in view one or two things about the future which
we know to be true, and we shall see this. Suppose a man with his
memory of all his past life perfect, and his conscience stimulated to
greater sensitiveness and clearer judgment, and all opportunities
ended of gratifying tastes and appetites, whose food is in this world,
while yet the soul has become dependent on them for ease and comfort,
What more is needed to make a hell? And the supposition is but the
statement of a fact. We seem to forget much; but when the waters are
drained off all the lost things will be found at the bottom.
Conscience gets dulled and sophisticated here. But the icy cold of
death will wake it up, and the new position will give new insight into
the true character of our actions. You see how often a man at the end
of life has his eyes cleared to see his faults. But how much more will
that be the case hereafter! When the rush of passion is past, and you
are far enough from your life to view it as a whole, holding it at
arm's length, you will see better what it looks like. There is nothing
improbable in supposing that inclinations and tastes which have been
nourished for a lifetime may survive the possibility of indulging them
in another life, as they often do in this; and what can be worse than
such a thirst for one drop of water, which never can be tasted more?
These things are certain, and no more is needed to make sin produce,
by necessary consequence, misery, and ruin; while similarly, goodness
brings joy, peace, and blessing.

But again, the self-revelation of God has this same double aspect.

'The way of the Lord' may mean His process by which He reveals His
character. Every truth concerning Him may be either a joy or a terror
to men. All His 'attributes' are builded into 'a strong tower, into
which the righteous runneth, and is safe,' or else they are builded
into a prison and torture-house. So the thought of God may either be a
happy and strengthening one, or an unwelcome one. 'I remembered God,
and was troubled' says one Psalmist. What an awful confession--that
the thought of God disturbed him! The thought of God to some of us is
a very unwelcome one, as unwelcome as the thought of a detective to a
company of thieves. Is not that dreadful? Music is a torture to some
ears: and there are people who have so alienated their hearts and
wills from God that the Name which should be 'their dearest faith' is
not only their 'ghastliest doubt,' but their greatest pain. O
brethren, the thought of God and all that wonderful complex of mighty
attributes and beauties which make His Name should be our delight, the
key to all treasures, the end of all sorrows, our light in darkness,
our life in death, our all in all. It is either that to us, or it is
something that we would fain forget. Which is it to you?

Especially the Gospel has this double aspect. Our text speaks of the
distinction between the righteous and evil doers; but how to pass from
the one class to the other, it does not tell us. The Gospel is the
answer to that question. It tells us that though we are all 'workers
of iniquity,' and must, therefore, if such a text as this were the
last word to be spoken on the matter, share in the ruin which smites
the opponent of the divine will, we may pass from that class; and by
simple faith in Him who died on the Cross for all workers of iniquity,
may become of those righteous on whose side God works in all His way,
who have all His attributes drawn up like an embattled army in their
defence, and have His mighty name for their refuge.

As the very crown of the ways of God, the work of Christ and the
record of it in the Gospel have most eminently this double aspect. God
meant nothing but the salvation of the whole world when He sent us
this Gospel. His 'way' therein was pure, unmingled, universal love. We
can make that great message untroubled blessing by simply accepting
it. Nothing more is needed but to take God at His word, and to close
with His sincere and earnest invitation. Then Christ's work becomes
the fortress in which we are guarded from sin and guilt, from the
arrows of conscience, and the fiery darts of temptation. But if not
accepted, then it is not passive, it is not nothing. If rejected, it
does more harm to a man than anything else can, just because, if
accepted, it would have done him more good. The brighter the light,
the darker the shadow. The pillar which symbolised the presence of God
sent down influences on either side; to the trembling crowd of the
Israelites on the one hand, to the pursuing ranks of the Egyptians on
the other; and though the pillar was one, opposite effects streamed
from it, and it was 'a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light
by night to these.' Everything depends on which side of the pillar you
choose to see. The ark of God, which brought dismay and death among
false gods and their worshippers, brought blessing into the humble
house of Obed Edom, the man of Gath, with whom it rested for three
months before it was set in its place in the city of David. That which
is meant to be the savour of life unto life must either be that or the
savour of death unto death.

Jesus Christ is _something_ to each of us. For you who have heard
His name ever since you were children, your relation to Him settles
your condition and your prospects, and moulds your character. Either
He is for you the tried corner-stone, the sure foundation, on which
whosoever builds will not be confounded, or He is the stone of
stumbling, against which whosoever stumbles will be broken, and which
will crush to powder whomsoever it falls upon, 'This Child is set for
the rise' or for the fall of all who hear His name. He leaves no man
at the level at which He found him, but either lifts him up nearer to
God, and purity and joy, or sinks him into an ever-descending pit of
darkening separation from all these. Which is He to you? Something He
must be--your strength or your ruin. If you commit your souls to Him
in humble faith, He will be your peace, your life, your Heaven. If you
turn from His offered grace, He will be your pain, your death, your
torture. 'What maketh Heaven, that maketh hell.' Which do you choose
Him to be?



THE MANY-SIDED CONTRAST OF WISDOM AND FOLLY

'Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof
is brutish. 2. A good man obtaineth favour of the Lord: but a man of
wicked devices will he condemn. 3. A man shall not be established by
wickedness; but the root of the righteous shall not be moved. 4. A
virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed
is as rottenness in his bones. 5. The thoughts of the righteous are
right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit. 6. The words of the
wicked are to lie in wait for blood: but the mouth of the upright
shall deliver them. 7. The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the
house of the righteous shall stand. 8. A man shall be commended
according to his wisdom: but he that is of a perverse heart shall be
despised. 9. He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than
he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread. 10. A righteous man
regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked
are cruel. 11. He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread:
but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding. 12. The
wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous
yieldeth fruit. 13. The wicked is snared by the transgression of his
lips: but the just shall come out of trouble. 14. A man shall be
satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth; and the recompence of a
man's hands shall be rendered unto him. 15. The way of a fool is right
in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is
wise.'--PROVERBS xii. 1-15.


The verses of the present passage are a specimen of the main body of
the Book of Proverbs. They are not a building, but a heap. The stones
seldom have any mortar between them, and connection or progress is for
the most part sought in vain. But one great antithesis runs through
the whole--the contrast of wisdom or righteousness with folly or
wickedness. The compiler or author is never weary of setting out that
opposition in all possible lights. It is, in his view, the one
difference worth noting between men, and it determines their whole
character and fortunes. The book traverses with keen observation all
the realm of life, and everywhere finds confirmation of its great
principle that goodness is wisdom and sin folly.

There is something extremely impressive in this continual reiteration
of that contrast. As we read, we feel as if, after all, there were
nothing in the world but it and its results. That profound sense of
the existence and far-reaching scope of the division of men into two
classes is not the least of the benefits which a thoughtful study of
Proverbs brings to us. In this lesson it is useless to attempt to
classify the verses. Slight traces of grouping appear here and there;
but, on the whole, we have a set of miscellaneous aphorisms turning on
the great contrast, and setting in various lights the characters and
fates of the righteous and the wicked.

The first mark of difference is the opposite feeling about discipline.
If a man is wise, he will love 'knowledge'; and if he loves knowledge,
he will love the means to it, and therefore will not kick against
correction. That is another view of trials from the one which
inculcates devout submission to a Father. It regards only the benefits
to ourselves. If we want to be taught anything, we shall not flinch
from the rod. There must be pains undergone in order to win knowledge
of any sort, and the man who rebels against these shows that he had
rather be comfortable and ignorant than wise. A pupil who will not
stand having his exercises corrected will not learn his faults. On the
other hand, hating reproof is 'brutish' in the most literal sense; for
it is the characteristic of animals that they do not understand the
purpose of pain, and never advance because they do not. Men can grow
because they can submit to discipline; beasts cannot improve because,
except partially and in a few cases, they cannot accept correction.

The first proverb deals with wisdom or goodness in its inner source;
namely, a docile disposition. The two next deal with its consequences.
It secures God's favour, while its opposite is condemned; and then, as
a consequence of this, the good man is established and the wicked
swept away. The manifestations of God's favour and its opposite are
not to be thrown forward to a future life. Continuously the sunshine
of divine love falls on the one man, and already the other is
condemned. It needs some strength of faith to look through the shows
of prosperity often attending plain wickedness, and believe that it is
always a blunder to do wrong.

But a moderate experience of life will supply many instances of
prosperous villainy in trade and politics which melted away like mist.
The shore is strewn with wrecks, dashed to pieces because
righteousness did not steer. Every exchange gives examples in plenty.
How many seemingly solid structures built on wrong every man has seen
in his lifetime crumble like the cloud masses which the wind piles in
the sky and then dissipates! The root of the righteous is in God, and
therefore he is firm. The contrast is like that of Psalm i.--between
the tree with strong roots and waving greenery, and the chaff,
rootless, and therefore whirled out of the threshing-floor.

The universal contrast is next applied to women; and in accordance
with the subordinate position they held in old days, the bearing of
her goodness is principally regarded as affecting her husband. That
does not cover the whole ground, of course. But wherever there is a
true marriage, the wife will not think that woman's rights are
infringed because one chief issue of her beauty of virtue is the
honour and joy it reflects upon him who has her heart. 'A virtuous
woman' is not only one who possesses the one virtue to which the
phrase has been so miserably confined, but who is 'a woman of
strength'--no doll or plaything, but

  'A perfect woman, nobly planned
  To warn, to comfort, and command.'

The gnawing misery of being fastened like two dogs in a leash to one
who 'causes shame' is vividly portrayed by that strong figure, that
she is like 'rottenness in his bones,' eating away strength, and
inflicting disfigurement and torture.

Then come a pair of verses describing the inward and outward work of
the two kinds of men as these affect others. The former verses dealt
with their effects on the actors; the present, with their bearing on
others. Inwardly, the good man has thoughts which scrupulously keep
the balance true and are just to his fellows, while the wicked plans
to deceive for his own profit. When thoughts are translated into
speech, deceit bears fruit in words which are like ambushes of
murderers, laying traps to destroy, while the righteous man's words
are like angels of deliverance to the unsuspecting who are ready to
fall into the snare. Selfishness, which is the root of wickedness,
will be cruelty and injustice when necessary for its ends. The man who
is wise because God is his centre and aim will be merciful and
helpful. The basis of philanthropy is religion. The solemn importance
attached to speech is observable. Words can slay as truly as swords.
Now that the press has multiplied the power of speech, and the world
is buzzing with the clatter of tongues, we all need to lay to heart
the responsibilities and magic power of spoken and printed words, and
'to set a watch on the door of our lips.'

Then follow a couple of verses dealing with the consequences to men
themselves of their contrasted characters. The first of these (verse
7) recurs to the thought of verse 3, but with a difference. Not only
the righteous himself, but his house, shall be established. The
solidarity of the family and the entail of goodness are strongly
insisted on in the Old Testament, though limitations are fully
recognised. If a good man's son continues his father's character, he
will prolong his father's blessings; and in normal conditions, a
parent's wisdom passes on to his children. Something is wrong when, as
is so often the case, it does not; and it is not always the children's
fault.

The overthrow of the wicked is set in striking contrast with their
plots to overthrow others. Their mischief comes back, like an
Australian boomerang, to the hand that flings it; and contrariwise,
delivering others is a sure way of establishing one's self. Exceptions
there are, for the world-scheme is too complicated to be condensed
into a formula; but all proverbs speak of the average usual results of
virtue and vice, and those of this book do the same. Verse 8 asserts
that, on the whole, honour attends goodness, and contempt wickedness.
Of course, companions in dissipation extol each other's vices, and
launch the old threadbare sneers at goodness. But if wisdom were not
set uppermost in men's secret judgment, there would be no hypocrites,
and their existence proves the truth of the proverb.

Verse 9 seems suggested by 'despised' in verse 8. There are two kinds
of contempt--one which brands sin deservedly, one which vulgarly
despises everybody who is not rich. A man need not mind, though his
modest household is treated with contempt, if quiet righteousness
reigns in it. It is better to be contented with little, and humble in
a lowly place, than to be proud and hungry, as many were in the
writer's time and since. A foolish world set on wealth may despise,
but its contempt breaks no bones. Self-conceit is poor diet.

This seems to be the first of a little cluster of proverbs bearing on
domestic life. It prefers modest mediocrity of station, such as Agur
desired. Its successor shows how the contrasted qualities come out in
the two men's relation to their domestic animals. Goodness sweeps a
wide circle touching the throne of God and the stall of the cattle. It
was not Coleridge who found out that 'He prayeth best who loveth best'
but this old proverb-maker; and he could speak the thought without the
poet's exaggeration, which robs his expression of it of half its
value. The original says 'knoweth the soul' which may indeed mean,
'regardeth the life' but rather seems to suggest sympathetic interest
in leading to an understanding of the dumb creature, which must
precede all wise care for its well-being. It is a part of religion to
try to enter into the mysterious feelings of our humble dependants in
farmyard and stable. On the other hand, for want of such sympathetic
interest, even when the 'wicked' means to be kind, he does harm; or
the word rendered 'tender mercies' may here mean the feelings
(literally, 'bowels') which, in their intense selfishness, are cruel
even to animals.

Verse 11 has no connection with the preceding, unless the link is
common reference to home life and business. It contrasts the sure
results of honest industry with the folly of speculation. The Revised
Version margin 'vain things' is better than the text 'vain persons,'
which would give no antithesis to the patient tilling of the first
clause. That verse would make an admirable motto to be stretched
across the Stock Exchange, and like places on both sides of the
Atlantic. How many ruined homes and heart-broken wives witness in
America and England to its truth! The vulgar English proverb, 'What
comes over the Devil's back goes under his belly,' says the same
thing. The only way to get honest wealth is to work for it. Gambling
in all its forms is rank folly.

So the next proverb (verse 12) continues the same thought, and puts it
in a somewhat difficult phrase. It goes a little deeper than the
former, showing that the covetousness which follows after vain things,
is really wicked lusting for unrighteous gain. 'The net of evildoers'
is better taken as in the margin (Rev. Ver.) 'prey' or 'spoil,' and
the meaning seems to be as just stated. Such hankering for riches, no
matter how obtained, or such envying of the booty which admittedly has
been won by roguery, is a mark of the wicked. How many professing
church members have known that feeling in thinking of the millions of
some railway king! Would they like the proverb to be applied to them?

The contrast to this is 'the root of the righteous yields fruit,' or
'shoots forth,' We have heard (verse 3) that it shall never be moved,
being fixed in God; now we are told that it will produce all that is
needful. A life rooted in God will unfold into all necessary good,
which will be better than the spoil of the wicked. There are two ways
of getting on--to struggle and fight and trample down rivals; one, to
keep near God and wait for him. 'Ye fight and war; ye have not,
because ye ask not.'

The next two proverbs have in common a reference to the effect of
speech upon the speaker. 'In the transgression of the lips is an evil
snare'; that is, sinful words ensnare their utterer, and whoever else
he harms, he himself is harmed most. The reflex influence on character
of our utterances is not present to us, as it should be. They leave
stains on lips and heart. Thoughts expressed are more definite and
permanent thereby. A vicious thought clothed in speech has new power
over the speaker. If we would escape from that danger, we must
_be_ righteous, and _speak_ righteousness; and then the same
cause will deepen our convictions of 'whatsoever things are lovely and
of good report.'

Verse 14 insists on this opposite side of the truth. Good words will
bring forth fruit, which will satisfy the speaker, because, whatever
effects his words may have on others, they will leave strengthened
goodness and love of it in himself. 'If the house be worthy, your
peace shall rest upon it; if not, it shall return to you again.' That
reaction of words on oneself is but one case of the universal law of
consequences coming back on us. We are the architects of our own
destinies. Every deed has an immortal life, and returns, either like a
raven or a dove, to the man who sent it out on its flight. It comes
back either croaking with blood on its beak, or cooing with an olive
branch in its mouth. All life is at once sowing and reaping. A harvest
comes in which retribution will be even more entire and accurate.

The last proverb of the passage gives a familiar antithesis, and
partially returns to the thought of verse 1. The fool has no standard
of conduct but his own notions, and is absurdly complacent as to all
his doings. The wise seeks better guidance than his own, and is
docile, because he is not so ridiculously sure of his infallibility.
No type of weak wickedness is more abominable to the proverbialist
than that of pert self-conceit, which knows so little that it thinks
it knows everything, and is 'as untameable as a fly.' But in the
wisest sense, it is true that a mark of folly is
self-opinionativeness; that a man who has himself for teacher has a
fool for scholar; that the test of wisdom is willingness to be taught;
and, especially, that to bring a docile, humble spirit to the Source
of all wisdom, and to ask counsel of God, is the beginning of true
insight, and that the self-sufficiency which is the essence of sin, is
never more fatal than when it is ignorant of guilt, and therefore
spurns a Saviour.



THE POOR RICH AND THE RICH POOR

'There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing; there is that
maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.'--PROVERBS xiii. 7.


Two singularly-contrasted characters are set in opposition here. One,
that of a man who lives like a millionaire and is a pauper; another,
that of a man who lives like a pauper and is rich. The latter
character, that of a man who hides and hoards his wealth, was,
perhaps, more common in the days when this collection of Proverbs was
put together, because in all ill-governed countries, to show wealth is
a short way to get rid of it. But they have their modern
representatives. We who live in a commercial community have seen many
a blown-out bubble soaring and glittering, and then collapsing into a
drop of soapsuds, and on the other hand, we are always hearing of
notes and bank-books being found stowed away in some wretched hovel
where a miser has died.

Now, I do not suppose that the author of this proverb attached any
kind of moral to it in his own mind. It is simply a jotting of an
observation drawn from a wide experience; and if he meant to teach any
lesson by it, I suppose it was nothing more than that in regard to
money, as to other things, we should avoid extremes, and should try to
show what we are, and to be what we seem. But whilst thus I do not
take it that there is any kind of moral or religious lesson in the
writer's mind, I may venture, perhaps, to take this saying as being a
picturesque illustration, putting in vivid fashion certain great
truths which apply in all regions of life, and which find their
highest application in regard to Christianity, and our relation to
Jesus Christ. There, too, 'there is that maketh himself rich, and yet
hath nothing; and there is that maketh himself poor, and yet'--or one
might, perhaps, say _therefore_--'hath great riches.' It is from
that point of view that I wish to look at the words at this time. I
must begin with recalling to your mind,

I. Our universal poverty.

Whatever a man may think about himself, however he may estimate
himself and conceit himself, there stand out two salient facts, the
fact of universal dependence, and the fact of universal sinfulness,
which ought to bear into every heart the consciousness of this
poverty. A word or two about each of these two facts.

First, the fact of universal dependence. Now, wise men and deep
thinkers have found a very hard problem in the question of how it is
possible that there should be an infinite God and a finite universe
standing, as it were, over against Him. I am not going to trouble you
with the all-but-just-succeeding answers to that great problem which
the various systems of thinking have given. These lie apart from my
present purpose. But what I would point out is that, whatever else may
be dark and difficult about the co-existence of these two, the
infinite God and the finite universe, this at least is sun-clear, that
the creature depends absolutely for everything on that infinite
Creator. People talk sometimes, and we are all too apt to think, as if
God had made the world and left it. And we are all too apt to think
that, however we may owe the origination of our own personal existence
to a divine act, the act was done when we began to be, and the life
was given as a gift that could be separated from the Bestower. But
that is not the state of the case at all. The real fact is that life
is only continued because of the continued operation on every living
thing, just as being is only continued by reason of the continued
operation on every existing thing, of the Divine Power. 'In Him we
live,' and the life is the result of the perpetual impartation from
Himself 'in whom all things consist,' according to the profound word
of the Apostle. Their being depends on their union with Him. If it
were possible to cut a sunbeam in two, so that the further half of it
should be separated from its vital union with the great central fire
from which it rushed long, long ago, that further half would pale into
darkness. And if you cut the connection between God and the creature,
the creature shrivels into nothing. By Him the spring buds around us
unfold themselves; by Him all things are. So, at the very foundation
of our being there lies absolute dependence.

In like manner, all that we call faculties, capacities, and the like,
are, in a far deeper sense than the conventional use of the word
'gift' implies, bestowments from Him. The Old Testament goes to the
root of the matter when, speaking of the artistic and aesthetic skill
of the workers in the fine arts in the Tabernacle, it says, 'the
Spirit of the Lord' taught Bezaleel; and when, even in regard to the
brute strength of Samson--surely the strangest hero of faith that ever
existed--it says that when 'the Spirit of the Lord came upon him,'
into his giant hands there was infused the strength by which he tore
the lion's jaws asunder. In like manner, all the faculties that men
possess they have simply because He has given them. 'What hast thou
that thou hast not received? If thou hast received, why dost thou
boast thyself?' So there is a great psalm that gathers everything that
makes up human life, and traces it all to God, when it says, 'They
shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house,' for from
God comes all that sustains us; 'Thou shalt make them drink of the
river of Thy pleasures,' for from God comes all that gladdens us;
'with Thee is the fountain of life,' for from Him flow all the tiny
streams that make the life of all that live; 'in Thy light shall we
see light,' for every power of perceiving, and all grace and lustre of
purity, owe their source to Him. As well, then, might the pitcher
boast itself of the sparkling water that it only holds, as well might
the earthen jar plume itself on the treasure that has been deposited
in it, as we make ourselves rich because of the riches that we have
received. 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the
mighty man glory in his strength. Let not the rich man glory in his
riches; but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.'

Then, turn for a moment to the second of the facts on which this
universal poverty depends, and that is the fact of universal
sinfulness. Ah! there is one thing that is our own--

  'If any power we have, it is to will.'

We have that strange faculty, which nobody has ever thoroughly
explained yet, but which we all know to exist, of wrenching ourselves
so far away from God, 'in whom we live and move and have our being,'
that we can make our thoughts and ways, not merely lower than, but
contradictory of, and antagonistic to, His thoughts, and His ways.
Conscience tells us, and we all know it, that we are the causes of our
own actions, though from Him come the powers by which we do them. The
electricity comes from the central powerstation, but it depends on us
what sort of wheels we make it drive, and what kind of work we set it
to do. Make all allowances you like for circumstances--what they call
nowadays 'environment,' by which formidable word some people seem to
think that they have explained away a great many difficulties--make
all allowances you like for inheritance--what they now call
'heredity,' by which other magic word people seem to think that they
may largely obliterate the sense of responsibility and sin--allow as
much as you like, in reason, for these, and there remains the
indestructible consciousness in every man, 'I did it, and it was my
fault that I did it; and the moral guilt remains.'

So, then, there are these two things, universal dependence and
universal sinfulness, and on them is built the declaration of
universal poverty. Duty is debt. Everybody knows that the two words
come from the same root. What we ought is what we owe. We all owe an
obedience which none of us has rendered. Ten thousand talents is the
debt and--'they had nothing to pay.' We are like bankrupts that begin
business with a borrowed capital, by reason of our absolute
dependence; and so manage their concerns as to find themselves
inextricably entangled in a labyrinth of obligations which they cannot
discharge. We are all paupers. And so I come to the second point, and
that is--

II. The poor rich man.

'There is that maketh himself rich, and yet hath nothing.' That
describes accurately the type of man of whom there are thousands; of
whom there are dozens listening to me at this moment; who ignores
dependence and is not conscious of sin, and so struts about in
self-complacent satisfaction with himself, and knows nothing of his
true condition. There is nothing more tragic--and so it would be seen
to be if it were not so common--than that a man, laden, as we each