The Hell of Death—Church Usages—Every Man In His Place
1 Chronicles 9
If we regard all the names which occur in this chapter under the image of a deep flowing river, all we can hope to do is to wander by its banks awhile, and pluck here and there a flower, or watch here and there some shining bubble as it rises, gleams, and dies. We can hardly realise the toil that is expressed in the keeping of so large and critical a register. It is easy for us to run through the names, as but so many letters in the alphabet thrown into various relations and signifying little or nothing in particular. But let any one connected with a large family make a point of giving the name of every individual connected with that family, say during the last two hundred years, and he will soon see how vast and intricate were the labours of the registrars of Israel. We cannot too often repeat that all these lists of names represent a solemn process always taking effect in the divine administration of human affairs. From an early period in Biblical history we are accustomed to think of God keeping books in which are written names, and deeds, and judgments—a register traced in every line by a hand that cannot err. In the last portion of the sacred canon we come again upon the same idea, for John, the holy seer, noted the production of books, and of one particular book in which the history of the world was written. Solemn beyond all imagination is the thought that whilst literary men are writing the histories of their respective countries, God himself is putting on record the whole drama of human life the world over, a drama in which every actor is still alive, and upon whom special judgment will be eventually delivered. Historians speak about pre-historic time, they draw a line beyond which they know nothing; to that dim region they refer as the sphere of fable, conjecture, mythology; they can only begin at a definite date and work down to modern times. Not so with the divine historian; he begins his narrative far away in eternity, yea, by looking into the elements if we may so say, which constitute his own nature, and his history is the more complete and entrancing in that what he says of humanity he is really giving a revelation of himself. Hence the mysteriousness of the Bible. We feel that we do not get at the beginning so far as mere letters are concerned, so that when the letter comes before the eye it brings with it vitality and colour, celestial and indescribable. All edifices of stone began, continued, and ended, by dates clearly determinable; but who knows where cloud first took shape, where rainbow first spanned the sky, when music first broke in upon the silence of space? It is even so with every individual man"s life, the man feels as if he had been in a pre-existent state; he claims spiritual kinship and masonic brotherhood, and all the charm of soul friendship without being able to assign any reason of a strictly logical kind for the outgoing of his affection and confidence. All that we ever see is but a little and obscure part of Song of Solomon -called history. The infinite volume lies under the divine hand, and when we come to peruse it we shall find many a mystery illuminated, and many a fear dispelled.
In the very first verse, we come upon the expression—"Who were carried away to Babylon for their transgression." Familiar words these in various relations. Transgression always carries a man away from flowery paths, from sweet rest, from conditions of growth and perfectness; carries him away into degradation, bondage, and despair. The way of transgressors is hard. Let no man or nation think that transgression is not followed sooner or later by adequate punishment. If we could in imagination summon all transgressors, their unanimous testimony would be that their master is deceitful, cruel, and implacable. Men do not think of the bondage of Babylon, they think of the delight of the immediate satisfaction of burning desires. Men are made mad by sin. When the soul rises in the fierceness of self-will, when a legion of devils seem to besiege the heart, when the ear is filled with promises of delight, it is in vain for virtue to expostulate, or for judgment to threaten and denounce. But, alas I to what a Babylon is the sinful soul being driven! What time for reflection, unavailing repentance, and inexpressible suffering, is surely coming! It is the merest and emptiest sentimentalism to turn away from this aspect of the case, and to speak of the love or mercy of God. Love has been trampled upon, mercy has been abused, gospels with all their mystery of redemption and pardon have been scornfully entreated; what wonder therefore, that the apostle should solemnly declare that the only thing which remains in the case of impenitence is—a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. We must not look upon the future punishment of the wicked as a mystery of which no sign or hint has ever been given in this life. All the way through God has been pointing out that there is as certainly a way to destruction, as there is a way to immortality. Let there be no mistake about this matter, as if God had concealed the one way, and pointed out only the other. In his very first interview with Prayer of Manasseh, God pointed out the hell of death. We are not to suppose that what we speak of as the bottomless pit is an invention of the middle ages, or a mere priestly contrivance, for the frightening of souls. It is hardly too much to say that there is more of hell in the Book of Genesis than there is of heaven. If we are the subjects of surprise at all, it must be that any heaven is possible to a soul which has disregarded the way of God. It is the more important to notice this, because there are not wanting those who would teach us that destruction, or hell, or the worm that dieth not, or the fire which is not quenched, is a superstition of days quite modern. Our answer is an empthatic No. Go to Genesis, the very book with which the Bible begins, and there you will find the revelation of the issue of disobedience.
In the thirteenth verse we read—"Very able men for the work of the service of the house of God," in other words, mighty men of valour, an expression which occurs in chapter7, 1 Chronicles 7:9. The ability is noticeable in connection with its definite exercise. We do not read of ability in some merely general way, but of ability specially directed to the house of God. It is often supposed that ability is necessary in a larger way everywhere than in the sanctuary. It is not uncommon to imagine that the son who has least mental power, may be able to serve in the Church. All this will be changed just in proportion as right conceptions of the Church of God prevail. If that Church is simply managed by mechanical regulations, by the starting of wheels, the turning of taps, the management of congregational machinery, then an automaton may some day be invented, that will conduct the whole process without intelligence or feeling. But if the Church of God is humanity in its best aspect, and humanity engaged in its most beneficent activities; if it is humanity intent upon bringing all races and grades of men into sympathy, and conducting them towards a worthy destiny, then is the Church a place for statesmanship, genius, and more than soldier-like discipline and authority. The Church does not exist for the purpose of retaining dogmas that are dead, no more than society is an institution for the preservation of barbarisms which civilisation has superseded. The Church as to its forms, usages, and methods must adapt itself to all variations of progress. In its quest after God, in its love of truth, in its consecration to the cross of Christ, in its sense of responsibility, it must remain the same through all the ages; we thus have in the Christian Church what may be termed the permanent and the changeable—the eternal truth, and the variable instrumentality.
In the nineteenth verse men are referred to as being over the work of the service, keepers of the gates of the tabernacle. Here there is no reference to special genius. The men were what we should call churchwardens, attending to outward things, to necessary but not supreme arrangements connected with the tabernacle or temple. But it is just here that Christianity in some of its rarest qualities is revealed. We must never forget that there are men unknown for genius or large capacity who can be entrusted with the lighting of the lamps or the keeping of the gate better than many poets or philosophers. The question should always be, what is the thing to be done and who is the best man to do it? There is quite as much responsibility in its own degree resting upon the door-keeper as upon the high priest. It does not look so within our narrow limits of judgment, yet it may be really so in the estimation and criticism of God. But the distance is not always between the high priest and the keepers of the gates of the tabernacle; it is often between the high priest and the man who stands next to him in dignity; it is often between two men who are so nearly equal as scarcely to be measurable in influence as between one another; it is where responsibility seems to lessen its claims as it goes down from office to office that men must be particularly careful lest they suppose that the office determines the responsibility. If a man can only keep a gate, then in keeping a gate he rises to the very highest degree of responsibility or obligation. Very often the highest work of the Church fails in the attainment of its object because it is not adequately supported by the secondary order of officers. When the keeper of the gate feels that he is as responsible for the success of the temple service as is the high priest himself, the institution will be equally vital at every point and exquisitely adapted to the ends proposed by its creation. Zechariah according to the twenty-first verse was porter of the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, that is to say, he was the door-keeper of the tent of meeting. Door-keeping was no sinecure in the olden days. There were two hundred and twelve porters or door-keepers according to the twenty-second verse. Nehemiah speaks of the total of the porters as one hundred and seventy-two. Ezra reckoned the number as one hundred and thirty-nine. Under David the number of warders was ninety-three. David and Samuel had ordained the door-keepers in their office of trust. It has been pointed out that no mention is made elsewhere of Samuel"s part in arranging the Levitical service; but tradition associated him with David in the work of religious reform, and the statement of the text may be true in spirit though not in form. It is interesting to notice according to the best authorities that the families of the temple warders, like those of the singers, lived on their farms in the villages round about Jerusalem, and came up for their duties every seventh day. There is always much work to be done which the supreme men of the Church—as priests, prophets, interpreters,—cannot do so well as it can be done by intellectually inferior men. The rule should be every man in his place, and a place for every man.
Almighty God, let thy morning be unto us as an opening into heaven. We are tired of the earth. We look upon it in itself; it began so little and so cold, and so full of disappointment: a garden of bitterness, a vineyard in which we seek wine and find nothing but sourness: but when we see its connection with heaven it becomes beautiful, a worthy habitation for a little while, a vital opportunity. So may we regard it at this moment. Let the light which is above the brightness of the sun make our souls glad; let our poor voices be taken up on high, purified of all dissonance, and made to harmonise with the music of the angels. Give us to feel how near the earth is to heaven, and how at any moment heaven may open and take us into its light and peace. Thus may we rejoice with exceeding joy, and thus may the peace we possess pass all understanding—an infinite depth, a tranquillity that cannot be perturbed. Great peace have they that love thy law; they are blessed with the calm of heaven; though the earth be removed and though the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea: a strong rock is our God, a hiding-place not to be violated. When we think of ourselves, and trust to our own little strength, then the day becomes night, and the night becomes sevenfold in darkness; but when we think of God, there is no more sea, no more death, no more night, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor any pain. May we be filled with God; may we be the subjects of spiritual ecstasy, gracious transport, the holy enthusiasm which lifts the soul above all detail of care, and anxiety, and darkness, and leads it into the liberty of heaven. For occasional blessedness we are grateful: but having tasted that the Lord is gracious we would eat and drink abundantly of his goodness. Lord, excite our hunger, and then satisfy it; afflict us with a gracious thirst, and then quench it with the river of life. Is not all time an opportunity for the display of thy goodness? We have lived, and therefore we believe. Dead men cannot praise thee, but conscious men feel that thou mayest be, and the wisest of them dare not deny thee. But to some thou art ever coming as a light of heaven, a glory ineffable; and they assert thine existence, and declare thy providence, and vindicate thy righteousness. Because we have lived we believe; we see what thou hast done in the days that are gone, and all thy doing has become a noble argument, conclusive by its very persuasion. For all thy love how shall we bless thee? It falls out of every pore of the sky. Thy goodness endureth for ever—now beautiful, now solemn, now a great blessing, now an immeasurable bereavement, now a cradle, now a grave; but it is the same God that worketh in all. Thine acts are full of tenderness, thy dispensations of affliction are full of mercy. Why will we not let thee alone? Why will we criticise our Father, whose right hand is power, whose left hand is mercy, whose head is Wisdom of Solomon, whose heart is love? Forgive us wherein we have been ungrateful, frivolous, worldly, selfish, and set within us the Spirit of the dear Christ, Son of God, God the Song of Solomon, who loved us, and gave himself for us, and has been a highway unto God, that we may find at thy throne pardon and peace. May Jesus dwell within us, then there shall be no darkness in the soul; may the Christ of God be our guest, then there shall be bread enough and to spare for the spirit; may he who is the Light of the World be the light of our individual life. Dry our tears; call back the wanderer; if any man has lost the way and wants to find the road again, send angels to help him, and all through eventide may he rejoice in that his feet are walking the right path. For all mankind we pray; the whole world is thine; all men belong to the common Father; may they belong to one another, may recognition take the place of alienation, may hostility be displaced by trust, and may the whole world find kinship in Christ. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
"... very able men for the work of the service of the house of God."— 1 Chronicles 9:13.
Religious ability is marked by its own peculiarity.—Men are able in various directions and in various senses.—A man may be a brilliant musician, but a useless ploughman; or he may be great as a ploughman, and utterly useless in the matter of exposition and eloquence.—There is a religious genius, a faculty which knows what Israel ought to do, which notes all circumstances and combinations of circumstances, and knows exactly when the blow should be delivered; there is a genius which knows when to halt, when to move, when to lift the voice into a commanding tone, and when to whisper as if afraid to add pain to the soreness of the heart.—We are not called to ecclesiastical statesmanship in this verse; we are called to the kind of work which we can do best.—There are very able doorkeepers, as well as very able preachers; there are very able administrators, as well as very able expositors: the one cannot do without the other, they are members one of another, and together they constitute the complete body of Christ.—What a gift some men have for the fascination and instruction of young minds!—Children know them, and hail them, and love them, giving their little hearts to them with all confidence and thankfulness.—Other men cannot teach the children, but they can address men and women in terms that stir the heart and rouse the energy to its highest endeavours.—What we do want in the house of God is ability, that is to say, faculty that can utilise all other men, penetrate into the meaning of all passing events, and tell exactly when work is to be done, and when it is not to be attempted.—Many are willing who are not able; many are able in nine particulars, but fail in the tenth.—Sometimes a whole number of talents is thrust away because of one talent, the talent of using the others is wanting.—We have heard of some men who had not the talent to know how to use their talents.—So there is continually going on great waste in society, and great waste in the Church.—We should call attention to the waste, because in so doing we may be beginning a process remedial.—Probably every man is more or less open to this charge of impairing his own ability.—His vanity defeats his power; his love of praise throws a doubt upon the genuineness of his prayers; his infirmity is magnified above his ability.—Here is another ground on which may be conducted with highest use the process of self-examination.—Men should not be discouraged because of their one point of weakness, but being warned of it they should address themselves to its fortification.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 9". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34