In the second verse we read,—"Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel." We have had that instruction before. God is a God of numbers. He numbereth the stars; and as for those who hold sweet counsel together respecting him and his kingdom, he says,—"They shall be mine in that day when I make up my jewels." "The very hairs of your head are all numbered"—not counted only, but singled out as if each particular hair bore its own number. Whatever will assist the imagination in the direction of recognising the exquisiteness and minuteness of the divine care may be employed in this service of exposition. As we said when the census was first taken, God could have numbered the people himself, but instead of undertaking the work himself he appointed others to carry out his purpose. God is always numbering. He may number to find out who are present, but in numbering to find out who are present he soon comes to know who are absent He knows the total number, but it is not enough for him to know the totality: he must know whether David"s place is empty, whether the younger son has gone from the father"s house, whether one piece of silver out of ten has been lost, whether one sheep out of a hundred has gone astray. We are all of consequence to the Father, because he does not look upon us through the glory of his majesty but through the solicitude of his fatherhood and his love. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; it were better for a man that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea, than that he should offend—wound the heart of—one of these little ones. Song of Solomon, everywhere we find God concerning himself with individuals, with single families, with solitary lives,—stooping in marvellous condescension, sweeping the house diligently until he find the one piece that was lost. We need this kind of thought in human life: living would be weary work without it. If we do not need the thought every day in the week, we need it twice over some days, and so we make up the average of necessity. The earth needs the sky. Even in the larger world of thought, history, science, it is not enough to have mere facts, measurable as to their magnitude and numerable as to their succession. Even literature has its poetry, its fiction,—its noble imagination. There is a great philosophy in all this. The human heart will not be caged within small bars; if it must be caged, it will be bounded only by the infinity of God. So the hardest mind has its religion; it calls that religion "poetry," "imagination," "fiction"; but it has its larger world. This same thought runs through all time, all life. Even the day has its night of dreams. Song of Solomon, we need the comforting thought that God looks after us, numbers us, and makes a register in which the meanest name is written down with palpable and infinite care.
This chapter reads very much like the other chapter in which the census was first taken. The same great and noble names recur. Who could distinguish between the first chapter of Numbers and the twenty-sixth if they were read in immediate succession? Who would not declare that the chapters are identical? Yet they are not the same. The vision that mistakes them as being identical is a clouded eye; the ear that thinks it hears the same music in the enumeration of the names is an ear not trained to the discrimination of the finer sound: it is a rough ear—a mere highway of sound, not critical, watching, balancing and understanding the minuter tones and the tones that are subdued and so finely-coloured as to seem to be without flush of light. So roughly do we read the Bible, that we imagine that every chapter is like every other chapter. We do not number after God"s critical method, but after some rude and coarse way of our own, by which we miss all finest lines, all tenderest suggestion of life and mystic presence. But are there not many names just the same? Yes, the generic names are the same. Still we read, even in the twenty-sixth chapter of Numbers, of Reuben and Simeon, of Judah and Issachar, of Zebulun and Joseph, of Manasseh and Ephraim, of Benjamin and Daniel, and Asher and Naphtali. The historic names are the same, but what a going-down in the detail! We must enter into this thought and follow its applications if we would be wise in history: generic names are permanent, but the detail of life is a panorama continually changing. It is so always and everywhere. The world has its great generic and permanent names, and it is not enough to know these and to recite them with thoughtless fluency. Who could not take the statistics of the world in general names? Then we should have the wise and the foolish, the rich and the poor, the faithful and the faithless, the good and the bad. That has been the record of life from the beginning; and yet that is too broadly-lined to be of any real service to us in the estimate of human prayers and human moral quality. What about the detailed Numbers, the individual men, the particular households, the children in the crowd? It was in these under-lines that the great changes took place. The bold, leading names remained the same, but they stood up like monumental stones over graves in which thousands of men had been buried. So with regard to our own actions: we speak of them too frequently with generic vagueness: we are wanting in the persistent criticism that will never allow two threads of life to be intertangled, that must have them separated and specifically examined. God will have no roughness of judgment, no bold vagueness, no mere striking of averages; but heart-searching, weighing—not the action: any manufactured scales might weigh a deed. He will have the motive weighed, the invisible force, the subtle, ghostly movement that stirs the soul; not to be found out by human Wisdom of Solomon, but to be seized, detected, examined, estimated, and determined by the living Spirit of the living God. That is how a man"s actions, motives, and whole inner life must be weighed and estimated.
The sin of the individual does not destroy the election of the race. Israel is still here, but almost countless thousands of Israelites have sinned and gone to their doom. With all this individual criticism and specific numbering, do not imagine that it lies within the power of any man to stop the purpose or arrest the kingdom of God. There is a consolatory view of all human tumult and change, as well as a view that tries the faith and exhausts the patience of the saint Balaam could not curse Israel, but Israel cursed himself. That is always so. No man outside of us can do us any permanent harm, though his tongue be set on fire of hell and he have the wit of Beelzebub in the invention of evil and malignant accusations. Balaam brought Israel to curse himself. What highest prophet cannot do externally the meanest tempter may do internally and spiritually. Balaam brought Israel into entanglement with the Midianitish women, and in one day four-and-twenty thousand Israelites fell—suicides!—not blasted by an external curse of priest or prophet or magical conjurer, but lapsed in heart, devoted to things forbidden,—self-damned. What wonder if God would have the people renumbered—not only that he might take some account of life but make a solemn registry of death? It is well to number the dead, to tell of what diseases they die, and to have our attention directed to the silent cemetery as well as to the tumultuous city. How stands the kingdom then? The kingdom still stands. Did we suppose that four-and-twenty thousand Israelites all caught in sin and all smitten with a common plague would arrest the kingdom of God? What a mischievous imagination! What a shallow and foolish sophism! The kingdom is decreed, the covenant is made, and none can hinder. We bewilder ourselves by looking at individual sinners, or by fixing our wondering attention upon individual saints or believers, and saying,—What progress can the kingdom of heaven make when prominent Christians are so faulty in character or in spirit? We then talk as foolish people talk. The kingdom of heaven is an everlasting kingdom: it moves on through city and cemetery, up steep hills and down dark valleys, and nothing can arrest its progress. It is not in the power of the individual—let us say again—to stop the upbuilding of the theocracy. We lament that a man here or there should have done wrong,—why, if four-and-twenty thousand men were all to do wrong to-day and die, the kingdom is not touched: the four corners of it stand to the wind and defy the tempest. The counsels of eternity are not exposed to the irregularities of time. God has decreed that man shall bear his image and likeness and shall be beautiful with ineffable comeliness, and Philistine, or Canaanite, or Moabite, cannot keep back the purpose from ultimate fulfilment. We live in a sanctuary; we are bound to an infinite thought. It is pitiful for any Christian man to talk about individual instances of lapse or faithlessness, as though they touched the infinite calm of the mind of God and the infinite integrity of the covenant of Heaven. It is so in all other departments of life—why not so on the largest and noblest scale? The nation may be an honest nation, though a thousand felons may be under lock and key at the very moment when the declaration of the national honesty is made; the nation may be declared to be a healthy country, though ten thousand men be burning with fever at the very moment the declaration of health is made. So the Church of the living Christ, redeemed at an infinite cost, sealed by an infinite love, is still the Lamb"s Bride, destined for the heavenly city, though in many instances there may be defalcation, apostasy,—yea, very treason against truth and good. Live in the larger thought; do not allow the mind to be troubled and distressed by individual instances. The kingdom is one, and, like the seamless robe, must be taken in its unity.
Individuals must not trust to ancestral piety. Individual Israelites might have quoted the piety of many who had gone before; but that piety goes for nothing when the individual will is in rebellion against God. No man has any overplus of piety. No man may bequeath his piety to his posterity. A man cannot bequeath his learning,—how can he bequeath his holiness? It does not lie within a testator"s power to leave wisdom to any child of his; how, then, can he leave to any child of his character, good standing before the heavens? Nor must the individual trust to the divine covenant in the time of his evil-doing and in his devotion to the Baal of Midian; the covenant will not save him; he cannot break the covenant, for the covenant relates to larger lines, to further issues; and though he be left like a dead dog in the wilderness, the army will go on and the Church will be admitted into heaven. A wondrous conception is this thought that human detail does not interfere with divine purpose; and a marvellous thing it is to fix the mind upon the intention of God to create in the long run a humanity that cannot die. When theology, in its boldest propositions, comes to be restated in the light of the completest research and experience, the mind will be projected to points of issue, and will be enabled to take in such comprehensive views of divine thought and purpose, as shall reconcile, in their vastness and their harmony, things which at present assume the sharpness and the vexatiousness of contradiction. We will look too near the dust. The artist will not allow us to go too near his canvas; but we thrust our very faces into the painting of God;—what wonder if it should appear rough and wanting in the mystery of perspective? Stand back; give God time; let the relations of survey and criticism be wisely adjusted; and when God"s processes are complete then say whether he hath done all things well.
A mournful line is this:—"But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai"—except Caleb and Joshua ( Numbers 26:64-65). But there are always two old men left, blessed be God! We need not make a mournful line of it wholly. There are always some left who keep up good traditions, who link us to a noble past, who remind us of altars where men prayed with vehement strength and prevailing persuasiveness. The congregation changes year by year, but new men succeed to vacant places; and yet in every congregation there are old Caleb and Joshua, rich with years and experience; and we say that if two such old men could join hands, they might stretch back a hundred-and-fifty or two hundred years and touch some good man"s hand in the centuries dead and gone. Not a man left,—yet Israel was left, more than six hundred thousand strong. True, the census had decreased by some eighteen hundred since it was taken in Sinai; but Israel remained. True, many had gone down through living their days in vanity and spending their nights in the service of the evil one; but Israel, the chosen of God, remained—a mighty host, a great and blessed people. Not a man save two,—but God lives, God remains; Jesus is the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Preachers die, but the ministry continues; sermons are ended, but the Christian pulpit stands from age to age; congregations change, but the Lord"s Gospel has never wanted a hearing people, an attentive host, crying for the word of the Lord. So we have the permanent and the transitory—the eternal God, and the changing host; and yet amid the changing host we have a central quantity: the details change, the great columnar line abides, and none can touch it. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his";—and no false soul can pass the gate and elude the criticism of Omniscience.
Moses laid down the law ( Exodus 30:12-13) that whenever the people were numbered, an offering of half a shekel should be made by every man above twenty years of age, by way of atonement or propitiation. A previous law had also ordered that the firstborn of man and of beast should be set apart, as well as the first fruits of agricultural produce; the first to be redeemed, and the rest with one exception offered to God ( Exodus 13:12-13; Exodus 22:29).
Many instances of numbering are recorded in the Old Testament. The first was under the express direction of God ( Exodus 38:26) in the third or fourth month after the Exodus, during the encampment at Sinai, chiefly for the purpose of raising money for the Tabernacle. The numbers then taken amounted to603,550 men, which may be presumed to express with greater precision the round numbers of600,000 who are said to have left Egypt at first ( Exodus 12:37).
Again, in the second month of the second year after the Exodus ( Numbers 1:2-3). This census was taken for a double purpose: (a) to ascertain the number of fighting men from the age of twenty to fifty. The total number on this occasion, exclusive of the Levites, amounted to603,550 ( Numbers 2:32), Josephus says603,650; each tribe was numbered, and placed under a special leader, the head of the tribe. (b) To ascertain the amount of the redemption offering due on account of all the firstborn, both of persons and cattle. Accordingly the numbers were taken of all the firstborn malt persons of the whole nation above one month old, including all of the tribe of Levi of the same age. The Levites, whose numbers amounted to22,000, were taken in lieu of the firstborn males of the rest of Israel, whose numbers were22,273, and for the surplus of273 a money payment of1,365 shekels, or five shekels each, was made to Aaron and his sons ( Numbers 3:39, Numbers 3:51).
Another numbering took place thirty-eight years afterwards, previous to the entrance into Canaan, when the total number, excepting the Levites, amounted to601,730 males, showing a decrease of1,870. All tribes presented an increase except the following:—Reuben, of2,770; Simeon, 37,100; Gad, 5,150; Ephraim and Naphtali, 8,000 each. The tribe of Levi had increased by727 ( Numbers 26). The great diminution which took place in the tribe of Simeon may probably be assigned to the plague consequent on the misconduct of Zimri (Calmet, on Numbers 25:9). On the other hand, the chief instances of increase are found in Prayer of Manasseh, of20,500; Benjamin, 10,200; Asher, 11,900; and Issachar, 9,900. None were numbered at this census who had been above twenty years of age at the previous one in the second year, excepting Caleb and Joshua ( Numbers 26:63, Numbers 26:65).
—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.
Almighty God, let the words of truth sink into our hearts and abide there like roots planted by thine own hand which shall spring up into beauty and strength in days to come. We know the right way in all things; our hearts by thy grace point it out and say to us in plain words, This is the way: walk in it. Yet there is another voice in our hearts which bids us walk another path which seemeth right, but the end whereof is death. So we are sex between these two voices, each of which is strong and clear and full of persuasion; and now we walk the right road, and now the wrong one; now we sing like children going home, and now we bow down the head and cry like prodigals whose sins have blotted out the light. This is our life: it is indeed our own—not some other man"s, which we may speak about and feel for, approve or condemn; but it is our own spirit, our very self. We see it, know it, own it, and are lost between conflicting and tremendous emotions. Thou dost know us altogether—the quantities in which we are made, the forces which constitute our energy, all the weak points in our character, all the infirmities of our constitution, all the peculiarities of our circumstances; the very hairs of our head are all numbered. We can, therefore, find rest in the infinity of thy knowledge, and in the infinity of thy compassion. We have no answer; justification we have none. We could plead weakness, temptation, and suddenness of trial; but in all these things we should answer and condemn ourselves without the opening of thy mouth in judgment. Verily, our mercies are more in number than our difficulties; thy Cross is infinitely in excess of our necessity, thou art near to help, if we were but ready to pray. We have all things in God as revealed to us in Christ Jesus his Song of Solomon, and yet we go hither and thither like men doomed to want, elected to perish under cold, and storm-clouds, and fated to die in darkness for whose gloom there are no words. Thus we belie thee; we falsify thee to ourselves and before men, and we bring the Cross of Christ into disrepute, because having seen it and felt its power, we still talk of our sins as of an unlifted load, we still point to our iniquities as if they had not been dissolved and destroyed by thy forgiveness. Pity our piety; forgive the poverty of our worship, and see in the incertitude of our religious action how pitifully weak we are at the very centre of our being, how wanting in faith, how ungrateful for the promises of God. Still we hover about thy Book as if even yet we might find honey in the flower; still we inquire meekly for the house of God, if haply we may there see an outline of his image and hear some tone of the music of his love. We would hope in these things and because of them—yea, we would multiply them into assurances of thy nearness, goodness, and purpose to save; because we are so near the altar we feel we cannot die. We have brought our mercies to our memory, that we might carry them up into songs of praise, and express our feeling in loud psalms of reverence and adoration. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost Thou hast satisfied our hunger; thou hast drawn water for us when the well was deep, and we had nothing to draw with; thou hast made our bed in our affliction; and as for our friends who are not with us in the body, thou hast so quickened our imagination and our sympathy, that they are with us in soul, and we are in fellowship with them at the throne of grace. Thou hast given us views of life which have abolished death: so now we triumph in solitude and in pain; we know that we are separated by the thinnest of clouds, the flimsiest of veils, from that which is now invisible and eternal. Here we stand; in the strength of this faith we struggle; in the inspiration of this confidence we move onward from day to day, writing what we can of good upon the record whilst the sun lasts, and confident that it is good in Christ Jesus thy Son to fall into the hands of the living God who knows us better than we can know ourselves, whose mercy exceeds our sin and whose great heaven makes our earth look so small. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Famous in the congregation."— Numbers 26:9
This is a necessity of human life.—In every assembly diversity of position and influence must be recognised.—The evil to be guarded against is jealousy.—Aaron and his sister envied Moses, because of his preeminence.—Men who are truly famous have restraints enough to keep them within proper limits; restraints which are often unknown to the very people who envy them.—Fame is an element of moral power.—To have fame, is to have opportunities innumerable for profitably addressing public attention.—Jesus Christ"s fame went throughout all Syria.—The more his fame extended the larger became the number of applications for healing.—It is right to have high spiritual ambitions.—Men who work solely to acquire fame, will be disappointed.—"He that saveth his life shall lose it."—We have simply to do the work and let fame come or go as it may.—The motive of fame is contemptible vanity; but fame as an honest result cf beneficent life may become the beginning of new and large advantages.—There were famous men amongst the disciples of Jesus Christ.—Peter, James, and John were admitted to privileges which other disciples did not enjoy.—Jesus Christ laid down the great doctrine: "He that is greatest among you, let him be the servant of all."—Eminence is not to be a justification of tyranny.—There is a bad fame as well as a good one.—"Diotrephes loveth to have the preeminence."—Simon Magus gave out that he was some great one.—Character is of infinitely greater importance than reputation.—It is of no importance how much fame a man may have, if he has not self-respect.—A man must, so to say, confirm his own fame, if it is to be of any service to him or to others.—The approval of a good conscience is the fame which every honest man supremely desires.—We know not who may be famous at the last, for then many an undiscovered worker will be revealed and crowned.—The "well done" of the Lord, is the fame after which every labourer should aspire.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"They became a sign."— Numbers 26:10
So even the worst actions may be turned to public utility.—Let the word "sign" be considered equal to the word "example," and then every drunkard, liar, thief, becomes a sign.—A sign was attached to Cain, and that sign is attached to all his progeny.—In the language of the prophet, "the shew of their countenance doth witness against them,"—A very solemn purpose is thus served, by all persons who have been faithless or wicked.—"Remember Lot"s wife."—New periods are dated from the commission of great crimes.—Some names cannot be mentioned without sending a shudder through the hearers.—We may well say of such names that they have become "signs."—Whole histories may be summed up in a name.—All present examples of evil may be traced to a definite source.—There is a family or kinship of evil, the very household of Satan.—The other side of this text is happily true, for good men are examples stimulating in noble directions.—"Ye have heard of the patience of Job."—The eleventh, chapter of Hebrews vividly illustrates the power of brilliant examples.—One of two things is certain, men either leave a name that degrades or a name that elevates.—It is in our power to say which name we shall leave.
The Progeny of Evil
WE read that "the sons of Eliab" were "Nemuel, and Dathan, and Abiram. This is that Dathan and Abiram, which were famous in the congregation, who strove against Moses and against Aaron in the company of Korah, when they strove against the Lord: and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, what time the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men: and they became a sign. Notwithstanding, the children of Korah died not." This statement is pregnant with conflicting inferences and suggestions about some of which at least we can be definitely and instructively certain. I wished in reading the verse to be able to find in it an expression of mercy, but in this quest I had rather to force my desires than to follow the lead of my understanding. I wanted the "notwithstanding" to be a gracious word indicative of a sparing and discriminating mercy on the part of the Destroyer. Then the text might have run in some such melody as this: The father was a bad Prayer of Manasseh, but the children were spared; notwithstanding the judgment that righteously fell upon him, God said,—The children need not fall in their parent"s apostasy: they shall be kept from harm and danger; they shall be succoured, and defended, and cherished, and all the grace of Heaven shall be their security; the father was, indeed, a bad man: he outraged the sanctity of all the solemn relationships which he sustained: the earth opened and swallowed him and his company and fraternity; but his children love me, serve me, go in the right roads, and they are this day spared because of the pureness and the love of their heart and life. I wanted to rest there, and pass on into the next verse. It would have been a happy adieu to the children of Korah, it would have satisfied the poetry of the occasion; but the reason of it—the steady, stern, sober lesson of it—so to say, laid its grip upon me and said,—You have not got the meaning of that verse yet: read it again; be faithful to what you yourself know of life, and experience, and judgment, and fail not to beat out the solemn music from this judicial record. We cannot read things as we would like to read them. There is not a man in the world who likes to stoop over the cradle and think of original sin. It is repugnant in every aspect and in every inference, and seems to be contradicted by the whole appearance of the occasion, and to be one huge black lie, not against the child only, but against God. The question Isaiah,—How shall we read life? Shall we read it with intent to find out its meaning, or with the hope of smoothing down its rough sentences, escaping its penalties, and hiding ourselves from its judgments? We had better have a little rough reading at the beginning. Nothing stands but real truth, that which is perfectly transparent in its moral beauty; and we had, therefore, better bring ourselves to critical and definite reading. Better have the roughness at first than at last; better be wise in the morning and have the whole day to work in, than begin as fools who, having wasted the light, fall to praying in the darkness.
"Notwithstanding, the children of Korah died not." May we not read it,—that though the sire dies the progeny lives? There is a continuity of evil in the world. We only cut off the tops of iniquities: their deep roots we do not get at; we pass the machine over the sward, and cut off the green tops of things that are offensive to us; but the juicy root is struck many inches down into the earth, and our backs will hardly be turned, and the click of the iron have ceased, before those roots are asserting themselves in new and obvious growths. Iniquity is not to be shaved off the earth—ironed and mowed away like an obnoxious weed,—it must be uprooted, torn right up by every thinnest, frailest fibre of its bad self, and then, having been torn out, left for the fire of the sun to deal with—the fire of mid-day is against it and will consume it. And thus only can growths of evil be eradicated and destroyed. Is Cain dead? Not he! Is not Cain a historical character? Not he!—in any sense that excludes his being a member of a Christian congregation, and, it may be, a tenant of our own hearts. There is some danger in making little children cry over the story of Cain and Abel. We put a great block of time between them and the murder of the sweet Abel, son of Adam and Eve: we never give them the impression that this happened this morning, and that Cain"s strong arm is lifted up at this moment and is about to descend in murderous stroke upon weakness and innocence. There is no reason to deny the historical antiquity of the literal event; but we shall lose the meaning of it, and all the wholesomeness of its moral instruction, if we do not tell the child to ask whether he himself is Cain or Abel—the one of them he must be. Only in this way can the Bible keep pace with the ages and look in upon every modern window as the day"s dawning light. Is Achan the thief dead, as well as Cain the murderer? Long ago he stole the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment—yet he stole them this morning—he is stealing them now! A poor thing to say that Achan lived three thousand or four thousand years ago! He is now with leering eye looking round to observe who is watching him; he has got the wedge of gold secreted, and he is now folding the Babylonish garment quietly, noiselessly; he will be off presently, he will hide them whilst other eyes are shut in prayer! How pleasant to talk of him as "he"! What a relief to speak of him as an outside person,—another person! What a cruel criticism that turns the sword point right round towards our own heart, saying,—Your name is Achan! Do not run away because the merely literal incidents do not fit the occasion. The Bible is within the Bible; the meaning is within the meaning. Search into spiritual intent and purpose, and let the man who thinks he is not an Achan stand up in God"s house if he dare. It is understood that he may bluffly deny the charge in conversation, that he may add lies to his knavery in protesting his respectability; but the rudeness of his self-defence is only an additional proof of his spiritual culpability. Is Judas the traitor dead, as well as Cain the murderer and Achan the thief? No: Korah is dead, Cain is dead, Achan is dead, Judas is dead—notwithstanding, the children of these men died not. I have heard an English audience, made up presumably of Christian men, laugh quite audibly when told that in heathen countries it is possible to tempt an idolater to sell his little god; I have heard a Christian assembly laugh when told that some heathen priests have even sold rosaries and sacred things out of the temple courts, but especially laugh when told that some poor idolater has sold his idol for silver or gold. Do Christians know what they are doing when they laugh at such infirmity? Is there no selling of gods in this country? Is there no selling of the Son of God for any number of pieces of silver—even less than thirty—that he will bring? O lying Christian, laugher at poor heathen dupes and at heathen worshippers of vain idols! ours may be a deadlier crime. The man who sells his principles, who keeps quiet in critical times, lest he should bring himself into difficulty or subject his business to loss—it shall be more tolerable for the heathen man in the day of judgment than for that Christian traitor! Every day we are selling Christ, every day we are crucifying the Son of God afresh and putting him to an open shame; and yet at a missionary meeting how some men gather themselves together and chuckle with pious hypocrisy over the poor deluded idolater who parted with his stone god for gold! Men do not think of these things. When you smothered your convictions you sold your God. When, instead of standing square up, and saying, "I will not," that you might save your situation, or your family from starvation, you bartered your God for gold. I cannot sit quietly and hear the heathen laughed at because they take off their little rosaries and sell them for money. They know no better. That very parting with the rosary may be a step in an upward direction when the whole solution is before us. But as for us, to be dumb in the presence of evil, to turn away lest we should bring ourselves into scrapes and difficulties because of standing up for the oppressed—for us to smooth down the accusation of our Christianity by saying that the church we go to is the most respectable in the neighbourhood—that is a lying which the blood of Christ itself may hardly be able to expunge! There is an unblottable, an unpardonable sin. Is Ananias the liar also gone? No. Literally and historically, Yes—notwithstanding the children of Ananias died not. Lying is a fine art; lying is now a kind of oral legerdemain. What with keeping back and silently or expressively suggesting; by reversing, qualifying, parenthesising, it is now difficult for some men to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Herein men must judge themselves; every heart must go in upon itself and say,—Am I a truth-speaker and a truth-looker? How seldom it is that Korah thinks he will have any children; that a parent realises that he is going to live again in his child"s life! I have heard of men boasting that since a very early period in life they have pursued such and such habits and no harm has come of them. I have been able to see the harm when they have not detected it. In the tremulous tone, in the uncertain hand, in the failing memory falsely attributed to old age, I have seen how the black seed has come to black fruit. But, apart from that, I have traced the issue of certain practices in the constitution and habits of the children. You are not living to yourself and in yourself: you cannot help living in and for other people. Twenty years after this your son will bring you to judgment. Yes, when you have passed away from the earth, he will exhume you, try you, and condemn you at his judgment-bar. You may now be ruining his constitution, disarranging his nervous system: you may be making a hell for him; in all your buoyancy, and hilarity, and worldliness, and thoughtlessness, in all your Song of Solomon -called holiday life, you may be lighting a perdition for your sons and daughters. It is an awful thing to live! You cannot tell where influence begins, how it operates, or how it ends. The boy sitting next you is partly yourself, and he cannot help it. You cannot turn round and say, "You must look after yourself as I had to do." That is a fool"s speech. You can never shake off the responsibility of having helped in known and unknown ways and degrees to make that boy what he is. Life is not a surface matter, a loose pebble lying on the road that men can take up and lay down again without any particular harm being done. When the boy drinks himself into madness, he may be but expressing the influences wrought within him by three generations. When the young man tells a lie, he may be surprised at his own audacity, and feel as if he were rather a tool and a victim than a person and a responsible agent—as if generations of liars were blackening his young lips with their falsehoods. When this youth is restive and will not go to the usual church, do not blame the modern spirit of scepticism and restlessness, but go sharply into the innermost places of your own heart, and see how far you have bolted the church doors against your Song of Solomon, or made a place which he would be ashamed to be seen in.
Then there is a bright side to all this view. I can, now that I have got my rough reading done, turn this "notwithstanding" into a symbol of hope, a light of history; I can make high and inspiring uses of it I will blot out the word Korah, and fill in other names, and then the moral lesson of the text will expand itself into gracious meanings, rise above us like a firmament crowded with innumerable and brilliant lights. In days long ago they killed the martyrs,—notwithstanding, the children of the martyrs died not There the light begins to come; there I hear music lifting up sweetest voice of testimony and hope. The murderer could never get everybody into the fire; there was always some one little boy that could not be got hold of, and he was made of the old family stuff—a grand old heroic quality that could not lie, that could lay down its poor bodily weakness to the axe, but could never lay down its soul to the murderer.
That is the testimony of all history. We are not now dealing with opinions, or imaginations, or sentiments that we should like to be true; but we have before us plain history written in our mother tongue in which this truth is declared with an emphasis that cannot be modified. The tyrant has said, "I will make an end of this mischief." He has laid his hand upon every man accessible, and has supposed that he has bound all into one bundle of death—notwithstanding there was one child wanting, one family missing, one line of action not involved in the oppressors" evil success; and no sooner had the martyrs" fire died out than the surviving martyrs went forward, took up their places, followed in their train and mocked the destroyer.
Almighty God, we need thee; our hearts cry out for thee as for the living God. Sometimes we do not care for thee, nor think of thee, much less seek thee with earnest determination; but again we feel that without thee we are nothing and can do nothing, and that we need thee above all other needs; then thou art our Father, Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend. These are the better times in the soul"s history: they are full of joy and tenderness; and though the great gladness sometimes touches tears, yet the very tears help the gladness which they endeavour to express. We need thee now; we would see a light above the brightness of the sun; we would stand very near to God and feel his breathing upon our hearts and his gentle touch upon our whole life; and we would answer that conscious nearness by new vows of service and new oaths of loyalty. We would say again, with new strength of words and thought, that the Lord shall have all we are: for we are his: not our own, but bought with a price; therefore, to glorify God shall be our one work, our one delight,—the immediate beginning of heaven. We bless thee that we can say this with our hearts. Once it would have been a strange tongue to us, and we should not have understood any one of the terms; but now, being born not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, these words have become the tongue of our second nativity; we speak them with the familiarity of love; they express the soul"s desire, they utter the inmost wish of the life. Sometimes we are tempted away, but it is only to return with more eager haste to the life we have deserted. There is no house like thine—so large, so secure, so full of light; the very air a living song. We would feel its nearness and warmth and comfort now; we would see written upon it everywhere—our Father"s house—great welcomes of love bidding us eat and drink abundantly at our Father"s table, that we may forget the weariness of the week and prepare for the battle of to-morrow. We bless thee for the first day of the week, when Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, came to see the sepulchre. We have come to see the risen Christ; we have filled up the sepulchre with our joy, and gladness, and triumph: it is a garden of flowers. We would with our heart"s vision see the risen Christ, throned now, King of kings, Lord of lords, with the wounds in his hands, but his hands the mightier for the wounds. Grant us this vision, O Lord!Let us see heaven open. We know it is there; our faith sees it, our hope hovers around it like a bird that would enter into its nest; but we want to see heaven open,—just one rent, one glimpse, one gleam of light; then we shall be glad: we shall laugh in the valley, climb the mountain steeps with young feet, and there shall be no difficulty in our way that shall not tempt us to nobler strife and yield us deeper joy. We bless thee for those who have gone up nearer the light, nearer the throne, nearer the love that casts no one out who will put forth one trembling hand towards its great security. May we follow them as they followed Christ; may we have no fear of death: may we welcome it; though clothed in black and coming stealthily at midnight, yet may we know that the blackness and the stealth are but parts of the great plan written down in the ink of heaven. We are here but for a little time: we shall soon be told to go up into the mountain of Abarim, and there look and wait, and there fall back on the breast of God and die. May we so live that we may be missed: that people will look round for us, and say,—Where is the smile? where the strong hand? where the tender ministry? where the noble prayer? And yet may we so live as to ascend into nobler service and leave behind so strong an assurance of this ascension that friends will rise from their inquiry to complete their praise, giving thanks unto God for his crowned ones who have escaped the river of trouble. We thank thee for all tender comfort; though others may not seize it with gladness, we rejoice to be of the number of those who count such comfort necessary to the strength and the peace of life. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her iniquity is pardoned." This voice we would hear. We could hear it only at the Cross; and at the Cross we now delight to find ourselves. O Saviour, have mercy on us! Risen Christ, pray for us! Advocate with the Father, forget not the name of the least of these little ones! May we hear thy prayer in our hearts; then shall we receive the Father"s answer. Let thy blessing be round about us, a morning within a morning, a morning above a morning,—a light that makes all other glory pale. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 26". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34