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Men of the Bible
Some Lesser-Known Characters

by George Milligan, J. G. Greenhough, Alfred Rowland, Walter
F. Adeney, J. Morgan Gibbon, H. Elvet Lewis, D. Rowlands, and W. J. Townsend


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MEN OF THE BIBLE; SOME LESSER-KNOWN CHARACTERS

by

GEORGE MILLIGAN, D.D.
J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.
ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.
PRINCIPAL WALTER F. ADENEY, D.D.
J. MORGAN GIBBON.
H. ELVET LEWIS.
PRINCIPAL D. ROWLANDS, B.A.
W. J. TOWNSEND, D.D.

1904

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

1. ENOCH
By W. J. TOWNSEND, D.D.

2. ELDAD AND MEDAD
By ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

3. BARZILLAI
By GEORGE MILLIGAN, D.D.

4. ADONIJAH
By ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

5. HIRAM
By W. J. TOWNSEND, D.D.

6. JEROBOAM
By ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

7. ASA
By ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

8. AHAZIAH
By J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

9. GEHAZI
By J. MORGAN GIBBON

10. HAZAEL
By J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

11. MANASSEH
By J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

12. AMAZIAH
By J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

13. JABEZ
By J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

14. SIMEON
By H. ELVET LEWIS

15. PONTIUS PILATE
By Principal WALTER F. ADENEY, D.D.

16. BARABBAS
By J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

17. JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
By ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

18. PHILIP, THE EVANGELIST
By GEORGE MILLIGAN, D.D.

19. ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
By GEORGE MILLIGAN, D.D.

20. DEMAS
By Principal D. ROWLANDS, B.A.

 

ENOCH, THE DEATHLESS

BY REV. W. J. TOWNSEND, D.D.

Enoch was the bright particular star of the patriarchal epoch. His
record is short, but eloquent. It is crowded into a few words, but
every word, when placed under examination, expands indefinitely. Every
virtue may be read into them; every eulogium possible to a human
character shines from them. He was a devout man, a fearless preacher
of righteousness, an intimate friend of God, and the only man of his
dispensation who did not see death. He sheds a lustre on the
antediluvian age, and he shines still as an example to all generations
of steady and lofty piety.

It is difficult to realise the exact environment of the early
patriarchs. Human society was then in its making. There were giants
in those days, both physically and intellectually. They lived long,
and unfolded a vigorous manhood, by which civilisation was developed in
every direction. Some of them, also, were tenderly responsive to
supernatural influences, and thus rose to a spiritual stature which
enables them to bulk largely in sacred history.

The guiding lines of Enoch's biography are clear though few. "_He
walked with God_"; "_he pleased God_"; "_he was translated that he
should not see death_." These are the pregnant remnants of his history,
from which we may construct a character and career of striking eminence.

I.

"He walked with God."

Therefore he knew God. The articles of his creed were not many, but he
was fixed on this foundation-truth of all religion. Further than this,
he knew God as taking a living interest in His creatures, as one who
could be approached by them in prayer and communion, and who was
sympathetically responsive to their needs. He somehow knew God, also,
as being righteous and holy, and he must have had a rudimentary idea of
the Christ, as it unfolded itself in the great promise of a deliverer
from evil made to our first parents in Paradise. However scanty in
number were the articles of his creed, they were not scanty in results.
They produced a great life and a great name. The results were that "he
walked with God." Walking is the habitual exercise of a man's life. A
man runs sometimes. Under great strain, or the demand of special
circumstances, he runs, but finds that exhaustion follows; or if he
runs too frequently, total collapse is the inevitable consequence. Two
of the most eminent ministers of our times recently died owing to
overstrain and over-exertion. But we have some now living who have
done signal service for the Church during a ministry of fifty years,
and who are still hale and having a green old age. To walk at a steady
pace, fulfilling life's responsibilities and the demands of duty, is to
fulfil the will of God and serve our generation. This rule refers to
man's religious and spiritual life. To walk onward and upward in the
highest things is to grow in excellence and grace.

As man is a social being, he must walk with someone in life. Perpetual
solitude dries up the springs of existence, and true manhood is
shrivelled up. Solitary confinement is the saddest and cruellest
punishment that can be inflicted by man on his fellow. The prisoner in
the Bastille, when his reason reeled through prolonged silence and
loneliness, was saved from mental collapse by the friendship of a rat;
and a similar story is told of an English prisoner, who, under similar
circumstances, found solace in the company of a pigeon. Man craves for
fellowship and friendship. Happiest is he who has the noblest
companion. God alone fills the deep craving of the heart for a
congenial and helpful presence, and Enoch "_walked with God_." The
words imply regular, unbroken, well-sustained communion with Him. With
a sublime and lofty aspiration Enoch had risen above shadows, idols,
and pretences, and with simple, manly faith had grasped the unseen
substance and reality, the personal God, the Father of us all.

This "_walking with God_" may be fairly inferred to have been carried
out in all the affairs of life. The statement has no exceptions in it.
Other saints have their failings and sins recorded with an admirable
candour, but we are left to conclude that this was a saint of pure life
and character. In tending his flocks and herds, in carrying out the
barter of the markets in the early world, in commanding his children
and ordering his household, in preaching righteousness and foretelling
judgment, the great law of his life was here, "_walking with God_."

When such unbroken intercourse with God is maintained, all duty and
labour have a new meaning, and are suffused with a new glory. Every
occupation or profession becomes a transparency by which divine truth
and purity are translated to the world. No man is then a menial or a
slave, but a free man, living in love and by love. He becomes an
evangel, who, by words of holiness and deeds of sacrifice, adorns the
doctrine of God and Christ in all things. Nothing is common, nothing
is unclean; all life is sanctified and beautiful; the man is a temple
consecrated by and for God alone.

In such habitual fellowship there is constant growth in familiarity and
intimacy. God becomes known more and more in the tenderness and
considerateness of His love. He unfolds Himself to the soul of His
friend in such love-compelling charm as that the believer is
constrained to ever-growing reverence, gratitude, and devotion. The
man is transfigured. His thoughts, motives, desires, actions, are all
inspired by the Divine Mind and framed after a Divine Pattern. The
limitations of human nature are relaxed, and the man expands into
newness of life; he soars into heavenly places; he is charged with holy
influences. "The trivial round, the common task," become _media_ to
him, by which he can interpret and make known to all, the beauty of
holiness as revealed to him by communion with God.

It is a significant fact in the history of Enoch, that his piety shone
brightest amid family surroundings. He was not an ascetic or an
anchorite. He was a husband and a father. It is said that he "_walked
with God after the birth of Methusaleh_." With what measure of fervour
he served God before the coming of a child into his house, we are not
told; but we are told that after that event "_he walked with God three
hundred years_." Possibly he had not manifested special piety before.
His children gathered round him, for we are told that after Methusaleh,
he had "sons and daughters." But the blessing of children in no wise
slackened his course of piety. Not infrequently, family cares and
business responsibilities draw men's thoughts and desires from God; and
many who in youth were ardent in religious exercises and unfailing in
spiritual duties, in middle life and old age are found to be merely
formalists in worship, and paralysed for useful work in the Church.
The fine gold has become dim, through the fretting cares or the surging
excitements of life. It is awful when such is the case, when the
promise and interest of youth settles into impotence and rigidity, when
the type which once had the die of thought fresh upon it is worn flat
by overuse, or when the shell, once the home of life and bright with
ocean's spray, lies with faded colour and emptied hollowness. This is
melancholy, indeed, and many such wrecks of religious life are around
us. But with Enoch, the increase of life's cares brought an access of
fresh devotion. New gifts of Providence roused new feelings of
gratitude, and he grappled himself the closer in attachment to the
Giver of enlarged blessing. This is as it should be. Every gift of
God should be a call to renewed praise and prayer, to a more perfect
and joyous service.

This record of Enoch's piety teaches that the highest spirituality of
nature is not found in avoiding the duties and cares of life, or in
seeking a cloistered and solitary existence. The piety of monkery is
not the crown of living. It is neither an experience of healthy joy
nor of abundant fruitfulness. The healthful influences of Christianity
are immeasurably more beautiful when manifested in the joys of family
and home life, or in the discharge of honest trade and commerce, than
in the introspective gloom of the recluse, or the ceremonial round of
the ascetic. It is remarkable that the record states that Enoch's walk
with God lasted "_three hundred years after the birth of Methusaleh_."
There was no break in his spiritual course; it was continuous growth
and progress until the light of eventide deepened into the glory of
heaven.

II.

"He pleased God."

This is to win the highest prize of life. Not only because God is
highest and noblest of beings, but also because His pleasure
presupposes great moral and spiritual qualities, and unfolds itself in
blessings of untold preciousness both in this life and that which is to
come. The pleasure of the Lord is graduated to the intrinsic beauty or
value possessed by the object which draws it out. It was manifested
when the great creation stood in finished order before Him, and He
pronounced it "only good." But of a higher kind is that pleasure said
to be taken by Him in His only-begotten Son, in His people, and in His
Church. Over these He rejoices with singing, as He rests in His love.
Of such pleasure Enoch was the recipient, and it was bestowed upon him
in a most signal and unique manner. Two especial qualities are
indispensable to those with whom God is pleased. One is
faith--"_Without faith it is impossible to please God_" (Heb. xi. 6).
The other is uprightness--"_I know also, my God, that Thou hast
pleasure in uprightness_" (1 Chron. xxix. 17). The former grace is the
superlative and distinguishing feature of the people of God. It is
indeed the foundation quality on which all others rest, and from which
they spring. It is the broad separating act which marks the difference
between the saint and the sinner. Without it man is in opposition to
God. The Divine displeasure rests upon him, because absence of faith
means want of confidence and want of sympathy. The unbeliever
distrusts God, and has no fellow-feeling with Him or His ways.

There is no more offensive feeling that can be shown by one being
towards another than distrust. It irritates our sensibility; it arrays
in opposition all the resentment of our nature. It is the parent of
gloom, dissatisfaction, pessimism, and rebellion. It writes discontent
on the brow, and bitterness on the heart. It is the fruitful parent of
all ill in human nature. But faith pleases God. It draws the human
and Divine into loving association. It leads the human to look to the
Divine for counsel, to lean upon Him for help, to refer all things to
His decision, to wait on Him for guidance in every step and enterprise
in life. The faith of the patriarchs seems to have been characterised
by entire simplicity and childlikeness. As manifested by Enoch, Noah,
and Abraham, all of whom had the pleasure of the Lord resting on them
in a pre-eminent degree, there was no stumbling or hesitancy. Some of
them had their faith severely tried, but it came forth from the test
victorious, as "gold tried in the fire." Therefore, if the command of
God was hard, faith led to obedience; if the mystery of life was deep,
faith drew them close to the Father; if the sense of sin and guilt was
strong, faith never failed, but led them to look for the promised
Redeemer, and they rejoiced to see His day and were glad.

Faith is said to be difficult to exercise in this day of bustle,
excitement, and pressure. The differences between this day and Enoch's
day are merely accidental and not essential. There were the same
inducements and temptations to evil then as now. There were scoffers
and cavillers then as now. The doubting spirit in our first parents
and in Cain was felt in all; but there was also the strong and manly
faith which resisted the sin of doubt, which looked from the seen to
the unseen, from the temporal to the eternal, from sin and folly to
God, and which established itself firmly on His promise of unchangeable
love. Therefore Enoch "pleased God." Faith presupposes reverence,
love, obedience, and man never pays a higher tribute to another than to
trust him implicitly and for all in all. Such faith God accepts and
delights in. Such faith builds a noble character and a lofty life.

 

III.

"He was translated that he should not see death."

That was the crowning evidence and token of the Divine pleasure. Death
is the wages of sin, the harbinger of retribution, the seal of man's
humiliation and defeat. The fear of death is a bondage under which the
race of man lies, save only where Christian faith and hope alleviate
the terror and inspire a superhuman courage before which all fear is
banished. The extraordinary nature of Enoch's piety could not be
demonstrated by any fact so imperative as this, "_He was translated_."

There are three complete men in heaven. Man is threefold in his
nature. He is body, soul, and spirit. He is not complete without his
bodily organisation. The work of faith is not perfect, nor is the work
of sin undone until at the Resurrection trump man shall stand complete
in his threefold being. But of that completeness there are three
specimens in heaven; Enoch from the patriarchal epoch; Elijah from the
Jewish dispensation; and Christ from the Christian. The translation of
Elijah was a marvellously dramatic episode. It was witnessed by Elisha
and the sons of the prophets--and a heavenly equipage, lambent with
supernal glow, carried him in triumph out of sight. But as to Enoch
there was no such scenic display. "_He was not found, for God took
him_." It was a quiet but beautifully fitting end. Moonlight rising
into sunlight, the sweet calm light of a starlit sky becoming flushed
with the auroral tints of a brilliant morning.

Translation means promotion, and also expansion.

It is _promotion_ in honour, in office, in privilege. The bishop is
translated from Rochester to Winchester and thence to Canterbury,
because he has pleased his party and his sovereign. It is a sign that
he has won promotion by devoted service. Christ says to his follower,
"_Occupy till I come_"; and after a due period of labour well
discharged, he says, "_Come up higher_." The rule of the Divine
Kingdom is, "_faithful in that which is least_," then, "_ruler over
that which is much_." Translation to Enoch meant the elevation to
higher duties and enjoyments without the wearing agonies of disease,
the sharpness of death, or the darkness of the grave.

It meant also _expansion_. In the passing from a lower to a higher
condition, we cannot now realise the quick change which would pass over
the material framework of the patriarch, but that it would be
etherialised so as to be "_a heavenly body_" marvellously endowed with
new powers of sense, of insight and locomotion, fit to be the
instrument of a soul fully redeemed from the consequences of sin, we
cannot doubt; and for thousands of generations has that soul sunned
itself in the brightest fellowships and employments of the highest
heaven.

 

ELDAD AND MEDAD

BY REV. ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

NUMBERS xi. 24-30.

Nothing is known of these two men beyond the incident recorded in the
Book of Numbers; but this is so remarkable and significant, that it
well repays careful study.

The Israelites had been once more displaying suspicion and ingratitude.
Turning with loathing from the manna, they whimpered, like spoilt
children, for the fish and flesh they had enjoyed in Egypt, and
murmured against God and against Moses. The patience of their leader,
under this new provocation, completely broke down, so that he went so
far as to accuse God Himself of being a hard taskmaster, who had laid
too much upon him. With infinite forbearance, allowance was made for
the manner in which Divine counsel and help had been asked for, and the
promise was graciously fulfilled, "_Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and
He shall sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be
moved_." God dealt with his servant as a father at his best will deal
with his child who runs to him, hurt and bruised, in a passion of
tears. Instead of beginning with an angry rebuke, help and relief are
first given, and then in a few calm words the needed counsel is
proffered. It was in a spirit of patient love that God appointed
elders from among the people to help his over-wrought servant and share
his heavy burden.

Moses was, no doubt, justified in saying, "_I am not able to bear all
this people alone, because it is too heavy for me_." Indeed it was
well for him, as it is for us all, to feel the need there is for human
sympathy and Divine aid. Self-contained, self-reliant men are not the
highest type of humanity, and they are sometimes for their own good
visited by anxieties and responsibilities which compel them to cry,
"_Lord help me_." Thus was it with Moses. Indeed, our Lord Himself
shared that experience, when for our sakes He became man. He chose
comrades who were a blessing to Himself, although He was a far greater
blessing to them. He took them with Him when he went forth to confront
the crises of His life--on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the
Garden of Gethsemane, where His sorrow was intensified by their failure
to watch with Him. He had three specially intimate friends. He called
twelve to be apostles, and sent forth seventy as missioners--an
arrangement in which we see the New Testament counterpart of the
choosing of these seventy-two elders, to rule and judge the Israelites,
and thus share the responsibility of Moses.

The account given us of their appointment is singularly interesting.
Six men out of each of the twelve tribes were summoned to the
Tabernacle, solemnly set apart and filled with the Spirit--but two of
the men--Eldad and Medad--were absent "_They were of them written to_"
is the exact phrase--and the fact that they received a written summons
denotes a higher and more general culture among that ancient people
than is generally imagined to have existed. Yet it is what might be
reasonably expected, for they had come out of Egypt, the most civilised
power then in the world, a country where the usual writing materials
were exclusively made. Though the Israelites had been only slaves
there, they would doubtless be familiar with the art of writing, for
the men of that race have never yet lagged behind any people among whom
they have lived.

Seventy of the men thus summoned came together promptly, and were
ranged in a semicircle before the Tabernacle. Then, in the sight of
all the people, the cloud descended, wrapped them all in impenetrable
mist, as a sign that the chosen men were being mysteriously baptised
with the Spirit, and when again they emerged they began to prophesy.
It was the ancient counterpart of the day of Pentecost, when the
disciples met, and the Spirit came upon them as a mighty, rushing wind,
and they began to speak with other tongues, as men chosen and inspired
by God.

In the 25th verse of the eleventh chapter of Numbers, it is said that
"_the Lord took of the spirit that was upon Moses, and gave it unto the
seventy elders_." Some conclude from this statement that, as a
punishment for his intemperate prayer, the wisdom of Moses was thus
lessened, while others were enriched at his expense. But wisdom, and
all gifts similar to it, are not diminished by distribution. If we
impart information, we do not lessen our own store of knowledge. If we
give of our love lavishly, yet affection is not lessened by such
outpouring. The spread of fire over what is inflammable increases its
intensity. Though we light a thousand candles from one which burned
alone at first, it still burns brightly as before. So is it with the
Spirit of whose fulness we all receive. No Christian man is poorer
because his brother is enriched with grace, nor was Moses. "_There is
that scattereth, and yet increaseth_."

It is time that we turned to the two men, Eldad and Medad, who,
although summoned with their brethren, did not come to the assembly at
the Tabernacle. They may have been absent from their tents when the
papyrus letter was delivered, and would not be quickly found in the
vast camp. Be this as it may, what followed is evidence that they did
not wilfully disobey the summons, and that their absence was not due to
any bad motive. For some reason unknown to us they failed to put in an
appearance at the critical time, when others of the elect were
receiving the mysterious but efficient grace of the Spirit. Yet, at
one and the same moment, they also were inspired while walking
together, as they probably were doing, in some far-off part of the
camp. To the amazement of the people, and doubtless to their own
amazement too, they suddenly began to prophesy, and crowds of listeners
quickly gathered round them, as on Pentecost they ran together to hear
the inspired apostles. This unique experience was given by God, and
received by the people as convincing evidence that Eldad and Medad were
divinely appointed, and divinely qualified, equally with their brethren
nearer the Tabernacle. It is true that Joshua exhibited some jealousy
and suspicion, and would have silenced them because the blessing had
not come through Moses; but the great law-giver, with characteristic
insight and generosity, would not heed the request--"_My lord Moses,
forbid them_." Calmly, yet decisively, the answer rang out, "_Enviest
thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets,
and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them_!"

In the experience of these two men there is imbedded valuable and
permanent truth. We regard it as an evidence, the more remarkable
because given under a ceremonial regime, that God did not intend to
institute any order of men outside the limits of which there was to be
no liberty of prophesying and no fitness for it. Nor is there any
exclusively sacred place, be it tabernacle, temple, synagogue, or
church, where alone such gifts can be conferred. We believe that
outside all sacred places, outside the churches of our own faith and
order, and of any other churches, there are men, and women too, equally
called of God with those within such limits, and the evidence that they
are so called lies in the fact that in them also the Spirit of God is
resting, and through them the Spirit of God is working.

This lesson, which still needs to be enforced in our own day, is
perhaps best deduced from an incident so early and so simple as this.
Just as we may learn more of the way in which an engine really works
from a simple model--say of George Stephenson's--than from one of the
complicated machines of the present day, so we may gain the more
instruction from this incident, because of its very simple character,
while its antiquity keeps it out of the confusion caused by modern
controversies.

Eldad and Medad were men called of God to undertake holy service for
the good of His people. In their case the call was manifestly inward
rather than outward. Though truly chosen, they were not in the
Tabernacle, nor were they wrapped in the cloud, and they received no
ordination from the laying on of hands by Moses and Aaron. The
evidence of their call lay in their fitness for the work, and their
fitness was due to the gift of the Spirit. Yet all this occurred under
a dispensation which was far more strict in ceremonial law than that
under which we live.

What does it teach? It surely confirms our belief that the word of God
is not bound. The exposition and enforcement of Divine truth is not to
be confined to those who have received priestly ordination by some
outward rite. No man therefore has the right to forbid any preacher
from exercising his functions on the ground that his orders are not
regular, or because he has not been recognised by an Episcopate, a
Presbytery, a Conference, or a Union.

To put the same truth in hortatory form, I would say to any one who has
knowledge of Divine truth, who has experienced the graces of the Holy
Spirit, and who has the gift of utterance: You are called upon, by the
fact of possessing these qualifications, to serve God as opportunity
comes. You ought not to be silent on the claims of Christ, nor should
you refrain from leading others in prayer, while on every other topic
you are fluency itself. "_Neglect not the gift that is in thee_,"
whether it came by laying on of hands, or in some other way. Every
true convert should sometimes feel as the prophet Jeremiah felt, when
he said, "_The word of the Lord was within me as a burning fire shut up
in my bones. I was weary with forbearing and could not stay_." The
work assigned too often exclusively to the minister is really the work
of the Church.

Happily, speech is not the only mode in which men can serve God. It is
clear from the Hebrew narrative that Eldad and Medad, like their
brethren at the door of the Tabernacle, did not receive an abiding gift
of prophecy, but a transient sign which seemed adequate to convince the
people that they had been chosen and inspired. Unfortunately, the
Authorised Version gives us a phrase which is the exact opposite of the
meaning of the Hebrew phrase in the twenty-fifth verse, rendering it
thus, "_They prophesied, and did not cease_." The Revised Version sets
this right in the phrase, "_They prophesied, but they did so no more_."
In other words, the singular manifestation of power soon passed away.
It was not a permanent possession.

This is in harmony with the experience of the early Christian Church.
The miraculous power given to the apostles, as evidence of their Divine
commission, was not always at their disposal. The gift of tongues
bestowed on them, and on others, soon ceased; for it was intended to
show the supernatural origin of Christianity until written evidence was
available, and then it was withdrawn. The Holy Spirit still remained
in the Church, and was revealed in a diversity of operations. His
presence was proved by the changed characters of converts more
effectually than by abnormal gifts--and similarly the religious ecstasy
of Eldad and Medad and their comrades was soon exchanged for their
abiding spirit of wisdom and justice.

Christians who at one time spoke for Christ are not always to blame if
they speak publicly no more. They may have withdrawn from Sunday
School teaching, for example, but only to serve God in another form.
Their matured experience may be quite as valuable as their once fervent
zeal. The river which near its source noisily rushes over the pebbles,
is not lessened in value when, full and deep, it silently glides onward
to the sea.

Happily, there are diversities of operations, though they are all under
the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and if we are faithful to our
special calling, we may hope to receive our Lord's "_Well done_," just
as did these seventy-two men, who sustained and aided Moses, though
they left no record of their steady, useful work. Indeed, there are
those who in actual service can do very little, whose gracious and
benign influence is the best proof of true inspiration. Such was he of
whom Cowper sings:

"When one that holds communion with the skies
Has filled his urn where those pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us meaner things,
'Tis even as if an angel shook his wings;
Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide,
That tells us whence his treasures are supplied."

God calls us to Himself before He calls us to His service. The same
Divine Spirit who qualifies for religious work, creates men anew. Of
every one so created, it may be said he was "_born of the Spirit_."

In this, also, neither place nor circumstance is essential. Eldad and
Medad were both away from the Tabernacle, somewhere in the
unconsecrated camp; yet they received the same blessing which their
brethren were enjoying at the door of the Tabernacle. And we rejoice
that some who are now outside a place of worship--outside this or that
denomination--outside Christendom, do receive the Spirit who transforms
them into the likeness of Christ.

In confirmation of this, we recall the fact that our Lord spoke more
often in houses, and fields, and boats, and streets, than in the
Temple. And the apostles who were called to follow Him were engaged at
the time of their calling in their ordinary occupations, at the
toll-office or in the fishing-boat. Saul was converted on the road to
Damascus, the jailor of Philippi in prison, Lydia by the river side.
All this reminds us that though our power may be limited by time and
place, God's power is not; though our work is contracted, His is broad.
The Holy Spirit is no more confined to a place than the wind is, which
bloweth as it listeth over land and sea, over desert and garden.

It is a comfort to remember this when we grieve over some prodigal, who
has gone beyond the reach of religious observances; who never attends
worship, or reads the Bible. We may hope about him, believe in him,
and pray for him still, because the Spirit of God can reach him as He
reached Eldad and Medad, "_who went not up to the Tabernacle_." The
old promise is not exhausted yet: "_I will pour out of My Spirit upon
all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your
young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams_."

It is this divine afflatus, this outpouring of the Spirit, which is the
great need of the age we live in. The Church seems to be lying
listless as a sailing ship, due to leave harbour, but still waiting for
a breeze. Her masts are firm, the canvas ready to be stretched, and
her equipment complete. The helmsman stands impatient at the wheel,
and all the sailors are alert, but not a ripple runs along the vessel's
side. She waits, and must wait, for a heavenly breeze to fill her
sails, and till it comes she cannot stir. Like that ship the Church is
wanting impulse, and we ought to be waiting for it, and praying for it.
The power we need can only come from heaven, the breath of God must be
our real moving force, and we should be wiser, stronger, and more
hopeful if we entered into the meaning of the old, oft-repeated verse:

"At anchor laid, remote from home,
Toiling, I cry, 'sweet Spirit, come,'
Celestial breeze no longer stay,
But swell my sails, and speed my way."

 

BARZILLAI

BY REV. GEORGE MILLIGAN, M.A., D.D.

"There is nothing," says Socrates to Cephalus in the _Republic_, "I
like better than conversing with aged men. For I regard them as
travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of
whom it is right to learn the character of the way, whether it is
rugged or difficult, or smooth and easy" (p. 328 E.).

It is to such an aged traveller that we are introduced in the person of
Barzillai the Gileadite. And though he is one of the lesser-known
characters of Scripture--and we might perhaps never have heard of him
at all had it not been for his connection with King David--on the few
occasions on which he does appear he acts with an independence and
disinterestedness which are very striking.

The first of these occasions is at Mahanaim, in his own country of
Gilead. In the strong fortress there David and his companions had
taken refuge after the disastrous revolt of Absalom. Owing to their
hurried flight, the fugitives were wanting in almost all the
necessaries of life, and they could hardly fail also to have been a
little apprehensive of the kind of welcome the Gileadites would extend
to them. But if so, their fears were soon set at rest. Three of the
richest and most influential men in the district at once came to their
aid. Shobi the son of Nahash, and Machir the son of Ammiel, and
Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, brought beds, and cups, and wheat,
and barley, and honey, and butter, and sheep--all, in fact, that was
needed--for David, and for the people that were with him: for they
said, "_The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the
wilderness_" (2 Sam. xvii. 29).

In so acting, the first of these, Shobi, may have been trying to atone
for his brother's insulting conduct when David had sent messengers to
comfort him on his father's death (2 Sam. x. 1-5);[1] and Machir as the
friend of Mephibosheth (2 Sam, ix. 4), was naturally grateful for the
king's kindness to the lame prince. But, as regards Barzillai, we know
of no such reasons for his conduct, and his generosity may, therefore,
be traced to the natural impulses of a kind and generous heart. In any
case, this unlooked-for sympathy and friendship had an arousing and
encouraging effect upon the king. He no longer despaired of his
fortunes, black though at the moment they looked, but, marshalling his
forces under three captains, prepared for war with his rebellious son;
with the result that in the forest of Ephraim Absalom's army was wholly
defeated, and the young prince himself treacherously slain.

With the death of its leader, the rebellion against David may be said
to have ended; but to the sorrow-stricken father victory at such a
price seemed an almost greater calamity than defeat would have been.
And it needed the strong, almost harsh, remonstrances of Joab to rouse
him from his grief, and lead him to think of his duty to his people.
At length, however, the homeward journey began, the king following the
same route by which so shortly before he had fled, until he came to the
banks of the Jordan, where a ferry-boat was in readiness to take him
and his household across (2 Sam. xix. 18). Before, however, he
crossed, several interesting interviews took place. Shimei, who had
cursed so shamelessly on the day of misfortune, was forgiven, and
received the promise of protection; Mephibosheth was restored to the
king's favour, and his old place at the king's table; and, what
specially concerns us at present, David had his final parting with
Barzillai.

The loyal chieftain, notwithstanding his eighty years, had come all the
way from his upland farm to bid farewell to his king, and see him
safely over Jordan. And as David remarked the old man's devotion, and
remembered his former favours, the wish seized him to attach him still
more closely to his person. "_Come thou over with me_," he said, "_and
I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem_" (2 Sam. xix. 33). It was from
one point of view a dazzling offer. Barzillai had seen enough of David
to know that what the king said he meant, and that if he chose to go
with him, honour and position awaited him at the court. But he would
not be moved. His grey hairs, if nothing else, stood in the way.
"_How long have I to live_," he answered, "_that I should go up with
the king unto Jerusalem_?" (verse 34). I am too old, that is, for such
a life as would there be expected of me. And, after all, why should
conduct such as mine meet with so great a reward? No! let me go a
little way over Jordan with the king, and then "_Let thy servant, I
pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be
buried by the grave of my father and of my mother_." "_But_," he
hastened to add, as if anxious to show that he appreciated to the full
the king's generous offer, and saw the advantages it presented to those
who were able to enjoy them, "_behold thy servant Chimham_," my son,
"_let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem
good unto thee_" (verse 37). With a plea so expressed, David could not
but acquiesce: "_The king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him; and he
returned unto his own place . . . and Chimham went on with him_"
(verses 39, 40), to become famous as the founder of a caravanserai, or
halting-place for pilgrims on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem,
which for at least four centuries continued to bear his name (Jer. xli.
17) and which may even, it has been conjectured, have been the same
which, at the time of the Christian era "furnished shelter for two
travellers with their infant child, when 'there was no room in the
inn.'"[2]

Round Barzillai's own name no such associations have gathered. After
his parting with David we do not hear of him again, if we except a
passing reference in David's dying instructions to Solomon, to "_shew
kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite_" (1 Kings ii. 7),
and the mention, as late as the return from Babylon, of a family of
priests who traced their descent to a marriage with the Gileadite's
daughter, and prided themselves on the distinctive title of "_the
children of Barzillai_" (Ezra ii. 61). But in the absence of anything
to the contrary, we may be allowed to conjecture that, full of years
and experience, surrounded by all the love which his useful, helpful
life had called forth, Barzillai died in peace among his own people,
and was buried, as he had himself desired, by his parents' grave.

Such, then, is the story of Barzillai's life, so far as the Bible
reveals it to us. It is, as I have already said, as an old man that he
is principally brought before us, and in thinking of his character
further, it may be well to do so from this point of view, and see what
he has to teach us regarding a true old age. Four points at least
stand out clearly from the Bible narrative.

I.

_Barzillai was evidently by nature a warm-hearted, sunshiny old man,
himself happy and making others happy_.

David himself was such a man before the great sin which brought a
trouble and a sorrow into his life that he was never again able wholly
to surmount. And it may have been the sight of his own lost gaiety and
lightness of spirit in the aged Gileadite that first drew out his heart
to him.

It may be said, perhaps, that it was easy for Barzillai to be cheerful.
The sun had shone on him very brightly: the good things of life had
fallen very freely to his share. He was, according to the Bible
record, "_a very great man_" (2 Sam. xix. 32), evidently a most
successful farmer, rich in flocks and herds, looked up and respected in
the district in which he lived. But after all, is it the universal, or
even the general, experience that wealth and power are associated with
simple cheerfulness and happiness? Could anything, for example, have
exceeded the bitterness and the boorishness of the other rich
flockmaster whom David's youths, with Eastern frankness, had asked,
"_Give, we pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy
servants, and to thy son David_" "_Who is David? and who is the son of
Jesse_?" burst out Nabal in a fury. "_Shall I then take my bread, and
my water . . . and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be_?"
(1 Sam. xxv. 8, 10, 11). And even if that be an extreme instance, it
will not be denied that outward blessings in themselves, and considered
only by themselves, are apt to have a hardening rather than a softening
effect. It says much, therefore, for Barzillai, that amidst his great
possessions, he still kept the free, open, happy disposition of youth.

II.

_That he did so, is due amongst other reasons to the fact that he was a
generous man_.

His unsolicited assistance of David clearly proves this, while the very
length of the catalogue of articles with which he and his friends
supplied the fugitive's needs, proves that when he gave, he did so in
no stinted fashion, but freely and liberally.

It is an excellent example for all who are feeling themselves burdened
by the possessions and the opportunities with which God has enriched
them. Let them remember that they hold them only in trust, and in
helping to bear others' burdens, they will actually, strange to say,
lighten their own.

"'Tis worth a wise man's best of life,
'Tis worth a thousand years of strife,
If thou canst lessen but by one,
The countless ills beneath the sun."

While, on the other hand, can there be a sadder thought for the man
whose earthly course is nearly run, than the thought that there will be
none to rise up after him and call him blessed, but that he will die,
as he has lived, unhonoured, unwept?

If that, then, is not to be our fate, we cannot use too diligently
every opportunity of well-doing which God has placed within our reach;
we cannot live too earnestly, not for ourselves only, but for others:
that from the seeds which we sow now, there may spring up hereafter a
rich and abundant harvest.

III.

_Barzillai was contented_.

Not many men in his position would have refused the king's offer. It
seems rather to be one of the penalties of wealth and greatness, that
their owners cannot rest satisfied with what they have, but are always
desiring more. But Barzillai felt, and felt rightly, that in his
circumstances, the place in which he had been brought up--"_his own
place_"--was the best place for him. He was a home-loving old man, and
the simple interests and pleasures of his daily life had more
attraction for him than the excitements and rivalries of the court.

I do not, of course, mean to say that either here or elsewhere in
Scripture, a wise and healthy ambition is discouraged. It is natural
to wish to get on, if only for the sake of a wider sphere of
usefulness; but let us see to it that we avoid that restless longing
for change, simply for the sake of change, that coveting of positions
for which we are not suited, and which, if gratified, can end only in
disappointment.

"It is a great thing," said one to an ancient philosopher, "to possess
what one wishes." "It is a greater blessing still," was the reply,
"not to desire what one does not possess." And surely, in what we do
possess, in the beauties of nature with which we are here surrounded,
in the love of home and wife and children, in the intercourse with
friends and acquaintance, we have much to make us contented, much, very
much, to be thankful for. "To watch the corn grow, or the blossoms
set; to draw hard breath over ploughshare or spade; to read, to think,
to love, to pray,"--these, says John Ruskin, "are the things that make
men happy." And these are things that, in some measure at least, are
within the reach of us all.

IV.

_There remains still a fourth and a last element in Barzillai's
honoured, life and happy old age--his attitude towards God_.

Though we are never distinctly told so, we cannot doubt that he was a
religious man. And as it was in gratitude to God for all that He had
done to him, that he first showed kindness to God's anointed, so it was
in the same humble and trusting spirit that he accepted old age, and
all that it involved when it came. That is by no means always the
case. Are there not some, who, as they look forward to the time of old
age, if God should ever permit them to see it, do so with a certain
amount of dread? They think only of what they will be called upon to
abandon--the duties they must give up, the pleasures, so dear to them
now, they must forego. But to Barzillai, the presence of such
disabilities brought, as we have seen, no disquieting thoughts. He
could relinquish, without a sigh, what he was no longer fitted to
enjoy. He desired nothing but to end his days peacefully in his
appointed lot. Enough for him that the God who had been with him all
his life long was with him still.

Happy old man! Who does not long for an old age, if he is ever to see
old age, such as his? But, if so, it must be sought in the same way.
Every man's old age is just what his own past has made it. If, in his
days of health and vigour, he has lived an idle, careless, selfish
life, he must not wonder if his closing years are querulous, and
bitter, and lonely. But if, on the other hand, he has devoted himself
to good and doing good, if he has made the will of God his rule and
guide amidst all the difficulties and perplexities of his daily lot,
then in that will he will find peace. God wilt not forget his "_work
and labour of love_" (Heb. vi. 10): and in him the old promise will be
once more fulfilled--"_Even to your old age I am He; and even to hoar
hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry
and will deliver you_" (Isa. xlvi. 4).

 

[1]In view, however, of the difficulty of reconciling the two passages,
and of the fact that Shobi is not mentioned elsewhere, it has been
conjectured that for "Shobi the son of Nahash" in 2 Sam. xvii. 27, we
should read simply "Nahash," see Hastings' _Dict. of the Bible_, art.
"Shobi."

[2]Stanley, _History of the Jewish Church_, ii., p. 154.

 

ADONIJAH

BY REV. ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

It is notorious that the sons of devout men sometimes prove a curse to
their parents, and bring dishonour on the cause of God. When Eve
rejoiced over her first-born, she little suspected that passions were
sleeping within him which would impel him to slay his own brother; and
the experience of the first mother has been repeated, though in
different forms, in all lands and in all ages. Isaac's heart was rent
by the deceit of Jacob, and by the self-will of Esau. Jacob lived to
see his own sin repeated in his sons, and he who deceived his father
when he was old and blind, suffered for years an agony of grief because
he had been falsely told that Joseph, his favourite son, was dead.

Probably few men have known domestic sorrows, so many and so great, as
those which befell David. He shared, in all its bitterness, the misery
of a parent who sees his best hopes disappointed, and who is racked
with anxiety as to what his wayward boy will do next, sometimes wishing
that before such dishonour had befallen him his son had been laid to
rest under the daisies, in the time of infant innocence. David's
eldest son, Amnon, after committing a terrible crime, was assassinated
by his brother Absalom. In his turn, Absalom, the fairest of the
family, rebelled against his own father, and was killed by Joab, as he
hung in the oak. Chiliah, or Daniel, died we know not how, and then
Adonijah, the fourth son, the eldest of those surviving, followed in
Absalom's footsteps.

Adonijah's sin appears at first sight so unnatural that, in justice to
him as well as for our own instruction, we should try to discover the
sources whence this stream of evil flowed which was so bitter and so
desolating in its results.

This is not an easy task, because the full details of his life are not
recorded. There are, however, no less than three evil influences
hinted at in these words: "_His father had not displeased him at any
time, in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly
man, and his mother bare him after Absalom_" (1 Kings i. 6). Taking
them in reverse order: _Heritage_, _Adulation_, and _Lack of
Discipline_, were three sources of moral peril, and these would tend to
the ruin of any man. Let us think of each of these, for they are not
extinct by any means.

We know very little of Haggith, but she was probably a dancing girl who
made her way to the front by her ambition and beauty. From her and
from his father we may assume that Adonijah inherited a tendency to
ambition and self-conceit such as Absalom inherited from the union of
David with Bathsheba. It is one of the laws of life that "like
produces like," Evidence of this constantly appears in the lower
animals, in the speed of the racehorse, in the scent of the hound, and
so forth. This asserts itself in men also. We often notice what we
call a "family likeness." Tricks of manner, and various mental
qualities such as heroism, statesmanship, mathematical or artistic
talent, descend from parents to children, and sometimes reappear for
generations in the same family. This cannot be due to example alone,
because the phenomena is almost as frequent when the parents die during
the child's infancy. Similarly, moral tendencies are transmitted, and
the Bible gives us many examples of the fact. The luxury-loving Isaac,
who must have his savoury food, just as his son, Esau, who would sell
his birthright for a mess of pottage, Rebekah, who, like her brother
Laban is shrewd and cunning, sees her tendency repeated in her son
Jacob, who needed a life of discipline and prayer to set him free from
it.

In more senses than one "the evil which men do lives after them." A
drunkard's son, for example, is often conscious of an inbred craving
which is a veritable disease, so that he is heavily weighted as he
starts out on the race of life. This solemn and suggestive fact that
the future well-being of children depends largely on the character of
parents, should give emphasis to the adjuration in the wedding
service--marriage, therefore, is to be honourable in all, and ought not
to be engaged in rashly, "thoughtlessly, or lightly, but advisedly,
reverently, and in the fear of God." The law of moral heritage makes
parental responsibility a solemn trust, while, in so far as it affects
those who inherit bad or good tendencies, we are sure that the Judge of
all the earth will do right. But it must never be forgotten that even
a bad disposition need never become a dominant habit. It is something
to be resisted and conquered, and, it may be, by the grace of Him who
is faithful, and will not suffer any of us to be tempted above what we
are able to bear. Our tendencies are Divine calls to us to recognise
and guard certain weak places in the citadel of character, for it is
against these that our enemy directs his most persistent and vigorous
attacks.

Unhappily, Adonijah's natural bias was made the more dangerous by the
atmosphere of the court, where flatterers naturally abounded--for "_he
was a very goodly man_," physically a repetition of Absalom, the Adonis
of his time. We may also fairly surmise that his parents were guilty
of partiality and indulgence in their treatment of him, for David would
love him the more as one who revived the memory of his favourite
Absalom, the idol of the people, distinguished for his noble mien and
princely bearing. Courtiers, soldiers, and people all flattered
Adonijah, and Joab, the greatest captain of his age, next only to the
king, was his partisan, the more so because he neither forgot nor
forgave David's reproaches after the death of Absalom. Even Abiathar,
who represented the younger and more ambitious branch of the
priesthood, joined in the general adulation, until Adonijah,
intoxicated by vanity, set up his own court in rivalry to that of his
father, and when he moved abroad was accompanied by a stately retinue
of chariots and horsemen, and fifty foot attendants gorgeously
apparelled.

No doubt every position in life has its own peculiar temptations. The
ill-favoured lad, who is the butt at school and the scapegoat at home,
is in serious danger of becoming bitter and revengeful, and of growing
crooked in character, like a plant in a dark vault, which will have no
beauty because it enjoys no sunshine. But, on the other hand, physical
beauty, which attracts attention and wins admiration, especially if it
is associated with brilliant conversational gifts, and great charm of
manner, has befooled both men and women into sin and misery. Many a
girl has been entrapped into an unhappy marriage; and many a lad, moved
by a vaunting ambition which overleaped itself, has fallen never to
rise: like Icarus, when his waxen wings melted in the sun.

There must have been sad laxity of discipline in the home of David. It
is said of Adonijah that "_his father had not displeased him at any
time in saying, Why hast thou done so_?" In other words, Adonijah had
never been checked and rebuked as he ought to have been, and this
foolish indulgence was as fatal to him as it had been to the sons of
Eli. There are still such homes as David's, although their inmates do
well to draw down the veil of secrecy over them with loyal hands, and
never blazon abroad the grief and anxiety which rend their hearts. In
one home a fair, bright girl mars the beauty of her early womanhood by
a flippant disregard of her mother's wishes, and by an exaltation of
her own pleasure-loving disposition as the one law of her life. In
another, a mere child, hasty and uncontrolled in temper, is the dread
of the whole household, and at last becomes its tyrant, because every
wish is gratified rather than that a scene should be provoked. In yet
another a grown-up son is callous about his mother's anxiety and his
father's counsels; and gladly ignores his home associations as he
drifts away upon the sea of vice, and there becomes a miserable wreck.
With each of these it might have been otherwise. If authority had been
asserted, and steadily maintained, before bad habits were formed; if
firm resolution on the part of the parents had taken the place of
indulgent laxity, if, instead of being left to chance, character had
been moulded during the time when it was plastic--these might, with
God's blessing, have grown up to be wise, pure-hearted, courageous
followers of Christ--who would not only have sweetened the atmosphere
of home, but would have done something to purify and illumine society,
as the salt and the light of the world.

The sin of which Adonijah was guilty, whose sources we have tried to
discover, was the assumption of unlawful authority and state, which
involved rebellion against his own father.

Ambition is not always wrong. It is a common inspiration often nerving
men to attempt daring and noble deeds. Desire for distinction, with
capacity for it, may often be regarded as the voice of God summoning to
high effort. The world would soon be stagnant without ambition. The
scholar working for a prize, the writer or speaker resolving to make a
name, the man of business pressing onward past the indolent and the
ne'er-do-weel, are not to be condemned, so long as they seek lawful
objects by lawful means. Those who strenuously and hopefully fulfil
the duties of their present sphere will be called higher, either in
this world or the next, for God means us to rise by our fidelity where
we are, and not by discontent with what we are. Ambition may have
conscience in it, and this will reveal itself in the steady and minute
performance of small duties. Any who are content, with tireless hand,
to make crooked things straight and rough places plain, will ultimately
see glory revealed. But if ambition is not ruled by righteousness, if
it is not modified by love and consideration for others, it becomes a
sin, and will prove to be the herald of disobedience and death, for it
is such ambition which has cursed the world by tyrannies and bloodshed,
and dragged down angels from realms of light. This was the ambition
which let Adonijah exalt himself, and say, "I will be _king_."

It may be said that his conduct was natural enough, although it was too
precipitate, because he would legitimately succeed his father in due
course, as his eldest surviving son. But this was not so. The law of
primogeniture was not law for Israel. The invisible King expressly
reserved to Himself the right of appointing the ruler of His people, as
is evident from Deut. xvii. 14 and 15. The government was theocratic,
not monarchical nor democratic. David himself had been chosen and
anointed in preference to Jonathan, Saul's son, and Solomon, David's
younger son, had already been designated as his successor through the
prophet Nathan, partly because he was best fitted to become the man of
peace who should erect Jehovah's temple, and partly as a sign to David
that his sin with Bathsheba was forgiven. It was not as the "leader of
a court cabal," but as a prophet inspired by Jehovah, that Nathan had
made this solemn appointment. Adonijah knew this perfectly well; he
acknowledged it to Bathsheba in the fifteenth verse of the second
chapter, and therefore, when he declared, "_I_ will be king," he was
deliberately and knowingly setting his will against God's, and this was
a sin.

The divine choice often differs from the human, for "_the Lord seeth
not as man seeth_." In his reply to the sons of Zebedee, Jesus
declared that God is not swayed by favouritism, nor moved by arbitrary
impulse, but assigns to each his position according to his fitness.
This should give us contentment with our lot, and should emphasise the
precept, "_Seekest thou great things for thyself; seek them not_."
Though it is natural enough to wish for escape from the fret of
poverty, or the weariness of pain, and to win for ourselves wealth or
prominence, we must be on our guard against the indulgence of defiant
self-will, like that of him who said, "I _will_ be king."

Adonijah's motive in aspiring to the throne was not that he might the
better care for the welfare of others, but that he might selfishly
enjoy wealth and honour. He cared much for outward show, while he
failed to cultivate inward worth, preparing for himself chariots,
horsemen, and a retinue of servants, but never displaying a love of
justice or ability in statesmanship. And such little motives as his
never make greatness.

Adonijah was not the last to be attracted by glitter and tinsel, and to
live for earthly things which perish in the using. The candidate who
cares much for honour and nothing for learning, the professional man
who will sacrifice reputation to win a fortune, and all who wrong
others in order to better themselves, only gain what is transient and
unsatisfying. It would be well for all to learn the lesson (not least
he for whom the ceremony is primarily intended), which is symbolically
taught when a Pope is crowned. The Master of the Ceremonies takes a
lighted taper in one hand, and in the other a reed with a handful of
flax fastened to it. The flax flares up for a moment, and then the
flame dies away into thin, almost imperceptible, ashes, which fall at
the Pontiff's feet, as the choir chant the refrain "Pater sanctus, sic
transit gloria mundi." No earthly honour is worth having except it is
the result or the reward of character. Even in Pagan Rome the Temple
of Honour could only be reached through the Temple of Virtue. And over
the gateway of the greatest of all kingdoms in which Christ Jesus is
supreme, this motto is inscribed indelibly--"_He that humbleth himself
shall be exalted, and he that exalteth himself shall be abased_."

How often such ambition is accompanied by disregard of the rights of
others! What did Adonijah care for his father's dignity, or his
brother's claims? David was still on the throne, and Solomon's right
to succeed him had been authoritatively proclaimed, and yet, with
inbred selfishness, this ambitious prince declared, "_I_ will be king!"
The lawfulness of any ambition may often be tested by the amount of
selfishness which inheres in it. If desire for distinction, or wealth,
leads one to crush a competitor to the wall without ruth, or to refuse
all help to others in a struggle where every man seems to fight for his
own hand, its lawfulness may well be questioned. Our Lord taught us to
love even our enemies, and surely competitors have a still stronger
claim on our consideration, and certainly all who belong to a church
which is based on sacrifice, and symbolised by a cross, should even in
such matters deny themselves, and seek every man his neighbour's good.

All sin is the worse when it is committed, as Adonijah's was, in
defiance of warning. He deliberately repeated his brother's offence.
Yet he knew the tragic story of his death, and how his brilliant life
had been ended by violence in a wood, where he perished without a
friend; and he must often have seen his father brooding alone over the
trouble thus caused, as if he was still whispering to himself: "_O
Absalom, my son, would God I had died for thee! O Absalom, my son, my
son_!" Yet the very sin of Absalom which had been so terribly
punished, Adonijah boldly committed.

History is crowded with examples of ambitious men who died in
disappointment and despair,--Alexander, who conquered a world, and then
wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, perished in a scene
of debauchery, after setting fire to the city. Hannibal, who filled
three bushel measures with the gold rings of fallen knights, at last,
by poison self-administered, died unwept in a foreign land. Caesar,
who had practically the whole world at his feet, was stabbed to the
heart by so-called friends, even Brutus being among them. Napoleon,
the scourge and conqueror of Europe, died, a heart-broken exile, in St
Helena. Indeed, it is written in letters of blood on the pages of
history, "_The expectation of the wicked shall perish_."

Happily, angels' voices are calling us to higher things. Conscience
whispers to us of duty and love. Christ Himself, from the Cross, which
was the stepping-stone to His throne, still cries to every one who will
listen, "_Follow me_."

The false must be displaced by the true--the world by the Christ--the
usurper by the Divinely-appointed King. It was thus that Adonijah's
scheme was defeated. Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, and Nathan, the
prophet, hurried in to tell David of Adonijah's revolt against his
authority, and that at his coronation-festival, then begun, even Joab,
the commander-in-chief, and Abiathar, the priest, were present. Then
David's old decision and promptitude reasserted themselves once more.
At his command, Solomon, his designated successor, was seated on the
King's own mule, and rode in state to Gihon, where Zadok anointed him
in Jehovah's name; and when the trumpet was blown all the people said,
"_God save King Solomon_!"

It was the crowning of the new king which proved the dethronement of
the false; and this fact enshrines a principle divine and permanent.
False doctrine is overcome, not by abuse, but by the proclamation of
the true. Evil, whether enthroned in the heart or in the world, is
conquered by greater good. The strong man armed, only keeps his goods
in peace, until One stronger than he comes to bind him and cast him
out. Christ conquers the devil, be he where he may. "_For this
purpose the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works
of the devil_."

In the progress of Solomon, as he rode on his mule to Jerusalem, amid
the acclamations of the people, we see the Old Testament counterpart to
the New Testament narrative, which tells how Christ Jesus entered
Jerusalem as its king, while the people met Him with welcomes, and with
palms, and children sang His praises. And in both is a symbol of His
advent to every heart, and, if He be but welcomed as rightful king, He
will take to Himself His power, and reign.

 

HIRAM, THE INSPIRED ARTIFICER

BY REV. W. J. TOWNSEND, D.D.

 

The Temple of Solomon was the crown of art in the old world. There were
temples on a larger scale, and of more massive construction, but the
enormous masses of masonry of the oldest nations were not comparable with
the artistic grace, the luxurious adornments, and the harmonious
proportions of this glorious House of God. David had laid up money and
material for the great work, but he was not permitted to carry it out.
He was a man of war, and blood-stained hands were not to build the temple
of peace and righteousness. Solomon was the providential man for such an
undertaking. He had large ideas, a keen sense of beauty, generous
instincts, a religious nature, a literary training, and a highly
cultivated mind. He was in peaceful alliance with surrounding nations,
many of whom would be drawn into requisition for the suitable materials.
They had to supply the cedar wood, iron, copper, brass, tin, gold,
silver, and the rich fabrics which have made proverbial the sumptuous and
beautiful raiment and decorations of those times, with the rarest marbles
that the quarries of Lebanon and Bezetha could contribute. So with the
thousands of busy builders and artificers,

"Like some tall palm, the graceful fabric grew,"

until it stood complete on Mount Moriah, an inspiration to the people, a
continual benediction to the nation, and the envy of many a covetous
conqueror.

The name of one man only has been handed down the ages as having
specially signalised himself in the decoration of the temple. Solomon
must procure the best of human talent and genius for the perfection of
the work he meditated. Therefore he not only made a treaty with Hiram,
King of Tyre, for supplies of material, but of workmen, and chief of
these, one whose artistic productions were to be the best adornments of
the House of God for succeeding centuries. He was a tried veteran in
decorative work, an expert in almost every kind of art, and fit to be
placed in the position of chief superintendent of so superb a building.
The King of Tyre sent to Solomon a testimony which was eloquent in his
praise: "_I have sent a cunning man endued with understanding . . . .
the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, his father was a man of Tyre,
skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and
in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to
grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device_" (2 Chron. ii.
13, i4). Another record says: "_He was filled with wisdom, and
understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass_" (1 Kings vii. 14).

It is a significant fact in the history that Hiram, this expert
artificer, bearing the same name as his king, should have had an
Israelitish mother, and a Gentile father who had also been a worker in
metal. Thus he got his artistic taste and training from the father, his
religious knowledge and sympathy from the mother. Religious feeling and
sympathy he certainly had, as his magnificent work in the temple fully
demonstrated.

Hiram constructed of bright, burnished brass, an immense laver, called "a
molten sea," to be used for the ablutions of the priests. It was capable
of containing from fifteen to twenty thousand gallons of water, and the
ornamentation was elaborate exceedingly. Under the brim were two rows of
balls or bosses, encircling the laver. Twelve oxen, three looking in
four different directions, supported it, and the brim was wrought like
the brim of a cup with flowers of lilies. Beyond this, there were ten
lavers, smaller in size, for the washing of such things as were offered
in sacrifice. These were carefully decorated with lions, oxen, and
cherubim on the borders of the ledges. They stood upon bases, measuring
6 feet by 4 1/2 feet, ornamented carefully on each side with garlands
hanging in festoons, literally, "garlands, pensile work." Each base had
brasen wheels attached, with brasen axletrees, and brackets which
stretched from the four upper corners of the bases to the outward rim of
the laver. All the furnishings were also made by Hiram, such as pots,
basons, shovels; probably also the golden altar, and table, with the
seven-branched lamp stands, of which there were ten, of beautiful
construction and ornamentation. But the most glorious work of Hiram was
the construction of the two majestic brasen pillars, called Jachin and
Boaz, They were stately in height, the shaft of each measuring 27 feet, a
base of 12 feet, and two capitals of 13 1/2 feet, thus the whole height
of each pillar being 52 1/2 feet. The decoration was equally graceful
and elaborate, especially upon the capitals. The lower capitals had a
fine network over the whole, and chain-work hanging in festoons outside.
There were also pomegranates wrought upon them. The upper capitals,
forming a cornice to the whole pillar, were ornamented with lily-work.
At Persepolis there still stands a pillar, the cornice of which is carved
with three rows of lily leaves. These pillars were esteemed the most
important ornaments in the magnificent temple, the erection of which was
the best feature of Solomon's reign. They were of such prominent
importance that a name was affixed to each of them. One was called
"Jachin," which means, "he will establish," the other was called "Boaz,"
which means "in strength." The ideas involved are stability and
strength. Possibly the Psalmist had these pillars in his mind when he
wrote, "_Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary_" (Ps. xcvi. 6);
strength first, then beauty; strength as the foundation of divine work,
then beauty, graceful finish, and ornament.

Hiram was an inspired artist and artificer. He was "_filled with wisdom
and understanding, and cunning to work_." We are told the same as to the
great decorative workers of the Tabernacle, concerning whom the Lord
said: "_See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of
Hur of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the spirit of God,
in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of
workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and
in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood,
to work in all manner of workmanship_" (Exod. xxxi. 2-5). So also it is
written of Aholiab, Ahisamach, and other Tabernacle workers.

It is instructive to find that in Scripture, genius as displayed in
literary insight and facility, in ingenuity and inventiveness as to the
various arts, and even in the conception of instruments of husbandry, is
attributed to Divine inspiration. It may not be the same order of
inspiration by which "_men spake from God, being moved by the Holy
Ghost_"; "_Searching what time or manner of time the spirit of Christ
which was in them did point unto when it testified beforehand the
sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them_" (2 Peter
i. 21; 1 Peter i. 11); but the fact is clear, whether it was inspiration
of a different nature or in a different degree, that on men of special
gifts in various departments and of the highest order, wisdom and
understanding are a direct gift of the Holy Spirit. This truth was
acknowledged in earliest times, and skilled experts in art or handicraft
were reckoned to be under the inspiration of God. Among the heathen this
belief lingered long. The ancient poets invoked the aid of their deities
when entering on some great composition, and the devout earnestness of
some recorded prayers is remarkable. There should be a line of
demarcation drawn in this connection between a man of talent and a man of
genius. Talent may be a matter of cultivation and perseverance. A man
of ordinary intelligence may, by determined resolution, push his way to
power in many directions, and the one talent may become ten talents. But
genius is not mere cleverness, however well directed and carefully
developed. Genius is creative and inventive; it has insight, it has
imagination, it "bodies forth the forms of things unknown," and "gives to
airy nothings a local habitation and a name." Isaiah speaks of the
inspiration of the inventor of the agricultural instrument: "_His God
doth instruct him aright, and doth teach him . . . This also cometh from
the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in
wisdom_" (Isa. xxviii. 26-29).

When man required in the old time direct teaching of great religious
truths and realities, God inspired prophets and seers, but the world
required also to be educated, regulated, civilised. Therefore poets,
painters, _litterateurs_, artists, and artificers were called for, by
deep needs of humanity. God answered the need by giving the marvellous
gift in various forms and degrees to men who had understanding of their
times, and who by special insight were able to give impulses to progress
in every direction. This truth is powerfully stated by a German
metaphysician:--"Nothing calls us more powerfully to adore the living God
than the appearance and embodiment of genius upon the earth. Whatever in
the ordinary course of things we may choose to attribute to the
mechanical process of cause and effect, the highest manifestations of
intellect can be called forth only by the express will of the original
Mind, independent of second causes. Genius descends upon us from the
clouds precisely where we least look for it. Events may be calculated,
predicted--spirits never; no earthly oracle announces the appearance of
genius: the unfathomable will of the Creator suddenly calls to it--Be!"[1]

The Apostle Paul says concerning the Christ, "_IN HIM were all things
created_" (Col. i. 16). Everything in the universe became objective,
because they were first subjective in Christ, the second Person in the
adorable Trinity. All things were made from forms and types which were
in Himself before they were impressed on Creation. The infinite glories
of sky, and air, and sea, the beauties of the tree, the flower, the bird,
and all forms of life, the fleeting and recurring grandeurs that paint
the seasons and the years, are all but revelations of the boundless
resources and the ineffable beauties and qualities of the mind of Christ,
our Master and Teacher. Our craving of genius, and its never-dying
ambition, is to come ever nearer to the perfection of the Infinite Artist
and Architect. The inspiration which filled the soul of Bezalel or Hiram
may not be so elevated or elevating as that which enabled Isaiah to soar
to the throne of the Eternal in speechless rapture, or which enabled
Michael Angelo to represent in form and colour his vast conceptions of
the beautiful and sublime; but it was as real, and in some aspects as
serviceable in suggestion and realisation, as these. "God fulfils
Himself in many ways." As the Divine Spirit plays on the minds of
special men, one is turned to music, another to painting, another to
sculpture, another to architecture, another to mechanics, and another to
a smith's imaginings; but it is still the same Spirit that worketh in all
and through all, and each may be perfected instruments by which He
accomplishes His wise and gracious purposes in the uplift of men.

What a living force among men is the true poet, the man who can take
words and weave them into forms of perfect rhythm, rhyme, and measure,
and then fill them with thoughts so suggestive and burning, as that they
become for ever a force in the hearts of men, thrilling the souls of men
and women with lofty ideals, prompting them to noble deeds, nerving them
to patience in suffering and courage in battle. What may not the artist
accomplish by throwing on the canvas landscapes or seascapes, like
Turner, Scripture scenes, like Raphael, or heroic deeds, like Millais?
Do these things not speak to the heart through the eye effectually? And
what refining influences may not be silently absorbed into the nature by
the artificer, who works in metals, or in pottery, in glass, or in wood,
producing shapes of graceful contour, and decoration of delicate beauty,
so that the articles of the household or the warehouse may be an
education to the mind, and become to it patterns of things in the
heavens. The command to Moses on the Mount was, concerning all the
furniture of the Tabernacle, which Bezalel and Aholiab had to construct
was, "_See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to
thee in the mount_" (Heb. viii. 5). The beautiful things were in the
mind of God first, and then had to be produced by the inspiration of the
artist, in the house of prayer by the wisdom and deftness imparted by the
Spirit.

It is possible, we sorrow to think, to misuse the Divine gift of artistic
inspiration. The poet may devote his genius to animalism, like Byron, or
to teach immoral license, like Swinburne; the painter may crowd his
canvas with degrading ideas and vulgar representations, and the artificer
may be ingenious in the production of forms of ugliness and degrading
grotesqueness. Such desecration of great endowments is alike displeasing
to God and ruinous to the man. Of such it may be said: "_He feedeth on
ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his
soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand_?" (Isa. xliv. 20).

Thank God, that we may say truly that generally the superlatives might
have been found sitting at the feet of Jesus. The heavy, dull masses of
meaningless masonry which belonged to Egypt or Assyria, flowered into the
pure, delicate, ideality of the Greek builders, and this again developed
into the warm, spiritual, suggestive style of Christianity which has
covered Christendom with consecrated buildings like the cathedrals of
Cologne or Chartres. The art of twenty centuries has been proclaiming
the Christ as perfect in beauty, in grace and refinement, as He is
perfect in love and in sacrifice. The music of the past, in all its
highest reaches from Gregory to Mendelssohn, celebrates His grand
redemption. The most gifted poets, from Dante, pealing his threefold
anthem from the topmost peak of Parnassus, to Shakespeare, with "his
woodnotes wild"; from Milton, with his "sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs
and harping symphonies," to Tennyson, with his "happy bells," which

"Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand,"

but chief of all which

"Ring in the Christ that is to be,"

are resonant with loyalty and devotion to Him. Thus, all voices and all
gifts, as they come from Christ, and are claimed by Christ, should be
used for Him and Him alone. The lofty reach of genius is called to
glorify Him, and the humblest gift of the peasant in the cottage, or the
workman in the mill, or the little child at the mother's knee, are all
due to Christ, to be devoted to Him, and also to be appreciated and
rewarded by Him.

[1]Gustav Schwab, quoted by Ullmann, in _The Worship of Genius_.

 

JEROBOAM

BY REV. ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

"Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin."--1 KINGS xiv. 16.

Jeroboam's character is worthy of serious study, not only because it
influenced the destiny of God's ancient people, but because it suggests
lessons of the utmost value to His people still. He may be fairly
regarded as a type of those who are successful men of the world. He was
not an example of piety, for he had none--nor of lofty principle, for he
was an opportunist who made expediency the law of his life throughout.
Yet he was permitted to win all that he could have hoped for, and reached
the very zenith of his ambition, though he went down to the grave at
last, defeated and dishonoured, with this as his record--he was the man
"_who made Israel to sin_."

Such a life as his throws a flood of light on our possibilities and
perils, showing unscrupulous men both what they may possibly win, and
what they will certainly lose.

Jeroboam appears to have been a man of lowly origin. Of his father
Nebat, whose name is so often linked with his own, we know nothing,
although an old Jewish tradition, preserved by Jerome, identifies him
with Shimei, who was the first to insult David in his flight, and the
first of all the house of Joseph to congratulate him on his return. All
we know with certainty is that he belonged to the powerful tribe of
Ephraim, which was always jealous of the supremacy of Judah, and
therefore hated David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. It was this feeling of
which Jeroboam skilfully availed himself when he split the kingdom of
David in twain.

In the Book of Kings, this remarkable man first appears as an ordinary
workman, or possibly as a foreman of the masons who were engaged in
building Fort Millo, one of the chief defences of the citadel of Zion,
guarding its weakest point, and making it almost impregnable. Under the
system of forced labour then in vogue, the workmen would be inclined to
shirk their toil, and among them Jeroboam stood out in conspicuous
contrast, by reason of his eagerness and industry. Solomon the king, who
always had a keen eye for capacity, saw the young man that he was
industrious, and after making some inquiries about him, raised him to the
remunerative post of superintendent of the tribute payable by the tribe
of Ephraim. It was, no doubt, a difficult office to fill, for the tribe
was restive and powerful, but it would be very profitable, because the
system on which taxes were collected, as is still usual in Eastern
countries, gave immense opportunities for enrichment to an unscrupulous
man. We may be sure, therefore, that Jeroboam quickly became wealthy.
At the same time he won influence with the tribe, by expressing secret
sympathy with his fellow-tribesmen, and he stealthily fostered their
discontent until the opportunity came for asserting himself as a more
successful Wat Tyler, in the kingdom which by that time Solomon had left
to his foolish son, Rehoboam. Little did Solomon imagine that when he
advanced Jeroboam he was preparing the instrument of his son's ruin, and
that this Ephraimite would prove to be like the viper Aesop tells of,
which a kind-hearted man took in from the cold, but which when roused by
warmth from its torpor, killed its benefactor.

I

1. In looking for the elements which contributed to Jeroboam's
rapidly-won success, we must certainly credit him with remarkable natural
ability.

No one can read his biography carefully without noticing his shrewdness
in seeing his chance when it came, and his boldness and promptitude in
seizing it. He possessed such self-control that he kept his plans
absolutely to himself until the critical moment, and then he made a
daring dash for power, and won it. And these characteristics of his were
gifts from God, as Ahijah the prophet emphatically declared.

We are far too timid in the maintenance of our professed belief that
physical and mental gifts are divine in their origin. Mediaeval
theology, which was largely tinged by Pagan philosophy, sometimes went so
far as to attribute exceptional beauty, or talent, to evil powers; and we
are apt to trace them to a merely human source. But keen perception,
sound judgment, a retentive memory, a vigorous imagination, and, not
least, good common-sense, are among the talents entrusted to us by God
Himself, who will by-and-bye take account of His servants.

This is regarded by many as an old-fashioned and effete theory. They
assume that the doctrine of evolution has conclusively shown that no man
is a new creation, but is a necessary product of preceding lives; that
his lineaments and talents may be traced to parentage, that the
brilliance of the Cecils and the solid sense of the Cavendishes, for
example, are simply a matter of heritage. But even admitting this to be
largely true, it does not invalidate the statement that our gifts are of
God--He is the Father of all the "families" of the earth, as well as of
individuals. He does not rule over one year only, but over all the
generations. Time and change, of which we make much, are nothing to Him.
The theory of evolution, therefore, merely extends our conceptions of the
range of His power and forethought. Whether a child presents a striking
contrast to his parents, or whether he seems to be a re-incarnation of
their talents, it is equally true that all things are of God, and that
for Him and by Him all things consist. Natural abilities are Divine
trusts.

There is startling unevenness in the distribution of these gifts. Not
only do two families differ widely in their talents and possessions, but
children of the same parents are often strangely unlike, physically and
mentally. One is radiantly beautiful, and another has no charm in
appearance or in manners. One is physically vigorous, and another is
frail as a hothouse flower. One is so quick that lessons are no trouble
at all, and another wearily plods over them till ready to give up in
despair. Evidences of this unevenness of distribution meet us
everywhere. One man will make a fortune where another would not suspect
a chance. One remains a third-rate salesman all his days, and would
spend even his holidays in looking into shop windows, for his soul does
not rise beyond them; while his comrade is brimful of talent, and the
world will ring at last with his name and fame. We say "it is in them";
but what is in them is of God, and these very differences between men are
intended by Him to elicit mutual consideration and mutual helpfulness;
for we are members one of another, and the deficiencies of one are to be
supplemented by the superabundance of another.

2. The most brilliant gifts are of no great value apart from personal
diligence, such as distinguished Jeroboam.

He did thoroughly the work which lay to his hand, whether as mason,
tax-collector, or king. Such diligence often rectifies the balance
between two men of unequal ability. The plodding tortoise still beats
the hare, who believes herself to be so swift that she can afford time to
sleep. Any one who looks back on his classmates will see that the
cleverest have not proved the most successful, but that the prizes of
life have usually gone to those who diligently developed to the utmost
what they had. Scripture is crowded with examples of this. Jacob
laboured night and day, and therefore he prospered, even under Laban,
unjust and exacting though Laban was. Joseph won his way to the front,
though an exile and a slave, for he made himself indispensable in prison,
and in the kingdom. "_Seest thou a man diligent in business? he shall
stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men_." And because
this is a Divine law, it prevails in higher spheres also. If a Christian
uses, in the service of his heavenly Master, the gifts he possesses,
faith in God, knowledge of truth, power in prayer, persuasive speech--his
five talents will become ten, or his two will gain other two. "_To him
that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance_."

3. It may be said that talent and diligence combined do not always win
success, and so far as this world is concerned, it is true. Possibly
Jeroboam would never have come to the front if Solomon had not happened
to notice him. But if we read the interviews which Ahijah the prophet
had with Jeroboam, and with his mother, we shall learn to recognise the
control of God in this also.

If God over-rules anything he must over-rule everything, because what
appears to be the most trivial incident, often has the most far-reaching
results on human character and destiny. Trifles are often turning-points
in one's history. A casual word spoken in our favour may bring about the
introduction which leads to a happy marriage, or to a prosperous business
career. It may not have been known to us at the time, nor thought of
again by the friend who spoke about us, but back of his friendly
utterance God was. In life we are not infrequently like a passenger on
board ship, who chats to those about him, but pays no regard to the
wheel, or to the seaman who controls it, still less to the officer who
gives the man his instructions; and yet the turning of that wheel, in
this direction or in that, involves safety, or wreck. God keeps
control--unseen--over the lives of men, and it was more than a lucky
chance which led Solomon to notice the smart, stalwart worker at Millo,
and raise him to a higher post.

The wise king showed his wisdom in rewarding as he did, fidelity and
diligence. It is because this is often not done in offices and
warehouses that there is so little mutual goodwill between servants and
masters. An employer will often treat his people as mere "hands," who
are to sell his goods and do his bidding, but directly work is slack, he
will turn them adrift without scruple or ruth; or if they remain for
years in his service, will give no increase of wage or salary
proportioned to capacity and diligence. A Christian employer, at least,
should follow a more excellent way, and advance a diligent servant, not
because he cannot be done without, or because it is for the good of the
firm to retain his services, but because his promotion is right and
richly deserved. It would be a woful thing if God treated us exactly as
we treat our fellows.

But whatever the immediate result, fidelity and industry are called for
from us all. Our Lord Himself said, "_It is My meat and My drink to do
the will of My Father in heaven_," and this He felt to be as true of His
work at the carpenter's bench as in the precincts of the Temple. Whether
in the business, or in the household, or in the Church, the King is ever
watching His servants, and of His grace will raise every faithful one to
higher service and larger possibilities. "_The Father, who seeth in
secret, shall reward thee openly_," and His reward will come not only in
loftier position but in ennobled character--

"Toil is no thorny crown of pain,
Bound round man's brow for sin;
True souls from it all strength may gain,
High manliness may win.

"O God, who workest hitherto,
Working in all we see,
Fain would we be, and hear, and do,
As best it pleaseth Thee."

 

II.

Jeroboam's defects in character, and indeed his actual sins, were many
and great.

1. His ingratitude to his benefactor was a disgrace to him.

He fostered and used, as far as he dared, the discontent which smouldered
in the tribe of Ephraim, as the result partly of jealousy of Judah, and
partly of restiveness under extravagant expenditure and increasing
taxation, and this treachery went on until he was expelled the country by
Solomon, and driven out as an exile into Egypt, where, however, he still
carried out his ambitious schemes, till his chance came under Rehoboam.

Many a man kicks away the ladder by which he rose to fortune. He likes
to divest himself of the past wherein he needed help, for it was a time
of humiliation, and by cutting off association with former friends, would
fain lead people to believe that his success was entirely due to his own
cleverness. Even his own parents are sometimes neglected and ignored,
and these, to whom he owed his life, who cared for him in his helpless
infancy and wayward youth, are left unhelped. "_Cursed is the man who
setteth light by his father or mother_."

But though we naturally cry "shame" upon such an one, it is possible that
we ourselves are acting an unfilial part towards our Heavenly Father.
And the more He prospers us the greater is the danger of our forgetting
Him, who crowns us with loving-kindness and tender mercies.

2. Jeroboam's sin against Solomon was as nothing compared with his sin
against God.

From the first he seems to have been an irreligious man. He regarded
religion as a kind of restraint on the lower orders, and therefore useful
in government. Priests and prophets constituted, in his opinion, the
vanguard of the police, and they should, therefore, be supported and
encouraged by the State. As to the form religion assumed, he was not
particular. In Egypt he had become accustomed to the ritual of Apis and
Mnevis, which was by no means so gross and demoralising as the idolatry
of the Canaanites, and he evidently could not see why the worship of
Jehovah could not be carried on by those who believed in Him through the
use of emblems, and, if need be, of idols. Therefore he set about the
establishment of the cult of Apis, and "_made two calves of gold, and set
the one in Bethel and the other put he in Dan_." This was the sin for
which he was condemned again and again with almost wearisome iteration.
He was by no means a fanatical idolater, and this act of his was simply
the dictate of his worldly policy. He was engaged in the establishment
of the separate kingdom of Israel, which for many a long year was to
exist side by side with the kingdom of Judah. But this policy of
separation would be impossible so long as there was the old spirit of
unity in the nation. And this unity was expressed and fostered most of
all by the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, the common centre to
which all the tribes resorted, and from which all government emanated.
If this continued so to be, it was evident that the nation would sooner
or later reassert its unity. The men of Ephraim were just now
exasperated by the taxation imposed by Solomon, and increased by
Rehoboam, and they still resented the precedence and supremacy of the
rival tribe of Judah; but this feeling might prove transient, it might be
some day dissipated by the statesmanship of a wiser king, and then the
separated kingdom would die out, and all God's people would appear as
one. To prevent this was Jeroboam's aim in the erection of the golden
calves.

It was a policy which would naturally appeal to the jealous people, who
were told that they ought not to be dependent for their means of worship
on Judah, nor send up their tribute for the support of the Temple in
Jerusalem. And they would welcome a scheme which brought worship within
easier range, and saved the cost of leaving business and undertaking a
wearisome journey in order to keep the feasts. Thus, without deliberate
choice, they swiftly glided down into idolatry and national ruin.

Jeroboam thus led the people to a violation of one of the fundamental
laws in the Decalogue. For if the first command was not disobeyed by all
the people, the second was, and these laws are still obligatory, nor can
they be broken with impunity. With fatal facility those who worshipped
Jeroboam's golden calf became identified with the heathen, and the
kingdom thus set upon a false foundation was at last utterly destroyed.
And as surely as the tide flows in upon the shore, so surely will the
laws of God bring retribution on all who are impenitent. To every man
the choice is proffered between the false and the true ideal of life. On
the one side the tempter points to wealth and position, which may often
be won, as Jeroboam won it, by unscrupulousness; and on the other side
stands the Son of God, who, though rejected and crucified, was
nevertheless the Victor over sin, and who now from His heavenly throne
exclaims, "_To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My
throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His
throne_."

 

ASA

BY REV. ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D., LL.B.

 

1 KINGS xv. 8-24; 2 CHRON. xiv-xvi.

Asa was the third king who reigned over the separated kingdoms of
Judah. His father was Ahijah, of whom it is sternly said, "_He walked
in all the sins of his father, Rehoboam, which he had done before
him_." A worse bringing-up than Asa's could scarcely be imagined. As
a child, and as a lad, he was grievously tempted by his father's
example, and by the influence of an idolatrous court, which was crowded
by flatterers and panderers. The leading spirit of the court-circle
was Maachah, "_the King's mother_," as she is called--the Sultana
Valide. She was a woman of strong character, and held a high official
position. She was the grand-daughter of Absalom, and was notorious for
her fanatical idolatry. In short, she was the evil genius of the
kingdom, like the Chinese Queen-mother of our own times, although,
happily, Asa possessed a force of character which the young Emperor of
China seems to lack. It is certainly noteworthy, that, with so much
against the cultivation of a religious life, "_Asa did that which was
right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father_." Sometimes on
a heap of corruption, which we are glad to hurry past with abhorrence,
God plants a beautiful and fragrant flower, as if in defiance of man's
neglect; and thus Asa appeared in the family, and in the court of
Ahijah, his father--a God-fearing, single-minded lad, with a will of
his own.

As there was hope for him, there is hope for all. Whatever a man's
parentage and circumstances may be, he is not forced into sin, and has
no right to say, "_We are delivered to do all these abominations_."
Amid all his difficulties and discouragements, if he is earnestly
seeking to serve God, and looking to Him for help and hope, he may
triumph over the most adverse circumstances, and prove himself to be a
true citizen of heaven. If he waits in prayer on God, as Joseph did in
Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, and Asa in Ahijah's court, he will not only
be endued with piety, but with an independent spirit, and a resolute
will, which will make him a power for good in the very sphere where he
seemed likely to be crushed by the powers of evil. It is not in vain
that the apostle gave the exhortation, "_Be not overcome of evil, but
overcome evil with good_." Asa was a noble example of obedience to
that command.

It is clear from the narrative, in the First Book of Kings, that Asa
was rich in noble qualities, such as manly resoluteness, political
sagacity, and administrative vigour. But special prominence is given
in the Bible (as one might expect) to his religious sincerity, for it
is emphatically said--"_Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord all his
days_." This does not mean that he was sinless, that he had reached
moral perfection, but that he had completely, with whole-heartedness,
given himself over to the will of God, to be and to do what He ordained.

The proof of this was seen in the reformation Asa daringly attempted.
This is the record of it--"_He took away the sodomites out of the land,
and removed all the idols that his father had made. And also Maachah
his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made
an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the
brook Kidron_."

Things must have gone badly in the kingdom before he ascended the
throne. Although it was only about twenty years since the death of
Solomon, irreligion and vice had corrupted the nation. The truth is
that evil spreads faster than good in this world, which is evidence
that it has fallen. We have embodied this truth in a familiar
proverb--"Ill weeds grow apace." If we neglect a garden, we are soon
confronted with weeds, not with flowers. Valuable fruit-trees grow
slowly, but a poisonous fungus will spring up in a night.

Evidence of this often appears in national affairs. A few months of
war will suffice to desolate many homes, to destroy fertile fields, and
to burn down prosperous villages, but it is long before that waste can
be repaired, confidence restored, and prosperity and goodwill
re-established. The devil will carry fire and sword through the world
with the swiftness of a whirlwind, but Jesus Christ patiently waits and
weeps over an irresponsive people, as he says, "_Ye will not come to Me
that ye might have life_."

The same contrast in the progress of good and evil appears in our own
experience. If we yield to evil, and indulge sinful passions, we move
so swiftly downward that it is hard to stop,--like an Alpine climber on
a snow-slope, who, having once slipped, in a few minutes' rush loses
all that he has gained by toilsome climbing, and becomes less able to
make new effort because of his wounds and bruises. Among our Lord's
disciples, we see Judas swiftly rushing on self-destruction, whereas
Peter and John received years of discipline, before they were fully
prepared to fulfil their mission. No doubt, in such cases evil may
have been, making slow and stealthy advance under the surface, though
the result appears with startling suddenness, just as gas will escape
without noise, and creep into every corner of the room; but when a
light comes in, death and destruction come in a flash. Evil is an
explosion, good is a growth.

This perhaps accounts for the facts that evil had quickly grown strong
in the kingdom; while, on the other hand, Asa's attempt at reformation
was incomplete and transient. He seems, however, to have done what he
could, and that is more than can be said of many. If he had been a
timid, half-hearted man he might have been content to worship Jehovah
in his private room, and thus rebuke, by his example, any idolaters who
happened to hear of it But his was no policy of _laissez-faire_. He
felt that the evils encouraged by the father ought to be put down by
the son, and this he did with a strong hand, wherever he could reach it.

Unhappily, there is a sad dearth of such reforming zeal in the Church,
and in the world. Even among those who in private lament prevailing
evils there is a singular contentment and tolerance even of those which
might be at once removed. This is grievously common in large centres
of population, where each individual feels insignificant among such
vast multitudes, and loses the sense of individual responsibility in
the vastness of the crowd which surrounds him. How many professing
Christians, for example, deplore drunkenness and impurity, while they
shrink from any kind of open protest, and will not even trouble
themselves to vote for representatives who will fight these evils; and
if a preacher boldly denounces such iniquities they will even beg him
to leave questions of that kind alone, and to confine himself to
doctrinal exposition. We are all too apt to forget that truth and
righteousness, sobriety and holiness, are of God; and that the mission
of Jesus Christ was to establish these, and to put away sin, even by
the sacrifice of Himself. The religion He exemplified was not to be
ranged on the shelves of a library, but to prove itself a living force
in politics, in business, and at home. What was His own doctrine?
"_Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the
kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in
heaven_." Evils outside the Church, then, are to be combated, and not
tolerated, by all true Christians--even though in the result they are
maligned as renegades to their party, or jeered at as Pharisees or
Puritans. The late Tom Hughes was quite right half a century ago, when
he thus described to the lads before him the lot of a would-be reformer.

"If the angel Gabriel were to come down from heaven, and head a
successful rise against the most abominable and unrighteous vested
interests which this poor old world groans under, he would most
certainly lose his character for many years, probably for centuries,
not only with upholders of the said vested interest, but with the
respectable mass of the people he has delivered. They wouldn't ask him
to dinner, or let their names appear with his in the papers; they would
be careful how they spoke of him in the palaver, or at their clubs.
What can we expect, then, when we have only poor gallant, blundering
men like Garibaldi and Mazzini, and righteous causes which do not
triumph in their hands; men who have holes enough in their armour, God
knows, easy to be hit by respectabilities sitting in their
lounge-chairs, and having large balances at their bankers. But you are
brave, gallant boys, who have no balances or bankers, and hate
easy-chairs. You only want to have your heads set straight to take the
right side; so bear in mind that majorities, especially respectable
ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong, and that if you see a man
or boy striving earnestly on the weaker side, however wrong-headed or
blundering he may be, you are not to go and join the cry against him.
If you cannot join him, and help him, and make him wiser, at any rate
remember that he has found something in the world which he will fight
and suffer for--which is just what you have got to do for
yourselves--and so think and speak of him tenderly."

Those manly words are worth quoting in full, and they will fitly set
forth the service young Asa rendered to his kingdom, and to the world
at large.

I.

It may be well to analyse a little more closely the reformation this
right-hearted king attempted. He diminished opportunities for sin.
The traffic in vice, by which many were making profit, he put down with
a strong hand. And there are hotbeds of vice to be found in our own
land, where strong appeal is made to the lusts of the flesh, and where
intoxicating drink incites men to yield to passions which need
restraint. Indeed, even in our streets moral perils assail the young
and innocent, which no Christian nation ought to tolerate. We often
meet the assertion that we cannot make people moral by Acts of
Parliament; but if dens of infamy, which it is perilous to enter, are
swept away, if gin-palaces and public-houses which flood the land with
ruin are diminished in number, and in their hours of trade, it would
certainly lessen the evils we deplore. Vested interests fight against
such a change, and many on the side of sobriety and righteousness
shrink from the contest, so that we need the inspiration which God gave
to Asa, if we are to win the victory.

This kingly reformer not only lessened opportunities for vice, but
certain evil influences in his kingdom he brushed aside with a strong
hand. Maachah, the king's mother, was a potent influence on the side
of idolatry. It seemed at first impossible to touch her. The king was
indebted to her. She was aged, and age merits respect, and, therefore,
some would argue that she might be tolerated for the few years she yet
had to live. But these pleas did not avail her, for the issues
involved were too serious for the nation, and for the kingdom of God.
And because "_Asa's heart was perfect_," completely devoted to
Jehovah's cause, he "_removed her from being queen_," and publicly
burnt the idol she had put up.

Leaders in evil are sometimes found among the leaders of the world.
Clever, unscrupulous men succeed in winning power through their want of
principle, and even of scruple. Distinguished writers, gifted with
brilliant style, or poetic power, exercise widespread influence for
evil. Young people of singularly attractive personality win to
themselves a large following, and use it for the worst ends. Many a
golden image, or beautiful object of adoration, still stands on the
high places of the world; and even if we cannot pull them down, as Asa
did, at least we can say to the evil one, who set them up, "_Be it
known unto thee that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden
image which thou hast set up_."

The history of Asa should inspire us to a renewal of war against the
evils which Jesus Christ died to put away. Victory will not come
without conflict. In respect to anxiety we are to be quiescent as the
lilies, which neither toil nor spin, but in respect of moral evil,
within or without, we must be vigilant and strenuous.

"Lilies have no sin
Leading them astray,
No false heart within
That would them bewray,
Nought to tempt them in
An evil way;
And if canker come and blight,
Nought will ever put them right.

"But good and ill, I know,
Are in my being blent,
And good or ill may flow
From mine environment;
And yet the ill, laid low,
May better the event;
Careless lilies, happy ye!
But careless life were death to me."

II.

The courage of Asa had as its root confidence in God, and this is shown
more fully in the narrative which appears in the Second Book of
Chronicles than in the First Book of Kings.

His reforming work--carried out with ruthless vigour--naturally raised
up adversaries on every side. In the court itself Maachah and her
party were implacable. Outside it the idolatrous priests, and all
their hangers-on, whose vested interests were abolished, were plotting
and scheming against the king. But Asa was imperturbable, because he
had found God to be his refuge and strength. The man who really fears
God finds the fear of his fellows thereby cast out.

To Jehovah, therefore, the brave king brought all his difficulties.
This was beautifully exemplified when he found himself confronted with
an overwhelming force of Ethiopians, for then "_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_." Prayer was the
secret of his strength, and in it we also may find all the help we need
in meeting our discouragements--the ignorance which tries our patience,
the indifference to God which nothing seems to stir, the vice which
holds its victim as an octopus, the sin which is as subtle as it is
strong. Against them all we have no power, and may well pray as Asa
did. "Lord, help us." Then He will fulfil the promise, "_When the
enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord will lift up a
standard against him_."

III.

After his great deliverance Asa renewed his consecration. The need for
its renewal shows that in character and conduct he was far from being
all that he ought to have been. He was not "_perfect_" in that sense.
His earnestness cooled down. Through his carelessness the "_high
places_" were re-erected. He seems to have been content that the
"_groves_," with their grosser forms of idolatry, were gone, and that
other forms might be tolerated, just as some, who have conquered their
vices, are morally ruined by what the world calls little sins. But, in
spite of these failings, the judgment of God, who is ever slow to anger
and of great mercy, was that Asa's heart was "_perfect_"--sound, whole,
and sincere, though not sinless.

How happy it is that God judges not as man judges, that He can
unerringly read the heart, and graciously accepts even the imperfect
and blundering service which we sincerely offer to Him. Jehu
accurately executed Jehovah's fiat, whereas Asa's obedience seemed
imperfect; yet the latter was commended, and the former condemned,
because Asa, unlike Jehu, was right in heart. Therefore we may be
encouraged still to do our little part in God's service, in spite of
the failures and imperfections of the past, if only we can say, "_Lord,
Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee_."

 

AHAZIAH

BY REV. J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

 

"And the destruction of Ahaziah was of God, by coming to Joram; for,
when he was come, he went out with Jehoram against Jehu the son of
Nimshi, whom the Lord had anointed to cut off the house of Ahab."--2
CHRON. xxii. 7.

We rarely read this part of the Bible. And I do not wonder at it. For
those particular chapters are undoubtedly dreary and monotonous. They
contain the names of a number of incompetent and worthless kings who
did nothing that was worth writing about, and who were singularly
alike, so that when you have heard the story of one of them you know
pretty well the story of all. It is the good lives that furnish
attractive reading, because there is so much individuality and variety
in them, so many pictorial lights and shadows. A novel in which all
the characters are mean, would be read by nobody. The blackness needs
to be relieved by something good, for darkness is always monotonous.
Bad men show a dreary sameness in their thoughts and doings, their rise
and fall. The godly are like nature illumined by the sunlight,
manifold and infinite; the wicked are like nature when the darkness
covers it, uniform and dismal. Nearly all that is said in the Bible
about these bad kings, is that they walked in the ways of Ahab or
Jeroboam or some other wicked person, that they closely imitated the
doings of their model. The Bible does not waste space in describing
them more accurately. One or two specimens do for all.

But certain things are said about Ahaziah which afford room for
reflection, and may, perhaps, be useful to us if we take them in a
right way.

And first let me give you a lesson in genealogy. These lessons are
often very wearisome. Let two men get on talking about who was the
cousin, father, grandfather, great-grandmother, and what not of such a
person, and you begin at once to wish that you were out of it, or that
you could quietly go to sleep until they settle the question; and yet
it is not so unimportant as it seems. When a man writes a biography he
deems it his duty to go back three or four generations, and tell you
what sort of fathers and mothers and grandmothers and even
great-grandsires his hero had. It is very wearisome, but it is very
necessary. The story is not complete without that--for breed and
ancestry go quite as far with men as with cattle, and often further.

Ahaziah's descent was right on one side, but it was very mean on the
other. He had David's blood in his veins, and Jehoshaphat's, and
mingled with that, the venom of heathenism. His mother was Athaliah,
and Athaliah was the daughter of Jezebel, and Jezebel was a licentious
heathen princess whom Ahab on an evil day had made his wife.

There is nothing in the Bible more tragical and more infamous than the
story of this woman Jezebel, and the part which she took in shaping the
destiny of the Jewish nation. She was a Syro-Phenician princess, whose
father ruled over the powerful and wealthy cities of Tyre and Sidon.
Ahab was caught by her beauty, and by the attractive political alliance
of which she was the pledge. Some think that the forty-fifth Psalm had
reference to her, which speaks of the daughter of Tyre coming with gold
of Ophir, splendidly arrayed, and bringing a handsome dowry with her.
Ahab thought he was marrying wealth and dignity, and providing for the
greatness of his house, and, as often happens in such marriages, he
forgot to ask for a certificate of character, forgot to ask what sort
of mother he was providing for his children. She came with all her
meretricious splendour covering one of the most fiendish natures that
ever wore a woman's form. She developed, if she did not bring with
her, all imaginable vices--her vindictive passion revelled in blood;
her religion was the filthiest licentiousness; her beauty became the
painted face of a common harlot. Her figure stands forth in the Bible
as the very worst exemplification of the dark possibilities of human
nature. Tennyson says men do not mount as high as the best of
women--but they scarce can sink as low as the worst. For men at most
differ as heaven and earth; but women, worst and best, as heaven and
hell. And this woman became, alas, the mother of kings; and all who
went forth from her inherited her nature, and forgot nothing of her
training. For several generations the taint of her evil influence was
felt throughout the whole court life of Israel, and the licentious
abominations which she had introduced infected the whole national life.
Ahab married for money and position, and this was what came of it.

Her influence extended also to the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoram,
King of Judah, must needs marry Ahab's daughter, Athaliah, who was the
exact counterpart of her mother, Jezebel. Another wedding in which
morals and religion were sacrificed on the altar of gain--for by means
of it a small kingdom was to be cemented in alliance with a greater,
and another rich dowry to be secured. And the same dreary results
followed--a court corrupted with all manner of impurity, sons and
daughters initiated into all the mysteries of wickedness,
demoralisation spreading all around.

In this atmosphere Ahaziah was trained. His mother's name, says the
record briefly, was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri, that is, the direct
daughter of Jezebel. He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab,
for his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly--wherefore he did evil
in the sight of the Lord, for they were his counsellors after the death
of his father to his destruction. What else could result in a home of
which Athaliah was the head, in which the main training and influence
were supplied by one of Jezebel's brood. The significant feature in
all these Chronicles is the immense influence of women in shaping the
lives and characters of kings. The men seem to have little to do with
it; the women are almost supreme. Sons do not take after their fathers
but after their mothers. Again and again we read of a good king who
had a wicked father--Josiah, Hezekiah, and others. They shake off
their evil inheritance; they refuse to follow in their fathers' steps;
they destroy idolatry, and endeavour to redeem Israel from its
iniquity. But whenever this is the case you do not look far without
discovering the cause. A good mother has been at work--woman's
gracious influence has counteracted against the pernicious example of
the father. And, on the other hand, we have a long list of vile and
idolatrous kings, whose fathers were either comparatively worthy, or
full of downright godliness, and then, invariably, there is some
evil-minded royal consort at the back of it. Whenever we can get into
the secrets of court life, we find that the character of the wife
determines the moral weight and form of the royal children. It is her
training that shapes the men. How could it be otherwise indeed? What
time had those kings to spend on home matters, what with their
fighting, judging, governing, and attending to all the affairs of
empire? How could they do a father's work and watch the training of
the future kings? It was left to the mothers, and unhappy they who had
mothers like Ahaziah's.

And is not this an everlasting story, true to-day as it was in those
old days? It is the mother's hand mainly that shapes men for good or
evil. Women more than men make the atmosphere of home--the atmosphere
which young lives breathe, and breathing never lose. The wise woman
buildeth her house--the foolish plucketh it down with her hands. What
time does a father spend in disciplining the moral and spiritual nature
of his children? That has to be done in the hours when he is toiling
in the warehouse, or resting wearily after the labours of the day, or
surely it is not done at all. From a mother the child receives all its
early religious thoughts. By her the Bible stories are taught, and
through her lips the good book comes to be loved. None can do it
except her. It is her eyes that watch every moral movement in the
young life--every sign of change--every incipient error--every
beginning of good and evil habit. No eyes can detect these things as
quickly and as surely as hers. And if she is too careless to discover
them, they will go unobserved and unchecked. Unhappy is the mother who
gives to society, or to friendship, or to pleasure the time which she
owes to her sons and daughters, for she will have to reap in vain
regrets the penalty of her neglect. How rarely do good and true women
and men go forth from a home in which a mother has been too busy with
the giddy affairs of the pleasurable world to teach and pray with her
children. Still more rarely do permanently evil and incorrigible lives
go forth from a home in which a noble and religious mother has made it
the chief business of her life to mould and train her children in paths
of pure thought and reverent purpose. There is no religious work which
a woman can do that equals this in importance, and none which secures
such sure and blessed results. That, then, is the main thought
suggested by these chapters--the measureless influence of women in
forming lives for evil or for good.

Then comes the only other thing that we are told about this
Ahaziah--that he was killed because he happened to be found in evil
company. He lived badly because he followed the counsels of his
mother, we read, and he died suddenly and tragically because he
endeavoured to be on very friendly terms with his mother's relatives.
He was King of Judah, and Judah with all its sins still worshipped God
and was comparatively free from idolatry. But Israel, over which
Jehoram, his mother's brother ruled, was given up to all the
abominations of heathenism. Its court was a horrible sink of iniquity,
and God's judgment had gone forth against it and all its doings.
Ahaziah must needs join hands and pledge friendship with his relatives,
and for that purpose visited them--probably he did not intend to do
more. It was just to look at the doings of this court, and have a
taste of its pleasures, and then come back again. But once there he
was led on from step to step--found Jehoram's company very attractive,
entered into his plans, went out with him to battle, took part, no
doubt, in the worship of his gods, and then while the two were going
hand and glove together, the long-deferred judgment of God fell on
Jezebel's house. The soldier raised up by God for that purpose swooped
down upon the wicked king and his favourites with resistless force,
making no distinction; and Ahaziah, being one of the band, shared in
the general destruction.

The destruction of Ahaziah, says the Book, was of God, by coming to
Jehoram. By his coquetting with evil he was made to pay the last
penalty. So runs the story, and it seems far removed from everything
that concerns our lives--yet not so far--things of a similar kind are
happening every day. Men who tread the ways of sinners, who enter into
any sort of fellowship with them, often find themselves involved very
strangely and suddenly in their shame and their punishment. You cannot
go into ways of evil men, or visit any forbidden scenes, or lend your
countenance in any way to their doings, even though you have no further
intention than just to look on, but there is ever hanging over you the
sword of detection. The policeman appears, or God's light is let down
upon the scene, and you are discovered as having part in it, and your
name is stained and your character gone, and your life marked with a
perpetual stigma of disgrace. When God's Judgment comes on sin it
always involves some who are just hovering on the edge of it, as well
as those who are in the thick of it. You ought not to be there.
Remember Ahaziah.

And there are some evil natures and some evil things which a man cannot
touch in even the slightest degree without being led on from step to
step, as Ahaziah was, until he was in the thick of Jehoram's iniquity.
A young woman cannot enter a gin-palace and drink her glass at the
counter--as I see scores do any night--without gradually going further
and losing all the modesty and grace of womanhood. A young man cannot
touch gambling in any of its forms without almost inevitably being
drawn under its fascinations, as one who is slowly involved in a wily
serpent's coils. An English bishop thinks and has said that a little
betting is allowable, that if you only indulge moderately in it, you
may do it with impunity. He might as well have said that if you only
steal coppers the law will smile upon you, but if you steal gold you
will come in for its stripes. He might as well have said, "If you only
put your little finger in this fire it will not hurt you, but if you
thrust your whole hand in, it will burn." There can be no moderation
in a thing which is essentially and in all its principles based on
dishonesty and corruption, and evil excitement and evil greed. I am
profoundly sorry that such a thing has been said by one whose word has
so much authority and influence. It will be taken by thousands as an
encouragement to do what they are only too prone and eager to do. Who
shall curse what a father in Christ has condescended to bless? We need
rather to have all Christian hands and voices raised in passionate and
tearful denunciation of that which is doing more than anything else to
demoralise our youth and eat away the very morals of the nation. We
need to warn against it and denounce it in whatever form and degree it
is practised, and to say, "Touch not, taste not, handle not the
accursed thing."

We must keep away altogether from the men who delight in evil paths,
and from the things, the very touch of which defiles. Go not in their
way, pass not by it. "If sinners entice thee, consent thou not."
Learn the lesson of Ahaziah's life, and how his fall came because he
consorted with wickeder men than himself, and was anxious to see their
doings.

 

GEHAZI

BY REV. J. MORGAN GIBBON

 

"The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy
seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as
snow."--2 KINGS v. 27.

Elisha and Gehazi were master and man. They were more. They were
almost father and son. Elisha calls him "_my heart_," just as Paul
calls Onesimus his heart. Yet they parted so.--"_He went out from his
presence a leper_." The punishment was terrible. Was it deserved?
Had the master a right to pass this sentence? "_The leprosy of
Naaman_"--yes! but had Gehazi caught nothing from Elisha?

Most commentators fall on Gehazi with one accord. He is pilloried as a
liar. He is branded as a thief. He is bracketed with Achan, and
coupled with Judas. They flatter the master, they are hard on the man.
But this is surely a very false reading of facts. By clothing the
prophet in spotless white, and tarring Gehazi a deep black all over, we
violate the truth of things and miss the lesson of the story, which,
like the sword-flames at Eden's gate, turn many ways.

To take but one out of its numerous suggestions, we have here a story
for servants of all sorts, and for masters and mistresses too, of all
kinds.

The section is rich in domestic interiors. Servants have always formed
important members of the household, and often their service has risen
to be a beautiful and holy ministry.

We see here, for example, a great Eastern lady, Naaman's wife, and her
little Jewish maid, whom the fortunes of war had swept from her home
"in the land of Israel." In the division of the spoil, this human mite
had fallen to Naaman's share, and drifted into his lady's service. The
slave-child has evidently reached the woman, perhaps the hungering
mother's heart, in her mistress; and the sorrow of the woman, for alas!
she is a leper's wife, has touched the servant's heart. The burning
sense of the wrong to herself is cooled and quenched by the pity she
feels for her master; and the expedition that brought health to Naaman,
and unspeakable joy to Naaman's wife, was the outcome of a word she
spoke. She knew of Elisha, she said what she knew, and great things
came of it.

She did this, not as a slave of Naaman's wife, but as a free human
soul, and servant of God. No tyranny could extort this service. No
wealth could pay for this golden secret. Sometimes a character appears
but once in the course of a great drama. The man or woman, comes on
the stage to deliver one message, and then disappears. But that one
brief word has its place in the playwright's scheme, and its effect on
the action of the piece. This child was sent to Syria to utter one
speech, to speak one name, and because she spoke her little speech,
kindly and clearly, things went better with ever so many people.

"A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," but let there be more than
money in the wage, and more than labour in the service. Let no one, in
being a servant, cease to be a free human soul. Do you serve in Syria?
Is your lot cast among those that know not the Prophet? Well, but
_you_ are from the land of Israel; speak your speech, tell out the
Prophet's name. Be more than servant, more than clerk, more than a
"hand," an apprentice, a journeyman; be a soul, an influence, a link
with higher things, a reminder of God, a minister of Christ.

Naaman, too, was happy in _his_ servants. He was a Bismarckian,
peppery man. Accustomed to command, he expected miracles to be done to
order, and prophets to toe the line. And because he did not like
Elisha's manner nor his prescription, he was on the point of returning
to Syria in a rage. But he had servants that knew him through and
through. They knew what note to sound, and they saved him from
himself. The expedition had been suggested by a servant who generously
paid good for evil. It was saved from defeat by servants who did for
kindness what no contract could have specified and no wage could cover.
They also were souls who knew at times that man was created for
spiritual service.

But Elisha, too, though doubtless poor, had his servant, and an
efficient, tactful servant he was.

A very good book might be written on "poor men's servants." For they
have had of the very best. The whole world knows Boswell, and with all
his faults it loves him still, for he was loyal to a royal soul. Well,
most great men have had their Boswells. When all is known it will be
found that the men of the five talents have owed much of their success
and more of their happiness to the fidelity and love of men of the one
talent.

How well Gehazi served Elisha! How nobly the servant comes out in that
exquisite story of the Lady of Shunem. How jealous he is of his
master's honour! How dear he was to Elisha's soul, "my heart! my other
self!" And yet, he did this thing. He lied, he cheated, he obtained
goods by false pretences, he lowered the prophet in Naaman's sight; and
after all his years of noble service, his master smote him with his
curse, and he went out of his presence a leper!

But was Naaman's the only leprosy that infected Gehazi? Had Elisha any
share in his fall? After all, it is a sorry business to heal a
stranger and send forth one's own friend in this fashion.

Nothing can exonerate Gehazi. His lie remains a lie, say what you
will. But our business is not to apportion blame, but to try to find
out how such things came to be, in order to guard against them in our
own homes. If a servant leaves your employ poorer in character than
when she came to you, if a youth leaves your business harder, colder,
weaker in will, further from God than when you received him from home,
it is a clear case for inquiry. It is our duty to see that young
people are not exposed to moral infection in our homes.

In the matter of physical infection, two facts are familiar to us all.
The first is, that mischief enters the system by means of a germ; and
the second is, that the action of the germ depends very much on the
condition of health in which it finds a man. If the man is healthy, he
is often proof against the arrow that fleeth by day, and the pestilence
that walketh in darkness. But if the body is already enfeebled, the
germs find half their work done for them beforehand.

Well now, these natural laws are valid in the spiritual world. The
rules of moral hygiene are summed up in our Lord's prayer, "_Lead us
not into temptation_," that is to say, do not breathe the germ-laden
air, and in St Paul's precept, "_Be strong in the Lord_," cultivate
general spiritual health, safety lies in strength. Good health is the
best prophylactic. There is no precaution so effective as being well.

Now what have we in this narrative? When the prophet permitted Naaman
to bow in the temple of Rimmon he did very right, say the chorus of
commentators. But the common-sense of mankind has taken a different
view. Bowing in the temple of Rimmon has become a byword and a
reproach. It signifies something which men feel is not quite right.
It was, in fact, an indulgence. Still, perhaps it was wise not to
force the new-born convert. Perhaps it did Naaman no harm. Possibly
it did Elisha's soul no injury to be so far complaisant towards
idolatry. But surely there was a germ of evil in the thing, and this
germ found a nidus, found a nest in Gehazi's soul, in which to hatch
its evil brood. It lighted on Gehazi at the psychological moment. He
had seen the gorgeous equipage. He had gazed on the ingots of gold and
the great bars of silver. He had fingered the silks and brocades.
Elisha had waved them away. To him they were as child's trinkets. But
he had other resources than Gehazi, and when the cavalcade drew off,
leaving nothing of its treasures behind, his longing grew into a fever
of desire. It was so mad of the master to let _all_ that gold and
silver go, and he so poor! Gehazi had to bear the brunt of the
poverty, and tax his five wits to make ends meet. And to think that a
gold mine had come to their very door and they had refused to let it in!

But it is too late now--and yet why should it be too late? The company
moves slowly. One could easily catch up with it. But what to say?

Pilgrims sometimes knock at Elisha's door. Sons of the prophets from
the college on Mount Ephraim often come to see the master. There were
two last week, or was it the week before? Without doubt we shall have
others soon, for they like to talk to the master. They are miserably
poor like ourselves, but they have good appetites. Naaman would be
delighted to leave something for them. He would feel easier in his
mind. It would be a kindness to let him give something. True, we have
none of them in the house at this moment. But we have had and we shall
have. If I say we have them _now_--well, that will only be making a
little bow in the temple of Rimmon. Naaman means to do that. Master
allows him to do it. We must not be _too_ strict. "_As the Lord
liveth I will run after him and take somewhat of him_!" Elisha was
hurt, shamed, and angry. The sin was great and terrible. Yet,
perhaps, had Gehazi met Elijah this would not have happened. Had
Elisha sounded the great Elijah-note, "if the Lord is God, follow Him,
but if Rimmon, then follow him," perhaps the germ of temptation would
not have found Gehazi even quite such an easy prey,

Mind, I am not whitewashing him or mitigating his crime. I am trying
to get at the forces that conspired to make him what he was, and among
these I have no doubt at all that his master's complaisant permission
of compromise was a very potent force. Of course he was wrong, of
course there is no logical connection between what the master allowed
in the Syrian general and the great lie Gehazi told. And yet there was
a sort of ghastly logic in this poor wretch's procedure. There are
many commandments. But duty is one thing, and if you weaken a man's
sense of duty by breaking one commandment yourself, you must not be
surprised if you find him breaking another commandment later on.
Gehazi was cured of the leprosy of Naaman. The prophet's angry word
was not countersigned on high, and one hopes that he also shook off by
God's assisting grace the ill-effects of Elisha's complacency. For the
greater danger lay in _that_. And does it not still lie there?

Our young people, our children, our servants that minister to our
comfort, our assistants and clerks that multiply our personal
activities and help to build up our fortunes, is there no danger to
their spiritual life in being exposed as they are to the spiritual
influences which we give off every hour? They see the cavalcades of
wealth, they gaze at the ingots of gold and the great white silver
bars; they look with longing eyes at the silks with colours that come
and go like the iris on the dove's neck. The luxuries of meat and
drink appeal to them. The temptation to live for these things assaults
them.

And what help does Gehazi get from Elisha to-day? What help do young
men in offices and shops get from masters and heads of departments?
What help do servants in London homes get from the daily examples of
mistresses? What are the inferences drawn in the kitchen from things
heard and seen in the dining or drawing-room? and what in the nursery?
Does a young man who sees to the very core of your business say to
himself, "The master's profession of religion is hypocrisy--_all_
religion is hypocrisy?" Then may God help him, for he is smitten with
the leprosy of Elisha; and may God help you, for it is a sorry business
to evangelise Asiatics and send your own servants forth from your
presence lepers white as snow.

Let every master and mistress pray, "_Search me, O God, and know my
heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there is any way of
wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting_."

 

HAZAEL

BY REV. J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

"But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great
thing?"--2 KINGS viii. 13.

Hazael was the chief minister and prime favourite of Benhadad, the
Syrian king. He had been raised from a humble lot and promoted to that
high post by the partiality of his sovereign, who had doubtless
discerned his exceptional abilities, and certainly placed implicit
trust in him. Just now the king was dangerously ill, and Hazael had
been sent to inquire of the prophet of Israel as to the probable issue
of the sickness. He put the question with seeming anxiety: "Will my
master recover?" He spoke as if that was his dearest wish; perhaps he
did wish it. But there were evidently other thoughts half-formed,
lurking and hiding themselves in the background. Suppose the king
should die and leave the throne vacant, what then? May there not be a
chance for me? Elisha read these hidden thoughts, and looked the man
in the face long and steadfastly, until the face turned crimson and the
head was lowered with shame. And then the prophet said, "Thy master
need not die of the sickness; nevertheless, he will die, and I see you
filling a throne won by murder, and I have a picture before me of the
terrible things which you will do to my dear land of Israel." And as
this vision passed before the prophet's eyes, he wept. Then Hazael
gave the answer which stands at the head of this paper.

It is open to two interpretations. The Authorised Version gives one
and the Revised Version the other. According to the first, it is an
indignant denial; he recoils with horror from the picture of perfidy,
cruelty, and enormous criminality which the prophet has sketched for
him. I am not capable of such a thing, he says; "_Is thy servant a
dog, that he should do this great thing_?" According to the other
reading it is not the crime that he revolts from, but the kingship and
the greatness that he refuses to believe in. It seems so improbable
and all but impossible that he, a man of obscure birth, should climb to
such eminence. He exclaims against it as a piece of incredulous and
extravagant imagination. "_What is thy servant, which is but a dog,
that he should do this great thing_?"

Now, I doubt not that both readings may be allowed. For certainly both
thoughts were in the speaker's mind. He did not believe at that moment
that he could ever be brought to commit such infamous deeds, and he did
not believe that he could ever attain such high ambitions and power.
There was a dark moral depth predicted for him to which he was sure he
would never fall, and there was a certain grandeur and elevation to
which he was confident he would never rise. To both things he said,
"It is impossible," and yet the impossible came to pass.

Now I would have you observe that this is one of the prominent lessons
of the Bible; on many a page does it bring out an unexpected
development like this. Again and again it is the unlikely that happens
in the lives which figure on its pages. They rise or they fall in a
way that no one looked for, and which they, least of all, anticipated
themselves. We seem to hear them saying with Hazael, "Impossible," and
then, before we get far, the thing is done. Impossible, we say, that
king Saul should ever descend so low as to deal in witches; or that
Solomon, the wise, God-fearing youth, should give himself up to the
sway of lustful passions and idolatries. Yet that comes to pass.
Impossible, we say, that the cunning, lying Jacob should ever develop
into a man of prayer; and the outcast beggar, Jephthah, ever grow into
a hero-patriot and king. Yet we see it. In the Bible stories
greatness always comes to those who have neither marked themselves out
for it, nor deemed themselves fit for it; and, on the contrary, its
most infamous deeds are done, and its most shameful lives lived, by
those who have given promise of fairer things, and who in their early
manhood would have scouted the possibility of descending so low. The
men whom it describes have no suspicion, to begin with, of the great
power for good that is in them, or the equally great possibilities of
evil. Tell the shepherd youth, David, that he has in him the making of
a king and an immortal poet, and he will think you are poking fun at
him. Tell him that he will one day fall into the crimes of adultery
and murder, and make all Israel blush for him, and he will be indignant
enough to strike you to the ground. Speak to the fisherman, Peter, of
the commanding influence which awaits him in some coming kingdom of
God, and he will think you are beside yourself: and then tell him that
he will one day deny and curse his sworn Master and kindest Friend, and
he will ask you, Do you think I am a dog or a devil that I should do
this? Impossible! And yet the thing comes off.

Why do the sacred writers give us so many stories of this kind? Surely
it is because we need both the warning and encouragement. It is to
prove to us that on one side of our nature we are greater than we
think, and on the other side weaker and lower than we believe. It is
to inspire the diffident with courage, and the despairing with hope,
while it pulls up the forward, the careless, and the over-confident
with the wholesome and humbling word, "_Let him that thinketh he
standeth, take heed lest he fall_." These men of the Bible were
strangely mixed. They were conspicuous instances of the contradictions
and surprises which are in us all. For that is the point: the thing
comes home to us.

Believe me, we are all a riddle to ourselves. Each man is to himself,
and each woman too, the greatest of all mysteries save the one greater
mystery, God. None of us know of what elements he is composed, and how
strangely the good and evil mix and mingle and clash and strive in each
day's doings, and through the whole of life. They who believe that the
saint is all saint, and the sinner all sinner, are blindly and pitiably
ignorant of human nature. God has made no man without putting some
little bit of the Divine image in him. The worst has some lingering
trace or ruin of it. And the best is not so entirely the temple of the
Holy Ghost that no fouler spirits ever obtain entrance there. You may
say that you do not believe in a devil. Well, that may be; but there
is something like a devil in all of us at certain times, and I would
rather believe that it comes from the outside than that it is born and
bred and originates within. At any rate, there are in all of us the
strange oppositions, the darkness and the light overlapping each other,
the evil and the good ever contending, like Esau and Jacob, in the
birth hour. The awful and the blessed possibilities are there, and
which shall get the uppermost depends first on God, and then upon
ourselves.

 

I.

Remember first, then, that we have all a lower side.

There is in us what I may call a lurking, crouching, slumbering devil,
which needs constant watching and holding down with the strong hand of
self-mastery and prayer. "Praying always with all prayer, and watching
thereunto," says the apostle. In every one of us there is the
possibility of falling, however high we stand and however near God we
walk. Bunyan says, in his immortal story, "Then I saw in my dream that
by the very gate of heaven there was a way that led down to hell." No
man, however ripe in goodness, however firmly rooted and grounded in
faith, love, and Christian qualities, ever gets beyond the need of
vigilant sentinel work--watching himself. He must always be buffeting
himself, and keeping under his body, as Paul did, lest he himself
should be a castaway. Let him grow careless, presumptuous, neglectful
of prayer, and all the old tempers and passions slowly steal in, and
bit by bit obtain the mastery, and the Christian disgraces his
profession, and the saint becomes a sinner again. Every Christian
knows this. He knows the evil powers that are in him.

It is the man who has never fought with his temptation, never prayed,
who especially needs to be reminded of it; young men and women who have
been well brought up, who have kept themselves moderately straight so
far, and who are full of good resolutions. I hear them say, "Oh I am
strong enough. I am not such a fool as to throw myself away in the
stupid game of the prodigal, in drunkenness, and gambling, and unclean
living. I can hold myself in. I can go just as far as I please. I
can indulge to a certain extent, and pull myself up just at the moment
I please; and as for prayer and seeking God's help, thank my stars I
can clear a safe course without all that. I shall not overstep the
line you may depend upon it." "_Is thy servant a dog, that he should
do this_?"

And I answer, yes--there is quite enough of the dog in you, or of the
devil, if you like the word better, to do this and to do worse
things--if you play with the dog and let it loose, and let it have a
free run now and then. In my time I have heard scores of young men
talk in this way. I have heard them laugh scornfully when danger was
mentioned to them, and I have seen a few of them fortunate enough to
grow up to manhood with a fairly unspotted character; a few, but not
many--the greater part have gone wrong, and some deplorably wrong.
There is hardly one of us can keep that dog fastened up and chained
down always, unless we rely upon a stronger power than our own. It
gets loose at times with the best of us--it runs wild and plays
dreadful havoc with those who are not the best; there is always in you
the baser self--always the dry torches of evil passions which a spark
may kindle--always the moral weaknesses and lusts, half-sleeping, which
some stronger blast of temptation may awaken and bring out; and if you
wish to escape the evil and hold fast to the good, you will commit your
way unto the Lord, and put on the Christian armour, and strengthen
yourselves by prayer. Do not presume too much--better men than you
have fallen every day. God only can save you from yourselves.

 

II.

It is just as needful to remember the other side--the side of better
possibilities.

Some of you are tempted to say at times with Hazael, "_Thy servant is
but a dog; how can he do these great things_?" You are disposed to
underrate your gifts, your opportunities, your happy chances in
life--in a word, your possibilities. You despair of finding any
opening; you are sure that you will never hear a call to come up
higher; you think your lives must always be ill-paid drudgery, with no
promotion. It is sad to work with a conviction of that kind. You
never work well if there is nothing to look forward to, and it is
cowardly to give way to a conviction of that kind. Perhaps you are not
specially clever--no, but there are better things than cleverness in
the world, and things which have more to do with life's real successes.

If you have in you some power of plodding, to do steady work, doing it
always honestly; if you have perseverance, self-control, a sense of
duty, a determination to do always the thing that is right, all will be
well--these are the qualities which lift a man up to the best places,
and one of those places is being prepared for you if you are worthy to
fill it. You say, perhaps, "I can never be a good man. I can never be
a Christian. I am not made for these high things; it is not in me." I
answer, "It is in you, or if it be not in you now, God will put it in
you if you diligently ask Him."

Nay, truly, there are the germs of goodness in every one of us. Thy
servant is something more than a dog, though he calls himself that, and
nothing else. There is something of the religious emotion in you, and
that means there is something of the Divine. You have dreams at times
of a beautiful life, you have longings for it, sometimes you even set
out to reach it--and these are all touches of God. They all prove that
the Holy Ghost sometimes pays at least a passing visit to your hearts.
You do not know what God can make of you until you trust and try Him.
There are greater things by far in you than you have guessed. Have
confidence in Him, and He will bring them out. I can see a man of God
in you, a pillar in the Church, an honour to the town. I can see a
Christian mother in you, a half-sainted woman full of good works,
bringing children up to noble lives. It is there in many of you, if
you do not despise and neglect the gift that is in you, but use it and
cultivate it prayerfully, and let God bring it to perfection.

 

MANASSEH

BY REV. J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

 

"Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned
fifty and five years in Jerusalem."--2 CHRON. xxxiii. l.

Fifty and five years--he wore the crown a longer time than any other of
the house of David. Of all the kings that reigned in Jerusalem, this
man's reign filled the largest space; yet he is the one king of Judah
about whom we are told least. In the modern city of Venice there is a
hall which is adorned with the portraits of all the doges or kings who
ruled that city in the days of its splendour--all except one--one who
made himself infamous by evil deeds. Where his portrait ought to be,
there is a black blank space which says nothing, yet speaks volumes;
which says to every visitor, Do not think of him, let him be forgotten.
In some such way Manasseh is disposed of by the sacred writers. They
hurry over the fifty-five years; they crowd them into half a chapter,
as if they were ashamed to dwell upon them, as if they wanted the
memory of them and of the man to be forgotten. And that was the
feeling of all the Jews. Century after century, and even to the
present time, Jews have held the man's name in abhorrence. Do not
speak of him, they say. He was the curse of our nation. He denied our
faith. He slew our prophets. He brought Jerusalem to ruin.

Yet, strange to say, the man so hated and cursed was once a nation's
hope and joy. When his father, Hezekiah, lay sick unto death, his
greatest grief and the profoundest sorrow of his people was caused by
the thought that he was dying childless. They prayed for his recovery
mainly on that ground. He recovered, and married, and a child was
born, and the glad father called him Manasseh, which means, God hath
made me forget--forget my sickness and my sorrow; and all over the land
the ringing of bells was heard and shouts of rejoicing, and the prophet
Isaiah sang of the child's birth in those triumphant words which we
have often heard since in another connection, "_Unto us a son is born,
unto us a child is given_"; and they thought that all would go well now
that there was an heir to the throne, and they prayed that he might be
sturdy and strong, and get over all the ailments of childhood. They
hoped more from the child than they did from God. Their prayers were
granted. God gave them their desire, and the result was such as to
make us doubtful whether we are always wise in pressing such prayers.
We are never sure that it will be good for us, or good for our darling
child, that its life should be spared and prolonged in some time of
crisis. Often the early death which we dread may be far less cruel
than the evil which waits beyond. Better to leave these things in
God's hands, and say that will be best for all which seems right to
Thee. A whole nation prayed for the birth and preservation of this
son. That same nation came to curse the day on which he was born.

Strange that a father like Hezekiah had a child like this. Hezekiah
was, I think, the best of the Jewish kings, wise and brave, gentle and
strong, full of reverence and faith, pre-eminently a man who walked
with God and strengthened himself by prayer, and fought as earnest and
true a battle for religion and righteousness as we have recorded in the
Old Testament. How came it that the son was in all respects his
opposite? Did an evil mother shape him, or what? We cannot tell.
These are among the saddest mysteries of human life. The law that a
child's training and environment determine the character of the man,
often fails most deplorably. The wisest man may have a most foolish
son; the godliest home may send forth a reprobate; the child of many
prayers may live a life of shame. When a young man goes wrong, it is
often both unjust and cruel to lay it on the home training, and to say
that there has been neglect or want of discipline, or want of right
example there. It is adding another burden to hearts already weighted
with intolerable grief.

For the most part, children will follow their parents in what is good,
and those nursed in prayer will grow up praying men. But there are
hideous exceptions, and sometimes the most Christlike people have this
cross to bear; and it is the most heart-crushing of all to see children
turning aside from all that they have held dear, and by the whole
course of their lives mocking the religious ideals and hopes which were
cherished for them. God save all you fathers and mothers from this
calamity, and God save all our young people from crushing tender hopes
in this cruel way.

Manasseh's life was spent in undoing what his father had done. It
seemed to be his great ambition to overturn and destroy the sacred
edifice which his father's hands, with untiring prayer and devotion,
had raised. Hezekiah had taught his people to trust in God, and in
reliance on His help to sustain a noble independence separate from
heathen alliances. Manasseh hastened to join hands with Babylon, and
make his nation the vassal of a great heathen empire. Hezekiah had
swept the land clean of idols. Manasseh filled every grove and
hillside with these vain images again. Hezekiah had restored the
Temple worship and the Mosaic ritual, and the moral law, and laboured
to establish a reign of sobriety, purity, justice, and order. Manasseh
outraged all the moralities, and delighted in introducing everywhere
the licentious abominations of the neighbouring peoples. Hezekiah had
cultivated and encouraged prophecy, and gathered about him great and
noble souls like Isaiah and Habakkuk. Manasseh drove them from his
presence, and finally slew them.

There were new lights in those days, as there are now. Men who sneered
at all the old thoughts and ways, who swept Moses aside with disdain,
and thought that David's psalms were poor and feeble things, and that
the old-fashioned religion was narrow and provincial, and that the
stories of victories won by faith and miracles wrought by prayer were
worn-out fictions. They said that if the nation would prosper, it must
turn its back on all this stuff, and follow new methods, and profess a
new religion. Let them make the great empire, Babylon, their model,
with its advanced civilisation, and science, and literature, and vast
stores of wealth, with its worship, too, of the sun, and stars, and
fire, its religion full of jollity and license, which contrasted so
happily with the sober and severe worship of Jehovah, and did not
trouble men with unwelcome moral precepts. See how great that empire
had become, and how stationary and unprogressive was their own little
kingdom, because it clung to the old ways. That was what the new party
said. Away with the old-fashioned thoughts and the old-fashioned
trusts and beliefs and worship. We are wiser than our simple-minded
fathers. We know a few things more than these narrow-minded and crazy
prophets. We will have all things new.

And Manasseh, being a young man and as foolish as he was young, drank
in greedily their counsels and made himself their leader. For it is
ever the temptation of young life to think lightly of their father's
wisdom, and to despise what they call the narrow religious beliefs, and
the careful moral scruples of the old, and to fancy that they know all
things so much better than those who have gone before. They want to
try experiments of their own with life, and shake off the shackles of
old moral laws and religious creeds, and be free to do and think as
they please, and put the Bible away on the shelf, and shove prayer
aside as a sort of worn-out heirloom, and have a merrier and better
time than the old folks knew. That was the course which Manasseh took,
just as headstrong and irreverent youths take it now.

Then followed that time which the Jewish people never speak of without
shame--a hideous reign of idolatry, and immorality, and injustice; an
awful period of persecution for the few righteous and God-fearing
people who were left when the prophets had been sought out and slain.
Isaiah sawn asunder, Habakkuk stoned to death, the faithful driven into
dens and caves of earth. It is of this time that we read in the
Epistle to the Hebrews, in that graphic account of the martyred
faithful: "_They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted,
were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and
goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented: of whom the world was
not worthy_" (xi. 37, 38). A few years of this sufficed to pull down
the whole fabric of religion which Hezekiah had so painfully and
patiently raised. For it is so easy to destroy; so easy for folly and
irreverence to pull down what wisdom and goodness have taken years in
building; so easy for a vicious and irreligious son to bring shame and
ruin upon the house which a godly father and mother have spent a
lifetime in rearing with honour; so easy, by a few rash acts, to
destroy the character and reputation which the prayers and training of
years have sought to establish. It is the easiest thing in the world
to undo and overturn; there is no cleverness and courage required for
destroying, the cleverness and courage are called for in building it up.

Manasseh succeeded to his heart's content. People followed him
greedily, except the steadfast few. And presently the prophets were
all gone, and the worship of the true God was nowhere practised except
in secret, and the sacred names were no more mentioned, and the land
gave itself up to all the foul rites and the shameful indulgences of
the heathen world, And then God's retribution came swiftly. Where the
rotting carcase was, there the eagles gathered together. These same
Babylonians whose ways the renegade Jews had so much admired and
imitated, swept down upon them with the talons of a vulture, with
cruelty that spared neither tender woman nor innocent child, and
Jerusalem was burned with fire, and Manasseh carried off in chains and
flung into a foreign prison to muse in solitude over the end of his
projects, and to find out there that the old ways had been the best.

There we are told that he repented, that he was stricken with shame
because of all the evil that he had done, and turned with prayer and
humility to the God whom he had defied. And we are told that God was
merciful and heard his entreaties, and accepted his repentance, and
brought him back after sorrowful years of imprisonment to his land and
throne. This is the part of the story which most people emphasise.
That, they say, is the main lesson of the story--Manasseh's repentance,
and how God accepted the rebellious sinner at the last and forgave him
all his iniquities--and they draw from that the conclusion that it is
never too late to turn to God, and that all the dark doings of a man's
life are swept clean away, if at any time the heart repents and
believes.

But this is not the part of the story which the sacred writers dwell
upon. In the Book of Kings, where there is another version of
Manasseh's doings, no mention is made whatever of the repentance, and
here it is only briefly recorded, and in a somewhat sorrowful tone.

He came back humbled and forgiven, indeed, but not in a happy state of
mind. He came back to a ruined kingdom; to a sinful and demoralised
and destitute people; to see everywhere the sorrow, and the evil and
the misery and shame which his doings had caused; to be reminded
continually that his life had been a great wicked and foolish blunder,
and that there was no undoing the mischief which he had done. For the
sake of his repentance he was spared a little longer, but there could
be little joy in the remaining years of a life like that.

I think that that is the experience of most men who turn away in their
youth from the example and precepts of godly fathers, who reject the
truths which make life sober and strong, who betake themselves to
thoughts of infidelity and ways of sin, and fancy that they can live
life happily without God and prayer. There comes a time when they are
made to feel that their life has been a mistake, that it would have
been far better for them to have stuck to the old ways, that those
believing fathers whom they laughed at were right after all; perhaps
they repent and go back to God at last, and He accepts them; but
whether repentant or not, they always carry with them an awful burden.
Shame is upon them for the evil they have done, shame for the life that
has been spent to so little purpose, regret and humbling that they
cannot undo the blind and guilty past. Repentance at the best is a
poor business when it comes in the evening hours of life. Better then
than never; but better far to have gone with God from the beginning.
That, I think, is the lesson which the wise man will find in the story
of the evil king.

 

AMAZIAH

BY REV. J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

"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.

Amaziah, King of Judah, belonged to that numerous class of men who wish
to stand well with both worlds. He was what we call in religious
matters half-and-half. He wanted to secure the favour and protection
of God without losing much or anything of the ungodly helps and
advantages. One hardly knows whether to describe him as a bad sort of
good man, or a better sort of bad man. He was like those gentlemen in
the _Pilgrim's Progress_ whom Bunyan names Mr Facing-both-ways and Mr
Pliable. It depended very much on the company he was in, whether he
showed a religious face or assumed the other character.

We have an illustration of this doubleness in the incident recorded
here. He was preparing to go to war against the neighbouring nation of
the Edomites, or probably he had learned that they were about to make
war on him. For these neighbours, like some others you know, were
always ready to pick a quarrel. Edomite and Jew were never long
without a scrimmage or a battle. Amaziah, with this business on hand,
took count of his forces, found that he had three hundred thousand
soldiers; big enough battalions if they had only had a leader with a
big heart. David had scattered those Edomites with an army not
one-twentieth part the size of that. But Amaziah was not a David. He
must needs have more men. He sent, therefore, to the king of Israel to
hire another hundred thousand, and paid him down an enormous sum of
money for the loan. Now these men of Israel and their king had fallen
away from God, and become heathen people, worshippers of Baal, foul and
immoral as the Edomites themselves. But Amaziah thought that was of no
consequence so long as he could increase his fighting force. The money
was paid, and the hundred thousand hirelings came.

And then suddenly appeared another man whom he had not sent for, one of
those prophets or preachers whom kings and other people find very
troublesome at times, who upset all the nice arrangements, and stop the
business which promises so well, with an unwelcome "_Thus saith the
Lord_"; prophets who do not know how to flatter, who cannot be bought
for a hundred talents, or for any price, and who say what God has given
them to say whether the great folk like it or not. This man came
uninvited, and told the king that he must pack off these mercenaries to
their own country again, for God was not with them, and God would not
be with him if he joined hands with idolaters and paid them to fight
his battles.

It was an awkward position. Amaziah knew that what the prophet said
was true, and he believed, moreover, that if God should turn against
him, that business with the Edomites was likely to end badly for him.
But, on the other hand, to send that goodly array of fighting men away
and lose all that gold into the bargain, was both galling to his pride
and a ridiculous waste of treasure. He knew well what was the right
thing to do, but to do it at such a sacrifice, that was the difficulty.
He was in a strait betwixt two, wriggling and hesitating, and at last
he cries in his bewilderment, "_What shall we do for the hundred
talents which I have given to the army of Israel_?" And the man of God
answers, "_Never mind the money, let that go; far better forfeit that
than lose God's help. The Lord is able to do for thee much more than
the hundred talents are worth_."

And now, out of this old story, we learn some lessons for this and
every day.

I.

Our difficulties in the way of serving and obeying God are often
self-made.

They are always more or less self-made. This man pleads his own wrong
act as a reason why he should not do right now. He himself has raised
the obstacle which now stands in the way of obedience. He ought not to
have sought the help of an idolatrous king. He ought not to have
bargained for these hirelings, he ought not to have paid the money.
God had not put the difficulty in his way; his own foolish and wicked
action had created it. And people are constantly talking as this man
talked, declaring that there are hindrances and immense difficulties
which prevent them from doing what is right, prevent them from doing
what they know to be the will of God. They talk as if God was somehow
responsible for those hindrances, when, in fact, their own wrong-doing
has caused them.

For instance, some of you know perfectly well that you ought to be
Christians, avowed Christians, that you ought to take the Lord's side
in the great battle of life; you know that you ought to be His
servants, followers, and soldiers; you know that that is your duty, you
cannot help knowing it and admitting it, unless you reject the Bible
altogether, and deny the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. You have known
from childhood that Christ has claims upon you, and that to live the
Christian life is your solemn obligation. It is more than probable
that you told your mother, your teachers, and yourselves long ago, and
perhaps many a time over, that you fully intended to give your lives
and hearts to Christ's service. But you have not done it yet, and the
reason is that there are certain self-made difficulties which hold you
back. God has not put them in the way--you have built them up
yourselves. I hear young men and women say, in the very tone of this
perplexed king. But what shall we do for the hundred talents? If we
take up religion, how shall we bear the loss which it involves? How
are we to get on without those pleasures, self-indulgences, and
dearly-loved habits which Christ's service would cut us off from? How
are we to abandon those very pleasant, but not very inspiring and pure,
companionships, with and among which we spend most of our leisure time?
How are we to resign all our free and easy and thoughtless ways, our
loose talk, our vain and sinful imaginations?

These are your difficulties, are they? But who made them for you?
Heaven did not send them. I am not sure, even, that the devil was the
author of them. You made every one of them yourselves. It was your
own weak yielding that formed those habits so dear to you. It was
because you preferred your own way to God's that you took to pleasures
and self-indulgences which were wrong in His sight. It was your own
choice that sought out and formed friendships and companionships of the
ungodly sort. If you have any joys, delights, and associations which
Christ would compel you to resign, they are only such as you ought
never to have entered upon. They are self-made difficulties which
ought never to have been made; and now, with curious inconsistency, you
are urging them as reasons why you cannot serve God. You are using the
sinful things which you have done in the past as an excuse for not
doing the right and noble thing now.

There are hundreds of people who, if they could begin again, would join
the ranks of the religious--at least they think they would, and perhaps
say it. If we could just start with a clean sheet, we would be
Christians, we would walk in the noble and faithful way. But then, you
see, we cannot undo the years that have been lived in the other way.
We have committed ourselves to the irreligious side. We have made all
who know us understand that we do not care about religious things. We
have talked about them carelessly, perhaps contemptuously, as if we put
no value upon them at all. We have made a reputation of that sort, and
now it stands in the way. We cannot go back of all our old
professions; the inconsistency would be manifest. No one expects it of
us. No one would believe if we did it. There you have the self-made
difficulties again. Because you did wrong all those years, you must
needs go on doing wrong. Because you talked and acted in an
unbelieving way, you must not now change into the higher and prayerful
way. Because you have robbed God and your own souls so long, there is
nothing for you but to continue repeating the offence. Yet these, when
you name them, are so absurd, that one could almost laugh at them. The
conviction that you have hitherto been on the wrong side is the one
thing that ought to force you now to the right side. Why should you
perpetuate blunders, follies, and misdoings? Why should the evil past
chain you? Let the dead bury its dead--forget the things which are
behind. You have paid the hundred talents to the wrong master. Why
should you go on paying because you have done it once? Let God's mercy
cover and forgive that. And now pay your vows and give your lives to
Him henceforth.

 

II.

We are held back from the right thing by the fear of the loss which it
will involve.

We say with poor, frightened Amaziah, But what about the hundred
talents? They will be clean gone if I obey the voice of God. The
hundred talents take many forms, but the principle is always the same.
We shall lose a little in the way of business, if we make up our minds
to be scrupulously honest, and to speak the simple truth. We shall
forfeit a little of our present popularity, if we take the course which
conscience dictates. We shall have to forego and neglect certain
things, and suffer loss, if we undertake Christian work. We shall have
to give up many an easy hour, many a light and frivolous hour, many an
open and secret sin, sweeter to us than honey, if we confess the Lord
Christ, and take up the burden of discipleship. The hundred talents
block the way, and rather than let them go, we let God go, and
sacrifice all the sanctities, and all the precious and immortal things.

And this answer comes to all of us--the answer which the prophet gave
to the hesitating king as he stood balancing the hundred talents
against the duty of the hour: "_The Lord is able to give thee much more
than this_." Better to win thy great battle and lose the talents, than
keep the money and lose thyself and everything in the impending
struggle. God is not so poor that He cannot pay His servants as ample
wages as they ever get from other masters. It is not the same kind of
pay, but it is always, in the long-run, larger and better. No man ever
does the right thing at God's command, without receiving eventually
sufficient wages for it--joy even in this life. Whatever immediate
losses he may incur, there will be more than compensating gains. The
man who lives an upright, conscientious, pure and kindly life, wronging
no one, showing justice and mercy to all, is always the happier man;
richer in all his thoughts and emotions, richer in friendships and
affections, richer in peace of mind, in abiding satisfactions, richer
in hopes. He has within him a well-spring of joy which never ceases to
flow. Righteousness is not a losing business: it has the best part in
this life, and in that which is to come.

Whatever you resign at Christ's call: whatever His service costs you in
the way of sacrifice: however much you must give up in the shape of
pleasure, ease, and agreeable habits--there will be more given to you
in return. When Christ asked the disciples to leave all things and
follow Him, He said nothing about the rewards--not just then. He told
them to take up their cross and come after Him; that was all. He spoke
often to them about the pains they would have to endure, the scorn they
would meet with, the tribulation they would have to pass through. When
he called the last of the apostles, Paul, He even said, and it was the
only promise He gave, "_I will show him how great things he must suffer
for My name's sake_" (Acts ix. 16). No talk of rewards and gains at
first. He knew the men. He knew their eagerness to do what was right
and to obey the voice of God. Men who have the right spirit, men with
some fire of enthusiasm, do not need crowns held before them to draw
them into the true and noble way. They are almost glad to think that
crosses and self-sacrifices await them in that way. Christ spoke no
words at the beginning about gains and rewards. Come, because I want
you, and God asks you, and it is your duty: but afterwards, when they
had obeyed His call, He talked to them often about the gains. They had
begun to understand them then. There is no man who hath left anything
for My sake, who shall not receive a hundredfold in this present time,
and in the world to come, life everlasting.

And we all learn in a measure what that means, when we have faithfully
served Christ for a little time. You talk about the sacrifices and
losses of the Christian life. Yes, but no man is fit to be called a
Christian who has not found in Christ ten or twenty times as much joy
as he has lost. If there were no hereafter, no future crowns at all,
it would be a terrible disappointment, but even, apart from that, the
present life of every one who believes in Christ and does Christ's
work, and loves as Christ loved, is richer, fuller, wider, and happier
in almost every way than the life which knows Him not. What about the
hundred talents? you say, and I answer with the prophet, "_The Lord is
able to give thee much more than this_."

 

JABEZ

BY REV. J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

 

"And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren."--1 CHRON. iv, 9.

This is a curious fragment of biography, half-hidden in a dreary mass
of wholly uninteresting names. We cannot conjecture how it got there.
It seems to have no connection either with what comes before or what
follows. It is like a sweet little poem in the midst of a dry,
genealogical chart; or like a real, living face with the flush of warm
colour in it, speaking amid endless rows of mummies or waxwork effigies.

It is indeed the short, incomplete story of a life with neither
beginning nor end. We are not told who his father was, or who his
mother was, or what tribe or family he belonged to. Not a word about
origin, descent, pedigree. And there seems to be a purpose in this.
For the sacred writer at this point is doing nothing else but tracing
pedigrees. These four chapters are to us the most useless in the
Bible: names, nothing but long-forgotten names. Names of everybody's
father, grandfather, great-grandfather, back to a remote antiquity. I
question whether there are many Bible readers who have ever laboured
through the list. Yet these family trees, as we may call them, were
very precious to the Jews. They thought as much of long descent as my
lord Noodle does now. It swelled them immeasurably in self-importance
if they could trace their lineage back in unbroken line to one of the
twelve patriarchs, or to one of those who came out of Egypt. And the
historian ministers to this prejudice or vanity by diligently recording
the whole dry catalogue, and then, as if weary of the business, or,
perhaps, with just a touch of scorn, he introduces this one name as
something worth talking about.

Here was a god-made nobleman, whose heraldry need not be written on
earth, because it is more surely written in heaven. All the rest were
their fathers' sons, and that was about all. This man did not need a
pedigree: he won a name and reputation for himself without the help of
a distinguished ancestry. By prayerfulness, and energy, and courage,
he fought his way from obscurity to honour. And when that happens,
when a man has fought the fight with adverse circumstances and overcome
them, when he has made his mark in the world by sheer force of work and
character, no one cares to grope through musty fusty parchments in
search of his progenitors. What does it matter! God has given him a
certificate of noble birth; that was surely what the historian meant:
"_Jabez was more honourable than his brethren_."

Now there are two or three touches in this little story worth noticing.
God sends us some of our best joys in the guise of sorrows.

I.

He came into the world without a welcome.

I venture to say, and I thank God for it, that there is hardly one of
my readers of whom that can be said. No matter into what home you were
born, there was a welcome awaiting you on the part of one at least. It
may be that no one else was particularly glad, that every one else
looked upon you as one too many; but your mother at least met you with
a sweet kiss which plainly said, thank God for this gift. Here,
however, there was not even that; this child was received with
misgivings and fears, and awoke no joy in the mother's breast. She
called his name Jabez, which means sorrowful, because she had borne him
in sorrow.

Of course, we do not know what lies behind that, but it was something
of a heart-burning or heart-breaking kind; either the father was dead,
or the home was in a state of terrible poverty and distress, or the
child was a child of shame; you can only guess, and all your queries
will probably be wide of the mark. But the mother looked mournfully
upon him, and wished he had not come, and could not believe that a life
which commenced so untowardly would ever be anything better than a
burden to her, and a misfortune and misery to himself. She expressed
her fears and forebodings in the name which she gave him--Jabez, the
child of sorrow.

And while she was gloomily predicting his future with the black colours
of her despondency, God was writing the child's story in golden lines
which would have set her heart leaping for joy could she have read
them. This despised one was to win for himself a noble name, and build
up the house in honour, and become his mother's pride, and make her
young again in hope and gladness.

What fools we are when we set ourselves to forecast the future of our
children! They rarely develop on the lines we draw for them; the most
promising of them sometimes flatter us in the bud and blossom, and mock
us in the fruit. Where we hope most there comes most heartache, our
favourites are made our burdens, our pride is humbled by a harvest of
sorrow. And where we have bestowed most tenderness we get most
ingratitude--the child of many gifts, the joy of the household, the
flower of the flock, turns out the nightmare of our lives, the one
unhappy failure which costs us endless tears.

And perhaps it is partly our own fault, because we have pampered,
flattered, and indulged them too much. Ah! and just as often the
reverse is true--the child whom in our hearts we called Jabez; the
slow, dull child so hard to teach, so unresponsive, or perhaps so
wilful and obstinate that we never thought or spoke of him save with
secret fears and misgivings--the child who was always to be a burden
and a cross to us, develops by-and-by in beautiful and unexpected ways,
grows into moral strength and religious grace, becomes honourable in
the sight of all men, and saves our old age from going down with sorrow
to the grave. The golden harvest of our lives grows not where we look
for it, but often in the neglected places where God bids it grow.
Where our pride built its palace of content we find emptiness and
shame, and that which we almost cursed God for sending us becomes our
crown of rejoicing. She called his name Jabez, my sorrow, and lo! he
became her very consolation, most honourable of all.

II.

Faith wins the battle of life against many odds.

Yes! this is indeed a romance of faith--faith overcoming the world.
This child or youth starts out with all things against him. He is
likely to grow up into an Ishmaelite if he grows up at all. He starts
with an ill-starred name--a name that spells misfortune. He starts
without his mother's blessing and without a glimmer of hope to cheer
him; no father to give him a helping hand by the way--without
endowment, fortune, family, or friends. What chance can there be in
the race for one so heavily handicapped? Failure is written on his
brow by the hand that nursed him. Failure is written on all his
circumstances. It will be a desperate struggle all through. There
will be none of the prizes of life for him. If he gets a bare living
wage, it is as much as he may expect.

That is what he has before him, apparently! Well, for one thing, he
puts on courage, and starts on his way singing _Nil desperandum_. And
then, knowing well that he has few or no human friends, he falls back
on the Father of the fatherless and the Helper of those who have no
other help. He relies on faith instead of fortune. He will make
prayer his main weapon, and the light of the Lord his guide, and duty
his pole star. He will pursue a straight course, avoiding evil, trying
to feel the hand of God upon him, and the watchful eyes of God over
him. And he will make a brave fight of it day by day, doing his best,
and leave a higher power to determine what shall follow. That is what
we read between the lines of this story. Nay, that is all expressed.
"_He called on the God of Israel_." He committed his life to the
ordering of the Almighty. And the Almighty promoted him. He became
more honourable than his brethren.

They are poor creatures who complain that the battle is lost before it
is even begun, who groan that the chances of life are all against them
before they have made one brave venture and endeavour; and they are
vain and self-deceiving men who fancy that the victory will be easy
because somebody has given them a good start, and they have the backing
of family, social position, wealth, and mental gifts. If some of you
think because your fathers stand high, because your education has been
well looked after, because there are unlimited money and plenty of
friends to push you on--if you think that because of these things you
can dispense with the fear of God, and the daily obligations of duty,
and make pleasure and self-indulgence your main ends, and do without
honest, persevering, self-denying toil, you will be miserably
disappointed. God has some hard things to say to you before you get
far on in years. It does not matter how promising one's beginnings, if
there is no steady, conscientious brave self-discipline, and endeavour.

Life is always a failure and a disgraceful thing with a downward
course, if there is no serious purpose in it and no great thoughts.
And if you are ever tempted to say, as many do, that there is no hope
for a life which commences heavily weighted; that all the chances go to
those who are clever, and richly endowed; that if a youth begins with
no money to back him and no friends to push him into promotion, he must
remain chained down to that low condition to the end--then I point you
to this little bit of biography. I could take you round a certain town
and point you to a hundred men who have repeated that bit of biography
in their own lives, and I tell you that even now the chances are
plentiful: waiting at the feet of those who tread life's way, a brave
heart within and God overhead, and that no one need despair, however
unpromising his start, who makes God his guide, and prayer his
inspiration, and duty his chosen companion, and shuns evil, and pursues
that which is good. Faith and loyalty to conscience and a courageous
temper are still the weapons which conquer in the fight. Jabez, the
child of sorrow and misfortune, became more honourable than all his
brethren.

III.

And now I commend this prayer to all of you--the prayer which this
youth offered when he went out carrying his unhonoured name and empty
hand into the rough places of the world. It is a beautiful prayer. It
is on the whole a wise prayer. There are better and more Christian
prayers in the gospels and epistles; but in the Old Testament there are
few prayers more worthy of imitation than this.

He asked that "_God might bless him indeed_," that is, above every
human blessing and favour, that he might, by his life and conduct,
deserve it He asked what we may all safely and humbly ask of God,
provided that we give a large and not a low meaning. He asked that
"_God would enlarge his coast_." If that meant broad estates, you had
better drop it out of your prayer. But if it means to have your life
enlarged, your sympathies and interests widened out, your influence and
your power of service increased, it is such a prayer as Christ might
have taught you. Never forget to offer it. He asked that "_the hand
of God might be with him_"; that every day he might feel the leadings
and take no step which was not a step approved by God. And he asked
that the watchful and restraining power of the Almighty would "_keep
him from evil_."

You will do well to offer that prayer at the beginning. You will do
well to offer it every day to the end. It is a prayer that will keep;
you will find it fresh each morning. And every day will be a better
day which is thus commenced, and every life will grow honourable in the
sight of men, and beautiful in the sight of God, which develops in the
spirit of it.

 

SIMEON

BY REV. H. ELVET LEWIS

The Temple shows to better advantage at the beginning of the Gospel
history than at its close. As we follow our Lord through the events of
the last week, we meet no winsome faces within its precincts. Annas is
there, and Caiaphas; Pharisees too, blinded with envy; but there is no
Zacharias seen there, no Simeon, no doctors of the law even, such as
gathered around the Boy of twelve. If any successors of these still
frequented the sanctuary, they are lost in the deep shadow cast by a
nation's crime. Perhaps we may consider those whom we meet on the
threshold of our Lord's life as the last of an old regime of prophetic
souls, the last watchers passing out of sight as the twilight of a
coming doom thickened and settled on the Holy City.

But there he stands, the gracious, winsome old man, whom death is not
permitted to touch till the Star of Bethlehem has risen. "_It was
revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost that he should not see death before
he had seen the Lord's Christ_!" He is like a dweller of the spiritual
world, who only returns to visit earthly ways. For him the veil,
though not as yet rent, has worn thin, and he is more familiar with the
voices from beyond it than with the voices of earth. The priest, the
Levite, the Rabbi, pass him like shadows: the Holy Ghost is his living
companion and teacher. Browning's Rabbi ben Ezra might well have
borrowed his song from the lips of this aged saint:

"Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!'"

Consider his CHARACTER: "_the same man was just and devout_." Inward
and outward are in equipoise; he does not make frequent prayers atone
for equally frequent lapses in duty. He looks upon men in the light
which has risen upon him through looking upon God. He brought with
him, from the Throne of Grace, the tranquil beams which helped him to
perceive what he owed to his fellow-men. He was so subdued to charity,
that his one expectation was the consolation of Israel. He was no
prophet of doom; perhaps he was even blind to the moral deterioration,
the blight of ideals, growing more wasteful, every day, of the nation's
best life. To him, Israel was still more in need of consolation than
chastisement. Alas! for these gentle-souled patriots, whose hopes rise
from their own heart's goodness, and not from their nation's worth! So
obscure, so devout: while the great ones sin, they pray; while the
popular priests lead in worldliness, they retire into God's
hiding-places to intercede. They have private paths into God's
Paradise: they do not always see the cherubim with flaming sword. God
often calls them home before the stormy dawn of the evil day. So they
live and die, waiting for the consolation.

Consider, again, his HOLY FELLOWSHIP: "_the Holy Ghost was upon him_."
His heart became the ark of the Heavenly Dove, wandering over the grey
waters; and to him was the olive leaf brought. He looked past the face
of the Rabbi and the priest, not contemptuously, but wistfully,
wondering why he must: he looked past them, and beheld in the dawning
shadow a diviner Face. He heard secrets which would be foolishness to
others, even to frequenters of the Temple and to robed priests. He
thought of death peacefully; but that other Face always came, faintly
but immutably, between him and the Last Shadow. The Lord's Christ
first, death after. What gracious ways God has of treating some of
these simply-trusting children of His! How graciously He orders the
course of spiritual wants for them! "_And the evening and the
morning_" are--each day.

"_And he came by the Spirit into the Temple_." He required no
ecclesiastical calendar, no book of the hours. This obscure denizen of
the sanctuary had a dial in his own soul, and the silent shadow on the
figures came from no visible sun. Be sure that there are men and women
still, just, and fearing God, who anticipate the days of heaven, and
almost win their dawning. How often must Simeon have come, waiting:
and yet how fresh was his hope each time! He fed on God's
disappointments; the unfulfilled was his hidden manna.

Consider his ONE GREAT DAY. An obscure worshipper suddenly becomes the
richest, most honoured man in all the world: in his arms he holds God's
Incarnate Son. Yesterday was a day of earth, tomorrow also may well be
a day of earth: but this, a day of heaven! Alas! but only to him. To
others this, too, is a very day of earth. Did some officiating priest
watch the little group of peasant parents showing their first-born to
an obscure worshipper? And did he look, without a stain of contempt
upon his vision? And yet Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome, had no such gift
and prize as the arms of that humble dreamer held. Who would not have
taken his place, had they known! It is well to be reckoned God's
intimate, lest we miss the Child.

"The sages frowned, their beards they shook,
For pride their heart beguiled;
They said, each looking on his book,
'We want no child.'"

But Simeon had dwelt nearer God than they--nearest God of all that came
to the Temple that day. And so God trusted him with His Best.

Then, once more, consider his PROPHETIC PRAYER. He was now ready to
depart. He had arrived at the house where the chamber of peace looks
towards the sunrising: why should he return to the warfare again? He
was unfitted for earth, by the face of that Child: he would go where
such a vision would not be marred by earthly airs! "_For mine eyes
have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of
all people: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy
people Israel_." The sentinel has been long on duty: now the watch is
done, "_now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace_." And as he
passes from his well-kept post, his heart's charity overflows, and
Gentile and Jew are covered with his blessing: the Gentile even coming
first, as though, perhaps, he perceived that "the salvation of the Jews
could only be realised after the enlightenment of the heathen, and by
this means"--Godet suggests. To the darkened souls of the pagan
world--light: to the humiliated Jewish people--glory. Israel had seen
and lost many a glory: it had seen the glory of conquest, of wealth, of
wisdom, of ritual, of righteousness: but in the little Child was the
sum and essential radiancy of all glory that had been, the earnest of
all glory that was to be. Eternally, Christ is "_the hope of glory_."

Consider also his PERFECT CANDOUR. He looked in the Child's face, he
looked in the mother's face, with all the tenderness and love that made
it half divine; and then this disciple of the Spirit, strangely moved
from his wonted calm, described truth purely as he saw it. He scanned
the future, heard the sound of many a fall, caught the hiss and cry of
uneasy consciences against the "sign"; he saw the gleam of the sword,
and the wounded mother's heart; he saw the revelations of good and of
evil which the child would surely effect. One might not unnaturally
conclude that these presentiments were of the day--of that very hour.
He had hitherto walked and dwelt in the light of consolation; he had
dreamed his tranquil dream "_beside still waters_." But in this moment
of contact with God, he was made strong to see the darkness which is
never absent from the azure of truth--"a deep, but dazzling darkness."
So to young Samuel came the sorrowful vision of the fall of the house
of Eli; so to the old prophet-saint now glittered the gleaming arrows
of truth. But neither scorn nor wrathful eloquence moves him, in view
of what he saw: he simply accepts this burden of the Lord, and bears
it, without murmuring or exulting. He sees the "_fall and rising again
of many in Israel_"; it is God's will: let His will be done! "_A sword
shall pierce through thy own soul also_": bow, mother-heart, to the
purposes of God's heart of love! "_In peace_" this servant of the Lord
still stands; "_in peace_" he departs. Blessed are they whom darkling
truths may grieve, but not distract; whom stormy revelations beat upon,
but cannot shake. They live in the house founded upon a rock.

What presentiment of his nation's doom came to him in that moment of
clearer insight, of more candid intercourse with truth? "_The thoughts
of many hearts_"--"the uneasy working of the understanding in the
service of a bad heart":--how much was revealed, how much was
mercifully concealed? We cannot tell; but strength was given him to
bear the gleam of the vision, and still wait. "_O rest in the Lord;
wait patiently for Him_." He saw the Child go out of the Temple; and
if, for a moment, a breath as of a chill wind smote his soul, he
retired into the deeper consolations of God, where the sun smites not
by day, nor the moon by night. If it was his last visit to the Temple,
he had seen what would have made it worth his while to have gone there
every day for seventy years or more. And let it not be forgotten that
God still gives His Child to those who humbly, faithfully wait for the
consolation of Israel.

Such a picture as that of Simeon gives piety its divinest charm. It is
not simply that men have wished to be in his place; but--what is far
better and far more practical--they have wished to be in his spirit.
He draws them towards him, and after him. He stands in a glorious
company of winsome souls, who not only lead to heaven, but attract men
on the way.

"They are, indeed, our Pillar-fires
Seen as we go;
They are that City's shining spires,
We travel to:
A sword-like gleam
Kept man for sin
First out; this beam
Will guide him in."

 

PONTIUS PILATE

BY REV. PRINCIPAL WALTER F. ADENEY, D.D.

In spite of the fact that he condemned Jesus to death, the Gospels
present us a more favourable portrait of Pontius Pilate than that which
we derive from secular historians. Josephus relates incidents that
reveal him as the most insolent and provoking of governors. For
instance, the Jewish historian ascribes to him a gratuitous insult, the
story of which shows its perpetrator to have been as weak as he was
offensive. It was customary for Roman armies to carry an image of the
emperor on their standards; but previous governors of Judaea had
relaxed this rule when entering Jerusalem, in deference to the strong
objection of the Jews to admit "the likeness of anything."
Nevertheless Pilate ordered the usual images to be introduced at night.
When they were discovered, the citizens protested vehemently. Pilate
had the crowd that he had admitted to his presence surrounded with
soldiers, and threatened them with instant death. But they threw
themselves on the ground, protesting that they would submit to this
fate rather than that the wisdom of their laws should be transgressed.
The governor had not reckoned on this. He was only "bluffing," and now
he had to climb down, and the images were removed. On another
occasion, described by the same historian, Pilate had seized the sacred
money at the Temple and employed it in building an aqueduct, a piece of
utilitarian profanity which enraged the Jews to such an extent that a
vast crowd gathered, clamouring against Pilate and insisting on the
stoppage of the works. Then the governor sent soldiers among the
people, disguised in the garb of civilians, who at a given signal drew
their clubs and attacked them more savagely than Pilate had intended,
killing and wounding a great number. Although Josephus does not
mention the incident recorded by St Luke (xiii. 1), in which Pilate
mingled the blood of some Galilean pilgrims with their sacrifices, this
is entirely in accordance with his brutality of conduct in the events
the historian records. Philo goes further, giving a story told by
Agrippa, according to which Pilate hung gilt shields in the palace of
Herod at Jerusalem, but was compelled to take them down as the result
of an appeal to Tiberius Caesar, and adding that Agrippa described
Pilate as "inflexible, merciless, and obstinate." He says that Pilate
dreaded lest the Jews should go on an embassy to the emperor,
impeaching him for "his corruptions, his acts of insolence, his rapine,
and his habit of insulting people; his cruelty, and his continual
murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending,
gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity." Josephus is not
trustworthy, always writing "with a motive," and Philo must be
considered prejudiced, since he saw too much of the worst side of the
Roman treatment of Jews; and the wholly unfavourable verdict of these
two writers should be qualified by what we read in the New Testament
concerning the subject of them. The interesting point is that we have
to go to the Christian documents for the more calm and just estimate of
the man who crucified Christ. This fact should deepen our sense of the
fairness of the evangelists. They evince nothing of that bitterness of
resentment which the Jews, quite naturally, as the world judges,
cherished towards their oppressors. They were the followers of One who
had taught them to love their enemies, and who, when in mortal agony,
prayed to God to forgive the men who had inflicted it. But further,
the early Christians discriminated between the Jewish authorities, who
planned and purposed the death of Christ and really compassed it, and
Pilate, who was but a weak instrument in the hands of these men. The
fact that the evangelists so clearly mark this distinction is a sign
that they are in close touch with the events, and that they faithfully
record what they know to have taken place. In a word, it is clear that
we have a more just and accurate portrait of Pilate in our Gospels than
the representations of him by Josephus and Philo, who are thus seen to
be less trustworthy historians than the New Testament writers.

The word "Pilate" as a proper name has been variously explained. Some
have derived it from the Latin _pileatus_, meaning one who wore the
_pileus_, the cap of a freed slave, and so have regarded the Roman
governor by whom Jesus was tried as a man who had been raised from the
ranks of slavery. The worst condemnation of slavery is, that it
degrades the characters of its victims, developing the servile vices of
cowardice, meanness, and cruelty--all of which vices are manifest in
Pilate's character. But such a promotion as this theory implies would
be most improbable. A more likely explanation connects the name with
_pilum_, a javelin. The earlier name Pontius suggests the family of
the Pontii, of Samnite origin, well-known in Roman history. It was
customary to confine such an office as that which Pilate held to
knights, men of the equestrian order. Nevertheless, it was not a very
dignified office. It is described indefinitely in the Gospels as that
of a "governor." But Pilate is designated more distinctly by Tacitus
and Josephus as _procurator_ of Judaea. This official served under the
Legate of Syria. His proper duty was simply to collect the taxes of
the district over which he was appointed. Thus he would be likely to
come into contact with the chief local collectors, such as Zaccheus;
and in this way he may have heard, and that not unfavourably, of One
who was known as the "Friend of publicans and sinners." But in the
turbulent districts--such as Judaea and Egypt--the procurators were
entrusted with almost unlimited powers, subject to an appeal to Caesar
on the part of Roman citizens. Soldiers were sometimes needed for the
forcible collection of taxes, and the disturbed condition of these
parts demanded an official in residence who could act at once and on
the spot. The punishment of turbulence was with the rigour of martial
law, which really means no law at all, but only the will of the man in
charge of the army. A subordinate official lifted to a position of
almost irresponsible power--such was Pilate. We can well understand
how a man with no moral backbone would succumb to its temptations.
Pilate was a much smaller man than Gallic the proconsul at Corinth, and
that other proconsul at Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, whom St Paul won over
to Christian faith. But his pettiness in the eyes of Roman society
would lead him to magnify his importance in the little world he was
trying to rule like a king, though often with consequences humiliating
to himself.

Pilate's headquarters were at Caesarea, by the sea coast, the Roman
capital of Palestine; but he came up to Jerusalem with a troop of
soldiers at the Passover, to prevent any disturbance among the vast
hosts of pilgrims then gathered together in the city, just as Turkish
soldiers now mount guard at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the
Easter celebrations, to prevent the Christians from quarrelling and
fighting. That is how it was he happened to be present when Jesus was
arrested and brought up for trial. In this fact also we may see why
the Jewish authorities felt it necessary to hand their Prisoner over to
the Roman governor; although, a few years later, they were able
themselves to execute the death sentence on Stephen in the Jewish mode,
by stoning, and still later to do the same with James, the Lord's
brother.

All four Gospels refer to the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate; but
the fullest information is to be obtained from the third and fourth.
St Luke throughout both his works seizes every suitable opportunity for
setting out the scene of his story on the large stage of the world's
history, and he is especially interested in showing it in relation to
the imperial government. Thus, while Matthew only connects the time of
the birth of Jesus with the reign of Herod, a Jewish note of time, Luke
also associates it with Caesar Augustus and the chronology of Rome; and
later, while Matthew does not say when John the Baptist began his work,
but notes the imprisonment of John as the occasion of the commencement
of our Lord's public ministry, Luke carefully records that it was "in
the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, _Pontius Pilate
being governor of Judaea_" (Luke iii. 1), that John the Baptist began
preaching and baptizing. It is this same evangelist only who refers to
Pilate's savage slaughter of the Galileans at Jerusalem. The author of
the Fourth Gospel does not mention Pilate before the time of our Lord's
trial, but he gives us a much fuller account of that trial than any of
his companion evangelists. Next to John, our fullest account is in
Luke. On these two authorities therefore we must mainly rely. But
John's is not only the most ample and fully detailed narrative; it also
furnishes us with by far the most vivid and convincing portrait of the
Roman governor. This is one of the numerous cases of life-like
character-drawing with which the Fourth Gospel abounds. Nicodemus, the
woman of Samaria, Thomas, Judas, Mary Magdalene, and now Pilate, are
all known to history from St John's portraits of them. Should not this
significant fact lead us to attach great weight to his portrait of
Jesus Christ, which soars above the Christ-pictures of the synoptics in
the most exalted Divine glory?

Jesus had been tried soon after His arrest before Caiaphas and the
Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews, and there He had been
condemned to death, not on the charge for which He had been
arrested--threatening to destroy the Temple--for the evidence against
Him had broken down, but for blasphemy during the course of His trial,
when adjured by the high priest to declare whether He was the Christ.
But the presence of Pilate prevented the council from executing their
sentence (as doubtless they would have done if he had been away at
Caesarea), in defiance of the law, which was entrusted to a weak and
capricious governor. Accordingly they brought their Prisoner to the
procurator's residence--probably Herod's palace, a magnificent building
with two marble wings, containing large rooms sumptuously furnished,
and spacious porticos surrounded by gardens and enclosed in a lofty
wall with towers, situated in the western district of the city, and
approached by a bridge across the Tyropaean valley. The facts that a
later governor, Gestius Florus, resided here, and that Pilate lived in
Herod's palace at Caesarea when in that city, and that he hung the
shields about which there was so much trouble in the Jerusalem palace,
make this view more probable than the traditional idea that the trial
of Jesus took place in the Castle of Antonio, the imperial barracks,
close to the Temple.

The Jews objected to enter this fine palace, because as a Gentile
residence it was defiled, and therefore defiling, and they wished to be
"clean" for the feast they were to eat in the evening. Pilate humoured
them, and had his conferences with them outside the building. Seeing
their object and observing their temper, he must have discovered at
once their miserable hypocrisy. These were the men who affected to be
the leaders of the one pure faith on earth, a faith which looked with
scorn on the "idolatry" of the cultured Roman. He must have regarded
them with immense contempt. If his tone is cynical, it is but a match
for the unmitigated cynicism of their conduct.

Pilate inquires as to the crime with which the Prisoner is charged. At
first, the Jews do not give an explicit reply, only stating that they
have already found Him guilty. Pilate catches at that. His weakness,
so pitiably apparent throughout the whole proceedings, appears at this
early stage. Desiring to shirk the responsibility of deciding the
case--he would use the first apparent loophole of escape. Since the
Jews have taken this case in hand, let them carry it through, dealing
with it according to their law. They are not to be caught by that
flattering suggestion. They know that they have not the power of life
and death. Pilate would not let them kill Jesus. His proposal, which
on the surface looks like the granting of a privilege, amounts to this,
that they may exercise ecclesiastical discipline, excommunicate their
Prisoner, or perhaps fling Him into jail, possibly scourge Him. But
the worst of these punishments will not satisfy their determined
hatred, or rid them of the haunting fear inspiring it, that Jesus will
undermine their influence with the people. Nothing less than His death
will put an end to that danger; so they thought, although the event
proved that it was this very death of Christ that was to lead to the
victory of Christianity over Judaism. This, however, even His own
disciples could not foresee, much less could it enter into the minds of
His enemies among the Jews.

Thwarted in his first attempt to escape, and compelled to try this
difficult case, Pilate enters the palace where Jesus is kept under
arrest, and questions Him. He has been informed that Jesus claims to
be the king of the Jews. Is that so? Is the charge but a piece of
malicious slander? If it is, there is an end of the matter. Pilate is
not going to lend himself to humour the whim of those hateful Jews,
whom he affects to despise while in his heart he is mortally afraid of
them. There is nothing of the bearing of the violent insurgent in this
calm peasant who stands before him. Surely this is some stupid
mistake, or there is more Jewish malice in it than Pilate can fathom.
But the Roman magistrate soon discovers that he is dealing with no
ordinary man. Jesus takes his measure in a moment. Pilate is a feeble
creature, with no character, insincere, dishonest. He must be made to
feel his littleness. We can imagine how our Lord would fix on him a
penetrating gaze before which the shallow nature of the man would
become apparent, as He asked whether this cross-examination was
genuine, or whether Pilate was prompted to it; whether, as we should
say, it was "a put-up affair"--"_Sayest thou this of thyself, or did
others say it concerning Me_?" Picture the situation--the great marble
palace, the representative of Imperial Rome clad in the purple robe of
office, and seated in his chair on the dais, the surrounding officials
and bodyguard; and then the peasant from Galilee, alone, unattended,
undefended, come straight from insult and mockery in another court, and
that after a night of mental agony. Observe how completely the
relative position of judge and Prisoner are reversed, at least, to the
eyes of the onlooker. Jesus calmly questions Pilate, calmly tells him
of the limit of his power, and calmly claims the kinship for
himself--there of all places--in the Roman governor's residence,
speaking to this governor himself, knowing that it must seal His own
fate. The two powers are now face to face--the world-power of Rome,
outwardly so imposing, but at this moment shrinking to insignificance,
looking so vulgar, so mean, so sordid, so unreal, so essentially weak,
in the person of the paltry governor; and the heavenly power, the power
of truth and goodness, the Kingdom of God represented by the provincial
Prisoner whose inherent dignity of Presence is seen to be all the more
sublime for the contrast. And Pilate? How does he view this? He is
manifestly disconcerted, but he tries to hide his awkwardness under a
mask of Roman scorn. "_Am I a Jew_?" he exclaims, in a tone of
measureless contempt. It is like the contempt of Agrippa when, in
response to St Paul's enthusiastic appeal and close home-thrust, he
cried, "_With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a
Christian_!" Pilate reminds Jesus that He has been given up by His own
people. Jews might be expected to stand by a fellow-Jew under the
Roman tyranny. How comes it to pass that the Jewish people have
brought a man of their own race to the foreign tribunal, prosecuting
Him before this alien power, seeking His death from the hated Imperial
government? What can He have done to bring about so unusual a
situation? Pilate is perplexed; and the answer of Jesus does not
clarify the magistrate's ideas. It seems only more mystifying. Jesus
describes His kingdom, so different from any institution bearing the
name that Pilate has ever heard of. It is not of the order of things
in this world. If it were, of course Christ's servants would fight, as
do the servants of the claimants of earthly thrones. But they do not
resort to violence. The kingdom and its methods of government are both
unearthly. Pilate is interested, perhaps amused, with what now seem to
him the fancies of a fanatical dreamer. He pursues the inquiry, we may
suppose, with a smile on his lips, "_Art thou a king, then_?" he asked.
There is no ambiguity in his Prisoner's reply. He is a king. This
strange kingdom, not resting on any basis of earthly power, dispensing
with fighting, with all that an army suggests, with force, is the very
opposite to Pilate's idea of a state. Rome was materialistic to the
core. Her rule rested on brute force. The Empire, the _Imperium_, was
the dominion of the _Imperator_, that is to say, of the
commander-in-chief of the army. It was a military despotism.
Nominally the government was still republican, and the older and more
peaceable provinces were administered by proconsuls, whose appointment
rested with the senate, or was supposed by a legal fiction to rest with
that body. But the newer and more troublesome provinces were governed
as conquered territory directly by the emperor as the head of the army.
Now Judaea came in this latter division. Pontius Pilate and his
superior, the Legate of Syria, were both directly responsible to
Tiberius Caesar. Pilate was Caesar's officer under military direction.
Military methods characterised the procurator's rule. To a man placed
as Pilate, the notion of a ruler independent of fighting supporters,
and that in territory held down by force of arms, was simply absurd.

Our Lord's further explanation seems to Pilate still more out of
keeping with the notion of royalty. Jesus says He was born to be a
king in order that He might bear witness to the truth. A
king--truth--what have these two words in common, the one referring to
the most real region, the other to the most ideal? To Pilate, the
conjunction is absolutely incongruous. "_What is truth_?" he asks, as
he turns away, too contemptuous to wait for an answer. This famous
utterance has been quoted as a text for the anxious inquirer, and
preachers have gravely set themselves to answer it. Jesus did nothing
of the kind. Evidently it was not a serious inquiry. Pilate flung off
the very idea of truth--a mere abstraction, nothing to a practical
Roman. Still, though he was not seeking any answer to his question, by
the very tone of it he suggested that he did not possess that gem which
those who hold it prize above all things. "The Scepticism of Pilate"
is the title of one of Robertson's greatest sermons. The preacher
traces it to four sources: indecision; falseness to his own
convictions; the taint of the worldly temper of his day; and that
priestly bigotry which forbids inquiry, and makes doubt a crime.
Pilate is the typical sceptic, who is worlds removed from the "honest"
doubter. Serious doubt, which is pained and anxious in the search of
truth, is in essence belief, for it believes in the value of truth, if
only truth can be discovered; but typical scepticism not only does not
credit what the believer takes for truth, but despises it as not worth
seeking. That is the fatal doubt, a doubt that eats into the soul as a
moral canker.

Nevertheless, although what is of supreme value to Jesus is reckoned by
Pilate as of no importance whatever, the cross-examination has
satisfied the magistrate of the innocence of his Prisoner. His duty,
then, is plain. He should acquit the innocent man. But he dare not do
so immediately. That howling mob of Jews and those odious priests and
Sadducees of the council are determined on the death of their victim.
Pilate has made himself well hated by the roughness of his government.
Nothing would please the Jews and their leaders better than to have
some chance of impeaching him before his jealous master at Rome, on the
charge of leniency to treason. Pilate quails before the terrible
possibility. In face of it he simply dares not pronounce a verdict of
acquittal. Yet he means to do all he can to effect the escape of his
Prisoner. His inbred instinct for justice prompts him to this; for the
Romans cherished reverence for law, and even so corrupt a ruler as
Pilate was not independent of the atmosphere of his race. Then it
would be a bitter humiliation to let his judgment be overruled by those
contemptible Jews. He would be heartily glad to confound and
disappoint them. More than this, he had begun to feel some awakening
interest in his remarkable Prisoner. He had come to the conclusion
that Jesus was a harmless dreamer; but he had felt some faint shadow of
the spell of the wonderful Personality. If only it could be managed
with safety to himself, he would be glad to have Jesus set free.

Accordingly we now see Pilate resorting to a series of devices in order
to escape from his vexatious dilemma. From this point his conduct
opens out to us a curious study in psychological phenomena. The
ingenuity of Pilate in resorting to one expedient after another, is
very striking. Evidently he has keen wits, and he uses them with some
agility. But it is all in vain. He is pushed from each of the
positions he takes up by the same stubborn, relentless pressure which
he invariably finds to be irresistible. The explanation is, that
though he has intellect, he lacks will-power. On the other side there
is not much need for intelligence, but there is the most obstinate
will. The Jews possess a clear notion of what they want, and a set
determination to have their way. In such a contest there is no doubt
which side will win. When will is bitter against intellect, it is the
latter that succumbs. The determined will forces itself through all
opposition that rests only on intelligence, reasoning, contrivance.
Intellect does not count for nothing; allied to a strong will, as in
Calvin, Cromwell, Napoleon, it helps to effect gigantic results. But
in the sphere of action, it is will-power that tells in immediate
results. Even here, reason may conquer stupid obstinacy in the
long-run. But you must give it time; and you must have honesty of
character. Neither condition was present in this case of Pilate. He
had to decide promptly; and his moral nature was unsound. Such a man
under such circumstances will never find his most cunning devices a
match for the set determination of his opponents. So Pilate, feebly
protesting, helplessly scheming, is pushed back step by step; and
ultimately he concedes everything demanded of him, and the final issue
is more humiliating to himself and more cruel to the innocent Prisoner
whom he is trying to shield, than it would have been if he had yielded
at the beginning. The real victim of this tragedy in the palace is not
Jesus, it is the soul of Pilate. We seem to see a weak man being
thrust down a steep place, resisting and catching at the shrubs and
rocks that he passes, but torn from his grasp of them and finally flung
over the precipice.

Pilate's first device was to send Jesus to Herod Antipas, who happened
to be at Jerusalem at the time. It was a compliment to the frivolous
"king of Galilee" to remit a Galilean prisoner to his judgment, and
Pilate would gladly rid himself of the awkward case by this ingenious
device. But it was useless, for the simple reason that Herod had no
power of life and death in Jerusalem, and Pilate soon had his Prisoner
on his hands again. Next he clutched at the custom of releasing a
prisoner during the feast. Here was a chance for letting off Jesus
without declaring Him innocent. But this suggestion was hopeless. If
the Jews were set on effecting the death of Jesus, they would not give
up their right to choose their prisoners to be released, and take at
the dictation of Pilate the very man they wanted to have done to death.
They clamoured for an insurgent, Barabbas, a man caught red-handed in
the very crime for which these hypocrites professed in their
new-fledged loyalty to Caesar to be anxious to have Jesus executed.
The cynicism of their choice is palpable. By daring to make it, they
show in what contempt they hold Pilate. The governor loses ground
considerably by this false move. Then he tries to throw the blame of
the murder of Jesus, which he sees he cannot prevent, on the Jews. A
new motive urges him to escape from the responsibility of committing a
judicial murder. His wife had sent a private message warning him to
"_have nothing to do with that righteous man_." She had been much
disturbed by a dream about him. Romans were slaves to omens and
auguries, and the most materialistic of them felt some awe of dreams,
although they had lost faith in real religion. Your confirmed sceptic
is often slavishly superstitious in the secret of his soul. It is a
way the spiritual has of avenging itself on the man who openly flouts
it. Boldly flung out of the window, it creeps back into the cellar and
vexes the soul with petty tricks played on the subterranean
consciousness. The man who expels his good angel is haunted by imps
and elves. He who will not believe in God and despises truth succumbs
to the message of a dream.

More anxious now than ever to escape responsibility, Pilate calls for
water and publicly washes his hands, telling the Jews that the innocent
blood will be on their heads. They accept the awful responsibility.
What do they care for the weak Roman's scruples? He is doing their
will, and of course no hand-washing can cleanse his conscience from the
stain of guilty compliance.

Yet one thing more Pilate will do. He will scourge Jesus. Perhaps
that may satisfy these savage Jews. For scourging was a savage
punishment. The whip was loaded with lead and sharp fish-bones, and at
every stroke the flesh was cut. Men often died under this severe
treatment. Pilate had it inflicted on Jesus, knowing Him to be
innocent; but hoping that, if He survived, no more might be required.
It was an abominable compromise. If Jesus were innocent--and Pilate
knew He was innocent--He should have been set free unscathed, with
apologies for a mistaken arrest. If he were guilty, of course he ought
to receive the death-penalty for the crime of treason. Justice could
allow of no middle course. But Pilate is not thinking of Justice. He
only wants to escape the onus of killing an innocent man. Then he has
Jesus brought forth, bleeding, in agony, His lacerated flesh exposed to
the view of that heartless multitude. "_Behold the man_," says Pilate.
"Look at your victim; is not this enough?" If Pilate thought his
appeal _ad misericordiam_ would touch those hardened sinners of the
Sanhedrin, he was strangely mistaken. The sight of their victim in His
agony only maddens them. They are like hounds who had tasted blood.
Like hounds, they "give tongue," and yell for His death. Pilate can
resist no longer. He has played his last card, and it has been taken.
Thoroughly humiliated and quite helpless, he gives sentence, and so in
spite of the governor's desperate efforts to escape the stigma of his
awful crime, it goes down to all the ages that Jesus was "crucified
under Pontius Pilate."

 

BARABBAS

BY REV. J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.

 

"And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and
release unto us Barabbas."--ST LUKE xxiii. 18.

You have heard a crowd of people cry out all at once. It is always
impressive, it is sometimes very terrible, occasionally it is sublime.
It begins in a way that no one can explain. Somebody in the crowd
utters a name, or ejaculates a brief sentence. What happens? Often
nothing at all. Men are not in the mood for it; it drops unnoticed, or
provokes a jeer or two and is then forgotten. But sometimes the word
falls like a spark on a mass of dry tinder--ten thousand hearts have
been prepared for it--swift as a flash of lightning a sympathetic
current passes through the whole throng--ten thousand lips take up the
cry. They are all carried away by contagion, magnetism, or madness,
and a shout goes up enough to rend the sky. When some great and noble
sentiment has laid hold of them, the shout of a people is one of the
grandest things on earth; when it is some awful prejudice, unreasoning
hatred, or cowardly terror that sways them, the shout is the most
inhuman and hellish thing on earth; and that was the character of the
shout that was raised here.

The world has never forgotten that cry, and never will. To the very
last the world will wonder how it should have come to be raised, and
will condemn and pity the crowd of people who gave themselves up to it,
for they were making a hero of the vilest stuff, and clamouring for the
murder of the world's one Divine man. There never was a more brutal
and insane shout than that; never again can there be a choice so fatal
and so suicidal as the choice they made: "_Away with this man, and
release unto us Barabbas_."

If the thing had not happened, we should say it was impossible. It
seems well-nigh incredible that human eyes and human hearts could be so
blind. A story of this kind is food for the bitterest cynic. He who
has the most utter contempt for the race to which he belongs might find
here almost a justification of his scorn. Oh what a satire upon human
nature, that a whole city full of people, men, women, mothers and
daughters, had come to this pass that they could not discern which was
the nobler of these two--nay, thought that Barabbas was more deserving
of their honour. One the very flower and crown of humanity, the
express image of God; and the other a gaol bird, a notorious criminal,
whose hands had been dyed red, and whose heart had been hardened by the
shedding of blood. Well might those pitiful lips say, "_Father forgive
them, for they know not what they do_."

Why did they do it? Why did they raise their voices for Barabbas?

The main answer is that men make their heroes as the heathen make gods,
after their own image. There is no doubt that Barabbas was more to the
taste of this people, more according to their heart, than Christ; or at
least they thought he was; not quite their ideal man, perhaps, but
certainly nearer to their ideal than the Christ whom they rejected. It
may be that they had had no particular love for him until just now,
possibly they had hardly thought of him at all; but now it was a
question between this man and Jesus, and Jesus they did not want at any
price. And their very hatred of the one made the other look beautiful.
Barabbas is our man, they said, and the more they said it the more they
believed it; and each time the name was repeated it sounded sweeter,
until they were all shouting it, nine-tenths of them because the others
shouted it, and until they really made themselves believe that in this
man they had got a veritable hero and hardly less than a god.

That is always what happens in such cases, the greater part begin
shouting for no particular reason because a few others have led the
way, and they end by believing that the man whom they are acclaiming is
almost divine; yet it is certain that they elected this man on the
whole because of the two he had more points in common with them, this
poor despicable and very unheroic thing was the person whom they
delighted to honour because they themselves were very unheroic and
somewhat despicable. We cannot see the greatness of a truly great man
unless there is just a bit of greatness in ourselves; Christ was too
big and too divine to be seen and measured by their small and vulgar
eyes. Barabbas was about their size, and they raised their voices for
him.

We have had Carlyle's words quoted to us a thousand times about heroes
and hero-worship--how it is part of human nature to go after heroes and
make them--how the world has always been given up to this worship, and
always will be. We all revere and follow great men, or those whom we
deem great, which is not quite the same thing. And it is a beautiful
feature in human nature if it is wisely directed, if we can only set
our hearts on the true heroes and follow them. It is not beautiful at
all when we make our gods of clay, and shout ourselves hoarse in
exalting to the skies creatures as undivine and quite as small as we
are.

Heroes are sometimes easily made to-day, and martyrs too. Modern
martyrdom of the popular sort is about the least costly thing going.
It calls for no tears and blood, it can be gained on very easy terms.
You have only to break a law which you do not like, or your conscience
does not approve, and to be brought up for it with an admiring crowd
accompanying you, and to have a fine imposed, which is paid for,
perhaps, by popular subscription--and lo, you are a martyr. I am not
calling in question the thing itself. It may be both right and
Christian to refuse obedience to a law on extreme occasions; but to
call this martyrdom is extravagant and almost humorous.

It was not so in the olden time when the real martyrs were made. No,
those martyrs were not delicately handled, but stripped and stoned to
pieces, and burned, and there were no crowds to greet them with bravoes
and caresses, but furious mobs clamouring for their blood. We have
changed all that indeed, thank God: but they were heroes and martyrs
indeed, and it sounds to me somewhat like a desecration of the word to
apply it to men and even women who are good, probably brave in a way,
but who win their crown of glory very cheaply indeed. If we are to
have heroes, let us make sure that they possess some heroic stuff.

There is a vast amount of hero-worship to-day which reminds us too much
of that shout for Barabbas. We are glorifying the wrong people; at
least, most of us are. It is one of the deplorable weaknesses of the
times, or if you like it better, it is one of the fashions or crazes to
which human nature at times gives itself up. The heroes of the crowd,
of the great mass of people, are not the good men, not the men of light
and leading, not the men who are morally great or even intellectually
great, not the men who are the strength and salt of a nation, but the
men who minister to its pleasures, and lead the way in sports. No one
can have any doubt of that. No one can have any doubt about the sort
of persons whom the vast majority of young people, and some older
people too, delight to honour. With some it is the star of the music
hall or opera. With a great many more it is the winner of a race, or
the champion player in a successful football team, or the most
effective bowler, or the highest scorer in cricket. The crowd goes mad
about these heroes. There is no throne high enough to place them on.
Money and favours are lavished at their feet, and all the newspapers
are full of their glorious triumphs.

Mark I am not speaking against athletic sports. I like to see a well
and honestly played game, and I would join in the clapping when a man
makes a clever stroke. What I object to is the crazy and almost
delirious worship which is given to these champions of the sporting
world. It is the excess of the thing that proves a diseased state of
mind. There is more fuss made over some youth who scores a few
hundreds on the cricket-field, than there would be over a man who had
saved six hundred lives. In hundreds of journals his portrait appears,
and his doings are chronicled as if he had wrought some deliverance for
the nation. Poor lad, it is not his fault that he has sprung up
suddenly into fame, it is the fault of the people who love to have
these things so. It is because men have gone pleasure-mad and
sport-mad, and in their madness cannot see the difference between a
clever athlete and a mental or moral giant. We prove what our own
tastes are, we prove the quality of our own hearts and minds, we prove
our own debasement, when we exalt physical strength above excellence of
character, when we make our heroes out of muscle instead of soul, when
we worship those who serve our pleasure more than those who set us
examples of noble things, and lead the way in them. It is only another
rendering of the old shout, "_Away with this man, and release unto us
Barabbas_." Not so wicked, of course, but equally foolish and unworthy.

Who are your heroes? That is the question. Or in other words, What
sort of men do you admire most? Answer that, and I know at once what
sort of men and women you are. If you are worshippers of pleasure, the
champions of the pleasure-world will be your idols and kings. If you
are rooted and grounded in the love of lucre, the successful
millionaire is the man that you will fawn upon or worship from afar.
If your main delight is in intellectual things, the great thinkers and
writers will be the men to whom you look up with reverence. And if you
are good men, with a passionate love for goodness, and a constant
striving to be better than you are, there are none whom you will admire
with all your hearts except the good, except the best, and those who
are leading in the way of goodness.

In a land which is truly Christian, the only heroes will be those who
most resemble Christ. If we are truly Christians, and Christian
thoughts have taken full possession of our hearts, we shall recognise
no heroes save those who serve as Christ served, who live in a measure
as Christ lived, who deny themselves for others, and spend their
strength for the benefit of their fellow-men as the Master did. These
are the true heroes, and all the others are more or less cheap
imitations of them, or false substitutes for them. These are the true
heroes, I say. The men and women who risk their lives to save other
lives. The men who use their strength and ability, not for pay, but
for the good and the advancement of their fellow-men, to save men from
their sins, and to lessen the sum of human ill. The brave men and
women who venture all things to serve some great and righteous cause,
and to speed on the Kingdom of Christ and righteousness in the world.

We have no right to count any as heroes unless they have courage,
patience, self-denial, great love for their fellow-men, and strength
which they cheerfully employ for something greater than themselves.
The men, in fact, who have something of Christ in them; these are the
only heroes whom God writes down in His book of life, and they are the
only heroes whom we shall exalt in our hearts if we are followers of
the crucified One.

In a Christian land, the beginning and end of all true and healthy
hero-worship, is to set Christ first and above everything else and
every one else in our affections. We shall measure all other men truly
if we have first of all taken the true measure of Him. Love Him with
all your hearts, say of Him, "Thou art the chief among ten thousand,
and the altogether lovely," and you will never give much of your hearts
again to the things and the men who are morally not worth loving. You
will never be carried away again into the worship of that which is
false, common, or cheap. A man who sees _all_ beauty, and the perfect
beauty in Christ, will never say that there is much beauty anywhere
else, except where there is something that resembles Christ.

We have to make our choice to-day, as those men made it long ago. It
is not quite the same choice. It is not Barabbas against Christ, but
it is the poor, coarse, common, frivolous things of the world against
Christ. It is the earthly against the heavenly; it is pleasure and sin
against the service of the Man who was crucified: it is the love of
self, and things baser than ourselves, against the love of Him who died
for us. And everything depends upon that choice. To make Him your
King is to become kingly yourselves, and to be crowned at last with the
true glory and honour. But it is a terrible thing to say, "_Away with
this man, and release unto us Barabbas_."

 

JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA

BY REV. ALFRED ROWLAND, D.D.. LL.B.

"Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for
the kingdom of God."--MARK xv. 43.

The crucifixion of our Lord produced strange and startling effects in
moral experience, as well as in the physical world. The veil of the
Temple was rent from top to bottom as if a hand from heaven had torn
it, in order to teach men that the ancient ritual was done with.
Darkness covered the earth, suggesting to thoughtful minds the guilt of
the world and the mystery of the sacrifice which atoned for it.
Concurrently with these physical phenomena were spiritual experiences.
The Roman centurion who, in command of four soldiers, had the duty of
seeing the sentence of the law duly executed, was so profoundly moved
by what he saw of the Divine Sufferer and by His dying cry, that he
exclaimed, "_Truly this was the Son of God_," and thus he became the
first of the great multitude out of all nations who give honour to the
Lamb that has been slain. The women, too, who were sometimes despised
for weakness and timidity, proved themselves in this crisis to be
heroines. And Joseph of Arimathea, who up to this moment of shame and
apparent defeat had been content to remain a secret disciple of our
Lord, now boldly avowed his love and loyalty.

The "_even_" had come, the second evening of the Jews, and the last
streak of golden light was beginning to fade from the western sky.
Three lifeless bodies were still hanging on the crosses at Golgotha,
but according to Jewish custom they were about to be taken down, and
flung into a dishonourable grave, when Joseph "_went in boldly to
Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus_," caring for our Lord in death as
another Joseph had cared for him in infancy.

This man is described as an "_honourable counsellor_," which doubtless
means a member of the Sanhedrim. He is also spoken of as "_a good man
and a just_," which could not have been said of many of his
fellow-counsellors. On this occasion his action was sufficiently
important in its relation to prophecy, and in its bearing as evidence
of the reality of the burial and of the resurrection of our Lord, to be
mentioned in each of the Four Gospels. Yet neither by this nor by
social influence, nor by brilliant gifts (if he possessed them), did he
become prominent in the early Church. Probably he was a man of
practical sagacity and ready resource, rather than of great spiritual
force. He could not stand on the same level with Simon Peter, the
fisherman, whose honour it was so to hold the key of the Kingdom as to
open the door of it to the Gentiles; nor did he ever attain influence
comparable to that of Paul, who shook the citadel of paganism to its
foundations, and planted amid its fallen defences the seed of the
Kingdom, even the word of God. Joseph must be regarded as a common
soldier, rather than as a general in Christ's army; but when the
officers had fallen, or deserted their Leader, he bravely stepped to
the front and proved himself a hero. Perhaps all the more on this
account some study of his character and conduct may encourage those who
are not prominent in the Church to cultivate his fidelity, promptitude,
and courage.

If we piece together the few fragments of his biography which are
scattered through the Four Gospels, we shall gain a fuller and more
accurate conception of the man.

I.

It is clear that Joseph had already protested against the wrong done to
our Lord by the Sanhedrim, though he had been powerless to prevent it.

In this protest no doubt Nicodemus would have sided with him, but he
was probably absent, for Joseph seems to have stood alone in his
refusal to condemn the prophet of Nazareth. This was not easy. He
would be urged to vote with his fellow-counsellors on the ground that
their ecclesiastical authority, which had been defied, must be
maintained, and that loyalty to the Sanhedrim demanded that all members
of it should sink their private opinions in its defence. To hold out
against an otherwise unanimous council would be the more difficult if
Joseph had but recently attained the honour of membership, and this is
probable, for the allusion to his "_new grave_" seems to imply that he
had not long resided in Jerusalem. It was difficult, and possibly
dangerous, to assert his independence; but he did so by vote, if not by
voice, for he "_had not consented to the counsel and deed of them_."

Right-minded men are not infrequently placed in a similar position. A
policy may be initiated which they disapprove, and yet their protest
against it may wreck the party and even displace the government, so
that they naturally hesitate between party loyalty and enlightened
conscience. Others who are engaged in business, or in professional
affairs, have sometimes to confront doubtful practices which, though
sanctioned by custom, unquestionably tend to the lowering of the moral
tone of the nation. Their own financial interests, their fear of
casting a slur on some known to them, who, though guilty of such
practices are in other respects honourable men, and their dread of
posing before the world as over-scrupulous, pharisaic men, who are
righteous over-much--all urge them to keep quiet, especially as such a
custom cannot be put down by one man. Yet is not conscience to be
supreme, even under such conditions? The cultivation of the required
moral heroism, which is sadly lacking in all sections of society, must
begin in youth; and in this, elder brothers and sisters as well as
parents and teachers of all grades have serious responsibility.
Occasionally the moral atmosphere of a whole school becomes corrupt,
and practices spring up which can only be put down by some right-minded
lad or girl running the risk of unpopularity and social ostracism, yet
it is under such conditions that God's heroes are bred; and books like
_Tom Brown's Schooldays_ have done much to foster the development of
the heroic temper.

The truth is, that, wherever we are, in this world where evil widely
prevails, fidelity to conscience must occasionally inspire what seems
an unavailing protest against the practice of the majority. But we
must see to it on such occasions that a real principle is at stake, and
that we are not moved by mere desire for self-assertion, nor by pride
and obstinacy. If, however, we are consciously free from these, and
bravely protest against a wrong we cannot prevent, we may at least look
for the approval of Him who carried His protest against evil up to the
point of death, even the death of the Cross.

In thus taking up our stand against what we believe to be wrong, we may
be, imperceptibly to ourselves, emboldening others, who are secretly
waiting for some such lead.

II.

If Joseph required bravery on the council, he needed it still more when
he went into the presence of Pilate to beg the body of Jesus.

The Roman procurator was a man to be dreaded by any Jew, and was just
now in a suspicious and angry mood. But Joseph not only braved a
repulse from him. He knew he would have to confront the far more
bitter hostility of the priests. Theirs was a relentless hate, before
which Peter had fallen, and Pilate himself had quailed. Yet this man
Joseph, brought up though he had been in circumstances of ease, went in
boldly to Pilate and deliberately ran the risk of their savage hatred,
which would not only bring about as he believed his expulsion from
office, but in all probability cruel martyrdom. It was a bold step;
but no sooner did he take it than another rich man was by his
side--Nicodemus by name--who also himself was one of Christ's
disciples, though secretly, for fear of the Jews. The act of Joseph
had more far-reaching consequences on the conduct of others than he
expected.

Most heroic actions are richer in results than is expected by those who
dare to do them; though the immediate effects may seem disappointing.
Elijah learnt to his amazement that although all the people on Carmel
had not been converted, more than seven thousand faithful men had been
emboldened by his conduct. And when John plucked up courage to go
right in to the palace of the high priest, Peter, who till then had
followed Jesus afar off, went in also.

The truth is, that we all have influence beyond the limits of what we
can see or estimate--parents over children, employers over their young
people, mistresses over servants; for what we are these are encouraged
to be, whether for good or for evil. Indeed, even a child who
fearlessly speaks the truth, a servant who does her work thoroughly and
cheerfully, an obscure lad who in a small situation is faithful to
honour and truth, will effect far more than is imagined. Others who
are unperceived are emboldened, and range themselves on the side of
righteousness.

Joseph discovered, as many have done since, that when he steadfastly
set his face towards duty he succeeded far better then he expected.
When he went into the palace of Pilate he foresaw that he might be
asked to pay an enormous ransom, for that would be only customary; or
possibly his request might be scornfully refused by the procurator, who
was angry with himself and with the Jews. But, doubtless to his
amazement, no such thing happened. Without delay, or bartering or
abuse, Pilate at once gave him leave.

History is crowded with similar incidents. How helpless and hopeless
the Israelites were when they found themselves face to face with the
waters of the Red Sea, while the army of Egypt was rapidly overtaking
them; yet they soon discovered that their danger was to prove their
means of deliverance; for the waters which barred their progress to
liberty soon overwhelmed their enemies. In other spheres of experience
such deliverances have come, and will continue to come, to trustful
souls:

"Dark and wide the sea appears,
Every soul is full of fears,
Yet the word is 'onward still,'
Onward move and do His will;
And the great deep shall discover
God's highway to take thee over."

Peter had a similar experience when in prison. He arose and followed
the angel, and safely passed through the first and the second ward; but
the great iron gate seemed an insuperable barrier, yet that opened to
them of its own accord, and he stepped through it into liberty. Thus
it was with the women who as they walked, while it was yet dark,
towards the grave of their Lord, thought of one difficulty which seemed
insurmountable, and asked one another, "_Who shall roll us away the
stone at the door of the sepulchre_?" Still on they went, with faith
and courage, and when they reached their imagined difficulty they found
that it had vanished; for they saw that the stone was rolled away.

A similar experience is constantly met with. It is shared by a young
man who is expected to undertake some doubtful transaction, but from
conscientious scruple hesitates. He fears what the result of a refusal
may be, but resolves to risk it; perhaps to find that the order is not
pressed, or that some new incident opens up for him a way of escape.
True, God does not always deliver a conscientious man from the special
danger before him, but in the forum of conscience, and before the
judgment-seat of Christ, he will be righted.

Be the result what it may, we must be true to conscience, which,
however, is but another form of saying, we must be true to God; and
instead of peering into the future, and picturing to ourselves all
possible evil results, we must learn to take the next obvious step in
the pathway of duty, trusting that God will make the next step clear,
possible, and safe. When a tourist is climbing a difficult mountain,
his guide sometimes rounds a corner, or climbs up to a higher level,
and for a time is lost to sight, having left his charge behind him; and
he, unaccustomed to such an expedition, dares not look down, and fears
to stir another step, till feeling the rope taut between himself and
the guide, and hearing his cheery voice, he ventures forward, to find
that the danger was not so great as he imagined. Thus made bolder by
each difficulty surmounted, he begins to feel the exhilaration of a
mountain climb, which braces the nerves more than anything besides. If
we are really anxious to be in God's appointed way, and boldly take it
when it is made clear, we may be sure that He will answer the prayer:
"_Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not_."

III.

There are crises in the experience of every one when the whole future
is determined; and such a crisis came to Joseph of Arimathea.

He had been for some time a disciple of Jesus, but had never avowed the
fact. But after standing on Calvary and seeing the death of his Lord,
sorrow, shame, and indignation so stirred him, that at once he went in
boldly unto Pilate. It was the turning-point in his history, when
obedience to God-given impulse decided his whole destiny. The
spiritual influences which play upon our souls are not even in their
flow. There are times when one is strangely moved, although in outward
environment there is little to account for it. The sermon listened to
may be illiterate, the hymn sung may be destitute of poetic beauty, the
friendly word may be spoken by a social inferior--yet one of these
sometimes suffices as the channel of divine power, which shakes the
soul to its very depths. We have known the unexpected avowal of love
to Christ on the part of one obscure scholar set all in the class
thinking on the subject of personal responsibility to God, and to His
Church. And sometimes the sorrow of leaving home for the first time,
or the death of a dearly-loved friend, has sufficed to arouse the
question, "_What must I do to be saved_?" We must beware of allowing
such opportunities for decisive action to slip away unimproved. When a
vessel has grounded at the harbour-bar, she must wait till the tide
lifts her, or she will not reach a safe anchorage; but when the tide
does flow in, no sane man will let the chance go by, lest a storm
should rise and wreck her within reach of home.

It is noteworthy that Joseph was moved to decision and confession by
the crucifixion of the Lord; for this might have been expected to seal
his lips. It would seem to have been easier to follow the great
Teacher when listening crowds gathered round Him, and multitudes were
being healed of whatsoever diseases they had, than to acknowledge
loyalty to Him when He was crucified as a malefactor. Yet it was from
the Cross that this man went into the Church. The light came to him
when darkness seemed deepest. It was in the presence of the crucified
Saviour, of whom even the Roman centurion said, "_Truly this was the
Son of God_," that Joseph learned to say, "Because thou hast died for
me, I will henceforth live for Thee." This was one of the earliest
triumphs of the Cross, in which Paul gloried, and of Him who died
thereon--dying for us all, that we who live should not henceforth live
unto ourselves but unto Him. In the presence of that memorable scene
we are called on for more than admiration or adoration, even for a
passionate devotion to Him who gave Himself up for us all.

It may be that some of His professed followers may again fail Him, and
that others will step in to do the service which He requires. In the
hour of darkness all His recognised disciples forsook him and fled; and
when the tragedy on Golgotha was over, it was not Peter, and James, and
John, and Andrew, who rendered Him the last service, but holy, humble
women, and Joseph and Nicodemus, who up till then had not been reckoned
as disciples at all. There are times in the history of the Church when
our Lord seems "_crucified afresh, and put to an open shame_," while
His so-called disciples remain silent and hidden. Superstition and sin
still join hands to put the Christ to death, to bury Him, and seal His
sepulchre. But secret disciples are meanwhile avowing themselves;
coming from the east, and the west, from the north, and from the south,
to fill up the vacant places, to do the needed services, and to rejoice
in a risen and glorified Lord. Better by far the doing of a simple act
of love to the Saviour who died for us--such as Joseph did--than loud
professions of loyalty, or accurate knowledge of creeds. Hear once
more the solemn words of Jesus: "_Not every one that saith unto Me,
Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth
the will of My Father which is in heaven_."

"And that voice still soundeth on
From the centuries that are gone
To the centuries that shall be!
From all vain pomps and shows, from the pride that overflows,
From all the narrow rules and subtleties of Schools,
And the craft of tongue and pen:
Bewildered in its search, bewildered with the cry:
'Lo here, lo there, the Church!' poor, sad Humanity
Through all the dust and heat turns back with bleeding feet
By the weary road it came
Unto the simple thought by the Great Master taught,
And that remaineth still:
'Not he that repeateth the Name
But he that doeth the Will.'"

 

PHILIP, THE EVANGELIST

BY REV. GEORGE MILLIGAN, M.A., D.D.

Philip the Evangelist must be carefully distinguished from Philip the
Apostle. And though it is little that we are told regarding him in
Scripture, that little is very significant. He first comes before us
as one of the seven chosen by the early Church at Jerusalem to take
charge of the daily ministration of charity to the poor widows (Acts
vi. I ff.). And when this work is hindered by the outbreak of
persecution following on the death of Stephen, we find him at once
departing to enter on active missionary work elsewhere (Acts viii. 4
ff.). The fact that he should have selected Samaria as the scene of
these new labours, is in itself a proof that he was able to rise above
the ordinary Jewish prejudices of his time. And this same liberal
spirit is further exemplified by the incident in connection with which
he will always be principally remembered.

In obedience to a Divine summons, Philip had betaken himself to the way
that goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza. And if at first he may have
wondered why he should have been called upon to leave his rapidly
progressing work in Samaria for a desert road, he was not for long left
in doubt as to what was required of him. For as he walked along he was
overtaken by an Ethiopian stranger returning in his chariot from
Jerusalem. This man, who was the chamberlain or treasurer of Candace,
Queen of the Ethiopians, had heard somehow in his distant home, of the
Jewish religion, and had undertaken this long journey to make further
inquiries regarding it. We are not told how he had been impressed;
very possibly the actual fruits that he witnessed were very different
from what he had expected. But one treasure at least he had found, a
Greek copy of the prophecies of Isaiah, and this he was eagerly
searching on his return journey, to see if he could find further light
there. One passage specially arrested his attention, the touching
passage in which the prophet draws out his great portraiture of the Man
of Sorrows. But, then, how reconcile the thought of this Messiah,
suffering, wounded, dying, with the great King and Conqueror whom the
Jews at Jerusalem had been expecting! Could it be that he had anything
to do with our Jesus of Nazareth, of whom he had also heard, and whom,
because of the Messianic claims He had put forward, the Jewish leaders
had crucified on a cross? Oh, for some one to help him! Help was
nearer than he thought. Prompted by the Spirit, Philip ran forward to
the chariot; and no sooner had he learned the royal chamberlain's
difficulties than he "_opened his mouth, and beginning from this
scripture, preached unto him Jesus_" (Acts viii. 35).

We are not told on what particulars Philip dwelt; but, doubtless,
starting from the prophetic description of the Man of Sorrows,
"_despised and rejected of men_," he would show how that description
held true of the earthly life of Jesus. And then he would go on to
show the meaning and bearing of these sufferings. They arose from no
fault on the part of Jesus; but, "_He was wounded for our
transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities_." And yet that was
not the end. The life which had thus ended in shame had begun again in
glory: the cross had led on to the crown. And as thus he unfolded the
first great principles of the Christian faith, Philip would press home
on the eunuch's awakened conscience that they had a vital meaning for
him. "_Repent_," can we not imagine him pleading as Peter had pleaded
before, "_and be baptised . . . in the name of Jesus Christ unto the
remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy
Ghost_" (Acts ii. 38). The eunuch's heart was touched, and he asked
that he might be baptized. Satisfied that he was in earnest, Philip
agreed to his request. And when they came to a certain water, "_they
both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he
baptized him_." Thus "the Ethiopian changed his skin," and "_went on
his way rejoicing_" to his distant home, to declare in his turn to his
countrymen the tidings of great joy.

There are many points of view from which we might regard this beautiful
incident, but it is with it in its bearing on the person and character
of Philip that we are alone at present concerned. And in considering
it further in this light, it may be well to confine ourselves to
noticing in what way it gained for Philip his distinctive title of
"_the Evangelist_," and consequently what it has to teach us still
regarding all evangelistic and missionary work.

I.

The Evangelist.

With regard to the evangelist himself, one truth stands out clearly
from the whole narrative, his work is _given_ to him to do. He is
first and foremost a missionary, one sent.

It is a pity, perhaps, that in our ordinary speech, we have come to
limit the name "missionary" so much to the man who carries the gospel
abroad. No doubt he is a missionary in the highest sense of the word;
but still the fundamental idea in every minister or evangelist's
position is the idea of one sent--sent for a particular purpose, with a
particular message to proclaim wherever God may place him. He has no
power, no authority of his own. All that he has comes from Him whose
servant he is, and whose truth he has to announce.

You remember--to appeal at once to the highest example--how
ever-present this thought of His mission was to the mind of our Lord
and Master. His meat, so He told His disciples, was to do the will of
Him that sent Him (John iv. 34). The word which He spake was not His
own, but the Father's who sent Him (John xiv. 24). And so when the
time came for His sending forth His disciples to carry on His work, it
was as "Apostles," those sent, that the work was entrusted to them; and
in the same spirit He prayed for them in His great intercessory prayer:
"_As Thou didst send Me into the world, even so sent I them into the
world_" (John xvii. 18).

If we keep this view of the evangelist as the missionary, ever before
us, there is one fact regarding his position we can never lose sight
of. He has no new truth of his own to declare, no new theories of his
own to frame. The message which he has to deliver is not his own, but
God's; and it must be his constant endeavour to learn that message for
himself, and then, as God's servant, to announce it to others. Men may
receive his message. If they do not, he dare not substitute any other.

II.

His Message.

In what does the evangelist's message consist? "_Philip_," we are
told, "_preached unto him_ JESUS." And what that included we have
already seen. It was the story of the life, and the death, and the
resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a new story then, an old story now,
but still "the old, old story" for us.

The duty of the Christian teacher must be first of all to proclaim
Christ and His salvation, to announce the glad tidings of mercy and of
love to sinful men.

This is not, of course, to say that every address or sermon is to be
occupied with the objective facts of Christ's life and death. Such
teaching would soon become monotonous and wearisome, and fail in the
very purpose it set before it. Nor have men only to be awakened to the
truth, they must be built up in it. And the practical question for us
all is to learn how to apply and carry out in our daily lives, the
truths we have received, how to make our conduct correspond to our
creed. That opens up an endless field for the evangelist's work: that
introduces us to lectures on Home Missions and Foreign Missions, to the
story of noble lives; to all, in fact, that is likely to deepen and to
quicken our moral nature. But still this remains as the fundamental
object of the whole evangel, to preach Jesus, to bring those to Him who
know Him not, to strengthen and to comfort those who do.

When, then, men call upon the Christian teacher to leave the objective
facts of the gospel alone, and to occupy himself with the philosophic
and social questions of the day, they are calling upon him to surrender
his special function and duty. He must indeed endeavour so to present
the truth so as to meet the peculiar wants of his own time. The form
in which the gospel was presented in one age may not be the best form
of presenting it in another. At one time it may be necessary to
emphasise one aspect of the truth, at another, another. But underneath
all its changing forms and aspects, _the_ truth remains unchanged; and
it is that which must be taught.

And after all, has not the simple gospel message ever proved itself the
one message that can touch the hearts and meet the wants of men? What
was it, for example, in the preaching of Savonarola that so mightily
moved Florence, the elegant, refined, wicked, pagan Florence of the
fifteenth century? He himself tells us that it was the preaching of
Scripture truth. When he discoursed in a philosophical manner, the
ignorant and the learned were alike inattentive: but "the word"
mightily delighted the minds of men, and showed its divine power in the
reformation of their lives. Or, to take another instance from nearer
home. Archdeacon Wilson describes somewhere the experience of the
promoters of a certain evening-class, which they had instituted for the
benefit of some of the more ignorant and degraded inhabitants of
Bristol. All that they could think of they did for the benefit of the
men who gathered to it. They read to them; they sang to them: they
taught them to read and write. Yet, in course of time, interest
flagged. Every expedient failed, and they were on the point of
abandoning the work in despair, when it occurred to them to apply to
the men themselves. "What would you like us to tell you about next?"
they asked. "Could you tell us something about Jesus Christ?" answered
one of the men. That was the one thing needful, the one abiding
satisfaction for their deepest needs.

And so ever. It may be strange, but it is true, that it is "_the Man
of Sorrows_" who has won the love of men; it is the Saviour who has
been lifted up on high out of the earth, who has drawn all men to
Himself. Christ: Christ crucified: Christ risen: that is the message
which every Christian evangelist has to declare.

III.

His Message of Glad Tidings.

And is not that good news? "_Beginning from that same scripture,
Philip preached the GLAD TIDINGS of Jesus_."

Philip made the eunuch's previous knowledge the starting-point of all
that he had to say, and, as he went on, showed how there was in his
message the answer to all his doubts and the solution of all his
difficulties.

And the gospel has still the same meaning for us. It has a message for
the man struggling with the battle of life, in the example of One who
has fought that fight before, who knows its every trial and sorrow, and
who has come gloriously through them all. It has a message for the
sinner, brooding anxiously over his guilty past, conscious only of his
own defilement and unworthiness in the sight of an all-holy God, as it
assures him of mercy and free forgiveness, of sin blotted out in the
blood of Christ. It has a message for the trembling believer,
compassed about with temptations and doubts, as it tells of One who can
still be "_touched with the feeling of our infirmities_," and who,
because "_He Himself hath suffered being tempted_," is "_able to
succour them that are tempted_." And it has a message for the mourner
sorrowing over the loss of near and dear ones, for it points to Him who
is "_the Resurrection and the Life_" of His people, and gives promise
of the "_Father's house_" with its many mansions, where He is preparing
a place for His children.

And yet great and glorious though that message is, where there are not
a hearing ear, an understanding heart, and a willing mind, even a St
Philip or a St Paul may preach in vain. But where, on the other hand,
these are present, then God may use even the humblest and feeblest of
His servants to speak some word, to utter some warning, which may be
worth to us more than all we have in the world besides. God grant that
it may be so with us, and that by the power of the Holy Ghost the word
preached may be welcomed, "not as the word of men, but, as it is in
truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe" (1
Thess. ii. 13).

 

ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA

BY REV. GEORGE MILLIGAN, M.A., D.D.

One of the most striking features of the early Christian Church was
what we have come to know as Christian Communism, or as the historian
describes it in Acts iv, 32: "_And the multitude of them that believed
were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the
things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things
common_." It is a bright and a pleasing picture that is thus
presented. Nor is it difficult to understand how such a spirit should
arise amongst men whose hearts were full to overflowing with the new
Christian graces of brotherhood and peace. For we must not imagine
that there was anything compulsory about this communism. It was
entirely voluntary, and was due to the eager desire on the part of the
wealthier members of the Church to do all that they could for their
poorer brethren. In this particular alone, we can at once see how
widely it differed from what is generally known as communism or
socialism in the present day. The spirit of much at any rate of our
present-day socialism--so the distinction has been cleverly drawn--is,
"What is thine, is mine": but the spirit of those early believers was
rather, "What is mine, is thine."

At the same time, we can readily understand that in a large and mixed
community like the early Church, all members would not think exactly
alike, and that while many, we may believe most, would cheerfully obey
this unwritten law of love, and share and share alike, others would
give in to it--if they did give in, for, let me again emphasise, there
was no compulsion upon any--more grudgingly and hesitatingly.

Of these two classes the writer of the Book of Acts presents us with
individual examples--of the former class, in the case of Joseph, or
Barnabas, a wealthy Cypriot, who "_having a field, sold it, and brought
the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet_" (Acts iv. 37)--of the
latter, in the case of Ananias with Sapphira his wife, whose melancholy
story is now before us.

That story is very familiar, and is often regarded simply as an
instance of the sinfulness of lying. And that undoubtedly it is; but
it warns us also against other equally dangerous and insidious errors,
as a little consideration will, I think, show. For what were Ananias's
motives in acting as he did? If we can discover them, we shall have
the key to the whole story.

And here, it seems to me, they must, in the first instance at any rate,
have been of a sufficiently _generous_ character. Ananias had seen
what was going on around him, and he had determined that he must not be
behindhand in this ministry of love. But--and now we get a little
deeper into his character--_ambition_ to stand well with his
fellow-members evidently mingled with the pure spirit of charity:
though we do not need to suppose that there was as yet any conscious
intention to deceive. Acting, then, on these somewhat mixed motives of
charity and ambition, Ananias determined to sell a possession, some
farm or other which he had, and hand over the money to the apostles.
He probably meant at first to hand over the whole price, but with the
money in his hand, the demon of avarice entered into his heart. And
he "_kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and
brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter
said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy
Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it
remained, did it not remain thine own? and after it was sold, was it
not in thy power? How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy
heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God_" (Acts v. 2-4).

The sin of Ananias, then, lay in this, that he gave a certain sum _as
if it were the whole_. There was no necessity for his giving either
the whole or the part. Had he hung back, when others were selling
their possessions, he would have been pronounced _ungenerous_ in
comparison with them. Had he brought a part, making no mistake about
it that it was only a part, when they were giving all, then he would
have been not _so generous_. But when he brought a part as if it were
the whole, he added to his former selfishness and avarice _deceit and
hypocrisy_. If he did not in so many words tell a lie, he did what was
equally heinous, he _acted_ a lie.

It is only when we thus clearly realise the enormity of Ananias's sin,
that we can understand the reason of the dreadful doom that followed.
"_And Ananias, hearing these words, fell down, and gave up the ghost_"
(ver. 5). The judgment came not from men, but from God. As it was in
God's sight--the sight of the living and heart-searching God--that the
sin had been committed: so it was by the direct "visitation of God"
that it was now punished.

Nor was the awful lesson yet over. Three hours had scarcely elapsed
since the young men had carried forth her husband, and buried him, when
Sapphira, "_not knowing what was done, came in_." "_And Peter answered
unto her_"--answered her look of amazement as she regarded the
awe-struck faces of those present--"_Tell me, whether ye sold the land
for so much_?" "_Yea, for so much_," she replied, adhering to the
unholy compact into which, with Ananias, she had entered, and adding
deceit in speech to his deceit in act. "_But Peter said unto her, How
is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?
behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door,
and they shall carry thee out_" (verses 8, 9).

It was the first intimation the unhappy woman had received of Ananias's
death: and to the shame of her own consciousness of guilt, must have
been added the feeling that she had a certain responsibility in what
had befallen him. A word of remonstrance on her part might, at the
beginning, have prevented the crime: it was too late now. "_And she
fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up the ghost: and the young
men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her
by her husband_" (ver. 10). And as the sacred historian again
impressively adds, showing how deep was the effect produced: "_And
great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all that heard these
things_" (ver. 11).

Such is the story. Who does not feel its sadness? All before had been
so peaceful and happy. The early believers had presented such a
beautiful spectacle of brotherly unity and love. And now, all too
soon, the enemy had been at work, sowing tares among the wheat. In the
very particular in which the Church most deserved praise--the
enthusiasm of its members' charity--sin had appeared. And thus early
had the young Church of Christ learned that truth, which it has been
the work of nineteen centuries to emphasise, that her true danger comes
not so much from without as from within, and that then only is she
disgraced, when she disgraces herself.

For what may we learn from this tragic incident?

I.

We learn the sanctity, the holiness, which Christ looks for in His
Church.

The Church of Christ is holy: it consists of those who have separated
themselves from the world and its defilements, and who have set
themselves apart--body, soul, and spirit--for Christ's service. That,
I say, is the Church's ideal. But we know, alas! only too well, how
far short the Church on earth falls of that--how much worldliness, and
vanity, and ambition--yes, and even grosser sins--mingle with our holy
things.

But we must keep God's ideal ever before us, that ideal which assures
us that God, by His Spirit, actually dwells in His Church, dwells in
the heart of each individual believer. Only when we remember that, can
we see how great was Ananias's sin. "_He lied to the Holy Ghost: he
lied not unto men, but unto God_." As by God's Spirit his heart had
been enlightened and opened to the knowledge of the truth: so now
against that Spirit he had deliberately sinned.

Such a sin could not pass unpunished. Had that been allowed, the false
impression would have got abroad that God was easy and tolerant of sin.
Rather it was necessary "that men should be taught once for all, by
sudden death treading swiftly on the heels of detected sin, that the
gospel, which discovers God's boundless mercy, has not wiped out the
sterner attributes of the Judge."[1]

II.

We learn the reality of the power of Satan.

On this point, Peter's question is very suggestive--"_Why has Satan
filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost_?"

There is a constant tendency in those days, which are so impatient of
all that is supersensible and wonderful, to try and get rid of the
personality of the devil, and to tone down the question of man's
salvation to a struggle between two opposing principles within the
heart, instead of regarding it, as the Bible teaches us to regard it,
as an actual contest for the soul of man between real persons--the
Spirit of God from above, the Spirit of evil from beneath. The heart
of man is as it were a little city or fortress on the borderland
between two nations at war with each other, and which is liable to be
captured by whichever at that point proves itself the strongest. But
at the same time with this great difference, that every man has the
power of deciding into whose hands he is to fall. His will is free:
and he is personally accountable for whom he may choose as master.

For, notice how, in the case before us, St Peter, while tracing the
fall of Ananias to the agency of Satan, yet prefixes his question with
a _why_: "_Why hath Satan jilted thine heart_?" There had been a time
when resistance was still possible. Ananias might have rejected the
suggestion of the tempter: he was not bound to yield: but he had
yielded. And very suggestive of why he had fallen so low, is that
other word "_filled_." It brings before us the quiet, gradual manner
in which evil takes possession of the heart of man. We have seen
already that it was so in the case of Ananias. _Ambition_ to stand
well in the sight of others was his first step: to ambition was
afterwards added _avarice_: and then ambition and avarice combined led
to _deceit and hypocrisy_. Or, as bringing out the same truth of the
gradual progression of sin, notice how Ananias apparently first
_thought_ over the sin in his own heart: then _spoke_ of it to his
wife, and agreed with her that it could be done: and then how together
they _carried it out_. Thought, speech, action: how often are these
the successive links by which a man is led on from one degree of sin to
another? The lesson is surely to resist at the very outset: so much
depends upon the first step. We must not give place to even the first
thought of evil: nor listen to the tempter's whisper, whisper he ever
so softly. How many, as they look back upon a downward career, can
trace its beginning to some idle or vain thought, or to some hasty or
careless word!

III.

We learn that a divided service is not possible.

"_No man_!" said our Lord Himself, "_can serve two masters: ye cannot
serve God and mammon_." Not that we are not tempted sometimes to try
it. What commoner sin is there amongst professing Christians than the
attempt to make the best of both worlds--to lay hold of this world with
the one hand, while we give it up with the other--to seem other than we
are?

But surely with this old story from the Book of Acts to warn us, we
must see how vain all such divided efforts are. We may deceive
ourselves or others for a while; but the deception cannot last, and in
some hour of searching or of trial our true characters will be laid
bare. Let us see to it, then, that we may take this awful example home
as a very real and practical warning to ourselves--that we not only
"_hate and abhor lying_," but put away from us whatsoever "_maketh a
lie_"! and that the prayer continually on our lips and in our hearts
is, "From the crafts and assaults of the devil . . . from pride,
vain-glory, and hypocrisy, good Lord, deliver us."

[1]Dr Oswald Dykes.

 

DEMAS

BY REV. PRINCIPAL DAVID ROWLANDS, B.A.

Many a man who figures in history, is only known in connection with
some stupendous fault--some mistake, some folly, or some sin--that has
given him an unenviable immortality. Mention his name, and the huge
blot by which his memory is besmirched starts up before the mind in all
its hideousness. Take Cain, for example. He occupies the foremost
rank as regards fame; his name is one of the first that children learn
to lisp; and yet what do we know about him? Very little indeed; our
knowledge, in fact, is limited to a single act--an act which is the
most horrible of human crimes. His name is suggestive only of
violence, murder, the shedding of innocent blood--the foulest deeds
that man can possibly commit. Or take Judas Iscariot. We know more
particulars about him--we know that he was one of the original
apostles, that he managed their common fund, that he posed as a strict
economist, and above all, that he was a consummate hypocrite. Yet when
we mention his name, we call up the remembrance of only one vile deed,
one treacherous act--an act that has made his name a curse and a byword
throughout the ages. The same remark is applicable to Demas. His name
is familiar enough, but the story of his life is almost unknown. Paul
refers to him more than once as a fellow-labourer, which shows that for
a time at least he was an exemplary Christian. But he failed in the
hour of trial--failed through being dominated by an inordinate love of
the world--and his memory survives, therefore, as a representative of
that worldly-mindedness which leads to apostasy.

The tone in which the great apostle mentions Demas, in his second
letter to Timothy, is very touching. "_Demas_," saith he, "_has
forsaken me, having loved the present world_" (2 Tim. iv. 16). We
might have expected him to give vent to his feelings in bitter
invective--as is customary in such cases--and to denounce the
cowardliness of this desertion in language aflame with indignation. It
would have been no more than justice to the offender, and it might have
deterred others from stumbling in the same way. But no, he does
nothing of the kind; his words contain nothing more than the brief,
deep, pathetic groan of a wounded heart. He had probably built many
hopes upon Demas, and not without reason. In his arduous labours among
the Gentiles he had found him an efficient helper, and many were the
hours of sweet communion he had spent with him and others, in
discussing the triumphs of the Gospel. And he was confident that now
in his bonds, waiting the pleasure of the Roman tyrant, he would have
derived comfort from his companionship and encouragement from his
faithfulness. But alas! these bright hopes had been cruelly shattered;
for in the hour of his greatest need Demas had abandoned him. The
apostle was too grieved to use harsh language--too grieved, not only at
his own disappointment, but also when he thought of Demas's own future.
Unconsciously, in this unostentatious exercise of self-restraint, he
has left us an impressive lesson in Christian charity, and has shown us
the way in which those who fall away from their steadfastness ought to
be treated. How many of those hapless delinquents might have been
reclaimed, had the high, noble, generous spirit which animated the
apostle been manifested towards them by those whose confidence they had
betrayed, it is impossible to tell; but it is certain that not a few.

The question that presents itself here is this: In what light are we to
regard Demas's character? Was he a cool, calculating, determined
apostate; or did he simply give way to weakness? There is an essential
difference between the two cases, and they ought to be judged
accordingly. There are men who through sheer perversity renounce their
faith, and are not ashamed to vilify the religion which they once
professed. They are generally embodiments of irreverence, who glory in
their atheism, and talk of infidelity as if it were a cardinal virtue.
Whenever there is foul work to be done, they are almost always to the
fore; whenever holy things are to be held up to ridicule, they are the
men to do it. These are deliberate apostates; men who with their eyes
open prefer darkness to light, who of set purpose deny the truth and
embrace error. Happily the world contains but few such. To the honour
of human nature, fallen though it be, it may be said that it
instinctively recoils from such characters with a sense of horror. We
do not think for a moment that Demas belonged to this class, though the
terms in which he is sometimes spoken of might lead one to suppose so.

There are others who fall away through weakness. They find themselves
in circumstances for which they are not prepared--circumstances by
which their faith is sorely tried--and, lacking that strength of
conviction, which alone can give stability, they recede from the
position which they took up with so much apparent enthusiasm. Theirs
is not that deep spiritual experience which makes its possessor count
suffering as a privilege and martyrdom as a crown. They rejoice for a
season in Christ and His salvation, but "_they have no root in
themselves_," so that "_when tribulation or persecution ariseth because
of the word, by and by they are offended_." We are inclined to think
that Demas belonged to this class. The apostle was now overwhelmed by
calamities. His career as a messenger of the Cross had been ruthlessly
cut short. There were unmistakable signs of a coming storm, when he,
and possibly those around him, would be tortured and slain, to gratify
the bloodthirstiness of the Roman emperor. He seems to be fully
cognisant of this, for he says, "_I am now ready to be offered, and the
time of my departure is at hand_." It is probable, therefore, that
Demas feared lest by continuing with the apostle he might share his
dreadful fate. He pictured himself being carried away in chains by the
brutal soldiery, as he had seen many others, to the great amphitheatre,
to be thrown into the arena, and there to be drawn limb from limb by
ferocious beasts, for the amusement of the frivolous thousands who
gloated on such scenes. The bare thought of it made him tremble. He
"_loved the present world_"; to him life was too precious, too full of
delightful possibilities, to be thrown away in the prime of manhood--to
be thrown away especially in this awful fashion. Visions of former
days began to haunt him. His early home, the comrades of his youth,
his loving kindred, all that he had left when he became a convert,
completely engrossed his thoughts, and cast over him a fascination that
was becoming irresistible. There was nothing else for it; he must see
them once more, even though it should cost him his hope of heaven. And
so he "departed to Thessalonica," the place where he was bred and born.
Some suppose that he took this step for the sake of gain--for the sake
of engaging in some lucrative trade. It may be so; but there is no
evidence to prove it.

These considerations, though they explain, do not excuse Demas's
conduct. Far from it. He richly merits all the censure that has been
meted out to him. He ought to have played the man, and braved any
danger for the sake of his principles. Like the Psalmist, he ought to
have said: "_The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid_?"
Compared with the kingdom to which he belonged, what was Rome with all
its power? Compared with the King whom he served, what was Nero with
all his glory? Compared with the joys of holy living, what was the
world with all its attractions? But he failed to realise these great
facts, and hence he acted the part of a weakling; he bent as a reed,
when he ought to have stood firm as an oak. If all the first disciples
had been made of such pliable stuff as himself, what would have been
the condition of the world to-day? How mean and cowardly his action
appears when contrasted with the heroic endurance of weak women, who
rather than deny their Lord faced the "_violence of fire_!" Weakness
in certain situations amounts to a crime. Who ever thinks of
justifying Pontius Pilate? He was not guilty of wilful wrong; he would
have gladly acquitted our Lord, had he been able to do so without
risking his own safety; when he delivered Him to be crucified, he
simply gave way, through fear, to the clamour of an enraged populace.
Nevertheless he stands convicted by after-ages of the vilest act that
any judge has ever committed. Wrong-doing is not to be palliated by
ascribing it to the overpowering force of temptation. The claims of
conscience are paramount, and no inducements, however plausible, can
justify us in setting them aside.

It is sometimes asked, what became of Demas eventually? Did he, after
wandering in the world, and finding no rest to his soul, identify
himself again with the cause which he had deserted? We should like to
be able to believe this. But the record is silent; and this silence is
ominous; for when the Bible describes the fall of a good man, it
generally gives some account of his restoration. Peter is a notable
instance. Amidst the terrors of the Judgment-hall he thrice denied his
Lord. The evangelists make no attempt to shield him from adverse
criticism; on the other hand, they mention in detail every circumstance
that enhances the baseness of his behaviour. But they are equally
careful to dwell also upon the reality of his repentance. John, in a
passage of marvellous beauty, relates how in a saner mood, on the shore
of the sea of Galilee, he thrice confessed his Lord--confessed Him with
such glowing fervour, that he was there and then restored into the
position which he had so miserably forfeited. But the last word about
Demas is that which points him out as a backslider; and as such he must
be for ever known.

The lesson of Demas's life is clear, nay even obtrusively clear, and
the need of it has been freely acknowledged at all times. We could
almost wish that it were inscribed in letters of fire upon the midnight
sky. He was a man who "_loved this present world_," and we see in his
history how loving the world involves separation from God, and how
separation from God results in the abandonment of His cause.

It is difficult to discourse to any purpose upon worldliness. You
might get a crowd of people anywhere to hear you dilate upon it. They
would probably applaud to the echo your most scathing denunciations of
its baseness. But after all the probability is that no one would apply
those fervid periods to himself. And why? Just because this evil
principle manifests itself in such a variety of ways. A man who
detects worldliness in his neighbour with the greatest ease may be
absolutely incapable of seeing it in himself, simply because his own
and his neighbour's are so different in form. It is the old story.
David boiled over with indignation at the hard-hearted monster who had
taken the poor man's lamb; but the fact that he himself had taken
another man's wife, gave him no concern whatever.

It will be readily conceded that the miser is a worldly man. He loves
gold for its own sake; he hoards up riches, not with the view of
enjoying them, but in order to satisfy an inordinate greed of
possession; his chief object in life is to die worth his hundreds, his
thousands, or his millions. Though rich, he is frequently tormented
with the fear of ending his days in want, and is more anxious for the
morrow than the poorest of the poor. The only redeeming point in his
character is his self-denial--a truly noble characteristic when
associated with a generous disposition--which, however, in his case,
loses its value through the sordidness of its aim. Yes, he is a
worldly man, beyond the shadow of a doubt. But this is equally true of
the man whose manner of life is the very opposite of this--the
spendthrift. He values money only in so far as it enables him to make
a grand display, to spend his days in riotous living, to gain the
goodwill of the empty, useless, pleasure-living society in which he
moves. How totally different the latter from the former! How
frequently do they despise and condemn each other--the miser the
spendthrift, and the spendthrift the miser! And yet they worship, so
to speak, at the same shrine; they are victims of the same delusion;
they both make this world their all.

This love of the world leads in every case to separation from God. The
story of the Fall furnishes an apt illustration of this fatal result.
Stript of its poetic setting, what have we there depicted?
Covetousness--the desire of material good--the determination to obtain
it at all hazards. It was under this guise that sin made its first
entrance into human life--sin, which in its turn

"Brought death into our world and all our woe."

Now mark the effect of the first act of transgression. We are told
that when Adam and his wife heard the voice of the Lord God walking in
the garden in the cool of the day, they "hid themselves" from His
presence "amongst the trees." In other words, the cords of love which
up to that point bound man to God were rudely severed. Before this the
thought of God filled their souls with joy; they loved to hear His
voice in the whisperings of the wind, to see His smile in the merry
sunshine, to trace His power in the structure of the heavens; but now
all was mysteriously changed, things which previously ministered to
their enjoyment became a source of terror.

Why should the love of the world lead to this result? It is because
God must be all or nothing to the human soul. The first commandment in
the law is--"_Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thine heart,
with all thy soul, and with all thy might_." This is not an arbitrary
enactment, but it has its ground in the eternal fitness of things. God
is the infinitely powerful, the infinitely wise, and the infinitely
good, and as such demands the undivided love of man. Anything less
than this, not only falls below His lawful claim, but also fails to
satisfy our profoundest aspirations. As Augustine puts it, "Thou hast
made us for Thyself; our hearts are restless, until they find rest in
Thee." But it may be asked, Does love to God exclude all other loves?
By no means. The second commandment in the law, "_Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself_," is inseparable from the first. It is
impossible to obey the one without obeying the other. Obedience that
does not regard both is partial, and therefore futile. The reason is
plain. God is immanent in creation. The Christian beholds God in
everything, and everything in God. Thus it comes to pass that his
supreme love--his love to God--intensifies, ennobles, and hallows every
other. If you would have an example of the highest type of love--love
to God manifesting itself as love to man--go to a Christian home, and
you will find it there in all its charm, uniting husband and wife,
parents and children, master and servants, making the house a veritable
"paradise regained."

There is a sense in which the Christian even loves the world--loves it
as no other man can love it--that is, when the term is applied to the
wondrous system of nature. He loves sometimes to wander in the fields,
where innumerable lovely forms, both animate and inanimate, reveal
their beauty to the eye; and at other times to meditate upon the
illimitable expanse of heaven, crowded by ten thousand worlds, which
all declare the glory of Him who is Lord over all. Paul could not have
had this meaning in his mind when he spoke of Demas as having, through
loving the present world, made shipwreck concerning his faith. He was
thinking rather of the sum-total of those pursuits, pleasures, and
ambitions which bind man to earth, hamper his spiritual growth, and
lead him to his ruin. The "world" in this sense is God's rival; to
love the "world" is to hate God.

What does separation from God imply, and when can it be said to take
place? God is everywhere; who can flee His presence? God is a spirit;
who can do Him injury? These are questions that have always presented
some difficulty. It was asked in the days of Malachi, "_Will a man rob
God_?" as if such a thing were beyond the range of possibility. At the
day of judgment, those on the left hand will ask the Judge, "_Lord when
saw we Thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick,
or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee_?" as if the things laid
to their charge were without foundation. Now, the objectors in the
days of Malachi who asked, "Wherein have we robbed thee?" were
answered, "In the tithes and offering." And the objectors at the day
of judgment will be answered, "_Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye
did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me_."
Evidently, therefore, God--or God in Christ--and His cause are in a
very real sense identical; so that he who forsakes the one, of
necessity forsakes the other also.

Separation from the world is an inward process; it takes place in the
heart, and cannot therefore be perceived by a man's most intimate
friends. But the forsaking of God's cause is the outward expression of
this process, the manner whereby it becomes known to all the world. If
it is asked why we assert that Demas had forsaken God, the answer is
evident; it is because he forsook Paul, who was the representative of
God's cause.

This is never the work of a day, though it may sometimes appear such.
A professedly religious man commits a flagrant act of sin--or perhaps a
punishable crime--which places him at once among the open enemies of
religion. We wonder at it; we say in our minds, "What a sudden change!
yesterday a saint, to-day an unmitigated villain!" But are we right in
saying so? Certainly not. That rash act was simply the culmination of
a process that had been going on through a long period. The man had
been sailing towards the rapids for months, or perhaps years, only the
fact was unobserved; it was not until he was hurled headlong over the
precipice into the foaming gulf, that the attention of the world was
attracted to it.

 

***END OF THE EBOOK MEN OF THE BIBLE; SOME LESSER-KNOWN
CHARACTERS***