The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Man and His Call
THE book of Joshua has been divided into three sections—namely, the conquest of Canaan, Joshua 1-12; the division of the land, Joshua 13-22; while Joshua 23-24, are devoted to a statement concerning the closing days of the soldier Joshua. The main action of the book comprises a period of twenty-five years. The pedigree of Joshua is illustrious; it may be seen in 1 Chronicles 7:20-27, reaching back through generations to Joseph. His grandfather, Elishama, marched through the wilderness of Sinai at the head of his tribe, and probably he had special charge of the embalmed body of Joseph. The book is indirectly referred to in many places both in the Old Testament and the New; for example in Judges 18:31; 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 3:21; Isaiah 28:21; Psalm 44:2-3; Psalm 68:12-14; Psalm 78:54-58; Psalm 114:1-8; Habakkuk 3:8-13; Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8; Hebrews 11:31; Hebrews 13:5; James 2:25. These passages are collated to show that the references to the book of Joshua are not merely incidental or occasional, but that the book is certified by reference and endorsed by application throughout the most of the remainder of the sacred records. Joshua was a prince of the tribe of Ephraim, born in the land of Goshen, and trained as a soldier,—kept in repression during many years, because there was really nothing for a soldier-prophet to do. He was appointed to repel the attack of Amalek. He was honoured to accompany the great minister partly up his solitary way which lay towards the meeting-place on the summit of mount Sinai. He was one of the two spies who came back with a good heart and an inspiring word, saying that the work could be done and was worth doing. For a long time he was in the background: nothing was known of him during the years of weary wandering in the Arabian desert. A weird character altogether!—Speaking of his house, but with a limitation; without wife, or child, or heir; standing, as it were, midway between Moses and Samuel—a period of four hundred years. A soldier always,—prompt, obedient, decisive, sharp in expression; his attitude a challenge or a benediction. Great was his honour, too: into his much-meaning name there was inserted part of the name of the Eternal; and Joshua in its Greek form is Jesus—the captain of our salvation—the name which is above every name. So may our names grow and blossom and fructify into great meanings; they are trusts: we hold them as stewards;—shall they vanish like blanks that can never be missed, or live on day after day,—a memory, a blessing, an inspiration? Each man must answer the inquiry for himself.
Now let us turn to the book with religious attentiveness. "Now after the death of Moses—" ( Joshua 1:1). Can there be any "after" under such a circumstance? Does not all time seem to breathe for certain men? And does it not seem as if there would be no need of time if their great figures and generous influence were removed? Does not time seem to focus itself in some noble characters—as if all other life were tributary to those eminent personalities, as if all other influence circulated around them and had heaven enough in a subordinate relationship? But God can bury any one of us, and continue the history as though we had never lived. We cannot make great gaps in God"s providence. His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither his ways our ways. He toucheth the mountains, and they smoke; he taketh up the isles as a very little thing, and the nations are as a drop of a bucket—a poor trembling eye of dew—before Him. We cry over this opening line as if some great chasm had been dug in our little heaven. We forget that the man spoken of is only dead to us, not dead to the universe, or dead to God, or dead in any sense equivalent to extinction or destruction. The word is a cold one, and full of hideousness in some aspects; we must use it; no other term touches the reality of things so significantly, but we must, by living in a right course so look down upon all things as to account death as only a word—a mere term of expediency, a mark of punctuation, rather than an articulate term,—a point a printer might use, but really without any terror or sting or dread. Death is dead to every man who is himself alive with the immortality of his soul. And some great names must be removed to make way for lesser names that have growing sap in them and real capability of beneficent expansion. Some great trees must be cut down to make room for lesser trees that mean to be great ones in their time. We owe much to the cutting-down power of death, the clearing power of the cruel scythe or axe. Death makes history as well as life. Of life death is the servant. The great thing to know about the dead is their character. That character in the case of Moses is indicated here explicitly—"the servant of the Lord." Is the term so definite as almost to amount to an indication or singularity—as if the Lord had but one servant? The expression is not "one of the servants," or "a" servant, but "the" servant Nor is this an ancient term only; it is part of the speech of our day. There are men who are pre-eminently primates. We do not contest their primacy. It is not official. The greater the man the readier he is to own that Moses is above him: for in no domineering or tyrannous sense is the higher above the lower, but in the sense of Wisdom of Solomon, graciousness, fraternity of feeling, willingness to serve,—for what child is there, how naked and poor soever, that the sun will disdain to light him home? The greater man is the lesser man in proper form. The least brother has a right to look at the greatest and say—that is myself enlarged and glorified; that shining face is mine; that eloquent tongue is uttering my speech; that mighty form is carrying my burdens; Song of Solomon, then, there is no contentious rivalry, or clamour for place or honour. God makes every appointment, and makes it with infinite wisdom.
Whilst all this is true in regard to Moses, surely there is some painfulness of preference with regard to the man who must follow him? Yet who can tell how good God is even here? Men are prepared almost unconsciously: it is but one step that has to be taken. The men did not know all the time that they were waiting to take that upward step. The announcement of elevation may have come suddenly, but then there is an answering voice which says—I have heard this before; this but reads the riddle of a dream; now I feel that God is calling me. Let every Prayer of Manasseh, therefore, be faithful in his own place; let every man watch, do his duty, carry his burdens, be ready for enlarging opportunities and new disclosures of gracious providence. Do not force the gate that is closed: there is plenty to do upon this side of the way; in due time the gate will fall back as if an angel invisible had touched it, and by the falling back of the gate know of a surety your opportunity has come.
What is the duty of the Church when the announcement is made, "Moses my servant is dead"? The answer is sublime! The Lord addresses himself to the soldier-spirit of Joshua:—"Now, therefore"—stopping there for one moment and wondering what the next word can be—we think it must be: Bow down your heads in sorrow; weep all your tears, for the loss is irreparable. What is the following word? Take the sentence altogether:—"Now therefore arise"! Who can extinguish the animation of the divine word, or throw a shadow upon the divine hope, or discourage the heart of Heaven? Moses is dead: therefore—stand up! gird on thy sword, put on thy strength; be thy best self and noblest, for the sphere is large, and to follow Moses is to be created a new and greater man. What is Joshua to do? An epoch opens in reply to that inquiry. We turn over a new page in the world"s history at this moment: we come upon words we have not seen before—words which abide in all their energy through the ages. Joshua is referred to written orders. Up to this time there has been no reference to writing in the sense in which that reference is made now. Behold, in all the outgoing of providence there is a book amongst us—a written thing—a silent scroll, burning with messages from heaven. Moses had no Bible; Moses lived on the spoken word: he heard the tone and translated it into the speech of the people, but there was nothing written in the sense in which the word is used in the eighth verse of this first chapter of Joshua. A new responsibility is imposed upon the Church. This is the difficulty with many men—namely, that there is a Book. The Book is so often in the way. We might build a thousand airy churches, and make their glittering pinnacles prick the clouds, but for the Book. There is a written law, a declared testimony, a quotable word,—something requiring attention, intelligence, sympathy, grammar. Thus liberty itself passes under the yoke. When there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was good in his own eyes: if there were no book, every one of us might have his dream, his prophecy, his saying, his little pastoral staff and crook. But Joshua is told to begin to read:—"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy month; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein" ( Joshua 1:8). An excellent thing this, too,—namely, to have a book! The question admits of being put from two opposite points of view. An excellent reflection that there is a writing which may be consulted, and which must be perused if life is to seize the very highest treasures of wisdom. To the law and to the testimony then,—not that they are to be interpreted hardly, in some tone of domination that oppresses the soul, but a written word that is to be a living seed, growing its fruits in every clime, answering all the influences of heaven as revealed in civilisation, education, and progress of the broadest and noblest kind. The eighth verse Isaiah, however, noticeable in view of the fact that it puts a book into the hand of men. The book has never been changed. Jesus Christ did not change it: he said not a jot or tittle of it should be changed or taken away, unless by fulfilment, completion of purpose, when the meaning intended by the Almighty had been carried out,—then there might be a passing away of literal form, but even then veneration would bow down before pillars at which the ages had halted and refreshed themselves in prayer. Where then is liberty? Again and again there comes upon the imagination the wondrous possibility of things under a liberty in which every man might write his own Bible. How we would change its spirit to suit the circumstances! How we would temper its tone to meet the occasion! A little manipulation would give its moralities release from their severest claims: a retrimming of the lamp would throw light in an unfamiliar direction; but man is only allowed to interpret the law—to meditate therein day and night, to find out its meaning—for though it be so clear, so simple, it is the simplicity that is unfathomable, the simplicity that expresses the last result of divine processes in human education. Song of Solomon, then, we are called to be law students, Bible readers, inquirers into written revelation. Here comes in a great popular liberty. The law is published in our mother tongue: every man may take his own copy into his own sick-chamber, and there peruse it in the light of other history and personal consciousness and experience, and test the book by individual necessities. This is the great answer to the tumult of the day. On the one hand we hear of men who long to resuscitate and reimpose stately theologies, formal creeds, endorsed by illustrious names,—and the age will not have them; it says that such theologies and creeds and men served their purpose in their own time, and within the limits of their operation they were good and useful, but the ages grow: the sun has not been sowing all this light upon the earth without an accompanying sowing of light having taken place in the fields of human inquiry and intelligence. On the other hand there are those who say—Our refuge must be in science, new discovery, in broad, generous progress;—and the age cannot receive that testimony either. The great human heart says—That of which you speak is good and noble and most useful, and we thank God for every discovery that makes life brighter, happier, easier to live; but you have not touched the innermost wound—the secret pulse of the soul,—that seems to lie beyond the reach of your finger. What then is our position in relation to these rival claims? Our position is: let the Bible speak for itself. We want Biblical teaching, thorough exposition, a reading of the word in the light of the present day;—not by theology of a formal kind, not by science of a domineering sort, but by the Bible itself is the kingdom of heaven to be advanced. Use Bible words. Do not be ashamed of Bible images and Bible doctrines. Do not make the Bible part of a library, but make it a library by itself. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." If you are controverting, arguing, disputing, setting one opinion against another, what can come of it but dust and noise? Our position as Christian thinkers and teachers is only strong in proportion to our intelligent and reverent study and appropriation of the law—meaning by that the whole written revelation of God. Here, again, we must beware of interpreters, and only accept them as friendly helpers. No man is authorised to say, to the exclusion of the opinion and learning of every other Prayer of Manasseh,—This is the meaning, and there is none other. The Bible will bear looking at from every point of view. It rises to every occasion. Not a word of it need be changed. The word simply asks for a right utterance, a profound and appropriate exposition. It is wonderful that men can talk about theology and about science, and never say a word about the Bible. Nor will it do to say, "Of course the existence of the Bible is assumed." The Bible asks for no such recognition: it asks to be read. Its voice would seem to be: Read me night and day; read me aloud; read me in tones appropriate to the occasion: whisper me to the sick and the dying; utter me with tunefulness and fascination of tone to little children and persons who are in the age of wonder or curiosity; read me rudely, stormily, if you will, in the hearing of tumult and the rage of the heathen and the people;—I only ask to be read—to be all read—to be read night and day, until there can be no mistake as to my purpose;—do this, and live! Surely this is the meaning of the divine promise made to Joshua: "for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." The word "prosperous" is not a literal translation. The word would read better thus: for then shalt thou deal wisely—or act wisely—in the spirit of Wisdom of Solomon, having understanding of the times, making allowances for the varieties of human mind and human character, and adapting me to the state of education which may be disclosed from time to time. He acts wisely who lives in the wise God—the only wise God, and our Saviour. We are not referred to our own wit, mental agility, intellectual brilliance or genius: the word in answer to temptation is in the law; the word explanatory of righteousness is in the law; the word which will keep us right in business is in the law; the word which will save us from sin is in the written book of God. Song of Solomon, whilst on the one hand men ask you to accept some great scroll of theology, and on the other ask you to accept some great scroll of science, whilst you are reverent and grateful to both of them according to their obvious merits, stand you upon the written law: it grows whilst we read it; it takes upon itself all the colour of the times; it has in it a central constancy and yet an eternal adaptation and variation. The Bible is never obsolete: when all other voices have ceased, its noble majestic tone creates attention for itself,—yea, men who do not bow down before it as a spiritual ministry refer us to it as to the noblest English that can be written,—the purest, simplest, grandest specimen of our mother tongue. It is so in every language. Wherever it undertakes to represent itself in any language it makes itself the chief specimen of that language. It speaks all the tongues of the world with equal familiarity, grace, and dignity. It only asks to be translated into your mother tongue to lift that tongue up into unknown and unprecedented dignity. A book that asks no other favour can do without our patronage better than we can do without its counsel. Without changing a word, only asking for a broad and just interpretation, we stand upon the Bible, and to the Bible we go when the devil tempts us, when life is a heavy burden, when death is the last foe; and so going we go to victory.
The following is another treatment of the same passage!—"Now, after the death of Moses... ." Yes, what after that? Can there be any "after" in such an event? Are there no great gaping vacancies in life which seem to foreclose history and to turn present events into an anticlimax and a humiliation? After the death of Moses—there can be no after. After the sun has gone down has God a lap of stars he can shower upon the darkness to alleviate it a little? Doth after vision seem to enlarge it and to mock our memory of a brighter present? Are there not some men who have no successors? Does not the poet say, "Only himself can be his parallel?" Why then do we come upon these mocking words in histories sacred and profane, "after the death of..." as if the road were a common plain, an ordinary level, one milestone and another milestone ahead, the monotony of commonplace, the commonplace itself occasionally vigorous enough, yet still tomorrow shall be as this day, and more abundant in the way of human life and human power and human exaltation and majesty? Does history stand still because of the death of any one man? Are we not always reminded that God can do without the strongest and wisest of us? We remain here just long enough to think that we are needful to God, and when our pride has filled its little goblet, and made itself drunk with its own poison, he removes us, and history rolls on like a wave over a forgotten tomb. We are told that all the great men have gone, the age of miracles has gone, so has the age of inspiration, so has the age of speaking many and divers tongues in the Church, all healings, and marvels of signs and wonders have vanished from the sphere ecclesiastical.
You who make the objection are in your departments of life fellow-sufferers with ourselves. Your Shakespeare is dead, as well as our Moses—your Goethe and Dante are dead as well as our Isaiah and Ezekiel. All your great things have been done, your little miraculous role has been played out and shelved as well as ours—so let there be no mocking or undue and foolish triumphing the one over the other, but let there rather be sober and earnest meditation upon this question, whether all these things that appear so great in the past have not been displaced by things greater, only less sensuous and demonstrative. Why, the poorest of all time is always the present. When am I richest? When I go back upon my yesterdays, when I retrace my journeys without all the inconvenience of detail which is found in all voyagings and travellings. Seated in my quiet chair, in my pleasant solitude, with closed eyes I look back over all the yesterdays, reclimb the mountains and sail again on the silvery lakes, and move again with might and quiet serenity to the great sea. When I blow the trumpet of resurrection in the churchyard, and call up the dear lost ones, the old and the young, the bright and the sweet, the strong and the patient, then am I very rich. When are you, dear little one, richest? When you are telling me what you are going to do, going to see, going to be. It is the doll you are going to have that is to be the queen of all other dolls. It is the sight you are going to see that is to eclipse all other gaieties. Just now—nothing—a mere cobble-stone in a brook that may topple over. But all my wealth lies in the past, or glows in anticipation, and "just now" is always the poorest time in any history that is worth living.
"Now after the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord." Does God let his servants die? Was it the blame of Moses that he died, or is his death to be credited to his Lord? Is there an appointed time to men upon the earth—is there just a little length of thread that is long enough for the very strongest and wisest of us, and if an inch were added our past would be put in peril as well as our future? Are things set—are there fixed quantities in time, age, wealth, talent, power? Everything is weighed out and measured by the balances and standards of the Lord. He weighed the gold dust of the stars, and not a speck can be lost upon the wind. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father. He is a severe economist: like all great givers he is severely critical in his balances and results. Only the spendthrift keeps no note-book of his outgoings. God hath a book, yea, many a book hath God, for when he had opened book after book, the Apocalyptic writer says then he opened another book wherein was set down everything. Your time is known; you are his servant, yet he will call you into rest. He doth not let us die, he permits us to live. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them. I heard this in no whisper; it was not a confidential communication made to me: I heard a great voice behind me, saying, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord,... that they may rest;" I knew that word "rest," I had heard it before, it was one of Christ"s very earliest, sweetest notes, for he said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Dying ones, in his name, accept his hospitality, and go forward into his banqueting-house, quiet, at peace for evermore.
What will the Lord do, now that Moses has gone? He will be put to sore straits. What will Omnipotence do now that the staff in his hand is broken—can he make another, or find one more? Does he create a Moses? No, he elevates a Joshua. He means to elevate you next: be ready; do not be in the field when he calls for you in the house.
"The Lord spake unto Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses" minister," Moses" servant. Moses was the servant of the Lord, Joshua was the servant of Moses, and thus we belong to one another. He has no higher title to give. Paul and Timotheus, slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, the servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. Joshua then had served well, and he was called to promotion. "Thou hast been faithful over few things, I will make thee ruler over many things," is God"s rule. Thou hast been faithful at Jerusalem, thou shalt see Rome also. No metropolis shall shut its gates in thy face: if thou hast been faithful in the little villages and provincial towns and minor capitals, thou shalt surely see the greatest cities and the loftiest places. The first Napoleon was wont to say no man could rule well who could not serve well. If you are unable to serve, you are unable to rule. We know nothing about service in some of its severer senses in our common civil life. Some of you have been under masters and tutors and governors: you know what discipline is—you have overgotten the infantile period of controversy and questioning and reasoning: you have learned not to reason why, but to do, and, if need be, die. You are going to make an excellent person, I believe, in the course of about seven years. I tell you you will not. Shall I explain my reason for that discouraging prediction? It is that you were never an obedient child. You cannot, therefore, unless God repeat his miracle of making you over again, be a good husband, or wife, or head of a business. There is a philosophy in these things that you cannot wriggle out of. To be unused to service, unaccustomed to obedience, is to be utterly unprepared for the responsibilities of the house, or of the place of commerce, the legislature, or the church.
Not a word is said in praise of Joshua. How then do we know that he was so excellent a man? Because of his promotion to succeed Moses. God studieth, to use a human phrase for the sake of our littleness, the proportion, measurement, relation, of one thing to another. He who put the stars in their places knows whom to call to high succession. To have called Joshua to this place is to have endorsed and accredited him as no merely formal testimonial could have done. My friend, young and wondering, anxious, impetuous—wait: there cannot be two men of the name of Moses, and of the weight and influence of Moses, at the same time. Give the first man his full opportunity—thy day will come by-and-by; be ready for it, enlarged with all the nobleness of divine inspiration and qualified by all the patience that comes of obedience to the discipline of Almighty love and wisdom.
"The Lord spake unto Joshua, the son of Nun, saying, Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore...." Why say, in so many words, that look cold in this dry ink, that Moses is dead? It needed to be said. Sometimes we need to have told us the very plainest things in life in simple strong prose. In the case of Moses, a declaration of this kind was particularly needful. Who knows what wonderings and speculations, what rash conjectures, foolish imaginings and vain hopings and dreamings, might have come out of the disappearance of Moses, but for this plain and undeniable declaration of his decease? No man saw him die, no man closed those weary eyes with gentle fingers, no tender hand stretched out those poor worn limbs, no gentle woman or loving child planted a flower on that high mountain grave. God who took him comes back from Nebo to say, "He is dead; it is over, he is gone. Now therefore...." At this point one"s interest becomes intense. We say, "After Niagara?" Then do we put a huge mark of interrogation, as if we had put to the world a question which has no answer. So when I began by saying, "After the death of Moses, what?" I felt as if any reply given to that inquiry would be unworthy of the occasion, would fall flatly, and would utterly disappoint and discourage us. We have now come to the place wherein the answer is found. "Moses my servant is dead; now therefore—sit down; bemoan yourselves, take it so deeply to heart as utterly to disqualify your energies for making even the feeblest effort; it is no use your endeavouring to propagate a race of men after the withdrawal by death of that majestic leader who is now but a memory"—does the history read so? God says, "Moses my servant is dead, now therefore, arise"—in every sense of the word, arise—to nobler manhood, to diviner power, to higher conception, to nobler endeavour, to more devoted and solemn and holy attempt to do God"s will.
That is what you have to do now that your dear little child is dead. I found you with handkerchief pressed to streaming eyes, sitting down as if your bones had melted like heated wax, and you could do no more, and I came to say to you, "Arise, the Master is come, and calleth for thee." That is what you have to do after your great loss in business. You thought to settle down into nobody. That is not God"s law: the disaster has come, now arise. The loss has taken place, the table is clean swept, not a shadow of the golden coin can be found on the tessellated table—now therefore, arise. It is God"s Gospel to the dejected, it is God"s medicine for those who suppose themselves to be wounded incurably. Again and again God says, "Look up, arise, go forward." And he always does this in the presence of great loss, whether of life or property. This he always says. When poor Jacob called himself a worm, and took up what he thought his appropriate place in the dust; when Zion stripped herself of her white mantle and sat down under the shady tree, and said, "God hath forgotten to be gracious"—when she held her fair head far down into the dust which she thought too good for one so dispossessed and disennobled, God found her Song of Solomon, and what said he? "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things." The straightening of the neck will do thee good—a walk out into the living air will help to heal thee. Looking down does no man good. Looking up and locking abroad, arising and going forward, elevating and arousing exertions, are God"s answers to the dejection, the self-limitation of man.
"Arise and go over this Jordan." How seldom we are allowed to finish our work. It seems as if we could die more happily upon the other side of the river than upon this side. Only let me build my church, finish my house, complete my plan, lay out my grounds, see the youngest trees flourishing into maturity—only let me see my children all attaining the age of manhood and womanhood and settled in life, and then I can, I think, die comfortably. This our weak speech, this our staggering eloquence, this our halting argument, before him who carrieth us in his arms, who sets us down and takes us up as it pleaseth him, and who is unrestrained in the high heavens and in the deep places where the lake of fire is and where all darkness dwells.
"As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee." God quotes himself: whom else can he quote? As—so. History repeats itself, God repeats himself. I know not of any clearer and fuller vindication of himself as to his providential care and dealing than is to be found in this very expression. Observe to whom it was addressed. To a man who had actually seen God"s way with Moses. He is not invited to meet a providence undeclared and mysterious, he is asked to accept a repetition of that which has passed before his own eyes, and impinged most closely upon his own consciousness and experience. Does God say, "I was but a little with Moses, I will be much with thee—I will do much more for Joshua than ever I did for Moses"? Does he tempt him by some unmeasured and enormous bribe? The expression Isaiah, "As—so." As was the past, so will be the future. God"s repetitions are creations. Miracles of providence never lose their fascination and their value. This is God"s voice to us to-day—as he was with the fathers, so will he be with the children. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. He is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. The heavens become aged, and the stars stagger in their journeys, yea, the Lord doth fold up that great blue firmament like a garment outworn, and put it away, but he is the same, and his years fail not. A thousand years are in his sight as one day, and one day is as a thousand years. He says, "I am the Lord, I change not" So when he comes to speak to us he repeats himself. He quotes no other authority; he signs the same sign manual, stamps the book with the same great seal; his promises are yea and amen, repeating themselves like the seasons, constant, yet ever new; old as eternity, yet fresh as the morning just being born in the flush and hope of a new dawn.
"We have then God"s Book to guide us and show us precisely what he has for us, and what he can do for our life. Why dost thou dream, O poor mystic, why dost thou wonder what God will do on the morrow? Thou hast all his yesterdays in human history to go back upon, and his expression to thee Isaiah, "As—so. As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee: I will not fail thee nor forsake thee." See him giving his omnipotence in pledge to a poor startled secretarial servant of the dead Moses; see him taking up in his great arms the garment of his own almightiness and covering with it the shoulders of this newly-appointed leader. That garment is large enough for us, that almightiness is sufficient to our daily distresses and perpetual wants. What time I am afraid I will trust in God, yea, when the enemy secretly pursueth me I will run into God"s almightiness as into a great tower, and there will I sit down till the pursuer weary himself with beating the air. All God"s promises are before men: he writes in no new ink: he asks for no new hand that he may dictate a new and ampler revelation. It is "As—so." Moses—Joshua. John—Paul. A repetition without weariness, a reduplication that startles by its originality.
That is all? No. "Be strong and of a good courage.... Only be thou strong and very courageous." There is something for man to do. God"s almightiness is sent to us as a pledge, not that it may do everything for us, but that it may awaken our strength and call up every energy we possess, and consecrate it to the high and solemn service of the great Lord. Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion, put on thy beautiful garments, O thou beloved of the Lord. Only be thou strong and very courageous: do thy little best; if thou canst not fly, flutter; if thou canst not run, crawl. He will make it all up to thee, only do thy little share. It hath pleased God to adopt the great principle of co-operation in administering the affairs of the lower courts of his universe. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night. Man is not to trust to his own genius, nor is he thrown back upon his own resources in the high vocations of life. We are not allowed to live upon the empty pittance and miserable inheritance of our own wit. There is written for us a Word, deep, large, loving, clear, accessible, and we must continually meditate therein. Beautiful words, and full of meaning. Some of the print in God"s book I can see best by day, other of the book I can read most clearly by night. Can I tell how this is? It is utterly impossible for me to explain it, but I see angels at night: they do not come out in the garish white light of the midday, but I have seen troops of them in the dusk—I have heard many a voice not otherwise articulate in the deep watches of the night. God does great wonders in the darkness: the darkness and the light are both alike unto him. You never knew the meaning of "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God" until you read those words in the night of your great loneliness. Then you saw what priest and presbyter never could explain, what had eluded the touch of the most diligent annotator: you saw God"s meaning, yea, you saw his great outstretched gentle arms taking up the very thing he was blessing.
So it is through and through life. Every heart must make its own application of this great lesson: some part of the book is best read by day, some is most clearly seen by night. God"s book is a book that cannot be exhausted either in the day or in the night. It needs the sun and the moon and every star of the firmament, candles of glory lighted by hands divine to see its deep, its infinite meaning. Poor, poor fool, thou didst say thou hadst read the Bible through and through: rather thou didst mean, if thou wilt let wisdom speak and love interpret, that thou hast begun to read, and that thou art still stumbling over the first lines; or if thou art at all restful, it is with a great amaze, a solemn and glad wonder, because the Paradise grows upon thee, and thou canst not move yet, because of the ever-deepening fascination of the immortal beauty.
Now, faint-hearted ones, let us repent and believe. If all the great men, as we think, are dead, it is that others may take their places. Whose place are you going to take? Who will be baptised for the dead? This may be an awakening time for aught I know: it is a solemn hour; there is a stillness in it which may prelude a great resurrection of intellectual and spiritual energy and a great solemn consecration of personal powers and possessions to the service of the God of Moses. The great merchant in the city is dead: arise! The great political leader is dead: arise! The great preacher is dead: arise! Whose place will you take? There are a thousand vacancies today in the great gallery historical; which of the places will you take? Are you waiting until God has spoken to you? He speaks to you now. What are you ready for? Anything? That is the right spirit. Any time? That is the right answer. In whose strength will you come—in Christ"s? It is sufficient, even to redundance and infinite overflow. Hast thou set thyself to some part of God"s work?—only be strong and very courageous: keep close to the book: by day read it, by night spell it—close, close, close to the book; and as for those who would stand before thee, they shall be melted like wax in the fire; yea, as fences of stubble before the conflagration of the presence of God in the life.
Oh for a Church alive, with its beautiful garments on its shoulders, and all its powers throbbing like an eternal pulse! Then our presence would be felt in the city, in the village, everywhere, and our presence would not be seen, because of the lustre of Him whose we are and whom we serve.
Oh, how patient is the Lord! how tender is his mercy! how loving is his kindness! We are amazed with a great amazement, and our hearts are filled with thankfulness. Our steps are guided by the Lord, and our hairs are numbered by him, and there is nothing that concerns us too little for his notice and his care. This is the faith in which we live, and it makes us strong and glad, and gives us brightness of hope and fulness of resort in all the difficulties and perils of life. This faith we have proved. We are ourselves living witnesses of this nearness of the divine hand and this interest of the divine eye. We have been low down, and we have been lifted up; we have been in great distress and have not known which way to turn, but the Lord hath held a light before, and come close to us and said, This is the way: walk ye in it. We cannot contradict ourselves: we cannot put down the testimony of a lifetime; the writing is thine, the voice is thine,—the praise be thine, thou glorious Christ! We look back and see thee now as we did not see thee once. The cloud became a night, and in the night no star trembled: the burden was very heavy, and our eyes poured out rivers of tears, and in all the agony we caught the mocker"s tone gibing us about our God and our faith; but we see all now: it was well, it was best; the grave was right, the burden was none too heavy, and the way, though often crooked and invisible, was leading on to Canaan, to rest, to motherland, where there is no night, no death. We delight to look back, for the prophets are there, and the minstrels who cheered us in the night-time. Our life, too, has its Old Testament,—its Pentateuch, its moving histories, its painful tragedies, its psalms so noble, its songs so tender, and its prophecy—the outlook and the forecast of faith;—behold, we cannot give up these: they are thine, and the book is sealed by thine hand. Song of Solomon, too, has our life its New Testament: its birth in Bethlehem, its wondrous teacher, its worker of great miracles, its marvellous speaker—we wonder at the gracious words which proceed out of his mouth—and its cross, its priest, its redemption;—wondrous is this life, and it is the writing of God. Help us to read well, to think deeply, to answer thee instantaneously with all the swiftness of eager love; then when what we call the end comes, it shall be no end but a beginning, bright as morning, warm as summer. Amen.
Aspects of Human Character
THESE opening paragraphs present Joshua in several interesting aspects, which we may profitably consider and personally apply: for there is nothing old in them, in the sense of outwornness; what is old in them is old in the sense of venerableness, ascertained reality, enduring energy and virtue. In that sense we must never give up what is old. Whatever is effete, exhausted, evidently done, you may shake off into forgetfulness, because however good it once was, it has served its time, and the age longs for some new inspiration, and clearer, broader, direction and guidance.
First of all, Joshua comes before us as a man with great official antecedents. He does not succeed a little man: he begins what, from the human point of view, is a rivalry that will strain his energy and test his quality. Men cannot go from a leader like Moses and follow some inferior personage, as if he filled up all the space and represented what was necessary to satisfy the heart"s hunger. This web cannot be continued, as to the weaving of it, by an apprenticed and unskilled hand. Our call is precisely the same.
Every age succeeds an age marked by greatness peculiarly its own. We are born now into a grand civilisation; it admits of no indolence, or reluctance as to work, and it cannot be satisfied by what is petty, perfunctory, and inexpensive as to the strength which is laid out upon it History brings its responsibilities. To be born immediately after such and such leaders have played their part in the world"s theatre is itself to have a cross of no mean weight laid upon the shoulder. We may close our eyes and think nothing about these things, but we do not thereby make them the less realities, nor do we thereby destroy the standard of judgment which they force upon us and by which our life will be tested. To close the eyes is to play a foolish part Every man should say, Whom do I succeed? Whose are these footprints near the place whereon I stand? Has a giant been here—a great leader, a noble sufferer, a patient student, a father great in love, a mother greater still?—then my responsibility begins with their greatness and goodness; what I have to do—the soliloquist should say—is to go on: where they have been great, I must try to be greater still,—or if not along their line, along some line of my own,—so that the ages may not stagger backwards but with steadiness and majesty of strength advance from one degree to another as the light increases to the perfect day. Thus we honour our ancestors; thus we bury Moses—not in the grave of forgetfulness, but by turning his strength, Wisdom of Solomon, patience, foresight, and energy into elements which contribute to the sustenance and ennobling of our manhood. Now it has come to pass that every man is in a great historical succession. That succession may not localise itself in his particular family, but we do not live within the four corners of a measurable house: we are citizens of the world; whatever was done in the past was done for our sakes, upon whom the end of time has come—for every age has an end of time to itself: every age must look for the Lord and say—He will be here present at midnight—at the crowing of the cock, ere the dawn has time to whiten the east and purple the mist-shrouded hills. Be ready! watch! Let those who have wives be as if they had none; let those who have fields ready for reaping be as if they had none; his chariot-wheels are sounding: he will be here today—to-morrow: in that expectation we should live! It is in vain to say it is not realised in what we call localisation, or narrow fact: he comes when he moves our heart to an expectation of his coming; he descends upon us when he so ennobles our prayer as to make us feel more in heaven than on earth. So we have a great past; and that great past creates a solemn present, and forecasts a brilliant future, and clothes all life with responsibility and honour. So far, there is nothing old in the story of the soldier-prophet: he followed a great man; we follow men also great
In the next place, we find Joshua as a man with a definite purpose,—a purpose which Moses could not have carried out. One man completes the work of another. Moses was a legislator: Joshua was a soldier,—in every line of his story the soldier is evident. How he listens; how acute his attention; look at him—he is all ear! Nothing can miss the observation of a man who looks like that when a voice from heaven speaks to him. He asks no questions, raises no difficulties; he receives hi marching-orders, and rises. The soldier is born in the Prayer of Manasseh -not the petty fighter, not the pugnacious aggressor and self-promoter, but the valiant Prayer of Manasseh, the heroic Prayer of Manasseh, the man who sees only the purpose and hears only the command, who has no ear for objection, but a great capacity for inspiration. This is the secret of strength. Joshua did not attempt a hundred things: he concentrated his strength, for he had for the time being only one thing to do. What is there old in this state of affairs? Nothing that need awaken our contempt, or content us in our disregard. Why do not men succeed today? Often because they have no purpose, and not seldom because they have more purposes than one. To have a hundred purposes may be to have no purpose at all. Some men run away in multiplicity of vocation: they diffuse themselves, and by unwise attenuation their strength is gone, and when they strike they miss the object of their blow or smite it with a feeble hand. Every man should ask himself, what is my purpose in life? What have I to do? Am I prophet or soldier or minstrel? Am I commander or servant? Is it mine to create new heavens and a new earth, or mine to be diligent in heaven"s light and make some corner of the earth greener and happier than it was before? That question may be put by every one, by the simplest and obscurest. Blessed is that servant who is found waiting, watching, doing the work of the moment, and satisfied with it because it is preparing him for some larger duty yet to be disclosed. How criminal it is to fritter away strength; how often we hear the moan of old age to the effect: Had I but pursued one definite line for the last twenty years, had I but been constant to the thing I could do, without making experiments in things I could not do, how different would have been my lot today; but I was here and there and yonder; I ran with the crowd, I scattered my power, and today I have nothing to show; I have been a truant,—a runner after bubbles that gleamed in the air and which, had I caught them, would have fallen to nothingness in my grasp. Why not learn from that moan? Why not vow to be some one thing, to pursue that one thing steadily? And why not vow especially to keep within the line of your obvious talent?—along that line you will find honour and restfulness and gladness of heart: it is enough for you. Few are the men that can take up more lines than one. He who is faithful in the least shall be promoted to rulership, and shall be surprised that steady regard for one object in life has secretly and unconsciously prepared the industrious servant for the rulership of five cities, or ten. Power grows, capacity enlarges; thou knowest not how.
In the third place, Joshua comes before us as a man with a divine qualification. God "spake" to him. God promises not to "fail" him:—"As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee nor forsake thee" ( Joshua 1:5). What did God want in return? Cheerfulness:—"Be strong and of a good courage.... Only be thou strong and very courageous... turn not... to the right hand or to the left,"—be strong and of a good heart. So Joshua did not go to war at his own charges. Is there anything old and outworn in that happy reflection? Inspiration cannot cease until the Holy Ghost expires. It is the very function of the Holy Ghost to inspire; without that function he has, so to say, no mission amongst men; the very fact of his being the Spirit of God invests him with the continual prerogative to inspire and qualify his Church. We may all be divinely qualified; and unless we are so qualified our work ends in a cloud blown away by the veering wind. "If any of you lack Wisdom of Solomon, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." "If ye being evil"—broken-minded, dim of eye, and feeble altogether—"know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more "—what a challenge to the contemplation and measurement of magnitude!—"how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him." "Ye have not because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss." There is nothing that a man can do of his own strength. Inspiration must not be confined to what is too narrowly called the Church. No man can go forth to his labour to do it with real skill and with pureness of motive without being divinely qualified. He who handles the graving-tool handles it with fingers God made, and uses metal which God created in the earth. We must not have a Church God, a Sabbath deity, an altar available only one day in the week: we must live and move and have our being in God. The Lord inspires the letter-writer, the reader, the father, the merchant, the poorest labourer in the poorest sphere. Are the insects not regarded? Does a worm move in the mould apart from the eternal throne? "The earth is the Lord"s, and the "fulness thereof;" and if any man has arisen to mark off the world into "sacred" and "secular," "religious" and "profane," he has not studied geography in God"s sanctuary. Let us, then, seek divine qualification that we may do our poorest work well and treat our one talent as if it were a thousand, for if the talents be few in number they determine the consequent responsibility,—only "be strong and of a good courage;" "only be thou strong"—we read again—"and very courageous,"—rise to the work, take pleasure in it; if you do the work as an addition to something else of a different quality, what wonder if it be a joyless task and if the reluctant heart has only one prayer—prayer for eventide and release from toil? The Church is lacking in courage: she allows every one who pleases to arise and insult her; she soon loses heart; she says—The enemy is too strong for me: I will keep within doors. So saying, what has she lost? A comprehensive and just sense of her mission;—she has lost God!
What does all this issue in but in divinely-promised and divinely-guaranteed success. "Thou shalt make thy way prosperous.... Thou shalt have good success.... Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed."... "Only be thou strong and very courageous." Let the youngest student hear this word and obey it Take heart again. If you are weary tor the moment, rest awhile. Do not abandon the study: tomorrow you will come to it with a conqueror"s heart; the pages will almost turn over of themselves, and he who wrote the difficult lines will annotate them and turn them into gracious simplicity,—"only be thou strong and very courageous." The meaning is that you may rest, sit down awhile, recover strength: but whilst expending your energy you need not surrender your courage. Hope wins; gladness conquers; confidence in God beats down the mountains and lifts up the places that are below the valley. These are the guarantees of success. The issue will be good. Virtue, it is proverbially known, is its own reward. There is a mystery about this which the heart knows full well. Being busy in the right way, how the time flies! There is no time to the truly-inspired worker; he has but one complaint which he translates in some such words as—How short the day is! It is no sooner dawn than it is evening! How have the hours flown away! What is the voice of the sluggard in regard to this same matter of time?—a voice of complaint: the hours are leaden-footed: they will not move, they are a burden; and the heart dies for want of what is called excitement. True work brings its own heaven with it. The true toiler lifts up his head from his task, saying—I began it in God"s strength, I have carried it on in divine energy, and I am only sorry that I cannot do more of it and do it better,—God permit that tomorrow may be as this day and more abundant. Christian workers all bear this testimony; there is no break or flaw in the massive and noble witness. All history testifies that to serve God is already to enter into rest.
Whilst Joshua comes before us Song of Solomon, there is an aspect or two in which the divine Being presents himself worthy of our notice. He comes before us in this record as removing men. He said unto Moses—Your work is done. It is for him to say when the tale has been completed. Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? Is there not a dial by which the shadow makes known to men when the evening approacheth? We are all immortal until our work is done. Do not fret yourselves about the latter end,—let it come in God"s time. To die now in the fulness of your strength and hope would be indeed a species of murder, but you will be led gently down the easy slope, step by step, little by little, until you say, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ; I want to sleep,—I long to see the upper world." Do not be in bondage all your lifetime through fear of death. When death does come to the true Christian worker and waiter, it will come as a veiled angel; and when you are shut up together in the chamber you will have sweet converse and call the interview the beginning of heaven.
God comes before us as explaining his own method towards man. Canaan was promised as a gift,—and now it must be fought for! Long ago we heard that this land was to be presented,—and now as the history evolves we find that it is to be conquered! This is the divine method in all things. "I will give thee," is the one word; "rise and do battle," is the completing word. We value what we labour for; we treat with contemptuous disregard that which costs us nothing. We enter into rest by the gate of labour. We enjoy Canaan because we have toiled after a divine manner for it. So with heaven: it will come as a kind of reward for industry and labour, faith and love, prayer and patience. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things." It will seem as if the Lord had permitted us to fight our way to heaven and to have won it by dint of valour. Nor do we claim any merit herein, or look upon heaven as a prize for superior strength. It pleases the Lord to accommodate himself to our modes of expression: so we shall have as a reward what we could not have obtained as the result of labour: our faith will be credited with the miracles which were wrought solely by divine grace; rulership will be given as a prize when it never could have been won as a reward. We need have no fear of corrupting the mind upon these questions, and so bedimming our vision as to lose full, clear sight of the divine glory. What we have to remember is this: God is king; God is the source of inspiration; God calls whom he will to such and such offices: the distribution of honour and place is with God, but he called all Israel to the land, to its possession and enjoyment; they were not all equal to Moses, they were not all equal to Joshua, they were not all commanders and mighty men, but the wise wife and the little ones and the whole host were all regarded by the divine love. So it is in the greater scheme of things divine which we call Providence, or by the nobler name of Redemption. We are not all called to bear the mantle of Elijah, or to play upon the harp of David, or to sing in the lofty strains of Isaiah, or to see the mystic symbolism of Ezekiel; we cannot argue like Paul, or love like John, or pray like Peter. Some are called to high places and to great honour, and are clothed with responsibility as with a garment, but, blessed be God, whilst there can be but few leaders, few commanders, few prophets and poets and legislators, the great call of God is to every man under heaven:—"He that believeth shall be saved;" "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." Song of Solomon, whilst we speak of sovereignty and appointment, and distribution of place and honour, we are not speaking of the great matter of human salvation,—for the Gospel is to be sounded unto all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues. Wherever the Gospel is preached it is to signify love, welcome, offered pardon, offered heaven. For such a Gospel praise be to God the Father, God the Song of Solomon, and God the Holy Ghost.
All the after life of Joshua is the carrying out with a remarkable simplicity of unquestioning faith this first charge of his God. His obedience is immediate.... At once he assumes in all its breadth the office so committed to his hands, and as God"s vicegerent "commands the officers of the people" ( Joshua 1:10).
The first command was one which showed his great faith, and tested strongly the obedience of the people. The river Jordan lay between the camp and the land of their promised inheritance, and it must be passed over by them at the very outset of their march. But how could this be accomplished? Even if it were possible, with difficulty and risk, to transport over it a chosen handful of warriors, how could he possibly carry over the mixed multitude—the women and the children, and the flocks and the herds? Even over the fords of Jordan, under the most favourable circumstances of the river, this would have been almost impossible; and at this season of the year, when, from the melting of the snow upon the highlands, Jordan war greatly flooded (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest), it was more than ever impossible ( Joshua 3:15). Yet down to these threatening floods, on the hopeless errand of passing over them, all the people are ordered to inarch. Surely, it must have been a sore strain upon the simple faith of the young commander to issue such an order. But his faith was strong, and he commanded, and was obeyed.
—Samuel Wilberforce, D.D
Thy word is exceedingly comfortable to our souls, thou Father of spirits, thou God of eternity! We know thy words are good and full of power: they fill the necessity of our heart to overflow, yea, even to abundance, as of fulness upon fulness, until there is not room enough to receive thy gift. Thou dost speak from the sanctuary of eternity, and thy words come with all the infinite power of thy majesty; yet are they gentle, gracious, like the soft rain upon the tender herb: they come from a great height, but thou dost cause them to fall without burdensomeness, and they refresh and cheer and satisfy us as no other words have done. We bless thee for any measure of constancy in thy kingdom which we have been enabled to realise and to manifest There have been many who have said, Turn to the right-hand; and others have said, Turn to the lefthand;—but because thou hast been with us, an abiding inspiration and a daily light, we find ourselves still in the sanctuary, standing upon the rock, clinging to the blessed Cross, looking to the Son of God for redemption and all the mystery of pardon. This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. We would have no other delight; all other joys would we know in this lofty passion—to love the Saviour, to know him more intelligently, and to serve him with a profounder obedience. Thou wilt not decline our prayer, or cause a cloud to come between thy throne and this poor earth: when we so cry we know that we have the answer even whilst we are breathing the prayer: for this is the will of God, even our perfectness,—the completeness of our manhood, the subjugation of our will to right and truth and love. So we know that we have thy reply,—may we know it still more confidently, and rejoice in deepening peace, and in ever-increasing strength, and in continual delight which makes the heart young and the hand strong. As for our sin, take it up in thy mighty power and love, and bury it where no man can find it, and thou thyself forget where the burden has been laid. Amen.
JOSHUA had commanded the officers of the people to pass through the host, saying, "Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it." A charge was delivered to the people, interpreting the divine will, and promising great blessedness, possession, and rest. The people having heard the appeal answered Joshua saying, "All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go." We see men occasionally at their best, and then the revelation of human nature is not without enchantment and great comfortableness. Men like to speak in crowds, to multiply their voices by a thousand and ten thousand; and then they imagine that they are revealing the strength and enjoying the confidence of what is termed unanimity. It is a beautiful thing to see forty thousand men all intent upon one purpose, and to hear them uttering one cry, and to know that their utterance is expressive of an obedient spirit. This is the answer which ought to have been given, and which ought now to be given to every divine appeal. We should answer love by love; we should answer music by music; when heaven descends to earth with some unusual blessing, earth should become almost heaven in its grateful appreciation and response. We see this sometimes in the sanctuary. A sublime revelation of divine care, providence, grace is made, and hearts are melted into one, and the final hymn becomes a pledge, a solemn vow, a great musical consecration of the heart. It is beautiful now and again to see what ought to be,—occasionally to see the ideal, now and again to hear a common sentiment uttered by an inspired heart;—surely such are sights and sounds which might do us good evermore! Herein is part of the benefit of the sanctuary: we become our best selves under its holy inspiration. We did not know altogether what was in us whilst we were outside the sanctuary, walking solitarily, brooding upon our own thoughts, and heaping up reproaches against society; when we came into the house of God and heard the universal language, something moved in us which claimed kinship with the speech, and we longed to spring with a thousand men to our feet to sing our convictions and to utter our vow in solemn music. You do not see a man at any one moment; you see some aspect of him, but what he is as to his true spiritual bulk, value, scope, force, you do not see at any one observation: but you see most of him when under the sway of inexpressible emotion, when his prayer is interrupted with praise, when his supplication sobs itself into confession and humiliation, and when his hope rises into song and expresses itself in exclamations of loyalty and thankfulness to God. We never could have known human nature in its wholeness but for religious influences and Christian appeals. The divine appeal is a resurrection-trumpet: it awakes the dead within us, it makes the churchyard of the heart throb with new life. You lose inexpressibly by cutting off religious connections, by interrupting channels through which religious communications flow. It seems to be an easy thing to leave the church and to allow great voices and appeals to waste themselves upon the empty wind, but we cannot tell how much we lose by ceasing to mingle in the common emotion and reciprocate the universal sentiment of the church. To leave the altar is to forego the touch which connects us in a mysterious but wonderfully sensible manner with the eternal throne, the infinite power, the ineffable grace. So do not put away the blessing of an ideal answer. The people meant every word of it. They did not know what they said; still, they were excited to a nobler selfhood than perhaps they had ever realised before; and we do say things in prayer and hymn and religious speech the full scope of which we do not apprehend;—do not be literal with us and say that we lied in the hymn, that we committed treason in the prayer, and spoke falsely in the noble excitement; it is not so: another self, larger, better than we have ever known before, rose up within us and sang that grand hymn, uttered that heaven-moving prayer, and ennobled that sublime excitement.
This is an answer which experience has uniformly discredited. We have never lived this reply. The words are still ringing in the air, and the air seems to have a kind of pleasure in retaining the tones and reproducing them, until they become not reminders only but reproaches and criticisms and appalling judgments. We remember the altar: we need no mocking spirit to remind us how far we have wandered from it. We remember the wedding-day when Christ and we became one,—and what a feast there was on that radiant morning; what vows were exchanged; what love was pledged; how the future was enriched with all the hospitality of inexhaustible bountiful-ness so that we would for ever dwell in the banqueting-house and for ever hear the flapping of the banner bearing the divinest name! We know what we said when we were young. Youth has a speech all its own—a flower language, a garden rhetoric, a beautiful efflorescence and poesy. Every word was meant, and by the help of God the soul now says, every word shall yet be redeemed! But what wandering we seem to have had; how wayward we are; how subtle are the influences which bear upon memory, and becloud the imagination, and pervert the heart, and enfeeble the will! Did Adam fall?—Certainly. There ought to be no more fully-attested truth in all the range of the theological judgment and imagination than the fall of every living man. Compare the speech of promise and its attempted excuses; compare yesterday and today; contrast the morning prayer with the evening recollection. No other man could fall for us. We seem to think there is a kind of substitutionary action in the Adamic apostasy,—as if Adam had mysteriously consented to fall on our account, or to represent us in a great tragedy. The truth Isaiah, every man falls himself, in himself, and for himself; and the experience of the world is lost upon every one of us: were it not Song of Solomon, the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes would save the world from all further practical mistake. But nobody believes those two chapters; they read fluently, the style is copious and urgent, the experience is full of colour, and it beats with a very strong pulse, and we would not like to give up the chapters as part of a literary treasure,—but who believes them? No living soul! Every man builds his own Jerusalem, gets around him his garden of delights, yields to his own serpent, and is damned on his own account. It is not for us to become the censors of antiquity, saying that Israel failed to carry out in literal exactness the pledge which was made almost in song. Let us keep to our own experience; stand upon the facts which make up our own daily life, and through them we shall see how it was that antiquity sinned and that the first man fell. Were we to close here we should close under a great cold cloud; but this is not the stopping-place: there are points beyond.
This was an answer given without full consciousness of the motive which dictated it. We are not rapid, as we certainly are not exact, in the analysis of motive: we take the first explanation which comes to hand, and are content if other people will receive it. A mysterious action is this, which we have come to know by the name of motive,—that is to say, why we do certain things, or say them, fear them, or hope for them. It is not always convenient to descend into the secret place where motive lives and reigns. It is better sometimes not to know the deeper psychological reality. What was the case in this particular history? A great promise had been made; land was to be given; rest was to be assured: Sabbath was to dawn upon the world, and the desert was to be as a fruitful field; under this promise the command was given, and whilst the command and the promise mingled together in a common music, the people said—We are ready! Nor did they speak untrustfully or insincerely. We do not surely know by what motives we are moved. Motives are not simple, they are complex, mixed up with one another, now coinciding, now separating, again approaching,—and not to be expressed fitly in words. How far did the promise of the land tell upon the obedience of the men who answered Joshua? Who can tell how subtly the word "rest," which occurs so often in this opening chapter, entered into weary lives, distracted hearts, and made men ready to say anything that lay in the direction of its immediate and complete realisation? Who can take himself out of himself? Who can die unto God? This is a miracle which lies beyond us just now; yet it is well to keep our eyes upon a plan—a position that must be attained—if we are to grow up into the measure of the stature of men in Christ Jesus; we are to have no self: when asked where our life Isaiah, we are to point to the Cross on which it has been nailed and on which it has expired. Do we not find the operation of the same motive now in our spiritual experience? What is it that has been promised?—rest, release from the torment of conscience, the destruction of accusing recollection;—another promise has been made under a sweet name which no man has ever been able to define: we are to have heaven. We have placed heaven above the blue sky: we would not have it in the east or in the west, but straight up in the zenith of the visible firmament. We have thought of heaven as a place of pureness, rest, joy, Song of Solomon, recognition of one another, riddance of all evil, escape from death in every form; and whilst godly men have been making the soul these promises, what if the soul said—We accept the conditions; we will obey; for such a prize we are prepared to serve and suffer until life"s last day? Having uttered the pledge, we have another step to go to get back to old lines, and perhaps the interposition of that one step may happily deter us from returning to our old pursuits. A prayer should be a thick wall through which it is difficult to get back to the old non-praying state; a day in church should separate us by a practical eternity from all evil and irreligious propensity and act. Are not many men Christians because they want to. go to heaven? It is a poor reason, yet it may be better than none at all. It is full of selfishness: it is a little, narrow, unworthy reason. What we should aim to be enabled to say is this: If this life were all, it is better to live in the spirit of Christ than in any other spirit;—if so be God will it that we are but contributaries to a greater humanity and an enduring civilisation, it is enough that we have ever prayed and ever loved. Who can attain that spiritual sublimity? We cling to the promised Canaan; we long to escape the threatened perdition. Our reasoning may be in all such respects narrow, superficial, and selfish,—still, it is something to begin with: for the literary truth of Christianity cannot be urged upon us all at once: we have to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that every day brings not its new Bible but its new interpretation, its larger claim, its ennobled and brightened outlook.
This was an answer given before battle. The idea of the battle was not fully recognised. The Lord said, "I will give you,"—and scarcely, as we have seen, had "I will give you" been uttered than the other words were, "Fight for it!" What land were they to possess?—the land whereon their feet trod. You must go the land to claim it: your footprint must be your title. We are not called to some land that lies in the unmeasured region of the fancy; the land shall be yours whereon soever you set the sole of your foot. Hence we read in the third verse,—" Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses." That Is the true idea of possession. Do not live in the imagination "but in the realisation of spiritual truths. What have we fought for. Is there now a man who can stand up and say, "I have fought for my faith, and I hold it with a hand that has bled"? What wonder that we change our faiths easily if we took them into possession easily? We simply heard of them, and we desire to hear no more about them. Who has studied, pondered, prayed, corrected himself, modified his conclusions—readjusted them, and gone on from point to point as from conquest to conquest,—now and again chargeable with inconsistency, but only with the inconsistency of self-correction, profounder criticism, and using a broader light than was available yesterday? We want sturdy soldiers in the Church—men who say,—Though all is given to us, yet it has to be fought for, and our answer before battle shall be quiet, modest, religious. "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Do not force us to answer just now. We have heard the sublime appeal; we know it has come down from infinite heights, it has about it the fragrance of other worlds,—thank God for it!—for its broad words, its grand challenges: they move the soul, they shake the spirit out of prison;—but as for the full reply, we ourselves will wait: every day we will add a syllable to the answer, secretly hoping that by the grace and comfort of the Holy Ghost we may be able at the end of the days to present a complete word, steady as a planet, bright as the sun, glorious with the purity of a good conscience; just now our answer must be hesitant, broken, confused, but, believe us, our meaning is right: we will pray ourselves into greater prayers, and transfer ourselves through the medium of action into higher sacrifice and higher expositions of holy mysteries. Do not judge any one by the one day. We are aware that he replied ecstatically—"I will!"—and he meant it in the very secret places of his soul. We know that the day after he faltered and fell, but his faltering and falling did not destroy the purpose of his soul: the seed of God was in him; and he in whomsoever that seed is found must win Canaan, with all its light and rest, its everlasting morning and its surprising joys. Do not fix your mind upon your failures and slips and apostasies; they are a thousand in number and they are without defence, but you can say, "Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee." If you can say so honestly, the battle is won before it has begun; if you can say so sincerely, you need have no fear of the end;—only be strong and very courageous, and there shall not a man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. What are the appeals addressed us?—not to take a Jericho measurable, but to advance to positions remote but glorious. "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord,... and I will receive you." "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother... he cannot be my disciple." Who is on the Lord"s side—side of righteousness, side of truth, side of pureness? These are the questions and propositions that are thundered upon our ears. Let us reply saying,—God helping us, we will endeavor to be true, constant, loyal.
How many there are whose life is a battle thou knowest, O Father of all living! They wonder why they should exist; all things are hard to them: the night is dark, every road is difficult of passage, every door is shut, every man is a foe. They wonder and can hardly pray; they are amazed, and struck down with astonishment. Yet sometimes a little shining of light makes them glad; then they foretell the time of peace and rest and joy. Thou hast set in the midst of the week a day on which there shall be proclamation from time to time of thy mercy and sympathy, and on which some hint of life"s great meaning shall be given to the sons of men. Thou dost show us that all thy way is full of goodness, though we cannot now realise the significance of every event. When the grave is dug, thy meaning is pitiful and merciful and most compassionate; when thou dost send sorrow upon our life it is to chasten and refine that life and cleanse it of all defilement Thou dost cause all things to work together for good to them that love thee; and thou dost surprise thy children by newness of revelation. We set to our seal that God is true; we will stand up and say in the hearing of men—God is good, and his mercy endureth for ever; he abideth through all the ages, and his love is an unchanging light. We are enabled to say this notwithstanding the battle, the bereavement, the great loss, the mortal disappointment; when we recover ourselves a little we say, Thou hast done all things well; thy will not mine be done; lead kindly Light. So we feel it worth while to fight all the battle and endure all the sorrow, that at the end we may see light as we never saw it before, and feel the very peacefulness of peace, the very restfulness of rest. We come to thee by a way that is living, the eternal way, the only way. We look unto Jesus, and are saved: we behold the Lamb of God, and in beholding him with the eyes of our faith we see our sins carried away. Was ever love like his? Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for a good man peradventure some would die; but thou dost magnify thy love towards us in that while we were yet sinners—neither righteous nor good—Christ died for us,—amazing love! Oh the depth of the wisdom and grace! We are amazed; we are made glad; we feel we are forgiven. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25