The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.The Last Song
The old man whom we have known so long dies singing. All men should die so; all men may so die: God is not sparing in his gift of song or privilege of music: music was in his purpose long before speech: all things are to end in a great song. What speeches may be delivered on high we cannot tell: few if any have been reported even by dreamers and seers; but they have all told us of the singing that characterises life in the upper spaces: they quote the very words of the noble song; they give some idea of the innumerableness of the numbers who sing the triumphant hymn. God means, therefore, that every life should end in a song—not necessarily in the mechanical definition of that term, but as to its spiritual scope and meaning: there is triumph in serenity—yea, serenity may be the last expression of triumph. There are songs without words: there is singing without articulate and audible voice: we may sing with the spirit and with the understanding. Blessed are they who, before going up to Nebo to die, sing in the valley, and, so to say, pass out of sight with their singing robes around them;—to this end we are invited in Christ, and in Christ this is the only possible end—namely, triumph, song; the rapture of expectancy, and the inspiration of hope.
The song was to be a "witness" for God "against" the children of Israel,—say, rather, as between himself and the children of Israel. Witness does not always imply accusation: it quite as frequently implies confirmation, endorsement, approval; it embodies in itself a sure testimony, strong because of its indisputableness. God is said to be "Judge," and we too frequently attach somewhat of harshness to that word; in many of its relations it is noble in its tenderness: it is a refuge to which the soul may continually flee. God is the "Judge" of the widow and the fatherless. Does the Scripture mean that God will hold them to standards that are severe and bind upon them penalties which are intolerable? On the contrary: instead of Judge, say "Vindicator." God is the Judge of the widow and fatherless: he will hear their cause and determine it; he will attemper judgment with mercy: in wrath he will remember mercy; to the Judge of all the earth all good causes may appeal, and all weakness, and all inculpable infirmity, and all broken-heartedness. God is the Judge of the little, the mean, the helpless,—the widow, the orphan. The word "witness" is to be interpreted after some such fashion. The song is not to be put up to accuse the children of Israel only: it is not an impeachment merely; it is a witness, a record, a testimony,—a distinct writing that can be appealed to in all critical or ambiguous circumstances.
Moses wrote the song "the same day." We speak of our efforts of genius, and the time required for the elaboration of this or that attempt to serve the sanctuary; but if you can write a song at all you can write it at once. Herein the great French poet's dictum is true: said one to Victor Hugo, "Is it not difficult to write epic poetry?" "No," said the great genius of his day, "No: easy or impossible." "Difficult" implies that the poetry can be written with due time, and after due effort; but the French judge would have no such construction put upon the term. Poetry is breathing, looking,—the last expression of inspired genius. Moses wrote the song "the same day:" he could not stop the rush of the musical storm: the moment he got the first note he had all the rest in him. How many men would be burning lives, in all the best sense of ardour, if they could but get the first spark!—they have fuel enough in them: they have great latent power; but they have not the starting spark, the first ignition, which would set on a blaze whole volumes of noble matter.
Moses has been trained to this effort: he has sung before; but he always sings after great disclosures of the divine face—after the most vivid consciousness of the divine presence and touch. His songs are all in the same key: they roll along the same lofty level; they never beat into weakness, they are never impaired by meanness; from end to end they are God's own songs, and Moses seems to have been but a hand in the grasp of Omnipotence when he traces the immortal words. Such is to be our ministry; such is to be our life: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
What are the characteristics of a great song? The first most noticeable characteristic of this song is that it is intensely theological. The keyword is GOD—in his majesty, in his com passion, in his righteousness, in his tears—God in a species of incarnation thousands of years before the event of Bethlehem. Without God there is no song that fills the whole arch; there are snatches of song that want unity, cohesion, and massiveness,—stray notes, wandering chords, confused vibrations; but in God you have the upgathering of every chord, bar, suggestion, and tone of music: he is the centralising, uniting, all-cohering force. Have nothing to do with songs that do not lead up to God. This will not exclude many songs that are supposed to be of a secular kind. Who made the earth? Who cut off the little slice from eternity which we call time? God is the God of the whole world, and his is the fulness of the sea. Many a song that dips down towards recreation, amusement, entertainment, may have in it the true music of heaven;—let such be the beginning, and let the end be grand as thunder, solemn as lightning, appalling as the height of heaven.
Another characteristic of the song is its broad human history. Read the thirty-second chapter from end to end, and you will find it a record of historical events. Facts are the pedestals on which we set sculptured music. We must know our own history if we would know the highest religious arguments, and apply with unquestionable and beneficent skill great Christian appeals. The witness must be in ourselves: we must know, and taste, and feel, and handle of the word of life, and live upon it, returning to it as hunger returns to bread and thirst flies swiftly to sparkling fountains. We do not live upon the history of other people: we only read the history of Israel to show how true it is that God is one and that his government is an indissoluble whole. To the Christian student there is no ancient history in the sense of history that is antiquated, obsolete, and no longer applicable to human circumstances. What we call ancient history was done yesterday from a divine point of view; from that point of view, indeed, there is but one day, quick with the tumultuous pulses of a thousand years. As we have often seen, we impoverish ourselves and lower the temperature of all noblest history by causing great spaces to intervene between our personal consciousness and the actual transaction of the events. Everything has occurred today. Early on the summer morning God said, "Let there be light," and the east whitened, and the dawn blushed, and over all the hills and vales and streams there came a tender glory. This very morning God shaped us in his own image and likeness. He was with us in the darkness, bearing our aching and weary heads, remaking us, reconstructing us, putting a distance between ourselves and our last sin and our most recent failure, and setting us up in the strength of recruited power to attempt the labour of another day. Speak not of ancient history in any sense that severs present consciousness from the eternal providence of God. When you are doubtful as to religious mysteries, read your own personal record; when metaphysics are too high or too deep, peruse facts,—put the pieces of your lives together: see how they become a shape—a house not made with hands, a temple fashioned in heaven. The days are not to be detached from one another: they are to be linked on and held in all the symbolism and reality of their unity. Hence, another characteristic of the song is its record of providence. God found Jacob—
"In a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him" (Deuteronomy 32:10-12),
"Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation" (Deuteronomy 32:15).
Moses able to say all this after such experience as he knew! This is a noble testimony; this, indeed, is a complete and happy vindication of the ways of God to man. It is Moses who writes this; no poet was created for the purpose: no hidden genius or flower born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air was developed for the purpose of writing these noble stanzas, these rolling, thunderous bursts of song. The old legislator, the holy leader, the man who had to bear so much, who knew all the providence of God in human history even from the beginning to the end—he was elected to be poet. That is God's way. Serve on faithfully; bend the back, use your arms, toil in the dust; but whatever you do carry it out with both hands, with reality and simplicity of purpose; and, by-and-by, when the poet is wanted, you, toiler, may be told to stand up and sing. This is the loving way of God: those who pass his scrutiny go in through the gate of pearl to sing on the inner side: after hearing God's "Well done, good and faithful servant," everything but a song becomes impossible; from that poetry there can be no apostasy into prosaic moods and contracted spaces.
In this song we have the commandments all repeated,—that is to say, you find nothing in the Ten Commandments, as to the formation of human character and the shaping of human destiny, that is not to be found in this great song. Commandments must be the severe side of true music; duty is only the outer aspect of song. Without the commandments of God there could be no songs of men with reality in them and with the fire pentecostal and the touch that gives immortality God will have his commandments honoured: first he will state them in plain, stern terms:—"Thou shalt," "Thou shalt not:" there shall be no mistake about the literal meaning of the commands of God; but after long years every commandment will come back again upon us in song, in appeal, in persuasion, in tears, in the Cross of Christ, and in all the love spoken by the Gospel. Thus the Bible is one: the spirit of the Bible is a spirit of righteousness, truth, compassion, redemption. Everything in human history is in the Pentateuch; every romance that can be read aloud and every true work of fiction repeats the commandments of Sinai. Men do more than perhaps they mean to do. We cannot escape the circle of God in any lawful industry, in any conscientious effort. A man shall set himself to depict in parable or fiction the life of his day; he may describe himself as an artist, he may even go so far as to describe himself as a mere artist—a devotee of art, a student of proportion, perspective, and colour;—he little knows that in proportion as he succeeds in rightly interpreting life he is a preacher. Great is the company of preachers! They would not be called by that name: they are suspicious of that limited term, because it has been limited by the very men who should have glorified it. You find all the fiction in the world that is true to human life in the parable of the Prodigal Son: the pen of fiction has never touched a point that is not involved within the sweep of that nobler delineation. The parables of Christ contain everything—every spark of genius, every throb of poetry, every moral of sound teaching. So we return to find all the commandments of God in the last song of Moses; as God first gives the commandments, and then gives the history, and then gives the song, so all life is under his control, and he is revealing his purposes and providences in many a book never meant to call attention to his sovereignty. Many are called they know not why, or how, or to what end: the first may be last, the last may be first. As for those who are nominally Christians and preachers—baptised men, anointed with a sacred unction—what if they fall short of their calling and other men should come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and they—the supposed lineage of God—should be shut out! The Christian reader of all history should make it his business to include, wherever he can, every effort and attempt made to lighten human burdens, to soothe human misery, and disentangle human perplexity; we cannot have such service described as worldly, secular, atheistic. He who dries a child's innocent tears is by so much serving God; he who but closes his eyes silently before partaking of his food recognises a Hand unseen—a Giver quite near; he who writes a poem for the purpose of brightening family life and cheering solitary wanderers—he who leaves behind him some sign which may be seen after many days, that a forlorn and shipwrecked brother seeing may take heart again, is a minister—not ordained by human touch or recognition of an ecclesiastical kind, but a helper in the human strife, a friend of the friendless. Do not reject commandments because they come in the form of song, and do not regard song as being destitute of the inspiration and virility of righteousness. The Bible combines strength and beauty, law and gospel—Moses and the Lamb. Our life is meant to fall into music. Music is an abused term. The musicians have been as unkind to music as the theologians have been unkind to theology. Definitions need enlargement; terms need ampler reference and application. Many a man is musical who cannot sing; the spirit of music is in the man: he knows the true tone when he hears it—not from the critical point of view—but it touches his soul, comes into his being like an inspiration, and soothes him like a benediction, or stirs him like a war-trumpet. Music is the inheritance of little children—the angel that sits upstairs watching the weak and the dying when hired eyes tire and fall into needed slumber. So with the Gospel of Jesus Christ: it has its stern theology, its profound metaphysics, its awful morality—the very snow of heaven, the spotless whiteness of the ineffable purity; but it has its song, its musical strain, and it calls us all to walk in step—to go processionally: our feet are to fall harmoniously: the whole motion of the Church is to be a motion united, massive, coherent, resonant,—providences turned into psalms, afflictions elevated into music, and righteousness itself—the stern commandment—is to be made to take up the harp and re-express itself in tender strains. Do be musical, do be harmonious in life; as for the mere vocal exercise, that may be poor or uncultivated, but there is another kind of music—a spiritual, intellectual, moral music, and to that we are all called—a blessed, a sacred destiny.
We would see Jesus. He is the fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. Our eyes ever desire to look upon him, and now we have come to the place of his appointment. Where two or three are gathered together, there Jesus is in the midst; he is always the centre. We know him to be the way, the truth, and the life, and none may dispute his place. We will have this Man to reign over us, for it is his right to reign. We call him King of kings; we hail him Lord of lords; we bow down before him, and worship the Son of God, God the Son, Immanuel—God with us. We have praises to sing, and we would sing them with a loud, clear voice. We are not ashamed of the providence of God. Thou art our Father: thou dost guide us with thine eye; thine arms are round about us; thy smile is our soul's day, thy frown the night in which our soul trembles. Thou hast spread our table bountifully, so that our hunger has been more than satisfied; thou hast kept our house, so that there is peace at home; thou hast given us music in every room and light on every point of the dwelling;—verily, thou art the God of the families of the earth, and our households trust in thee. As for our afflictions, it was good for us that we were afflicted: we were chastened, sobered, refined; there came into our voice a tenderer tone, and there settled in our hearts a nobler trust: thou hast sanctified thy chastening, and turned our smarting to our spiritual account. We bless the rod, we kiss the hand that lifted it, and at the grave-side we desire to say, It is well. For all thy mercies we bless thee—for every flower that blooms, for every bird that sings, for every stream that moistens the green grass, for all the promise of the year,—for a good seed-time and bay harvest, and prospect of plentifulness of bread; the Lord has been in the field, and the orchard, and the garden, and has filled the river with riches. Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto the name of the God of Providence! We will not ask thee for the earth: it is too small a gift for a King; we want thyself, we desire thy Spirit, we yearn for clearer sight of thy love and for further hold of thy purpose, that when we are tossed upon the deep, the tumult may be but local, for in our souls immortal there is rest—a deep and eternal tranquillity. We desire to read thy word with new vision, to enter into the spirit of its history and its prophecy, its minstrelsy and gospel, that the word of Christ may dwell in us richly, abounding in gracious fulness, so as to make the enemy afraid because of the holiness of our souls. We desire to see thee in all the way of life, to say every day, This is the Lord: lo, God was here, and I knew it not; and even among these rocks he has set up his ladder. We pray for one another: for the young, and the bright, and the tuneful, that they may rise up into nobleness and usefulness of life; for the sad and the weary; for the man who has just seen life's emptiness, and turned away with discontent from the place where he meant to find his pleasure. Thou dost send that revelation upon us all; we say, Surely on the mountain-top we shall find our home, and, lo, we cannot stay there, because of the darkness, and the cold, and the dreariness of stony places. We said, Surely now we shall find what we needed of wealth, and beauty, and comfort, and enjoyment; now will begin the dance of pleasure, now will break out the music of lasting gladness;—and, behold, we fell among serpents and into dangerous places, and every tree shook as with alarm, and the wind was full of fear. We now see that light is in heaven only, and rest in truth, and peace in faith, and joy in purity; thou hast scourged out of us our old vanities and misleading sophisms and false expectations, and now we see where the garden of the Lord is, and that it opens but at one place, and with one key—Jesus, Son of Mary, Son of man, Son of God. We pray for the friends we love, and without whom we could not live—the hearts we look for, the travellers we expect with joy, the souls that light every room of the house with tender glory; for our friends who are far away, across the great sea, in the colonies—wanderers in places they have not yet known. We pray for those in trouble on the sea—that great and terrible waste. We pray for all who are visiting us from distant places: may they feel at home; may there be some touch in thy house that they shall recognise with ardent love and thankfulness. We pray for our sick ones: some nigh unto death; some are sick of body—weary, utterly exhausted: the grasshopper is a burden; others are ailing in mind: they are disappointed, they are mortified, they have not found what they expected: they dug in earth that they might find heaven, and, lo, heaven was not there. We pray for those whose graves are quite new, for the grass has not yet had time to grow upon them, there is not a flower upon the mould that hides the dead; be thou the resurrection and the life in the hearts of such, and make them glad even in the churchyard: turn that last resting-place into a garden of flowers, and make it a place where they will keep appointments with those who from death would learn how to live. The Lord be with us now; and we need no other presence. Amen.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge. And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation.Nearing the End
There is no day fixed: it is an "approach" that is spoken of. The word may, therefore, be addressed to every man well-advanced in life. There is a period at which the road becomes a slope downwards, and at the foot of the hill is the last earthly resting-place. This is the way of God. He tells them that the end is "approaching." Now and again he seems to cut them off suddenly as with an unexpected stroke; yet perhaps the suddenness is in appearance rather than in reality. To be born is to have notice to quit; to live is to die. If men speak of "suddenness," it is because they have not interpreted the circumstances which have constituted their surroundings:—"We all do fade as a leaf." Every sin takes out of us some portion of life; we cannot have an evil thought without the quantity of life within us being diminished. We cannot think a noble thought, or find a free way in our hearts for a sublime impulse, without increasing the sum-total of our life—without beginning our immortality. Thus is a man stronger after prayer than before; thus does every sweet and holy hymn send a thrill of gladness through the soul that sings. Let every man take notice that he must die. From a literary point of view that is a pitiful commonplace; but from the point of view of actual experience and all the issues of death it is a sublime and an appalling announcement. But Moses must die. We have never associated the idea of death with Moses. He has always been so strong: the camp never halted because of his ill-health; he was always at the head; his voice was clear and mellow; his eye was bright and darting, and yet so genial—as if it could not conceal the smile that was in his heart. His has been the strong arm and the uplifted hand and the commanding tone, and to associate death with such strength was to be guilty of irony and to perpetrate an almost palpable contradiction. Yet the strongest trees yield to silent time; the mightiest strength bows down itself in weakness and trouble: Samson dies, Hercules becomes but a figure in ancient history; there is no man who abideth for ever. It is becoming, therefore, under an announcement of this kind, that we should revert to the beginning with which we have become so familiar. The woman of the Hebrews hides her little three months' child in a basket of bulrushes, and trusts him to the river. How weak the child! "The babe wept." Did he ever weep again? Were those his first and final tears? He never looked like a weeping man; but men who do not look so often weep more than those whose lives are given up to chronic sentimentalism:—"Jesus wept." Compare the child upon the river with the hundred-and-twenty-year-old man, going up the hill never to come down again. He walks up steadily. If he was a weak man, how seldom he showed his weakness! he had a gift of concealing infirmity, so much so that only now and again, in some flashing outbreak of temper, do we find that he was a man of like passions with ourselves. The end is not like the beginning: those who studied the beginning could not have forecast the end. Suppose any ardent imagination had attempted whilst looking at the weeping babe to cast the horoscope of the man, to say what he would be—as history has proved him—how he would die on the top of Nebo—no absurdity could be more glaring. Out of such weakness none could have predicted the issue of such virile might. Is not God always teaching us by these great changes that he is secretly working out a still grander mutation? It doth not yet appear what we shall be: weeping babes have become mighty legislators; poor little outcast lives have towered up into the majesty of leadership and sovereignty; and God by these palpable analogies is for ever suggesting the possibility of our own development and final coronation. Oh that men were wise, that they would read the Bible which God is writing every day, and put together, until they accumulate into massiveness and overwhelming moral authority, the incidents which characterise our varied life. What greater distance is there than between the weeping Moses on the Nile and the culminating Moses as he gathers himself together to obey in sweet patience and uncomplaining resignation the last demand? Regard the whole process: note its variety, swiftness, tumult; and then observe the deep tranquillity, the sabbatic calm, the ineffable dignity, and say whether after such a perusal of historical facts it does not become easier to believe that we ourselves—weak, lonely, misunderstood, harshly treated, ill-behaved, unruly,—shall one day, by the ministry of the Holy Ghost and through the blood of atonement, become, as it were, princes, priests, kings in the upper spaces—the holy sanctuary of the heavens. Let analogy teach; let history become theological; let the palpable incidents of life connect themselves into an argument and vindicate the page of Holy Scripture.
Now that Moses is walking up the mountain, we cannot but think of the life-long hardship he has endured. Read the history of his association with Israel, and say if there is one "Thank you" in all the tumultuous story. Does one man speak out of the host and say, In the name of Israel I give thee thanks? We do not know some men until we see them wandering away from us. The back of Moses is now turned: we shall see his face no more; he will be a great man in Israel now that he is gone: the people may make an idol of him—of him whom they have so much abused; they may quote his words, repaint his lineaments, and tell their descendants of his heroic days. When had he any times of peace? When does Moses ever say, Now I am in a green country full of verdure, and flowers, and birds, and this is ample compensation for all the horrors of the way? Marvellous is the providence which calls some men to continual labour and other men to almost continual contemplation, or such monasticism of life as protects them from the roughness of the storm! We owe much to our labourers: we reap harvests which were sown by heroic swords. It is easy to gather the harvest, for we go out in the autumn time when the sky is richest in all brightness and beauty, when the wind is cool and vitalising, and when the fields are white or golden, according to the crops they bear; but these harvests were sown in tears: the seed now fructified was dropped into furrows moistened with blood. Let not the harvester rejoice as if he were the sower: we reap what nobler men have cast into the ground. Some men cannot do without encouragement, but Moses was left to pursue his way in its absence. Who ever cheered him? He was always called upon to cheer others, to stimulate them, to cry,—Higher! forward!—as if he were bidding them to mountains rich with harvests and to prospects bright as heaven.
What a strain there was also upon the religious side of his nature! He had no recreation: the bow was never unbent; he was always being called up to hear the Lord communicate some new law, some new charge or address. To his veneration a continual appeal was addressed. What wonder if his face wore the aspect of solemnity? What wonder if his eye was alight with the very splendours he had beheld? For the face of Moses not to shine would be a contradiction and a defiance of fact We are ourselves like what we most like or what we most admire. Moses dwelt in the presence of God, entered into the very spirit of the divine purpose, accustomed himself to the throb and music of the divine utterance, and when he came down from the mountain he wist not that his face did shine. We do not know all that we gain by divine communion; we seize only part of the treasure: we do not comprehend or appreciate the unsearchable riches. It is customary to speak of the sternness of Moses, his rigour and his definiteness of command and tone; but we cannot deeply peruse his story without observing the womanly instincts which gave the tenderness of dignity to the man. He was father and mother of that great house of Israel; he did all kinds of work; if there was sickness, he was the man to speak about it in healing tones; if there was bitterness in the pool, he was the man to find the purifying and sweetening plant;—in a sense he gathered the lambs in his bosom and carried them with shepherdly solicitude; he was the mother, the nurse, the sister, the woman, in that great and rebellious house of Israel. Such always is the complete man: his tenderness is always equal to his dignity, or by so much he is a defective character. The greatest men in history have, in spirit, temper, and patience, been the greatest women. What was the motive of such a life? Who can explain the inward and all-moving force? We must wait for the keyword until we come to the most eloquent epistle in the New Testament. How is Moses accounted for by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews? "By faith Moses—." Now we begin to get light upon that mysterious word "faith." It is ascribed to Moses as a motive—an animating and sustaining force; it must, therefore, mean insight into the purpose and tendency of things—penetration into the very philosophy of right, religion, and duty; it must mean self-surrender, self-abandonment, complete trust of God. Such is the meaning as read in the light of history, and such is the meaning vindicated by the richest learning of philosophy. Faith could find a way through the wilderness; faith could build a sanctuary in the desert; faith could carry a great household of rebellious children through dangerous places; faith could see Canaan with closed eyes, and awaken imagination to sing to adequate music the delights of that promised country. We perish for want of faith. Knowledge we have, and tongues many, and sense of the value of things: nor are we without veneration or prayerfulness of attitude and tone; but we have not the all-firing faith, the all-ennobling trust, the sight that sees the invisible, the hands that clutch the very omnipotence of God;—our life is a calculation, an excited prudence, a boastful cowardice. Do we say, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest"? He replies: No, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests: but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." "Who follows in his train?" Few men go along that line; if they ever join it, it is because they have come upon it along some incidental path. Christianity is the religion of faith: it is not a new variety of philosophy; it is not a specimen of intellectual legerdemain: its watchword is faith, its keyword is love, its purpose is the pardon of the world.
Then is Moses not to see Canaan? Moses would not care now to see any land flowing with milk and honey. He shall see the upper Canaan,—the happy land where the flowers never wither, where the summer is guaranteed to last eternally. Thus God educates men. He promises them something for the end, and under the animation of that promise they pursue their duty, and they so pursue it that at the last they ask for something for the heart; the hand could not hold what they want: it is not equal to the answer of their bolder prayer. The Lord promises a land flowing with milk and honey, the only promise that could then be understood. Men arose to search for the land, and by daily education, gracious discipline, gentle admonition, continual and regulated instruction, they came to say what God at first meant them to say,—We seek a country out of sight: we seek a city on high—a city whose Builder and Maker is God. We have seen that a time comes when by right spiritual education and true spiritual sympathy with Christ the world shrivels into mean proportions, and is hurried into contempt by the very religion which we supposed would enable us to enjoy it. After a certain period of well-received lessons we say, We will not have the earth: we do not feel that it is worth carrying; it is but a handful of dust, it is but a flutter in the air,—let it return to the nothingness out of which it came; we yearn for God, we sigh for the infinite, we cannot rest without the eternal Father.
Moses goes upon the mountain to die. It is well: such a man ought to die upon a mountain. The scene is full of symbolism; it is quick with moral and spiritual suggestiveness. Men may die upon mountains if they will; or men may perish in dark valleys if they like. To die upon the mountain is to die into heaven. The place of our death, as to its significance and honour, will be determined by the life we lead. We die just as we live, and, so to say, where we live. Moses lived a mountain life: he was a highlander; he lived on the hills, and on the hills he died. May it not be so with us? By well-done duty, by well-endured affliction, by well-tested patience, by complete self-surrender, by continual imitation and following of Christ, we may die on some lofty hill, cool with dew or bright with sunshine, the point nearest to the skies. To die at such an elevation is to begin to live. Men can die in the valleys if they please; by meanness of life, by self-consideration, by baptised prudence, by bastard piety, by feigned prayer, they can hasten swiftly down into deep places and die in the shadows and gloom of despair. We can so live that none will care where or how we die: the only gospel they ever hear of us will be that we are dead. But who will live this life? Who can think of it? Who that knows the value of influence, who that regards the love of children and the love of posterity, could live a life so ignoble, so devoid of practical sentiment, so wasteful in all that is most sacred in energy?
Moses died with a song upon his lips. What that song was we shall in our next reading see. The image, however, may now, for the moment, be detained before the mind as full of the best suggestion. Moses died singing: a song was part of the last utterance of the heroic man. What a song it was we may be eager to know, How strong; how tender; how valiant; how nearly a law; how next to a judgment; how close to a cross! The song of Moses marks a period in the progress of the soul. The song tells what the life has been, and the song touches with infinite delicateness the future of the spirit. We may die with a song upon our lips, or we may die in cruel silence—in the dumbness of despair. By a song do not understand the term literally: he dies singing who dies contentedly, hopefully, at peace with the world, at rest in Christ, confident that the Cross he has served will light him through the valley; it may be no sound of a vocal kind, no triumph, no rapture, as commonly understood; but tranquillity may be music, resignation may have about it the triumph and gladness of a song.
Die we must: there is no discharge in that war. How we shall die may be determined by ourselves, as to its moral characteristics and benedictions; where we shall die, as to elevation of thought and mind, is left to ourselves very largely to decide; but know this, that if any man believe in Christ Jesus with his whole soul, he cannot die: he that liveth and believeth in him, though he were dead, yet shall he live. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." "Believest thou this?" Let the question be the most solemn appeal ever addressed to the attention of the soul.
Almighty God, thou hast been eyes unto us: thou hast seen the way when it was hidden from our vision; the darkness and the light are both alike unto thee. We delight to worship thee as the God ruling among the armies of heaven and among the children of men, for we are all thy creatures: we represent thy breath: thy life is in us, and thy touch is even upon our ruin. We are still thy children, fashioned by thee, redeemed with blood by thy Son, and to us are revealed the unsearchable riches of Christ. We desire, therefore, to claim every privilege, and to rejoice in every honour, and to say, This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes; this is the gift of God, this is the light of heaven, this is the miracle of the Holy Ghost. So there is no boastfulness: we are humbled in the dust; when thou dost show us how thou hast loved us we are the more cast down in our own esteem: but thou dost recover us and re-establish us,—yea, thou dost set our feet upon a rock, and thou dost put a song into our mouth: we will sing of thy goodness and mercy; we will bless thee for thy judgments too, often strange and heavy, yet every one needed to chasten and subdue the soul on which it falls. We bless thee for thine house: we love every stone of it; its light is sanctified; its very air is charged with a ministry of light. Thy Book is wide open before us, and we can understand somewhat of it, and can respond to its great appeals; and above all that it unfolds and reveals we see the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Priest of the universe, our Advocate with the Father, the Daysman between God and our souls—laying his hand upon both and making reconciliation. We love the Cross because of its representation of God's love, God's pity, God's omnipotence;—may we cling to it, and glory in it, and magnify it, and die under the inspiration of its holy mystery. Amen.