The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?Joseph's Elevation
Joseph was about seventeen years of age when he went out, at his father's request, to make inquiry concerning the well-being of his brethren. We find from the text that he was now thirty years old. Think of thirteen years being required for the fulfilment of a dream! The Lord counteth not time as men count it. He sitteth upon the circle of eternity. He seems to be always at leisure: though doing everything, to be doing nothing. A thousand years in his sight are but as yesterday, and all time is but as a watch in the night. But what about the effect of this long suspense upon the mind of the dreamer himself? It is hardly any comfort to us to know that God can afford to wait centuries and millenniums for the fulfilment of his purposes. There is another, there is a weaker side to this great question of the dreamer. Here is a young man exiled from his lather's presence and the comforts of his home; labouring under the vilest imputations and the gravest suspicions; wasting, as it appears to us, thirteen prime years of his life. What about this waiting on the part of God, so far as Joseph is concerned? See, for example, how likely it was to discourage his faith in things spiritual. The youth had a dream, a vision, granted him as he believed of God; and yet through thirteen years his dream takes no shape, his vision is but a spectre of the memory—not a grand ruling fact of the life. Mark how his faith comes down accordingly. He reasons thus with himself: "Up to this time I have had faith in the God of my fathers. I have believed that dream and vision, strange token and wonderful signal, all meant something in the Divine providence and government of the world. I thought my own dream had a great meaning in it: but I waited twelve months and nothing came of the dream; and twelve months more, and my vision was as nothing; and another year, and I have suffered nothing but ill-treatment,—and all this ill-treatment has come to me through this very dream of mine. Verily, it was but a vexatious nightmare; or, if a vision of God, it was sent to mock my ambition and to destroy my peace."
If the young man had run off into some such soliloquy as that, he would be a very mighty man who could justly rebuke him for taking that view of the affairs which constituted so large a portion of his life. It is so with ourselves, my brethren. There are many things which conspire to destroy our faith in the invisible, the spiritual, the eternal. There are daily occurrences which teach us that there is something higher than matter; yet there are things occurring around us which are perpetually rebuking our trust in the distant, the intangible, the spiritual, the Divine. And who are we, that we should speak to men who for thirteen years have been groaning under heavy burdens, and chide them, as if all the while they ought to have been musical, bright with Divine hope and beauty, and not sad and heavy-hearted, mournful and pathetic in tone? We should look at such things seriously, with consideration. It is a terrible thing for some men to believe in God! It takes the whole stress of their nature, and all the help which can come of their personal history and their family traditions, to bind them to the belief that, after all, though God is taking a long time to fulfil their dream, yet he is working it out, and in his own good hour he will show that not a moment has been lost, that all the dozen years or mote have been shaped into a peculiar and bright benediction.
Then look at the inferential rectitude of his brethren. Joseph might have turned in upon himself in some such way as this: "Though my brethren dealt very harshly with me, yet they had keener and truer insight into this business than I had. They saw that I was the victim of a piece of foolish fanaticism. I thought I was interpreting to them a dream of Heaven, a vision of God. When I told my dream they mocked me; they visited me with what appeared to be evil treatment. But now that I have had thirteen years of disappointment, vexatious delay, and all the consequent embitterment of spirit, my brethren were right after all. They might not have taken, perhaps, the very best method of showing that they were right; yet now I forgive them, because they were right on the main issue, and they were called of God to chide my fanaticism, my imbecility and folly." Well, there is a good deal of sound sense in that monologue. It does appear as if the brethren were right and Joseph was wrong. The brethren can turn to thirteen years' confirmation of their view of Joseph's dream. They could say: "Where are his dreams now? He had a vision of greatness. All the sheaves in the field were to bow down to his sheaf, and all the stars were to make obeisance to him as the central sun. Where are his dreams now?" It is even so with ourselves. There are views of life which I get that impress upon me this conclusion:—Bad men are right after all. There are what are called "facts," which go dead against the good man's faith and the holy man's prayer. There are men today who can tell you that they have prayed and struggled and fought and endured, and for twelve years nothing has come of their holy patient waiting upon God,—nothing that is worthy of being set against the stress under which they have suffered, the discipline that has pained them, the misunderstandings which have troubled and tormented their lives. There have, indeed, been little flecks of light upon their daily course; there have been little compliments and social courtesies; but, putting all these things together, they are not worthy to be named in comparison with the poignant anguish that their souls have endured. Yet will not history be to us a tone without language, a messenger without a message, a wasted thing, if we do not learn from this incident that if we have waited twelve years, yet, in the thirteenth, God may open the windows of heaven and pour out upon us a blessing that there shall not be room to contain? It is not easy to wait. It does not suit our incomplete nature to tarry so long. But we fall back upon history, which is God interpreted, and we find in that an assurance that when the heart is right, the outward circumstances shall be shaped and directed to our highest advantage.
Some men's dreams do take a long time to fulfil. The butler and the baker's dreams were fulfilled in three days. But what was there in their dreams? Everything depends upon the vision we have had of God. If we have had a butler's dream we shall have a butler's answer. If we have had such a dream as a great nature only can dream, then God must have time to work out his purposes. Joseph is not the only man who has suffered for his dreams. God oftentimes punishes us by making dreamers of us. Some men would be thankful today if they could close nine-tenths of their sensibility,—if they could become leathern or wooden, to a large extent. This power of feeling—of feeling everything to be Divine, and to have a Divine meaning in it: this power of seeing beyond the visible right into the unseen: this power of dreaming and forecasting the future—brings with it severe pains and terrible penalties. Here is a man who dreams of the amelioration of his race. He will write a book, he will found an institution, he will start certain courses of thinking, he will seek to reverse the thought of his contemporaries and turn it all into a directly opposite channel. He sees the result of all this. He tells his dream, and men laugh at him. They say, "It is just like him, you know. He is a very good sort of man, but there is a great deal of fanaticism in him. He has always got some new scheme, and some very beautiful vision floating before him." And men who never dreamed—except it was that their wretched little house was being broken into—feel called upon to snub him with their contempt, and to avoid him as a man who is too good or too clever for this poor common world. What are we to make of history, if we do not get out of it this lesson?—that there are dreams which God gives, and there are dreams which take a long time to fulfil. We do not make history—we interpret it. God causes the facts to transpire, and he says to us, "Be wise, be understanding: draw the right inferences from these circumstances." But was it worth waiting thirteen years for? A good deal will depend upon the answer we give to that inquiry. Is there nothing worth waiting thirteen years for? Some men require twenty-five years' hard, good schooling before they are quite as they ought to be. Other men may require only two days, and they are as sharp and clear as any scholar need be. Others require thirteen years on the treadmill, thirteen years' discipline and scourging, thirteen years' weaning from old affections and old associations. Observe, God was now training a spoiled child, and spoiled children cannot be drilled and put right in two hours. Some of us have been spoiled in various ways. Some with excess of goodness, and some with excess of harshness, it may be,—yet spoiled. Our nature has got a twist, or we have got ideas which require to be taken out of us; and only chastisement, suspicion, imprisonment, scourging, loss, hunger, affliction, and the very gate of death itself, can bring us to that measure of solidity and tenderness and refinement which God wants, in order to start us on the highest course of our manly service Was it worth waiting thirteen years for? Yes. All countries, according to the Biblical statement, came to Joseph for food, and all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn, because that the famine was sore in all lands. He was the feeder of the nations, the father, the preserver, the benefactor of innumerable multitudes! It seems to us to be an easy thing to step into that position. But we do not see the whole case; we do not see the temptations which beset it, the difficulties which combine to form that position; we do not know all the collateral bearings and issues. Let God be judge. He took thirteen years to make this man; and this man was the benefactor, and, under God, the saviour of nations. Why should not we endeavour to learn that lesson? We should like now to be second to Pharaoh. Some of us have the notion that we are tolerably ready, today, to receive all the homage which people can give us. That is our mistake. If we wait thirteen years, we shall be better; we shall be stronger and wiser, than we are now. The years are not wasted to souls that make a right use of them. Every year that goes by should lift a man up, give him enlargement of capacity, and tenderer sympathy, and sensitiveness of feeling. So Joseph waited thirteen years. But after he had waited, he went before Pharaoh, and was as Pharaoh to the people of Egypt.
"Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? " (Genesis 42:1).
The old man was perfectly innocent: he had no evil tormenting associations with the word Egypt. If his sons had heard there was corn many a mile farther off than Egypt, surely these stalwart, active, energetic men would have been off before the old man chided them by this speech of his about waiting and looking upon one another. But, corn in Egypt! Some words are histories. Some words are sharper than drawn swords. Egypt was a keen double-edged weapon that went right into the very hearts of the men whom Jacob sought to stimulate. Jacob saw only the outward attitude. The sons appeared to be at their wits' end. Jacob thought his children were inactive—had no spring or energy in them; that they had faded away into ordinary people, instead of being the active, strong-limbed, energetic, and, as he thought, high-minded men of old. Men do not show all their life. Men have a secret existence, and their outward attitude is often but a deception. I have seen this same principle in operation in many stations of life. I have seen it in the Church. I have known men, whose interest in the sanctuary has begun to decline, who have been inattentive to the ministry, who have fallen off in their support of Christian institutions, and, when asked by the unsuspecting Jacobs, "Why is this?" they have said "that they do not care so much for the minister as they used to do. There is not food for the soul; they want another kind of thing; and, therefore, until some change has taken place, they must withhold support from this and from that." So the minister has had to suffer: to suffer from unkind words, from chilling looks, from attitudes which could not be reported or printed, but which were hard to bear. And the poor minister has endeavoured in his study to work harder, and to get up the kind of food which such souls—souls!—could digest. He has toiled away, and in six months it has turned out that the wretch who criticised him and made him a scapegoat, was preparing for bankruptcy, and was edging his way out of the Church, that he might do it with respectability and without suspicion. Such a case is not uncommon. It may vary in its outward aspects and the way of putting it. But there are men that seek to get out of duties, and out of positions, by all kinds of excuses, who dare not open their hearts and say, "The reason is in myself. I am a bad man. I have been caught in the devil's snare; I am the victim of his horrible temptation and cruelty." It is the same, I am afraid, with many of you young men in the family circle. You want to throw off restraint. You want to alter this arrangement and that in the family; and you speak of your health, your friends, or some change in your affections. You put altogether a false face and a bad gloss upon the affair, so that your unsuspecting father and mother may not know the reality,—the reality being that your heart is wrong, or your soul has poisoned itself. You want to be away, to do something that is truly diabolic, and which you would not like those who gave you birth and who have nourished you through life to see. Believe this, that not until the moral is right can the social be frank, fearless, happy. When men's hearts are right they will not have anything to hide. They may have committed errors of judgment, but these have been venial, trifling. But where there is no deep villainy of the heart, men can bear to tell their whole life, and show how it is that they are fearful concerning this, or despondent concerning something else.
This law of association is constantly operating amongst men. A word will bring up the memories of a lifetime. You had only to say to ten great-boned men in the house of Jacob—and say it in a whisper—Egypt! and you would shake every man to the very centre and core of his being. If you could have met the oldest, strongest, sturdiest of them on a dark night, and said to him, Egypt! you would have struck him as with the lightning of God. Yes, it is a terrible thing to have done evil! It comes up again upon you from ten thousand points. It lays hold of you, and holds you in humiliating captivity, and defies you to be happy. That this may be so I think is tolerably clear from the twenty-first verse of the forty-second chapter. The men were before Joseph, after they had been cross-examined by him.—
"And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore, is this distress come upon us" (Genesis 42:21).
Many years after the event! Their recollection of that event was as clear as if it had transpired but yesterday. Learn the moral impotence of time. We say this evil deed was done fifty years ago. Fifty years may have some relation to the memory of the intellect, but it has no relation to the tormenting memory of the conscience. There is a moral memory. Conscience has a wondrously realising power,—taking things we have written in secret ink and holding them before the fire until every line becomes vivid, almost burning. Perhaps some of you know not yet the practical meaning of this. We did something twenty years ago. We say to ourselves, "Well, seeing that it was twenty years ago, it is not worth making any to-do about it; it is past, and it is a great pity to go twenty years back, raking up things." So it is, in some respects, a great pity to bother ourselves about things other men did, twenty years ago. But what about our own recollection, our own conscience, our own power of accusation? A man says, "I forged that name twenty-five years ago, and oh! every piece of paper I get hold of seems to have the name upon it. I never dip the pen, but there is something in the pen that reminds me of what I did by candle light, in almost darkness, when I had locked the door and assured myself nobody was there. Yet it comes upon me so graphically,—my punishment is greater than I can bear!" Time cannot heal our iniquities. Forgetfulness is not the cure for sin. Obliviousness is not the redeemer of the world. How, then, can I get rid of the torment and the evils of an accusing memory? The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." That is the kind of answer men want, when they feel all their yesterdays conspiring to urge an indictment against them as sinners before the living God. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Can I impress this upon myself and upon you? Time cannot redeem us. Ten thousand ages hence, a man's sin will confront him, scourge him, and defy him to enjoy one moment's true rest. Who then can destroy sin, break its power? Whose arms can get round it, lift it up, and cast it into the depths of the sea? This is a Divine work, God's work! It is not to be done by your ethical quacks and your dreamy speculators. It is to be done only by the mighty redeeming power of God the Son, Jesus Christ! This is the gospel I have to preach to men. Fifty years will make no difference in your crimes. Conscience makes us live continually in the present; and only the blood of Jesus Christ can wash out the stains of evil deed and unholy memory.
"And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required" (Genesis 42:22).
Showing how bad men reproach one another, how little unity there is in wickedness, what a very temporary thing is the supposed unanimity of bad men,—how bad men will one day turn upon one another, and say "It was you!" Ha! such is the unanimity of wicked conspirators! "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not"; they will turn against thee some day. Though your swords be pointed against one man at the present hour, and you may be unanimous in some wicked deed,—God's great wheel is going round and round, and the hour cometh when the men who urged thee to do the evil deed, and share with them their unholy counsels, will seek thy heart, will accuse thee, will charge thee with participation in their nefarious, hellish designs and work. The way of transgressors is hard! Smooth for a mile or two, and then hard, thorny—ravenous beasts there, serpents lurking here. It is very difficult to get back when you once start upon that way. I have known young men who have said, "We want to go just a mile or two down this road, and when we find it becomes rather intricate, we intend to turn right round; and then, after all, you will see that we have only been sowing a few wild oats, and just doing a few odd things, and by-and-by we shall settle down into solid men." I am not so sure about it. If a man goes into the evil way, and the great Enemy of souls goes after him, he will blot out his footprints. So when the man says, "I will now go back again; I can put my feet where I put them before," he looks for his footprints, but they have gone, and he cannot tell which is east, west, north, south! Footprints gone; landmarks altered; the whole metamorphosed, and to him downward is upward. None so blind as he, the eyes of whose soul have been put out!
All this, too, was in the hearing of Joseph. Joseph heard them say that he was their brother. They used to call him "dreamer." He heard them say "the child,"—tenderly. Once they mocked him. He heard them speak in subdued, gentle tones. He remembers the time when their harsh grating voices sent a terror through his flesh and blood, and when he was sold off to travelling merchantmen. It was worth waiting for to see further into one another, after such experiences as these. He never would have known his brethren, but for this terrible process. Some disciplines open men's nature and show us just what they are. "His blood is required," said Reuben. Certainly,—such requirements made life worth having. There are pay days. There are days when bills become due. There are times when business men are particularly busy, because the day has come on which certain things are due and must be attended to. And shall a paltry guinea be due to you or to me, and a man's blood never be due? Shall we be very conscientious about pounds, shillings, and pence, and forget the virtue we have despoiled, the honour we have insulted, the love we have trampled underfoot? God will judge us by our actions, and will charge upon us that we were conscientious in little things, in trivial relationships, and forgot that sometimes man's blood is due, and man's honour comes with a demand to be satisfied.
Joseph's Brethren Under Trial
Joseph had spoken roughly to his brethren, whom he knew, though they knew not him. He had declared unto them, by the life of Pharaoh, that they should not go forth from his presence, except their youngest brother came with them. Having heard Joseph's decision, they began to reproach one another. They said, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." And Reuben turned the whole thing upon them in a very pointed reproach. He said, "Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required." Joseph understood their speech, though they did not understand the speech of Joseph, because he spake unto them through an interpreter. The interview having come to this point, Joseph turned himself about from his brethren and wept. Harsh experience need not destroy the finest sensibility, the tenderest feelings of the heart. Here is a man who has had twenty years' very painful, almost unendurable, treatment; and yet, at the end of that period, he is susceptible of the tenderest influences, responds emotionally, with tears, with unutterable yearning and tenderness of soul, in the presence of his brethren, and the mute appeal which was involved in that presence. There is something for us to learn here. Our harsh experiences often deaden our sensibility, work in us a sourness of heart and feeling which becomes misanthropic, selfish, resentful. We learn from the history before us that it is possible to be exiled from home, ill-treated by relatives and friends, thrown into the way of pain, sorrow, loss and desolation; yet to come out of the whole process tender, sensitive, responsive to appeals which are made to our nature. Why, there are some men who cannot overget the very slightest offence. If they have not their own way in everything, they show their resentfulness in a thousand little ways,—they become peevish, censorious, distrustful, ungenial. You never meet them but they give you to understand that they have been insulted, offended, dishonoured. They have had to endure slight, or contempt, or neglect. How little, how unutterably paltry, such men appear in the presence of the man who, after twenty years of exile, solitude, evil treatment of all kinds, weeps when he sees his brethren,—keeps his heart through it all,—has not allowed himself to become soured or misanthropic! He keeps a whole, tender, responsive heart through all the tumult, and trial, and agony, and bitter sorrow of thirteen years' vile captivity, and seven years of exaltation which might, by the very surprise it involved, and the very suddenness with which it came, have over-balanced the man's mind and given him false views of himself. If he was great, why should not we be great? If he could keep a whole heart through it all, why should we allow our moral nature to be frittered and dribbled away? Why should we become less, instead of greater, notwithstanding the evils we have to endure, and the difficulties which press upon us on every side? This is a great question, calling men to devout consideration, and to a searching and complete review of their moral position.
After the lapse of many years, Joseph, on seeing his brethren, wept. Why, he might have been vengeful. It is easy for us glibly to read the words, "Joseph" turned himself about and wept." But consider what the words might have been! We oftentimes see results, not processes. We do not see how men have had to bind themselves down, crucify themselves—hands, feet, head, and side—and undergo death in the presence of God, before they could look society in the face with anything like benignity, and gentleness, and forgiveness. What the words might have been! Joseph, when he saw his brethren, might have said, "Now I have you! Once you put me into a pit,—I shall shake you over hell; once you sold me,—I will imprison you and torture you day and night; you smote me with whips,—I shall scourge you with scorpions! It shall be easier to go through a circle of fire than to escape my just and indignant vengeance today!" He might have said, "I shall operate upon the law: A tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye." That is the law of nature; that is elementary morality. It is not vengeance, it is not resentment; it is alphabetic justice—justice at its lowest point—incipient righteousness. It is not two eyes for an eye, two teeth for a tooth; but an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth a blow for a blow, a pit for a pit, selling for selling, and so on. A great many men are perfectly content with elementary morality and alphabetic justice. People do not educate themselves from this kind of righteousness into Christian nobility of disposition. It is not a question of education; it is a question of sanctification. Few men can rise beyond mere justice. Many men find in mere justice all the moral satisfaction which their shallow natures require; they cannot see that mercy is the very highest point in justice, and that, when a man stoops to forgive, he becomes a prince, and a king, and a crowned ruler in the house and kingdom of God. It requires all that God can do to teach men this: that there is something higher than the law of retaliation; that forgiveness is better than resentment, and that to release men is oftentimes—if done from moral considerations and not from moral indifference—the highest form of Christian justice. But revenge is sweet! I am afraid that some of us like just a little revenge; not that we would ourselves personally and directly inflict it; but, if our enemies could, somehow or another, be tripped up, and tumble half-way at least into a pit, we should not feel that compunction, and sorrow, and distress of soul which, sentimentally, appears to be so very fine and beautiful. Nothing but God the Holy Ghost can train a man to this greatness of answering the memory of injury with tears, and accepting processes in which men only appear to have a part as if God, after all, had been over-ruling and directing the whole scheme.
"And Joseph turned himself about from them, and wept." Afterwards he left their presence and went into his chamber and wept. Think of the secret sorrows of men! The tears did not flow in the presence of the ten men. The tears were shed in secret. We do not know one another altogether, because there is a private life. There are secret experiences. Some of us are two men. Joseph was two men. He spake roughly unto his brethren. He put it on; he assumed roughness for the occasion. But if you had seen him when he had got away into his secret chamber, no woman ever shed hotter, bitterer tears than streamed from that man's eyes. We do not know one another altogether. We come to false conclusions about each other's character and disposition. Many a time we say about men, "they are very harsh, rough, abrupt"; not knowing that they have other days when their very souls are dissolved within them; that they can suffer more in one hour than shallower natures could endure in an eternity. Let us be hopeful about the very worst of men. Some men cannot cry in public. Some men are, unfortunately, afflicted with coarse, harsh voices, which get for them a reputation for austerity, unkindliness, ungeniality. Other men are gifted with fairness and openness of countenance, gentleness and tunefulness of voice. When they curse and swear it seems as though they were half praying, or just about to enter into some religious exercise. When they speak, when they smile, they get a reputation for being very amiable men, yet they do not know what amiability is. They have no secret life. They weep for reputation; they make their tears an investment for a paltry renown. We do not want all our history to be known. We are content for men to read a little of what they see on the outside, and they profoundly mistake that oftentimes. But the secret history, the inner room of life, what we are and what we do when we are alone, no man can ever tell,—the dearest, truest, tenderest friend can never understand. Do not let us treat Joseph's tears lightly. Under this feeling there are great moral principles and moral impulses. The man might have been stern, vengeful, resentful. Instead of that, he is tender as a forgiving sister. When he looks he yearns, when he listens to their voices all the gladness and none of the bitterness of his old home comes back again on his soul.
"And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us? And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that, behold, every man's bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid" (Genesis 42:28, Genesis 42:35).
What mistaken views we take about what is called the commonplaces of life! Some of us are often discontented because of the insipidity of our existence. To-day so like yesterday, and tomorrow will be but a repetition of today. We are always wanting something to happen. We say, If anything would but occur today to stir the stagnant pool of our life! We want to get out of old ruts and ordinary modes. Here are men to whom something had happened, and they were afraid! We could not live sensationally. Men can bear shocks and sensations only now and then. In life there must be great breadths of commonplace and ordinariness. We could not stand a shock every day. It is enough, now and then, to be stimulated and shaken out of what is common and usual, and what has come, by reason of its commonness, to be under-valued and contemned.
They were afraid when they saw their money in their sacks. See the possibility of mercies being turned into judgments,—of the very goodness of God striking us in the heart,—of mercy itself smiting us as with the rod of wrath. How can this be so? When the moral nature is wrong, when man's conscience tells him that he has no right to this or that privilege or enjoyment, when man is divided against himself, when he has justly written bitterness against his own memory and his own nature altogether,—then his very bread becomes bitter in his mouth, and the sunlight of God is a burning judgment upon his life. Naturally, one would have said that, when the men saw their money in the sacks, saw that it had been planned, that it was not an accidental thing,—being in one sack and not in another, but being in every man's sack,—when they saw order, regularity, scheme in the whole thing,—they might have said, "We are glad: we have been kindly and nobly treated by the men of Egypt; we are thankful for their consideration." Yet, when they saw the money, they would not have been more surprised if a scorpion had erected itself out of a sack and aimed to strike them in the face. A time will come to bad men when even God's mercies will trouble them, when the light of the day will be a burden to their eyes, and when the softest music will be more unendurable than the most terrible thunder. Bad men have no right to mercies. Bad souls have no right to be in the pastures of God's richness of love and mercy and compassion. They feel themselves out of place, or they will do so. Altogether, sirs, it is a bad look-out for bad men! They cannot find rest anywhere. Put them in the very finest pastures you can find, and there will arise one day in their hearts this accusation: You have no right to be here; your place is in the sandy desert. Put them in the sandy desert, and the very wilderness will be filled with discontent and unrest until the bad men get out of it. Altogether the universe will not want them. God will turn his back upon them! There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
See, further, how small things can upset man's enjoyment, man's pleasure and satisfaction in life. Here is a paltry handful of money in each man's sack, and because of the event there is no rest in the house of Israel that day. Life does not turn upon great events and sublime circumstances. Life, after all, has in it great breadths of repetition. One day is very much like another. It is upon little wheels that great things turn. We undervalue little things. The young man does not care to live today, because nothing great or sublime is occurring. He does not know that his very life is hung upon a little thread; that his breath is in his nostrils; that one element thrown into the air he breathes will destroy his animal existence, and that life is such a delicately constructed affair that little things will increase our joy a millionfold, or will utterly consume and destroy our pleasure. How, then, can I get mastery over this life? I don't want to be it the mercy of these little things that occur every day. Is there no means by which I could have a sceptre of rulership and symbol of mastery? Is there no way to the throne, seated on which, I could be calm amid tumult, rich amid loss, hopeful in the midst of disappointment, strong and restful when great things all about me are shaking and tottering to the fall? Yes, there is a way. A way to independence, and mastery, and peace. What is that way? It has a thousand names, but call it now—Fellowship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He who sits—through the mercy of the Most High—on the throne of God, sees all things from God's point of view. He does not grapple with mere details: is not lost amid a thousand mazy ways, but sees the processes of life in their scope, their unity, and their whole moral significance. "Great peace have they that love thy law." "O, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." This alone can give a man steadiness, composure, childlike assurance, and saintly triumph amid breaking fortunes, vanishing enjoyments and comforts, and cause him to say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." When he hath brought his work to an end, I shall praise him for the mercy of his judgments, and for the gentleness of his rod.
"And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me. And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave" (Genesis 42:36, Genesis 42:38).
An old man, who does not know what he is talking about! What does the oldest and best man amongst us know about life? Jacob is writing a list of his grievances and misfortunes and distresses, and God's angels are looking down upon him and saying that the whole statement, though it is one of what men call facts, is a mistake from beginning to end. Think of a man writing his life, and of God's writing the same life in a parallel column! Now old Israel is perfectly correct, so far as the story is known to himself. Jacob their father said, "Me have ye bereaved of my children." That is right. "Joseph is not" That is perfectly true, so far as Jacob is concerned, so far as his information extends. "And Simeon is not" That also is literally correct, so far as the absence of Simeon may be regarded. "And ye will take Benjamin away." Precisely so, that is the very thing they have in view. "All these things are against me." It is exactly the same with us today. Men do not know what they say when they use words. They do not know the full meaning of their own expressions. They will always snatch at first appearances and pronounce judgment upon incomplete processes. Every day I afflict myself with just the same rod. I know what a fool I am for doing so, and yet I shall do it again tomorrow. There comes into a man's heart a kind of grim comfort when he has scourged himself well; when he knows all the while that ten thousand errors are accusing him of a repetition of his folly.
There are men who do not know their own family circumstances, yet they have undertaken to pronounce judgment upon the Infinite! Some men are very familiar with the Infinite, and have a wonderful notion of their power of managing God's concerns. We seem at home when we go from home. Here is an old man saying, "Joseph is not, Simeon is not, Benjamin is to be taken away. All these things are against me." Yet we who have been in a similar position, though the circumstances have been varied, have undertaken to pronounce judgment upon God's way in the world, God's government, God's purposes. Why do we not learn from our ignorance? Why do we not read the book of our own folly, and learn that we know nothing, being children of yesterday? We cannot rise to that great refinement of learning, it would appear. Every day we repeat our follies. It is but a man here and there who has a claim to a reputation for religious wisdom.
How life depends upon single events! We may say, The old man's life is bound up in the life of Benjamin. There are individuals without whom the world would be cold and poor to us all. You may say, He is but one of ten thousand, let him go,—she is but one of a million, why care so much for her? We live in ones and twos. We cannot live in a countless population. We live in an individual heart, a special individual, personal love and trust. I cannot carry immensity! I can only carry a heartful of love. There are men today who would not care to look at the sun again if they lost that dear little child of theirs; men who look at everything through the medium of an only daughter, or an only son; who would not care for spring, and summer, and golden autumn; for fortune, position, influence, or renown, if that one ewe lamb were taken away. Life may be focalised to one point of interest, impulse, desire, and purpose. A man's life may be centred upon one individual existence.
Let us understand, however, that Jacob does not begin his sorrow with the possible taking away of Benjamin. This is the last sorrow of a series. That is how some of us are worn down in soul, and heart, and hope. It is not because you have had taken away one thing; but because that one thing happens to be the last of a series. The great hammer that fell on a block of marble and shivered it,—did that blow shiver it? No. It was blow upon blow, repercussion. No one stroke did it, though the last appeared to accomplish the purpose. Some of you have had many sorrows. You think you cannot bear the sorrow that is now looking at you through the dark, misty cloud. You are saying, "I should pray God to be spared that sorrow. I have had six troubles: I cannot bear the seventh." Not knowing that the seventh trouble is the last step into heaven! Is there no answer to this difficulty of human life that will give satisfaction to souls? There is one answer. There is a Comforter which liveth for ever. I would not teach—God forbid that I should ever so far lose my humanity as to teach; for a man can only teach well in proportion as he is a man—that we should be indifferent about children and friends, the hearts that we love. I do not want to grow into an independence of human regard, and human trust, and human love; I do not care to be lifted up into such a position of hazy, heartless sentimentality as to be able to let friend after friend die, and care nothing for the loss. That is not Christianity; that is a species of the lowest beasthood. There may be men who can see grave after grave opened, and friend after friend put in and covered away, and shed never a tear or feel never a pang of the heart. I would hope there are no such men. I do not teach that Christianity enables us to destroy our feeling, to crush our sensibility, and to be indifferent under the pressure of sorrow. But Christianity does enable us to see the whole of a case. Christianity comes to a man in his greatest losses, and troubles, and bereavements, and says to him, amid his tears, and regrets, and passionate bewailings, "Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." Christianity teaches that death is but a variation of life; that the grave is not the full stop in the difficult literature of human existence; that when we put away from us the dearest and best things that belong to our hearts, God will bring them back again to us multiplied in strength, and beauty, and freshness.
Some of us require most varied and prolonged humiliation before we are prepared for the highest honours of our life. All these arrangements and tests on the part of Joseph tended towards the humiliation and the penitence of his brethren. He might instantly have said, "I am Joseph"! They could not have borne it At once he might have said, "Brethren, I forgive you all." He might thus have done more harm than good. The men required to be tested. They had no right or title to any consideration that came before they were put to scrutiny and criticism. God has a long process with some of us. He has to take away the firstborn child, and the last-born, and all between. He has to come in, time after time, and turn the cradle upside down. He has to wither our business, blight our fortunes, and smite us with sore disease. He has to foil our purposes, break up our schemes, turn our counsel back upon us, and confound us at every point, until we begin to say, What does all this mean? He has to make us afraid by day; he has to trouble us by night; he has to turn even his mercies into judgments, before he can bring us to say solemnly, with meaning, This must have some religious intent. What does God purpose by all this various discipline?