The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when any will offer a meat offering unto the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon:The Meat-offering
We have been accustomed to the terms "burnt-offering," "offering of the flocks," "offering of the fowls," "the burnt sacrifice," "an offering made by fire of sweet savour unto the Lord,"—now we read of a "meat-offering." Is there, then, already in these ancient writings some hint of appropriation, participation in a sacred feast? The other offerings stand outside of us; we do not know all the meaning of the mysterious flame; it is something done by us under the inspiration and direction of God. But is the "meat-offering" a hint of something that is done within us for our spiritual nourishment, for the daily culture of the soul in all its best qualities and moods? Is it a solitary feast? or, being solitary at a given historical point, is it suggestive of communion, fellowship, participation with others—yea, with the Master himself in festal blessing? We have become weary with the burnt-offerings, with slaughters and blood-shedding; but the "meat-offering" seems to hint at eucharistic hospitality,—the appropriation of the body and the blood of Christ in a great symbolic act whose majesty is shaded by its tenderness. We are not yielding to fancy in any wanton or lawless sense in thus finding the germs and beginnings of things. Even the Church has its Genesis; even the Bible has its first book—its seed-house; and blessed are they, as men who are very wealthy in spiritual possessions, who can wisely, and rationally, and truly seize the very plasm out of which all the Church-universe has been developed and consolidated.
The "meat-offering" was to be seasoned with salt. It is wonderful to mark how God in his providence attaches his kingdom to old customs or prevalent practices, or to usages that had great meanings to the common people, so that through them as through parabolical images he might communicate his own highest purposes and meanings. This is what Christianity always does. In going into the nations it studies the customs of the people; it aims very quickly to preach in the native tongue. It does not stand up in its ancient pride and classical elegance and say to other nations, even to peoples who have no grammar or formal speech, "You must learn my tongue." It says, "What is your speech? How do you hold commerce with one another? Show me your methods of communicating with one another as to spiritual impression, or purpose, or action that has a meaning and a design, and I will adopt your plans, methods, customs and usages, for through them, better than through any other medium, I can communicate my purpose to you." Christianity is the condescending religion; Christianity is the religion that can afford to stoop; there is majesty in its every attitude. Its Founder made himself of no reputation, but took upon himself the form of a slave that he might raise and save the world. There was an ancient Eastern custom as to the use of salt and the meaning of salt as used upon various occasions. There have been countries in which the eating of salt with a man meant eternal friendship. Said one, "I cannot fight with him"—naming a supposed enemy—"because we have eaten salt together." A custom among the Arabs was, in the forming of any serious covenant, to sprinkle salt upon a sword, and for the two covenanting parties to partake of the salt so sprinkled, and the understanding was that nothing should ever be allowed to violate that covenant. It was a covenant seasoned with salt, sealed by the most solemn formalities. Arabs, who can trifle with language, who have a subtlety of mind that can make distinctions where other intelligences fail to perceive any differences, would hold themselves bound by a common participation of salt sprinkled upon a sword never to violate the awful covenant. The Lord adopts our customs wherein they are to us most significant. He begins with the human mind where he can. Instead of formulating some new method unheard of and open to all the perils of controversial interpretation, he says, in effect,—"What are your most solemn usages?" Finding them to be in themselves innocent, involving no corruptness or malice, he adopts such usages as points of beginning—just as he would invent a parable whereby to express a kingdom. There is a great law here which we ought to study more carefully and apply more fearlessly. Christianity consents to be, in a sense, nationalised—accentuated by the peculiarities of the people who receive it It cannot be otherwise. It is so amongst ourselves. Every man seasons his sacrifice according to his individuality,—in other words, marks his labour by his own image and superscription, so that it is his labour expressively and exclusively; it bears upon it the touch of his own soul. When India receives the Christian revelation we shall have Indian preaching, Indian books: the old truths, which never can be changed in substance, expressed in new eloquence, startling allegory, wondrous philosophy: words will be turned to new uses and miracles will be wrought in the speech of men. So with every other nation. Each will have its own form of Christianity, its own method of representing the Gospel, its own condiment with which to season its most religious actions. Let us be more fearless herein. Let us recognise the diversity of human qualities, capacities, and general gifts. We must not mechanise the divine kingdom or the eternal book. Where can each man attach himself to this redeeming thought? should be the supreme question of the Church. The true Church includes all churches. They may not all stand upon one level, but they are all shone upon by the same impartial Sun, all grouped in the same infinite constellation which constitutes the crown of Christ. Can you seize the Christian thought best at the humanity of Christ? then seize it there and despise the theological odium that may be heaped upon you by theological bigots. Can you, on the other hand, at once, as if by some spiritual kinship, enter into the very highest mysteries of the Divine Nature? Then begin even there—away among the upper places radiant with celestial splendour—and heed not the imputations of fanaticism which may be accorded to you by theological utilitarians. Do you need some other point of attachment? and have you found one of your own? Have you found it?—keep it, it is yours by right of spiritual revelation, or mental conquest, wrought in you as a miracle by God the Holy Ghost. The one thing to be observed is this: that the central truth may be the same—must be the same; Christ cannot change, his priesthood cannot be altered; but recognise the sublime possibility that by a thousand different ways of merely particular thinking and seizure of principles we may all at last come into a common light and hail one another in a communion to which we have passed through all the tumult of sometimes angry controversy.
Here is the element of discipline even in worship. We have not been accustomed to associate worship and discipline, but the two cannot be properly or justly—that is, in harmony with the genius of the divine purpose—dissociated. Worship is discipline; discipline in its highest sense is worship. Is God careless about the way in which he is worshipped, or approached, or sought unto? Already in these ancient writings we find that it is God himself who marks the road, keeps the gate, gives the password, indicates times, seasons, gifts, quantities methods. There is no human invention in all this poetry of worship, nor is there laxity. No man is left to himself to invent his own religion, to build his own little altar, and to have everything according to his own way of thinking. This is the marvellous apparent contradiction of the divine testimony—individuality, but under divine inspiration; divine inspiration accommodating itself to national circumstances and to individual capacities, but all the time preserving a central and unchangeable substance. This cannot always be explained in words. We must live some expositions. We must pray ourselves, and through much suffering introduce ourselves, into some of the many provinces of the heavenly kingdom. Even where God adopts a national habit, or an individual capacity and accent, he adopts whatever he takes in hand so as to bring it under continual and most holy discipline. Pray in your own time, but pray at the appointed altar; bring your offering willingly, but having brought it willingly offer it according to the standard and law of the sanctuary. We must not be lax in our worship. Voluntariness, consent and assent of the mind must not be understood as permitting new ventures, out-of-the-way customs, the very establishment of which conceals a tribute to our own vanity. In the kingdom of Christ there is the largest liberty for individual thought, capacity, expression, and yet there is a centripetal force that binds all diversities to its own great heart. Unity in diversity,—diversity forming itself into unity,—these are the practical mysteries; but, blessed be God, these are also the daily revelations of the highest spiritual life and relation. Herein we have been unjust to the gracious spirit of Christianity: we have come to church when we pleased, we have listened to Gospel ministration when we were disposed to do so, we have given the offering in any way that best suited the convenience of the moment, we have entered the house of God when our circumstances suggested we should do so,—we have entered it perfunctorily, we have left it hastily, we have scampered through its exercises as through something that must unhappily be done;—all this has but whitened the sepulchre, has but aggravated the blasphemy which it seemed to conceal. Let no man think that he can alter God's waiting: or set back the ordinances of Heaven: that he can come into the book just where he pleases, how he pleases, and extract from it the message which God left there only for humble souls and broken hearts. There is a discipline of worship. There is a law that watches the altar—a flaming sword moving every way that keeps the tree of Life. We must not debase the name of liberty by reducing its permissions into the extravagances of licentiousness. Discipline in every part of life must be our law; in our uprising and our downsitting, in all we think, say, do, the whole life must have, upon it the touch, the superintendence, criticism, and sacred intention of spiritual meaning.
Whatever of frankincense, or leaven, or oil, we may bring with the offering, if it be a meat-offering we must not forget the salt. Leaven and oil represent possible fermentation, corruption and depreciation of quality salt represents that which is antiseptic preservative, vital, permanent. The salt may not be required in some offerings, but it is required in one, and that offering the "meat-offering," the participation-offering, the festival-service. There must be some seal with divine meanings in it. Perhaps we may be left in some sense to adopt our own particular seal; but the seal must be there—the vital signature. Your letter means nothing until you have signed it; it is no letter addressed even to the eye, much less to the heart, until it bears the signature of the hand that wrote it and the man that meant it all. Your blessing upon your food may be very brief, but it is a blessing; before eating your bread you may but look up silently unto heaven, but there is a silence that is an infinite prayer. You must for yourself determine in many instances what the seal is to be—whether salt, or an upward look, or a sigh, the confession of unworthiness, or some gentle family hymn sung by the father and the mother and all the children. Fix your own seal. It may be unknown by any other person or family in the whole Church, but it is yours; and in some things God has been pleased to allow us this gracious liberty, this license of spiritual invention, but without the seal which to you has the greatest meaning what you do may be worthless. The one great seal never can be changed, and that is the name of Christ, the priesthood of the Son of God, the ever-speaking blood,—that admits of no variation, or modification, or rearrangement; it abides for ever. But there are other seals, tokens and intimations, in the use of which we may have much liberty. Your worship may be right as to its form; but it may be offered in a wrong spirit. A man may pray blasphemously; a man may pray profanely. There are prayers that are profanity in its worst form. When you use the altar as a place of judgment upon others—when you pray so as to inflict pain upon those who are supposed to share your intercession—when under the shelter of talking to God you talk bitterly to men of their offences, and shortcomings, and evil deeds—the worship in its act and in some of its general meanings may be right, but being uttered in a wrong spirit it falls downward. Thank God he has a bottomless pit for our pithless, soulless, Christless prayers! You may give the right gift of time, or money, or influence—be it what it may, but being unsalted with your heart's consent, it is not accepted in the treasury of heaven; it does not amount to a practical and accepted contribution; a voice says, "Thy money perish with thee: both of you rot together or be eaten up by a common canker." You have the right creed, but if it be unaccompanied by sacrifice it is no faith, it is without the salt of real, genuine trust; it is a form of godliness but without the power thereof. This is the position about which we should be most anxiously jealous. It has become so common to think that a creed merely as such—an enumerated and regulated act of beliefs—can save the world. All these we may need, every one of them may be of great importance; but until our creed becomes our faith, until it is taken into the heart and reproduced in the life by loving sacrifice, daily seasoned with salt, continually ablaze to the heavens, it is a creed only which a parrot might repeat—not an inspiration which an angel might covet. Hence we come to have mechanical orthodoxies, hence we add to the profanity of a lifetime the audacity which can sentence men to the right hand or to the left in proportion as they read our books and adopt our lines and our formal positions. Blessed be God! our Maker is our Judge. He looks at the spirit. "To this man will I look." "To which man, Lord?" "The man who is of a broken and a contrite heart and who trembleth at my word." Where has that man ever been regarded as a Christian? Where is his name set down at the top of any human list? Nowhere; and that confession must be followed by a thanksgiving. You may be on the right side of an argument, but if your position be unsalted by enthusiasm your patronage is a burden. You count one by the register, but you are not counted at all by the God of the battle. A right man, a right side, without a right spirit; on the right nominal list without being inflamed by Heaven's pure fire,—that is falsehood, that is irony, that keeps back the kingdom of heaven from its proper advance to-day. Let the cold man leave the Church; we shall be the warmer for that subtraction of coldness. Do not let the formalist patronise the Cross; he hurts us, he hurts the cause, he hurts the Son of God. Take your patronage over to the other side: you grieve the Spirit of God! The offering is nominally right, the contribution is formally to all appearance as it ought to be; but the soul is wanting,—the fire, the enthusiasm, the love, the passion,—the one thing that gives it significance and value.