The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,Practical Religion
A curious combination of words is this in the second verse—"... a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbour." What have the terms "Lord" and "neighbour" to do with one another? Have we not partitioned off society into special and unrelated departments? Who shall venture to throw down the lines which we have set up and to make one common society of earth and heaven? Already here is a forth-shadowing of the two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets—namely: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God... and thy neighbour as thyself." There has always been some vital connection between "Lord" and "neighbour";—how is this? Do we not pass too roughly over such conjunctions, taking them as mere matters of course—a jingling of words, hiding no music, modifying no eternity of power and right? We are bungling readers at the best; we do not extract from the word its root, and life, and soul. May not that man sin against his neighbour, and yet say his prayers as if nothing had been done to violate the sanctity of upper and spiritual relations? May not a man kneel upon his overthrown neighbour, and in that attitude of oppression and triumph plead with the complacent heavens? Verily, the Bible is a book which takes part with the "neighbour"; it is a chivalrous revelation. To have come from heaven it comes with wondrous earthly sympathy and sense of right and rule of judgment. From this point of view the book may be inspired! When we sin against our neighbour, we sin against God; when we remove the ancient landmark, we violate the altar; when we tell lies to society, we smite heaven with blasphemy. This is the spirit of the book. Such spirit makes us strong, leads out our love in adoration towards the book as towards a living protector, and friend, and guide. Were it full of ghosts—a great theatre of possible spiritual presences, having no relation to our life except to alarm it, we might flee away in terror and leave it to men who have skill in communing with ghostly presences; but it takes care of the flock in the field, it will not allow an ancient hedge to be taken down without a just equivalent being rendered, it will not have a bird's little nest torn to pieces without protest and judgment; it is a domestic book: it looks after the house-fire and the house-table and all things belonging to our little daily life; it has an infinite sky, but, blessed be God, it is also a world about the size of a house—a house watched with the eyes of love. A book that cares so much for "neighbours" is a book which by so much arrests the moral attention and may reward the moral confidence of mankind. Violence, deceit, false-swearing,—why these are the sins of to-day. There is nothing original in sinning. The old vulgarity, and the old refinement upon it, we find from the beginning. Consider the words, for there is a philosophy in their very order: "violence," "deceit," "perjury." You cannot invert that order without violating the philosophy of true development and evolution. There is an inspiration of order as well as of substance, and that inspiration is written here and proved by the fullest and happiest verification. We all begin with "violence." The first man begins branch-breaking and fruit-stealing. He tells no lie, he has no deep plot against the Eternal: he puts out his hand and wrenches the branch, and the crash of that wood, hitherto untouched, sends pain through all the garden. The next man kills his enemy. The world's sin began with violence; by-and-by violent men see that there is another way of accomplishing the purpose of the evil heart, so, without smiting and fire-kindling and rudeness, they begin to conspire and plot, and attach new meanings to words, and infuse unsuspected colours into the speech of commerce as between man and man: so language becomes manifold instead of simple: to the speaker it means one thing, to the hearer it means another thing, though the terms are the common property of the nation. After "deceit" comes the profanation of holy terms—the sin against what may be termed the Holy Ghost of speech. We are, therefore, no further than this Old Testament text to-day; some are committing violence, some are plotting deceitful schemes and conspiracies, and others are standing up and insulting the spirit of truth—lying not unto men, but unto God. There you have the range of the devil's power: he oscillates from violence to perjury, touching the intermediate point of deceit. There is no genius in such an enemy; he is not fertile in invention; subjected to honest analysis he is to be laid out plainly on the world's table in three parts,—violence, deceit, perjury; and all the sin that can be committed can be brought under these three categories or one of them. And all this may be done away by offering to the priest "a ram without blemish out of the flock"! Bring the "ram" and all will be well! Steal the forbidden fruit, kill the hated Abel, swear with larger boldness than the audacity of Ananias and Sapphira, and when you are done, see to it that you pick out the right "ram," offer it to the pontiff, let him slay it, and all will be well! That is an easy way out of difficulty! It is; but it is not the way of the Bible. Many persons who think they have escaped the Jewish ritual suppose they have only to see the priest, whisper the tale into his ear, furnish their "ram," and go home released and sanctified. If they imagine a delusion so deep and aggravated in its infatuation, then they have indeed escaped Leviticus and the whole Pentateuch, and every line of the Gospels and the Epistles—the whole canon of revelation. Mistakes are made about this matter which are of vital consequence. We have given the enemy occasion to mock us a good deal in some of these applications; we have so acted as to leave upon the enemy the impression that we can obliterate a whole week's work of violence, deceit and perjury by going to church on Sunday—especially if we are so learned in ancient law as to be quite sure that we have escaped the ancient ritual and now stand in the liberty of wantonness and in the blasphemy of licentiousness. There is to be no Sunday catharism—washing by the priest or washing by the sinner's own hand—until some thing else has been done. What was the ancient law? The offender was to restore that which was taken away by violence, or that about which deceit was practised, or that wherein perjury was committed. That is the first step in the process. The whole thing in controversy must be replaced. Now may the man pray? No. There is no quid pro quo in morals. You cannot balance a crime by an apology; and you cannot drive iron into wood and extract it without leaving a wound behind. Extraction is not enough, restoration is not sufficient; after the full quantity has been restored, the man is to add twenty per cent to it. If he has robbed his employer of one hundred pounds, he must replace the hundred pounds, and he must add twenty pounds to it,—then he may go to church! What a blessed thing it would be for some men if they could have escaped Leviticus!—for those men who sneer at the Old Testament as at an obsolete document, made yellow by time, good enough in its day but outworn by the magazines of the hour. You cannot outlive morality, moral judgment, righteousness. There is no back door through what is called natural law by which we can escape the eternal demand and claim of truth. After restoration and the addition of the fifth part thereto, the man was to go and see the pontiff of Israel and arrange about the offering of the ram. The process was not complete until the ram had been offered. We do not sin downward only, we sin upward as well. Every social offence has a religious bearing; every wrong done in the marketplace reports itself in heaven. Thus life is solemn: actions have rebounds, and throbs, and issues, often incalculable, often infinite. The criminal has a hard life of it in the Bible. Some men have escaped the Bible; that is the reason they treat one another so violently, or with so fine a deceit, or with so flat a perjury. The moral tone of the Bible begets confidence. The book wants things to be foursquare, real, solid. A book with such a claim cannot be displaced by the most elaborate argument that founds itself upon smoke and rises into the dignity of evaporation. The Bible will have what is right: therefore, the Bible may be inspired! No such morality have I met in any other book accessible to me. Bible morality is critical, minute, detailed,—most critical and exacting. There is no rough and ready method of bringing things to temporary equipoise. Nothing is settled until the root is made right, the fountain is purified, restoration is completed, compensation is effected, and prayer is said over the blood that atones.
Mark the process of repentance as well as the process of sin. There is a philosophy in the one as certainly as there is in the other. How was the offender to begin? He was to begin at the moral point. Preachers may be too much afraid of preaching in this tone, because they are afraid of being stigmatised by epithets that have nothing in them but the spite of their own utterers and mean inventors. We must not be afraid of preaching works and laws and rights. We do not honour the Book by such fear; we misinterpret its spirit and misapply its claim. Begin with the moral and work towards the spiritual—restore, compensate, pray. No doubt it would suit some conditions of human nature to begin at the other end, because something might occur in the reverse process to prevent the completion of the whole. Hear not those priests—though their name be Aaron—who tell you to begin in metaphysical regions and work your way downwards, little by little, until you begin to bring back the property you stole. Restore the property before you see the high-priest, and give a fifth part of that which is taken back to the owner of that which was lost. Having done what is possible to humanity, begin the upper movement, and close the process with a look towards God. Let us have no whining, no canting, no sentimentality; let us rebuke the enemy wherein he thinks we are fanatics and can pray ourselves out of duties, bank ruptcies, and moral obligations. Is this preaching morality? I shall be thankful if that impression be made, for it is the one impression I wish to stamp upon the judgment and conscience of all men. This offers opportunities to every one immediately. It is not to be left to the offender first to obtain exactly clear views of the constitution of the Godhead before he begins to repay the man he has robbed. Believe me, we are not thus circumstanced that we have to fix upon a definite theory of the atonement—for even the atonement has been debased into a theory—until we begin to undo that which we have done amiss. We can restore stolen property: we can add to it a fifth part thereof or more,—we may double it; and having done so, we must then ask pardon. Any Iscariot can throw back the thirty pieces of silver; but the only end of such villainy is to be hanged, and to die an unpitied death. We are not at liberty, as Christians, to put down upon a man's threshold the money we stole, or the property we abstracted, and to run away drying our lips and lifting up our eyes to heaven and saying—"All is now well!" We have not lied unto man only, we have lied unto God; we have wounded the Spirit of truth; we have outraged the harmony of heaven. We have a great religious task now to achieve and accomplish. A book insisting upon such regulations will hold its own when all the insects that have gathered upon it to eat it up have fallen away into forgetfulness. All wronged men should revere the Bible; it takes up their case; it insists upon justice being done to them, and upon justice blossoming into restoration, and restoration being crowned with prayer, atonement, and reconciliation. Bad men should dread the Bible; they have not a friend in any one of its pages; not one of its complete proverbs can they quote in vindication of evil spirit or of evil action. Men anxious about social regeneration and harmony should go to the Bible for law, precept and guidance. What is this but Christianity anticipated? Moses and the Lamb are at one here as otherwhere and everywhere. Said Christ—"Think not I am come to destroy.... I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." Did Christ say anything about evil and the method of treating that evil before religious postures were assumed or oblations were attempted? He did. What did he say? He said, in spirit, exactly what Moses said. He saw men coming to the altar about to offer their gifts and to say their prayers, and he stopped them on the road and said to them—"How stands it with you and your neighbour?" "My neighbour?" "Yes. Has thy brother aught against thee? Is there a feeling of hostility in thy heart against thy brother—thy brother-man? If there is, do not go to the altar; you can do nothing there, except dishonour the very stones of which it is built. First go and be reconciled to thy brother—make human and social relations right, begin at the visible point, make an impression upon the parties immediately concerned and through them upon observers,—then go and offer thy gift." Can we part with a book of which this is the moral tone! Here is a lesson for inquirers into the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. We cannot all begin at the uppermost points; many of us cannot seize recondite matters and adjust and determine them by adequate scholarship and information; but we can all begin our inquiry by asking, What is the moral tone of the book? What does it want to be at in its actual issue? It wants to reconcile man with man, to have restoration made where injury has been done; it would bring every man on his knees to the offended person saying—"I have brought back that which I took away; I restore fourfold; pity me, forgive me, stoop over me and lift me up from this proper humiliation." Does the book breathe a spirit of that kind? If so, no devil wrote it; no bad man ever inspired it; no clique of wrongdoers ever got up so complete a conspiracy. It would have father and mother honoured—it would have the old folks at home made young again every day by the action of filial obedience, filial sympathy and filial help; it would set aside one day for rest every week—sweet holy day: as far as possible, everything should stand still and rest awhile, taking its breath again, and looking the great look that takes in horizons and skies, constellations and thrones and powers; it would have honesty the law of life; it would have every loaf of pure flour without any leaven of untruthfulness, sharp practice, or evil skill in outwitting men. Is that the moral tone of the book? If so, I will not now trouble myself (the young inquirer may say) by questions I cannot now handle and perhaps may never be able to handle, but seeing that the book comes with such assertions of right and such claims, and insists upon them, and will in no sense be eluded, I will begin at that point,—who knows but I may, step by step, go into the interior of the holy temple and see the inner lights and touch the inner mysteries? That is the right resolve; the issue of it will be that you will discover that the Sacred Book is one—one as the many-coloured and resplendent sky.
Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering: It is the burnt offering, because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be burning in it."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Command Aaron and his sons."—Leviticus 6:9
This is a notable instruction.—Aaron and his sons were priests, and might therefore be supposed to be beyond official regulation or personal obedience.—God has no priests or other officers whom he has made independent of himself.—The commandment of God is exceeding broad, including "the armies of heaven and the children of men."—Theologians are only safe guides in proportion as they can point to the direct commands and institutions of Heaven.—A theologian without the Bible is the most enormous of all wicked pretences.—The priest is simply an interpreter, a helper, a stronger brother in the commonwealth of spiritual society; when he ventures to speak in his own name the Church should stop its ears or drive him away from the pedestal which he unworthily occupies.—God never gives up the Church, as to its education and progress, to the entire control of men, how great soever in office.—If the priest cannot do without commandment, how can the people? If priests have to obey God, are the people exempt from obedience to the will of Heaven? The weaker may learn their duty from the stronger. If Aaron required continual inspiration and command, surely those of us who are of lower grade and smaller capacity cannot be sustained in our spiritual health and force except by the word of God.—There is a strong temptation to invent new commandments—to establish new institutions—to conduct experiments upon human credulity—to modify the arduousness of religious discipline, but whenever a prophet or a priest arises to tempt the soul in these directions he should be instantly called upon to prove his authority by the law and the testimony.—There cannot be two Bibles in the Church: in other words, there cannot be two sources or centres of authority.—Nor is any man at liberty to use private interpretation in the unfolding of the divine word.—Language is a common property; language has one key of interpretation; when the discussion becomes one of merely pedantic learning it is of really no interest to the great common heart of the Church;—the words or laws of God addressed to the general people are so simple and direct that the heart instantly recognises them.—The priest may have the power of reading them so as to invest their very utterance with new nobility, but it is not in priestly elocution or in any artifice of man to change the internal and solid meaning of the divine command.—Any man can get at God's meaning if he is prayer-fully determined to acquaint himself with it.
The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.The Continual Burning
But may not the people cease to sin before morning, and the fire be put out in the night-time? Does it not assume too much about the frailty and sinfulness of man to keep a fire up always? Would it not be better to extinguish it sometimes, just to suggest to the observers that a great hope has sprung up in the divine heart that perhaps this day there will be no more need for sacrifice? If the fire were put out, would not that itself be a gospel? Such are the questions that force themselves upon us when we come face to face with decrees and fiats and laws that have about them the awfulness of eternity. It is the expressions, "for ever," "evermore," "never"—terms which exhaust all time—that the soul cannot peruse without shuddering and inexpressible distress. It would seem as if God had no hope for his people. There is no opportunity for the exercise of feeling on the part of man that God sees a way out of the continual sin which needs the continual sacrifice. There is no touch of grace in this command; it is stern, unrelieved by a tear of pathos, never trembling with the feeling which makes all things sacred. If a man should reason thus concerning this passage, his reasoning would be correct within the points which he has assigned as its scope; but the view is partial, the distances are not properly regulated, the whole idea has not been seized by the observant mind. Suppose the sin should cease, would the fire then be put out? Certainly not. The fire has a double significance; it is not there only to consume the sacrifice, it is there to express the continual aspiration of the soul. The fire still burns. There is an unquenchable fire in heaven. To love is to worship; to love rightly is to worship rightly. The choice of expression is left with us, the choice of posture and method; but where the spirit is right with God its action is best symbolised by the unquenchable fire, the aspiring flame.
It is instructive and partially distressing to hear many of the congratulations regarding the progress which has been made in the matter of divine worship; it is most pitiful. Christians congratulate themselves in profane complacency that they have nothing to do with altars and fires and sacrifices of the herd, and of the flocks, and of the fowls, whether of turtle-doves or of young pigeons: they have escaped all that complicated and expensive mechanism—they have escaped more than that, or that fool's boast would not be on their lips. The truly progressive man has escaped nothing; he is still where the Jew was, with new uses and higher disciplines, with keener penetrations into divine intent and purpose, and with a correspondingly severe and oppressive discipline. But the spirit is found also, not only as expressed in contrasts between Christianity and Judaism, but in contrasts between ancient Christian times and modern Christian usages—the same selfishness of felicitation. Who has not heard modern flippancy, often misappropriating the garb of piety, congratulating itself that it does not live in Puritan times? Verily, we delight in setting down our escapes from discipline, and burden, and exaction, and training. Modern pietetic flippancy rejoices that it does not listen to the Puritan preacher, who, having preached the hour-glass empty, quietly inverted it in the sight of the people, and preached it empty again. Our felicitations are all of a most pitiful kind. We have escaped all the Jewish ceremony, all the Puritan tediousness—into what liberty have we come? What is the practical result of all such escapes? A greater love of brevity, a keener sense of liberty, which really means in such lips licentiousness; we have nothing to do, nothing to give, nothing to suffer, all to enjoy, and just when we please, and as much as we please, and thus we have sunk into the idolatry of self. To suppose that discipline has ceased is to give up all that is worth living for. Our object should not be to escape discipline, but to make commandments pleasant, to turn statutes into songs in the house of our pilgrimage, to make obedience not a penalty but a delight Listen to Christian talk to-day, listen to the monologue of your own heart, and the chief delight is found in having escaped all things requiring military discipline, Spartan exaction, obedience that keeps nothing back. When that becomes the law of the family, the family is practically broken up, decentralised, because the altar of discipline is destroyed. When that becomes the law of the Church, there is no Church left; it is a broken-down temple; the owls, and the bitterns, and the satyrs may take possession of the deserted place. What then is there permanent in such commands as the one which is now before us? Let us allow that accidents, accessories, incidental complexions and postures, have all passed away; but the tree has not consummated its purpose when it has shed its blossom. What is the eternal quantity? The altar is the principal feature in the truly consecrated life—an invisible altar, but not the less the place of worship, of meeting with the Divine One, of conference with Heaven,—not a local altar: "neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem," shall men exclusively "worship the Father," but on every mountain and in every city, and in the unstable church of the sea. What then have we lost? A few pieces of stone, a certain construction in rude wilderness masonry; but that was not the altar: it was but the representation of the altar of the soul. The walls and roof we call the church are not the Church; the Church is within those walls and yet infinitely beyond those walls and that localising roof. We should live in a kingdom of symbols, hints, living suggestions—a place awful by the vitality of its inspirations. How can this doctrine be taught to carnal men? It requires a century of millenniums to begin the great spiritual mystery. A misconception of the altar leads to idolatry—to the idolatry of places, and to the idolatry of offices. What we can see is not the altar; the stone altar is a medium through which the soul may get swift glimpses of the altar beyond, where spirits kneel, where souls burn in ardent desire, where angels hover in wonder and in hope. No marvel that we become less and less in mind and affection if we have mistaken any building of stone for God's house. It is the beginning of the house, the outward and visible form of the house, a halting-place where we may unloose the sandal for a time and set up the staff in the corner, and wait awhile, and get breath by praying. We must be up and on, seeking the house not made with hands, of which all good houses and hospitable homes are but dim hints and types.
Aspiration is the highest expression of character. That is the permanent quantity in the text. Fire ascends; it speechlessly says, "This is not my home; I must travel, I must fly, I must return; the sun calls me, and I must obey." A character without aspiration cannot live healthily and exercise a vital and ennobling influence. When religion becomes mere controversy, it has lost veneration; and whatever or whoever loses veneration slips away from the centre of things, and falls evermore into thickening darkness. There is a philosophy in this conception as well as a theology. To aspire is to grow. It is an action full of meaning; it signifies, being expressed in many words, that we are not yet content: there is something in us which seeks completion; there is a spirit weary of solitude that yearns for fellowship, and that cannot be content with any communion of a human and visible kind; there is a soul in man that holds time and space in solemn contempt, and seeks rest in infinite liberties and harmonies. Without this aspiration man becomes a mere grub; he dwells upon the earth and accommodates himself to his little prison; no storm of anger rises within because of the poverty of the place; it is good enough to eat and drink in, ample enough to lie down in, and beyond these poor exercises the man so lost has no desire. Here is the place at which the Christian religion directs its most powerful appeal to human attention and confidence. It is a solemn religion, so solemn that many times it cannot argue; it will not criticise; it leaves the region of words and rises to the rapture of silence. Here, too, arises that marvellous pathos which will keep evangelical doctrine from desuetude and contempt. No religion that is not rich in pathos can live long or make itself world-wide in influence. Controversies perish in the air which separates one nation from another; pathos comes with every wind, shines with every rising day, and glows in every westering sun—"makes the whole world kin."
"Jesus wept"—will be a power in human thought and human need when all critical questions have vexed themselves to death and perished in unholy and unprofitable abortiveness. We are conscious of a perpetual need; we cannot be satisfied. We mock one another sometimes in language not intended to be mischievous or reproachful when we ask if we cannot now rest and be thankful—sit down and enjoy ourselves. We ought to do so with regard to things temporal and measurable, and if things temporal and measurable were all, then the inquiry would take upon itself a very high moral solemnity; but all this outreaching, striving, discontent—all this aching, poverty, and burning desire lor more and more conquest and territory, wealth and influence, has a religious meaning, and that meaning being put into words is that the soul has not room enough in space, duration enough in time, but, by its discontent, expresses the magnificence of its origin and its destiny.
"The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out."
Then there are two things in the text—"fire" and "altar," We may have an altar, but no fire. That is the deadly possibility; that is the fatal reality. The world is not dying for want of a creed, but for want of faith. We are not in need of more prayers, we are in need of more prayerfulness. If the little knowledge we have—how small it is the wisest men know best of all—were turned to right use, fire in its happiest influences would soon begin to be detected by surrounding neighbours and by unknown observers. Of what avail is it that we have filled the grate with fuel if we have not applied the flame? Does the unlighted fuel warm the chamber? No more does the unsanctified knowledge help to redeem and save society. We need the fire as well as the altar. Magnificent altars we have built: we have brought stone from afar; we have hewn it in the field that there might be no noise near the temple; we have set it up and made ourselves proud in the contemplation of the skilful building. It is nothing; it is a lie; it is an imposition; it is the sign of self-idolatry; we have mistaken the means for the end, the process for the result. What is needed now is a fire that will burn the altar itself—turn the marble and porphyry and granite and hewn soft-stone all into fuel that shall go up in a common oblation to the waiting heavens.
We may have fire and no altar, as well as have an altar and no fire. This is also a mistake. We ought to have religious places and Christian observances, locality with special meaning, resting-places with heaven's welcome written upon their portals. There is a deadly sophism lurking in the supposition that men can have the fire without the altar, and are independent of institutions, churches, families, places, Bibles, and all that is known by Christian arrangement for common worship. We are not meant to be solitary worshippers. When a man says he can read the Bible at home, I deny it. He can partially read it there, he can see some of its meaning there; but society is one, as well as is the individual, in some degrees and in some relations. There is a religion of fellowship as well as of solitude. Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together: there is a touch that helps life to gather itself up into its full force; there is a contagion which makes the heart feel strong in masonry. When a man says he can pray at home, I deny it—except in the sense that he can there partially pray. He can transact part of the commerce which ought to be going on continually between heaven and earth, earth and heaven; but there is a common prayer—the family cry, the congregational intercession, the sense that we are praying for one another in common petition at the throne of grace. It may be that one voice only is heard, but when that voice has been touched by the inspiration of Heaven, it will have priestly tones in it, great expressiveness, touching every known experience, and speaking in one great language a thousand otherwise unutterable desires.
It is not enough to kindle a fire: we must renew it. "The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out." Did not some men burn once who are cold now? Have not some men allowed the holy flame to perish? and is not their life now like a deserted altar laden with cold, white ashes? Once they sang sweetly, prayed with eagerness of expectation, worked with both hands diligently, were always open to Christian appeal, focalised their lives in one poignant inquiry—Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? I know of no drearier spectacle than to see a man who still bears the Christian name on the altar of whose heart the fire has gone out. That is a possibility. Lost enthusiasm means lost faith; lost passion means lost conviction. Do not let us delude ourselves with the notion that if we are less enthusiastic and passionate, vehement and openly heroic, we are all the stronger and the more truly consolidated men. The devil there cheats us with long words; the enemy persuades us with false reasoning. We easily yield to the logic which bids us be quiet, be still, refrain. He has the easy task in life who pleads with men to be less and to do less, to think less, read less and act less. He has the heroic part—the great hill to climb—who calls to reluctant travellers, "Excelsior!" who bids men whose eyelids are heavy with sleep rise and renew the fire, for the midnight hour is near and the temperature is falling fast. That is the position assigned to the Christian teacher, to the Christian apostle, to the father of the family, to Christian Churches, to every man and every institution assuming and employing the name of Christ. We might be better thought of if our appeals were less persistent and tremendous in mortal agony; but the time of judgment is not yet. Re it ours to escape the fate of people who have lamps but no fire, beliefs but no faith, a bound book but no revelation.
Q. Curtius, giving an account of the march of Darius's army, says: "The fire which they called eternal was carried before them on silver altars; the Magi came after it, singing hymns, after the Persian manner; and three hundred and sixty-five youths clothed in scarlet followed, according to the number of the days in the year."
The first fire upon the altar came from heaven (Leviticus 4:24), so that by keeping that up continually with a constant supply of fuel, all their sacrifices throughout all their generations might be said to be consumed with that fire from heaven, in token of God's acceptance. If, through carelessness, they should ever let it go out, they could not expect to have it so kindled again. Accordingly, the Jews tell us, that the fire never did go out upon the altar, until the captivity in Babylon. This is referred to (Isaiah 31:9) where God is said to have "his fire in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem." By this law we are taught to keep up in our minds a constant disposition to all acts of piety and devotion, and habitual affection to divine things, so as to be always ready to every good word and work. Though we be not always sacrificing, yet we must keep the fire of holy love always burning; and thus we must pray always.