When you build a new house, then you shall make a battlement for your roof, that you bring not blood on your house…
A careful study of the tone and teaching of Deuteronomy can hardly fail to impress the reader with its profound ethical and religious spirit. What an emphasis is laid upon the unity and the uniqueness of the Godhead! What an insistence upon the love of God as the motive of all actions! Humanity, philanthropy, and benevolence are insisted upon. Forbearance, equity, and forethought underlie all regulations. The preceding precept as to the bird's nest and the sitting dam are a striking example of the humanity of the Jewish law. When a man built a new house, a battlement or, as we should say, a parapet was an almost necessary protection. It would prevent accidents. Some through carelessness or foolhardiness, others through short-sightedness or a slip of the foot, might fall off; such a tumble would certainly fracture limbs, and in some cases be fatal to life. A selfish man might say, "I shall always remember that there is no battlement, and keep well away from the sides. It is very unlikely that any will fall over if I leave the sides unprotected. If any accident should occur it can only be through gross carelessness. I see no reason why I should be put to this expense." The superior person might say, "I will have no battlement on this roof." I have nothing but contempt for fashion. Why should I do a thing because other people do it? I will leave my roof unprotected, if only to show my superiority to the caprice and tyranny of custom. Now, the spirit of this law is recognised in all civilised communities. Private tastes and individual eccentricities are not allowed to imperil public safety or destroy public comfort. Private persons cannot build houses without public authorities approving the plans. So this precept of the Jewish law is found, in spirit at least, in our modern legislation. We are to be alive to a sense of danger, we are not to forget the duty of prudence, we are to take all reasonable precautions against injury to ourselves and others. But there is a sense in which we are builders. We found families, we make fortunes, we acquire reputations, we form friendships, we embark on undertakings, we profess moral principles, we hold religious views — in regard to all it is well for us, nay, for all Christians it is a duty, to make a battlement to their roof. Let us in imagination walk round the house.
1. First of all here is the economic wing. In the economic management of life, a battlement to the roof is a duty. We build our houses, we settle in life, we make a home for ourselves, we set up an establishment. Of course, it must bear some proportion to our means. But how many do it on such an imprudent, not to say extravagant scale, that there is nothing left for a battlement! They spend all that they have. They are the victims of expensive habits and large ideas of things. They burn incense to the demon of respectability. They sink their all in building up the roof line, and leave no margin for prudent provision against possible misfortune or untimely death. How many have brought blood upon their houses, how many have inflicted suffering on their own children and loss on others, by neglecting to build a parapet of thrift out of the materials of simplicity of taste, moderation in appetite, and prudence in management! Thrift is the very gospel that some people need, and some, too, who bear the Christian name, and aspire after a Christian reputation. What renders this a matter of really spiritual concern is that often the battlement goes unbuilt from causes that are not only irreligious but antichristian: a thirst for social distinctions, for recognition and patronage by some more highly placed than ourselves.
2. But we pass to another wing. How necessary it is for Christian people in their social life to make a battlement to the roof. The power of social influence is immense, you can hardly over-estimate it. No character can defy the subtle influences that flow in upon them from others. No man is absolutely impervious to social pressure. Therefore this is one of those points on which Christian people should exercise conscientious care and prudence. They will erect a battlement to their social life by choosing friends from those who will be a help rather than a hindrance to a godly life. In this we think not of ourselves only, but of our children. We may be able to run risks with comparative immunity, because our principles are strong and our characters fixed. We can walk on the unprotected roof with safety. But are not our children very liable to fall Surely the prime duty of Christian parents in the culture of their children's minds and hearts, and the discipline of their habits, is to deepen in them a sense of the inviolable sanctity of goodness. "The friendship of the world is enmity with God." The world puts gentility before character. It does not inquire too closely into the morals of those who have birth and wealth. If we are wise and faithful we shall rightly estimate the importance of social forces. We shall discriminate between those fighting on Christ's side and those that are fighting against Him. We shall leave no one in doubt as to our affinities and alliances. We shall put up a battlement to the roof of our social life. There is a kind of separation from the world which is as impracticable as it is undesirable; there is another which is simply essential if we are to save our own souls and help to save others. A battlement to the roof of our social life fortifies the sanctity and simplicity of our homes.
3. But there is another wing to this house. It is the moral, it is the sphere of character. He who builds well and wisely, sees that the roof hero has a battlement, namely, the battlement of religion. "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil." When the heart has been touched by the love of God in Christ, when the Lord Jesus Christ has been admitted to its throne, there is a defence and proof against the assaults of the evil one. It is just here that some question the need of a battlement. They are building the structure of character, they are morally sensitive, they are anxious and careful in doing what is right, but they have no religion, no personal concern for or interest in the redemption of Jesus Christ, They have builded their house, but there is not a battlement to the roof. Now, far be it from us to shut our eyes to the fact that even those who have the battlement do sometimes fall. The parapet itself may be out of repair, the stones may have fallen out and not been replaced. Now, a battlement out of repair may be more dangerous than to have none. But these cases are the exception and not the rule. There was one Judas among the twelve apostles. But what candid and fair-minded man will deny that the fear of God is the greatest of all restraints from evil? "The fear of the Lord is the treasure of the godly," for "He is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the throne of His glory, with exceeding joy."
4. But there is yet one other wing to the house. Here the social and religious wings join. Our religious life itself needs a battlement. Here is a word for those who are giving their heart to God, who are determining the great ends and principles that are to rule their life. "When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof." Now, the Episcopalian contends that in order to be completely furnished unto all good works our religious life needs something in addition to God, the Bible, and Christ Himself, namely, the Church. We entirely agree with him. Until a man is in the Church he has not built a battlement to his house. It brings individual believers into actual and visible association with those who have taken the same holy vows and enlisted in the same holy warfare. It will be good for the Church that he shall do so, but will it not be good for him? Will he not be a stronger and better Christian if he "stir up the gift of God" that is in him, and add it to the totality and variety of the spiritual forces that operate in the world? Will he not be encouraged by the fellowship of others? We contend that the Church is the battlement of the religious life, not its foundation, "other foundation can no man lay than hath been laid, Jesus Christ." By some it is regarded as putting a restraint and imposing a limit. So it does. The purpose of a parapet or battlement is to prevent you falling over. If your foot slips on the edge of a precipice, what you want is something to catch hold of. But remember, anything that is inconsistent in the Church member is equally so in the Christian, though he be outside the Church. If you are holding back from a duty to Christ for the sake of liberty to do things inconsistent with Church membership, you are imperilling your soul by doing them now.
(R. B. Brindley.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.