Now the whole world had one language and a common form of speech.
We are now to trace the rise of the kingdom of God among the nations. Already in the case of Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord, that is, by permission of Divine providence, the antagonism between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world has been symbolized. Now we find the concentration of the world's rebellion and ungodliness in the false city, type of the worldly power throughout the Scriptures. It is on the plain of Shinar to which the early migration from the East directed the course of mankind. We are not told at what time the settlement in Shinar took place. As the account of the confusion of tongues is introduced between the larger genealogy and the lesser, we may infer that its object is to account for the spread of nations. Whether we take this Babel to be Nimrod's Babel or an earlier one is of very little consequence. The whole narrative is full of Divine significance. Notice -
I. MAN'S BABEL IS A LYING PRETENSION. It rests on an attempt to substitute his own foundation of society for God's; it is -
1. False safety - the high tower to keep above the flood.
2. False ambition - reaching unto heaven, making a name with bricks and mortar.
3. False unity - "lest we be scattered abroad." These are the characteristics of all Babel despotisms. Material foundations to rest upon; lying structures built upon them.
II. GOD'S KINGDOM IS NOT REALLY HINDERED BY MAN'S REBELLION. He suffers the Babel structure to be reared, but by his judgments scatters both the men and their projects, making the rebellious conspiracy against himself prepare the way for his ultimate universal triumph. So it has been all through the history of the world, and especially immediately before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The confusion of tongues was a judgment and at the same time a mercy. Those that are filled with such ambitions and build upon such foundations are not fit to dwell together in one place. It is better they should be divided. The investigations into comparative grammar and the genesis of human language point to some primitive seat of the earliest form of speech in the neighborhood indicated. It was certainly the result of the false form of society with which men began, the Nimrod empire, that they could not remain gathered in one community; and as they spread they lost their knowledge of their original language, and were confounded because they understood not one another's speech. It is remarkable that in the beginning of the kingdom of Christ, the true city of God which shall overspread the world, the Spirit bestowed the gift of tongues, as if to signify that the Babel of man's lying ambitions was to cease, and in the truth of the gospel men would be united as one family, "understanding one another's speech." - R.
Of one language. 1.
Language or speech God hath allowed to men as men.
2. One language did God vouchsafe to all for good. It was mainly to keep them to the Church.
3. Sin perverts the sweet blessing of one speech to conspiracy against God (ver. 9).
Men may do wrong things unanimously, as well as things that are right. We must distinguish between union and conspiracy; we must distinguish between identity and mere association for a given object. Twelve directors may be of one language and of one speech, but the meaning of their unity may be self-enrichment, at the expense of unsuspecting men, who have put their little all into their keeping and direction. It is nothing, therefore, to talk about unanimity in itself considered. We must, in all these things, put the moral question, "What is the unanimity about?" "Is this unanimity moving in the right direction?" If it be in a wrong direction, then unanimity is an aggravation of sin; if it be in a right direction, then union is power, and one-heartedness is triumph. But it is possible that unanimity may be but another word for stagnation. There are words in our language which are greatly misunderstood, and unanimity is one of them; peace is another. When many persons say peace, what do they mean? A living, intelligent, active cooperation, where there is mutual concession, where there is courtesy on every hand, where there is independent conviction, and yet noble concert in life? Not at all. They say that a Church is unanimous, and a Church is at peace, when a correct interpreter would say it was the unanimity of the grave, the peace of death. So I put in a word here of caution and of explanation: "The whole earth was of one language and of one speech"; here is a point of unanimity, and yet there is a unanimous movement in a wrong direction.
What that language was it is not necessary on the present occasion to examine. The arguments are very strong that it was Hebrew. But the fact that all men did use the same tongue, and the way in which the fact is recorded, lead us to infer that there was something much more than identity of dialect. For we all well know how language is connected with thought and feelings, and how our words react and determine our feelings. So that a oneness of expression will go a great way to produce oneness of soul. Have we not all proved its effect to unite and bind us one with another? Is not that the charm of the familiar language of co-patriots in foreign lands? Is not this one of the secrets of the bliss of song? So that a real and perfectly "one language and one speech" might be expected to have a most united result on the minds of all who used it, and a most favourable influence on the spirit of true religion. But it is a thing which now is not. No one country has it within itself. No two persons that ever meet have it. It is a lost thing. There is not, truly, upon this earth, in any fraction of it, "one language" and "one speech"; and hence a very great part of our sin and our misery! And even if there were a language perfectly the same, yet until there was a setting to rights of disorders which have come into human thought, and until minds were themselves set in one accord, there could not be unity. So that, indeed, there must be something which belongs to a higher dispensation than this. For if the thoughts were disordered, they would themselves give disordered senses to the words spoken. And remember one other thing. In that age, it was not so long after the flood, nor had people been so divided, nor truth so lapsed, but that all must have known the faith of the one true God. And, therefore, their worship must have been one, the same thoughts and the same expressions going up to the same God everywhere. But the world was evidently not yet ripe for unity. Unity is a beautiful flower, but it can only grow in its own proper soil. Then the Fall cropped up, and at once poisoned human nature. They could not use even their one language or their one mind without its unity becoming sin. So they took occasion, by their very oneness, to determine to do two things, which real unity never does. They resolved to make a great monument to their own glory, and they thought to frustrate an original law of God and to break a positive rule of our being. For the primary principle of all religion is that we should seek first the glory of our Maker. Therefore God breathed upon their work, and it was crushed. It was a false unity. They sought their own praise, and it ran contrary to the mind of God. And God Himself at once traced the sin to that root — an unhallowed and unsanctified oneness of mind and language; and God proceeded to punish them in that very thing which they thus misused, and to take away from them that privilege and blessing for which man was not yet educated and prepared. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth. Said I not right they were not ripe for this precious gift — the omnipotence of unity? Generations must pass; new eras must unfold; Christ must come down and suffer; the Holy Spirit dwell amongst us; the Church must live and work; missionaries must preach; martyrs must die; the whole earth must be regenerate before men could hear their own, their higher, their destined unity. And so the unity, the profane unity, was dashed into hundreds of divergent atoms, and was carried by the four winds to the four corners of the earth. And what was the consequence of this judicial scattering, and this division of the human race which began on the plains of Shinar, and has been increasing ever since, and which we see all around us now? God never does a work, how purative soever it may be, in which there is not a mercy and some purpose or another. Doubtless this scattering of the early post-diluvians carried the knowledge of the true God and of the one faith into all the lands whither they went, even as the early Christians, when they fled from Jerusalem, bore the seed of the gospel into every land. And that knowledge, diluted, indeed, and marred, would go down from generation to generation; and hence, perhaps, the fact — the remarkable fact — that there is no instance in the history of the whole earth of a people, even in the remotest islands of the Pacific, who had not some vestige of the knowledge and worship of a god. And once more there was a plea for prayer, an argument for hope, a pledge of promise — "We were all one once, Lord. Thou didst scatter us. Bring back again Thine own image. Give us, give the whole earth, its unity again." I will not now speak of the evil results of that broken language and these severed interests of the family of man. They are too large and too patent to be catalogued here. I will proceed with the unfolding, as it seems to me, of God's great means for the restitution of unity. From that moment God has steadily, progressively, uniformly carried on His great design to restore the unity which man then fulfilled. Just as He set Himself at once to give back the lost paradise — a better than the first was — has He graciously worked in His working to repair, and much more than repair, the fractured oneness. It became necessary by this dispersion that God should select one family and one race which He should make a special and secure depository of His one truth. Otherwise probably the truth, split and scattered, would not have survived in the earth. And therefore the next fact in history is the call of Abraham. And when God elected Abraham and his descendants to be the stewards of revelation, it was for this very end — that truth might continue one in the world. But in that act of electing grace God did not choose Abraham only, but in Abraham that "Seed" which was to gather together not only all truth, but all people into Himself. Accordingly, "in the fulness of time" Christ came. And by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension He became the Head into which all members — thousands and millions of members — were to be gathered and united, and so to make a oneness — oh! how different from all before! how glorious! how entire! — the oneness of one body and one life, the oneness of God. To give effect to, to supplement and complete that unity, the Holy Ghost came as at Pentecost. And at once — mark the fact — He dealt with language, that lost gift — the "one language" and the "one speech"; language, doubtless a gift to man at the creation, but now how much more better a gift by the redemption. So it came to pass that the gulf of separation — unknown speech — that great gulf of separation, was, at that moment, taken away. But it was not only in tongue and in speech that they assimilate, but in mind and heart. For the theme and interest of all are one — "We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." Observe, then, the effects. At that moment all the Church was really and truly of one heart and one soul; and that union expressed itself in the gift of speech which made all language one. So that the unity was the same, only greater and purer than that before judgment fell upon Babel. And why was it, why was it at Pentecost? It was a beautiful thing, but it did not last. It was a bright rift in the cloud of separation. Why was it, and why did some retain the power of language while in the Church by the gift of tongues, why was it? I have no doubt in my own mind that it was the first drop in the shower — a pledge of what is to be. And will it not one day come — one pure language on the whole earth, one worship, and one service with one consent? But this, I conceive, is the order: First, the body of Christ made one, made one by the individual embodiment into Him of each one of His elect, in His own proper season. Then the mind, made one by the indwelling and inworking of the same Holy Spirit. And then the language, made one by some infusion of the power of the Holy Ghost in the latter days. You have read, perhaps, of two heathen men of different countries, both converted, who met, but could not understand each other's speech, when one by chance or providence said "Hallelujah," and the other, taking up the formulary, said "Amen." And they ran into each other's arms. The story may be true or not, but it is a pretty allegory, and a true type of what I believe shall one day be.
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