On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they kept the Passover.
It brings before us the question of the neglect of sacraments, and the wisdom of repairing that neglect. To bring the chief points before us, observe first -
I. WE ARE PRONE TO NEGLECT THE SACRAMENTS OF GOD. The neglect reported here strikes us as very strange. With the great miracles in recollection which had accompanied their leaving Egypt, it should, we feel, have been impossible for them to have forgotten or disobeyed their God. But here we have the statement that the entire nation had neglected the sacramental circumcision; and the narrative leaves some uncertainty as to whether there had not been some irregularity in the observance of the passover as well. It is not easy to explain such neglect. Perhaps the first sacrament was overshadowed by the law given at Sinai, the preoccupation with the new rites leading to the neglect of the old. The more so as, excepting the precept implied in the word, "No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof," there was no precept given at Sinai concerning this rite. Probably the neglect of the one carried with it the neglect of the other. Possibly some sullenness and dissatisfaction with the length of their desert wanderings intensified this feeling. However that may be, here we have the fact that beneath the eyes of the law giver the people neglect the observance of one or both of these rites. It is not, I think, that they are under any interdict, as some have imagined. There is no trace of a prohibition to observe them. It seems to have been simple, sheer neglect. If we feel it strange they should neglect these rites, we ought to feel it stranger still that they find so many today who resemble them in doing so. Like Israel, we have sacraments. As they had one for the individual confession of belonging to God, we have the rite of Baptism; as they had the social sacrament of the Passover, we have that of the Lord's Supper. But everywhere, from some reason or other, we see both neglected. Both meant to be observed by those who can make intelligently the avowals which they express, both are neglected. Sometimes, through carelessness and misconception, baptism will be neglected; but sometimes, merely because it is irksome, or because it seems not essential to salvation, or because it carries with it reproach for Christ, or involves responsibility, persons are found neglecting the rite of baptism, which the Saviour meant them to observe. And for much the same reasons the other, the social sacrament, is neglected. Around every Christian Church there is a fringe composed of persons alive to the glory of the gospel who yet shrink from the formal rites of covenant with God. How much they lose by it, none can tell. The mental clearness; the safety that lies in a well-defined position; the higher purpose; the greater ease with which the confession of Christ is made anti the denial of Christ avoided; the closer and firmer fellowship with God's saints, with all its quickening influences - these are all forfeited by the dull neglect of a blessed rite. And how much the Church and the world lose by their lukewarmness, by their refusal of service, by their unintentional but serious influence in abating the spirit of religious earnestness! Of these they never think. It is more agreeable to the indolence of their natures, or the timidity of their hearts, to abstain from all avowals; and so, like Israel, they neglect the sacraments of God. Let those guilty of such action remember that the sacraments are commandments which cannot be neglected without sin on the one hand and danger on the other. Secondly observe -
II. GOD PERMITS US TO REPAIR OUR NEGLECT AND ENTER INTO COVENANT WITH HIM. It is a marvellous thing that we should be permitted to enter into covenant with God; that in rites in which all the promises made are made by Him, not by us, He should bind Himself to be our redeeming God; that in the one sacrament He should make offer of cleansing from all guilt, and in the other of the bread of immortal life. It is a matter more marvellous still that to those who have neglected those rites for stretches of years He yet extends the permission to approach them. But so it is. Here is an illustration of this willingness. He had little hope of much honour or satisfaction from Israel. They would be a rebellious and gainsaying people through all their future. Yet here He allows them again to resume their relation to Him, to "lay hold on his covenant." It is no slight mercy to us that God is willing still to enter into an "everlasting covenant with us, ordered in all things and sure." If now our neglect is regretted, let not despair prolong it. Whatever falseness to conscience we have been guilty of, He keeps the door open, and gives us what we have no title to expect - the opportunity to repair neglect. He lays it as a charge on all to observe these covenant rites, so that we cannot without being disobedient keep outside of a covenant relation to Him. Belong to the Church of the redeemed. Let the name of God and of the city of God be upon you. When God permits us to repair our neglect, let us do so. Thirdly observe -
III. ALL BEGINNING ANY NEW ENTERPRISE SHOULD BEGIN IT WITH GOD. Israel has a great task before it. He will do well to lay hold on God's strength to help him. The messenger of God's justice, he must himself be just. "They must be holy who bear the vessels of the Lord." Exposed to great strain and great difficulty, they act wisely to close with God, and gain Him on their side. In this we have lessons for several classes. First, for the young, and those beginning life. When life is yet all before you, and the struggle with your foes yet to come, join your redeeming God in solemn saved from wreck had this been done. covenant. Many a life would have been Save yours. You will be saved many a grief, and come safe out of every danger, if in the beginning of your career before leaving Gilgal you enter into sacramental covenant with your Saviour. Well begun is half done. And a good beginning of the better life secures its perfectest and easiest development. The earliest is always the most convenient season for the great religious decisions of life.
(2) Those not young, but yet entering on some new career, some new set of experiences or duties or dangers, will always act wisely by consecrating the opening of a new career. Begin all things with God. His wisdom will preserve from error, and His power from all danger. Hallow the new undertaking, the enjoyment of the new mercy, the experience of the new trial, by getting closer to God. Commence business life, commence married life, commence your life in a strange land, by special consecration. Let all ponder these matters. Let those who have made, keep their sacramental vows, and those who have neglected make them; for while the Saviour is honoured by them and rejoices in them, their blessings on ourselves surpass all our conceptions. - G.
Encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover.
I. THE PASSOVER How little we understand the way by which each part of our body takes the particular nourishment it requires from the food we eat. But we know that such is the case, and that bones, muscles, and tissues appropriate their sustenance from the common store. So though we may not be able to explain the philosophy of the process, we believe and are sure, that as we hold fellowship with Jesus in quiet hallowed moments, our weakness absorbs His strength, our impatience His long-suffering, our restlessness His calm, our ignorance His wisdom. "He is made to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." His flesh is "true meat" because it makes us strong to endure and do. His blood is "true drink," because it satisfies our thirst, and makes glad our heart. But let it ever be borne in mind that as no uncircumcised person was permitted to partake of the Passover, so none who are living in wilful sin can feed on the flesh and blood which were given for the life of the world. There must be a Gilgal before there can be a Passover in the deepest and fullest sense. This is why you have no zest in prayer, no appetite for your Bible, no enjoyment in the ordinances of the House of God. You have not yet put away all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, you have not yet submitted yourself to the sharp two-edged sword, you have not yet been delivered from the reproach of Egypt, you have not yet purged out the leaven of insincerity and falsehood.
II. THE CORN OF THE LAND. The Paschal Lamb is good, but the corn of the land includes the fruits, and honey, and bread-stuffs that grow on the soil of the Resurrection-life. The ascension of Christ may be considered in many aspects, but in each we seem to stand beneath His outstretched hands of benediction, as they did who saw Him parted from them, and taken up before their adoring gaze. Happy indeed are they who also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell. To do this is to eat of the corn and fruit of the land.
III. THE MANNA. The corn began before the manna ceased. The one overlapped the other as the thatch of a hay-rick or the feathers of a bird. God does not wish that there should be those intervals of apparent desertion, and the failure of supplies of which so many complain. It is quite likely that He may have to withdraw the extraordinary and exceptional, as represented by the manna; but He will wait until we have become accustomed to the ordinary and regular supplies of His grace, as represented by the corn. In the blessings of our outward life, He does sometimes humble us, and suffer us to hunger. The brook Cherith dries before He sends us to Zare-phath. But as to the inward life, He gives without stint. The table is always prepared before us in the presence of our enemies — one form of soul-sustenance is within reach before another form fails; we must have learned to feed ourselves with strong meat before He drops the spoon with which He had been wont to nourish us with milk.
(F. B. Meyer, . B. A.)
The manna ceased on the morrow after
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
I. WAS THE OLD CORN OF THE LAND ANY LESS WONDERFUL THAN THE BREAD OF THE WILDERNESS? If we think of the reproductive energy of nature we are amazed. There are always apples, pears, grapes, melons, cherries, gooseberries, currants; there is always wheat for man, and corn for animals. The year comes, and these things come. But more than recurrence, there is multiplication. One grain of wheat will produce from 20 to 100. This is as inexplicable a wonder as was the manna, and cannot be explained without the recognition of two facts — the Divine power, and the Divine wisdom. Life and growth are in the hands of the Lord. The common mercies of life are direct Divine gifts. But look at another fact — the whole material life of the nation, and of the world, depends upon the harvest. If bread be dear there is less to spend upon other things. The price paid for bread depends upon the abundance or deficiency of the harvest; and that fixes the amount of production which can safely be ventured upon; and that again, the wages that can be paid; and that again, the condition of every poor man's cottage, and of every rich man's mansion throughout the land, and throughout the world. Manna! An international aspect of the question is thus unfolded. The necessities of peoples, and the abrogation of distance, and their separations by steam, have led to a freer exchange of commodities. We have had three or four poor harvests, but bread has not risen as it must otherwise have done! Why? Distant supplies have been available: we are not now dependent only on our own harvest.
II. CONSIDER THE CEASING OF THE MANNA IN CONNECTION WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PEOPLE'S LIFE. The gathering of manna from the ground was a short and simple affair, requiring neither much skill nor wit. In the land miracles ceased, and means had to be employed. Gifts are not so helpful as labour. To earn a fortune is better than to inherit one.
III. THE CEASING OF THE MANNA SUGGESTS THE REMOVAL OF THINGS ON WHICH HUMAN HAPPINESS SEEMS HERE WHOLLY TO DEPEND.
IV. CANAAN WAS A TYPE OF HEAVEN, AND THE CEASING OF THE BREAD OF THE WILDERNESS SUGGESTS THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE CONDITION OF LIFE HERE AND THERE. We shall lose much we here deem essential, but it is far better. What will it be to be there? It is the harvest-life of earth and time and the redeemed Church.
(W. H. Davison.)
I. THIS SUDDEN CHANGE WOULD BRING TO MIND GOD'S POWER. It is a well-known fact that our ears may get so accustomed to a sound as to be unconscious of it. In like manner men may get so accustomed to the wonders of God's might as to be unmoved by them. But this sudden stoppage of the manna must have arrested them all. It would be as if the sun had risen in the west. How strikingly would it teach them that this was a gift of Almighty power! The manna came not a day sooner than it was needed, and it did not stay a day later. They beheld the manna no more: but they saw instead fields white unto the harvest, and the power of Jehovah matured the one as truly as it sent the other. God has been supplying our wants of mind, body, and estate during all the past years of our life; and it may be we have been forgetting that we owe all to His power; therefore, to rouse us to this consciousness, He cuts off these supplies. The shock is great. Astonishment fills our hearts. Sorrow lays hold on us; indeed, we may be tempted to despair. Is this seemly? Nay. If we are His there is never room for despair. We can never drift beyond His love and care. He who has provided for the past will provide for the future.
II. The cessation of the manna would also MAGNIFY HIS GRACE. Whatever their feelings and thoughts and deeds, Whatever their spiritual state during these years, His supply never varied, was never suspended for a single day. And surely in our earthly course we too have had experience of this goodness of God. Notwithstanding our forgetfulness, thanklessness, rebellion, He has never cast us off, He has never left us to ourselves. He who has thus dealt with us in the past, will continue to do so to the end.
III. This event would also EXALT HIS LIBERALITY. There is a great change in the material supplied to Israel for its physical wants. But it is a change, not from better to worse, rather from good to better. For forty years they had been accustomed to food of the same flavour; now there is great diversity, a supply to suit every taste. During these past years the supply was measured, there was a fixed quantity for each; now the store is unlimited. As it was with Israel in regard to this bodily provision, so it is with the children of God in regard to that which is spiritual. They receive grace and more grace. They go from strength to strength. With ever-increasing capacity comes more and more abundant supply. And this law not only regulates the Christian experience on earth and in time, it will also hold in heaven and in eternity. Faith, hope, and love are grazes that abide for ever.
IV. This cessation of the manna would also serve to DISPLAY GOD'S CAREFULNESS. God is very liberal, but with all His liberality there is no wastefulness. God always appraises His gifts at their true value, and would have us do the same. God will never be so lavish of His gifts as to allow them to be scorned as superfluous. When He gives them the abundance of Canaan He takes away the manna. When men become careless or indifferent concerning His heavenly gifts, we need never be surprised if He takes them away.
V. This cessation of the manna also EXHIBITED GOD'S WISDOM. The manna was suited to the state of the people in the wilderness, it was not so convenient an article of food in Canaan. Whether or not it was more nourishing, it did not demand the same punctuality and regularity in gathering, and therefore was more suitable as the supply of soldiers. Corn would keep for an indefinite time, manna would not; therefore for those whose time would be so fully occupied, and yet whose hours of rest and work would be so uncertain, the corn was better. Also to have continued the supply regularly or intermittently, even for those who were not fighting, would have bred indolent and luxurious habits. It is good for man to be busy. As it is with material things so it is with spiritual. As the manna was taken away, so often spiritual experiences vanish to make room for others. Anything which does not serve the purpose for which it was first given may well be taken away. Thus we find as we pass through time that though many gifts, good, seasonable, necessary, are taken away, there are always compensations which leave us no losers.
(A. B. Mackay.)City of Boston and the President were lost in the wilderness of waters. What use was it to them that there was plenty of corn in Canaan, or plenty of corn in Egypt? What they wanted was something to eat right there, when there was not so much as a grass-blade. In other words, an especial supply for an especial emergency. That is what some of you want. The ordinary comfort, the ordinary direction, the ordinary counsel, do not seem to meet your case. There are those who feel that they must have an omnipotent and immediate supply, and you shall have it. Is it pain and physical distress through which you must go? Does not Jesus know all about pain? He has a mixture of comfort, one drop of which shall cure the worst paroxysm. Is it approaching sorrow? Have you been calculating your capacity or incapacity to endure widowhood or childlessness or disbanded home, and cried, "I cannot endure it"? Oh, worried soul, you will wake up amidst all your troubles, and find round about you the sweet consolation of the Gospel as thickly strewed as was the manna round about the Israelitish encampment l Especial solace for especial distress. Or is it a trouble past, yet present? A silent nursery? A vacant chair opposite you at the table? Oh, try a little of this wilderness manna: "I will never leave thee, I will never forsake thee." "Like as a father pitieth his children," &c. But after fourteen thousand six hundred consecutive days of falling manna — Sundays excepted the manna ceased. Some of them were glad of it. You know they had complained to their leader, and wondered that they had to eat manna instead of onions. Now the fare is changed. Those people in that wandering army under forty years of age had never seen a cornfield, and now, when they hear the leaves rustling and see the tassels waving, and the billows of green flowing over the plain as the wind touched them, it must have been a new and lively sensation. "Corn!" cried the old man, as he opened an ear. "Corn!" cried the children, as they counted the shining grains. "Corn!" shouted the vanguard of the host, as they burst open the granaries of the affrighted population, the granaries that had been left in the possession of the victorious Israelites. Then the fire was kindled, and the ears of corn were thrust into it, and, fresh and crisp and tender, were devoured of the hungry victors; and bread was prepared, and many things that can be made out of flour regaled appetites sharpened by the long march. "And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land." Blessed be God, we stand in just such a field to-day, the luxuriant grain coming above the girdle, the air full of the odours of the ripe old corn of the Gospel Canaan. "Oh!" you say, "the fare is too plain." Then I remember you will soon get tired of a fanciful diet. We soon weary of the syrups and the custards and the whipped foam of fanciful religionists, and we cry, "Give us plain bread made out of the old corn of the Gospel Canaan." This is the only food that can quell the soul's hunger. Christ is the Bread of Life, and taking Him, you live and live for ever. But, you say, corn is of but little practical use unless it is threshed and ground and baked. I answer, this Gospel corn has gone through that process. When on Calvary all the hoofs of human scorn came down on the heart of Christ, and all the flails of Satanic fury beat Him long and fast, was not the corn threshed? When the mills of God's indignation against sin caught Christ between the upper and nether rollers, was not the corn ground? Oh, yes! Christ is ready. His pardon all ready; His peace all ready; everything ready in Christ. Are you ready for Him? There is another characteristic about bread, and that is, you never get tired of it. There are people here seventy years of age who find it just as appropriate for their appetite as they did when, in boyhood, their mother cut a slice of it clear around the loaf. You have not got tired of bread, and that is a characteristic of the gospel. I notice, in regard to this article of food, you take it three times a day. It is on your table morning, noon, and night; and if it is forgotten, you say, "Where is the bread?" Just so certainly you need Jesus three times a day. Oh, do not start out without Him; do not dare to go out of the front door, without having first communed with Him I Before noon there may be perils that will destroy body, mind, and soul for ever. You cannot afford to do without Him. You will, during the day, be amidst sharp hoofs and swift wheels and dangerous scaffoldings threatening the body, and traps for the soul that have taken some who are more wily than you. When they launch a ship they break against the side of it a bottle of wine. That is a sort of superstition among sailors. But oh, on the launching of every day, that we might strike against it at least one earnest prayer for Divine protection! Then at the apex of the day, at the tiptop of the hours, equidistant from morning and night, look three ways. Look backward to the forenoon; look ahead to the afternoon; look up to that Saviour who presides over all. Bread at noon! When the evening hour comes, and your head is buzzing with the day's engagements, and your whole nature is sore from the abrasion of rough life, and you see a great many duties you have neglected, then commune with Christ, asking His pardon, thanking Him for His love. That would be a queer evening repast at which there was no bread. This is the nutriment and life of the plain Gospel that I recommended you. But alas for the famine-struck! Enough corn, yet it seems you have no sickle to cut it, no mill to grind it, no fire to bake it, no appetite to eat it. Starving to death, when the plain is golden with a magnificent harvest!
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
1. There is no wastefulness in the Divine economy. God does not use extraordinary means where the ordinary will avail to accomplish His purposes. We can easily conceive how, out of a prodigality of power, the manna might have been continued long after the land of Canaan had been reached; it might have been argued that such a continuance would be very helpful to the Israelites, supplying them with a perpetual and visible reminder of God's care for them. The answer is, that at any rate such a continuance was not granted; and further, that it is not our Father's way to permit the repetition of an aid the absolute necessity for which has departed. He is glorious in giving, but there is with Him no expenditure which would only tend to produce in the long run a contempt for His daily, His common, His highest, gifts. This principle is of widest application. When the Lord Jesus came to establish His kingdom, He wrought miracles in abundance; but when in the course of time the Church became firmly established, and the truth of the gospel was made evident by its renewing power over men, then the miracles gradually ceased, and that not because the Church had gone backward, but because she had advanced, and her claims could rest upon proofs of a more spiritual order. This principle receives a yet further illustration in the fact that, whilst the Lord displays His power, He yet takes up the work directly only when man is compelled to lay it down. The manna of the desert did not supplant the sowing and reaping of Canaan. Christ will raise the little child to life, but her parents must find her something to eat. Christ will speak the word of power, only possible to Him, "Lazarus, come forth," but human hands must roll away the stone, and unbind the grave-clothes from the man risen from the dead. An angel struck the fetters from the limbs of Peter, and brought him out of the prison, but after that the apostle must put forth his own efforts in order to escape the rage of his persecutors. In all these cases a Divine power might have accomplished the whole transaction; but it did not, and it does not now. God is pleased in His mercy to give to us certain powers, all His and yet ours, ours and yet His, and it is for us diligently to use them. In no impious sense we may say that God helps those who help themselves. We have seen that there is with God no useless expenditure. He does what is sufficient, but not more than sufficient, for the occasion. Now, if that be true, how vast in His eyes must be the needs of sinners, how heavy the task of saving them, that in order to its accomplishment it was needful that the Lord Jesus should come to suffer and die. The greatness of the Redeemer argues the magnitude of the work of redemption.
2. But further, whilst there is no waste in the Divine economy, yet there are special provisions for special occasions. There is here, if we can lay hold of it, a truth for us, full of real comfort, instinct with hope. What was the case of the Israelites? It was this. By no ingenuity, by no conceivable diligence upon their part, could the necessities of the vast host of men, women, and children have been supplied in the wilderness, and yet these very necessities arose because at the command of the Most High the journey from Egypt to Canaan had been undertaken. That is, it was the path of duty which was thus beset with difficulty. That being so, the Israelites could rightly look up to God to have their wants supplied. If the Lord Jesus bids a dozen men supply five thousand with bread, He Himself multiplies the tiny store until there is enough and to spare. If He commands a paralytic to take up his bed and walk, He gives the strength by which the command can be accomplished. The manna given to the Israelites in the sandy desert is a symbol of the most helpful truth, that God will not fail us in any difficulty that may come to us in doing His will. Our principal business is not to perplex ourselves with a thousand questions as to how we may accomplish this or that; our anxiety should gather about an earlier point and a simpler — namely, what is the path of duty — have we a right to enter upon such and such manifest duties and burdens? If the command is plain, let us obey. If God point the way, then, even if it visibly lead into perplexing responsibilities, expectant faith is the highest reason, and the soundest wisdom is hope in Him. Yes, without doubt, we have a right to look for special supplies for special needs.
3. There remains one more truth necessary for the completion of the subject before us, namely, that, on the whole, the ordinary conditions are the highest, the best, the most abiding. Which was really the best state, the wandering or the settlement, the desert or Canaan? And yet the first condition was that of manifold miracles, the water from the rock, the pillar of cloud and of fire, the daily manna; the latter, that in which the people were handed over to the ordinary conditions of life — they had to sow and till and reap, to buy and sell, even as we. The new convert has experiences which by and by yield to firmer principles; his love may deepen and become infinitely stronger in its influence upon him, and yet some of the peculiar brightness of the early days may have departed. There are times of great exaltation, of movement, of excitement, in the history of churches, but it has yet to be proved that these are indeed, all things considered, the best. I have much faith in quiet, plodding work in our churches, in the continuous use of such means of grace as God gives us, the common corn of the land. I have much faith too in the power of a quiet, steady Christian life, which is regularly fed with the Word of God and with prayer. The exaltation of the special above the ordinary has even served to keep men from accepting Jesus Christ, by obscuring the simplicity of that faith by which we are saved.
(E. Medley.)I. THE FAITH-FULNESS OF GOD TO HIS FRIENDS.
II. GOD WILL NOT WORK MIRACLES WHEN HE CAN MEET HIS CHILDREN'S NEEDS BY ORDINARY METHODS.
III. A TEMPORAL BLESSING IS SOMETIMES REMOVED WHEN IT HAS WROUGHT THE DESIRED SPIRITUAL END.
1. This is the gospel which first converted the world. It was not liberalism, but the doctrine of Christ's atonement for sin and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which converted the three thousand sinners of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Will any one tell us how long it would have taken the rose-water gospel of our modern dilettante to have done this work?
2. It is this old gospel alone that has sustained the Christian martyrs of all ages and all lands under their trials and persecutions. Who cares for science, literature, or art, when racked with pain and passing through the valley and shadow of death? Talk to us of God, tell us of heaven, show us the way to God and heaven, is then the high and only demand.
3. It was the preaching of this old gospel that awakened the Church to new life and produced the great reformation of the sixteenth century. It was as life from the dead, and Pentecostal baptism from heaven, when God raised up the great reformers, and by His grace enabled them, with a restored Bible, to proclaim again from the pulpit and the press the grand distinguishing truths of the ancient faith.
4. This again is the only gospel that has ever founded and sustained missions to the heathen. The new gospel of moderatism, of sentiment and art, or philosophical superiority to all creeds as equally good or indifferent, has never aspired to the dignity of converting the world to Christ.
5. Other grounds might be added for adherence to the old gospel — as that it has produced all the greatest characters in history, has founded all the great institutions of Christendom, has caused all the great revivals of religion in the Church, has been adorned by all the greatest preachers and evangelists of all ages — in a word, has accomplished nine-tenths, if not ninety-nine hundredths, of all the good that has thus far been accomplished in the world.
(Prof. Leroy J. Halsey.)— It is a strange thing to read that when at last the long-promised land had been attained there should be a diminution of the splendour of that Divine assistance which had attended the chosen people throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. "The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the old corn of the land." That is to say, the experience of the Israelites was one which swept down from the experience of splendid and wonderful works into that of ordinary, commonplace operation of the laws of nature. It looks a backward step. We, too, envy those who lived in the days when manna fell from heaven and the water came forth from the smitten rock, when the Jordan was cleft in twain, and men, without striking a blow, felt that the Divine arm was outstretched on their behalf. Or our thoughts may go back to the life of Him who lived in the world, not merely the life of beauty, but the life of power, and we may envy those who were privileged to walk at His side and see His hand stretched forth to touch the leper and he was healed, to raise the dead to life again. The dawn of early life has passed away, and with it the splendour of the morning, and all that we may claim is to live in a light which has faded down to the mere light of common day. It is a step downwards, we say, from those days of wondrous power to the days in which we can trace but little of the Divine in our midst. My purpose is to ask you to notice that so far from this transition from the extraordinary to the ordinary being a step downwards in the education of human beings it is distinctly a step upwards: that the whole story; if we will read it aright, may show us that God is leading us to far clearer and more constant manifestations of Himself. Your life and mine is real and strong in proportion as it is filled with a clear conception of God, in proportion as it is full of spiritual vigour within, and in proportion as it is energetic towards those whom we meet abroad. In these three relationships life finds its perfection. It does not find its perfection in itself alone; it is related by origin with God. And therefore it cannot grow out in fruition and in perfection of beauty at all except in certain conscious relationship to Him. It cannot ripen in the mere consciousness of God, because we are moral beings and we must ripen within ourselves; neither can we ripen within ourselves without relationship to our fellow-men, for God has put us in the midst of those men where the very order of things is a social order; and we grow not merely by the law of our own inward development, but we grow also by the law of contact and association with our brother men. And if you will look at this story which tells us of the transition from the marvellous to the commonplace, I think you will see that whether you regard life from any one of these three points you are asked to take a step forward and to move higher.
1. First, then, the relation we bear to God. The thought which underlies our regret when we say that we wish we had lived in the days of more marked interposition of God is this — that somehow or another wherever there is a marvellous or miraculous manifestation of God there is an opportunity of knowing Him which is denied to us. If you will reflect you will see that on the contrary the demand that underlies our thought is a demand which is destructive of our conception and consciousness of God sooner or later. What are we saying? We are saying in effect this: we want to be back in the old days of miracle, and we want the Divine made known to us through His marvels. What is that but saying; "O Lord, Thou hast made the world, and Thou hast made the world according to order, and laws govern that world. Break Thy laws that we may know Thee!" But surely that is to demand almost an impossibility! It is an admission that we have but little conception of the Divine working at all. You and I can see immediately what would be the result. That which happens constantly ceases to be extraordinary from the nature of the case, and there would be no more reason for believing in God because of such frequent manifestations of a startling character, for they would no longer be of the very character which we plead is their essential power. But you say, "We do not want Him to do this; we do not want Him to show Himself thus by for ever breaking up His laws, and being for ever doing the thing which we now deem extraordinary, but we do ask Him to break the silence and let us see some startling manifestation of His presence." And then that means to say that we should only realise Him in proportion as He came and stood beside us veiled in these splendours. What, then, would be our inheritance in God? We should have an occasional God, not a permanent one. If we have any vivid conception of Him, He must be a permanent and a perpetual God to our lives and our souls. What you and I want is not a God of occasional work, but the God of a perpetual working in our midst. Therefore, surely we are enlarging our thoughts of God when we say, "God is not only in the startling things, but He is in the commonplace things, of life; God is not only in the cleft rock, He is also in the quiet hill and in the soft meadow; He is not only in the cloven sea or the Jordan struck asunder, but He is in the little burn that babbles at our feet." Surely that gives us a much larger and nobler idea of the Divine; that brings us into closer relationship with Him. It enlarges our conceptions; we feel that we live not in a world which now and then is privileged to behold God as ruler, marching in stately procession through His universe, but rather as the Father of His children who dwells with them at all times. He is about our path and our bed; His tender mercies never fail to the sons of men, but are over all His works.
2. But life is not merely made up thus of the conceptions which we have of God, but it is made up of our own personal growth. The object which God has, if I may speak with all reverence, in putting us into this little world for the three score years and ten is not to secure our happiness nor to startle us into a kind of hysterical perception of His presence, but to educate us as His children. And therefore, when we ask that God should make Himself manifest by these miracles and wonders, we are really making a false conception of our own powers and capabilities in relation to God. For by what faculty do you perceive God? For everything that we look at is apprehended by one faculty or other that we possess. Do I expect to apprehend Him by the physical eye? Do I imagine that I shall apprehend Him by intellectual effort? Surely those are only conceptions which belong to past ideas, crude notions of God. I cannot perceive God by the physical eye. God is a spirit! I cannot perceive God by my intellectual powers, because the world, by wisdom, knew not God, and if He be God at all to me He is the Incomprehensible One. Then, of course, the miracle and the wonder are outside the case, for the marvellous can only speak on the plane of things physical or appeal to the power of the mind, the intellectual power within us. Our Lord was constantly teaching that. In His parable of Dives and Lazarus He uses the very principle. Here the man in his torment imagines that a wonder will convince his brethren. "Send Lazarus! Let the marvel appear!" And the only answer is, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" — in other words, if they have not the moral capacity to follow the teachings of Moses and the prophets, if they have no moral affinity and sympathy with the prophets' teaching, no wonder will give them that capacity. You cannot create a capacity by a wonder outside a man. You cannot make a blind man see red because he cannot see pink; you cannot, by intensifying a force outside, give him a faculty which is lacking in himself. The way in which you can understand God is by the exercise of your moral faculties. Jesus Christ was the greatest moral teacher that ever lived, and what is Jesus Christ's emphatic statement concerning this? He says there are two faculties by which God can be apprehended, one is single-mindedness, the other purity of heart. For so, He said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." That was His idea, and John, the beloved disciple who laid his head upon the bosom of the Christ, uttered the same principle when he said that the only way by which God could be apprehended was by the exercise of a loving disposition. A loving disposition is indispensable. You cannot perceive Him without it, and you can understand why. The reason is written down on the very surface. How can you understand him whose nature is loving if you be not loving also? How can you understand him whose nature is simple-minded if you too are not simple-minded? The faculty by which you apprehend God, then, is not the intellectual, not the physical, but the moral; and hence how will a miracle affect your moral faculties? How can it appeal to your moral powers? So that when you have asked that you should have a miracle to show you God, the answer of the thought and the answer of the principle is the same, you cannot so apprehend God unless you previously possess the moral faculty to enable you to grasp Him. And if you will reflect upon it, this is only another way of saying what is true of everything in the world, that the one condition by which you can understand anything or anybody is that you shall be in some degree a sharer of their nature. That is true! Let us picture to ourselves the tourist who hurries across the Atlantic, and hurries through the towns of Europe in order to see or "to do" the Continent. Place him down with his erratic mind untrained before the greatest masterpieces of art; plant him in the chapel at Florence; let him stand face to face with Michael Angelo's creations of Night and Morning. His first impression will be, "These are greatly over-praised; why, the very anatomy is faulty; I cannot see why people should praise these things." But now for a moment imagine that there drops upon that man's soul as he stands there some little portion of Michael Angelo's nature. What a transformation takes place within his soul in his power of perception at that moment! Then he says something new; then these "greatly over-praised" figures begin to have a message for him; they seem to speak into his life now because Michael Angelo is in his soul, and he can read what Michael Angelo meant. I put it to you in your homes; measure your acquaintances, tabulate them in your own mind, and see what the result is. Only where there is that sort of affinity you can really enter into the capacity of knowing one another in the true friendly sense; and what is the secret of it all? Your power of knowing and entering into the lives of these people depends upon your sharing in some degree their nature. It is the same surely with God. We talk of knowing God. How blind and foolish we are! Knowing God, the measureless, pure God, the bright and eternal God, the God whose mercy is over all His works. How can we know Him if we be not righteous? How can we understand Him if we be not holy? How can we enter into His love if no love dwells within our soul? It is the moral faculty, it is the possession of these moral qualities which are power, Hence, when the message comes to you, "Go forward! rest no longer upon the miracle! Rest now upon the ordinary manifestations!" it is as if it said — and the message came to the Israelites as it comes to you and me — "You are no longer in a state of babyhood, dependent upon these things outside your moral nature." "You must give moral co-operation" — that is the meaning of the message. You must give moral co-operation now in your own education, for only by that moral co-operation can there be a pure apprehension of the Divine and the real entering into communion with Him. Thus, then, it is a step upwards, is it not? a step upwards in the moral education of men. But there is a third aspect of life.
3. Your life and mine is a life of association with others, and so long as men were in the state in which they were surrounded by the marvellous, the manna fell just where they could gather it without any exertion, but the corn needed to be sown, and the corn needed to be gathered in the spot where it grew, and therefore the children of Israel were now in the position of being made co-operators in the work of God. And so it is for you and me to understand that the advantage of its coming in that way is that it draws us into partnership with the work, and we are promoted to a stage higher when we are sent into the fields to gather, and when we are made so far co-agents with God that in the great work of the distribution of His food amongst men we take our share.
(Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)Genesis 13:14-16). This was a great promise for the patriarch; also for his son and grandson, to whom it was in substance repeated. But what about those Israelites in Egypt whose hands and faces were smeared with the clay of the brickyards? There were probably times when they thought the promise was for gotten. But the promise was not forgotten, and every grain of the old corn eaten by the Israelites was a proof of God's fidelity to His word. We are reminded by corn, whether old or new, that God is an active power in the world. We may talk about germination and the fructifying influences of dew, rain, and sunshine; but behind all secondary causes there is the great First Cause. In Tibet there is a sacred tree which is said to bear on its leaves hymns, litanies, and pictures of Buddha. On grains of corn, if we look aright, we shall see psalms in praise of God's truthfulness and pictures of God's goodness. He whose finger has yearly given a vitalising touch to the seed in the ground, and shown His beneficence in a long succession of harvests has not failed, and will not fail, in either His threatenings or His promises. The corn eaten by the Israelites was old, and therefore good corn, If it had been badly harvested it would have sprouted, and when parched or made into cakes would have lacked the right flavour. It was in prime condition, and so was a treat to the Israelites after their long diet of manna. In the Bible we have what may be spoken of as old corn. The truths which God has given for the nourishment of our souls are not of recent date, but bear the impress of primitive years. We are not to despise those truths because they are old; if they are old, they are a glory for modern times. Whenever the Church has risen to new life, it has been because of a return to biblical beliefs and biblical methods of activity. When, however, the Church has become little more than a gorgeously decorated petrifaction, it has been revived by the old corn of simple doctrine. Novelties in theology may be attractive, but they cannot do for us what is done by doctrines which are ancient without being antiquated, and venerable without being enfeebled by years. Much as men have grown in science and literature, they have not so grown religiously as to be independent of the atonement. We need the old truths, and we can no more do without them for our souls than we can do without bread made of sound corn for our bodies.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)John 16:7). Very precious had been the manna that ceased when Jesus left. But more nourishing is the new corn with which the Spirit feeds us. Let us prize it greatly so long as we are in the flesh. We shall know the good of it when we enter on the next stage of our being. Then, in the fullest sense, the manna will cease, and we shall eat the corn of the land.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
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