Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee?
I. THERE ARE PEOPLE STILL WHO THINK NOTHING CAN BE DONE WITHOUT THEM. We find these people everywhere — not a few of them at home. Ask that busy, bustling housewife to take her children out into the country for a day; or ask her to attend church on a Sunday morning; or ask her to give a few hours to visiting among the sick and the poor and the sorrowful, what will she say? "How can I leave my house? Who will attend to my affairs? If I were out of that house a few days it would all go to ruin." That woman has grown daughters who could and would gladly see to things if she would only let them. But she goes on in her foolish whim that nothing can be done without her. And I verily believe that not a few would rather have nothing done at all if they could not do it. In business, too, the same thing occurs. There are men who are slaves to their business. Neither their sons nor their confidential men, who would suffer any loss rather than neglect the governor's interest, can be trusted. They must see to it, or it won't be done. Some day God puts such a man on his back. He is away six months with a serious illness. His sons, who have not been thought capable hitherto, have responsibility thrown upon them, and rise to the position. The man is humbled, shamed, or it may be, delighted to find that the business has done better with the infusion of the new blood than it did with the old. The Church of Christ, unfortunately, is afflicted with a large number of men who think nothing can be done without them. There are men who would rather the battle should be lost than others win it — who would almost wish that evil should remain rather than others have the honour of removing it. But what does it matter who gains the victory if it be gained? God can accomplish His purposes without any of us. Look over the pages of history, and you will find that workers fall, but the work goes on.
II. THERE ARE SOME WHO, THOUGH THEY CAN'T STOP THE WORK, TRY TO PREJUDICE THE WORKERS. The men of the text said in effect, "And who are you? You are fugitives, mongrels, not of pure blood. What business have the likes of you to think you can fight the foes of Israel? It is monstrous, and we won't have it." The same thing goes on to-day. There are men who seem to think they have said something clever and settling when they say that the popular useful man was not born in a palace. "Who's he?" is their cry. "Why, don't you know that he was a collier, and worked in a coal pit? His father died in a cottage. His mother was the daughter of a man who drove a horse and cart, and never had five pounds in his life." And what of that? Is it not honest to get coal? Better be a collier and dig coal in the service of man, and thus the service of God, than be a loafer, an idler, a consumer, a drone. Some of the noblest of God's servants have come from among the poor, and the obscure, and the unknown. Our Lord Himself was a toiler, and the Son of toilers, and has for ever consecrated and blessed all honest necessary human labour. So I say to you all, toil on, pray on, fight on, win victories for God. Beat back the enemies of Israel; and if the Ephraimites, lacking courage and genius themselves, despise you, let them.
III. THERE ARE SOME WHO CAN'T OR WON'T DO MUCH THEMSELVES, BUT HATE, AND SCORN, AND TRY TO PERSECUTE THOSE WHO DO. "We will burn thine house upon thee." Alas! This has often found expression in the bitterness of party strife and religious bigotry. Unable to silence men whose lips God had touched as with live coals from His own altar, and whose hearts had felt the power of the living God, they have erected their stakes, piled their faggots, and lit their fires, in which the saints of God, the excellent of the earth, have stood till their flesh was shrivelled and their bones cindered. "We will burn thine house upon thee with fire," said these men; but they found themselves unable to do it. Some men are hard to kill, and some houses bad to burn. Many a tyrant has found this out. "We will burn thine house upon thee." It does not seem to have occurred to these cowardly Ephraimites that men who burn other people's houses sometimes burn themselves. It is dangerous to play with edged tools. It is not safe to toy with fire. It may become the instrument of your own torture, the weapon of your own destruction. "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword," said Jesus Christ; and there is for us no higher authority. Some men who are fond of using fire do no harm except to themselves. Whilst it is in some sense only right and just that this should be so, there are cases in which we are sorry for the opposers. Well had it been for these Ephraimites had they shared in the universal rejoicing. Well had it been for them if they had learned wisdom, and ceased from opposition. Their wicked and senseless opposition brought ruin upon themselves. In sheer self-defence the victor turned the sword upon them. Alas for them! Forty and two thousand of them that day left their dead bodies upon the plains as victims of their folly, and in illustration of our saying that the wicked often injure themselves. And this is true with the Lord Jesus and His gospel. Some men oppose it, reject it, mutilate it, burn it. All such injure themselves. They can never hurt the truth. It will live. They cannot stop the power of Jesus Christ to save men. The waves of the ocean dash against the granite rock, but the rock does not move. But what of the waves? Broken, they roll back in spray to the ocean out of which they came. "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
(C. Leach, D. D.)
Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth:
(Marcus Dods, D. D.)
(L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
I. LOOK WE NOW FOR THE VAIN SHIBBOLETHS OF MAN, those heavy burdens which are laid on men's shoulders, and laid too often by those who will not themselves touch them with the tips of their fingers.
1. "I believe that I am forgiven?' This is one of the unfair shibboleths required by man. Seldom a saint departs without sight of the broad seal of God's forgiveness. But he may be afraid to take it. Still he is forgiven. To be forgiven is of the first importance. To know we are forgiven is of importance too; but not indispensable.
2. "I am a member of this Church." Here is another human shibboleth. The Lord will not ask what earthly Church — so it be but a branch of Christ's vine — a soul belongs to. "Come with us and we will do thee good," is the utmost length to which our invitation may go.
3. "I understand Scripture in the literal sense. I agree to no new interpretation. I admit no light from science." These requirements form another human shibboleth; this shutting up of the Bible from that free, and full, and fair inquiry, which, if it were afraid of it, it would be well nigh worthless. Having first prayed reverently, "Lead me not, O Father, into temptation," a man may wear away his Bible by the daily attrition of diligent study; for it contains what no study can wear down — the very truth of God. Such a reader Christ smiles upon as his fingers turn over the sacred page. For such a man, after God's own heart, the Holy Spirit will strike forth new discoveries; will lead such an one by still waters, and feed him in pleasant pastures, far away from the rivers of Babylon; will guide such an one into all truth, and save his soul in peace.
II. THERE ARE ALSO SOME TRUE SHIBBOLETHS OF GOD, WHICH WE MUST PRONOUNCE WITH A FULL, ROUND UTTERANCE, OR WE ARE LOST.
1. Repentance. "If I were to die in the pulpit," said Philip Henry, "I would desire to die preaching repentance; and if I were to die out of the pulpit, I would desire to die practising repentance." "Except ye repent," says the Holy Spirit, "ye shall all likewise perish." Can we say, "shibboleth"? Have we repented? Or is it only the "sibboleth" of a worldly sorrow?
2. Another shibboleth of God is faith in Christ. Not the form of words, "I believe"; but the diligent, faithful life; the earnest, converted soul.
3. We must believe the Bible to be inspired. Reverently and freely interpreting it, we must take it from God's gracious hand, and follow out its leading as the clue to salvation. Else it will hang like a millstone about our necks, and sink us to perdition, 4, We must learn the true language of heaven, the true ways of holiness. We must leave the lispings, formalities, and affectations of the world, and say, "Shibboleth," as the angels and spirits of the just, and the just who yet live upon earth say it, and have said it before.
(S. B. James, M. A.)
1. In tracing out the religion of sectarianism, or bigotry, I find that a great deal of it comes from wrong education in the home circle. There are parents who do not think it wrong to caricature and jeer the peculiar forms of religion in the world, and denounce other denominations.
2. I think sectarianism and bigotry also rise from too great prominence of any one denomination in a community. All the other denominations are wrong, and his denomination is right, because his denomination is the most wealthy, or the most popular, and it is "our" Church, and "our " religious organisation, and "our" choir, and "our" minister, and the man tosses his head, and wants other denominations to know their places.
3. Bigotry is often the child of ignorance. You seldom find a man with large intellect who is a bigot. It is the man who thinks he knows a great deal, but does not. That man is almost always a bigot. There is nothing that will so soon kill bigotry as sunshine — God's sunshine. So I have set before you what I consider to be the causes of bigotry. What are some of the baleful effects?
1. It cripples investigation. You are wrong, and I am right, and that ends it. No taste for exploration, no spirit of investigation.
2. Another great damage done by the sectarianism and bigotry of the Church is, that it disgusts people with the Christian religion. Now, the Church of God was never intended for a war barrack.
3. Again, bigotry and sectarianism do great damage in the fact that they hinder the triumph of the gospel. Oh! how much wasted ammunition! how many men of splendid intellect have given their whole life to controversial disputes, when, if they had given their life to something practical, they might have been vastly useful! A quarrel in a beehive is a strange sight. I go out sometimes in the summer and I find two beehives, and these two beehives are in a quarrel. I come near enough, not to be stung, but I come just near enough to hear the controversy, and one beehive says, "That field of clover is the sweetest," and another beehive says, "That field of clover is the sweetest." I come in between them, and I say, "Stop this quarrel; if you like that field of clover best, go there; if you like that field of clover best, go there; but let me tell you that that hive which gets the most honey is the best hive!" So I come out between the Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. One denomination of Christians says, "That field of Christian doctrine is best," and another says, "This field of Christian doctrine is best." Well, I say, "Go where you get the most honey." That is the best Church which gets the most honey of Christian grace for the heart, and the most honey of Christian usefulness for the life. Besides that, if you want to build up any denomination, you will never build it up by trying to pull some other down. In England a law was made against the Jew. England thrust back the Jew, and thrust down the Jew, and declared that no Jew should hold official position. What came of it? Were the Jews destroyed? Was their religion overthrown? No. Intolerance never yet put down anything. Now, what is the remedy for sectarianism? I think we may overthrow the severe sectarianism and bigotry in our hearts, and in the Church also, by realising that all the denominations of Christians have yielded noble institutions and noble men. There is nothing that so stirs my soul as this thought. Moreover, we may also overthrow the feelings of severe sectarianism by joining other denominations in Christian work. Perhaps I might more forcibly illustrate this truth by Calling your attention to an incident which took place some years ago. One Monday morning, at about two o'clock, while her nine hundred passengers were sound asleep dreaming of home, the steamer Atlantic crashed into Mars Head. Five hundred souls in ten minutes landed in eternity! Oh, what a scene! Agonised men and women running up and down the gangways, and clutching for the rigging, and the plunge of the helpless steamer, threw two continents into terror. But see this brave quartermaster pushing out with the life-line until he gets to the rock; and see these fishermen gathering up the shipwrecked, and taking them into the cabins and wrapping them in the flannels snug and warm; and see that minister of the gospel, with three other men, getting into a lifeboat, and pushing out for the wreck, pulling away across the surf, and pulling away until they saved one more man, and then getting back with him to the shore. Can these men ever forget that night? And can they ever forget their companionship in peril, companionship in struggle, companionship in awful catastrophe and rescue? Never! Never! Well, our world has gone into a worse shipwreck. Sin drove it on the rocks. The old ship has lurched and tossed in the tempests of six thousand years. Out with the life-line! I do not care what denomination carries it. Out with the life-boat! I do not care what denomination rows it. Side by side, in the memory of common hardships, and common trials, and common prayers, and common tears, let us be brothers for ever.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
I. SOCIAL LIFE HAS ITS SHIBBOLETHS. Goodness of heart and purity of life and language are not always the tests of admission to what is termed choice society. Anything before that. With some it is education. How much do you know? With others it is elegance of manners and accomplishments. We do not admit awkward people to our company. And some estimate the worth of their neighbours by the length of their purses. How much are you worth? With multitudes dress is the countersign. The idol of fashion is set up, and we are expected to bow down daily and offer devout homage. In many assemblies the garment decides the position. One of our great generals, it is said, went modestly to one of our fashionable churches on a great funeral occasion. Upon his applying for a place, it transpired that the plain cloak which wrapped his person was barely sufficient to gain him a seat inside the door. It was almost literally, "Stand thou there." During the service the cloak fell back far enough to reveal the mark upon the shoulders. Then came most profuse apologies, with the pressing invitation, "Come up higher, and sit thou in a good place."
II. RELIGIOUS LIFE HAS ITS SHIBBOLETHS, and there is no place where the overbearing requirements are more unseemly or mere to be deprecated. The spirit of Christianity, as taught by its Divine Author, is a spirit of kindness, tenderness, forbearance. It commends and enjoins the charity that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things. In the gospel we are to make allowance for each other's differences, and bear with each other's infirmities, and bid Godspeed to each other's efforts. There are shibboleths which are legitimate, and essential to the maintenance of vital truth and goodness among men. There are principles which constitute the very foundation stones of God's temple. These are to be defended and guarded without compromise. It is not our measuring line which is thus applied; it is not our standard set up; it is not our speech to which conformity is required. It is the pronunciation which God demands. And yet it becomes us to be extremely cautious in the pressing of the pass-words, lest we should substitute our own pronunciation for God's and shut out any of the children of the kingdom. "Take heed lest ye offend one of these little ones." There are different phases of the same doctrine; there are various explanations and interpretations which do not invalidate the truth.
1 Corinthians 12:13). Our belief is far less a matter of free-will than we imagine. If we are sincere in regard to truth we must believe as we do, and there is no ground for reviling. And as oaks grow best alone, and as vines need a standard, and as some flowers like a day with three quarters shadow, and others want all the sunshine that heaven can pour upon them; as all the fruits in Covent Garden Market to-morrow will be better than any one of them; as all herbs are good in their place, sweet and bitter, mellow and sharp; and as some love Rembrandt's pictures with their deep shadows, and some Raphael's, with their floods of glory and hosts of angels, and no great gallery could be complete if you leave out any of these great masters: so I think we must make up our minds that any Church which can include all these diversities of thinking and believing is better than those which leave any out, and breed "in and in," like the chickens in Hawthorne's story that were so careful of the separateness of their breed that there were only two of them left in the end, and they could do nothing but croak. We cannot always think alike or believe alike in the most sacred relations that men and women can sustain to each other in their homes; and we ought not to look for any finer harmony than the holy spirit of well-mated Christian people, least of all in the Churches where this bond of fellowship is maintained, against all comers, that every man may make something good enough for heaven out of the nature that God has given him and the life he has to live, and that the best form in the Churches and in the nation is that in which men can manage wisely and well to govern themselves.
(R. Collyer, D. D.)
Abdon... had forty sons and thirty nephews.