The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded:Asa: Life and Lessons
2 Chronicles 14, 2 Chronicles 15
ASA was a good king of Judah; he "did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God." Not only "good and right" because these might be variable terms. There are persons who set themselves to the presumptuous and impious task of settling for themselves, what is "right" and what is "good." In the case of Asa, he did not invent a righteousness, nor did he invent a goodness which he could adapt to his own tempers, ambitions, and conveniences: he was right and good and "did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God." Whilst the land had peace, Asa set to work and built walls and towers and fences, and did all that he could for the good of his country. Zerah, an Ethiopian warrior, did not understand silence. He mistook quietness for languor; he made the vulgar mistake of supposing that quietness was indifference. He did not know that repose is the very highest expression of power. So he brought against Asa, king of Judah, no fewer than a million soldiers—"a thousand thousand" —to us a large number, to the Orientals quite a common array. What was to be done? Asa did not shrink from war, though he never courted it. He must meet the foe in battle. Before doing so he must pray:
"And Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with thee to help [rather, "it is alike to thee to help the powerful or the weak"—thou canst as easily, i.e., help the weak as the strong] whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go [comp. 1Samuel 17:45] against this multitude. O Lord, thou art our God; let not man [or, mortal man] prevail against thee" (2Chronicles 14:11).
Having risen from their knees, they launched themselves against the Ethiopians, and were mighty as men who answer straw with steel. They fought in God's name and for God's cause, and the thousand thousand of the Ethiopians were as nothing before the precise and terrific stroke of men who had studied war in the school of God.
Asa, then, began upon a good foundation; he established himself upon a great principle. That is what all young people especially should take to heart right seriously. To such we say: do not make an accident of your lives—a thing without centre, purpose, certitude, or holiness. Regard it as a trust from God. Be right in your great foundation lines, and you will build up a superstructure strong, after the nature and quality of the foundation upon which you build. Do not snatch at life. Do not take out an odd motto here and there and say, "This will do for the occasion." Life should be deeply laid in its bases, strongly cemented together in its principles, noble in its convictions; then it can be charitable in its concessions and recognitions. On what is your life based? What is the point at which you are aiming? If you have no broad foundation, no solid rock, no complete purpose and policy, then you are adventurers, speculators, and the turn of the wheel will mean your present or ultimate ruin.
"And he [Asa] took courage, and put away the abominable idols [abominations] out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord" (2Chronicles 15:8).
Let us not trifle with the occasion by suggesting that we have no idolatries to uproot, no heathen groves to examine, to purify, or to destroy. That would indeed be making light of history, and ignoring the broadest and saddest facts of our present circumstances. The world is full of little gods, man-made idols, groves planted by human hands, oppositions and antagonisms to the true theism of the universe. We are so apt to think that the idols are a long way off, far beyond seas; or that they existed long centuries ago and spoke languages now obsolete or forgotten. Nothing of the kind; they live here, they build to-day. Our gods are a million strong. We do not call them gods, but we worship them none the less. Luck, Accident, Fortune, Fashion, Popularity, Self-indulgence—these are the base progeny of idols that did once represent some ideal thought and even some transcendental religion. Idolatry has retrograded; polytheism has gone quickly backward. To worship the sun!—Why, there is reason in it; verily, sometimes he looks as if made to be worshipped, to be hailed with song and to be followed with adoring wonder in his infinite course of illumination. But we worship accident, fortuitous circumstances, probabilities. We calculate at the counter of our gods—where the men we often mock fell down and dumbly worshipped what they did not understand. Theirs the nobler idolatry! having in it a touch of heavenly philosophy. Asa said, in effect, "We must be right about our gods before we can be right with one another." That is true teaching. With a wrong theology we never can have a thoroughly sound and healthy economical system. To be wrong in our conception of God is to be wrong in every point in the line of our thinking. The points themselves may be apparently sustained by great force of reasoning and great witness of concurrent facts; but when connected with their starting point they are vitiated by the mistake which was originally made. Looking on all human history we find that the conception of God—any god—which any people have held, has ultimately determined their fortunes. We rest on this philosophy. We believe in a God of righteousness, purity, mercy; a Father-God, loving all, redeeming all, caring for each as if each were an only child; patient with us, careful about us, studying our littlenesses, and making our infirmities the starting-points of new beneficences. We cannot be true to that conception of God, and have along with it a morality that we can palter with, and duties with which we can trifle. The conviction of a theology so massive, so substantial, so rational, will make itself felt in every pulsation of individual thought and social relationship.
This was the corner-stone upon which Asa built his great and gracious policy. What was the effect of it upon other people? We find that the effect then was what it must always be:—
Such is the influence of a great leadership. If Asa had been halting, the people would have halted too. Asa was positive, and positiveness sustained by such beneficence begets courage in other people. "They fell to him out of Israel in abundance"—that is, they came over to him and were on his side. They ranked themselves with Asa; they looked for his banner and called it theirs, "when they saw that the Lord his God was with him." Nations perish for want of great leaders. Social reformers are dependent to a large extent upon the spirit of the leadership which has adopted them. The Church is always looking round for some bolder man, some more heroic and dauntless spirit, who will utter the new truth, if any truth can be new—say rather, the next truth; for truth has always a next self, a larger and immediately-impending self, and the hero, who is also martyr, must reveal that next phase of truth and die on Golgotha for his pains. Can we not, in some small sense, be leaders in our little circles, in our business relations, in our family life, in our institutional existence? Many people can follow a tune who cannot begin one. That is the philosophy we would unfold and enforce. You would suppose from the immediate answer to the leader that any man in the whole thousand could have begun the tune—the reality of the case being, that the leader alone, perhaps, might be able to start it; yet, the moment his clear, dominating tone is heard, a thousand men took it up as if they had begun it. It is so in morals. Many persons can feel a speech who cannot make one. That is the secret of true speaking. So the reporter does not report the speech only; he reports the whole proceedings. Hence the interruptions are as essential to the understanding of a meeting as is the eloquence itself. We must know who applauded, where they applauded, how much they applauded; so that, having read the reporter's notes, we know what a thousand men or more felt and said, for every hearer in a great and responsive audience is as truly a speaker as is the one man who gives articulation to the common sentiment of the multitude. We want leaders—men who will have the courage to say now and then, "Let us pray." The people are waiting for good leadership. They know the shepherdly voice when they hear it; "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding," and you might have had a more unanimous following if your leadership had been less marked by ambiguity and equivocation. Your family might have been more united if to firmness you had added grace—if to grace you had added firmness. Regard all leaders with prayerful hopefulness in so far as they want to do good and to be good. Sympathise with them, say to Asa, even the king, "What thou hast done thou hast well done; in God's name we bless thee for the purification of the land and for the encouragement of all noble things."
Asa showed the limits of human forbearance and human philosophy. He broke down in the very act of doing that which was right because he went too far. He made a covenant and the people made it along with him.
"And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; that whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman" (2Chronicles 15:12-13).
That is the danger. You cannot make men religious by killing them, by threatening them, by inflicting upon them any degree of penalty. Do not force a child to church. Lead it; lure it; make the church so bright and homelike and beautiful that the child will eagerly long for the time to come when the door will be opened. We conquer by love. The Christian cause advances, not by persecution but by charity; not even by argument but by love. Controversy has done nothing for the truth compared with what has been done by holiness, purity, nobleness, patience, and the quiet heroisms which can only be accounted for by the existence of deep and real religious convictions.
Asa was impartial. There was a touch of real grandeur about the man. He would not even allow his mother to keep an idol. The queen had an idol of her own "in a grove."
"And also concerning Maachah the mother of Asa the king, he removed her from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove: and Asa cut down her idol, and stamped it and burnt it at the brook Kidron' (2Chronicles 15:16).
Thus ruthlessly Asa disestablished that little royal church. See how burningly in earnest the man was; and what a man will do when his earnestness is fervent! He knows nothing about fathers, mothers, partialities, or concessions. He says, "Light is the foe of darkness, and you cannot have any little dark corner of your own. This light must find you out, chase away every shadow and purify every secret place in human life and thought." Many men fail to follow Asa just at that point. They are great reformers upon a public scale; but their own houses are stables that need to be cleansed. They are quite violent progressists in all national matters; but the moment they go home and shut the house-gate upon themselves they fall into all kinds of confusion and tumult and false relationship. "Now," said Asa, in effect, "what is good for the public is good for the individual; what is good for the subject is good for the queen. Cut down the queen's idol, cut down the queen's grove; and when you have got the little god, stamp on it, burn it, throw the ashes into the brook; and because the queen no longer repents of her idolatry, she must leave her throne." We want more men of that kind. They will have uncomfortable lives, they will not be popular men; they will be fools according to the world's arithmetic, they will be madmen in the estimation of cold minds; but they are God's sons, children of the light, born not of men, not of blood, but born of God, born in heaven.
Let us consider this man's case well, and apply it to ourselves. We must have no persecution, no threatening, no driving; only prayer, reasoning, hope, love; inform the mind, guide the reason, multiply the schools, double the circulation of all good books, inspire the affections, purify the very source and spring of the will; and our victories will not be so many coarse and costly destructions, but will be as the triumph of light over darkness, fair as the morning and beneficent as the summer.
Almighty God, we pray thee for the true vision. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. We cannot see thee otherwise. This way is thine own, it is therefore best, and we pray to be led in it like little children. We want to see God. We would see thee every day, we would walk with thee, and talk with, thee, and be thy friends; we need not see death because of our companionship with thee, but breathe ourselves into heaven: but we do not understand what it is to see thee; our idea is wrong, our whole thought has gone astray, we are fools before heaven. Thou art in us, thou art round about us, thou art in every flower that blooms, and in every star that burns, and in every wind that breathes over the earth. Why do we not see thee, and love thee? wait for thee, and never go out without thee? The heart of man is stubborn, his eyes are blind, and his will has strayed away in deserts and foreign lands. Oh that some mighty one might be sent to us to speak the right word in the right tone, to hurl upon us the great thunder, or speak to our aching hearts in the still small voice,—anyhow, that we may see and feel the living God. Thou art in our life, thou art giving it shape and tone and colour and meaning; thou art raising up men, and putting down men, and altering the face of the earth; and behold we wonder, but seldom pray. This is the Lord's doing, all this shaping and directing and toning life, and it is marvellous in our eyes: but our hearts do not receive the revelation with openness and frankness and joy. We have heard of thee through Jesus Christ thy Son, who said if we saw him we saw thyself. This was wondrous, we did not know its meaning; but we listened, and read and thought, and lo, a new day dawned upon our minds, and before we were fully aware the. whole heaven was alight with a new glory, and from that time we have spoken of the marvellous light; we have said, Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light; he has made everything beautiful with light; God is light. May we therefore continue to study the words of Jesus Christ thy Son, and may his Spirit be in us, and may we be led from the doctrine to the sacrifice, from the infinite gospel to the infinite atonement, which is its very centre and glory; may we be led to the cross of Christ, symbol of misery and weakness and yet made into the symbol of immortal victory and eternal rest. Lead us day by day; lead us into all truth; sanctify us by thy word: thy word is truth; may it dwell in us, rule in us, be a light in our understanding, and a fountain of consolation in our hearts, and may our whole life be shaped and directed by the Spirit of the living word. Help us to bear life's burdens, sometimes so heavy, sometimes too heavy; help us in the restless night to meditate lovingly upon God; help us in the long uphill work to put our confidence in the Almighty. Dry our tears when they blind us to any beauty, but multiply them like a river when they help us to see thee better. Amen.
2 Chronicles 15
"And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah [the same expression as in Numbers 24:2. (Comp. 2Chronicles 20:14; 2Chronicles 24:20)] the son of Oded [by some identified with Iddo, the prophet and historian of the two preceding reigns]" (2Chronicles 15:1).
Inspiration and Action
SUCH words as these should make us solemn, and glad. Here is the eternal force, the Spirit of God; here is the transitory medium, the individual man upon whom that force so suddenly and graciously acted. God is still here, man is still here: why should inspiration cease? Men still depend upon the living God for instruction, truth, law, guidance; and men are still made in the image and likeness of God; they are the very elect and chosen of the heavenly One: why should he turn his back upon them, and withhold from them the living air, which, breathing through their souls, should purify and ennoble every faculty? There is no reason why inspiration should cease; there is, on the other hand, every reason why inspiration should continue and abound. Dangers will of course arise in connection with a proposition of this kind, but the proposition is not the less true because the dangers are many and serious. Man can pervert any thing. He would defile the heavens if he could touch them; he has killed all the flowers—he would put out the stars if his wicked fingers could get at them. We are not, therefore, to be alarmed by the suggestion of danger, perversion, and the like, when we state the great and noble doctrine of the continuity of divine inspiration in human history. Accidents may have changed, but that great organic line continues—the substance of revelation, the illumination of mind, the preparation of heart, the subduing and sanctification of will, the sudden creation of light amid the cloud and storm of life. We ourselves are witnesses to these divine and beneficent interpositions. Here is the greatest event in human experience, signified and expressed by these few words—"The Spirit of God came upon Azariah." There is no mistaking it when it does come upon a man. Thunderbolts are not easily mistaken for feathers, for puffs of summer wind; they bring with them an impression that is easily remembered. It is so with inspiration. The whole sky is lighted up suddenly as if by a fiat; every faculty enlarges, burns, and becomes eager for action in beneficent directions; all proportions are altered instantaneously; great things become small, insignificant things are charged with great meanings; time dies like a bubble in the air, and nothing is so present to the imagination and the whole consciousness as eternity. Let this inspiration come in what form it may, the impression is the same. Say it comes in the form of what is known as "conversion." We thus introduce the word because it is falling into disuse. We are practically ashamed of it Shame be to us, like a scorching fire on the cheek, that we should so hesitate to use the greatest word in personal experience. When a man is converted all things become new; the heavens are so much higher, yet so much nearer; the earth so much lovelier and more useful for spiritual ends, being enriched with symbols and types, and hints, endless and beautiful ineffably. Our whole relation to one another also is changed; we love—do we?—our enemies; we pray for them which despitefully use us and persecute us. That is the ideal purpose of conversion, and even if we half turn the other cheek, it is miracle enough for this cloudy grey of life, it exhausts what manhood is now realised by the strongest of us, and is accepted of God as the beginning of a new manhood. The inspired man makes his own impression, undertakes his own work, dictates his own terms of commerce with men, comes suddenly, speaks loudly, clearly, sweetly, commandingly; he seldom hints, he declares, he reveals; he is blessed with that great gift Authority. "When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." The words did not half die on his lips; his doctrines did not come with apologies; his great propositions did not ask to be allowed to come into the economies and philosophies of the day; they stepped down from above and brought their own credentials with them. They would have been less if the speaker had been less, but he being above them superscribed them with authority which the people willingly and unanimously acknowledged. The inspired man is fearless. Asa the king is nothing to him, because he has been with the living God. As we have often seen, everything depends upon the point of origin, as to whether we are surprised or afraid by anything upon the earth: where do we come from? Whom did we see last? The last presence that the prophet saw was the Presence of God; therefore Asa became but a common man; if Asa had first been seen, he might have over-awed the prophet, who was the son probably of a poor man, or a man unknown. When a man comes from heaven, even the metropolis of a land is a very small gathering of very small stones. Nothing is great to him who has been closeted with God—great in any sense that can overpower his moral impulses, or quench his moral convictions. The inspired man is a qualified man. He knows what he is about. Other men labour and fret, and writhe under the burden they have to carry. His power expresses itself in perfect ease; he is in no hurry; he is calm, because he is great; he is masterful, because he is wise; he has lived and moved and had his being in God. Men are variously qualified. Some are only qualified by education—the poorest of all qualifications. To-day we worship the idol that is called Culture. If a man knows twenty languages he is called a man of culture—though he never say one word worth hearing in any of them. There are men who could read through the Bodleian Library, and forget it; there are others who could have read through the Alexandrian Library, and have been suffocated, overweighted. Yet that is the fetish we worship to-day—the examination-paper, the certificate written by a man who can write nothing but what he copies. This kind of instruction we are thankful for up to a given point. There is another kind of qualification that deserves the name of Inspiration. In our coldness we may call it insight, a species of intuition; we may warm to such a tepid degree as to call it genius, but the real holy, blessed name is Inspiration,—the life that has been bathed in heaven, expending itself upon earth in the cheering, directing, healing, and uplifting of mankind. Education labours: Inspiration flies. Education discovers by long processes, and then announces in halting terms what it has discovered: inspiration comes at the other end, and brings it straight down from heaven, and affirms it with all the frankness of honesty, and all the holy positiveness of personal experience. We need all kinds of inspiration in the Church, all kinds of qualification; the one must not contemn the other in scornful terms. There are hewers of wood, and drawers of water, and men who have talent to shape a pillar, and, having shaped it in uprightness, to crown it with the mystery of curvature and colour. The whole ministry thus becomes one, and must be recognised as such.
The inspired man has a message to deliver. The model may well be taken from the speech of Azariah—
"Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The Lord is with you while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you [comp. 1Chronicles 28:9, and Jeremiah 29:13]; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you" (2Chronicles 15:2).
A very intelligible message; an eternal proposition. If ye seek me, ye shall surely find me—if ye have rent, not your garments, but your hearts. "Them that honour me, I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." No other law is possible. There is nothing dogmatic or arbitrary about this declaration; it roots itself in reason, and grows up towards the sun in firmest fellowship, because it belongs to the household of light. We cannot shake ourselves clear of this bondage; we may deafen ourselves to the proposition; we may turn away from it in irrational hilarity; we may fill our ears with multiplied noises; we may create a pagan Pentecost of our own: but there comes a time, one quiet, solemn hour, in which we call ourselves fools, and ask to be permitted to pray. Let all experience verify this. No man can succeed who is not on the side of God. The word "succeed" is here used in its largest signification. He does not succeed who gathers a table which he cannot enjoy, who piles up luxuries until they become the merest commonplaces of daily life. A man may easily out-build and out-decorate himself; he may look round to see where he can put something more. Is there an end of furnishing, decorating, table-spreading, wine-drinking, banqueting? There is, and it comes quite soon; nature says, Enough: and if we insult her we pay the penalty of satiety, and and she binds us with a tremendous tyranny to realise the consequences of our misdoing. Let this declaration of Azariah be the foundation-stone of life, and what wisdom we shall see! How we shall start everything from the divine point! How we shall take everything into the sanctuary, and hold it up to the light, and look what it is like when the sun shines upon it, and shines through it! How many things we shall put away as worthless and vile! What new libraries we shall purchase and delight in! What new associations we shall initiate and enjoy! The whole horizon would be cleared, and every man according to his capacity would be living a wise, honest, healthy, godly life. Fight about theological terms as we may, this great moral revelation abides, waits the lulling of the storm, and then utters itself with quiet and royal solemnity—"The Lord is with you, while you be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you." We cannot run into the darkness and enjoy the sunlight. No man can take the sun with him into the darkness: the terms are contradictory, the relations are impossible. No man can cut himself off from the currents of eternity, and maintain his duration. For a time he may seem to live as ever—just as the train goes after the engine has been detached, spending the impulse of momentum, but having no power of origination in itself; when its little stock of force is exhausted, there it stands, and it can never move again. Let this proposition enter into the memory, take its place in the heart, ascend the throne of life, and rule it with a sceptre of light.
Here is a picture of the utterest destitution in spiritual life:—
"Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God [rather, Many a time hath Israel been without the true God. Israel here is used generally for the whole people of God; and the reference is especially to the many apostacies in the days of the Judges (Judges 3:7, Judges 3:12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:6), which were followed by repentance and deliverance], and without a teaching priest [The Israelites had never been without priests of one kind or another; but there had been occasions when none of their priests taught them the true doctrine], and without law" [see Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25] (2Chronicles 15:3).
The long season referred to was a period of thirty years. The inspired man, therefore, had great space to work in. It is because of the length of the dearth, therefore, that the very first sign of harvest or abundance is welcomed like a descending heaven. George Whitefield would be no preacher to-day. The world is full of preachers. Many men think they can preach, when other people do not agree with them. Israel had been for thirty years in religious darkness: when a spark of fire was struck, what an effect it had! England was sunk in indifference when the great revival began, and what a revelation it was from heaven! How the Bible became a new force, a new book, an uncalculated energy; how men's minds were stirred, how persecution raged, and how prayer defied persecution, and ennobled itself at the very fires that were meant to consume its piety! When religion becomes a commonplace there can be no revival. When every man supposes himself to know everything that can be known, instruction is impossible. A preacher can only, like George Whitefield, attain an immortal celebrity, because he appears at a time when he is the contrasting figure; he is unlike everything else, and his speech is unlike all other speech; it is his uniqueness that ensures his fame. "Without the true God,"—then Israel had false gods? Yes, innumerable gods even Israel acquired, notwithstanding the commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me!" It is not a commandment that can keep man at home. No bill of stipulations can convert your children and make them filial. We may have a time-bill for the action of the whole day, but the world was never yet saved by commandments. Israel trampled ten of them under foot, and we have trampled ten thousand. We can do despite unto the Spirit of grace; we can insult God! Any child can close his eyelids, and shut out the sun—God's minister, God's angel, coming with the Gospel of light; yet the little child can close its eyes and practically say, Avaunt! I will never give thee house-room. It would not be a child if it could not say so. We should not be able to pray if we could not blaspheme. "Without a teaching priest,"—not an ornament, not a ceremonialist, but a teaching priest. A man whose business it was to expound the law and make the people understand it. So they preached in the olden time; they took the law syllable by syllable, explained it word by word, and sentence by sentence; they analysed it, took it member from member; they put it together again and hurled it upon the people like a bolt from heaven. They had naught else to expound, because they thought nothing else worthy of exposition, We are lost in details. Any man may now get up a lecture, if he has great quoting power. It is almost impossible not to get up a lecture; the temptations are innumerable, and in many cases irresistible. But there is only one lecture worth delivering, only one speech really worth listening to, and that is the speech that begins in eternity, sweeps down upon time, leaves behind it immortal lessons, and ascends to the fountain of origin. Surely, one would say, if men could speak words from heaven, they would be thronged, they would be almost mobbed on the streets by people hungering and thirsting for the living God, crying, Give us bread! or we die; water! or we perish of thirst. It is not so. We have outlived God; we have forgotten the Most High. Miracles are commonplaces. All miracles must become such. The things that alarmed us once, alarm us no longer; the things that delighted us once, no longer fascinate us. What are miracles to one race are the commonest domestic economies to others. The missionary says that if you go to any savage tribe and strike a match, the whole tribe will fall flat down on the earth instantly. That is not a matter of romance; that is a matter of certified fact. But strike another, and then a third; strike a match every day for a week, and not a man in the tribe would pay the slightest attention to it When God made the stars, who can tell what sensation was created through the universe! Now he may make any number, and we are surprised that he does not make more. Jesus Christ wrought miracles, and the people said, It was never so seen in Israel—Do another! They told one another about the miracles, and wanted to make a demonstration of them, but he said, "There shall no sign be given to you, ye blind generation." The great fear, therefore, is that, having the true God, and the teaching priest, and the law, we may get so accustomed to them as to become not receivers but critics. The world is choked with critics. The Church is poisoned with criticism. Imagine men going to the well for water, and imagine them going in a professional capacity, each being an analytical chemist. You never got any water from an analytical chemist; there was always lead in it—".00009"; and as for the bread, you would never eat a mouthful if you first consulted the analytical chemist; and there is no place in the wide world so disagreeable to live in as next door to an analytical chemist. Send for water by people who are thirsty, and who know the value of it, and after you have quenched your thirst you can do what you like with the analytical chemist. But it is so now with the Church. We go as theological chemists; we do not go with broken hearts, contrite spirits, yearning souls, crying, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" We take measures, we examine colours, we speak of the proportion of the discourse, and its weight here, its bulk there; we take a homiletic view of it: but no man can live long upon homiletics. Better be in earnest—"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."—Better demand the great substantial gospel of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ and his cross. Insist upon that. How can it become a commonplace? Surely it will sing a new song every day, and show a new countenance to us every morning, and charm us with some unsuspected delight, hour by hour, and as the day closes we will say, Thou hast kept the good wine until now. Lord, I have heard of thy greatness and thy goodness, and the beauty and largeness of thy gospel; but the half hath not been told me.
"And they sware unto the Lord with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with cornets [The acclamations of the people, accompanied by the loud blasts upon trumpet and clarion, naturally enhanced the solemnity of the oath]. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire; and he was found of them: and the Lord gave them rest round about" [No state ventured to attack the powerful monarch who had defeated the vast levies of Egypt; and Asa on his part was apparently of a peaceful disposition] (2Chronicles 15:14-15).
It is pleasant now and again to be caught within the range of genuine human and religious excitement. There is an excitement that is vicious, but every blessing may be turned into a curse, and we are not to turn away from the blessing because it can by vicious hearts be depraved. Excitement of a genuine kind, balanced by intelligence, inspired by gratitude, sparkling with tears of the heart, is almost essential to our higher spiritual education. It is beautiful to notice how this kind of excitement operates in the direction of personal enlargement of ministry. The people could not be content with their own voices. This self-impatience has to do with the development of our best nature. We want sometimes we cannot tell what, but it is something beyond. We are sure there must be instruments and ministries which, if we could seize them, would multiply our personality and crown our weakness with ineffable strength. What do we find here?—"A loud voice," and "shouting:" but that would not do alone. Men will have assistance; in this instance the assistance came in the form of trumpets and cornets, and if they could have laid their hands upon them, they would have had the whirlwind, and the thunder, and all heaven's resources to express the love that burned with holy glow in their excited and grateful hearts. We must take care how we undervalue revivals, excitements, various ranges and qualities of spiritual enthusiasm. Such enthusiasm would be distasteful to us if our poor souls were not in the same key. What can be less welcome, less harmonic than great religious excitement and gladness when we ourselves are sunk in worldliness, and in sordidness of the most pitiable description? Then such excitement becomes a rebuke, a judgment, a chastisement; we would close our ears, and run away from it, and call it sensational, unhealthy, undesirable; and thus we would tell falsehoods to our own souls. On the other hand, what a mistake it would be to suppose that there can be no spiritual life, of the highest and purest, and tenderest kind, apart from a loud voice, and shouting, and trumpets and cornets; the truth is not exhaustively stated by either one experience or another. Whatever man can feel may indicate a further necessity in the instruments of his education. Whatever can most centrally touch his heart is essential to his spiritual culture. Let us rest assured of this, that if there is a danger on the side of excitement, there is a deadlier danger on the side of indifference. When men talk about religious quietness, and peacefulness, and restfulness, let them be careful lest they be abusing terms, or lest they be excusing themselves from sacrifices and endeavours that would call up dormant faculties, slumbering or neglected powers. It is easy for indifference to complain of excitement: it is easy for excitement to undervalue a quietness that cannot express itself in kindred enthusiasm. There is a middle line in life, but that middle line in life would become monotonous if we could not occasionally ascend, yea, and vary our progress, for then, after such association and variation, we return to the great average scheme and thought of life with recruited power, with renewed and sanctified hope. How poor is the condition of the soul that is never, so to say, maddened by religious inspiration! Such a soul cannot believe the Bible except in the narrowest and most superficial sense. The Bible is never quiet; when it seems to be peaceful it is then expressing the last result of momentum, energy, force, terrific impulse. The earth is at rest because the earth never stops. Do not mistake death for peace; do not mistake indifference for restfulness; and never imagine that you can live in nothing but excitement: the foam, the froth, makes but a poor banquet for necessitous and hungering souls. Who would obliterate red-letter days from the history of the Church? What a cavity would be left if we took Pentecost out of the New Testament! As we perused the sacred record, in the absence of that baptismal day, we should feel that something was wanting; not something little, impoverished, but something great and affluent and mighty. Every soul should have its pentecostal day. We need it to fall back upon sometimes when the devil is heavy upon us; we say, when he lays his tremendous stroke upon our souls, This will certainly overwhelm us, there is no answer to this; then our soul is reminded of the pentecostal time when we were real Christians, if but for one moment. We cannot obliterate that moment from our recollection. There was a time when we saw God; it was but a moment, a flash, an unmeasurable period of time, but the sight is an everlasting recollection, and ought to be a steadfast and inexhaustible inspiration.
Almighty God, thou art the Lord and Master; we are thy creatures: grant unto us the spirit of obedience, that we may do thy will with delight and readiness, and count it the only possible heaven upon earth. We rejoice that we are in the body which thou thyself hast constituted; thou hast made us such members as seemed best to thy wisdom: let each accept his lot, and be thankful; it is enough to be in the body, to have been chosen by God for that position: may we receive our election herein, and recognise the good hand of God, and live in a spirit of thankfulness, and be always ready to do the Lord's will. Thou knowest how peculiar we are, in that we sometimes consult ourselves; we ask ourselves what we should prefer, what would be easiest or pleasantest; we do not always consult the cross, the sacrifice, the point of agony. Help us to know that we have no law in ourselves; we are not authorities; we are creatures, not creators; we are under government, and if we would live wisely we must live obediently; may our obedience have a divine origin, a divine motive, then shall it have a divine reward. Help us to go through life in a spirit of trustfulness; may we live in the spirit of Christ, then we shall count the cross as but a stopping-place on the way to eternal glory. Dry our tears when they are hot and large; help us to bear life's burdens when our poor little strength gives way, and at all times and in all things may we show that we are the sons of God by displaying a filial obedience. This we say, every word of it, at the cross; the one altar where no prayer was ever lost. Amen.