The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... the holy things of the Lord."—Leviticus 5:15
Are we not told that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof"? Do not all things belong to Heaven? Has not God himself said "All souls are mine"? Has he not also said the "silver and the gold are mine," and "the cattle upon a thousand hills?" To these inquiries there can be but one reply. Still, the separation of things into special relations to the Most High is perfectly compatible with the universal proprietorship of God.—It is not always implied that one thing is holy and another sinful.—The term holy often means separated; that is to say, set apart for special and exclusive purposes.—Taken in this sense, the Lord has from the beginning made special claims in his own name.—He has claimed one day in the week for rest and worship.—He has claimed offerings from the flock upon the field in acknowledgment of divine ownership.—He has set apart occasions for fast or festival, that the soul might address itself properly to the heavenly mercy.—Self-deception upon all such matters is very easy.—There is a piety which is void by generality.—When men say they give all they have to God, and, therefore, need not set aside particular sums, they confuse things that differ.—The man who lays claim to this entire consecration without having gone through a period of education shows the insidious nature of self-conceit.—Where is the man who has been enabled all at once, without training and without experience, to give all his time and store to the service of God? No such man has yet been discovered in history.—To claim to be such a man is to set up a claim for idolatry.—To regard all things, times, and places as holy is a leap of the imagination which is likely to involve impiety.—It is well for us to begin with one day in seven; one pound in ten; one church in a town, or a district of a town; from these partial appointments and sacrifices we may rise into the higher consecration.—To say that we have found some other way to that consecration than the way which God himself has marked out, is to have anticipated Omniscience and invented a new theory of human nature.—We are called upon to begin at distinct points, and to contribute of time, money, and influence, according to a measure; not, indeed, that we may stop there, but that, having tasted of the goodness of God's dispensation, we may go forward steadily and loyally to perfection and rest.—Even with regard to the body and the mind, as they are known to us, some portions of them may be spoken of as being more peculiarly holy unto the Lord than are others.—Specially should we guard the conscience: the imagination, too, should be bent in worship at the holy altar: the will should be watched as fire is guarded. Errors of judgment may be venial, but when the conscience is bribed or stupefied who can prophesy good of the whole life?—To have some things marked as holy things of the Lord is to show at least the beginning of religious character and aspiration.
In reading this chapter take notice of the expression, "if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty." Why this continual dread of uncleanness? Call these, if you please, merely sanitary arrangements, yet why this early care about matters connected with human health? Is not the provision totally in excess of the occasion? Is not this an instance of much ado about nothing? Do men require all these instructions and the continual supervision of all this judgment in matters connected with the health and purity of the body? Let that be granted, and nothing whatever is taken from the urgency and solemnity of the spiritual appeal; on the contrary, the very circumstance that so much ado is made about fleshly cleanliness increases the poignancy of the appeal dealing with spiritual health and vigour. Those who suppose that the whole ritual of the Jews related to sanitation must not imagine that even if their position could be proved—which from my point of view is impossible—they have at all impaired the cogency and completeness of any appeal which may be addressed to the moral sense. The fact is, that man could not be made apart from the moral sense to comprehend even such an appeal were it restricted to the body. In other words, we could not be really cleanly in body and soundly in earnest about physical sanitation except through the medium of the conscience as well as through the action of the judgment The judgment is often but an impotent director of human conduct. We may say with the ancient poet, "We see the right, and yet the wrong pursue." It is really only when the moral sense is thoroughly aroused and inspired that the judgment itself is lifted to its right level and brought into complete action in all practical matters. We will not, therefore, be turned aside from the spiritual appeal which may be founded upon these exhortations by being told that in the first instance the exhortation was related to matters that were purely sanitary. This avoidance of unclean animals and places is not without practical illustration in our own personal experience and action. To-day, for example, we avoid places that are known to be fever-stricken. We are alarmed lest we should bring ourselves within the influence of contagion. The strongest man might fear if he knew that a letter were put into his hand which had come from a house where fever was fatally raging. However heroic he might be in sentiment, and however inclined to boast of the solidity of his nervous system, it is not impossible that even the strongest man might shrink from taking the hand of a fever-stricken friend. All this is natural and all this is justifiable, and, in fact, any defiance of this would be unnatural and unjustifiable. Is there, then, no suggestion in all such rational caution that there may be moral danger from moral contagion? Can a body emit pestilence and a soul dwell in all evil and riot in all wantonness without giving out an effluvium fatal to moral vigour and to spiritual health? The suggestion is preposterous. They are the unwise and most reprehensible men who being afraid of a fever have no fear of a moral pestilence; who running away in moral terror from influences leading towards small-pox, cholera, and other fatal diseases, rush into companionships, and actions, and servitudes which are positively steeped and saturated with moral pollution. That we are more affected by the one than by the other only shows that we are more body than soul. The man who is careful about his body and careless about his soul does not prove the littleness of the soul in itself or in the purpose of God: he simply proves that in his case the flesh is overgrown and has acquired excessive importance. It would be the merest conceit did it not also involve deep moral injury to imagine that human life can be lived without any exposure to moral contagion. This is a mystery which has no words. The temptation does not always come to us in some violent form which can be measured, estimated, and physically or substantially resisted either in action or in argument The elements which poison the air are of the subtlest kind, and can only be detected by the most advanced chemistry. This is true in the moral atmosphere. What a suggestion may do it is impossible always to foretell. At first it may seem to be of little weight, or it may actually appear to be forgotten, to sink wholly out of memory and consciousness; but it is impossible to tell how long it may lie in the soul latently and under what circumstances it may begin to bear evil fruit in the spirit and the life. Strange, indeed, if such things are possible in nature and impossible in morals! A truly wonderful thing if after all it should be found that physical conditions involve greater mysteries than spiritual possibilities and destinies! This would be an inversion of thought—a turning upside down of all that has been customary in intellectual conception and representation. The Christian whilst protesting against such inversion as irrational and unnatural will accept every mystery that is hidden in nature as indicating a still greater mystery that is to be found in the kingdom of thought and of spiritual activity. It seems to be impossible to escape contagion of a moral kind. All contagion is so wide-sweeping in its influence,—that is to say, it operates at points so far distant from any visible and tangible centre, that we easily dissociate the effect from the cause and imagine harmlessness in the very centres of most active and pestilent mischief. It is of the nature of moral contagion that it operates with equal vigour at every point along the line over which it stretches. It loses nothing by distance; it loses nothing by time. The evil book written a century ago may be bearing fruit to-day, though its author is not only dead but forgotten. Sometimes evil lies a hundred years or more without showing signs of vitality or effectiveness, and then under peculiar conditions is awakened and becomes most active and disastrous. As we grow in moral capacity and in the sensitiveness which accompanies spiritual culture we shall come to acknowledge that stains may be worse than wounds; that one speck upon the honour is infinitely worse than the deepest gash that could be inflicted by the cruellest sword upon the flesh. This is a matter which cannot be taught abstractly or in a moment; it comes after long years of study, thought, experience, and those reciprocal actions which make up the mystery of social life. At first we are affected by a crime; then we are unsettled by the suggestion of an offence; then, still advancing in spiritual culture and sensitiveness, we come to see that though the crime itself may never be done, yet the motive which even for a moment suggested it is a deadlier thing than the crime itself: for the crime is a mere vulgarity which might be partially excused by passion, but the motive is a condition of the heart which indicates the apostasy and utter badness of the soul. A singular thing this, that unclean things may be touched by the soul itself. Literally, the text does not refer in all probability to a purely spiritual action, yet not the less is the suggestion justified by experience that even the soul considered in its most spiritual sense may touch things that are unclean and may be defiled by them. A poor thing indeed that the hand has kept itself away from pollution and defilement if the mind has opened wide all the points of access to the influence of evil. Sin may not only be in the hand, it may be rolled as a sweet morsel under the tongue. There may be a chamber of imagery in the heart. A man may be utterly without offence in any social acceptation of that term—actually a friend of magistrates and judges, and himself a high interpreter of the law of social morality and honour, and yet all the while may be hiding a very perdition in his heart. It is the characteristic mystery of the salvation of Jesus Christ that it does not come to remove stains upon the flesh or spots upon the garments, but to work out an utter and eternal cleansing in the secret places of the soul, so that the heart itself may in the event be without "spot or wrinkle or any such thing,"—pure, holy, radiant, even dazzling with light, fit to be looked upon by the very eye of God.
This is the ideal of Christ: how far we may be from its accomplishment is not the immediate question. It is of the highest consequence to remember what the ultimate purpose of the Son of God is, and then to bring to bear upon that purpose all the instruments and methods, all the ministries and influences which are utilised by the living Spirit. Between the one and the other the happiest harmony will be seen to exist. It is by his own precious blood that Jesus Christ seeks to remove the stain, not of crime but of sin, not of the hand but of the soul. The adoption of such means to such ends involves an inscrutable philosophy No wonder that eternity gone and eternity to come are both charged with this sacred mystery. The Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world, and the song which celebrates his praise is to be continued long after the earth and all its tragedies have passed away. This mystery is not confined within the bounds of time; those bounds, in fact, do but show one aspect of the mystery; it belongs to eternity on both sides of time, and we shall require eternity for its elucidation, and our comprehension of its gracious meaning. The one thing to be borne in mind at present is that the soul is still exposed to the contagion of uncleanness. We fight against the prince of the power of the air; we fight with ourselves; sometimes we seem to be our own tempters, and to have within us all the mystery of hell. A wonderful thing is this matter of touch. Who can touch pitch and not be defiled? It has not been given to us so to encase ourselves, even so far as the body is concerned, that we shall be impervious to evil influences working in the air. Where, then, is our defence against the evil that is in the world? Jesus Christ does not pray that we may be taken out of the world, but that we may be kept from the evil that is in the world; he will have us here as the light of the world, as the salt of the earth, as a city set upon a hill; he will not operate in any spirit of cowardice and fear, withdrawing us from temporal regions and temporal activities lest the wind should be too cold for us, or the enemy should surprise us into some new lapse, and so spoil our integrity and turn our prayers to confusion. Christ will have us live the heroic life,—a heroism that is often carried to the point of defiance, as if we could not only merely overcome the enemy but actually and absolutely trample him underfoot, in excess of triumph and in redundance of divinely-given strength. We must not altogether take the view of contagion which is full of unhappy and dispiriting suggestions. There is another view, and that we are bound as Christian men to adopt—namely, that good may be as contagious as evil. It is difficult to believe this. Human nature seems to be so constituted that evil outruns good and has altogether an easier task than virtue to accomplish. It is easier to go downhill than to go uphill. It seems to suit human nature better not to do duty than to discharge it, not to submit to discipline than to accept it. This is indeed a practical mystery which can only be accounted for completely and satisfactorily by the provision which has been made on the divine side to meet it and overcome it. Still there does remain the sacred and happy impression that even good has its contagious effect upon society. Men may be shamed into withholding part of their strength at least from evil service. Such restraints may not end in a very high type of virtue; in the meantime the very suspension of active evil may prepare the way for something better. The force of example must never be under-estimated. If we once begin to think that evil is predominant over good, and that the bad man alone is influential, we may relax in our efforts and underlive the great purpose of our vocation in Christ Rather let us hear the Master's voice saying,—"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." The very argument of Christ in the Sermon upon the Mount is that good men are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
In the fourteenth verse of this chapter there is a remarkable expression, bearing upon a certain type of sin. The law was that if a soul committed trespass and sinned through ignorance in the holy things of the Lord, he was to bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish, out of the flocks, and other offerings,—"and he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto." The ritual was not, therefore, merely sanitary. Those who would limit it to merely sanitary matters will find it difficult to reconcile the mere details of sanitation with such arrangements as were imposed upon the Jewish people or the Israelites with regard to restitution. What is the law in this case? Whatever harm was done was, as far as possible, to be undone. That being the case one would suppose that the property having been restored, nothing further could be attempted. This is not the case. Not only was restitution to be completed, but twenty per cent was to be added by way of penalty on the one side, and compensation on the other. It is not enough to prove that a man who has been injured has been unjustly injured. It is not the law that a man having been proved not to have committed some offence charged against him, shall simply accept the acquittal. Acquittal must be followed by compensation. Where injury has been done it cannot be met by a mere apology—except, indeed, by the grace and courtesy of the man upon whom the injury has been inflicted. Society by its very constitution must go further, and demand that the person who has been unjustly accused shall be compensated for the injury which he has sustained in the estimation of his fellow-men, and, indeed, in his own complacency and conscious integrity. Morality of this kind is most acceptable in any book professing to be a revelation of the divine mind. It is at such points especially that we can lay hold of the purposes of the book, and by keeping them steadily in mind, can wait further light and broadening revelation, conscious that a morality so pure and so just must be the beginning of a dispensation that shall vindicate its own spirituality and broader claim. It is peculiarly characteristic of the Bible that it insists upon justice between man and man, that it will not excuse the great man or the small man, but it will have an equal law, and will bring to bear its spirit of discipline upon every soul, whatever may be the conditions and characteristics which give it partiality and preference amongst its fellows. This is a claim of the Bible to human trust and reception. It can never be set aside by criticism, by casuistry, by speculative unbelief; it appeals to the conscience of mankind, and it says to that conscience—Whatever difficulties or mysteries I may yet address to your imagination, hold fast by these plain and substantial truths; if my purpose is absolutely unimpeachable in morality, the very spirit of justice, and honour, and truth; and in proportion as you appreciate the social side of the revelation will every other side be made luminous, and ultimately vindicate itself by its equally practical beneficence.
God will have nothing to do with uncleanness. "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings"—is the continual voice of God to the human soul. He will pity weakness; he will not be offended by ungainliness; he understands all the meaning of poverty;—in all these directions we have nothing to fear; but when we hide uncleanness, or endeavour to make excuse for sin, all heaven burns against us with unquenchable anger. This is another aspect of the morality of the Bible. Even when Christ sat down to meat with publicans and sinners, he recognised their character and did not seek to confound their manhood and their merely official position. This must be the clear understanding everywhere: that the Bible will have no immorality, no trifling with righteousness, no compromises with the wicked spirit. The Bible insists upon holiness in the inward parts—a morality that can bear the criticism of the divine righteousness—and how great soever its compassion for weakness, poverty, frailty, and all the various characteristics of fallen humanity that do not involve consent to that which is evil, the Bible can hold no intercourse or parleying whatsoever with any soul that would cling to its uncleanness, and yet expect to enjoy the fellowship or complacency of God. This is not only an anomaly, but a miracle which lies beyond the omnipotence of Heaven.
Almighty God, our altar is already built: we come unto the Cross of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and there offer such prayer as thou mayest inspire in our hearts. Thou hast moved us to pray every day for pardon; if we confess our sins, thou art faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Grant unto us the grace of confession—the power of uttering in thine ear all the tale of sin and wrong, keeping back nothing from the divine eye, but calling attention to everything we have done which is amiss. Thus, by knowing our sin, and naming it in the hearing of God and in the sight of the Cross, may the burden be dissolved, and instead of despair may the joy of conscious pardon and release take possession of our hearts and utter itself in the music of continual praise. We thank thee that thou hast come near to us with gospels of forgiveness. Thou couldest have blinded us with glory, or amazed us with wonders, without associating these disclosures of thy power with tenderness and willingness to redeem and to forgive; but thou hast caused the Cross of Christ to represent the fulness of thy miraculous power; and we behold in it—not only almightiness, but compassion, not only omnipotence, but the tenderness of the heart of God. Do thou instruct us in all the way of life. Keep quite near to us; may we never be beyond the reach of thine ear—not only because of our loudness and crying, but when we whisper, may we be so near, thou so near, that we may hold fellowship one with another. Let the sky of our life brighten above our head, let the last cloud be cleansed from the horizon, and let a great brightness of complacency shine upon us from above; then shall we walk in thy light and take counsel of thee, and obey thee with industry and gladness. Write thy word for us every day; accommodate thy light to our vision; be nearest to us when we most need thee; and give us triumph in the night-time; and in despair, in great sorrow, and in floods of tears, may we always be found steadfast in faith, ardent in love, bright in spiritual hope, renewing our confidence continually in God, and purifying the motive by which our whole life's action is determined. The Lord hear us, and in the hearing give us answers of peace. Amen.