But if you are afraid to do so, then go down to the camp with your servant Purah
All through this drama the spirit of Gideon was being trained for a decisive service. His faith had been tried to the utmost. Alone of all that host had he borne the responsibility of reducing it to 300 men. God's influence upon Gideon was from beginning to end moral and spiritual.
I. GOD JUSTIFIES HIS WAYS TO THOSE WHO PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM. It was a grace that this additional sign should be given. The patience and faith of the servant of God are recognised by a spiritual reward. The deep harmony, hitherto unsuspected, of the steps he had taken at the Divine instance with the process going on and assisted by God's influence in the minds of his enemies must have, when combined with the circumstances, - the still night, the darkness, the vast host in whose dangerous neighbourhood he lay, - produced a profound impression upon his mind. In such a revelation there is communion and spiritual rapture. It was a reward for all he had passed through. The wisdom of everything was plain. There are times like this in every true life. They come unexpectedly, as a grace from our heavenly Father. He leads us into his counsels, and confirms us. Obedience leads on to knowledge,
II. SUGGESTION IS GIVEN HOW TO PERFECT OUR SERVICE. In every saint's life there is something wanting - an indefinite incompleteness and crudity. Such revelations and providences remove this. Their practical utility is evident. Here were several matters made known to Gideon he had not probably dreamt of.
1. The carelessness of the watch, arising probably from the notion that Israel had disagreed and dispersed.
2. The liability of an army so composed, etc., to panic.
3. The influence of his own name (the use he made of this we know by the cry).
4. The secret fear in the hearts of his adversaries.
III. IT IS BY THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF GOD'S PEOPLE THE WORLD IS OVERCOME. Christians are too much afraid of the world. Fear not, says the Master, for I have overcome the world. Vivid realisations of this are sometimes afforded us. The whole stress of attention ought therefore to be laid upon character, obedience to God's will, and submission to his leadership. Though few and weak, the "little flock" will receive the kingdom. It is Christ in us of whom the wicked and the demons are afraid. Of what consequence all their multitude and array? Secretly the world respects and fears the self-denial and faith of Christians.
IV. A GRACIOUS REVELATION LIKE THIS HAS TO BE RECOGNISED ADORINGLY AND BY IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. Gideon "worshipped" Jehovah. It was a time when every obstacle had been removed, and his way was clearly revealed. He could now sympathise with God and admire his consummate wisdom. For himself too he must have felt grateful. God was better to him than he had hoped. Victory was potentially his. No wonder that his heart poured itself forth in such unrestrained and adoring emotion. But the lesson of the sign was not lost. Practical advantage was at once taken of it. He "returned unto the host of Israel, and said, Arise," etc. Do not allow God's gracious revelations in our lives to be a dead letter. Act upon them, that our lives may be brought into subjection and harmony with his will. - M.
And was this the upshot of all the talk, and preparations, and professions they had made? Who more eager apparently to rush to battle, who more loud in their bravados, than the very cravens who now slunk, with so cowardly a heart, from the shock of actual collision with the foe? We may readily suppose that Gideon, while making his proclamation in accordance with the Divine command, would not fail at the same time to remind them of the positive promise which he had received of the Lord, that He would be with them, and of the remarkable signs whereby that promise had been sealed. Nor in all probability would he neglect to point out to them the deplorable consequences which would certainly ensue to themselves and their families in the event of a defeat. And, if so, it might have been expected that all of them with one accord, would, in the chivalric spirit of high-toned patriotism, have scorned the base idea of deserting their colours, especially at such a crisis. What a mortification must this defection have been to Gideon! Yet, mindful of our own weakness and love of carnal ease, let us not too rashly or censoriously judge these men. It were only fair to take into consideration how surely bondage and subjection to a foreign yoke tend to crush the spirit of a people, to degrade and lower their mortal tone down to utter effeminacy. Nor ought it to be forgotten that a large proportion of these men had for some time past cast off their allegiance to the one living and true God, and that it is not improbable that conscience, which makes cowards of the bravest, might have had something to do with the retrograde movement which they so rapidly adopted. At the same time, however it may be palliated or accounted for, there can be no doubt that the conduct of which they were guilty was extremely reprehensible, and that it affords fitting occasion for just animadversion on the conduct of too many professed followers of Christ, who are ready enough to cast in their lot with Him so long as there is no immediate appearance of suffering or of sacrifice for His name's sake, but who, the moment that real danger stares them in the face, take the earliest opportunity of slinking away and renouncing the principles to which they formerly in words adhered. Such disciples are totally unworthy of the name. They are not good soldiers of the Cross. They are devoid of the sterling principle which is essential to constancy and success in the Christian warfare — mere "carpet knights," who "make a fair show in the flesh," flourishing their trumpets and brandishing their weapons when there is no foe with whom to contend, but bating their breath and altering their whole tone and demeanour whenever circumstances occur which put their sincerity to the proof.
Gideon... pitched beside the wall of Harod.
Sermons by the Monday Club.I.
THE LORD CALLED HIM TO FIGHT. The world must see, now and then, the gigantic crimes of a mere man turned back by rival arms upon both idol and idolater, and that by the voice of the Almighty. Well said Victor Hugo, "Napoleon had been impeached before the Infinite." The groaning of the bond, man in our own land entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Arrogance, lust, and greed combined to challenge the eternal laws, and thousands went down together into silence, till we could learn the unwelcome fact that God is no respecter of persons. But out of the awful strife came praying souls, and a regeneration in the sources of influence and power. God is known to speak in the crisis, in the hero — yes, even in the rebel.
II. THE LORD CALLED GIDEON TO SUCCESS. We may notice the conditions.
1. Careful preparation. There must be selection when daring deeds are to be performed. This is a principle in the Divine government as in the human. God husbands and adapts His resources, though seeming to scatter His treasures lavishly. Have you sifted out the real from the visionary and found the abiding truths which will not fail you in that hour of trial which must come to all living? They may be ominously reduced from all that promised well, as was Gideon's army, but, like it, be enough.
2. Obedience. The open heart learns soon and plainly the Divine will. As, amid all the roar of Niagara, the practised ear catches the sweet notes of birds singing in the grove above, so, in the confusion of tongues, the willing soul may hear the clear voice of its Maker, instructing, guiding, cheering.
3. Humility. Nothing develops a nation's pride like military success. Parade of troops, battalion after battalion in all the splendour of equipment and might of bearing, satisfies the popular ideals of greatness and strength. War is still an honourable trade, and, while it is, meekness will be despised. But, none the less, the King of kings "pours contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty."
4. Faith. Belief in the need, the call, the power, the method, the victory of Jehovah, was all-important with Gideon.
THE LORD FIGHTING FOR AND WITH HIS PEOPLE. God is the author of war, and He causes men to fight, in the same way that law is the author of sin and causes men to become transgressors. Were there no law there would be no transgression, and were there no God there would be no conflict of righteousness with unrighteousness. War is God's whip for sinful nations; it is His rod of iron with which He will dash them in pieces as a potter's vessel. There is a Divine retribution following nations, and sure to overtake them if they are workers of iniquity. And there is a Divine deliverance waiting for nations and for individuals, sure to come when they repent of their evil ways and cry unto God for His salvation.
II. THE ARMY MADE READY. When God has some great work to be done, or some hard battle to be fought, He chooses the men who are best able to fight or work.
1. The fearful were suffered to go back. Moral courage is a Christian virtue. Men are commanded to have it. Only "be strong and of a good courage." "Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee." When God is with a man he has nothing to fear. Even Grecian and Roman heroes, when they showed great courage and wrought brilliant exploits, believed themselves to be acting under the influence of a Divine inspiration. It was the power of some god in their arms, they thought, that enabled them to smite great blows; and it was the courage of some god in their hearts that enabled them to face undaunted the most terrible foes.
2. The next process was to rid the army of the rash and unreliable. Audacity, no less than want of courage, unfits men for the highest service. Among all the qualities needed in a soldier of Jesus Christ, among all traits of character essential to true manliness, none perhaps is more important than a certain command of one's self, a certain keeping of the body under and holding back of adventurous impulse. Those whom God will lead to victory must be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."
III. THE THREE HUNDRED CALLED TO GREAT EXPLOITS (ver. 7). Here is the key to human history. Common, ease-loving men are, by their own wish, excused from glory, from heroic deeds, lasting renown, and high fellowship with God in fighting the great battles of humanity and righteousness. They are permitted to return to their own places. They sink down into obscurity and oblivion. Three hundred heroes are chosen to be their deliverers and to smite for them the host of Midianites. Side by side with Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans, the immortal heroes of Thermopylae, will we place Gideon and his three hundred Hebrews, the immortal heroes of Mount Gilboa, asking for them no greater glory than belongs to the Grecian company, and believing that they are worthy to stand together as the immortal six hundred.
When did God ever complain of having too few people to work with? I have heard Him say, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I." I have heard Him say, "One shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight," But I never heard Him say, "You must get more men, or I cannot do this work; you must increase the human forces, or the Divine energy will not be equal to the occasion." I hear Him say in the case before us, "Gideon, the people are too many by some thousands. If I were to fight the Midianites with so great a host, the people would say, after the victory had been won, 'My own hand hath saved me.'" The work of the world has always been done by the few; inspiration was held by the few; wealth is held by the few; poetry is put into the custody of but a few; Wisdom is guarded in her great temple but by a few; the few saved the world; ten men would have saved the cities of the plain; Potiphar's house is blessed because of Joseph; and that ship tossed and torn upon the billows of the Adriatic shall be saved because there is an apostle of God on board. Little child, you may be saving all your house — your father, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters.
The people... are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their handsPride hurled Satan from heaven, and turned angels into devils. Pride drove Adam out of paradise, and barred its gates against his posterity. Pride of intellect, pride of family, pride of wealth, pride of power, are adamantine chains, which bind men in fetters of sin. Boasting and vainglory are inherent to fallen nature. Angels, archangels, and cherubim, who stand in the unveiled presence of Jehovah, are the most humble of God's creatures the most conscious of their own unworthiness. But fallen man ever boasts of his sufficiency, his goodness, his wisdom, his power. He will not believe that he can do nothing, and that God must do everything for his deliverance. Now, pride is a blind sin. It is an illogical sin. It has lost all sound logic in theology. Let man help grace to save him, and what would be the result? Why, just in proportion that man helped God he would "vaunt himself" against God. He would claim a share of God's glory. Now, God will not give His glory to another. He is jealous of His own honour, majesty, glory.
I. WE HAVE A REMARKABLE INSTANCE OF THE LORD'S JEALOUSY OF HIS OWN HONOUR AND GLORY. Salvation is essentially for the happiness of God's people, But it is supremely for the glory of God. The Lord gives the victory to Israel as a free gift. Now, the salvation of the sinner is just as much a free gift as was Gideon's victory. There is no more fitness in the creature to win heaven than there was power in these three hundred to win the victory. We are as powerless to help ourselves, as were they. Our calling, repentance, adoption, sanctification, are a free gift.
II. Now mark MAN'S TENDENCY TO VAUNT HIMSELF AGAINST THE LORD. We may truly say of every man what Joash said to Amaziah, "Thine heart lifteth thee up to boast." Vainglory is natural to the human heart. In the fable of the ancients the fly that sat on the axletree of the chariot-wheel gave out that she made the glorious dust of the chariot. Sin is proud. It exalts itself at the expense of God's glory. When, therefore, the Lord visits the sinner with grace, grace is at once opposed by pride. "I will save thee," saith the Lord. "Be it so," saith the sinner. But "I will save thee freely," saith the Lord. "Freely?" saith the sinner. "But what am I to do? Am I to do nothing? Are my good works to go for nothing? God! I thank thee that I am not so bad as some other men are!" Thus pride speaks, and would vaunt itself against the Lord, and say, "Mine own hand hath saved me, or at least helped to save me." Do any doubt this? Think you that we are drawing colours too deep? Look for a moment —
1. At man's notion respecting some good thing still remaining in his heart, notwithstanding his fall. How few really believe in the total depravity of the natural heart!
2. Look at man's notion respecting the only ground of the sinner's acceptance before God. The vaunting of the first-named evil is against God the Holy Ghost; boasting that He need not do everything in the soul. This vaunting is against God the Son, boasting that He need not do everything for the soul.
III. THE MEANS BY WHICH THE LORD HUMBLED MAN AND EXALTED HIMSELF.
1. The reduction of external means may be God's way of giving success. Man's extremity is God's opportunity. Be not discouraged, then, if God cut down numerical strength. What if 32,000 be reduced to 300? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "What are all the hosts of Midian to the Lord?"
2. The Lord thus manifests His tender care for His own people. The ungodly, like the Midianites, count the people of God "as sheep for the slaughter." They think they can swallow them up as in a moment. But they forget that the Lord regards the cause of His people as His own. They forget that He hath said, "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye." Oh! how sensitive is God to all injuries done wrongfully to the least of His saints!
Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him returnGideon has now obtained the necessary assurance of God's favour; he takes courage to blow the trumpet, and to collect the forces of the various tribes, if haply, after all the strength he can procure, Israel may be able to stand before those fearful enemies, the Midianites. We may conceive Gideon in such a season of anxiety, hoping that more hearts will be stirred up for the arduous contest, when lo, the Lord says unto Gideon, "The people are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands." What a majesty there is in these words! In consequence of this intimation, Gideon's faith is to be tried by the lessening of his army upon the very eve of battle; and the courage of the army is to be tried, that it may be seen that "with God it is a little thing to save by many or by few." As this trial respected Gideon, it was no slight one. To see, on the one hand, the Midianites "as grasshoppers for multitude," and, on the other hand, twenty-two thousand turning their backs on their enemies at the very first sound of the trumpet, must have been a fearful sight indeed. It must have driven him for consolation to God's own promise. We may see in it a picture of the outward and visible Church of Christ militant here on earth. Nay, to make the picture more striking still, it may be called a representation of the various congregations of which that outward and visible Church is composed. What is a congregation of professing Christians but an army enlisted under the banner of the Cross; soldiers engaged to contend with one common army, which would hold them in a bondage worse than Midian's? And what is every faithful minister of the gospel but the leader of this host, the Gideon of the army? And what is the preaching of the gospel but the "proclamation" which calls our people to the battle against the Lord's enemies and theirs? We can tell them of a better sacrifice than Gideon's having been accepted on their behalf; we can point to "the Angel of the covenant" Himself, and say, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." We can testify that the enemy against whom we are called to fight has been already vanquished; that the Captain of our salvation has "led captivity captive," that He has "overcome death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Did Gideon represent the "dew" upon the fleece and on the earth, as an encouragement to his followers? We can testify that the very "dew" of the heavenly favour and blessing is even now poured out abundantly on the means of grace, moistening many a dry fleece and fructifying many a barren spot; and that the word of prophecy and promise is as sure as ever, that "Godwill be as the dew to His Israel." And if we have greater encourage-ments than Gideon to offer, we have also more fearful warnings to hold out. We call to remembrance the baptismal vow by which each is bound to "fight the good fight of faith." We tell our hearers of the awful consequences of being taken captive by the enemy. It may be asked, "Is it possible that, with such tremendous consequences hanging on the battle, men should not answer to the call? Alas! so it is. The spirit that is in them is one of cowardly inactivity, and it "cleaveth unto the dust." They need a new heart and a new spirit to be put into them before they will enter upon the warfare against sin and Satan, a heart actuated by the principle (the only constraining principle) of love. In ver. 34. of the former chapter we read, "But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon," and then "he blew the trumpet." So the same Spirit must come upon him that leads, and upon them that follow, before the gospel trumpet will be blown effectually. This trumpet we would blow to-day. We blow it in the ears of those who, like Gideon's army, appear to be all equally "on the Lord's side"; but "the Lord knoweth them that are His." Gideon's proclamation, too, shall be ours: "Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return, and depart from Mount Gilead." It is right to sound this proclamation, that men may "count the cost." If we speak of religion as a life of enjoyment, we testify of it also that it is a life of self-denial. But if "the Spirit of the Lord" come upon those who hear this "proclamation," then these apparent contradictions will be reconciled, the seeming mysteries will be all made plain; and it will be understood that Christ has a yoke to be borne by His people, but it is easy; that He has a burden to be carried by them, but it is light; that He has a service for them to engage in, but it is perfect freedom. Depending upon "the Spirit of God" to make known these "things of God," we are to set before you good and evil, bitter and sweet, life and death, and then to say, "Choose you this day." Now, if the whisperings of men's consciences could be heard in the pulpit, as they are heard in heaven, what reply, I ask you, would yours be found to make to this appeal? If the motion of the body correspond with that of the mind, would there be none discovered among us "departing from Mount Gilead"? Would there be no man found to steal away from the spiritual battle through fear? Let conscience judge. Or if the reasons which urged the "fearful" to depart were to be given in as each left the field, what would they present? One is "afraid" that the service of Christ is too austere; it requires too many privations. He is unwilling to renounce a sin he loves. Another is "afraid" of being ridiculed or despised for entering decidedly on a religious course of life. He is ashamed of Jesus. A third is "afraid" of being "righteous overmuch." Tell me, is the soldier "afraid" of being thought too zealous when fighting in his country's cause? Is the patriot "afraid" of being thought to love his native land too much when called upon to act in defence of its laws or its liberty? Time would fail to enumerate all the fears of the faint-hearted. Some are "afraid" of sacrificing their worldly subsistence. "What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Others "depart from Mount Gilead" for fear of persecution. When we exhort them as soldiers of the Cross, they listen perhaps to our exhortation; when we tell them of a warfare to be accomplished, they hearken possibly to the discourse; when we point out the enemy, all appear outwardly to be ready to engage; but when we say, "Come now, and testify by your lives that you are in earnest in your profession, that you mean what you say when you declare without reserve, "Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls, and bodies!" how many depart! how few remain! We close with a word of encouragement to those who still keep their post in the field of battle. To such we say, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God," etc.
()The men who had hastily snatched their fathers' swords and pikes of which they were half-afraid represent to us certain modern defenders of Christianity — those who carry edged weapons of inherited doctrine with which they dare not strike home. The great battle-axes of reprobation, of eternal judgment, of Divine severity against sin once wielded by strong hands, how they tremble and swerve in the grasp of many a modern dialectician! The sword of the old creed, that once, like Excalibar, cleft helmets and breastplates through, how often it maims the hands that try to use it, but want alike the strength and the cunning. Too often we see a wavering blow struck that draws not a drop of blood nor even dents a shield, and the next thing is that the knight has run to cover behind some old bulwark, long riddled and dilapidated. In the hands of these unskilled fighters, too well armed for their strength, the battle is worse than lost. They become a laughing-stock to the enemy, an irritation to their own side. It is time there was a sifting among the defenders of the faith, and twenty and two thousand went back from Gilead. Is the truth of God become mere tin or lead that no new sword can be fashioned from it, no blade of Damascus prim and keen? Are there no gospel armourers fit for the task? Where the doctrinal contest is maintained by men who are not to the depth of their souls, sure of the creeds they found on, by men who have no vision of the severity of God and the meaning of redemption, it ends only in confusion to themselves and those who are with them.
()We have here a striking evidence of the different estimate men make of danger and hard work at a distance and at hand. The large numbers of the Christian army are singularly made up — are made up by those who are bold in intention, brave at home, but cowards in the field; they answer, or seem to answer, God's summons at first, but take the earliest opportunity of backing out of their engagements. Many persons, when you speak to them of this and that useful undertaking, seem quite to enjoy the prospect of engaging in it, promise their services, and actually appear at the rendezvous; but the actual sight of the destitution, the disease, the ignorance, the incivility, the lying and fraudulent selfishness with which they must cope, quite frightens them, and they avail themselves of the first plausible opening to escape. And it is better they should do so, for by remaining, their faint-heartedness would be contagious, and unnerve their comrades. Every one knows how easy it is to work alongside of a cheery, bright, hopeful spirit; how difficult to bear up against the continual complaint and fear and wretchedness of the cowardly. Such, therefore, God rejects from His army
()? — Because fear is contagious; and, in undisciplined armies like Gideon's, panic, once started, spreads swiftly, and becomes frenzied confusion. The same thing is true in the work of the Church to-day. Who that has had much to do with guiding its operations has not groaned over the dead weight of the timid and sluggish souls, who always see difficulties and never the way to get over them? And who that has had to lead a company of Christian men has not often been ready to wish that he could sound out Gideon's proclamation, and bid the fearful and afraid take away the chilling encumbrance of their presence, and leave him with thinned ranks of trusty men? Cowardice, dressed up as cautious prudence, weakens the efficiency of every regiment in Christ's army. Another reason for getting rid of the fearful is that fear is the opposite of faith, and that therefore, where it is uppermost the door by which God's power can enter to strengthen is closed. Not that faith must be free of all admixture of fear, but that it must subdue fear, if a man is to be God's warrior, fighting in His strength. Many a tremor would rock the hearts of the ten thousand who remained, but they so controlled their terror that it did not over come their faith. We do not need, for our efficiency in Christ's service, complete exemption from fear, but we do need to make the psalmist's resolve ours: "I will trust, and not be afraid." Terror shuts the door against the entrance of the grace which makes us conquerors, and so fulfils its own forebodings; faith opens the door, and so fulfils its own confidences.
The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the waterAs Gideon took his men to the water and tried them there, so we would bring your heart and conscience to the spiritual test which the subject may be understood to signify. Are you a self-indulgent Christian? The two terms have no connection with each other. If God discard the "fearful," will He retain the "carnal"? If He dismiss those who are so cowardly that they dare not enter upon a profession of His religion, will He bear with those who have the audacity to live in the disgrace of it? To affect to serve God one day and really to serve divers lusts and passions another; to pretend to be one of "Christ's Church militant here upon earth," and yet actually to make no resistance to the enemy; this is only showing that instead of being, as you profess, a soldier of Christ, you are in reality a servant of Mammon. Tell us not, ye that are thus carnally-minded, of any warfare that you are waging with the great adversary of souls. The fact is, that you are already taken prisoners by the enemy, you are already led captive by him at his will. But the active soldiers of Christ need refreshment, as Gideon's chosen band did; and they have it. What are the ordinances of Divine grace when blessed to the soul, but "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord"? And now God says to Gideon, "By the three hundred men that lapped will I save Israel; and let all the other people go every man to his place." We hear no complaint from Gideon. When he is commanded to send the men away, he sends them one after another by the hundred and by the thousand; not knowing when God would stay His hand or say, "It is enough." This is faith, vital and practical faith. It is exactly that faith which the Christian is required to carry into the common transactions of life, and to act upon in the occurrences of every day: "The just shall live by faith." In the evil day he is to live upon it when God takes away the desire of his eyes, or the means of his present subsistence, or the outward helps which he has been accustomed to, and on which, perhaps, he has been leaning too confidently. When these are struck from under him, then the proof of his faith is that he can "trust in the Lord, and stay himself on his God." We are apt to tremble for the cause of the gospel around us when we see many depart and walk no more with Christ. But let those who remain think of the concern which their own souls have in the matter. Have some drawn back? The Captain of salvation says, "What is that to thee? follow thou Me." Is the number of the fearful or disaffected great, and is it increasing? No matter if it be twenty-two thousand. "What is that to thee? follow thou Me." Certainly it is our duty to use all the means which God puts in our power to strengthen our missionary ranks; but, nevertheless, when He is pleased from time to time thus to draft off, if I may so speak, the great men, and the strong men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men from our missionary host, it becomes us to look on with Gideon's patient faith and meek submission; to regard the mysterious dispensation as intended to make known that "the excellency of the power is of God, and not of us." Thus every death of a missionary will have a voice in it of encouragement as well as of warning from our God; and if we listen to it with the ear of Gideon's faith, it will tell us "The people are yet too many." And our answer should be, "Be Thou exalted, Lord, in Thine own strength: so will we sing, and praise Thy power."
()Many are the commonplace incidents, the seemingly small points in life, that test the quality of men. Every day we are led to the stream-side to show what we are, whether eager in the Divine enterprise of faith or slack and self-considering. Take any company of men and women who claim to be on the side of Christ, engaged and bound in all seriousness to His service. But how many have it clearly before them that they must not entangle themselves more than is absolutely needful with bodily and sensuous cravings, that they must not lie down to drink from the stream of pleasure and amusement? We show our spiritual state by the way in which we spend our leisure, our Saturday afternoons, our Sabbaths. We show whether we are fit for God's business by our use of the flowing stream of literature, which to some is an opiate, to others a pure and strengthening draught. The question simply is whether we are so engaged with God's plan for our life, in comprehending it, fulfilling it, that we have no time to dawdle and no disposition for the merely casual and trifling. Are we in the responsible use of our powers occupied as that Athenian was in the service of his country of whom it is recorded: "There was in the whole city but one street in which Pericles was ever seen, the street which led to the market-place and the council-house. During the whole period of his administration he never dined at the table of a friend"? Let no one say there is not time in a world like this for social intercourse, for literary and scientific pursuits or the practice of the arts. The plan of God for men means life in all possible fulness and entrance into every field in which power can be gained. His will for us is that we should give to the world as Christ gave in free and uplifting ministry, and as a man can only give what he has first made his own, the Christian is called to self-culture as full as the other duties of life will permit. He cannot explore too much, he cannot be too well versed in the thoughts and doings of men and the revelations of nature, for all he learns is to find high use. But the aim of personal enlargement and efficiency must never be forgotten, that aim which alone makes the self of value and gives it real life — the service and glory of God. Only in view of this aim is culture worth anything. And when in the Providence of God there comes a call which requires us to pass with resolute step beyond every stream at which the mind and taste are stimulated that we may throw ourselves into the hard fight against evil there is to be no hesitation. Everything must yield now. The comparatively small handful who press on with concentrated purpose, making God's call and His work first and all else, even their own needs a secondary affair — to these will be the honour and the joy of victory.
Christian Age.A man is known only when he is tried. And yet it would be a mistake to suppose that this test is administered to us in some great matter, or on some grand occasion. The two most suggestive words to us in the parable of the good Samaritan are these, "By chance there came down a certain priest." The Saviour does not mean by using this expression to give countenance to the idea that anything really occurs by chance, but rather to fix our minds on the ordinary and incidental nature of the occurrence. It happened that there came a priest. He was going on his journey. He had, most likely, a definite object before him. He was not thinking, probably, of his own character. Least of all was he dreaming that he was at the moment being tested. He only made it evident that he could not be troubled to do anything for the half-dead traveller, and so he unconsciously revealed his true character. But so it is always. We let out our truest selves when we do not know that we are doing it. When Gideon led his army to the brook and bade them drink, the men thought only of slaking their thirst. Some, more luxurious in their nature, went down upon their hands and feet and put their lips to the stream to take in a full supply. Others, more dashing and impetuous in their disposition, could not take so much trouble, but lifted the water by their hands, lapping it up thus with them, as a dog lappeth it with his tongue. Not one of them, perhaps, was conscious of doing anything special. Yet, through that tiny drink, each one revealed the sort of man he was; and Gideon, by Divine direction, selected the latter to be the deliverers of Israel. Now it is by the casual engagements of every day that God is testing us yet. By the little opportunities that are furnished to us, so to say, by chance, He is causing us to unveil our inmost selves. For the test is all the more searching because we are unconscious of its application. We prepare for great occasions, thus putting such an unnatural strain upon ourselves that we are not really ourselves. It is only in the abandon of unconsciousness that we make manifest genuinely what we are. We all know how true that is in the art of portrait-taking. The best likeness of a man is taken when he is unaware of it; but if you set him down before a camera and tell him to look pleasant, the result will be a prim, precise expression, meant to be the best, but, just because of that, exceedingly unnatural. But it is quite similar with character. To know what a man is you must take him when he is not aware that you are judging him. God gauges us in little things. He watches us not so much when a great occasion is making its demand upon us, and we are trying to do our best, as when some ordinary opportunity is at our hand. Thus regarded, life even in its minutest and apparently most trivial aspects becomes a very solemn thing. We are being weighed in God's balance every day. Men think with dread of the Day of Judgment, and we do not desire to take a single element from its importance. There will be such a day, and it will be more awful than we think of. But in the light of the principles which we have now tried to enforce, every day is, in its measure, also a Day of Judgment. God is testing us every hour, and according as we stand His scrutiny He sends us forward with His Gideons to emancipate the enslaved, or dismisses us ignominiously from His service.
By the three hundred men that lapped will I save youI. THEN, LITTLE THINGS MAKE GREAT DIFFERENCES IN LIFE. It was a little thing that made the difference between "the three hundred" and the rest of the army — "lapped." But little things represent great equivalents. Little things test and reveal character.
II. THEN, QUALITY IN HUMAN INSTRUMENTALITY IS OF MORE IMPORTANCE THAN QUANTITY. We are taught here that success in God's cause does not depend upon numbers. The victory is already potentially ours when we use the right means in the right spirit. The great want of the Church is not more members but more of the right stamp. The only soldiers that amount to anything in God's service are volunteers; men who enlist, put on the armour, obey orders, and delight in the service.
III. THEN, THE FEW MAY STAND FIRM, AND DO NOBLE SERVICE IN SPITE OF THE BAD EXAMPLE OF THE MANY.
IV. THEN, GOD IS WORTHY OF OUR TRUST AND HEARTY CO-OPERATION IN SELECTING HIS AGENTS AND CARRYING ON HIS WORK. Divine wisdom was afterwards seen in the selection of these men. So it must be in God's spiritual army, in our conflict with self and sin. Evil habits, unholy practices, false principles, must all be pursued, tracked to their hiding places, and remorselessly slain with the edge of the sword. It is harder to live Christianity than to be converted to it.
V. THEN, IS IT GOD'S FIXED PLAN TO WORK THROUGH THE FEW, RATHER THAN THE MANY? No; it is God's plan, all things being equal, to work, not through a part, but through all His people whether few or many. Why, then, did He reduce Gideon's army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men? Happily we are not in the dark as to the cause; God Himself tells us why He did it. He had to do so in order that His power might be recognised in the victory.
()1. It is the small matters which reveal us, the slight occasions. Think not that the Lord is cheated by the world's bravos. He leaves the world, religious or profane, to judge you when you are got up for its inspection. He follows you home in your most familiar moods, your most simple and necessary actions, your frank and free communications, and He sees there the man, as all beings, angels, men, devils, will see him one day, when the veils are lifted and the inner realities of life and character appear.
2. There is One watching us when we are most unconscious, drawing silently auguries of character, and forecasting destiny. The Lord proves faculty in His test-house the daily occasions of life, and hangs it up if found true in His armoury for higher use. Hence the leisure hour is so precious; it tells so mightily on the life and destiny of the man. The soul ungirds itself then, and lets its bent appear. Teach it to love in the quiet hours the things that make for its health, its growth, its life, and leave the work hours to their care. As the man is in silent, secluded moments, God finds him in all the great crises of his history.
3. Keep your knee for God alone. The men bent the knee to sensual good. That was their fatal weakness in God's sight. Kneel to God, and it will cure you of all other kneeling. See His face each day before you look on the world's, and its frowns will not scare you nor its smiles allure.
()What an extraordinary difference between Gideon's army as it was at first and Gideon's army as it was at last — between the thirty-two thousand who set out with him in the morning and the three hundred who stayed with him at night! But I can tell you of a difference which is far more wonderful than that — the difference I mean between the visible Church of Christ and His real Church. Just think of the number of our outwardly baptized persons. But how many out of all this vast company are really chosen by the Lord to be His soldiers? But how shall this remnant be distinguished from the rest? Is there not something which, like the waters in the case of Gideon's army, may make the difference apparent between the true and the false? The world, for example, forms a very good test by which you may discern a true Christian from a false one. Look at the conduct of the generality. See how they bow down to drink at the waters of the world! See how they give themselves up wholly to its pleasures and pursuits! Unmindful altogether of eternal things they set their affections upon things beneath, and make them the one great end for which they live. Earth — earth — earth is all in all with them. But mark the conduct of a little remnant who are here and there to be discerned amidst them. These men come unto the waters with the rest. They have their business in the world as others have. But oh! in how different a spirit from the rest! They may be compared to those three hundred men that lapped. A little of earth's comforts is enough for them. They covet not great things in this life; but if the Lord shall give them only "food and raiment," they are well "content." Their moderation is known unto all men. Even whilst they are enjoying earthly comforts there is still no "bowing down" towards them. Their eyes are rather towards Him who gave these mercies, and their desire is to make so good an improvement of them as to glorify the Giver. But is this the only test by which you may discern the true Christian from the false one — the use which they severally make of the world in which they live? Let me point you out another water, as it were, where the distinction may be seen. Only here they that sip are the professors, and they are the believers who "bow down to drink." The water that I mean is the water of the gospel — that water of the well of life to which every thirsty soul is so graciously invited in those well-known words, "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" I have said that of these waters professors only sip. Even that, perhaps, is a stronger term than should be used. Oh, what thousands are there of men who call themselves believers who just come, as it were, to these waters of salvation and look at them, and go away again without a taste. They just come, I mean, to the preaching of the Word, listen to it with a dull and idle ear, and then go off again with no more knowledge of it than they brought to church with them. Others will go a little further. They hear — they listen — they admire. There are professors, I know, who will go further than this. Yet it is with the best of them but a sipping at the stream. A little measure of the mere semblance of religion is sure to satisfy the man who is but half a Christian. But not the man to whom that name in truth belongs. The real Christian will be satisfied with nothing short of a full and an abundant draught. Moderate as he is in his desires of earthly things, he has a spiritual appetite which it takes no little to content. Nor is he satisfied with attending any ordinance unless he leaves it with a blessing — refreshed and strengthened for his Master's work. It was only the true-hearted part of Gideon's army which remained with him. These only shared his victory and reaped the fruits of it. And think you that Jesus will not make the like distinction?
()A striking story. Especially might it be a useful story for all preachers to-day who find themselves in some little tide of popularity. It is a sore story this on Church statistics, especially when the numbers swell, and we are apt to indulge in a great chorus of praise because of numerical success. How the Lord Almighty had to reduce thirty-two thousand stalwart men to three hundred in order to bring the band up to its effective strength! The Captain of our salvation has strange ways with Him, has He not? Sometimes past finding out. Now, these men utterly deceived Gideon, and we have to learn that lesson — that we may utterly deceive each other. Are our hearts right? When we count you upon our totals, does the Lord also count one, or are you to Him a mere fraction — a nothing? The Lord said, virtually, "Gideon, give these people a chance to go home, and see what you shall see. Say to those that are timid and of a fearful heart, Go back." And twenty-two thousand showed the breadth of their backs, executing strategical movements upon home! Are we going to be blown away like chaff, or can we stand it? Are we wheat after all? And even when there were not so many by twenty-two thousand with Gideon as at first, still they were not dense and compact enough for God's purposes. For God wants His army to be not like a great, big, overgrown cabbage that has run to blades and has no heart in it, but He wants His army to be dense — not extensive, but intensive — sound at the heart, solid as a cannon-ball. Notice, then, when we come to this second action of God's testing of these people how difficult it is to detect hypocrisy. Mark you, these other thousands ought to have gone off with the first batch; they ought to have gone at the first telling. But such an ingrained thing is formalism and hypocrisy that these people stood firm when they ought to have gone. There ought to have been no second sifting process needed. One was enough to lay bare the hearts of men to themselves if they had been simple and honest and sincere. You have the same thing to-day, precisely — people who come with you up to the point of real work, and then "Presto! Pass!" they are gone. In God's great name let me ask what are you doing but coming to church once a week? Now, I wish to say that your seat could be better occupied if that is all that is to come out of you. What was the test which God applied to them in this sore business? Well, I think it was just this. I am not going to say that these three hundred men were braver, bolder, grander men than those who had gone away. I am not going to say that these men were men of blood and iron — that they had no fear, no doubts, and no misgivings. No, I do not think that. I think that they were men who felt their hearts beat beneath their jerkins like any others. They had very likely the same doubts and the same misgivings as to the success of this revolt against Midian as the thousands had who had gone home; only they did not yield to them. They encouraged themselves in God; they encouraged themselves in Gideon. In all their weakness and helplessness they leaned all the harder upon Him who had called them to this fight, in which were involved death or victory. And that is all that God wants yet. God never asked any mortal man to do more than trust in Him. These three hundred men were only flesh and blood, and this was a desperate business. Twenty-two thousand of their countrymen had gone away from fear; but when these three hundred came to the ford it seemed that what was in their heart was not retreat, but fighting. Because when they came to that ford, a key position, an important place, they cannot lie down and give themselves up to the business of taking drink like the others. It was not drinking, but fighting that was in their heads and in their hearts; and they lapped as a dog lapped, so that they were free to see the oncoming of the host, and to spring to their places in an instant. Thus they drank, and God said, "These are the men." This thing called faith in God is a thing that tells. It tinges, it tinctures, it colours every word you speak, and everything you do.
()Here is one of those battles of God which are being waged in century after century, crisis after crisis, by the armies of Truth against the hordes of unrighteousness. Gideon, trusting manfully in his Divine commission, sets himself to deliver Israel from the Midianites. Cheered himself by God's manifest goodness, he succeeds, as men count success, in gathering together a strong army. Thirty-two thousand men was a serviceable army to put into the field to risk the chances of battle with a successful, arrogant, and overwhelming enemy. "The people that are with thee are too many." What? Is not Providence on the side of big battalions? Is it not the defiant cry which is ever rising up in hoarse murmurs from the army of the world? "Every one thinks as we do. You are alone. Every one does as we do. You are the victim of a foolish prejudice. You must yield in the end. The house of Baal is full from one end thereof to the other, while you, you prophet of the Lord, shivering in your isolation, try to perpetuate a failure." Midian comes on with its overwhelming cry, "Every one thinks so, every one says it, every one does it; numbers are on our side, therefore we are right." Ah! my brethren, do I touch on a subtle danger which is incident to societies — to count heads, and to boast of numbers on the books? Remember, the very charter of existence in a guild is quality, not quantity. It is the concentration of the earnest few against the careless and undisciplined many. So Gideon has to submit — there in the presence of the enemy, with a tradition of disgrace behind him, he, a leader of reputed cowards, has to submit to the departure of twenty-two thousand men, leaving his splendid band reduced to a pitiable ten thousand. The fearful and the half-hearted go away, and more than half his host has vanished. Ah, is it some annual meeting we are thinking of there in our guild room, where the leader says, "I do not care for a guild of non-communicants, who do not keep to the rules. Let every one resign who does not intend to live up to his profession," and with a heavy heart he sees the diminution of his flourishing band. Poor Gideon, with his wretched ten thousand! But what is this? "The people are yet too many " is the inexorable decree of God. They must yet be submitted to the test. They are brought down to the water of the well Harod near where they were encamped, to be tried with the test of thirst, which has so often proved the value of disciplined troops. "By the three hundred men that lapped, I will save you." There are many wells of water to try the guild members in this city. He will never fight a battle of the Lord who, with his badge round his neck, goes down on his knees to drink his fill of pleasure, unrestrained, unmindful, self-indulgent. The servant of the Lord who is to win in the battle of Midian, just tastes lightly of the pleasures of life, which are free from sin, as they that use this world as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away. "The three hundred men that lapped."
1. These are the sort of members that we want for Church guild, for they represent in the first place a band of men who have learnt the great lesson of self-control. They were men not to be moved by a draught of water on a hot day. The cause of God had stilled the cry of appetite. Ah, it is not a bit of use joining in a splendid service, waving banners, singing hymns, talking about the Catholic Faith, wearing a badge, and attending sometimes a guild meeting, if we have not learnt the splendid lesson of self-control. "The three hundred men that lapped."
2. They represented to Gideon also a band of enthusiasts. Their heart was elsewhere, when they stood by the water. They barely had time to remember the keenness of their thirst, as they strained at the leash, and pulled at the bridle, the restraint of delay, between them and victory. Only second in importance to the moral basis is the enthusiasm of right in the member of a guild. There are few things more depressing, and few things more wrong than the listless apathy, which men either affect or feel in this glad world of God's creating. As you step into rank you feel what a splendid thing it is to exist, to live at all. You feel what wondrous powers God has given you in body, soul, and spirit. With your senses you reach out to all around you. With your mind you live in the past, enjoy the present, or imagine the future in all the freedom of intellect, with your spirit you are in touch with God. You feel at least you never can cumber the ground as one of those painted grubs who crawl about the earth, or flit about as creature of the day in bright clothes and meaningless flight, now expanding in the sunshine, now dying at the first frost of adversity. The guild member is serious, he is active, he is useful, because he has the enthusiasm of life, and even more, he has the enthusiasm of Christianity. He knows what the Church has been to him. He is enthusiastic — how can he help it? — none of these things move me, he says, as he passes the well, as he gazes at the hosts of Midian, and his own attenuated ranks. He longs to help others, himself to be a centre of good and a rallying point for the forces of the Lord. We want a band of enthusiasts, alive with the enthusiasm of God. We are suffering at the present moment from silliness, men who play at religion, men who are not in earnest, men who talk and do not act. "The three hundred men that lapped."
3. Gideon might count on these as determined men. They were men who had counted the cost; when others refused to come forward they had presented themselves; when others went back they had stood firm; when others had failed in a simple trial, they had shown what manner of men they were. A battle of three hundred against a host would mean determined men, and the battle of the Lord needs determined men now. The conflict for each of us needs strength and determination of character. Do not believe for one moment that it will ever be easy to be good. Our fathers found it hard to resist evil, so shall we; our fathers found it hard to pray, so shall we. You will want all the firmness of your will in the combat of life which lies before you. Moab lies in ambush with all his countless hosts, the battle will be hard and long. If you be but an insignificant fraction out of the number of professing Christians, keep on; if you be but a small and attenuated remainder, out of those who have fallen away since you first became enrolled, still keep on. The freshness, it may be, has worn off; the monotony of life is beginning to tell upon you; it may be, the hard falls and rough blows of life have disheartened you — keep on. Bodies of pledged men like you are, after all, the strength of the Church.
()1. Nearly everything great in this world has been effected by a few men, or, perhaps, a single man, who believed in it when everybody else saw only difficulties and objections. The struggle between the right and the expedient, or the practical and the ideal, is always going on. The exploit of Gideon's band was as nothing compared with the daring of the few Galilean fishermen who went forth to preach to a hostile world the story of Christ and Him crucified. "All things are possible to him that believeth."
2. In the next place we may observe that God chose for this great work the man who was to be His instrument, and Gideon obeyed the call. It then became his duty to set to work and collect an army. The result was just what might have been expected. A large number of Gideon's compeers thought it highly desirable that the yoke of the invader should be cast off their necks, but they were afraid to try and do it. They saw the difficulties more plainly than they saw the good to be attained. Even some of those who volunteered at first went back after they had counted the cost. Just so. Every man who honestly assumes a responsibility and attempts a good work may be perfectly sure that ten people will say, "Well done! Go on!" for every one who will say, "I will help you, though I stand to lose by it!" In such cases the man who sees what ought to be done must just obey his call and go forward. It is not upon men, but upon God that he must depend.
3. Further, let us bear in mind that the issues of all things are in the hands of God. We need not be afraid of compromising the doctrine of moral freedom by any such assertion as this. Man has power of choice when he has not power of action. Power of action may be indefinitely extended. God may complete our purposes when they are beyond our ken, and may supplement our deficiencies if we honour Him by obedience and faith. The shortest road to the attainment of an ideal or the fulfilment of a duty is to fearlessly perform what one knows to be right, and trust in God for the issue. We need but lamps and pitchers and trumpets. We must take trouble and be wise, while remembering that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong.
()God required but few men, but He required that these should be fit. The first test had sifted out the brave and willing. The liquor was none the less, though so much froth had been blown off. As Thomas Fuller says, there were "fewer persons, but not fewer men," after the poltroons had disappeared. The second test, "a purgatory of water," as the same wise and witty author calls it, was still more stringent. The dwindled ranks were led down from their camp on the slopes to the fountain and brook which lay in the valley near the Midianites' camp. Gideon alone seems to have known that a test was to be applied there; but he did not know what it was to be till they reached the spring, and the soldiers did not know that they were determining their fate when they drank. The two ways of drinking clearly indicated a difference in the men. Those who glued their lips to the stream and swilled till they were full were plainly more self-indulgent, less engrossed with their work, less patient of fatigue and thirst than those who caught up enough in their curved palms to moisten their lips with out stopping in their stride or breaking rank. The former test was self-applied, and consciously so. This is no less self-applied, though unconsciously. God shuts out no man from His army, but men shut themselves out; sometimes knowingly, by avowed disinclination for the warfare, sometimes unknowingly by self-indulgent habits which proclaim their unfitness.
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