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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Numbers 24

Verses 1-25

Trance and Trench

Numbers 24:16

It is the picture of a man, or rather of a group of men, in which we may find our own faces; for we, like Balaam, know something of that double life which corresponds to the trance and the trench the falling into a trance, and yet living the common, working, trench life; the rapture and the routine, religion and business, commerce and our Communions, the Sacramental and the social, the secular and the sacred. And we thought sometimes that these two lives are hopelessly at variance, and we made the mistake of pitting these two lives one against the other in terrible competition instead of combining both of them together falling into a trance, leading the spiritual life, and yet having our eyes open to the common daily life; the trance the devotional life; the trench the daily life. We made that dreadful mistake, and therefore life was a dismal failure, or it was utterly dreary, or deadly dull, because we either felt that life must be wholly ideal or else it must be wholly at low level. And then we learned that we belonged to both worlds at the same time. It is not in the separation, it is not in the divorce, but it is in the union of these two lives that we find our strength and our happiness.

I. The Trench Life. We are to lead the trench life, but we are not to lead it apart from the trance life. The trench life our eyes are to be open to the world in which we live. God knew what He was about when He put us where He has. To close our eyes to facts, to the seamy side of life, would be the height of folly. We must be wideawake, if we would not go to the wall in the life on earth that God has put us in. The man that wool-gathers is the man that is worsted in life. Having our eyes open, we must go through the world, we must send our children out into the world with their eyes wide open to the world as we have met it, to the world as they will meet it. Our eyes must be, opened when, morning by morning, every post brings in this circular or that circular, from the money-lender, from the one who at some exorbitant interest will pander to the passing want that so many of us have felt, and then, then it is that the eyes must be wide open to the realities of the life that is around us; but not to the exclusion of the trance.

II. The Trance Life. There are men known to us all who have combined these two lives the trance and the trench in one. There are thousands of honest men. There are merchants, there are shopmen, there are business men and business women, who have seen the trance and yet have their eyes fully open to the trench. Men and women who will say their prayers before they go out to their work, men of standing, men looked up to in commerce and the money market, who are regular Communicants as well as regular in their business. It is false to say that you must be either all trench or all trance; it is the action of the trance life upon the trench life that makes that solid body of British merchants, or English business people, who form the backbone, the very spinal cord of the English nation.

III. The Union of Trance and Trench This is the life that you and I have got to aim at. Some men never look at the trance, they are all trench. They never look above the fog, the mere low level of self-interest. Their eyes are never open save to the short sight that comes from living in the midst of self-contemplation from week end to week end. They are like the animals, always looking down as the animals do, and not as a man, looking up at men, should do. They need their trance. You may remember the oldest Church in England, St. Martin's, Canterbury. There, in days gone by, a woman knelt, praying that her husband's eyes might be opened, and that he might see the trance of Christianity which she had seen, and lo! a vision, wondrous and beautiful, came to Ethelbert, and he too had his eyes opened, and he saw the outward through the inward, became a Christian, and England was converted. Monica prayed for Augustine as he was dipping into all the depths of the sin of Carthage. His eyes were opened; he, too, became the man of the trance and the man of the trench. Some are all trance and no trench, living in an unreal, dreamy state, always in the clouds, whose religion chiefly consists in making things uncomfortable for other people, upsetting the home life, and refusing the commonplace always being in a trance. They, too, need the sharp ordeal of being taught the other side of life. They want the home-spun life, they want the trench life. But it is in the union of these two lives that they alone can happily live. Have your trance and have your trench; so try to live, 'falling into a trance, but having your eyes open'.

E. E. Holmes, Church Times, Vol. LIV. 1905, p. 303.

References. XXV. 6-8. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 258; see also Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 60. XXVI. 63-65. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2198. XXVII. 18. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 277. XXXI. 8. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 218. XXXI. 16. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 153. XXXI. 23. T. G. Rooke, The Church in the Wilderness, p. 312.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Numbers 24". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/numbers-24.html. 1910.