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Educated Towards Spirituality
How to introduce the spiritual element into all this instruction of an external and formal kind was the difficulty even of inspiration. We have felt all along that the speeches and instructions delivered to Israel meant, as to their purpose and issue, something that was not expressed. We now come to find an indication of that which is intensely spiritual. The method of its introduction is so it may be said, with reverence infinitely skilled. Great prizes of land were offered, wonderful donations of milk and honey and harvest, and as for springs and fountains of water, they were to rise in perennial fulness and beauty. What wonder if considerable eagerness should mark the spirit of the men to whom such promises were delivered? Who would not be eager for land flowing with milk and honey, green all the year round because of the abounding waters, smiling with fruitfulness because of the blessing of God? But this could never be enough: the promises cannot end in themselves; when they have been uttered they quiver with an unexpressed meaning. To bring that meaning under the attention so as to secure the confidence of the people God will set aside a tribe that is to have no land. That was a subtle revelation of ulterior design. Out of that arrangement was to come the inspiration that foretold the passing away of the heavens and the dissolution of the earth and the destruction of all things material as no longer worth holding. All things have beginnings. The greatest literature traces itself back to its alphabet. Levi is set forth as a spiritual symbol. "Levi hath no part nor inheritance with his brethren." Is he then poor? Read the answer in chapter Deuteronomy 10:9 "The Lord is his inheritance, according as the Lord thy God promised him." That was the lot of Levi. Is not that an anticipation of the words which make all other instruction mean "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you"? It was well to have some men who had no land, no golden harvest, no storehouses rich with grain. They were the schoolmasters of the time the great spiritual philosophers and teachers, not knowing themselves what they typified, still being there, the mystery of life, a symbol of the sublime doctrine that men shall not live by bread alone. Out of these incidental lines of history gathers a great apocalypse of progress. The one tribe will presently absorb the other tribe, and at the last we shall all be kings and priests unto God; and if globes were offered to us, constellations and whole firmaments of glory, instead of nearness to the divine presence, we should scorn the mean donation. To that height we have to grow; to that issue all things will come that yield themselves to the movement of the divine purpose.
We have read all the arrangements made for the ceremonial worship of Israel: what was the meaning of it? Here we come again upon the same thought of ultimate spirituality. Moses now, in the latter time, begins to reveal secrets. He gave Israel long space in which to kill animals and offer them by fire: he utterly wearied out the people by such impotent ritual, and when they themselves began to turn their very weariness into a kind of religious hope that surely something brighter would presently be revealed, Moses spake these words: "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee?" That is the question. What does it all mean? Thou hast slain thousands of bullocks and rams and sheep and goats, "what doth the Lord thy God require of thee" what has he been meaning all this time, "but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?" ( Deu 10:12-13 ). That was the divine intention from the very beginning. God does not disclose his purpose all at once, but out of consideration for our capacities and our opportunities and our necessities he leads us one step at a time, as the wise teacher leads the young scholar. What wise teacher thrusts a whole library upon the dawning mind of childhood? A picture, a toy, a tempting prize, a handful to be going on with, and all the rest covered by a genial smile: so the young scholar passes from page to page until the genius of the revelation seizes him, and life becomes a sacred Pentecost. Such words spoken to Israel at first would have been lost. There is a time for revelation; as certainly as for man, so certainly for God, there is a time to speak, there is a time to be silent. It is a sublime addition to our knowledge to realise the divine purpose, that all letters, words, buildings, books, mean life, union with God, absorption into God. Preachers and books and pulpits and altars and buildings are of use at the time, for the time most useful, in many cases indispensable; but the issue of it all is perfect union with the Father of our spirits, knowing him from within, a perfect correspondence of our nature with his nature and his purpose; not a word spoken, a look exchanged, nor an attitude but becomes a sacrifice. This thought supplies a standard by which to measure progress. Where are we? To what have we attained? What is our stature today? Are we still among the beggarly elements? Do we still cry out for a kind of teaching that is infantile and that ought to be from our age altogether profitless? Or do we sigh to see the finer lines and hear the lower tones and enter into the mystery of silent worship so highly strung in all holy sensibilities that even a word jars upon us and is out of place under circumstances so charged with the divine presence?
Still keeping by this same line of thought, notice how the promises were adapted to the mental condition of Israel. What promises could Israel understand? Only promises of the most substantial kind. Moses addresses himself to this necessity with infinite skill: "Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the Lord thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude" ( Deu 10:22 ). Israel cared nothing for thoughts: Israel cared for children: Israel knew not the poetry and the divinity of things: Israel understood acres, land upon land far-stretching, and harvests larger than any garners ever built. This being the mental condition of Israel, give Israel troops of children, thousands upon thousands outnumbering the stars, a tumultuous throng, too vast for the space of the wilderness; as for harvests, let them grow upon the rocks, let the very stones burst into golden grain, for Israel is a great child and can understand only things that can be handled: let him have such things, more and more; God means them to be altar-steps leading upward, onward, into the place where there is no need of the sun or of the moon, no death, no night; Israel has a long journey to go, and he must be well housed and harvested on the road, or he will give way and fail before the time set for the fulness of the divine revelation. The same thought is expressed in many ways. It is given in chapter Deuteronomy 11:11-12 "But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year." What a child was Israel; what an infant of days; keep speaking to him much about prosperity and wealth and harvests and the rain of heaven, and you can lead Israel as you please, like a hungry beast following an offered bait which is withdrawn that he may be led and be caused to submit to a higher will. This also supplies a standard of progress. Do we care for the sanctuary because of its God or because of its conventional respectability? To what end besiege we the altar of Heaven, to pray or to profit?
Still preserving the marvellous consistency of the whole economy, we cannot fail to notice how beautifully the sacrifices were adapted to the religious condition of the people. This explains the sacrifices indeed. What was the religious condition of the people? Hardly religious at all. It was an infantile condition; it was a condition in which appeal could only lie with effect along the line of vision. So God will institute a worship accordingly: he will say to Israel, Bring beasts in great numbers, and kill them upon the altar; take censers, put fire thereon; spare nothing of your herds and flocks and corn and wine; have a continual burnt offering, and add to the continual burnt offering other offerings great in number and in value. Israel must be kept busy; leisure will be destruction. There must be seven Sabbaths in the week, and seven of those seven must be specialised by fast or festival or sacred observance. Give Israel no time to rest. When he has brought one bullock, send him for another; when he has killed a ram, call for a thousand more; this will be instructive to him. We must weary him to a higher aspiration; to begin this aspiration would be to beat the air, or to speak an unknown language, or to propound a series of spiritual impossibilities. Men must be trained according to their capacity and their quality. The whole ceremonial system of Moses constitutes in itself in its wisdom so rich, its marvellous adaptation to the character and temper of the times, an unanswerable argument for the inspiration of the Bible. It was the economy for the times. It could not be replaced, even imaginatively, to advantage, by the keenest wit of the brightest reader. It might be a profitable engagement now and then to try to amend the masonry of the Bible. Take out whole blocks of institutions, observances, and ceremonies, and put into the vacancies something better; let it be confessedly better in quality, but taken out of a further time and brought back to the early age. At once there is a sense of incoherence, unfitness, dissonance; the right thing is not in the right place; history is outraged; the genius of progress is misinterpreted. So with the Christian Scriptures. Take out, for example, the sermon upon the mount, and put into its place instructions regarding the building of the tabernacle. Men could not tolerate the alteration. The soul cannot thus go back. We have seen how wonderful a thing it was to write a New Testament: when the resources of language had been exhausted, when the sublimest poetry had been uttered, when the grandest altar had been built, it required a Son of God at once to begin the New Testament: begun by a feebler hand, the ages would have cast out the violence and the insult. The distributions of matter in the Bible are made by a divine hand; the very placing of the materials is itself an argument not, indeed, to the man who comes upon the Bible with effrontery and self-idolatry, beginning where he pleases, and moving up and down the sacred record with erratic will and taste, but to the man who makes the law his study, night and day, seeing how it looks in star-light, then how it bears the blaze of noonday, how it takes upon itself the fevers of the summer, and how amid the chills of winter it still thrills with forecasts of mercy. Only they ought to pronounce upon the Bible who have read it, and only they have read the Bible who have read it all, until it has swallowed up all manner of books and has become transformed into the very life of the soul.
So far the line has been consistent from its beginning, what wonder, then, if it culminate in one splendid word? That word is introduced here and there. For example, in chapter Deuteronomy 10:12 , the word occurs; in chapter Deuteronomy 11:1 , it is repeated. What is that culminating word? How long it has been kept back! Now that it is set down we see it and acknowledge it; it comes at the right time, and is put in the right place: "To love him." Then again in chapter Deuteronomy 11:1 "Therefore thou shalt love the Lord thy God." Moses is almost a Christian, even in the historical sense of the term, and it is well that his name should be linked for ever with the name of the Lamb. Jesus uses no higher word than "love." Paul thought he would pronounce it aright by repeating it often, and repetition is sometimes the only proper pronunciation: the word must be spoken so frequently as to fall into a refrain and attach itself to all the noblest speech of life. "Master, which is the great commandment?" And Jesus answered, "Thou shalt love." Here we have Moses and the Lamb. It ought to be easy to love God: we are akin to him; damn ourselves as we may, we are still his workmanship, his lost ones. We wrong our own souls in turning away from God: we commit suicide in renouncing worship; we are not surrendering something outside of us, we are putting the knife of destruction into our own soul. We have once more a standard of progress. We are in relation to this word love! Love means passion, fire, sacrifice, self-oblivion, daily, eternal worship. Who then can be saved? The word love does not destroy other elements which enter into the mystery of true worship. Moses says, "What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways... and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord?" The word love is found in this company. Recite the names that you may the more clearly understand the society of love. "Fear," "walk," "serve," "keep," it is in that society that love shines like the queenliest of the stars. Love is not a mere sentiment, a quality that evaporates in sighing or that fades into invisibleness by mystic contemplation; love calls fear, walking, serving, keeping, to its side, and they all together, in happy harmonic co-operation, constitute the divine life and the divine sonship of the soul. We, too, have mystery; we have miracles; we have ceremonies; we have tabernacles and temples; what is the meaning of them all? They cannot end in themselves; read the riddle; tell us in some short word which may be kept in a child's memory the meaning of all the cumbrous machinery the gorgeous ritual of the olden time, and even the simpler worship of the passing day. What is the meaning of prayer, and faith, and gift, and service, and outward profession? Would we learn the word? We find it in the Old Testament and in the New Moses speaks it, Christ speaks it, Paul speaks it, John speaks it, they are all trying to say it "Love." Love keeps nothing back; love is cruel as fire in the testing of qualities; love is genial as Heaven in the blessing of goodness. Though we have all knowledge, all prophecy, and are marvels in gifts of eloquence, and though we give our goods to feed the poor and our body to be burned, and outrun ancient Israel in costly and continuous ceremony, if we have not love pure, simple, childlike, beautiful love our music is noise, and our sacrifice is vanity.
Thou wilt not show us thy glory now. Thou hast promised to show us thy goodness, and to make it pass before us: this thou art doing day by day; all things show the mercy of God. As for ourselves, goodness and mercy have followed us all the days of our life. We know this: our life speaks to this truth strongly and lovingly; therefore, we fear no evil: we smile upon the threatened darkness: the valley of the shadow of death is part of the way home. We have no real fear, no intense terror of heart; we are subject to passing dreads and alarms and foolish excitements, but all these do not touch the soul seated in the solemnity of an eternal covenant. Thou wilt accomplish all things; thou wilt not fail to bring on the topstone; having spent the ages in building the temple, the pinnacle shall not be wanting. Thou didst see the end from the beginning, and almightiness cannot fail. We stand in this security as within the munition of rocks; the wind cannot overturn our retreat; the tempest wastes its fury upon that stone; we are shut in by the hand of God. Help us to see the great beyond, not to be too curious about it, but to use it as an allurement, a silent persuasion, a mighty compulsion towards stronger work, nobler purpose, larger prayer; thus the heavens shall help the earth; the sun shall be our light all day, and above it shall there be a brightness which the soul can understand. We bless thee for a sense of sin forgiven. Continue thy daily pardon. We feel as if we must be pardoned every moment, for since we have been pardoned and our eyes have been enlightened, we see more clearly, and we discern more critically: the things which once wore no face of offence now burn before us as if filled with all horribleness and as if carrying all shame. We would be pure as God is pure, perfect with the perfectness of God; but this end who can attain except through long ages, by the way of the Cross, by the ministry of blood, by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost? But our hope is in God: we shall yet be perfected; we shall stand before him without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, without a tear of shame in the eyes, without a flutter of misgiving or fear in the uplifted hands. The Lord have us in his holy keeping; the Lord build for us a pavilion in which our souls may daily trust; and when the end comes may we find it but a beginning; when the shadow falls may it be the background of many an unsuspected star; and when we stand before thee may we have on the robe of Christ be clothed with him, not having on our own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness of Christ, the purity of the Cross.
If this prayer may be answered now we shall not know but that we are already in heaven. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart." Deu 10:16
What God wants is moral purity. We cannot live in rites and ceremonies. It was well to begin with the outward, but the meaning was that we should go forward to the inward and spiritual. Nor was this revelation of the spiritual purpose long delayed; even in the Old Testament we read, "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah." Nothing would be more convenient or more pleasant to the carnal man than to merely observe some outward laws and regulations; but the word of the Lord is sharper than any two-edged sword, and its business is done in the innermost heart of man. "He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh.... Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter." There is, therefore, an evangelical or spiritual circumcision. "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." If we have escaped that which is physically painful, we have come into that which is spiritually disciplinary. "Rend your heart, and not your garments." Man himself is called upon to do this, not that he has the ability to complete the circumcision, but any desire which he shows to begin it will call the almightiness of God to his aid.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 10". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent