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The Place of Beneficence
God is putting lines of mercy amid all the black print of the law. It would seem as if wherever God could find a place at which he might utter some word of pity or compassion he filled up that place with an utterance of his solicitude for the welfare of man. Loving words always look beautiful; perhaps they look most beautiful when surrounded by contrastive words of stern righteousness, of unyielding law, of severe prohibition. Flowers look lovely everywhere, but what must be the loveliness of a flower to the wanderer in a desert? So these Gospel words are full of charm wherever we find them, but they have double charmfulness being found in connection with institutions, instructions, precepts, and commandments marked by the severest righteousness. In the midst of time God graciously puts a year of release. Time needs to be jewelled; time is an appalling monotony. What can be so dull as the days that have no business, no pleasure, no special engagement for faculties which have been prepared for specific work? How dull the time is then, without a sparkle of dew, without a glint of superior light, without a note of supernal music! But God will mark off special periods; the very boundaries shall be gold; the very limits shall glitter with diamonds. How many beautiful days (as we have already seen) has God set in the commonplace of life: the restful Sabbath, the hilarious festival, the time of family joy. Memory will supply many such dates and engagements which fill the heart with highest gladness. The poor man must have his year of release the debtor, the slave, the servant, the disappointed heart. The rich have many friends they can turn the whole week into a gala-day; but the poorest and weakest of mankind must have a year set amid the succession of the days to which they can look with religious expectation. It is something to know the limit of one's endurance. When no date of liberation is fixed, the heart aches because of the burdensome monotony; but when a time is appointed a specified line laid down courage rises: the spirit says, Now I must be brave; every day brings the year of release nearer; I must fire my courage and heroically try again. We know what this is in various departments of life. How often have men sighed, expressing the thought, which they could scarcely put into words sufficiently delicate, that if but a limit could be assigned say a year hence, or seven years, or ten they could grapple with a given quantity: they could face a specific and measurable difficulty; but to look upon the everlasting when that everlasting is one of darkness and trial cows the spirit, subdues and humiliates the soul.
We must have the element of hopefulness in life: without hope we die. To-morrow will be a day of ransom and liberty if not to-morrow by the clock, yet to-morrow in feeling: already the dawn is upon our hearts, already we hear noises of a distant approach: presently a great gladness will descend upon the soul. The child will be better in a day or two; when the weather warms (the doctor assures us), the life will be stronger. When arrangements now in progress are consummated and they will be consummated presently the whole house will be lighted up with real joy and thankfulness. So the spirit speaks to itself; so the heart sings songs in the night-time; so we live by hope and faith the higher Self, the grander Reason. Nor is this pitiful dreaming on our part. There is something in man that will hope. Blessed be God for the singing angel; when we quench his song, we quench ourselves. There is a pressure, as of prophecy within us, so that in our degree we are all foretellers: we have each a gleaming vision on which the soul's bright answering eyes are fixed; we know that right will conquer, that light will chase away the shadows, that truth will be enthroned, and that earth shall yet be beautiful with her Maker's blessing. This is the larger hope, the Christian expectation, the evangelical prophecy. We have but to multiply what is in ourselves, instinctively and educationally, to find in the expansion of that great power all that is brightest in prophecy, all that is gladdest in Christian forecast. What applies to the individual life applies to the associated life which is denominated the Church.
We find in this year of release what we all need namely, the principle of new chances, new opportunities, fresh beginnings. To-morrow said the debtor or the slave is the day of release, and the next day I shall begin again: I shall have another chance in life; the burden will be taken away, the darkness will be dispersed, and life shall be young again. Every man ought to have more chances than one, even in our own life. God has filled the sphere of life with opportunities. The expired week is dead and gone, and Christ's own resurrection day comes with the Gospel of hope, the Gospel of a new beginning, the Gospel of a larger opportunity; and the year dies and buries itself, and the new year comes with silver trumpets, with proclamations from heaven, and Life says, when it is not utterly lost, I will begin again: I will no longer blot the book of life: I will write with a steady and careful hand. But where moral questions are concerned a process must be indicated which is indispensable. Institutional arrangements can be changed at given dates, but moral releases can only be accomplished by moral processes. The man who is in prison must take the right steps to get out of it. What are those right steps? repentance, contrition, confession open, frank, straightforward, self-renouncing confession; then the man must be allowed to begin again; God will, in his providence, work out for such a man another opportunity; concealment there must be none, prevarication none, self-defence none. Where the case lies between the soul and God the higher morality still there must be an interview at the Cross a mysterious communion under the blood that flows from the wounded Christ. "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." With regard to this higher order of release we may say, "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation;" the year of jubilee has come; the year of release is shining upon us; whosoever will let him rise a man. It is well, notwithstanding, to accustom the mind to all the lower revelations of release, forgiveness, new opportunity, that so, step by step, we may ascend the ladder the head of which is in heaven.
All this being done on the part of the creditor and the owner, what happens on the side of God? The answer to that inquiry is:
"The Lord shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it" ( Deu 15:4 ).
"Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought." ( Deu 15:9 )
The book which contains this caution by so much vindicates its own inspiration. A book which so knows human nature, understands its every pulse and thought, is a book which was written by more than human wisdom. In incidental instances of this kind we see into the real quality of the book. It is comparatively easy to make broad laws and to give general directions without following them into their issues and all their involutions of consequence and relation; but here is a book which searches the heart, tries the reins, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow: an awful book of judgment. "Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand" so I will slacken my endeavours; I will begin the next period of seven years lavishly; then I will show my true nature; but seeing this obligation is just running off and will exhaust itself in a week or two, I will withhold, and stand still, and wait for the new time. God denounces such reasoning as selfish, vicious, hostile to the spirit of the law. We are to work up to the last moment: to-morrow is the time of release, yet this very eventide is to be marked by the richest generosity, the tenderest regard for human rights, and the seventh year is to end with a benediction. Beware that there is not a thought in thy wicked heart, not a speech upon thy tongue, not a broad, open confession of indifference and carelessness; but a thought in thy wicked heart speechless, formless, a little spectre on the man's horizon, beware! God searches the heart: "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do:" "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he;" though both his hands be full, if the spirit of grudging is in his heart, his oblation is a worthless gift.
A marvellous expression occurs in the eleventh verse: "The poor shall never cease out of the land." That is a remark which is not understood. Poverty is not an accident; there is a moral mystery connected with poverty which has never yet been found out. The sick-chamber makes the house; the infirm member of the family rules its tenderest thinking. Poverty has a great function to work out in the social scheme; but whilst we admit this we must not take the permanence of poverty as an argument for neglect: it is an argument for solicitude, it is an appeal to benevolence, it is an opportunity to soften the heart and cultivate the highest graces of the soul. It is perfectly true that the bulk of poor people may have brought their poverty upon themselves; but who are we that we should make rough speeches about them? What have we brought upon ourselves? If we are more respectable than others, it is still the respectability of thieves and liars and selfish plotters. We, who are apparently more industrious and virtuous and regardful, are not made of different clay, and are not animated by a different blood. It is perfectly true that a thousand people may have brought today's poverty upon themselves, and they will have to suffer for it; but beyond all these accidents or incidents there is the solemn fact, that poverty is a permanent quantity, for moral reasons which appeal to the higher instincts of the social commonwealth. We have that we may give; we are strong that we may support the weak; we are wise that we may teach the ignorant. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." No man has the slightest occasion or reason for reproaching any other man, except in relation to the immediate circumstance. If the assize were on a larger scale and we were all involved in the scrutiny, the issue would be this: "There is none righteous, no, not one." It seems ruthless to dash the painted cup of personal respectability out of the hand of any Pharisee; but the Pharisee, with all his praying and fasting and criticism, is a bad and all but unpardonable man; his prayers aggravate his perfidy; because he is a Pharisee it will be difficult for him to be saved.
Very handsomely had the poor man to leave on the day of liberation. The Hebrew man and the Hebrew woman were to leave under happy circumstances:
"Thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him" ( Deu 15:13-14 ).
It was God's before it was yours; it is only yours in the sense of stewardship. When the poor slave leaves, he is to leave with both hands full, and with a gracious burden upon his bended back, and with a blessing in his thankful heart. Law may be obeyed perfunctorily, arbitrarily, grudgingly; or law can be carried out with all the beauty of blossoming fruitfulness, and all the joy of music. Whatever we do we must do handsomely, graciously, not with ungratefulness and begrudging, for work so done is not done, and the blessing is neither with him that stays, nor with him that goes. After this inquiry we may well ask, Where, then, is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism? Perhaps there is no institutional superiority. I know of no finer laws than are to be found in the Mosaic economy: they are laws of righteousness, and laws of mercy a wonderful line of grace running through all the severest legislation. Judaism was, as to all these blessings, local and limited: the stranger was not always involved in the spirit of grace: certain blessings or benefactions were limited to the Israelites; Christianity asserts its superiority by viewing the world as one, the human family as one, God having made of one blood all nations of men; Christianity recognises neither Jew nor Greek, neither Barbarian nor Scythian, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither bond nor free; its spirit is universal; its love seeks out that which was lost that it might be saved: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;" "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." There is nothing local, nothing limited: wherever there is a sinner there is an offered Saviour; wherever there is abounding sin there is superabounding grace.
"There shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it " ( Deu 15:4 ). The design of the jubilee is that those of the people of God who, through poverty or other adverse circumstances, had forfeited their personal liberty or property to their fellow-brethren, should have their debts forgiven by their co-religionists every half-century, on the great day of atonement, and be restored to their families and inheritance as freely and fully as God on that very day forgave the debts of his people and restored them to perfect fellowship with himself, so that the whole community, having forgiven each other and being forgiven by God, might return to the original order which had been disturbed in the lapse of time, and being freed from the bondage of one another might unreservedly be the servants of him who is their Redeemer. The aim of the jubilee, therefore, is to preserve unimpaired the essential character of the theocracy, to the end that there be no poor among the people of God ( Deu 15:4 ). Hence God, who redeemed Israel from the bondage of Egypt to be his peculiar people, and allotted to them the promised land, will not suffer any one to usurp his title as Lord over those whom he owns as his own. It is the idea of grace for all the suffering children of man, bringing freedom to the captive and rest to the weary as well as to the earth, which made the year of jubilee the symbol of the Messianic year of grace ( Isa 61:2 ), when all the conflicts in the universe shall be restored to their original harmony, and when not only we, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, but the whole creation, which groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, shall be restored into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (comp. Isaiah 61:1-3 ; Luke 4:21 ; Romans 8:18-23 ; Heb 4:9 ).
The importance of this institution will be apparent if it is considered what moral and social advantages would accrue to the community from the sacred observance of it. (1) It would prevent the accumulation of land on the part of a few to the detriment of the community at large. (2) It would render it impossible for any one to be born to absolute poverty, since every one had his hereditary land. (3) It would preclude those inequalities which are produced by extremes of riches and poverty, and which make one man domineer over another. (4) It would utterly do away with slavery. (5) It would afford a fresh opportunity to those who were reduced by adverse circumstances to begin again their career of industry, in the patrimony which they had temporarily forfeited. (6) It would periodically rectify the disorders which crept into the state in the course of time, preclude the division of the people into nobles and plebeians, and preserve the theocracy inviolate.
Almighty God, we need great words to cheer us. Our life is dark and dreary. Where can those great words be found but in thine own book They were made for our sin; they are shaped by our sorrow; they are attuned to our grief. We know that this is thy word because it meets our sad necessity. This is no light of man's enkindling, for such light car struggle but feebly with the heavy darkness. This is the light of the Lord, for it fills the whole sky, and all night flees away, in terror and in shame from its infinite brightness. We know thy word by the inward witness. A stranger will not we follow, we know his voice to be strange. It has not in it the love-tone which lifts it up to the level of thy speech. We turn away from it, for it would lead us into solitude and danger and death. Let thy voice fill the heart Let thy music sing in all the chambers of our life and make the life-house glad. We rejoice that the heavens do stoop to the earth, and that God holds converse with man. This is the work of Christ and none other. This is the incoming of the Son of man unto our life bringing with him morning and liberty, pardon and growth in grace. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Take up thine abode in our heart; turn our tears into precious jewels. Make music of our sighing! When our heart is ill at ease quiet us with thine own peace. Undertake for us altogether, cleansing away our sin, redeeming us from all captivity, sanctifying us by the continual ministry of grace, and ennobling us by daily inspiration. We are very frail: let our feebleness become a cry unto the clement heavens. We are poor let our poverty be its own prayer. We are sinful exceedingly not wholly with the hand, but oftentimes wholly with the heart. Let our sense of sin be a cry for mercy and for pardon. Let this hour be a memorable one in our history. May men see angels to-night. May the worldly spirit be liberated from its bondage and have entrance into the upper places, where the light is cloudless and where the music is clear. Let backsliders return with heavy hearts but eager feet, and let the door of thy grace be found already open to every prodigal who would come home again. Strengthen every heart that has made a good vow. Thou knowest how difficult it is to live up to the sacred hope. How prone we are to the earth, how beset we are by temptation, how old associations gather around us and form themselves into a body of attack. Thou knowest us altogether. Sustain us, therefore, in the great fight, and, at the last, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, may we be able to speak of a well-fought field, and of a crown of glory laid up for us. Give us great thoughts, noble aspirations, pure and heroic impulses; and, in all things, make us like thy Son Jesus Christ, brightness of thy glory, and express image of thy person. Amen.
Great Principles Applied
It appears, then, that even bondage does not destroy brotherhood. Observe how the permanent and the temporary are joined in this verse. The brother continues for ever. It is not brotherhood but slavery that ceases. When the man goes out he goes out a brother: his old yesterday of bondage is a cloud blown away; but the fraternal instinct and the fraternal responsibility can only end with life. Yet how wonderfully accidents or temporary circumstances modify all things and create somewhat curious and often difficult relations between man and man! Why should one brother be master and another brother be bondman? The question cannot be answered abstractly or argumentatively. We must recognise facts as they are. Of all the most obvious facts which appeal to our attention there is none more obvious than that one man is set over another, that one man is destined, for a period at least, to be the servant of another. Were we creating a society upon a philosophical basis we might try to create some other kind of structure; but we are not called to the creation of society but to its interpretation. We are servants one of another. The Queen is the subject of her kingdom. No man can be a true king who is not first a subject. There is a greater king than any merely nominal monarch who represents an individuality: a kinghood of humanity, the royalty of right, the princeliness of strength helping weakness and being the guarantee of weakness against unjust and overwhelming oppression. Let the situation be accepted. To chafe under the yoke is to destroy some of our best faculties and to render progress simply impossible. Good is to be obtained from servitude. We learn to rule by learning to serve; we learn to be good men by being good little children. There is a period of bondage in every life. Even those who are apparently born to great masterliness and even royalty have to stoop and serve and accept discipline and find their way to any throne worth occupying through a process of labour and self-denial.
"And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty" ( Deu 15:13 ).
Duty on the one side does not end with service on the other. We ought to be careful how we apply this word duty to our life. Duty is in some respects a cold word, and quite measurable: it begins at a certain chime of the clock, and ends with a certain other and nameable chime; it lives within the day; it does not carry its work home with it, or dream about it, or discover the poetry and religiousness of service; it is in some respects duty mere duty, very severe duty, performed to the last jot and tittle; but still it is only a hireling's service. The Lord would add love to duty; he would add beauty to strength. The value of the gift is at the point where it begins to run over. What we give is to be given after the fashion of a vessel filled, filled to the brim, pressed down, running over; with somewhat of the poetry of wastefulness about it wastefulness, that is, as interpreted by dull and worldly eyes, but quite celestial poetry and music after the fashion of the Cross of Christ, when viewed by him who is the Giver of every good and every perfect gift. We cannot do our duty to a good servant; there must be more than duty; there must be remembrance, thoughtfulness, gratitude, downright, frank affection: for the work has been well done: no hireling fingers have touched it, but a devoted heart has thought about it, dreamed about it, planned it in a hundred different ways, and loving attention has been given to every detail. Let no man leave your life empty-handed. You may give him at least a flower, a smile, a grip with meaning in it, a look charged with the radiance of gratitude. Do not regard life as a temporary arrangement, and all social relations but so many mechanical puttings together for transient and vanishing ends; life should be a religious solidity, a complete unity, so that whether one member suffer all the members shall suffer with it, or whether one member rejoice all the members shall share its gladness. Towards this happy consolidation of social relations and rights all things under Christian inspiration are tending; whilst they are tending in this direction there will be misunderstanding, jarring, somewhat of bitterness of criticism, it may be, and a good deal of exasperation and reproach: yet all the while the central line is moving towards understanding, sympathy, confidence, liberality. All good work should be well rewarded, and all human connections should be so conducted that it costs the heart grief to give them up. Men have been so brought into unity of mind and feeling in a short Atlantic trip that the good-bye spoken the last day on the ship has quite made strong men quiver with tender emotion. The breaking-up of the ship's company seemed to have in it the breaking-up of all things; men go on their different ways: they see one another no more; they remember the days and the nights, and the talks upon the dreary waste of water, and one touch of the hand dissolves the company. How sad to part in ill-feeling, with misunderstanding and bitterness of heart! and how sadder still only with a solemn and noble pathos to part in real friendship, genuine love, mutual, unquestioning trust and confidence! The parting will come; we can so arrange our relations now that when the parting comes its sorrow shall be sweet, its sadness shall be but a cloud for a moment veiling a celestial light.
The same idea is continued in the fourteenth verse:
"Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress." ( Deu 15:14 )
He who has served well should be treated well. That must be the law in all our life. We must have done with all merely mechanical and hireling relations if ever we are to realise Christ's idea of society. There should be no orphan children; there should be no unattended sick; there should be no outcast city. It is worse than vain it reaches the highest point of profanity; it aggravates itself, indeed, into an appalling blasphemy that we should first cast out the city and then make a charity of attending to the city we have outcast. Something has to be done within all operating social arrangements that will prevent the catastrophe. Service has no right to end in poverty. After a man's day's work is done he should carry with him liberally out of the flock, and out of the floor, and out of the winepress; this he should do by right: the issue should not be a happy accident but a logical and just conclusion. The idea is of universal application. If any man be mean enough to serve as a man-pleaser and with a view to the ultimate bounty, he ought to be disappointed and disappointed he certainly will be. All such men will exist to the end of time; but we cannot arrange society upon a basis of suspicion and distrust Whoever has served well should have a quiet eventide, no wolf of hunger pursuing him, no dark cloud lying over the roof like a burden which the house can but ill bear. Preacher, merchant, thinker, writer, tradesman of every kind, master, servant the time of labour completed should go into green pastures, and walk by still waters, and have a quiet watching and waiting time, bread being given and water being made sure, and a "Well done, good and faithful servant," floating upon the whole life like a blessing from heaven. Many men render this impossible by their own misconduct Misconduct would ruin creation; a selfish and rebellious spirit would render heaven impossible, on earth or otherwhere. Why fix attention upon the exceptions unless it be with a view to reduce their number? Our love-duty remains the same. If we would be well served we must rule well. It seems as if we escaped with all our bounty: we allowed the good servant, of whatever name or degree, to go, and we gave nothing; the arrangement that had existed for years two, four, six, seven years was dissolved without a single gift out of the flock, or the floor, or the winepress; and we have reasoned that therefore we have saved so much. It is a fallacy. That is a selfishness that lives upon its own life-blood. Only generosity can be happy; only liberality puts the top-stone on justice. In forgetting the liberal donation we have laid up wrath against the day of wrath even for our own souls: we have shut out light from the south: we have wronged our own spirits.
"And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today" ( Deu 15:15 ).
Memory should be called in to the aid of duty. We must not forget the great general principles in looking at the momentary details. One man is master, we say; but only in a very narrow sense. The master now was himself once a slave. We were all slaves. If any man now is good, he must remember the mire out of which he was lifted, and the hole out of which he was digged. No man amongst us has come down from the untainted clouds, and is conferring a favour upon human society by mingling with it. The whitest robe is blackness compared with the snow of celestial righteousness. We are respectable as amongst ourselves and between ourselves, and in contrast with other nameable people; but boasting ourselves amongst ourselves we become foolish: the standard is not with us: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The great principle of this direction involves all life. Memory is to play a wonderful part in the education of the soul. When we see a prodigal, are we to gather our skirts about us and assume a relation of severe respectability to the poor sore-footed wanderer? Remember we are all prodigals. One man is seen more upon the road than another, and is more obviously departing from the Father's house; but movement is a very subtle action. Some men move in the night-time, ay, they move at flying pace! In the day they are at church: in the light they are demure: in society they are irreproachable; but no sooner does the cloud curtain out the sun no sooner does night come than they fly: their feet are swift in the way of destruction. Remember! When we hear of men getting wronged in this way or in that way in the city, at home, in all the various relations of life it suits our illicit and calculated piety to sigh over the ruin which we have perceived. It may be a hypocritical sigh. Remember! We need not go into words; reproach is useless. Let the soul look backward steadily, closely, fully, critically and in that retrospect there will be fire enough to light a hell. We are cursed through not looking back far enough. We now have "respectable" people in the Church the Church that ought to be the gathering-ground of prodigals, broken hearts, shattered lives, a place of tears! It has become a boasting-ground the paradise of a Pharisee. We have forgotten the Egypt of our own bondage and humiliation.
"It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years" ( Deu 15:18 ).
Religious inspiration should be mightier than selfish instincts. Man must be conquered by God. That which is natural must be chastened out of the soul: "Ye must be born again." Does it not seem a hard thing for a servant to be taking away liberally out of the flock, and out of the floor, and out of the winepress? Does it not seem a hard thing that the servant should have both hands filled and should be blessed with a sense of fulness and prosperity? It all might have been saved. Such is the reasoning of the hard heart. Whatever you save as against righteousness, justice, and love has no lasting in it: there is a ghost among the money. God's judgment or blessing rests upon the whole flock, floor, and winepress. The money saved from the man who had a right to it shall be lost. Do not imagine that God has abandoned all the commercial relations of life and handed over marts and exchanges to the dominion of the devil. The Lord still reigneth, and all history, interpreted by a Christian spirit, ends in this: that whoever endeavours selfishly to upset the divine regulation is never really the richer for the money he has stolen. We dare not spend stolen money: we are quite sure if we lay it down on the counter that the man who looks at it will see written upon it "This money was stolen." We dare not unroll the sheaf of stolen notes: in the very crinkle of the paper there is an accusation. Honest money goes far, and brings sweetness with it and light and hope, and a blessing full of unction may be asked upon the little loaf bought by the honestly-earned penny. Whatever we have let it be honest money, and then the more we have the more everybody else will have, for we shall be but trustees and stewards, sowing with both hands and reaping with both hands night and day. This is God's law; this doctrine lies at the very root of divine legislation and social economy.
All this would be interesting in itself, and would be full of holy and happy impulse as mere matter of history Hebrew, or Greek, or Roman; but the matter does not end there. The legislator is seen in the legislation. You find the mind of God in the law of God. What does God ask? He only asks what he has first given. The fourteenth verse proves this:
"...of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him." ( Deu 15:14 )
We do not create property; we do not create gold. It pleases us to think ourselves creators and proprietors, and it delights our misguided spirits to constitute ourselves into boards of directors and managers and comptrollers: whereas we have nothing that we have not received; a Voice sounds from heaven, saying, The gold and the silver are mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills; all souls are mine. God opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. God only asks what he has first given; the Giver condescends to become the Suppliant. Reading such legislation, how easy it is for us to believe that "God is love"! It required a highly spiritual Christian to put that revelation into words: "God is love" but all such sayings go back over the whole field of history, and express in their conciseness what all the best men have been long thinking. One of the greatest of our departed statesmen defined a proverb as "the wisdom of many, and the wit of one." So with this sentence, "God is love"; it is the instinct of many; it is the experience of many; it is the utterance of one. The Old Testament is as full of love as the New Testament. The legislation of Moses culminates in the redemption of Christ.
"And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today" ( Deu 15:15 ). The Israelites were frequently reminded, after their exode from Egypt, of the oppressions they endured in that "house of bondage" from which they had been delivered by the direct interposition of God. The design of these admonitions was to teach them justice and kindness towards their servants when they should become settled in Canaan (Deuteronomy 5:15 ; Deuteronomy 8:14 ; Deuteronomy 10:19 ; Deuteronomy 15:15 ; Deuteronomy 23:7 , etc.), as well as to impress them with gratitude towards their great Deliverer. The Egyptians had domestic servants, who may have been slaves (Exodus 9:14 , Exodus 9:20-21 ; Exo 11:5 ). But the Israelites were not dispersed among the families of Egypt they formed a special community. They had exclusive possession of the land of Goshen, "the best part of the land of Egypt." They lived in permanent dwellings, their own houses, and not in tents ( Exo 12:22 ). Each family seems to have had its own house (Exodus 12:4 ; comp. Act 7:20 ); and judging from the regulations about eating the passover, they could scarcely have been small ones (Exod, xii., etc.). They appear to have been well clothed ( Exo 12:11 ). They owned "flocks and herds, and very much cattle" (Exodus 12:4 , Exodus 12:6 , Exodus 12:32 , Exo 12:37-38 ). They had their own form of government; and although occupying a province of Egypt, and tributary to it, they preserved their tribes and family divisions, and their internal organisation throughout. The service required from the Israelites by their taskmasters seems to have been exacted from males only, and probably a portion only of the people were compelled to labour at any one time. As tributaries, they probably supplied levies of men, from which the wealthy appear to have been exempted (Exodus 3:16 ; Exodus 4:29 ; Exo 5:20 ). The poor were the oppressed; "and all the service, wherewith they made them serve, was with rigour" ( Exo 1:11-14 ). But Jehovah saw their "afflictions and heard their groanings," and delivered them, after having inflicted the most terrible plagues on their oppressors.
Almighty God, thou hast set apart a time for worship, and a place for the sacrifice of praise. This is the day the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it; this is the place where the Lord's name is recorded: here he will be and show himself unto those who lift up towards him eyes of expectation. We bless thee for the holy time, for the holy place, and for the holy book, a time that is separate, a place that is made a sanctuary, a book that stands above all other books, alone in its completeness and authority. May we understand these appointments, and respond to all their meaning: may the time be as a jewel among the days; may the place sanctify our habitations; may the book inspire and direct our thought and feeling and action. Thus, may we be the better not the worse for our meeting together in thy name: may we feel the mystery of sympathy; may we enter into the joy of fellowship; may we have communion one with another and with our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. Thus, united in thy love and worshipping at thine altar, we shall be prepared to endure the burden and the suffering of life, and to wait with expectancy and hope the day of thine appearing. We bless thee for the flowers in the wilderness, for water among the rocks, for a cooling breeze at noonday; for all the mercy and lovingkindness, so tender and abundant, which have followed us all the days of our life, and made it a time of sunshine and liberty. That we have not lived up to all this call of thine, enforced by providences so tender, and ennobled by a pathos so wondrous as the sacrifice of thy Son, is our bitterest complaint: we accuse ourselves; we know that we have come short in all things, and that we have offended against thee. But thy mercy is great to forgive as well as to provide; thy lovingkindness is a redemption as well as a providence; so we come to the Cross, owning our sickness of heart, our rebellion of will, our whole evil-mindedness, asking for the pardon of God. Comfort us according to our necessities; how many they are thou knowest, how bitter and sharp thou alone canst tell. Withhold not thy consolations: let thy solaces be more in number than our sufferings; then shall we magnify God in the house of our affliction. Regard our loved ones for whom it is our delight to pray. Some are not here: they are far away upon the sea, or beyond the sea, in strange lands, in difficult places; or they are in the chamber of sickness, or in the shadow of a great sorrow, counting their loss, and not able to find the gain which thou hast hidden amid its tears; the Lord look upon them, be tender and gracious unto them, comfort them with stimulus, that they may be stirred up to nobler service and not be allowed to sink under the burden of their grief. Make the old young; make the young glad with a double joy; and may business teach us that we are children of heaven and not of earth, of eternity and not of time, and that there are no good things to be found below which can satisfy the capacity of the soul.
The Lord hear us in these things: his attention shall be a. blessing; his condescending to listen shall be a help; and as for the reply the holy answer, the gracious response of Heaven will it be less than the Cross? Will it be more than the earth and time can receive? Will it be a surprise of benefaction? We know it will be worthy, of the name in which our prayer is prayed, and there we rest. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 15". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany