Click here to learn more!
Night and Day In Zion
The whole chapter is one of the most picturesque description to be found in all the record even of ancient prophecy. It is full of judgment, and it is full of gospel. The whole morning is darkened with locusts, yet at eventide there is light. Merely as an exercise in the pictorial art, were it nothing more, this chapter ought to stand amongst the masterpieces of literature. No man who had any regard to his own literary reputation could have written this could have written thus in such broad, startling, tragic contrast; he would have said, The rules of art require different treatment, so as to secure something like proportion; some respect must be paid even in fiction to the genius of probability. Here you have thunders, lightnings, tempests, all the winds of heaven let loose upon the shaking earth; and presently, apparently without sufficient cause, there is a great lull, the dark sky breaks out here and there into translucent blue, and presently the whole firmament glitters with light, gleams with tender beauty, and the earth seems to be lifted up to celestial altitudes, and, without the process of learning, to be able to sing with the angels. It will be worth while, from a merely literary point of view, to study this wondrous narrative mayhap we may find it to be more than literature; but the Lord will allow us to enter his sanctuary by many doors, even by the great public door above whose massive portals are written words of tender welcome and boundless hospitality, or by a little postern gate which we may be called upon to stoop before if we would enter with safety. The great thing to be done is to enter the sanctuary: no matter whether by the one door or by the other; to be in God's temple, to be seated at God's table, is the one thing needful.
The trumpet is lifted up this time in warning. Sometimes it is lifted up in festival. The trumpet will do one of two things; the performer must tell it what to do. So with every ministry, and every instrumentality of life and nature; it is the intelligent, responsive, directing man that must say what is to be done with the silver lute of spring, or the golden instrument of summer, or the cornucopia of autumn, or the great wind of winter that makes the earth cold and bleak. The trumpet will foretell a coming battle, or it will call to an infinite feast; the man behind it must use it according to the occasion. It is even so with the Bible. There is no trumpet like the Bible for warning, alarm, excitement, a great blare at midnight shaking the whole air with tones of alarm; nor is there any instrument like the Bible for sweetness, gentleness, tenderness, an instrument that talks music to the heart, and that assures human fear that the time of apprehension has passed away. Warning has always been given by the Almighty before his judgments have taken effect. Yet there has always been some measure of suddenness about divine judgments. The reason is that we cannot sufficiently prepare for them. We may know they are coming, we may tell even to a day when the judgment thunder will lift up its voice; yet when it does sound its appeal it startles and shocks and paralyses the world. Is the Lord going to sow the Cities of the Plain with the awful seed of fire and brimstone? Will he plough the land with lightning, and fill its furrows with this fatal seed? Will he hide from Abraham the thing which he doeth? Will he not call away the righteous from among the wicked, that they be burned not by the impartial and indiscriminating fire? Is the Lord about to make all heaven one water-cloud, and pour it down upon the earth in an avenging deluge? Is there not a prophet of the Lord in the midst of the people to tell that the rain is gathering, that a fountain is being fashioned that shall open its mouth in infinite torrents, and destroy the sinful world?
Yet, though the warning has always been given, it has always been despised. How few people heed the voice of warning! They call that voice sensational. Were the old preachers to return with their old hell they would have but scant welcome to-day. They were men of the iron mouth; they were no Chrysostoms, golden-throated and golden-lipped; they were men who, knowing the terrors of the law, withheld them not from the knowledge of the people, but thundered right mightily even beside the altar of the Cross. Now all this is in many instances ruled out as theologically behind the time, as from a literary point of view vulgar and odious, and as from a spiritual point of view detestable, and not likely to work in man mightily in the direction of persuasion. We become familiar with warning. No man really believes in the day of judgment. Many a man will assert it, probably few within the Church would care to deny it; many are delighted to hear it proclaimed; but who really, inmostly, with his heart's heart, with his soul's soul, believes that he shall have to give an account for every deed and word done and spoken in the flesh? There are some burdens we could not carry and do life's daily business. The Lord is very merciful herein, that he does not require us to carry all this weight of warning, all this thunder of doom; it is enough, if properly used now and then, to know that God has in his possession a glittering sword, and that he will judge the earth in righteousness; then the burden is lifted from us, and we go about the day's business with a little time to attend to the little day's comparative trifles. We have time for music and for innocent mirth, and for the reciprocation of offices that perish in the using; forasmuch as man, flesh and blood, created out of the dust, a wind, a creature that finds his metaphor in the flying shuttle, could not carry this burden of judgment day by day, night by night; his brain would reel under the weight, and in insanity he would find his only release
But the warnings given us by men are often partial, and are not unfrequently falsely directed. There is not a preacher in the world who could not make a great reputation by thundering against heterodoxy. The world loves such vacant thunder; the Church is willing to subscribe liberally to any man who will denounce the heterodoxy of other people. Men who are fattening themselves at the table of wickedness like the devil of heterodoxy to be tethered to the deepest hell; it does not disturb them, they are willing to pay tribute if by so doing they may pass another gate that opens into some wider liberty and finer licentiousness of action. We do not need such warning. There is nothing easier than to sit beside a glowing fire, with our feet plunged into carpets of velvet pile, and to dictate by the hour maledictions against earnest men who somehow have lost the sight of one eye, or momentarily the sight of both, and are groping as only blind men can grope after things essential and eternal. We have had enough of such warning in all ages; it is empty, blatant, pointless, often unjust and cruel, because based upon misunderstandings and misapprehensions. What we do want is, not to thunder warningly against mistaken speculation, but thunders sevenfold in loudness to be delivered against the current iniquities of the day. Let a man speak against wickedness, and he will be killed! Let any prophet, even fiery and fearless as Joel the prophet of the oven of the Lord, stand up and speak against drunkenness, gluttony, sharp practice, malfeasance, and that man will be invited to no smoking tables; he will be a death's-head at any feast to which he may have found unexpected and unwelcome access. Yet that is the warning which the age requires; and no man can give it and live. Speak against a false conception of the constitution of the Godhead, and there are rich men who will subscribe to your funds hundreds and thousands of pounds; stand up and declare that never will you permit a false theory regarding the inspiration of the Scriptures, and there are fat debauchees that will clap their gluttonous hands, and look out of their evil eyes all manner of approval; but assail iniquity, measure the wand and see if in its yard there be six-and-thirty inches, lift up the scales to know whether they are equal, search the candle of life with the fire of the Lord, and you will soon be crucified; no man will subscribe to your funds; you will be legalists, you will be moralists, you will be persons who do not understand the evangelical religion. Better be without the patronage of such men; it makes all work easy now, it takes the rust out of every hinge for the passing moment, but by-and-by the gain will burn the hand that takes it, and the man who has taken it will discover that though he has sat at the table of the Lord, his name is Judas Iscariot.
Warning is needed, but let it be of the right kind; warning is a needful element in every ministry, but deliver it at the right door. To hear some men stand up and claim to be the guardians of truth and orthodoxy and sound doctrine would distress the heart if it did not amuse the imagination. That men who are never troubled with an idea, brains that never saw heavens and creations and universes proceeding moment by moment fast as the seconds can fall from the fountain of eternity that such men should have patronised the Lord is an intolerable and inexplicable irony. We do not then deprecate warning, blowing of the trumpet in Zion; we simply ask that it be directed to the right end. Lycurgus was the noblest of Spartans; he was a rigorous disciplinarian; in some aspects he was the admired and all but idolised of his country; but when he denounced the misuse of its wealth, when he levelled his guns against the corruption of his day, he was stoned in the city that was proud of him, and had to seek refuge from common ruffianism behind the altar of the temple; his flesh was cut by the ruffians' cane, and whilst the blood ran down his noble face no word of reproach escaped him. Let any an reprove the iniquities of his day, thunder against the malpractices of corporations and all other institutions, and he will be struck in the face, he will be stoned on the streets, he will be hated in conversation, and the rich thieves that live to old age on their plunder will never subscribe to his funds. God be thanked! there is a redeeming point in their awful reputation.
The imagery of Joel is of the most vivid, exciting, and alarming kind. He still bases his vaticinations upon the desolating action of the fourfold and four-named locusts. The locust was a fact, and not a metaphor; yet though the locust was the direst fact in the history of the country, it was but a poor symbol of the corruption which had brought upon that country avenging hosts. If the chapter ended with the eleventh verse, it would be the volcano of the Bible; but from the twelfth verse another tone comes in and rules the wild turbulence into domestic music:
"Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." [John never wrote tenderer words; Paul never welcomed the people to the heart of Christ with larger and tenderer liberality of hopefulness and love.] "Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God?" (Joel 2:12-14 .)
That is the Gospel before the Christian era in the narrow historical sense. These words can never be displaced from the religious literature of the world until their spirit has been fulfilled. Men sing them, ministers preach from them, prodigals have their attention called to them, if haply their hearts may be subdued into penitential softness. "Rend your heart, and not your garments"; let your repentance be moral, not ceremonial; imagine not that God cares for torn robes, except they be torn in consequence of an inner agitation, yea, the very agony of self-reproach and self-distrust. Many would be prepared to rend a garment that would be a cheap sacrifice, withal it would be dramatic and pictorial; but the Lord will not have it so. The word of the Lord is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. "Rend your heart" that is the offender: "Rend your heart" that is the liar. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Repent in your souls; do not use words of repentance apart from the feeling of contrition. It is an evil thing that the lips should give hospitality to eloquent penitence when the heart does not feel the agony of contrition. By such familiarity we come to ruin; by such custom do we take the wonder out of God's miracles; yea, by such monotony do we destroy the infinite pathos of the Cross of Christ. "Rend your heart"; be sorry for your sin, not for its consequences. He cannot repent who says in the morning after his debauch he would he had been better last night, for his head to-day burns like a furnace. That is false reasoning and false morality, if the soul seek to avail itself of it as an appeal to God, instead of that profound vital conviction as to the sinfulness of sin, which alone can lead the heart to the Cross of the Son of God. There must be no church-going where the spirit is absent from the sanctuary; then church-going is a rending of the garment; there must be no lavish subscription to fill up the pit dug by the iniquity of men. "Rend your heart, and not your garments"; by broken-heartedness, and not by rags ceremonially manufactured, is the Lord of heaven to be appeased. This is the Old Testament. Verily it might be the New.
This gospel in the Old Testament, as well as in the New, is divinely offered, it is not humanly conceived: "Therefore also now, saith the Lord." All gospels come from heaven. All the flowers come from the sun. We grow nothing, as of the earth earthy, alone and exclusively. Every wee modest daisy in the sod was born really in the sun; it does but accept the sod as a cradle until its eyes are opened to look upon its true nativity. Every Christian word is a tone of supernal music; every great proposition that charms the imagination and creates new hope in the heart is a revelation from above. Nor must we read without emphasis properly directed and apportioned the words "thus saith the Lord." In English they amount to a mere statement; that is to say, a mere point in a passing incident. It is not so the word "saith" is used in the Hebrew tongue; as used originally, it signifies that it is the divine word, part of the divine essence, a symbol of the divine quality. "Thus saith" that is a token of authority; virtue has gone out of God and gone to redeem the world. There are those who say they must have a "thus saith the Lord" for everything; let them be careful lest they regard that form as a mere sign. There is nothing merely signal about it; when the honest man utters a word he utters his heart; when the sincere soul prays every syllable is as a drop of blood. When we have a "thus saith the Lord," the emphasis is to be thrown into the word "saith," for it indicates that the Lord's heart has moved out towards the children of men, and that the Lord's pity is announcing a gospel to prodigals.
In the fifteenth verse the trumpet is blown again:
"Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet." [And so the Lord is pleased to direct the people to pray and seek himself, and desire that their reproach may be taken away.] "Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?" (Joel 2:15-17 .)
Now we shall have a change of expression. From the moment that earnest prayers go up to heaven all the clouds will begin to disperse, and the rich blue sky will shine above the penitent returning earth. So we read, "Then will the Lord be jealous for his land, and pity his people." Not "the" land, as if it were a mere geographical district; not "the" people, as if they were any people; but "his" land and "his" people, touching the deepest, tenderest chord in the mystery of the divine nature.
"Yea, the Lord will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen" ( Joe 2:19 ).
But what has become of the land that the locust has desolated? All the green things have been eaten, Eden has been turned into a wilderness, the fig tree has been barked, the forest yesterday green with beauty is to-day like an army stripped naked, whose shivering shoulders are turned to the bleak wind.
"Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do springy for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed" ( Joe 2:21-26 ).
What a declaration is this! We thought the land was given over to night, and lo, the day-spring from on high hath visited it. We said, Summer is dead, and lo, in the very midst of the snows of winter the green things break through the earth, and birds begin to sing in the quiet air. "And my people shall never be ashamed." Twice are these words spoken, in Joe 2:26 and in Joel 2:27 ; and the words are spoken every day to every honest soul "my people shall never be ashamed." That is a word which the Apostle Paul himself used: I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; I am not ashamed to call the Saviour Lord. "If any man be ashamed of me and of my name, of him will I be ashamed when I come in my glory."
My people may be despised, misunderstood, reviled, put to all sorts of tests; but even this process shall end in their strengthening and in their purification. We cannot yet know how the awards will go personally and nationally, but we do know the great principles upon which divine issues will be determined; the sheep shall be set on the right hand and the goats on the left; good and faithful servants shall go up into many rulerships and into secure sanctuaries; unprofitable servants shall go into outer darkness. Lift up your heads, rejoice in the Lord; for his hand has been heavy upon you, and that pressure hath brought you to prayer; out of your prayer shall come God's great answer, and ye who have seen sevenfold night should rejoice with unspeakable joy in the dawn of eternal day. This is the miracle of the Cross; this is the triumph of God the Son. All this is the Gospel historically before Bethlehem, but not essentially. Essentially the Gospel is in Genesis essentially the Gospel is in first verse, first chapter of Genesis; essentially the Bible owes its existence to the Gospel. If there had been no Cross before the foundation of the world, and no Cross in the after eternity of heaven, there could have been no Bible. Christ is Alpha and Omega; First, Last, Midst; Ancient of Days; Child of yesterday.
Almighty God, thine eye is upon all men. There is nothing hidden from thy vision. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth. All things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in, are not these all known in heaven? The very hairs of our head are all numbered. What we have; what we have not; what use we make of our opportunity; how we carry ourselves in life; what is our innermost motive and thought and purpose are not all these known to him who is our Father and our Judge? If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; if we confess our sins, thou art faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Hear us when, with bent heads and humble hearts and contrite spirits, each for himself says, God be merciful unto me a sinner. May thy Holy Spirit dwell in each of us; may we know the mystery of the name and of the work of Christ; may we enter into the sorrow of his passion, that we may afterward enter into the triumph of his resurrection; may we really be in Christ, and show that Christ is really in us; may we stand at his point of view, may we drink in his spirit, may we look upon the times as he looked upon his own day; may nothing escape us that is for the good and the welfare and the progress of ourselves and of society. Fill us with the spirit of Christ's own charity; make us pure, true, gentle, chivalrous; may we be known for our good-doing, for our heroism in darkness, for our nobleness in the midst of degeneracy; may we be faithful servants, honest stewards, doing our day's work not as hirelings, but as men who love the labour. Amen.
Joel 2:28-32 .
This is a stage in the development of human history. The Lord never recedes; he continually and necessarily advances. His creation is succeeded by redemption; redemption is followed by sanctification; sanctification is completed by heaven and all that heaven means. There the imagination can fly no further; it must rest, and with closed eyes recall the wonders that have passed. A marvellous connection of words is this "my spirit" and "all flesh." The time will come when there will be no flesh; the body is but for a moment, it is a temporary hut on the road; it may be made for the time being the very house of God and temple of the Spirit, but the condemnation of death is upon it. Nor need the body be all flesh; it may symbolise a spiritual body, a mystical temple, and it may be so disciplined and overruled and chastened as to be the soul's companion and helpmeet. This is the conquest of Gethsemane, this is the victory of the Cross; it is a struggle that tries every energy, and destroys what it tries, unless every energy be inspired, nourished, and daily sustained by the Holy Ghost. A wonderful word, too, is this "all flesh"; whatever is expansive, inclusive, firmamental in its reach and majesty of sympathy and security is divine, and is characteristic of the divine rule. We are all the work of God's hands, and the work of his own hands he will never forsake. The Lord made us, and not we ourselves; so whether Jews or Gentiles, whether near at hand or far away, we are all under God's eye, we are all shaped by God's hand, we are all illumined by God's Holy Spirit. The time has been promised when the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Thus the Lord breaks down supposed partiality, and invidious preferences, and small and worthless elections, and goes forth in the majesty of his love to claim the universe. There is no waste land in God's creation; if any beasts have claimed it, or any fiends have sought to possess it, they will be destroyed, yea, they shall be driven away with double destruction, and all God's universe shall be beautiful as a flower, bright as a star. This is all to come. Yet, meanwhile, God has been doing everything that is indicative of the advance and consummation of this beneficent purpose.
This is not a separating spirit; old men and young men, and sons and daughters are all to be involved in this great baptism of divinest love. The official spirit separates itself from common life. The official man is daily tempted to commit the sin of contempt against the commonalty. It is difficult for the pulpit to be also the pew; yet the pew is as inspired as the pulpit. We speak of an inspired ministry; we should also speak of an inspired Church. The ministry is for the Church, not the Church for the ministry; we should look to the household of faith as the great elective and ordaining power. He who is not ordained by the priesthood of believers is not ordained at all, though a thousand prelates may have put their jewelled fingers on his barren head. Whatever tends to separate the teacher from the taught in any sense that breeds contempt is evil. The teacher is only a fellow student, an elder brother. Apollos, eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, must go to Priscilla and Aquila, and sit with them, and in their humble home talk over mysteries with which he, with all his eloquence and might, is but a novice. The inspiration of the Church is a grander conception than the inspiration of any class belonging to the Church. We prove our inspiration by the uses to which we put our gift by our charity, our nobleness, our sweetness of soul, our moral wholesomeness. It is useless to lay down parchments and papers bearing quaint old seals to prove our inspiration; we are not certificated, we are inspired, if we are truly in the kingdom of God. No man ever preaches to a congregation in which there are not men who know much more than he does. They may not know it along some particular line of which he is master, but they know by the heart, by experience, by a thousand instances that have passed before their critical eyes; they know the right from the wrong, the true from the false; they cannot be imposed upon by spiritual dross, they are well acquainted with the gold and the fine gold of the sanctuary.
This inspiration, observe, goes from old to young: "Old men shall dream dreams." Then they are not old men. There are no old dreamers the dream keeps the soul young; it has always a new colouring upon it, always a new tone ringing through it, always does it open a new outlook in the cloudy horizon. "Their young men shall see visions." That well becomes them. Passion does not dream; it sees heavens, figures, it has a gift and faculty for the turning of clouds into letters, and storms into speeches, and all nature into a library and a sanctuary of learning. Woe to the Church when the young men shall see no visions, when they are ox-eyed, when they look down into the pasture that they may take another mouthful of succulent grass! Honour to the nation, and great advance, when the young men see some brighter things, when they call out, Excelsior! higher, Meliora! better things yonder. Where the young men talk so you cannot keep a community permanently back. Dreams and visions are the real power of life. They are not so accounted, but because they are not so accounted they are not therefore divested of their spiritual significance and their spiritual power. It is the dream that rules; it is the vision white, ghostly, spectral outline, partly a thought, partly a thing, a shape without a shape that leads the sentiment and the ambition of the world. It is one of two things: it is inspiration coming down from above, or indigestion and evil suggestion coming up from within, from corrupt selfish desire, narrow and crude ambition. The Bible promises great things, brighter things, always grander things than we have yet seen. When we have heard the prophecy, we have said, This is the consummation of prophecy, there can be nothing beyond this; write Finis at this point, for this is the end. And lo, while our ignorance is thus drawing lines, behold, a new heaven opens, and a morning unprecedented in brightness dawns upon the world.
Everything is going on but the Church. The Church never does go on when it can stand still. The Church is cursed with the spirit of finality. By "the Church" understand not one section or denomination, but all sections, all communions, constituting in their entirety the so-called Ecclesia, the body religious, and the body spiritual, convened for the representation of God, and the affirmation of the laws of his kingdom. The Church is a coward; the Church dare not speak above its breath; the Church will be glad if you will allow it to sleep under the stars anywhere, anyhow. The power that should be inspired, and that should lead all politics, all learning, all science, all civilisation, will be very thankful if you will shake your tablecloth, and let it catch what crumbs it can We must never forget that God has been present in all ages; that inspiration is a growing quantity, but it has always been the gift of God to the race he made. Inspiration is not confined to this class or to that class; wherever there is a man, you find in that man something that indicates that he is immeasurably superior to the finest, strongest, noblest beast that treads the jungle; ay, infinitely more than the brightest winged bird, that seems to have some native right to go up to the sun, and ask him to speak in syllables of light. God has never left himself without witness. It may be questioned whether in many boasted departments of progress we are so far forward as were many ancient men. There was one Cimon, an Athenian, who lived in anything but a healthful national or civic atmosphere; but Cimon, the Athenian, gave orders to throw down all his fences and hedges, that the poor and the stranger might come into his garden and eat what fruit they wanted. Christians, particularly Quaker Christians, build very high walls, and make very fine speeches about other people's fruit. Seneca never heard of Christ, never was in the Church, as we understand that term, but he wrote with his pagan hand, "Wherever we are, God is; and wherever we are, the divine and the human are equally distant." Was that not an inspired thought? Said he, in geometric phrase, "Every point in the circumference is equally distant from the centre." Thus the Lord hath not left himself without witness in the world. Pericles never made a public speech without first making a private prayer to the gods; and his were poor gods, miserable dumb gods, that had no answer either to profanation or to reverence; yet such prayer did Pericles good. Every prayer does a man good. If a man should even in his ignorance pray to stock or stone, he will rise from his altar a stronger clearer-minded man, better able to speak in public, to fight battles, and to conduct the business of the nation. Prayer, though it be poured downward, if with an honest heart lifts the mind to a higher level. He who never prays never realises his fullest, broadest, noblest self. He who truly prays keeps the age under his feet; he goes out to fight and to win, and returns asking help, that he may bear his trophies safely home.
So the Lord hath had great compassion upon the race. We boast of our immediate civilisation. Until very recently, comparatively speaking, men could be taken up bodily, and put in gaol for debt in a Christian land, under a Christian sun, and under a Christian sovereign, and under all manner of Christian paraphernalia and pretension. The old Greek Solon abolished imprisonment for debt, and he never heard even of Congregationalism; so ignorant was he, and benighted, that he never heard of any of our modern denominations. Yet he was it by a spirit infernal or by a spirit divine? abolished bodily imprisonment for men who were unable to pay their debts. We have our institutions for the prevention of cruelty to animals; we think they are very modern, we praise ourselves for having invented a new authority. Pythagoras suggested the doctrine of the transmigration of souls in order that he might, in his day, and in his pagan darkness, prevent cruelty to animals; for, the pagan would say, we cannot tell what spirit is in this animal; in smiting this beast of burden we may be smiting some one whom we ought to honour and love. Sometimes the invention of a superstition may be turned into practical philanthropy. What do we more than others? How far have we carried this larger and diviner inspiration? Let us think of these things, and be at once humbled and instructed.
So the Lord will pour out his spirit upon the old man and the young man, and the sons and the daughters. Will he end there? Is this an invidious inspiration? Is this for the household circle only that eats at the same table, and gratifies its appetite under the same barren benediction? Nay, verily "And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit." We do not get the right meaning by thinking of servants in the modern sense of the term. The real word here is slaves. The Lord says, I will inspire slaves; I will not forget men whose clanking chains are heard in the field and in the prison-house. Slaves are men. This is the Bible, this is the book that is sometimes ruthlessly spoken against; this is the revelation of God. And that revelation was made to others; it was made to the same Seneca whose words we have just quoted. Writing to Lucilius his friend, he said, "I am glad that you are living on terms of familiarity with your slaves slaves? nay, men. Slaves? companions rather. Slaves? no, humble friends. Slaves? fellow slaves." These were the words of the old moralist; how much higher have we risen? We might have risen infinitely higher if we had accepted our day of visitation, and availed ourselves of the profounder and grander inspiration; but we are willing to pick up the crumbs, we are willing to sit anywhere. The Church knows nothing of politics; the Church ought not to meddle with business; the Church must be shut up in solitary confinement to sing its little hymns and prattle its little beliefs, and go out and forget them, to mingle with strenuous, tumultuous, perilous life. Whereas if this word of inspiration be true, and if this promise be ours, and if we are living under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the Church should be the uppermost power in society; it should lead all fashion, all sentiment, all art; I repeat, all civilisation. The Church should be so large as to make heresy impossible or absurd. The Church should not be geometrical, drawing its little circle, or its sharp-angled parallelogram, and saying, Within these lines you must live and move and have your being, and you can hang up on the walls of these lines whatever little idolatrous beliefs you care to have there, in chromo or in fresco, or in water-colours or oils; but you must not go beyond these lines. We who might have our picture on the heavens, we to whom the firmament is granted as a gallery, we, the living Church, dare not mention anything political; dare not refer to business; dare not rectify the yard-measure that is short, or the scales that are unequal; we can only nurse the doll orthodoxy, and take it out on Sundays in some ecclesiastical perambulator the Church that is promised inspiration, that the Holy Ghost longs to come into, to fill, to warm with fire, and to bless with light!
We read in one verse here of "the name of the Lord." We cannot understand what that means by looking at it in this plain English. "The name of the Lord" was a very significant word in the olden times. Elijah said, "Call on your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord." The real meaning is, The Lord is; I will call on the I AM, the Eternal Life, that throbs in all the universe, that breathes in the wind, that blooms in the flower, that burns in the star, that exalts itself in the immeasurable firmament, that thunders with the voice of many waters, around whom the lightnings gather themselves and say, Here we are. I will call upon the Essence. Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord in that sense, the I AM, the Triune, the Three-One, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, shall be delivered, shall be saved. We can never reconcile these things theologically, and get all men to accept them in terms and forms of expression; but the soul is larger than any body into which you can put it; the spirit cannot be confined within any cage of man's creation. There are times when we need God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost. We may not be conscious of that need every day; for some time, a long time it may be, we may lack the religious consciousness altogether, and nature is enough for us, and our bodily desires and temporal ambitions satisfy all we need; at other times we rise in the fulness of our immortality, and claim all heaven as a resting-place and as a sphere of service. At those larger times we need the Cross, the blood, the propitiation, the atonement, the mystery of the priesthood of Christ. Let us understand that only because Christ came has the Holy Ghost come; the Holy Spirit is the gift of Christ; he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear and see that shall he relate to the Church; he will show you things to come. If the Church received this gift of Christ, it would be prescient; it would read the future like an open volume, and its heart would be at rest.
Almighty God, teach us that thou art watching us in all our ways; may we accept this fact joyfully, knowing that if our ways please the Lord thou wilt make our enemies to be at peace with us. They that obey thee shall enjoy thy peace. May we through obedience become good scholars in thy school. Thou hast told us that if we do thy will we shall know thy doctrine; help us to obey, that we may learn, and thus to do and suffer that we may know all highest truth, all divinest teaching. We have begun at the wrong point; we have thought first to know, whereas we should have sought to obey, to do what little we can, to follow what light is already shining, and they that follow on to know the Lord shall ultimately enjoy his presence and his heaven. Thou didst send thy Son to die for us, and rise again, and now we hail him as our Intercessor, our Daysman between God and us, who knows us, who bare our sin, who carried our sorrow, and who understands our whole position. We put ourselves in the hands of Christ; for us they were nailed to the shameful tree. We will know thee through thy Son, and through thy Son we will offer our poor adoration to thee. We know that thou art a Rewarder of them that diligently seek thee; we feel thy presence in all things; we are assured that the earth belongeth unto the Lord, and that the history of man is a revelation of the purposes of heaven. Enable us to believe this, that we may have rest and security and great joy, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Be the refuge of our soul; be thou in Christ Jesus the Lord, the sanctuary of our spirit, into which we may run in the day of calamity, and in which we may hold sweet communion with thee when all outside is full of trouble. Thou knowest the way that we take, and when thou hast tried us thou wilt bring us forth as gold. Teach us that we are at school; show us that thy purpose through and through is one of love and care. Thou art nurturing us, and bringing us onward from stage to stage in an upward progress, thy meaning being that we shall find our way into the place prepared for us by the Son of God. We are frail, and weak, and weary; our hearts often ache, and our eyes are often blinded with tears, and our whole way seems wrapped in a dark cloud: in these experiences may we be able to say, Clouds and darkness are round about him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne; though he slay me, yet will I trust in him; if for a small moment he has forsaken me, with everlasting mercies he will gather me. Thus in great distresses may we realise thy great promises; in our hunger remind us that in our Father's house there is bread enough and to spare. Help us to read thy Word amongst men; enable us to see that the Cross is the central point of all history; the explanation of eternity on its human side; and to the Cross may we fly as men who are dying of thirst hasten to brooks, and streams, and fountains, and there may we find all that our soul needs, because we find cleansing from sin, pardon of iniquity, release from the remorseful past, and an assurance that all our discipline rightly accepted and sanctified shall end in the perfectness of our character. The Lord hear us at all times; the Lord sometimes answer us. Separate the chaff from the wheat, the folly from the wisdom; and thou wilt only answer those prayers that cry to thee for more light, more holiness, more likeness to thy Son. Amen.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joel 2". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany