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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Joshua 4

 

 

Verses 1-14

Memorial Stones

Joshua 4:1-3

THUS a memorial was to be set up, commemorating the power and goodness of God. The way of life should be full of such cairns. But is it not early in the history to be setting up stones of memory? The battle has not begun. Israel did not march forth to cross a river but to overthrow a city well-walled and hoary with antiquity. Is it not, then, rather early in the day to be building altars and to be setting up signs of triumph? It is in putting such questions as these that we show the littleness of our faith. In all great spiritual controversy the beginning is the end. The whole history is in one sentence. The entire history of the human race is in the first few chapters of Genesis; all the rest has been translation, variation, rearrangement of particles and individualities and colours; but the soul of the history is all there. With God the end and the beginning are one. To have crossed Jordan is to have torn down all the Jerichos that opposed us. One step is the pledge of another. The first miracle is the pledge of the last. He who turns water into wine at the beginning will raise himself from the dead at the end. The miracles are one. One miracle carries with it all the host of wonders. So it is in all the departments of properly-regulated and disciplined life. It is so in any properly-graduated system of education. He who has conquered one book has conquered all books. The reason why men do not conquer the third book is that they have not conquered the first. No student can set himself heart and soul to the mastery of the First Book of Euclid without therein and thereby mastering the next and the next, until the very end. There must be no paltering, no half and half work, no touching the labour with reluctant and dainty fingers, but a real tussle, a tremendous wrestling, at the first. Jordan passed, Jericho shall totter and fall. Why is the Church so hesitant and uncertain in its movement? Perhaps because it does nothing firmly and completely; it may not have mastered its first principles; it may have considered itself altogether too advanced in life to trouble itself with elementary theologies and considerations, but so considering it will never take any Jericho. The place of evil will have faces at every window smiling upon its furious feebleness. The devil will open his idol-temples shoulder by shoulder with any cathedral or minster we can build; he says—These people did not perform the first miracle: they never got through Jordan; they are still splashing in the waters that lave the brink of the channel; they are not complete students, they are not well-equipped thinkers; they have nothing in their hearts they are quite sure about; they are changing all the time,—now it is a great argument which none can comprehend, now it is a radiant cloud on which no man can satisfy his hunger, now it is an elaborate and pompous programme without a beginning and without an end and without any reason for its existence at all;—these people will never fight me; if they could but get hold of one thing and be perfectly certain of that my days would be numbered, but they have nothing in the possession of certitude; they call themselves "honest doubters" and "patient inquirers," and whilst they are doubting and inquiring I am digging hell miles deeper. Could we but really read one book of the Bible, could we but hold one Gospel in our hearts, could we but get hold of something and say, This one thing I have and know and use,—all the rest would come in happy sequence. So it was not too early to set up a cairn on the one side of the bank and on the other side of the bank. We must have memorials in life. If we do not set up stony memorials we shall still leave footprints. Every man has his history, and every man has had his opportunity and has left behind him a record as to its use or abuse. Blessed is the life that is full of memorial stones! It ought never to be far back to the last one; and if whilst we are building the next one the enemy should suddenly come down upon us in some black suggestion, in some terrific temptation, we should flee back to the memorial last put up, and, under the shadow of that Ebenezer, calmly await the future. Why this unbuilt life? Why this life without any pillar of stone or temple behind it? What wonder if in turning round and seeing nothing a great fear should seize us, and we should suppose that we had been given over to the enemy of souls? There should hardly be one step between one memorial stone and another, so that we may instantly retire for a moment to recruit our strength and renew our hope and confidence in God. How mean are some lives in this matter of erecting no memorial; no diary is kept, no journal is posted up, no entry written, it may be in a trembling hand, but yet setting forth the formula: The true God was with me today; he helped me to cross the river, he enabled me to run through a troop and to leap over a wall; and though I can scarcely read the words yet I will inscribe them every one and come back to them as to a Bible and to a revelation. Men who live in times of haste say they have no leisure for such enterings. The enterings need not be literal: we need not be talking about material paper and ink, but about the tablets of the heart, the records of the memory, always having a vivid recollection of the last deliverance, the last vision, the last mighty prayer, the last sublime victory. There is no other way in which to make life rich and thoughtful. When accused, we should be able to flee back to God"s last record; when tempted to disbelieve him, we should go back to the last fact. Our life should not be a mysterious argument, in the processes of which we may be vexed and troubled by subtler intellects than our own: life should be its own fact, its own confirmation of spiritual truths, its own sanctuary, its own refuge. Have the witness in yourselves. Do not wait for posterity to build the cairns; build your own memorials. Posterity will come and read them, but we might build our own altars, set up our own standards and unfurl our own banners, and accept the responsibility, as we have received the reward, of our own religion. So building we should crowd out all unworthy houses. We should want every inch of land. The whole earth would be filled with the divine presence and glory. Every room in the house would be a church; every window in the dwelling would look towards the Jerusalem that is above; every chair would be an altar;—the whole dwelling would burn with unconsuming fire. We cannot, then, begin too soon. The moment the first conviction is wrought in the mind, build a stone memorial; the moment you are conscious of having taken the first real step in advance, build; vow never to retire behind that building, for it begins your best history, it points towards your broadest, brightest future.

We have spoken of posterity. The cairn was to be a sign among the Israelites:—

"That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever" ( Joshua 4:6-7)

History should be matter of interest to all men, and in all history we should be able to identify Providence with the past and to speak of the wonders of the days of old. Here there ought to be no mystery and no doubt. The wonders of redemption may lie far from our intellectual grasp, but the goodness of providence should lie quite handy to every man. Every intelligent man should be able to say—Be the mysteries what they may, it is perfectly certain that this life of ours is bound, limited, directed: its ambitions are checked, its blood-thirstiness cannot go beyond a certain range; it is watched;—at all events that is the best explanation of life which we have yet discovered; it is so near being almighty, and yet so near being powerless: now it stands upon some eminence as if it would be lord of all, and presently it overreaches itself and falls down in utterest humiliation; we are watched, barred in, shut up. We go certain lengths as if we could go ten times farther, and, lo, in a moment, a great wall of darkness asserts the limit and defines the prison. On this matter of Providence there ought to be no uncertain sound. It is not supposable that any life amongst us has not within itself elements sufficient for the construction of a practical argument on behalf of a living, loving Providence. But are there not many broken lives, sad hearts, perplexed souls? Unquestionably there are; but there are men who have seen God even in darkness and have acknowledged his hand even amid the chastening of affliction; there are men who have said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." There was one singer so valiant in spiritual music that when all nature seemed to be given up to silence and despair he said, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom... I will joy in the God of my salvation;"—my religion is not an affair of abundant herbs and plentiful harvests and green meadows: I live in the sanctuary of God"s love, and as a child adopted into his family I will sing as loudly in winter as in summer: I will make up for the inhospitableness of the desert by the loudness and sweetness of my song. So we must not retire upon our desertions, difficulties, broken-hearted-nesses, and say, Whoever may have arguments, we have none. It is possible for ruins to be so shaped and so left as to excite inquiry, touch commiseration, and awaken reverence.

Thus miracles were to be brought within the lines of history: the time was to come when men would speak about miracles as they would speak about the commonplaces of life. The miracle is very startling at first, but there comes a time when men can write about the miracles with hands that do not tremble, with a certitude in which there is no flutter. At first they amazed and stupefied: we questioned their possibility; but by living along that line, moving steadily step by step along that course, we come to a period when we can write about a miracle as if it were a common occurrence, when we can sing the sublimest poetry as if it were glorified prose, when our prayer gradually ascends into praise. Do not, therefore, be deterred by men who ask questions about the miracles, and especially by those men who have proved to their own satisfaction that miracles are impossible. There is nothing so impossible to my imagination as the existence of a man who can deny miracles. He indeed is an enigma in the course of my reading. How he can have unmade himself, choked the angel within him, suffocated the infant spirit,—how he can have been guilty of this infanticide I cannot tell: I must leave him to be expounded by-and-by. Meanwhile, my own life springs up into a daily miracle—a miracle every moment, a day crowned with wonders; and the time comes when we speak about these things as if they were commonplaces—not in the sense of being unsuggestive or unworthy of heed, but in the sense of being so abundant that we have come to regard them with reverent familiarity, and to expect them as men expect the miracle of the harvest. Yes, the miracle of the harvest! The seed is sown and left in the cold earth, but the whole chemic ministry of nature works upon it: the dew and the rain; the morning does its work, and the evening continues its labour; and by-and-by the seed springs up some thirty, some sixty, some an hundredfold, without a stain of earth upon it, pure as if it had grown downwards from the sky,—a great golden answer to the prayer of industry. Miracles! The air is full of them, life throbs with them. We have been so blind that we have not seen them, or so fond of doubt that we have questioned their possibility. If we were to live in God we would live as God, and the coming and the going of nature—the perpetual miracle—would be the perpetual rest. O that men were wise, that they understood these things! This was the Church of sacred romance. We have left romance out of the history of the Church now. It is a question of surface, of bulk, of statistics, of movable figures. Would God the day of sacred romance would return when great things were attempted and great things done in the name of the Almighty God!

There is a Jordan before every one of us. That Jordan must be passed. We call it Death. We speak of it as the black last river. We talk of it sometimes as in swelling indignation and fury, and ask what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? To the Christian, Jordan is already past. In a material, physical, and limited sense the little conquest has yet to be won, but in all its spiritual significance and glory Jordan is dried up, and they who are in Christ Jesus, the great priest of the everlasting covenant, walk through the bed of the river as upon dry ground. This is our Christian confidence, this is our spiritual hope, this is our standing in life. Death is abolished. The miracles have been completed in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. All that follows will follow like a cadence, without effort,—a sweet necessity, the logic of poetry.

Prayer

Almighty God, thou art always drying up rivers before us, or Red Seas, or beating down mountains, or making straight that which is crooked. Thy love is a daily concern for us, leaving nothing untouched and unblessed, but covering the whole sphere of our life as with summer sunshine. We bless thee for thy love, for we live in it. Thy love encourages us, inspires and sustains us, and makes the wilderness into a fruitful field. We know thy love in providence: we see it everywhere every day; but we see thy love most of all in the Cross of Jesus Christ, thy Song of Solomon , and looking upon the Cross we say, Herein is love; and we hear thy voice saying thou didst so love the world as to create and glorify this Cross. At the Cross we bow; at the Cross we wait; here is forgiveness and here alone. This is the beginning of a new life, this is a gate opening upon eternal blessedness. We therefore glory in the Cross of Christ, and have no other glory, by reason of its celestial majesty. It is the voice of God to the pleading of Prayer of Manasseh , the answer of mercy to the demand of law. May we love the Cross more and more, dying upon it with Christ, with Christ buried, with Christ rising, crowned, and sharing his throne. May this be our life-word; may this be the speech of our tongue and the testimony of our conduct, that we live, yet not we, but that Christ liveth in us, and that the life which we now live in the flesh we live by faith on the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. As for rivers, thou didst make them flow, and thou canst make them cease; as for the desert, it is of thine own ordination, and thou canst turn it into a garden more beautiful than paradise. About these things we have no fear; we are in God"s hands and God"s love. What fear we have relates to sin, guiltiness of soul, forfeiture of sonship and standing in the family of God; and herein where our fear abounds, the glory of thy love abounds still more, so that we have yet hope in the prison-house, and are assured that our sins, which are many, are all forgiven us. In this faith we live; in this faith we serve; in this faith we would die. Amen.


Verses 13-15

Signs of the Times

Joshua 4:13-15

"We have no such visions now" may be the easy comment of men who walk by sight and not by faith. Everything depends upon what you mean by "vision." Jesus Christ said—How is it that ye cannot discern the signs of the times? Jesus Christ saw signs. All men whose eyes are set in their head see tokens, omens, and prefigurations of many kinds and full of urgent suggestion. We should see more if we looked more. He who looks sees. But there is a looking which is not seeing—a casual inspection, a hurried glance, a superficial regard scarcely to be distinguished from utter unconcern. We should put things together; we should follow facts until they become laws. This indeed is the only way of finding out laws—namely, to gather facts together from every quarter, facts of every quality and every degree; fearlessly bring together whatever has been established in the way of fact, and then when the evidence is thus as nearly complete as our time can make it, the inference which we draw from this collation will have of necessity the authority and force of a law. We must not judge by one fact, nor must we betake ourselves to any special field and say—all the facts we require are to be found within the four corners of this particular plot. All facts must be recognised, admitted into the great composition, and from the whole of them we must bring those inductions which settle themselves into law, until still larger facts are brought in to displace them or give them newness of accent and value. The "man" is still standing over against us. Nothing has been lost of all that is morally significant in this apocalypse. We have been looking in the wrong direction, or we have not been looking with sufficient eagerness, or we have failed before the spirit of languor, having succumbed to its lull; and so we have lost our hold upon the age and all its forces. There is a man (visible to the spiritual eye) standing in this day or in that day over the whole continent with a drawn sword. It is the day of war. We shall hear presently, when we see such signs, the clash of battle. All the uneasiness, restlessness, discontent, unholy ambition with which we are made familiar from time to time, being interpreted means that the war spirit is ahead, is animating the sentiment of nations, is troubling the peace of the world. Thus we can find out from the journals of the day what figure it is that presides over the fortunes of the hour; but we must bring, let us repeat, steadily and fearlessly, facts from every quarter, and shape them into this Prayer of Manasseh , that we may through facts know his name, his figure, and his purpose. Account for it as we may, "coming events cast their shadows before." There is a spirit regulating and directing all things, and we may see with considerable clearness of vision what the spirit of the age is if we will only open our eyes and look at events and chasten our hearts, and study them with religious constancy. Sometimes the figure changes into quite another expression. The man is the same, but he is bent on other work. The sword has gone. What has he in his hand now?—a plomb, square, balances, weights,—what means he? He says he will rectify things; he will reform, and he will reconstruct; he will have justice done; he will apportion things on another principle: he will carry up justice to generosity, and regulate generosity by justice; he counts the flock and says, There is one wanting, and that one must be found. He audits the accounts of the day and he says, Every man has not had his due; some have worked and have not reaped the reward of their labour, and the cry of the labourer has entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, That is the image of reform, which has displaced the spectre of war We can easily see that figure through all the agitations and sudden movements and violent and even spasmodic and disastrous efforts of the times. We must not construe such events too harshly or too narrowly. Within themselves and within easily given limits they are bad and they are only to be condemned; but all these upheavals have a history, and we cannot judge of the immediate event except in the atmosphere which is historical. We must know what happened generations ago. There is no event which belongs merely to the passing twenty-four hours: hence the rashness and imperfectness of our judgment. Now this spirit which is in the air from time to time, standing over against doomed cities and doomed institutions, can easily be distinguished if we ask the meaning of the things that are going on round about us. It will not do to shut our ears and say, We hear nothing; to close our eyes and to say, Behold, all is in peace. We must face the spectre; we must look at the image of the time; we must not fear the form which is standing over against a nation, or a continent, or the world. Blessed is he who can fearlessly ask the meaning of that presence and interrogate it as to its purpose. They are short-sighted men who hurry to their own houses, enclose themselves within their own quarters, and say, every fire is as bright as their own, every table is well-laden, and every house is well-cared for. How is it ye cannot discern the signs of the times? Rightly discerning them, you will be patient with many of their features. They are irritating, exasperating; they have about them at first sight an aspect of injustice, and in their assertion there may be more clamour than music; but we must see the reality within the appearance; we must penetrate the environment if we would understand the soul of the age. Now another spirit comes over the times. What is the man like who now holds dominion over the current thought of the age? He has no sword; he has in his hand,—books, written leaves, scrolls; his eyes are deeply set in his head, his head is bent in an attitude of study, perusal, meditation akin to worship. What means that man? He says—I will have all the people well-informed: every child on the face of the earth shall be taught to read and write and think; knowledge is power, knowledge is self-control,—I will not rest until the institution of ignorance is thrown down and the Jericho of superstition is destroyed; the people shall be taught, and when they are taught—well-taught and fully taught—all tyrannies will go down—priestly, social, imperial; and the Son of man shall come—the glorious and complete humanity: the very Christ of God shall be realised in the newly-constructed race. Are there not times when this is perfectly evident? We say, the day is given up to the work of education. That is too short and superficial a way of accounting for things. The spirits do not come and go by some rule of mere whim or fancy. There is a purpose in the ages, a method in the infinite government of things. Now the man has a sword; now he weighs with the balances of the sanctuary; now he cries, Come, and be taught; come, and read and think, and chasten your life by the spirit of knowledge:—how long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, and ye fools hate knowledge? We must accept the spirit of the times, and work according to its inspirations. We cannot double one age over another, or turn the ages backward to catch some ancient spirit; every day has its dawn, its own particular meaning, its own special and definite opportunity; and blessed is he who can read the spectres in the air so as to make out the purpose of their coming and the end of their revelation. Who does not see in our own day another attitude and expression of the same spirit? What is the man doing now? He has no sword, no balance, no book, we can see: they are still within his reach; but now what does he? He weeps: he is in sorrow. He does not shed tears for himself but for others:—"Jesus wept." What spirit is it that rules the age? A spirit of pity, compassion, tenderness; a spirit that has heard the sighing and crying of all earth"s weary trouble, and that bends over the suffering creation with infinite compassion. Now every one is trying to alleviate distress, to make homes glad, to bring in the erring and far-straying one. The great question Isaiah , What can be done to chase away poverty, to make the sad happy, to dry the tears of sorrow, to plant flowers on the tomb of mortality? "Can ye not discern the signs of the times? "Why should we attempt to change those signs when they are providential writing, every day having its own duty, and its own vocation, and its own opportunity? Blessed is that servant who can hear the footfall of his Lord"s coming, and understand somewhat of the signs of the times, and who is not trying to do something that was quite in place five hundred years ago, but who is answering the call of this very morning with instancy of obedience and with absolute consecration of love. Live in your own day; express the spirit of your own time; be fearless; "Quit you like men."

The right reading of these signs brings us into a sure and blessed consciousness of a spiritual presence. We begin to feel that things are ghostly, rather than material. There is matter enough on which the broad hand can lay itself, and about which there can be no dispute; but the more we put history together into shape and form, and watch it assuming its true colour, the more we begin to say, Surely God is in this history and I knew it not; this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. We have missed the spirit. We have thought things were all living according to some rule of their own, without relation, without responsibility one to the other; we looked upon things as constituting a kind of seething chaos; but the more patient, the more highly chastened we are in mind, the more sober in understanding, and the more fearless, the more do we see that—account for it as we may, or not account for it at all—there is a spirit that rules, and guides, and directs everything. The chariots of God are twenty thousand in number. In what chariot he will come tomorrow, none can tell. It is not for us to say whether this or that chariot is God"s. The number baffles us; we cannot read a record of the whole. God will come into his own universe as it pleases him.

When we are in great religious moods, in sublime spiritual ecstasies, in immediate and vital touch with God, we are not afraid to adopt apparently impracticable measures in carrying out the purposes of righteousness and wisdom. What could be more ridiculous, from a purely military point of view, than the directions given for the capture and overthrow of Jericho? They had no relation to the event. On the face of them, from a military point of view, they were absurd:—the carrying an ark around the walls of the city, walking round the city day by day for seven days, blowing a loud blast of trumpets,—and the wall should fall, and the city should surrender! We are quite prepared for the mocker to enjoy himself over such an absurd proposition. But what is absurdity? The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. We cannot always judge things by appearances. We ourselves are often startled by the want—apparent, at least—of adaptation of means to ends. Life is carried by surprises; the whole scheme of things is made remarkable by sudden incomings and new interpretations and positions. To describe great historical events as in any measure absurd, is to approach the danger of self-idolatry by exalting personal judgment above the occurrences of ancient or modern times. The religious method may always be called impracticable. It is very slow; it does not seem to work with any immediate effect. What can be duller, slower, than what is generally understood as teaching? Yet it is by teaching that the kingdom of heaven is to be prepared for,—sitting down with men and communicating ideas to them, endeavouring to touch their higher natures, to move their mental springs, to bring their whole mental life into relation to other and unfamiliar truths. It is a very slow method. One gleam from heaven"s own midday would startle the world more surely! Why not this sudden outburst of intolerable glory? Because there is no lasting in it, no power of duration and sustenance. Men cannot live upon such visions. Men are so constituted that they can only live upon knowledge, truth, conviction, moral persuasions, ideas that vitalise and ennoble their whole nature. The apostle is said to have spoken of "the foolishness of preaching." That is a sentence very often misunderstood. The apostle was not speaking of the foolishness of preaching as an art and practice, because he was addressing himself to men who valued eloquence above all other gifts; he was speaking of the foolishness of the thing that was preached—the foolishness of the Cross: the idea that a dying man was to be king of the universe; that a slain victim was to sit upon the eternal throne, judging and directing all things in righteousness and love. The apostle represents in his epistle to the Corinthians the very picture which we have in relation to the capture of Jericho. Things that are not, are employed to bring to nought things that are. Foolish things, little things, contemptible things, are used by the hand almighty to shake down towers and walls and temples and capitals, and bring them to nought before the throne of righteousness. Thus religion is not afraid of the impracticable—at least, of what may appear to be impracticable to those who look only upon the surface. Religion has never been afraid to claim prayer as one of its very pillars—the signature of its very power. What can, from the outside, be more futile and ridiculous than to be speaking into the vacant air—to exclude all living things upon the earth, and to speak to one we have never seen, and pour our heart"s penitence, woe, hope, into an ear we cannot detect amid all the clouds which float through the heavens? Yet religion says, "Continue instant in prayer;" you have no other hope; there is a throne accessible; heed not the voices that mock you; you cannot pray without being the purer for the prayer; the words of prayer cleanse the mouth that uses them; the desire expressed in prayer purges the heart in which it burns,—"pray without ceasing." So religious men ought not to be deterred by apparent impracticableness; by the mocker, who has but two hands, and wants to use them both in great impetuosity; by the giber and sneerer, who wants all things done today. We are content to follow in the wake of Jesus Christ. If we had faith as a grain of mustard seed, we would exercise great sovereignties; we would kill the wolf of hunger long before he came to our door; we would be full of wealth within, without a coal in the grate, or a crust in the cupboard; we would have triumphed over death ere yet we had seen his ghostly figure. Besides, processes may be long, and results may be brought about in startling suddenness. We have read of a place not far from the city of New York which was called Hell"s Gate, a dangerous place for navigators,—in fact, practically an impassable gate. What was to be done? It was to be attacked with the slowness of Wisdom of Solomon , with the calmness of science; men must go down into that great rocky region nine acres in extent; they must pierce the rock, and fill the cavities with dynamite. Month by month they must work at that and come slowly up, and still Hell"s Gate defies the navigator. The year passed, and another year, and still the process goes on. Science says, Be calm, industrious; the process is very tedious; we do not wonder that men are weary with waiting; but continue the work, stroke by stroke, day by day. Now you are within a month of closing your labours,—now but one little week remains,—now tomorrow all you can do in that preparatory direction will be done. A strange hush falls upon the interested public. What is to be the issue? See, the rocky gate still remains; there it abides to mock the scientific engineer; facts are against him: the rock has been hammered, tunnelled, pierced, charged with dynamite; but it is still there, and not a ship dare come near. The scientific engineer knows more than the ignorant public. He says, I think we are ready now, and tells his own little girl, far off, to touch a tiny knob and communicate an electric spark according to his directions. The spark is communicated, and the nine acres of rock, and all the water floating over them, are heaved two hundred feet into the air in the twinkling of an eye,—rent, torn, never to be put together again; and it will require some two years or more to take away the rent stones. So there is a period of waiting, a period of preparation, a period of clearing out; but who can tell what sudden things may occur anywhere—in cities, in states, in doomed laws? What we are doing now, if we are wise servants of the King, is to go down morning by morning to our work—preaching the gospel, teaching the young, standing up in living testimony for righteousness: and the Lord will suddenly come to his temple. Blessed is that servant who shall be found waiting, watching, working. We have nothing to do with the communication of the electric spark; that is in the hands of God. Hope on, work on; who can tell when the end may be? Yet now and again on the road we are blessed with visions which give us comfort and encouragement. In1832the most celebrated naturalist in the world, our illustrious countryman Charles Darwin, went round the world in a ship called the Beagle. The diary of that circumnavigation is full of abiding interest. The great naturalist called at Tierra del Fuego on the South American coast. His description of the people of that part of the world is full of horror; he says he never saw such people. They represented the very lowest type he had ever seen of humanity. They were savages of the worst degree and quality. No civilised man dare approach that awful place; the figures of the people were shocking to behold; their habits were not to be described in language. The naturalist left them, supposing them to be beyond the reach of civilisation. This is the testimony, not of a missionary, but of a naturalist—a man supposed to be without religious emotion. One day a little babe was found lying on the streets of Bristol, in very deed a foundling, without known father or mother, or friends, a. little crying thing in all the wilderness of life—"Oh, it was pitiful!—near a whole city-ful, home it had none." The day on which it was found, by a constable, was St. Thomas"s Day; so the infant was called by the name of the dead Thomas. The child was found in a place which lay between two bridges of the city, so was called Thomas Bridges. The little foundling was lodged in the workhouse, and brought up on the public bounty. Years came and went, and the boy, now a young Prayer of Manasseh , longed to be a missionary. He offered his services to the Church Missionary Society; having special work in that part of the world which we have just described in the language of Darwin, he went out, not fearing what might befall him. The gospel is heroic; it has never been terrified. He went amongst the people, lived amongst them, heard their curious vocal tones, put them into shape, created a language for the people, interested them in these forms which he had traced with his own hand, taught them to read the forms and understand them,—every day living in peril of his life. He translated part of the story of the Saviour"s life, and got the people to read it in the Yah-gan tongue. They read it, understood a little of it, were melted by it, and they wanted to read still further; and the missionary translated more of the Blessed Word into the tongue which he may be said to have created, and the people read, and were subdued and civilised and christianised; and the facts were brought before the great English naturalist, and he—honest, fearless soul, pure and noble in every instinct—instantly subscribed to the Missionary Society, one of whose agents had wrought, under God, this stupendous change. The English Admiralty had issued orders that that part of the coast was not to be approached by their ships; hearing of the change that had taken place, the orders were recalled, ships were allowed to go to visit and to trade there. What wrought that mighty, wondrous change? Let us be honest; let us be fearless. It was the Gospel of Christ. Agnosticism did not do it; Secularism did not do it; Rationalism did not do it: the heroic Cross did it; Christ did it. It was impracticable as to its mechanical arrangements, laughable, absurd, contemptible; but it was done.

Amen, amen!

The following is an extract from a graphic account of the destruction of Hell Gate Rock, which appeared in the New York Times the day after the explosion:—

Over nine acres of obstructing rock formed the barrier which was yesterday destroyed. Just21 ,670 feet of tunnelling, in galleries whose floors lay from50 to64feet below mean low tide, with walls from10 to24feet thick between them, and supported by467 columns of rock, each15 feet square, had been charged with cartridges filled with explosives. In an instant the tremendous convulsion of an explosion reaching through those four miles of galleries tore the solid rocks asunder, and hurled them in broken masses into the waters of the river. And when those shattered pieces have been gathered up and taken away by the dredgers, Hell Gate will have lost its dangers, and the wrinkled front of navigation through the Sound will have been smoothed into an inviting smile. Ocean steamers will find26 feet of good, clear water over the once treacherous bottom, and a new highway will be open for the commerce of the world.

People held their breath. Eyes were strained and riveted on the bare brown rock. There was a death-like silence. No one saw her, but over on the Astoria shore a young girl, the daughter of General Newton, was preparing to free the imprisoned forces. Nine years ago, when but a prattling babe, her tiny finger had performed the same office. Then she could not know what she did. But yesterday what did she think?

Away it flew, that viewless spark, to loose three hundred thousand chained demons buried in darkness and the cold, salt waves under the iron rocks. A deep rumble, then a dull boom, like the smothered bursting of a hundred mighty guns far away beyond the blue horizon, rolled across the yellow river. Up, up, and still up into the frightened air soared a great, ghastly, writhing wall of white and silver and grey. Fifty gigantic geysers, linked together by shivering, twisting masses of spray, soared upward, their shining pinnacles, with dome-like Summits, looming like shattered floods of molten silver against the azure sky. Three magnificent monuments of solid water sprang far above the rest of the mass, the most westerly of them still rising after all else had begun to fall, till it towered nearly200 feet in air. To east and west the waters rose, a long blinding sheet of white. Far and wide the great wall spread, defying the human eye to take in its breadth and height and thickness. The contortion of the wreathed waters was like the dumb agony of some stricken thing.

For a trembling moment the sublime spectacle stood sharp against the sky, like a mighty vision of distant snow-capped mountains. Then down, down, and still down the enormous mass rushed with a wild hissing, as if ten thousand huge steam valves had been opened. The yellow waters of the river were riven and torn into immense boiling masses of white foam. Great waves, ten feet high, rolled outward. Big streaks and spots of deep brown mingled with the white and made ominous shadows under the silver lights. All around the rocks the river swirled and rolled and leaped upward, like the whirlpool of Niagara. A dazzling yellow cloud—the pent-up gases of that subterrene convulsion—spread over the spot. Then it widened and turned to a brilliant green, then to a faint blue, and floated slowly away toward Astoria. Showers of spray fell like summer rain through the air, and returned to the river. The big hoisting apparatus over the shaft had toppled over and lay broken and smashed on its side. It had not risen into the air. Not a stone was seen to go upward. The wall of ghost-like waters was unbroken. And when the spray had sunk down, and the waters of the river, filled with brown mud, lay boiling around the site of the great explosion, there lay the old rock, torn into myriads of pieces and scattered with debris—a ragged, smoking, dun-brown mass. Troja fuit (Flood Rock was).

A hundred steam whistles broke into a shriek of triumph, and cheers were heard on every side. Then the oarsmen in the rowboats bowed their backs, and the steamers opened up their valves, and all hands on the water hastened to the scene of the explosion. All around the place the water was turned to a dirty brown by the upheaval of the bottom of the river. The foam was still bubbling, nearly ten minutes after the explosion. Thousands of pieces of wood, mingled with marine weeds and myriads of dead fish, killed by the shock, were floating down into the East River. Wide sheets of feathery scum, such as may be seen along the seashore after a gale, were lying on the surface of the water. It was all a dingy brown, tinted with the colour of the riven rock and earth. Among the foam and scum floated quantities of fine, yellowish powder, which looked like sawdust. It was the material of which the covering of the cartridges was made. As more than75 ,000 of them had exploded, the quantity of this powder was not surprising.

"The survey," says General John Newton, the engineer, "will occupy two or three weeks, and when that is completed, and the necessary advertisements can be published, the work of removing the broken rock will begin. This will occupy two or three years... and will probably cost $500 ,000.... The channel Isaiah , to all intents and purposes, practically doubled, and, when the rock is removed, will be fully1200 feet in width, as compared with600 feet, its present dimensions. New York can get along very well without the removal of the other rocks and reefs in the Hell Gate basin, and, if necessary, a new entrance for ocean steamers is afforded. At certain stages of the tide they can come in through the new channel without any trouble whatever, and with very little trouble at any stage of the tide. The principal difficulty of Hell Gate Channel will hereafter not be on account of its width or depth, but will be due to the crowded nature of the thoroughfare. There will be fully26 feet of water, and, when all the debris is removed, probably more."

I reprint this account because of its suggestiveness in many spiritual directions.

Prayer

Almighty God, we would do everything according to thy will. Do thou settle everything for us, and simply entrust us with thy commandment. Not our will, but thine, be done. We would have no concern except with the dignity and sacredness of thy purpose, our hearts" desire being that thy will should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. To this end do thou grant unto us daily the comforting ministry of thy Holy Spirit, that the spirit of disobedience may be cast out of us, and the spirit of loyalty may be established within us. Without thee we can do nothing; without thy Spirit we are blind, selfish, utterly ignorant, as well as helpless. We therefore cast ourselves upon God, and would be God"s chosen servants, instruments in his hands, vessels to be used as he may direct or wish. This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Whilst we were perverse and self-willed, we knew not what was right and what was best, and would listen to no voice, but would repel every advancing teacher. Now we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls; we have seen our folly; we mourn our sin; we would now, through Jesus Christ, the Priest of the everlasting Covenant, be made one with the living God. We come always by the Cross of Christ; there we find the loving, compassionate, forgiving God; there we find law satisfied, righteousness exalted, compassion made possible, and pardon offered to the sons of guilt. Hear us, then, as we pray for more light, more truth, for deeper peace, for a sweeter consent to all the will of God. May we be enabled to say, by day and by night, in summer and in winter, on the birthday and the day of death, It is well, it is best, for God"s holy will is done. Dry the tears of our sorrow, comfort us in our unspoken distresses, enter into our hearts and see what is wrong there, and if there be in us any wicked way, cast it out and make our hearts beautiful as thine own temples, holy as thine own sanctuaries. Direct us amid all perplexity, show us what is right, wise, just, and good; keep down within us all evil temper, all rebelliousness, all self-will; fill us with the spirit of charity, which is the Spirit of Christ, and under its blessed inspiration may we do our day"s work and await the issue of the toil. Amen.


Verses 15-24

Coming Up Out of Jordan

Joshua 4:15-24

THE Canaanites might reasonably have looked upon the Jordan as one of their natural defences. This it was at all times, but it was to all human appearance more so at this season than at other periods of the year. Springing among the spurs of the Lebanon, at a great height above the level of the sea, becoming first Lake Merom, and then expanding into the Lake Tiberias, so large and important that it was called the Sea of Galilee, its impetuous course terminated in the Dead Sea. It would seem to have been made to roll just where it did that it might be a natural protection or defence for the people upon the side of the Canaanites. The time of this history was April or May. We know from another passage that it was the harvest of flax and barley; all the snow upon Hermon had melted, and was pouring down into the valley through which the swollen torrent plunged and roared on its way to the Dead Sea. The time of the year is thus worth noticing; it was a time at which the Jordan was in the very pride of its fulness and strength. It has been pointed out as a striking contrast that "when the Goths, in the fifth century, nearly a million of people, crossed the Danube to seek a home in the south of Europe, they had a fleet of vessels at their command; yet the crossing of the Goths occupied many days, and many lives were lost in the passage." Be it observed, then, that the writers make no doubt as to the reality of this miracle. Fifty days later the wheat harvest would have set in, and at the time of the wheat harvest Jordan had considerably subsided. Sceptical critics might therefore have said that the Israelites crossed at low water; there were many shallow places in the channel, and no doubt they took advantage of the subsidence of the river in order to cross. But the sacred historian makes it very clear that the Jordan was at its height: there was no mistake about its fulness and urgency; so we have to deal with the facts as we find them stated in the record. There is happily confirmatory evidence as to the time at which the Israelites passed, and that evidence tends to show that the river must have been at its fullest. Nature only apparently protects doomed men. We can imagine the Canaanites on their side of the river thinking that nature was in their interest, that nature was concerned for them, and had provided a defence inviolable; but nature is never on the side of the doomed man; certainly nature is never on the side of the bad man; even if apparently Song of Solomon , it is in appearance only, and not in reality; there is not a stone in the field that is not at enmity with him; there is not a beast browsing on any hill that does not count him a foe. This is the deep interpretation of things. Appearances notwithstanding, let us set it down as a very clear line in our book of serious reflection that the whole earth casts out the bad Prayer of Manasseh , and would not give him accommodation or offer him hospitality, and at best would consent to the humiliation of providing him a grave. The strongest defences are worthless if our character be not sound and righteous in the sight of God; inroads can be made upon all securities, and will be made; and we shall be overthrown just in proportion to our guilt and corruptness. "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree." There is no doubt about the appearance; the security was to all human vision ample and complete, but when God is against a man what wall can build him out? When character is wrong and judgment is coming, what hand dare hold itself up to keep back the lightning of just penalty? It is in the time of fancied security that we are often overthrown. God delights to stain the pride of all glory. He would seem almost in his providence to wait until we have reached the very culmination of our strength; and when we say, Now we are safely lodged within walls which cannot be shaken or burned! then he shows the greatness of his strength, and puts forth his arm to find us in our hidden securities. We cannot build out the lightning; we cannot build out God when he comes in judgment We may withhold our consent when he makes propositions; we may reject his mercy and slay his Son; but in the time of judgment we have no will, no power, no answer to the infinite challenges of God.

Why dwell upon the merely local incidents connected with this narration when we know that there are crossings in life which our power did not accomplish? Strip the record of everything that appears to be romantic or unduly excited—all that touches what we may believe to be the incredible; yet there remains in our own history the fact that we have accomplished transitions and passages which we never completed in our own strength or by our own wisdom. We cannot tell how the difficulty was crossed, but that it is crossed we know well. Did we cross it in our sleep? Was it a dream-bridge that spanned the chasm? How did we get upon this side, where all is fertility and hopefulness and contentment? How did we come into this estate? We remember confusedly opposition, battle, natural difficulty—the natural difficulty being the worst of all: the disadvantage of birth, early life, a thousand oppositions that crowded upon us—far, far back in the. morning of memory; yet here we are this day in a fruitful place, under a blue sky, and the morning comes without threatening, and the whole heaven seems to make way for the sun that he may show his splendours in unusual fulness. How was this transference completed? We cannot tell the process in detail, but that we are here is the supreme fact in our life. Why, then, send the memory back upon some critical but fruitless errand, to find fault with the process, to ask questions about the detail? Better and wiser to begin our life from this conscious deliverance, and date everything from this side the river. Thus the past may chasten the present: from the long-gone years there may come some voice of warning; but all our dating of experience and vowing and service is from this side the river—is from the stones which memorialise the deliverance. This is called the religious life and the religious construction of life; and this delivers us from memories which become tumultuous and confounding when not barred back by the boundary of definite consciousness of divine deliverance.

Are there not opportunities for crossing all rivers? And are not those opportunities of very brief duration? It is wonderful to mark how the door of opportunity swings back in life: it is even more wonderful to notice how it swings back again, as if to declare that mercy is not to be trifled with, and the hospitality of God is not an indiscriminate beneficence or munificence. Have not the poets told us that "there is a tide in the affairs of men"? Whilst we are reading words which we declare to be inspired and sacred, these very words are confirmed by experiences within our own knowledge, and they do but express in sacred colour what we ourselves have known to be true in daily life. The Gospel is itself a great opportunity; written upon it are the words, "Now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation." Who can utter that word "Now" with tone sufficient in expressiveness and pathos? When is "now"?—-always a dying term, always a new projection; a time limited by a moment, and yet true of every moment coming. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." These words define periods of time, exactness of opportunity; and we know them to be true by the broad facts and the daily experiences of life.

Reading of this passage of the river we find one great omission. The omission was purposed. There was no way of retreat provided. The river did not stand back until the Israelites saw what they could do with Jericho; no sooner were they over than the river came down as before, and Israel was locked up to his work. Thus God brings us into face-to-face conflicts; thus divine providence drives us into close quarters with the enemy. It is supposable that a host advancing to conquer a walled and ancient city might have had to bear the pressure of some sudden terror and might have desired to retire; but the river was rolling on to the Dead Sea, and there was no promise made that it should be cut in two again for the accommodation of timid or cowardly men. Some of us must be forced up to our work. We do not know what is in us or what we can do until there is no escape—battle, or death; battle, or victory. Let us bless God, I would again say, that we are sometimes scourged up to our work. To retreat is to be drowned: to advance is to achieve at least possible victory. There must be no going back again. We are bound to this holy work—taking the devil"s citadel. There can be no reconstruction as to the terms of service and loyalty. We are committed to the overthrow of this city or kingdom, this evil or corruption, as the case may be. If we do not advance we shall be slain; if we try to run away we shall be drowned. "Quit you like men." Better fight and die honourably than run away and be as drowned dogs in the sullen stream. We are men who are committed, and cannot go back.

"And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho" ( Joshua 4:19).

What is that to us? These are forgotten dates? No, there is nothing forgotten. Great things took place upon this date long ago, and it ought to be familiar to us. In Exodus 12:5, the people had been commanded to take them a lamb for an house that they might eat the Passover. When was that? "On the tenth day of the first month." That was exactly to a moment forty years before. Coincidences of time are full of suggestion. History repeats itself in many ways in very subtle colourings and suggestions. So we seem to have been here before, and to have read this discourse, or to have heard this speech somewhere, long ago. Did we dream this scene? Who told us of it? There is a strange and even weird familiarity about the place, the Prayer of Manasseh , the whole vision—what is it? It is but the revival of a date; it is but time set in a new relation, the old and the new strangely mingled; for God has always worked upon the plan of continuity, the continuity sometimes apparently lost, but suddenly reappearing and projecting itself through the ages. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord;" "I am the Lord, I change not." Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. To-morrow will bring up the memory of today. The world has lived long enough now to allow its days to double back upon one another, and to take from the impression some of the ink with which ancient history was written. The days are repetitions. Time is full of history. Forty years taken in the passage of the distance between the crossing of the Red Sea and entering into Canaan? Yes! Make of it what we may, here is the fact of the present time, that men are hindered by their wickedness. The Israelites might have been sooner in Canaan but for their rebellion. We, ourselves, know that our sins have kept good things from us. Sin keeps back the millennium. Evil-doing keeps us digging in the earth when we might have been serving in heaven. There are men who are today suffering from what they did forty years ago. Things do not die. "Everlasting punishment" is written upon the whole scroll of life. Punishment has no end, except it be ended by some mysterious but loving action on the part of God. A man sentenced to prison for one day for an evil deed is in prison the remainder of his life; when he has left the jail he has not left the prison. Long ago we got wrong somehow, and we cannot get back into the right line. It was a mistake, or a misadventure, or an evil purpose, or a settled treason; it was a piece of selfishness, or miscalculation, or wrong-doing; we said the wrong word, we were too late by one day, we mistook the right hand for the left—something it was; and the consequence is that we have been forty years in doing what might have been accomplished in one. See if this be not so by examining life carefully. It seems impossible to disentangle the knot; it is weary work at the best. We know we might have been so much further on, and yet today we are baffled and hindered and mocked by some spirit of the air which is without shape or name. The interference with the river is nothing compared with the subtle spiritual interferences which are always changing the route of life. We have set out upon a certain course, and said in specific terms,—this shall be our route towards the goal. Without any action upon our part which we can recall, and without any conscious relation to the action, the route has been changed, the course has been turned to the right hand or to the left. These interferences with life-routes are taking place every day. The young soul has its plan, and having mapped out the future with a hand that knew no trembling, and with a pencil incapable of feeling, the boy joyfully says: "I will go; and thus I will travel; here halt, and there remain a year, and buy and sell and get gain, and then proceed according to the record." This is the boast of folly. This is the utterance of men who have not the key of tomorrow. The Lord suddenly changes the course, and they who thought they were going westwards at a rapid pace are awakened to the consciousness that they have been hastening eastwards, and knew it not Why will not men consider these things and put facts together, so patiently and inductively as to find a law at the end of them? the law being that it is not in man that liveth to direct his way, and that it is the Lord who presides over the battle and directs the pace of the going of the world, and that there is but one God, reigning over all things and for ever blessed.

Israel might have penetrated into the Land of Promise when they were on the frontier at Kadesh-Barnea in the second year of the exodus. Think of it! they might have been in Canaan long ago—a generation since! What happened to prevent this penetration into the Land of Promise? Sin happened. Let us call it commonplace if we are prepared to lose the richest cream of historical instruction; but there is the fact: it was sin that hindered the early penetration into the Land of Promise. Say Edom was obstinate, and the king thereof said: "No, you shall not go through this land; you must find some other way;" the king of Edom did not speak words of his own, the descendant of Esau had a mission from God. Men do not always know whose ministers they are. We speak words that have upon them and around them the texture of eternity, and we say we knew not why we spoke them, but we could not resist the speech: the words flew to our lips and burned upon our tongue, and we must needs utter them. We cannot allow Israel to assume the character of an ill-used traveller, who, having suddenly come upon inhospitable provinces, was put to very serious inconvenience. Israel was not a white-robed saint in the wilderness—the pure, the patient, holy traveller; Israel had defied God, and murmured against his captain, and resisted the law; and rebellion must always be punished. It is not always punished in the same way, but punished it always is. Men think they have secured their purpose; they say that this time at all events they have been victorious; and now they will handle life just as they please—and behold, their very victory is the cruellest defeat! They may have had their desire granted, but leanness has been sent into their souls. There is only one way of living rightly, and that is living in the sanctuary of God,—that Isaiah , in obedience to the eternal law which facts, as well as Revelation , have established. If you are unwilling to believe that the eternal law has been revealed, and has been written down with pen and ink, and is to be referred to as an ancient document, then take some other course. Let this be your course: call for quietness in the mind; silence all tumult of thought; read history—centuries of it at a time; take in breadth and scope enough or you will be the victims of details; seize as with the mental vision great periods of time; and this you will find to be the law of fact, as well as the law of Revelation , that only he who falls into the rhythm of the universe, who is part of the great whole, who is so individual as not to lose his sense of responsibility, and yet so social as to know that he is one of a great host—only they who have moved rhythmically to the beat of righteousness and the throb of justice have come into ultimate rest, and peace, and dignity. Revelation looks to facts for its commentary. It is willing to rest until history has had its say; and revelation and history are to be one in their final testimony. Observe what has been required in this contention: that sufficient time should be taken within the purview. These arbitraments are not to be settled by what occurred this day, or within the limits of that one hour. We must take in field enough if we could realise all the teaching of historical perspective and colour. So judged, the Bible has nothing to fear; it is a prophecy of facts, the forecasting of what we know ourselves has occurred and is evermore transpiring.

What, then, was the purpose of this memorialising of the crossing of Jordan? Why these stones? Why this religious consideration? The answer is given in the twenty-fourth verse:—

"That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever." ( Joshua 4:24)

Prayer

Oh that we knew where we might find him! We would come even onto his seat and plead with him mightily and long. We bless thee that we need not repeat the words of thy servant of old, for we know where thou art: thou art not a God afar off but nigh at hand. Thou hast, in Christ Jesus thy Song of Solomon , reconciled the world unto thyself. We meet thee at Bethlehem. We hear thee speaking to us in the wind. We watch thee in all thy daily course of humiliation and pain and redeeming love. We see thee in the Cross of Jesus Christ; we recognise in that Cross the highest revelation of thy righteousness and love. God forbid that we should glory save in the Cross! It touches our life when no other power can come near it; it charms our solitude without intrusion; it speaks to us when we could hear no other voice. It is the hope of the world; it is the way to pardon; it is the gate of heaven. Blessed Cross; infinite Cross; tender Cross! May we ourselves be daily crucified upon it, that, dying daily, we may know daily the power of Christ"s resurrection, and become so accustomed to death that when the death of the flesh comes we shall not know it. We thank thee for all Christian hope and confidence, for all spiritual consolation, for all voices which address us from the skies; we need these in dark times, on cloudy days, when the sun is quite shut out; then do we know how great is thy love, how tender thy pity, how precious the dew of thy tears. Thou hast made our life so that no voice can truly speak to it but thine own. Other voices address us in parts, and upon given days, and under special circumstances; but thy voice is the same by night and by day, in winter and in summer; thou comest near us, and our weakness thou dost lift up by thine own almightiness; there is no touch like thine. Other hands hurt us even in their endeavours to help, but thy hands, omnipotent One, are full of mercy; they express thine heart. We thank thee for all love which makes life"s burdens sit less heavily upon us; we thank thee for all home delights which make the world more bearable, we thank thee for all spiritual comfort which enables us to overcome material distresses; these are the gifts of God, these are messages from the eternal spheres, these are voices which the soul knows and which the heart lovingly answers. We cannot understand this religious nature with which thou hast endowed us; it is a great pain oftentimes,—eager to look into things which are at present sealed, and impetuous in inquiry rather than patient, troubling God with violent addresses rather than waiting patiently for his coming. Yet it is our life"s highest life; it enables us to touch heaven, eternity, things infinite; by it we realise thy purpose in making all things that are round about us, so stupendous, so minute,—the great heavens, the dying flowers. Thou hast made all these things, and filled them with meaning; if we were wise we could read that meaning easily and lovingly, and be comforted by the tender solaces of unspoken gospels. Anoint our eyes that we may see! Circumcise our ears that we may hear. Give us the understanding heart; and every place shall be the house of God, and every delight shall be as a gate of heaven. We bless thee for a sense of thy nearness: we can whisper to thee; we can call upon thee instantaneously, and thy reply can come before our friend can see we have prayed or have received answers from God. Direct us in all our way: it is sometimes so difficult: we shrink from it: we cannot bear the deep places and the rough; we do not know what may befall us along the perilous line: some ravenous beast may destroy us, some hidden pit may engulf us, some sudden wind may be charged with death. But this is our ignorance: thou wilt pity it and forgive it We would rather say, in our Christian faith—Father, let our hand be in thine, then nothing can come but peace and light and heaven. We mourn our sin: it is bitterer to thee than it can be to us; because thou art all holy; but thou hast grappled with this difficulty; thou didst meet sin before sin arose: the Cross is older than the crime, the grace more venerable than the sin. We trust in the living God; we cast ourselves upon Jesus Christ thy Son; we will not reason or understand in words this mystery of love, for who can grasp in his little palm all that is above him? Now we fall into thy hands, and evermore abide there, growing in Wisdom of Solomon , in confidence, in charity, in holiness, knowing Christ more thoroughly, comprehending him by our sympathy where we cannot follow him by our reason; and do thou enable us to die with him that with him we may rise again. Amen.


Verse 23

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea."Joshua 4:23

This presents God as doing the little and doing the great: in the one case he dried up a river; in the other case he dried up a sea.—The idea to be kept steadily before the mind Isaiah , that it is the same God that worketh all in all.—Omnipotence is as much required in the drying up of the Jordan as in the dividing of the Red Sea; and the Omnipotence that divided the Red Sea condescended to dry up the river.—Every action on the part of God must of necessity be a condescension.—When God made the universe he humbled himself.—When God made man he subjected the Deity to degradation.—This must not be looked upon in the light of experiment, but in the light of necessity. Terms which seem to indicate the contrary are merely terms of accommodation, and not terms which express the essence of things.—We are to reason from the greater to the less; thus, if God dried up the Red Sea, he will also dry up the Jordan; if God enabled us to kill a lion, he will enable us to slay a man; if God enabled us to climb a mountain, he will not forsake us when we have to pass over a molehill.—The text is an appeal to memory as well as an appeal to confidence.—That we may live well in the future we should live steadfastly in the past.—The witness of God"s personality and presence in life must be found in a man"s own experience; he can only assent to them with the intellect, but he can claim them as verities, and affirm them as the truest facts of life only in proportion to the richness of his personal experience in divine things. Thus growing life should be growing religiousness; old age should be itself an argument; memory should be a library of exposition and defence.—What is forgotten so soon as grace or favour even on the part of man to man? It is even so with God.—We forget that our whole life has been a miracle. We forget this in proportion as we draw a line beyond which our recollection is not permitted to go— Recollection must be helped by association or analogy.—Thus we can go back to our own infancy by carefully regarding the infancy of others, marking its frailty and its continual exposure to fatal danger.—Life regarded thus from the beginning to its end becomes itself a piece of work which no human hands could have executed, a very miracle of mystery and beauty.—The Old Testament saints in particular were accustomed to reason from the past to the future. David did so in relation to Goliath. That is but a typical instance. Job did so when he contended that, as God had been with him in six troubles, he would not forsake him in seven; or when God himself affirmed this to be the line of his treatment of mankind.—Our own hymn-writers have celebrated this truth in many a soothing and encouraging line,—"His love in time past forbids me to think," etc.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 4:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/joshua-4.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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