reign over ourselves.
And then we have to give our personal service in the great battle for
right and truth, for establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. There
come national crises when every man must take up arms, but in Christ's
kingdom that is a permanent obligation. There the nation is the army.
Each subject is not only His servant but His soldier. The metaphor is
well worn, but it carries everlasting truth, and to take it seriously
to heart would revolutionise our lives.
II. The reason for standing aloof. Reuben 'abode in the sheepfolds to
hear the pipings to the flocks.' For Dan his ships, for Asher his
havens held them apart. Reuben and the other trans-Jordanic tribes held
loosely by the national unity. They had fallen in love with an easy
life of pastoral wealth, they did not care to venture anything for the
national good. It is still too true that like reasons are largely
operative in producing like results. It is seldom from the wealthy and
leisurely classes that the bold fighters for great social reformations
are recruited. Times of commercial prosperity are usually times of
stagnation in regard to these. Reuben lies lazily listening to the
'drowsy tinklings' that 'lull' not only 'the distant folds' but himself
to inglorious slumber, while Zebulon and Naphtali are 'venturing their
lives on the high places of the field.' The love of ease enervates many
a one who should be doing valiantly for the 'Captain of his salvation.'
The men of Reuben cared more for their sheep than for their nation.
They were not minded to hazard these by listening to Deborah's call.
And what their flocks were to that pastoral tribe, their business is to
shoals of professing Christians. The love of the world depletes the
ranks of Christ's army, and they are comparatively few who stick by the
colours and are 'ready, aye ready' for service, as the brave motto of
one English regiment has it. The lives of multitudes of so-called
Christians are divided between strained energy in their business or
trade or profession and self-regarding repose. No doubt competition is
fierce, and, no doubt, a Christian man is bound, 'whatsoever his hand
finds to do, to do it with his might,' and, no doubt, rest is as much a
duty as work. But must not loyalty to Jesus have become tepid, if a
servant of His has so little interest in the purposes for which He gave
His life that he can hear no call to take active part in promoting
them, nor find rest in the work by which he becomes a fellow-worker
with his Lord?
III. The recreant's brave resolves which came to nothing. The indignant
question of our text is, as it were, framed between two clauses which
contrast Reuben's indolent holding aloof with his valorous resolves.
'By the watercourses of Reuben there were great resolves of heart.' ...
'At the watercourses of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.'
Resolves came first, but they were not immediately acted on, and as the
Reubenites sate among the sheepfolds and felt the charm of their
peaceful lives, the 'native hue of resolution was sicklied o'er,' and
doubts of the wisdom of their gallant determination crept in, and their
valour oozed out. And so for all their fine resolves, they had no share
in the fight nor in the triumph.
So let us lay the warning of that example to heart, and if we are
stirred by noble impulses to take our place in the ranks of the
fighters for God, let us act on these at once. Emotions evaporate very
soon if they are not used to drive the wheels of conduct. The Psalmist
was wise who 'delayed not, but made haste and delayed not to keep God's
commandments.' Many a man has over and over again resolved to serve God
in some specific fashion, and to enlist in the 'effective force' of
Christ's army, and has died without ever having done it.
IV. The question in the hour of victory. 'Why?'
Deborah asks it with vehement contempt.
That victory is certain. Are _you_ to have part in it?
The question will be asked on the judgment day by Christ, and by our
own consciences. 'And he was speechless.'
To be neutral is to be on the side of the enemy, against whom the
'stars fight,' and whom Kishon sweeps away.
'Who is on the Lord's side?' - Who?
'ALL THINGS ARE YOURS'
'They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against
Sisera.' - JUDGES v. 20.
'For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the
beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.' - Job v. 23.
These two poetical fragments present the same truth on opposite sides.
The first of them comes from Deborah's triumphant chant. The singer
identifies God with the cause of Israel, and declares that heaven
itself fought against those who fought against God's people. There may
be an allusion to the tempest which Jewish tradition tells us burst
over the ranks of the enemy, or there may be some trace of ancient
astrological notions, or the words may simply be an elevated way of
saying that Heaven fought for Israel. The silent stars, as they swept
on their paths through the sky, advanced like an avenging host
embattled against the foes of Israel and of God. All things fight
against the man who fights against God.
The other text gives the other side of the same truth. One of Job's
friends is rubbing salt into his wounds by insisting on the
commonplace, which needs a great many explanations and limitations
before it can be accepted as true, that sin is the cause of sorrow, and
that righteousness brings happiness; and in the course of trying to
establish this heartless thesis to a heavy heart he breaks into a
strain of the loftiest poetry in describing the blessedness of the
righteous. All things, animate and inanimate, are upon his side. The
ground, which Genesis tells us is 'cursed for his sake,' becomes his
ally, and the very creatures whom man's sin set at enmity against him
are at peace with him. All things are the friends and servants of him
who is the friend and servant of God.
I. So, putting these two texts together, we have first the great
conviction to which religion clings, that God being on our side all
things are for us, and not against us.
Now, that is the standing faith of the Old Testament, which no doubt
was more easily held in those days, because, if we accept its teaching,
we shall recognise that Israel lived under a system in so far
supernatural as that moral goodness and material prosperity were a
great deal more closely and indissolubly connected than they are to-
day. So, many a psalmist and many a prophet breaks out into
apostrophes, warranted by the whole history of Israel, and declaring
how blessed are the men who, apart from all other defences and sources
of prosperity, have God for their help and Him for their hope.
But we are not to dismiss this conviction as belonging only to a system
where the supernatural comes in, as it does in the Old Testament
history, and as antiquated under a dispensation such as that in which
we live. For the New Testament is not a whit behind the Old in
insisting upon this truth. 'All things work together for good to them
that love God.' 'All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ
is God's.' 'Who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that
which is good?' The New Testament is committed to the same conviction
as that to which the faith of Old Testament saints clung as the sheet
anchor of their lives.
That conviction cannot be struck out of the creed of any man, who
believes in the God to whom the Old and the New Testament alike bear
witness. For it rests upon this plain principle, that all this great
universe is not a chaos, but a cosmos, that all these forces and
creatures are not a rabble, but an ordered host.
What is the meaning of that great Name by which, from of old, God in
His relations to the whole universe has been described - the 'Lord of
Hosts'? Who are the 'hosts' of which He is 'the Lord,' and to whom, as
the centurion said, He says to this one, 'Go!' and he goeth; and to
another, 'Come!' and he cometh; and to another, 'Do this!' and he doeth
it? Who are 'the hosts'? Not only these beings who are dimly revealed
to us as rational and intelligent, who 'excel in strength,' because
they 'hearken to the voice of His word', but in the ranks of that great
army are also embattled all the forces of the universe, and all things
living or dead. 'All are Thy servants; they continue this day' - angels,
stars, creatures of earth - ' according to Thine ordinances.'
And if it be true that the All is an ordered whole, which is obedient
to the touch and to the will of that divine Commander, then all His
servants must be on the same side, and cannot turn their arms against
each other. As an old hymn says with another reference -
'All the servants of our King
In heaven and earth are one,'
and none of them can injure, wound, or slay a fellow-servant. If all
are travelling in the same direction there can be no collision. If all
are enlisted under the same standard they can never turn their weapons
against each other. If God sways all things, then all things which God
sways must be on the side of the men that are on the side of God. 'Thou
shalt make a league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the
field shall be at peace with thee.'
II, Note the difficulties arising from experience, in the way of
holding fast by this conviction of faith.
The grim facts of the world, seen from their lowest level, seem to
shatter it to atoms. Talk about 'the stars in their courses fighting'
for or against anybody! In one aspect it is superstition, in another
aspect it is a dream and an illusion. The prose truth is that they
shine down silent, pitiless, cold, indifferent, on battlefields or on
peaceful homes; and the moonlight is as pure when it falls upon broken
hearts as when it falls upon glad ones. Nature is utterly indifferent
to the moral or the religious character of its victims. It goes on its
way unswerving and pitiless; and whether the man who stands in its path
is good or bad matters not. If he gets into a typhoon he will be
wrecked; if he tumbles over Niagara he will be drowned. And what
becomes of all the talk about an embattled universe on the side of
goodness, in the face of the plain facts of life - of nature's
indifference, nature's cruelty which has led some men to believe in two
sovereign powers, one beneficent and one malicious, and has led others
to say, 'God is a superfluous hypothesis, and to believe in Him brings
more enigmas than it solves,' and has led still others to say, 'Why, if
there _is_ a God, does it look as if either He was not all-
powerful, or was not all-merciful?' Nature has but ambiguous evidence
to give in support of this conviction.
Then, if we turn to what we call Providence and its mysteries, the very
book of Job, from which my second text is taken, is one of the earliest
attempts to grapple with the difficulty and to untie the knot; and I
suppose everybody will admit that, whatever may be the solution which
is suggested by that enigmatical book, the solution is by no means a
complete one, though it is as complete as the state of religious
knowledge at the time at which the book was written made possible to be
attained. The seventy-third psalm shows that even in that old time
when, as I have said, supernatural sanctions were introduced into the
ordinary dealings of life, the difficulties that cropped up were great
enough to bring a devout heart to a stand, and to make the Psalmist
say, 'My feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped.'
Providence, with all its depths and mysteries, often to our aching
hearts seems in our own lives to contradict the conviction, and when we
look out over the sadness of humanity, still more does it seem
impossible for us to hold fast by the faith 'that all which we behold
is full of blessings.'
I doubt not that there are many of ourselves whose lives, shadowed,
darkened, hemmed in, perplexed, or made solitary for ever, seem to them
to be hard to reconcile with this cheerful faith upon which I am trying
to insist. Brethren, cling to it even in the darkness. Be sure of this,
that amongst all our mercies there are none more truly merciful than
those which come to us shrouded in dark garments, and in questionable
shapes. Let nothing rob us of the confidence that 'all things work
together for good.'
III. I come, lastly, to consider the higher form in which this
conviction is true for ever.
I have said that the facts of life seem often to us, and are felt often
by some of us, to shatter it to atoms; to riddle it through and through
with shot. But, if we bring the Pattern-life to bear upon the
illumination of all life, and if we learn the lessons of the Cradle and
the Cross, and rise to the view of human life which emerges from the
example of Jesus Christ, then we get back the old conviction,
transfigured indeed, but firmer than ever. We have to alter the point
of view. Everything always depends on the point of view. We have to
alter one or two definitions. Definitions come first in geometry and in
everything else. Get _them_ right, and you will get your theorems
and problems right.
So, looking at life in the light of Christ, we have to give new
contents to the two words 'good' and 'evil,' and a new meaning to the
two words 'for' and 'against.' And when we do that, then the
difficulties straighten themselves out, and there are not any more
knots, but all is plain; and the old faith of the Old Testament, which
reposed very largely upon abnormal and extraordinary conditions of
life, comes back in a still nobler form, as possible to be held by us
amidst the commonplace of our daily existence.
For everything is my friend, is for me and not against me, that helps
me nearer to God. To live for Him, to live with Him, to be conscious
ever of communion with Himself, to feel the touch of His hand on my
hand, and the pressure of His breast against mine, at all moments of my
life, is my true and the highest good. And if it is true that the
'river of the water of life' which 'flows from the Throne of God' is
the only draught that can ever satisfy the immortal thirst of a soul,
then whatever drives me away from the cisterns and to the fountain, is
on my side. Better to dwell in a 'dry and thirsty land, where no water
is,' if it makes me long for the water that rises at the gate of the
true Bethlehem - the house of bread - than to dwell in a land flowing
with milk and honey, and well watered in every part! If the cup that I
would fain lift to my lips has poison in it, or if its sweetness is
making me lose my relish for the pure and tasteless river that flows
from the Throne of God, there can be no truer friend than that
calamity, as men call it, which strikes the cup from my hands, and
shivers the glass before I have raised it to my lips. Everything is my
friend that helps me towards God.
Everything is my friend that leads me to submission and obedience. The
joy of life, and the perfection of human nature, is an absolutely
submitted will, identified with the divine, both in regard to doing and
to enduring. And whatever tends to make my will flexible, so that it
corresponds to all the sinuosities, so to speak, of the divine will,
and fits into all its bends and turns, is a blessing to me. Raw hides,
stiff with dirt and blood, are put into a bath of bitter infusion of
oak-bark. What for? For the same end as, when they are taken out, they
are scraped with sharp steels, - that they may become flexible. When
that is done the useless hide is worth something.
'Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.'
And whatever helps me to that is my friend.
Everything is a friend to the man that loves God, in a far sweeter and
deeper sense than it can ever be to any other. Like a sudden burst of
sunshine upon a gloomy landscape, the light of union with God and
friendship with Him flooding my daily life flashes it all up into
brightness. The dark ribbon of the river that went creeping through the
black copses, when the sun glints upon it, gleams up into links of
silver, and the trees by its bank blaze out into green and gold.
Brethren! 'Who follows pleasure follows pain'; who follows God finds
pleasure following him. There can be no surer way to set the world
against me than to try to make it for me, and to make it my all They
tell us that if you want to count those stars that 'like a swarm of
fire-flies tangled in a silver braid' make up the Pleiades, the surest
way to see the greatest number of them is to look a little on one side
of them. Look away from the joys and friendships of creatural things
right up to God, and you will see these sparkling and dancing in the
skies, as you never see them when you gaze at them only. Make them
second and they are good and on your side. Make them first, and they
will turn to be your enemies and fight against you.
This conviction will be established still more irrefragably and
wonderfully in that future. Nothing lasts but goodness. 'He that doeth
the will of God abideth for ever.' To oppose it is like stretching a
piece of pack-thread across the rails before the express comes; or
putting up some thin wooden partition on the beach on one of the
Western Hebrides, exposed to the whole roll of the Atlantic, which will
be battered into ruin by the first winter's storm. Such is the end of
all those who set themselves against God.
But there comes a future in which, as dim hints tell us, these texts of
ours shall receive a fulfilment beyond that realised in the present
condition of things. 'Then comes the statelier Eden back to man,' and
in a renewed and redeemed earth 'they shall not hurt nor destroy in all
My holy mountain'; and the ancient story will be repeated in higher
form. The servants shall be like the Lord who, when He had conquered
temptation, 'was with the wild beasts' that forgot their enmity, and
'angels ministered unto Him.' That scene in the desert may serve as a
prophecy of the future when, under conditions of which we know nothing,
all God's servants shall, even more markedly and manifestly than here,
help each other; and every man that loves God will find a friend in
If we take Him for our Commander, and enlist ourselves in that
embattled host, then all weathers will be good; 'stormy winds,
fulfilling His word,' will blow us to our port; 'the wilderness will
rejoice and blossom as the rose'; and the whole universe will be
radiant with the light of His presence, and ringing with the music of
His voice. But if we elect to join the other army - for there is another
army, and men have wills that enable them to lift themselves up against
God, the Ruler of all things - then the old story, from which my first
text is taken, will fulfil itself again in regard to us - 'the stars in
their courses will fight against' us; and Sisera, lying stiff and
stark, with Jael's tent-peg through his temples, and the swollen
corpses being swirled down to the stormy sea by 'that ancient river,
the river Kishon,' will be a grim parable of the end of the men that
set themselves against God, and so have the universe against them.
'Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.'
LOVE MAKES SUNS
'Let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.'
JUDGES V. 51.
These are the closing words of Deborah, the great warrior-prophetess of
Israel. They are in singular contrast with the tone of fierce
enthusiasm for battle which throbs through the rest of the chant, and
with its stern approval of the deed of Jael when she slew Sisera. Here,
in its last notes, we have an anticipation of the highest and best
truths of the Gospel. 'Let them that love Him be as the sun when he
goeth forth in His might.' If we think of the singer, of the age and
the occasion of the song, such purely spiritual, lofty words must seem
I. Note, then, first of all, how here we have a penetrating insight
into the essence of religion.
This woman had been nourished upon a more or less perfect edition of
what we know as the 'Mosaic Law.' Her faith had been fed by forms. She
moved amidst a world full of the cruelties and dark conceptions of a
mysterious divine power which torture heathenism apart from
Christianity. She had forced her way through all that, and laid hold of
the vital centre. And there, a way out amidst cruelty and murder,
amidst the unutterable abominations and terrors of heathenism, in the
centre of a rigid system of ceremonial and retaliation, the woman's
heart spoke out, and taught her what was the great commandment.
Prophetess she was, fighter she was, she could burst into triumphant
approval of Jael's bloody deed; and yet with the same lips could speak
this profound word. She had learned that 'Thou shalt _love_ the
Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all
thy strength, and with all thy mind,' summed up all duty, and was the
beginning of all good in man. That precept found an echo in her heart.
Whatever part in her religious development may have been played by the
externalisms of ceremonial, she had pierced to the core of religion.
Advanced modern critics admit the antiquity of Deborah's song, and this
closing stanza witnesses to the existence, at that early period, of a
highly spiritual conception of the bond between God and man. Deborah
had got as far, in a moment of exaltation and insight, as the teaching
of the Apostle John, although her thought was strangely blended with
the fierceness of the times in which she lived. Her approval of Jael's
deed by no means warrants our approving it, but we may thankfully see
that though she felt the fierce throbbing of desire for vengeance, she
also felt this - 'Them that _love_ Him; that is the Alpha and the
Omega of all.'
Our love must depend on our knowledge. Deborah's knowledge was a mere
skeleton outline as compared with ours. Contrast the fervour of
emotional affection that manifestly throbbed in her heart with the
poor, cold pulsations which we dignify by the name of love, and the
contrast may put us to shame. There is a religion of fear which
dominates hundreds of professing Christians in this land of ours. There
is a religion of duty, in which there is no delight, which has many
adherents amongst us. There is a religion of form, which contents
itself with the externals of Christianity, and that is the religion of
many men and women in all our churches. And I may further say, there is
a religion of faith, in its narrower and imperfect sense, which lays
hold of and believes a body of Christian truth, and has never passed
through faith into love. Not he who 'believes that God is,' and comes
to Him with formal service and an alienated or negligent heart; not he
who recognises the duty of worship, and discharges it because his
conscience pricks him, but has no buoyancy within bearing him upwards
towards the object of his love; not he who cowers before the dark
shadow which some call God; but he who, knowing, trusts, and who,
knowing and trusting 'the love which God hath to us,' pulses back the
throbs of a recipient heart, and loves Him in return - he, and he only,
is a worshipper. Let us learn the lesson that Deborah learnt below the
palm-trees of Lapidoth, and if we want to understand what a religious
man is, recognise that he is a man who loves God.
II. Further, note the grand conception of the character which such a
'Let them be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.' Think of the
fierce Eastern sun, with 'sunbeams like swords,' that springs up from
the East, and rushes to the zenith, and 'nothing is hid from the heat
thereof' - a sun the like of which we, in our cloudy skies, never see
nor feel, but which, to the Oriental, is the very emblem of splendour
and of continuous, victorious power. There are two things here,
radiance and energy, light and might.
'As the sun when he goeth forth in his strength.' Deborah was a
'prophetess,' and people say, 'What did she prophesy?' Well, she
prophesied the heart of religion - as I have tried to show - in reference
to its essence, and, as one sees by this phrase, in reference to its
effects. What is her word but a partial anticipation of Christ's
saying, 'Ye are the light of the world'; and of His disciple's
utterance, 'Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the
Lord: walk as children of light'?
It is too plain to need any talking about, that the direct tendency of
what we venture to call love to God, meaning thereby the turning of the
whole nature to Him, in aspiration, admiration, longing for likeness,