IT is not mere affectation that makes me avoid the use of
the title "Sermons" in designating the following papers. Nearly all of them
were, in point of fact, written and delivered as pulpit discourses, either in
the course of the Authors ordinary ministry or on particular occasions;
and they will doubtless be found to bear the usual marks of compositions
intended rather to be heard than to be read. But I would not wish them to be
regarded as fair specimens of what I think the preaching of the gospel to a
congregation, from Sabbath to Sabbath, ought to be. Not inadmissible at
intervals, for the sake of variety not inconsistent with evangelical doctrine,
or incapable of a practical application they are still not altogether what one
would call "gospel sermons." At all events, I prefer that they should be judged
by a somewhat more flexible and accommodating standard than I might myself
apply to compositions professing to be the utterances of ambassadors for
Christ, in the direct discharge of their com- mission, beseeching men to be
reconciled to God.
For the very miscellaneous character of the volume some apology is due. A slight thread of connection may perhaps be traced in certain portions of it; and one or two subjects are pretty fully discussed. But for the most part, the papers are but desultory and fragmentary essays; suggesting topics of inquiry, rather than exhausting them; and neither fitted nor intended to demonstrate any one truth, or series of truths, in the system of Theological or Moral Science. On this account I have hesitated much about obtruding them on general notice, and I even suspended the publication for a considerable time. Circumstances, however, of no interest to the community, have led me to complete the work and consent to its issue. And such as it is, it may be welcome and useful to friendly readers.
Some of the papers have appeared in print before. They have undergone, however, such revision often amounting almost to rewriting that I can scarcely plead guilty to any charge of plagiarism from myself. I have endeavoured to present them in a form more worthy of preservation than the hasty publication of most of them at the time permitted. I could have wished that, in appearing thus before the public, I had had a better reason to give for printing a book than the usual apologies which, if I chose, I might adopt. Had it been a treatise more evidently called for by the times, or more directly bearing upon the defence of divine truth, the interests of society, or the advancement of scriptural knowledge, I might have been more justified in hazarding the publication. But let it pass. And, such as it is, may a blessing from on high accompany it!
EDINBURGH, 23d May 1860.
PREFATORY NOTE NEW EDITION OF SCRIPTURE CHARACTERS
I HAVE been advised to publish the SCRIPTURE CHARACTERS in a separate form by themselves, reserving the MISCELLANIES for another volume. This accordingly is now done. A chronological arrangement also of the Characters is now, as far as practicable, adopted. The articles have undergone careful revision and correction; but no material change has been made as to their substance. EDINBURGH, April 1857.
I.THE UNIVERSAL CHARACTERISTIC "AND HE DIED"
I. ELI HIS HEART TREMBLED FOR THE ARK OF GOD PART I
III. ELI A GODLY MAN TREMBLING FOR THE ARK OF GOD PART II
IV. ELI A GODLY MAN TREMBLING FOR THE ARK OF GOD PART III
V. THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD. EXAMPLE IN THE CASE OF AN IMPENITENT SINNER. CHARACTER OF AHAB
VI. THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD IN THE CASE OF THE RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER OF JEHOSHAPHAT
VII. HEROD WEAKNESS GROWING INTO WICKEDNESS ON THE CHARACTER OF HEROD, TETRARCH OF GALILEE
VIII. HEROD AN EXAMPLE OF "WORLDLY SORROW WORKING DEATH"
IX. HEROD AN EXAMPLE OF AN ALLEGED NECESSITY OF SINNING
X. PETER HIS GENERAL CHARACTER ITS STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS
XI. PETER THE TRIAL, INFIRMITY, AND TRIUMPH OF HIS FAITH
XII. MARTHA AND MARY PART I. THEIR COMMON GRIEF
XIII. MARTHA AND MARY PART II. THEIR DIFFERENT KINDS OF GRIEF AND THE LORDS DIFFERENT WAYS OF DEALING WITH THEM
XIV. THE FRIENDSHIP OF PETER AND JOHN PART I
XV. THE FRIENDSHIP OF PETER AND JOHN PART II
XVI. MARY MAGDALENE WITH PETER AND JOHN AT THE SEPULCHRE
XVII. THE SPIRIT OF GOD STRIVING WITH MAN PONTIUS PILATE JUDGING THE LORD CHRIST
XVIII. THE WICKED TAKEN IN THEIR OWN NET PONTIUS PILATE DEALING WITH THE JEWS
XIX. THE CASE OF PILATE A WARNING AGAINST RESISTING THE SPIRIT
SCRIPTURE CHARACTERS I. THE UNIVERSAL CHARACTERISTIC "AND HE DIED."
GEN. v.5,8,11,14, etc. "And Joseph died, and all his
brethren, and all that generation." EXOD. i. 6.
THE succession of generations among the children of men has been, from Homer downwards, likened to that of the leaves among the trees of the forest. The foliage of one summer, withering gradually away, and strewing the earth with its wrecks, has its place supplied by the exuberance of the following spring. Of the countless myriads of gay blossoms and green leaves, that but a few months ago were glancing in the beams of the joyous sun, not one remains; but a new race, all full of brightness and promise as before, covers the naked branches, and the woods again burst forth in beauty and song, as if decay had never passed over any of their leafy boughs. So of men: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever" (Eccl. i. 4), the same to the new generation that cometh the same scene of weary labour, endless vanity, alternate hope and disappointment as if no warning of change had ever been given as if the knell of death had never rung over the generation that is passing away.
But there is one point in which the analogy does not hold; there is one difference between the race of leaves and the race of men: Between the leaves of successive summers an interval of desolation intervenes, and "the bare and wintry woods" emphatically mark the passage from one season to another. But there is no such pause in the succession of the generations of men. Insensibly they melt and shade into one another: an old man dies, and a child is born; daily and hourly there is a death and a birth; and imperceptibly, by slow degrees, the actors in lifes busy scene are changed. Hence the full force of this thought "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh" is not ordinarily felt. Let us conceive, however, of such a blank in the succession of generations as winter makes in the succession of leaves. Let us take our stand on some middle ground in the stream of history, where there is, as it were, a break or a void between one series of events and another, where the whole tide of life in the preceding narrative is engulfed and swallowed up, and the new stream has not begun to flow. Such a position we have in some of the strides which sacred history makes over many intervening years, from the crisis or catastrophe of one of the worlds dramas to the opening of another: as, for instance, in the transition from the going down of Israel into Egypt in the days of Joseph, to their coming out again in the time of Moses. Here is a dreary vacancy, as of a leafless winter, coming in between the scene in which Joseph and his contemporaries bore so conspicuous a part, and another scene in which not one of the former actors remained upon the stage, but "there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph And the historian seems to be aware of the solemnity of this pause, when, dismissing the whole subject of his previous narrative, he records the end of all in these brief but most suggestive words, "And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation."
The first view of this verse that occurs to us is its striking significance and force as a commentary on the history of which it so abruptly and emphatically announces the close. The previous narrative presents to us a busy scene an animated picture; and here, as if by one single stroke, all is reduced to a blank. But now we saw a crowded mass of human beings men of like passions with ourselves moving and mingling in the eager excitement of personal, domestic, and public interests, like our own. They were all earnest in their own pursuits; and the things of their day were to them as momentous as those of our day are to us. They thought, and felt, and acted, and suffered; they were harassed by cares and agitated by passions; and, their restless energies contending with the resistless vicissitudes of fortune, the very earth they trod seemed instinct with life and the stern struggles and activities of life when, lo! as by the touch of a magic spell, or the sudden turn of the hidden wheel, the whole thronged and congregated multitude is gone, like the pageant of a dream, and the awful stillness of desolation reigns. It is as if having gazed on ocean when it bears on its broad bosom a gallant and well-manned fleet bending gracefully to its rising winds, and triumphantly stemming its swelling waves you looked out again, and at the very next glance beheld the wide waste of waters reposing in dark and horrid peace over the deep-buried wrecks of the recent storm. All the earth, inhabited by the men with whose joys and sorrows we have been sympathizing Egypt, with its proud pyramids and palaces Goshen, with its quiet pastoral homes the rich land of Canaan the tented deserts of Ishmael all passes in a moment from our view; and there is before us, instead, a place of tombs, one vast city of silent death Joseph is dead, and all his brethren, and all that generation. What an obituary is here! What a chronicle of mortality! How comprehensive, yet withal how precise and particular beginning with a particular intimation, and then swelling out into the most wide-sweeping and wholesale generality of announcement! In the first instance, the name is given "Joseph died;" as if the intention were to enumerate in detail the whole. But the number grows and accumulates too fast his brethren also died. These too might in part be specified Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin Dan and Naphtali Gad and Asher. But already the family branches out beyond the limits of easy computation, and all around there stands a mighty multitude, which arithmetic is too slow to reckon, and the pen of the ready writer too impatient to register, and the record too small to contain; and all must, without name or remark, be summed up in the one indiscriminating notice - a notice all the more emphatic on that very account "Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation."
"And all that generation:" How many thousands does this phrase embrace? And of how many thousands is this the sole monument and memorial ? How startling a force is there in this awful brevity, this compression and abridgement the names and histories of millions brought within the compass of so brief a statement of a single fact concerning them that they all died! And these were men as alive as we are to the bustle of their little day as full of schemes and speculations as much wrapt up in their own concerns and the cares of the times in which they lived. Each one of them could have filled volumes with details of actions and adventures too important in his eyes to be ever forgotten ; and yet all that is told of them in this divine record, and told of them as of an uncounted and undistinguished mass, is, that they all died. Or, if any particular individual has been selected for especial notice; if any one, by the leading of Providence, and by his own worth, has gained in this record an undying name; and if he has collected a small circle around him, who dimly and doubtfully stand out in his light and lustre, and are not quite lost in the common crowd; still, he to whom prominence is given, and they who partly share his exemption from oblivion, are singled out only that they may be the better seen to have their part in the one event which happeneth alike to all; and for each and all the same summary form of dismissal suffices, "And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation."
Surely it seems as if the Lord intended by this bill of
mortality for a whole race, which his own Spirit has framed, to stamp as with a
character of utter mockery and insignificance the most momentous distinctions
and interests of time; these all being engulfed and swallowed up in the general
doom of death, which ushers in the one distinction of eternity.
I. Let us ponder the announcement as it respects the individual, "Joseph died." Let us carry this intimation back with us into the various changes of his eventful life, invested as these are in our recollection with a peculiar charm by the affectionate associations and the fresh feelings of childhood. Does not the intimation impart to them all a still more touching and tender interest? We see Joseph - a child, a boy, a youth at home, the favourite of a widowed father, the first pledge of a love now hallowed by death. We follow him with full sympathy through the petty plots and snares of a divided family, to which his frank and unsuspecting simplicity made him an easy prey; and when we think of him as even then, in boyhood, honoured by direct communications from above, and on that very account persecuted and hated by those who naturally should have cherished and watched over him; when we read of his unsuspecting readiness to meet them half way in their plans against him, and of the desperate malignity of these plans the cruel deceit practised on his aged parent, and his own narrow escape, his providential deliverance; are we not touched by the reflection, that all this is but to lead to the brief conclusion, "Joseph died"?
We accompany him to Egypt. We go with him into Potiphars house, and rejoice in his advancement there. We share in his disgrace and degradation. Joseph in prison is to us like an old familiar friend. His innocence, his unsullied honour to his deceived master, his unshaken loyalty to his God, endear him to our hearts, and we burn with indignation at the wrongs he suffers. The dreams which he interpreted, the chief bakers fate, the chief butlers fault, all the particulars, in short, of his exaltation to royal favour; his rank at Pharaohs court, his power over all Egypt, his policy in providing for the years of famine, his treatment of his father and his fathers house - these circumstances in his history, the history which first won our heart in childhood, and longest retains its hold over us in age; these things give to the earthly career of Joseph an attractiveness and beauty in our fond esteem, equalling, nay, far surpassing, what we have ever found in any of the pictures of romance. It may not be pleasant to cast over all this stirring picture the sullen gloom of death; yet it does invest it all with a sort of softened and twilight charm, like the peaceful shades of evening shed over a busy landscape; and it teaches, at all events, a salutary lesson, to bear in mind, that prominent as was the station which Joseph occupied in his day, famous through all ages as his name has become, great and lasting as were the fruits of his measures after he was gone, touching not the Israelites alone, but Egypt and all the world he himself had to go the way of all flesh. His trials, with their many aggravations his triumphs, with all their glories were alike brief and evanescent; and his eventful career ended, as the obscurest and most common-place lifetime must end for "Joseph died."
Read over again the history of Joseph with this running title, this continual motto, "And Joseph died." Call before your minds eye its successive scenes; and as one by one they pass in review before you, and you gaze on the man of so many changes, let a loud voice ever and anon ring in your ears the knell, "And Joseph died." And try how this startling alarum will affect the judgment which you form and the emotions which you feel. Take each event by itself isolate it, separate it from all the rest, bring it at once into immediate contact with the event which closes all and see how it looks in the light, or in the lurid shade, of the tomb. Joseph is at home, the idol of a fond parent. Ah! Dote not, thou venerable sire, on thy fair and dutiful child. Remember how soon it may be said of him, and how certainly it must be said of him, that "Joseph died." Joseph is lost, and the aged father is disconsolate. He thinks of his sons bright promise, and of all that he might have been, had he been for a season spared. But grieve not, thou grey-haired patriarch. What though thy child has gone ere he has won lifes empty prizes? Ah! Think, though he had been left to win them all, how it must have come speedily to the same issue at the last, and it must have been said of him that "Joseph died." Joseph is in trouble betrayed, persecuted, distressed, wounded in his tenderest feelings, a stranger among strangers, a prisoner, a slave. But let him not be disquieted above measure, nor mourn over the loss of his prosperity. It will be all one to him when a few years are gone, and the end comes. It is but a little while, and it shall be said of him that "Joseph died." Joseph is exalted; he is high in wealth, in honour, and in power. He is restored to his father; he is reconciled to his brethren. But why should all his glory and his joy elate him? It will be nothing to him soon when it comes to be said of him that "Joseph died." Ah! There is but one of Josephs many distinctions, whether of character or of fortune, that does not shrink and shrivel beside this stern announcement. The simplicity of his trust in God, the steadfastness of his adherence to truth and holiness, the favour of Heaven, his charity out of a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned - these will stand the shock of collision with this record of his decease. And the one bright thought on which chiefly we love to rest when we read this record is, that he of whom we learn the tidings that he is dead, is the same Joseph whom we have heard uttering, under strong temptation, the noble sentiment, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" the same Joseph of whom we have read in prison, that "the Lord was with him, and showed him mercy" the same Joseph whom we have seen in Pharaohs presence disclaiming all personal credit, and giving glory to God alone "It is not in me; God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace;" the same Joseph who has spoken so kindly to his father and his brethren, soothing his fathers death-bed with the promise that he shall indeed, as he so fondly wishes, lie with his sires in the promised land, "I will do as thou hast said;" and relieving, with exquisite delicacy, the troubled consciences of his brethren, "Fear not; ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good; I will nourish you and your little ones;" and finally, the same Joseph who is found strong in faith when the hour of his own departure comes, hoping against hope, "making mention of the departing of the children of Israel, and giving commandment concerning his bones," saying, "God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence". Yes, it is something to learn that it is such a man; one who fears to offend against God, who trusts in His mercy, and who glorifies Him before kings; one, moreover, so dutiful to his father, so generous and forgiving to his brethren; and one, in fine, so firm in faith to the last, and so joyful in hope of the inheritance of God; it is something to learn that it is such an one, that it is Joseph, who is dead. There is comfort in the news that Joseph died. "The righteous is taken away from the evil to come" "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." So "Joseph died."
II. "And all his brethren." They too all died, and the vicissitudes of their family history came to an end in the silent tomb. That family history has its scenes of tenderness and of trouble, of pathos and of passion, like other family histories before and since scenes of similar though surpassing interest; and do not all these scenes derive a new interest and new significance from so solemn an intimation of death at the close? The actors in these scenes, the members of this family, would surely have thought and felt far otherwise than they did, had they reflected always how soon the time would come when, of all their joys and sorrows, their jealousies and heart-burnings, their rivalries and resentments, their feuds and reconciliations, their sins and their sufferings when of all these the simple and solitary record would be, that "Joseph died, and all his brethren." Ah! How intimately should this reflection have knit them together in unity of interest, of affection, and of aim! The tie of a common origin is scarcely stronger or closer than the tie of a common doom. That they were all born in the same fathers house is an argument of love that is greatly heightened and enhanced by the consideration that soon it may and must be said of them that they are all gone to the same resting-place of the tomb. The graves of a household, as they are dug one by one; the breaches in the little circle of home, made singly and in detail, as one and then another dear member is called away; these are very impressive to you who remain, and stamp with a new character in your estimate all the intercourse which you have been wont to have. When individuals of a family depart, ah! Does it not compel the survivors to review the past in a new light, and to think alas! Often in what bitterness of soul on what terms, and for what objects and ends, they have for long years been living together? The friend, the beloved brother who has gone, has acquired, by his death, new value in your esteem a new and sacred claim to your regard. Now for the first time you discover how dear he should have been, how dear he was, to your hearts dearer far than you had ever thought. How fondly do you dwell on all his attractions and excellencies! How do his faults and failings fade away from your eyes! And oh! With what a pang, and with what poignancy of grief, does the wounded soul brood over any passages of unkindness, any instances of neglect! How frivolous are all former causes of misunderstanding, all excuses for indifference, now seen to be! Death has stamped upon them all a character of most absolute insignificance; and bitter almost beyond endurance is the idea now, that for the sake of such trifles and vanities as are all the things of earth that breed coldness and suspicion among brethren, you have in any degree lost or wasted the season of friendly and familiar communion, so precious and so soon to close. How cheerfully would you give your all, if you could re call the lost one but for a day, or for an hour, that you might unburden your heavy heart, and exchange anew forgiveness and affection! With what warmth would you now meet, with what fullness of confidence and love would you embrace, him whom but yesterday, perhaps, you carelessly overlooked or cruelly offended! Would that you had known then how soon and how suddenly death was to claim him as its victim! Ah! You would have better improved the time of his remaining with you. You would not have omitted so many opportunities of cultivating and enjoying his intimacy. You would not have delayed from day to day your purposes of kindness. You would not have been so readily and so frequently estranged from him. You would not have suspected, or envied, or provoked, or wounded him, as you have done. You would not have consulted so habitually your own selfish inclinations, or sought your own selfish ends, or indulged your own selfish passions. And, above all, you would not, in your dealings with him, have so exclusively regarded the things of time and so grievously neglected the things of eternity.
Ah! You would not have met so often, and so soften parted, without one sentence or one mutual thought of godliness interchanged between you. You would have spoken more faithfully; you would have conversed and communed on the things that belong to your peace. You would have wept over sin together, and praised the love of the Saviour together, and prayed together, and joined together in works of faith and labours of love. Your reserve would have been far more completely laid aside, and God would have been far more fully acknowledged, and a "word in season" would have been uttered, and something, it may be, perilous to the soul of a dying sinner would have been left unsaid, if, when you last saw and conversed with your brother, you had had the slightest idea that he was so speedily to go to his long home. And does this consideration lose its force when, by such a sentence as that before us, the members of a family are not, as it were, individually and one by one, but altogether, and in one sweeping summons, called to pass from the shadows of time to the dread realities of the eternal world? Is there not an awful voice to families in this short, solemn note of death "Joseph died, and all his brethren"? "With their loves and hatreds, their fears and hopes, their family affections, such as they were, their family sins they are all gone from this earth, and the place that once knew them knows them no more.
And whither are they gone? And what are their views now, and what their feelings, on the matters which formed the subject of their familiar intercourse here? Are they united in the region of blessedness above? Are they formed again into a society in heaven, more happy and more stable than was their household on earth Joseph and his brethren, the beloved Benjamin and the aged Jacob, all met in joy, to part no more for ever? Or is there a fearful separation, and are there some of their number on the other side of the great gulf, vainly regretting the time when they would not cast in their lot with those who were faithful to their fathers God? We dare not raise the curtain, or gaze even in imagination on the mysterious secrets of the invisible state. It is enough that they are all dead, and have left the many things about which they were careful, and have all now at last learned the lesson "One thing is needful". Would to God that the anticipation of the time when, concerning us and those with whom we are dwelling together in families, the final and summary record shall be, that we are dead and all our brethren, were sufficient to teach us that lesson now, ere it be too late! that God himself would persuade us now so to cultivate the charities of home, in the spirit and the hope of heaven, that to us and our brethren may be applied, in their highest and holiest and happiest sense, the words of Davids lamentation over the father and son who fell together in the fight "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided!" "So Joseph died, and all his brethren"
III. "And all that generation." The tide of mortality rolls on in a wider stream. It sweeps into the one vast ocean of eternity all the members of a family, all the families of a race. The distinctions alike of individuals and of households are lost. Every landmark is laid low. The various dates and manners of different departures are merged and overwhelmed in the one universal announcement, that of all who at one given time existed on the earth, not one remains Joseph is dead, and all his brethren, and all that generation. Some are gone in tender years of childhood, unconscious of lifes sins and sufferings some in grey-headed age, weighed down by many troubles. Some have perished by the hand of violence some by natural decay. Here is one smitten in an instant to the dust there is another, the victim of slow and torturing disease. The strong man and the weak the proud man and the beggar the king and the subject whether in prosperity and nursed by friends, or in dreary and desolate destitution, without a friend or brother to close the anxious eye all are gone. The thousands have met their doom from a thousand different causes, and in a countless variety of circumstances. War, famine, pestilence, have had their innumerable victims. Crime has carried off, in one undistinguishable crowd, the ministers that did his pleasure the dupes that fell into his snares. Profligacy has slowly preyed on the pining souls and bodies of her votaries. Accident has suddenly snapped the thread of life. The tyrant, mingling mens blood with their sacrifices the falling tower, crushing its inmates under its weight fire seizing the midnight dwelling, or the lonely ship in mid ocean afar, the Assassins knife, the poisoning cup or the weary wear and tear of a prolonged battle with lifes ills, all have achieved their triumphs over the proud race that lords it in this lower world. Grave after grave has been opened and filled; man after man has gone the way of all living; new bodies have been consigned to the silent tomb; new sets of mourners have gone about the streets. And now, of the entire multitude that at some one point of time occupied the earth, not one remains, all, all are gone. Various were their pursuits, their toils, their interests, their joys, their griefs various their eventful histories; but one common sentence will serve as the epitaph of all "Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation."
And another generation now fills the stage a generation that, in all its vast circle of families, can produce not one individual to link it with the buried race on whose ashes it is treading. Make for yourselves, in imagination, the abrupt transition which the historian here makes in his narrative the sudden leap across an interval of years, during which the gradual process of death and birth has been going on, ever emptying, but ever replenishing, the earth, and keeping it ever full. Make that interval, as he does, an absolute blank, a dreary void, a great gulf. Let the sleep or oblivion of a century come in between; and as you awake out of a trance, let it be amid a throng as eager and as intensely active as that which you left, but a throng in which you see "not the face of one old friend rise visaged to your view." It is the same scene as before; but ah! How changed! On a smaller scale, you have experienced something of what we now describe. In the sad season of bereavement, how have you felt your pain embittered by the contrast between death reigning in your heart and home, and bustling life going on all around! Oh! to step out from the darkened chamber of sickness, or the house of solitary woe, and stand all at once in the glare and amid the tumult of the broad and busy day; to see the sun shine as brightly, and the green earth smile as gladly, and all nature rejoice as gloriously as ever, while all to you is a blank; to hear the concord of sweet voices mocking your desolation; to mix with dreary heart in the unsympathizing crowd; it is enough often to turn distress into distraction, and make you loathe the light and life that so offend your sadness!
In the prospect, too, of your own departure, does not this thought form an element of the dreariness of death, that when you are gone, and laid in the silent tomb, others will arise that knew not you? Your removal will scarce occasion even a momentary interruption in the onward course and incessant hurry of affairs, and your loss will be but as that of a drop of water from the tide that rolls on in its career as mighty and as majestically as ever. But here, it is a whole generation, with all its families, that is engulfed in one unmeasured tomb! And, lo! The earth is still all astir with the same activities, all gay with the same pomps and pageantries, all engrossed with the same vanities and follies, and, alas! the same sins also, that have been beguiling and disappointing the successive races of its inhabitants since the world began! Is there no moral in the shadow which this gigantic burial of a whole generation in a single brief text casts upon all these things? What are they all, the joys and sorrows, the cares, the toils, the pleasures of time, as the gate of eternity opens to shut in from our view, with one wide sweep, the millions that once used them, as we are using them now? What are they all, with the tears and smiles which they caused, to these millions, to whom but now they seemed to be everything? What will they all be to us, when of each one of us, as of Joseph, the simple record shall be, that "Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation?" This funeral of a whole generation! The individual, the family, and the entire mass of life, mingled in one common tomb! Surely it is a solemn thought. It appeals to our natural sensibility. But does it not appeal also to our spiritual apprehension? Natural sensibility is but little trustworthy. It is easily moved by such musings; and it is as easily composed. Violent emotion and frivolous apathy are the extremes between which it vacillates and vibrates. To win and command its sympathies for the moment is an insignificant and unworthy triumph. Faith, on the other hand, finds matter of deeper and more lasting impression here. Death is the great divider. It severs families and cuts friendships asunder, breaking closest ties, and causing the most compact associations to fall in pieces. Coming as it does upon the race of men one by one, singling out individually, one after another, its successive victims, it, resolves each hill or mountain into its constituent grains, taking separate account of every one of them, as separately it draws them into its insatiable jaws.
But death is, after all, the great Uniter too. Separating for a time, it brings all together at last. The church-yard opens its graves to part dearest brethren and friends; but soon it opens them again, to mix their kindred ashes in one common dust. Is the union, however, that death occasions real, substantial, enduring? "Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation." Death passed upon them all, for they all had sinned. It is the common lot the general history the universal characteristic. And there is another common lot - another general history - another universal characteristic: "After death, the judgment." Joseph rises again, "and all his brethren, and all that generation" and they all stand before the judgment-seat. There is union then. The small and the great are there; the servant and his master all are brought together. But for what? And for how long? "The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." What a solemn contrast have we here! Death unites after separation: the judgment unites in order to separation. Death, closing the drama of time, lets the ample curtain fall upon its whole scenery and all its actors. The judgment, opening the drama of eternity, discloses scenery and actors once more entire. All die; all are judged: the two events happen alike to all. And both are near; for the time is short, the Lord is at hand. But before death, before the judgment, is the gospel, which is now freely preached to all. And a voice is heard, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man open unto me, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Let this feast of love be begun in heart after heart, as one by one sinners die in Christ unto sin and live in Christ unto God. And when individuals, families, generations, are separated, and united, to be separated again, separated by death, united at the judgment, to be finally separated for eternity, may it be our privilege to meet at the marriage-supper of the Lamb, beyond which there is no parting any more for ever.
Go to Scripture Characters No.2
SCRIPTURE CHARACTERS BY ROBERT S. CANDLISH, D.D., FREE ST. GEORGES, EDINBURGH. LONDON: T. NELSON AND SONS, PATERNOSTER ROW EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK.
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet