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The Irksomeness of Religion
We all know how after a certain time the children of Israel began to loathe the manna. Their soul rejected it, it was light food. It was bread from heaven, says the Psalmist angels' bread, and yet it proved distasteful to the camp. The strange thing is that it was they and not God's enemies who found the manna such a distasteful dish. It was the children of Israel who felt the diet irksome, and the children of Israel were the people of God.
I. That leads me by quite a competent spiritualizing for did not Jesus say, 'I am the bread'? to dwell on a very urgent matter, I mean the irksomeness inherent in religion. There is nothing on earth so paramount and vital as the relationship of the human soul to God. Yet men who have felt all that, and feel it now and wherever an awakened soul is, there it is felt such men and women, whensoever they reveal their souls, confess to the seasons, sometimes unbroken years, when religion was an irksome thing to them. Or again, one might say religion cannot be irksome if the great key-words of the New Testament be true. There is rest, and there is joy and love on the narrow path which Jesus Christ hath trodden. But for all that, there are few travellers on that path who have not felt the irksomeness of their religion.
II. We detect it sometimes by the quiet relief we feel when our religious exercises are concluded a certain secret sense of satisfaction when the prayer is got over, and the worship done.
We detect it again in the way in which many try to put service in the place of personal religion.
But the irksomeness of a quiet and abiding piety is seen above all in the love of religious excitement.
III. I wonder if we can discern the grounds of this element of irksomeness in heart-religion? Surely the first and the deepest is just this religion is spiritual, and we are carnal. It is because we are far from Christlike yet; it is because God is holiness and love and purity and truth, and because in religion we must walk with God, that even to the saint it has its irksomeness.
Another reason for that same feeling is this, we strive and seem to make so little progress.
But in our religion, I think it is the Gross above all else that does it. It is the fact that in the very centre there hangs the pallid figure on the tree. In other words, it is the abnegation, it is the humility and self-denial, it is the renunciation of much that is sweet to us, and the eye fixed on a dying and bleeding Saviour; it is that, when life is sweet and full of music, and calling us as to the freedom of a bird, that may keep an element of irksomeness in all following of the blessed Lord.
G. H. Morrison, Sun-Rise, p. 279.
Dew and Manna
Israel represents humanity in its pitiful failure to realize the goodness of Divine providence.
I. Here are Usual and Unusual Mercies. Dew is usual, manna is unusual. Dew falls everywhere and always; not so manna. Life, however, receives both dew and manna. The sad fact is that we often fail to appreciate either class of mercies.
II. Here are Natural and Spiritual Mercies. Dew is a natural blessing; manna represents a spiritual good. One is according to the established course of nature, the other a supernatural gift of God. And yet the distinction between natural and spiritual is largely man-made. To the Christian it is almost impossible to differentiate between the two spheres. God is behind the dew as surely as the manna. The spiritual represents the supernatural, but not the un natural.
III. Here are Mysterious Processes in Life. Who understands the dew? Who understands manna? The very word carries the idea of mystery. It con-notes an inquiry 'What is it?' None can evacuate either gift of its mystery. And lite is full of mysterious processes. There is mystery about the ordinary and mystery about the usual. If we give up religion because of its mystery, both logic and honesty will compel us to surrender a host of other things, for they are instinct with mystery. Life would be a dreary monotony if there were no mystery; and you would not accept a religion devoid of mystery, for mystery is the sign of divinity.
IV. 'Dew and Manna.' Life abounds in Common Mercies. 'When the dew fell upon the camp, the manna fell upon it.' It was a universal benefit. Both dew and manna were common to all Israel.
Do not the best gifts of life bear the stamp of universality? The dew and manna fall upon 'the camp'. Sir Walter Scott, in the latter part of his life, said to a young friend, 'The older you grow, the more you will be thankful that the finest of God's mercies are common mercies'. It is profoundly true. The Apostle Jude writes of 'our common salvation'. Peter speaks of 'the common faith'. Moses spoke of 'the common death'. Recall that fine saying of Schiller's: 'Death cannot be an evil, for it is universal'.
V. 'When the Dew fell upon the Camp in the Night, the Manna fell upon it.' Here are Associated Mercies.
VI. How regular, too, are God's Mercies! 'When the dew fell, the manna fell.' Neither sprang out of the earth: they fell from wondrous heights. The sun never fails on any single day to appear. The air currents are always flowing. Harvest comes every year. God's constancy is the miracle of miracles.
VII. God's Mercies do not Absolve Man from his Duty. God sends the dew, but only that we may utilize the ground He thus prepares for us. God sends the manna, but it is not to be eaten just as it falls. Grace is to be improved.
VIII. Dew and Manna are Typical Gifts. They are typical in two respects:
1. In the case before us the season of their bestowment is full of parabolic suggestiveness. When did these blessings fall? 'In the night.' Spiritual benedictions are often richest in darkest hours.
2. Dew is the symbol of grace. Manna, too, is typical. In the 6th chapter of John's great gospel Christ sets Himself in apposition to the manna. Dinsdale T. Young, Unfamiliar Texts, p. 189.
References. XI. 14. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, p. 329. XI. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 363. XL 25. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 11. XI. 26. T. G. Rooke, The Church in the Wilderness, p. 209.
Lord, Thy servants are now praying in the church, and I am staying at home, detained by necessary occasions, such as are not of my seeking, but of Thy sending. My care could not prevent them, my power could not remove them. Wherefore, though I cannot go to church, there to sit down at table with the rest of Thy guests, be pleased, Lord, to send me a dish of their meat hither, and feed my soul with holy thoughts. Eldad and Medad, though staying still in the camp (no doubt on just cause), yet prophesied as well as the other elders. Though they went not out to the spirit, the spirit came home to them.
Lord, grant me one suit, which is this deny me all suits which are bad for me: when I petition for what is unfitting, O let the King of heaven make use of His negative voice. Rather let me fast than have quails given with intent that I should be choked in eating them.
References. XI. 27. W. J. Dawson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 296. XI. 29. T. G. Selby, The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, p. 215. W. Sanday, Inspiration, p. 168. T. De Witt Talmage, Sermons, p. 221. T. M. Rees, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 293. J. Warschauer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 417. XI. 34. J. Baldwin Brown, The Soul's Exodus and Pilgrimage, p. 279. XII. 3. T. R. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 109. XIII. 16. J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 213. G. Trevor, Types and the Antitype, p. 115. XIII. 17-33. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, p. 332. XIII. 21, 23, 27. R. Winterbotham, Sermons Preached in Holy Trinity Church, Edinburgh, p. 275. XIII. 23. W. Brooke, Sermons, p. 30.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Numbers 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany