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Thy brother’s ox or his sheep.
Restoration of stray cattle and lost goods
Moses urges right action in manifold relations of national life, and teaches Israel to regard all arrangements of God as sacred. They were never to cherish any bitterness or hostility towards a neighbour, but restore stray animals and lost goods.
I. An indication of God’s providence. “Doth God care for oxen?” Yes; and observes them go astray, or fall beneath their heavy burden. He legislates for them, and our treatment of them is reverence or disobedience to His command. “Thou shalt not see,” etc.
II. An opportunity of neighbourly kindness. “Thy brother” comprehends relatives, neighbours, strangers, and enemies even (Exodus 23:4). The property of any person which is in danger shall be protected and restored. Love should rule in all actions, and daily incidents afford the chance of displaying it.
1. Kindness regardless of trouble. “If thy brother be not nigh unto thee, and if thou know him not,” seek him out and find him if possible.
2. Kindness regardless of expense. If really unable to find the owner, feed and keep it for a time at thine own expense. “Then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it.” If such care must be taken for the ex, what great anxiety should we display for the temporal and spiritual welfare of our neighbour himself!
III. An expression of humanity. “Thou shalt not hide thyself.” Indifference or joy in the misfortune would be cruelty to dumb creatures and a violation of the common rights of humanity.
1. In restoring the lost. Cattle easily go astray and wander over the fence and from the fold. If seen they must be brought back and not hidden away.
2. In helping up the fallen. The ass ill-treated and over-laden may fall down through rough or slippery roads. Pity must prompt a helping hand. “Thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.” Thus common justice and charity are taught by the law of nature and enforced by the law of Moses. Principles which anticipate the Gospel and embody themselves in one of its grandest precepts, “Love your enemies.” (J. Wolfendale.)
The word “brother” is not to be read in a limited sense, as if referring to a relation by blood. That is evident from expression in the second verse, “If thou know him not.” The reference is general--to a brother-man. In Exodus the term used is not brother, but “enemy”--“If thine enemy’s ox, or ass, or sheep . . . ” It is needful to understand this clearly, lest we suppose that the directions given in the Bible are merely of a domestic and limited kind. “Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray.” That is not the literal rendering of the term; the literal rendering would be, “Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep driven away”--another man behind them, and driving them on as if he were taking them to his own field. We are not to see actions of this kind and be quiet: there is a time to speak; and of all times calling for indignant eloquence and protest there are none like those which are marked by oppression and wrong-doing. Adopting this principle, how does the passage open itself to our inquiry? Thus--
1. If we must not see our brother’s ox being driven away, can we stand back and behold his mind being forced into wrong or evil directions? It were an immoral morality to contend that we must be anxious about the man’s ox but care nothing about the man’s understanding. We do not live in Deuteronomy: we live within the circle of the Cross; we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; our morality or our philanthropy, therefore, does not end in solicitude regarding ox, or sheep, or ass: we are called to the broader concern, the tenderer interest, which relates to the human mind and the human soul. Take it from another point of view.
2. If careful about the sheep, is there to be no care concerning the man’s good name? We are told that to steal the purse is to steal trash--it is something--nothing; ‘twas mine, ‘twas his--a mere rearrangement of property; “but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” We are the keepers of our brother: his good name is ours. When the reputation of a Christian man goes down or is being driven away, the sum total of Christian influence is diminished; in this sense we are not to live unto ourselves or for ourselves; every soul is part of the common stock of humanity, and when one member is exalted the whole body is raised in a worthy ascension, and when one member is debased or wronged or robbed a felony has been committed upon the consolidated property of the Church. Thus we are led into philanthropic relations, social trusteeships, and are bound one to another; and if we see a man’s reputation driven away by some cruel hand--even though the reputation be that of an enemy--we are to say, “Be just and fear not,”--let us know both sides of the case; there must be no immoral partiality; surely in the worst of cases there must be some redeeming points. Take it from another point.
3. “In like manner shalt thou do with . . . his raiment.” And are we to be careful about the man’s raiment, and care nothing about his aspirations? Is it nothing to us that the man never lifts his head towards the wider spaces, and wonders what the lights are that glitter in the distant arch? Is it nothing to us that the man never sighs after some larger sphere, or ponders concerning some nobler possibility of life? Finding a man driving himself away, we are bound to arouse him in the Creator’s name and to accuse him of the worst species of suicide.
4. Can we see our brother’s ass being driven away and ears nothing what becomes of his child? Save the children, and begin your work as soon as possible. It is sad to see the little children left to themselves; and therefore ineffably beautiful to mark the concern which interests itself in the education and redemption of the young. A poet says he was nearer heaven in his childhood than he ever was in after days, and he sweetly prayed that he might return through his yesterdays and through his childhood back to God. That is chronologically impossible--locally and physically not to be done; and yet that is the very miracle which is to be performed in the soul--in the spirit; we must be “born again.” It is a coward’s trick to close the eyes whilst wrong is being done in order that we may not see it. It is easy to escape distress, perplexity, and to flee away from the burdens of other men; but the whole word is, “Thou shalt not hide thyself,” but “thou shalt surely help him.” Who can undervalue a Bible which speaks in such a tone? The proverb “Every man must take care of himself” has no place in the Book of God. We must take care of one another. Christianity means nothing if it does not mean the unity of the human race, the common rights of humanity: and he who fails to interpose in all cases of injustice and wrong-doing, or suffering which he can relieve, may be a great theologian, but he is not a Christian. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A kind heart
One day President Lincoln was walking out with his secretary, when suddenly he stopped by a shrub and gazed into it. Stooping down he ran his hands through the twigs and leaves as if to take something. His secretary inquired what he was after. Said Mr. Lincoln, “Here is a little bird fallen from its nest, and I am trying to put it back again.” True kindness ever springs instinctively from lives permeated with goodness. “Kind hearts are more than coronets.”
We have lately been doing a blessed work amongst the cabmen of Manchester, many of whom have signed the pledge. I heard the other night that one of them had broken his pledge and I went to the cab rooms to look after him. I saw him there, but he tried to avoid me. He was ashamed to face me. I followed him up, and at last he presented himself before me, wearing a most dejected look. I said to him, “When you are driving your cab, and your horse falls down, what do you do?” “I jumps off the box and tries to help him up again.” “That is it, my friend, I replied. “I heard you had fallen, and so I got off my box to help you up. Will you get up? There is my hand.” He caught hold of it with a grasp like a vice, and said, “I will, sir; before God, and under His own blue heavens, I promise you that I will not touch a drop of strong drink again; and you will never have to regret the trouble you have taken with me.” Oh, Christian friends, there are many poor drunkards who have fallen down. “Will you not get off the box, and help them up?” (C. Garrett.)
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man.
Dominion of fashion
God thought womanly attire of enough importance to have it discussed in the Bible. Just in proportion as the morals of a country or an age are depressed is that law defied. Show me the fashion plates of any century from the time of the Deluge to this, and I will tell you the exact state of public morals. Ever and anon we have imported from France, or perhaps invented on this side the sea, a style that proposes as far as possible to make women dress like men. The costumes of the countries are different, and in the same country may change, but there is a divinely ordered dissimilarity which must be forever observed. Any divergence from this is administrative of vice and runs against the keen thrust of the text. In my text, as by a parable, it is made evident that Moses, the inspired writer, as vehemently as ourselves, reprehends the effeminate man and the masculine woman.
1. My text also sanctions fashion. Indeed, it sets a fashion! There is a great deal of senseless cant on the subject of fashion. A woman or man who does not regard it is unfit for good neighbourhood. The only question is, what is right fashion and what is wrong fashion. Fashion has been one of the most potent of reformers, and one of the vilest of usurpers. Sometimes it has been an angel from heaven, and at others it has been the mother of abomination. As the world grows better there will be as much fashion as now, but it will be a righteous fashion. In the future life white robes always have been and always will be in the fashion. The accomplishments of life are in no wise productive of effeminacy or enervation. Good manners and a respect for the tastes of others are indispensable. The Good Book speaks favourably of those who are a “peculiar” people; but that does not sanction the behaviour of queer people. There is no excuse, under any circumstances, for not being and acting the lady or gentleman. Rudeness is sin. As Christianity advances there will be better apparel, higher styles of architecture, more exquisite adornments, sweeter music, grander pictures, more correct behaviour, and more thorough ladies and gentlemen. But there is another story to be told.
2. Wrong fashion is to be charged with many of the worst evils of society, and its path has often been strewn with the bodies of the slain. It has often set up a false standard by which people are to be judged. Our common sense, as well as all the Divine intimations on the subject, teach us that people ought to be esteemed according to their individual and moral attainments. The man who has the most nobility of soul should be first, and he who has the least of such qualities should stand last. Truth, honour, charity, heroism, self-sacrifice should win highest favour; but inordinate fashion says, “Count not a woman’s virtues; count her adornments.” “Look not at the contour of the head, but see the way she combs her hair.”
3. Wrong fashion is productive of a most ruinous strife. The expenditure of many households is adjusted by what their neighbours have, not by what they themselves can afford to have; and the great anxiety is as to who shall have the finest house and the most costly equipage.
4. Again, wrong fashion makes people unnatural and untrue. It is a factory from which has come forth more hollow pretences and unmeaning flatteries than the Lowell mills ever turned out shawls and garments. Fashion is the greatest of all liars. It has made society insincere. You know not what to believe. When people ask you to come, you do not know whether or not they want you to come. When they send their regards, you do not know whether it is an expression of their heart or an external civility. We have learned to take almost everything at a discount.
5. Again, wrong fashion is incompatible with happiness. Those who depend for their comfort upon the admiration of others are subject to frequent disappointment. Somebody will criticise their appearance or surpass them in brilliancy, or will receive more attention. Oh, the jealousy and detraction and heartburnings of those who move in this bewildered maze! Poor butterflies! Bright wings do not always bring happiness.
6. Again, devotion to wrong fashion is productive of physical disease, mental imbecility, and spiritual withering. Apparel insufficient to keep out the cold and the rain, or so fitted upon the person that the functions of life are restrained; late hours filled with excitement and feasting; free draughts of wine that make one not beastly intoxicated, but only fashionably drunk; and luxurious indolence--are the instruments by which this unreal life pushes its disciples into valetudinarianism and the grave. Wrong fashion is the world’s undertaker, and drives thousands of hearses to churchyards and cemeteries.
7. But, worse than that, this folly is an intellectual depletion. What is the matter with that woman wrought up into the agony of despair? Oh, her muff is out of fashion!
8. Worse than all, this folly is not satisfied until it has extirpated every moral sentiment and blasted the soul. A wardrobe is the rock upon which many a soul has been riven. The excitement of a luxurious life has been the vortex that has swallowed up more souls than the maelstrom off Norway ever destroyed ships. What room for elevating themes in a heart filled with the trivial and unreal? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee.
How to take a bird’s nest
Does God take thought for birds, then? Yes, even for birds. They sow not, neither do they reap; yet our heavenly Father feedeth them. Christ: cared for birds, then; and therefore we may be sure that God cares for them. And this God, says Jesus, is your Father. He loves you even more than He loves the birds, and guards you with a more watchful care. You would laugh if I were to ask you, What does your mother love best, the canary that sings in the cage, or the little girl who sits in her lap? And you may be quite as sure that you are “better” to your Father in heaven “than many sparrows”; yes, and better than all the birds He ever made. But if you are so dear to God, your Father, should you not love Him because He loves you, and prove your love by caring for what He cares for? Well, He cares for birds. He marks the trees “where the birds build their nests,” and “sing among the branches”; and He shows us, in one of the Psalms (Psalms 104:12; Psalms 104:17), that He observes what kinds of trees the different birds select for use; does He not say, “As for the stork, the fir trees are her house”? Now, I dare say some of you boys are pleased to find that there is such a law, or rule, as this in the Bible. You have not been quite sure in your minds, perhaps, whether it was right or wrong to take a bird’s nest, or even to take the eggs from the nest. And, I dare say, when you heard me read my text you thought, “Well, that’s a capital rule! If I mustn’t take the old bird, at least I may take the young ones or the eggs.” But are you sure that that is the right way to read the Rule? But, to be honest with you, I am afraid it is wrong. As God loves the birds and takes care of them, so will you, if you are good children of our Father who is in heaven. And is it taking care of them to rob them of the beautiful little houses which they have spent so much toil in building? Of course, if we really want eggs or birds we may take them, whether we want them as food for the body or food for the mind; for God has put them all at our service. But to take them wantonly, without thought, without necessity, simply for the fun of it, is to wrong creatures whom God loves.
I. It set a limit to the natural greed of men. What would be the first impulse of a Jew who found the nest of a quail, or a partridge, with the mother bird sitting on the young ones or the eggs? Of course, his first impulse would be to take all he could get, the old bird as well as the eggs or the young. But to do that might be very poor thrift, and very poor morality. For in destroying the parent bird with the young the man might be helping to destroy a whole breed of valuable birds. He would get a dinner for today, but he would be lessening his chance of finding one tomorrow, tie would be helping himself, but he might also be injuring his neighbour. “Don’t be greedy,” then, is the first lesson we find in our bird’s nest. “Don’t snatch at all you can for today, careless about tomorrow.”
II. Another lesson taught by this law about a bird’s nest is this--it brings the law of God into the little things of life. And that is just where we most need it, and are most apt to forget it.
III. But this rule about birds nesting teaches us that all love is sacred; and this is the most beautiful lesson I have found in it. Now, think. If you were to find a nest, and saw the mother bird with a brood of young ones under her wings, what would it be that would give you a good chance of catching her? It would simply be her love for her nestlings. If she cared only for herself she could fly away out of your reach. But if the love of a bird is sacred, how much more sacred is the love of a boy or a girl, of a woman or a man! All love is sacred. It is base and wicked to take advantage of it, to turn it against itself, to use it for selfish ends. I would have you think, therefore, how great a power love gives you, and how base and wrong it is to abuse that power. Love is the strongest thing in the world. People will do for love what they would do for nothing else. And there are those who know that, and who take such base advantage of it that they sometimes ruin the character and spoil the life of those who love and trust them. There is nothing in the world so wicked, so base, so vile. If you have parents, or brothers and sisters, or young companions and friends, who love you dearly, oh take heed what you do! Their love will be the comfort and joy of your lives if you retain and respond to it. But that love puts them in your power. You may hurt them through it, and grieve them through it, and make them go wrong when, but for you, they would have gone right. And if you do, you will be scorned by all good men and women. If you do, what will you say to the God of all love, and what will He say to you, when you stand before Him? And that brings me to the very last word I have to say to you. Who is it that loves you best of all, most purely, most forgivingly, most tenderly? And perhaps you are abusing God’s love. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The law of the bird’s nest
Does God think it worth while to make mention of the nest of a bird? Yes, He does. In those old Hebrew days, if the people saw a lad coming with a bird’s nest, and bringing the old bird as well as the young, they could tell him that his father and mother would most likely live to attend his funeral! He would not live to be a grey-headed man. No; length of days went with obedience. Birds nests are much more wonderful things than many people think. What labour, skill, and patience each little builder displays before he has at home for his bride! Has it ever occurred to you that each kind of bird builds its own kind of nest? The thrush makes his home very like the blackbird, only always papers it. By a clever mixture of decayed wood and clay he puts a lining inside the home. But it is in foreign lands, where birds have other enemies besides men to fear, that greater ingenuity is displayed. Some build their little homes so as to hang from the bough of a tree right over a sheet of water, so that if the monkey finds the nest he cannot get at it, because his weight would sink him into the water. The entrance to the nest of others is made at the bottom, and the little house is suspended from the branch of a tree. There is one kind of bird called the tailor, who sews two leaves together so as to deceive the eye, for they look like one leaf and not two, We should think it a wonderful thing if we saw a horse building its own stable, yet this is not more wonderful than the bird building its own dwelling. God has shown His wisdom and power in putting the skill into the life of the bird, and this skill gives him rights. We always count it due to originality that it should be benefited by its productions. Invention gives rights. If this be so, does not God’s originality give Him a claim? What I am anxious to teach is this: Where you see the mark of God’s hand, listen for His voice. Where creation comes, kingly claims must be mot. Let this rule be followed, and what a change would come over the world! None but God can make things grow. Ought He not, then, to be revered and obeyed wherever He creates? Who but God could have designed the horse, so strong and fleet? What a marvellous combination of muscular and nervous force there is in the noble animal! Did the Creator endue this splendid beast with this vigour and activity that men should meet by the thousand to win or lose money? But it is time we considered “the law of the bird’s nest.” If you saw the mother bird sitting, you might take eggs or young birds, but you must “let the dam go.” Why? Because God sees that it is not wise to take all that is within your reach. Let the old bird fly; she will live to have another brood. This law acts beneficially on all sides. If George III had known this, he would not have been so greedy with the settlers in America. He strove to grasp all, and lost the United States. What might not that land have been under the Union Jack? It is a great nation, but not what it might have been. And how it would have nourished England, instead of being her rival! Many a family would have been saved irritation and heartbreak if grasping at all had not been the rule. Taking all within reach often means that affection is slain by selfishness, and duty driven away for want of knowing that God wants you to leave something for others to enjoy. When will Capital and Labour learn that to take all you can is to injure self? To grasp at too much is to lose greatly. When men have learned to let the old bird go, strikes and lock-outs will be no more. Commerce flourishes by not grasping at too much. One of the cleverest tradesmen I ever knew told me that one secret of his success was the way he bought his stock. He had great skill in this matter, and, said he, “When I buy well, I say, how much of this extra profit can I give to my customers?” Is it any wonder that his shop had a name for good stuff at a low price, and that he made money when others lost it? When men have learned to let the old bird go they will keep the Sabbath day holy. God gives men six days but claims the seventh. But we shall fail to get all the good taught in the text if we do not see that here we have God’s tribute to maternal affection. It is wonderful how brave a little timid bird will become in the defence of her young. She will sit there, and not try to save herself in her anxiety for the helpless brood which nestles under her wings. Is there some poor woman reading this who wonders how she is to provide for the children, now that her husband is no more? Poor widow, dost thou not see that if God cares for the bird’s nest He cares for thy home, and if He would protect the thrush or the wren He will not forget thy little ones? Does not God speak to young people here? If He thinks so much of a mother’s love as to mark the affection of a bird for her young, how does He feel when He sees us treat our parents with neglect or cruelty? It is an old, and we fear true, proverb, that “The old cat catches mice for the kittens, but the kitten never brings the old cat one.” Should that old saying apply to us? Yes, God has shown His approval here of a mother’s affection. Do not let any of us feel as some men feel when they are summoned to see their mother die. I don’t want you to feel as a man did who had been sent for to bid his mother goodbye. She had worked hard for her large family; washed and baked and wrought to bring them up and save a bit of money to start them in the world; and just when she ought to have been in her prime she broke down and had to die. As the young man looked at her face, wrinkled and faded, he thought of the way she had toiled for her children, he remembered that he had never shown her any attention, had not ever kissed her since he was a little child, and the tears came into his eyes! He bent down and put his lips to hers, lovingly though awkwardly, and said, “You have been a good mother to us, you have that! She looked at him as though she could not understand the kiss and the words of appreciation, and said with a sigh, “Eh, John, I wish thou had said so before!” (T. Champness.)
The bird’s nest
We are very much struck with this law, not because it has to do with a matter apparently trifling, but because there is annexed to it the same promise as to commandments of the highest requirement. The commandment may have to do with a trivial thing: but it is evident enough that it cannot be a trivial commandment; indeed, no commandment can be which proceeds from God. Let us endeavour to ascertain on what principles the precept before us is founded, what dispositions it inculcates, and we shall find that there is no cause for surprise in the annexment of a promise of long life to obedience to the direction, “If a bird’s nest chance to be,” etc. Now, you will see at once that, had the precept been of a more stringent character, it might, in some sense, have been more easily vindicated and explained. Had it forbidden altogether the meddling with the nest, had it required that not only should the mother bird be let go, but that neither the young birds nor the eggs should be taken, it would at once have been said that God was graciously protecting the inferior creation, and forbidding man to act towards them with any kind of cruelty. But the precept permits the taking the nest; it does not even hint that it might be better to let the nest alone; it simply confines itself to protecting the parent bird, and thus allows, if it does not actually direct, what may be thought an inhuman thing, the carrying off the young to the manifest disappointment and pain of the mother. It should not, however, be unobserved that the precept does not touch the case in which there is an actual looking for the nest. It is not a direction as to what should be done if a nest were found after diligent search, but only as to what should be done if a nest were found by mere chance or accident. Without pretending to argue that God would have forbidden the searching for the nest, it is highly probable that there was something significant in this direction as to taking the nest, in the particular case when that nest had been unwisely placed. We are sure, from various testimonies of Scripture, that God has designed to instruct us in and through the inferior creation, the birds of the air and the beasts of the field being often appealed to when men have to be taught and admonished. And we know not, therefore, that there can be anything far fetched in supposing that, by sanctioning a sort of injury to the bird, which had built its nest in an insecure place, God meant to teach us that, if we will not take due precautions for our own safety we are not to expect the shield of His protection. But now as to the permission itself. Were not the Israelites here taught to be moderate in their desires? It was like giving a lesson against covetousness, a lesson so constructed as to be capable of being reproduced in great variety of circumstances, when the finder of a prize, who might fancy himself at liberty to appropriate the whole, was required to content himself with a part. There was also in the precept a lesson against recklessness or waste. It required man, whilst supplying his present wants, to have due regard to his future; yea, and to the wants of others as well as to his own. You may apply the principle to a hundred cases. Whenever men live upon the capital, when the interest would suffice; whenever they recklessly consume all their earnings, though those earnings might enable them to lay something by; when, so long as, by eager grasping, they can secure what they like for themselves, they are utterly indifferent as to interfering with the supplies and enjoyments of others--in every such case they are violating the precept before us; they are taking the old bird with the young: as, on the other hand, by treating as a sin anything like wastefulness, by a prudent management of the gifts and mercies of God, by such a wise husbandry of resources as shall prove a consciousness that the Divine liberality, in place of sanctioning extravagance, should be a motive to economy, they may be said to be virtually obeying the precept; they are taking the young, but letting the dam go. But now let us look more narrowly into the reasons of the precept: we shall probably find, if we examine the peculiarities of the case, that the commandment before us has a yet more direct and extensive application. It could only be, you will observe, the attachment of the mother bird to its young which, for the most part, would put it in the power of the finder of the nest to take both together. And when you bring this circumstance into the account you can hardly doubt that one great reason why God protected the mother bird by an express commandment was, that He might point out the excellence of parental affection, and teach us that we were not to take advantage of such an affection, in order to any injury to the parties who displayed it. You must be all quite aware that the affection which one party bears to another may be taken advantage of, and that, too, to his manifest detriment. For example, circumstances place the child of another in your power; you are about to oppress or ill-use that child; the parent entreats; you agree to release the child, but only on conditions with which the parent would never have complied had it not been for the strong pleadings of natural affection--what do you do in such a case but make use of a power, derived solely from the parent’s love, to effect the parent’s injury? you seize, so to speak, the mother bird, when it is only her being the mother bird which has given you the opportunity of seizure. But evidently the involved principle is of very wide application. A parent may take improper advantage of a child’s love, a child of a parent’s. A parent may work on the affections of a child, urging the child, by the love which he bears to a father or mother, to do something wrong, something against which conscience remonstrates; this is a case in which improper advantage is taken of affection, or injurious use is made of a power which, as in the case of the bird and her young, nothing but strong affection has originated. But our text has yet to be considered under another point of view. We have hitherto contended that, though it be apparently an insignificant matter with which the commandment before us is concerned, principles are involved of a high order and a wide application, so that there is no reason for surprise at finding long life promised as the reward of obedience. But we will now assume the Jews’ opinion to have been correct; they were wont to say of this commandment, that it was the least amongst the commandments of Moses. Admit it to have been so; yet is there any cause for wonder that such a blessing as long life should be promised by way of recompense to obedience? God enjoins a certain thing; but we can hardly bring ourselves to obey, simply because He has enjoined it. We have our inquiries to urge--why has He enjoined it? if it be an indifferent thing, we want to know why He should have made it the subject of a law; why not have let it alone? Why not? Because, we may venture to reply, He wishes to test the principle of obedience; He wishes to see whether His will and His word are sufficient for us. In order to this, He must legislate upon things which in themselves are indifferent, neither morally good nor bad; He must not confine laws to such matters as robbing a neighbour’s house, on which conscience is urgent: He must extend them to such matters as taking a bird’s nest, on which conscience is silent. It is the same as with a child. He is walking in a stranger’s garden, and you forbid his picking fruit; he knows that the fruit is not his, and therefore feels a reason for prohibition. But he is walking on a common, and you forbid his picking wild flowers; he knows that no one has property in these flowers, and therefore he cannot see any reason for your prohibition. Suppose him, however, to obey in both cases, abstaining alike from the flowers and the fruit, in which case does he show most of the principle of obedience, most of respect for your authority and of submission to your will? Surely, when he does not touch the flowers, which he sees no reason for not touching, rather than when he does not gather the fruit, which he feels that he can have no right to gather. It is exactly the same with God and ourselves. He may forbid things which we should have felt to be wrong, even had they not been forbidden; He may forbid things which we should not have felt wrong, nay, which would not have been wrong unless He had forbidden them. But in which case is our obedience most put to the proof? Not, surely, as to the thing criminal even without a commandment; but as to the thing indifferent till there was a commandment. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
A singular word to be in a Book which we might have expected to be wholly occupied with spiritual revelation. Men are anxious to know something about the unseen world, and the mystery which lies at the heart of things and palpitates throughout the whole circle of observable nature, and yet they are called upon to pay attention to the treatment of birds nests. Is this any departure from the benevolent and redeeming spirit of the Book? On the contrary, this is a vivid illustration of the minuteness of Divine government, and as such it affords the beginning of an argument which must forever accumulate in volume and force, on the ground that if God is so careful of a bird’s nest He must be proportionately careful of all things of higher quality. Jesus Christ so used nature. “If, then, God so clothe the grass,” said He, “how much more will He clothe you, O ye of little faith?” So we may add, If God is so careful of birds’ nests, what must He be of human hearts, and human homes, and the destinies of the human family? God’s beneficence is wonderfully displayed in the care of the birds’ nests. God is kind in little things as well as in great. The quality of His love is one, whether it be shown in the redemption of the race, in numbering the hairs of our head, in ordering our steps, or giving His beloved sleep. Did we but know it, we should find that all law is beneficent--the law of restriction as well as the law of liberty. The law which would keep a man from doing injury to himself, though it may appear to impair the prerogative of human will, is profoundly beneficent. Was not man to have dominion over the fowls of the air? Truly so, but dominion is to be exercised in mercy. The treatment of birds’ nests is a sure indication of the man’s whole character. He who can wantonly destroy a bird’s nest can wantonly do a hundred other things of the same kind. To be cruel at all is to be cruel all through and through the substance and quality of the character. Men cannot be cruel to birds’ nests and gentle to children’s cradles. The man who can take care of a bird’s nest because it is right to do so--not because of any pleasure which he has in a bird’s nest--is a man who cannot be indifferent to the homes of children and the circumstances of his fellow creatures generally. It is a mistake to suppose that we can be wanton up to a given point, and then begin to be considerate and benevolent. We are all apt scholars in a bad school, and learn more in one lesson there than we can learn through much discipline in the school of God. The little tyrannies of childhood often explain the great despotism of mature life. Is not kindness an influence that penetrates the whole life, having manifold expression, alike upward, downward, and laterally, touching all human things, all inferiors and dependants, and every harmless and defenceless life? On the other hand, we are to be most careful not to encourage any merely pedantic feeling. Hence the caution I have before given respecting the purpose for which a man considerately handles even a bird’s nest. Every day we see how possible it is for a man to be very careful of his horse, and yet to hold the comfort of his servant very lightly. We have all seen, too, how possible it is for a man to be more careful of his dogs than of his children. But the care which is thus lavished upon horse or dog is not the care dictated by moral considerations, or inspired by benevolence; it is what I have termed a pedantic feeling, it is a mere expression of vanity, it is not an obedience to conscience or moral law. There are men who would not on any account break up a bird’s nest in the garden, who yet would allow a human creature to die of hunger. The bird’s nest may be regarded as an ornament of the garden, or an object of interest, or a centre around which various influences may gather; so whatever care may be bestowed upon it, it is not to be regarded as concerning the conscience or the higher nature. We must beware of decorative morality; calculated consideration for inferior things; for selfishness is very subtle in its operation, and sometimes it assumes with perfect hypocrisy the airs of benevolence and religion. What if in all our carefulness for dumb animals we think little of breaking a human heart by sternness or neglect? Kindness to the lower should become still tenderer kindness to the higher. This is Christ’s own argument: when He bids us behold the fowls of the air, that in their life we may see our Father’s kindness, He adds, “Are ye not much better than they?” When He points out bow carefully a man would look after the life of his cattle, He adds, “How much, then, is a man better than a sheep?” It ought to be considered a presumptive argument in favour of any man’s spirit that he is kind to the inferior creatures that are around him; if this presumption be not realised in his cases then is his kindness bitterest wrong. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Make a battlement for thy roof.
A careful study of the tone and teaching of Deuteronomy can hardly fail to impress the reader with its profound ethical and religious spirit. What an emphasis is laid upon the unity and the uniqueness of the Godhead! What an insistence upon the love of God as the motive of all actions! Humanity, philanthropy, and benevolence are insisted upon. Forbearance, equity, and forethought underlie all regulations. The preceding precept as to the bird’s nest and the sitting dam are a striking example of the humanity of the Jewish law. When a man built a new house, a battlement or, as we should say, a parapet was an almost necessary protection. It would prevent accidents. Some through carelessness or foolhardiness, others through short-sightedness or a slip of the foot, might fall off; such a tumble would certainly fracture limbs, and in some cases be fatal to life. A selfish man might say, “I shall always remember that there is no battlement, and keep well away from the sides. It is very unlikely that any will fall over if I leave the sides unprotected. If any accident should occur it can only be through gross carelessness. I see no reason why I should be put to this expense.” The superior person might say, “I will have no battlement on this roof.” I have nothing but contempt for fashion. Why should I do a thing because other people do it? I will leave my roof unprotected, if only to show my superiority to the caprice and tyranny of custom. Now, the spirit of this law is recognised in all civilised communities. Private tastes and individual eccentricities are not allowed to imperil public safety or destroy public comfort. Private persons cannot build houses without public authorities approving the plans. So this precept of the Jewish law is found, in spirit at least, in our modern legislation. We are to be alive to a sense of danger, we are not to forget the duty of prudence, we are to take all reasonable precautions against injury to ourselves and others. But there is a sense in which we are builders. We found families, we make fortunes, we acquire reputations, we form friendships, we embark on undertakings, we profess moral principles, we hold religious views--in regard to all it is well for us, nay, for all Christians it is a duty, to make a battlement to their roof. Let us in imagination walk round the house.
1. First of all here is the economic wing. In the economic management of life, a battlement to the roof is a duty. We build our houses, we settle in life, we make a home for ourselves, we set up an establishment. Of course, it must bear some proportion to our means. But how many do it on such an imprudent, not to say extravagant scale, that there is nothing left for a battlement! They spend all that they have. They are the victims of expensive habits and large ideas of things. They burn incense to the demon of respectability. They sink their all in building up the roof line, and leave no margin for prudent provision against possible misfortune or untimely death. How many have brought blood upon their houses, how many have inflicted suffering on their own children and loss on others, by neglecting to build a parapet of thrift out of the materials of simplicity of taste, moderation in appetite, and prudence in management! Thrift is the very gospel that some people need, and some, too, who bear the Christian name, and aspire after a Christian reputation. What renders this a matter of really spiritual concern is that often the battlement goes unbuilt from causes that are not only irreligious but antichristian: a thirst for social distinctions, for recognition and patronage by some more highly placed than ourselves.
2. But we pass to another wing. How necessary it is for Christian people in their social life to make a battlement to the roof. The power of social influence is immense, you can hardly over-estimate it. No character can defy the subtle influences that flow in upon them from others. No man is absolutely impervious to social pressure. Therefore this is one of those points on which Christian people should exercise conscientious care and prudence. They will erect a battlement to their social life by choosing friends from those who will be a help rather than a hindrance to a godly life. In this we think not of ourselves only, but of our children. We may be able to run risks with comparative immunity, because our principles are strong and our characters fixed. We can walk on the unprotected roof with safety. But are not our children very liable to fall Surely the prime duty of Christian parents in the culture of their children’s minds and hearts, and the discipline of their habits, is to deepen in them a sense of the inviolable sanctity of goodness. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” The world puts gentility before character. It does not inquire too closely into the morals of those who have birth and wealth. If we are wise and faithful we shall rightly estimate the importance of social forces. We shall discriminate between those fighting on Christ’s side and those that are fighting against Him. We shall leave no one in doubt as to our affinities and alliances. We shall put up a battlement to the roof of our social life. There is a kind of separation from the world which is as impracticable as it is undesirable; there is another which is simply essential if we are to save our own souls and help to save others. A battlement to the roof of our social life fortifies the sanctity and simplicity of our homes.
3. But there is another wing to this house. It is the moral, it is the sphere of character. He who builds well and wisely, sees that the roof hero has a battlement, namely, the battlement of religion. “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” When the heart has been touched by the love of God in Christ, when the Lord Jesus Christ has been admitted to its throne, there is a defence and proof against the assaults of the evil one. It is just here that some question the need of a battlement. They are building the structure of character, they are morally sensitive, they are anxious and careful in doing what is right, but they have no religion, no personal concern for or interest in the redemption of Jesus Christ, They have builded their house, but there is not a battlement to the roof. Now, far be it from us to shut our eyes to the fact that even those who have the battlement do sometimes fall. The parapet itself may be out of repair, the stones may have fallen out and not been replaced. Now, a battlement out of repair may be more dangerous than to have none. But these cases are the exception and not the rule. There was one Judas among the twelve apostles. But what candid and fair-minded man will deny that the fear of God is the greatest of all restraints from evil? “The fear of the Lord is the treasure of the godly,” for “He is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the throne of His glory, with exceeding joy.”
4. But there is yet one other wing to the house. Here the social and religious wings join. Our religious life itself needs a battlement. Here is a word for those who are giving their heart to God, who are determining the great ends and principles that are to rule their life. “When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof.” Now, the Episcopalian contends that in order to be completely furnished unto all good works our religious life needs something in addition to God, the Bible, and Christ Himself, namely, the Church. We entirely agree with him. Until a man is in the Church he has not built a battlement to his house. It brings individual believers into actual and visible association with those who have taken the same holy vows and enlisted in the same holy warfare. It will be good for the Church that he shall do so, but will it not be good for him? Will he not be a stronger and better Christian if he “stir up the gift of God” that is in him, and add it to the totality and variety of the spiritual forces that operate in the world? Will he not be encouraged by the fellowship of others? We contend that the Church is the battlement of the religious life, not its foundation, “other foundation can no man lay than hath been laid, Jesus Christ.” By some it is regarded as putting a restraint and imposing a limit. So it does. The purpose of a parapet or battlement is to prevent you falling over. If your foot slips on the edge of a precipice, what you want is something to catch hold of. But remember, anything that is inconsistent in the Church member is equally so in the Christian, though he be outside the Church. If you are holding back from a duty to Christ for the sake of liberty to do things inconsistent with Church membership, you are imperilling your soul by doing them now. (R. B. Brindley.)
Battlements round the roofs
To understand the primary significance of these words, you have simply to remember two things. First, that the houses referred to were covered with flat roofs, and, secondly, that on these roofs amusements, business, conversation, and worship were frequently carried on. There is the suggestion of great principles--principles which abide.
I. What are these principles?
1. One is, the sacredness of human life. The great reason assigned in the text for the building of the balustrade round the roof was this: “that thou bring not blood upon thine house.” If human life were a thing of no account, no battlement would be necessary--let a man or a child fall over, what matters it? Now, that is a principle which in a general way we all recognise, but which in our commercial life is continually violated by that which calls itself “the trade” preeminently.
2. But another principle underlying the text is this, the inhumanity of selfishness. Observe, the builder of a house might have reasoned thus with himself: “Why should I make a parapet about the roof of my house? I am in no danger of falling over, and when my friends and neighbours come to see me, let them take care of themselves.” Every man for himself! Is that the principle on which society can hold together? If I am a man, nothing that is human will be alien to me. If I consult only my own safety and comfort and well-being, I am worse than a brute!
3. For another principle suggested here, closely allied to that of which I have just spoken, is, our responsibility in relation to others. If any man fell, the blood was upon the owner’s house. They could not say--“It was the man’s fault who met with the accident. He should have been more careful. He ought to have kept away from the edge of the roof.” Yes, perhaps so, but that was no excuse for him who had failed to set up the balustrade.
II. Now, having set before you, in a general way, the principles underlying this text, I want to look at its teaching as it applies more particularly to the boys and girls of our homes and of the community at large. The making of the battlement is not to be an after consideration; it must be part of the original plan. The house is not complete without it. There is to be no waiting until someone has fallen over. The building of the battlement is intended to be preventive of harm from the very beginning. And is not that the line on which we work when we seek to train our boys and girls in the principles of total abstinence?
1. And will you allow me to say that one of these protections--a battlement for their safety--is the protection of the law.
2. Then another battlement to be reared about the young life of our country may perhaps be summed up in the word education.
3. But I come back to the home again, and I say that around your own household, you, father, mother, must rear the balustrade of your own example. (Josiah Flew.)
Many are building homes which immortal souls are filling. Are the homes made safe?
1. Our homes ought to have every moral and spiritual safeguard that God’s Word and the best experience suggests.
2. The guards are most needed where there are pleasant places, the heights from which it is so easy to fall.
3. When evil comes through neglect of these safeguards, the builder’s soul is stained with blood. Builder of a home, do your duty, let not the blood of dear ones stain your soul. (F. W. Lewis.)
We are all builders--building character, building for eternity. The text gives an important principle--that prevention is better than cure. Better put up the barrier above, than have to pick up the mangled body from the pavement below. Better prevent the formation of bad habits than attempt their eradication later in life.
I. Notice some of the battlements which need to be reared about our soul life and about the life of society.
1. The Christian Sabbath, one of the oldest balustrades reared for man’s protection. A week without a Sabbath is a year without a summer, a summer without flowers, a night without a morn.
2. Family prayer. Some are ready to talk in meeting, whose lips are dumb in prayer at home. The devoutness of heathen rebukes such prayerlessness. Pericles, before an oration, used to plead with the gods for guidance, and Scipio, before a great undertaking, went to pray in the temple of Jupiter.
3. Reverence for God’s Word. Men of real culture, though not believers, well know that all that is noblest in art, sweetest in song, and most inspiring in thought, had its source in this volume.
4. Gospel temperance. Guard the young. Keep them pure. Even the blood of Christ cannot wash out the memory of sin. It mars and pollutes the soul.
5. The all-inclusive battlement is personal faith in Jesus Christ.
II. The battlement of old was for ornament and for protection. Through the lower part an arrow could be shot, and in later years a bullet. So religion serves this double purpose. See to it that your house is thus built, and when this earthly tabernacle is taken down, you will have another, not built with bands, eternal in the heavens. (R. S. McArthur, D. D.)
Not only is this an extraordinary instruction, it is the more extraordinary that it appears in a hook which is supposed to be devoted to spiritual revelations. But in calling it extraordinary, do we not mistake the meaning which ought to be attached to the term “spiritual revelations”? Are not more things spiritual than we have hitherto imagined? This instruction recognises--the social side., of human life, and that side may be taken. As in some sense representative of a Divine claim; it is not the claim of one individual only, but of society; it may be taken as representing the sum total of individuals; the larger individual--the concrete humanity. Socialism has its beneficent as well as its dangerous side. Socialism, indeed, when rightly interpreted, is never to be feared; it is only when perverted to base uses, in which self becomes the supreme idol, that socialism is to he denounced and avoided. The social influences continually operating in life limit self-will, develop the most gracious side of human nature, and purify and establish all that is noblest and truest in friendship. There are certain conditions under which an instruction such as is given in the text may excite obvious objections. Suppose, for example, that a man should plead that his neighbour calls upon him only occasionally, and should upon that circumstance raise the inquiry whether he should put up a permanent building to meet an exceptional circumstance. The inquiry would seem to be pertinent and reasonable. On the other hand, when closely looked into, it will be found that the whole scheme of human life is laid out with a view to circumstances which are called exceptional. The average temperature of the year may be mild, for most of the twelve months the wind may be low and the rain gentle; why then build a house with strong walls and heavy roofs? Our neighbour may call tomorrow--see then that the battlement be ready! But ought not men to be able to take care of themselves when they are walking on the roof without our guarding them as though they were little children? This question, too, is not without a reasonable aspect. It might even be urged into the dignity of an argument, on the pretence that if we do too much for people we may beget in them a spirit of carelessness or a spirit of dependence, leading ultimately to absolute disregard and thoughtlessness in all the relations of life. We are, however, if students of the Bible, earnestly desirous to carry out its meaning, bound to study the interests even of the weakest men. This is the very principle of Christianity. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” By thinking of one another we lay claim upon the affection and trust of neighbour and friend. We are not to reason as if this action were all upon our own side. Whilst we build our battlement for the sake of another man we must remember that that other man in building his house builds a battlement for our sake. All services of this kind are reciprocal; no man, therefore, is at liberty to stand back and decline social responsibilities: in every sense, whether accepted or rejected, no man liveth unto himself. The Christian application of this doctrine is clear. If we are so to build a house as not to endanger the men who visit us, are we at liberty to build a life which may be to others the very snare of destruction. Is there not to be a battlement around our conduct? Are our habits to be formed without reference to the social influence which they may exert? Remember that children are looking at us, and that strangers are taking account of our ways, and that we may be lured from righteousness by a licentiousness which we call liberty. Is the Christian, then, to abstain from amusements and delights which he could enjoy without personal injury lest a weaker man should be tempted to do that which would injure him? Precisely so. That is the very essence of Christian self-denial. How many life houses there are which apparently want but some two or three comparatively little things to make them wholly perfect! In one case perhaps only the battlement is wanting, in another case it may be but some sign of spiritual beauty, in another case there may be simply want of grace, courtesy, noble civility, and generous care for the interests of others. Whatever it may be, examination should be instituted, and every man should consider himself bound not only to be faithful in much, but faithful also in that which is least; and being so he will not only see that there is strength in his character but also beauty, and upon the top of the pillars which represent integrity and permanence will be the lilywork of grace, patience, humbleness, and love. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. God has battlemented His own house. There are high places in His house, and He does not deny His children the enjoyment of these high places, but He makes sure that they shall not be in danger there. He sets bulwarks round about them lest they should suffer evil when in a state of exaltation. God in His house has given us many high and sublime doctrines. Timid minds are afraid of these, but the highest doctrine in Scripture is safe enough because God has battlemented it. Take the doctrine of election. God has been pleased to set around that doctrine other truths which shield it from misuse. It is true He has chosen people, but “by their fruit ye shall know them.” “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Though He has chosen His people, yet He has chosen them unto holiness; He has ordained them to be zealous for good works. Then there is the sublime truth of the final perseverance of the saints. What a noble height is that! A housetop doctrine indeed! “The Lord will keep the feet of His saints.” “The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” It will be a great loss to us if we are unable to enjoy the comfort of this truth. There is no reason for fearing presumption through a firm conviction of the true believer’s safety. Mark well the battlements which God has builded around the edge of this truth! He has declared that if these shall fall away, it is impossible “to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.” Take another view of the same thought. The Lord has guarded the position of His saints if endowed with wealth. Some of God’s servants are, in His providence, called to very prosperous conditions in life, and prosperity is fruitful in dangers. Yet be well assured that, if God shall call any of you to be prosperous, and place you in an eminent position, He will see to it that grace is given suitable for your station, and affliction needful for your elevation. That bodily infirmity, that want of favour with the great, that sick child, that suffering wife, that embarrassing partnership--any one of these may be the battlements which God has built around your success, lest you should be lifted up with pride, and your soul should not be upright in you. Does not this remark cast a light upon the mystery of many a painful dispensation? “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept Thy word.” The like prudence is manifested by our Lord towards those whom He has seen fit to place in positions of eminent service. You may rest assured that if God honours you to win many souls, you will have many stripes to bear, and stripes you would not like to tell another of, they will be so sharp and humbling. Do not, therefore, start back from qualifying yourself for the most eminent position, or from occupying it when duty calls. He will uphold thee; on the pinnacle thou art as secure as in the valley, if Jehovah set thee there. It is the same with regard to the high places of spiritual enjoyment. Even much communion with Christ, though in itself sanctifying, may be perverted, through the folly of our flesh, into a cause of self-security. Lest a soul should be beguiled to live upon itself, and feed on its frames and feelings, and by neglect of watchfulness fall into presumptuous sins, battlements are set round about all hallowed joys, for which in eternity we shall bless the name of the Lord. Too many of the Lord’s servants feel as if they were always on the housetop--always afraid, always full of doubts and fears. They are fearful lest they shall after all perish, and of a thousand things besides. To such we say you shall find when your faith is weakest, when you are just about to fall, that there is a glorious battlement all around you; a glorious promise, a gentle word of the Holy Spirit shall be brought home to your soul, so that you shall not utterly despair.
II. From the fact of Divine carefulness we proceed by an easy step to the consideration that, as imitators of God, we should exercise the like tenderness; in a word, we ought to have our houses battlemented. A man who had no battlement to his house might himself fall from the roof in an unguarded moment. Those who profess to be the children of God should, for their own sakes, see that every care is used to guard themselves against the perils of this tempted life; they should see to it that their house is carefully battlemented. If any ask, “How shall we do it?” we reply--
1. Every man ought to examine himself carefully whether he be in the faith, lest professing too much, taking too much for granted, he fall and perish. Lest we should be, after all, hypocrites, or self-deceivers; lest, after all, we should not be born again, but should be children of nature, neatly dressed, but not the living children of God, we must prove our own selves whether we be in the faith.
2. Better still, and safer by far, go often to the Cross, as you think you went at first.
3. Battlement your soul about well with prayer. Go not out into the world to look upon the face of man till you have seen the face of God.
4. Be sure and battlement yourself about with much watchfulness, and, especially, watch most the temptation peculiar to your position and disposition.
III. As each man ought to battlement his house in a spiritual sense with regard to himself, so ought each man to carry out the rule with regard to his family. In the days of Cromwell it is said that you might have gone down Cheapside at a certain hour in the morning and you would have heard the morning hymn going up from every house all along the street, and at night if you had glanced inside each home you would have seen the family gathered, and the big Bible opened, and family devotion offered. There is no fear of this land if family prayer be maintained, but if family prayer be swept away, farewell to the strength of the Church. A man should battlement his house for his children’s sake, for his servants’ sake, for his own sake, by maintaining the ordinance of family prayer. We ought strictly to battlement our houses, as to many things which in this day are tolerated. I shall not come down to debate upon the absolute right or wrong of debatable amusements and customs. If professors do not stop till they are certainly in the wrong, they will stop nowhere. It is of little use to go on tilt you are over the edge of the roof, and then cry, “Halt.” It would be a poor affair for a house to be without a battlement, but to have a network to stop the falling person half-way down; you must stop before you get off the solid standing. There is need to draw the line somewhere, and the line had better be drawn too soon than too late.
IV. The preacher would now remind himself that this church is, as it were, his own house, and that he is bound to battlement it round about. Many come here, Sabbath after Sabbath, to hear the Gospel. Ah! but it is a dreadful thing to remember that so many people hear the Gospel, and yet perish under the sound of it. Now, what shall I say to prevent anyone falling from this blessed Gospel--falling from the house of mercy--dashing themselves from the roof of the temple to their ruin? What shall I say to you? I beseech you do not be hearers only. Be dissatisfied with yourselves unless ye be doers of the word. Rest not till you rest in Jesus. Remember, and I hope this will be another battlement, that if you hear the Gospel, and it is not blessed to you, still it has a power. If the sun of grace does not soften you as it does wax, it will harden you as the sun does clay. Do not die of thirst when the water of life is before you! Let me remind you of what the result will be of putting away the Gospel. You will soon die; you cannot live forever. The righteous enter into life eternal, but the ungodly suffer punishment everlasting. Oh, run not on in sin, lest you fall into hell! I would fain set up this battlement to stay you from a dreadful and fatal fall. Once more. Remember the love of God in Christ Jesus. He cannot bear to see you die, and He weeps over you, saying, “How often would I have blessed you, and you would not!” Oh, by the tears of Jesus, wept over you in effect when He wept over Jerusalem, turn to Him. Let that be a battlement to keep you from ruin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Putting up parapets
There is a most lamentable waste of power in the Christian Church; in fact, among the best elements of society. This waste arises from misdirection. The power is applied at the wrong time and in the wrong quarter. Instead of being applied in the way of prevention, which would commonly be certain, it is applied in the effort to reform and restore, which is always difficult, and often impossible. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. This principle is happily illustrated in an ancient regulation among the Jews. The regulation was this: “When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement [or ‘parapet’] for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thy house if any man fall from thence.” No intelligent reader need be told that the roofs of Oriental houses are perfectly fiat, and that they are constantly used for promenading, for rest, for drying fruits, for sleeping, and often (as in Peter’s case) for religious devotions. It required but small expenditure of time and money to build the parapet. When that measure of precaution has been taken, the little children may romp there with impunity; good old grandfather may walk there, without danger of stumbling over, through dimness of vision. But if the inviting roof was left unprotected, and even a single child was pitched into the street below, what skill could restore the mangled form? This Oriental law of the parapets teaches that prevention is well-nigh certain, but cure is exceedingly difficult. Often all attempts in that direction are well nigh hopeless. The percentage of inebriates who are reformed by any method is pitiably and painfully small. “Inebriate asylums” do not cure one half of those who are sent there. Of the converted drunkards who are received into our churches, nearly all have had one or more temporary lapses into drinking, and every man of them is in constant danger to their dying day. Such men as Gough, and Sawyer, and McAuley are only upheld by the omnipotent grace of God. Yet all the multitudes of victims of the bottle who have gone down to darkness and their doom might have been saved by the very simple process of prevention. If one-twentieth part of the effort which is put forth in attempted reformation of the dissipated had been spent in persuading them never to drink at all, how different would have been the result! The right time to put up the parapet of total abstinence is in childhood or early youth. The right place to plant the parapet is at home and in the Sabbath school.
1. But there are other lessons taught by the Jewish battlements besides those which apply to the bottle. One lesson is that wilful neglect is as fatal as wilful crime. Not-doing is twin brother to wrong-doing. Many a father and mother have had their hearts broken by the disgraceful sins of a son; and yet the blame of the boy’s ruin rested on themselves. They had either set him a most pernicious example, or else they had left him to drift into bad practices unrestrained. Building battlements after our children have broken their own necks and our hearts is a sort of posthumous precaution that comes to nothing.
2. It is from the neglect of the cultured, influential classes in our towns that the terrible harvests of the streets (in the shape of thieves, rioters, and criminals) are constantly reaped. If tenement houses reek with filth and debauchery, if the young are unreached by any mission school or church, or any kind of purifying agency, what else can we expect than wholesale demoralisation among “the masses”? Prisons, pauperism, and gibbets are God’s assessments upon society for neglecting the children. If society fails to put up parapets, society must “foot the bill.” These are the very times for parapet building. The Bible furnishes plenty of good precepts with which to build parapets. The Fifth Commandment and the Eighth are peculiarly good timber. Happy is the man whose daily life is walled around with a Bible conscience. His religion is a prevention. Half of his life is not lost in attempting to cure the effects of the other half. (T. L. Cuyler.)
The duty of the strong
There is a mixture here of the temporary and the permanent. The symbol is temporary and local; but the principle symbolised is eternal and universal. “When thou buildest a new house.” It is not to be an afterthought; the battlements are to be in the original plan. The man is not to wait until an accident occurs and the necessity for the battlements is proved, but he is to take precautionary measures. He has to do with human life, which is too sacred to be experimented with in order to find out the percentage of probabilities. But I can imagine the selfish man saying, “Nay, I will not build battlements to my house. I can walk the flat roof of my house without any danger of falling, and why should I provide for others? I am perfectly safe.” The same argument is used with regard to abstinence. “Erect battlements so that others may not fall over? Nay,” says one, “I am in no danger. I can take my glass of beer or wine, and feel perfectly safe; and why should I abstain for the sake of those who know not how to control their appetites?” Now just look at that. By the law of self-preservation the man would build battlements to prevent danger to himself; as there is none for him he will not build those battlements; so that, after all, the highest impulse in that man’s life is just this--self-preservation. Are you prepared to say, “Nay, I will not abstain from intoxicating drinks, and thus erect a battlement, a balustrade, simply because I know I am perfectly safe myself”? If there is any danger to another, and it is in your power, by your example, to erect a barrier which shall prevent the fall of another, then it is your evident duty to do it. But the cynic comes forward and says, “Yes, I know it is possible for a man to fall over, but it must be through culpable neglect or very exceptional weakness, and am I to conform to such conditions? Am I to build a balustrade or abstain from intoxicating drinks merely because of the weaklings by whom I am surrounded? Am I to take account of them!” God’s law does, and human law, in so far as it is Christian, does. It is the duty of the strong to deny themselves for the sake of the weak; we who are strong ought not to please ourselves Now the question is not whether you can with safety to yourself indulge in intoxicants, but whether by taking your glass you encourage another who is weaker to take his glass also, and who in due time may become a drunkard and a prey to the passion from which you are happily free . . . but there is the self-assertive man who says: “I am not going to give up my liberty; it is a limitation to my personal liberty.” That cry is as fallacious as it is selfish. Personal liberty must ever ran parallel with the well-being of the community. (D. Davies.)
Obviously the letter of this precept applies only to the flat-roofed houses of the East. There the housetop has always been a place of resort. Rahab took the scouts to the top of her house in Jericho, where her flax was spread out, and hid them there. King David walked on the housetop at the hour of evening. Our Lord spoke to the Twelve of preaching upon the housetops. It is not improbable that even in our climate more use may hereafter be made of the housetops than heretofore. The pressure of crowded cities may lead to this. Already the plan of having recreation ground for children on the flat roof of a school house has been tried, where a playground could not otherwise be obtained; and it has been found to answer well. In any such case the need of a strong balustrade is, of course, as imperative as it was in Palestine. God requires that human life shall not be trifled with. Precaution should be taken that it be not, even through inadvertence, sacrificed. And this principle belongs peculiarly to our holy religion. Other forms of religion have breathed a cruel spirit, and a contempt for human life. We can imagine an Israelite chafing at such a command as this. “Religion,” he might say, “is religion. Sacrifice is sacrifice. Prayer is prayer. But business also is business, and has its own necessities. May not a man build a house as he likes with his own money?” But he might be answered thus: “There is no such separation as you desire between piety and conduct. Religion does not consent to be shut up in tabernacle, temple, or synagogue. It must come out into the streets and highways, a witness for righteousness and love. It absolutely denies your right to build or to do anything whatever just as you like. The question is not what you choose, but what you ought to do.” That God of order and of mercy who gave directions about stray sheep, an ox or ass that had fallen by the way, and even about the egos in a bird’s nest, did not omit to legislate against fatal accidents to men, women, and children. Now, this is our God; and what He deemed worthy of His notice, and even of His legislation in the time of Moses, is certainly not forgotten or disregarded by Him now. He will not hold any man guiltless who builds a house, whether for his own residence or to be let or sold to another, and does not in the building guard against whatever is perilous to human life. A house built, or run up with defective supports, damp walls or bad drainage, violates this law. It is a structure unsafe or pernicious for man, and therefore displeasing to God. Let the owners of house property look to it. The spirit of the enactment suggests other and wider applications. Religion has something serious to say to those who possess and those who manage mines and railways, and those who send ships to sea. Calamities will happen even in the most carefully excavated and managed mines, on the most skilfully built and regulated railways, and in the stoutest and best found ships; but when they occur through parsimony, or through recklessness, the parties who are really responsible, whether or not made answerable to human justice, incur the heavy displeasure of God. He requires that all precautions which are possible shall be taken to prevent a wanton sacrifice of life. Precaution is not an interesting word. It has not a heroic sound; but it denotes a thing that is wise and that pleases God. A dashing rescue of men out of deadly peril attracts more admiration; but he does well who prevents them from falling into the danger. Neglect of due precaution is, in fact, the mother of all sorts of mischief. No harm is intended, but a little indolence or heedlessness grudges the trouble, or parsimony grudges the expense of preventive measures; and so harm is done, which no skill can remedy. The watertight doors between the compartments of the ship are left open on the very night when she is struck, and it is too late to close them when the water rushes from stem to stern and she begins to settle down into the hungry sea. Often a man falls short in his precautionary duty through overmuch confidence in himself. He needs no parapet to protect him. It is thus that men ungenerously disregard the moral safety of others. One has what is called a “strong head.” Whether it be from strength or sluggishness, he can drink much wine or strong drink with apparent impunity; and on this account he laughs at abstinence. But his own son may be unable to govern himself. Far be it from us to disparage the remedial efforts that in any measure bless the world. The Gospel itself is the announcement of a Divine remedy for human sin and woe; and men act in the spirit of the Gospel when they bring cleansing and healing to those who have fallen. But what folly it is to let things go wrong in order to right them again! Surely the first duty is to prevent preventable evils. Towards such objects a good deal has been done by modern English legislation, and by the action of philanthropic societies and institutions. The influence of the Christian family, of Church, and of Sunday school ought to form a still better parapet to guard the youth of England. Is the relation to the Lord which is implied in their baptism seriously and intelligently explained to children? Are the claims of the Saviour on their love and allegiance unfolded to them? Without any premature strictness being forced upon the young, a moral parapet might be quietly and insensibly raised around them by the prayer of faith, the charm of good example, and a careful, patient training in upright speech and conduct. Alas! there are those who will, in their infatuation, leap over every such battlement and throw their lives away. But it is none the less desirable that the battlement should be there. It will save some, though not all. It is a check, though not a panacea. It gives time for reason, for conscience, for reflection, for self-respect; above all, for the grace of God, to act, and preserve men from moral self-destruction. Possibly some of you have fallen and are broken. No parapet was placed round their heedless youth, or if there was a battlement, they laughed at it and jumped over. They had taken their own way, done their own will and pleasure, ridiculed the scruples of their best friends; and let us hope they at last begin to recognise their own folly, and are bruised, and sore, and self-vexed. The mercy of God is for them. They have destroyed themselves, but in Him is their help. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Highest, is the Good Physician. He has come to heal the broken and to save the lost. (D. Fraser, D. D.)
The law of home life
I. The sacredness of human life. Of all the earthly blessings which man enjoys, he considers life the greatest. So highly does he appreciate it that he will part with all things else in order to retain it. Yet notwithstanding these facts there seems to be a growing disregard for human life.
II. The importance of family life. The Jews were a nation of homemakers and home lovers. If the family was an important institution among the Jews, it is no less important to us as a nation. No one doubts that the State is necessary to our welfare as a people. We must have laws, and we must have them executed, if we maintain a civil government. And no one doubts that the Church is necessary unto our national existence. But important as are the State and the Church, it is generally conceded that the family is more important than either. It has to do with the physical, the social, the moral, and the spiritual well-being of each member of the household. In view of the fundamental position and character of the family, arid in view of its vast importance, it becomes us more highly to appreciate it, and more earnestly to strive for its preservation and perpetuity.
III. Some safeguards which should be placed about the home. Natural instinct, parental love, and the Divine Word demand this of them.
1. One such means is good reading in the homes.
2. Another safeguard to the family is making the home pleasant: making it the happiest place on earth. Seemingly the trend of modern life is away from the home.
3. Another safeguard to the family is religious instruction. (R. L. Bachman, D. D.)
Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.
A law for the ox and the ass
There was a reason for this prohibition. The step of an ox and an ass being different, they could not pull together without causing one another much exertion and weariness. The work would be nearly twice as hard for the ox and the ass as it would be for two oxen or two asses. The law teaches us to consider differences in human beings, and not to yoke those who differ from one another to the same tasks. The law forbidding the people to plough with an ox and an ass applies to children. Injury is done to children when they are treated as though they had precisely the same bodily and mental capabilities. Children are so variously constituted, that what one boy can do with case in school work is to another boy a difficult labour. The sum in arithmetic which is to one a pleasure is to another a torture. The seemingly dull boy is not to be reproached because he cannot do what his bright companion can do. Some day the apparently stupid fellow may awake to intellectual activity, and get a long way before the boy who, for a time, made rapid progress in scholarship. The ass, which could not keep pace with the ox in dragging the plough, has sometimes developed into a steed grand as the war horse described in the Book of Job. Children should not be put to trades Irrespective of their gifts and preferences. The timid, shrinking boy should not be mated with the bold, adventurous type in employments needing a daring spirit. The bold, adventurous boy, whose heart is already on the ship’s deck, and who dreams day and night of voyages over great spaces of ocean to the region of the walrus and white bear, or to the clime of the palm and the tamarind, should not be kept behind a grocer’s counter. What is right for one is not necessarily right for another. Fathers and mothers should honour individuality in their boys and girls, and not fret because their children do not pull together in the same yoke. The law forbidding the Israelites to plough with an ox and an ass applies to young people. They are not to be treated religiously as though they were all in the same condition, and had all to pass through a like process to become disciples of Christ. Hard theologians and unthinking revivalists have done harm to such young people by passing on them a sweeping condemnation, and insisting that there is no true conversion without agonies of repentance and ecstasies of joy. No distinction has been made between them and those guilty of flagrant sins, and they have been cruelly yoked with the very worst of mankind. The law forbidding the Israelites to plough with an ox and an ass applies to men and women. All the members of the Church are not to be expected to manifest their religion precisely in the same way. Some are naturally lively and joyful; before their conversion they were noted for their cheerful disposition. It is as impossible for them to be dull as it is for the sun to be dull when shining in the blue of an unclouded sky. It is as impossible for them to be silent as it is for larks and linnets to be silent when May is kissing the April buds into flower. It would be as bad as yoking the ox and the ass together to insist that they must repress their jubilant feelings and be quiet as Christians whose voices are never heard in religious demonstration. It would be equally cruel to insist that those quiet Christians must break through their natural gravity, and manifest the enthusiasm which is ever pealing out song after song, hallelujah after hallelujah. Violence is not to be done to natural feeling by forcing everyone to the same kind of Christian work. The timid and retiring are not to be compelled to pull in the same yoke with the brave and bold. (J. Marrat.)
Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts.
The moral and the positive in the duties of life
I. That this precept exhibits a “positive” duty. The ground of this ordinance is to be sought for, not in the nature of things, but in the will of God.
II. That as the inculcation of a positive duty the precept of the text was not so binding upon the Jews as those duties which were wholly moral. A Jew might be reduced to the alternative either of wearing no garment at all, or of wearing one woven of woollen and linen together. The preservation of health is a moral duty, and therefore more important than the observance of a ritual precept.
III. That we, who live under the Gospel dispensation, are not bound to observe this precept at all. Neither sowing your fields with wheat and rye together, nor ploughing with horses and oxen together, nor wearing a garment of wool, or of linen, or of divers sorts, availeth anything, “but a new creature.”
IV. That while we are under no manner of obligation to observe this precept in its literal meaning, still the moral principle which underlies that meaning, and which it was intended to illustrate, is as binding now as ever--as binding upon us as it was upon the Jews. This prohibition, in its primary application to the Israelites, was doubtless intended to show that they were not to mingle themselves with the heathen, nor to weave any of the usages of the Gentiles into the ordinances of God. This is the spirit of the precept, and it is as binding upon us as it was upon them. We are to avoid an accommodating way of dealing with the Divine law. We are not to alter its sacred principles to suit the temper of the times, and the habits of the world. (R. Harley.)
The robe of Christ’s righteousness, and the sin of wearing anything with it
I. The robe of righteousness which all God’s people must wear. It may perhaps be said, that as the text merely forbids our interweaving woollen and linen together, it leaves it at our choice whether the garment of our salvation shall be woollen or linen. But it is not so. It must be of linen, and of fine linen only (Revelation 19:7-8). This robe of righteousness is for two purposes.
1. For their justification. The robe of righteousness must not only be such as Jehovah can accept, but it must be such as He cannot reject--it must be the pure, perfect, supernatural, Divine righteousness of an incarnate God.
2. And this robe of righteousness is not only for our justification, but for our sanctification also. The man who has the robe of Christ’s righteousness upon him, must have the influences of Christ’s Spirit within him, for it is only by our sanctification that we can prove the reality of our justification. There is a renewing process as well as a reconciling one.
II. The offensiveness of all attempts to weave anything with it.
1. It is an insult to God the Father, who has determined that every child of His family shall be habited in the one robe of the family--the perfect spotless garment of His only begotten Son, “unto and upon all them that believe.” How, then, must that man expect to be dealt with, who, in the wantonness of his resistance to God’s method of salvation, shall refuse to rest solely on the righteousness of God’s own Son, or shall dream of adding thereto his own imperfect and perishable doings? The consequence can only be, that all the sanctions and severities of God’s unchanging law will be let loose upon him in all their force, if he ventures either on his own merits only, in a woollen garment, or conjointly on his own and on the Saviour’s in a garment of linen and woollen together, and thus refuse his undivided reliance on Him alone, who magnified the law and made it honourable.
2. Nor, assuredly, is there less insult offered to God the Son, in this attempt to combine works and grace in the matter of salvation. For what purpose was His mission to our world? Did He not pour out His soul an offering for sin, and by His obedience unto death bring in everlasting righteousness? Think you, then, that this great and gracious Saviour will consent to be insulted by men’s attempts to join their works with His, and to “wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together,” when the fine linen only of His finished work--dyed in His precious blood--is the righteousness of the saints? Know ye not that He lays an absolute claim to all the honour of our salvation? That He will suffer no righteousness to be put in competition with His? That He will not give His glory, nor the least degree of it, to another? (R. C. Dillon, D. D.)
The linsey-woolsey garment
The woollen garment in the text is a shadow of the righteousness of the law or the righteousness of works; the linen also is a shadow of the righteousness of faith, or Christ’s righteousness. To speak after the manner of the Gospel, the text teacheth us not to blend both together. There are three sorts of preachers who receive the Scripture and confess the God of Abraham.
1. The first are such as preach the law alone, and these are generally Jews, and men of their spirit.
2. The second sort are evangelists or true Gospel preachers, ministers of the New Testament, who preach only the Lord our righteousness, and who will know nothing among their congregations, and souls committed to their charge, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
3. There are others who sin against the law, and against the Gospel, blending both together, and teaching the people to wear the garment of linen and woollen, of all which I intend to speak freely. I do not wonder that St. Peter calls the law a yoke, which neither they nor their fathers could bear, because it must have been so to them who heard not plainly of Jesus and His salvation. Who, under the law, could have any comfort when he knew he was under the curse as long as he continued not in all things of the book of the law to do them? The more sincere the more unhappy such were who served under the law, and heard of no way to heaven but a perfect obedience to all the ordinances of God. The true Christian preacher is one whom the God of the whole earth, the Lord who gave the law, has taught, and who is convinced that the law was given to make sin known, and to make it more exceedingly sinful, and that righteousness comes not by that means, but by Christ Jesus, who is become righteousness to everyone that believeth; and having heard the Gospel with ears to hear, and having understood the gracious sayings of Jesus, and been a witness himself both of the deplorable estate under the law and the deliverance by the merits and Cross of the Lamb, determines only to know and preach Him crucified everywhere. This is the only white linen, the only righteousness which the saints wear above, and which can make them beautiful and fair in the eyes of God Almighty, and in the sight of His holy angels. There are yet other preachers who, in a measure, preach the law, and seem as if they believed morality and obedience were the only cause of our being accepted with God. They insist upon the necessity of making ourselves righteous, but lest they should awaken the consciences of those who hear them, they tell them, When you have done all you can, Christ will do the rest; He will make perfect your good works with His righteousness; you must begin and set about the work by repenting and living a religious life; and if that is not sufficient, when you come to die He will supply the deficiency and make it up with His merits. This is the device of man entirely, and cannot be found in all the Scripture. This is crying peace when there is no peace, and healing the wound slightly. This is mingling the woollen and linen together, and making the commandment of God void by the traditions of men. However the Lord approves of the faithfulness of His people, and will greatly reward their good works and labours of love which have been done for his name’s sake, and blames such whose works were faulty; yet that righteousness which saves the soul, and is the only proper righteousness, is the obedience, sufferings, and merits of our crucified God and Lord Jesus Christ; and this is imputed to us by believing in Him. This was the way in which the father of the faithful found righteousness, and was justified in the eight of God, and in this only a soul can be clothed at the great day. Have you never made any show of religion, but have lived altogether without seeking righteousness hitherto? Now let it be so no more; come now to Jesus, the Friend of publicans and sinners, and He who hanged naked on the Cross will hide your shame. Or, are you devout and religious? Have you attempted by the law and striven by works to become righteous, and when ye failed patched up your rags with Christ’s merits, God’s mercy, and the like? Have ye, to quiet your conscience, mingled the woollen and linen together? Now, then, throw away the linsey-woolsey cloth, the forbidden garment, the unclean and illegal dress, and approach naked to Him who clothes the lilies of the field, and He will be your covering, and you shall appear at His wedding in linen clean and white. (John Cennick.)
The unmixed garment
1. Such a command may seem very strange to us--that they were not to mix wool and linen in the same garment; but after mature reflection, we are led to see the infinite care God has over the smallest interests of His people; it shows, also, that God sees an infinite fitness of things which is too fine for our gross apprehension.
2. Scripture has its only true and preeminent meaning when applied to the inner moral robing of Christians. We are not to have our soul’s garniture mixed, partly of the wool of carnality and partly of the linen of spirituality. Grant that the great majority of believers, or more strictly half-believers, are sadly mixed in their religious character and experience; grant also that every Christian is mixed--partly spiritual and partly carnal--in the first stage of grace, yet the only and universal standard in the Scriptures of Divine truth is unmixedness of moral character. (H. Daniel.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 22". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany