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Ye shall kindle no fire.
The unkindled fire
In the old time it was a law that each night, at a prescribed hour, a bell should be rung, on hearing which the people were to put out their fires. This a law not about putting fires out each day, but against lighting a fire on one particular day. Why this law?
I. To show that on the Sabbath, especially, men should attend to the interests of the soul rather than to the comports of the body.
II. To remove frivolous excuses for non-attendance on religious worship.
III. To guard the time of females or servants from unrighteous invasion; and teach men that women had religious rights and duties equally with themselves.
IV. To inculcate in all the duty of self-sacrifice in matters relating to the soul and God. (Biblical Museum.)
The rest of plants
All creation seems to possess the instinct of rest. We well know how eagerly the human heart sighs for rest. But it is not so well known that even plants sleep. Their strange sleep, says Figuier, vaguely recalls to us the sleep of animals. In its sleep the leaf seems by its disposition to approach the age of infancy. It folds itself up, nearly as it lay folded in the bud before it opened, when it slept the lethargic sleep of winter, sheltered under the robust and hardy scales, or shut up in its warm down. We may say that the plant seeks every night to resume the position which it occupied in its early days, just as the animal rolls itself up, lying as if it lay in its mother’s bosom. All the world seems to express the sentiment contained in the words uttered by one of old, who desired the wings of a dove in order to seek and obtain rest. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Sabbath breaking condemned
Dr. Beecher was seen one Monday morning leaving his house with a basket in his hand which he was carrying to the fish-market, and in which he intended to carry home a fish for the family table. Unknown to him, a young man of undecided religious principles was following and watching him. The minister soon came to the fish-market. Here Dr. Beecher picked up a fine-looking fish, and asked the fisherman if it was fresh and sweet. “Certainly,” replied the man, “for I caught it myself yesterday,” which was the Sabbath. Dr. Beecher at once dropped the fish, saying, “Then I don’t want it,” and went on without another word. We are not informed whether the preacher obtained his fish, but when the young man who was following him that morning related his experience some time afterwards on his admission to the Christian Church, he stated that Dr. Beecher’s consistency evinced in the fish-market had been the turning-point in his career. It convinced him of the power of religion in life, had induced him to attend the ministry of the man who had won his respect, and he was converted.
A willing offering.
The willing offering
Remember that at this time there was no legislation to Israel about giving. A little while after there were strict laws how much they were to give--and every Israelite was by law presently compelled to give no less than two-tenths--first one-tenth and then another tenth--one-fifth of all his property to God; but now that legislation had not taken place, and they gave in the freeness of their own willing hearts. But God has withdrawn legislation again with respect to His Church’s gifts to Him. Only He has laid down broad principles--and we act upon those broad principles in the freedom of the gospel. And here is our opportunity of testing our great love to God--that we are ourselves to be a law to ourselves, that we should give as the Spirit of God moves us. Now let us see, a little more carefully, some rules for giving. We cannot give before we have received. We can only give Him of His own; and, therefore, he who would be a good giver must be careful first to be a good receiver.
I. Having received largely and freely, then, to give is first to give one’s self. And I would advise you, before you make any gift whatsoever, to go through an express act of surrender of yourself to God. That done, then make your gift, whatever it be, that you have in your heart to give--make it a solemn, consecrated gift. By some special acts of prayer, dedicate it to God. Then make your act of charity, to the Church or to your fellow-men.
II. And now the practical question comes--how much ought we to give? A question which, in the freeness of the gospel, it is impossible to answer. The answer would vary according to many circumstances, so that it would be impossible to lay down one abstract law. The line has too often, perhaps, been drawn, that it becomes a Christian to give one-tenth of his income to God. But if a man with small means ought to give one-tenth, then a man with double the means ought to give a fifth; because the rate of giving ought to rise in proportion to the income. And, again, the rate of the giving must be according to the demands and the claims which are upon the Christian. So that those who have families--wives and children--depending upon them, ought not to give in the same proportion to their income as those who have none. So that should it be that any person, either of his own fault or other’s fault, is involved in debt, then that person should consider first the justice of paying the debt, and then go on to the luxury of giving to God or to the Church. I do not say that a person who is in debt should be deprived altogether of the privilege of giving to God. Because, if he make his gift to God a thing taken out of that which he would certainly otherwise have spent upon himself, then he is not injuring his creditors, though he gives part of his income, and though he be in debt, to God. But then he must be careful that by that gift he does not defraud his creditors, because there must be perfect justice before charity. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The blessings of giving
There is nothing so like God--because the essence of God is He is always emitting. “He opens His hand, and fills all things living with plenteousness”: and all things are His. And the more expansive our minds, the more open our hearts, the more we give, the more we grow into the likeness of the great giving God. And it is such a sweet feeling one almost fears that we may be led to do it for the very sweetness there is in the act. But it is the happiness of giving when it is done to express our own feelings of love to Jesus. And though there is no merit in any gift that any man can ever give, yet there is “a good foundation for the time to come.” And this is the way it is a foundation. It is an evidence. In the great day of judgment, the thing examined will be, “Did you love Christ?” For witness there will stand out your acts, to prove whether you did or did not love Christ--that is, whether you had accepted His salvation, and had loved Him in return. And your acts will stand out in testimony, to prove or disprove your love to Christ. And not only so. This world is a failing world, and everything around us will be bankrupt. Therefore, do you so use “the mammon of unrighteousness,” the spoils of Egypt--money--do you so use “the mammon of unrighteousness” that it will be a “friend” to you--not an enemy, to rise up against you as a witness to your selfishness, and your pride, and your worldliness, but a friend to speak for you. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
I. The lord’s offering should be immediate. The people in this instance were sufficiently informed of the need. They had time to learn how far they could individually meet it, and then they returned with their presents. A simple, practical reply this, to the Divine call. “He gives twice that gives quickly.” Emergencies are not continuous.
II. The lord’s offering must be voluntary.
III. The lord’s offering is to be of such as we have, Good wishes and approving words bring down no scales which turn with deeds. “ Most men,” said Sydney Smith, “are ready to act the good Samaritan without the oil and the two pence.”
IV. The lord’s offering may be complete (chap. 36:5, 6). (De Witt S. Clarke.)
A great demand, and the gracious response
I. A great demand.
1. God sometimes makes demands upon His people. Sometimes by providential calls for help. Our brother dies suddenly and leaves his orphan children dependent on our care. In these children God comes to us and says--Give!
2. The demands which God makes upon His people are sometimes apparently harsh and unreasonable. Here, from these newly-escaped slaves, He demands a Tabernacle which cost, it is computed, at least £250,000.
3. God sometimes makes demands upon His people which cannot be met without real self-sacrifice.
4. He demands that these sacrifices shall be made with good will (chap. 25:2, 35:5; 1 Corinthians 8:12; 1 Corinthians 9:7). God makes such demands upon His people--
(1) Not because He needs anything at their hand (Psalms 50:9-12).
(2) But solely for their welfare.
(a) They need to be saved from covetousness, which is idolatry.
(b) They need to have their character ennobled, and this can be accomplished only by the exercise of self-denial.
(c) They need channels for the expression of gratitude and joy. By those who truly love God, opportunities by which they may honour Him are welcomed with eager joy.
II. A glorious response. The demand for contributions for the erection of the Tabernacle was more than met (Exodus 36:5-7). How did this come to pass?
1. A spirit of holy enthusiasm possessed the people.
2. This spirit of holy enthusiasm possessed not a few wealthy men only, but the whole people (Exodus 35:21; Exodus 35:29).
3. This spirit of holy enthusiasm moved them to give not only of their superfluity, but also things needful to them in daily life (Exodus 35:22-24); and not only to give, but also to labour (Exodus 35:25).
4. This spirit of holy enthusiasm transformed every sacrifice that was made for God into an occasion and cause of great joy. So, again, was it at the erection of the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:9). Finally, this glorious response on the part of the people was gloriously acknowledged by the Most High (chap. 40:34, 35). (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
An old subscription list
There was plenty of compulsory work, of statutory contribution, in the Old Testament system of worship. Sacrifices and tithes and other things were imperative, but the Tabernacle was constructed by means of undemanded offerings, and there were parts of the standing ritual which were left to the promptings of the worshipper’s own spirit. There was always a door through which the impulses of devout hearts could come in, to animate what else would have become dead, mechanical compliance with prescribed obligations.
I. We have set forth here the true motive of acceptable service. “They came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing.” There is a striking metaphor in that last word. Wherever the spirit is touched with the sweet influences of God’s love, and loves and gives back again, that spirit is buoyant, lifted, raised above the low, fiat levels where selfishness feeds fat and then rots. The spirit is raised by any great and unselfish emotion. Continual contact with Jesus Christ, and realization of what He has done for us, is sure to open the deep fountains of the heart, and to secure abundant streams. If we can tap these perennial reservoirs, they will yield like artesian wells, and need no creaking machinery to pump a scanty and intermittent supply. We cannot trust this deepest motive too much, nor appeal to it too exclusively. Let me remind you, too, that Christ’s appeal to this motive leaves no loophole for selfishness or laziness. Responsibility is all the greater because we are left to assess ourselves. The blank form is sent to us, and He leaves it to our honour to fill it up. Do not tamper with the paper, for remember there is a Returning Officer that will examine your schedule who knows all about your possessions.
II. We get here the measure of acceptable work. We have a long catalogue, very interesting in many respects, of the various things that the people brought. Such sentences as these occur over and over again--“And every man with whom was found” so-and-so “brought it”; “And all the women did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun”; “And the rulers brought” so-and-so. Such statements embody the very plain truism that what we have settles what we are bound to give. Or, to put it into grander words, the capacity is the measure of duty. Our work is cut out for us by the faculties and opportunities that God has given us. The form as well as the measure of our service is determined thereby. “She hath done what she could,” said Jesus Christ about Mary. We often read that, as if it were a kind of apology for a sentimental and useless gift, because it was the best that she could bestow. I do not hear that tone in the words at all. I hear, rather, this: that duty is settled by faculty, and that nobody else has any business to interfere with that which a Christian soul, all aflame with the love of God, finds to be the spontaneous and natural expression of its devotion to the Master. The words are the vindication of the form of loving service; but let us not forget that they are also a very stringent; requirement as to its measure, if it is to please Christ. “What she could.” The engine must be worked up to the last ounce of pressure that it will stand. All must be got out of it that can be got out of it.
III. Notice, again, how in this list of offerings there comes out the great thought of the infinite variety of forms of service and offering, which are all equally needful and equally acceptable. The list begins with “bracelets, and ear-rings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold.” And then it goes on to “blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and red skins of rams, and badgers’ skins, and shittim wood.” And then we read that the women did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun--namely, the same things as have been already catalogued, the blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen. That looks as if the richer gave the raw material, and the women gave the labour. Poor women, they could not give, but they could spin. They had no stores, but they had ten fingers and a distaff; and if some neighbour found the stuff, the ten fingers joyfully set the distaff twirling, and spun the yarn for the weavers. Then there were others who willingly undertook the rougher work of spinning, not dainty thread for the rich soft stuffs whose colours were to glow in the sanctuary, but the coarse black goats’ hair which was to be made into the heavy covering of the roof of the Tabernacle. No doubt it was less pleasant labour than the other, but it got done by willing hands. And then, at the end of the whole enumeration, there comes--“And the rulers brought precious stones, and spices, and oil,” and all the expensive things that were needed. The big subscriptions are at the bottom of the list, and the smaller ones are in the place of honour. All this just teaches us this--what a host of things of all degrees of preciousness in men’s eyes go to make God’s great building! All the things that are given, and the works that are done from the same motive, because of the willing heart, stand upon the same level of acceptance and preciousness in His eyes, whatever may be their value in the market-place. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Co-operation in free giving.
1. The men brought their gifts (Exodus 35:23-24).
2. The women brought their gifts (Exodus 35:25-26).
3. The rulers brought their gifts (Exodus 35:27-28).
II. Giving based on an acceptable principle.
1. Its motive was right (Exodus 35:29).
2. Its judgment was correct.
(1) The givers did what they could in their respective lines.
(2) The character and variety in the gifts noticeable.
III. Free giving, in its influence upon God (Exodus 35:30-35).
1. If the gifts had not been forthcoming, the special skill would not have been brought into requisition.
2. The gifts, without the skill to use them, would have been of no account.
3. A Divine law is here discovered--God ever imparts to a willing people every needed grace for complete success.
1. The contrast between the children of Israel bowing before the calves of gold and bearing cheerful offerings for God’s sanctuary, is marked and suggestive.
(1) It suggests the power of a sentiment for good or evil.
(2) It suggests the responsibility of leaders of the people. The few create the sentiment, the many adopt it.
2. The contrast between the feelings of their covenant God toward them in these opposite attitudes.
(1) Toward His sinning people He is angry.
(2) Toward His obedient people He is full of grace and blessing.
3. Suggestive also is the contrast between the joy and peace of a disobedient and an obedient people.
4. We have here an instructive example of how much can be accomplished by a willing and united people in a short time.
(1) Consider the costliness of the Tabernacle.
(2) Consider the skill required. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Free gifts for the Tabernacle
I. Art should be consecrated to the service and worship of God. Emptiness and gloom do not honour Him whose are the silver and the gold, and whose handiwork is manifest in star and crystal, flower and feather. We cannot go far wrong when the Word of God encourages us in chaste use of symbols, making art the handmaid of religion, and every avenue to the soul a highway to God.
II. The artizan’s calling is honoured of God and his lawgiver. He who is diligent in business and fervent in spirit serves the Lord, and even in our manual occupations we may be fellow-workers with God. He who works rightly is so far God-like.
III. Giving, when rightly done, is an act of worship. To hear the Word without an offering is to be a hearer of it and not a doer. Stinginess in a Christian contradicts the cross and its lesson. We are to give promptly and regularly. Zeal cools by delay. Ideas shrink and vision shortens when the heart is not roused. Like the willing people before Moses, let us give now and see the good of our gifts while we live. Better be our own executors, writing our wills on living human hearts rather than on the skins of dead sheep or lawyers’ foolscap.
IV. Impulsive generosity is not to be contemned. Sentiment is more powerful than logic, and every minister of Christ and leader of men should imitate Moses, who proved himself, under God, a heart-rousing, pocket-compelling preacher. To thrill the money-nerve unto good ends is a noble achievement. Then the maid forgets her ornaments. The lady’s jewels are cast into the molten mass that is to make a church bell, supply the needs of the battle-field, the hospital, or the famine-stricken land.
V. The path of sacrifice leads us to Christ and His cross. The heart that prompts the offer of the cup of cold water, when cultivated by Divine grace to highest possibilities, rests only under the cross of Calvary. (William E. Griffis.)
Materials and offerings
I. The materials of which the Tabernacle was made.
1. Various. Nothing is too good for God’s service. Common things are useful, and not to be despised. The meanest things may be sanctified to God’s service. In the Church of Christ we find persons of all nations and stations. Sinners of every degree, colour, character, and size; redeemed, called, sanctified, and blessed, are the materials with which God builds His spiritual house.
2. Suitable. We cannot improve on God’s Choice, nor conceive of a better plan. So in the Church of God perfect wisdom is seen. His glory is great in our salvation. Christ will have a revenue of praise from every soul He rescues from hell. Great sinners are just suitable for a great Saviour.
3. Very costly. Who can tell the value of one soul?
4. Mostly from Egypt. God gathers all the materials for His sanctuary out of the house of bondage.
II. The willing people who brought the materials. A beautiful illustration of the fruit and effect of God’s forgiving love. Having willing hearts, the people brought willing offerings. All classes had a share in the giving--poor as well as rich--and all their gifts were accepted.
III. The skilful workmen who brought the materials into beauteous form. (R. E. Sears.)
Voluntary contributions for Church work
I. Let us compare their design in erecting the Tabernacle with ours. It was to establish a religion which, when we consider, we cannot but rejoice that we live in brighter days. Not that we would speak disrespectfully of a system which God Himself instituted; but we may safely say that it was inferior to ours. When the Jews laboured to build the Tabernacle they laboured to establish a religion that was--
1. Obscure. There was some light, but it was mingled with much darkness. The truths taught were enveloped in obscurity.
2. Their system was contracted. When they sought to build a Tabernacle, it was only for the use of a million or a million and a half of people. Theirs was a spirit of sectarianism. It was wisely appointed, indeed, to keep them from mingling with the heathen around them. But we cannot help rejoicing that we are not thus shut up. The gospel is designed for all nations, tongues, and people.
3. Their system was burdensome. Their observances were pompous, their rites were numerous and costly. But our yoke, in this respect, is easy, our burden is light. Here are but few institutions, and those are simple and efficient.
4. Their system was temporary. It was only suited to the Jewish meridian, it was only adapted to the service of the Tabernacle. Whereas the Christian system is adapted to every government, for it interferes with none; to every climate, for it is not regulated by the usages of country; to all people, for it is alike friendly to all.
II. Let us compare the exertions of the jews with ours, in reference to these respective systems.
1. Their exertions were prompt.
All seemed to ask, “What talent have I by which I may promote this cause?” If our Churches were possessed of this spirit, how much more would be done: ministers can preach and speak, but there must be collectors also, distributors of reports, etc. Those who have not a ready tongue, may have a flowing pen.
III. Let us consider the obligations under which they were laid, and under which we also are. Laid.
1. They had received a revelation from heaven. If they who received a revelation under the influence of terror did so much, we ought surely to do more! If they did so much under the smoke of Sinai, ought not the droppings of the cross to influence us? Oh, let us feel ashamed that we have made so few exertions.
2. They had experienced merciful deliverances from heaven.
3. They had enjoyed merciful supplies from heaven. (J. Blackburn.)
The popular response
1. The answer of the people was marked by the spirit of willinghood. Some form of the word willing occurs again and again: “Every one whom his spirit made willing”; “As many as were willing-hearted.” God will have nothing out of the reluctant hand. We may throw an offering down, but it is not taken up by heaven. It evaporates downwards; it is not received by the condescending and sympathetic sun.
2. The answer was the deepest and truest cure of all murmuring. The people had been murmuring again and again, but the moment they began to work they ceased to complain. You would murmur less if you worked more. An evil thing is idleness. It must always sit with coldness, and the two must keep one another in evil countenance. The one thing to be feared is stagnation. Hear heaven’s sweet appeal for service, for sacrifice, and know that the appeal is not the demand of exaggeration, but that it is inspired by the very spirit of consideration for human feeling, and expresses the very philosophy of human spiritual education. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Gifts to the Lord
I. The spirit of the people was thoroughly devotional. It will result in no success whatsoever to attempt to manage the Lord’s interests in a merely mercenary and marketable way. Any Church enterprise will fail if it only seeks to please a crowd, to fire the ambition of a denomination, or become a monument of personal pride. For this is not its end; its purpose is salvation of lost souls, and anything short of that is simply waste of money and zeal. We have heard it said that once the venerable keeper of the Eddystone lighthouse was completely prostrated by the wild conflict of the ocean during a violent storm which threatened to destroy the slender shaft of stone out in the midst of the waves. He joined the small company of his helpers in guarding the windows, defending the doors, saving the boats, fastening the broken chains, till he used up his infirm strength completely. They laid him down in one of the little chambers to die, for no one could be spared to watch. After a while they came to tell him the storm was abating; but, left for a moment, he had crept up the stairs to the lantern, and was there feebly trimming the lamps. “I was afraid some vessel might miss the light,” he said in explanation. They told him, a little petulantly, that he might have spared his strength to help preserve the building. “No, no,” he answered, with an anxious look out over the offing; “I was not put out here to save lighthouses, but to save ships!”
II. The spirit of the people was universally industrious. Personal labour is more valuable often than money in the Lord’s service, for it more surely carries the heart with it. There is an exquisite little story told us in the classics, of one Cressinus, whom the Romans arrested for witchcraft because he grew opulent on so small a farm. But he came to the judgment producing his tools, and displaying his hardened hands: “These are my sorceries,” he exclaimed; “these implements of honest toil are all the witcheries I know of!” And they freed him on the plea. The eight fingers and two thumbs of Christians are the best ten friends that any congregation in difficulties ever has found under God.
III. The spirit of the people was self-sacrificingly liberal. There was once a man who was prospered in business and grew wealthy. Then he lavished his fortune in house and equipage, and in all personal indulgence of self. He suddenly failed, and in shame and sorrow stood by while his furniture and pictures, his horses and plate, were scattered among strangers by the glib auctioneer. Some days afterwards he happened to be present at the dedication of a mission chapel for the poor, which a Christian friend had just erected. “Ah, how I wish,” said he, as his memory told him of his improvident excesses in former times--“how I wish now that some of the wealth I wasted was invested here with yours in this building, which will be doing God’s service long after I am forgotten!”
IV. The spirit of the people was prayerfully ingenious. The principle of division of labour was carried into use among the people so that every sort of fitness should be put into service. Really, the rule appears to have been that every one should do the exact thing he could do the best, and give all he was able to offer in the line of unobtrusive contribution. There was certainly something for each man and each woman to do; and they all became alert to find out their vocation. It is remarkable to see how unconscious they are of any claim to special praise. There is no clapping of hands for each other; there is no plaudit from the skies. The famous statue of Phidias, called the Olympian Jove, was reckoned one of the wonders of the world; and the Grecian orators used to declare that on its completion Jove himself struck the pavement in front of it with glorious lightning in token of his approbation. This will do very well as a tale for a superstitious and self-seeking multitude. But our God never compliments human industry, nor flatters his creatures for simply doing their duty. They must be content to wait with the approval of their own consciences, and watch the rising of each fair enterprise like a tabernacle for God’s dwelling.
V. The spirit of the people was enthusiastically affectionate. Over and over again we are reminded that their hearts were in every case “stirred up,” and their spirits were made “willing-hearted.” It is not even worth while to delay in illustrating this point; for the whole after history shows that their success in such a vast undertaking came from the same temper as that which actuated the nation in after times when building the Temple: “The people had a mind to work.” Therein is our very best lesson for modern endeavour. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Describe the willing offerer. He is one who gives--
1. As much as he can.
2. Of the best he has.
3. Cheerfully, as to the Lord.
II. Offer some reasons for willingness in the service of God.
1. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.
2. The value of what is given in enhanced by the manner of the bestowment.
3. The willingness of one stirs the liberality of others.
4. Good works are often delayed, fatally, by the slowness of giving.
5. We are not our own, and all we have is God’s.
6. God gave “this unspeakable gift” willingly. (Biblical Museum.)
About nine o’clock in the morning the people gathered together in the church. Fully five hundred natives were present, and the building seemed to be well filled. It is hard to say how many the Port Moresby church will hold. The people sit on the floor. They have a way of folding up their legs and then sitting on them, and this saves space by doing away with all need for chairs. They can stay seated in this cramped position for an hour or two. Upon this occasion the floor was almost entirely covered with people who listened well to what was said. I have never faced such a congregation before. Towards the front the people were simply but decently dressed. Many of them were young men and women who are being trained for native teachers in the Mission School. You had only to look a few yards behind them to see the naked savage sitting almost motionless, and looking just a little hideous in his grotesque ornamentation. To look from one man to another was to see what has been done, and what can be done for these people by the gospel of Christ. The collection was a very strange one. Very few of the people have any money, so, instead of silver and gold, they brought such as they have--viz., 325 spears, 65 shell armlets, 92 bows, 180 arrows, besides shields, drums, shell necklaces, feather and other ornaments. Altogether, counting money given by the missionaries and the native teachers, the collection was worth f30 1s. 6d. (Lewis, Missionary in New Guinea.)
Self-denying offerings of women
General Longstreet, speaking of the struggle at Centreville, says: “The Federals had been using balloons in examining our positions, and we watched with envious eyes their beautiful observations, as they floated high up in the air, and well out of the range of our guns. We longed for the balloon that poverty denied us. A genius arose for the occasion and suggested that we send out and gather together all the silk dresses in the Confederacy and make a balloon. It was done, and soon we had a great patchwork ship of many and varied hues.” (H. O. Mackey.)
A few months before the death of Miss Frances Ridley Havergal, the sweet and accomplished missionary poetess, she sent to the Church Missionary Society her jewels, value f50. Had she been strong enough, she herself would have gone to India.
Lord Shaftesbury, on one occasion, said to me, “I am going to build a schoolroom in your parish.” I knew that he had a good many claims on him, and I said “Let me help you to collect the funds.” But he would not, and he built schoolrooms in two of the parishes on the estate. Afterwards he said to me, “You asked me to allow you to help me in collecting funds, but I thought it was not my duty to do so. Do you know how I got the money?” I said, “No, of course I do not.” “Well,” he said, “I found I had so much more plate left me by my father than I wanted, that I thought I would sell enough to build these two schoolrooms.” (Bp. Bickersteth.)
The motive to liberality
Diodorus Siculus relates that the forest of the Pyrenean Mountains being set on fire, and the heat penetrating to the soil, a pure stream of silver gushed forth from the bosom of the earth and revealed for the first time the existence of those rich lodes afterwards so celebrated. Let the melting influence of the cross be felt, let the fire of the gospel be kindled in the Church, and its ample stores shall be seen flowing from their hidden recesses and becoming “the fine gold of the sanctuary. (J. Harris.)
Offerings of devotion
The Rev. Dr. D. Fraser tells the following:--After a sermon preached by him at the opening of a church elsewhere, a lady of fashionable position in society came to him. “Why should I have two watches while the house of God remains unpaid for?” He replied, “Really, I cannot tell why.” She then said, “Well, I will give the better watch of the two toward the cost of the church.” She did so, and a jeweller paid f25 for it, which was a sensible addition to the fund. Dr. Fraser added that at another collection, on the previous Sunday, a lady who had not a piece of gold, and who did not care to give silver, took the chain off her neck and put it on the plate. She would lose nothing by that. They might say that these were impulsive women. Well, impulsive women might rise up to condemn illiberal men in the day of the Lord.
Variety of offerings in God’s treasury
I remember once being in the treasury of a royal palace. There was a long gallery in which the Crown valuables were stored. In one compartment there was a great display of emeralds, and diamonds, and rubies, and I know not what, that had been looted from some Indian rajah or other. And in the next case there lay a common quill pen, and beside it a little bit of discoloured coarse serge. The pen had signed some important treaty, and the serge was a fragment of a flag that had been borne triumphant from a field where a nation’s destinies had been sealed. The two together were worth a farthing at the outside, but they held their own among the jewels, because they spoke of brain-work and bloodshed in the service of the king. Many strangely conjoined things lie side by side in God’s jewel-cases. Things which people vulgarly call large and valuable, and what people still more vulgarly call small and worthless, have a way of getting together there. For in that place the arrangement is not in order of what the thing will fetch if it is sold, but what was the thought in the mind and the emotion in the heart which gave it. Jewels and camel’s hair, yarn and gold and silver, are all massed together. Wood is wanted for the temple quite as much as gold and silver and precious stones. So, whatever we have, let us bring that; and whatever we are, let us bring that. If we be poor and our work small, and our natures limited, and our faculties confined, it does not matter. A man is accepted “according to that he hath, and not according to that he hath not.” He gives much who gives all, though his all be little; he gives little who gives a part, though the part be much. The motive sanctifies the act, and the completeness of the consecration magnifies it. Great and small are not words for God’s kingdom, in which the standard is not quantity but quality, and quality is settled by the purity of the love which prompts the deed, and the consequent thoroughness of self-surrender which it expresses. Whoever serves God with a whole heart will render to Him a whole strength, and will thus bring Him the gifts which lie most desires. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Willing offerings acceptable to God
There was once a missionary meeting held in the West Indies among the negroes, at which these three resolutions were agreed upon--
1. We will all give something.
2. We will give as God has prospered us.
3. We will all give willingly.
As soon as the meeting was over, a leading negro took his seat at the table, with pen and ink, to put down what each came to give. Many came forward to give, some more and some less. Amongst those that came was a rich old negro, almost as rich as all the others put together, and threw down upon the table a small silver coin. “Take dat back again,” said the negro that received the money; “dat may be according to de first resolution, but it not according to de second.” The rich man accordingly took it up, and hobbled back to his seat in a great rage. One after another came forward, and as almost all gave more than himself, he was fairly ashamed of himself, and again threw down a piece of money on the table, saying, “Dare! take that!” It was a valuable piece of money: but it was given so ill-temperedly, that the negro answered again, “No! dat won’t do yet! It may be according to de first and second resolutions, but it is not according to de last”; and he was obliged to take up his coin again. Still angry at himself and all the rest, he sat a long time, till nearly all were gone, and then came up to the table, and with a smile on his face, and very willingly, gave a large sum to the treasurer. “Very well,” said the negro, “dat will do; dat according to all de resolutions.” Whatever we do for the worship and service of God, we should do it freely, cheerfully, and cordially. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” If cheerful giving to God’s cause was required under the old dispensation, how much more is it required under the new!
I must give before I can pray
The venerable Dr. Sewall, of Maine, once entered a meeting in behalf of foreign missions, just as the collectors of the contributions were resuming their seats. The chairman of the meeting requested him to lead in prayer. The old gentleman stood hesitatingly, as if he had not heard the request. It was repeated in a louder voice, but there was no response. It was observed, however, that Dr. Sewall was fumbling in his pockets, and presently he produced a piece of money, which he deposited in the contribution box. The chairman, thinking he had not been understood, said loudly, “I didn’t ask you to give, Dr. Sewall, I asked you to pray.” “Oh, yes,” he replied, “I heard you, but I can’t pray till I have given something.”
The worth of youthful giving
The Rev. Dr. Dickson, of Baltimore, in an address at the Maryland State Sabbath-school Convention, spoke of the need of cultivating “the grace of giving” in early life. Twenty years ago, he said, he proposed to his Sabbath-school superintendent to take up a collection every Sabbath morning from the children. “Why, my dear pastor,” exclaimed the superintendent, “you shear the sheep pretty often, and this looks really like wanting to shear the tender lambs!” The thought startled the speaker. A few days after, however, he was in the store of one of his parishioners, purchasing stockings. He had selected a good article, as he thought, when the merchant inquired, “Why do you not select the lambs’wool?” “Lambs’ wool! why, are they better?” “Yes, they are a world softer, far more pliable, and I believe wear longer than those made from old sheep’s wool.” He did not remember, and needed not to inform the hearers, whether he took the stockings; but he knew that he took the fact to his superintendent, telling him that “lambs’ wool was the best wool, and he meant to try it!” The many early traits of selfishness, avarice, covetousness, subdued by the earlier formed habits of giving in children who could tell!
To devise curious works.
Bezaleel; or, invention, art, and religion
Religion may not despise art and inventive power. It should absorb everything that can give pure joy and assist devotion. The best art generally has a Godward look.
I. Art and Christianity both imply work. Indolence is disgrace. Work is honourable, whether it be the work of the horny hand, the skilful touch, or the busy brain. There is no curse upon work, unless when poorly paid. Indeed, the world would be accursed if there were no work, no art, no skill.
II. Art and science, like religion, stimulate thought. Man, weak in bodily frame, is to be strong by the exercise of mind. Thought is to overcome force, and ingenuity inertness. We believe that Christianity will flourish best where there is truest art culture and deepest reverence arising from contemplation of God’s works.
III. Art, science, and Christianity alike teach us that we are mutually dependent. The comforts and joys, as well as the necessaries of life, are the result of much thought and care on the part of others.
IV. Art and science, like Christianity, are useful in fostering purer and higher tastes, God intended that we should be educated in this way to appreciate something higher in the better world. (F. Hastings.)
The true design of work
We are accustomed to limit the inspiration of God’s Spirit to thoughts and words. For this, however, we have no warrant in Scripture. The sevenfold Spirit has differences of administration and operation. The body as well as the soul experiences His sanctifying influence. He enters the sphere of man’s labour as well as of his thought, and inspires the work of his hands as well as the meditations of his mind. The same Spirit that inspired the eloquence of Isaiah, and the melodies of the chief musician Asaph, also imparted to Samson that marvellous bodily strength which he displayed in Herculean labours, and tremendous feats against the Philistines; and to Bezaleel and Aholiab that fine aesthetic taste and mechanical skill, by which they were enabled to construct the Tabernacle after the pattern shown on the mount. What is the lesson conveyed to us by the Theocratic government of Israel, whose affairs, secular and religious, national and individual, were regulated directly by God Himself? Is it not that the whole of life is one; that true religion is the proper use of man’s whole being, and of the universe around him? What does the ascension of our Lord teach us? Is it not the unity of life; the oneness of the natural and the religious life? Godliness is now profitable unto all things. It is not the setting up of an estrangement between man and the outer world, but the working out of a true harmony between them; not the elimination of any of the elements of man’s life, but the proper blending of the whole--the sanctification of body, soul, and spirit; the doing all, whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, to the glory of God. Bearing in mind this solemn truth of the unity of all life, let me proceed to consider the significance of the inspiration of Bezaleel and Aholiab. This fact is not of individual but of general application. It is not unique, but representative. The Tabernacle of the wilderness was a miniature model of the whole earth, just as the people of Israel were the miniature pattern of all nations. Every man has a part assigned to him in the erection and adorning of this wonderful Tabernacle, whose floor is the green fields, whose walls are the rocks and mountains, and whose roof is the ever-changing sky. Every man who does a day’s work is a fellow-worker with God, in carrying out His great design in creation, in improving the face of nature, changing the wilderness into a garden, in making the world fairer and richer, and better fitted to be the home of redeemed man, and the shrine of the Most High God. Toil is the first stage of the process of redemption--“the condition of man’s elevation out of the state of a sinful, suffering, degraded creature, to the friendship, fellowship, and likeness of God.” In the Pacific Ocean there are lovely islands built entirely by coral zoophytes, out of the profound depths of the ocean. Raised above the waves, floating germs of vegetation alight on them, and speedily cover them with a fair clothing of verdure. Man comes and takes up his abode on these Edens, and makes their resources subservient to the purposes of human life. By and by the missionary appears, and by the preaching of the gospel changes the moral wilderness into a garden of the Lord. The last great result is thus but the completion of a process begun by the mere natural instinct of a creature in the depths of the ocean. The work of the missionary rests upon, and is closely connected with, the work of the polyp. So is it with human toil. It may be a mere instinctive process carried on in the depths of spiritual ignorance; a blind, aimless motion, having no higher object than the mere satisfying of natural wants. Man may be induced to work purely by physical necessity, because he cannot otherwise get his bread; and yet toil is absolutely necessary as the foundation upon which the spiritual structure of our soul’s salvation is laid. The effects of the fall began indeed in the soul; and it is in the soul that they must first be counteracted. The work of grace is radical. It begins in the heart, and spreads outwardly through the life. But work is the fulcrum by which its blessed leverage is exerted, the discipline through which it is carried out. Toil, first of all, teaches man his utter poverty. He forfeited life and all the means of life by his sin. As an outlaw under sentence of outlawry, he can hold no possessions whatever; he has no right even to his daily bread. But further, toil makes man subject to the law which he has broken. He sought to escape from law by his transgression. Striving to escape from the beneficent law of God, he fell under the cruel law of poverty, hunger, and death. He must become, as Mr. Brown says, the servant of the laws by which God maintains the order and life of the world, if he would earn the smallest blessing from their co-operation. Only by falling in with the Divine rule in every work can any man hope to succeed in it. Those who conquer nature are those who comprehend and obey her. But further still, toil opens the door into the sphere of duty, and is the hinge on which the deepest relationships and richest experiences of life turn. Not for himself does any man toil. Wife and children have to be provided for. But the highest ministry which our toil performs is to bring us into communion and fellowship with God our Redeemer, to make us fellow-workers with God. We enter into His purposes, comprehend His plans, and sympathize with His feelings. The patience which the husbandman exercises in waiting through the long summer months for the fruit of what he sows, and which the artist and mechanic display in slowly developing their special work, enables us in some measure to understand the patience of God in His work of providence and redemption. The disappointments and failures to which all kinds of work are exposed, prepare us for sympathizing with God’s grief over the ruins of the world which He had made all very good, and over the disappointments which He meets in His redemption work. The courage, the faith, the devotion, the perseverance, the self-denial which our daily work calls forth, are closely related to our higher moral and spiritual discipline, and have the most important effect in redeeming us from the consequences of the fall. We need the inspiration of God’s Spirit--the inspiration which Bezaleel and Aholiab had--to rescue our work from the degradation into which it so easily slides, and make it what God meant it to be. The very labour of our hands sinks down into depraved methods, unless kept up by the ennobling influence of God’s Spirit. The inspiration of the Spirit does not indeed impart gifts--does not stand in place of natural abilities and attainments. Men have different talents naturally; and a Christian may have only one talent, while a thoroughly worldly man may have ten. And yet it is marvellous what the inspiration of the Spirit can do, even in the absence or deficiency of natural attainments. The entrance of God’s Word gives light, and makes the simple wise. Conversion is itself an education. Religion exalts and ennobles the whole man. It quickens and elevates all his powers, and makes itself felt in everything with which he has to do. We see the marvellous influence of the Christian religion, even although mixed with much superstition, in the art of the Middle Ages--in those paintings of sacred subjects, and those abbeys and cathedrals which are the admiration of our age. There is nothing in Christianity that forbids, but, on the contrary, everything that favours the widest expansion, the loftiest achievement of the human mind, and the most skilful production of the human hand. It behoves all who are Christians, then, to show what Christianity can do in the way of purifying and ennobling common every-day work. Let us seek to make our work an essential part of our religion. The labour of Bezaleel, from a worldly point of view, was evanescent. The Tabernacle which he constructed with such rare skill, passed away; all its precious materials and workmanship disappeared like a beautiful dream of the morning, and not a trace of them now remains on the face of the earth. And yet, notwithstanding this, the work of Bezaleel was abiding in its spiritual results. Israel reaped the benefit of it through all their generations. We ourselves are the better for it to-day. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Inspiration for handicraft
No nobler thought of God, no more welcome gospel, after an assurance of purifying grace, has been uttered than this which these verses hold. Fallacious and fatal is the thought that a man can live a divided life. Hopeless is his struggle to “serve two masters.” And surely few heresies have done so much damage to religion as that which would lead a man to think that the things which necessarily occupy a large proportion of his time and energy are matters of no concern to the God who claims his worship, and that to Him the toil of the industrious, the genius of the skilful, the patience of the earnest, with all the products of such life’s endeavour, are things of no moment, lying outside the region of His care and cognizance. Honour to the soul that rises in revolt against an injustice to God and man! I meet with men who are troubled by this misconception; men who need, as we all need, help from God day by day, and all day long; men who, if their industry cannot be brought within the sphere of their religion, feel that they must be irreligious, or at all events unreligious for the greater part of their life. Let me try to win such men from their mistake by setting before them this truth of God. Do you not feel how full-charged this truth is with the power of quickening and redeeming grace? Do you not feel how all-inclusive this truth is, how it touches every man, and makes his whole self worthy, how it touches the whole of the man, and leaves nothing of him outside of Divine help, nothing of him undignified by Divine overruling? Let us put the truth into plain words, and look it straight in the face--power of hand and brain is of God and for God. It has a comely aspect, significant of hope, voiceful with strenuous incentive, calm with conscious triumph. We are brought just back to this simple, ancient way of putting the fact, after all the revelations and imaginations concerning species and development, which have been given to the world. Genius may be largely hereditary, special capacities may be cultured and developed. But who planned the conditions and the laws? It is interesting to discover method; but method is not cause. Knowledge of the means through which anything is done is not the same as a knowledge of that by which the thing is done. I don’t know, I don’t believe that any one wants to try to prove atheism. But we might almost as well doubt the very existence of our God as fail to reap the great harvest of privilege which springs from this great seed truth, “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Oh, if all the thinkers and workers in the world, our fellows and associates in the office and the warehouse, in the factory and in the foundry, could be brought to feel this, what a power for good would grow! If men and women went into each day’s toil with not a vague, shadowy idea, but a great and vivid conviction that the strength, the skill, the ingenuity, power of adroit and delicate touch, power of fanciful and beautiful designing, strength to sling the hammer and make the anvil ring, delicacy, deftness, knack, that indescribable way of doing just the right thing at the right time, which is so marvellous to watch--that all this is a Divine gift bearing the seal of the Most High God, the pledge of His thought and care and love, a holy trust to be used for Him--would not such a conviction be as good as it was great, as redemptive as it was real? It makes all the difference between drudgery and duty, between toil and work. It changes hard labour, recompensed by coin of the realm by which a man’s debts are paid and his needs met, into an exultant exercise of power, recompensed by the approval of a conscience void of offence, recompensed more gloriously by the approval of the Master who was once Himself a workman and is eternally a worker: “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” I appeal to those who listen to me to get rid of the fallacy and to get hold of the fact. The call to labour is a summons to high privilege. The inspiration to true labour has its origin in God. Take the truth with you tomorrow, friend, and it will lift your life out of its monotony and rid it of any aspect of dreariness. It will put a soul into what has, perhaps, been a lifeless thing. It will send a glow to you through what, perhaps, hitherto has chilled your very heart. It was the Lord God who put wisdom and understanding into every wise-hearted man “to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary,” and He, the Lord, is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” This brings me naturally to the emphasizing of another point illustrated here: that the power, the disposition to use the skill is also a Divine gift. I say use, for misuse and abuse are of a man’s own selfishness. Often do we hear the question, “What will he do with it?” Now I imagine that a man who has felt the pressure of the solemn fact of which I have spoken, namely, that power of hand and brain is of and for God, will be found looking for this second fact--that power to use the skill is also a gift from Him. If I discover that I am in possession of some precious thing which has come to me from God, the natural and immediate impulse will be to look to Him for guidance and power in the use of it. I am anxious not to misuse it. I fear to make a mistake. A man makes a sorry bargain who sells himself for money or for the passing gratification of his senses. Yet men have been tempted to abuse their skill, intelligence, strength, by the doing of a deed, one result of which was the enabling them to say, “That pile of gold is mine,” a saying which could only be true for a time, and another result of which was the withering and maiming of their very soul. I believe in the possibility of consecrating all endeavour. I believe that daily labour in any man’s lawful calling may be ennobled with the grandeur of Divine service. If, then, you and I feel gracious influences and powers leading and qualifying us to use our force and skill in this highest way, “not with eye-service as men-pleasers,” but with “singleness of heart” as reverencing God, thankfully may we recognize the influence as His influence, the power as His power, the grace as His grace. Mental endowment and power of speech, physical endowment and power of handicraft, are high gifts, and the generosity is meant for good. (D. Jones Hamer.)
There was, of course, a special Divine influence on these two artists; but in a very real sense, it is true of every man of genius that his excellence has been given him by God, and he should seek to consecrate it to God’s service. Let us be just, also, and add that, in a large proportion of instances, they have done so. Take the noblest things in poetry, music, architecture, and painting, and you will find that they have been done in the service of God, and have a religious significance. The grandest epic in our language is on a religious theme; and some of our grandest lyrics have come from the harp of a pious heart, swept by the breeze of a holy influence. What are the oratorios of Handel but the consecration of his genius to Jehovah? and the finest specimens of architecture which Europe has to show are its venerable cathedrals, every one of which, in the ideal of its designer, was a sermon in stone. The greatest triumphs of the painter have been in the delineations of sacred subjects; and many among them who have become famous have, like the Fra Angelico, done their work upon their knees . . . Every true product of art, no matter in what department, is a poem; and if we can adopt the lyrics of the singer into our hymnology, why should we not encourage our artists to preach on the canvas and in the marble? Never minister gave a more eloquent sermon than that painted by Holman Hunt in “The Light of the World.” And the advantage is on the painter’s side in more ways than one, for, while the sermon dies out of recollection, the picture lives. So let us encourage men of genius to consecrate their abilities to God’s service; and then, perhaps, the time will come when, in the highest of all senses, “the day of the Lord shall be upon all pleasant pictures.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Few minds are sunlike, sources of light to themselves and to others. Most are moons, which shine with a derivative and reflected light. Bezaleel and Aholiab drew their skill from Divine inspiration. Indeed, it has been said by Cicero that all great men are in some degree inspired. They are Divinely qualified for their respective missions. Was not Gutenburg inspired to invent printing, with the view to a world-wide diffusion of the Word of God? The history of nations and of the Church afford numerous illustrations of this species of inspiration in the raising up of special men to certain works when such needed to be done.
Artistic education of Israelites in Egypt
Under Jehovah’s merciful providence even the captivity of Israel had a sunny side. Egypt, then at the noon of her civilization, was pre-eminently the home of science, art, and culture. For both rede-craft and hand-crafts her children were world-famed. The Israelites were educated in a school of fine arts as well as in brickyards. Not all their sons and daughters toiled in clay, or ate only cheapest bread and onions. Many were house and body servants to Egyptian ladies and gentlemen. The brighter and more dexterous learned trades; and though slaves, served their masters as skilled mechanics or workers in art products. Not a few secured first-class knowledge in stamping, chasing, and various branches of metal-work, in the lapidary and glyptic art, as well as in weaving, dyeing, carpentry, and leather-dressing. In addition to their theoretical knowledge and practical handicraft, they had pretty full sets of models and masterpieces of mechanism. The keepsakes and souvenirs borrowed from the Egyptians were easily copied and manufactured, when raw material from mine and flock, sea and soil, in the Sinaitic peninsula were put to account. It was not entirely a “horde of slaves” that went up out of Egypt. Between the mob of ignorant freedmen and the princes, statesmen, and leaders inspired of God, stood another class of men: these were metallargists, jewellers, engravers, architects, and weavers possessing that skill, born of hand and brain working in harmony, without which a high civilization and the order of cities are impossible. (W. E. Griffis.)
Prayer for artistic skill answered
A young painter was directed by his master to complete a picture on which the master had been obliged to suspend his labours on account of his growing infirmities. “I commission thee, my son,” said the aged artist, “to do thy best upon this work. Do thy best.” The young man had such reverence for his master’s skill, that he felt incompetent to touch canvas that bore the mark of that renowned hand. But “Do thy best “was the old man’s calm reply; and again, to repeated solicitations, he answered, “Do thy best.” The youth tremblingly seized the brush, and kneeling before his appointed work, he prayed: “It is for the sake of my beloved master that I implore skill and power to do this deed.” His hand grew steady as he painted. Slumbering genius awoke in his eye. Enthusiasm took the place of fear. Forgetfulness of himself supplanted his self-distrust, and with a calm joy he finished his labour. The “beloved master” was borne on his couch into the studio, to pass judgment on the result. As his eye fell upon the triumph of art before him, he burst into tears, and throwing his enfeebled arms around the young artist, he exclaimed, “My son, I paint no more!” That youth, Leonardo da Vinci, became the painter of “The Last Supper,” the ruins of which, after the lapse of three hundred years, still attract large numbers annually to the refectory of an obscure convent in Milan. (Christian Journal.)
Wisdom a Divine gift
A touching story is related of Thomas Telford, the Scottish mason who became one of the greatest of British engineers. His great scheme of a suspension bridge over the Menai Strait, connecting Carnarvonshire with the Isle of Anglesea, had passed through many stages of difficulty and doubt. Will and genius had battled with, and overcome the obstacles, and the bridge was a fact. An experiment had been made, and all went well. Enthusiastic friends missed the designer. They went to seek him, and to tell him how thoroughly his plans appeared to be justified, and how reward had come for labour and anxiety. Telford was found on his knees, lifting up his heart to God in adoration and prayer. He recognized that all wisdom and all power was a Divine trust, and that God was the Giver of all his good. This is the right way to take success. Such men do not lose in soul-stature through their prosperity.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 35". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26