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they have filled up the measure of their wicked
In the case of Balaam, warnings and mercies were alike useless; and we read that after his adventure with Balak, he tried to put temptations to sin in the way of the children of Israel, and at last was killed amongst their enemies, the Midianites. So it will be with all those who endeavour like him to play a double part, instead of following their duty bravely and cheerfully. But if we keep ourselves ever in a state of mind like St. Paul's at his conversion, asking humbly, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" we may depend on being guided into all truth by the enlightening of God's Holy Spirit, and on having the path of our duty made clear before us, whilst we ourselves are strengthened against all temptation steadily to walk in it.
NUMBERS, xxv. 12, 13.
Behold, I give unto Phinehas my covenant of peace : and he
shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
THERE was a time, not many ages ago, when this passage, and the act of Phinehas to which it refers, were read with delight, and held up as models for imitation; when to be zealous even to slaying was accounted one of the virtues which should mark a servant of the Lord. After this temper had had its course, and had been displayed in various acts of cruelty, and of treachery and cruelty combined, there came as usual a reaction. Men saw what crimes had been committed under the name of religious zeal, and from an abuse of the Old Testament; and they began to think religious zeal a very dangerous thing, and the study of the Old Testa
ment was suffered to go into neglect ;-110thing was so much spoken of as the mildness, and forbearance, and tolerance of Christ's gospel. Then, as was natural, devotion became less fervent, and godly fear grew less. If men did not commit crimes from using the word of God amiss, so neither was there that growth in holiness which is the consequence of using it ariglit. Men felt that little had been forgiven them, and therefore they loved little. Again, therefore, there has come the reaction; again the spirit of zeal is kindling; and again it seems likely that it will be a zeal not according to knowledge; that it will again, as heretofore, dishonour God by the follies and the crimes which it commits in His name.
Yet we must beware of another reaction to the opposite extreme. Abhorring and fleeing from that false and wicked zeal with which fanatics serve their idols, while they profess to be serving God, we must yet earnestly strive not to be ourselves without true zeal. The story of Phinehas, the severer lessons of the Old Testament, are and ever will be needed ;—the blessing which God pronounced upon him is no idle, no dead word;—it still lives for all those who tread according to the spirit, and not according to the letter, in the steps of Phinehas. For we could not reasonably hold the Old Testament to be a part of God's revelations to men, if the lessons which it contains, and
the characters which it holds up as examples in their relations to God, were not founded upon truth. God is for ever the same, and in our relations to God we, too, are the same as we ever have been. It is earth and our earthly relations which change; and as our outward practice has to do with these, so our actions must be often very different from those praised in the Old Testament; while that principle from which such actions sprung, and which made them praiseworthy, is still good and most important for us, and still must bring forth its practical fruit, although that fruit will be no longer the same as it was in times past. This applies particularly to religious zeal,-a feeling which is brought forward strongly in the Old Testament, as one most needful to be enforced, and most acceptable to God. And it is surely no less needed now, and no less acceptable: God being still, as in old times, hidden from our sight, and we being continually tempted to neglect Him by our own evil nature, and by the
very circumstances of our condition on earth; it is quite as much required as ever that our zeal towards Him should be enkindled; it is quite as just that they who are zealous in His service should be regarded as the objects of His love.
If I might be allowed the comparison, many of the lessons of the Old Testament, and the story of Phinehas in particular, resemble, so far as we are
concerned now, our Lord's parable of the unjust steward. There are some who have found that parable difficult, some who have misinterpreted it, and others who from horror of its misinterpretation would, perhaps, have been glad to neglect it altogether. Yet that parable contains a lesson which we greatly need; and though we may make it minister unto sin by misunderstanding it, yet we may not, therefore, pass it by as useless. There, as in the story of Phinehas, a principle most valuable is combined with a particular illustration of it, which in the one case, is always to be condemned; in the other, is deserving of condemnation now. The forethought of the dishonest steward extorted something like respect from his master, even though shown in acts of dishonesty. The zeal of Phinehas is held up to our admiration, although the manner in which he showed it would be as sinful for us to imitate as the steward's dishonesty. But transplant, so to speak, this forethought and this zeal to the soil and climate of Christianity, and they lose immediately all the bad qualities, all the harshnesses which in their wild and imperfect state still clung to them. Christian forethought unites the innocence of the dove with the serpent's wisdom; Christian zeal can be no longer shown in acts of violence; its acts are as blameless and loving as its spirit is fervent and self-denying.
We need not, then, shrink from such parts of