PHI EHAS. BY THOMAS AR OLD, D.D.

umbers xxv. 12, 13. Behold, I give unto Phinehas my covenant of peace: and he shall have it and hit 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, Thebe 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 accomited 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 Testament was suffered to go into neglect ; — ^nothing 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 aright. Men felt that little had been forgiven them, and therefore they loved little. Again, therefore, there has come the VOL. TI. E

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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 Grod 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 l)e 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 relation^ 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 the principle from which such action sprang, 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

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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 difficulty 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 condenmed, 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 inmiediately 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 selfdenying.

We need not, then, shrink from such parts of the Old Testament as the lesson of this evening's service. We may e2

52 PHI EHAS.

shrink, indeed, from the form in which that lesson is conveyed, as we may from the details of the steward's dishonesty. Historically speaking, I quite allow that the event recorded in the twenty-fifth chapter of umbers, is altogether extremely painful. But then, that which forms its substance, taken as history, is just its mere perishable form, when it is taken as Scripture. The wilderness of Arabia, the foreign manners and language, the licentiousness, the bloody punishment, all that is national and individual, — Midian, Israel, Phinehas the priest of the seed of Israel, — ^we may drop all these from our consideration. There still remains the true and eternal Scriptural lesson: — temptation assailing God's people, and God's people yielding to it; evil example spreading fearlessly; God's servant not only escaping the contagion himself, but coming forward boldly and unhesitatingly to stop it in others; and God's blessing pronounced upon him, because he had stayed his brethren from their sin. What is there here that does not apply to us? and how many ape there amongst the great multitude of the lessons of Scripture which we can consider in our own particular case more needful? The lesson turns particularly on this point, not merely on the keeping of ourselves pure from following evil, but on the making efforts to put it down in others. The one is innocence, but the other alone is deserving of the name of zeal. And innocence is a great deal more common than zeal. There are a great many persons who stand aloof

from evil, whom none accuse of taking pleasure in it, nor yet of joining it; but neither do they take any active part against it. They say, it is not my business to meddle with the conduct of others ; they must themselves look to that. This they say, because they have no zeal ; because they are not interested either for God's glory or the salvation of their brethren ; because they forget their vows in

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baptism, when they were pledged not only to be Christ's fftithful servants, but His soldiers also, — to fight manfully under His banner against sin, the world, and the devil ; to do their best to spread their Master's kingdom, and not merely to oflFer Him the worship of their own hearts, caring little if He receives the worship of none besides. Zeal would look upon life diflferently ; it would not rest contented with worshipping alone and in secret ; it would desire to see the society in which it is placed worshipping God with one accord ; that His name might be glorified, and that His salvation might be enjoyed by all. And what is true in large societies of men, holds good also in smaller ones. The zeal which leads the missionary to go to the ends of the earth to convert a people sitting in darkness, may be exerted no less usefully and no less acceptably within the very camp of the people of God ; within that immediate neighbourhood in which we are each placed to live. Zeal may work its proper work without crossing the ocean, without passing the boundaries of our own town or parish, without, as in our case, going beyond our own walls. Here is the camp of God's professed servants, in which temptation is busy, and many are yielding to it. Shall we then be content merely with not being of those who yield to it ? Shall we stand aloof, passing by as it were on the other side, while our aid is

loudly called for ? I am sure that some deceive themselves in this ; — that the very spirit which they most need is that of zeal, that they are standing almost neutral in the great contest aroimd them, content if they can be but themselves in safety. But this is not the part of Christians; we are members one of another ; we make up together Christ's body ; we are pledged to one another as well as to Him in our solemn communion. Sm'ely there is utterly a fault in that person who thinks that the conduct of his brethren does not con-

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cern him ; that all that can be expected of him is to keep himself from evil ; that to struggle against it belongs to others. It does certainly belong to others also, but not io others only. It is not my work only, nor your work only, but it is our work ; not that we have all the same part of the work to do, or the same proportion of it ; but we are all concerned in it ; and all are neglecting their duty who take no hand in it. We cannot be in a state of salvation ourselves, if we are wholly without zeal for the salvation of others. But now, supposing that you allow the truth of this in theory, yet, practically, you may ask, how does it apply to us? The path of duty here, must necessarily be diflScult to find and to keep : how can we be zealous without violence and without folly? Would that there might be the zeal in the first place ; for it would be, according to all human probability, far easier to direct it than to create it. It is a most true proverb, * Where there is a will there is a way.' or can it be needful to say much to those among you whose regular duty and business it is to put down and prevent evil : where power and authority are given for a

particular purpose, there surely cannot be so much difficulty in fulfilling it ; there cannot be in this case anything like stepping out of your own line, even in the narrowest interpretation of the term. So far, then, the zeal may seem all that is wanted ; the opportunity, the power, the knowledge how to act, may appear to follow naturally. But yet, no doubt, there are difficulties in this case, as in the case of others ; it may not be always clear how you ought to act, nor easy to act, when the path is clear. And how is the path to be made clear or easy? It does not appear possible to give minute rules that shall always make it either the one or the other ; but one thing may be said, that here, more than in most places, the standing aloof from evil, the never encouraging it by deed.

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by word, or by laughter, would do more than it would do elsewhere towards actually discouraging it; because nowhere are fashion and numbers more apt to be followed than here. And again, zeal may always be shown judiciously, and very eflFectually, in giving countenance and support to all who show marks of goodness, more especially if they are exposed to any annoyance, either on this very account, or because they are wanting in some popular or amiable qualities. Kindness to such is real zeal; it is like the giving the cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, which shall in no wise lose its reward. For the rest, as I said before, no minute rules can be given to say how far you should go, and where you should not interfere ; but remember that the desire to do something, must be right, and must be necessary ; and that of all the dangers which can beset you, none, I suppose, is less to be dreaded, than that you should run into excesses from an over desire to forward the cause of Christ and of God.

Thus, although I feel entirely that no such guide could be furnished beforehand, as should make the path of duty always plain ; yet some points may be made out, which may serve in no inconsiderable degree as landmarks. First, and above all, we should consider the strong approbation bestowed by God upon the conduct of Phinehas. We see zeal against sin displayed in the strongest possible manner — in a manner which indeed it would be great sin now to imitate, — but yet praised most highly. Observe, however, that it is zeal against sin, zeal against a clear breach of God's commandments, which is thus commended : it is not zeal against opinions, or in behalf of forms. But zeal against sin, and for goodness, is beyond all doubt so strongly enforced in its principle, that we cannot be living as God's people should live if we are wholly without it. This is the great point ; and next, if we have the zeal, we have some rules also for its exercise.

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First, that those who have authority given them, are certainly bound to act up to their authority in the discouragement of sin. In this there is no choice left to them ; want of zeal in such cases is a clear neglect of duty, or rather, I should say, it is a neglect of our Christian duty, under circumstances where the duty is plain, cmd the neglect without excuse. Secondly, the very least that Christian zeal can do in every one, is to take care not to encourage evil. We often do encourage it by laughing at it. Such laughter may often be accompanied in our own minds with something almost amounting to contempt : we would on no account do ourselves the thing which we laugh at in others. This is true ; but yet the laughter does encourage ; because, though laughter may be sometimes allied to con-

tempt, it is never allied to disgust ; no man laughs at that which pains him. To laugh at sin, then^ shows certainly that it does not give us pain ; that we do not regard it as Christians should do ; that is, as the most sad, and serious, and shocking thing in the world ; the last thing in the world to be laughed at. Thirdly, Christian zeal must encourage every spark of real goodness and principle ; must forgive for its sake many awkwardnesses, many weaknesses ; for it is the one pearl of great price which may well ennoble a rough or a mean setting. Let us but see something of a desire to serve God in earnest, and is not the character where this desire exists ennobled far beyond every othet ? It may not have agreeableness, it may not have cleverness, it may not have vigour; it may and must have many faults clinging about it : for where is he who is free from fault ? But it is God's mark, and the seed of life eternal ; and they who are God's cannot but love it ; and they who love it not, may therefore well fear that they are not and will not be God's.

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