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Judges t. 24. Blessed above women that Jael the wife of Heher the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. The first question which it would be wise to ask concerning the two chapters which have been fixed on for the lessons from the Old Testament for this day's service, is this — * What is the benefit that we can or should gain from them ? ' This, indeed, is the question which we should ask ourselves with regard to every lesson read in the church, as a part of our public service ; although in many cases it would be answered as soon almost and as easily as it could be asked. For instance, take the second lesson for this morning service (Mark ix.), or almost any other chapter of the Gospels, and it is manifest that as the life of Christ is our great example, and as in the words of Christ were contained all the treasures of wisdom for the guidance of man's heart and actions, so we can never doubt what good is to be gained from the record of His life, and the report of His words. Or again, in the second lessons for the evening service, which are taken from the Epistles of the Apostles to the different Christian churches, — when we hear them declaring the truths relating to Christ, or encouraging their Christian brethren to aU holy and virtuous living, we need not doubt what good is to be
58 JAEL. .. Til I gained also from these. Or thirdly, when the lessons are
taken from the writings of the Prophets, when we read the warnings delivered to the Jews when placed in circumstances so like our own ; when we see good men holding fast by their faith towards God, and believing that it would be well at last with the righteous, although they were often grieved with the actual prosperity of the wicked ; — all this is full of most plain instruction to us, who are walking still by faith and not by sight, amidst so much of evil around us and within us. Here in these three cases, when the lessons are taken from the four Gospels, or from the Epistles, or from the Prophets, the benefit to be gained from them is for the most part clear to every one. But with the historical books, except the four Gospels, the case is different. These are an account of men's actions towards God and towards one another, as well as of God's dealings with them. They are an account, therefore, of that which is no certain example to us ; for the actions of men are sometimes good and sometimes bad ; sometimes therefore to be followed and sometimes not. Yet although this applies to all histories of men's proceedings, yet it is the case with some much less than others. For instance, with regard to the Acts of the Apostles, although it is true that neither Peter nor John nor Paul are infallible examples, yet they were men so largely endowed with the graces of the Spirit as well as with the miracidous gifts, that in reading the Acts every one feels that he is reading an account full of direct instruction ; there is matter of example for us in almost every page. Again, there are some portions of the Scriptures which contain a record, if I may so speak, of God's acts rather than of man's : such, for instance, as the account of the creation, of the flood, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the deliverance of the children of Israel out
of Egypt, and other such passages. ow, as on the one hand, these are not recorded for us to do likewise, — for it is not ours to kill or to make alive, to create or to destroy, — so on the other, the dealings of God with His creatures must always be a solemn and improving matter for their thoughts ; and although He may neither punish nor deliver now exactly after the same manner as of old, by the flood or the fire, or by making the sea a way for His ransomed to pass over, yet we have full assurance that He will punish and deliver after a manner far more complete. Thirdly, there is a considerable part of the historical Scriptures which contains the law which God gave to His people Israel. Here again there is little diflSculty in the broad divisions of the subject, though there may be much in the details. We know that sucli chapters as the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters of Deuteronomy, which are the proper lessons for three successive Sundays after Easter, are full of instruction ; inasmuch as they relate generally to those great moral points in the relations between God and His people, which are the same in the Christian Israel as in the Israel that was after the flesh. Other chapters again, such as the sixteenth, which is the lesson for Whitsunday, give an account of the Israelitish festivals, or other matters which are clearly ceremonial ; but in which there were often certain correspondences or likenesses to the great Christian festivals, or to the truths which they commemorate. And the object in reading such lessons in the church is to draw our attention to these correspondences, and at the same time, while we mark them, to mark also the difference between the old institutions and the new ; the contrast between them being often not less useful to study than the resemblance. Fourthly, there are parts of the 8criptuie, which although they relate the actions of men, yet relate them
60 JAEL. chiefly as they are dealing with God's people by His command^ such as the greatest part of the lives of Moses, Samuel, and Elijah ; and here too the conduct is so much more God's than man's, if I may be allowed so to speak, that where it is not matter of example, it is like the actual dealings of God Himself, matter for serious cmd devout thought and study. Lastly, — that I may not weary or confiise the memory by going into every minute division,— there remains either the general history of persons or nations in the whole course of their lives or existence, or such parts of th« history of either, as though done by the command or under the sanction of God, are done towards those who are for that time at least in the condition of God's enemies ; whether they be strangers naturally to His covenant, or, as in the case of idolaters amongst the Israelites themselves, had made themselves strangers to it by their own actions. And this last division comprehends, I think, all those parts of Scripture of which the study is most diflScult. Of the first kind is the life of David, running through the two first books of Samuel, and part of the first book of the Kings ; as well as the life of Solomon, and the kings of Israel and Judah in general. Of the second kind is the greater part of the books of Joshua and Judges, as also very large parts of those of Samuel, the Kings, and the Chronicles ; and of this kind in particular are the two chapters which have been chosen for the two first lessons for this day. These two lessons then describe a war between the Israelites and the Canaanites ; that is, the dealings of God's people with those who were strangers to His covenants They touch then one of the very points of conduct in which the line of difference is drawn in the very broadest colours between the Christian Israel and the Israel after the flesh. The Israel after the flesh did, and might do
JAEL. 61 lawfully, what to the Cliristiaii Israel is a sin. * Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies.' These few words of our Lord's, marking one great point in oiu* moral nature, in which the Christian was to difiFer widely from good men of the older dispensation, take away at once out of the class of Scripture examples every passage whatever in which good men of the Israel after the flesh are described to us as dealing with their enemies ; whether by this term we mean their own personal enemies, or the enemies of their nation and of God. When, therefore, we read the words of the text, ' Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent,* we have no need, as far as the satisfaction of our own conscience goes, to make any inquiry whether these words were spoken by inspiration or not ; whether Deborah and Barak, in uttering this song, spake as the prophet and prophetess of God, or as the victorious and rejoicing leaders of a people whom they had just rescued from slavery. So far as our conduct is concerned, this inquiry is wholly superfluous. If she whom they blessed was blessed then in truth, yet we know with perfect assurance that whosoever of us were now to do likewise would not be blessed but cursed. There is absolutely nothing in the tone and feeling of this song of Deborah and Barak with reference to their triumph over the Canaanites, which we ought, nay, which we might dare to imitate. Thus much is plain, without a moment's hesitation, that the lesson for this evening's service contains in these points no direct instruction in righteousness.
But what then is its instruction, what its use ? It has much of both, but of a kind not easily to be gained.
02 JAEL. nor by every one ; and therefore it may well be doubted how far such portions of the Scripture have been wisely chosen to form a part of our public service. Certainly if scarcely any lessons have been taken out of the book of Revelation, l)ecause of their difficulty ; if so few in comparison have been chosen from the Prophets, probably for the same reason ; — much more cause was there why they should not have been taken from the books of Joshua and Judges. VoT the diflSculty in the Revelation and in the Prophets is chiefly of a kind which woidd give to ignorant persons no notions at all ; but here there is a worse danger, lest they slioidJ fancy that they understand, and go away with notions al)solutely false and mischievous. The instruction furnished by these chapters of Judges, is inde^ great for those who can receive it ; but it is not obvious, nor can it be gained without much thought and knowledge. Most instructive is it to see such a state of moral ignorance prevailing as would absolutely have been injured rather than l)enefited had all truth been then presented to it. Most awfully does it set forth the toil of our nature, and how great is the struggle, if I may be allowed so to speak, of God's light in breaking into the darkness of our hearts, that they who were disposed to serve God knew not how to serve Him worthily; that they who wished to do good, and to advance the cause of good, had not yet learnt that great law of faith, that good must be left undone, and the cause of good trusted humbly to the hands of God, if we can only do it, or promote its interest, by means unholy and forbidden. Yet this blessing pronounced on Jael, when taken in its true spirit, is in perfect accordance with God's universal
dealings with mankind. I would not blame those who, as a matter of criticism, were to contend that we have no
JAEL. 63 grounds whatever for supposing the song of Deborah and Barak to be recorded as an inspired hymn ; that is a question not to be answered in the foolish and hasty way in which some persons are apt to settle it ; but on which this is not the place to enter. But be this as it may, we need not lose the benefit of the words of the text ; they may be true, though not inspired. Their spirit is, that Grod does allow largely for ignorance where He finds sincerity ; that they who serve Him honestly up to the measure of their knowledge, are according to the general course of His providence encouraged and blessed; that they whose eyes and hearts are still fixed upwards, on duty, not on self, are precisely that smoking flax which He will not quench, but cherish rather, till the smoke be blown into a flame. So it was with Christ's own apostles. Amidst how much of ignorance, how much, according to His own very words, of incapability to receive His full truth, did He yet receive them into communion with Him, and give them the blessed name of His friends, and pronounce them with one exception, to be all clean. And turn to a later period, — to some of those scenes in the Christian Church which most resemble the case of Jael ; to some of those stories of persecution, where good men, — alas the while for human nature I — were both the victims and the executioners. When we read some of those sad yet glorious martyrdoms, amidst all our unmixed admiration for the suflFerers, may we not in some instances hope and believe that the persecutors were moved with a most earnest, though an ignorant zeal, and that, like Jael, they sought really to please God, although like her they essayed to do it by means which Christ's Spirit condemns ? If this be
not so, what shall we say of two of the purest and brightest names of their day, of Calvin and of Cranmer ? Can we
64 JAEL. doubt that it was a sincere, though ignorant zeal for God's glory, which led Cranmer in particular — a man constitutionally the very reverse of hard or cruel — ^to urge the young King Edward VI., in spite of all his reluctance, to condemn a heretic to the flames ? And what if it be said, as is most true, that there is a great deal of ignorance which is not excusable but sinful ; that men can and do often deceive themselves, and fancy that they are serving God, while they are really serving their own evil passions ? All this, indeed, is most important to us in judging of ourselves, in leading us for ever to suspect our own hearts, lest they call that ignorance or honest error, which is in reality falsehood and sin ; but yet it does not interfere with that other truth, which is very useful towards softening our judgments of others, that if there be a sinful ignorance there is an innocent ignorance also ; that God the Judge of all will infalliblv decide which is the one and which the other ; but that if it be innocent ignorance, there the sincere faith and desire to please God shall be blessed, notwithstanding its lack of knowledge. And for ourselves, how great is the lesson here given us of the necessity of a sincere obedience.. For if the single-minded man be accepted, even amid much moral ignorance, what becomes of those who are double-minded amidst abundant knowledge ? What will be said of us, if being taught all divine truth, if being able to see, which she could not see, that Jael's act was evil, we have yet nothing of her zeal ; which if joined with oiu* knowledge, would bum indeed with a heavenly flame ? What inheritance can we expect in her blessing, who without any of her excuses for evil are full of evil ; who with far more than her reiisons for serving and loving God, will yet neither
serve Him nor love Him? Kight and good is it that we should condemn the acts of many of those recorded in the Old Testament, for we have seen what prophets and righteous men for many an age were not permitted to see ; but no less right and needful is it, that we should imitate their fearless and earnest zeal, — without which, we in our knowledge are without excuse ; with which, they, by reason of their unavoidable ignorance, were even in evil deeds blessed.
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