The fulness of blessing

by Sarah Frances Smiley

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The Creation Concept

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Contents

Introduction

I. The land of Promise

II. The failure of unbelief

III. Change of Leadership

IV. The Boundary Line

V. The Triple Preparation

VI. The Ark of the Covenant

VII. Memorial Stones

VIII. The Reproach of Egypt

IX. The Passover in Canaan

X. The New Corn And Fruit of the Land

XI. Seeing The Captain

XII. The Good Fight of Faith

XIII. Failure and Mistakes

XIV. Choice Possessions

XV. The Last Charge of Joshua

CHAPTER XIII.

FAILURE AND MISTAKE.

"THERE IS AN ACCURSED THING IN THE MIDST OF THEE, O ISRAEL: THOU CANST NOT STAND BEFORE THINE ENEMIES, UNTIL YE TAKE AWAY THE ACCURSED THING FROM AMONG YOU."--(Josh. vii. 13.)

"The Men Took Of Their Victuals, And Asked Not Counsel At The Mouth Of The Lord."--(Josh. ix. 14.)

The Book of Joshua contains the record of but one lost battle: only once does it number the slain of Israel. This defeat followed close upon their first great victory. Their holy confidence in God sank quickly into an unhallowed confidence in themselves: Jericho had fallen--what need to put forth all their strength against Ai?

Thus do our greatest failures often happen in the little things of life. We miscalculate the strength of the foe; we fail to spy out the reserved forces. Indeed, we mistake, when we think it an easy matter to subdue any enemy. How often has it happened, that he who has won his signal victory in some great crisis of the Church, who has rescued the Truth from the teachers of false doctrine, or stormed the entrenchments of Vice, has forthwith failed in some petty domestic disturbance, in some simple social duty, or in a trifling claim of common charity. If there be a time in life when we need more than ever to watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation, it is the hour of success.

The discouragement, verging upon despair, which followed the flight from Ai, shows how the ground of faith had been deserted. "The hearts of the people melted, and became as water." [1] Even Joshua, with his clothes rent, and dust upon his head, lies flat upon his face, and gives himself over to the strange regret--"Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!" [2]

Who has ever overcome without an Ai?--a question of fact to be carefully distinguished from the question of necessity. And with whom has it not been their first temptation, to regard with impatience their further ventures upon faith?--as though God really left us at liberty to be content with lower things, when there are higher set before us!

But still more overwhelming to Joshua was the sense of Israel's dishonor, as compromising the name of God. "O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! . . . , and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?" [3] And what shall any of us think, or say, when we find that after all the development and discipline of faith, the failure comes? Shall we charge God with it, as not having provided against it? Shall we still lie flat upon our faces, as the sorrow glooms into sullenness?

Nothing more thoroughly tests our loyalty to God, and our regard to His honor instead of our own, than our readiness to receive the chastening by which He must judge us, when we do not "discern ourselves." [4] As surely as the cause of failure is always found with us, so surely is there a remedy with God. "Israel hath sinned--therefore, the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed thing from among you." [5] Thus did the Lord make a clear case of this mysterious dispensation. By His decree the whole spoil of war was His: all treasure was "devoted" to Him; perverted to their own use, it was the "accursed" thing. [6] It was the accursed use of good things that was their sin.

Thus does the Lord hold His children true unto Himself; He compels them to let Him search out all hidden, hindering things, as their only way to victory. Their short suffering is as nothing to this necessity. Their own sense of shame, and even the taunts of their enemies, are little things in His eyes, compared with the deeper evil. He must teach them that they can not serve Him in one sphere, and take their own way in another. Any secret using of His treasures, apart from His will and blessing, they must understand to be sin. Achan had marched around Jericho, and had shouted in that great shout of faith: in such great matters he could be true to God;--but the mantle, and the gold and silver, why should he not have these to enjoy?

Christianity in this nineteenth century since Christ came, has not outgrown the same gross form of temptation that was the snare of Israel fifteen centuries before--"the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." There is surely no more crying sin to be found among the daughters of the Lord, than their love of display in these "goodly Babylonish garments." Beyond all that is allowed for comfort, and comeliness, how much is coveted for mere display. The evil is in the heart, and not in the garment. That mantle of old belonged by right to the Lord; it was treasure even in His sight, and He could have called upon some one to wear it, even to His glory. But Achan could not--the covetous, the proud, the selfish, never can they are not pure enough in heart, to take as pure, that pattern their Creator set them, when He clothed the lilies of the field in all their glory. True, there are other bearings of this subject--growing out of the present disorder of the world--touching the toil and strain enforced upon the heads of families--touching the needs of the poor and of Christ's cause--touching the example set for the weak and thoughtless--touching also great moral questions upon which social happiness and purity depend-- but these are as the husk to this fatal seed of evil. The vital germ is "the lust of the eye"--lust seeking to gratify self, where love should be glorifying God!

Again, there is no more crying sin among the sons of God, than that "love of money" which is "the root of all evil." Wealth held in trust for the Lord, kept as a devoted thing, is not only a blessing, but a very necessity in the perfect plan of His providence. But gold apart from God, hankered after through the pride of life, is still the accursed thing in thy midst, O Israel! Once, it was only a single garment, and a few pieces of gold and silver, in the tent of one man. Is it the less a sin now, that men do it upon a grand scale, and that there is little hiding of the matter? What marvel that God goeth not forth with our armies!

And when we remember that these two forms of sin--"the lust of the eye, and the pride of life"-- extend to "all that is in the world," and so class with them all that they really represent--when we think of God's claim over all things, and of all our persistent and varied robbery of His dues, with what fearful force does the charge come home to us in our own day--"There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you." Alas, that so dear is this accursed thing to many, that upon the whole, they choose defeat, rather than to confess the sin, and let this offending Achan of lust be stoned with stones, and burned with fire.

Another most important lesson lies in the fact, that the sin of one involved all. Such a law of organic spiritual life is very clearly stated by St. Paul--"Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it." [7] There can plainly, then, be no individual perfection, till the whole Body is perfected. Hence Love, with all its tender care one for another, is the vital thing it is. The sin and shortcoming of one single member, are the suffering and the loss of all the other members. God honors to the utmost the faith and devotion of each; but there are heights to which they can not attain, save with the help of all. Even if the cloven tongue of some Pentecostal gift were to alight upon the chosen of the Spirit, yet if it met no kindred spark--if it fell only upon the damp and chill of unbelief--how surely would it expire, with only a brief and ineffectual gleam.

The sin of Achan--unknown as it was to all but himself, and his God, yet troubling a nation--teaches us to trace the evil to something more secret than mere example. What a study for the thoughtful is this strange sympathy of soul! What a solution of many a problem! And how does such a law render sin exceeding sinful. Each offence is not only against God, and to the injury of our own life, but tells upon the life and vigor of the whole Church of Christ. Like the healthful body, it may be able to heal the wound, or throw off the disease of one part by the rallying of the rest; but at best there is an expenditure of force that is needed elsewhere. Every sin is in its essence the failure to love God, and to love our brother also. All covetousness is idolatry, and all selfishness a stab at the life of some one. He that hateth his brother is a murderer--not in intent, but act--as truly strikes by his hatred the life of his spirit, as a murderer slays the body. What a responsibility is ours, therefore, when we see our brother sin--not only to rebuke in faithful love, but to ask that God will give him life again; seeing that it is not only his life, but our life also, and the life of Christ's own Body.

Among all the rich promises that spring from God's forgiving and restoring love, there are few more wonderful than this--that He has given us "the Valley of Achor for a door of hope." [8] From that valley, which they so named from their sore "trouble," Joshua and the people rose up; and soon before his spear, outstretched towards that same Ai from which they lately fled, twelve thousand of their enemies melted away, even all the inhabitants of the place; and fear fell on all who heard it. The one failure was never repeated; and the six and thirty men who fell at Ai, give us the only death list of a seven years' war.

When once we have added to our experience of God's favor as shown to the willing and obedient, that of His faithfulness even in our failure, we come up from this dark passage of our trouble and loss, to a door that opens wide upon His great Love,. We gather even cheer from the certainty, that the Lord will cleanse us from secret faults. For sin, to a loving child of God, is a more fearful thing than any suffering for sin. Welcome, then, shall be the discipline, that put us on the track of its discovery; for, so soon as we see it, we are met by this faithful word--"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." How often does it happen in our experience, that some one form of trial is strangely reiterated, until we are tempted to regard it as our fate. Is it not rather the voice of the Lord, calling to us again and again, until we heed Him, and learn the lesson He has set us? When we have learned it, He will no more repeat the trial. We learn, moreover, from such an experience as this, to anticipate His correction, and not compel Him to chasten us Himself. Very weighty is that lesson of St. Paul, and given to us in words most fitly chosen [9] (sadly as they are marred in our version)--that if we would duly discern ourselves--before any doubtful deed--we should have no occasion to be judged after it. But that failing in this, even our judgment is only the chastening of the Lord, that we should not come to be condemned with the world. So, then, the Lord does not purpose to lead us into any valley of Achor, but if we fall into the snare, He provides a way to recover ourselves from it--giving us even there a door of hope. The two chapters occupied by this narrative, are followed by a third, which gives us, not indeed another failure, but a great mistake.

The people lean now to their own understanding, as just before they relied upon their own strength. The foe fearing to come out longer in open battle, approaches them with deceit. Long before, the Gibeonites had learned to their cost, from Simeon and Levi, a fearful lesson of dishonorable strategy. [10] Doubtless it was this that suggested a sort of retaliation, which God permitted as a sure retribution. "They did work wilily." Feigning to come from a far country, they entrapped Israel into a friendly league. So clear appeared the case, that "the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord." How much erring in judgment is foreshadowed in this simple incident. The instances are comparatively few where the Christian fails and flees before a recognized enemy; in by far the greater number he goes astray through the deceitfulness of sin. [11] There was but one Achan, who hearing God's command about the dedicated things, went and hid them in his tent; but Joshua and all Israel were caught in the snare of the Gibeonites. No warning voice from God came to arrest them, for they had neglected to seek His counsel, and they must learn the peril of it.

It is often carelessly said, that if we do the best we know how to do--acting up to the light we have-- we are guiltless.

Such a maxim is not allowed to pass in earthly matters. The Captain who doing the best he can at the time, runs his ship upon a rock well known to seamen, is held responsible for his ignorance. We are not only to act up to the light we have, but to seek the light and come to the light. Sincerity may never dare to claim the same high reward that is given to Truth, nor are the immunities of the one like the immunities of the other. For every portion of the full and rounded Truth of God that is missed even by mistaken judgment, some loss is inevitable; and who shall venture to estimate the aggregate of that loss to the Church of Christ from the multitude of her mistakes, both in doctrine and in practice? One gleam of comfort, however, we are permitted to gather from the old story of the Gibeonites. Inexcusable as was their neglect to seek His counsel, God graciously brought out of the evil, somewhat of blessing. These deceivers of His people should henceforth be their hewers of wood, and drawers of water;--some compensation should be found for what they had lost. In the wonderful amends of Grace--even in missing the highest mark--the Lord can surely put the mistakes of His children among the all things that work together for good to them that love Him.

But far more edifying than to enumerate such mistakes, will it be to consider the provision that is made against them.

Distinct promises of God have pledged to every seeking soul His light, and truth, and wisdom. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." "When the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into the whole truth."--"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." [12] Very plainly, then, must our mistakes originate like that of Israel--"We ask not counsel at the mouth of the Lord." The contrary of this is, however, most commonly claimed--"We did seek it." Ah, but did you not first "take of the victuals?" That which is often asked of God, is not so much His will and way, as His approval of our way. It is remarkable how little perplexity as to their duty, appears among the saints of the Bible. Especially in the Epistles, we find scarcely a trace of uncertainty as to the way which they should take. But in our own day, how common is the cry that men "walk in darkness and have no light." We have no right to remain in that darkness. If we love the light, we shall find the light. If the windows of my dwellingplace be closed with blinds of ignorance, they must first be thrown open. If the curtain of* prejudice be drawn closely down, it must next be put aside. If the thin shade of conceit be left, there is still more to do--for though I may now have the sunlight, I have not the sunshine. If this shade be lifted, and yet the window be obscured with frost, or dust, or even so thin a film as my own breath, I can not. have a clear vision of that which lies beyond it. My apathy is that frost--my carelessness that dust--my selfishness that film. I must look if possible with nothing between me and the truth, or if I must look through glass, let it be so clear as to be itself invisible. But instead of seeking thus until we find, do we not hastily take our clew from custom, and changing conventionalities, and from human opinion? It is well-known that the Red man who fears the approach of the foe, does not listen through the air, where so many sounds are stirring, but presses his ear close to his mother-earth, and so hears afar off the stealthiest tread. So does our ear in its distraction need to listen, shut off from common channels, and holding itself fast by that Word of truth, which is the choice conductor of the will of God.

It is a prime condition of such wisdom that we have a certain affinity with the truth, as a ground of receptivity--"He that is of the truth" said the Lord Jesus, "heareth my voice." When the secret attractions of the soul are false to God, there can be no real counsel asked of Him.

Again, the first step towards knowledge is the confession of our ignorance. The human understanding wholly fails in heavenly things.--It is Love that is the great illuminator.--"If any man think that he understandeth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of Him." [13] In His own knowing of us, all our knowledge originates; first of Himself, then of all things. Closely akin to the conceit of our own understanding, a veritable Gibeonite in its clouted shoes, and equal to deceiving even a Joshua, is that habit of self-examination which is so often practiced. As though the heart were not deceitful above all things, we assume the ability to discover its depths, and to analyze its mixture of motives. That is a work for God alone. There lies a world-wide space between the old Delphian oracle--"Know thyself,"-- and that wisdom that coming from above teaches us to cry, "Search me, O God, and know my heart!"

Another all-important condition of our protection from error, is that we should seek not only counsel, but the close companionship of the Counsellor. We are directed not to a mere written word of wisdom, but to a Wisdom who walks among men; not to the bare letter of any law, but to a Living Law that has come down to lead us safely. Listen to that Voice that in due time becomes the Incarnate Word-- "Counsel is mine and sound wisdom. I am understanding. I have strength. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." [14] Listen as it calls again to still closer intimacy,--"When thou walkest, let it guide thee; when thou liest down, let it guard thee; and at thy waking, let it talk with thee." [15]

Our need is so constant and so varied, that only the Spirit of God can supply us with wisdom. In so guiding us He will make His own Word our lamp wherever that is possible. Where it is not, He will point out some other way. His own Word itself again and again throws us back upon this immediate guidance of the Spirit. For how many are the emergencies of life, concerning which that Word is silent, and can no more answer us than it could have told the Camp ot Israel from what country came the Gibeonites. Therefore, while God put His holy Law in the Ark of the Covenant, He put His Urim also in the Breast-Plate of the High Priest; and so flashed from time to time the guiding ray upon the perplexities of His people. Moreover, how many messages, for the man, and for the moment, did His Prophets carry from His mouth. All this He gave before the great day of Pentecost. How "the Holy Ghost spake" thenceforth, how He taught and counselled, is proved by almost every page of that "second treatise" in which St. Luke, who had written in a former the Gospel of Jesus Christ, gave next, the Gospel of His Holy Ghost.

But it is the thought of some that while such a provision indeed exists, yet such is our weakness, that practically it avails but little--that while so many have sought such guidance, and forthwith fallen into dangerous delusions, it is much safer to forego it, and to keep closely by the Word of God. No such substitution is possible; and if we thus slight the Spirit, we do dishonor to some of the strongest sayings of Holy Scripture, and forfeit utterly a priceless privilege.

For the Lord has not mocked us by first promising that He would speak to us with His own Voice, and then failing to provide the hearing ear. Indeed, the very pith of the promise, is this accuracy in knowing His Voice. He does not say, as some would seem to suppose, "I will go before My sheep--I will call very clearly to them to follow Me, but the foolish sheep will not be able to understand Me"--but this is what He says of the True Shepherd, "The sheep follow Him for they know His voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." [16]

And yet we can not ignore the fact, that many and even monstrous have been the mistakes of those who claimed to know His voice. But one solution of this seems at all satisfactory. They have never been trained by holy familiarity to really know it. We learn to distinguish human voices with perfect accuracy; and not only so, but their slightest changes can convey the most delicate shades of thought and feeling to the well-trained ear. Our spiritual senses are not less sure, but they also require their training. The little babe as it first begins this great art of listening, can not tell a human voice from any other sound; but soon in the darkest midnight one voice is unmistakable. So the wife, sitting it may be in the twilight, hears a step along the hall, and then a voice, that can be no other than his for whom she has been waiting. But if as she rises, saying confidently--"It is my husband "--you ask her how she knows that voice, what can she do but smile and say simply, but more surely, "I know it!" She can not give you the secret; nor could you ever learn it, save as she has learned it. Apart from being much with Christ, above all apart from loving Him, we can not know His voice. But so loving, so following closely, we have His own sure promise that the stranger can never deceive us; though the hands that touch us seem the very hands of Esau yet we shall know that the voice is indeed the voice of Jacob.

Any difficulties which may still be attached to this privilege, are not beyond the difficulties of all spiritual attainments, and however impossible with men, perfectly possible with God. So that we are without excuse as the flock of God, if we do not clearly know our Shepherd's Voice; and therefore know the wiles of Satan. His devices are so many, and even when old, putting on such new disguises, that had we to learn them one by one, we should never feel secure. But to know One Voice with certainty, solves in the simplest possible manner the entire difficulty: if it be the voice of any stranger, we know that we must not listen. We must not even listen to him who comes to accuse us of sin, if still it be the voice of a stranger, and not the voice of our Beloved. Satan is the great Accuser: he accuses us before God, and he accuses us to our own hearts--sometimes justly, as well as injustly; but in no case have we any right to parley with him at all. We are not even to learn about our sins from Satan; for he comes that he may drag us down if possible, to discouragement and despair. The reproofs of Him who loves us are entirely faithful; only we may be very sure that when He has somewhat against us, He will not send Satan as His messenger to say so, but will correct us Himself, with His own loving correction--cleansing and healing, even while He chastens us.

But the Spirit has other ways of guidance than by His voice. "I will guide thee with Mine eye." [17] As the eye speaks more swiftly than the lips, so can it speak more sweetly, or more severely. The quick glance gathers His sanction--"approved of Christ," or if need be that He turn and look upon us, His silent reproof sends us out, like Peter, to weep bitterly.

Again we are told of another spiritual sense:-- Isaiah prophesied of Christ that the Spirit of the Lord should rest upon Him, and make Him "of quick understanding." [18] The root from which this word is taken, and still more plainly, the context, show us what is signified. The "sight of His eyes," and the "hearing of His ears," were not enough-- not even by these would He judge; but by another sense more subtle, swift, and sure--even as when He "smelled a sweet savor "from Noah's altar and the cleansed earth. How much of our outward protection from danger is left to this sense of smell, as the keenest and readiest of all. Everything may be fair and beautiful to the eye, but as the sickening effluvia is wafted to us, we flee as from a pestilence. The Holy Spirit resting upon us, we shall become like Christ, of that "quick understanding" which will prove one of our chief securities from evil. The odor of false doctrine can not escape us, and the very scent of sin will keep us from its touch; while we turn in all haste to Him, all whose garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia.

The combined result of all this training is given us by St. Paul in one of those delicate touches, which he knew so well where to put upon his great landscapes of Truth: "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment" (***) [19] The word which he uses here stands quite alone in the Bible, and denotes a sphere of judgment beyond its common range. St. Paul teaches us that there are Spiritual Aesthetics: that besides knowledge, there is a nice perception, a ready tact, a quick sense of the proprieties and fitnesses of things, so important for us as to be the proper object of most earnest prayer. He who could not call His outward creation good, till He had woven in the wondrous woof with His swift shuttles of Light and Sound, can surely give to none of us this testimony, "that we please Him," till He has trained us to alike harmony--until in our souls can be seen the mellow toning of all the tints of truth, and from our lives be heard the rhythm of all holy works and ways.

The perfect provision of our Lord, allows plainly, no liberty for the life that is risen in Him, to be a failure, or to be marred even with mistakes--allows even no liberty for terror, or anxious fear of these. Child of God, dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, thou canst not be afraid! A thousand may fall at thy side, or even ten thousand at thy right hand, but--"Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence." And not only so, but the same loving care extending to the slightest of thy steps, "He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands lest thou trip thy foot against a stone." For all thy need of His strength. "His truth shall be thy shield and buckler;" and for all thy need of His tenderness, "He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust."

Notes

1. Josh. vii. 5.

2. Josh. vii. 7.

3. Josh. vii. 8, 9.

4. 1 Cor. xi. 31, 32.

5. Josh. vii. 11, 12.

6. The same word is rendered in our version by both devoted and accursed.

7. 1 Cor. xii. 26.

8. Hos. ii. 15.

9. 1 Cor. xi. 31, 32.

10. Gen. xxxiv.

11. 1 Cor. xi. 31, 32.

12. Gen. xxxiv.

13. Farrar speaks of Judas even as half concealing from himselt the grossness of his own motives, and adds: "People rarely sin under the full glare of self-consciousness; they usually blind themselves with false pretexts and specious motives.''--Farrar's Life of Christ, Vol. II., p. 192.

14. Matt. vi. 22; John xvi. 13; Jas. i. 5.

15. 1 Cor. viii. 2, 3.

16. John x. 4, 5.

17. Ps. xxxii 8.

18. Is. xi. 3.

19. Phil. i. 9.