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contrast their present condition with Egypt, and complain bitterly of their hard fate. See how evil the heart is. God had led them and fed them for forty years; He had nourished them as a nurse cherisheth her children, and yet, at the first opportunity, they forget His goodness, and give way to grumbling. Moses and Aaron fall on their faces, in token of sorrow, and God appears—the visible Shekinah -at the tabernacle door.
II. The trespass and its punishment, 7-13.—God provides for the people. He tells Moses what to do-he was to speak to the rock. Moses, angry at their unbelief, spoke to them, and smote the rock. He had allowed his temper to get the better of him. He called them “rebels," and so they were. But when God bore with them, so might Moses have done. God's goodness to us should lead us to forbear with others, (Matt. vi. 15.) This was direct disobedience on the part of Moses. But he sinned yet more. He took the glory to himself—“Mūst we (meaning Aaron and himself) fetch you water?” This was a grievous trespass. God will not give His glory to another. Remember what happened to Herod, (Acts xii. 23.) And so God punishes Moses-a grievous punishment. He had failed to sanctify God-i. l., to give Him the glory in the eyes of the people--and so he shall not lead the people in. Read Deuteronomy iii. 23-27, and see how much Moses felt this exclusion. Learn that God is very jealous of His honour and glory. Even Moses, who spake with God as a man speaketh with his friend, cannot be allowed to pass, if he fails in this. “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory." It is not enough to say this. We must act it. We must acknowledge God in all our ways, and give unto Him the glory due unto His name. He deserves this, and He expects it. He is our Father; we are His children, and He looks for reverence from us. How far are they who take God's name in vain from reverencing Him! Verily this is a great sin, and God will not hold them guiltless who take His name in vain.
III. The death of Aaron, 14-29.- To reach Canaan, the people had to pass through Edom-a rocky country, where a few enemies could withstand a large army. Read the effort they made to get through, so as to avoid going back and round the Dead Sea, (v. 14-21;) and notice that they were forbidden to attack Edom, because he was descended" from Isaac, (Deut. ii. 4.7.) Note here bow God's people have enemies on all hands—the weary wilderness behind, the hostile Edomites in front. But God was with them, and was surely leading them to the land of rest. All things were working for their good. It was on their way back to go round, instead of through—i. e., to compass—the land of Edom, that Aaron died. Moses, Aaron, and Eleazar his son, went out of the camp, in the sight of all the people, and went slowly toiling up Mount Hor. When they reached the top, the priestly robes were taken off Aaron, and put on Eleazar, and then and there Aaron died. "It was a solemn thing for Aaron to go up the hill, knowing that he would never return. But he never grumbled; his work was done; he had fought a good fight; and he knew that he was going to his everlasting rest. When God's time came, he was ready. So may we, if we have Aaron's faith in Him of whom Aaron was a type, who has gone before to prepare a place for us, and who will receive us to himself, that where He is, there we may be also.
In the Christian's home in glory,
There remains a land of rest,
To fulfil my soul's request.
Subject to be Proved-Man is Frail.
Text for Non-Reading Classes. “ Hear now, ye rebels ; must we fetch you water out of this rock ? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice; and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.”—Numbers xx. 10, 11.
LESSON II. JANUARY 14.
THE BRAZEN SERPENT.-Numbers xxi. 1-12. I. The sin and its punishment, 1-6.-Note the occasion and the circumstances. The people had been a second time on the borders of Canaan; but Edom refused them a passage, and they were obliged to turn back to compass—i. e., to get round —the land of Edom. The soul of the people was discouraged because of the way. Note this-the way was bad, rough, rocky, hot, and far from pleasant. It was all
but it was the way in which God was leading them home to rest, so that they ought to have gone on cheerfully, knowing that the end would soon be. But instead, they murmured sore-they complained of the bread, of the water, and of the manna. Everything was wrong. When a man is in a murmuring mood his very mercies are overlooked, and everything is in a cloud. But this is dishonouring to God; and He will visit His people for these things. So here, the way was bad, but it might have been worse, and they were soon made to feel this. God sent fiery serpents among them, which glided in and out among the tents, and bit the people. The poison was deadly: Much people died. In every tent cries of anguish were heard. The wages of sin is death.
II. The cure, 7-11.-God's judgments are meant to bring men to repentance. It is good when they have this effect. It was so here. The people came and confessed their sin. When we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin. So here, immediately on repentance came the cure. Note now the remarkable nature of the cure. Moses made a serpent of brass, set it on a pole, and raised it in the sight of all the people. Train out where he would have placed it. The whole tents were gathered round the tabernacle, which was in the centre. Now, that all might see it, where would Moses have erected the pole! Outside the camp, or in the centre? Evidently in the centre. Notice further that, such being its position, no one had any excuse for not being cured. All could see it. He who could only crawl to his tent door; he even who had no more strength left than to enable him to lift his glazed eyes; all could see it. So that any who died was without excuse. Note again, that the care consisted in simply looking to the brazen serpent. Nothing more was required; nothing less would do. The cure was suited for all, for all could look. Now picture the scene-Moses, in the centre of the camp, nailing this serpent to a pole, then raising the pole só high that all might see it; and then the proclamation throughout the camp-look and be cured. What joy would prevail-how every bitten one, who felt the fiery poison in his veins, would look-and what gladness would he experience when he felt the fever in his blood cool, and that he was himself again! Notice the case of one who might have said, how can a brazen serpent cure me?-I shall not look. What then? He died. God's way, or no cure.
Read now John iii. 14, 15, and learn what this signified. As Moses lifted up the serpent, so has Christ been lifted up. We are in the wilderness. The poison of sin is in us. If left, it will bring death. God has provided a remedy. Christ has died ; His blood will drive out the sin, and so prevent the death. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh; and in His own flesh hath condemned sin. He wants us to believe this. That is all. Believe and live. Look unto me and be ye saved. If God had bidden us do some great thing, would we not have gladly done it, to be cured of this dreadful, deadly leprosy. Shall we not do this simple thing-look unto Jesus that we may be saved? Blessed Jesus, open our eyes that we may see thee. Memory Exercise-Shorter Catechism 2.—Paraphrase xli. 1-3.
Subject to be Proved—Jesus heals the Soul.
Text for Non-Reading Classes. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”-Numbers xxi. 8.
LESSON III.-JANUARY 21.
WISDOM AND FOOLISHNESS.- Matthew xxv. 1-13. 1. This parable is evidently intended to follow up what Jesus had said in the previous chapter about His second advent, and to inculcate the necessity of vigilance and prayer. “Then"—i. e., when Christ comes again—"shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom," (v. 1.) The incidents introduced are exactly those of an Eastern marriage -the virgins have " lamps,” being invariably at night-they went forth to meet the bridal procession on its way to the future home of the married pair, the "home-coming” being in Jewish times the chief part of the nuptial entertainment. (compare John iii. 29; Rev. xxi. 9.) “And five of them were wise, and five were foolish,” (v. 2.) The folly of the foolish consisted in taking no reserve of oil, the wisdom of the wise in having oil in their vessels, (v. 3, 4,)—this is the point of the parable. “While the bridegroom tarried”—meant probably to convey a hint that our Lord's second coming would be much longer delayed than His immediate followers expected, -" they all slumbered and slept,” (v. 5,)-the wise as well as the foolish-sad picture of the prevailing weakness and unreadiness in the whole Church. (Compare ch. xxvi. 40.)
2. “ And at midnight, there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh,” (v. 6.) The shout of gladness is heard, the noise of music and the dance is wafted on the midnight air, and the pale light of many a torch falls upon the tinselled ornaments of the advancing throng. Nearer they come, and nearer. Who is ready? Go
ye out to meet him.” It is midnight, when deep sleep falls upon men-and so our Lord shall come as a thief in the night, (1 Thess. v. 2.) “Then all those virgins arose,” &c., (v. 7-9.) In the attempt to prepare to meet the bridegroom, the foolish virgins discover their lack of oil, -50 when Christ does come there will be a general attempt to prepare, and then the true state of all hearts will be revealed. The request of the foolish for oil, and its refusal by the wise, points out that in vain shall we look to man for that which the grace of God alone can supply. If it had been only a light that was wanted to light their lamps, the wise could have given that without being impoverished; but oil that feeds the light cannot be given away without endangering the supply. Go, "buy for yourselves." Poor, foolish virgins! wending their way at midnight to buy oil, the throng of the multitude ceased, -no seller to be found! On the right hand and the left the Spirit and the bride had said, “Come, yea come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” But now, alas ! from street to street their hurrying footsteps speed-in vain.
3. Meanwhile, “the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut,” (v. 10,) shut as much to prevent interruption to those within as to exclude those without. What door? The door of grace, which is now open to all comers : that door shall then be closed for evermore. Scripture points out that, notwithstanding the freeness of offered mercy, a period will come to each of us, when, if we repent not, our term of grace shall be ended.
Whether or not that period come sooner to any of us, it will come to us all at the hour of death. “Afterward came also the other virgins," (v. 11.) Suing for mercy, and claiming to stand in intimate relation to the bridegroom, they now seek for admittance. The “Lord, Lord,” twice repeated, implies earnest ness mixed with misgiving and despair. The reply, (v. 12,) " I know you not,”dreadful sentence to issue from the mouth of Jesus, (compare ch. vii. 21;) not that He does not outwardly recognise the persons, but He does not know them as His
4. The ten virgins represent those who outwardly profess to be waiting for the Son of God from heaven, the whole of them have this in common. The lamps may represent whatever is merely outward in the Christian profession, the oil whatever is inward and spiritual, the indwelling grace of God. Oil is the symbol of the Spirit of God, (Êxod. xxx. 22-33.) The foolish virgins, be it observed, are not the hypocrites or ungodly, but the careless and negligent, who are satisfied with appearances merely. The wise are they who, strengthened by a continual supply of the Spirit of God, with patience and preparedness wait for the Lord. The midnight cry may refer to the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, (1 Thess. iv. 16,) or to the warnings of faithful watchers and preachers. As in the parable the foolish are counselled to apply for oil to them that sell, so in spiritual things, all are counselled to betake themselves to the throne of the heavenly grace, where alone spiritual gifts can be obtained.
5. The lesson is, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh,” (v. 13;) and in order that we may be ready on that day, let us be ready every day.
Memory E.cercise—Shorter Catechism 3.–Paraphrase xi. 1-5.
Subject to be Proved—We should wait for Christ.
Text for Non-Reading Classes. “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”—Matthew xxv. 13.
LESSON IV.-JANUARY 28.
INDUSTRY AND IDLENESS.—Matthew xxv. 14-30. 1. From the poetry of the Ten Virgins, we come down to the plain prose Parable of the Talents. The one is supplementary to the other: waiting and working-inward and outward-contemplation and labour, both qualities are required to make up the complete Christian character: the light of the lamp is necessary to the right use of the talent. The foolish virgins counted it too easy, the slothful servant too hard, to serve the Lord ;-they have to be reminded of such texts as Matt. vii. 14, Phil. ii. 12; he of such as Rom. viii. 15, Heb. xii. 18, 22, 24. Thus in these two parables are set before us two opposite extremes on which faith is in danger of making shipwreck.
2. This time, “ The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,”—undoubtedly describing our Lord himself, — " who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods,” (v. 14.) The giving of goods or money by a master to his servants, although not corresponding with present day usages in this country, was quite usual in our Lord's time—the "servant” being there rather & slave, and allowed to trade for his owner's benefit. The "goods” entrusted to them may mean spiritual gifts: but also include all means and opportunities of serving God-all endowments, faculties or talents, wealth or learning, for the use or abuse of which the possessor must render account. “ And unto one he gave five talents, &c., to every man according to his ability,” (v. 15.) The word “ talent,” meant literally a sum of £187 10.—but represents anything upon which natural ability was to be exercised. Grace does not destroy individual gifts of character, but turns them into a new direction—the natural gifts are the vessel, it may be great or small, and so contain more or less of the Master's goods. “And straightway took his journey.” Here we have a very plain picture drawn by our Lord himself of what
He was about to do. Later on He says, “A little while I am with you, and then I go to the Father.” Jesus did go, as He said, and to each of us He has left a certain work to do.
3. Verses 16 to 18 describe in few words the conduct of the servants during their master's absence. He that had received the five talents, and he that had the two, went and did as was expected of them—they traded with the money and increased it an hundred-fold. But it was otherwise with the third-he hid his lord's money in the earth,-failed to use his divinely imparted gifts.
4. In the “after a long time," (v. 19,) our Lord again, as in the “tarried" of the other parable, hints at His greatly prolonged absence.--" the lord of those será vants cometh, and reckoneth with them,”. (compare 2 Cor. v. 10.) “And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents,” &c., (v. 20, 22,)- the servants who had made a good use of their lord's money come joyfully forward, they have something to shew, and are confident in it. To both of them their lord addresses the same “ Well done,” &c., (v. 21, 23;) he who had gained the five talents received no higher commendation than he with the two. And what a reward for the few short years of trial and persevering labour !—" enter thou into the joy of thy lord.". But, lingering to the last, his heart secretly misgiving him, “He which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thoú art an hard man,” &c., (v. 24,) at once the delusion and the sin of the wickedthey know not God, and will not inquire about Him—their ideas of God are of the hard taskmaster, not of the loving Father. A wonderful picture this of the sinner's half cowering, half defiant bearing towards God: he proceeds to ascribe to his master the most harsh and unreasonable character, shewing himself as much mistaken in that as in the nature of the work expected of him. “I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; lo, there thou hast that is thine,” (v. 25;) as he who lays his Bible on the shelf instead of using it, this man neglected, nay despised, the talent his master gave him, because he could not do as much as his neighbours, makes that an excuse for doing nothing. He professes to give back the talent as he had got it, but most likely it had been injured or wasted by the way it had been kept, -we never can restore to God, uninjured, a talent or trust which we have not rightly used; it will have withered and become useless.
5. “His lord answered and said,” (v. 26,27,)-taking no'pains to refute the baseless accusations brought against himself, but meeting the servant on the ground he had taken up, said unto him, " Thou wicked”-in that he slandered his master“and slothful servant,"—for neglect of duty, “thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,' &c.,—though all he had said of his master had been true, as it was not, he should, at all events, have done him justice, and tried what was possible in some safe way. If we have not boldness to engage in great enterprises, yet in our humbler spheres, each is bound to do what he can, (2 Cor. viii
. 12.). The sentence now pronounced upon the offender has two aspects :-(1,) The forfeiture of the neglected talent,- Take therefore the talent from him," &c., (v. 28;) and (2) The doom,—"And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness," &c., (v. 30.)
6. The handing over the forfeited talent to him who already had ten, (v. 29,) is in perfect accordance with our daily experience of nature and of grace. As true as that an opportunity or talent not rightly used will fade away from us, so true it also is that some more faithful servant will be raised up to occupy our place. This parable is not aimed at gross sinners, but at those unprofitable servants who shrink from the labour and toil of working for Christ. It is, moreover, not the five talent man who is shewn to be at fault, but he with the one talent,--however small our gifts, we must make all the use of them we can, or bear the consequences. Compare also the Parable of the Pounds, Luke xix. 11-27.
Memory Exercise-Shorter Catechism 4.-Paraphrase xlv. 3-6.
Subject to be Proved—We should work for Christ.
Text for Non-Reading Classes. "And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”—Matthew xxv. 30.