<< Deuteronomy 24: The Law Respecting Millstones >>
No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man’s life to pledge.— Deut. xxiv. 6.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” — Ps. xix. 7. This is the grand truth, we should ever hear in mind when considering the legal part of the Word of God. The Jewish Law was important to that people as their national code. Its enactments were wisely adapted to their condition, and the land they inhabited, and were calculated to secure their prosperity. But these considerations alone would not have justified its adoption in the Word of God. The Divine Mind aims at higher objects than those which are included in this world’s prosperity : ” For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” — Is. lv. 8, 9. The Jewish Law, then, although admirably adapted to secure the freedom, independence, comfort, and well-being of the people so long as it should be faithfully observed ; in this respect, has little more claim upon our attention and respect, than the laws of other nations. For us, and for our circumstances, it would now be mainly obsolete. It was given in a narrower field, and in circumstances widely different from those which the British nation occupies. Its laws, in many respects, would be totally unsuitable for us, and the British legislature does wisely, in making laws for us, to consider how the ends of national virtue and prosperity can be secured by laws, dictated by justice and judgment, adapted to the wants of modem society, entirely irrespective of Jewish legislation. ” God lives now, and to the men who seek first His kingdom and its justice ” (Matt. vi. 33), He gives the inspirations of His wisdom at the present day, as He did in days of old. As outward law, the regulations of the Jews have long passed away ; but as inward law, ” they are part of the Word of the Lord, which will endure for ever.” — Is. xl. 9. As laws for the body we have with them but little concern, but they will have everlasting worth for us, as the Law of the Lord which converteth the soul. ” For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year, continually make the comers thereunto perfect” — Heb. x. 1.
But the law being a shadow, or representation of good things, though of itself insufficient to make those who followed it perfect, yet was the outward form of such principles and practices as do lead to the perfection of the soul. It is the correspondence of the outward laws to inward laws, which constitutes their dignity and worth. To know this correspondence, and see its application to the soul, is to be able to appreciate the words of the Psalmist : ” The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver” — Ps. cxix. 72.
That a spiritual meaning is contained in the law, we must feel, if we are assured of their divine character. Who can imagine with a worthy idea of infinite wisdom, the laws of this and the two foregoing chapters to have come from God, unless besides the letter in which they served the Jews, they have some deeper import by which they can give wisdom to Christians. ” The law of the birds’ nests.”— chap. xxii. 6, 7. “The law of not sowing a vineyard with different seeds.” — ver. 9. ” The law of not ploughing with an ox and an ass together ; the law of not wearing a garment of linen and woollen together.” — ver. 11. ”The law of making fringes to their garments.” — ver. 12. And this law of the millstone, and many others an surely not of that dignified character to be worthy of the wisdom of Him whose understanding is infinite, unless some hidden wisdom is contained in them. But this being admitted to be there, we may then join with the Psalmist in the petition, whenever we study this portion of Divine Revelation : ” Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” — Ps. cxix. 18. May this be our devout prayer in considering the law before us.
We may be the more prepared to appreciate the spirit of the divine law before us, if we have reflected often on the suggestive thought, that all vegetable nature is emblematic of the growth of principles in the mind. This, every one feels so palpably, that our whole language is imbued with the idea. The barren intellect, the cultivated mind, the fruitful suggestion, the rooted prejudice, the fertile fancy, are terms which one continually hears. Poetry is full of this correspondence. To the poetic feeling in all of us —
“The earth has still
Some traces of her youthful beauty left,
Substantial happiness for transient Joy ;
Scenes formed for contemplation, and to nurse
The growing seeds of wisdom ; that suggest
By every pleasing image they present,
Reflections such as meliorate the heart,
Compose the passions, and exalt the mind.”
To the inner eye of the thoughtful mind, each spot of earth is a lesson. The field, with its rich green sprouting vegetation, is the symbol of the mind when young living thoughts are rising into life and vigour. The tree in blossom, typifies the intellect adorned with the rich hue and beauty of heavenly lessons ; the tree loaded with fruits, is the blessed emblem of religion brought into practice :— of the man who is full of the sap of heaven, and brings forth, each in its season, the sacred works of justice, charity and piety. Such are the trees of righteousness, brances of the planting of Jehovah (Is. lxii. 2).
To a mind thus susceptible of the inner teachings of nature, also, all varieties of earth’s scenery are instructive. It is beautifully remarked by the poet Southey,
” Truth has her pleasure grounds, her haunts of ease,
And easy contemplation ; gay parterres.
And labyrinthine walks; her sunny glades
And shady groves in studied contrast,-— each
For recreation, leading into each :
These may he range, if willing to partake
Their soft indulgences, and in due time
May issue thence recruited for the tasks.
And course of service, truth requires from those
Who tend her altars, wait upon her throne,
And guard her fortresses.”
Earth in this view, becomes indeed the shadow of things mental and divine. The soul views in it an inner glory everywhere. The flowers of life never die. When they have perished from the surface, they bloom still in the spirit. Let not the sensualist say that this is dreaming only. The soul feels that it is gathering earth’s richest, truest treasures. It is soaring.
” Hush, ’tis thou that dreaming art,
Calmer is her gentle heart.
Yes! o’er fountain, vale, and grove,
Leaf and flower, hath gushed her love;
But that passion, deep and true,
Knows not of a last adieu.
Types of lovelier than these.
In their fragile mould she sees ;
Shadows of yet richer things.
Born beside immortal springs.
Into fuller glory wrought,
Kindled by surpassing thought!”
Our Divine Master, taught us thus to walk among the green earth, and thus to use them. The herb, the flower, and the tree, were to Him perpetual sources of instruction. “ And He said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground ; and should sleep, and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, He knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear.” — Mark iv. 27 — 29. Here the divine use of correspondence, and the correspondence of corn, are evident. But before dwelling upon the specific representation of corn, allow me to impress upon you all, the truth so clearly shown in this passage, and by the whole vegetable kingdom, that all growth in heavenly, as all growth in earthly things, is gradual.
When the seed of instruction in the duties and promises of religion has been sown (“the seed is the Word of God,” Luke viii. 11), and received into the ground of an honest and good heart, it soon begins to shew signs of life and germination. First comes the blade, consisting of gentle thoughts, of quiet meditations, of confiding trust. The Lord’s invitations are pondered over and believed. And the penitent experiences an interest in all the offers of mercy, in all the promises of defence, and ventures to say, ” The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.” — Ps. xxiii. 1, 2. All around the fresh blades of comfort and support are seen, and the spirit reclines there like the sheep on the green grass. It is first the blade. When the perceptions of truth become stronger, and a clear comprehension of the principles of faith are obtained— of the faith which manifests itself in the virtues of a holy life ; the understanding of truth forms the ear ; and when this understanding of truth is so filled by the love of it, that it can be brought into use, the good to which truth leads, as seen in the mind, is the full corn, in the ear. The virtuous life, inculcated by living religion, is indeed the full corn, the essential substance, that promotes true heavenly nourishment, and leads to religious growth. It is not by knowing only, but by loving and doing, that we truly advance in our preparation for the regions of peace. An earnest and persevering love of the sacred duties of life, forms a virtuous character, and doing fixes it in our habits. When we have learned and meditated upon the commands of the Lord, and seeing their bearing upon our lives, we aim with sincere purpose of heart, to carry them into action, we are nourishing ourselves with the corn of heaven, we are enjoying ” angels’ food.”
Such correspondence of corn to truths, when they are elevated to become purposes of the heart, is the reason why it is referred to in the holy imagery, both of the Old and New Testament “Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth tread out the corn; but I passed over her fair neck: I will make Ephraim to ride ; Judah shall plough, and Jacob shall break his clods. Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy ; break up your fallow ground : for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you.” — Hosea x. 11, 12. It is manifest that the corn here referred to is spiritual food. The prophet Isaiah gives a similar instance when he addresses the Church : in the words, ” O my threshing, and the corn of my floor : that which I have heard of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.”— chap. xxi. 10. The Lord Jesus undoubtedly employed the same idea when pointing to the fields, as representing the condition of a large portion of mankind ; He said, ” Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields ; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveih wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal : that both he that soweth and he that reapeth, may rejoice together.” — John iv. 35, 36. He who reapeth this corn of heavenly goodness, does indeed gather fruit to life eternal. He receiveth wages full of blessing. O let us hope that our fields are white. Let us cultivate the practical teachings of the Divine Word. Let our spirits be brought in meditation and prayer, often under the holy beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and there warmed by His love, and brightened by His wisdom, be blest by an ever-increasing harvest, which brings everlasting wages.
Before proceeding further with the subject before us, let me remind you of that most important fact, which is equally true in vegetable growth, and in the growth of religion, that all progress is gradual. It is ” first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear.” Destruction may be sudden ; growth and erection are by little and little. To rejoice over the sheaves of of plenty, we must be up and doing. We must steadily persevere. He who is negligent will have a scanty harvest, and he who delays to begin until harvest time, will have no harvest at all. However bitter it may be to us to shake off our lethargy, and break up our fallow ground, let us, by all our hopes of heaven, or happiness on earth — for the laws of the one are the laws of the other — by all our prospects of a happy home, of a Christian and a heaven-blessed life, not hesitate to send the ploughshare of honest determination through our thorns and thistles, and break up our fallow ground. ” He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” — Ps. cxxvi. 6.
But corn, before it is fit for human food, must be brought to the mill, and ground; and this operation is more especially connected with the subject before us. The use of grinding is twofold; first, the separation of the husk, and less nutritious portion, from the richer, interior substance of the corn ; and secondly, the trituration and pulverizing, which reduces the grain to flour, and thus presents it fully prepared for the sustentation of man. Both these essential services are done by the mill. In ancient times, each family had its own null, and the flour for daily use was ground each day. The mill was composed of two circular, flat stones ; one the upper, the other the lower. In the upper one there was a hole, in which a wooden handle was fixed, by which it was made to go round. The persons grinding sat to their work, and frequently when women did it, there would be two, and one passed the handle round to the other, and so the work went on. To this our blessed Lord alludes when He says, at the end of the Church, meant by the end of the age, or world. ” Two women shall be grinding at the mill, the one shall be taken, and the other left” — Matt. xxiv. 41.
These circumstances all guide us to the correspondence. Corn, we have seen, corresponds to the good in life to which truth leads. The virtues which our views of religion open up to us are a harvest of graces ; but, as general principles, they are not quite ready for daily use. They require to be rationally investigated, to be stripped of the forms in which we learned them, and to be accommodated to our own wants and circumstances. This is one of the works of the rational faculty in man. In this respect it is a spiritual mill. The operation of mental grinding is most interesting to contemplate. Let us endeavour to obtain a definite view of it. We are taught in the Divine Word the duty, and the right, of yielding ready and implicit obedience, to the commands of the Most High. This was the law in Eden. It was thundered on Sinai, it was announced again and again to the Israelites. The dying words of Moses impressively hung upon this duty. ” He said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do all the words of this law, for it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.” The whole history of the Jews is an exemplification of this truth. When they were obedient all went well with them; when they were disobedient their guilt was soon followed by defeat, distress, captivity, slavery, and destruction. The Psalmist sung the blessedness of obeying the law. The prophets announced that all future glory was based upon a faithful compliance with tho divine commandments*, as all past lost loss had resulted from their dereliction. ” Oh, that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments, then would thy peace have been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” When our Divine Father Himself tabernacled amongst us, He not only proclaimed that he who broke the least commandment, and taught men so, would be considered the least in the kingdom of God, but He fulfilled in every particular His own law, and thus magnified the law, and made it honorable. If He, God incarnate, might not break it, but must fulfil all righteousness, much more must we. If we would enter into life, we must keep the commandments. He came to give us power to do it. He is ever present to the seeking soul, for the same gracious purpose, now. If we read the Word with a single eye, we learn this doctrine in every page. We ponder over it, we pray over it. It grows up within us from story and history, from precept and prophecy. We obtain a clear understanding of it Then comes the determination, if we are wise, to will and to do it We have then got “the full corn in the ear.” But obedience with us has a very different application from that which it had in ancient times. We need yet to see how to apply this general principle to our own circumstances. We are merchants, tradesmen, workmen. We are engaged, it may be, in the warehouse, at the counter, in the shop. We are engaged in factories, or in land carriage, or are seamen. We are possibly men of letters, or engaged in medical or legal pursuits, or in the ministry. We are fathers, brothers, friends, citizens, subjects, or governors. We are of the gentler sex, perhaps : we are mothers, wives, sisters, mistresses or servants. What does obedience to God’s commandments require of of us ? How is it to be applied to our case, and in our circumstances? We must set our mental will to work to bring this sacred duty of obedience to our daily operations of life, and thus reduce the corn to flour, which will serve for daily bread.
It is the same with faith in the Lord. We are taught by patriarchs who lived and died in faith, that trust in the mercy and support of the God of love is the sure foundation of solid virtue and real comfort This lesson is illustrated by the triumphant example of seer and sage. In the deepest want, in the deepest sorrow, to the trustful, help ever came. No temptation was suffered to be so great, that loving faith could not come out of it unscathed and purified. And when, through the perversity and degeneracy of ages, the cup of human wickedness became full, and no help but that of Jehovah in the flesh would suffice to seek and to save those who were lost, but now cried for for deliverance, even that was not denied. The Father appeared in the Son. Jehovah, in His humanity, brought his omnipotence to bear in rescuing his fallen children, conquered hell for them, and in his own glorified hands took possession for ever of the keys of hell and of death. Thus is the broad lesson for the fullest assurance of faith taught and impressed upon us in the inspired Word. We learn it, we understand it, we admit it, we seek to act upon it; but our circumstances are widely different from those of by-gone days. We have not to exercise it in outward persecution or violent danger. Our trials are of a less showy kind, but, to us, equally real. We fear we shall not succeed in business if we do justly. We fear, unless we are overweeningly anxious, we shall not succeed in the world’s race. We fear that He who took care of us will not take care sufficiently of those who are to follow us, unless we overload body and mind with double work to provide for a long to-morrow. We fear we cannot overcome our selfishness, our sinfulness, our fretfulness, or our peevishness, and so we scarcely try. We fear it is no use to begin now, and we will wait for a more suitable opportunity — in age, in sickness, in retirement, in change of circumstances. Such are our oppositions to the divine lessons of trust in God. How shall we bring them to bear? We must employ our rational faculty, our mental mill, and thus prepare it. The Lord lives, and is as near to us as He ever was to men of old. All power is His in heaven and on earth, and He loves us infinitely. All things are really in His hands and under His control, and only apparently in those of His creatures. He who conquered all the powers of darkness can surely conquer the few who infest us. He to whom the combined power of sin could really do no harm, but who bruised the whole serpent’s head, can surely bruise it in us. Come, now, and let us reason together, He says, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow : though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” When the rational faculty is thus employed, the good purposes which the teachings of the Word inspire are adapted to our states, and we feed upon them. Our spiritual mill does its appropriate work. In fact, every verse in the Holy Word affords it full employ, when we submit the hallowed teaching to its operation. For we are not to learn the letter only, we must uncover the husk of the corn of heaven, and enter into its spirit and life. Never was a more delusive fallacy than that which has taught men to trust in a mysterious religion, or the Word not understood. ” When any one heareth the Word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.” — Matt. xiii. 19. The Word not understood is like corn unground, or bread unmasticated, undigested. It affords no nourishment. The light of heaven cannot illuminate one who makes no attempt to open his eyes. More light, more light; ” Open thou mine eyes,” should be the prayer of every mind. Then, soon would the time come, ” when the knowledge of the Lord would cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.”
To know and understand the truth, that we may love and practise it ; this is the spirit in which to read and hear the Word. The wisdom we understand enters into the mind, the wisdom we love enters into the heart. “The entrance of thy words giveth light, it giveth understanding unto the simple.” — Ps. cxix. 130.
The entrance of the divine words giveth light. The words which remain in the memory, and do not enter the intellect, leave us, and have left the world, unenlightened and unedified.
The grand use of the rational faculty, then, as a spiritual mill is evident May we never surrender it, or barter it away. But the mill had two stones, an upper and a nether millstone.
Stones represent truths of doctrine, especially in relation to the firmness they afford as a foundation, and a defensive wall, to our faith. In this sense stones are constantly employed in the Word. ” Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious comer stone, a sure foundation ; he that believeth shall not make haste.” — Isa. xxviiL 16. No doubt the foundation stone means the foundation truth, that Jesus was Jehovah Himself, as our Saviour and Redeemer. He that believeth on this shall not hasten from one refuge to another, in the day of danger. His soul shall be satisfied with the presence, and with the loving protection, of God-with-us. He who believeth shall not make haste.
The Lord Jesus finished His Sermon on the Mount with the same use of the correspondence of stone. ” Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock ; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.” — Matt. vii. 24, 25. The rock is, evidently, the truth everywhere present in the Lord’s words. This truth is arrived at, by faithful and diligent investigation. Hence, in Luke, it is written, “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like : he is like a man who built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation upon a rock. How important it is to dig deep, not to make a surface examination only of divine truth. The richest jewels often lie the deepest. The more interiorly we investigate, the brighter will be our reward, and the surer will be our foundation. The truth that God had really come to save men was the stone which the builders rejected, but which became the head of the corner (Luke XX. 17). When the Gentiles had received the truths of the Christian religion, the apostle Peter calls them ”lively stones, built into a spiritual house.” — 1 Peter ii. 5. When the Lord made the divine promise, ” To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it,” He obviously meant that pure truth would be imparted to the man who overcame his evils with a peculiar lustre, clearness, and power, which could only be fully appreciated by its happy possessor. The twelve stones, which should be the foundations of the New Jerusalem, mean all the grand truths of love, faith, and obedience, upon which that Church would be erected in the soul. The uses of stone manifest the correspondence. Stones for a foundation, and stones for a wall, are the express symbols of those truths upon which religion is founded, and by which it is defended; and when these are cemented together by love, they form a spiritual wall, through which neither evils nor errors can break.
The two stones of which the mill consists represent the two grand truths into which the whole Word divides itself: those which teach love to God, and love to man. The upper stone is the symbol of the first and great commandment. Our Lord refers to this when answering the question, ” Master, which is the great commandment in the law ? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” — Matt. xxii. 36 — 38.
The two tables of stone upon which the ten commandments, the first and the essential principles of all the divine Word, were written, were intended to represent the same twofold division of all heavenly lessons.
The mill, then, with its two stones, represents the rational faculty when it is furnished with these two grand truths. With these two universal principles it can do, and is intended to do the utmost service to man. Everything that enters the mind should be submitted to its inspection and action. Whatever is taught in relation to God, which is inconsistent with love to God and love to man, should be rejected ; whatever is in harmony with both should be received. All that love would do, God will do, for God is love ; all that love would reject, God will reject, for God is love. So in relation to man. Our duty in all things is to measure our conduct by the great law, ” Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” — Matt. vi. 12. If the teaching which we hear and the lessons which we read are in harmony with this, then will our spiritual mill prepare them for practice. It will bring them into operation on the exchange, in the market, at home, and at work. By this shall we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.
Such is the spiritual mill, and such is its operation. What a wide field of use it has ; and how essential is that use! To try, to sift, to discriminate, to investigate, to adapt all that we learn, so that fallacy and mere appearance may be rejected, and only what is really conducive to salvation and blessing be retained. “What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.”
With this view of the important objects and indispensable character of the millstones, seen in their correspondence, we shall be prepared to see in spiritual light the reason of the command in our text. ” No man shall take the nether, or the upper millstone to pledge : for he taketh a man’s life to pledge.”
Of course, in its literal application to the Jews, this was a merciful law. It secured to all men, however poor, the means of preparing the food essential to life and health. This was never to be interfered with. Another law secured to the poor man corn for his present necessities, and this the mill to grind it. “No man shall take the nether or upper millstone to pledge : for he taketh a man’s life to pledge.” But of how much higher significance does this divine law become, when we see its relation to our spiritual life! — when we hear the divine announcement in this respect, that no man should be deprived of the free use of his reason in religion, nor led to part with either the truth, that we should love our neighbour as ourselves, the nether stone ; or the love of the Lord, the supremely lovable, with all the heart, which is the upper stone. To retain these two grand laws, and to use them, to compare and harmonize all we are taught as true, with them, this is our life.
To take a thing in pledge is to deprive of its possession, for to supply some other need for a time. There are some curious and interesting regulations respecting pledges in this same chapter. Some things might be pledged, as, for instance, a garment. The person taking the pledge must not go into the pledger’s house to fetch it out; the owner must bring it out. The pledge must be returned before the sun went down. These regulations have an important spiritual relation to our inner life, and in these, chiefly, their divine worth consists. A man’s profession of religion, his spiritual garment, may be placed in abeyance, if he find it necessary for some higher spiritual good. He may forego for a time the form, to secure the substance. This the person himself may do externally, but his inmost affections must be untouched. We must not go into the house for the pledge. He must have it returned, at least when the sun goeth down. When states of spiritual cold and obscurity come on, it must be restored to him. When all is bright and cheerful with us, a vivid possession of our doctrinal views may be spared; but when trial comes on they are indispensable.
”But when, on life, we’re tempest driven,
A conscience but a canker,
A correspondence fixed with heaven
Is sure a noble anchor.”
We must have, then, in the time of obscurity, of cold, and of sorrow, all our religious convictions strongly wrapped around us, and feel thus the succour it is divinely intended they should give. ” Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” But the millstones must not be parted with at any time, nor on any condition ; it is taking a man’s life to pledge. The rational faculty, and its two grand essential principles, must never be parted with, nor even be placed in abeyance.
Oh ! that this great truth, that we ought never to suspend, never to place in abeyance, never to forego the use of this grand principle, our rational faculty, were engraven on every heart. In this sublime portion of our nature, the essential means of manhood reside. He will never become a man who never thoughtfully dares to reason for himself; who never strives to penetrate the appearances of things, and see with a single eye divine realities. Here is the judgment-seat for each mind. Here sits the porter of the castle of Mansoul, whose business is to challenge every comer, and to see that none enter but friends of its Lord. How poor a being he becomes who fears to use this glorious capability, let degenerate millions answer. He has not the fixed instincts of brutes, and their obedience to the laws of their order; and while he is born with debased affections, he does not use this grand means of rising for ever higher. Born in spiritual slavery, the truth alone can make us free. Without that, we cannot free ourselves from our own passions and prejudices, much less from the domination of other men. Without that, we cannot rise to the freedom of a citizen of heaven. We are things, not men. Let then no man take your mill ; it is your life.
But neither the lower nor the upper millstone must be taken. The two grand essential truths, upon which all others hang, must neither of them be given up. Whatever is not in harmony with them ought not to be received. Whatever is unworthy of our love to God, whatever would lessen our love to man, should be rejected at once. How great a source of elevation should we constantly have, if, in all our hearing and reading, we should bring our spiritual corn to the mill, furnished with these spiritual stones! Let us notice their operation. We are reading the history of Israel. We learn how God selected them to be his people ; how he brought them through great dangers, delivered them in a thousand straits, gave them peculiar laws, drove out and subdued their enemies, the previous possessors of Canaan, and blest them with safety and abundance so long as they were obedient; so that they supposed themselves the favourites of heaven. But, now, how shall I rationally understand this ? I cannot conceive the Lord of all to have favourites, to be capricious, or make especial selections. I could not love with all my heart a being who was partial, — that had not the same kindness and love for others as for me. Heaven itself would have no charms for me if I were placed there by favouritism, by a partial will, which rejected and condemned others who were equally deserving of it, and prepared to enjoy it, with myself. Much rather would I say with the apostle, ” I would be accursed for my brethren, if they might be saved.” The partial view will not agree with supreme love to God, nor love to man. But what, if the Israelites were selected for the sake of others, that they might represent those who were Israelites indeed, who are Jews inwardly, owning allegiance to the great Saviour, the divine King of the Jews. What if these laws are spiritually to be understood, and then become universal ones, true of every nation and every age? What if their enemies were types of our evils, which must be cast out, for us to be prepared for happiness ? What if their country was an expressive symbol of heaven? Strip off the husks of the divine teaching, its temporal covering, its letter, and then you find the fine flour within, the lessons of goodness in strictest harmony with love to God, and charity to man. Nay, your love will, with every lesson, rise higher. You will be satisfied with honey from the rock, and be fed with the finest of the wheat (Ps. lxxxi. 16).
Take the character and history of David as the subject, and the bearing of it in the letter of the Word is certainly not such as to lead us to select him as the example of gentleness, of chastity, or of mercy. He was fierce and cruel to his enemies, and revengeful at the last hour of his life. It would not increase our love to God to consider him as an individual person, a man after God’s own heart. It certainly would not illustrate love to our neighbour for us to act in like manner. But let us remove the husk and get to the interior of the lesson. Let us regard David as a type, but not a pattern. Let us regard him as representing the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine King of the spiritual Jews in all ages. The victories of David, as the shadows of the victories of the Redeeming God over infernal powers, those conflicts and triumphs by which he saw of the travail of his soul and was satisfied. Let us think of him also as representing in a more particular application of his history, each Christian as he seeks to follow his Divine leader in the regeneration, and then the foes, which are condemned and rooted out, are not persons, but wicked principles. The charge to Solomon to put the foe to death whom David could not himself destroy, declares the desire of the soul, that the last vestige of interior evil, should be extirpated when it enters upon the possession of higher principles, though it is unable to do it now. Thus may spiritual food be obtained, when the rational faculty really seeks it. Thus we obtain bread to eat that the world knows not of.
But what a field for such a spiritual supply is the life of our adorable Lord. His birth, his journeys, his miracles, his sayings, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension, high above the heavens, all are fraught with wisdom for contemplation, and for life. He must be born in us, he must walk in us, he must calm our stormy sea, open our blind eyes, strengthen our withered forms, and enable us to walk in the path of his Divine commandments. He will live and die in us, for we shall find evil principles unmasked in our fallen nature, which will reject and deny the Lord, but he will rise again, and draw all things unto himself. So shall we find that his works, like his words, are spirit and they are life (John vi. 63).
Thus shall we find the com of heaven full of nutritious food, when it has been adapted for nourishment by the spiritual mill ; but we must never suffer either the nether or the upper stone to be taken in pledge, for it is in that case a man’s life which is taken in pledge. Our principles of reasoning and comparison, must always be the two grand laws.
We have already noticed the remarkable saying by our Lord, that at the end of the dispensation He was then founding, ” there should be two women grinding at the mill; one should be taken, and the other left.” Those who do not remember that the Lord’s words are spirit and life, but who hang only on the letter, have been much perplexed with this passage. They have wondered why the obscure employment of two such women should have been selected by the Divine speaker ; and, in case, the world with all its fields and mills should be burnt up where the rejected woman should be left. When, however, we regard working at the mill in its spiritual bearing, and the two women as the symbol of the two classes of persons to be found in a Church at its end, we can hardly fail to be instructed and edified. There are those in a fallen church who are genuine lovers of truth and goodness, who when false doctrines prevail, sigh like Mary, and say, ” They have taken away my lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” Such earnestly desire to see and practise the truth. They are a woman, like the king’s daughte, all glorious within (Ps. xlv. 11). These investigate, as best they can, the truths of the Divine Word, and, though with much difficulty, they obtain food for their souls. Others, there are, who though in the field of the Church, have no genuine regard for truth at all. They love themselves, their pleasures, their passions, their power, and their conceits. They labour only to retain their pelf, place, and position, in all they do. They labour at their mill, they learn and investigate, but only to support their false views, and evil ends, not to receive or to support the truth. Both these classes are in the field, both are grinding at the mill, but one will be taken and the other left. One class can be taken into the holy city of the Church here, and into the glories of heaven hereafter; but the other, not. The difference of the two classes, though scarcely discernible to outward view, since all appear in externals alike, is most manifest to the searcher of hearts, and is no doubt the chief inward reason why the one class readily receive the truth, the other obstinately resist it. ” This is the condemnation that light is come into the world ; but men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. “He that doeth the truth cometh to the light that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”
Finally, let me earnestly impress upon you all, the importance of using the mill. There is no possibility of true manhood being attained without a conscientious use of reason in receiving the things of God. Have no fear in employing the glorious difficulties divine mercy has blest you with. The same trust that leads you to be confident that you are right in employing your hands to work and your feet to walk, bemuse the God of Love and Wisdom has given them to you, and they must have been given to be used, should lead you as confidently to use your reason to apprehend, to comprehend, and to hold to the truth. Fear nothing, only be diligent and sincere. Oh, if this sacred liberty had been constantly maintained, how different would have been the lot of millions in the past, and at the present day. What is the outcry against reason, of the priests of mysterious folly, but a breach of the Divine Law before us?” You are simple people, sure to go wrong if you attempt to reason. Don’t use your reason, you will sink into heresy or into infidelity. You must not think for yourself; we will tell you what to think. Your faculties are too weak to discover truth, (although God gave them to you for that purpose), but we can discover truth for ourselves, and you too.” Alas, for such preposterous folly. These blind leaders of the blind cause both to fall into the ditch.
Oh! that men would rise manfully to the dignity of their high character, as rational and immortal beings capable of receiving the truth, judging of it, loving it, and making it their own by practice. Reject every attempt to place this heavenly mill in pledge, for it is our real manhood, our life, that is wished to be taken, when we are told to forego the use of our reason.
Above all, let us see well that our mill has ever, in good condition, the nether and the upper stones.
Let us pass no instruction that is inconsistent with love to our neighbour, the spiritual nether millstone. Let no sectarian sentiments, no idea that heaven was made just for this small party who think with us, or that gain our assent. Let us unite with men of love and virtue, of every name, assured that ” of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Far be it from us to let the upper millstone go into pledge. Le us unceasingly try every sentiment proposed to us, as true, by the great supreme law of love to God above all things. Reject every doctrinal view which would lead you to regard Him as angry, vindictive, unmerciful, partial, changeable, or imperfect. But, on the other hand, everything that illustrates his infinite love and mercy ; everything that shows him to be long-suffering, and plenteous in goodness and truth ; everything that displays his matchless beauty, and the order of His almighty power ; everything that exhibits His perfection as our Creator, His pity and compassion as our Redeemer, His tender care as our Friend and Father, His excellencies without limit, and his unceasing acts of kindness to attract man to be happy, to bless angels, and make the universe an abode of unlimited joy, that welcome and cherish. Always, let us rest assured, “the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His Works.”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)