Page images

“How helpless God can make us !” While one of his sons offered up prayer, he responded fervently. Referring to the fact, that his medical attendant had not allowed him to know the worst, he remarked that he was not taken by surprise; and that, though he did not wish to leave his family yet, he had no fear for eternity. In answer to several questions, he said, that all his trust was in the great Physician, and that he rested on the Rock of Ages. Almost his last utterance was an affectionate exhortation to his son, who was by his side, not to be s weary in welldoing." He gave expression, in the clearest manner, to his firm faith in Christ alone. To the last his mind was clear and vigorous ; but about ten o'clock on Wednesday morning, February 7th, 1872, the power of speech failed, and in a few minutes afterwards he passed away to his eternal rest, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, and the fiftieth of his ministry.

From among the letters of sympathy received by the family two may be properly cited :

The late venerable Thomas Jackson wrote: “I knew your late father many years, and highly esteemed him on account of his ripe scholarship, and his fidelity to Methodism, especially in times of agitation, when able and decided friends were of inestimable value. But such men are not taken away by chance from their families and friends. The hand of the Lord is to be acknowledged in their removal; and what He does is done wisely and well, as we shall all confess when we see these events in the light of eternity. Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and separated friends and families will meet again, never more to part.”

A venerable clergyman, the Rev. Joseph Bosworth, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Anglo-Saxon in the University of Oxford, wrote: Your father's death was so unexpected by me that I could not think it real. He was so devoted a Christian, and his faith was so simple, and so entirely upon Christ, as to take away all fear. Love taketh away fear, and you know how full of love he was. I knew and esteemed him for fifty years : he had superior talents, a wellcultivated mind, but all regulated by Christian principles. Death to such a man is the vestibule of heaven."


AN ESTIMATE OF A WORTHY. When the Israelites, after one of their frequent relapses into idolatry, had groaned seven years under the galling and cruel yoke of the Midianites, it pleased God, upon their appeal for help, to send them deliverance by the hand of Gideon. It is proposed here to consider how this Worthy executed his high commission.

But is our insight equal to the occasion ? Is not our acquaintance with the facts imperfect, our acquaintance with the man more imperfect still? Of half a dozen men who might set themselves to our task, would not each, probably, reach a somewhat different conclusion ? Even so.

It is easy enough to find startling examples of the deplorable weakness of human judgment. Nevertheless, it is worth while to attempt this estimate of a Worthy, if only for the sake of the lessons we are likely to learn.

Let us first see how he received his call.--As in the case of Moses at the Bush, the account is given with minuteness. Gideon was threshing wheat when “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” Weighty and gracious are the words; well worthy of deep consideration and grateful answer. Gideon, apparently, takes no time for consideration, but gives immediately the normal reply of his race (whether Jewish or human) to revelations from God; that is, he starts some doubt or difficulty: “O my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all His miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt ? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” The objection is left without direct answer; but a second announcement is made, much more explicit and encouraging than the first: “The LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?"

Now surely these words, at all events, may claim consideration or gratitude, or both! Whatever may have been in Gideon's heart, nothing can prevent the normal reply. How should we expect it? Is Gideon wiser or better than Abram, Moses, Samuel, Peter, Martha ? This is his natural and ready answer: “O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel ? behold, my family is poor

in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house."

Once more the objection is unanswered ; and a third promise, more precise and encouraging than even the second, is made :

Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man." Gideon does not venture to make any further direct objection. But the sign? How should a Jew in any age long forget that? To a thorough Jew is not the sign almost better than the thing signified ?

Gideon, then, requests a sign in these words, “ If now I have found grace in Thy sight, then show me a sign that Thou talkest with me." But what sign, one may ask, can possibly equal the evidence already vouchsafed ? Gideon both sees and hears. Can any sign, or any number of signs, give him better evidence than his two chief senses ?

Perhaps, however, we are doing our Worthy injustice—taking his words too literally. Certainly the Authorised Version seems unfair to him ; for it fails to bring out with due emphasis the emphatic word.* The pastors and professors of the Church of Geneva translate thus :-“ Give me a sign that it is Thou who talkest with me." Assuming this rendering to be correct, and giving a generous interpretation to Gideon's words, we may thus paraphrase his request : “ Taken by surprise, and hardly knowing whether I dream or am awake, I would gladly have some sign, something upon which I may look back when Thou art gone, something which will convince me that not a mortal man, but Thou hast spoken to me.”

The sign is granted, at the sight of which Gideon feels a foreboding fear. He is re-assured by one more promise, and builds an altar to the LORD.

How has Gideon received his commission ?_There is not much to praise, nor yet much to blame. His conduct is far below perfection, yet above that of Moses at the Bush, whose endless difficalties at length provoked God's anger against him.

Soon after Gideon's call, a trial is made of his obedience. Let us see how he succeeds here : “ The LORD said unto him, Take tby father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: and build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down. Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night."

How has Gideon stood this test of his faith and obedience ?-Perfectly? Far from that. Badly? One would not say so. Fairly, passably. He has certainly done to the letter what God required; but he has done it in the worst way. Surely this was a deed to be done in the

• The Authorised Version, however, is better than the Septuagint, which, besides otherwise making strange work of the passage, simply lares out the emphatic word.

light of Heaven, and in the face of all comers! It is idle to object that our Worthy would have been slain, or even arrested. We know he would not. And Gideon knew, or might have known, this; for he could not have forgotten that, till he had routed the Midianites, after which his countrymen, doubtless, would forgive him much,) at least four barriers stood between him and death: first, the commission to deliver Israel, which implied safety; then, the first words spoken to him, “ The LORD is with thee;" then two formal and esplicit promises of success.

Gideon is the one man on earth who at present cannot die.

Had neither promise nor commission been given, of course, it would have been a brave thing to have cut down the grove at midnight, and then have fled for life. But Gideon has both promise and commission. Why consult Prudence then ? That virtue, like most others, must at times stand in the background, and give place to the virtue of the hour. Rather, the highest Courage and the highest Prudence are, at all events in certain circumstances, one and the same virtue.

Is not this our judgment confirmed by the event ? 6. When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon, the son of Joash, hath done this thing. Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it. And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal ? will ye save him ? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning."

The men of the city then have power to clamour for Gideon's life. Would they have had that power if he had publicly honoured God? Who muttered a syllable against Elijah on the solemn day at Mount Carmel ? Were not people, priests, and king alike helpless, while the brave prophet accomplished his strange day's work? Would not the silent power which shielded the prophet have shielded the judge? As it is, the judge must be beholden to the protection of his father, Joash. Gideon's performance may pass without censure : but it falls far below many noble deeds of the other “ elders," who by faith “obtained a good report."

The Midianites and Amalekites now appear, and pitch in the valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the LORD comes upon Gideon, and he soon gathers many followers from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Still, as the contest approaches, his

[ocr errors]

heart misgives him, and in his fear he begins to ask signs. Let us note here what is worthy of praise or blame.

What is it that Gideon wants? Has he doubts respecting God's will? If he have, small blame or none will be his for asking some indication, before he ventures forward. But he does not doubt Heaven's will. The commission is far too clear to be questioned. Does he mistrust then God's truth ? Exactly so: unless indeed his mind is so distracted that he hardly knows what he doubts. The more confused he is, the less, of course, is he to be condemned. If, however, he sees clearly, then he questions whether God will make good His promises, both explicit and implied.

"Gideon said unto God, If Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as Thou hast said.”

"If”! This is by no means Gideon's first “ if: but it is by far the worst. If Thou wilt keep Thy word !

“Then shall I know.” How will Gideon know from the dewy fleece any better than he knows, or ought to know now? If God can break His formal promise, a fortiori, He can be false to a sign. What magic, what mystery, is there in the sign, that it must weigh more than the express word of the Faithful and True ?

But God is gracious. The sign is given. And now Gideon believes at last : for, see, here is " a bowl full of water"! Now the Midianites will be routed, and the Amalekites too. Now Gideon knows it. The sign has convinced him for ten whole minutes, possibly for ten whole hours. But at nightfall he must have another sign. One more is asked, and granted; and once more for some hours or minutes Gideon exults in the coming victory. It is far from impossible that at the second nightfall a third sign would have been welcome: but even Gideon sees that he has ventured enough.

Is it strong faith, or moderate faith, or weak faith, which cannot sustain itself without the stimulus of two signs ? Doubtless allowances must be made on various grounds: but, when they are made, Gideon figures but poorly here.

Our hero has now a force of two and thirty thousand : a force too small to conquer for themselves; but too large, if Israel is to be saved by manifest help from Heaven. For this reason, and also, perhaps, because Gideon has twice tempted God, the thirtytwo thousand are, by two reductions, brought down to three hundred. And here Gideon appears greater than in any other part of his work. Without demur he sends home the faint-hearted. When the thirty-two thousand are melted to ten thousand, without

« PreviousContinue »