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Discipline and Other Sermons   By: (1819-1875)

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Transcribed by David Price, email, from the 1881 Macmillan and Co. edition.



(Preached at the Volunteer Camp, Wimbledon, July 14, 1867.)

NUMBERS xxiv. 9.

He couched, he lay down as a lion; and as a great lion. Who dare rouse him up?

These were the words of the Eastern sage, as he looked down from the mountain height upon the camp of Israel, abiding among the groves of the lowland, according to their tribes, in order, discipline, and unity. Before a people so organized, he saw well, none of the nations round could stand. Israel would burst through them, with the strength of the wild bull crashing through the forest. He would couch as a lion, and as a great lion. Who dare rouse him up?

But such a people, the wise Balaam saw, would not be mere conquerors, like those savage hordes, or plundering armies, which have so often swept over the earth before and since, leaving no trace behind save blood and ashes. Israel would be not only a conqueror, but a colonist and a civilizer. And as the sage looked down on that well ordered camp, he seems to have forgotten for a moment that every man therein was a stern and practised warrior. 'How goodly,' he cries, 'are thy tents, oh Jacob, and thy camp, oh Israel.' He likens them, not to the locust swarm, the sea flood, nor the forest fire, but to the most peaceful, and most fruitful sights in nature or in art. They are spread forth like the water courses, which carry verdure and fertility as they flow. They are planted like the hanging gardens beside his own river Euphrates, with their aromatic shrubs and wide spreading cedars. Their God given mission may be stern, but it will be beneficent. They will be terrible in war; but they will be wealthy, prosperous, civilized and civilizing, in peace.

Many of you must have seen all may see that noble picture of Israel in Egypt which now hangs in the Royal Academy; in which the Hebrews, harnessed like beasts of burden, writhing under the whips of their taskmasters, are dragging to its place some huge Egyptian statue.

Compare the degradation portrayed in that picture with this prophecy of Balaam's, and then consider What, in less than two generations, had so transformed those wretched slaves?

Compare, too, with Balaam's prophecy the hints of their moral degradation which Scripture gives; the helplessness, the hopelessness, the cowardice, the sensuality, which cried, 'Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians. Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou brought us forth to die in the wilderness?' 'Whose highest wish on earth was to sit by the fleshpots of Egypt, where they did eat bread to the full.' What had transformed that race into a lion, whom none dare rouse up?

Plainly, those forty years of freedom. But of freedom under a stern military education: of freedom chastened by discipline, and organized by law.

I say, of freedom. No nation of those days, we have reason to believe, enjoyed a freedom comparable to that of the old Jews. They were, to use our modern phrase, the only constitutional people of the East. The burdensomeness of Moses' law, ere it was overlaid, in later days, by Rabbinical scrupulosity, has been much exaggerated. In its simpler form, in those early times, it left every man free to do, as we are expressly told, that which was right in his own eyes, in many most important matters. Little seems to have been demanded of the Jews, save those simple ten commandments, which we still hold to be necessary for all civilized society.

And their obedience was, after all, a moral obedience; the obedience of free hearts and wills. The law could threaten to slay them for wronging each other; but they themselves had to enforce the law against themselves. They were always physically strong enough to defy it, if they chose. They did not defy it, because they believed in it, and felt that in obedience and loyalty lay the salvation of themselves and of their race... Continue reading book >>

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