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THE CHILDREN; THE YOUTHS; THE OLD MEN.
1 JOHN II. 12–14.
I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for
His Name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
PERHAPS it may occur to some of you, that I did not fairly represent the obligations of Israelites when I read to you the Ten Commandments. You may have thought that the old commandment of which St. John speaks must have included many more precepts than these. For were they not bound to observe all the statutes and ordinances which are contained in the books of Moses? Were they not to circumcise their children, and to keep a number of feasts ? were they not to offer sacrifices continually ? Did the apostle mean that he and his flock at Ephesus ought still to keep these commands ? If not, where was the line to be drawn? And that new commandment about hating the brother, did this also stand alone? Were there no ordinances and institutes which the Christian Church observed as well as this?
To understand this question aright, you should consider what St. John says is the end of keeping the commandment. Throughout, as I have shown you, it is the knowledge of God. Through obedience they would rise to this knowledge. They would become acquainted with His mind and character ; they would have the acquaintance of belief and sympathy. But they would also understand one another. The commandments showed how they were bound to each other, as well as how they were bound to God. The commandments warned them of acts by which they separated themselves from each other, as well as of acts by which they separated themselves from God.
Unless then the Israelites remembered that they were united to God, and that they were united to each other, the commandments became unintelligible. They were worse than unintelligible. They were heavy burdens, grievous to be borne. They were letters written on stone, cursing them, not words coming forth from God to do them good, and give them understanding. Now, the precept to circumcise their children was a witness to them that they were united to God and to each other. It was a pledge that the Lord of all had taken them to be a people of inheritance to Himself. It was a pledge that He was keeping them at one. This precept was not a hard addition to the Ten Commandments; it laid a foundation for practical obedience to them ; it gave them a new character; it changed them from the decrees of a Being who was at a distance from them, into the promises of one who was at hand to keep them in the right way. Thou shalt not' meant, Trust in me, and I will not suffer thee to go astray.' And this covenant included the child of eight days old,
103 who as yet could read no letter, who could understand no precept, as well as the grey-haired man and the stout warrior. Over all God was watching; even the youngest had parents to bring them up in His faith and fear; and if their father and mother forsook them, He would be their guide; the eldest, who had no earthly guardians, would depend all the more securely and directly upon Him. He would go forth with the younger men in their hard fighting with themselves and with the world. This was the use of circumcision.
Well! and the Sacrifices, were they additional burdens laid upon the consciences of the Jews? They might become so, undoubtedly; they did become so. But when they were received as sacrifices ordained by God, they did not add weights to the conscience, but relieved it of a weight. Each Israelite was sensible that he had transgressed the commandment, that he had not remembered God's dominion over him, and his relation to his fellows. He had not kept his position, but had lived as if he was a separate creature. The sacrifices were witnesses and pledges to him that the king of his land forgave him and received him back. The belief that it was so set his conscience free; he could act as if he was still God's servant, one of a nation. He might again look his neighbours in the face, and be at peace with them ; he might again do the work which was given him to do.
The Feasts, again, were witnesses of deliverances which God had wrought for the whole land ; of a common law which He had given to Israelites; of His watchfulness over the seeds in the ground, that they might bring forth fruit in their season ; of His presence with them when
they journeyed and when they were settled in fixed habitations. They were to keep the feasts with joy and thankfulness, that they might grow in the knowledge of Him who was the same from generation to generation, that they might feel they were one people, however they might be scattered in different countries ; yea, though some might be
upon the earth and some in the unseen world. The feasts, then, gave a meaning to the commandments, they helped to accomplish the purpose of the commandments ; if they were forgotten, the commandments were either forgotten or became oppressive.
Besides these institutions, the Israelites required, as every nation does, special arrrangements adapted to the special circumstances of soil and climate in which they were placed, adapted to the special work to which the commonwealth was called, adapted to the pursuits of its different citizens. These precepts were declared to be statutes of the invisible Lord for the well-being and good ordering of His people. While they were so regarded they were not oppressive; they made the Israelites feel that the Highest of all cared for them; that His divine order had respect to all their common transactions, and that they might break through it by neglecting the care of their bodies or of their houses, by tolerating dirt or infection, as well as by graver crimes. Even in these little things obedience led to a deeper knowledge of God.
Did St. John then mean that all these commandments were still to be kept as in the beginning? I am sure that he clung-in fact, all the records we have of him prove that he clung—with the greatest tenacity and affection to the institutions which testified of his relation to the family
105 and nation of the Israelites. He would not have given up circumcision, the pledge of God's adoption of His people and of His care for them, if he had not believed that God had given a wider and more perfect sign of His adoption and His care. But when Christ bade the Apostles go and baptize all nations, He declared that that was a sign that God looked not upon Israelites, but upon men, as more than His servants or people, as His children, and that they might claim to be brothers of each other. Now that was a pledge of the new commandment, of the commandment which I said pointed not to neighbourhood but to brotherhood, which was granted at the revelation of Christ as the Universal Brother. St. John would not have parted with the sacrifices which were offered day by day and year by year in the temple (for they were dear to him beyond expression), if Christ had not given a sign which Jews as well as the Heathen might receive, that He had made one sacrifice for all ; that all were forgiven for His Name's sake. St. John would not have given up the feasts of the Passover, the Pentecost, the Tabernacles, if there had not been an universal feast, which gathered into itself the memory of them all; a feast at which the Heathen as well as Jews might give thanks to God as their Deliverer from sin and death, and all the enemies of man; to God, as enduing men with the Holy Spirit, and with all living powers; to God, as dwelling with them, as dwelling in them for ever. The new commandment, “Thou shalt love thy brother,' required this support, as the old commandment required the support of the Jewish sacrifices and the Jewish feasts. The Eucharist was not a fresh burthen added to that commandment. It enabled the whole society to own the com