Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Papers found between the pages of Hindmarsh's Diary

[Editor's note] The following was found between the pages of Hindmarsh's diary along with a separate paper containing a note in Hindmarsh's handwriting.

Charlie Howard did, indeed, give me his sermon notes. I place them here for the sake of completeness, not in the hope that they will be of future interest. I am not so foolishly optimistic that I believe even the passing of years will ever render Howard's sermons less dull.

Any person foolhardy enough to attempt the reading of these pages should remember that these are only his notes.    In the delivery of them he would happily leave them for great slabs of time and launch into all the diverting extempore side paths prophetic inspiration could find for him.   

A Sermon Preached Before the Congregation of Trinity Church Adelaide, Christmas Day 1837
By Reverend C. B. Howard M.A. (Dublin)


Ps. CXXXII 6 -
8. Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood.
7 We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool.
8 Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.

THE hundred and thirty-second is the last of the six Proper Psalms which the Church uses on Christmas Day; and the reason for its selection is probably to be found in the verse before us, “Lo, we heard of the same at Ephratah.” Ephratah or, as it is sometimes written, Ephrath, is an old title of Bethlehem. We are told in Genesis that “Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.” (Gen. 35:19) In their address to Boaz on his marriage to Ruth, the elders of the place bade him “do worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem;” (Ruth 4:11) and in his great prophecy of the Nativity the Prophet Micah combines the two names into one: “But thou, Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be Ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

Ephratah, then, is certainly Bethlehem; and as Bethlehem was the birthplace of our Lord and Saviour, and is not referred to by name in any other Psalm, this may have appeared a sufficient reason for the use of this Psalm in the proper service for Christmas Day. But here the question arises, Who or what was it that was heard of at Ephratah, and found in the fields of the wood? The context makes clear what the answer to this question must be. It was the ark of the covenant.

It seems likely that this Psalm, as it now stands, was compiled at some time after the Exile, but compiled out of inspired fragments which had been composed at different periods of Jewish history. Of these fragments the earliest probably belongs to the age of David; and of this fragment the text is a part. The later compiler recalls before God, in David's words, David's vow, that he would not rest until he had provided a sanctuary for the homeless ark.

I will not come into the tabernacle of mine house,
Nor climb up into my bed;
I will not suffer mine eyes to sleep,
Nor mine eyelids to slumber,
Neither the temples of my head to take any rest,
Until I find out a place for the Lord,
An habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.”

And then he recalls the words of the people at the time—

Lo! we heard of it [that is, the ark] at Ephratah;
We found it in the fields of the wood [that is, at Kurjath-jearim].
We will go into His tabernacle,
And fall low on our knees before His footstool.” ( Ps. 32:3-5)

The period to which these words belong is that which elapsed between the return of the ark from its seven months' captivity among the Philistines, and its triumphal and solemn conveyance by David to Mount Zion. Is there anything in the Bible history to show that during this time, or any time, the ark was at Ephratah, or Bethlehem? Certainly the ark was still a wanderer, at a distance from that tabernacle, of which it was the most important feature. When the Philistines, terror-stricken at the calamities which its presence had brought upon them, restored it to Israel, it was for many years kept among different Levitical families, living on the western portion of Judah, until David, at a great national festival, conducted it to Jerusalem, as we are told in 1 Sam. 5.-6: 1-18. But, so far as we know, the ark never, in the course of its wanderings, went so far to the south as Bethlehem; it would not naturally have gone thither, between its sojourn in the house of Aminadab at Kirjath-jearim, and its sojourn in the house of Obed-Edoni the Gittite. Its movements were confined to a district away to the north-west of Bethlehem; and the difficulty of its being heard of at Bethlehem is not removed by the suggestion that the speakers in the Psalm were themselves at Bethlehem when they heard of the ark, but that the ark itself was not thought of as being there. For the plain meaning of the language is, not that the ark was heard of by persons at Bethlehem, but that it was heard of as being itself at Bethlehem. Either, therefore, some incident in the progress of the ark is here referred to, to which no reference or clue is given us in the historical books of the Old Testament, and for which they appear to leave no room; or, more probably, we have before us a prophetic impulse or inspiration, which, as is the manner of prophecy, loses sight for the moment of its immediate object as a greater object, still more future, and of which the former is a type or anticipation, comes into view. Of this we have a striking example in our Lord's prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem merging in that of the end of the world, in the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew; and it is at least probable that in the case before us attention is drawn to Bethlehem as the scene on which would be displayed, in a later age, a Presence to Which the ark pointed onwards, and Which has made the little Jewish village famous throughout all time.


Here let us ask ourselves what the ark was. It was an oblong chest or box, made out of shittim wood, a variety of the acacia. It measured rather more than four feet in length, and two in breadth and height. This chest was covered with plates of gold, within and without; while upon its upper lid was the mercy-seat, the throne of the Divine Presence in the midst of Israel. On either side of this were figures of the cherubim; figures, be it observed, that were made, notwithstanding the second commandment, by Divine command. (Exod. 25:18)

Now, although the ark was the most sacred object in the tabernacle, it was not, if the expression may be allowed, an original feature in the religion of Israel. Like other things, it was borrowed from Egypt. To this day may be seen, on the walls of ancient temples in Egypt, bas-reliefs of processions in which Egyptian priests are carrying sacred chests, and of some of these representations the date is several centuries earlier than the date of Moses. There can be no reasonable doubt that the ark of the covenant in Israel was an adaptation of this feature of the old religion of Egypt to the worship of the one true God; and there is no reason why such a fact as this should be regarded as an obstacle to faith. Inspiration does not always take the form of original suggestion; it is not unfrequently guidance in selection; it teaches how to choose out of a mixed mass of materials those elements which will illustrate or will harmoniously combine with the true religion. In this way the authors of the Books of Kings and Chronicles were guided to incorporate with their works certain documents which already existed, while they left others on one side: and St. Paul was taught to retain and to use certain arguments which he had learnt in the Rabbinical schools at Jerusalem, while he deliberately neglected others; and to sanction certain features of the thought and language of ancient Greece, while ignoring or condemning the rest. The position that all the thought, all the practices, all the usages of the old heathen religions were equally bad, was never bluntly stated until some Puritan divines stated it in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: Tertullian, perhaps, comes near doing so, in the third. The Puritan divines were quarrelling with the Church about usages which she still retained in common with certain heathen religions, such, for instance, as the use of the surplice; but in that day men did not know enough to understand how this objection of theirs, if it was an objection, told against the Bible. We know now that all heathen systems, instead of being wholly false, are in different proportions conglomerates of falsehood and truth, and so differ from the Christian Revelation, which is wholly true, and from pure atheism, which is wholly false. Certainly, when Moses was guided to adapt to the worship of the true God the Egyptian symbol of a consecrated chest or ark, he was obeying one of the most common forms of inspiration.


In the days to which the Psalmist's words refer, the ark provided satisfaction for certain instincts of the human soul, which any powerful and lasting religion must satisfy in some way or other. The first demand of a soul is that a religion shall be true; and the second, that it shall provide some demonstrably efficient means of communion with Him Who is the Object of religion— the Infinite and Eternal God. But besides these demands there are three others of a subordinate kind. The idea of God kindles in the soul the sense of beauty; and beauty that meets the eye suggests the immaterial beauty of the Invisible King. No religion can afford permanently to neglect this instinct of the human soul; there is no revealed connection between religious truth or real spirituality on the one hand, and slovenliness or deformity on the other. Then the Eternity of God kindles in the soul a reverence for antiquity, as the best sort of approach that anything on earth can make to God's eternal years; and thus all powerful and lasting religions have sought the sanction of antiquity. Christianity did so in its earliest days, by linking itself on to the Scriptures of Judaism; Christ Himself proclaimed, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil them” (St. Matt. 5:17.) And, once more, the Divine Being, far removed as He is from the reach of human sense, suggests to man that any religion that reflects His Mind must have attaching to it an element of mystery. A religion which should be, as people say, plain and intelligible from beginning to end, presenting no difficulties, suggesting no unanswered questions to a finite understanding, might be respectable as the work of a human manufacturer of religious theories. But it would carry on its front the proclamation and certificate of falsehood, if it should lay claim to Divine authority, or undertake to provide satisfaction for the soul of man.

Now, in these three respects the ark largely satisfied the religious needs of Israel. It was, to begin with, a beautiful object; beautiful in itself, and especially with relation to the art of that day. And, in David's time, it was already ancient: it had shared the early and anxious fortunes of Israel in the desert; while during its sojourn in Shiloh, it had gathered round it a large store of religious and national associations. Once more, there was an element of mystery that surrounded it: it was shrouded from the popular sight by prescribed coverings; its contents, and the Presence Which accompanied it, were suggestive of much beyond. The mystery which attached especially to the mercy-seat impressed the heart of Israel with a mingled feeling of love and fear. And a heavy penalty was paid by any who, like Uzzah, ventured to break through the awful reverence which should have protected it from profane intrusion or handling. (2 Sam. 6:6-7)

But here it is necessary to go more into detail, and, by way of doing so, we may observe that the ark of the covenant, of this shape, these dimensions, this historical origin—beautiful, ancient, mysterious—was in two respects especially remarkable.

It was remarkable, first of all, on account of its contents. These were, in the early ages of Israel, threefold. First of all there were the tables of the Law, written by the Finger of God. (Exod. 25:16-21 Deut. 10:1-5.) Next, as we are told in the Epistle to the Hebrews, there was Aaron's rod that budded, and the pot of manna. (Heb. 9:4).These had certainly been ordered to be kept before the testimony, ( Numb. 17:10; Exod. 16:34) or tables of the Law; but it would seem that in Solomon's days they had disappeared, as at his dedication of the Temple we are expressly told there was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone. (I Kings 8:9)

Each of these relics reminded Israel of a serious truth. Aaron's rod was the symbol of Israel's communion with God in prayer and sacrifice, since it witnessed to the Divine authority of the Jewish priesthood. The pot of manna was the witness of Israel's dependence upon God for material as well as spiritual blessings; it recalled the Divine bounty which had saved Israel from famine in the desert. But the most important, as well as the most permanent of the contents of the ark, was the tables of the Law, before which the rod and the manna were "laid up." The preservation of these tables in the ark not only implied that the precepts inscribed on them were obligatory on the conscience of Israel; it was a vivid and striking representation of the fact that the Moral Law was the most sacred thing in Israel, as being a statement in human speech not only of the Will but of the Nature of God. The tables of the Law were thus a symbol of the essential Holiness of God; of that attribute which the high intelligences of heaven incessantly adore with their “Holy, Holy, Holy!” (Isa. 6:3.)

Secondly, the ark was distinguished by the Presence Which rested on it. Not only was it the support of the mercy-seat, while it enclosed the letter of the covenant, on the observance of which God's favour depended. But this symbolical meaning of the ark and its cover was emphasized by an Appearance above it, between the cherubim, manifesting so much of the beauty and glory of God as it was possible for His creatures to witness in this mortal state. A light of extraordinary brightness appeared on particular occasions; but for the most part it was shrouded in a cloud which alone was visible. This the later Jews called, in the Hebrew, the Shekinah, meaning that which rested or dwelt here below, and implying that it belonged originally to a higher sphere. This peculiar manifestation of the Divine Presence accompanied the Israelites from Egypt at the Exodus, added not a little to the confusion of the Egyptians when in pursuit of them, and finally took possession of the tabernacle at its completion, (Exod. 14:24; 40:34-35) just as in after years, at the dedication of Solomon's Temple, (1 Kings 8:10-11) the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the Glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord. While there is no reason for thinking that, either in the tabernacle or the first temple, the cloud was ever withdrawn from its place between the cherubim, it is clear that the overpowering light which it concealed was only made visible on rare occasions. Even when Moses “heard the voice of One speaking unto him from off the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubims,” (Numb 7:89) the radiance of the Shekinah does not seem to have appeared. But it flashed forth from the cloud before the falling of the manna, (Exod. 14:10) and at the first sacrifices offered by Aaron after his consecration, (Lev. 9:23) or sometimes in token of the Divine displeasure, as when the people prepared to stone Joshua and Caleb on their return from their visit to the Promised Land, (Numb. 14:10) or when Korah and his fellow- rebels gathered themselves together against the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, (Ibid. 14:19) or when the people murmured against Moses and Aaron in Kadesh. (Ibid. 20:6) On these occasions the "glory," that is the brilliant light which was concealed by the cloud, is said to have become visible, either to the whole population, or to those immediately around or within the tabernacle.

Those who believe that the Lord of the moral world is also the Author and Ruler of the natural world, will scarcely dispute His right thus to employ the resources of nature in the interests of His moral government. We cannot read the Psalms without perceiving the influence on devout minds of this Sacred Presence in the midst of Israel. It explains the cry of agony in the Chaldean invasion: “Show Thyself, Thou that sittest upon the cherubims.” (Pa. 80:1) It gave point to David's reflection on the power of prayer in days when God spake to His servants out of the cloudy pillar. (Ibid. 94:7.) It prompted the shout of triumph when the sons of Kohath lifted the sacred ark, as it went forward in procession: “Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered : let them also that hate Him flee before Him.(Ibid 68:1) It enables us to understand the poet of a later age, when he describes that supreme disaster which broke the heart of the old high priest. (1 Sam. 4:17, 18) At the capture of the ark God delivered their Power into captivity, and their Beauty into the enemies' hand. (Ps. 78:62) It shows us the peculiar malignity of the idolatry of which the Israelites had been guilty at the foot of Sinai, when they turned their "Glory"—of Whose supersensuous beauty they might have learnt somewhat from the Shekinah—into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay. (Ibid 104:20) And so in the Psalm before us; no sooner is the ark referred to, than the Psalmist adds, “We will go into His tabernacle, and fall low on our knees before His footstool,” that is, before the ark, which was beneath the Sacred Presence. “Arise,” he continues, “O Lord, into Thy resting-place; Thou, and the ark of Thy strength.(Ibid. 132:7-8)

Indeed, the Shekinah which rested on the mercy-seat will alone explain the peculiar fervour of the devotional language about the tabernacle, or the temple, which so often meets us in the Psalter. The Shekinah made the sense of the Presence of God, His Holiness, His Justice, His Mercy, vivid to the mind of the pious Israelite. It made the Israelite fear to approach his Lord and Master in a condition of conscious disobedience or moral pollution.

Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle,
Or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?
Even he, that leadeth an uncorrupt life,
And doeth the thing that is right,
And speaketh the truth from his heart.
He that hath used no deceit in his tongue,
Nor done evil unto his neighbour,
And hath not slandered his neighbour.
He that setteth not by himself,
But is lowly in his own eyes,
And maketh much of them that fear the Lord.
He that sweareth unto his neighbour,
And disappointeth him not, though it were to his own hindrance.
He that hath not given his money upon usury,
Nor taken reward against the innocent.
Whoso doeth these things shall never fall.” (Ps. 15.)

And yet, while the Presence on the ark thus awed the Israelite into moral disobedience, it attracted him with a fascination which he felt most keenly when separated from it. Thus David—

One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require,
Even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit His temple.” (Ibid. 27:4)

So a later Psalmist in temporary exile—

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks,
So longeth my soul after Thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God:
When shall I come to appear before the Presence of God ?” (Ibid. 42:1, 2)

So another Psalmist, at a distance from Jerusalem, but certainly before the Babylonish captivity— .

O how amiable are Thy dwellings, Thou Lord of hosts!
My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord:
My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young,
Even Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house;
They will be always praising Thee.” (Ibid. 84:1-4)


If we believe that the people of Israel was privileged to undergo an especial education suited to its high function as the people of Revelation, we cannot ignore the importance of the ark in the religion of Israel. As the tables within the ark reminded the Israelite of the supreme importance of moral truth, so the cloud on the mercy- seat above the ark reminded him of a particular mode of the Presence of God Which was vouchsafed to Israel. Year after year, generation after generation, Israel was accustomed to associate the Presence of Him, Whom “the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain,” (1 Kings 8:27.) with a particular spot, a particular outward form, a particular occasional manifestation. Would not this have been leading men's thoughts in an opposite direction to that of the absolute Spirituality and Immateriality of God, unless God had purposed to manifest Himself to man after a manner for which the ark and the Shekinah would be a preparation? In other words, does not this feature of the religion of Israel only become intelligible when we place it in the light of the Incarnation?

It is clear that a great Apostle was of this mind. When St. John tells us that “the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory,” (St. John 1:14) we cannot but observe that this language is so chosen as to recall the glory which had rested on the ark of the covenant, and the days when the tabernacle of God had a first place in the thought of Israel. And when the Voice out of the Throne proclaims in the Apocalypse, with reference to our Lord's manifestation in the flesh, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them,” (Rev. 21:3) we are led to discern in our Incarnate Saviour a sanction of and response to the yearnings which had been fostered by the Presence on the ark in the tabernacle of Israel. Now, had the ark with its sacred contents, and the Shekinah resting on it, continued to be a leading feature of the furniture of the holy place in the Temple until our Lord's time, there might have arisen in pious minds, trained in the old religion of Israel, a rivalry between the Presence in the ark and the Presence in Jesus of Nazareth—a rivalry such as existed, as we know from the Epistle to the Hebrews, between the still continuing Jewish sacrifices and the Great Sacrifice on Calvary, with its reiterated commemorations in the Church of Christ. But, in point of fact, the distinctive glories of the ark vanished at the destruction of Solomon's Temple. In the Temple which was built after the exile, there was, it seems, no ark, no tables of the Law, no Shekinah. The outward structure of Solomon's Temple was copied even in minute details, but the prerogative symbols of Divine Presence and authority were wanting to it. Fine architecture cannot atone for deficiency in religious privileges; and the Jews of the days which followed the Exile were deeply sensible of their loss. So Haggai cries, in his address to Joshua and Zerubbabel, “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing ?(Hag. 2:3) In view of this deficiency Isaiah had prophesied the return of the Shekinah, in some larger sense, in the days of the Messiah: “The Lord will create upon every dwelling- place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night.(Isa. 4:5) And Ezekiel, in his vision of the return of the glory of the Lord to the Temple through the eastern gate, was assured that God would dwell in the midst of Israel for ever. (Ezek. 43:7.) After the exile, God promised by Zechariah, “Lo, I come, and 1 will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord” (Zech. 2:10) and by Haggai, with reference to the new Temple, “I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts,” and “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Hag. 2:7-9) But the new Temple did not recover the vanished distinctions of the old; and as it became more difficult to understand how the predictions of Zechariah and Haggai could be realized, the Jewish interpreters had no hesitation in saying that they would in some way become true in the days of the Messiah.

Thus we see how, first of all, the gift of the sacred ark and its accompanying prerogatives, and next its withdrawal for some six hundred years from the midst of Israel, might lead devout minds to the feet of our Lord and Saviour. The ark sanctioned and trained a religious desire for some intimate manifestation of the Presence of and then the withdrawal of the ark left Israel with this desire, keener than ever, yet unsatisfied. Certainly every precious thing in ancient Israel ultimately led to Christ. Not only direct predictions which foretold His lineage, and Birth, and work, and character, and Sufferings, and Death, and Resurrection, and triumph; not only sacrificial rites, which had no efficacy or meaning apart from the immense significance which His sacrificial Death would flash back on them after the lapse of ages; not only a long line of servants of God, heroes, prophets, and saints, each exhibiting, amid imperfections, some especial form of moral excellence, while all such excellences, without any accompanying imperfections, find a place in Him. The ark both pointed to Him by its contents and by the Presence which rested on it. The rod of Aaron might suggest His Priesthood, “which was not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life;(Heb. 7:16) and the pot of manna befits One Who could say of Himself, “I am the Living Bread Which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever: and the Bread that I will give is My Flesh, Which I will give for the life of the world.(St. John 6:51) But the tables of the covenant especially direct our eyes to Him Who alone perfectly fulfilled them. For all others that awful record of the Divine Will, when interpreted by the sensitive and enlightened conscience, could not but suggest a self-accusing sentence of condemnation. He could read it unmoved, and could challenge the world, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin ?” (Ibid 8:46)I do always such things as please Him.” (Ibid 29) His Holy Manhood was an ark, within which the spirit as well as the letter of the Moral Law was preserved inviolate. He not merely obeyed, He lived the Law; it was intertwined with the fibres of His moral Life. The Jewish ark was robbed of its contents; before Solomon's time the rod and the manna had disappeared; the tables of the covenant did not outlive Nebuchadnezzar. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. (Heb. 13:8) He is for ever the Priest and the Food of His people; and the Eternal Moral Law of God is for ever the law of His Life in glory.

Still more did the Presence which rested on the ark, between the cherubims, suggest that Higher Uncreated Nature which was joined to His Manhood from the first moment of His earthly Life. Often, indeed, during that Life, men saw only the unilluminated cloud; and they asked, “Is not this Joseph's Son? and is not His mother called Mary? and His brethren, are they not with us?(St. Matt. 8:55-56) if, indeed, they did not judge that there was no beauty in Him that they should desire Him. (Isa. 53:2) But at times the brightness from within the cloud flashed upon them, as by the tomb of Lazarus, or on the Mount of Transfiguration, or at the door of the empty sepulchre; or when He said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,(St. John 14:9) or “I and the Father are one thing,(Ibid. 10:30) or “Before Abraham was, I am”, for “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son,” (St. Matt. 11:27) or “If any man love Me, My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.” (St. John 14:23) Nor will those who believe that nothing in Holy Scripture is without its purpose, fail to observe how in His earthly Life our Lord was pleased to associate with Himself two of the accompaniments of the Presence Which rested on the ark. The overshadowing cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration (St. Matt. 17:5) and the cloud which received Him out of the sight of His disciples on the Mount of the Ascension, (Acts 1:9) and His prediction to the high priest, “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man ... coming in the clouds of heaven,” (St. Mark 14:62). and the warning of His Apostle, “Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him,” (Rev. 1:9.) —recall one of these. And the other, the “cherubims of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat,” prepares us for the angels that heralded the Nativity, (St. Luke 1:26-38; 2:9-14) and for the angels that ministered at the Temptation (St. Matt. 4:11) and for the great angel of the Agony , (St. Luke 22:43) and for the angels of the Sepulchre, (St. Matt, 28:2 St. Luke 24:4) and for the angels who met the men of Galilee after the Ascension, (Acts 1:10-11) and for Our Lord's own prediction that “the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all His holy angels with Him.(St. Matt. 25:31) And it was because He thus amply restored all, and more than all, which had been lost to the second Temple, that even at His Birth He was hailed by Jewish believers, like the aged Simeon, as not merely destined to be “a Light to lighten the Gentiles,” but also and especially to be “the Glory” —in the ancient sense of that word, which applied it to the Shekinah— “of His people Israel.” (St. Luke 2:32)


The history of the ark, and that particular chapter of it, too, to which the text refers, suggests one more point for consideration. It was natural that the Israelites should be deeply impressed with the mysterious power attaching to the ark of the covenant, and should assume that it would be in all circumstances guarded against outrage. From this it was but a step to ask the question, Can we not make use of it for other purposes than that for which it was given, namely, to be a representation in the midst of Israel of the Presence, the Sanctity, the Mercy of God? Can we not, for instance, make it an engine of offensive or defensive war; so that the enemies of Israel shall quail before a Might that is more than human? It was an evil hour when, after their defeat by the Philistines at Ebenezer, the leaders of the forces of Israel bethought themselves of this expedient. “Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us to-day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh to us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.(I Sam. 4:3) The ark came, as we know, attended by the dissolute sons of Eli; (Ibid. 4) the loud acclamations in the camp of Israel on its arrival carried terror for a moment into the hearts of Israel's enemies. (Ibid 6-8) But, in the event, Israel was defeated with a greater slaughter than before; and the ark fell into the hands of the pagan conquerors. (Ibid 10, 11) The name of Ichabod, born at this sad crisis in the national history, marked the true character of the calamity: “the glory had departed from Israel.” (Ibid 19-21) And in after ages inspired Hebrew poets told how God, in His displeasure at Israel's false worships, forsook the tabernacle in Silo, even the tent which He had pitched among men; and how He delivered their power into captivity, and their beauty into the enemies' hand. (Ps. 76:61-62)

The Jews committed the same mistake when they made up their minds that the promised Messiah would be a person who could be made useful for political objects which were ardently desired by the nation. One main reason for the rejection of our Lord, in Whom the predictions of a Messiah were really satisfied, was His declaration that His kingdom was not of this world, (St. John 18:36) and that therefore He could not be turned to account in this way. The most pathetic instance of this illusion occurred after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the aged Kabbi Akiba, perhaps the greatest doctor of the Jewish schools, proclaimed the insurgent Barchochebas the true Messiah. At the head of 200,000 warriors, Barchochebas shook the Roman authority in Syria to its foundations; but the generals of the Emperor Hadrian reduced him to submission, after a terrific slaughter of his followers, and the Rabbi Akiba was put to a death of torture which almost obliterates the memory of his mistakes. Are not we Christians guilty of the same fault, when we attempt to use our Creed for purposes of worldly advantage, or imagine that its public profession will screen us from danger, if we engage in doubtful courses of conduct? It is easy to carry the ark of God into fields of battle, on which neither combatant can reasonably hope to be in entire accordance with God's Will. In their different ways Oliver Cromwell and Louis XIV. carried the ark into the wars which they waged against their opponents; and the impression which they left upon men's minds was seen in the reactions which they provoked; in the popular hostility to serious religious strictness, which did much to discredit the Restoration, and in the widespread religious indifference which preceded the French Revolution. Religious professions which are in conflict with the general conduct of those who make them, do not defeat the enemies of Religion; they betray the cause of Religion to its enemies. The sacred ark can never be made to fight the world's battles. God punishes the attempt to enlist Him in a cause of which He disapproves; though in the moment of disaster He knows how to guard His own honour, and how eventually to recover His throne in the hearts of men.

"Lo, we heard of the same at Ephratah." So far, then, as the ark of the covenant was concerned, in those more ancient days, it was apparently a false report, suggested perhaps by some pious peasant who was jealous for the honour of the house of David. In those ancient days the glory of Bethlehem undoubtedly paled before that of the city of the woods, Kirjath-jearim. But in view of Him in Whom the ark was to find a living counterpart, the greatest of the descendants of David—David's Son and yet David's Lord (St. Matt. 22:42-43) —it was not a false report. Like Caiaphas's prediction, (St. John 18:14) it lighted unconsciously upon a deeper truth than the speakers thought of; and Ephratah had only to bide its time in order to eclipse the glories, not merely of Kirjath-jearim, but of Zion itself. There, in the outskirts of the Judean village, in the lowly manger, scooped out, after the fashion of the country, between or beneath the layers of the limestone rock,— there His Mother laid the Divine Saviour of the world. And thither, year by year, for eighteen centuries, in thought and will if not in deed, Christians have sped to join the shepherds and the Eastern sages; and while they worship, in their Lord Incarnate, the One Man Who has kept inviolate the Eternal Moral Law of God, and in “Whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9) they offer Him the homage of their hearts and lives. Let us, too, with our tribute of penitence and love, join, if it may be, this great company of pilgrims belonging to so many climes and ages, in our early Communion on Christmas morning. Let us “go into His true tabernacle, and fall low on our knees before His footstool.” (Ps. 132:7) “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem-Ephratah, and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” (St. Luke 2:15)

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