<< THE ESCAPED PRISONER. >>
Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. And, as thy servant was busy, here and there, he was gone. I.KINGS xx. 39, 40.
No falsity should ever be allowed its freedom in our mind, For no false principle can ever produce genuine good. When the truth is admitted into our mind, its coming should involve the expulsion of every idea seen to be false. Every falsity should be taken prisoner by our rational faculty, and held in bondage, until disposed of, and rendered incapable of doing further injury. And, knowing a principle to be false, our further indulgence of it is at the peril of our spiritual life.
THE REPRESENTATIVE SENSE.
Israel represented the Lord's church. And the enemies of Israel represented the evil and false principles, which are the enemies of the church, and of every man of the church. In a representative age, Israel was commanded to subdue and exterminate certain enemies, to represent the necessary subjugation and extermination of evils and falsities, in the mind of every man of the church. The Divine command to Israel, to destroy their enemies, seems very hard. But, in all these things, we need to remember the representative character of Israel, and of the Scripture record. Truly, these things were hard; but they were the Lord's dealings with very "hard men, who could not otherwise have been prevented from becoming even worse than they were. To-day, even in the most advanced Christian countries, we recognize the necessity of dealing differently with different kinds of men, Good men have their freedom, but criminals are imprisoned, and even put to death. And proper prison-discipline is good for the bad men, themselves, as well as for the community, The laws given to Israel were in a form best adapted to such a people. We cannot read the whole case, as the Lord saw it. But we have abundant evidence that" The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works." Whatever could have been done, to save such men from worse evils, the Lord did. H Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right ?"
The Lord's mercy, in reaching each man, must take form according to the man's conditions of character. Let us illustrate. What is the Lord's mercy to a sound and healthy eye? Surely, it is a full supply of light. But what is the Lord's mercy to an injured, or diseased, eye? Surely, it is a tempering of the light to the conditions of the eye that is to use the light. What is mercy to the mangled arm? If it cannot be saved, mercy would cut it off, that the rest of the body nlay not die, also. The science and art of surgery are not butchery, but mercy. And what is mercy to a bad child? Not indulgence, but discipline. So is it, in regard to all the adaptations of the Lord's mercies to the character and conditions of men, What cannot be restored to order, must be cut off, to preserve the general life. This was the Lord's direction, when He said, " If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. . . . And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
The parable of our text relates to our conflicts against our evil and false principles, during temptations, In its supreme inward meaning, it refers to these struggles in the assumed humanity of our Lord, during the process of glorification, which united the Humanity with the Divinity. In the text, the battle is the temptation. The" man" who brought the prisoner, and said "Keep this man," etc., is the Lord. During the temptation, the Lord opens our rational faculty, our ability to see truth as truth; and He shows us the real character of some false principle that has been -fighting against our spiritual life. He says, to our rational faculty, " Keep this 11lan," as a prisoner; i.e., hold this false principle in subjection, and do not allow it to influence your thoughts and feelings, or it will destroy your spiritual life. If you give it freedom to do its work against your mind, it will undermine your spiritual life. It is false and infernal. And you must either destroy it, or be destroyed by it. It is a question of its life or your life. If you grow careless about it, and forget to keep strict watch over it, it will escape from your rational control; and it will go on, within your mind, doing its infernal work fighting against your spiritual life. Thus our Lord ever cautions us to beware of both the secret and open influence of a false principle, which is in our natural thought.
THE TALENT OF SILVER.
" Keep this man; if by any means he be missing (i.e.) gains his freedom), then shall thy life be for his life, or ' else thou shalt pay a talent of silver." The talent was the largest weight in use in Israel. A talent of silver was a large amount, worth, probably more than two thousand dollars of our money. By the payment of a talent of silver, the man condemned to death for allowing the prisoner to escape, could redeem his life. In a good sense, silver represents spiritual truth; but, in a had sense, silver would be truth falsified, or falsity. For all good things, when abused, or employed for evil purposes, change their representative signification to the opposite. Thus, in the text, as the man is condemned, and must pay, or give up, the silver, the silver must represent falsity. And a weight represents something of the affections as distinguished from a measure, which represents the thoughts, or the intellectual part of the mind, The literal Hebrew of the text is, "thou shalt weigh a talent of silver." To weigh, or pay, a talent of silver, to redeem the man's life, is, then, to give up his love of the false principle which threatens his spiritual life.
SEEING A FALSITY.
Thus, if the Lord, by means of His revealed truth, opens our eyes to see the infernal character of a false principle, our spiritual life depends upon our holding this false principle in subjection, and destroying its practical influence in our life. And, to save our spiritual life, we must either know the character of a false principle, and hold it under subjection to enlightened rationality, or we must give up any affection for such a false principle. For an external false thought will do no permanent injury to our spirit, if it is not allowed to influence our will, or our actual conduct. Almost all the modern systems of religious doctrine contain many false ideas, about the character of God, and the spiritual life of man; and yet the Lord leads men to heaven by means of these systems of doctrine, because men can hold the false ideas in their memory only, and not in their hearts, or in their lives. There are many false ideas in men's minds, held practically harmless, because not used to justify evils. The literal sense of the Scriptures is full' of ideas which are not true, spiritually, but true only symbolically and representatively. But no ruan will lose his spiritual life by believing, literally, all symbolic statements of the Scriptures, provided he does not use such ideas to justify his evils.
For instance, it is not really true that God is angry, or partial, or vindictive, as He is sometimes represented to be. These statements are appearances of truth, to the natural-minded, unenlightened man. But the spiritually enlightened man knows that God is love, and that He has no unlovely qualities. But the man who cannot be led by love, must be held by fear. And he must believe in the kind of a God who can hold him under control. Thus, even if a false notion remains in our memory, we can redeem our life. by paying a talent of silver; that is, by giving up any love of false principles. For, then, though we may have false ideas as to facts,yet we shall not feel and act from any .false principle of life. He who obeys the Lord's law as intelligently as he knows how to do so; and who obeys the law because it is the Lord's law, is doing all he can now do, to live according to the Lord's will. And, though he may hold in his memory, and in his outward thought, many false notions as to facts, yet he will act from a true principle of love and obedience to the Lord.
THE RULING LOVE.
His ruling love will be good; and- finally it will be fully enlightened. For the ruling love is an absolute monarch in the mind, keeping all things of its mental empire under its control. The more a man obeys the Lord's will, as he understands it, the more clearly he will come to understand it. "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." But the law converts those who obey it.
THE LORD'S PRISONER.
The Lord commanded Israel to destroy certain enemies, And when the king of Israel had captured one of these enemies, he should have held that enemy as the Lord's prisoner, subject to the Lord's commandment. So, in the work of regeneration, we are to do our Lord's will. Whenever we see the falsity of any principle, we are to hold it under subjection, as the Lord's prisoner, to be dealt with according to the Lord's commandments. We are to show no apparent mercy to any false principle. For either our life or its life must be destroyed. Once captured, as a prisoner, no falsity is to be allowed to escape, and regain its freedom, to fight against our spiritual life. Consider the immense importance of this practical point, In our more open states, we are given some perception of the quality, or character, of the false principles which exist in our natural thought. Like Moses, we are led up into the mountain, that we may see the pattern of what our life should be; and then we -are to go down, again, to the plain of practical daily life, there to build our temple according to the pattern that was shown us in the mount. It was the folly of Ahab to allow his haughty, insulting, and blaspheming enemy to escape, to do more harm to Israel.
And how much more foolish it is, in us, to allow any false principle to remain free to attack .us, after we have once seen its infernal character. For Instance, our natural pride has taken us into very much trouble. Perhaps a temptation arises, during which 'We see that an utterly false principle underlies our natural pride. Why, then, should we ever allow that pride to influence us, any more? If the Lord has revealed to us its real character, He has in the midst of the battle of temptation, delivered this pride} as a prisoner, into the keeping of our rationality. And He will require it, at our hand.
THE POINT OF DANGER.
The real danger does not exist so much in our inward thought, as in the practical doings of our outward dally life. While our attention is fixed upon the character of the falsity, we hold it fast, as a prisoner. But the ,~e~l danger comes when we are" busy, here and ..there, In the details of daily life. In such times, even a known .falsity is apt. to .slip away, beyond our rational control, to use its evil influence, again, In the battle of life. Our mental Benhadad acknowledges that the God of Israel is a God of the hills, the high-places of the mind; but the king still expects to conquer us, by fightIng agaInst us in the level plain of common life. We have need, then, to guard our prisoner, while we are" busy, here and there," lest the actual influence of an acknowledged falsity be allowed to creep into our feelings, thoughts, and conduct; lest we theoretically denounce a falsity, and yet allow It practically to Influence us. There is a vast difference between theoretical and practical virtue. "And let not him who girdeth on his armor," in the beginning of the war," boast himself as he that putteth it off," after an actual destruction of his enemy.
It is a false principle that the good things of this life are more to be desired than spiritual blessings. It is a falsity that money is the one thing needed for happiness. I t is a false idea that reputation is more important than character. Now, if we once clearly see that these notions are false, the Lord has handed them over to us, as prisoners, to be kept subject to His commands. If, to-day, we see that they are foes, why should we, to-morrow, allow them their freedom in our minds ?
STRENGTH OF CHARACTER.
Spiritual strength of character is in willingness to do what is good and to resist what is evil. Sometimes, weakness of purpose, and lack of strength of character, are mistaken for mercy and generosity. Strength is not in the soft-heartedness which cannot do. what seems hard, even when necessary; which cannot cut off an arm to save a life; which cannot rebuke sin, to save the soul of the sinner. Why. are social and business life so full of frauds? Simply because there are so many weak men and women, who have not the determined purpose to resist temptations; who accustom themselves to indulgence, until they are not willing to put away a principle which they know to be false and evil.
GENUINE NEW-CHURCH MEN.
If the New-Jerusalem Church is lever to show the practical fruits of new truths, it must be by developing a race of men with more spiritual courage; men who will be faithful in all the walks of life; men who will live in a high and pure atmosphere of integrity, personal and official ; men who can promptly say no to every false and seductive influence that cunningly besets them; high, broad, full men, who, seeing the falsity of any principle, will hold it a prisoner with a grasp that it cannot escape. Give us such men, who scorn all fraud and meanness; men who stand ready to meet any crisis; men who can stand as beacon-lights in the dangerous ocean of weaklings; give us such men, or the meanness, the sensuousness, and the thousand forms of modern fraud, will sap the foundation of our country, and of our race .. And where should we expect to find such noble men, but in the Church of the New Jerusalem, where the truths of spiritual life are known. We are living in dangerous times, in the breaking up of old ideas, and the seed-time of new principles. But crises are the means of developing strong character.. A crisis brings not only a warning, but also an opportunity. These are times which try men's principles. Weak men follow the current of popular customs; but men of spiritual strength test every influence which seeks to control their feelings, thoughts, and actions. And when they 'clearly see the false character of any popular principle, they hold it down, as the Lord's prisoner, subject to His commandments. They know that every false principle leads to spiritual death. And they are not willing to lose an advantage, once gained, over a false principle. Once seen, and driven from their deliberate plans, it must also be driven from their outward thought, and from their actual conduct.
OPENNESS TO TRUTH.
Truth is abundant; but every man must earnestly endeavor to keep his heart, and his intellect, and his conduct, in a state receptive of truth, and ready to adopt it, when it comes to him, Many a truth shines upon a mind that is not open to receive it. We all recognize the fact that, at some times, we are much more open to receive spiritual truth than at others. It is so in a congregation. The Lord's Word is read, for spiritual instruction; the singing appeals to our affections; and the sermon addresses our rational thought. But, on any Sunday, there will be some persons who are especially interested in the services, and some who are comparatively indifferent. And those who were indifferent, last Sunday, may be especially open,to-day. And the one who is open-minded, to-day, is the one who will receive something, to-day. "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." (Matthew v. 6.) Woe to the man whose spiritual earnestness has been exhausted. He is as a mass of ashes, after the fire has burned out. Especially in these days, do we need earnestness of purpose, to keep down the cunning false principles, which meet us at every turn, in social, political, and commercial life. U I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies. . . " The proud have forged a lie against me; but I will keep Thy precepts with 111y whole heart." (Psalm cxix, 59, 69.)
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903