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THE SECOND MEETING,
It is lamentable to think that, while the bodily wants of men are promptly attended to by them, their spiritual necessities are in comparison little felt or provided against. They will do much and dare much to ward off temporal adversity; they will scarce bestir themselves to escape the damnation of hell. No persuasion is needed to set them upon the use of means by which the horrors of starvation may be averted; the strongest arguments and representations of eloquence avail not to move them to provide against the ruin of their perishing souls. How can this be accounted for but upon the Scriptural principle, that "the imagination of man's thoughts is evil continually?" See with what earnestness the hungry man solicits for himself the meat that perisheth; contrast with it the indifference which the spiritually destitute manifests for the bread of life. The one is importunate and persevering in his efforts to obtain what his nature craves; the other, even when you press heavenly manna upon his acceptance, can with difficulty be brought to acknowledge it as a favour. Is it not sad to think that while the cry for bread is so loudly and affectingly raised, the desire of spiritual nourishment is so faintly expressed and so inadequately felt; that, while to save themselves from the evils of famine, men will readily part with all that they possess, they are contented to perish for lack of religious knowledge? Yet thus it is, and thus it must be, until the spirit of grace shall thoroughly awaken men to the value of that which is immortal. Then, and not before, will they act upon the principle that, as the life is more than meat, the soul is more precious than the body. Then only will they come to esteem the words of truth more precious than their necessary food.
What a rebuke is conveyed to the spiritually destitute in the anxiety manifested by Jacob to obtain corn for bis household! The famine is sore in the land, and again does he call upon his children to go down into Egypt to buy for themselves a little food. Even although Simeon had for some time been detained there, and no tidings came to Canaan of his fate, again will he have them to make trial of that governor whom they had found so stern. His children remonstrate with him as to the necessity of his allowing Benjamin to accompany them. And when at length the old man finds that nothing else will do to save them from the misery of starvation, he consents to let the lad, in whose life his own was bound up, go down with them into that country from which, it was possible, he might never return. The urgency of the case was such as to overcome his tender reluctances. And so, rather than see his household die for lack of bread, he agrees to let the child of his old age, the brother of Joseph, the sole surviving son (as to him it seemed) of Rachel, accompany the others into a land which already held in captivity one member of his family. Who can think of this without remarking how it cries shame upon the carelessness of multitudes, who need mercy and yet seek it not, who may have it for the asking and yet will not offer up one prayer for it, to whom and to whose very doors the conveyance of it is made, and who, besides, are even invited, yea besought, to accept of it without money and without price? Strange inconsistency! not to be accounted for but upon the principle already referred to; not to be corrected but by the agency of the Divine Spirit.
But we have now to consider the behaviour of Joseph to his brethren at their second interview with him.
"And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth. And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? is he yet alive? And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive; and they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance. And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son. And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there," &c Genesis xliii. 26-30.
In the character of Joseph high principle and tender feeling appear to have been nicely balanced. It is indeed somewhat difficult to determine whether the great or the amiable qualities of mind were most illustrated by him. It consists with experience that a due admixture of the two is of hard attainment. Sometimes we shall see men, faithful even to admiration in the trusts assigned to them, maintaining an integrity which nothing can break down, exercising 3 perseverance that may well be called indomitable, and commanding, by their nobility of mind, the respect of society, who are yet wanting in those affections and sensibilities of the heart which give a grace and charm to human nature. They are the cedars that form the glory of Lebanon. At other times we shall find men characterised more by gentleness of feeling than strength of determination, or energy of mind; formed more for the domestic circle than the theatre of active life; not wanting in moral principle, but swayed by affection more than reason; kind, meek, and companionable, rather than bold, firm, and decisive. They are the plants that love the shade; graceful and fragrant, but slender withal. In the character of Joseph, however, the virtues meet in due proportion. We see him acting upon the principle that "to every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to embrace, and a time to Fefrain from embracing." Anxious, as he no doubt was, to meet again his brethren, and to receive accounts from them of his early home, he suffers not this natural curiosity to interfere with his performance of duty as Egypt's governor. Seeing them arrive once more in the land, he direets the steward of his house to observe towards them the rites of hospitality, while he himself goes to attend the business devolving on him as Pharaoh's minister. "At noon," his own accustomed hour of dinner, he will have leisure to converse with them. Now the affairs of state demand his care, and the time set apart for these may not be broken in upon. Here then, we say, is a delicate intimation,
1. Of Joseph's conscientious regard to the duties of office.—It would have been highly gratifying to him, no doubt, again to commune with them in reference to topics that lay near his heart; to watch, as he had done before, the workings of nature and conscience within them; to surrender himself to the influence of associations at once pleasurable and sacred. But this was not now the time for it. The interesting conference must be postponed till the public duties of the day have been performed. Pleasure must give way to business; even the claims of friendship must bend to those of office. When he undertook the management of Pharaoh's kingdom, he engaged to be faithful; and, with the high sense of responsibility which he possessed, he could not devote to personal concerns the hours appropriated to other uses. As an upright and trustworthy man, therefore, he followed not the leanings of nature but the calls of conscience.
And surely, then, if the behaviour of Joseph in the present instance be (as who can doubt ?) highly commendable, it must convey a pointed rebuke to those who suffer the hours of active duty to be broken in upon by mere diversions, for which no plea of necessity can be urged. The great principle of Order demands of every professing Christian that he should divide his time into separate portions, and that with the work proper to any one of these nothing else should be allowed to interfere. Thus only can a due balance be maintained between personal and relative claims. Thus only, moreover, can the duties connected with either be successfully discharged.