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The Hebrew Harbest Serbice. Many of the laws given to ancient Israel appear to modern readers of the Bible almost trivial and unnecessary. The reasons of some of these laws we may at this distance of time never thoroughly understand ; but it may be assumed and believed that all were designed to confer and secure some good, and to affirm the right of Jehovah to extend His authority over the whole domain of the life of His people, who, whether they ate or drank, were to do all to His glory. As the Mosaic law regulated the celebration of the national feasts, it was reasonable that so important an event as the harvest should find a distinguished place in its ritual. The details of this service are minutely given in Lev. xxiii. 17-20, the most instructive aspects of which will appear in the course of our observations. It has often been noticed that the three great feasts of the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Ingathering were regulated according to the season of the year and the conditions of agriculture in Canaan.
The Passover was connected with the offering of the first-fruits, Pentecost with the harvest, and the Day of Atonernent with the Feast of Ingathering of grapes, olives, and other growths at the end of the year.
For many years past Nonconformist churches have been accustomed to hold special services for thanksgiving at the close of the harvest, which have consisted of psalms and hymns, prayers, and Christian counsels, all of which tend to bring into bright relief the Divine goodness in the supply of the bread that perisheth. Lately these services have become more frequent among Episcopalians, who with scenic deco
rations, ornamentation of the altar and chancel with foliage plants and ripe corn, and occasionally with processions round the church, acknowledge the bounty of Him “who giveth rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."
That the harvest of the present year may be considered as a new stimulus to gratitude, the following remarks on the ancient celebration of the fact may be helpful. There are many suggestions respecting this form of the Divine mercy, some of which we may passingly notice before we turn to the ancient law for its light and guidance. When Isaiah would express in an emphatic manner the possession and signs of joy, he remarks—“ They joy before Thee, according to the joy in har
It is a joy which proceeds from conscious and peaceful co-operation with God in the sphere of His beneficence. It has occurred in the chequered administration of Divine Providence that men have been called to serve God with spear and shield, sword and flame, and all the terrible agencies of war and desolation. In the production of the harvest we have the plough, the harrow, the sower who goes forth to sow, the sickle wielded in quietness, and then golden sheaves and sufficiency of bread. It is a joy which is exclusively beneficial, and stands in contrast to that exultation which thrills the heart of the conqueror. He, the survivors of his army, and his country, rejoice; but in the background and secret places of life the widow mourns and the orphan weeps, while the vanquished nation sways between the extremes of sorrow and revenge, and waits with eager look for the day of retaliation.
The scenes of harvest are darkened by no such ominous clouds of distress and hatred. There is a beautiful sociality in the satisfaction which springs from the harvest. The Queen, the nobles and gentry, the merchant and the scholar, the artificer and labourer-all classes of the people have an interest in this blessing, and all can rejoice in the vastness and value of the fruits of the earth. The harvest sometimes exercises a soothing influence upon us when we are troubled with a sense of prevalent and painful mystery. Many things around us are very trying; as when we see children in sickness, others victims of incurable disease, eager and unsuccessful endeavours to gain a modest subsistence, valuable lives suddenly cut short, useless and mischievous men living on, and efforts to communicate the highest good frustrated by folly, perversity, and unbelief.
It is too frequently our weakness to look at the dark side of mystery when we are least able to handle the intractable subject. The mystery of pain has been occasionally discussed, while the mystery of pleasure has been left unexplored. Yet it is as great a mystery for wine to cheer
as it is for hemlock to poison men, and for sunlight to gladden as it is for darkness to depress. us. It is pleasant to consider the mystery of growth in which the seed sprouts and sends forth the blade, makes the blade the nurse of the stalk, and the stalk to bear the crown of bloom and fruit. When we see the valleys covered over with corn, the sight should smooth the brow of care, and lead us to stand with grateful hearts before the mystery and profusion of Divine love.
In the Hebrew harvest service there were three kinds of sacrifices or offerings to which we may now turn our attention.
The first was the sin-offering, which shows us the true way to enjoy the fruits of the harvest.
In this interesting part of the service there was a sacrifice of a kid of the goats. Some of the blood of this victim was sprinkled before the vail, and the rest was poured out at the foot of the altar of burntoffering. The flesh was not tasted by the offerer, but was consumed without the camp, or eaten by the priest alone in the holy place.
It proclaimed the truth that the covenant between God and His people had been broken, and that the sacrificer had rendered himself unworthy of communion with Jehovah.
The whole of the Mosaic ritual assumes the existence and frequency of transgression, for “ by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Sacrifices were ordained to reveal the demerit of sin, and furnish a fit expression of the faith and penitence of the sinner. Forgiveness is a blessing which needs many safeguards, influences, and impressions to make it completely safe. It was the merciful purpose of God to awaken the sense of sin, and then to supply methods of gracious pardon. Guilt is not removed by neglect, as a debt is not paid, nor a disease cured by forgetfulness or denial. It must be removed by the use of a Divine ordinance. This ancient principle of sacrifice has found its highest glory in the oblation once offered for sin in the end of time. When men bring their transgressions into the presence of the Lamb of God, and believingly expect peace through His shed blood, then sins are cast into the depths of the sea, and, as in Scripture phrase, are blotted out like a cloud which once hung over us, lowering and dense, and charged with the agencies of death ; and now it is gone, and the serene azure smiles and overarches us as with a canopy of lovingkindness. When sin is forgiven, there may be the rich enjoyment of the mercies with which a gracious Providence spreads our table. This was illustrated in the experience of the Pentecostal converts, who heard and obeyed the call of Peter, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Then follows the happy result, “ And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking
bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people” (Acts ii. 38, 46, 47).
2. The burnt-offering expresses gratitude for the blessing of the harvest. This sacrifice was to consist of seven lambs, one young bullock, and two rams, which were to be entirely given up to Jehovah. No horn, no hoof, no skin of this sacrifice was to be devoted to any human use or profit. It was, therefore, a fit expression of the grateful feeling of the people. At such a season of the year we seem to hear the words of Paul with new emphasis, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
The motives for gratitude are numerous if men consider the erils which an abundant harvest averts. If the corn had been blighted, or if the fields had been deluged with rain, even with the prospect of large importations, there must have been dearness of price. Many would have become anxious in the extreme. The question of daily bread would have been one of constant solicitude and probably temptations to doubt, or dishonesty might have fearfully increased. The abundant harvest gives us freedom from excessive care, and allows us to make the best of our condition of privilege and opportunity. Life is worth much in England. Here we have the aids of Providence--the light of Revelation to teach us the uses and worth of things, the calmness of the Sabbath, the open sanctuary, innumerable copies of the Scriptures, the wealth of a Christian literature, and all the diversified assistance of the Reign of Grace. We are “exalted to heaven," and the support of our life, with its powers of gaining and diffusing good, should awaken ardent praise. It is desirable to be thankful, further, because there is something noble and disinterested in the nature of praise. It is well to pray and solicit needful help and deliverance from evil, in which there is something of personal craving and anxious care; while thanksgiving brings us near in spirit to the angels who have never stained their garments with sin, and to those who by faith in Jesus Christ have escaped from its defilement, and are now before the throne, and offer their hallelujahs and anthems of praise with “joy'unspeakable, and full of glory."
3. The peace-offering shows us some of the uses of the harvest. This consisted of two lambs, of which, after the fat had been burnt upon the altar, the breast and shoulders were given to the priest, and other portions were received by the offerer, who, with his family and friends, and the poor, sat down to a feast with sacred rejoicing. Without straining the signification of this appointment to any undue breadth of application, it seems to suggest that gratitude should not evaporate in pleasant feel
ing and transient states of emotion. These, if alone, somewhat resemble clouds which travel across the sky in vastness of mass, coloured with gold, purple, and crimson, but distil no rain upon the thirsty surface of the fields and pastures. Whether the apostle thought of the peace-offering at the harvest celebration cannot be decisively affirmed ; but his words seem to have remarkable adaptation to illustrate this branch of our remarks. His counsels are Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived ; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. (Gal. vi. 6, 7.) This gratitude will be well shown in all endeavours to extend the knowledge of Christ by the preaching of the Gospel. It is said by Paul that “God hath sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts.” One distinguishing feature of the spirit of Christ is to be seen in laborious preaching of the Gospel. In reply to the messengers sent by John Baptist he crowned the recital of his miracles with these weighty words : “ And to the poor the gospel is preached." There are other acts of beneficence which should spring from a sense of the Divine goodness. The pleasure of giving is not to be the luxury of the wealthy only ; since our Lord has placed works of faith and labours of love within the reach of all His followers, and cups of cold water given to a disciple shall not be unrecompensed.
In reviewing these thoughts we may note the completeness of the Divine institutions. By the sin-offering men were restored to happy relations with God. The burnt-offering said “ All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” All was concluded with the peace-offering, in which priest, worshipper, and the poor had a share in the Divine goodness and human love.
J. S. BRIGHT.
Evidences of Growth in Grace. One invariable mark of increasing spiritual vitality will be a more habitual consciousness of an intimate relation to the person of Christ. As you go on, you learn that both the new life and the satisfaction of it come from a personal Friend. Your times of devout retirement will be like dialogues with Him. You will ask yourself, in doubtful matters or places, how this or that would suit His mind, or harmonise with His presence. Not that His visible presence, or any strained attempt to realise it will be needful. Yet there will be an increased feeling of His being really close at hand, and His face, marvellous in its tenderness, is almost seen.
As the better life deepens and expands, there is also a steady alteration in the relative proportions of fear and love, as motive-powers in Christian living. The fear will not, perhaps, totally vanish, even in the highest type of piety ; but it will be one that confiding and reverential fear which is in