The LORD also spoke to Joshua, saying,…
Life is full of alleviations, shelters, ways of deliverance. So that however gloomy things look at times, the worst never comes to the worst. At the moment when all seems lost the gate of the city of refuge opens before us, and friendly hands are held out to draw us within its sanctuary.
I. I want to give some illustrations of this, and, first of all, FROM WHAT WE MAY CALL THE ORDINARY ARRANGEMENTS OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD — the means of refuge which this God-made world provides within itself against the commoner ills. The daily round seems so trivial, our cares are so petty, the things that we are working for so utterly unworthy of beings laying any claim to greatness, that we should be tempted to forego our claim and settle down in mechanical acceptance of the humdrum and the commonplace if we did not avail ourselves of means of escape into a higher realm of thought and feeling. To some of us the culture of music affords a city of refuge from the drearier side of life. The transformation of Scott's "wandering harper, scorned and poor," under the potent spell of his own music is repeated a thousand times a day.
"In varying cadence, soft or strong,
He swept the sounding chords along
The present scene, the future lot,
His toils, his wants were all forgot.
Cold diffidence and age's frost,
In the full tide of song were lost."
Others find their city in the contemplation of great pictures. A man, crusted over with the sordidness of his daily task, will get away into a picture gallery. He will sit down tired and uninterested before some great masterpiece, and after a while it will begin to take hold of him. As he sits there, passively yielding to its influence, just letting it lay itself against his spirit, there will gradually steal over him a great restfulness and calm. Presently a deeper life will wake up. He will pass from the passive to the active state. Imagination will become alive; thought will stir; a new world will grow into realness around him — a larger, higher, finer world, not less real, but more real; not foreign to him, but more truly native to him than the world whose dust he has just shaken from his feet. And a greater number, perhaps, find their way of escape by the door of good books than by either music or pictures, or both together. And it is more than a merely temporary refuge. If books are really great, if the art is really elevating, we get something more than a short respite from an unfriendly world. When we go back to it the world is changed. The avenger of blood is no longer there. But there are tenser forms of evil to be saved from than the dull pain of a prosaic and uninspiring existence. There are sharp strokes of misfortune, the sudden loss of health, an overwhelming catastrophe in business, or bereavement. It is marvellous how at such a time people find themselves ringed round with friends. The story of Naomi is the story of the destitute in every age. What could have been more hopeless than the outlook for her? Yet she got through. She found friends among the foreigners; and when after the long years of exile she returned to Bethlehem, she found herself taken to people's hearts. And Ruth the Moabitess was befriended also. There are many who could say with old John Brown of Haddington, "There might be put upon my coffin, 'Here lies one of the cares of Providence, who early wanted both father and mother, and yet never missed them!'" So true is this that of late years we have begun to hear in tones of complaint and foreboding of "the survival of the unfit." The world, it seems, is too kind. There is too much providence. That complaint need not distress us. But it is a confirmation of the Christian view of the world under God's fatherly administration from a somewhat unexpected quarter; and it is none the less valuable for the source from which it comes. God is love, and He will be yet more fully known in the world's palaces of science as a refuge. But we cannot think long on the subject without being sorrowfully conscious that there are other foes of the soul against which the ordinary providence of God offers no defence; and our sorrow is only turned into joy when we recognise that in these cases a still better refuge is provided. "God Himself is our refuge, a very present help in time of trouble."
1. For example, there is sin. It is possible for men to go through life without any distinct perception of sin as an enemy of their happiness, But whenever the conscience is truly awakened, from that moment sin stands forth as the saddest fact in life. It is the one foe that peace cannot dwell with. Other evils we may escape, leaving them still in possession of the outer suburbs, while we retreat into the inner citadel of the soul. But not with sin. For the awfulness of that is that its very seat is in our inmost soul, so that the more deeply we live the more vivid is the fatal consciousness of its presence. And whether you count the burning shame of it, the self-contempt it breeds, the vague but awful terrors which of necessity dwell with it, or the feeling of helplessness which grows upon us as we realise how impossible it is to escape unaided from its power, as soon as its burden presses upon a man it is felt as the heaviest burden of life, different, not only in degree but in kind, from every other, intolerable, and yet never to be shaken off by any human strength. Here is an avenger for which earth provides no city of refuge. Great books, great pictures give no relief now; they aggravate. Mother Nature with her healing ministries has no balm for this wound. Thank God there is deliverance. The troubled conscience comes to peace in Jesus Christ.
2. Another case in which God alone in His own person can be a refuge for us, is when we are oppressed by the sense of finiteness that comes to us some time or other in our experience of all things earthly. There are times when we seem to see round everything. We have reached the limit of our friends' capacity to satisfy us; music is nothing more to us than a combination, more or less faulty, of sounds that jar upon the nerves. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and vexation of spirit." And all human goodness is as the morning cloud. "All men are liars," you say in your haste. And if not that, then at least, "I have seen an end of all perfection." Blessed is the man who in that hour knows the way to God. The secret of the Lord is with him, and the water that he drinks of shall be in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.
3. Death and deliverance. And then there is death. There are those who through fear of death are all their life-time subject to bondage. Well, God delivers us from that spectre. When we walk through the valley of that shadow, we fear no evil for He is with us. We who have fled for refuge to the hope set before us find ourselves holding by an anchor that enters into that within the veil.
II. NOW, IT WILL BE A GREAT HELP TO US IF WE RECOGNISE IN EVERY LIGHTENING OF THE BURDENS OF LIFE THE SIGN THAT GOD HAS BEEN GOING BEFORE US PREPARING DELIVERANCE. Do not let us shut God out of the alleviations that spring up out of the earth as we pass along. There were six cities of refuge appointed for the Hebrews, and now one and now another of these cities would offer a practicable way of escape from the avenger. And God fulfils Himself in many ways. The doors of hope that seem entirely earth-fashioned and of human provision are equally of God's appointment with that heavenly door by which alone we can find deliverance from the deeper sorrows. Your God-given way of escape is not always along the path of extreme religious fervour. A week of rest at the seaside will do you more spiritual good sometimes than a week of revival services. A hearty shake of the hand from a genial unbeliever will give you a mightier lift than a lecture from a saint. And you are to use the means of escape that lies nearest you, and is most suitable — and see God's gracious provision in it whatever it is that gives you effectual relief. I don't mean that all ministries are of the same order, or intrinsically of equal worth. But then all troubles are not of the same order either. Paul is equally the minister of God when to the gaoler crying, "What must I do to be saved?" he says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"; and to the sailors worn out with long battling with the storm, he recommends, not prayer, but to take food.
III. Let me DIRECT YOUR MINDS TO A DUTY WHICH GOD LAID UPON THE ISRAELITES IN RELATION TO THEIR CITIES OF REFUGE. "Thou shalt prepare thee a way and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither." That is, there shall not only be a city of refuge, but there shall be a road to it. And these roads were to be kept in order. And it came afterwards to be a law that finger-posts should be placed wherever other roads crossed the road to the city of refuge, so that a man in search of it might the more easily find his way. Now the meaning of this in the larger bearing which we are giving it all, is that we should make ourselves familiar beforehand with the means of access to the doors of deliverance which God has provided. We are bidden to have resources. We must know the use of pictures and of great books; we must know the way to Nature's treasure-house, or be able, like , to solace ourselves amid the disorders of the world by contemplating the Divine order of the stars. In the day of comparative prosperity we are to prepare for adversity. And this is a counsel of tremendous significance when we think of the supreme needs of the soul, those needs which nothing short of God can meet. "Thou shalt prepare thee a way." One of the most pathetic stories in the Old Testament is that which relates how King Saul, who had gone his own timeserving, politician-like way all his life, came at last in his extremity to feel his need of God, and did not know how to come to Him. "Acquaint thyself with Him." "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" — in the springtime of life, when all is bright and hope-inspiring. Now is the time to make a path for yourself to Him.
(C. S. Pedley, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,