I. GOD IS PRESENT IN THE MIDST OF HIS FAITHFUL PEOPLE. By the nature of things, God is present everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10). Yet there is a more intimate and revealed presence of God which is not universal, but which is the peculiar privilege of some, while to others it is denied. This consists in the outflow of sympathy, the exercise of special grace, the nearness of spiritual communion. Two persons can be locally near, and yet in thought and sympathy very distant from one another. Spiritual presence is conditioned not by space but by sympathy. When we are out of sympathy with God He is far from us. When we are one with Him in sympathy He is near. This is a real presence. God does not simply send blessings and breathe benedictions from a distance. He makes the bodies of His people a temple (1 Corinthians 6:9), and their hearts the home of His Spirit (John 14:23).
II. GOD'S PRESENCE IS A FACT OF GREAT INTEREST TO HIS PEOPLE. Phinehas expresses satisfaction in the recognition of God's presence.
(1) God's presence should be a source of blessing, since
(a) He is our father, and we are homeless without Him;
(b) He is the Almighty One, and we are full of need;
(c) He is the light and life of all things, and without Him we are in darkness and death, like a planet without its sun.
(2) God's presence is proved by experience to be a source of blessing, bestowing
The possession of all the treasures of the world without God would leave the soul poor indeed. His presence is a pearl of great price.
III. GOD'S PRESENCE CAN BE RECOGNISED BY THE CONDUCT OF HIS PEOPLE.
(1) God's presence is discernible. It is not for ever secret and hidden. Phinehas perceives the presence of the Lord. We do not always perceive it, but there are events which make it strikingly apparent. If we know how to recognise it, we need not be always asking, "Is the Lord among us or no?" but, like Hagar (Genesis 16:13) and Jacob (Genesis 28:16), we shall be surprised and satisfied with the manifestation of God in our midst.
(2) God's presence is manifested in the conduct of His people.
(a) It is not proved by our opinions: we may have very correct ideas about the nature and character of God while we are far from Him.
(b) It is not made manifest by our feelings: emotions are deceptive, and very strong religious feelings may be found in a very godless life.
(c) It is seen in conduct.
IV. THE CONDUCT WHICH PROVES THE PRESENCE OF GOD IS FAITHFULNESS IN HIS SERVICE. Phinehas perceives "that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the Lord." Faithfulness in the service of God, and a consequent spirit of brotherly kindness and sympathy, such as that now manifested among the tribes of Israel, are good signs of the presence of God in a Church.
(1) His presence is the cause of fidelity. Our fidelity reveals His presence, but it does not secure it. He is present first, and inspires devotion, and binds His people together in united affection through their common devotion to Him.
(2) He must need depart from His people when they become unfaithful. No past enjoyment of God will secure His abiding presence. If God depart, though wealth and ease and numbers testify to apparent prosperity, we may exclaim, "Ichabod - the glory has departed." - W.F.A.
I have divided unto you by lot these nations.
Great colonists as we are, and greater as, with the growth of our wealth and therefore of our population, we are likely to be, it may prove instructive and also interesting to look at Joshua in the character of a colonist — the leader of the largest band that ever left their old in search of a new home. I remark, then, that the colonisation of Canaan under Joshua was conducted in an orderly manner, on a large scale, and in a way eminently favourable to the happiness of the emigrants and the interests of virtue and religion. It presents us with a model we would do well to copy. The children of Israel entered Canaan to be settled within allotted borders; by families and by tribes. In their case emigration was thus less a change of persons than a change, and a happy change, of place. No broad seas rolled between the severed members of the same family; there were no bitter partings of parents and the children they feared never more to see: nor did the emigrants, with sad faces and swimming eyes, stand crowded on the ship's stern to watch the blue mountains of their dear native land as they sank beneath the wave. A still more important lesson than that taught by the orderly, just, humane, and happy arrangements of this Hebrew colony is taught us by the care Joshua took of its religious interests. These, the greatest, yet considered apparently the least, of all interests, are sadly neglected in many of our foreign stations; and I have often wondered to see with what little reluctance Christian parents could send their children away to lands where more lost their religion than made their fortune. Whatever we do with our religion, the Hebrews did not leave the ark of God behind them. Regarding it as at once their glory and defence, they followed it into the bed of Jordan, and, passing the flood on foot, bore it with them into the adopted land. Wherever they pitched their tents, they set up the altar and tabernacle of their God. Priests and teachers formed part of their train; and making ample provision for the regular ministration of word and ordinance, they laid in holy and pious institutions the foundations of their future commonwealth. Such are some of the points in which Joshua is to be admired, and imitated, as a model colonist. Alas! while neglecting his example in things worthy of imitation, we have followed it but too closely in the one thing where it affords us no precedent to follow. I refer to the fire and sword he carried into the land of Canaan, and his extermination of its original inhabitants. We have too faithfully followed him in this — with no warrant, human or Divine, to do so. In his bloodiest work Joshua was acting under commission. His orders were clear, however terrible they read. God undertakes the whole responsibility. And be it observed that the children of Israel were blamed not because they did, but because they did not, exterminate the Canaanites — slaying them with the sword or driving them out of the land. The duty was painful and stern; but they lived to find, as God had warned them would happen to them, and as happens to us when we spare the sins of which these heathen were the type, that mercy to the Canaanites was cruelty to themselves. But, admitting that the responsibility is shifted from Joshua to God, how, it may be asked, are the sufferings of the Canaanites, their expulsion and bloody extermination from the land, to be reconciled with the character of God, as just and good and righteous? This is like many other of His acts. On attempting to scrutinise them, mystery meets us on the threshold. No wonder! — when we feel constrained to exclaim over a flake of snow, the spore of a fern, the leaf of a tree, the change of a base grub into a winged and painted butterfly, "Who can by searching find out God? who can find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is higher than heaven, what can we do? deeper than hell, what can we know? the measure thereof is longer than the earth and-broader than the sea." Dark as the judgment on Canaan seems, a little consideration will show that it is no greater, nor so great, a mystery as many others in the providence of God. The land of Canaan was His — "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." And I ask in turn, is the Sovereign Proprietor of all to be denied the right that ordinary proprietors claim — the right to remove one set of tenants and replace them by another? Besides, the inhabitants of Canaan were not only, so to speak, "tenants at will," but tenants of the worst description. Let it be remarked also, that the Canaanites not only deserved, but chose their fate. The fame of what God had done for the tribes of Israel had preceded their arrival in the land of Canaan. Thus its guilty tenants were early warned; got "notice to quit"; might be considered as summoned out. They refused to go. They chose the chances of resistance rather than quiet removal; and so — for be it observed that the Israelites in the first instance were only ordered to cast them out — they brought destruction on themselves: with their own hands pulling down the house that buried them and their children in its ruins. But the children? the unoffending infants? There is a mystery, I admit, an awful mystery in their destruction; but no new or greater mystery here than meets us everywhere else. The mystery of offspring who suffer through their parent's sins is repeated daily in our own streets. It does not alter the case one whir to say that children who die of disease, for instance, die by the laws of nature, while those in Canaan were put to death by the command of God. This is a distinction without a difference; for what are the laws of nature but the ordinances and will of God? Nor is the cloud which here surrounds God's throne, dark as it seems, without a silver lining. The sword of the Hebrew opens to the babes of Canaan a happy escape from misery and sin — a sharp but short passage to a better and purer world. Thus, and otherwise, we can justify the sternest deeds of which Joshua has been accused. He held a commission from God to enter Canaan and cast out its guilty inhabitants, and, like a woodman who enters the forest axe in hand, to cut them down if they clung like trees to its soil. His conduct admits of the fullest vindication; and though it did not, we should be the last to accuse him. Ours are not the hands to cast a stone at Joshua. A more painful and shameful history than the history of some at least of our colonies was never written. Talk of the extermination of the Canaanites! Where are the Indian tribes our settlers found roaming, in plumed and painted freedom, the forests of the new world? Not more fatal to the Canaanites the irruption of the Hebrews than our arrival in almost every colony to its native population! We have seized their lands; and in a way less honourable, and even merciful, than the swords of Israel, have given them in return nothing but a grave. Professed followers of Him who came not to destroy but to save the world, we have entered the territories of the heathen with fire and sword, and adding murder to robbery, have spoiled the unoffending natives of their lives as well as of their lands. Had we any commission to exterminate? Divine as Joshua's, our commission was as opposite to his as opposing poles to each other. These are its blessed terms, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Can our country and its Churches read that without a blush of shame and a sense of guilt? Let us repent the errors of the past. Not so much to aggrandise our island, as to Christianise the world by our colonies, is the noble enterprise to which Providence calls us. "Go ye in to possess the land" — these, if I may say so, were the marching orders under which Joshua and Israel entered Canaan; and however unable they appeared, in point of numbers and ordinary resources, to cope with those who held the soil, and were prepared to fight like men that had their homes and hearths, their wives and children, to defend, yet then, as still, the measure of man's ability is God's command. Since it is so, what a noble career and rapid conquest were before the children of Israel! Sweeping over Canaan like a resistless flood, they might have carried all before them. What difficulties could prove too great for those who had God to aid them? What need had they of bridge or boats, before whose feet the waters of Jordan fled? of engines of war whose shout, borne on the air, smote the ramparts of Jericho to the ground with an earthquake's reeling shock? of allies, who had Heaven on their side, to hurl down death from the skies on their panic-stricken enemies? How could they lose the fruits of victory over the retreat of whose foes night refused to throw her mantle, while the sun held the sky, nor sunk in darkness till their bloody work was done?