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A Handful of Stars by Frank Boreham

And the Precepts before the Prohibitions


(1) _The Preface_--'_I am the Lord thy God!_' (2) _The Precepts_--'_Thou shalt ..._' (3) _The Prohibitions_--'_Thou shall not ..._'

Our New Year's resolutions assume that we should put third things first. We are wrong. As Ebenezer Erskine saw, we must put the _Person_ before the _Precepts_, and the _Precepts_ before the _Prohibitions_. The _Center_ must come before the _Circumference_; the _Positive_ before the _Negative_.

When, at the end of December, we pledge ourselves so desperately to do certain things no more, we entirely forget that our worst offenses do not consist in outraging the _Thou Shalt Nots_; our worst offenses consist in violating the _Thou Shalts_. The revolt of the soul against the divine _Prohibitions_ is as nothing compared with the revolt of the soul against the divine _Precepts_; just as the revolt of the soul against the divine _Precepts_ is as nothing compared with the revolt of the soul against the _Divine Person_. It is by a flash of real spiritual insight that, in the General Confession in the Church of England Prayer Book, the clause, '_We have left undone those things which we ought to have done_,' precedes the clause, '_And we have done those things which we ought not to have done._' In his _Ecce Homo_, Sir John Seeley has pointed out the radical difference between the villains of the parables and the villains that figure in all other literature. In the typical novel the villain

is a man who does what he ought not to do; in the tales that Jesus told the villain is a man who leaves undone what he ought to have done. 'The sinner whom Christ denounces,' says Sir John, 'is he who has done nothing; the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side; the rich man who allowed the beggar to lie unhelped at his gate; the servant who hid in a napkin the talent intrusted to him; the unprofitable hireling who did only what it was his duty to do.' Christ's villains are the men who sin against the _Person_ and the _Precepts_ of the Most High; he scarcely notices the men who violate the _Prohibitions_. Yet it is of the _Prohibitions_ that, when New Years come, we think so much.

At vesper-tide, One virtuous and pure in heart did pray, 'Since none I wronged in deed or word to-day, From whom should I crave pardon? Master, say.'

A voice replied: 'From the sad child whose joy thou hast not planned; The goaded beast whose friend thou didst not stand; The rose that died for water from thy hand.'

During a ministry of nearly thirty years, it has been my privilege and duty to deal with men and women of all kinds and conditions. I have attended hundreds of deathbeds. In reviewing those experiences to-day, I cannot remember a single case of a man who found it difficult to believe that God could forgive those things that he ought not to have done and had done; and I cannot recall a single case of a man who found it easy to believe that God could forgive those things that he ought to have done but had left undone. It is our sins against the divine _Precepts_ that sting most venomously at the last:

'The sad, sad child whose joy thou hast not planned; The goaded beast whose friend thou didst not stand; The rose that died for water from thy hand!'

Ebenezer Erskine saw that day at Dryburgh that he must recognize the inspired order. He must bow first of all to the authority of the Divine _Person_; he must recognize the obligations involved in the Divine _Precepts_; and, after this, he must eschew those things that are forbidden by the Divine _Prohibitions_. That order he never forgot.

VII

George Macdonald tells us how, when the Marquis of Lossie was dying, he sent post-haste for Mr. Graham, the devout schoolmaster. Mr. Graham knew his man and went cautiously to work.


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