Fifty Spiritual Homilies. Homily 47
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10 min read
An allegorical interpretation of the things done under the Law.
1. The glory of Moses which he had upon his countenance was a figure of the true glory. For as in that case the Jews were not able to look steadfastly upon the face of Moses, so now Christians receive that glory of light in their souls, and the darkness, not bearing the radiance of the light, is blinded and banished. They were made known to be the people of God by circumcision: here, God’s peculiar people receive the sign of circumcision inwardly in their heart. The heavenly knife cuts away the unwanted portion of the mind, which is the impure uncircumcision of sin. With them was a baptism sanctifying the flesh; with us, a baptism of Holy Ghost and fire, for this is what John preached; He shall baptize you with Holy Ghost and fire.
2. There they had an outer tabernacle and an inner, and into the first the priests went continually, accomplishing the services; but into the second went the high priest alone once every year, with blood, the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest. Here, on the other hand, those who have the privilege enter into the tabernacle not made with hands, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Christ. It is written in the law that the priest should take two doves, and kill the one, and sprinkle the living one with its blood, and loose it and let it fly free. That which was done was a figure and shadow of the truth; for Christ was slain, and His blood sprinkling us has made us to grow wings, for He has given us the wings of the Holy Ghost, that we may fly without hindrance into the air of the Godhead.
3. To them was given a law written upon tables of stone; but to us, spiritual laws, engraven upon fleshy tables of the heart, for it says, I will put My laws in their hearts, and upon their minds will I write them. All those things were temporary and to be done away; but now all are accomplished in truth on the inner man. The covenant is within, and the battle within. In short, whatsoever things happened unto them were done in a figure, and were written for our admonition.
God foretold to Abraham the future, saying, Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they shall afflict it, and make it to serve four hundred years. This was fulfilled in the image of the shadow. The people became a stranger, and was enslaved by the Egyptians, and was afflicted in clay and brick. Pharaoh set over them superintendents and taskmasters, that they should do their works by compulsion; and when the children of Israel groaned unto God by reason of their tasks, then He looked upon them through Moses; and having smitten the Egyptians with many plagues, He brought them out of Egypt, in the month of flowers, when first the pleasant spring appears, and the gloom of winter is passing off. 4. And the Lord spake unto Moses, to take a lamb without blemish, and to slay it, and to smear the blood of it upon the doors and the lintels, that he that destroyed the firstborn of the Egyptians might not touch them. The angel that was sent saw the sign of the blood from afar and removed; but he entered into the houses that were not signed, and slew all the firstborn. Moreover He commanded leaven to be put away out of every house, and enjoined that they should eat the lamb that was slain with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and that they should eat it with their loins girt, and their shoes upon their feet, and with their staves in their hands; and thus He commanded them to eat the Lord’s passover with all haste in the evening, and not to break a bone of the lamb. 5. He brought them forth also with silver and gold, commanding them to borrow everyone of his Egyptian neighbour vessels of gold and of silver; and they came out of Egypt while the Egyptians were burying their firstborn, and joy was theirs for their riddance of the squalid bondage, and grief and wailing to the others for the destruction of their children. Wherefore Moses says, This is the night in which God promised to deliver us.
All these things are a mystery of the soul, redeemed by the coming of Christ. For Israel is interpreted to be the mind beholding God. He is set free from the bondage of darkness, from the Egyptian spirits. 6. For since at the transgression man died the dreadful death of the soul, and received curse upon curse—Thistles and thorns shall the ground bring forth unto thee, and again, Thou shalt till the ground, and it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her fruits—thorns and thistles sprouted and sprang up in the ground of his heart. His enemies by guile took away his glory, and clothed him with shame. His light was taken away, and he was clothed in darkness. They murdered his soul. They scattered and divided his faculties and dragged his mind down from its height, and Israel became the man who is bondservant to the true Pharaoh, and he set over him his overseers and taskmasters, those spirits of wickedness which compel him, whether he will or no, to do his wicked works, and to fulfil the tale of mortar and of brick. These withdrew him from his heavenly state of mind, and brought him down to material, earthly, clayey works of wickedness, and words and devices and reasonings that are vain. Taken from her proper height, the soul found herself in a kingdom of hatred to man, where bitter rulers compel her to build them the evil cities of sin.
7. But if the soul groans and cries unto God, He sends forth to her the spiritual Moses, who delivers her from the bondage of the Egyptians: but she cries and groans first, and only then begins to receive deliverance, being herself also delivered in the month of new blossoms, in the springtime, when the ground of the soul can put forth the fair and blossoming boughs of righteousness, and the bitter winter storms of the ignorance of darkness are over, and of the great blindness that comes of shameful deeds and sins. Then also He bids all old leaven to be removed out of each house, namely the deeds and dispositions of the old man which waxeth corrupt, to cast away, as far as possible, wicked thoughts and uncleanly imaginations.
8. The lamb must be slain and sacrificed, and the blood of it be smeared upon the doors: for Christ, the true, good Lamb, without blemish, was slain, and the lintels of the heart were anointed with His blood, that the blood of Christ shed upon the cross might be to the soul for life and deliverance, and to the devils of Egypt for woe and death. The blood of the Lamb without blemish is indeed woe to them, and joy and gladness to the soul. Then, after the anointing, He bids to eat the lamb at even, and the unleavened bread, with bitter herbs, with loins girt and shoes on feet, and staff in hand. Unless the soul be prepared beforehand on every side, to the best of her power, through good works, it is not given to her to eat of the lamb. And though the lamb be sweet, and the unleavened bread excellent, yet the bitter herbs are bitter and harsh; for with much affliction and bitterness the soul eats of the lamb and of the good unleavened bread, while the sin that is with her afflicts her. 9. And it says that it shall be eaten at even. The time of even is midway between light and darkness. So the soul being near this deliverance is midway between light and darkness, while the power of God stands firm and will not suffer the darkness to come over the soul and swallow it up. And as Moses said, This is the night of the promise of God, so Christ, when the book was given Him in the synagogue, as it is written, called it the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of redemption. There it was a night of retribution; here, a day of redemption. And rightly so; for all those things were a figure and shadow of the truth, and in a mystical prefiguration sketched the true salvation of the soul that has been shut up in darkness, and secretly bound with fetters in the lowest pit, and shut in with gates of brass, and cannot be set at liberty without the redemption of Christ.
10. So He brings the soul out of Egypt and the bondage in it, the firstborn of Egypt being destroyed at the exodus. Already a part of the power of the true Pharaoh falls. Mourning possesses the Egyptians. They groan for grief at the salvation of the captive. He commands them to borrow of the Egyptians vessels of gold and of silver, and to take them and go out. The soul in going out of the darkness takes back her vessels of silver and gold, namely her own good faculties purified seven times in the fire, in which God is served and satisfied. The devils that were neighbours to her wasted and held and squandered her faculties. Blessed is the soul that is redeemed out of darkness, and woe to the soul that does not cry and groan to Him that is able to rescue her from those hard and bitter taskmasters.
11. The children of Israel march away, when they have kept the passover. The soul moves onwards, when it has received the life of the Holy Ghost, and has tasted of the Lamb, and been anointed with His blood, and has eaten the true bread, the living Word. A pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud went before the Israelites, protecting them: the Holy Ghost strengthens these, warming and guiding the soul in a way that can be felt. When Pharaoh and the Egyptians knew of the people’s escape, and of their own loss of their bondservice, he took courage to pursue, even after the destruction of the firstborn. He hastily harnessed his chariots, and with all his people he made speed after them to destroy them; but when he was now on the point of getting in among them, a cloud stood betwixt them, hindering and darkening the one, and guiding the other with light and protecting them. Not to prolong this discourse by developing the whole story, take the parable in all particulars as referring to spiritual things.
12. When first the soul escapes from the Egyptians, the power of God draws near and helps it, leading it to the truth. But when the spiritual Pharaoh, the king of the darkness of sin, perceives that the soul is in revolt and is escaping from his kingdom, he catches up the faculties so long held in possession—for these are his goods—and, clever as he is, hopes that the soul will come back to him. But when he learns that it is fleeing from his tyranny for good and all—a more audacious thing than the slaughter of the firstborn and the stealing of the faculties—he dashes at it, fearing that if the soul clean escapes, no one will be found to fulfil his will and work. He pursues it with afflictions and temptations and invisible wars. There it is tested; there it is tried; there appears its love towards Him who brought it out of Egypt. For it is delivered over to be tested and tried in all manner of ways. 13. It beholds the power of the enemy desiring to get at it and do it to death, and not able to do so. Between it and the Egyptian spirits the Lord stands. It beholds before it a sea of bitterness and affliction or despair. It can neither win its way back, seeing the enemy ready for it, nor move forward, for the terror of death, and afflictions grievous and manifold encompassing it, make it to see death. The soul therefore loses all opinion of itself, having the sentence of death in itself, because of the swarm of evil ones that surrounds it. And when God sees the soul fallen into the terror of death, and the enemy ready to swallow it up, then, then indeed He gives it a little succour, dealing patiently with the soul, and testing it, whether it stands fast in faith, whether it has love towards Him. For so has God appointed the way that leadeth unto life, to be with affliction and distress, and much testing, and very bitter temptations, that from thence the soul may afterwards arrive at the true land of the glory of the children of God. When therefore the soul gives up all opinion of itself and renounces itself, because of the exceeding affliction and the death before its eyes, in that instant with a strong hand and an uplifted arm He rends the power of darkness through the shining of the Holy Ghost, and the soul passes through the dreadful places, escaping and passing through the sea of darkness and of the all-devouring fire.
14. These are mysteries of the soul which are truly brought to pass in a man who earnestly endeavours to come to the promise of life, and is redeemed out of the kingdom of death, and receives the earnest from God, and partakes of the Holy Ghost. Thereupon the soul delivered from amidst her foes, and having passed through the bitter sea by the power of God, and beholding her enemies destroyed before her eyes, whose bondservant she was before, rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory, comforted by God, and at rest in the Lord. Then the Spirit which she has received sings a new song unto God, with the timbrel, that is the body, and the invisible strings of the harp, which is the soul and its most subtle faculties, and the key of divine grace for striking the chords, and lifts up praises to Christ who quickeneth. For as it is the breath that speaks, when it passes through the pipe, so is the Holy Ghost through holy men who bear the Spirit, singing hymns and psalms, and praying to God with a pure heart. Glory to Him who has delivered the soul from the bondage of Pharaoh, and has made her His own throne, and house, and temple, and His pure bride, and has brought her into the kingdom of eternal life, while yet in this world.
15. In the law, unreasoning animals were offered in sacrifice, and unless they were slain, the offerings were not acceptable; and now, unless sin be slain, the offering is not acceptable with God, nor true. The people came to Marah, where was a well that gave bitter water, unfit to drink. So God commanded Moses, when he was in despair, to throw a tree into the bitter water, and when the tree was thus cast in, the water was made sweet, and being converted from its bitterness became serviceable and fit for the people of God to drink. In the same way the soul has been made bitter from drinking the poison of the serpent and becoming like to his bitter nature, and made sinful. Wherefore God casts the tree of life even into the bitter fountain of the heart, and it is converted from its bitterness and made sweet, being mingled with the Spirit of Christ; and thus being made good for use it passes on to the service of its Master, for it becomes spirit clothed in flesh. Glory to Him who converts our bitterness into the sweetness and goodness of the Spirit. Woe to him in whom the tree of life has not been cast! He cannot obtain any change for the good.
16. The rod of Moses bore two images. To enemies it presented itself as a serpent, biting and destroying; to the Israelites as a staff, on which they found support. Thus the true wood of the cross, which is Christ, is the death of the enemy, the spirit of wickedness; but to our souls, it is a staff, and a sure prop, and life, upon which they rest. There were formerly types and shadows of these true realities. The ancient service is a shadow and image of the present service. Circumcision, the tabernacle, the ark, the pot and the manna, the priesthood, the incense, the washings, and, in short, all that was done in Israel, and in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, was done with reference to this soul, made after the image of God, and fallen under the yoke of bondage, and under the kingdom of the darkness of bitterness.
17. For God desired to have communion with her, and espoused her to Himself as the King’s bride, and He cleanses her from pollution, and washing her makes her bright from her blackness and her shame, and quickens her out of the state of death, and heals her of her shattered condition, and gives her peace, reconciling her enmity. For creature though she is, she has been espoused as bride to the King’s Son; and by His own power God receives her to Himself, gradually accommodating Himself to her changes, until He has increased her with His own increase. For He stretches her out and lengthens her to an endless and immeasurable increase, until she becomes a bride without blemish and worthy of Him. First he begets her within Himself, and increases her through Himself, until she receives the full-grown measure of His love. For being Himself a perfect Bridegroom, He takes her as a perfect bride into the holy, mystical, undefiled fellowship of marriage; and then she reigns with Him to endless ages. Amen.