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Exodus 5:10-15 - Homilies By J. Orr

Bricks without straw.

Tyrants seldom lack subordinates, as cruel as themselves, to execute their hateful mandates. Not only are these subordinates generally ready to curry favour with their lord by executing his orders with punctilious rigour, but, when they get to know that particular persons are in disfavour, they find a positive delight in bullying and insulting the unhappy victims, and in subjecting them to every species of vexatious interference. The callous taskmasters entered heartily into Pharaoh's plans—withheld from the Israelites the straw, while requiring of them the full tale of bricks, and then mercilessly beating the officers for failing to get the people to accomplish the impossible. View in their behaviour—

I. A PICTURE OF THE NOT INFREQUENT TREATMENT OF MAN BY HIS FELLOW - MAN . Society abounds in tyrants, who, like Pharaoh's taskmasters—

1 . Demand the unreasonable.

2 . Expect the impossible. And the unreasonable in extreme cases is one with the impossible.

3 . Are insolent and violent in enforcing their unreasonable demands. The workman, e.g; is scolded because he cannot, in a given time, produce work of given quantity and quality, though production to the extent required is shown to involve a physical impossibility. The public servant is abused because he has not wrought miracles in his particular department, though perhaps he has received neither the material nor the moral support to which he was entitled. The clergyman is blamed for deficiency in pulpit power, while endless calls are made upon him for work of other kinds, which dissipate his energies, and eat into his time for study. The wife is rated by her husband, because comforts and luxuries are not forthcoming, which his wasteful expenditure in other directions prevents her from obtaining. With like unreasonableness, buyers in commercial houses are rated because, they cannot buy, and sellers because they cannot sell; and it is broadly hinted to the latter that if means are not discovered for effecting sales, and disposing of perhaps worthless goods, the penalty will be dismissal. And there are worse tyrannies behind. Most iniquitous of all is the system of exacting work from the necessitous, which imposes an unnatural and injurious strain upon their bodily and mental powers, while renumerating it by a pittance barely sufficient to keep soul and body together. The straw of which these bricks are made is the flesh and blood of living human beings—the fibre of despairing hearts. In short, bricks without straw are asked wherever work is required which overtaxes the strength and capability of those from whom it is sought, or where the time, means, or assistance necessary for accomplishing it is denied. To rage, scold, threaten, or punish, because feats which border on the impossible are not accomplished, is simply to play over again the part of Pharaoh's taskmasters.

II. A CONTRAST TO THE TREATMENT WHICH MAN RECEIVES FROM GOD . Unbelief and slothfulness, indeed, would fain persuade us of the opposite. Their voice is, " I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown," etc. ( Matthew 25:24 ). And it may be pleaded in support of this that God's demands in respect of obedience go far beyond the sinner's powers. He inherits a depraved nature, yet he is held guilty for its actings, and the demand stands unchanged, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," etc. ( Deuteronomy 6:5 ). The standard by which he is judged is that of absolute holiness, while yet it is admitted that he is naturally incapable of a single holy thought or resolve. But in this way of putting matters various things are forgotten.

1 . The law of duty is a fixed quantity, and even God, by an act of will, cannot remove a sinner from under its obligations.

2 . There is an obvious distinction between natural and moral inability. The hardened thief cannot plead his incorrigible thievishness as an excuse for non-fulfilment of the duties of honesty. It is his sin that he is thievish.

3 . Depraved beings are condemned for being what they are (evil-disposed, cruel, lustful, selfish, etc.), and for the bad things which they do, not for the good things which they ought to do, but are now incapable of doing. The devil, e.g; is condemned because he is a devil, and acts devilishly; not because it is still expected of him that he will love God with all his heart, etc; and because he fails to do this. But the true answer, as respects God's treatment of mankind, is a very different one. The sinner is not to be allowed to forget that if he has fallen and destroyed himself, God has brought him help. The very God against whom he has sinned desires his recovery, and has provided for it. He has made provision in Christ for the atonement (covering) of his sins. He asks nothing from him of a spiritual nature which his grace is not promised to enable him to accomplish. God presents himself in the Gospel, not as the sinner's exacting taskmaster, but as his friend and Saviour, ready, however multiplied and aggravated his offences—though they be as scarlet and red like crimson—to make them as the snow and wool ( Isaiah 1:18 ). True, the sinner cannot renew his own heart, but surely he is answerable for the response he makes to the outward word, and to the teachings and drawings of the Spirit, who, given his submission, will willingly renew it for him. True also he cannot, even in the gracious state, render perfect obedience, but over and against this is to be put the truth that perfect obedience is not required of any in order to justification, and that, if only he is faithful, his imperfections will, for Christ's sake, be graciously forgiven him. And the same just and gracious principles rule in God's actings with his servants. Service is accepted "according to what a man hath, and not according to that he hath not' ( 2 Corinthians 8:12 ). No making bricks without straw here. The servant with the two talents is held only responsible for the two, not for five ( Matthew 25:23 ). Justice, tempered by grace, is the rule for all.— J . O .

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