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HERE is, in the Book of Exodus, a touching descrip
tion of the way in which the children of Israel were instructed to keep the Passover on that fearful night when, according to the record, the firstborn of Egypt were smitten, and Pharaoh was constrained to let the people go:—“Thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's passover:” and, in that expectant attitude, they were to eat their last meal in the land of the oppressor: and, ever after, in memory
of it, they, in like manner, were told to keep the feast of the Passover; and they keep it to this day, but with such empty formalisms as, in the lapse of time, are inevitable.
That is history or tradition; but there is a journey which is even now being undertaken, and undertaken by us all: and to that journey also these words are applicable. Our whole life is a series of advances, with a Passover to eat at every stage of the journey, and the staff is never out of our hand. It is not given us to remain stationary for an hour. The earth, we are told, is rushing through space with a velocity that is practically unthinkable, and yet we are not conscious of it. Two or three times in one's life it may perhaps have happened to us to have the sensation of absolute repose in Nature. Standing, perhaps alone, in
some hour of perfect beauty, everything seemed hushed into “the peace that passeth understanding." The fall of a leaf would have broken the charm; and yet this mighty mass, at that very instant, was rushing on like a giant in the greatness of its strength. Such is the life of every human being, and, whether we perceive it or not, the staff is in every hand, shoes are on all our feet, and the passover is being eaten so.
By the side of the little child in the cradle lies the tiny staff, and, though even a jealous mother's eye cannot see it, the little feet are shod Day by day, the young
. pilgrim eats his Passover, as one who is on a journey. Fold your
little one to your arms as you may, wish as you will that it could stay with you as just such a lovely winsome child, you know it cannot be. In a little while it may vanish from your eyes: and even now, while you love it so and your heart beats fast with hope concerning it, the staff is ready and the feet are shod for the journey: or, even though it should remain here, it will not remain what it is. The helpless babe, utterly depending on the love and care of others, is eating the feast of life with loins girded, with shoes on its feet and a staff in its little hand. The next stage brings quite another feast for the
young pilgrim; and this has also to be eaten in like manner. Consciousness dawns, intelligence develops, and the fresh fair world is a perfect wonder-land to the new comer. I dare say hundreds of thousands of parents have looked upon one of these charming little travellers, with the wish that the future stages might then and there be arrested for
ever,—that the wonder and delight might never pass from those beautiful young eyes, that sin might never stain and a knowledge of sin might never sadden this pure young heart, that it might always be as lovely, as guileless, as confiding. It is all in vain; playthings and staff lie side by side, and the happy child who is eating the feast of childhood stands there an unconscious but an unresting traveller. Presently you who are watching it will be startled to find that a bend in the road has made all things
And now the youth stands there, at another feast, while the old is either forgotten or despised, but from the very beginning "unresting" is manifestly the law of that stage too.
The shoes that could not be perceived in the earlier stages are here both tough and prominent, and the staff is grasped with right good will for this glorious pilgrimage. But the very attempt to find and eat the feast of youth makes an end of it; and the very rush of the gallant and hopeful traveller brings him to his journey's end: and he can neither retrace his steps nor delay. He may look behind and see what a lovely path it has been, but he cannot have it over again; and the voice sounds in his ears,-'O thou who standest at the feast of youth, thus shall ye eat it, with thy loins girded, with shoes on thy feet, and with staff in hand'!
And then a graver feast is spread, with sober calculations and more settled ideas. 'Farewell to the vanities of childhood and the dreams of youth' says the mature man or woman, 'I know what life really is, and I shall now sit me down at this feast, to go no more out. Lo! I have chosen my tabernacle; I have made a home; I have gathered my friends about me; now will I put off my travelling shoes and hang up my staff, and sit down at the feast of maturity. O friend! you have not done it: I can see the shoes on your feet still, and the staff is peeping out there at every turn: and every grey hair tells of the traveller. Sitting there under your vine and fig tree, with not a leaf stirring, the world is moving on, and you are moving with it; and the feast you eat is a veritable Passover ; and thus do you eat it,—with loins girded, with shoes on your feet, and with staff in hand.
Then comes the last scene of all that ends - this strange eventful history,"—the aged pilgrim standing, waiting for the beckoning finger, while the poor trembling hand holds the staff, ready for the last stage of the pilgrimage. Presently, a narrow door will be opened, and another traveller will disappear:—the feast of life all over, the lights all put out, and the new tenant at the door.
Is this a sorrowful story? and is there something poor and woe-begone in such a life as this ? No, but every stage is needed, and the staff which the good Father puts into the hand of every child of His is not an instrument of torture but a very precious gift. It is true that, as we go on in life, many bright dreams vanish and many sweet delusions disappear: it is true that some of the later stages may be neither as pure nor as pleasant as the earlier ones : it is true that at the end of many a life we might say what we could say at the end of many a feast -“All is vanity and vexation of spirit.” But the knowledge, the experience, the insight, thus gathered, can never be overvalued : in a word, the personal education thus secured is of incalculable importance.
These children of Israel were shod ready for their journey into the promised land ; and it is a veritable promised land which is before us all in life,-only, like the children of Israel, some of us have to be led forty years in the desert before we find it, and some, like them, never reach that land at all. But God means it all for our good; and in the end and for ever, His beautiful order will work out our good. We lose nothing by passing on in the old path: and it is better to be a tried man or woman, however scarred in the struggle, and however burdened with care, than the happiest child that ever lived at the rich fountain of a mother's love.
And as it is with the various stages of life itself, so is it with the experiences, the thoughts, the hopes, and the feelings of life. In all these respects genuine progress is made by everyone who lives a natural and a healthy life. We may miss the old ardours, the old raptures, but far more enduring and far more really blessed things have come in their place. It is so, for instance, with our friendships. Its early stages are all bliss and rapture, light and heat, but the fire is burning itself away; and the feast of that sweet time is being eaten, staff in hand: but presently, when the fire is gone, and the red heat is no longer visible, a steady, touching, confiding love remains, like a solid piece of metal fused into shape, -cool now, but very enduring. In those old rapturous days the beloved friend could not be trusted out of sight for a moment without a fear, or for a day without a pang. You had to write