Josh. 22:20---' That man perished not alone in his iniquity.'

That man was Achan. You remember the story. It is one of the most tragic in the early history of Israel. They had been defeated in a skirmish and they attributed it to the wrath of Jehovah. They believed, like the sailors in Jonah's story, that someone among them had been guilty of sacrilege or blasphemy, or some other moral or religious offence, and had aroused the slumbering hostility of God. Hence His fury had come down with terrible and undiscriminating sweep upon them all. And the only way to pacify Him was to find out the offender, and immolate him without mercy. They proceeded to dray lots with savage haste, and the lot fell upon Achan. It was found that he had secreted certain spoils which had fallen to him in the capture of Jericho. Joshua, fearing that these riches might corrupt and demoralize the people, had commanded every man to burn and destroy whatever came in his way, to retain nothing. This man, tempted by his cupidity, had violated the command. It was not enough to put the criminal himself to death---they brought out his sons and daughters, his oxen and sheep, and all his belongings, and stoned them with stones, and finished by consuming them with fire. And they experienced a great sense of relief in the thought that this huge sacrifice of innocent and guilty alike had satisfied the demands of their vindictive Deity.

It is almost blasphemy to say that God really did command them. The simple and honest way is to say that these men knew God's will only in part, and that their greatest prophets often erred most grossly in interpreting His voice. That applies to all the Old Testament's dark and vindictive pages. All that is pure, lofty, and Christlike there is of God---all that contradicts Christ is of man, begotten in those fogs of passion and prejudice which obscured the light and dimmed the vision of the most devout and inspired---and this applies emphatically to the immolation of Achan and his household.

And yet what a profound and far-reaching truth Joshua gives us in these words: ' That man perished not alone in his iniquity.' It was most unjust---it was a piece of heathen barbarity---to fasten the stigma of this one man's guilt upon those who had perhaps no share in it at all, no knowledge of it; to condemn the innocent children, and even the mute, unconscious sheep and cattle, and pile them up in one holocaust of fury and burning. Yet, were not these Israelites, in their fierce, blind way, illustrating a law which is at work continually and everywhere? Does not Nature, does not even Providence, seem to be sometimes as unjust and merciless as those grim children of the desert in riveting men, women, and children together in bands stronger than iron, so that when one falls they all fall, and the shame of one puts a brand-mark on all, and the sin of one brings suffering and penalty to all? This is one of the most tragic facts of human life, at first sight one of the most painful and inexplicable, most mysterious, and most unreasonable.

What man ever does perish alone in his iniquity? What plague-spot is there anywhere in a single life which does not infect a companion, a family, a community, or a nation? Who can offend without causing others to stumble? Who can daub his hands with pitch and not leave some marks of it on lives outside his own? What man can indulge in secret sins without having his iniquities visited on his children? What youth can run through his prodigal course without leaving stained and wrecked souls in his track, or hurrying some grey hairs with sorrow to the grave? What drunkard can take his short, swift road to delirium without involving others in miseries almost as great as his own? What man whose thoughts and actions are obscene and adulterous can speed his way to the damnation that awaits him without being followed by the tormenting ghosts of those whom he has polluted? Where is there a dishonest and lazy workman who does not make his industrious and honest companions suffer grievously for his indolence and neglect? Where an unscrupulous manufacturer sending out shoddied products who does not help to bring suspicion and distrust on all the confederates of his guilt? The sinner is never the only sufferer for his sins, though like David he may pray that all the penalty may fall on his own head, and ask what have these sheep done that the pestilence should come on them. Yet ever, in the secret ordering of things, the strokes which the guilty doer has provoked descend on other heads besides his own; and the most innocent are often made vicarious victims, carrying into the wilderness of life the scapegoat burden of iniquity not theirs---of sins in which their conscience had neither part nor lot.

Now, what does all this mean? Is there nothing but injustice in it? Is it a terrible law in which mercy has no place---a grim fact in which no Divine tenderness, no heavenly Father's face is visible, and no loving redeeming purpose to be discovered? Think not so. We are not left without clues to the solution of the mystery. It is one of those facts which are rough and cruel on the surface, like Joseph's speech to his brethren, but underneath is a hidden thought of tenderness and benevolence.

Does not this bring home to us the fact to which our Lord's ministry and death form one long pathetic emphasis---the fact of the organic unity of the human race, the fact of our inseparable brotherhood---that we are members one of another, and cannot dissolve the bond, however much we try? It is impossible for us to live our separate lives, and hedge them about in such a way that they shall not be affected by the sins and selfishness and miseries of the crowd at our doors. There is no evil in a city, but it indirectly touches us; no moral pestilence working there, but its fierce heart knocks wildly against our doors; no fevers and disease bred of sin, but the contagion of them is liable to catch hold of our unpolluted lives; no self-indulgence, and sloth and intemperance, and improvidence, but finds us out through many a secret channel, and requires of us some loss or sacrifice, or shame in the imposed burden. If one member of the body suffer, all the members are, more or less, affected thereby; the thrill of pain pierces through the whole community from foot to head. No man suffers alone in his iniquity; and it is well that it should be so. It is well that the imperial duties and claims of brotherhood should be thus forced upon us. If the pure and honest were always free from penalty, if the grim, somber guilt of the horrid city slums never settled on the fair brows of the innocent and righteous, if every sinner stood alone in his sins, and no others were ever called upon to drink with him the bitter cup which he has mixed---then would the bonds of human brotherhood be relaxed and broken. Isolation instead of fraternity would become the law of life. The righteous would be tempted to hold himself aloof from his brother sinner; and that tender solicitude which all good men feel for the healing of sinners and the redemption of their fellows would perish in the stifling grasp of an unholy separation. It is this thought, that we are linked together for sound health or woe---this thought, that while sin remains in the world we must all be more or less sufferers from it---that supplies one of the strongest incentives in the crusade against sin; that stimulates the flagging feet of duty, and helps to send forth all saints and earnest reformers to their compassionate work.

And then think how it lays a strong restraining hand on men's wild passions. When Joshua reminded the Israelites of Achan's tragedy, and pictured the children overwhelmed in the same dread penalty with the sire, was there a single father or mother in that crowd who did not revolt with horror and loathing from the sin which had been thus avenged? Would they not all resolve in that moment that, if not for their own sakes, then for their children's sakes, they would lay a curb upon their cupidity and licentious passions, and never more defile their hands with the accursed thing. There is no more powerful rein laid upon men's indulgent promptings and desires than the knowledge that the happiness or misery of others is involved in their doings, that the penalty which their sins invite will fall not only on their own heads, but on the wounded and bruised hearts of their children and best-beloved. It is a motive that appeals to the sweetest and dearest instincts, to the sentiments of fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood, friendship. There are a few men who care not what comes to others so long as they are allowed freely to indulge; to them the life-long martyrdom of wife and children, inflicted by their immoral doings, brings no compunction and no shame. But these are the monsters of the race, and they are rare exceptions. To most men and women it is a matter that touches the deepest chords in their nature. To know that those dearest to us will be compelled to share the burdens and penalties of our guilt, that they will inherit our vices or participate to the full in the cup of our deserved shame, cannot fail to hedge us about with a panoply against temptation, and help us to redeem our lives from baseness and impurity. It saves thousands of men from follies and crimes and immoralities from which nothing else would deter them. And there is, perhaps, no law in the whole realm of God's providence which acts on the whole more beneficently, and does more to sustain the moral life of families, communities, and nations.

We regret that we cannot alter the past. Of course we cannot; we cannot alter what is not. We should regret with shame that we have not yet realized our incalculable powers of shaping the future. And since individual man is mortal, future man, of whom the unthinkable myriads are at this hour latent in the living germ-plasm now borne by us who are now alive---future man is in our keeping. This present germ-plasm is the human race to come, and it is absolutely at our mercy . . .

In Christ, Timothy. maranatha

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