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FELLOWSHIP IN ACHAN'S FALL.
JOSHUA xxii. 20. W H EN Achan the son of Zerah committed a trespass in
V the accursed thing, wrath fell not alone upon Achan, but upon all the congregation of Israel ; "and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.” The text is one to arrest the thoughtless, and to suggest even to the most thoughtful matter for very serious consideration,
“Should one man sin, and would God be wroth with all the congregation ?” That deprecatory question had been put twenty years before Achan's trespass, by the congregation of Israel, in the matter of Korah, when they fell upon their faces and pleaded with God, the God of the spirits of all flesh. And some centuries later the confession of King David in time of pestilence took this form : that he had sinned and done wickedly; but those sheep—those subjects of his, involved in the penalty of his transgression, and dying off like sheep in a flock to the right and left of him, seventy thousand of them from morning to evening, from Dan even to Beersheba, what had they done?
If, indeed, says Dr. South, a man could be wicked and a villain to himself alone, the mischief would be so much the more tolerable. But the case, as he goes on to show, is much otherwise : the guilt of the crime lights upon one, but the example of it sways a multitude ; especially if the criminal be of any note or eminence in the world. “For the fall of such a one by any temptation (be it never so plausible) is like that
of a principal stone or stately pillar, tumbling from a lofty edifice into the deep mire of the street; it does not only plunge and sink into the black dirt itself, but also dashes or bespatters all that are about it or near it when it falls.” It is by no very subtle and far-fetched reasoning that a living divine essays to show that we may sin in the persons of other men, and so may sin in other countries which we never saw, and in years after we are in our graves. For may we not, he asks, be partakers in other men's sins of which at their commission we knew not, indeed at whose commission we would shudder? May we not in the moral world sometimes set the great stone rolling down the hill, with little thought of the ruin it may deal below? “Ah, you may live after you are dead, to do mischief; live in the evil thoughts you instilled, the false doctrines you taught, the perverted character you helped to form.” And just as a righteous exemplar, “ being dead, yet speaketh,” and is a living means of good ages after he has been in his grave, “so may you, insignificant though you be, have left some impress of yourself upon minds more powerful than your own, and so be exercising a power to do harm to people you have never heard of, years after you are dead.” Thus it is that far down into unknown time, and far away into the unknown distance, the moral contagion of our sin may be proved to spread; so that we may still be incurring guilt after the green turf is over us, and in lands which we have never seen and shall never see. “The evil principle we instilled, the evil example we set, may ripen into bitter fruit in the murderous blow which shall be dealt a century hence upon Australian plains !” Well may the note of exclamation follow : how strange, yet how inevitable, the tie which may link our uneventful life with the stormy passions of numbers far away! More wonderful than even the Atlantic cable is declared to be that unknown fibre, along which, from other men's sins, responsibility may thrill even to our departed souls : “a chain whose links are formed perhaps of idle words, of forgotten looks, of phrases of double meaning, of bad advice, of cynical sentiment hardly seriously meant; yet carried on through life after life, through soul after soul,