I. First, then, we shall take THE PICTURE IN ITS DETAIL.
1. The first observation I make upon it is this, that God’s judgment of sin must differ exceedingly from ours. Who among us when he has read this narrative has not thought that Uzzah was treated hardly? What! was he not actuated with a proper motive? He could not bear the idea that the ark should fall into the mire, and therefore he put out his hand. Why, to our mode of thinking, it seemed to be but a small offense, and the motive so excellent that it might almost be justified. I am sure there is a disposition in us to excuse Uzzah, and to think that this judgment which came upon him was not deserved. Let me remark here, that I am not sure Uzzah suffered any eternal punishment as the result of it. Perhaps, he was a gracious man; and God, may smite even his own children with death as a chastisement, and yet their souls may be saved eternally. We have nothing to look at except what God did with him in this world. He struck him dead in this world for touching the ark. Verily, my brethren, the Lord seeth not as man seeth. We cannot readily perceive the evil, but there was sin or else he would not have punished it. He is too good, too just to smite any man more severely than he deserves. God never exaggerates our sins. He looks at them as they are. And what think you, my hearers, if the mere sin of touching the ark brought death upon the man, what would our sins have brought on us if God had “laid justice to the line and righteousness to the plummet?” Why, we have all of us done ten thousand times worse than Uzzah. Nay, some of you are living in the commission of sin to this very day. You have never repented of your sins, but you love your evil ways, and, though warned many times, (not like Uzzah, who was taken away with a stroke,) though warned many times, you still persevere in your iniquities. Oh, must not God’s patience be pressed down under your sins? Must he not have become as Amos hath it, like a cart that is full of sheaves, the axles whereof are ready to break? and then you sink and sink for ever into the pit of eternal wrath. It seems strange that Eve’s taking the apple should be the ruin of the entire world; that the mere violation of a sacred tree should bring death into the world, with all its train of woe. But this arises from the fact that we do not know how black a thing sin is. The least sin is so great an evil, so excessively black an abomination, that God were just if he smote us all to hell the moment we had thought an idle thought, or had uttered a single wrong word. Sin is an immeasurable evil. Man cannot weigh it. It is a gulf without a bottom. It is a desperate evil, the desperateness of which we shall never know, unless, as God forbid, we should ever come to feel its terror in the pit of hell.
I think this lesson lies upon the very surface of the narrative, that we do not know how bad a thing sin is, for if the mere act of touching the ark brought death on Uzzah, what a desperate evil sin must be!
2. But, again, we learn, in the second place, from this narrative–that all changes from the written revelation of God are wrong. There has sprung up in the Church of Christ an idea that there are many things taught in the Bible which are not essential; that we may alter them just a little to suit our convenience: that provided we are right in the fundamentals, the other things are of no concern and of no value whatever. Now, look at our picture, and let your mistake for ever be driven away. It did seem to the people of Israel but a very indifferent matter whether the ark was carried on men’s shoulders, or whether it was dragged upon a cart. Why, they said, “It cannot matter. It is true God has told us that it is to be borne by the Levites, but what does that signify as long as it is carried? It will be all right. We will do the thing, and if we alter the mode, it will not signify very materially.” Yes, but it did signify, for it was through this alteration which they made in God’s law that the ark first began to shake, and to totter, and then Uzzah was tempted to put forth his hand and touch it. So that the death of Uzzah was the punishment upon the whole people for having neglected to observe the minute laws of God in every particular. My brethren, when Moses built the tabernacle, he was not left to build it after his own whim and taste. Every tache and every loop, every board and every fillet, everything was marked down in the divine plan, and Moses must build everything according to the pattern which he had seen in the Mount. Now, this is the pattern for a Christian–this book of God which lies before me. The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is our only rule of practice. And ye think, do ye, that ye may alter some few things, that ye may change them to suit the climate, or to indulge your own ideas of taste or convenience? You fancy, that doctrine for instance, is not of such sublime importance–that if a man does but preach the fundamentals, he may preach any other things he likes, and yet all will be well–that ceremonies, that Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for instance, are to be out, and hacked and fashioned, to suit modern fancies, and that they are not to be retained in their integrity according to apostolic rule and precedent? But this know, that the slightest violation of the divine law will bring judgments upon the Church, and has brought judgments, and is even at this day withholding God’s hand from blessing us. For within a few years we might see all the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, if we would but carry God’s ark as God would have it carried, instead of marring the gospel by human inventions, and leaving the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am not going this morning to enter into particulars, but just to lay down the general fact, that whatever God has commanded is important, and that I have no right whatever to alter anything–no, not the least thing, but to take the word just as it stands, just as God has revealed it to me, to be my rule of faith and practice. Ay, but there are some of you who never read your Bibles. You have a second-hand religion which you have borrowed from other people, you do not come to this Book to drink at the fountain head. Your grandmother thought so and so, and you think the same; your great grandfather went to church or to chapel, and that is your reason for going; but you have not come to God’s Word to submit your judgment to it. The reason why there are so many sects now-a-days is just this. If we all come straightway to the Bible, we should come far nearer together than we are now. It is not likely we should all see eye to eye. You cannot make a dozen watches all tick to the same time, much less make a dozen men all think the same thoughts. But, still, if we should all bow our thoughts to that one written Word, and would own no authority but the Bible the Church could not be divided, could not be cut in pieces as she now is. We come together when we come to the Word of God. But I am always answered when I talk about these things, “Well, but they are not essential.” Who told you they were not? “Now,” saith one, “we’ll admit that the baptism of infants is not in the Bible, but it is not an essential thing; we may practice it, and no harm will come of it.” No, sirs; you have no right to alter a word of God’s command; you have no right to turn aside in any respect, or in any manner. God’s doctrines are to be preached as God delivers them, and his ordinances are to be practiced after his own mode and law. Woe worth the day when God’s ark is put upon the chariot and dragged by oxen, instead of being carried upon the shoulders of men, who read God’s Word, and take it as it stands, and then follow out what God commands them, and will not be led by the sleeve or by the nose by any man or set of men.
Forget not this lesson brethren, for it is of the greatest importance to the Church.