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we discover that they are not so very young after all, but that we are a little older than we habitually give ourselves credit for. The riddle is at once solved, when a little counting induces us to see and acknowledge that we are in middle life.
Middle life! It is—or ought to be--a period of earnest and manly activity. At that stage of life we ought to have broad shoulders for the full measure of our responsibilities and duties. It is perhaps rather late to begin life, if we have been so foolish as never properly to begin before; but it is a time when we ought to realize, as we never fully could before, that “life is real, and life is earnest.” It is a time when we have good experience from the past, and when, at the same time, it is not too late to make good use of them. It is a glorious season in which to work for God and for man.
The generation following are looking up to us with a kind of hopeful confidence, and the generation going before us are gradually shuffling off their responsibility, that they may rest more fully on us. A kind of middle of the world of human life is the period of which we speak—a strength on which rests both the future and the past—a centre of the grand army toward which the eyes and the hopes of both the right and the left wing are directed.
Let those who stand on this summit of human life look well to their responsibilities and duties. A cheerful age-fast coming-depends greatly upon the faithful performance of the work now in hand. Such a vantage ground, and such a vision as this summit affords, is only once enjoyed in life.
THE BALM TREE.
This is the Amyris gileadensis of Linnæus. It is not expressly mentioned as a tree in Scripture, but the balsam obtained from it was known to the inspired writers of the Old Testament; and, as we learn from them, was in great esteem from remote antiquity. Greek and Roman writers also bestow high encomiums upon it.* The true balm tree is a native of Southern Arabia, and is its peculiar boast. It is said to be found also in Abyssinia and on the Asiatic and African shores of the Red Sea. According to Gray's Botanical Text-Book, it is a tropical tree-an Arabian species of the order Burseraceæ. It was known to ancient writers by the name of Amyris Opobalsamum. Celsius takes it to be the mastic tree, growing in Palestine, and yielding a healing gum. It was not indigenous in the Holy Land, but grew by culture in gardens.Ť It was doubtless in gardens that Pliny found it "growing in Judea.” Josephus claims much
* Quid tibi odorato referam sudantia ligno.
† Strabo, speaking of the country about Gennesaret, says that it produced the balsam : Vépei dè xoc Bálcapov.Strabo, Geog. 1. 16, c. D. Syria.
for his country, when he says it is produced only in the plains of Jericho. After all that has been said on this point by various writers, it is, however, still doubtful whether the tree producing the balm of Scripture ever grew wild in any country besides Arabia. It is probable that the first live balm tree introduced from that country into Palestine, was brought by the queen of Sheba, in her visit to King Solomon. From Judea it was afterwards transplanted into Egypt by Cleopatra. Thus it travelled from its Arabian home in Judea, and from thence to Egypt, and then disappeared from both countries. Pliny distinguishes three kinds of balm—two growing as shrubs, and the third a regular tree. This last he calls eumeces, because it is more lofty than the rest. The balm tree, as found in the Holy Land, and that cultivated in Egypt for many centuries, may aid us, in the absence of more specific information, in arriving at some conception of what the balsam tree was in its native, well-favored, happy Arabia.
The balm tree grows to a height of about fourteen feet. Its bark is smooth, like that of a young cherry tree, of a shining ash color, with brown blotches. It has slender spreading thorny branches, having very few scattered leaves. These are pinnate, or more properly impari-pinnate--its leaf-stalk being terminated with an odd leaflet—three, five or seven to a node, and green throughout the year. When young, they are covered with soft hairs, but smooth when old. The wood is light and gummy, what like pine, and of a slightly red color. It bears a few small white blossoms, three blossoms being attached to a single node, forming an umbel and highly odoriferous.
"The sight is pleased,
Its gratitude, and thanks God with its sweets." Its fruit is a berry with a viscid pulp, somewhat compressed, and contains one perfect seed. It was called carpobalsamum. The seed has a biting, burning taste. The cuttings or twigs of the balm tree were anciently a valuable article of merchandise, and were boiled down for mixing with unguents. Sir John Maundeville thus describes a balsam tree which he found in Egypt (A.-D. 1322): “Near Cairo, is the field where balm grows: it comes out on small trees, that are no higher than the girdle of a man's breeches, and resemble the wood of the wild vine. This balm grows in no other place but this.
The leaves of balm never fall. They cut the branches with a sharp flint stone, or with a sharp bone; for if any one cut them with iron, it would destroy their virtue and nature. The Saracens call the wood Enochbalse, and the fruit, which resembles cubebs, they call Abebissam, and the liquor that drops from the branches they call Guybalse. They always cause that balm to be cultivated by Christians, or else it would not fructify, as the Saracens say themselves, for it hath been oftentimes proved.” The seed, bark and wood of this tree were anciently valuable.
There is not the least doubt that the balm tree was once cultivated in the Holy Land, for its odoriferous resinous juice, known anciently by the name of opobalsamum. Besides its domestic medicinal use, it was also exported. Ezekiel, the prophet, enumerating the nations trading with Tyre, and the commodities they brought to her markets, says: "Judah and the land of Israel traded in thy market, wheat of Minnith and Pannag and honey and oil and balm Ezek. 27: 17.” This balm, frequently mentioned in Scripture, is the sap or juice which exudes in small quantities from incisions carefully made in the tree, and coagulates rapidly. The incisions are made with glass, sharp stones or bones. “It hates to be hurt with iron,” says a Latin writer, from whom we gather some information on this point. "Iron causes its speedy decay and death, while it patiently suffers itself to be cut with knives of other material. The hand of him that makes the incision is carefully guided, lest he hurt more than the rind. The juice, which they call opobalsamum, trickles from the wound like small tears, is of excellent sweetness, and is collected with wool and deposited in small horns. From these it is put into new earthen vessels. When the juice first oozes from the wounded bark, it is of a light yellow color, but, as it settles, it becomes clear, and resembles thick oil,” or viscid and tenacious milk, and is exquisitely fragrant and pungent. The best balsam is white and transparent, but it soon hardens into a resin, turns red and becomes opaque.
It is unctuous to the touch, very odoriferous when rubbed, and leaves no stain upon cloth, Sir John Maundeville says that a person cannot bear his hand in the sun's heat, if he holds in his palm a little fine and good balm. Fine and genuine balm put into a cup of water, will fall to the bottom as though it were quicksilver: brought to the fire, it readily burns ; put into milk, it curdles it. When Alexander the Great waged war in Judea, a spoonful of the balm was all that could be collected in a summer's day; and his royal park, where balm trees were also cultivated, yielded only six conchæ in all, in the most plentiful year—a smaller garden yielding a single concha.* It was then worth its weight in gold. “The quantity of balsam yielded by one tree never exceeds sixty drops in a day.”
The true balsam tree still flourishes in Arabia, and the balm is chiefly collected between Mecca and Medina, and is therefore often called Mecca balsam. The best balsam is that which exudes before the tree bears fruit
- opobalsamum. An inferior article is obtained by pressure from the fruit of the balsam tree; this is called the carpobalsamum; and the sap from the branches, when cut off, xylobalsamum. This last is much less costly than the first. The balm tree was anciently frequent, particularly in Gilead, and hence it is called the Balm of Gilead. For want of culture, it is not now found there, nor in any part of Palestine; though as late as the times of the New Testament it was largely cultivated in the gardens of Jericho. Josephus is full of the praises of "Jericho, where the balsam grows, which is an ointment of all the most precious, which upon an incision made in the wood with a sharp stone, distils out thence like a juice." Antiq. 1. 14, c. 4: 1. Again he says: “The region about Jericho bears that balsam which is the most precious drug that is there, and grows there alone.” Elsewhere he says: “Jericho produces the balsam tree, whose sprouts they cut with sharp stones, and at the incision they gather the juice which drops down like tears. 1.1, c. 6: 6. Two plantations of these trees existed at Jericho as late as the War of the Jews with the Romans,
* We are not certain as to the contents of the Roman concha, and consequently have allowed the word to stand untranslated. It was evidently a little measure, "containing two spoonfuls or six drachms.” With such sized conchæ the Romans used to measure their oil.
when both parties fought desperately for them—"the Jews, that they might destroy them; and the Romans, that they might prevent them from destruction.” And no wonder that the balm, with many other trees of the Bible, has disappeared from the Holy Land. The Great Plain which once produced it has been the chosen battle-field in every contest carried on in that country. Jews and Gentiles, Crusaders and Saracens, Christians and Antichristians have there pitched their tents; and the trees, which once were the pride of the land, having felt the ravages of
war, have wept their last tears and died !
From very early times the Balm of Gilead was an article of merchandise among Eastern nations.
“ The East supplies
Balm for perfumes and gums for sacrifice.” We read that the Ishmaelites, to whom Joseph was sold, were carrying balm from Gilead to Egypt. Behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery, and balm, and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.” Gen. 37: 25. It was always reckoned as one of the most precious gifts of Palestine, fit even to be presented to kings and princes. As Egypt did not then produce it, it must have been doubly welcome to Joseph, when it came as a present from his father, who directed his sons, about to start for corn, to “ carry down the man a present,” consisting, among other things, of “a little balm.” Gen. 43: 11.
In the East the balm has always been greatly esteemed for its healing properties, particularly in external wounds. For this purpose it was made up into ointments, and was considered of unfailing virtue. As such, it became an appropriate emblem of the restoring grace of God. Read Isaiah's affecting complaint of Judah: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.” Isaiah 1: 5, 6. The prophet Jeremiah tenderly and eloquently expresses his grief and astonishment, that the chosen people of God should remain spiritually wounded and diseased, when there was within their reach an unfailing remedy and a skilful physician to apply it. “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered ?” Jer. 8: 22. When this balm failed to cure, it was in vain to look for help to any other remedy. “Go up into Gilead, and take balm, 0 virgin, the daughter of Egypt: in vain shalt thou use many medicines; for thou shalt not be cured.” Jer. 46: 11. So also concerning the desperate condition of Babylon: "Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed : howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be, she may be healed.” Jer. 51: 8.
" There is a tear for souls distressed,
A balm for every wounded breast-
Besides its medicinal uses,* it is also employed by the Turks and other
*“ Rescivi quod vulnerarium Turcis sitexcellentissimum et palmarium, dum in vulnera recens inflicta guttas aliquot infundunt, quo continuato brevissimo tempore vulnera maximi momenti persanant."
Oriental nations as a cosmetic for beautifying the complexion. Thus science and art make nature tributary to their ends; and nature, with lavish hand, is ever ready to supply all reasonable demands.
"Hence sprouting plants enrich the plain and wood,
Th’extended earth, and beautify her face." The scarcity and high value of the genuine balsam is such, that it is seldom exported as an article of commerce. Much deception is practised by traders in this article, and “if a man does not know it well,” says Maundeville," he may very easily be deceived; for they sell a gum called turpentine instead of balm, putting thereto a little balm to give a good odor. . . For the Saracens counterfeit it to deceive the Christians, as I have seen many a time; and after them the merchants and the apothecaries counterfeit it again, and then it is less worth and a great deal worse. In reading this artless account of the trickery of balm-dealers, over five hundred years ago, it is difficult to believe that the writer lived not in the middle of the nineteenth century. Surely, the pedigree of modern humbugs dates farther back than many dream of in their philosophy.
Having served the purposes of perfuming the dwellings of Orientals, healing their wounds, adorning their beauties, and ascending as sacrificial odors in their worship, the balm helped to preserve their bodies when dead. The Egyptians were the inventors of the art of embalming, and carried it to the highest perfection. Other nations—as the Assyrians, Scythians and Persians-also embalmed their dead, but never equalled the Egyptians in the art. So important a part did the balm perform in this process, that the word embalm is derived from it. The balm was dissolved in spirits of wine, and then ejected into the large blood-vessels and other vessels of the dead. Doubtless such caravans as that which purchased Joseph, and carried balm, had for centuries previous brought the same material from Gilead to Egypt, and Joseph found the art in the highest perfection on his arrival in that country. When, afterwards, his father died, he commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm him; and they embalmed Israel. Joseph himself was thus embalmed, and one hundred and fifty years later, the Israelites carried his body, free from all signs of decomposition, with them to Canaan. The scarcity and high price of balm in Western lands, forbid its use on the bodies of the beloved dead; but instead of balm, we bestow tears—instead of hiding away their remains in catacombs, we preserve
memory in our hearts; and while we commit their bodies to the ground, we rejoice in the assurance that, though the corruptible, natural body returns, « in weakness and dishonor,” to the dust, it will be raised, " in power and glory," a spiritual body, and will put on incorruption and immortality.
“ Corruption, earth and worms,
Shall but refine this flesh,
To put it on afresh.
“ Arrayed in glorious grace,
Shall this vile body shine,
Look heavenly and divine."