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"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself." Deu 9:1
This would seem to be an inversion of the doctrine of proportion. We forget, however, that there is a proportion of quality as well as a proportion of quantity. Force is not to be measured by bulk. The helm is very small compared to the whole ship, yet it turns the vessel's course. The man is very small physically in relation to the mountain which is thousands of feet high, yet the man is master of the mountain. The rider is small in strength compared with the horse he rides, yet the steed obeys the touch of his hand. We constantly see how apparently little things rule obviously great bulks and quantities. The true sovereignty is in the spirit. This is the seat of the highest miracles that are wrought; such miracles simply illustrate the sovereign influence of mind over matter. How little is man as to mere arithmetical measurement compared with the great globe; yet God has put all things under the hands of man: "All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas." Let us reason upwards towards moral power: the power of ideas, impulses, sympathies, convictions. The time will come when moral forces will be regarded as the true sovereignties. Towards this consummation Christ has been working from the beginning. The sword shall be beaten into a ploughshare, and all violence shall be deposed by the quietness of power. Carry this a step higher into the religious region, and draw from the whole reasoning the inference that the religious nature is the most influential of all. Truth shall take captive all the superstitions, idolatries, misconceptions, and false worships of the world. We must admit what may be called even the smallest truth; let it have free course, and it will overturn the most ancient thrones and dominions which have been claimed by the powers of darkness. Even the light of a candle will break up the darkness which fills the largest building. In the strength of these thoughts and hopes every Christian should toil gladly, delighting himself with the pleasures of expectancy, knowing that the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God.
Criticisms and Cautions
The expression of the first verse brings to our mind the truth that in life there are many days which are so special that they stand out by themselves, points of history, glittering aspects of time. Moses says, "Hear, O Israel: thou art to pass over Jordan this day." Life focalises itself in a mere point. The preparation may be long and tedious, so much so as to tax our patience and sometimes throw our faith into sore vexation and trouble; but when God's providences do culminate they seem all to occur instantaneously, with a quite startling suddenness; and coming so we speedily forget all the waiting time and are ourselves suddenly startled into new praise. God does specialise the time of life. Thank God for every day that has a distinct individuality and that shoots an influence into all the other days immediately behind and immediately before. Thus the Sabbath day treats the week: it makes us forget the dullness of the day that is gone, and it throws an influence of a consecrating kind upon the day that is about to come. In the family we have such days: the birthday, the wedding-day, the day when the belfry shook with the resounding metal a great burst of music and gladness; the day when we saw heaven opened, and had all that great liberty of prayer by which we seemed to enter therein in all the fulness of its breadth and all the glory of its splendour: it was a day of victory, quite a day of the soul, when the spirit was more than the body not in some vain metaphysical theory of its constitution, but in sweet consciousness, in noble dominance over all life's vexation, and trouble, and sin, and shame. His is a mind not to be envied who does not mark the speciality of time the day that had so much light in it; the bright morning that raised our hopes from the dead; the time of the coming of the angel who rolled the stone away and sat upon it, and filled the immediate space with heaven's glory. We should see more of God if we looked for more of him. The day would be more distinct if we opened its gate with the right key and if we approached its duties in the right spirit. We need preparation for such special days. It is well that there should be men amongst us who have foresight and who know that to-morrow will be a fighting day, and the day after a time of trial by fire and by water, and who with this genius of prevision have also the courage of a prophet to announce the coming time to prepare those of duller sight for the immediate providence. There are such men, but they are always in the family of the old kings of the Church. Nothing ever transpires that is not to be found in hint, or analogy, or distinct announcement in the Bible. No Jordan flows that is not related to the Bible Jordan by some very distinct arm or outlet; and Moses may be taken as the type of those old men who, having understanding of the time, know what Israel ought to do, and speak their knowledge as Moses delivered his often severe Gospel. Men need to be girded up: they require the tonic word. All sighing for comfort is an evaporating sentiment unless the meaning of it be that having received God's solace it shall all be turned into fighting material, a determined and invincible strength levelled against the energetic weakness of hell.
Moses could not help preaching. It was not enough for him to make a bald announcement. Having stated all that was of the nature of law and commandment with sharpest clearness of expression, he went out into colour and exhortation, sentiment and impulse, towards heaven. He told the people in crossing Jordan and undertaking a severe task that "God is he which goeth over before thee." Having told Israel that the encountering people were "great and tall, the children of the Anakims, whom thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard say, Who can stand before the children of Anak?" he said, remember, or "understand" grasp the theology of the case God is at the head of the army, and the Anakim are before him as the grasshoppers of the earth. Moses insists upon Israel having a right theology not a science, not merely formulated opinion, but a distinct, living grasp of the thought that God is, and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. He will not have an arm lifted but in God's almightiness; he will have no atheistic generalship; he will not speak of himself as the leader of Israel: God first; God midst; God last. Nothing stirs a man like a grand theology, that is a living, perpetual grip of the eternal. Be right with God, and then you are within the range and flow of the music of creation; moving with the stars and yet grander than all the host of heaven, the soul falls into all the mystery and benediction of perfect peace. It is well to understand the difficulty that through its magnitude we may see somewhat of the greatness of God. Moses will not run down the Anakim as if any child could beat them back with a straw; he indicates their stature: he revives the memory of their prowess: he speaks of them as men who are in no wise to be contemned in the matter of strength and soldiership; within human limits they are tremendous foes, worthy of any foeman's steel; then, having so pictured them, without one touch of exaggeration, he says, Now understand that the Lord thy God is he who commands this army, and when he smites the nations reel and stagger like drunken men; have faith in God; have confidence in the covenant of Heaven; abide under the shadow of the Almighty; and when the Anakim fall when they are brought down before thy face, when thou dost drive them out and destroy them quickly, remember a time of danger sets in. Give right interpretations to success; do not become atheists through prosperity; nor encourage the spirit of Pharisaism because all your little world seems ruled in obedience to your will.
Now the preacher takes his place. The legislator having given the law, the prophet begins; hence we hear Moses saying, in the fourth verse, "Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land." No Pharisaism is allowed, no sacrificing to your own net or drag. God will not allow his soldiers to fall asleep after the day's battle upon the pillow of their own righteousness; nor will he allow them to say, See what virtue can do; see what good character will accomplish! behold, are not we men of clean hands? and in cleanliness of hands is there not strength of battle? Moses teaches that there is no righteousness on our side that can account for our success in life. God will not have boastfulness in his army or in his family. When we have succeeded we interpret the success aright if we regard it as having brought us one step nearer heaven. Are not men accustomed in the eventide, counting their gains and their successes, to say, This comes of sobriety, punctuality, attention to business; these are the natural and logical sequences of forethought and industry; how few there are who follow our path! were they as good as we they would be as rich? God will not allow such reasoning, if reasoning it may be termed. It is vanity; it is a misunderstanding of the real conditions of the case. Within limits we might assign all such talk has in it a measure of truth. No wise man will bring good conduct, forethought, punctuality, and all the elementary virtues of business into discredit: he will rather magnify them; but God does not pay us at night for the righteousness with which we have patronised him during the day. If we thus magnify our righteousness we would share the glory with Omnipotence, and God cannot permit us to divide the glory of his throne. Moses gives the true cause: "For the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee;" the nations are in error: they are inspired by the wrong spirit: they are animated by the wrong motives: their ambitions are perverted; God could fight them with swords, God could blind them with the hot dust of the wilderness, God could touch their minds and make them reel so that they could not put thought to thought or utter one desire in words; that, however, is not the divine plan, but in choosing other instruments those instruments must not imagine that God could not have done without them, and so imagining fall out of the humility of prayer and the reverence of trust.
Now the preacher will be severer still. He knows his congregation and he speaks to them of their immediate character and their assured and indisputable history. Moses says in the seventh verse, "Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord." Then comes the history of Israel's wickedness. Moses will have the people remember what their own character really is. He goes to the root of the matter. He will not allow them to be fascinated by a day's good conduct here and there, by some transient appearance of sound and honest religiousness: he says, You are a stiff-necked and rebellious people. There is a substance of character. There is a central quantity in man. For want of penetrating to that central quantity we misunderstand man and we misunderstand one another. The central quantity may be bad when all the fringework is of fine twined scarlet, lit up with spangles of gold; and blessed be God, the central quantity may be right, though many of the changing circumstances and phases of life may be such as to bewilder observers and to occasion sore distress and trouble to the soul itself. Israel was stiff-necked and rebellious: Israel represented the hardness of the human heart in all time. Showers of gracious rain were lost upon that sandy people; all heaven's sunshine produced no happy effect upon the rocky heart of Israel. Let there be no self-deception; let there be no loss of history; let the word be, "Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness." Keep such hold of your bad old self as will frighten you from repeating it. Do not carry it like a spectre to excite your fear and drain your courage and your strength; but have such healthy apprehension of it, such a seizure of all its spirit and scope, as will help you to pray broader prayers and plead with humbler audacity all the promises tending in the direction of assured forgiveness. Men may carry their dead selves about with them so as to corrupt the present life and to take out of it all joy, and spring, and hope. In no such way are we to detain the past; we are to detain it in the sense of gathering its richest lessons, its best instructions; it is to be to us as a warning or as a finger pointing to dangerous places and to forbidden occupations and delights.
Now Moses will turn comforter. A wonderful man was Moses! A legislator with a hard mouth that could speak nothing but law; then a preacher whose tone softened into expostulation, here and there delicately hardened into rebuke, a marvellous mixture of human tones. In this instance he will quote one of his own prayers, and through the quotation show the gentleness of the spirit which made him at once the severest and meekest man in history. Moses remembered his own prayers. There are those who would not have prayers published; nor need we wonder at their want of desire or approbation in this matter: they abuse what poor prayers they do offer; they turn them out and never inquire concerning their destiny or their reply; they are spoken and forgotten; what wonder that they have no prayers to quote! Moses remembered every prayer he ever addressed to the ear of Heaven, and gathering Israel, as it were, closely around him, he says, I prayed for you; and when God was quite near I availed myself of his condescension to say "O Lord God, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember " Thus he would call God to recollection. The man's prayer was remembered by the memory of the heart; if he did not quote the exact words he quoted the precise substance. The petition went in this direction: for the people, for the covenant, for God's own sake; and if even new words were set to the music of the spiritual expression they in no wise altered the meaning of the suppliant's plea. This is the true consistency not that a man shall remember his words, but that he shall be faithful to his meaning. They who live in the consistency of words are pedants, harsh judges, companions who ought to be delighted with their own society and to be relieved of the association of other hearts. Consistency is in purpose, meaning, the fire of the soul; and where there is such integrity towards God the words will often seem to contradict one another: eye-witnesses can be called to make oath that such and such words were spoken on such and such days; it is false in the view of its want of the larger truth; it is exact without being true; it is precise without being philosophical and complete. A wonderful insight into prayer is given in this quotation. Moses pleads for present Israel on account of ancient Israel: "Remember thy servants." What was their name? "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Here is a prayer with some leverage; here is a breathing that comes up from eternity. The plea is not to be argued within the present five minutes. We belong to the ancient time, and today reap the harvest which vanished men did sow. Answers are coming from eternity because of God's love of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. The light that struck the little earth but last night left the star whose gospel it brings some ten thousand years ago, and it only arrived yesternight! Replies may be on their way from the Old Testament saints for aught we know to the contrary. The prayers we find in the Old Testament are so large it may well have taken all this time to receive adequate replies. The great prayers were offered in the Hebrew tongue prayers that stormed the heavens, that seemed to hold in their entreaty the necessities of every possible age of time. Do not let us cut ourselves off by an unholy act of deletion from the ages of the furthest past God's ministry is wondrous; God's providence is spread all over the line of life. The joy we had yesterday was the result of a reply that came from heaven in answer to a mother's tender intercession. Moses went upon the plea that Israel were still the people of God: they are rebellious, they are stiff-necked, they have broken all the commandments, they made a calf and worshipped it; but they are still thine; they must not be damned on the detail: they are still thine: they are in the covenant, they are within thy gracious purpose. Were God to judge us by the incident and trouble of today, the lapse of yesterday and the trespass of to-morrow, his universe could not cohere for twenty-four hours. He is a God of covenant, decree, sovereignty, meaning; and he is conducting the whole Church old, new, present, to come and whatever may be the intermediate steps, and difficulties, and provocations to himself, at last, the Lamb and the bride shall be wedded, and all heaven shall be the festal chamber.
'Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven, a people great and tall, the children of the Anakims, whom thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard say, Who can stand before the children of Anak!" ( Deu 9:1-2 ). We seem to be looking on the remains of some Cyclopean city. These are scanty enough, but still sufficient to be remarkable. It is not merely, however, their size that strikes us, but their curiously mingled order and confusion, as they lie down in the ravine at our right, or rise above each other on the hill-slope at our left. We see no pillars, no ornaments, no inscriptions. Whatever city was here it belonged to a far antiquity, a time of rude, unadorned, but massive architecture, when men, few in number, and unable to apply any great amount of power, took advantage of natural peculiarities, such as the withdrawing cave, or the outstanding boulder, and instead of shaping their materials to their plan, shaped their plan to their materials. Yet the scene is not a bare one; far from it. There is no stream below, no rill trickling down the clefts, no moss vivifying the dead stone; but there is quite a wilderness of rich brushwood overspreading the whole. Not shrubs merely, but trees, have taken possession of every free inch of soil; the ballut, the privet, and the fir rooting themselves in each crevice, and forming an exquisite fringe, or rather network of green, through whose interminable meshes the grey patches of the old rock came up like the tombstones of some primeval cemetery.
It appears that this region was occupied at a very early period by the Anakim, who were of the Rephaim nations. Their chief city, Hebron, which we are just approaching, was one of the oldest cities of history, having been built seven years before Zoan, in Egypt ( Num 13:22 ), the chief city of the Delta. The identity of the Anakim and Rephaim is of no consequence to our present statement; still, it is worth while noticing that Moses explicitly mentions this: "The Emims dwelt therein in times past, a people great, and many, and tall as the Anakims ; which also were accounted Rephaim " (in our translation, giants) , "as the Anakims" ( Deu 2:10-11 ). Thus the Anakim branch of the Rephaim were the original occupiers of Southern Judea. They were the first that took possession of its mountains, building cities, and swaying no feeble sceptre over a large region around. They were evidently not only an ancient, but a warlike and formidable tribe. It was not of hordes of savage wanderers or herdsmen that Moses made mention ( Deu 9:1-2 ). And even though we may admit that the report of the spies was greatly coloured by their fears, still their language indicates the character of the Rephaim tribe ( Num 13:33 ).
Almighty God, how can we live so long as Satan is in our heart? It is not life: it is death twice dead. The pain is more than we can bear. All music is choked; all light is put out; all hope is killed. We are in fear of the enemy; yea, though we boast sometimes in his hearing we know that our boasting is vain. He is stronger than we are older, wiser, more subtle than any beast of the field. He comes into Eden: he allures us by seductions which are fatal. This is our life's complaint; this is our heart's bitter testimony. When we would do good evil is present with us; the good that we would we do not: the evil that we would not that we do. We know this to be so, and who would tell us otherwise is but a messenger of falsehood, having come up from the depths of darkness to befool and curse us. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. We bless thee that we have not to fight the foe in our own strength. God is with us: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore will we not fear: no breaking up of earth or time shall cause us to quake, for hidden in the almightiness of God we are at rest, and blessed by heavenly love we live in everlasting summer. We are always denying Christ: thrice a day we say we do not know him; whenever the knowledge Would involve difficulty, persecution, loss, pain, then we do not know the Man; and when we can use him as a passport, a key wherewith to open difficult gates, then we know him, and are proud of him, and speak his name quite loudly. God be merciful unto us, sinners! We have learned the art of hypocrisy: we are skilled in that evil way. Oh that we might be courageous, burningly in earnest, invincible, resolute in all holy purpose; then surely the world would hear of us, and listen to us, and in some degree obey the word which thou dost inspire us to speak. How many blessings have we for which we ought to be thankful! the home, standing on secure foundations; the table that is in the midst of it more than a table for bodily sustenance, a table of sacrament and memorial; and the lamps which shine upon it are let down from heaven; and the chair of peace, and the fire or comfort, and the bed of rest, and the word of love, and the bond of Christian fellowship how can we speak of these things? We cannot speak of them: we must sing of them, call for an instrument of ten strings to help us to express inexpressible love. Thou hast given us a measure of strength and health and force; thou hast kept reason upon her throne, and the will is still under control; we are not altogether lost, even the worst of us. Say so to the bad man; tell him that even he may return, though so disfigured that none can tell who he is, and so utterly lost that it is impossible to miss him even he may come back again: wide is mercy's door, loud is mercy's call, tender are the tears of Heaven, yet red with blood. We bless thee for all Christian hope, for all Christian security and spiritual prospect We are no longer prisoners: we hover upon the horizon as if ready to take flight over broader space, where the light is clearer and the day without an eventide. Inspired to do thy will, may we turn comfort into stimulus, may our consolations be the beginning and the seal of strength; and wherein our tears have been dried and our hands have ceased to shake, may our watchfulness be the keener and our industry the completer. Take the bad man out of our way when he would hinder us; let him go out into the night that we may have a word together about better things, and speak that word as it ought to be spoken.
Lord, hear us! Christ upon the Cross, save us! Blood of the eternal covenant, take out the last stain of sin! Spirit of the living God, Holy Ghost, baptise us as with fire! Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"The Lord hearkened unto me at that time also." Deu 9:19
The memorable prayers of life. Times of conscious conquest. Who cannot recall periods in which the Lord by consent allowed himself to be overthrown, as if in war and wrestling, by the tender violence of love? These great memories stimulate us to renewed endeavours in prayer and service. We date our best endeavours from our latest conquests. Only the good man can say whether prayer can be answered or not. Moses here pledges his word as to the reality of answered prayer. To destroy this answer we must first discredit Moses. This is the real reply to those who would discuss the virtue of prayer. This is not a question which can be settled in controversial terms, or within the narrow grounds of verbal definition; the inquiry must be addressed to the praying soul itself; the praying soul has never feared to say that its supplications have been rewarded with great answers. Family history may be inquired into to bear evidence upon this matter. What of sickness? What of deliverance in the time of vital perplexity? What about the dispersion of clouds that hung like an infinite night over the whole life? What of sudden and unexpected answers to questions which we expected would cut us like swords? A man must be very wise who can answer all such questions offhandedly, and dispense with the idea of the personality and intervention of God in the shaping and direction of human affairs.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 9". The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent