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THE REPLACING OF THE TWO TABLES OF THE COVENANT
Deuteronomy 10:1-2. At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood: and I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark.
THOSE to whom the modes of communication which are common in eastern countries are but little known, feel a jealousy respecting every thing that is figurative and emblematical. But even in the New Testament there is much that is hidden under figures. The whole life of our blessed Saviour is justly considered as an example: but it is rarely considered that in all its principal events it was also emblematical of what is spiritually experienced in the heart of the believer: the circumcision of Christ representing the circumcision of our hearts; the baptism, also, and the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Christ, marking our death unto sin, and our new birth unto righteousness. If then in the New Testament, where truth is exhibited so plainly, there are many things revealed in shadows, we may well expect to find much that is figurative in the Old Testament, where the whole system of religion was veiled under types and figures. The circumstances before us, we do not hesitate to say, have a hidden meaning, which, when brought forth, will be highly instructive. But in exploring the mysteries that are hid under these shadows, there is need of the utmost sobriety, that we impose not on Scripture any other sense than that which God himself designed it to convey. However some may gratify themselves with exercising their ingenuity on the sacred writings, and please themselves with their own fanciful interpretations of God’s blessed word, I dare not proceed in that unhallowed course: I would “put off my shoes, when I come upon this holy ground;” and be content to leave untouched what I do not understand, and what God has not enabled me to explain, with a good hope at least that I express only “the mind of his Spirit.” With this reverential awe upon my mind, I will endeavour, as God shall help me, to set before you what I conceive to be contained in the passage which we have just read. In it we notice,
The breaking of the two tables of the law—
God, after he had published by an audible voice the law of the Ten Commandments, wrote them upon two tables of stone, and gave them to Moses upon Mount Horeb, that they might serve as a memorial of what all who entered into covenant with him were bound to perform. But when Moses, on descending from the mount, found that the whole people of Israel were worshipping the golden calf, he was filled with righteous indignation, and “brake the two tables in pieces before their eyes [Note: Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 9:15-17.].” Now this action of his imported,
That the covenant which God had made with them was utterly dissolved—
[Repeatedly are the two tables called “the tables of the covenant [Note: Deuteronomy 9:9; Deuteronomy 9:11; Deuteronomy 9:15.];” because they contained the terms on which the Israelites were ultimately to find acceptance before God. But their idolatry was a direct violation of the very first precept of the decalogue, or rather an utter subversion of the whole: and as they had thus broken the covenant on their part, Moses by breaking the two tables declared it to be annulled on God’s part. God now disclaimed all connexion with them; and by calling them “thy people,” that is, Moses’ people, he disowned them for his; and threatened to “blot out their name from under heaven.” All this was intimated, I say, by Moses, in this significant action. A similar mode of expressing the same idea was adopted by Jehovah in the days of the Prophet Zechariah. He took two staves, one to represent the tribes of Judah and Benjamin; and the other, the ten tribes. These he brake, the one after the other, in order to shew that as they were disjoined from each other, so they should henceforth be separated from him also, and that “his covenant with them” both was dissolved [Note: Zechariah 11:7; Zechariah 11:10; Zechariah 11:14.]. Thus far then, we apprehend, the import of this expressive action is clear.
The further light which I shall endeavour to throw upon it, though not so clear to a superficial observer, will to a well-instructed mind approve itself to be both just and important.]
It further imports then,
That that mode of covenanting with God was from that time for ever closed—
[This, I grant, does not at first sight appear; though it may be inferred from the very circumstance of the same law being afterwards given in a different way. This mode of conveying such instruction repeatedly occurs in the Holy Scriptures. The Prophet Jeremiah tells the Jews that God would “make a new covenant with them;” from whence St. Paul infers that the covenant under which they lived, was old, and “ready to vanish away [Note: Jer 31:31 with Hebrews 8:13.].” The Prophet Haggai speaks of God “shaking once more the heavens and the earth:” and this St. Paul interprets as an utter removal of the Jewish dispensation, that “the things which could not be shaken,” the Christian dispensation, “might remain [Note: Hag 2:6 with Hebrews 12:26-27.].” Now if these apparently incidental words conveyed so much, what must have been intended by that action, an action which, in point of singularity, yields not to any within the whole compass of the sacred records?
But is this view of the subject confirmed by any further evidence? I answer, Yes; it is agreeable to the whole scope of the inspired volume. Throughout the New Testament we have this truth continually and most forcibly inculcated, that the law, having been once broken, can never justify: that, whilst under it, we are, and ever must be, under a curse: and therefore we must be dead to it, and renounce all hope of acceptance by it. And the breaking of the tables before their eyes was in effect like the driving of our first parents out of Paradise, and the preventing of their return to it by the menaces of a flaming sword. The tree of life which was to them in their state of innocence a pledge of eternal life, was no longer such when they had fallen: and therefore God in mercy prohibited their access to it, in order that they might be shut up to that way of reconciliation which God had provided for them in the promised seed. And thus did Moses by this significant action cut off from the Jews all hope of return to God by that covenant which they had broken, and shut them up to that other, and better, covenant, which God was about to shadow forth to them.]
But the chief mystery lies in,
The manner in which they were replaced—
Moses, having by his intercession obtained forgiveness for the people, was ordered to prepare tables of stone similar to those which he had broken, and to carry them up to the mount, that God might write upon them with his own finger a fresh copy of the law. He was ordered also to make an ark, in which to deposit the tables when so inscribed. Now what was the scope and intent of these directions? Truly they were of pre-eminent importance, and were intended to convey the most valuable instruction. Mark,
The renewing of the tables which had been broken—
[This intimated that God was reconciled towards them, and was still willing to take them as his people, and to give himself to them as their God. The very first words of the Law thus given said to them, “I am the Lord thy God.” So that on this part of the subject it is unnecessary to dwell.]
The putting of them, when so renewed, into an ark—
[Christ is that ark into which the law was put. To him it was committed, in order that he might fulfil it for us. He was made under the law for this express end [Note: Galatians 4:4-5.]: and he has fulfilled it in all its parts; enduring all its penalties, and obeying all its precepts [Note: Galatians 3:13-14; Philippians 2:8.]. This he was appointed of God to do: the law was put into his heart on purpose that he might do it [Note: Psalms 40:8.]: and having done it, he is “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 10:4.].” Hence we are enabled to view the law without fear, and to hear it without trembling. Now we can contemplate its utmost requirements, and see that it has been satisfied in its highest demands. We can now even found our hopes upon it; not as obeyed by us; but as obeyed by our surety and substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ; by whose obedience it has been more magnified than it has ever been dishonoured by our disobedience. It is no longer now a “ministration of death and condemnation [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:9.],” but a source of life to those who plead the sacrifice and obedience of Jesus Christ. In this view the law itself, no less than the prophets, bears, testimony to Christ [Note: Romans 3:21-22.], and declares that, through his righteousness, God can be “a just God, and yet a Saviour [Note: Isaiah 45:21.],” “just, and yet the justifier of all them that believe [Note: Romans 3:26.].” This is the great mystery which the angels so much admire, and which they are ever endeavouring to look into [Note: Carefully compare Exo 25:17-20 with 1 Peter 1:12.].
If it appear strange that so much should be intimated in so small a matter, let us only consider what we know assuredly to have been intimated in an occurrence equally insignificant, which took place at the very same time. When Moses came down with these tables in his hand, his face shined so bright that the people were unable to approach him; and he was constrained to put a vail upon his face in order that they might have access to him to hear his instructions [Note: Exodus 34:29-35.]. This denoted their incapacity to comprehend the law, till Christ should come to remove the veil from their hearts [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:13-16.]. And precisely in the same manner the putting of the law into the ark denoted the incapacity of man to receive it at it is in itself, and the necessity of viewing it only as fulfilled in Christ. “Through the law” itself which denounces such curses [Note: Galatians 2:19.], and “through the body of Christ” which sustained those curses [Note: Romans 7:4.], we must be “dead to the law,” and have no hope whatever towards God but in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Galatians 2:15-16; Philippians 3:9.], who, in consequence of obeying its precepts and enduring its penalties, is to be called by every child of man, “The Lord our Righteousness.”]
The preparing the tables on which the law was written—
[The first tables were prepared by God himself: but, when they were broken, and to be renewed, Moses was ordered to prepare the tables, and carry them up to the mount, that they might there have the law inscribed upon them by God himself. Commentators have suggested that this was intended to intimate, that though God alone could write the law on the heart, means were to be used for that end by people for themselves, and by ministers in their behalf. But I rather gather from it a deeper and more important lesson, namely, that notwithstanding the law was fulfilled for us by Christ, we must seek to have it inscribed on our stony hearts; and that, if we go up with them to the mount of God from time to time for that end, God will write his law there. I the rather believe this to be the true meaning, because our deadness to the law as a covenant of works is continually associated with a delight in it as a rule of life [Note: See Gal 2:19 and Rom 7:4 before cited.]; and because the writing of the law upon our hearts is the great distinguishing promise of the New Covenant [Note: Jer 31:31-33 with Hebrews 8:8-10.]. In this view the direction respecting the tables is very instructive, seeing that it unites what can never be separated, a “hope in Christ” as the only Saviour of the world, and a “purifying of the heart as he is pure [Note: 1 John 3:3.].”]
Let us be thankful that the law is given to us in this mitigated form—
[The law is the same as ever: not a jot or tittle of it was altered, or ever can be: it is as immutable as God himself [Note: Matthew 5:17-18.]. But as given on Mount Sinai, it was “a fiery law;” and so terrible, that the people could not endure it; and “even Moses himself said, I exceedingly fear and quake [Note: Hebrews 12:19-21.].” But in the ark, Christ Jesus, its terrors are abated: yea, to those who believe in him, it has no terror at all: its demands are satisfied in their behalf, and its penalties sustained: and, on it, as fulfilled in him, they found their claims of everlasting life [Note: Isaiah 45:24.]. It must never be forgotten, that the mercy-seat was of the same dimensions with the ark; and to all who are in Christ Jesus does the mercy of God extend [Note: Exodus 25:10; Exodus 25:21-22. Mark the promise in ver. 22.]. If we look to the law as fulfilled in and by the Lord Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear: “we are no longer under the law, but under grace [Note: Romans 6:14.]:” and “there is no condemnation to us [Note: Romans 8:1.].” “Only let us rely on him as having effected every thing for us [Note: Romans 8:34.], and all that he possesses shall be ours [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.].”]
Let us seek to have it visibly written upon our hearts—
[None but God can write it there: our stony hearts are harder than adamant. Nevertheless, if we go up to God in the holy mount, “he will take away from us the heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh [Note: Ezekiel 36:26.]:” and then “on the fleshly tables of our heart” will he write his perfect law [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.]. O blessed privilege! Beloved Brethren, let us covet it, and seek it night and day. Only think, what a change will take place in you when this is wrought! What a lustre will be diffused over your very countenance [Note: Exodus 34:29-30.]! Yes verily, all who then behold you shall “take knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus,” and “confess, that God is with you of a truth.” Despair not, any of you: though ye have turned from God to the basest idolatry, yet has your great Advocate and Intercessor prevailed for you to remove the curses of the broken law, and to restore you to the favour of your offended God. Bring me up, says God, your hearts of stone, and I will so inscribe my law upon them, that “ye shall never more depart from me, nor will I ever more depart from you [Note: Jeremiah 32:38-41.].” Brethren, obey the call without delay: lose not a single hour. Hasten into the presence of your God; and there abide with him, till he has granted your request. So shall “ye be God’s people, and he shall be your God, for ever and ever [Note: Jeremiah 32:38-41.].”]
REASONABLENESS AND EXCELLENCY OF GOD’S COMMANDS
Deuteronomy 10:12-13. And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?
PECULIAR seasons call for the exercise of peculiar duties. A new era was just opening upon the Hebrews, at the time when this address to them was delivered. They had, by the worshipping of the golden calf, entirely annulled the covenant which God had made with them, and had subjected themselves to his heavy displeasure. But, at the intercession of Moses, God had graciously renewed his covenant with them, by giving them again a copy of that Law which they had broken, and by committing them again to the care of Moses, whom he had appointed to conduct them to the land of Canaan. Now, therefore, Moses called on them to renew their solemn dedication of themselves to God, according to the tenor of those commandments which he had given them.
Somewhat of a similar era has commenced to us this day [Note: This supposes that the subject is used on New-Year’s Day.]. Many have been our offences in the past year: and God might have justly cast us off, and abandoned us to utter ruin. But he is now renewing to us his tender mercies: and may, therefore, justly call upon us to renew our surrender of ourselves to his service.
The words which I have just read to you will lead me to point out,
What God requires from us—
Israel had been redeemed from Egypt, and were regarded as a peculiar people unto the Lord. And such is our state. We have been redeemed from a far sorer bondage, by the blood of God’s only dear Son; and by the very name we bear, we profess ourselves the followers of Christ, and the servants of the living God. Our duty, then, is “to serve our God,” and to serve him in the very way prescribed in our text. We must serve him,
With reverential fear—
[Never for a moment must we forget that we are sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and indignation. The circumstance of our having been forgiven by him, so far from removing all occasion for reverential fear, is rather a reason for the augmentation of it. We should “lothe ourselves the more because our God is pacified towards us [Note: Ezekiel 16:63.];” for his very mercy shews how basely we have acted, in sinning against so good a God. If the glorified saints in heaven fall upon their faces before the throne, whilst yet they are singing praises to God and to the Lamb, much more should we on earth, who have yet so much corruption to mourn over, and so many evils to deplore. As for that kind of experience which some think to be warranted by their views of God’s faithfulness to his promises, and which others derive from a conceit of their own sinless perfection, (I mean, that confidence, on the one hand, which is divested of fear; and that familiarity, on the other hand, which is not tempered with contrition,) I cannot but regard it as most delusive and dangerous. It would be well, too, if some, who are not carried to these extremes of doctrinal error be not equally defective, through a captious abhorrence of all forms in external discipline and deportment. Many, from a zeal against what they are pleased to designate as Popish superstition, conduct themselves with sad irreverence in the worship of the Most High: and, if they feel not already a contempt for the Majesty of heaven, sure I am that they take the most effectual means to generate it in their hearts. Men, as sinners, should lie low in the dust before God: and though, as redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ, they are to put away slavish fear, they are never for a moment to divest themselves of that fear which is filial, but to “walk in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”]
With ardent love—
[A filial fear will not in the least degree impede the exercise of love; but will temper it with a becoming modesty and care. Blended with fear, it cannot possibly be too ardent. We should so “love our God, as to serve him with all our heart and with all our soul.” In truth, without love, our obedience, however exact, would be nothing worth. Love is the crown of all. Even amongst men, it is love which constitutes the essence of every acceptable service. We value not the efforts of friends by their intrinsic worth, so much as by the measure of affection displayed in them: and much more is this the standard by which the Almighty will try, and estimate, our services to him. It was this which rendered the widow’s mite a more acceptable offering to God, than all the treasures of the opulent: and if only we give our whole souls to God, the very disposition to glorify him shall be equivalent to the act. We may not be able to do great things for him: but, if we have the desire, he will accept it, and say, “Thou didst well, in that it was in thine heart.”]
With unreserved fidelity—
[There is to be no limit to our obedience; no line beyond which we will not go, if God call us. “No commandment is to be considered as grievous [Note: 1 John 5:3.];” nor is any thing to be regarded as “a hard saying [Note: John 6:60.].” We are to “walk in all God’s ways,” obeying every commandment “without partiality and without hypocrisy.” We are to “do his will on earth, even as it is done in heaven.” Of the angels we are told, that “they do God’s will, hearkening to the voice of his word.” They look for the very first intimation of his will, and fly to execute it with all their might. They never for a moment consider what bearing the command may have on their own personal concerns: they find all their happiness in fulfilling the divine will. And this should be the state of our minds also: it should be “our meat and our drink to do the will of Him that sent us.” And, if suffering be the recompence allotted us, we should “rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for His sake.” Even life itself should not be dear to us in comparison of His honour; and we should be ready to lay it down, at any time, and in any way, that the sacrifice may be demanded of us.]
The text will lead me to shew you further,
The reasonableness and excellency of his requirements:—
That they are reasonable, is evident from the appeal which Moses makes respecting them—
[Two things are intimated in this appeal to Israel; the one, that these things were required of them; the other, that the requisitions were such as they could not but approve. If they only considered themselves as God’s creatures, they could not but acknowledge that these services were due to him: but when they viewed the mercies that had been vouchsafed unto them, and the blessings which God had yet further in reserve for them, they could not doubt God’s right to every return which it was in their power to make. How much stronger his claim is to our obedience, must be obvious to every considerate mind. Think of yourselves, Brethren, as redeemed from death and hell by the blood of God’s only dear Son, and then say whether you are not bound to love and serve him with your whole hearts. Think how mercifully God has borne with your transgressions hitherto, (for you have been a stiff-necked people, even as Israel of old were:) think how your every want is still supplied, not only for the body, as theirs was, but for the soul, by the bread of life sent down from heaven, and by water from Christ Jesus, the stricken rock: think how mercifully God has committed you to the guidance of his own Son; and to what a glorious land he is leading you, even “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Can you, in the contemplation of these things, doubt whether the entire surrender of your souls to God be “a reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.]?” Or rather say, whether the smallest wish to reduce or limit His claims would not be the most unreasonable thing that could enter into your minds?]
But the excellency of them also is equally apparent—
[Every command of God is given us “for our good.” There is not one which has not a direct tendency to make us happy. If they require us to subdue and mortify our indwelling corruptions, what is this, but to heal the diseases of our souls, and to restore us to the image of our God? If they require us to love and serve our God, what is this, but to bring us, so far as they are obeyed, to a foretaste of our heavenly inheritance? Who ever found an evil issuing out of a conformity to God’s holy will? If it has brought a cross upon us, who has not found that very cross an occasion and a ground of more exalted joy? Were present happiness alone consulted, there is nothing in the universe that can advance it like the service of our God: but, if the future state be considered, and the augmented weight of glory which shall be accorded to us in proportion to our services, we may well say, that every command of God is good, and that “in keeping his commandments there is great reward.”]
Let me now address you, brethren, in a way,
Of faithful reproof—
[You all profess yourselves to be the “Israel” of God; and are convinced that your obligations to Jehovah are as much superior to those of the Jews, as your redemption and your destination are superior to theirs. But how have you requited the Lord? Oh! compare your lives with what has been, before spoken, and with what you cannot but acknowledge to have been your bounden duty. Which of you, in the retrospect, has not reason to blush and be ashamed?— — — And as for the generality amongst us, is there not just ground to utter against them that complaint of the Prophet Jeremiah, “This thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imaginations of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward [Note: Jeremiah 7:23-24.]?” In truth, this is but too faithful a picture of the generality amongst us. And what can be expected, but that God’s wrath should break forth to the uttermost against such a sinful and rebellious generation?]
Let me then add a word,
Of affectionate admonition—
[“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you all, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that ye may live [Note: Deuteronomy 30:19-20.].” You cannot but acknowledge that every thing which God requires of you is both good in itself, and conducive to your greatest good. “Observe, then, to do as the Lord your God hath commanded you: you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left [Note: Deuteronomy 5:32.].” You surely have every inducement to serve God that your hearts can wish. Oh, be not stiff-necked: be not like that faithless generation, respecting whom “God sware, in his wrath, that they should never enter into his rest:” but “to-day, while it is called to-day,” devote yourselves altogether to His service! And “then shall ye not be ashamed, when ye have respect unto all his commandments [Note: Psalms 119:6.].”]
THE ELECTING LOVE OF GOD AN INCENTIVE TO HOLINESS
Deuteronomy 10:14-16. Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them; and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.
THE true tendency of religion is marked in the words preceding our text. Under the Christian, no less than under the Jewish dispensation, it is altogether practical; so that in every age of the Church we may adopt that appeal of Moses, “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” But we must not in our zeal for morals overlook those principles which alone have efficacy to produce them. The principles which call forth our hopes and our fears, have necessarily a powerful effect on our conduct: but a more refined operation is derived from those principles which excite our love and gratitude. The electing love of God, for instance, when brought home with a personal application to the soul, has a constraining influence, which nothing can resist. Hence Moses so often reminds the Israelites of their peculiar obligations to God, such as no other people from the beginning of the world could ever boast of: and takes occasion from those distinguishing favours to urge them the more powerfully to devote themselves to his service. What he considered as their duty we have already noticed: his mode of urging them to perform it comes now to be more particularly considered: “The Lord had a delight in thy fathers, &c.: circumcise therefore, &c.”
From these words we shall shew,
That God’s people are brought into that relation to him, not by any merits of their own, but solely in consequence of his electing love—
The whole universe, both “the heavens and the earth,” is the Lord’s: it owes its existence to his all-creating power; and it is altogether at his disposal. He has the same power over it as the potter has over the clay: and, if it had pleased him to mar, or to annihilate, any part of the creation, as soon as he had formed it, he had a right to do so.
But, whilst he has the same right over all his intelligent creatures, he has seen fit to bring some, and some only, into a nearer connexion with himself.
Into this state he brings them of his own sovereign will and pleasure—
[Abraham was an idolater, as all his family were, when God first called him by his grace; nor had he any more claim to the blessings promised him, than any other person whatsoever. Isaac was appointed to be the channel of these blessings in preference to Ishmael, long before he was born into the world: and Jacob also the younger was chosen before Esau the elder, “even whilst they were both yet in the womb, and consequently had done neither good nor evil.” His posterity too was chosen to inherit the promised blessings. And why were they chosen? Was it for their superior goodness either seen or foreseen? It could not be for any thing seen; for they were yet unborn when the blessings were promised to them: and it could not be for any thing foreseen, for they proved a rebellious and stiff-necked people from the very first [Note: Deuteronomy 9:13; Deuteronomy 9:24.]. The selection of them can be traced to nothing but to God’s sovereign will and pleasure [Note: Deuteronomy 7:6-8.].
In every age he has done the same. Those who love and serve God have always been a remnant only: but they have been “a remnant according to the election of grace.” All true believers at this day, as well as in the apostolic age, must acknowledge, that “God has called them, not according to their works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.].” It is “to the good pleasure of his will,” and not to any thing in themselves, that they must ascribe the gift of their spiritual privileges, and spiritual attainments. No one of them can say, that he “made himself to differ,” or that he possesses “any thing which he has not received.” All that even the most eminent saints possess is a free unmerited gift from God.]
Moreover, in this exercise of his sovereign will and pleasure, he gives no just occasion of complaint to any—
[This exercise of his sovereignty is condemned by many, as being an act of injustice; since to choose some and to leave others gives to the chosen a preference which they do not deserve. But it must be remembered, that none had any claim upon God: and, if we had all been left, like the fallen angels, to endure the full consequences of our transgression, God would still have been holy and just and good: and, if for his own glory he has decreed to rescue any from destruction, he does no injury to any, nor is accountable to any for this display of his grace.
I well know that this doctrine is controverted by many. But the very persons who deny the doctrine of election, as applied to individuals, are constrained to acknowledge it in reference to nations. But where is the difference? if it is unjust in the one case, it is unjust in the other: if it is unjust to elect any to salvation, it is unjust to elect them to the means of salvation; those from whom he withholds the means, have the same ground of complaint as those from whom he withholds the end. It is nothing to say, that the injury is lees in the one case than in the other: for if it be injurious at all, God would never have done it: but if it be not injurious at all, then does all opposition to the doctrine fall to the ground. The principle must be conceded or denied altogether. Denied it cannot be, because it is an unquestionable feet that God has exercised his sovereignly, and does still exercise it, in instances without number: and, if it be conceded, then is the objector silenced; and he must admit that God has a right to do what he will with his own.
Perhaps it may be said that election is, and has always been, conditional. But this is not true. As far as related to the possession of Canaan, the election of the Jews might be said to be conditional: but on what conditions was the election of Abraham, or of Isaac, or of Jacob, suspended? On what was the election of their posterity to the means of salvation suspended? On what conditions has God chosen us to enjoy the sound of the Gospel, in preference to millions of heathens, who have never been blessed with the light of revelation? The truth is, we know nothing of the doctrines of grace but as God has revealed them: and his choice of some to salvation now stands on the very same authority as his choice of others to the means of salvation in the days of old. If such an exercise of sovereignty was wrong then, it is wrong now: if it was right then, it is right now: and if it was right in respect to nations, it cannot be wrong in reference to individuals. The same principle which vindicates or condemns it in the one case, must hold good in the other also. The extent of the benefits conferred cannot change the nature of the act that confers them: it may cause the measure of good or evil that is in the act to vary: but the intrinsic quality of the act must in either case remain the same.]
That this doctrine may not appear injurious to morality, I proceed to observe,
That the circumstance of God’s exercising this sovereignty is so far from weakening our obligation to good works, that it binds us the more strongly to the performance of them. Moses says, “God has chosen you;” “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart.” Here observe,
The duty enjoined—
[We are all by nature a rebellious and stiff-necked people. We wonder at the conduct of the Israelites in the wilderness: but in that we may see a perfect image of our own: we have not been obedient to God’s revealed will. We have been alike rebellious, whether loaded with mercies, or visited with judgments. Light and easy as the yoke of Christ is, we have not taken it upon us, but have lived to the flesh and not to the Spirit, to ourselves, and not unto our God. But we must no longer proceed in this impious career: it is high time that we cast away the weapons of our rebellion, and humble ourselves before God. We must “be no more stiff-necked,” but humble, penitent, obedient. Nor is it an outward obedience only that we must render to our God; we must “circumcise the foreskin of our hearts,” mortifying every corrupt propensity, and “crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts.” It must not be grievous to us to part with sin, however painful may be the act of cutting it off: we must cut off a right hand, and pluck out a right eye, and retain nothing that is displeasing to our God. There is no measure of holiness with which we should be satisfied: we should seek to “be pure even as Christ himself is pure,” and to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”]
The motive to the performance of it—
[To this duty the Jews are urged by the consideration of God’s electing love, and of the distinguishing favours which he of his own sovereign grace and mercy had vouchsafed unto them.
And what more powerful motive could Moses urge than this? It was not to make them happy in a way of sin that God had chosen them, but to make them “a holy nation, a peculiar people, zealous of good works:” and, if they did not follow after universal holiness, they would counteract the designs of his providence and grace. They would deprive themselves also of the blessings provided for them. For it was only in the way of obedience that God could ever finally accept them. And thus it is with us also: we are “chosen unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them:” and it is only “by a patient continuance in well-doing that we can ever attain eternal life.” We are “chosen to salvation,” it is true; but it is “through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:” and it is in that way only that we can ever attain the end.
But there is another view in which the consideration of God’s electing love should operate powerfully on our hearts to the production of universal holiness; namely, by filling our souls with lively gratitude to him, and an ardent desire to requite him in the way that he himself directs. There is nothing under heaven that can constrain a pious soul like a sense of redeeming love. Let any one that has been “brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel, and been turned from the power of Satan unto God,” look around him, and see how many, not of heathens only, but of professed Christians also, are yet in the darkness of nature and the bonds of sin; and then let him recollect who it is that has made him to differ both from them and from his former self; and will not that make him cry out, “What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits he has done unto me?” Yes, that view of his obligations to God will so inflame and penetrate his soul, that its utmost energies will from thenceforth be employed in honouring his adorable Benefactor.
This we say is the true and proper tendency of the doctrine in our text. The Jews, if they had justly appreciated the favours vouchsafed to them, would have been the holiest of all people upon earth: and so will Christians be, if once they be sensible of the obligations conferred upon them by God’s electing and redeeming love.]
Let those who are zealous about duties, not be forgetful of their obligations—
[It is frequently found that persons altogether hostile to all the doctrines of grace, profess a great regard for the interests of morality. I stop not at present to inquire how far their professions are realized in practice: all I intend, is, simply to suggest, that high and holy affections are necessary to all acceptable obedience; and that those affections can only be excited in us by a sense of our obligations to God. If we attempt to lessen those obligations, we weaken and paralyse our own exertions. If we have been forgiven much, we shall love much: if we have received much, we shall return the more. If then it be only for the sake of that morality about which you profess so much concern, we would say to the moralist, Search into the mysteries of sovereign grace, and of redeeming love. If without the knowledge of them you may walk to a certain degree uprightly, you can never soar into the regions of love and peace and joy: your obedience will be rather that of a servant, than a son; and you will never acquire that delight in God, which is the duty and privilege of the believing soul.]
Let those who boast of their obligations to God not be inattentive to their duties—
[They who “cry, Lord, Lord, and neglect to do the things which he commands,” miserably deceive their own souls. And it must be confessed that such self-deceivers do exist, and ever have existed in the Church of God. But let those who glory in the deeper doctrines of religion bear in mind, that nothing can supersede an observance of its duties: for “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God [Note: Romans 2:28-29.].” That is a solemn admonition which God has given to us all: “Circumcise yourselves unto the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it [Note: Jeremiah 4:4.].” It is not by our professions, but by our practice, that we shall be judged in the last day. We May say to our Lord in the last day, that we have not only gloried in him, but “in his name done many wonderful works;” yet will he say to us, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” if we shall then be found to have been workers of iniquity. To all then who account themselves the elect of God, I say, Let the truth of your principles be seen in the excellence of your works: and, as you profess to be more indebted to God than others, let the heavenliness of your minds and the holiness of your lives be proportionably sublime and manifest: for it is in this way only that you can approve yourselves to God, or justify your professions in the sight of man.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 10". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19