THE JEWS’ LEADING OBJECTION TO CHRISTIANITY CONSIDERED
Deuteronomy 13:1-3. If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
IT has commonly, and with justice, been thought, that the two great pillars on which a revelation from God must stand, are, miracles, and prophecies. Without these, we cannot be assured, that any discovery which may have been made to man, is really divine. The points that are traced to a divine origin may be highly reasonable and excellent in themselves; yet, before they are clothed with a divine authority, we very properly ask, What proof is there that they are from God? what evidence do you give that they are not the offspring of your own mind? If they are from God, I take for granted that God does not leave you without witness: tell me then, what works do you perform, which no created power can perform; or what other credentials have you, whereby your heavenly mission may be known? If you can foretell things to come, I shall then know that you are from God; because none but God can certainly foreknow them: or if you can work things above, and contrary to the course of nature, then I shall know that you have that power from on high; because no created being can impart it.
This, I say, is the established mode of judging concerning a revelation from God: and, according as any thing professing to be from God is thus confirmed, or not, we give to it, or withhold from it, our assent. It is from grounds like these that we judge of the revelation given to Moses; and from similar grounds must we judge of the truth of Christianity also.
We must indeed inspect the matter of the thing revealed, to see whether it be worthy of him from whom it is said to come; and from its internal evidence our faith will derive great strength: but still in the first instance we look rather to external proofs, such as we have before spoken of.
But the Jews imagine that they are precluded from judging of Christianity on such grounds as these, since Moses, in the passage we have just read, guards them against any such inferences as we are led to draw from the prophecies and miracles on which our religion is founded. He concedes that some prophecies may be uttered, and some miracles be wrought, in favour of a false religion; and that, even if that should be the case, the Jews are not to regard any evidences arising from those sources, but to hold fast their religion in opposition to them.
This is an objection commonly urged among the Jews, when we invite them to embrace the Christian religion. That we may meet it fairly, we will, first, state the objection in all its force, and then give what we apprehend to be the proper answer to it.
I. We begin then with stating the objection; and we will do it in such a way as to give the Jew all possible advantage.
The scope of the passage is to guard the Jews against idolatry. They were, and would continue to be, surrounded by idolatrous nations, who would strive to the utmost to draw them from Jehovah to the worship of false gods. And the Jews themselves having from the earliest period of their existence as a people been accustomed to see the idolatrous worship of Egypt, were of themselves strongly attached to idolatry; so that it was necessary to guard them against it by the most awful menaces, and the most impressive cautions.
The caution here given is certainly most solemn. That we may give it all the force of which it is capable, we will notice distinctly these three things; The supposition here made; The injunction given notwithstanding that supposition; and The argument founded on that injunction.
First, mark the supposition here made, namely, that God may permit miraculous and prophetic powers to be exercised even in support of a false religion. We are not indeed to imagine that God himself will work miracles in order to deceive his people, and lead them astray; nor are we to imagine that he will suffer Satan to work them in such an unlimited way as to be a counterbalance to the miracles by which God has confirmed his own religion: but he will, for reasons which we shall presently consider, permit some to be wrought, and some prophecies to come to pass, notwithstanding they are designed to uphold an imposture. The magicians of Pharaoh, we must confess, wrought real miracles. When they changed their rods into serpents, it was not a deception, but a reality: and when they inflicted plagues upon Egypt after the example of Moses, it was not a deception, but a reality: but at the same time that they thus, in appearance, vied with Moses himself, and with Jehovah, in whose name he came, there was abundant evidence of their inferiority to Moses, and of their being under the control of a superior power: for the magicians could not remove one of the plagues which they themselves had produced; nor could they continue to imitate Moses in all the exercises of his power (from whence they themselves were led to confess their own inferiority to him): nor could they avert from themselves the plagues which Moses inflicted on them in common with the rest of the Egyptians. They were permitted to do so much as should give Pharaoh an occasion for hardening his own heart, but not sufficient to shew that they could at all come in competition with Moses.
In every age there were also false prophets, who endeavoured to draw the people from their allegiance to God; and in the multitude of prophecies that they would utter, it must be naturally supposed that some would be verified in the event. Our blessed Lord has taught us to expect, even under the Christian dispensation, that some efforts of this kind will be made by “Antichrist, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10.].” He has moreover told us that these false prophets should “shew such signs and wonders as to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect [Note: Matthew 24:24.]:” nay more, that in the last day some will appeal to him respecting the prophecies they have uttered, and the miracles they have wrought in his name, and will plead them in arrest of judgment [Note: Matthew 7:22.]. We may therefore safely concede what is here supposed, namely, that God may suffer miraculous and prophetic powers to be exercised to a certain degree even in support of idolatry itself.
Now then, in the next place, let us notice the injunction given to the Jews notwithstanding this supposition. God commands them “not to give heed to that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, even though his predictions should be verified, if his object be to turn them from him; for that he himself suffers these illusions to be practised upon them, in order that their fidelity to him may be tried, and their love to him approved.”
It may seem strange that God should suffer such stumbling-blocks to be cast in the way of his people: but it is not for us to say what Jehovah may, or may not, do: we are sure that “he tempteth no man,” so as to lead him into sin [Note: James 1:13.], and that the “Judge of all the earth will do nothing but what is right.” But it is a fact, that he thus permitted Job to be tried, in order that he might approve himself a perfect man: and in like manner he tried Abraham, in order that it might appear, whether his regard for God’s authority, and his confidence in God’s word, were sufficient to induce him to sacrifice his Isaac, the child of promise [Note: Genesis 22:1-2; Genesis 22:12.]. It was for similar ends that God permitted his people to be tried for forty years in the wilderness [Note: Deuteronomy 8:2.]; and in the same way he has tried his Church in every period of the world. This is the true reason of so many stumbling-blocks being laid in the way of those who embrace the Christian faith. Christianity is not revealed in a way to meet with the approbation of proud and carnal men: it is foolishness to the natural man: yea, even Christ himself is a stumbling-block to some, as well as a sanctuary to others; and such a stumbling-block, as to be “a gin and a snare to both the houses of Israel,” amongst whom it was foretold, “many should stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken [Note: Isaiah 8:14-15.].” It is God’s express design in the whole constitution of our religion, to discover the secret bent of men’s minds: and whilst to the humble he has given abundant evidence for their conviction, he has left to the proud sufficient difficulties to call forth their latent animosity, and to justify in their own apprehensions, their obstinate unbelief [Note: Luke 2:34-35.]. He gave originally to the Jews, as he has also given to us, sufficient evidence to satisfy any candid mind: and this is all that we have any right to expect. It was not necessary that our Lord should give to every man in the Jewish nation the same evidence of his resurrection, as he gave to Thomas: it was reasonable that there should be scope left for every man to exercise his own judgment on the evidences that were placed within his reach; as our Lord said to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen, thou hast believed; but blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Hence then God enjoined his people not to regard any person who should attempt to draw them to idolatry, even though he should work a miracle before their eyes, or foretell an event that should afterwards come to pass. They had had abundant evidence, that the religion they had embraced was from God: they possessed also in the very nature of that religion an internal evidence of its excellency: and they had received from God such demonstrations of his power and goodness, as ought to unite them to him in the most indissoluble bonds of faith and love. If therefore they should be induced to renounce their allegiance to him, and to transfer it to dumb idols that had never done any thing for them, nor ever could do any thing, they would betray a manifest want of love to him, and must blame themselves only, if they should ultimately be “given up to a delusion to believe a lie, and be left to perish” in their iniquity [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.]. He would have them therefore upon their guard in relation to this matter, and resolutely to resist every attempt to draw them from him, however specious that attempt might be.
The argument founded on this injunction comes now before us with all the force that can be given to it. A Jew will say, ‘You Christians found your faith on prophecies and on miracles: and admitting that Jesus did work some miracles, and did foretell some events which afterwards came to pass, God permitted it only to try us, and to prove our fidelity to him. He has cautioned us beforehand not to be led astray from him by any such things as these: he has expressly forbidden us to regard any thing that such a prophet might either say or do: nay more, he commanded that we should take such a prophet before the civil magistrate, and have him put to death: and therefore, however specious your reasonings appear, we dare not listen to them or regard them.
II. Having thus given to the objection all the force that the most hostile Jew can wish, I now come in the second place to offer, what we hope will prove a satisfactory answer to it.
It cannot but have struck the attentive reader, that in this objection there are two things taken for granted; namely, that in calling Jews to Christianity we are calling them from Jehovah; and that our authority for calling them to Christianity is founded on such miracles as an impostor might work, and such prophecies as an impostor might expect to see verified.
But in answer to these two points we declare, first, that we do not call them from Jehovah, but to him;—next, that our authority is not founded on such miracles and prophecies as might have issued from an impostor, but such as it was impossible for an impostor to produce;—and lastly, that, in calling them to Christ, we have the express command of God himself.
First, we do not call our Jewish brethren from Jehovah, but to him.
We worship the very same God whom the Jews worship: and we maintain his unity as strongly as any Jew in the universe can maintain it. As for idols of every kind, we abhor them as much as Moses himself abhorred them. Moreover, we consider the law which was written on the two tables of stone as binding upon us, precisely as much as if it were again promulged by an audible voice from heaven. Instead of calling them from the law, we call them to it: we declare that every man who has transgressed it in any one particular, is deservedly condemned to everlasting misery [Note: Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10.]: and it is from a consciousness that this sentence must fall on every human being who has not fled for refuge to the hope set before him in the Gospel, that we are so anxious to call both Jews and Gentiles to a belief of the Gospel. We go further, and say, that no human being can be saved, who has not a perfect obedience to that law as his justifying righteousness. But where shall we find a perfect obedience to that law? where shall we find a man who can say, he has fulfilled it in every jot and tittle? Alas! we all have transgressed it times without number: we are all therefore condemned by it: and being condemned for our disobedience, we can never be justified by our obedience to it. Would to God, that this matter were understood by the Jews! we should find no difficulty then in leading them to Christ. Did they but know what wrath they have merited, they would be glad to hear of one who has borne it for them: and did they but know how impossible it is for an imperfect obedience to that law to justify them, they would be glad to hear of one who has fulfilled it in all its extent, and brought in an everlasting righteousness for all who believe in him. Yes, my Jewish brethren, know assuredly that the Christian “does not make void the law, but establishes the law [Note: Romans 3:31.]:” and has no hope of salvation in anyway, but such as “magnifies the law and makes it honourable [Note: Isaiah 42:21.];” and it is his earnest desire that you should agree with him in this matter; because he is sure, that, when once you come to understand your own law, and see how “Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,” your difficulties will all vanish as the morning dew before the rising sun.
With respect to the ceremonial law, we do indeed call you from the observance of that; and we have good reason so to do; for you yourselves know, that all the essential part of your religion existed before the ceremonial law was given; and that Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, who lived hundreds of years before the ceremonial law was given, were saved simply and entirely by faith in that promised “Seed, in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed.” By faith then in this promised Seed must you be saved: every child of Abraham must seek for acceptance in the way that Abraham did. If you ask, Why then was the ceremonial law given? I answer, To shadow forth your Messiah, and to lead you to him: and when he should come and fulfil it in all its parts, it was then to cease; and you yourselves know that it was intended by God himself to cease at that appointed time. Do you not know that your Messiah was to come out of the loins of David; and that he was also to be a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec? But if there was to be a new priesthood after the order of Melchizedec, the priesthood of Aaron must cease: and if the new priest was to spring from David, who was of the tribe of Judah, and not from Levi to whose descendants the priesthood was confined, then it is clear from this also that the Aaronic priesthood must cease: and if that be changed, then must there of necessity be a change of the law also [Note: Hebrews 7:11-12.]: so that you yourselves know that the ceremonial law was never intended to continue any longer than the time fixed for its completion in the predicted Messiah. If then we call you from the outward observances of that law, it is not from disrespect to that law, but from a conviction that it has been fulfilled and abrogated by the Lord Jesus. We call you only from shadows to the substance. We call you to Christ as uniting in himself all that the ceremonial law was intended to shadow forth. He is the true tabernacle, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. He is the true “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” even that “Lamb of God which, as John the Baptist testified, taketh away the sins of the world.” He is the great High-Priest, who, having “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God,” is now “entered into the holy place with his own blood,” and there “ever liveth to make intercession for us;” and is to come forth from thence once more to bless in his Father’s name his waiting people. I wish then, my Jewish brethren, that you would particularly bear this in mind. We honour the ceremonial law as admirably calculated to prepare your minds for the Gospel: not only because it exhibited so fully and so minutely every part of the mediatorial office which our Lord was to sustain, but because by the burthensomeness of its rites it tended to break your spirit, and to make you sigh for deliverance. And methinks, it should be no grievance to you to be called from those observances, because you neither do, nor can, continue them: the destruction of your city and temple, and your whole ecclesiastical and civil polity, have rendered impossible for you to comply with them, and have thus shut you up to the faith of Abraham, which is the faith of the Gospel.
I am aware that in calling you to worship the Lord Jesus Christ we appear to you to be transferring to him the honour due to God alone. But if you will look into your own Scriptures, you will find than the person who was foretold as your Messiah is no other than God himself. Examine the Psalm before referred to [Note: Psalms 110.], and see how David speaks of your Messiah: “The Lord said unto my LORD, Sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” David here calls him Jehovah: and how could he do that, if that title did not properly belong to him? This question Jesus put to the Pharisees in his day; and they could not answer him a word: nor can all the Rabbis upon the face of the earth suggest any satisfactory answer to it now. The only answer that can be given is, that the same person, who as man, was David’s son, as Jehovah, was David’s Lord, or, as Isaiah calls him, “Emmanuel, God with us.” Receive him in the character in which the Prophet Isaiah foretold his advent, as “the Child born, the Son given, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.” Call him, as another prophet instructs you, “Jehovah our righteousness:” and know, that, in thus “honouring Christ, you will honour the Father who sent him.”
This then is my first answer; that in no respect whatever do we call you from God, but wholly and altogether to him; to Him, as the One true God, in opposition to all idols; to his law, as fulfilled in Christ, and directing you to him; and to his Gospel, as the completion and consummation of all the wonders of his love. In as far as we call you from your present course, it is only from types and shadows to the substance and reality. You remember that at the moment of our Lord’s death the veil of the temple was rent in twain, and the most holy place was laid open to the view of all who were worshipping before it. The way into the holiest being thus opened to you all by God himself, we invite all to enter in with boldness, and assure you in God’s name that you shall find acceptance with him.
The next thing which we proposed to shew was, that our authority for calling you thus to Christ is not founded on such prophecies or miracles as might have issued from an impostor, but on such as it was impossible for an impostor to produce.
Consider the prophecies: they were not some few dark predictions of mysterious import and of doubtful issue, uttered by our Lord himself; but a continued series of prophecies from the very fall of Adam to the time of Christ; of prophecies comprehending an almost infinite variety of subjects, and those so minute, as to defy all concert either in those who uttered, or those who fulfilled, them. A great multitude of them were of such a kind that they could not possibly be fulfilled by any but the most inveterate enemies. Who but an enemy would have nailed him to the cross, or pierced him to the heart with a spear, or offered him gall and vinegar to drink, or mocked and insulted him in the midst of all his agonies? Do not these put his Messiahship beyond a doubt? I will mention only one prophecy of Christ himself: but it is such an one as no impostor would utter, and no impostor could fulfil. What impostor would rest all the credit of his mission on his being put to a cruel, ignominious, and accursed death, and rising from the dead the third day? Or if an impostor were foolish enough to utter such a prophecy, how, when he was actually dead, could he fulfil it? But the whole Scriptures predicted these things of Jesus, as Jesus also did of himself: and the exact fulfilment of them proves beyond all reasonable doubt his true Messiahship.
Consider the miracles also: these were beyond all comparison greater and more numerous than Moses ever wrought. The healing all manner of diseases was the daily and hourly employment of the Lord Jesus for the three or four last years of his life. The whole creation, men, devils, fishes, elements, all obeyed his voice; and at his command the dead arose to life again. But there is one miracle also which in particular we will mention. Jesus said, “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again:” and the former of these he proved by speaking with a loud voice the very instant he gave up the ghost, shewing thereby, that he did not die in consequence of his nature being exhausted, but by a voluntary surrender of his life into his Father’s hands. And at the appointed time he proved the latter also, notwithstanding all the preparations made to defeat his purpose, all of which proved in the issue the strongest testimonies to the truth of his word. But would an impostor have pretended to such a power; or when actually dead, could he have exercised it? And, when the interval between his death and resurrection was to be so short, would not the stone, the seal, the watch, have been sufficient to secure the detection of the imposture? Further, would an impostor have undertaken to send down the Holy Ghost after his death for the purpose of enabling his followers to speak all manner of languages, and of working all kinds of miracles; or if he had predicted such things, could he have fulfilled them? Judge then whether here be not ground enough for that faith which we call you to exercise towards him? If there be not, how do you prove the divine authority of your own lawgiver? In point of testimony, great as was that which proved the divine mission of Moses, it was nothing when compared with that which substantiated the Messiahship of Jesus. We therefore confidently call you to believe in him, and to embrace the salvation which he offers you in the Gospel.
But there is one great argument which we have reserved till now, in order that it may bear upon you with the greater weight. We declare to you then, in the last place, that, in calling you to Christ, we have the express command of God himself.
Moses, in chapter 13 of Deuteronomy, bids you, as we have seen, not to listen to any false prophet: but in chapter 18:18, 19, he most explicitly declares, that a Prophet should arise, to whom you should attend. Hear his own words: “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.”
Now I ask you, Who is the Prophet here spoken of? Where was there ever, besides Moses, a prophet that was a Mediator, a Lawgiver, a Ruler, a Deliverer? Was there ever such an one, except Jesus? And was not Jesus such an one in all respects? Yes; he has wrought for you not a mere temporal deliverance like Moses, but a spiritual and eternal deliverance from sin and Satan, death and hell: He has redeemed you, not by power only, but by price also, even the inestimable price of his own blood. Having thus bought you with his blood, he ever liveth in heaven itself to make continual intercession for you. A new law also has he given you, “the law of faith,” in conformity to which he enjoins you to walk, and by which he will judge you in the last day. Of this blessed person all your own prophets have spoken; and this very Moses, in whom you trust, declares to you, that, “if you will not hear and obey this Prophet, God will require it of you.” When therefore you plead the authority of Moses, we join issue with you, and say, Be consistent. Renounce false prophets, because he bids you: but believe in the true Prophet, whom God according to his word has raised up to you, because he bids you. Let his authority weigh equally with you in both cases: and then we shall not fear, but that you will embrace the salvation offered you in the Gospel, and be the spiritual children, as ye already are the natural descendants, of believing Abraham. “Abraham looked forward with eager expectation to see the day of Christ, and saw it, and was glad.” May ye also now see it, and rejoice in him as your Saviour for evermore!
It is for your partiality in this respect that God has punished you now these eighteen hundred years, and is punishing you at this day. He told you, “he would require of you” your rejection of this Prophet; and he has required it more severely, than he has all your other sins ever since you became a nation. O repent of this evil, and turn to God in his appointed way! so shall his wrath be turned away from you, and “you shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.”
We cannot conclude our subject without suggesting a suitable improvement of it to our Christian brethren—
As the Jews were constantly assailed by idolaters who sought to draw them from the worship of the true God, so are you by infidels, or worldlings, to draw you from the belief or practice of the Gospel. But do infidels assault you? Ask them whether their objections, all of which arise from ignorance alone, are sufficient to invalidate all the evidences which may be adduced in support of our religion? If not, then “hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering.” Do worldlings tell you that God does not require you to renounce the world, and to give yourselves up entirely to him? Ask them, what proof they can give, that God has authorized them to set aside the plainest declarations of his word. You may expect at least that they shall be possessed of miraculous and prophetic powers, or else they have not so much as the semblance of true prophets. But even if they had these powers and displayed them evidently before your eyes, yet ought you not to regard their counsels, because they seek to turn you from God to a poor perishing and worthless idol; from God, who has redeemed you by the blood of his only dear Son, and given you all things in and with him, to an idol, that never has done any thing for you, nor ever can. Be firm therefore, even though your father or your mother, your brother or your sister, or even the wife of your own bosom, should seek to turn you from the Lord. Your plain answer to them all is, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” Whatever temptations they offer, or menaces they employ, let nothing induce you to draw back from following the Lord fully. “Be faithful unto death; and he will give you a crown of life.”
GUILT AND DANGER OF DEPARTING FROM GOD
Deuteronomy 13:6-11. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him; but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people, And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.
THERE is a striking difference between the laws of man and the laws of God: those which are framed by human legislators, proportion always the sanctions to the influence which crimes have upon the public welfare: whereas those enacted by our heavenly Lawgiver, mark with greater severity the evils which more immediately affect his own honour and glory. If one man robbed or maimed another, his law required only a four-fold restitution, or the infliction of a punishment precisely similar to the injury sustained: but if a man, even the dearest relative they had, should only propose to any of his people to worship another god in preference to Jehovah, he must instantly be brought before the magistrates, and, on conviction of the offence, be stoned to death.
It will be proper to consider this ordinance in a two-fold view;
I. As a temporary enactment—
This enactment, or law, appears at first sight to be severe: but we undertake to shew that it was,
1. Just, as it respected the individual—
[The greatest crimes against any human government are treason, and murder; and, by the general consent of mankind, the principals who are found guilty of those crimes are put to death. Now, in the tempting of men to idolatry, both these crimes were contained: there was treason against the King of kings; and there was murder, not indeed of the bodies, but of the souls, of men. The person who made the proposal, did by that very act endeavour to draw men from their allegiance to God, and to engage them on the side of God’s enemy and rival. And, as far as his endeavours were attended with success, he eternally destroyed all who complied with his solicitations. Now compare the crimes, and see whether those committed against God and the souls of men be not infinitely more heinous than those which reach no further than to human governments, and the bodily life: and, if they be, the justice of the punishment annexed to them will admit of no doubt: it will be just, that He whose throne we would subvert, should inflict upon us the penalty of death; and that they whom we would ruin for ever, should be made the executioners of that sentence.]
2. Merciful, as it respected the public—
[The Jews had been nurtured in the midst of an idolatrous nation; and, after their settlement in Canaan, they were surrounded with idolaters on every side. Moreover they were of themselves exceedingly addicted to idolatry. But the consequence of their departure from God would be, that they would bring his heaviest judgments upon them, and be reduced to a more calamitous condition than any people under heaven. But God was graciously pleased to put a barrier in their way, which, it might be hoped, they should never be able to pass. He not only annexed the penalty of death to an act of idolatry, but even to a proposal to commit that sin: yea, to prevent such a proposal from being ever made, he not only authorized, but commanded, the person to whom it was made, to give immediate information of it to the magistrates, and to be the first in inflicting the punishment of death. If the person making the proposal should be ever so dear to him, though it should be his own brother, or son or daughter, or even the wife of his bosom, or his friend that is as his own soul, he must make no difference; he must shew no respect of persons whatever: “Thou shalt not consent unto him, says God, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him; but thou shalt surely kill him:” all natural affection must be laid aside, and be swallowed up in a concern for God’s honour; and the man himself must become the informer, the witness, and the executioner, even where the delinquent is dearer to him than his own soul. What child, what wife, what friend, if he had conceived an idolatrous inclination in his heart, would dare to mention it, when the person to whom he should mention it was precluded from all exercise of mercy, and was constrained to proceed against him according to this law? Thus then provision was made to prevent the possibility, as it should seem, of the nation ever yielding to idolatry, or provoking God to abandon them according to the threatenings which he had denounced against them. We are informed in the text that the very execution of this law was designed to produce this salutary effect [Note: ver. 11.]; and therefore much more must the enactment of it be an expression of love and mercy to the whole nation.]
This law indeed was only temporary: it was to continue in force only during the continuance of the Jewish polity: but it is nevertheless most instructive to us,
II. As a lasting admonition—
To the very end of time it will speak loudly to us; it declares to us, in the strongest terms,
1. The evil of departing from God—
[The annexing of the penalty of death, and of so cruel a death as that of stoning, is of itself no slight intimation of the evil of idolatry: but the requiring a man to execute this sentence against the wife of his bosom, or the friend that is as his own soul: the requiring him to do it even on account of a mere proposal, though the proposal was never carried into effect; the not suffering him to overlook or conceal the matter, but constraining him instantly to enforce the law without pity; how was it possible for God himself to mark the evil of this sin in blacker colours, or to shew his abhorrence of it in a stronger manner, than by such an enactment as this? The command to destroy a whole city for idolatry was scarcely a more awful demonstration of his anger than this [Note: ver. 12–18.].
But it may be said, “This was idolatry, a sin to which we have no temptation.” It was idolatry: but permit me to ask, wherein the great evil of idolatry consists? Is it not in alienating our affections from God, and placing them on some creature? Is it not justly described by the Apostle as “loving and serving the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore?” Is it not in this very view of the subject that covetousness is called idolatry, and that men are said to make “a god of their belly?” Is it not in this view that St. John says to all the Christian Church, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols?” What then does it signify, that we are not bowing down to stocks and stones, if there be idols enthroned in our hearts? God is equally provoked to jealousy, whether our idolatry be open and carnal, or secret and spiritual: and though he does not authorize man to proceed against us, he will take the matter into his own hand, and inflict upon us the punishment we deserve. It is in reference to this that St. Paul utters that severe denunciation against all who decline from their love to Christ; “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maran-atha;” that is, His departure from Christ deserves the heaviest judgments; and though we are not now at liberty to inflict them, God surely and quickly will.
O that all who have waxed cold in their affections towards God, would lay this to heart! If God be not seated on the throne of our hearts and sweetly ruling and reigning there, the creature is: and whether the idol be pleasure, or riches, or honour, or any thing else, however excellent or however base, we are idolaters; and shall be made to feel, that “it is an evil and bitter thing to forsake the Lord;” yea, that “it were better never to have known him, than, after knowing him, to depart from him.”]
2. The danger of being accessory to any one’s departure from him—
[There are a variety of ways in which we may be instrumental in turning others from God. What if we scoff at religion, and deride the practice of it as folly or enthusiasm; do we not, in fact, say to those around us, “Come, let us serve other gods?” What if we exert our influence and authority to deter people from attending where the word is preached with fidelity and power, or from associating with the despised followers of Jesus; are we not yet more decidedly guilty of hostility to God? for when we only scoff at religion, we leave people an alternative; but when we set ourselves to intimidate men from following after God, we are no longer seducers, but persecutors. But, supposing we do not take so decided a part against God, yet, if all our fears are against excess in religion, and none against a defect in it, if all the advice we give is to shun the cross and avoid the shame of a religious profession, and none at all to “endure the cross and despise the shame,” whom is it that we serve? Can we with propriety be called the friends and servants of our God? No: Find us in all the sacred records one single servant of his that ever shewed such dispositions as these. I forget: we can find one: we remember Peter’s kind solicitude for his Master, and his affectionate expression of it too; “Master, spare thyself:” but we remember also the answer of Jesus to him; “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Let me then warn friends and relatives of every description how they use their influence; lest, whilst they think that they are shewing kindness to man, they be found in reality fighting against God. Let me remind them, that, whether they succeed or not, their guilt is the same; they have made the proposal, and for that proposal they shall die: and would to God that the being stoned to death were the worst punishment they shall endure! but, alas! it were infinitely “better that a millstone were put about their neck, and that they were cast into the midst of the sea, than that they should offend one of God’s little ones:” it were better, I say; because they would lose only the bodily life: but in turning any one from God, they forfeit their own souls, and expose themselves to everlasting misery in hell. If friends would see what use they should make of their influence, the prophet will tell them; they should endeavour to draw one another nearer unto God; and should themselves endeavour to lead the way [Note: Zechariah 8:21.].]
3. The need we have of firmness and steadfastness in religion—
[No one can tell what temptations he may have to encounter, or from what quarter they shall spring, or how specious and powerful they may be. Perhaps the children whom we have fondled with delight, or the wife of our bosom, or the friend that is as our own soul, may be our tempters to decline from God, or the occasions of our yielding to temptation. Perhaps the suggestion may be so specious, that it shall appear to have come from a prophet of the Lord, and to have been confirmed by a sign from heaven [Note: ver. 1–5; 2 Corinthians 11:13-13.]. But our principles of religion should be so fixed, as to be incapable of being moved even by an angel from heaven [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.]; and our practice of it should be so determined, that no considerations whatsoever should be able to make us swerve for one moment from the path of duty. The fate of the man of God who listened to the lying prophet, should teach us this [Note: 1 Kings 13:18-24.]. Our rule is clear, and we should follow it without turning either to the right hand or the left [Note: ver. 4.].
But it will be asked, How shall I obtain this steadfastness? I answer, Compare the God whom you serve, with all the gods that are his rivals and competitors. This is the consideration by which God himself enforces that which might otherwise have appeared a sanguinary edict: he grounds the severity of his displeasure on the greatness of the mercies he had bestowed upon them [Note: ver. 10.]. But what were those mercies in comparison of the blessings he has conferred on you? Think from what a bondage you are redeemed; think by what means that redemption has been accomplished for you; think what an inheritance is purchased for you; and then say whether any thing in this world can have such a claim to your regards as the Lord Jesus Christ has. Only get your hearts impressed with a sense of his love, and the vanities of time and sense will be to you no more than the dirt under your feet. Only commit yourselves to Christ, “and be strong in the grace that is in him,” and you will find, that “neither angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus:” for “he is able to keep you from falling,” and “will preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom.” Whatever then your temptations be, or from whatever quarter they may spring, I say to every one of you, “Hold fast that thou hast, and let no man take thy crown [Note: Revelation 3:11.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 13". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany