GOD’S CONTINUED MERCIES TO US
Deuteronomy 2:7. These forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee: thou hast lacked nothing.
WHOEVER would enter fully into the doctrine of a divine providence, should study the history of the Israelites in the wilderness. We at this day are ready to imagine, that, however God may superintend the affairs of the universe sufficiently to keep them in order, and to subserve his own purposes, he yet leaves minuter matters to a kind of chance; and that to expect his interposition in our own behalf, especially in things of daily occurrence, would be the height of presumption. In a word, we draw lines of distinction between a general and a particular providence; and feel ourselves at liberty to acknowledge the one, whilst we deny the other. But in the Scriptures there will not, I apprehend, be found any ground for such a distinction. We cannot conceive any thing of less moment than a sparrow falling to the ground, or an hair of our head perishing; yet these things are expressly declared to be within the bounds of God’s peculiar care. The truth is, that God is the same as ever he was; and that his attention to the affairs of men is still the same: the only difference is, that for special ends he made his interpositions visible in former days; whereas, now he would have us to “walk by faith, and not by sight.” Of his people in the wilderness, he was the visible Leader, Protector, Nourisher: and so constant had been his attention to their every want, that, at the close of their pilgrimage, Moses could appeal to the whole nation, “These forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee: thou hast lacked nothing.”
That we may see that his care has not been exclusively confined to them, I will shew,
I. What mercies have been vouchsafed to us during the whole period of our sojourning in this wilderness—
Surprising, indeed, was his attention to his ancient people. They were in a wilderness where there was literally nothing for their sustenance. Neither bread nor water could be found there: but of both did God afford them a daily and miraculous supply; causing bread to descend from heaven for them, and the waters of the rock to follow them. But from whence should they obtain raiment? None could be fabricated; none be found. But God superseded the need of any fresh supply, by causing that “their clothes, for the whole space of forty years, should never decay;” and that, notwithstanding all their travelling, “their shoe should never wax old upon their foot [Note: Deuteronomy 29:5.].” Nor would he suffer their strength to fail: for, “as their raiment waxed not old upon them, so neither did their foot swell for forty years [Note: Deuteronomy 8:4.].” With these corporeal blessings, God imparted to them no less richly for their souls. He gave them his word; he continued to them his ministers; “he sent to them, also, his Holy Spirit to instruct them [Note: Nehemiah 9:20.].”
Now in all this we may see what God, in his mercy, has done for us also, during the whole of our sojourning in this wilderness:
1. In relation to temporal concerns—
[Us, also, has God supplied with all the necessaries of life: but because, in providing these things, the agency of man is required, we overlook His hand; whereas, in fact, he is as much the author and giver of these blessings to us, as he was of the mercies vouchsafed to Israel. What can we do to secure fruitful seasons ? Who amongst us could make so much as a blade of grass to grow ? Who could prevent the fruits of the earth from being devoured by locusts and caterpillars, or from being destroyed by blasting and mildew? Who has kept from our borders the desolating scourge of war ? Who has preserved us from the more terrific calamities of civil war? To whom are we indebted, that we have not been reduced to the lowest ebb of misery by some destructive conflagration? Men, it is true, are actively employed in providing for themselves: but what are men? they are nothing but agents, (unconscious agents, I had almost said,) accomplishing the will of another: for, whilst they are universally seeking their own personal advantage, they are, in reality, God’s instruments, employed by him for the benefit of the world. We see this exemplified in the labours of bees; from which we may form a just idea of all that is passing in the world. Thousands of persons are employed, daily and hourly, to supply our wants. Little do we think of this. Were we placed for any length of time in a country uninhabited except by ourselves and our own domestic circle, we should soon feel how deeply we are indebted to God for innumerable comforts, which, through his good providence, we enjoy; and which, through a stimulus imparted by him, other persons are engaged in procuring for us. What their motives may be, is no concern of ours: it is sufficient for us to know, that, as God directed and overruled the ambition of Sennacherib to correct and chasten his people Israel [Note: Isaiah 10:5-7.], so he directs and overrules the selfish, dispositions of mankind to administer to the wants of each other, and to provide for the comfort of the whole world. And the poorest person amongst us has thousands of persons at this very time engaged for him, to provide him with the comforts and conveniences of life.]
2. In relation to the concerns of our souls—
[Has not God preserved to us, also, his word and ordinances; dispensed, too, by the same ministry for forty years [Note: In the year 1822, the Author had ministered at Trinity Church the precise time that Moses and Aaron had to Israel.]? and may we not say, too, that God has, during the whole of that period, “sent his good Spirit to instruct you?” Yes; God has borne testimony to the word of his grace, and caused it to “come to you not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance [Note: 1 These. 1:5.].” I would not willingly speak of any thing relating to myself: that is the last subject that should ever be brought before you: but, having fulfilled the term that Moses and Aaron did before me; and being able to call to witness, that, during the whole of that time, I have lived for you, and laboured for you, and “declared unto you faithfully the whole counsel of God;” I cannot but remind you of God’s dealings with you in that particular, and make my appeal to you in the words of my text, “These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; ye have lacked nothing [Note: The example of St. Paul, in his address to the Elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17-27; Acts 20:31.) must be the Author’s apology for the foregoing observations; which, after forty years of labour in the same church, may well be allowed.].”]
Whatever be the value of these mercies, it will be greatly heightened by considering,
II. Under what circumstances they have been continued to us—
If we look at Israel, they will serve as a mirror, to reflect our image to the very life. In them we may see,
1. How great our provocations have been—
[Grievously neglectful of their duties were the Israelites, during the whole of their sojourning in the wilderness. Though commanded to circumcise their children, they never administered that rite in all that time [Note: Joshua 5:5-7.]. Never but once had they held a Passover; and that was in the very first year after they had come out of Egypt [Note: Numbers 9:5.]. And during the whole forty years they offered no sacrifice to God; but, on the contrary, paid their devotions to senseless gods, and graven images [Note: Acts 7:41-43.]. Such was their conduct in the wilderness. And what has been ours? Have not our most solemn duties been neglected, or performed only in such a way as to shew that our heart was not in them? Have we attained the true circumcision, even “the circumcision of the heart, which is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; whose praise is not of men, but of God [Note: Romans 2:29.]?” Have we fed upon the Paschal Lamb, even on “Christ our Passover, who has been sacrificed for us [Note: 1 Corinthians 5:7.]?” Have “we presented ourselves as living sacrifices to God, which has been our reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.]?” Have we not rather “set up idols in our hearts [Note: Ezekiel 14:3.],” even every heathenish abomination, and in ten thousand instances “loved and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore [Note: Romans 1:25.]?” And do we “find these things by secret search [Note: Jeremiah 2:34.]?” No: your whole lives proclaim it. Must we go back to the Apostles’ days to find that “covetousness which is idolatry,” or the people “whose god is their belly,” and who have no delight in any thing but the gratification of their sensual appetites? Let us look back through the whole time of our sojourning in this wilderness, and we shall find our whole lives to have been one continued series of provocations; as if we had determined to “weary out our God [Note: Isaiah 43:24.],” and “break down his very Spirit with our whorish heart [Note: Ezekiel 6:9.].” Yes; “this has been our manner from our youth [Note: Jeremiah 22:21.].” God “has known this to be our walking through this great wilderness:” and our consciences also attest that these accusations are true.]
2. How entirely we have been under the influence of unbelief—
[Notwithstanding all that God did for Israel, yet would they “never believe his word [Note: Psalms 78:22; Psalms 78:32; Psalms 106:24.].” And it was this very thing which most of all provoked him to “swear, that they should never enter into his rest [Note: Hebrews 3:18.].” And what has been our state in this respect? We have had God’s promises and threatenings set before us with all fidelity: but neither the one nor the other have been regarded: they have all appeared to us but as idle tales; and have had no more influence upon us, than if they had been unworthy of the smallest credit Every earthly vanity has been able to excite a hope or fear: but God’s word has been altogether despised. Say, Brethren, whether this be not true? Say whether the terrors of hell have been sufficient to keep you from sin, or the glories of heaven sufficient to stimulate you to a surrender of yourselves to God? With the exception of a few instances, wherein divine grace has wrought successfully upon this or that particular individual, the whole mass of us have lived as “without God in the world,” preferring our own will before his, and the gratification of ourselves before the honour of our God.
Such have been the circumstances under which our God has continued to load us with his benefits. “We have lacked nothing” that was conducive to our comfort: but he has lacked every thing that should promote his glory.]
See then, here—
1. What reason we have to admire the patience of our God—
[He complains that he has been “pressed under us, even as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves [Note: Amos 2:13.]:” yet has he borne with us even to the present hour; “many a time turning his anger away, and not stirring up all his wrath,” to punish us, as we deserved [Note: Psalms 78:38.]. Can you look back upon no season, Brethren, when God might well have cut you off; and have “got honour to himself” in executing upon you the most signal vengeance [Note: Exodus 14:17.]? I call upon you, then, to ‘glorify his name; and to acknowledge from your inmost souls, that “it is of his mercies that you have not been long since consumed, even because his compassions fail not [Note: Lamentations 3:22.].”]
2. What need we have to humble ourselves before him—
[God’s patience will come to an end. “His Spirit will not always strive with man [Note: Genesis 6:3.].” He waits to be gracious unto us; but it is to the penitent only that he will impart the full blessings of salvation. His determination is, “Whoso covereth his sins, shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth, and forsaketh them, shall have mercy.” Contend, then, with him no longer; but let “his goodness and long-suffering and forbearance lead you to repentance [Note: Romans 2:4.].”]
3. What need professors of religion, in particular, have to fear and tremble—
[The whole people of Israel had been brought out of Egypt, and been both blessed and honoured by God as his peculiar people: and yet they perished in the wilderness. And this is recorded as an admonition to us [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.]. St. Jude, also, particularly labours to impress this warning on our minds [Note: Jude, ver. 5.]. Let it sink, then, into all our hearts [Note: Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 4:1.]: for the very bounty of our God, in the bestowment of temporal and spiritual blessings upon us, will only aggravate our condemnation, if we do not make a suitable improvement of them. We may have “lacked nothing for forty years,” and yet “lack a drop of water” to all eternity. I pray you, Brethren, see to it, that your “hearts be right with God;” and that the blessings bestowed on you in this life, be the means of preparing you for richer blessings in the world to come.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 2". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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