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GRATITUDE TO GOD ENFORCED
Deuteronomy 26:3-6. And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto your fathers for to give us. And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God. And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father.
The ceremonial law is considered in general as a system of burthensome rites, that had in themselves no intrinsic value, and were useful only as prefiguring the mysteries of the Gospel. But though this view of it is in a measure just, yet we may disparage that law too much; because there was in many of its ordinances a proper tendency to generate divine affections. In the law before us, certain professions were required to be made at the same time that the first-fruits were presented: and the words that were put into the mouths of the offerers, reminded them of the obligations which they owed to God, and, consequently, were suited to excite, as well as to express, their gratitude to God. As far as respected the deliverance of that people from Egypt, there is no further occasion for the law; and therefore it is superseded with the rest of the Jewish ritual: but as an intimation of the high value which God sets on grateful recollections, it is worthy of our highest regard.
We shall take occasion from it,
To point out our duty in reference to the mercies we have received—
We surely ought not to receive them like the brute beasts, which have no understanding: it is our duty to act as intelligent creatures; and to make the mercies of our God an occasion of augmented benefit to our souls. For this purpose we ought,
To review them frequently—
[Even national mercies ought not to be overlooked by us. It was to them in a peculiar manner that the ordinance before us had respect. The Jews were required not only to look back to the deliverance of their nation from Egypt, but to trace back their origin to Jacob their father, whose mother was a Syrian, who himself married two Syrian women, and himself lived in Syria for twenty years; whose children also, with the exception of Benjamin, were all born in Syria, and were the heads and progenitors of all the Jewish tribes. He on many occasions was near perishing: when he fled from the face of Esau, when he was followed by Laban his father-in-law, and when he was met again by Esau at the head of four hundred men, he was in danger of being destroyed: in which case his children would either never have existed, or would all have been destroyed with him. But God had preserved him from every danger, and brought his posterity to Canaan agreeably to his promise: and they in grateful remembrance of this were to profess it openly from year to year; “A Syrian ready to perish was our father.”
Perhaps it rarely occurs to our minds that we have quite as much reason for gratitude on a national account as even the Jews themselves: but, if we call to mind the state of our forefathers, who were as ignorant of God as the most savage Indians, and remember, that we ourselves should have been bowing down to stocks and stones just like them, if the light of the Gospel had not been sent to dispel our darkness, we shall see that we may well adopt the language of our text and say, “A Syrian ready to perish was our father.”
But we should be careful also to review our personal mercies. Let us look back to the weakness of infancy, the thoughtlessness of childhood, the folly of youth, and see now marvellously God has preserved us to the present hour, whilst millions have been cut off by a premature death, or left to protract a miserable existence in pain, or infamy, or want. The means by which we have been rescued from danger, and even the minutest occurrences that have contributed to our deliverance, are worthy of our most attentive survey, and must be distinctly viewed, if ever we would “understand aright the loving-kindness of the Lord.” We must not however dwell solely, or even chiefly, on temporal mercies, but must raise our thoughts to those which are spiritual. What matter for reflection will these afford! If we consider the former blindness and ignorance of our minds, the hardness and depravity of our hearts, the indifference which we manifested towards the concerns of eternity, and the awful danger in which we stood, what reason have we to bless our God that he did not take us away in such a state! And, if we can say, as in our text, that “we are come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us,” and are “partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus,” then have we indeed cause for thankfulness, even such cause, as we may well reflect upon to the latest hour of our lives — — — On these then we should “muse till the fire burn, and we be constrained to speak of them with our tongues.” In the ordinance before us a particular season was appointed for this exercise: and it is well to have seasons fixed upon in our own minds for a more solemn commemoration of the mercies received by us. If the commencement of the new year, for instance, or our birth-day, were regularly dedicated to this service, it could not be better spent. But, if our minds be duly impressed with a sense of God’s goodness to us, we shall not be satisfied with allotting one particular period to the contemplation of it, but shall be glad to think and speak of it every day we live.]
To requite them gratefully—
[The Israelites were appointed to offer the first-fruits of the earth to God, in token that they acknowledged him as the Proprietor and Giver of all that they possessed. Now it is not necessary that we should present the same specific offerings as they; but we must dedicate to God the first-fruits of our time, and the first-fruits of our property. We should fear the Lord in our youth, and not think it sufficient to give him the gleanings and the dregs of life — — — and we should “honour him with our substance, and with the first-fruits of all our increase;” “giving liberally, if we have much, and, if we have but little, doing our diligence gladly to give of that little.” But chiefly should we consecrate ourselves to God: for we ourselves are, as the Apostle calls us, “a kind of first-fruits of God’s creatures [Note: James 1:18.].” Our bodies and our souls, together with all their faculties and powers, are his: “We are not our own; we are bought with a price; and to honour him is our bounden duty.” This is the very intent of God’s mercies to us; nor do we ever requite them as we ought, till we “present ourselves to God as living sacrifices,” and “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his.” This surrender of ourselves to him should be most solemn and devout. The image in our text admirably illustrates it: The priest took the basket that contained the first-fruits, and “set it down before the altar of the Lord his God.” Thus should we go into the very presence of our God, and dedicate ourselves to him, as his peculiar people. Rather, if we may so speak, we should put ourselves into the hands of our great High-Priest, that he may “present us holy and unblamable, and unreprovable in his sight.”]
Such is obviously our duty. We proceed now,
To recommend it to your attention—
Persons in general are ready to defer the performance of this duty under an idea that it pertains not to them, at least not at present, and that an attention to it would deprive them of much happiness: but we must press upon your consciences the observance of it; for it is,
An universal duty—
[Who is there that has not received innumerable mercies for which he has reason to be thankful? Verily, marvellous as are the displays of God’s goodness recorded in the Scriptures, there is no man who might not find as wonderful records of it in his own life, if he could trace all the dispensations of Providence towards him, as clearly and minutely as they are marked in the inspired volume towards God’s people of old — — —
But there is one point wherein all mankind are upon a level: we may all look back to the state of Adam after he had fallen, and had reduced himself and all his posterity to ruin. How awful our condition then! Truly we should have been for ever like the fallen angels, destitute of all help or hope, if God had not marvellously interposed to rescue us from death and hell by the sacrifice of his only dear Son. With what emphasis then may every one of us say, “A Syrian ready to perish was our father!” Here all the wonders of redeeming love unfold themselves to our view — — — and he who has no heart to adore God for them, has no evidence, no hope, of any interest in them — — —]
A reasonable duty—
[If we have conferred favours on any person for years together, do we not expect our kindness to be acknowledged and requited as opportunities shall occur? Do we not look with abhorrence upon a man that is insensible to all the obligations that can be heaped upon him? But what are the kindnesses which we can shew to a fellow-creature in comparison of those which we have received from God? — — — Shall we then expect a tribute of gratitude from him, and think ourselves at liberty to withhold it from our Heavenly Benefactor? — — — Let the world ridicule devotion, if they will, and call the love of God enthusiasm: but we will maintain it, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and that an entire surrender of ourselves to him is “a reasonable service” — — — Do we inquire, whence it is that ungodly men regard the sublimer exercises of religion as unnecessary and absurd? We answer, They have never considered what obligations they owe to God. Only let them once become acquainted with “the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of Christ,” and they will see, that reason, no less than revelation, demands of us this tribute; and that every enlightened mind must of necessity accord with that of the Psalmist, “What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits he has done unto me?” “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name!”]
A delightful duty—
[In the passage before us it is associated with joy [Note: ver. 11.]: and indeed, what is such a service but a foretaste of heaven itself? Did any one ever engage in it, and not find his soul elevated by it to a joy which nothing else could afford? Let any one ruminate on earthly things, and his meditations will only augment his cares, or at best inspire him with a very transient joy. Let him dwell upon his own corruptions, and, though they are a proper subject of occasional meditation, they will only weigh down his spirits, and perhaps lead him to desponding fears. But let the goodness of God, and the wonders of redeeming love, be contemplated by him, and he will soon have his mind raised above earthly things, and fired with a holy ambition to honour and to resemble God. See how the Psalmist expresses his thoughts on such occasions [Note: Psalms 145:1-7.]: what glorious language! how sublime must have been the feelings of his soul, when uttering it before God! Know ye then that this is the state to which we would invite you, and that the daily experience of it is the best preparative for the joys above.]
COVENANTING WITH GOD EXPLAINED
Deuteronomy 26:17-19. Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice: and the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken.
The covenant which was made with the Jews at Mount Horeb, though materially different from that which exists under the Christian dispensation, was yet intended to shadow forth that which all of us are called upon to enter into with our God. The Jewish covenant had respect in a great measure to temporal blessings, the bestowment of which was suspended entirely on their performance of certain conditions: whereas ours relates altogether to spiritual blessings; and though it has conditions as well as theirs, it provides strength for the performance of them, and thereby secures from failure all those who cordially embrace it. We may take occasion therefore from the words before us to consider,
Our covenant engagements—
The Jews were required to “avouch,” or profess openly, their acceptance of God as their God, and their determination to obey his will in all things; and such are the engagements which we also are called to take upon ourselves under the Christian dispensation:
To accept God as our God—
[The Jews had most satisfactory evidence that Jehovah was the only true God, and that he alone was worthy to be worshipped and adored. But, great as were the evidences of his kindness towards them, they are nothing in comparison of the demonstrations of his love to us. The gift of his only dear Son to die for us must for ever eclipse every other expression of his love [Note: Romans 5:8.]: and this peculiarly distinguishes the view in which we are to accept him: we must regard him as our incarnate God, as “God In Christ Jesus, reconciling the world unto himself, and not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Think a moment what is implied in such an acceptance of God: it supposes, that we feel our guilty, helpless, and hopeless state by nature; that we see the suitableness and sufficiency of the provision which God has made for us in the Son of his love; and that we are determined to have no dependence on any thing but on the meritorious death and the all-sufficient grace of the Lord Jesus — — —
But it is not merely a secret determination which God requires: that determination must be avowed; we must “avouch” him to be the Lord our God. We must not be ashamed of Christ, but must “confess him before men,” and be as bold in acknowledging him, as the ungodly are in their allegiance to the god of this world — — —]
To act towards him as becomes us in that relation—
[Universal obedience to his commands was promised by the Jews of old; and the same must be promised by us also. We need not attempt to discriminate between the various terms here used: this we are sure is intended by them, that we are to yield obedience to the whole of his will as far as we know it, neither regarding any thing as unworthy of our notice, nor any thing as too difficult for us to perform: we must “hearken to his voice,” as the angels in heaven do [Note: Psalms 103:20.], with an unwearied solicitude to know more of his will, and an incessant readiness to comply with the first intimations of it. We must be searching and meditating continually to find out what he speaks to us in his written word; and be listening also attentively to the still small voice of his Spirit, speaking to us in our consciences: and, whatever we ascertain to be his mind and will, that we are to do without hesitation, and without reserve.
Now this we must determine through grace to do. We must not come to God only as a Saviour to deliver us, but also as a Lord to govern us: and we must resolve that henceforth “no other Lord shall have dominion over us.” Nor must this determination be kept secret: this also must be avowed: we must let it be seen “whose we are, and whom we serve;” and must evince a firmness in his service which neither the terrors nor allurements of the world can ever shake — — —]
Precisely corresponding with our engagements are,
Our covenant advantages—
God affords us ample encouragement to “lay hold on his covenant;” for he avows his determination,
To own us as his people—
[The very moment that we look to Christ as “all our salvation and all our desire,” God will set his seal upon us as “his peculiar treasure.” Just as a person who has bought any thing of great value, regards it from that moment as his own property, and uses all proper methods for the securing the full possession of it, so does God: “he sets apart him that is godly for himself:” he gives “his angels charge over him,” and “avouches” him from that day to be “his purchased possession.” He “avouches” it, I say, and makes it manifest both to the man himself and to the world around him. To the man himself he gives “a Spirit of adoption, enabling him to cry, Abba, Father,” and to ascertain, by “the witness of that Spirit, that he is a child of God [Note: Romans 8:15-16.].” To the world around him also he makes it manifest, by enabling him to “walk as Christ walked,” and “to shine as a light in the midst of a dark benighted world.” Instantly does the change in him become apparent, so that his friends and neighbours cannot but confess that he is a new creature: and, though some will ascribe the change to one thing, and some to another, they are constrained to acknowledge, that his new mode of life is such as they cannot attain to, and such as approves itself to be the very work of God himself.]
To bestow on us blessings worthy of that relation—
[The first thing which the child of God desires, is holiness: and behold, as soon as ever he embraces the Christian covenant, God engages to make him holy, and to enable him “to keep all his commandments.” This is a peculiar point of difference between the Jewish covenant and ours, as we have already observed; and it is that which is our greatest encouragement under the consciousness we feel of our own weakness. God “will put his Sprit within us, and cause us to walk in his statutes, [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-27.]” This is actually a part of his covenant engagements; and must be esteemed by us as our security for the enjoyment of all our other advantages.
Together with this does God undertake to give us the most exalted honour and happiness: “he will make us high above all people in praise, and in name, and in honour.” “Behold,” says the Apostle, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” Yes, he “calls us not servants, but friends,” yea, “sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.” For us has he prepared crowns and kingdoms, that we may “sit with him on his throne,” and be partakers of his glory for ever and ever. This, and infinitely more than language can express, has “God prepared for them that love him,” and that embrace “his covenant of life and peace:” and he pledges his truth and faithfulness for the performance of his word.
O Christian, what advantages are these! what tongue can ever utter them; what imagination can ever conceive of them aright! Know however, that, unspeakable as they are, they are all thy rightful portion, thine everlasting inheritance.]
Twice is the expression used, “this day;” “this day thou hast avouched;” and “this day God has avouched, &c.” Permit me then to ask, Have you ever known such a day as this, a day wherein you have solemnly surrendered yourselves to God as his redeemed people, with a full determination to serve him with your whole hearts; and a day wherein he has “manifested himself to you as he does not unto the world,” and “sealed you with the Holy Spirit of promise, as the earnest of your inheritance?”
To those who have known such a day:
[Perhaps you were brought to it through many and severe afflictions [Note: Zechariah 13:9; Ezekiel 20:37.]; but have you ever regretted for a moment the means by which such a blessed end has been accomplished? We say then, Let not the remembrance of that day escape from your minds. You cannot but recollect what a solemn transaction it was between God and your own souls: what shame you felt that ever you had alienated yourselves from him, what gratitude to him for his gracious acceptance of you, what a determination to live entirely to his glory, and what a persuasion that you could never be base enough to forget the engagements of that day. But do you not find that the good impressions have been greatly weakened, and that, whilst the ardour of your will and affections has cooled, little remains except the convictions of your judgment? Ah! beware of “leaving your first love,” or of resting satisfied with past experiences. Know that it is not on any one day that these transactions must be realized, but every day of your lives. You should be again and again renewing your vows unto the Lord, and be daily occupied in fulfilling them. Look to it then, that neither the cares of the world, nor the deceitfulness of riches, nor the lusts of the flesh, nor the fear of man, nor any other thing, “choke the good seed within you, or prevent your bringing forth fruit unto perfection.”]
To those who wish for such a day,
[(For we trust that such there are amongst us, who yet cannot speak of such a day as past,) we would earnestly suggest some necessary cautions.
Delay not thus to give yourselves up to God: but be particularly on your guard not to do it in a legal, self-righteous, self-dependent spirit. There are two mistakes which are very generally made, which yet are of most fatal consequence: the first is, that our covenant-engagements relate only to the performance of our duties; whereas they relate primarily to our acceptance of God as our reconciled God in Christ Jesus: and the second is, that we are to found all our hopes of covenant advantages on our own obedience; whereas we should regard them, not as purchased by us, but as bestowed on us in the covenant, and as secured to us in Christ Jesus. Happy would it be, if this matter were more clearly understood: it lies at the very root of all our comfort, and of all our stability: till we see all our holiness secured to us as well as required of us, we shall never rely as we ought on the promises of God, or give to him the glory due unto his name. See how the covenant is expressed by an inspired prophet: not only does it say, “They shall be my people, and I will be their God,” but, to secure their part of the covenant as well as God’s, God promises “not to turn away from them, or to suffer them to turn away from him [Note: Jeremiah 32:38-41.].” Thus is “the covenant ordered in all things, and therefore sure:” but it is sure to those only who lay hold on it with a just apprehension of its nature, and a simple dependence on its provisions.]
Those, who have no idea of any such day,
[May probably be found amongst us. There are some who seem to take credit to themselves for never having made any profession of religion at all. But can they suppose that this is any excuse for their irreligion, or that it invalidates their obligation to serve the Lord? See the solemn injunction that precedes the text [Note: ver. 16.]: can they make that void? See what is the prophet’s description of things under the gospel dispensation [Note: Jeremiah 1:4-5.]: there not only are the Lord’s people represented as encouraging one another to covenant thus with God, but the state of their minds is accurately delineated, and the whole mode of their proceeding described. Be it known then that this is the duty of every one amongst us. If we would have God for our portion in a better world, we must accept him now: and, if we would be his people in a better world, we must give ourselves up to him now. To make excuses is vain. This duty is paramount to every other: and therefore we call upon all of you this day to “avouch God for your God,” that he, in the day of judgment, may acknowledge you as his redeemed people.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 26". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14