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MOSES’ SOLEMN CHARGE TO ISRAEL
Deuteronomy 4:7-9. What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous, as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.
PRACTICAL religion, however approved in theory, is not always admired when exhibited to our view. Not but that it has a beauty in it which commends itself to those who have a spiritual discernment; but it forms too strong a contrast with the ways of the world to gain its favour: the men of this world “love darkness rather than light;” and therefore agree to reprobate as visionary and gloomy, whatever opposes their evil habits. Nevertheless “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding:” and, wherever any people are enabled to maintain an uniform and consistent conduct, there their very enemies must honour them in their hearts, and confess them to be “a wise and understanding people.” This at least was the opinion of Moses, who from that very consideration urged the Jews to contemplate their high privileges, and to walk worthy of them [Note: ver. 5, 6 with the text.]. To advance the same blessed end in you, we shall state,
The peculiar privileges of the Jewish nation—
They were certainly advanced above all the nations upon earth; as in other respects, so particularly,
In their nearness to God—
[Moses had enjoyed such access to God as no man had ever done before: and “conversed with him face to face, even as a man converseth with his friend [Note: Exodus 33:11.].” That generation to whom he ministered, had seen on many occasions the efficacy of his intercessions, and therefore could appreciate the force of that observation in the text, “What nation is there that hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?” Nor was this privilege to be confined to Moses: the high-priest was furnished with an ephod and a breast-plate, by means of which he was to inquire of God in every difficulty, and to obtain answers from him. This was used from time to time, even till the Jews were carried captive to Babylon: and the great privilege of having such means of communion with God may be sufficiently seen in the advantage which David repeatedly derived from it, to learn the intentions of his enemies, and to gain direction respecting his own conduct [Note: See 1 Samuel 23:9-12; 1 Samuel 30:7-8.]. The heathen indeed had their oracles, which they consulted; but from which they could derive no certain information. The ambiguity of the answers given by them, left room for opposite constructions, and proved that no dependence whatever could be placed upon them. Those oracles were a compound of lying priestcraft, and diabolic influence: and were no more to be compared with the oracle of God, than the light of a deceitful vapour with that of the meridian sun.]
In the excellence of the dispensation under which they lived—
[”The statutes and judgments” which Moses had delivered to them were altogether “righteous” and good. The judicial law, which was given for the regulation of their civil polity, was founded in perfect equity, and conducive in every point to the happiness of the community. The moral law was a transcript of the mind and will of God: it was in every respect “holy, and just, and good,” and, if followed in every part, would assimilate the people to God himself. The ceremonial law also, notwithstanding it was burthensome in many respects, afforded peace and comfort to all who were bowed down with a sense of sin, and desirous of finding acceptance with an offended God. As for the heathen world, they had none of these advantages: they had no such light for the government of their states, no such instruction for the regulation of their conduct, no such consolations under the convictions of guilt or the dread of punishment. They had no better guide than their own weak unassisted reason: and though by means of that they were able to frame laws for the public good, they never could devise a system whereby the soul should be restored to holiness or peace. In these respects the Jews were elevated above all the world. The excellence and authority of their laws were undisputed; and every one was made happy by his observance of them.]
But still the Jews themselves had little to boast of in comparison of,
The superior privileges which we enjoy—
Our access to God is much nearer than theirs—
[They had, it is true, in some respects the advantage. No person now can hope for such special directions as were imparted by the Urim and Thummim. But it must be remembered that this mode of ascertaining the mind of God was of necessity confined to few: it was not possible for every person to go to the high-priest, and to obtain his mediation with the Deity on every subject that might require light: this liberty could be used by few, and only on occasions of great public importance. But our access to the Deity is unlimited: every person, at all times, in every place, on every occasion, may come to God, without the intervention of a fellow-creature: in this respect every child of God is on a par with the high-priest himself, or rather, is elevated to a state far above him, in proportion as a spiritual approach is nearer than that which is bodily, and an immediate access is nearer than that which is through the medium of an ephod and a breast-plate. Indeed the liberty given to us is unbounded: “In every thing we may make our requests known unto God;” and we may “ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us.” Though therefore the Jews were privileged beyond the Gentiles, whose gods of wood and stone could not attend to their supplications, yet we are no less privileged above them, and can adopt a language unknown to them, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”]
Our dispensation too is more excellent than theirs—
[We need not to disparage theirs in any respect, in order to raise in our estimation that under which we live. We may give to that all the honour it deserves, and yet not be afraid that ours will suffer any thing in the comparison. Theirs, excellent as it was, was only a shadow, of which ours is the substance. Whatever good theirs had, is retained and perfected in ours; whatever it had that was weak and burthensome, is done away. The peace which that afforded to the guilty conscience was alight and temporary: the very means of forgiveness were only so many fresh remembrances of unforgiven sin: but the peace obtained by us “passeth all understanding:” the joy we taste is “unspeakable and full of glory.” The blood of bulls and of goats afforded a very weak ground for hope, in comparison of the blood of God’s only-begotten Son: that “cleanseth from all sin,” and “perfects for ever them that are sanctified.” Again, the law of the ten commandments denounced a curse for one single violation of them, however small; and afforded no assistance to those who desired to fulfil it: but the precepts of the Gospel, though as holy and as perfect as the Law itself, are accompanied with promises of grace and offers of mercy to all who endeavour to obey them: God undertakes to write them on our hearts, so as to make a compliance with them both easy and delightful. In a word, their law was a yoke of bondage, productive only of slavish fears, and ineffectual efforts: whereas our law, the law of faith, begets a filial spirit, and transforms us “into the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness.” Compare the two dispensations, and we shall see in a moment our superior advantages: for whilst they were only slaves under the lash, we have the happiness of being “sons and heirs.”]
If such be our distinguished privileges, it becomes us to consider,
Our duty in reference to them—
This was a point which Moses was extremely anxious to impress on the mind of every individual; “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently.” In like manner would we urge you in relation to the privileges you enjoy,
To keep up the remembrance of them in your own hearts—
[It is scarcely necessary to observe, how apt we are to forget the mercies which God has vouchsafed unto us. The mere facts indeed may easily be retained in our heads; but a due sense of the kindness expressed in them, and of the obligations conferred by them, is not easily preserved upon the soul. The smallest trifle is sufficient to draw us from heavenly contemplations, and to engage those affections, which should be exclusively fixed on God. Hence Moses bade the people “take heed, lest the things which they had seen should depart from their heart [Note: See also Hebrews 2:1.].” What then must we do? We must avoid the things which would weaken our sense of God’s mercies to us; and abound in those exercises which will keep alive the sense of them upon our hearts. Worldly cares, worldly pleasures? worldly company, should all be regarded by us with a godly fear and jealousy, lest they “choke the seed” which is springing up in our hearts, and prevent us from “bringing forth fruit unto perfection.” On the other hand, our meditation on the Christian’s privileges should be frequent: we should muse on them, till the fire kindle in our hearts, and we are constrained to speak of them with our tongues. It is thus that we must trim the lamps of our sanctuary; it is thus that we must be keeping up the fire on the altar of our hearts. In a word, if we will improve our privileges, we shall have them augmented and confirmed: if, on the other hand, we slumber over them, we shall give advantage to our enemy to despoil us of them [Note: Matthew 13:12.].]
To transmit the memory of them to posterity—
[The Jews were made depositaries of divine knowledge for the good of the Christian Church: and it is in the same light that we are to consider the Scriptures which are committed to us; they are not for our personal benefit merely, but for the use of the Church in all future ages. Hence then we are bound to “teach them to our sons, and our sons’ sons.” It is greatly to be lamented indeed that so little attention is paid to the sacred oracles in the public seminaries of learning. Something of a form indeed may be observed; a form, from which the very persons who enforce it neither expect nor desire any practical effect: but if one half the pains were taken to make us understand and feel the exalted privileges of Christianity, as are bestowed on elucidating the beauties of classic writers, or exploring the depths of science and philosophy, we should see religion and morals in a very different state amongst us. It was for the instructing of their children in righteousness that the awful transactions that took place at Mount Horeb were required to be more particularly impressed on all succeeding generations [Note: ver. 10.]: and if the law from Mount Sinai was to be so carefully communicated to the children of Jews, ought not “the law that came forth from Mount Zion [Note: Isaiah 2:3.],” even “the law of faith,” to be proclaimed to our children? If they were to remember Horeb, shall not we remember Bethlehem, where the Son of God was born into the world; and Calvary, where he shed his blood; and Olivet, from whence he ascended up to heaven, and led captive all the powers of darkness? Yes surely, these great transactions should be dwelt upon, not as mere historical facts, but as truths whereon are founded all the hopes and expectations of sinful man: and we cannot but regard it as a blessing to the Christian world, that days are set apart for the special remembrance of those great events; that so not one of them may be overlooked, but that all in succession may be presented to the view of every Christian in the land. Let us then habituate ourselves to dwell upon them as the most delightful of all subjects [Note: Deuteronomy 11:18-20.], and “account both our time and money well spent in promoting the knowledge of them in the world.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13