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The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive.
Men without heart, sight, or hearing
Feeling, sight, hearing! What wonderful things these are! If we could exist without them, what a wretched condition ours would be! The outer world would be unknown to us if the gates of the senses were shut, and the soul would be famished, like Samaria when it was straitly shut up, and there was no going in nor coming out. When any one of the senses is gone it involves great deprivation, and subjects the person enduring it to the pity of his fellows, but if all were absent what wretchedness must ensue! Transfer your thoughts now from these external senses by which we become conscious of the external world to those spiritual senses by which we perceive the spiritual world, the kingdom of heaven, the Lord of that kingdom, and all the powers of the world to come. There is a heart which should be tender, by which we perceive the presence of God and feel His operations, and even behold the Lord Himself, as it is written, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” There is a spiritual eye by which the things invisible are discerned; blessed are they to whom the Lord has given to see the things of His kingdom, which to the unrenewed remain hidden in parables. There is a spiritual ear by which we hear the gentle whispers of the Spirit, which frequently come to us internally, without the medium of sounds that can affect the ear. Blessed are those who have the ear which the Lord has purged, and cleansed, and opened, so that it listens to the Divine call But there is no blessedness in the case of men devoid of spiritual feeling, sight, and hearing. Theirs is a miserable plight.
I. We shall think upon a mournful fact. Here was a whole nation, with but very few exceptions, of whom their leader, who knew and loved them best, was obliged to say, “The Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, unto this day.”
1. The mournful part of it was, that this was the nation that had been specially favoured of God above all others.
2. Note again, that not only were they a highly favoured people, but they had seen very wonderful acts performed by the Lord Himself.
3. In addition to this, these people had passed through a very remarkable experience.
4. In addition to all this sight and experience, the Israelites had received remarkable instruction.
5. One thing else is worth notice, that these people had been associated with remarkable characters. They were not all blinded, there were a few among them who were gracious, and so were made to perceive. Caleb and Joshua were there, and Aaron and Miriam; but chiefly there was Moses, grandest of men, true father of the nation
II. Let us note the mournful reasons for all this.
1. The reasons for their incapacity to see and perceive lay, first, in the tact that these people never believed in their own blindness. They had no heart to perceive, and they did not perceive their absence of perception; they had no eyes wherewith to detect their own dimness of vision. They were such fools as to dote on their own wisdom, so poor as to think themselves rich, so hypocritical as to profess to be sincere. Pride is the great creator of darkness; like Nahash, the Ammonite, it puts out the right eye. Men seek not the light, because they boast that they are the children of the day and need no light from above.
2. More than this, these men never asked for a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear. No man hath ever asked for these things and been refused; no soul has cried in its blindness and darkness, “Open Thou mine eyes,” but what a gracious answer has always come. It is the prerogative of the Lord Jesus to open the blind eyes; but this He is ever ready to do whenever men call upon His name. Then, moreover, what little light they did have they resisted. When they were forced to see, it was only for a moment that they would be instructed, and then they shut their eyes again.
III. What was the mournful result of these people being so highly favoured, and yet not seeing their God?
1. The result was, first, that they missed a happy portion, I can hardly imagine how happy the children of Israel might have been. They left Egypt with a high hand and an outstretched arm, their ears were hung with jewels, and their purses were filled with riches, while around them manna dropped from heaven, and cool streams flowed at their side. They might have made a quick march to the promised land, and at once entered their rest, for their God who had sent the hornet before them would soon have driven out their adversaries. They would have known no invading enemy, and felt neither blast, nor blight, nor mildew; in fact, they would have been the happiest nation under heaven: “He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.” They flung all this on one side: they would not have God, and so they could not have prosperity. They walked contrary to Him, and He walked contrary to them; they would not obey Him, and therefore His anger smoked against them.
2. Think, moreover, what a glorious destiny they threw aside. Had they been equal to the occasion, by God’s grace they might have been a nation of kings and priests, they might have been the Lord’s missionaries to all lands, the light-bearers to all peoples.
3. Another result was that while they missed so high a position, they went on sinning. As they did not learn the lesson God was teaching them, namely, that He was God, and that to serve Him was their joy and their prosperity, they went from one evil to another, provoking the Lord to jealousy.
4. Hence they frequently suffered. A plague broke out at one time, and a burning at another; at one time they were visited with fever, and anon the earth opened beneath them; one day the Amalekites smote them, another day fiery serpents leaped up from the sand, and they died by thousands, being poisoned by their bites. They suffered much and often, and in all their trials they did but reap what they had sown.
5. At last this evil ended terribly. The Lord lifted His hand to heaven, and swore that the rebellious generation should not enter into His rest, and they began to die by wholesale till Moses cried, “We are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we troubled.” Not one of the men that came out of Egypt, save only Joshua and Caleb, reached the promised land. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A perceiving heart the gift of God
To complete the sense of the words, we must have recourse to the two precedent verses; which, being compared to the text, present us with a description of such a brutish temper as is not to be found in any people mentioned throughout the whole Book of God, or any history whatsoever.
I. What is meant by God’s giving to the soul a perceiving heart? We have grace here set out by such acts as are properly acts of knowledge; as understanding, seeing, hearing; not because, as some imagine, grace is placed only in the understanding, which, being informed with such a principle, is able to govern, and practically to determine the will, without the help of any new principle infused into that. For grace is a habit equally placed in both these faculties, but it is expressed by the acts of the understanding:--
1. Because the understanding has the precedency and first stroke in holy actions, as well as in others; it is the head and fountain from whence they derive their goodness, the leading faculty: and therefore the works of all the rest may, by way of eminence, be ascribed to this, as the conquest of an army is ascribed to the leader only, or general.
2. Because the means of grace are chiefly and most frequently expressed by the word “truth”; 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful (or a true) saying, that Christ came into the world to save sinners.” And in John 3:33, “He that believeth hath set to his seal that God is true.” And in John 17:17, “Thy Word is truth.” From hence, therefore, I collect--
(1) That to understand and receive the Word, according to the letter and notion, by a bare assent to the truth of it, is not to have a heart to perceive nor an ear to hear: because it is evident, both from Scripture and ordinary observation, that such a reception of the means of grace is not always attended with these spiritual effects: as, for instance, the Jews heard Christ and admired Him, but afterwards they rejected His doctrine and crucified His person. To hear the Word of God, and to hear God speaking in His Word, are things vastly different.
(2) Therefore, in the second place, to have a perceiving heart and a hearing ear is to have a spiritual light begot in the mind by an immediate overpowering work of the Spirit, whereby alone the soul is enabled to apprehend the things of God spiritually, and to practise them effectually: and without this we may see and see, and never perceive, and hear again and again and never understand.
II. Whence it is that, without this gift of a perceiving heart, the soul cannot make any improvement of the means of grace. It arises from these two reasons--
1. From its exceeding impotence and inability to apprehend these things.
2. From its contrariety to them. And there are two things in the soul in which this contrariety chiefly consists.
(1) Carnal corruptions.
(2) Carnal wisdom.
III. Although upon God’s denial of a perceiving heart the soul does inevitably remain unprofitable under the means of grace, so as not to hear nor perceive; yet this hardness, or unprofitableness, cannot at all be ascribed to God as the author of it. In order to the clearing of this we know that God’s “not giving a heart to perceive” may admit of a double acceptation.
1. As it implies only a bare denial of grace.
2. As it does also include a positive act of induration.
IV. How God can justly reprehend men for not hearing nor perceiving, when, upon His denial of a heart, there is a necessity lying upon them to do neither. Now, there can be no just reprehension but for sin, and nothing can be sin but that which is voluntary and free, and how can that be flee for a man to do or not to do which from necessity he cannot do? Application--
1. This doctrine speaks refutation to that opinion that states a sufficiency of grace in the bare proposal of things to be believed and practised, without a new powerful work of the Spirit upon the heart, that may determine and enable it to believe and accept of these things.
2. Is of exhortation; that in the enjoyment of the means of grace we should not terminate in the means, but look up to God, who alone is able to give a heart to improve them. (R. South, D. D.)
Men’s blindness in spiritual things
Consider this complaint--
I. As uttered by Moses against the people of his charge. They had seen with their bodily eyes all the wonders that had been wrought for them. They understood not.
1. The true character of that dispensation.
2. The obligations which it entailed upon them.
II. As applicable to ourselves at this day.
1. By the great mass of nominal Christians the nature of the Gospel is very indistinctly seen.
2. The effects of it are very partially experienced. Address--
(1) Those who are altogether blind.
(2) Those who think they see.
(3) Those whose eyes God has opened. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
Ye stand . . . before the Lord your God.
On covenanting with God
I. That covenanting with God, and that publicly, is not an unprecedented thing in the Church of God, but has been usual in former ages.
II. What is the nature of that covenant into which the people of God have entered, and into which we are called to enter with Him? And how do we enter into it? The Christian covenant is founded “upon better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). Its ceremonies are only two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both most significant. Its conditions or duties are most reasonable, necessary in the nature of things, and easy. Its worship is pure and spiritual, and confined to neither time nor place. Its privileges and blessings are spiritual and eternal Now, this covenant can only be entered into by a Mediator (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 7:22-28).
III. The end for which we should enter into or renew our covenant. “That He may establish thee for a people to Himself.”
1. A believing people, receiving in faith all His truths and promises.
2. A loving people (Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:20), esteeming, desiring, grateful to, and delighting in Him.
3. An obedient people (Deuteronomy 30:20). (J. Benson.)
On standing before God
1. Surely there is a warning--for the forgetful a startling, for the guilty a terrible, even for the good man a very solemn warning--in the thought that not only our life in its every incident, but even our heart in its utmost secrets, lies naked and open before Him with whom we have to do.
2. The thought that we stand before God involves not only a sense of warning, but a sense of elevation, of ennoblement. It is a sweet and a lofty doctrine, the highest source of all the dignity and grandeur of life.
3. A third consequence of life spent consciously in God’s presence is a firm, unflinching, unwavering sense of duty. A life regardful of duty is crowned with an object, directed by a purpose, inspired by an enthusiasm, till the very humblest routine carried out conscientiously for the sake of God is elevated into moral grandeur, and the very obscurest office becomes an imperial stage on which all the virtues play.
4. The fourth consequence is a sense of holiness. God requires not only duty, but holiness. He searcheth the spirits; He discerneth the very reins and heart.
5. This thought encourages us with a certainty of help and strength. The God before whom we stand is not only our Judge and our Creator, but also our Father and our Friend. (Dean Farrar.)
On the covenant of God with His people
This is a covenant day between God and us. This is the design of our sacraments, and the particular design of the Holy Supper we have celebrated. This being understood, we cannot observe without astonishment the slight attention most men pay to an institution, of which they seem to entertain such exalted notions. One grand cause of this defect proceeds, it is presumed, from our having, for the most part, inadequate notions of what is called contracting or renewing our covenant with God. The covenant God contracted with the Israelites by the ministry of Moses, and the covenant He has contracted with you, differ only in circumstances, being in substance the same. Properly speaking, God has contracted but one covenant with man since the Fall, the covenant of grace upon Mount Sinai. The Israelites, to whom Moses addresses the words of my text, had the same Sacraments (1 Corinthians 10:2-3), the same appellations (Exodus 19:5), the same promises (Hebrews 11:13). On the other hand, amid the consolatory objects which God displays towards us at this period, in distinguished lustre, and amid the abundant mercy we have seen displayed at the Lord’s table, if we should violate the covenant He has established with us, you have the same cause of fear as the Jews. We have the same Judge, equally awful now as at that period (Hebrews 12:29). We have the same judgments to apprehend (1 Corinthians 10:5-10). Further still, whatever superiority our condition may have over the Jews; in whatever more attracting manner He may have now revealed Himself to us, will serve only to augment our misery if we prove unfaithful (Hebrews 2:2-3; Hebrews 12:18-25). Hence the principle respecting the legal and evangelical covenant is indisputable. The covenant God formerly contracted with the Israelites by the ministry of Moses and the covenant He has made with us in the sacrament of the Holy Supper are in substance the same. And what the legislator said of the first, in the words of my text, we may say of the second, in the explication we shall give.
I. Moses requires the Israelites to consider the sanctity of the place in which the covenant was contracted with God. It was consecrated by the Divine presence. “Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord.” The Christians having more enlightened notions of the Divinity than the Jews, have the less need to be apprised that God is an Omnipresent Being, and unconfined by local residence. But let us be cautious lest, under a pretence of removing some superstitious notions, we refine too far. God presides in a peculiar manner in our temples, and in a peculiar manner even where two or three are met together in His name: more especially in a house consecrated to His glory; more especially in places in which a whole nation come to pay their devotion. The more solemn our worship, the more is God intimately near. And what part of the worship we render to God can be more august than that we have celebrated in the Lord’s Supper? In what situation can the thought, “I am seen and heard of God,” be more affecting?
II. Moses required the Israelites, in renewing their covenant with God, to consider the universality of the contract. “Ye stand all of you before the Lord.” Would to God that your preachers could say, on sacramental occasions, as Moses said to the Jews, “Ye stand all of you this day before the Lord your God; the captains of your tribes, your elders, your officers, your wives, your little ones, from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water.” But alas! how defective are our assemblies on these solemn occasions! There was a time, among the Jews, when a man who should have had the assurance to neglect the rites which constituted the essence of the law, would have been cut off from the people: This law has varied in regard to circumstances, but in essence it still subsists, and in all its force.
III. Moses required the Israelites, in renewing their covenant with God, to consider what constituted its essence: which, according to the views of the lawgiver, was the reciprocal engagement. Be attentive to this term reciprocal; it is the soul of my definition. What constitutes the essence of a covenant is the reciprocal engagements of the contracting parties. This is obvious from the words of my text, “that thou shouldest (stipulate or) enter.” Here we distinctly find mutual conditions; here we distinctly find that God engaged with the Israelites to be their God; and they engaged to be His people. We proved at the commencement of this discourse that the covenant of God with the Israelites was in substance the same as that contracted with Christians. This being considered, what idea ought we to form of those Christians (if we may give that name to men who can entertain such singular notions of Christianity) who venture to affirm that the ideas of conditions and reciprocal engagements are dangerous expressions, when applied to the evangelical covenant: that what distinguishes the Jews from Christians is, that God then promised and required, whereas now He promises and requires nothing?
IV. Moses required the Israelites to consider, in renewing their covenant with God, the extent of the engagement: “That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into His oath; that He may establish thee today for a people unto Himself; and that He may be unto thee a God.” This engagement of God with the Jews implies that He would be their God; or, to comprehend the whole in a single word, that He would procure them a happiness correspondent to the eminence of His perfections. Cases occur in which the attributes of God are at variance with the happiness of men. It implies, for instance, an inconsistency with the Divine perfections, not only that the wicked should be happy, but also that the righteous should have perfect felicity, while their purity is incomplete. There are miseries inseparable from our imperfection in holiness; and, imperfections being coeval with life, our happiness will be incomplete till after death. On the removal of this obstruction, by virtue of the covenant, God having engaged to be our God, we shall attain supreme felicity. When God engaged with the Israelites, the Israelites engaged with God. Their covenant implies that they should be His people; that is, that they should obey His precepts so far as human frailty would admit. By virtue of this clause, they engaged not only to abstain from gross idolatry, but also to eradicate the principle. It is not enough to be exempt from crimes, we must exterminate the principle. For example, in theft there is both the root and the plant productive of wormwood and gall. There is theft gross and refined; the act of theft, and the principle of theft. To steal the goods of a neighbour is the gross act of theft; but to indulge an exorbitant wish for the acquisition of wealth, to make enormous charges, to be indelicate as to the means of gaining money, to reject the mortifying claims of restitution, is refined fraud or, if you please, the principle of fraud productive of wormwood and gall.
V. Moses lastly required the Israelites to consider the oath and execration with which their acceptance of the covenant was attended: that thou shouldest enter into covenant, and into this oath. What is meant by their entering into the oath of execration? That they pledged themselves by oath to fulfil every clause of the covenant, and, in case of violation, to subject themselves to all the curses God had denounced against those who should be guilty of so perfidious a crime. The words which we render, “that thou shouldest enter into covenant,” have a peculiar energy in the original, and signify that thou shouldest pass into covenant. The interpreters of whom I speak, think they refer to a ceremony formerly practised in contracting covenants. On immolating the victims, they divided the flesh into two parts, placing the one opposite to the other. The contracting parties passed in the open space between the two, thereby testifying their consent to be slaughtered as those victims if they did not religiously confirm the covenant contracted in so mysterious a manner. Perhaps one of my hearers may say to himself that the terrific circumstances of this ceremony regarded the Israelites alone, whom God addressed in lightnings and thunders from the top of Sinai. What! was there no victim immolated when God contracted His covenant with us? Does not St. Paul expressly say, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins? (Hebrews 9:22.) What were the lightnings, what were the thunders of Sinai? What were all the execrations, and all the curses of the law? They were the just punishments every sinner shall suffer who neglects an entrance into favour with God. Now, these lightnings, these thunders, these execrations, these curses, did they not all unite against the slaughtered victim when God contracted His covenant with us--I would say, against the head of Jesus Christ? Sinner, here is the victim immolated on contracting thy covenant with God! Here are the sufferings thou didst subject thyself to endure, if ever thou shouldest perfidiously violate it! Thou hast entered, thou hast passed into covenant, and into the oath of execration which God has required. Application: No man should presume to disguise the nature of his engagements and the high characters of the Gospel. To enter into covenant with God is to accept the Gospel precisely as it was delivered by Jesus Christ, and to submit to all its stipulations. This Gospel expressly declares that fornicators, that liars, that drunkards, and the covetous shall Lot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, on accepting the Gospel, we submit to be excluded the kingdom of God if we are either drunkards, or liars, or covetous, or fornicators, and if after the commission of any of these crimes, we do not recover by repentance. And what is submission to this clause if it is not to enter into the oath of execration, which God requires of us on the ratification of His covenant? Let us be sincere, and He will give us power to be faithful. Let us ask His aid, and He will not withhold the grace destined to lead us to this noble end. (J. Saurin.)
A root that beareth gall and wormwood.
The root that beareth wormwood
I. Sin is the root which beareth gall and wormwood.
1. That this was true in the case of the Israelites is very manifest. Their history tells us the whole generation which came up out of Egypt died in the wilderness because of their sins. Their sin then was a root which bore to them the poisonous hemlock, for they left a line of graves along their line of march as a sad memorial to their iniquities, and only Joshua and Caleb ever entered into the promised land.
2. Again, not only does the history of the Jews prove that sin is a root of bitterness, but our judgment tells us that it is most fitting it should be so. If sin were in the long run pleasurable, and really produced advantage to man, it would be a very strange arrangement in the Divine economy. Sin is a root which has not always budded and blossomed in this life, but which will bud and blossom and bring forth its fruit in the life to come, and the fruit of sin will be more bitter than hemlock and wormwood. I gather this from my reason. Let an intelligent person only think a minute, and I am sure he will be convinced that there must be a terrible punishment for sin. Reflect, there are other laws in the world besides moral laws: there are what is called by the philosopher physical laws, that is to say, laws which concern matter rather than mind. Now, if men break these laws, does any ill result follow from the violation? For instance, the law of attraction, or gravitation, that certain bodies shall attract other bodies, can that be infringed without risk? If you rebel against gravitation, it will just crush you up as a man would a beetle, or a fly, and without a particle of pity will avenge its insulted authority. Again, we are not left to this argument alone, for there is one out of the Ten Commandments, to which I can only allude, which involves more especially the bodies of men. Now, when a man offends against the one command, we shall see if God does really punish sin; we shall see in the man’s body whether or not sin does produce gall and wormwood. I allude, of course, to the command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” which forbids all classes of lasciviousness and uncleanness. The men or women who violate this precept soon find that they have not only done wrong to God, but wrong to themselves. Our hospitals and asylums could tell you into what a fearful state men have brought themselves by sins of the flesh. Now, if the violation of this one command, which happens to touch the body, does beyond all doubt make men smart for it, why not with the rest?
3. But we are not, happily, left to our reason about it; we can turn to the Book of God, and call up the witnesses. Ask Noah, as he looks out of his ark, “Does sin bring bitterness?” and he points to the floating carcasses of innumerable thousands that died because of sin. Turn to Abraham: does sin bear bitterness? he points to the smoke of Sodom and Gomorrah that God destroyed because of their wickedness. Listen to James, or Jude, or Peter, and you hear them speak of chains of darkness and flaming fire. Let the Saviour Himself speak to you. He cries, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment.”
II. Is there such a root as this growing in the heart of any one of us here? Some have this root that will bear gall and wormwood in them who are not actually gross outward sinners: they are described as those who forget God.
1. The non-loving of the Most High, even though you never curse or swear, even though you do not break the Sabbath, is that root that will hear gall and wormwood.
2. Next we read of “men seeking after another God.” Are you loving someone better than God? Are you living for money--is that your great object? Is there no one here who is living for self? If so, though you may be outwardly most respectable people, if you are living for anything but God, that root will bring forth gall and wormwood.
3. Again, this root is in every man who disbelieves the penalty. The verse following the text speaks of one who said, “I shall have peace though I walk after my own heart.” Are you saying that? If so, you have the evil root in your heart. There is no more sure sign of reprobation than callousness and carelessness.
III. The last point was to be, how are we to get rid of it? Is there a possibility of being delivered from the gall and wormwood? There is. As many as trust in Christ shall be rid of the gall and wormwood. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To add drunkenness to thirst.
The sin of drunkenness
Among the vices which stamp upon human nature its fallen condition, there is not one which causes such misery, or which leads on to such reckless crime, as drunkenness.
1. It is a most selfish as well as degrading vice: it debases man, created in the image of God, lower than the brute creation. God denounces this sin most strongly in His Holy Word. Under the law of Moses, the son who would not obey the voice of his father, but gave himself up to gluttony and drunkenness, was put to death by stoning; and, in the Gospel, drunkenness is classed with murder, as one of the works of the flesh, of which it is said they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Drunkenness is a vice which destroys soul and body. It weakens the intellect, making a man a madman in his rage, and an idiot in his sober moments. It ruins the health, producing the most painful diseases, and causing premature decay and death. It involves his family in poverty and misery. There is no peace in the drunkard’s home. Who can describe all the misery which follows in the train of drunkenness, all the crime to which it leads, all the sorrow which it causes to others? How fitly the words of the text describe it, when Moses warns the Israelites to beware “lest there should be among them a root that beareth gall and wormwood”; or, as the marginal reading is, a poisonful herb. Never did Satan plant a more fearful seed in the human heart than the love of strong drink. Drunkenness is, indeed, a root which beareth gall and wormwood; nothing sweet, or pleasant, or excellent, or beautiful can spring from it, or grow in the heart beside it. Like the deadly upas tree, it poisons all which rests under its shade, or comes near to it. The drunkard cannot be a high-principled, virtuous, or amiable man. In his sober moments the testimony of every drunkard must be, that the root of that fatal passion beareth gall and wormwood--that it is a poisonful herb.
2. The next particular--which the text points out--is the deceptive nature of the vice. Of all self-deceivers, the drunkard is the most deluded, the most blinded. “And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination” (or as the marginal rendering is), “the stubbornness of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst.” There is no man so difficult to convince of his folly and sinfulness as the drunkard, and no man so hard to turn away from his evil course. Satan’s most powerful weapon against our holy religion is drunkenness. A drunkard cannot be a true Christian, a child of God. He is more often an infidel, a blasphemer, and he is on the high road to every kind of sin and crime. Let us not stretch forth our hand to save the far-off heathen idolater, and remain indifferent and effortless about the drunkard dwelling close to us, and even one admitted into the fellowship of the same holy faith as ourselves. (S. Charlesworth.)
Degradation of drunkenness
Drunkenness is the shame of nature, the extinguisher of reason, the shipwreck of chastity, and the murder of conscience. Drunkenness is hurtful to the body; the cup kills more than the cannon; it causes dropsies, catarrhs, apoplexies; it fills the eye with fire, and the legs with water, and turns the body into an hospital. (T. Watson.)
The secret things belong unto the Lord.
Things secret and things revealed
Man has always had a quarrel with God over secret things. In the Garden of Eden there was one prohibition--“Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”--and in the Garden of Eden began the quarrel with God. Now there are certain secrets to be left unto God, and they may be classified under five headings.
1. Secrets in the nature of God Himself. One of the first things that a man has to learn is that his mind has not the capacity of that of God. Just as well might you expect a tiny cup to embrace the boundless ocean as to get God within the compass of man’s mind. And this is the very proof of God’s superiority to man. If we understood God we should be equal to God. If we could explore the mysteries of this world we could have made it. If we found no difficulties in the Bible we could have written it.
2. Those mysteries which lie in the will of God. A parent always shows his or her wisdom by their reserve. There are many things which a child ought not to know, and these are withheld by a wise parent. Eventually the child has growth, and then the knowledge comes in. Now, God is the universal Father, and there are some things that God sees which would be unwise for Him to communicate.
3. Secrets that have to do with the nature of truth. Truth is a sphere. In other words, you cannot see it all at once. It is a great globe which has two aspects. Looked at from one side, only half is seen, the other part is hidden. Now, man can only see one hemisphere at a time. If he could only learn that truth is greater than his vision takes in at a glance, he would at once surmount many difficulties. Now, many apparent contradictions are found in the Bible, but there is no attempt on the part of the writers to reconcile them. The reason is, that no matter how many explanations we received, we could never take in the grandeur of God’s purpose.
4. Secrets that have to do with the nature of man.
5. Secrets that have to do with the nature of language. Words represent things. If we do not understand a word, we can have no conception of the thing which it represents. When we hear the words “tree,” “cloud,” and “sun,” immediately these objects are presented to our imagination. But if I use a word which you have never heard of, it would have no signification to you whatever, Now when God describes a thing which we have never seen, He is obliged to use words that are familiar to us, no matter how insufficient they may be. When Robert Moffat was in Africa he came across a tribe that had never seen an ox waggon. With great curiosity they examined the wheels, axles, and other parts. But most of all they were taken with his kettle. Their curiosity was, however, turned to wonder when Dr. Moffat told them that “in England they placed on the ground iron rods, and on these tied in a row several ox wagons, put a big steam kettle at their head, and away they went!” You see, he had to take something which the natives had seen in order to describe what they had not seen; they then readily caught some idea of the original. Did it ever occur to you that when God tries to make known to us the mysteries of heaven and the heavenly life, that He is obliged to use words which are familiar to us, but do not even touch the reality? Heaven is described as having pearly gates, streets of gold, and jasper walls. God is obliged to thus describe it because no thoughts of man could possibly reach to the reality.
Now, what are the things revealed?
1. Facts. We know that there is such a thing as sin, and we know that we can have salvation if we only seek it; but the mysteries of these are not understood. Christ’s death and resurrection are well attested--they are facts, but the mystery surrounding them cannot be explained. You cannot understand these mysteries, but you can accept the facts. Admit these facts, and then adapt your own conduct to the fact.
2. Laws. The law is the express will of the sovereign. There may be ten thousand things which you do not understand, but there is not a single law in the Bible which a little child cannot understand, and a willing child obey. The laws of God, which once belonged to Him now belong unto us and to our children forever.” What is the lesson? First, we must learn humility. We should all find out and limit the extent of our knowledge. The province of reason is not to explore the mysteries of God, but to answer--
1. Is this the law of God?
2. What does this law mean?
3. What does it require of me?
When these have been answered, all that reason demands is satisfied. When we go beyond the reach of reason, Faith must take its place. In addition, we are taught Obedience. This should be unquestioning and unhesitating. Finally, we have the lesson of Blessedness. The blessedness of the man who keeps the law of God is only just inferior to the blessedness of the angels themselves. (J. Pierson, D. D.)
Mystery and revelation
The fact that there are some mysteries which are insoluble is attested--
1. By the long and painful experience of mankind.
2. By the teaching of the materialistic thinkers of the day.
The text recognises alike the spirit of unenquiring reverence and of rational freedom.
I. Some men say, “we cannot accept revelation. We accept the excellent moral teachings of the Bible, because they commend themselves to our reason and to the reason of the race; but what we cannot accept are these mysteries which are revealed in the New Testament.” In answer to this we reply, A mystery is not a revelation. It is the very opposite of a revelation. We freely admit that there are mysteries confronting us in the Old and New Testaments. Truths are intimated, suggested, pointed at, dimly outlined, like a mountain castle scarce seen through the mists of evening which fill the valley; but, inasmuch as they are not clear, to that extent they cannot be said to be revealed. These things are beyond us. They are Divine mysteries, which it is reverent for us to place with the secret things which belong unto the Lord God.
II. There are those who say they cannot receive a revelation on the ground that it is supernatural, that they only know that which comes through the mind of man and is capable of justifying itself to the human reason. Now we affirm that the Bible revelations have come through the mind of man. They were convictions, certainties, in some man’s mind, which he declared to his fellows. A truth of inspiration is no truer than a truth of induction or demonstration. Truth is simply truth, wherever it may come from, or however it may be demonstrated. Revelation is natural and at the same time supernatural. It comes from the mind of man; it comes according to the mind and demonstration of God.
III. The one ever-speaking revelation of the mind of God is the history of man. If we miss the truth, says Jeremy Taylor, it is because we will not find it, for certain it is that all the truth which God hath made necessary He hath also made-legible and plain; and if we will open our eyes we shall see the sun, and if we will walk in the light we shall rejoice in the light.” (W. Page Roberts, M. A.)
I. That there are in the universe certain domains accessible to none but God. This holds true in reference to--
1. Material creation. Secrets of nature.
2. The decrees of Providence. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him.” Social inequalities.
3. The mysteries of redemption. “Great is the mystery,” etc.
II. That impenetrable secrecy is compatible with paternal benevolence.
1. All nature proves this.
2. Family mercies prove tiffs.
3. Never make God’s secrets a plea for neglecting His bounties.
III. That Divine secrecy is no argument for human disobedience. “Those things which are revealed belong unto us.”
1. An acknowledgment of a Divine revelation.
2. The confession of our relationship to God.
3. An implication of our power to obey the Divine requirements.
IV. That inquisitiveness into secret things is a fruitful cause of scepticism. Let us leave God to deal with His own decrees, to manage the boundless realm of causes, and to work out His inconceivable purposes. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. That it is a vain and foolish curiosity to inquire into things that we cannot comprehend, and with respect to which we have no light to direct us, either from reason or revelation.
II. That there are, properly speaking, no mysteries in religion. The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, and only things revealed, things that are intelligible, belong to us.
III. That the great end of revelation is practice, the practice of substantial virtue; that we may do all the works of this law. From whence it necessarily follows--
IV. That no doctrines which in the least encourage immorality can be parts of a Divine revelation.
V. That the importance of the several doctrines of revelation is to be judged of by this rule, namely, their tendency to promote and establish a becoming regard to purity and true goodness. (James Foster.)
Mysteries no real objection to the truth of Christianity
I. The difficulty or impossibility of conceiving the sacred mysteries of our faith is no reasonable objection to the truth of them. Not a thing in the whole compass of nature, were we to pursue our inquiries to the utmost, but would puzzle the wisest. Can we wonder, then, at our inability to understand the world of spirits?
II. In matters so vastly beyond the reach of our capacities, it is not only needless but dangerous presumption, to be too curious and inquisitive concerning them. That it is needless, appears from the difficulty to understand them; and that it is dangerous, the many heresies and errors which have sprung up in the Christian Church may abundantly convince us.
III. There are other matters of much greater consequence to employ our meditations, which it is our duty to study and examine. Revelation discovers to us many secrets of nature, many great designs of Providence, many engaging motives to the practice of our duty, which would otherwise have been concealed from us.
III. This and all other knowledge will be vain and insignificant unless it has an influence on our lives and manners. (J. Littleton.)
Secret and revealed things
I. The secret things are the Lord’s.
1. In nature. Science has its bounds.
2. In Providence.
3. In religion.
II. “Those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.”
1. God has revealed them that We might be profited by them. Where are these revealed things? In the Bible.
2. God has made revelations to man elsewhere. In the different departments of science and discovery.
3. These revealed things belong to us and to our children.
4. It is the Church’s duty to foster the education of the whole people. (D. L. Anderson.)
Secret things and things revealed
I. Let us endeavour to illustrate the first truth here stated--“secret things belong unto the Lord our God.”
1. In reference to the nature, character, and perfections of the Deity, there are many secret things which belong exclusively to the Lord our God. It is true that God has told us something of His own nature; but it is equally true that there is much more that He has not told us. Something He has revealed;. but much still remains concealed.
2. Not only in the doctrines of revelation, but in science, in natural operations, and in the ordinary occurrences of life, we find many things which exceed the comprehension of reason, and which we must class among the secret things belonging to the Lord our God.
3. In the dispensations of Divine Providence there are many things secret and mysterious. To this subject we may apply those declarations: “Thy judgments are a great deep”; “The Lord reigneth; “Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.”
4. All those events which lie in futurity are to us secret things. We have the means of acquiring some knowledge of things past and off things present; but we have no faculty by which we can penetrate into the future. We know not what a day will bring forth; we know not what shall be on the morrow.
5. We may very properly inquire, “Why is our knowledge confined within such narrow limits? Why are so many things kept secret from us, and reserved for the exclusive cognisance of the Lord our God?”
(1) To this inquiry it may be replied, Such a mode of treatment is proper and necessary in reference to creatures like us, who are at present in the mere infancy of our being.
(2) These secret things are also designed to exercise our faith.
(3) By keeping many things secret, the Almighty designs to humble us, under a consciousness of our ignorance and weakness.
(4) Finally, it is our heavenly Father’s purpose in keeping these secret things to Himself, to teach us that we should be diligent and faithful in the discharge of the various duties incumbent on us, and, at the same time, should be in a state of habitual preparation for death and eternity.
II. Let us turn our attention, therefore, to the second truth stated in our text, namely, “the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.’’
1. Among the “things revealed” we are to include the whole of the sacred Scriptures. This Divinely-inspired volume comprehends all that God has been pleased to reveal to man. And, oh! what a cause of gratitude is it that we possess this heavenly treasure! Possessing the Word of God, we are laid under the most solemn obligations to read it, so that we may, by Divine assistance, understand its meaning, apply its principles, and obey its precepts.
2. “Those things which are revealed,” says the man of God in our text, “belong unto us and to our children forever.” It was Jehovah’s design that the deposit of Divine truth with which the Jews were favoured should be carefully guarded and transmitted from parents to children, from one generation to another, as long as that dispensation continued. And professed Christians are under equal obligations to perpetuate the knowledge and influence of Divine truth from age to age, by instructing their children in these revealed things. (W. P. Burgess.)
Man’s relation to the unrevealed
I. There are secret things. The world is full of mysteries. Man is not the measure of the universe; and certainly the mere understanding is not the measure of the man. There are things to which faith is the anchor and hope the hand; there are scenes which eye cannot see nor heart imagine; there are truths which science cannot discover nor reason utterly explore.
II. These secrets belong to God.
1. Consider that great secret of the coincidence of the human and the Divine will. Who shall say that there is no profound mystery there? How have the eyes of men’s spirits ached as they peered into this thick darkness! You know the old legend of the ancients: that one of the mortals stole fire from heaven, and the terrible punishment of the eagle gnawing his vitals was inflicted by the angry Jove. What is it but a symbol of that heedlessness which has made man seek to prove himself one of the counsellors of heaven, and in dreadful retribution has his error recoiled upon himself.
2. Another mystery which is often brought up as an argument against the Divine revelation is the presence of evil and sin in the world. The wise and devout will abstain from pronouncing any judgment on the question. And let not the man of science, or the philosopher, despise the preacher who would speak of things not seen, not felt, but trusted in. Are there no mysteries in science? Can the most skilful observer explain the great series of events that we term life? And what of our philosopher? Can he answer all the profound questionings of the moral nature of man?
1. The fact that there are these great mysteries, that there is something more than we can know, that there is a Being, a Personality, to whom these truths are clear, to Whom all things are known; these facts ought to make us careful to live in the light of these unseen realities, and, whilst engaged in earthly service, not to forget our heavenly destiny. Have you never known a man in whose life there seemed the unseen Divinity? He had filled himself with God. His life was passed in the continual thought of God. That man awes his fellows. His life is a power everywhere.
2. Another result of this faith in the unseen will be not only to give fulness to this life, and satisfaction to the higher wants of nature, but, believing that secret things belong to God, we shall never allow merely intellectual difficulties to overwhelm our spiritual powers. Doubt is difficult, I know; but there is no sword like life to cut the knot. Live down your doubts.
3. There is another frame of mind that the perfect knowledge and obedience of the truth will produce, and that is complete submission to the will of God. (L. D. Bevan, LL. B.)
The secret things of God
I. Let us begin with God Himself. The doctrine of the Divine existence, if put to popular vote the world over, would be pronounced impregnable. Plato was right in calling atheism a disease. And yet when we come to ask for an a priori demonstration, when we would make it certain to ourselves that there is a personal God, in the same sense and to the same degree that we are certain of some mathematical propositions, our logic is not triumphant. We have only to require some sensible assurance, or some incontestable demonstration of the Divine existence, and our faith inevitably dies. God will take His leave of us. We shall soon see no footprint and hear no rustling of Him. That God might have made atheism absolutely impossible by an instant impression of Himself upon our minds, rendering Himself every whit as palpable to the spiritual vision as material objects are to the bodily vision, cannot be questioned. The human soul might have been so fashioned as to see God, just as our eyeballs see the sun in the firmament. Our intuitions, about which philosophy is still in doubt whether they give us not the absolute only, but also and equally the personality of the absolute, might surely have been so vivid and so peremptory as to leave no room for doubt. But such is not the established economy of things. Not as the eagle gazes at the sun gaze we on God. We are required rather to turn our backs upon this intolerable light, see it by reflection, and judge of all other objects, in their Divine relations, by the shadows which they cast. The three sources of proof on which mainly we rely to establish, for popular effect, the Divine existence and perfections are, accordingly, the material world around us, the moral world within us, and the general consent of men. Insufficient, doubtless, if counsel be taken of mental arrogance, and absolute scientific assurance be asked for; but altogether sufficient if knowledge be pursued with reverent docility as the condition and gateway to holiness.
II. Let us now turn, in the second place, to take note of man. We pass hero at one bound from the infinite to the finite. Philosophy asks for some bridge between them; but thus far always in vain. That there should be Divine Sovereignty is plain enough; and equally plain is it that there should be human freedom. But the two united are an enigma. The things revealed are the facts themselves unreconciled; on the one side, a Divine efficiency, which seems to clasp the universe as with iron arms; on the other side, a human freedom, which seems to threaten riot and anarchy. These two elements we must accept, and hold them together as we can, denying neither, and abating the force of neither. And as to the harmony between them, let us despair of finding it in this world. Let us rather leave it, and leave it cheerfully, till we stand on higher summits, in a clearer light. For the present, let us take care only that God be honoured, and our own destiny happily accomplished. If God only is great, man surely is responsible.
III. It remains for us to consider now, in the third place, the new relation of grace which has been established between God and man. From sin we pass on to redemption as the great radiant centre, not less of all knowledge than of all hope. If the Scriptures reveal no speculative solution of the mystery of evil, they do yet propound a practical solution of it in the proffered deliverance of men from its power and curse. And yet this deliverance opens up yet other mysteries, and at every point we come across these secret things of God, which belong unto Him and not to us or our children. Human philosophy, in its pride and self-reliance, comes along discoursing of culture. It understands a change of purpose accomplished by moral suasion. It comprehends what is meant by a moral improvement and progress. It believes in growing better. But it has no conception of that radical transformation of character by the Spirit of God, which is described as the new birth, the passing from death unto life, Christ in us the hope of glory. Speech of such things sounds fanatical. The now birth is a stupendous mystery of life, which can be known only by being experienced. Consider the revelations of Scripture in regard to the future life. Definite and comforting beyond all the guesses of unaided reason; and yet, as compared with what we sometimes pine to know, how meagre. So also of the life that now is in its duties and its discipline. The great human duties are Prayer and Work: Prayer for every needed blessing, and Work to realise it; Prayer, as though God must do the whole, and Work, as though we must do it all ourselves. These are the two poles of the great galvanic battery. But who that waits to know the philosophy of answered prayer will ever pray? And who that waits to be sure there shall be no mistake will ever work? The hand that beckons us to glory waves at us out of impenetrable clouds. Partial revelation, then, is the method, and obedience the end. In the practicable improvement of our subject, it may be remarked--
1. First of all, we are taught a lesson of humility, and that, too, at the very point where we most need it. There is no pride on earth like the pride of intellect and science. A modest confession of ignorance is the ripest and last attainment of philosophy. But childlike docility is of the very essence of religion, required of us all at the very threshold of our Christian experience. And in order to this, no better discipline could be imagined than the discipline to which we are actually subjected under the existing economy of revelation. The secret things do so vastly outnumber the things which are revealed! The greater portion of all our inquiries and all our reasonings must always have for their issue, “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
2. We may learn to distinguish the more vital articles of our faith. Controversy is apt to rage the hottest about the subordinate points. But the stress of revelation is on the grand essentials. The very design of the Book necessitates this feature. What the Bible is fullest of is therefore, of course, most vital.
3. And finally, our shortest way to the end of doubt and controversy is by the path of an humble obedience. (R. D. Hitchcock.)
Of the desire of knowledge
I. There is naturally in man a very strong desire after knowledge.
II. This our desire of knowledge ought to be regulated and limited by the condition of our nature and by the Word of God.
1. We ought not to be ambitious of that knowledge which the condition and circumstances of our nature make it impossible for us to obtain.
2. As we ought not to be ambitious of what it is impossible for us to attain, so neither ought we to be solicitous after that which it is unlawful for us to desire. And here that which the Scripture determines in respect of our desire after knowledge is this--
(1) That we ought not to endeavour to penetrate into things too deep for us, such as are the hidden and secret counsels or unrevealed decrees of God.
(2) The Scripture further forbids the desire of that knowledge, the means of obtaining which are unlawful.
(3) The Scripture forbids us so to search after the knowledge of anything else whatever as in the too earnest pursuit of that to neglect the study of the law of God. Those Divine truths which influence our practice, which furnish our mind with worthy notions of God and charitable dispositions towards our neighbours, and make men wise unto salvation, are the things which God has proposed to fix our thoughts and our studies upon.
III. To show how great a sin it is not to regulate our desires of knowledge by the fore-mentioned rules. And--
1. To determine dogmatically in things not clearly revealed, and to take delight in imposing upon each other such determinations, is in effect directly striving against that order and constitution of things which God has appointed, and endeavouring to make ourselves what God has not made us.
2. The not regulating this desire by the forementioned rules was the occasion of our first parents’ fall. This appears from the description of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6). It is also evident from the description of the manner of the temptation (verse 5). A desire of knowledge not regulated by the rules before set down is very apt to put men upon unlawful practices to attain what they so desire. For that which is not to be attained but by unwarrantable practices, the desire of it cannot but be also sinful. From what has been said it follows--
(1) That the vain desire of knowing beforehand things to come is such a desire of the knowledge of secret things as is not permitted us by the present circumstances and condition of our nature, or by the Word of God.
(2) That a desire of prying into the unrevealed decrees, counsels, and purposes of God, and desiring to impose upon others our opinions concerning them, is also such a desire of the knowledge of secret things as is not permitted us by the law of our nature, or by the Word of God.
(3) An over-earnest desire of knowing things subtle and unnecessary to be known, so as in the pursuit of the knowledge of these things to neglect the study of that which more nearly concerns us, is also a sort of that search after knowledge which is forbidden in the Scripture. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Things secret and things revealed
I. What, then, are those secret things which belong unto the Lord God? A moment’s thought will bring many such deep matters to our minds. Look at God Himself, and we are lost at once! Who can understand His nature? Who can comprehend His ways? And look at what we call “His dwelling place!” Oh, who can say what heaven is--what kind of world--what sorts of beings are those angels who inhabit it? And think of that world of wretchedness beneath! But let us turn to our own selves, and we shall find mysteries enough even here. How long are you and I to live? What is to be the hour, the day, the month, the year of our departure from this world? Are we to die suddenly or slowly? by accident or by disease? And it is just the same with respect to those events that may occur in the mean season. Such, then, are some amongst “the secret things” which belong unto the Lord our God. And what, then, should be our conduct with respect to them? Are we to try to lift the curtain up? Alas! fain would our proud hearts teach us so! We are naturally more inclined to know our fortune, as we call it, than to know our duty, and would rather satisfy a forbidden curiosity than search those treasures which God hath laid before our eyes. But it becomes us to be willingly ignorant of what our God hath been unwilling to communicate.
III. So many are the things which God hath revealed that all i shall attempt to do is just to touch upon a few of them. I observed that our great God Himself is the greatest of all mysteries to minds like ours. He hath uncovered so much of His perfections to us, He hath so far “laid bare” to us “His holy arm,” and made known the thoughts He thinketh with regard to us, that His people may say, in some measure, “we know Him and we have seen Him.” Only look at Christ, and say whether the love and mercy of our God are not among “the things revealed” to us! I have said that we know little or nothing about heaven. But observe, our gracious God has revealed to us as much about heaven as “belongs to us and to our children.” We observed that the duration of our lives is kept a secret from us. Yes, but our blessed Lord has told us that which does concern us, namely, how to be prepared for death whenever and howsoever it approaches us. We know not what is to happen to us in this life. No; that is a “secret thing belonging to the Lord.” But this is a “revealed thing,” that “all things work together for good to those that love God.”
III. And now, for the use we are to make of these “things which are revealed to us.” What says our text of the reasons why they are revealed? “The things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law.” It is not, then, to fill our heads with notions that God hath revealed to us the things we read of in our Bibles. If He hath told us of the path of life, it is that we might rise up and walk in it. Let us not err, then; let us not mistake knowledge for religion; let us not suppose ourselves enlightened men merely because we can talk well about the Gospel. Better not to know the way of righteousness at all than to know it and be idle. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
The presumption of prying into religious mysteries
I. That we should never pry into matters which infinite wisdom hath concealed. For we shall seldom, if at all, be wiser for such inquiries; we shall never be happier or better; and we shall usually be more wretched, and less innocent. In what reason or experience discovers to us, further speculations may produce new discoveries. But of articles depending on mere revelation, as we could have discerned nothing without it, we shall be able to discern very little of anything beyond it. In the shortest, and seemingly most obvious, consequences drawn concerning subjects that lie naturally out of our reach, we must be exceedingly liable to mistakes; and venturing far into the dark is the sure way to stumble. Another state may probably withdraw the veil, and acquaint us clearly with what now perplexes our reasonings and wearies our conjectures. Let us wait, then, contentedly for the time, which of necessity we must wait for.
II. The next rule which Moses gives is, that we should receive with attentive humility whatever infinite wisdom communicates to us. For those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.
III. The last rule implied in the text is, that we should allow every Divine truth its due influence on our behaviour. For we are to learn them, that we may do all the words of this law. Indeed, merely receiving the truth in the love of it is a moral act, and in some cases may be one of great virtue. When our Saviour saith of St. Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” Blessed in proportion to the integrity of their judgment, not the positiveness of their persuasion. But scarce will it be found that any article of faith is proposed for the probation of this only. Each hath its practical consequences, either flowing of necessity from it or built with propriety upon it. (Archbishop Secker.)
Secret and revealed things
I. Secret things are the Lord’s.
II. Revealed things belong to us and to our children. Now notice--
1. That the Holy Scriptures contain these revealed things (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21).
2. The things revealed we could not have known without the Scriptures.
(1) We could not have known God.
(2) We could not have known the nature and evil of sin.
(3) We could not have known the way of salvation (Romans 10:14).
(4) We could not have known of the eternity before us; whether it be an everlasting sleep, or what?
3. The things revealed meet all the demands of the mind of man.
4. The things revealed are adapted to every state and variety of condition.
5. The things revealed are to be regarded as a sacred deposit from God to man.
We are responsible for--
(1) Their reception.
(2) Reading and understanding them.
(3) Their diffusion. Application--
1. Let the subject teach us to avoid presumptuous curiosity.
2. Let the subject teach us the true test of all doctrines, ordinances, and duties.
3. We shall have to give an account of revealed things at the last day. (J. Burns, D. D.)
These words remind us that in scanning God’s works and ways there is a limit beyond which we cannot go. Consequently, true wisdom is to be contented with that degree of knowledge which God gives of Himself and His works. In this world, and with infinite capacities, we must remain in the dark as to many mysteries, both in nature and in heavenly things, which we should exceedingly like to know more about. We cannot be surprised at this. Our minds are too small to grasp the mind and thoughts of the Infinite. Besides, God conceals some things which perhaps we could understand on purpose to test and try our faith. We must take Him on trust, and feel sure where He is silent it is best for us to be satisfied, and remain ignorant. But this is not easy to men of great minds and powers of thought. Man in his natural condition resists these limitations. He would fain be wiser than God would have him. This desire becomes disastrous in its results to many. Man becomes “vain in his imaginations, and professing to be wise, becomes a fool.” Man, not being permitted to know all, refuses to accept the little he is permitted to know if he seeks to learn in God’s own way. Yet, after all, how little do we know of all the things around us and about us and within us! We are limited on every side. We are mysteries to ourselves, being fearfully and wonderfully made. The union between body and mind, between reasoning powers and the matter or substance on which they act, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me, I cannot attain unto it.” The action of electricity; the movement of the needle towards the pole; the maintenance of the vital spark within us; the atmosphere in which God makes us “live, move, and have our being”; the gravitation of everything to the centre of the earth, and the way the same principle acts on all the heavenly bodies; those heavenly orbs themselves--all these are mysteries of which we know next to nothing beyond the fact of their existence and something about their action. Can we wonder that those spiritual things which are not visible to the human eye, and those eternal verities concerning the great and almighty Creator of all, should be shrouded in mysteries beyond our power to unravel? Can we be surprised to be continually met with the prohibition from on high, “Thus far, and no farther”? Secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed are for us, and even for our very babes, to understand. God has in a measure and in a way revealed Himself to us. Created things reveal His “eternal power and Godhead.” The eye of faith sees Him in Christ. Having this knowledge to begin with, the other revealed truths become plain, and bring contentment as to all God keeps close in His own bosom. We are content to wait. We know enough of God as in Christ to make us love Him with all our hearts, to make us sure He is acting wisely and lovingly in all that befalls us. We know for certain that we need lack no good thing here, and certainly shall not want anything hereafter that makes for eternal happiness. (C. Holland, M. A.)
1. Amongst the things which are secret may be placed a complete knowledge of nature, of the visible world, and of the effects of matter and motion.
2. Amongst the things pertaining to religion which have occupied the minds of men to no purpose, we may reckon what has been called absolute predestination, or the everlasting decrees of God concerning the salvation and destruction of particular persons.
3. Another secret is an accurate knowledge of God, of His nature and perfections. He is infinite and eternal, and we are limited both in time and place, and there is something in infinity, eternity, and absolute perfection which perplexes us and involves us in difficulties.
4. Amongst the things which we must not expect thoroughly to understand is God’s providence, the manner in which He presides over rational beings, the reasons of His conduct, the ends which He proposes, and the methods by which He accomplishes them, and how far He is assisting, hindering, or permitting in all events.
5. Under this head, which concerns the mysteries of providence, may be placed the reasons for which God bestows prosperity upon one and adversity upon another.
6. The future condition of the righteous and of the wicked is one of those things of which we cannot have a distinct and particular knowledge.
7. Amongst those things which are hidden from us we may place many difficult parts of the Scriptures.
8. There are some parts of Scripture which seem to be designedly concealed from us, and they are those prophecies which are as yet unfulfilled, for which many reasons might be assigned. As the prophecies concerning Christ were never perfectly understood till He came and fulfilled them, so those predictions which relate to future ages and have not received their completion are dark to us, and will continue so till the day itself unfolds them; and all attempts to interpret them have been unsuccessful. Indeed, it concerns us very little to know what shall be done upon earth after we are gone from it, and we might as well be solicitous to learn what passed a thousand years before man was created.
9. Lastly, the knowledge of things to come, of the good and evil which will befall us in this life, and of the time when our life will end, are secrets which God hath concealed from us. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
The revealed will of God the only rule of duty
I. Consider what the secret will of God respects. Before the foundation of the world He formed in His own mind a complete scheme of His own conduct through all future ages. This scheme comprehended all things that ever have been and ever will be brought into existence. It was His secret will that not only holiness and happiness, but that sin and misery also should take place among His intelligent creatures. Though He loved only holiness and happiness, and perfectly hated sin and misery, yet He determined that both should take place.
II. Consider what the revealed will of God respects. It respects what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, or what is duty and sin, without any regard to the taking place of these things.
III. Shows that God’s revealed will, and not His secret will, is the rule of duty.
1. That God has revealed His will in His Word for the very purpose of giving us a rule of duty. No secret purpose, intention, or design of the Deity can annul or diminish our obligation to obey this His revealed will.
2. The will of God revealed in His Word is a complete rule of duty. The obligation of a child to do what his parent requires does not depend upon his knowing the secret will of his parent, or the reason why he commands him to do this or that lawful thing. The obligation of a subject to do what a civil ruler requires him to do does not depend upon his knowing the reasons of state, or why the civil ruler requires certain acts of obedience. So the obligation of creatures to obey the revealed will of their Creator does not depend upon their knowing His secret will or the reasons of His commands. It is the revealed will of God, therefore, and not His secret will, which is our infallible rule of duty.
2. God’s secret or decretal will cannot be known, and for that reason cannot be a rule of duty to any of His creatures.
4. Supposing God should reveal to us all His purposes respecting all His intelligent creatures in every part of the universe, this knowledge of His decretal will would be no rule of duty to us. His decretal will is only a rule of conduct for Himself: our knowing what it becomes Him to do cannot inform us what it is becoming us to do.
5. That the secret will of God cannot, if it were known, be a rule of duty, because it is entirely destitute of both precept ,and penalty, and consequently of all Divine authority. Improvement--
1. If God’s secret will respects one object, and His revealed will respects another object, then there is no inconsistency between His secret and revealed will.
2. It appears from the representations which have been given of the secret and revealed will of God that our text has often been perverted and misapplied.
3. If God’s secret will respects the taking place of future events, then all uninspired men who pretend to reveal God’s secret will, or to foretell future events, are guilty of both folly and falsehood. For secret things belong to God only, and He only can reveal them.
4. If God’s secret will cannot be known, then it can have no influence upon the actions of men.
5. But if God has a secret will respecting all future events, and will always act according to His secret will, then it is easy to see the real cause why mankind are generally so much opposed to the doctrine of Divine decrees. It is entirely owing to their fears that He will execute His decrees, or bring to pass whatever He has decreed.
6. If God will certainly execute His wise and holy secret will, then all His friends have a constant source of joy under all circumstances of life. For He has assured them that in executing His secret will He will cause all things to work together for their good.
7. If God’s secret will be His governing will, and respects the existence of everything that comes to pass, then it is very criminal in any to deny or to complain of His secret will. It is the same thing as to deny that God governs the world, or to complain that He does not govern it in the wisest and best manner. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The benevolence of the Divine secrecy
We have come to associate secrecy with selfishness, yet all nature proves that in Divine administration secrecy and benevolence may co-exist. As rapidly as we are pointed to the mystery we’ should direct our eyes to the fatherhood. Do men say that God keeps to Himself the mystery of the sun? Our answer should be that He turns upon us the full revelation of the light. Does God keep to Himself the secret of germination? On the other hand, He gives us the revelation of golden harvests; the spring kept the secret of her heart, but the autumn has filled our barns with plenty. Thus enough is kept hack to prove the power, and enough is given to establish the mercy. It is not only right, it is necessary that the father should know more than the child. Is a father less a father because of his superior knowledge? Is not his very superior knowledge one of his highest qualifications for discharging his duty as a father? Mystery is the seal of the infinite, yet benevolence is perpetually present in the providence which guides human life. You have seen a blind man led along the highway by a little child, to whose young bright eyes he commits himself in faith and hope. Man is that poor blind wanderer through the way of God’s mysteries, and that little guide represents the benevolence, the mercy the tenderness with which God leads us from day to day, and will lead until the time of the larger revelation. The commonest mercy of the daytime flames up into a fire column that lights men through the gloom and trouble of the night. We must not look at the mystery and forget the benevolence. The very wealth of God makes us covetous. Does poverty provoke envy? We look not so much at what God has given as what He might have given. We read the love through the mystery, rather than the mystery through the love. Men like to penetrate into the hidden. They flatter it, they exalt it, they say it is good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise; and having wrought themselves up into this delusive appreciation of its value, they put forth the thievish hand, and the fancied blessing turns to a scorpion’s sting. We are not to anticipate our course of study; the volumes will be handed to us one by one. Let us understand what we now can, and in doing so let us increase in knowledge; understand that in all the wastes of folly there could be no greater fool than he who would not believe his father’s telegram because he cannot understand the mystery of the telegraph. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The limitation of human powers
One of the most sad and saddening aspects of modern life is the lack of a humble acknowledgment of the limitations of human powers. There has been engendered a pride and even arrogance of thought which knows not how to veil its face in the presence of the infinite God, and of Truth which is as infinite as He. There is an audacity of speculation which will acknowledge no mystery, and which rejects all that transcends the limits of reason. And especially is this the case in those departments of truth which relate to the moral and spiritual government of God. Concerning the material world, there is no such presumptuous daring. Men feel that as yet of this they know but in part--and in small part. No man of science will step forth and profess a universal acquaintance with the universe. He would be regarded as a laughing stock. He might as soon pretend that he can hold the waters in the hollow of his hand, or that he can mete out heaven with a span, or comprehend the dust of the earth in a measure, or weigh the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance. Slowly and patiently do men of science work, winning now the knowledge of one fact, and then another, but feeling as Newton felt when he had achieved even his noblest discoveries, that they have but picked up a shell or a pebble on the great shore of truth, while the vast ocean lies yet undiscovered before them. The map of science is filled in here and there, but over the greatest portion of it are written the words “unknown land.” Year by year a little more is filled in, and yet a little more, but when shall the whole be defined, and when shall the map itself be large enough to include the whole material creation which stretches illimitably around us on every hand? There is no discovery that has yet been made which has not immediately suggested new mysteries, and the wisest men are those who feel that the disproportion seems ever growing between the limits of human mind and the boundlessness of the creation which it seeks to explore. (Enoch Mellor, D. D.)
Mystery and its mission
I. The universe is crowded with mysteries.
1. Physical nature is full of the mysterious.
2. The Divine Providence is full of the mysterious.
3. The sacred Scriptures are full of the mysterious.
II. The objections of the modern spirit to the Christian mysteries weighed in the balance.
III. The mission of mystery.
1. It strongly suggests the superhuman origin of Christianity.
2. It is the mission of mystery to fill us with the spirit of genuine humility.
3. It is the mission of mystery to inspire human activity.
4. It is the mission of mystery to keep our faith-faculty in constant exercise.
5. It is the mission of mystery to keep alive our spirit of adoration.
6. It is the mission of mystery to intensify the enjoyments of heaven. (J. Ossian Davies.)
A wise agnosticism
We are all conscious of the immense inquisitiveness of the human mind and the limitations of human knowledge. The desires to be, to know and to become are the strongest desires of human nature. In the first ardour of life we are sensible of no law of limitation in our powers. Life is boundless, and our power of knowing seems boundless too. But sooner or later we are all apt to be overcome by the humiliating sense of the limitation of our faculties. We ask questions for which there are no replies. In the true sense of the word, we are all agnostics, and the term really expresses humility of mind rather than stubborn pride of reason. We have all of us to say upon a thousand matters: “I do not know; I have no means of knowing!” Agnosticism is merely another term for the limitations of human knowledge. But because we are ignorant of many things it does not follow that we are absolutely sure of none. We may be ignorant of the laws of light, but we know there is light; we cannot explain the origin of life, but we know there is such a thing as birth. Thus we may have a sufficient working knowledge of a subject without knowing much about it, just as a man may avail himself of the railway or the electric light without being in the least able to explain the mechanics of the one or the chemistry of the other. The fact is, that for the working business of life, if one may use the term, very little knowledge is needed. And it is so in religion. We may be bad theologians, and yet good Christians; agnostics in intellect, yet believers in spirit. Granting the fact of judgment, we are troubled by our incompetence to understand its method, and we say with the Israelite, “Wherefore hath the Lord done this unto this land? What meaneth the heat of this great anger?” And as we ponder the problem we can start a hundred questions for which we have no reply. Why, if this were a judgment, did it not come before? Why has it never been repeated? The one thing for us to learn is the thing that is revealed, and that is that sin is punished, and terribly punished. Learn that, and for you the judgment is justified. So again, with the secret of character and destiny. When we begin to examine character in the light of destiny, how perplexed are we! Who has not met a type of church-going goodness which has repelled and disgusted him, and a type of natural piety which has allured and satisfied him? And then we ask, “Which are the sheep and which the goats?” And here, throughout the world, are thousands of men and women whom you cannot classify on any rigid method. They pass out of the world with what seem to us indeterminate characters; they have never refused the truth, but rather have simply stood outside the sphere of the spiritual; and as our thoughts pierce into the dim profound of that unseen world, out of the darkness the words ring back upon us: “And what of these?” Every step deepens the mystery, increases the bewilderment. Why try to reduce to definiteness that which the Bible has left mercifully indefinite? Is not this part of God’s secret, and is there nothing revealed to us clearly that we cannot fail to understand it? Yes, this much at least is clear: Whether there be probation or not hereafter, there is probation now. Passing on to the Discipline of Sorrow in Life, the same truth applied. God did not ask us to say that “All was for the best.” For the best that little children shall be left motherless! All God asks that we shall say, “Thy will be done,” leaving the secret with Him, and taking to ourselves the lesson of obedience and trust. But still more forcibly does the lesson apply to the great mysteries of Christian truth. For whosoever approaches Jesus Christ is met by four great secrets of Christianity, four great mysteries of the faith: the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Atonement, and the promise of Immortality and Redemption through the death of Christ. We are unable to grasp these mysteries. Is there any theologian who has actually explained either, or made them possible to the human intellect? The keener the intellect which applies itself to the task, the more certain is it of failure, because the more numerous will be the difficulties which it will discern. And that is precisely where men make so fatal a mistake; they try to force themselves into faith by a process of reason, to apprehend intellectually that which can only be spiritually discerned. I may be alive without knowing anything of physiology; my heart may beat though I cannot tell bow it beats, and have never heard of the circulation of the blood. I may be conscious without understanding the philosophy of consciousness; I may think without knowing how thought is generated; I may be a good citizen with but small knowledge of my country’s law; and a good soldier with small understanding of imperial politics. And so I may be a good Christian though I can prove neither to my own nor any other person’s satisfaction the credibility of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, or the Atonement. It is not, stubbornness of intellect, but humility, that says in such a case, “I do not know.” The working knowledge that we need for the Christian life is relatively small. Christianity is not a thing of high philosophies and subtle inferences; it moves along the plane of common life; it proves itself by the silent revelation of its power to save within the heart. It asks of us nothing more than to do our duty in the sight of God. (W. J. Dawson.)
Secret and revealed things
I. The secret things that belong to God. Probably there are many material existences of which we know nothing, and, indeed, can know nothing. There are perhaps many properties of mind of which we can form no notions in our present state. Probably there are many kinds of moral government displayed in the universe under the control of God of which we have no conception. Yet it is certain that from objects of this kind no temptation to pry into them too curiously can arise. All that we can affirm is, probably other objects besides those with which we are acquainted do exist; but we know too little of them to excite any curiosity. There is no unholy prying. With respect to them all is distant and all is dark. Another class of objects from which we are more in danger of indulging the curiosity reproved in the text are those which are partly hidden and partly revealed; partly found exposed in the revelations of this book, shining with different degrees of light; but in all their reasons and detail considerably obscure. Part is prominent on the sacred page; and part is hidden under a veil which Divine wisdom has not seen proper to remove. With respect to objects of this kind, we are in more danger of penetration into God’s secrets. We ask, “Where is the harm in indulging in these speculations? Is it not a part of our duty, a part of the glory of our nature, to cultivate religious knowledge?” I answer, This is true to a certain extent; but how many persons forget what it is important to remember, that one great part of our moral discipline on earth is to submit in matters of faith to God! Religion must have its secrets. It cannot be supposed that a religion which is so intimately connected with the character of the infinite God, whose perfections even angel minds cannot comprehend, on the abyss of which they must ever stand and cry, “Oh, the depth, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” should be without mysteries. They belong to God--
1. Because He knows them. They are His secrets. Of these secrets He is completely the master. It matters not whether we discern the whole truth clearly or not; it is enough that we discover what concerns our salvation, and that the rest, however cloudy to us, burns with brightness in the bosom of God.
2. They are His, because they are the reserves He has made in communicating knowledge to man. God has a right to determine in what manner, and where, and to what extent He will communicate knowledge. All we have to do is to say (thankful for what we have and are), “Even so, Father; for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight.”
3. They belong to Him in another sense; they are His property. As they are His secrets, it is an act of great boldness for any man to pry into them.
II. The things revealed.
1. A revelation of God.
2. A revelation of man.
3. It is a revelation of Christ. Here the peculiar character of the Gospel scheme comes forth in all its glory. In fact, both the Old and New Testaments are a revelation of Christ in different modes.
4. It is a revelation of a future state, and of the means to secure final happiness. Of what importance is the Gospel in this respect! It has brought life and immortality to light. It has dissipated the gloom; it has burst the involving cloud; and all is day. (R. Watson.)
Things secret and revealed
There are two spheres of spiritual things--a secret or hidden sphere and a revealed sphere. Time was, however, when there was only the one sphere, and that the secret one. Away back in the primal ages, when as yet man had not been called into existence, there was no sphere, and could not be, of things revealed. It was not till man had opened his eyes upon this fair earth, and by his side beheld the kindly face of God, that the sphere of things revealed had its beginning. Then did God lift up the tiniest corner of the great curtain which covered the spiritual world, and so gave rise to a new sphere of spiritual things--the revealed. Thence did the sphere of revealed things begin to grow apace. The number of revealed things is growing every day larger, and the number of secret things every day smaller. Not that we can expect the secret things to disappear altogether.
I. These are many things which God only partly keeps secret, and evidently with no ultimate intention of keeping secret at all. These are such things as the Inspiration of the Scriptures, the Trinity, the Atonement, Prayer, Providence, and the like. In these cases God may be said, generally speaking, to have revealed the fact, but to have kept the explanation secret. Why should we not understand God as saying to us: “Here is the fact of Inspiration; find out the theory of it”; “Here is the fact of the Trinity and the Atonement; search out the explanations of them”; “Here is the fact that prayer is efficacious, and that providence is always beneficent; see if you cannot sweep away the difficulties of the one position, and unravel the mysteries of the other”? The only condition that God seems to lay down is this: that we are to make these inquiries reverently, and that we are to take on trust whatever we cannot explain, remembering that it is the fact of things, and not the theory, which is, after all, the important matter.
II. There are some things that God seems intentionally to keep secret. These are things which to pry into is apt to bring us some kind of natural punishment rather than reward.
1. His time of bringing any event to pass.
2. The way by which He means to lead His people. It is in mercy that He always keeps this secret. Put it to yourselves, if you could have come all the way you have come in the event of your knowing beforehand what it was to be like. Would you not have shrunk back from entering upon the journey of life? But when you cannot see beyond the first bend of the way--when all beyond this is God’s secret--you are emboldened to step out right manfully or right womanfully.
III. There are many things which God has fully revealed. God has fully revealed all that is necessary both for our weal here and for our wealth hereafter. (D. Hobbs, M. A.)
Limit to theological knowledge
Everything now unknown is not to be considered as belonging to the secret things of God, and unfathomable by man. Every day is revealing to us some things and facts of which we were ignorant. We have the largest, the freest, the most highly trained intellects everywhere exploring nature on the soundest philosophical principles, and with the aid of mechanical and scientific appliances unknown to the men of ancient times. The discoveries of the last half century have propelled civilisation with a speed which, if it had been predicted to our ancestors, would have been deemed fabulous. And yet we are only learning the letters of the alphabet of unknown knowledge. God has created, and will yet create, men whose genius, constitutional temperament, and gigantic intellect shall explore and explain the unknown parts and races of our own planet, investigate still further the laws of the universe, bring everything that has had life (not excluding man), and everything that has not had life, either under anatomical, telescopic, microscopic, or chemical investigation, and every revelation that the explorer can give to us, based upon facts, will illustrate the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Creator, and contribute to the well-being and advancement of mankind. But there are yet secret things, known only to God, which men have employed themselves for ages to discover, and have failed. One is, the essence and nature of God. We speak of God as the First Cause, the absolute Being, the infinite One, but the discussion even of these terms soon places before us contradictions necessarily involved in their use. The soul of man, its origin, varied power, and duration, is another secret thine, known only to God. The moral evil, the physical suffering, the mental degradation and moral debasement of the races of mankind for thousands of years, under the dominion and rule of a benevolent and merciful God--these are secrets the reason of whose existence we have no power to reveal. Our text tells us there are things which are revealed, and that they belong to us and to our children forever. The first great doctrine of revelation is the oneness of God. The incomprehensible God, the Creator and Ruler of all worlds, we adore and love. It is the surrender of the mind, the culture of the affections, and a life obedient to the will of heaven that are required of us, and though we often fail, even our failures may be expressive of progress, and of our earnest desire to lead a spiritual and holy life such as Christ lived. It is also revealed to us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” etc. In the Gospels we have the history, the doctrines, the commandments of Jesus, and His relationship to mankind. There must be no selfishness in our reception of Christianity. If we embrace it cordially, if we believe the Christian faith to be the truest, purest, and most powerful; if it will give light to the understanding, love and piety to the heart, integrity to the life; if it will make man benevolent, generous, unselfish, self-sacrificing, and will lead him to God for the forgiveness of his sins, then it is a faith, a Divine religion, which we ought not only to embrace, but to propagate by every means we possess. We have also other revelations; one is of law, summed up by Jesus in the love of God and of our neighbour. The physical and moral penalties of violating the laws of our nature and the laws of God are also revealed to us. The fact of a Divine Providence over mankind and all creatures, and over all human affairs, was plainly revealed by Jesus Christ. And the fact of its existence is almost all we know of it. Other facts and doctrines are disclosed to us, and the great purpose is, to bring our hearts and lives under the authority of God, that we may be the children of our Father who is in heaven. This was the aim and end of Christ’s teaching, example, prayers, and of His life and death. Nothing less than conformity to the spirit, the love, the virtue and holiness, and the benevolent deeds of Jesus, can make us worthy to bear His honoured name. The inference drawn by the writer of the text from the subject under consideration was this: “that we may do all the words of this law.” We have habitually to recognise the fact that secret things belong unto the Lord our God. Whatever belongs to the infinite, which is not revealed, is far, far beyond us; and it is not profitable to spend our time habitually on that which is and ever must be beyond our grasp. Thank God, the path of life and the path of duty are both equally plain and intelligible. In doing all the words of this law, we must remember that satisfaction and happiness may be attained from the Christianity we in common profess. The Bible contains solace for the troubled heart and comfort for the wounded spirit. (R. Ainslie.)
The presumption of prying into religious mysteries
It is one material consideration, amongst many, in favour of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, that they preserve throughout so due a medium in the discoveries which they make of Divine truths, as to direct the faith and practice of men without indulging their curiosity.
I. That we should never pry into matters which infinite wisdom hath concealed. For we shall seldom, if at all, he wiser for such inquiries: we shall never be happier or better; and we shall usually be more wretched, and less innocent.
II. That we should receive with attentive humility whatever infinite wisdom communicates to us. For that God is able to communicate many important truths to us, which we have no means of knowing otherwise, concerning His own nature, His designs and dispensations concerning the inhabitants of the invisible world, and our future state in it, can no more be doubted than whether we ourselves, according to our various knowledge of men and things, are able to give unexpected and serviceable notices one to another. And that we should understand nothing further of His secrets than is unfolded to us, nor be capable of answering many questions that may be asked about them, otherwise than by confessing our ignorance, is so far from being a plea against their being really His, that it is a necessary consequence of it: so far from being strange in supernatural things, that it is common in natural ones.
III. That we should allow every Divine truth its due influence on our behaviour. In proportion as we know God, we are to glorify Him as God: according to every particular which the Scripture hath manifested concerning Him. And the several obligations incumbent on us towards Him, ought not to be estimated, however commonly they are, by their influence on the affairs of our present life, but by the stress which He, who alone knows the proper one, hath laid upon them. Our performance of these obligations, as it was the true motive to the delivery of each article, is the just measure of our belief in it. If we know enough of the mysterious doctrines in religion to fulfil those duties, of which they are each respectively the foundation, our knowledge, however imperfect, is sufficient. And if those duties remain unfulfilled, the completest knowledge will not avail us. (Archbishop Seeker.)
Follow the road that is visible
The other day I was walking across the Northumberland Fells to call at a shepherd’s house that lay distinctly enough before me on the Fellside. The directions I received from a Fellsider, whom I had just left, after the manner of those who live every day in the midst of ample space, were vague indeed. The rutty, half-formed road on which I was walking was plain enough immediately before me, but when I strove to trace the course of the road a greater distance ahead, it became blended with the frowsy bracken and bronzed heather and was utterly lost to view. To have struck boldly out across country to reach my destination by what seemed the shortest route, would have entangled me among the spongy bogs and numerous streams with which the hillside was intersected. However, by carefully following the road that was visible before me, I managed to pick my way, and arrived at my calling place in safety. So is it in our daily search after the knowledge of the Divine will. When, in our impatient eagerness, we wish to look too far into the future, all is indistinct and hazy; but if we carefully note what is near and sufficiently revealed, we shall be led up infallibly to safety and rest.
The difficulty of explanation
The Rev. E.A. Stuart remarks, A little child was playing in the garden, and the crabbed old gardener came up to her and said, “Cissie, your father is going to kill a man tomorrow.” “Oh no, William, I am sure he is not!” “Yes, he is, tomorrow morning, at eight o’clock, up there on the hill close to the grey old prison.” “Oh no, William, I’m sure he is not! My father is too good and kind and gentle to do that.”. . . “Father, it is not true, is it? You are not going to kill a man tomorrow? William says you are.” The father was sheriff for the county, and had to superintend next morning the execution of a murderer, and it had been haunting him like a nightmare for the last three weeks. He was angry with the man who had so cruelly slandered him to his child, and yet he saw it was quite impossible for him to explain his duty to the little one, so he simply said, “Cissie, can’t you trust father?” and the little one smothered all her doubts in her father’s breast. And so when men come and perplex me with life’s mysteries, I simply answer, “I can trust my Father, and throw myself upon His character.”
Those things which are revealed.--
I. The things that are revealed.
1. The state of man. Perverted and depraved. Incapable of purifying himself. Turning away from the things of God, and seeking the things of man.
2. The means by which man may be delivered from the threatened evil. Gospel of Christ.
3. In what way man is to be interested in the Saviour.
II. For what end these things are revealed. “That we may do,” etc. Right thinking, right feeling, right action. (J. Burnet.)
Man’s relation to the revealed
I. There are things revealed. There are two ways in which we are able to get hold of the unknown--either by the exercise of human faculties and capacities, or through some supernatural revelation. The Framer of nature has arranged means for the conveyance of knowledge to the human mind. Sensation and reflection are the two powers whereby man comes to know the facts and laws of the internal world--the facts and laws of his own mind. Now, beyond the utmost sweep of the human intellect there lies a vast universe into whose awful depths we are ever striving to penetrate. But there are limits beyond which the human mind acknowledges it is not competent for it to pass. Now, it is here that the Bible comes to man’s assistance. God interposes, and reveals to man. The Divine nature and affections, the future condition of man, and the work of Christ for, and His relation to the human family, are the three great topics on which the Bible treats.
II. These revealed things belong to man forever.
1. They are objects of interest.
2. They are objects of knowledge. Our faith should have an intelligent basis.
3. This revelation is a solemn trust. It is our duty to band it on.
III. These things are revealed that we may do all the words of this law. This is the key to revelation. The Bible read in the light of this truth: that it reveals in order that men may be changed and turned to God; and that it reveals that men may do the words of God’s law--the Bible thus considered will everywhere exhibit consistency, and never seriously harass and disquiet by difficulties of comprehension and harmony. (L. D. Bevan, L. L. B.)
The things revealed
There is a valuable property which Christians possess on earth, and which, in the enjoyment of it, may be counted as an earnest of that better and enduring substance which is reserved in heaven for the believer. This property of the people of God is spoken of in the words before us. It is here called “those things which are revealed”; these, it is said, “belong unto us and to our children.”
I. The significant expression by which this property of Christians is here designated. “Those things which are revealed”--revelation and mystery are correlative terms, hence we are reminded--
1. Of the original mystery connected with these things. They are still “revealed mysteries,” but without revelation they had indeed been a mystery in the most unrestricted sense of the word. Man’s dim eye never penetrated them, his feeble mind never comprehended them, his puny intellect never grasped them.
2. Of their source. If these things were originally superior to man’s research, if they lay beyond an angel’s ken, then surely we are at no loss to ascertain their origin. We perceive at once that they are an emanation of the Infinite mind--a brightsome ray from the throne of glory. If we consider the love they display, it bears the impress of heaven; the wisdom they proclaim, it bears the impress of heaven; the mystery they bespeak, it bears the impress of heaven.
3. Of the importance of “those things which are revealed.” If it be true that these things were a mystery, but have been revealed--that God is their author, and that He hath made them known unto us, then without controversy they are clothed with a transcendent importance. Yes, it is important that those who are far removed from God should be brought back and restored to His image. It is important that those over whom the leprosy of sin hath diffused its loathsome disease, should be washed, clothed, and be brought to sit in their right mind at the feet of Jesus. It is important that the soul should be snatched from the fearful doom that threatens the sinner, and prepared for that blissful reward which awaits those “who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality.”
II. The remarkable adaptation of those things which are revealed to the circumstances of those to whom they belong, even “unto us and to our children.”
1. Man is a sinner, and because he is a sinner, conscience upbraids him. Now, behold how beautifully the “things which are revealed” harmonise with man’s circumstances in this respect. Here we are told “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself”; here we are assured that the blessing of reconciliation is to be secured on the simple terms--“only believe.” Thus moved by a sense of our own weakness, and encouraged by the revelation thus made, we raise the silent cry, “Lord, give us of this faith,” teach us how to believe, “Lord, save or we perish!”
2. Man being a sinner is in circumstances of present suffering. But when we turn to the “things which are revealed,” we learn at once the Author, the cause, and the end of all that comes upon us.
3. Man being a sinner is exposed to death. Death natural. This is in consequence of sin, and this cometh to all, “to the good, and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not.” This constitutes part of the curse so solemnly pronounced on the apostasy (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:17-19). But in the case of the believer the curse is converted into a blessing. Revelation has made known the cheering truth that the death of Christ has drawn the sting of death, and now “blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.” (J. Gaskin, M. A.)
I. Let us attend to the character of our rights. “The things that are revealed.”
1. It conducts us to the mysterious nature of our rights. They are revealed things; they are not the result of human reasonings, however deeply pursued--however long continued. They are revealed things; things, therefore, of a Divine and mysterious nature. Now, they are called “the purposes of God”; then, “the mystery of His will”: at one time, “the deep things of God”; at another, “the will of God”; and again, “the wisdom of God in a mystery.” If we look at the being and attributes of God--a trinity in unity--the Godman Mediator--His sacrifice and atonement--the effects of faith in that atonement--the doctrine of a future resurrection--and all, in fact, that is called revelation--we shall see how much they are above the level of mere human intellect. “The things that are revealed!” I love this designation; because--
2. It marks our religious immunities in the glory of their manifestation. If they be revealed, let us remember that God only could reveal them; and that He has. They are truly revealed, or manifested things. The whole has been the scene of Divine manifestations from the beginning. The Bible is a history of manifestations.
3. It points out the transcendent importance of them. They are “revealed things.”
II. The validity of our claims to these immunities. They “belong unto us”; so it is said in the text. But what is the ground of our claim to the things that are revealed? It cannot be natural to us, considering us abstractedly, as men. It is true, indeed, that there began to be a system of revelation and communication from the first, to sinless and innocent man. But the things which are revealed to us contain much, certainly, which was not adapted to man in his first state. This revelation could not belong to man, then, as he was created. And though we are sinners, and this revelation is made to us as sinners, still, the fact of our sinfulness could give us no claim to such a revelation; no claim to a revealed God--to a revealed Saviour--to a revealed heaven--to a revealed immortality. No; we can support no claim, either natural or meritorious. How, then, are these things ours? Simply because of the sovereign will of God. But, beside this, we have other collateral grounds of claim. In proof that the things that are revealed belong unto us, I would appeal--
1. To their astonishing adaptation to our circumstances.
2. To the legitimated means of their transmission. God has not left the truths of revelation to themselves, to make their own way, and subdue the world to obedience.
3. To the wonderful preservation of these things. How wonderfully God has taken care to preserve His truth pure and unadulterated, notwithstanding the prevalence of error, the tyranny of passion, and the cruelty of persecution.
4. To the influence of these things upon the nature of Man. Think on what would have been the state of the world if these things had not been revealed. (J. Anderson.)
The things that are revealed
The words invite us to contemplate our heritage--“the things that are revealed”; our title to that heritage--they “belong unto us and to our children forever.”
1. Many are the designations given of Holy Scripture. Those designations are all of them expressive and beautiful. When studied, they each present to us some new aspect of God’s Word. But the designation in this passage is exceedingly striking and plain. It is, “Those things which are revealed.” By being “revealed,” then, or by revelation, is meant opening up, uncurtaining, disclosing; bringing to view what was not seen or known, or only partially or imperfectly seen and known. This is done by the Spirit of God. Man’s intellect did not discover these things; man’s diligence and science did not find them out; man’s wit and skill did not arrive at them. They are not the results of logic, or of philosophy, or of genius; but they are the disclosures of God’s own Spirit. So that “all Scripture,” all revelation, “is given by inspiration of God.”
2. These “things that are revealed,” how manifold, how marvellous, how gracious, how glorious they are! “Eye” had “not seen them,” “ear” had “not heard them”; it had “not entered into the heart of man to conceive them.” Without this revelation, how dark, how desolate, how desperate were the lot of fallen man! Take the sun from the sky, what would become of the world? Take the Bible from the Church, what would become of the Church?
3. Amongst the “things that are revealed” are the things of God, and amongst the “things that are revealed” are the things of man; amongst the “things that are revealed” is the past in this world, and amongst the “things that are revealed “ are the things to come, not only of this world but in the world of eternity.
4. And, therefore, we are bound to sum up and say, the “things that are revealed,” how glorious they are! how inconceivable, and yet how clear! how incomprehensible, and yet how simple! how inscrutable, and yet how level to us all! How wonderful in their adaptation to our wants! how gracious in their condescension to our infirmities! “Those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.” Our little ones have a claim. “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (H. Stowell, M. A.)
The education of the young
Let me open my subject with the thoughts of a great man of science. “Supposing,” he says, “that the life and fortune of every one of us would one day depend on his winning or losing a game of chess, don’t you think that we should all consider it a primary duty to learn, at least, the names and moves of the pieces, to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving or taking a check. Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation almost amounting to scorn upon the father who allowed his son, or on the State which allowed its members to grow up without knowing a pawn from a knight? Yet it is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us depend on our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played by the human race for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that His play is always fair and patient; but we know to our cost that He never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for culpable ignorance. Well, what I mean by education is learning the laws of that mighty game--in other words, education is the instruction of the intellect in the laws of nature, under which name I include, not merely things and their forces, but men and their ways, and the fashioning of the affections and the will into an earnest and living desire to move in harmony with those laws.” Now, I will not criticise this passage, nor expand its suggestive metaphor, nor point out the elements in which it is wanting. Education is surely something very much more and deeper than merely training the intellect in the laws of nature. Its alpha and its omega should be rather to train the spirit in the knowledge of God. But leaving the passage and its general suggestiveness, I will try to point out something of what we are neglecting and of what we are doing, some of the ends at which we now aim in our schools, and some at which we should aim more and more. To begin with, we ought undoubtedly to connect all our higher education with the development of health, the happiness of the children, and the welfare of the nation.
1. Firstly, we too much neglect physical vigour. It depends on health; and if we injure the health of the children of the nation, we blight their whole lives. Our system is certainly too rigid and too mechanical. It tends to keep back the gifted and the eager, and to oppress the weak and the dull. It expects the same polish from the slate as from the agate. It makes but scant allowance for differences of ability and circumstance.
2. Then, secondly, how woefully do we fail to train the sense of beauty which God has given us, and which He, for His part, has endeavoured amply to satisfy! Our schoolrooms, instead of being, as they almost everywhere are, dingy, dirty, stuffy, and generally repellent, ought to be the airiest, happiest places in each parish; fresh and clean, and with flowers in them, and with beautiful pictures and simple works of art, and most of all in cities like this, where our children live, for the most part, in a wilderness of squalor and ugliness.
3. Then, thirdly, as to the cultivation of special gifts. A gift is a very rare and sacred thing, and it would be well if we could have the gifts of our children watched for and trained. Far too much have we, as a nation, confused the notion of education with the infructuous cramming of so much reproducible knowledge. “What is the education of the majority of the world?” asked Edmund Burke. “Reading a parcel of books? No! Restraint and discipline, examples of virtue and of justice--these are what form the education of the world.”
4. And, fourthly, we have, as a nation, I am convinced, great need to pay attention to the subject of technical training. This is a most serious national question, for, amid the universal competition of nations, the empire of British commerce is being seriously threatened. They who watch over the future interests of England, and not merely its present comforts, point to facts like these. The web of lace curtains is made in England, but before they can be sold they have to be sent to France and Belgium to have a pattern put on them, because we have not the requisite machinery. The steamers built on the Clyde for the Germans, as soon as they can float, are manned by German crews and sent over to that country to have their interiors completed, because that can be done better and more cheaply in Germany than in England. We have too much book work, depend upon it, and too little exercise for the powers and faculties of the body; and I feel sure that even the book work would be the better if our system were more human and more humane, if there were less grinding routine and more activity of soul. Our present wooden system tends at once to quench the glow and enthusiasm of many teachers, and the brightness and animation of many a child. Here, then, you have the fact which constitutes the central use and inestimable blessing of such schools as these you are asked to support, and to support with generous liberality, today--they are religious schools, or they are nothing. In these schools at least we have a moral education that endeavours to form the judgment and the character, which are too often neglected by official pedagogy. Here, at least, we do try to get the saving facts and saving doctrines of Christianity apprehended and appropriated by our school children. “The aim of teaching,” says a great schoolmaster, “is to train generally all who are born men to all that is human.” Let us do our best, and leave the rest to God. On the tombstone of one Frobel, the great loving German teacher, are carved the words: “Come let us live for the children.” I would say the same to you. If we neglect them, depend upon it, the devil will not. Let us teach our children, on the other hand, that the end of all education is to learn that all happiness depends, not on external good, but on inward blessings, because the kingdom of God is within them, let them be educated in such a way as to know that education is not to have and to rest, but to grow and to become, forgetting all the evil behind and reaching forward to all the good that is before; that the true end of life is not selfishness but beneficence, looking not every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others; that life, true life, is to be found in Christ and Christ alone, and consisteth not in the multitude of things we possess. (Dean Farrar.)
Revealed knowledge, our heritage
Revealed knowledge may be said to “belong to us”--
I. Because it is level to our understandings. All that is needful for us to know of “the common salvation” is so plain in itself, and so plainly declared, that he who runs may read. On this point we may safely appeal to general experience. If the Bible be, generally speaking, a hard book, how is it that it has made its way into every house where a reader is to be found? How does it happen that the most fond and delighted readers of it are those whose understandings have had the least assistance from education? Such persons prefer the Bible even to other devotional books in which the same things are professed to be set forth; partly, perhaps, from habit, but in a great measure because, with respect to the most interesting religious truths, they cannot be more plainly set forth than is there done already; they are rather obscured than otherwise by a multitude of words and subtle reasonings and human illustrations. And what is the nature of those truths? For, if they were not in themselves easy to be understood, no plainness of speech could make them so. But now, what are they? “God is, and is a rewarder,” etc. “All flesh have corrupted their way.” “Jesus Christ came,” etc. “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
II. Because it concerns us. The Bible is about us, and our affairs. Open it where you will, you are the person spoken to; and you, or some other of like passions with you, are the person spoken of. Of God Himself, only so much is revealed as relates to His dealings with man; and how small a part is that of what might be known of the Author of the universe! Of the angels, their natures, orders, powers, and past history, we know next to nothing; only a few individuals of them are introduced to us, as ascending and descending between God and man; and we are told of them in general, that they are “all ministering spirits,” etc. Nay, even of Jesus Christ Himself, whatever is revealed strictly concerns us and the scheme of our redemption. Of man, his origin, nature, history, condition, duties, destiny, every page of the Bible tells us something; and the whole together gives us such a full and luminous account as leaves nothing to be desired. With reference to its author, we call the Bible God’s Book, but in respect to use and advantage it is our book, and none but ours. Suppose it to be put into the hands of a quite different order of creatures, inhabiting some other world: of what service would it be to them? Would they, who perhaps had never sinned, feel any interest beyond that of mere curiosity in the fall of man, or in the succession of the Divine dispensations for his recovery? To them it would be as a letter missent. But when we open this letter we see at once that it “belongs to us”; and we put it by, only to refer to it again and again, and prepare ourselves, “that we may do,” etc.
III. Because we do, in fact, possess it. Was it not “written for our learning”? delivered to us at the first, and handed down by a providential arrangement, for our benefit? Let this suffice. Where there is no other claimant, possession alone is a valid title. This is an acknowledged maxim in regard to other kinds of property; and so it would be in regard to this, were it not for one consideration, namely, that we do not see men using and enjoying this part of their possessions as they do the rest. What should we think if we saw the supposed owner of a large landed property carefully abstaining from the usufruct of it? either letting it remain unproductive, or storing up the produce of it from year to year, or by any other means taking good care that he himself shall derive no benefit from its. Should we not say at once, “The estate is not legally vested in that person. There is some flaw in his title, and he fears to apply the proceeds to his own use, lest the real owner should presently appear and call him to account”? Now, apply this to the case before us. “Those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” That is the use of this property--to “do all the words,” etc. It is the absence of that, and nothing else, that casts a suspicion upon our real title to the property. If men were always seen doing those things which are contained in the Bible--obeying its precepts, copying its examples, believing its truths, appropriating its promises; in short, living and feeding upon the oracles of God, instead of remaining all their lives “hearers only, deceiving their own selves,”--there would, there could be, no question as to their right of possession. (Frederick Field, LL. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 29". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20