And shalt return unto the Lord thy God.
The proper signs of repentance
Moses is here dealing with the signs of “repentance,” which begin in the humiliation of the heart, and end in the reformation of the life. In the New Testament there two words translated by our English word “repentance”: one of them conveys specially the notion of changing one’s mind as to things--seeing things in a different light, and then shaping one’s conduct accordingly. But it is necessary for us to distinguish even between sorrow for sin and repentance. Sorrow has two results; it may end in spiritual life or in spiritual death; and, in themselves, one of these is as natural as the other. Sorrow may produce two kinds of reformation--a transient or a permanent one. Sorrow is in itself, therefore, a thing neither good nor bad; its value depends on the spirit of the person on whom it falls. Fire will inflame straw, soften iron, or harden clay; its effects are determined by the object with which it comes in contact. Warmth develops the energies of life, or helps the progress of decay. It is a great power in the hothouse, a great power also in the coffin; it expands the leaf, matures the fruit, adds precocious vigour to vegetable life; and warmth, too, develops with tenfold rapidity the weltering process of dissolution. So too with sorrow. There are spirits in which it develops the seminal principle of life; there are others in which it prematurely hastens the consummation of irreparable decay. Repentance is a state of mind and heart, but it may be merely a cherished sentiment, in which, as a mere sentiment, the man hopes to find his satisfaction. Such repentance is, and it always must be, ineffective. It is self-centred; it is disguised pride. By its fruits you must know it. The repentance that does nothing is nothing. This is our constant difficulty--men are perpetually trying to sever sentiment from con-duet. They want to keep the two spheres separate, and hope to be right towards God in heart, and to do what they like in their life. This self-delusion God’s Word persistently resists. Religion cannot keep only in the heart sphere. It must come out and show itself in the life. It will be white and frail as a plant growing in a dungeon if it be kept wholly within. Every element of the religious life must act, must speak. Shut it up and it will fade away. And now let us see if we can trace the stages of the Divine dealing still, with individuals, in Moses’ foreshadowings of God’s dealings with His people Israel.
1. God’s will, as He has been pleased to reveal it, controls heart and conduct; and enables each man to judge and appraise himself. When Job came into the full sense of God, what could he do but exclaim, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
2. Man’s self-will, resisting the Divine will, brings man into sin. Pollok pictures, in his poem, the misery of lost souls as this, that they see the words wherever they turn, “Ye knew your duty, and ye did it not.” That is sin.
3. Sinful man comes under Divine discipline, which may take the ordinary forms of the natural consequences of transgression, or which may be special afflictive Divine dispensations. The prodigal son only came into the sufferings and humiliations that always follow a life of vice.
4. The aim sought to be reached by Divine discipline is the conviction of sin, self-humiliation on account of sin, and the earnest desire to recover from sin. The sufferings following sin may bring remorse, but that is no holy feeling. God would work the godly sorrow of repentance. Remorse keeps a man away from God, hugging to himself his bitterness. Repentance leads a man to God, dissolves him in the tears of confession, and yet kindles a new hope in the soul. And now--
5. We come to the point of our text. When a penitent comes back to God, He looks for the signs of the penitence. He finds them partly in that very return to seek His forgiveness; but He looks for it also in the steadfast endeavour of the penitent henceforth to obey. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
We have heard much of the Gospel containing comfort for the mere sinner, and if by the mere sinner be meant one that has nothing to plead but the mercy of God, through the atonement, like the publican in the parable, it is for such, and only such, that the Gospel contains consolation. But if by the mere sinner be meant the impenitent, though distressed sinner, it has no comfort for such in their present state. Repentance is necessary to forgiveness, in the same sense as faith is necessary to justification; for it is not possible for a sinner either to embrace the Saviour, or prize the consolations of the Gospel, while insensible to the evil of sin. There is no grace in the Gospel, but upon the supposition that God is in the right, and that sin is exceedingly sinful, and, consequently, none to be perceived or prized. (Andrew Fuller.)
Thoroughness in repentance
In the War Cry there was a picture of a man kneeling at a table and praying, “Lord, make a good job of me.” The words are rough enough, but the meaning is, in many respects, admirable. The poor man feels that he is a failure, and that he needs new making. His feeling is that none but the Lord can accomplish the necessary renewal. His fear is lest he should not have the full work wrought upon him, and that his conversion should not be thorough and complete. He has no need to fear that the Lord would not operate effectively, for the great Worker never leaves His work half done. Still, the very fear of being but partly sanctified shows his earnestness and his desire to be truly and fully converted from the error of his ways. Lifeless, questionable religion is poor stuff. Oh, that the Lord would make a good job of us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Repentance is neither base nor bitter, it is good rising up out of evil. It is the turning of the soul from the way of midnight to the point of the coming sun. Darkness drops from the face, and silver light dawns upon it. True regret for wrong never weakens, but always strengthens the heart. As some plants of the bitterest root have the whitest and sweetest blossoms, so the bitterest wrong has the sweetest repentance, which, indeed, is only the soul blossoming back to its better nature.
Whole-heartedness in religion
A dealer in pictures who makes it his business to find as many new painters as possible, both in this country and abroad, was asked recently in regard to his methods of selecting pictures to buy. He was very frank in his talk, and one thing which he said is shrewd enough to be worth quoting. “Of course,” he said, “with my experience I am able to judge whether there is promise in a painter’s work, but I never buy with any idea of putting the painter on my list until I have seen the man and talked with him myself. I always watch him closely, and I never buy his pictures unless his eye lights up when I talk to him about his work and about his profession.” The artist whose heart was really in his work could not discuss it without kindling, and the man who did not paint from the heart was not the one whose pictures the dealer wanted. And so God desires whole-hearted obedience to His commands.
Circumcise thine heart.
Circumcision was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham, mention of which we have in Genesis 17:1-27, and which the first martyr, St. Stephen, quoted in that remarkable address in Acts 7:8, where he said, “And He gave him the Covenant of Circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day.” And St. Paul in writing to the Romans 4:11, speaking of Abraham, says, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.” This sign was also made with Abraham’s seed--that is, Christ--as St. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:16. This was then the Covenant of Grace, the Gospel which preceded the law. To Israel this covenant was an outward sign that God would give them rest in Canaan; and to all of us it is a sign continued in Christian baptism, and a seal that “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city.” This rite of circumcision was performed by the cutting off of the flesh of the foreskin; this was cut off and cast away, to show that the body of the sins of the flesh must be put off; a list of what some of these are we have in Colossians 3:5. On this account we are told in Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts,” and in the text, “Circumcise thine heart.” Ishmael was circumcised although the covenant was made with Abraham and Isaac, for the children of believing parents must be sealed with its seal for the reasons given by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:14. The act of circumcising the male child was a painful ceremony, and was full of meaning, suggesting then what the New Testament teaches now, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.” This rite of circumcision was administered to a child who could know nothing except pain. What good was it? How unreasonable! and how cruel--we would be prompted to ask. Following our own reason, no child would have received the rite; but we should remember what Locke says, “Whatever is Divine revelation ought to overrule all our opinions, prejudices, and interests, and hath a right to be received with full assent. Such a submission as this of our reason to faith, takes not away the landmarks of knowledge, this shakes not the foundations of reason, but leaves us that use of our faculties for which they were given us.” But God’s commands upon this subject far outstrip man’s reason and man’s feelings upon the subject. For there was a penalty attached to disobedience; the child not circumcised was to be cut off from his people, he was to die. In Colossians 2:11-12, we are told this of baptism, which now answers to the rite of circumcision, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.” This rite of baptism is equally for babes as well as for those of mature years, even for those only a few weeks old. Parents ought to see that their children receive it. I shall now endeavour to show you in what two points circumcision differs from baptism.
1. Baptism in its literal sense, taken as an outward rite, is of universal and continual obligation, that is, as long as this dispensation (the dispensation of the Spirit) lasts, though it is only in the first of these that it differs from circumcision.
2. Taken in its literal sense, circumcision was the initiatory rite of the old covenant, as baptism is of the new; both are placed at the threshold of church privileges. In circumcision a man was pledged to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3), whereas in baptism a man is pledged to put on Christ. The case of the Ethiopian eunuch.
As there are two points of difference between circumcision and baptism, there are on the other hand three points of resemblance.
1. In a spiritual sense both have the same signification, both point to the renewal of the heart, which is required of all.
2. Neither circumcision, nor baptism, are of value as mere rites, unaccompanied, by the spiritual grace which they typify; “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.”
3. “Baptism doth also save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Above all, the Spirit of God is all essential. The truths which circumcision teach us, and the blessings of which it was the pledge, are the birthright of every real child of God. It taught what baptism now teaches us, the total depravity of the human nature, its inability to please God, and its unfitness to partake of His mercy. Circumcision was also like our initiatory sacrament baptism--a sign and pledge of the remedy which infinite love has devised for the depravity of the heart. “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” “I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” All these blessings are now communicated to every genuine member of the Christian Church. Our blessed Lord therefore submitted to the rite of circumcision. It was right that He should bear the evidence of being a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh. Although He had no personal pollution to put off, yet His submitting to circumcision was an essential part of His humiliation, and of the obedience by which He fulfilled all righteousness. It was also one of those sacred actions in which He sustained the character of the representative of His people. Now, what are we to learn from all this, and more especially those that are parents and guardians? As circumcision was originally an admission unto covenant relationship with God, Jesus, the Son of the Highest, submitted to it the eighth day, when Joseph exercised his parental right over Jesus, as man, in giving. Him His name, and by His baptism by St. John, He fulfilled the law by obedience. From the manger at Bethlehem to the Cross on Calvary, He did the will of God till it was finished. What an example for us all to follow in His blessed steps. In order to do so, we must see that our hearts are circumcised. In like manner baptism as the covenant of grace, of which it is the symbol, is higher than that of the law, with greater privileges and blessings. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? The last act of grace is, as the promise under our consideration implies, ensured by the first act of grace. The primary change of heart effected by the operation of the Holy Spirit, is the pledge of the final accomplishment of the purposes of sovereign love. “The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart that thou mayest live.” (C. T. Buchanan.)
The circumcision of the heart: a description of true religion
I. The purity of its character: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart,” etc. Circumcision was originally instituted to ratify the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham His faithful servant (Genesis 17:10-11). It subsequently became a distinguishing and standing rite in the Jewish Church. It was an outward and typical sign of an internal and spiritual grace. Hence we read of “the circumcision of the flesh made with hands,” and also of “the heart made without hands,” by Jesus Christ. Circumcision, therefore, of the heart implies--
1. The renovation of its moral powers. Human nature is totally depraved, and every man’s heart is “desperately wicked.” Hence we must be spiritually circumcised and made holy, or we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven (Hebrews 12:14). This inward circumcision includes a deliverance from the power and pollution of sin, and an actual participation of the Divine nature.
2. The special result of Divine operation. “The Lord thy God will, etc., and the heart of the seed,” who shall believe in His name. He only is able to achieve this great and glorious change.
II. The excellency of its principle: “To love the Lord thy God,” etc. Purity of heart is invariably accompanied with the principle of Divine love. When grace becomes predominant, it sways the whole empire of the soul, and reigns through righteousness unto eternal life. The object which the believer’s love embraces, “The Lord thy God.”
1. His essential character demands our love. He is the Lord--the uncreated, infinite, and eternal Jehovah.
2. His relative character also demands our love. He is thy God--not only Creator, Legislator, Benefactor, but also Redeemer, Saviour, Portion. Thine by innumerable obligations, relations, and endearments: by right, by purchase, by covenant, by adoption, by enjoyment, by profession, and by anticipation.
3. The degree to which the believers love extends. “With all thy heart, and with all thy soul.”
III. The felicity of its subjects. “That thou mayest live.” This assertion affords both instruction and encouragement. It plainly intimates the destructive tendency of sin, and the quickening and saving efficacy of Divine grace.
1. The misery of the impenitent is fairly implied. Life’s opposite is death: and those who lose the former must endure the latter. The wicked are already legally dead by the condemning sentence of the law, are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins; and except they speedily repent, they will eternally perish.
2. The reward of the righteous is Divinely promised: “That thou mayest live.” This gracious promise is very comprehensive. It not merely includes a negative deliverance from a death of sin, but is also expressive of the peculiar excellency and perpetuity of religion as a principle of spiritual and eternal life.
We may conclude by observing--
1. The necessity of personal purity, without which the external ordinances of Christianity are insufficient and unprofitable. And--
2. The exalted character and blessedness of the pious, as participants of saving grace, and heirs of the glorious “inheritance of the saints in light.” (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Circumcision of heart
I. The blessing to be bestowed--circumcision of heart.
1. The truths which circumcision taught, and the blessings of which it was the pledge, are the birthright of every real child of God.
2. All these blessings are communicated to every genuine member of the Christian Church through Christ. A circumcised Saviour affords a pledge of--
3. God, as sovereign, retains to Himself the application of these blessings.
4. Their extension to the seed of those who partake of this spiritual circumcision is a further illustration of God’s sovereignty and benignity towards His people.
II. Its immediate result: love to God.
1. The source of this love: God Himself.
2. The ground on which He lays claim to it--
3. Its extent and intensity. We must love God with all our heart.
III. Its ultimate issue; everlasting life. A life of--
1. The due distinction between the symbolical and spiritual.
2. The blessed character of true religion. (J. Hill, M. A.)
The true circumcision
I. The author of it. “The Lord thy God.” He alone can deal effectively with our heart, and take away its carnality and pollution.
II. Where it is wrought. It is not of the flesh, but of the spirit. It is the essential mark of the covenant of grace.
III. The result. “That thou mayest live.” To be carnally minded is death. In the overcoming of the flesh we find life and peace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This commandment, is not hidden.
Three characteristics of salvation
I. Clearness. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” “Ah,” you say, “there it comes in again. Whenever we go elsewhere the intellect is exalted.” And then you feel that the Church is to be condemned. But a man’s brains are not the wisest part of him; there is a great deal about a man that is wiser than his brains. Thank God for that! He has insights, intuitions, sympathies, that are as reliable as the testimony of the senses or the inferences of logic. We cannot know God intellectually. “God is great,” as Job says, “and we know Him not.” Are we then to be Agnostics? Oh, no! There is another way of interpretation. John Bunyan had a blind daughter. She lived much with him; he was very fond of her. They said he would not let the wind blow on her. She never saw Bunyan; it was impossible for her to comprehend his genius; she was pathetically incapable of reading his books. But will anybody in this place tell me that that blind girl did not know Bunyan? She did not know him visually, did not know him historically or technically, but she knew Bunyan; she knew the man, and looked into his heart. With the heart man knows God. And so Paul says it is by the heart that you are to understand the redemption that is in Christ. You are not to follow it out as a scholar, not to master it as a reasoner, but with the instinct of the soul you are to grasp the love of God in Christ Jesus. “Ah,” you say, “it is the old thing over again. Whenever we go to a school, to an institution, it is the old intellect, it is science; but as soon as ever we come here, it is sympathy.” What! you understand nature by science? You understand nature a long while before you are a scientist, and a great many people have a wonderful delight in nature who have never had a tincture of science. A little child gets at it, and the poet, the painter, without any technical knowledge or mastery whatever. I tell you, there are thousands of people in this country who enjoy the sunshine--when they get it--but they do not know anything about astronomy. Their heart leaps up when they behold a rainbow in the sky, but they do not know anything about optics. And just as it is with your apprehension of nature, so it is with your apprehension of God, of Christ, of the mercies that have been declared in Christ Jesus to perishing men. Why, there is no greater mistake than for a man to preach Christianity philosophically and theologically. When I look at the sky I can see it is the sky; there is the sun, the moon, and the stars, it is superb. But when I take an astronomical book down and look at the sky they have covered the page with strange figures. There is the Ship, and the Whale, and the Swan, and the Little Bear, and the Great Bear, and a good many other things, and I should not know it was the sky if they were not to write underneath, “This is the sky.”
II. Nearness. All the best things are near us, as your poet tells you,--a man’s best things are nearest to him, close about his feet. The things that you cannot get are the things you do not need. I do like that idea of the country people, to the effect that if there is any disease in a neighbourhood there is sure to be a remedy if you have only the wit to find it. They say that the bane and the antidote always go together. Whether it is a marshy district, a mountain side or a flowing river, they say that the plant always grows close by that cures the diseases peculiar to the district. Some of our scholars of late years have given a good deal of attention to the sacred books of the Orientals--the Hindu, the Greek, and the Persian--and I daresay have done it with great advantage, but mind you, there is no necessity for us to go to any Oriental oracle for God’s last words on the greatest questions. I noticed that a traveller who had been in Algiers said the other day that the natives of the Sahara have a curious idea that Europe is a waterless waste, and the reason why travellers go to the Sahara is that they may find a spring of water. Of course, if they had lived here a little lately they would have known better! What with our flowing rivers, our weeping skies, and our brimming reservoirs, we do not need to go to Algerian deserts for a spring of water. And I tell you that whatever purpose may be served by our great scholars going to Oriental countries, we need not go there for the vital truth that saves; for, blessed be God, here, close by us, is a Fountain of living water, of which, if a man shall drink, he shall never thirst again. You know that when the bad weather comes all our rich people leave us. They go for the good of their health, let us hope, and if you are rich you are pretty nearly sure to have bad health, and then leave us! They go to Algiers, they go to Egypt, they go to Malta, they go to the Nile, they go to the South of France, and they leave us to the fogs of London, and we have to get on as best we may. We have not the leisure nor the resources to go away. But what a lovely thing it is when we come to need a spiritual specific, when we need a remedy for the wrong of our spirits, that we need not cross the sea, for it is here. “Lo, God is here, and I knew it not.” He has been talking to you for years, persuading you to a nobler life. Your great difficulty has not been to find Christ, your great difficulty has been to keep Him out. Did you not notice when I read the lesson that the apostle speaks of men who go about seeking to establish their own righteousness, go about restless, dissatisfied, wandering? You never knew a flower go a-gypsying to find the sun. A flower never goes on a voyage of circumnavigation to look after a bee or a butterfly. It never strikes its tent and wanders about looking for the dew: Everything comes to it, and all that the flower has to do is to open its heart and take in the sweet influences of the sky, and everything that you want, the light to illuminate, the grace to save, the power to perfect, the peace that passeth all understanding, the hope that is full of glory--everything is near to you, and all that you have to do at this very moment is to open your heart and take it in.
III. Freeness. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The basis of belief
The writer of this book--the second giving of the law--declares, then, that the law is primarily in the heart of man. It is not outside of him--brought to him; it is within him. As the printer takes the white sheet of paper, on which nothing is written, and presses it against the bosom of the type and lifts it off, and there is written what was on the type, so the heart of man is pressed against the bosom of Almighty God, and on the heart of humanity itself is written the Divine law transferred thereto. And what is true of the law of God is true of the Gospel of God and of all religious truth. Not all the truth that is educed from religion, but all religious truth, is in the heart of humanity, and brought out from the heart of humanity by the providence, the influence, or the ministry of God. We know some things by reason of our external observation. They are not proved to us, they are brought to us by our senses. But all that science can do is to examine, to classify, to investigate, to arranged to study the phenomena that are thus brought to us by our observation. Our eyes bring to us the trees and the flowers: out of them science makes botany. Our observation brings to us the stars: out of them science educes astronomy. In an analogous method, the soul’s eyes bring to us knowledge of great, transcendent facts which lie in the inner world. Theology (which is the science of religion) cannot create them, any more than natural science can create natural phenomena. All that theology can do is to examine, to investigate. We know the facts of the inner life by the inner testimony, as we know the facts of the outer life by the outer testimony. If we do not know, it is because we are dead. If a man does not know there are trees and flowers, he is blind. What he wants is not argument, but an oculist. All that the logical faculty can do is to deal with the facts which the observation without or the observation within brings to our cognisance. It is thus that we know that there is a difference between right and wrong. We know that there is righteousness and unrighteousness, as we know that there is the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the false. This is a fundamental fact. It is not brought to us by any external revelation; it is not in the heaven above and brought down to us; it is not across the sea and brought over to us; it is within the soul and heart of man--he knows it. Knowing this, he may analyse, he may study, the nature of the difference. This is the anchor ground of religion--we know that there is righteousness. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. In precisely the same way, the great majority of men have some inward consciousness of God. They have some inward consciousness of a help on which they can lay hold and by which they can be aided. This consciousness does not define God to them. This consciousness of God within us we analyse, we examine, and the result of our investigations, we call theology. It is our creed. It may be right. It may be wrong. As a tree is something different from a definition of a tree, and a flower is something different from a definition of a flower, and a star is something different from the description of a star, so God is different from our theological definitions of God. And we have not to go back four thousand years to get the testimony of Moses that there was a God. Our belief in Christ is something more than a historical or theological belief. We believe in righteousness, and when we read this life of Christ we see there righteousness luminous and eloquent. We believe in God, and as we read this life we see the masked God withdrawing His mask, and letting His own face shine through. The world thought power was Divine, majesty was Divine, justice was Divine, greatness was Divine; and then there came One upon the earth, without power, and without external majesty, and without the signs and symbols of greatness; but He was patient, gentle, heroic, sympathetic--nay, more, rejoiced to bear not only the sorrows but the sins of others. And when that life was held up before humanity, humanity said, That is the Divinest yet; there is more majesty in love than in power, there is more strength in patience than in force. The heart of humanity answered to the portraiture of Christ, and responded to it. If, when that life is held up before a man, he says, “I do not see anything beautiful in that life; there is nothing in it that attracts me. I would have liked Him better if He had made a fortune; I would have thought more of Him if Be had organised an army; I should have some admiration for Him if He had lived the life of a statesman; I do not care for Christ; give me Napoleon Bonaparte,” you cannot argue with him. In him is lacking moral life, not understanding. There are not a few in our time who are asking for the evidence of immortality. They study nature, and evolution, and the Scriptures, and buttress, by these methods, a frail faith in immortality. The witness is in ourselves. Not a witness that we are going to live forever. That is not immortality. The witness is in ourselves that we are something more than the physical organisation which we inhabit. What is the fundamental evidence of immortality? To live a life that is worth being immortal. If we are living in the sphere of the immortal, we know where we are living. We know what we are if we are living in the realm of faith, and hope, and love. We know that this spiritual life does not depend on the physical organisation. So our faith in the Bible, in its foundation, is this: There is that in us which answers to that which is in the Bible. If there is nothing in us which answers to that which is in the Bible, we shall not get a faith in the Bible by argument. We need a new life. The moral life in us responds to the record of the moral life in this Old Testament and this New Testament; and if there is nothing in us which does respond, it is life that is lacking. We are not to go up into the heavens to bring down the message, nor to cross the sea to search for it. In our own hearts we are to find the witness of God. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
The Bible in itself
The Bible is more acknowledged than believed; and where it is believed, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, it seldom gives that decision to our purposes, that spring to our actions, which it ought to give.
I. First, then, as to the closeness with which it addresses the soul, and the paternal familiarity of its style. Why is it that sensible persons rejoice in having a pious, well-informed and accessible neighbour? It seems almost childish to ask. But the answer is, “Because his word is very nigh unto them” because they have the benefit of his counsel, his stock of knowledge, which is freely and benevolently open to them, and they are sure that at all times he will be influenced by upright and conscientious motives in advising them. But there is more than this in it. They look to his example--to his thoughts and sayings carried out in his actions. They are conscious of its influence on themselves and those around them; and they value it. And the nearer it is to them--the more available it also is to them and the more influential; yes, even when through perversity they struggle against its influence. Now, the Word of God is such a neighbour, only of infinite instead of finite, of Divine instead of human wisdom, goodness, and power of exhortation. It is, as the text says, “very nigh unto us.” I do not take the words figuratively. I moan that it is, by its very cast and structure, by its very form and style, nigh to us, at hand to our hearts and minds, to our understandings and feelings. It is nigh as a teacher: it is nigh as a counsellor: it is nigh as a setter forth of example. Consider how largely, too, God speaks in the Bible to man by man; I do not mean merely through the pen of man, for that, of course, is true of all Scripture, but by the speech of man as man, partaking of all our natural views, feelings, hopes, fears. What a familiar tone, without lowering any of its dignity, does the Word of God thus take with us! How “very nigh” it comes to us!
II. The second I would take occasion to illustrate from the words “in thy mouth”: “The Word is very nigh thee, in thy mouth.” It was said that this indicates that the Word of God was to be avowedly our counsellor. We were intended to cite it as commandment and promise to us, as our law and Gospel. This is clearly laid down and exemplified. It will be remembered how emphatically it was charged Joshua: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth” (Joshua 1:8; Psalms 119:46). What was the conviction which sustained the martyrs of old in their freedom of speech, in bonds, and at the stake? Was it not this, that it was not their own word, but the Word of God, which they had in their mouths?
III. The next clause in our text descends to where that power centres and fixes itself. “And in thy heart,” Again the Psalmist is our expounder: “Thy Word have I hid in my heart” (Psalms 119:11); “Thy law is within my heart” (Psalms 40:8). The patriarch Job had counselled this: “Lay up God’s words in thy heart” (Job 22:22). And here seems to be the place in which we may aptly refer to the application of our text by the same apostle writing to the Romans (Romans 10:6-10). Yes, it is to be heart work--the Word “in the heart”--else it will be of no purpose that it be in the mouth. But is it so constituted as to speak to the heart, to go to the heart? That is the question to our present purpose. It is; after an inimitable manner, and with inimitable force. So then is the Word of inspiration framed to be embraced by affections though they may be debased, and to dwell in them though they be yet enslaved.
IV. Now, in the last place, the emphatical passage which is guiding our reflections asserts that “the Word is very nigh unto us that we may do it.” This pronounces obedience to it to be the necessary proof of a believing reception of it. Most amply is this test elsewhere recognised in it. “Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven” (Exodus 20:22), said the Lord to the children of Israel: “Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments” (Leviticus 18:5). And they said, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do (Exodus 19:8). “Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), is a precept as ancient as the Word itself. But our inquiry is, whether it be invested with any impressiveness, exclusively its own, of a practical tendency. For, if so, in this most important respect, too, the Bible will be its own witness. The answer is, Come and see! Who indeed is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:5.) Now “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). I have thus endeavoured to show that the Bible in itself, being an inspired composition, is thereby endued with an influential bearing, close and direct, upon the affections and conduct, as well as on the profession, of all who really study it, or listen to it with any willingness, even a passive willingness, to profit by it. The Bible, as those who are most grateful for it will most readily own, is but the instrument of God’s Holy Spirit. And it is not an instrument that will act mechanically on the soul: there must be prayer, continual prayer, as the Bible itself teaches, for its progressive operation upon us. (W. Dalby, M. A.)
Plain Gospel for plain people
What is meant by these words is this--that the way of salvation is plain and clear; it is not concealed among the mysteries of heaven. But the way of salvation is brought home to us, given to us in a handy form, and laid within grasp of our understanding. It is a household treasure, not a foreign rarity. It is not so remote from us that only they can know it who travel far to make discoveries, neither is it so sublimely difficult that only they can grasp it who have soared to heaven and ransacked the secrets of the book sealed with seven seals. It is brought to our doors like the manna, and flows at our feet like the water from the rock.
I. The way of salvation is plain and simple. As saith Moses in the last verse of the previous chapter: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.”
1. I think we might have expected this if we consider the nature of God, who has made this wonderful revelation. When God speaks to a man with a view to his salvation, it is but natural that in His wisdom He should so speak as to be understood. God, who is infinitely wise, would not give to us a revelation upon the vital point of salvation, and then leave it so much in the dark that it was impossible for common minds to Comprehend it if they desired to do so. God adapts means to ends, and does not allow men to miss of heaven from lack of plainness on His part. We expect a plain and simple revelation, because God has made a revelation perfectly adapted for its end, upon which no improvement can be made. You might have expected this from God, because of His gracious condescension. When He deigns to speak with a trembling seeker, it is not after the manner of the incomprehensible doctor, but after the manner of a father with his child, desirous that his child should at once know his father’s mind. He breaks down His great thoughts to our narrow capacities: He has compassion on the ignorant, and He becomes the Teacher of babes.
2. We might also expect simplicity when we remember the design of the plan of salvation. God aims distinctly by the Gospel at the salvation of men. It had need be a simple Gospel if it is to be preached to every creature. Moreover, we might expect the Gospel to be very plain, because of the many feeble minds which else would be unable to receive it. What, think you, would become of the dying if the Gospel were intricate and complex? How would even the saints derive consolation in death from a labyrinth of mysteries? We should expect, therefore, from the design of the Gospel to save the many, and to save even the least intelligent of men, that it should be very simple; and so we find it.
3. Furthermore, we see that it is so, if we look at its results. God’s chosen are usually a people of honest and candid mind, who are willing rather to believe than to dispute. The Holy Spirit has opened their hearts; He has not made them subtle and quibbling.
4. But I need not argue from what we expect or see; I bid you look at the revelation itself, and see if it be not nigh unto us. Even in the days of Moses, how plain some things were! It must have been plain to every Israelite that man is a sinner, else why the sacrifice, why the purgations and the cleansings? Not a day passed without its morning and evening lambs. Equally clear it must have been to every Israelite that the faith which brings the benefit of the great sacrifice is a practical and operative faith which affects the life and character. Continually were they exhorted to serve the Lord with their whole heart. So that, dim as the dispensation may be considered to have been as compared with the Gospel day, yet actually and positively it was sufficiently clear. Even then “the word was nigh” to them, “in their mouth and in their heart.”
5. If I may say this much of the Mosaic dispensation, I may boldly assert that in the Gospel of Christ the truth is now made more abundantly manifest. Moses brought the moonlight, but in Jesus the sun has risen, and we rejoice in His meridian beams.
II. The Word has come very near to us. To us all the Gospel has come very near: to the inhabitants of these favoured isles it is emphatically so. If you perish it is not for want of plain speaking. The Word is on your tongue. Moses also added, “and in thy heart.” By the heart, with the Hebrews, is not meant the affections, but the inward parts, including the understanding. You can understand the Gospel. That whosoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved, is not a dark saying.
III. The design of this simplicity and nearness of the Gospel is that we should receive it. Observe bow the text expressly words it--“The Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”
1. The Gospel is not sent to men to gratify their curiosity, by letting them see how other people get to heaven. Christ did not come to amuse us, but to redeem us. His Word is not written for our astonishment, but, “These are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the, Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye may have life through His name.” Ever has the Gospel a present, urgent, practical errand. It says to each man, “I have a message from God unto thee”. Observe again how the text puts its last address in the singular. You can hear it in the plural--“That we may hear it, and do it”; but the actual doing is always in the singular--“That thou mayest do it.”
2. As the Word of the Lord is not sent to gratify curiosity, so also it is not sent coolly to inform you of a fact which you may lay by on the shelf for future use. God does not send you an anchor to hang up in your boathouse; but, as you are already at sea, He puts the anchor on board for present use. The Gospel is sent us as manna for today, to be eaten at once. It is to be our spending money as well as our treasure.
3. It is not sent to thee merely to make thee orthodox in opinion as to religious matters, although many persons seem to think that this is the one thing needful. Remember that perdition for the orthodox will be quite as horrible as eternal ruin for the heterodox. It will be a dreadful thing to go to hell with a sound head and a rotten heart. Alas! I fear that some of you will only increase your own misery as you increase your knowledge of the truth, because you do not practise what you know. “That thou mayest do it!” What is to be done? There are two things to be done.
Avow thyself to be a believer in Jesus, and a follower of Him. But let thy confession be sincere; do not lie unto the Lord. Confess that thou art His follower, because thou art indeed so; and henceforth all thy life bear thou His Cross and follow Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Very nigh unto thee.
Much is said of the importance of personal religion, as what alone is pleasing to God, or can secure human salvation. We should know the precise meaning intended in this expression; and my object will be to define it. And, first, an idea is given in the text and the circumstances connected with it--the idea that religion consists in nothing external and formal, nor in any sudden impressions made from without upon the mind. Great revivals may bear away thousands on a torrent of sympathy; but it is all in vain, if men do not retire from the tumult to the silent culture of every right disposition and the quiet practice of every duty; unless they hear a still voice in the soul, and retain a steady warmth there when the noise has ceased and the flames have died away, as on the ancient mount of revelation. But there is yet a stricter meaning in the phrase, “personal religion.” Our duties may be divided into two great classes; those belonging to social connections, and those included in the mind itself. To the latter, personal religion has primary respect. But there is a third and still closer view of religion, as a personal thing, to which I invite your thoughts. I believe it is the Creator’s design, that religion should be in every soul a peculiar acquisition, and have a solitary, unborrowed character; so that Christians should not be, as we commonly suppose them, mere copies of each other, but possess each one an original character. As the principle of beauty in nature shows itself in no monotonous succession of similar objects, but is displayed in a thousand colours and through unnumbered forms, so should the principle of piety ever clothe itself in some fresh trait and aspect. I say this is the Creator’s design. The view I offer may be made more clear by considering some of the proofs of this design.
1. The first proof that each individual should reach a peculiar excellence is, that each has received a peculiar constitution. Use faithfully the materials put into year bands. Despise not nor faint before what in them may seem rugged and unpromising. You shall find nothing in them so rough and hard, that patient toil will not transform it into shapes of wondrous beauty. The house built of light materials, though soon erected, will not stand the blast like that of marble, hewn with long, exhausting labour. Obey the maxim on the ancient oracle, “ Know thyself,” and you will not fail of that personal religion for which you were made.
2. But again: God’s design, that every spirit should reach a peculiar excellence, is seen in the dispensations of Providence, as well as in the facts of creation. While the general fortunes of humanity are the same, every man receives his peculiar discipline from the hand of God. Whatever your state, sickness or health, prosperity or misfortune, view it with no atheistic eye, but accept and use it in the culture of that personal religion for which you were made.
3. Once more: God’s design, that every soul should reach a peculiar and unborrowed excellence, appears in the fact that all spiritual exercises, to be genuine, must have a peculiar character. No man can perform any exercise for another in religion. Who, then, in view of these considerations, has made religion a personal thing? He only who knows his own nature, and brings all its powers and dispositions to contribute to the building up of a good character. He only who makes all the dispensations of Providence, all events of joy and grief, conspire to guide him towards his perfection. He only whose spiritual exercises are genuine and sincere, consisting not in profession or appearance, but expressing real convictions springing from a strong consciousness of want, and moving the deep places of the soul. The man who has formed these habits will continually make progress in strong, unborrowed excellence; and when his time to depart shall come, while earth loses a precious possession, it is not too much to say that heaven itself shall gain a new treasure, inasmuch as it will receive a character of fresh, original strength and beauty. But what is the reliance of those multitudes that make their propagation for another world in no such strict and solemn way as I have described? Everyone must die by himself and go to the great bar alone; and there all the excellence of friends, all the fame of forefathers, will avail him nothing. The traveller in a foreign land often feels sorely the loss of that character given him by accidental relations at home. Everything adventitious being stripped off, he is thrown back upon his personal qualities, and must stand or fall, according to the judgment passed upon those. Now, how much more surely must such things forsake us, when we proceed, each one in his own time, attended by no companion, leaning on no arm of flesh, a solitary pilgrim, on our last journey to the skies! The heir of rich estates shall leave behind the splendour of wealth and the flattery of retainers. Thus for everyone the question at last will be, not of outward connections, but of personal character; not merely what religious institutions have you supported, but how far have you made religion itself a personal thing. (C. A. Bartol.)
Instruction nigh at hand
A blacksmith’s wife in Tennessee recently handed to a physician of the village where she lived a diamond ring, worth £300, which her husband had found in the hoof of the doctor’s horse. In paring down the hoof to prepare it for a new shoe his knife touched something hard, which, on being dislodged, proved to be a ring, and the honest man sent his wife with it to the owner of the horse. It appeared that the doctor’s daughter had dropped the ring while out riding, and it had lodged between the horse’s hoof and the shoe, and had remained there. She had ridden to and fro many times over the road searching for the lost gem, yet it had been near her all the time. The search reminds us of men who go hither and thither consulting priests, and who read theological treatises to find the way to heaven, when all the time instruction is nigh at hand.
Moral teaching nigh at hand
In the original constitution of things, it is wisely ordered that happiness should be found everywhere about us. We do not need to have a rock smitten to supply the thirst of the soul; it is not a distant good; it exists in everything above, around, and beneath our feet; and all we want is an eye to discern, and a heart to feel it. Let anyone fix his attention on a moral truth, and it spreads out and enlarges its dimensions beneath his view, till what seemed at first as barren a proposition as words could express, appears like an interesting and glorious truth, momentous in its bearings on the destinies of men. And so it is with every material thing; let the mind be intently fixed upon it, and hold it in the light of science, and it gradually unfolds new wonders. The flower grows even more beautiful than when it first opened its golden urn and breathed its incense on the morning air; the tree, which was before thought of only as a thing to be cut down and cast into the fire, becomes majestic, as it holds its broad shield before the summer sun, or when it stands like a ship, with its sails furled, and all made fast about it, in preparation for the winter storm. (North American Review.)
I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.
Life and good, death and evil
1. The matter propounded. Life as the end, good as the means leading to life; or else, life, that is, the enjoyment of God; and good, the felicity following it.
2. The manner of proposing. Here is good and evil, life and death, put together, that we may embrace the one and eschew the other. As the poets feign of Hercules when he was young, virtue and vice came to woo and make court to him; virtue, like a sober chaste virgin, offering him labours with praise and renown; vice, like a painted harlot, wooing him with the blandishments of pleasure. The word exciting attention, “See”; I have done this in order to choice; for so it is, Deuteronomy 30:19, “Choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” It is the duty of the faithful servants of the Lord in a lively manner to set before the people life and death as the fruit of good and evil. Our work, the matter of it, and the manner in which we are to propound it to you.
I. The matter: we must set before the people--
1. Life and good.
2. Death and evil. This I shall open in these propositions--First, that there is a distinction between good and evil, vice and virtue. He that doth not acknowledge it is unworthy the name, not only of a Christian, but of a man. Secondly, the matching these two, death and evil, life and good. And here I shall speak--
II. The manner how this is to be done. It must be set forth with all evidence and conviction as to the reason of men, with all earnestness and affectionate importunity to awaken their affections. Use of exhortation.
1. Suffer us to discharge our duty in this kind (Hebrews 13:22). Would you have us compound with you, and deceive your souls with a false hope, which will leave you ashamed when you most need the comfort of it? Men would live with the carnal, die with the sincere; therefore suffer us to be earnest with you.
2. The next thing that we exhort you to is to believe the certainty, consider the weight and importance of these truths, that there is a difference between good and evil, that the fruit of the one is death, of the other life; and consider how irrational it is for a man to love death and refuse life. No man in his right wits can make a doubt which to choose. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Life or death
I. The alternative placed before all men. Life or death--good or evil (Psalms 106:4-5; 1 Corinthians 2:9; John 14:1-2; Isaiah 35:10).
1. A choice must be made. Death decides for us when it comes (Luke 16:22-23; Hebrews 9:27), and it may come in an hour (Mark 13:35; Mark 13:37).
2. The undecided are really decided against God: therefore against “life and good” (John 5:40; John 3:19; 2 Timothy 3:4-5; Proverbs 1:24-27).
3. The choice, however made, is final and eternal. On the one hand life, love, and happiness for evermore (John 10:28). On the other death and evil eternally (1 Samuel 2:9; Matthew 5:41).
II. The result of decision for God (Hebrews 6:18-20; 1 Timothy 6:12).
1. Life (Deuteronomy 30:19). First temporal, as under the law (Exodus 20:12); then life eternal (John 10:10; John 14:19; Hebrews 7:16); for Christ, “who is our life,” is eternal (Colossians 3:4).
2. Love (Deuteronomy 30:20; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16). “God is love,” therefore if God’s life be in us, as John 10:28, then God’s love must also be in us.
3. Obedience, “that thou mayest obey His voice” (verse 20). Yielding to our Father the obedience of love (2 Thessalonians 1:8; Romans 1:5; 1 Peter 1:2; James 1:23).
4. To dwell in the land of promise (verse 20). A shadow of a better land--of an inheritance that fadeth not (John 14:1-2; 1 Peter 1:4-5). All these blessings resulting from decision for God and good are not for ourselves only, but also for our children (verse 19; Acts 2:39).
III. The power of this new life. “He is thy life” (verse 20). He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26). He is “the Prince of Life” (Acts 3:15). With Him is “the fountain of life.” Hence Christ Himself is the power of the new life (1 John 5:12). He alone can by His Spirit quicken (John 5:26). If therefore we desire the life that never fails, that cannot be dissolved (Hebrews 7:16), we must come to Him, that, like St. Paul, we too may say, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:19-20; John 14:6; Hebrews 10:19-20; see also verses 11-14, and Romans 10:4-9). (H. Linton, M. A.)
The good choice
Moses said these words first to Israel. But God says them to each of us, to everyone who has a conscience, a sense of right and wrong, and sense to see he ought to do right and shun wrong. I have heard a great man call this the granite on which all other spiritual beliefs rest, and so it is. It is taken for granted and built, on in all God’s revelation, in all Christ’s atoning work, in all the Holy Spirit’s operation. This is a choice we must each make, not, like the fabled one, for once, but day by day, continually. It is the resultant of all our life.
I. This daily endeavour to be holy, to be like Christ, will be a spring of interest which will never fail, when other interests fail with our failing selves.
II. If we choose well, we must end well. If we grow here fit for a better place, pure, kind, hardworking, unselfish, we cannot be a failure.
III. It is not for ourselves only, either here or hereafter, that God bids us choose good. We have got in our keeping the worldly peace of others.
IV. Love to the Redeemer, who died for us and lives for us, is the great spring of all right-doing. Only by the grace of God can we choose good. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
The law of God sets before us good and evil
I. As a matter of information, to show us the real difference that is between them, and the different consequences which they produce.
1. The Word of God sets before us this difference, in so plain convincing terms that, though we may be perverted by evil, yet it is hard for us to be mistaken. Though God has sent us into this wilderness of a world, where there are many intricate passages to perplex us, and much variety of objects to distract our thoughts, yet He has not left us without a guide, nor Himself without a witness. He has given us His Word, as a perfect rule, by which we shall certainly be tried at last: and therefore by this rule we ought to try our own actions now.
2. Conscience, when it comes to speak for itself, as it will sometimes do, is as convincing as any revelation, and as obliging as any law; it is a witness that will not be silenced, and a judge that cannot be suborned. It is this that makes us look upon some actions with abhorrence, and upon others with delight; and according to this inward relish or disgust so we learn to discover the difference between good and evil, and find that every action of man has an indelible character stamped upon it, by which its value is easy to be known.
II. As an object of your choice. When things of so very different natures are set before us, one would think it an easy matter to be determined. If our notions of good and evil are too weak to work upon us, and hold our minds for some time in suspense; yet surely life and death admit of no dispute. One is the sole delight, and the other the utter abhorrence of our nature, and a powerful instinct within us always inclines us to the better part. What indefatigable pains do we take to gratify our foolish lusts, when with half the pains we might learn to live much happier without them. What violence do we use upon ourselves, to lay our souls and consciences asleep, for fear the beautiful prospect of life should tempt us to be virtuous, or the dismal apparitions of death should affright us from our vice, when half that force employed against our vanities and corruptions would suffice to take heaven itself by violence, and make us forever happy. (C. Hickman, D. D.)
Choose death or life.
The central thought of the text lies in the word choose. The Israelites are on the point of entering the promised land, and Moses entreats them to choose between idolatry and the religion of Jehovah. A similar alternative is before us now.
I. The choice is personal and free. These words which were addressed to Israel as a people, applied to each individual in particular; for the individual alone is free and responsible. To each human being the command is given, “Choose.” The power of making such a choice is ours, else the words of the text had in them no meaning. It has been said that religion enthralls conscience and thought, and that it must be rejected in the name of liberty. That is false. The Bible, on the contrary, reveals and holds out to us that glorious liberty of the children of God which is inseparable from holiness; and freedom of choice is affirmed in its pages as the primary condition and starting point of our enfranchisement. There can be no more energetic appeal than that contained in the word “Choose!” But the Bible never separates the idea of liberty from that of responsibility. The liberty of which it tells is that which takes the Divine law as its binding yet not coercive rule. Such a religion is, more than any other, fitted to form strong characters and free nations. Together with human liberty, the Bible teaches that mutual dependence which unites all the sons of Adam, and which we call human solidarity. A thousand influences, over which we have no control, act upon us; yet, however numerous and powerful these may be, they do not affect our liberty. We can resist them, and it is our duty to do so. Again, the Bible speaks of supernatural powers that are brought to bear upon our will, but without enchaining or destroying it. There is an enemy that prowls around you; but if you resist him he will flee from you. You have a God who loves you, but He will not save you against your will. You have a Saviour, but if you will not open your hearts to Him, He will not enter them by force. In relation to God and in relation to Satan, you are free. There is one thing, however, that you are not free to do: you cannot refuse to make your choice. And this choice, whether good or bad, is the one essential business of life.
II. This choice is to be made between two opposite courses. “I have set before you life and death.” Jesus Christ speaks of the broad and of the narrow way: no middle course or third way. This classification does not exclude certain differences of degree which morally exist between men. In the broad as well as the narrow way various stages may have been reached; but there are only two courses leading to two opposite ends. At this hour you are standing at the Junction of these two ways, but henceforth you shall be walking in one or the other of them. Your destinies will vary infinitely, but all outward diversities are as nothing in comparison of the moral difference which shall result from your personal choice. Each day you will take a step further in either of these two paths; the greater your progress, the riper shall you be for salvation or for condemnation. Whilst this choice is still possible and comparatively easy, choose life!
III. This choice must be made today. In the life of individuals as well as in that of nations there are certain decisive moments that determine their future. Such a time was it when Adam was subjected to the trial that involved issues of such moment for the human family. He chose. He disobeyed, and by the disobedience of one man sin entered into the world. We find such another hour in the life of Jesus. He is tempted in the wilderness. He chooses, and by the obedience of one man we have eternal life. Would you know what a moment of blind folly may cost a family, an individual, a nation? Remember Lot casting a covetous eye on the plain of Sodom; Esau selling his birthright; the Jews shouting: “Not this man, but Barabbas”; Felix putting off his conversion, “Go thy way, and when I have,” etc. Would you know, on the contrary, how fruitful in blessing may a moment of fidelity be? Remember Abraham obeying the Divine call; Moses preferring the affliction of his people to the delights of sin; Solomon praying for wisdom; the disciples of Jesus leaving all to follow Him. Will you follow the first of these examples or the last? Choose.
IV. The witnesses of your choice. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day.” The witnesses that surround you are not against you but for you. They are parents, pastors, the Church, the angels. And who can tell if among the invisible witnesses there are not some for whom you mourn! These witnesses might one day rise up against you and exclaim: “We were present on such a day, at such an hour, in such a place; the exhortations of the preacher were pressing; the Christian life presented itself to this young man, with its duties, its joys, its sorrows; Jesus was there, ready to forgive the past and--that young man would not!” To this outward testimony will be added that of your own conscience: “That is true,” it will say; “you might have decided for God.” Oh! how overpowering shall be the confusion of the hardened sinner! There is but one way of escaping it. Choose life today.
V. The consequences of this choice. “Blessing or cursing, life or death.” Many will find these words too stern. They are Divine. They are logical. The sinner cannot be blessed, else God would cease to be holy. There are two ways open before you. If you choose the straight way you shall be blest in your youth, in your manhood, in your profession, in your family, in your days of joy and of sorrow, in eternity. If you choose the broad way, whatever be your lot here below, you shall not be blest. What shall you become when Christ shall say to you: “I know you not!” Choose life! (Bonnefon.)
The service of God chosen
I. The service of God is ever a matter of free personal choice. Surely irresistible grace is contrary to Scripture and experience. It reduces religious service to mechanism, and destroys that free-willingness which gives worth to all religious actions. True, that exemption from compulsion is not release from obligation, and that it is man’s bounden duty to serve God. To man God’s grace should be indeed irresistible. Yet if man turn from God the responsibility is with man, and not God.
II. Further, the address of Moses demonstrated that the service of God is based upon reasonable considerations. If they turned from God, then upon them would fall His judgments, but if they cleaved unto Him they would know His blessing. Religion is “our reasonable service,” and careful thought ever leads to the conclusion that to choose God is--
1. To obey conscience;
2. To follow wisdom.
III. Lastly, the address of Moses was made forceful by his noble personal example. No desire to please the people led him to qualify his words. The experience of a long life spent in the service of God had convinced him of the glory of God’s service, and from that conviction he would not swerve. (C. E. Walters.)
I. The solemn alternative which is offered to every soul. Now, young people come into life, and as you look forward, it has roseate tints, and there is a natural buoyancy in living by impulse, which is one of God’s best gifts to you, and which I would be the last man to try to darken; but what I would press on you is that life, as it is opening before you, is no pleasure ground, still less a factory, or a shop, or a warehouse, least of all a place for dissipation. But that it is set before every one of you--a tremendous “either . . . or,” which you have to deal with whether you will or no. You have the alternative of, on the one hand, a life of sense, and on the other hand a life of spirit. Is it to be sense, or is it to be spirit? Is it to be the lower needs of your nature gratified, and the higher ones starved? Is it to be licence or self-control,--which? To gather it all into one, the choice which every son of man has to make is between self and God. Now, mind! it is an alternative; that is to say, you cannot ride the two horses at once. There are plenty of us that try to do that. If we have religion at all it must be the uppermost thing in us, and must rule us. If it does not, we do not really possess it in any measure. Further, let me remind you of the issues which are wrapped up in this sharp alternative. Remember my text: “life or death, blessing or cursing,” said Moses. You say, “Oh, I surely may indulge in these natural requirements of my corporeal nature.” Yes! But in electing whether you will live for sense or spirit, for self or God, make clear to yourself that the one is life, the other is death; the one is blessed, the other is cursed. Eternal issues of the gravest sort hang upon your relation to Jesus Christ, and you cannot alter that fact.
II. The need for a deliberate act of decision. An enormous number of us do not live by the deliberate choice of our wills, but are content to take our colour from circumstances, like some lake that, when the sky above it is blue, is all sparkling and sunny, and when the great clouds are drawn over the azure is all dull and sad. So hosts of us have never once deliberately sat down to look realities in the face, or said to ourselves, in regard to the deepest things of our lives, “I see these alternatives before me, and here I now, deliberately, make my choice, and take this, and reject that.” Circumstances rule us. There are fishes that change the hue of their spots according to the colour of the bed of the stream. How many of you owe your innocence simply to not having been tempted? How many of you are respectable people for no other reason than because you have always lived amongst such, and it is the fashion of your circle to be like that? Now, you cannot get away from the influence of your surroundings, and it is no use trying, but you can determine your attitude to your surroundings. And you can only do that by bringing a resolved will to bear upon them as the result of a deliberate choice. Now, remember that any man who lives by anything else than deliberate choice and resolve is degrading himself by the act. Have you not got reason, judgment, common sense--call it what you like--which is meant to be your pilot? And have you not got a conscience which is meant to be your compass? And what becomes of the ship if the pilot goes to sleep and lashes the helm right away up on one side, and puts a cover over the binnacle where the compass is, and never looks at the chart? Let me remind you, still further, that unless you make for the great things of life, the deliberate choice of the better, part, you have in effect made the disastrous choice of the worse. The policy of drift always ends in ruin for a nation, for an army, for an individual. To go down stream is easy, but there is a Niagara at the far end. You choose the worse when you do not deliberately choose the better. I do not suppose that any of you have deliberately said to yourselves, “I do not mean to have anything to do with Jesus Christ,” but you have drifted. You have not resolved that you will have something to do with Him. Not choosing, you have chosen. It is that widespread indifference, and not either intellectual or any other kind of opposition to Christianity, that I for one am afraid of, and into which so many of you have fallen. And so there is need for decision. “If the Lord be God, follow Him; and if Baal, then follow him.”
III. Some reasons why that decision should be made now.
1. I pray you to make choice of Jesus Christ for your Saviour and your King now, because this is your plastic, formative time. The metal is running fluid, as it were, out of the furnace when you are young. Its gets hardened into heavy bars when you get a little older, and it needs a great deal of hammering in order to bring it into other shape than that which it has taken.
2. Let me remind you, too, of another reason for immediate decision--that you need a Guide. Your desires, longings, passions are strong. They were meant to be. Your experience is little. You need a Guide; you will never need Him more. Take Him now.
3. Another reason is, because you will save yourselves from a great deal of pain, and sorrow, and disappointment, and perhaps remorse, if you now begin your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
4. And the last reason that I suggest to you is this, that every moment that you put off decision, and every appeal which you leave unobeyed, will make it harder for you if over you do choose Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The choice of life
What an awful alternative--if it were true! Who, where are they who would not choose life, if the choice were really offered them? The martyr has chosen death, but we shudder at the cruel times which have demanded such self-sacrifice; the devotee has chosen death, and chooses it today, but we pity his fanatic faith; the maniac has chosen death, but only because bereft of reason; the suicide is the remaining exception--and his example “proves the rule.” But this alternative is not true. Life and death, in this physical sense, are not matters of rational choice. We are started on our journey, and spontaneously and rightly we do all that we can to keep in the way until the bodily machinery either breaks down at some weak point, or wears out generally, and all our endeavours are at an end. Duty and instinct compel us in the same direction; there is no choice here. Let us pass from the physical to the spiritual, which is also the scriptural sense. I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose the inner life of goodness on which the blessing is pronounced, and not the inward deadness which destroys your true being. And again we say--What an alternative, if it were true! What a crowning choice--if it were indeed ours! But actual life--spiritual life--this true inward life, cannot be chosen or cast aside at once and forever, with our eyes wide open, and our minds made up, and our wills prepared to take all the consequences--the blessing or the curse. For us life does not concentrate its chances and hazard all its prospects at one only point; it is not even a series of points, at each of which this chance is renewed. It is not a single, nor yet an occasional, game of “touch and go.” Rather is it an ever-varying, many-winding river, its course now this way, now that; its waters muddy or clear, shallow or deep, at one time swollen and turgid, at another peacefully gliding through quietest scenes--but never at rest, always advancing resistlessly on, and often luring us by its motion into drowsy content. We wend our way through “the everydayness of this weekday world” attended by associations, painful or pleasant, which touch us at every point, surrounded by interests of varying import, and more numerous than we can name, with our plans in one direction, then new hopes in another--before, behind, on either side is this ever-shifting scenery, this crowded landscape of circumstance, through which we float for evermore--this is what life means to us. Where is there space, or chance, or stopping point for that single choice between two things only, as though all the rest would vanish at a word? This is a very plausible plea, especially for busy men. But however admissible in a general sense, there are several cases which it does not cover. There are times in human experience when the vast difference between these two only things is brought so bluntly before men--when that unlovely blank between what has been and what might be seems to cover so completely their whole horizon, that they are impelled to “pull up,” to face a choice of two conditions, and to decide abidingly for one or the other. Then the single, final alternative--“life or death”--is placed before them, and it is, moreover, felt to be absolute and exclusive. When Paul heard the voice say, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” and straightway transformed himself from persecutor to preacher; when Augustine was stayed by the childlike tones chanting, “Tolle, lege,” and opened at words which to him were salvation; when Bunyan was suddenly stopped at his game by the warning appeal in his heart, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?” this difference was realised, this alternative accepted. But if these times, in which we are compelled to face an inner alternative, are rare, there are other times, happily less rare, when we are not compelled, but quietly prompted to face our choice. We are not forced, but asked, to look into our hearts. Our better self makes a secret suggestion that all there is not as it might be, that the lower self is allowed far too much prerogative, that one can only triumph by the other’s fall, and that, in fact, we must know our own mind and say deliberately which it shall be. “Choose,” whispers the secret voice: “shake off all seeming, put away your coloured spectacles of prejudice, strip yourself of every proud thought, whether of wealth or position or ability, lay aside your little worldly triumphs, pray to be shown your transgressions as they truly are; and then look at yourself in the light of heaven, as a child of God.” Such a time, surely, is the opening of a New Year. It is no mere return of habit, but a resistless instinct that invests this time with a special significance. A New Year, if it means anything beyond an altered almanac, means new life to everyone amongst us, but it will mean that only so far as we are faithful to our inner light. It may mean, and ought to mean, the awakening of holier desires, the birth of higher ideals, the death or defeat of a whole army of little sins and shallow ways, the oft-convicted traitors to our true being. It may be--let it be--“a secret anniversary of the heart” on which we take stock of ourselves, clear our accounts if we can, and start afresh. It is indeed a charge upon our weak wills that we need such outward promptings to attempt utterly the thing that is in us to be. The true Christlike life is an even progress towards perfection, not a series of jumps, or starts, or sudden ascents. But so long as our very weakness itself cries out for these helps, so long as these times of renewal are offered to us, let us not pass them by without hearing their message. “Take them lest the chain be broken, ere thy pilgrimage be done.” (F. K. Freeston.)
Freedom of man’s will; or, the great decision
Two orders of men are generally fatalists--the eminently successful and the supereminently unfortunate. The former regard themselves as the children of destiny, for whom a place in the temple of the ages has been prepared, and without whom its glory would be incomplete. To this class belong the Caesars, the Napoleons, and Mahomets, whose wonderful abilities were only equalled by their complacent confidence in their own guiding star. In the ranks of the second are to be found many of those unhappy ones who have failed in life’s battle, with whom everything has fallen out badly, and who have steadily gone from loss to loss, or from crime to crime. Such people seem to derive comfort from the belief that they are the victims of fate; that they too would have succeeded if the Supreme Power had only been propitious; and that, consequently, circumstances or something else beyond their control, and not themselves, are to blame for the disasters attending their career. It is not to be denied that there is much in the philosophical speculations and the religious creeds of mankind to encourage such opinions. In India, in Greece, in Arabia, as well as among Western nations, the most ancient faiths affirmed the doctrine of necessity. Back of gods and men, and above them, in the Greek mythology reigned the unspeakable and unchangeable Fates, to whom the oppressed, like Prometheus, could appeal, and on whose final decisions everything from Olympus down to Hades absolutely depended. Buddha, also, and with him the wisest Eastern sages, regarded the race as practically in bondage to a Sovereign Soul, and as sweeping along a preordained course to its final goal. He had no logical place in his system for will-freedom, and was as far from doing justice to its phenomena as Spinoza or Mr. Buckle. This, however, is not the doctrine of the Scriptures. The Bible not only directly affirms the moral liberty of God’s intelligent creatures, but its entire revelation proceeds on the assumption that they are free to choose. Eden’s garden and the Fall lose their significance unless Adam was free. So when we come to study redemption the Bible does not hesitate to teach that its efficacy depends on the volition of the sinner, and that he is really able to accept or reject eternal life. On what other hypothesis can such passages as these be explained: “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” The material universe which He has made cannot but obey His law. From age to age, and through all dispensations, the sun rises and sets, the stars peep out at night, the seasons come and go in their order, and the tides of the sea throb and surge with an exactness and regularity which precludes the possibility of derangement. Not one of these ponderous orbs or these Titanic forces has chosen the service which it renders. Blind, unknowing, uncaring, winds and waves below, and planet and constellation above, apply themselves to their allotted work. No wonder that a heart like the heart of God, full of fatherhood and brotherhood, should yearn to develop, among these enthralled masses an order of service different from theirs--a service that should be freely offered and which should be preferred beyond all others. The guilty must choose to be saved, and must choose to be saved in the way acceptable to the Almighty. Doubtless this interpretation of the Bible will to some minds be regarded as incompatible with what it seems to teach concerning God’s sovereignty. Unquestionably there is an appearance of contradiction; and yet I do not think it is as serious as many suppose. We know that even among men a great many wills come into play, and that frequently they coincide without infringing on each other; and why may not the same be possible on the part of the Creator and the creature? But when we meditate on this subject we should remember that we tread the borderland of two worlds--the natural and the supernatural--and that, like all other domains, it is next to impossible to tell how and where they flow into each other. Scientists find it difficult to trace the exact boundaries between the vegetable and animal kingdoms; they cannot tell exactly where the one ends and the other begins, and neither can they explain how and why they interpenetrate each other. Psychologists are equally perplexed. They are constrained to admit the relations between mind and brain to be inexplorable. No one can successfully deny the movement of history in which the Divine has been manifest in the human--as in the Incarnation, the founding of Christianity, and in those surprising providences which have vindicated right and confounded wrong--and yet no one can explain their harmony with the human, or prove that they in any way intrenched upon its freedom. The meeting place is veiled from us. Neither can we see in the application of redemption where these twain meet, how they interact on each other, and how they do so without limiting the power of the one or controlling the freedom of the other. Contact and interpenetration here is like contact and interpenetration in other departments of God’s wonderful cosmos, an unsearchable mystery, a mist-covered ocean, where only wreck awaits us if we insist on braving its darkness. Were not the Scriptures as decisive as they are on this general subject, I should be inclined to the doctrine already set forth by considerations of the weightiest character. What these are I shall briefly set before you, that you may be delivered from the illusions of modern fatalism, if unhappily you have been caught in their wiles. I would first of all remind you that some of the profoundest philosophers, such as Kant, Jacobi, and Hamilton, contend that consciousness is the most reliable witness of what we are, and that it testifies to our moral freedom. Analyse your own nature, and see whether it does not confirm the report which these thinkers give of its dignity. Do you not find that it discriminates between the voluntary and the involuntary, and that it attaches responsibility to the one and irresponsibility to the other? Let any man look within himself, and he will hear many voices declaring that he is free. Conscience, as it reproves him for wrong-doing, says, or there is no meaning in its voice, “Thou art free”; Remorse, dogging his footsteps and driving him from place to place, thunders in his ear, or his terror is absurd, “Thou art free”; Deliberation, as it ponders two paths and balances the reasons in favour of each, whispers distinctly, or this care and forethought are superfluous, “Thou art free”; and Desire, as it sways him and develops in his soul fierce contests with convictions of right or of prudence, proclaims above the battle, “Thou art free!” Thus he has the witness in himself, and if he doubts its reliability he may easily satisfy it by appealing from within to without. What says society, what say its leaders, what its members? Hegel, having taken a comprehensive view of humanity as revealed in history, gives utterance to the profound sentiment: “Freedom is the essence of spirit, as gravitation is the essence of matter.” That is, there could be no spirit without freedom, even as there could be no matter without gravitation. Society is organised on this principle. Its laws, its duties, its penalties, its censures and its praises, all centre in and derive their significance from the firm belief that whatever else man may or may not be, he is free. And the course of history, which influenced the thought of Hegel, confirms this judgment. It is seen that no mechanical theory, no doctrine of averages and of hard necessity, can be reconciled with its singular and eccentric movements, or its surprising and revolutionary changes. This Mr. Froude has clearly and admirably set forth in a paper reviewing Mr. Buckle. In opposition to that gentleman’s so called “Science of History,” Froude reminds us that the first result of real science is the power of foresight, that when knowledge on any subject is systematised we can as accurately speak of its future as of its past. Thus, because astronomy is a true science, we can calculate eclipses and anticipate the most striking occurrences. But, he argues, when we come to the field of human endeavour certainty disappears, and we cannot tell what man will do tomorrow. He insists that such phenomena as Buddhism and Mohammedanism could not have been foretold, and he adds: “Could Tacitus have looked forward nine centuries to the Rome of Gregory VII, could he have beheld the representative of the majesty of all the Caesars holding the stirrup of the Pontiff of that vile and execrated sect, the spectacle would scarcely have appeared to him the fulfilment of a rational expectation or an intelligible result of the causes in operation around him.” We cannot anticipate the future of the world. Our soberest calculations may be deranged in a moment, and some unforeseen circumstances may frustrate all our expectations. Why? Why can we not as accurately predict the social convulsion that may be as the eclipse which cannot fail to be? Because in the domain of the stars there is no volition, while in that of history liberty of will is a controlling force. The freedom of man’s will is vitally associated with the idea of morality. They are inseparable. Kant has exerted himself to show that they stand or fall together, and enters with so much zeal upon his task that he sometimes makes them appear synonymous. He says, “We have now reduced the Idea of Morality to that of Freedom of Will,” and in another place he writes, “Autonomy of Will is the alone foundation of Morality.” Hamilton likewise, following the sage of Koningsberg, declares that “virtue involves liberty”; “that the possibility of morality depends on the possibility of liberty; for if man be not a free agent he is not the author of his actions, and has therefore no responsibility - nor moral responsibility - at all.” In opposition to this position we find Spencer (Data of Ethics, p. 127)
asserting that “the sense of duty or moral obligation is transitory”; and he has certainly allowed no permanent place for it in his system. Now, I agree that we find here one of the strongest reasons for upholding the doctrine of free will. Under the declining sense of its truthfulness the colour and meaning are disappearing from the idea of duty. Indeed, we rarely hear a word now about “duty” but endless talk about rights. We are ready to fight and contend for “rights”; but, alas! our zeal for “duties” groweth cold. I insist on this doctrine, as it is the key to man’s greatness. It shows that he is endowed with a wonderful and real power of conquering what to the faint hearted seems the unconquerable. Hamilton teaches that man “is capable of carrying the law of duty into effect in opposition to solicitations, the impulsions of his material nature”; and he declares that liberty is “capable of resisting and conquering the counteraction of our animal nature.” Kant likewise says: “The instincts of man’s physical nature give birth to obstacles which hinder and impede him in the execution of his duty. They are, in fact, mighty opposing forces which he has to go forth and encounter.” What a grand conception is here presented of the will striving with inner enemies and overcoming their hostility. And if it can subdue inner foes, can it not resist and repel outer antagonists? I do not claim that your volition can change your nature, but I do claim that you are accountable for it, as your volition decides whether your nature shall be brought within the influence of heaven’s grace or not. Mere volition never built a ship, or a house, won a battle, or accomplished a voyage; and neither did it ever sanctify a soul. There is a difference between “will” and “power.” The “will” to be saved is of man, “the power” is of God. But whosoever wills cannot fail to find the power; for He has promised to confer on all such the water of life freely. For your choice, then, you are accountable, and your eternal destinies hang on your volition. (G. Lorimer, D. D.)
The offer of life and death
I. The two courses specified. “Life and good, and death and evil.” We shall take the latter first; that is, “death and evil.” Now, we observe--
1. That this is the course in which all men are involved by nature and practice.
2. This state is one of extreme wretchedness and misery.
3. It is only the shadow of the woes which await the sinner in the eternal world. Now, that is the dark side of the text.
Let us look at the other course specified, “life and good.”
1. Life is presented to us. For we are already dead, and life is the first essential blessing we need. Now, the life offered to us is--
2. Good is also presented to us. The favour of God the chief good; the love of God in the soul; the good providence of God; the good promises of God; the good enjoyments of God; and last of all, in eternity, pure unmixed good forever and ever--fulness of joy.
II. These things are set before us.
1. Where are they set before us?
2. For what are they set before us?
1. The way of life and good is easy and free to you all. Repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is the willing Saviour of all men
2. None can perish but those who willingly choose death and evil. Every lost soul has destroyed itself.
3. The necessity of now choosing life and good. Did you ever know the diseased man to choose death; the condemned man, the shipwrecked man, etc.? (J. Burns, D. D.)
I. What is life and who is the author of it?
1. The life spoken of here is three fold.
2. God alone is the Author of this life, for--
II. What is implied in this life?
6. Hearing. All faculties exercised in God’s service.
III. How are we to obtain spiritual and eternal life?
1. Through Jesus Christ.
2. Patient continuance in well-doing, watching, praying, fasting, etc. (W. Stevens.)
The blessing and the curse
These words were spoken by Moses to all the Israelites shortly before his death. He had told them that they owed all to God Himself; that God had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt; God had led them to the land of Canaan; God had given them just laws and right statutes, which if they kept they would live long in their new home, and become a great and mighty nation. Then he calls heaven and earth to witness that he had set before them life and death, blessing and cursing. If they trusted in the one true God, and served Him, and lived as men should, then a blessing would come on them and their children, on their flocks and herds, on their land and all in it. But if they forgot God, and began to worship the sun and the moon, then they would die; they would grow superstitious, cowardly, lazy, and profligate, and therefore weak and miserable, like the wretched Canaanites whom they were going to drive out; and then they would die. Then he says--I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. He called heaven and earth to witness. That was no empty figure of speech. If you will recollect the story of the Israelites you will see plainly enough what Moses meant. The heaven would witness against them. The same stars which would look down on their freedom and prosperity in Canaan had looked down on all their slavery and misery in Egypt, hundreds of years before. They would seem to say--Just as the heavens above you are the same, wherever you go, and whatever you are like, so is the God who dwells above the heaven: unchangeable, everlasting, faithful, and true, full of light and love, from whom comes down every good and perfect gift, in whom is neither variableness nor shadow of turning. Do you turn to Him continually, and as often as you turn away from Him: and you shall find Him still the same; governing you by unchangeable law, keeping His promise forever. And the earth would witness against them. That fair land of Canaan whither they were going, with its streams and wells spreading freshness and health around; its rich corn valleys, its uplands covered with vines, its sweet mountain pastures, a very garden of the Lord, cut off and defended from all the countries round by sandy deserts and dreary wildernesses; that land would be a witness to them, at their daily work, of God’s love and mercy to their forefathers. The ruins of the old Canaanite cities would be a witness to them, and say--Because of their sins the Lord drove out these old heathens from before you. Copy their sins, and you will share their ruin. Does not the heaven above our heads, and the earth beneath our feet, witness against us here? Do they not say to us--God has given you life and blessing? If you throw that away, and choose instead death and a curse, it is your own fault, not God’s. Look at the heaven above us. Does not that witness against us? Has it not seen, for now fifteen hundred years and more, God’s goodness to us, and to our forefathers? All things have changed: language, manners, customs, religion. We have changed our place, as the Israelites did; and dwell in a different land from our forefathers: but that sky abides forever. The same sun, that moon, those stars shone down upon our heathen forefathers, when the Lord chose them, and brought them out of the German forests into this good land of England, that they might learn to worship no more the sun, and the moon, and the storm, and the thunder cloud, but to worship Him, the living God, who made all heaven and earth. And shall not the earth witness against us? Look round upon this noble English land. Why is it net, as many a land far richer in soil and climate is now, a desolate wilderness; the land lying waste, and few men left in it, and those who are left robbing and murdering each other, every man’s hand against his fellow, till the wild beasts of the field increase upon them? Why but because the Lord set before our forefathers life and death, blessing and cursing; and our forefathers chose life, and lived; and it was well with them in the land which God gave to them, because they chose blessing, and God blessed them accordingly? In spite of many mistakes and shortcomings--for they were sinful mortal men, as we are--they chose life and a blessing; and clave unto the Lord their God, and kept His covenant; and they left behind, for us their children, these churches, these cathedrals, for an everlasting sign that the Lord was with us, as He had been with them, and would be with our children after us. And then when one reads the history of England; when one thinks over the history of any one city, even one country parish; above all, when one looks into the history of one’s own foolish heart: one sees how often, though God has given us freely life and blessing, we have been on the point of choosing death and the curse instead; of saying--We will go our own way, and not God’s way. The land is ours, not God’s; our souls are our own, not God’s. We are masters, and who is master over us? That is the way to choose death, and the curse, shame and poverty and ruin; and how often we have been on the point of choosing it? What has saved us from ruin? I know not, unless it be for this one reason, that into that heaven which witnesses against us the merciful and loving Christ is ascended; that He is ever making intercession for us. Yes. He ascended on high, that He might send down His Holy Spirit; and that Spirit is among us, working patiently and lovingly in many hearts--would that I could say in all--giving men right judgment; putting good desires into their hearts, and enabling them to put them into good practice. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
Choosing life or death
I. The personal and free character of the choice to be made. The religion of the Bible is the religion of liberty. I know of no bolder affirmation of the free will than that which is contained in my text. But the Bible never separates the idea of liberty from that of responsibility; the liberty of which it speaks is that which takes the law of God as its rule, not coercive but obligatory, and of which we shall have to give an account on the judgment day.
II. Free and personal choice is between two parties, between two opposite directions. Two, said I not three, nor a greater number. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing.” Thus also the Lord Jesus speaks of two ways, the narrow way and the broad way; and in the picture He draws of the last judgment He calls some “blessed,” and the others “cursed”; nowhere does He speak of an intermediate class. This moral dualism runs through the whole of Scripture.
III. Now is the time to choose. Would you know how much an hour of blindness, of impiety, may involve of malediction for an individual, a family, a nation?--Remember Esau selling his birthright, and afterwards shedding useless and bitter tears on the consequences of his shameful bargain; the Jews crying in blind fury, “Not this man, but Barabbas”; the governor Felix, placed by providence in contact with St. Paul, and putting a stop to conversation which troubles him, by the plea in bar so common and fatal, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.” Would you know, on the contrary, how fruitful in blessings may be one hour of fidelity, one generous and heroic choice?--Remember Abraham, obedient to the Divine calling and deserving to be called “the father of the faithful”; Moses, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” The decisive hour has come.
IV. The witnesses of the choice. Our text tells us of witnesses, sublime though speechless, heaven and earth: “I call heaven and earth to record against you,” says the Lord. Faithful to the Spirit of the New Covenant, we shall tell you that the witnesses you are surrounded by are not against you, but for you. Those witnesses are, in the first place, parents who ardently desire to see their children walk faithfully in the ways of the Lord; ministers, whose greatest joy would be to see you walking in the ways of piety and truth; the Church that presents you to God as its fondest hope; the holy angels who rejoice over every sinner who repents and gives himself truly to God.
V. The consequences of the choice. “Blessing or cursing; life or death.” If you choose life you shall be blessed. You shall be blessed in your youth and in your manhood; blessed in your career, be it long or short, obscure or brilliant; blessed in your family, present and future; blessed in your successes and in your reverses; blessed in your joys and in your griefs. At the end Christ will place you amongst those to whom He will say, “Come, ye blessed of My Father,” etc. If you do not choose life, I know not what may be your lot on earth. One thing is certain--you shall not be blessed. What will you do when, to all those who will not have done the will of His Father, He will say, “I know you not”? It does not behove me to decide what will be the end of such a way, the result of such a choice, but you have heard those two words of my text, “Cursing! Death!” Choose life! (C. Babut, B. D.)
The decisive choice
I. “I call heaven and earth to record against you,” says Moses. This was no idle rhetorical formula. The open sky over his head was the witness and pledge of permanence, the sign that in the midst of perpetual change there is that which abides. The earth at his feet had been given to man that he might dress it and keep it, and bring food for his race out of it. The one said to man, “Thou art meant to look above thyself. Only in doing so canst thou find endurance, illumination, life.” The other said, “Thou art meant to work here. Thou must put forth an energy which is not in me, or I will not yield thee my fruits.”
II. But Moses says, “I have set before thee life and death,” etc. There is no hint given to the Israelite upon which he can build a dream of security; he is warned in the most fearful language against forgetting the things his eyes had seen. But all the terrible warnings and prophecies of what he and his descendants may do hereafter imply that he is in a blessed condition, and that they will be.
III. And therefore he goes on, “choose life.” Say deliberately to thyself, “I do not mean to give up the ground on which I am standing. God has placed me on it; all that is contrary to God will not prevail against God, and therefore need not prevail against me.” “Choose life” is still the command at all times.
IV. The great reward of choosing life is, “that thou mayest love the Lord thy God,” etc. The growth of love and knowledge is always proclaimed in Scripture as the reward and prize of a man who walks in the way in which God has set him to walk, who chooses life, and not death.
V. “That it may go well with thee and with thy seed after thee.” The great lesson that the fathers are to teach their children is, that God will be the present and living Guide of each succeeding race as much as He has been of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
For He is thy life, and the length of thy days.
The God of our life
I. Upon what account is God said to be our life?
1. God gives life. He is the Author and Fountain of our being. All living creatures have their life from God (Acts 17:25; Psalms 104:30); but especially man (Isaiah 42:5), who is the object of His peculiar care.
2. God maintains life. Life in man is like a lamp kindled, which wastes and consumes, and will be soon extinguished, without fresh supplies of oil. And this supply is from God, who doth not only light the lamp at first, but keeps it burning. How liberal is God to the benefit and comfort of man; other creatures die that we may live.
3. God preserves life. He doth not only maintain and keep it from inward wasting, by daily supplies, but doth also preserve and keep it from outward dangers in daily protections. He holdeth our soul in life (Psalms 66:9). His daily visitation preserveth our spirits (Job 10:12).
4. God sweetens life. We have not only life from Him, but all the comforts of life, which tend to make life pleasant and delightful; and without which it would be little better than a continuing death.
5. God prolongs life. Long life is very frequently in Scripture spoken of as a special gift of God.
6. God restores life. Elijah, Elisha, Christ, and His apostles, have done it. And He will do it for all mankind at the general resurrection at the great day (John 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:42; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; John 5:26-28).
7. God is the sovereign Lord of life. The life of all the creatures is entirely at the disposal of the living God.
II. The explication and illustration of such truths as those doth all aim at the application of them. What fruit, then, may we gather from this tree of life?
1. The greatness and goodness of God. If God be our life, then He is a great God.
2. The wisdom and happiness of the saints. Their wisdom, to choose this God to be theirs, and to be solicitous to keep themselves in His favour.
3. The evil of sin, and misery of sinners.
1. Own and acknowledge your dependence upon God.
2. Make God your friend, and be very careful also to keep yourself in His love. (Matthew Henry.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 30". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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