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Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak.
Isaiah makes a similar sublime commencement to his prophecies, apostrophising heaven and earth in nearly identical language. Moses had already used the same sentiment in simple didactic form when he said, “I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse,” and thereby he explains the meaning of this more highly poetic style of adjuration. Such an adjuration indicates great intensity, elevation, and sincerity of feeling, while calling attention to the solemn importance of what is about to be said. It is like a herald’s cry, the sound of the tocsin, or the summoning of an assize. For heaven and earth had both of them been witnesses of the covenant and giving of the law. By a sudden but suggestive transition we are introduced to the style and theme of the song. The change is from the awe-inspiring to the tenderest of moods; but it is made without derogating from the loftiness of the thought. The imagery of the gentle rain and the softly distilling dew is a fit sequel to the opening appeal to heaven and earth, and bespeaks attention to the source, the quality, and the design of the song.
1. Its source. The reference to dew and rain implies, first of all, that the whole subject, suggestion, and origin of the song is from above. Nothing but a voice Divine will ever avail to soften human nature, come home to the conscience, subjugate the will and reign in the affections. “Ascribe ye greatness,” therefore, that is, authoritativeness, “unto our God.”
2. Its quality. “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew.” The song is just the pith and substance of the Book of Deuteronomy; the distilled quintessence of the Deuteronomic law and covenant. It is a protestation that no community can ever thrive, surmount their dangers and slough off their corruptions, by simply confining their attention to earthly relations and requisitions. They need a higher motive and spirit of life as a sustaining and self-cleansing principle--in one word, a Gospel of God.
3. Its design. “As the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb”; gentle, yet copious and penetrative; soft, seasonable and saturating; not like a sudden but soon spent thunderstorm, nor the beating of hail that dashes where it alights; rather like small rain, the softer it falls the deeper it sinks; or like the dew, the more insinuating it is, the more fertilising and lastingly effective. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
My speech shall distil as the dew.
God’s doctrine as the dew
What a representation of gentleness! The doctrine shall not fall in torrents, but it shall drop; the speech shall not even be felt in its descent, for it shall distil. Yet who is it employs this gentlest of all gentle imagery? It is Moses: the self-same man who had pronounced the terrific judgments on Egypt. He had promulgated a system which was given forth in thunder, and lightning, and thick darkness, and a terrible tempest; the publication of this law was attended with the severest penalties. Notwithstanding every appearance to the contrary, it was true of every word which God spake by Moses, as well as of every word which Jesus spoke, that His doctrine dropped like the rain, and distilled like the dew. We need scarcely tell you that the term “doctrine” includes all God’s teaching in every portion of His revelation to man. It matters not whether truth be found in direct assertions of great principles, or whether it be wrapped up in the imagery of poetry, the shadows of the types, the facts of history, or the allegories of parables; it is all the same truth. Thus not only is every form of God’s Word “doctrine,” but in its fertilising effects on the soul may most appropriately be compared to the dropping rain and distilling dew. But in order to understand this gentle character ascribed by Moses to God’s doctrine, you must take heed that you do not fall into several errors which will perplex your belief in the dew-like influence of Divine truth. The first of these errors is to confound the effect of doctrine itself with that outward teaching by which it may often be set forth. The mere manner of teaching is no just criterion of the matter of teaching. There are differences of character which even demand differences of outward instruction. But, secondly, we must warn you against supposing that God does not sometimes adopt an internal as well as an external mode of teaching, which may appear to conflict with the statements of our text. How often do the threatenings of Divine wrath seem to lay hold on the spirit, and for a time keep it shrinking beneath the prospect of inevitable destruction! But notwithstanding these modes of teaching which God may often employ, yet we maintain that the substance of that teaching is what Moses describes it--gentle as the dropping rain, the distilling dew, the small rain, the soft shower. You will remark that the sacred writer declares that his doctrine is to be like “small rain on the tender herb”; and this sentence it is which explains the entire seeming anomaly we have noticed. God’s truth does not fall like small rain on the hardy, tough, strong herb, but like small rain on the tender herb. There must be a preparation--a softening of the soul to receive the gentle influences of the Gospel. And not only at our first conversion to God, but even afterwards, the herb may become hardened, and require occasional softening, before the small rain is given. The advanced Christian sometimes complains of waves and billows; he hears deep calling to deep at the noise of God’s waterspouts. But the sole reason of this is that there is some deficiency in the tenderness of the herb--some setting up of the head which needs the blast of the storm to bring it low, God loves not to see a proud look; He loves not a stiff-necked obedience; He loves not to find His servant chafing against the bit; He must have the herb tender. The ground being thus prepared, the doctrine of the Lord always drops as the rain and distils as the dew. But let us glance at a few brief practical truths which the imagery of our text suggests.
1. If you are watered by this heavenly dew, it must be all--pervading: Look at the grass after the dew has fallen; it is thoroughly covered with moisture; nothing saturates it so completely; a storm would not wet it half so effectually; the plant is all over the same; no leaf but it sparkles with dewdrops; no blade escapes; all are steeped in dew. Now, is it the same with you? The operation of the Spirit is always total and entire. All things become new where He works.
2. Then, secondly, recollect that another of the characteristics of this dew is its diffusiveness. Not only is the dew the most equal and general giver of moisture, but the plants which receive it pass it on to others. From leaf to leaf, and from blade to blade it falls, so that if you pass through a forest on a dewy morning it is one constant dropping. So must it be with the Christian. He is not only to be influenced by the Spirit himself, but by the aid of the same Spirit he must pass on that influence to others.
3. Thirdly, still another feature of this dew is its fertilising effects. It often falls most heavily at times of the year when drought prevails, and when the plants would otherwise be scorched and withered. Its final effect is not superficial; it does not merely wet the leaves and flowers, but it percolates to the very root. The dew thus develops itself in fruits: it waters the plant, and makes it bring forth abundantly. And so with our dew. Whenever the influences of the Spirit are felt, the fruits of the Spirit are seen.
4. But, lastly, another feature of this dew is that it will prove specially and abundantly operative in the time of trial. It is not when the sun shines that the dew falls; it principally descends when the day is wrapped in evening shades or when the morning is still hidden in twilight, or when dark night has already set in: so likewise is sorrow a time of special dew falling. When have the promises and love of God so gentle and yet powerful an influence as in affliction’s sad hour? When are His cheering truths so sweet as when trouble embitters the soul? (D. F. Jarman, M. A.)
The dew of the Word
“Distil as the dew.” Who hears the dew fall? What microphone could reveal that music to our “gross unpurged ears”?
1. The dew distils in silence. So does the speech of God. In stillness God’s love is condensed into dew like communications; not read, nor heard, but known by direct power of the Spirit upon the soul. Not much in noise, turmoil, and bustle.
2. The dew distils in darkness. You look out some dark night: there is no storm, no rain, not the least token to your senses of what is going on. In the morning you see every blade and leaf tipped with a dewdrop, everything revived and freshened, prepared for the heat of the day. So His words fall on your souls in darkness, not with sensible power; nothing flashes out from the page, nothing shines to shed pleasant light on your path. You do not hear sound of abundance of rain, but the words are distilling as the dew and preparing you for day.
3. The dew falls not in one mass of water, but innumerable little drops. What one drop does not reach another does. It is not one overwhelmingly powerful word which does this holy night work in the soul, but the unrealised influences of many, dropping silently on the plants of the Lord; one resting here, another there; one touching an unrecognised need, another reaching an unconsciously failing grace. “Each drop uncounted hath its own mission, and is duly sent to its own leaf or blade.”
4. Sometimes God’s dew goes on falling many hours of night. Watches seem long, and starlight does not reveal it. But none is lost; some is already doing hidden work as it falls around the very roots of our being, some ready to be revealed in sparkling brightness when the night is over; lessons learnt among the shadows to be lived out in the sunshine.
5. The object of the dew is to maintain life in dry places and seasons. In rainless regions this is better understood. Any dry week in summer we see enough to understand the beauty of the figure. This speech is spirit and life to souls, however feebly, yet really alive to God. Dew does nothing for stones, nor a dead leaf. It falls on little fading plants, whose leaves absorb life, renewing moisture, and closed blossoms open out again with fresher fragrance than before. Dryness is more to be dreaded than darkness. (F. R. Havergal.)
Genuine religious teaching
I. Genuine religious teaching is gentle. Descends on the soul as the dew and small rain. The great religious teachers have been quiet talkers.
II. Genuine religious teaching is penetrating. Goes down through the intellect into the conscience and heart.
III. Genuine religious teaching is refreshing. Descends with quickening influence into the soul. (Homilist.)
Soothing nature of Christian doctrine
The lovely gentleness, the refreshing and cheering nature, of Divine doctrine is here most beautifully set forth. And, indeed, very useful is it that the amiable character of our blessed religion should be as much as possible presented to the view of men. For could they once see it they would be so in love with its beauty that their whole soul would be ravished with delight in thinking of it, and would teem with desire to be effectually possessed of it. But how is the beauty of religion to be shown to men? It cannot be really apprehended but by experience. Wherefore offer a fervent prayer to heaven for grace to dispose your hearts to receive this Word. We cannot be surprised at finding the “yoke easy and the burden light” of that Master who is thus “meek and lowly in heart.” He graciously promises that if we take this yoke upon us we shall “find rest to our souls.” This doctrine does, indeed, drop upon the souls of troubled sinners with the softness of a gentle rain falling upon a fleece of wool. Is, then, all forgiven? Am I cleansed from all my sin, relieved from all my guilt? Am I at peace with God? Do I partake of His love? “Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered.” But when we come to consider the new life, the service of Christ, which must follow if we are to walk in favour with God, shall we then find this comfort and gentleness of Christian doctrine? Most assuredly we shall in the doctrine itself. The resistance which our passions and inclinations make to the Divine law causes all the discomfort and painfulness in submitting our hearts to be ruled by it. But it may be acknowledged that holiness of heart and life when attained may be comfortable, delightful; and yet a man may say, Doubtless it would be good for me to give up my unchaste and intemperate manner of living, but I cannot endure the self-denial necessary for it. A man may say, It would be good indeed for me to be a devoted servant of Jesus, but I don t know how to tear myself from my old habits, and leave my feigner companions. Could I see all this done, see myself become a new creature, and become associated with religious people, I believe that I could be happy. But now think of this one thing. What kind of Master are you called upon to serve? Is it not Jesus Christ, the kind and forbearing? Will not He be a gentle Master to you? With what gentleness is He represented administering spiritual food to the souls of His people! How considerate is He set forth of the different spiritual condition and circumstances of men, how tender to those who are in weakness, or in a great trial and difficulty! By the gentle influences of the Holy Spirit He can convert the soul, and change all its dispositions and affections. Thus will Jesus, in the most-gentle and yet the most powerful manner, lead those who commit themselves to Him. (R. L. Cotton, M. A.)
Doctrine as rain; speech as dew
The earth without rain cannot grow one tiny grass blade; when the clouds keep away the flowers hang down their heads, and shrivel and burn, and represent the very spirit of necessity and pain. We must have the black clouds; how welcome they are after a time of drought and scorching, when the earth is opening its mouth and asking for a draught of water! So God’s doctrine is to be poured out upon thirsty souls, burnt and scorched lives, ruined and unproductive natures. The rain plash is a sweet music, a tender appeal, a liquid persuasion. The rain will accommodate itself to all forms and shapes, and it will impartially visit the poor man’s little handful of garden and the great man’s countless acres. Such is the Gospel of Christ: it is impartial, gentle, necessary; it finds the heart when the heart is scorched, and asks to heal its burning, and to make the barren land of the inner life beautiful with summer flowers. We cannot tell how the Word gets into the heart--how softly, how silently: it is there, and we knew it not; we expected it, and at the very time we were looking out for it, it was already there; it is the secret of the Lord, and it moves by a noble mystery of action, so that no line can be laid upon it, and no man may arbitrarily handle the wealth of gold. “As the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.” There shall be adaptation between the one and the other: if the herb is “tender” the rain must be “small.” Do not thunder upon us with Thy great power; do not plead against us with all the winds of Thine eloquence, for who could stand against the storm? On the other hand, the tenderer the grass the better it can bear even the scudding shower and the heavy downpour. Great trees are torn, or wrenched from their roots, or are thrust down in contempt, but all the grass of the meadow is but the greener for the winds which have galloped over it, or the great rivers that have poured themselves upon the emerald bed. Jesus will bless the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace loving; but as for those who in heathen vanity set themselves up against Him, He will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. The Word does not always produce an instantaneous effect: the Word has sometimes to filter well down into the thought and into the heart and life; and the Word does not report itself in the mere quantity of the doctrine, but in the greenness of the young grass, in the beauty and fruitfulness of the tender herb: no statistical return shall be made of the number of discourses heard, or the number of chapters read, but the life shall be the more verdant in spring-like beauty, and the more splendid in all the colouring of summer. (J. Parker, D. D.)
As the small rain upon the tender herb.--
Small rain for tender herbs
The highest power is consistent with the lowliest tenderness. He that is mightiest in word is mighty, not so much in thunder, and earthquake, and fire, as in a silent persuasiveness.
I. Moses meant to be tender. Moses intended, in the sermon he was about to preach, to be exceedingly gentle. He would water minds as tender herbs, and water them in the same fashion as the small rain does. He would not be a beating hail, nor even a down-pouring shower, but he would be “as the small rain upon the tender herb.”
1. And this is the more remarkable, because he was about to preach a doctrinal sermon. Does he not say, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain”?
2. It is equally remarkable that this discourse of Moses was a sermon of rebuke, lie rebuked the people, with no small degree of sternness, when he said, “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked; thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick; then he forsook God which made him.” He warned the people of their great sin, and he did not hesitate to say, “They are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.” Yet he felt that he had rebuked with the utmost meekness, and had still been as the soft dew and gentle rain. Upbraiding must be done in tenderness.
3. Furthermore, his style of speech was compassionately considerate, even as the dew seems to consider the withered grass, and the small rain to adapt itself to the tender herb. In his teaching he evidently thought of the feebler sort, and suited himself to those depressed by grief.
4. Furthermore, note well that the truth which our Lord spoke had always a refreshing effect upon those who were spiritually alive,. Our blessed Master’s sermons were “as the small rain upon the tender herb,” not merely for the softness of their descent, but for the wondrous efficacy with which they came. His words fell not as fire flakes to destroy, nor as the dust from the wilderness to defile, but ever as the warm shower to cherish. So we learn that Moses meant to be tender, and Jesus was tender. What else do we learn?
5. Why, that all the servants of Jesus Christ ought to he tender; for if Moses was so, much more should we be.
II. Moses hoped to be penetrating: “as the small rain upon the tender herb.” Now, small rain is meant to enter the herb, so that it may drink in the nourishment and be truly refreshed. The rain is not to drench the herb, and it is not to flood it; it is to feed it, to revive it. This was what Moses aimed at. That is what all true preachers of Christ aim at. Why is it some people never seem to take in the Word, “as the small rain upon the tender herb”?
1. I suppose it is, first, because some of it may be above their understanding. If you hear a sermon, and you do not know at all what the good man is about, how can it benefit you?
2. Many do not drink in the sacred Word because it seems to them too good to be true. This is limiting the goodness of God: God is so good that nothing can be too good to be looked for from Him.
3. Many persons do not receive the Gospel promise to the full because they do not think it is true to them; anybody else may be blessed in that way, but they cannot think it probable that they shall be. Though the Gospel is particularly directed to sinners, yet these good folks think, “Surely grace could never reach to us.” Oh, how we lose our labour, and fail to comfort men, because of the unbelief which pretends to be the child of humility, but is really the offspring of pride! The small rain does not get at the tender herb, because the herb shrinks from the silver drops which would cherish it.
4. No doubt many miss the charming influences of heavenly truth because they do not think enough. Is it not strange that people should think sermons worth hearing, but not worth meditating upon? It is as foolish as if a man thought a joint of meat worth buying, but not worth cooking; for meditation is, as it were, a sort of holy cookery by which the truth is prepared to be food for the soul.
5. And, once more, we ought to pray that when we hear the Word we may be prepared to receive it: it is of great importance that we should open the doors of our soul to let the Gospel enter us. Hospitality to truth is charity to ourselves.
III. Moses hoped to see results. “As the small rain upon the tender herb.” Now, observe, in looking about among mankind, that whenever wise men expect any result from their labours, they always go to work in a manner adapted to the end they have in view. Finding the people to be comparable to tender herbs, he adapted his speech to them, and made it like the small rain. Now, what will be the result if we do the same? It will come to pass there will be among us young converts like tender herbs, newly planted, and if we speak in tenderness we shall see the result, for they will take root in the truth, and grow in it. Paul planted, and then Apollos watered. Why did Apollos water? Because you must water plants after you have planted them, that they may the more readily strike into the earth. Happy shall you be if you employ your greater experience in strengthening those whose new life is as yet feeble. Next, when a man’s discourse is like small ram to the tender herb, he sees the weak and perishing one revive and lift up his head. The herb was withering at first, it lay down faint and ready to die; but the small rain came, and it seemed to say, “Thank you,” and it looked up, and lifted its head, and recovered from its swoon. You will see a reviving effect produced upon faint hearts and desponding minds. You will be a comforter, you will cheer away the fears of many, and make glad the timid and fearful. What a blessing it is when you see that result, for there is so much the more joy in the world, and God is so much the more glorified! When you water tender herbs, and see them grow, you have a further reward. It is delightful to watch the development and increase of grace in those who are under our care. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Ascribe ye greatness unto our God.
The greatness of God
I. Our primary concern should be to attempt to realise the greatness of God, however inadequate all our conceptions may be.
1. His underived, independent, and eternal existence. In this His nature stands out in distinction from all created being.
2. The infinitude of His knowledge. There is no evading His glance, no travelling beyond the reach of His omniscience, no baffling His skill, no frustrating His plans, “no searching of His understanding.”
3. The boundlessness of His power and dominion. “Great is the Lord, and of great power.” Take the microscope, and all the orders of existence which it reveals are embraced in His providence. Take the telescope, and as worlds on worlds pass before your vision, you only survey other parts of His great and boundless empire.
4. The grandeur of His moral perfections. His holiness is unspotted, the standard and pattern of righteousness to all creatures and to all worlds. His goodness is vast and unutterable. It gave us “His unspeakable gift.” His faithfulness endureth to all generations, giving stability to the world which He created.
II. The practical lessons enforced in the call to “ascribe greatness to our God.”
1. Our adoration is a fitting tribute to His greatness and majesty. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me.” It is the acknowledgment on our part of His natural and moral perfections.
2. It is not only, however, by the direct exercise of adoration that we are to fulfil the exhortation of the text, but by cultivating a humbling impression of the Divine Majesty ever on our hearts. What humility should we, as creatures, cherish in the presence of the greatness of God! What lowliness of spirit should there be in our supplications and pleadings with God! How unseemly is all that is irreverential before Him!
3. Whilst the Divine greatness should humble us, however, it may also inspire us with confidence, if living and walking before Him. What a friend and helper is He to those who loyally serve Him! It is related of one of the greatest of the French preachers that, when called to preach a funeral discourse for Louis XIV before a crowded audience and in the presence of the French Court, he broke the hushed silence of the vast assembly when he entered the pulpit and began to speak, by the exclamation, There is nothing great but God, and then, having nerved himself for his work, addressed himself to his subject. In sorest bereavements He can sustain, and in the solemn void which they have created can make His own presence all the more realisingly felt. Specially let us cherish such confidence in reference to the interests of religion in the world, and look forward to a great future for the Church of God, though earth and hell oppose. (E. T. Prust.)
The Great Supreme
I. A caution. In as much as Moses had said, “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God,” he intended to hint to us that we ought to ascribe greatness to none else.
1. If I worship a created being, if I seek the intercession of any save the one Person who is ordained to be the Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, I do in that degree derogate from the greatness of God.
2. Though we do not bow down and worship images, yet, I am sorry to say, there is scarce a congregation that is free from that error of ascribing greatness to their minister. If souls are converted, how very prone we are to think there is something marvellous in the man. We are but your servants for Christ’s sake.
3. Pay deference unto authorities as ye should do; but if in aught they swerve, remember your knee must bow to God, and to God alone. If in aught there be anything wrong, though it should have a sovereign’s name attached to it, remember one is your Master and King.
4. In the case of those who are in the employ of masters, it is but right that they should render unto their masters that which is their due; but when the master commands that which is wrong, allow me solemnly to caution you against giving to him anything which you are not bound to do. Your master tells you you must break the Sabbath. You do it because he is your master; ye have violated this command, for it is said, “Ascribe ye greatness unto God.”
5. This text has a bearing upon certain philosophic creeds which I will just hint at. Some men, instead of ascribing greatness to God, ascribe greatness to the laws of nature, and to certain powers and forces which they believe govern the universe. They look up on high; their eyes see the marvellous orbs walking in their mystery along the sky. They say, “What stupendous laws are those which govern the universe!” And ye will see in their writings that they ascribe everything to law and nothing to God. Now, all this is wrong. Law without God is nothing. God puts force into law, and if God acts by laws in the government of the material universe, yet it is the force of God which moves the worlds along and keeps them in their places. Law without God is nullity. Reject every philosophy that does not ascribe greatness to God, for there is a worm at the root of it, and it yet shall be destroyed.
II. A command.
1. This command comes to the sinner when he first begins seriously to consider his position before God. When you look at your sins ascribe greatness to God’s justice.
2. Let the sinner who is already convinced of thin ascribe greatness to God’s mercy. Further, let me appeal to the Christian, “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God.” Thou art in trouble; thou art wearied with the hardness of thy journey; thy poverty has got hold of thee. It is a dark night with thee just now; thou seest not thy signs; thou hast no sweet promise to light upon. “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God.” Great as your troubles are, remember He is greater. And when the devil tempts you to believe that God cannot help you, tell him that you think better of Him than that; you ascribe greatness to the Almighty, and you believe He is great enough to deliver you from all your sorrows. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The greatness of God
I. Offer a few remarks on the nature of God’s greatness.
1. Greatness is not a distinct attribute of the Divine nature, but an excellency which belongs to all His attributes. Whatever is in God is great. He is great in His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and truth. There is such a mixture of greatness and goodness in God, that those who know Him best will fear and love Him most; and even devils are constrained to believe and tremble.
2. There is an essential and also a relative greatness in God, a greatness interwoven in the whole of His character, and appearing in all His works. Is He our Father? He is our Father who is in heaven, dwelling in the most exalted state of majesty; demanding our reverence and exciting our highest hopes (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Is He a King? He is a great King, the King of kings.
3. The greatness of God is unsearchable and incomprehensible. With increasing knowledge we shall have an increasing sense of our own deficiency.
II. Inquire in what manner we are to ascribe “greatness to God.”
1. We are to ascribe greatness to our God by acknowledging and declaring His greatness and His glory.
2. In ascribing greatness to the Lord, we are to do it practically; not only with our lips, but in our lives.
3. In approaching to God with reverence and holy fear we ascribe to Him the glory due unto His name, striving against wandering thoughts and vain imaginations, and cherishing a deep sense of our own unworthiness. The higher we rise in our apprehensions of God, the lower we shall fall in our own esteem.
4. By entertaining the most enlarged expectations from God we in effect ascribe greatness to Him. Great faith ought to be exercised towards a great God; nor should we say, “Can He pardon? can He help? or can He save?” for what can He not do? What wants are so great that He cannot supply? what works so great that He cannot enable us to perform? what burdens so great that He cannot support us under? what dangers so great that He cannot deliver us out of them?
5. If we ascribe greatness to the Lord, that greatness will be to us a matter of joy and gladness, and we shall glory in His holy name.
6. Fearing to offend against God, and dreading His displeasure, are included in the duty prescribed. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
He is the Rock.
The Rock and its associations
Seven times does this strong figure the Rock occur in the song. The metaphor is self-explanatory, the stability of rock being a fit emblem of the Divine immutability of purpose, and of God being faithful to His covenant and promises. This is the ruling and recurring idea of the song, coming in like a refrain, and giving unity to the whole. And how deeply did this image of God, the Rock, take hold upon the mind of Israel! Here it stands in the very forefront; the first word in the construction, to mark the importance we must assign to it. For, besides its native significance of impregnable strength and security, an additional depth of meaning was imparted to the emblem from Moses’ own history and experience (Exodus 17:6; Exodus 33:21-22). It gradually passes upwards from an objective to a subjective or experimental application, when not only the nature of the rock, but its various uses, afforded fresh and serviceable emblems. The Gospel to the Old Testament Church was not merely, “God is a rock, firm and faithful,” but” He is the Rock, with all the precious associations and all the realised practical value added to the term, whether it were employed for a hiding place and protection or for shade--“the shadow of a great rock in a weary land”--or, most significantly of all, suggested by the smitten rock in Horeb, a source and guarantee of suitable and sufficient supply in case of dire necessity to the perishing. It is emphatically a covenant made, and speaks the language of redemption. The song proceeds to develop the applicability of the word in a three-fold direction, attaching it at once to God’s work, His ways, and His character. “The Rock--
1. His work is perfect.” It is not as artificer, but as architect, we are here to regard His work as perfect. He has a providential and redemptive plan, complete in all its details; having no need for after-thoughts, and not requiring reconstruction or amendment. In this respect “His work is perfect”; and when fully accomplished will justify and vindicate itself.
2. To understand the Divine plan or speak of it aright, we must wait till then. “For all His ways are judgment,” nothing being subject to caprice or arbitrariness. His is an immutability of counsel, carried into execution by the goodwill He hath purposed in Himself. What a contrast to the feeble, vacillating, arbitrary ways of man!
3. But, above all, He Himself in His own character is the Rock. This confidence in the Divine nature itself; in Jehovah’s absolute truth and equity; in His unerring rectitude and all-wise faithfulness--this is the supreme resting place. It is also set forth here as the high well-spring of all dutiful submission, of all loyal-hearted allegiance, and of all uncorruptness in religion and piety. In it the singer finds the strongest ground for rebuke, remonstrance, and reproach to the people. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
God as a Rock
“He is the Rock,” a Rock indeed. If we speak of strength, lo, He is strong; if of stability, He is the Lord, and changes not--the Ancient of Days. Hast not thou heard and considered this, that the Almighty faints not, and wearies not? He holds forth Himself in such a name to His people, a ready, all-sufficient, and enduring Refuge to all that trust in Him; and this is the foundation that the Church is built on, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. God’s omnipotency for defences, His eternity, faithfulness, and unchangeableness to make that sure, His mercy and goodness make a hole in that Rock to enter in, a ready access for poor shipwrecked and broken men, who have no other refuge. This is our Rock, on which the Church is built, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4; Matthew 16:18). God were inaccessible in Himself--an impregnable Rook; how would sinners overcome Him, and enter into Him to be saved from wrath? Oh, how sad is the secret reproof contained in this commendation of God! He hath been a Rock to us, our Refuge that we fled unto, and found sure, yet have we left our Rock, gone out from our Strength; He offers Himself a Rock unto us--His all-sufficiency--and yet we leave the Fountain of living waters and dig broken cisterns; had rather choose our own broken ship to toss up and down into. He abides forever the same; though we change, He changes not. How may it reprove our backslidings, that we depart from our Rock, and where shall we find a refuge in the day of indignation? Is there any created mountain, but some floods will cover? Therefore it is folly and madness to forsake this Rock. (H. Binning.)
His work is perfect.
God’s works perfect
As He doth not trouble Himself when all is troubled about Him, so He keeps him all in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him; so also what He doth among men, though it cannot pass without man’s censure, yet it is in itself perfect, complete, without defect.
1. His works are perfect in relation to the beginning and original of them--His own everlasting purpose. Men often bring forth works by guess, by their purpose, so no wonder it answer not their desire; but known to Him are all His works from the beginning, and so He doth nothing in time but what was His everlasting pleasure. Often we purpose well, and resolve perfectly, but our practice is a cripple--execution of it is maimed and imperfect; but all His works are carved out and done just as He designed them, without the least alteration; and, if it had not been well, would He have thought on it so and resolved it beforehand?
2. His works are perfect in relation to the end to which He appointed them. It may be it is not perfect in itself--a blind eye is not so perfect as a seeing eye: nay, but in relation to the glory of His name, who hath a purpose to declare His power by restoring that sight, it is as perfect. And in this sense all the imperfection of the creatures and creation, all of them are perfect works, for they accomplish the end wherefor they were sent; and so the night declares His name, and utters a speech as well as the day, the winter as the summer, the wilderness as the fruitful field; for what is the perfection of the creature but in as far as it accomplishes His purpose as the Maker of it? And therefore all His work is perfect, for it is all framed in wisdom to His own ends, in number, measure, and weight; it is so exactly agreeing to that, that you could not imagine it better.
3. Again, His work is perfect if we take it altogether, and do not cut it in parcels and look on it so. Letters and syllables make no sense till you conjoin them in words, and words in sentences. Even so it is here: if we look on the day alone, the light of it being perpetual would weary us, the night alone would be more so; but the interchange of them is pleasant. Day and night together make a distinct language of God’s praise. So God has set prosperity and adversity the one over against the other; one of them, it may be, seems imperfect; nay, but it is a perfect work that is made up of both. Spots in the face commend the beauty of the rest of it. If you would, then, look upon God’s work aright, look at it in the sanctuary’s light, and you shall say, “He hath done all well.”
4. Entertain this thought in your heart, that He hath done all well; let not your secret thoughts so much as call them in question. If once you question, you will quickly censure them. Hold this persuasion, that nothing can be better than what He doth.
5. Let this secretly reprove your hearts, the perfection of His works stains our works. Oh, how imperfect are they! And which is worse, how bold are we to censure His and absolve our own! If He have a hand in our work, yet these imperfect works are perfect in regard of Him; as we have a hand in His perfect works, yet His perfect works are imperfect in regard of us. (H. Binning.)
All His ways are judgment.--
God’s ways perfect
This is to the same purpose--His ways and His works are one; and this is the perfection of His work, that it is all right and equal. Whether they be in justice or mercy, they are all righteous and holy--no iniquity in them. His ways are straight and equal, exact as if they were measured by an exact, even rule; but because we make application of a crooked rule to them, we do imagine that they are crooked--as the blind man judges no light to be because he sees it not. How may the Lord contend and plead with us, as with the people? (Ezekiel 18:25.) And yet behold the iniquity of men’s hearts; there is a secret reflection of our spirits upon His majesty as if His ways were not equal, whenever we repine against them. Behold, the Lord will assert His own ways, and plead with all flesh this controversy, that all His proceedings are full of equity; He walks according to a rule, though He be not tied to a rule. But we walk not according to a rule, though we be bound to a rule, and a rule full of equity. Here is the equity of His ways; the Gospel holds it forth in a two-fold consideration.
1. If any man turn from his iniquity, and flee unto My Son as the City of Refuge, he shall live. Iniquity shall not be his ruin, although he hath done iniquity. Oh! “who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity?” Is not this complete mercy? And on the other hand, whosoever continueth in sin, though he appear to himself and others never so righteous, shall not he die in his iniquity? Is there any iniquity in this, that he receive the wages of his works, that he eat of the fruit of his own ways, and drink of his own devices?
2. This way of the Lord is equal and right in itself, but it is not so to everyone; the just man shall walk in it, and not stumble--as in an even way; nothing shall offend him (Hosea 14:9). Yet, equal and straight as it is, many other transgressors shall fall therein; they stumble even in the noonday and highway, where no offence is. By all means embrace the Word, and be satisfied with it, when you do not comprehend His work; it teaches as much in general as may put us to quietness. All His ways are judgment; just and true in all His ways is the King of saints. If I do not comprehend how it is, no wonder, for He makes darkness His covering; He spreads over His most curious pieces of workmanship a veil of darkness for a season. Therefore let us hearken to His Word, and believe its sentence on His work, when reason cannot comprehend it. (H. Binning.)
A God of truth--
The truth of God
I. What we are to understand by the truth of God. Not only His veracity, but His faithfulness.
II. That this perfection belongs to God. And this I shall endeavour to prove.
1. From the dictates of natural light. Natural light tells us that truth and faithfulness are perfections, and consequently belong to the Divine nature; and that falsehood and a lie are imperfections, and to be removed from God.
2. From Scripture. The Scripture doth very frequently attribute this to God (2 Samuel 7:28; Psalms 25:10; Psalms 31:5; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 6:10; Psalms 15:3; Psalms 16:7). And the Scripture doth not only in general attribute this perfection to God, but doth more particularly assure us of His sincerity and truth and faithfulness. Of His sincerity, that He deals plainly with us and speaks what He intends, that His words are the image of His thoughts and a true representation of His mind. And as the Scripture assures us of His sincerity, He of His truth and faithfulness in the accomplishment of His predictions and performance of His promises.
I come now to the last thing I proposed, to make some use of this doctrine.
1. If God be a God of truth, then this gives us assurance that He doth not deceive us, that the faculties which He hath given us are not false, but when they have clear perceptions of things, they do not err and mistake.
2. If God be a God of truth, then there is reason why we should believe whatever we are satisfied is revealed to us by God. A Divine revelation is a sufficient ground for the most firm assent; for this very thing, that anything is revealed by God is the highest evidence, and ought to give us the most firm assurance, of the truth of it. Hence it is that the Word of God is called the Word of truth, yea, and truth itself: “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17).
3. If God be a God of truth, and faithful in performing His promise, then here is a firm foundation for our hope and trust.
4. The truth of God is matter of terror to the wicked.
5. Let us propound to ourselves the truth of God for our pattern and imitation. Would you be like God? be true and faithful. (Abp. Tillotson.)
A God of truth
Strange it is that His Majesty is pleased to clothe Himself with so many titles and names for us. He considers what our necessity is, and accordingly expresses His own name. I think nothing doth more hold forth the unbelief of men and atheism of our hearts than the many several titles God takes in Scripture; there is a necessity for a multitude of them, to make us take up God, because we, staying upon a general notion of God, rather frame in our imaginations an idol than the true God. Needed there any more to be said but “I am your God, I am God,” if our spirits were not so far degenerated into atheism and unbelief? Therefore wonder at these two when you read the Scriptures, God’s condescension to us and our unbelief of Him. There is not a name of God but it gives us a reproach. This name is clear--He is a God of truth; not only a true God, but Truth itself, to note His eminency in it. It is Christ’s name--“I am the Truth,” the substantial Truth, in whom all the promises are truth, are yea and amen. His truth is His faithfulness in performing His promises and doing what His mouth hath spoken: and this is established in the very heavens (Psalms 89:2). His everlasting purpose is in heaven, where He dwells, and therefore there is nothing done in time that can impair or hinder it. He may change His commands as He pleases, but He may not change His promise. This puts an obligation on Him, as He is faithful and true, to perform it; and when an oath is superadded, oh! how immutable are these two!--when He promises in His truth and swears in His holiness. Is there any power in heaven and earth can break that double cord? (Matthew 5:18; Hebrews 6:18.) There is no name of God but it is comfortable to some, and as terrible to others. What comfort is it to a godly man that trusts in His Word, He is a God of truth! You who have ventured your souls on His Word, you have an unspeakable advantage: His truth endures forever, and it is established in the heavens; the ground of it is without beginning, the end of it without end. Mercy made so many precious promises, and truth keeps them. Mercy is the fountain of our consolation, and truth and faithfulness convey it to us, and keep it for us. It is these two that go before His face when He sits on a throne of majesty and makes Himself accessible to sinners (Psalms 89:14), and so they are the pathway He walks in towards those who seek Him (Psalms 25:10). But this precious name, that is as ointment poured forth to those who love Him, how doth it smell of death to those who walk contrary to Him! He is a God of truth, to execute His threatenings on those who despise His commands; and though you flatter yourselves in your own eyes, and cry, “Peace, peace,” even though you walk in the imagination of your heart, yet certainly He is a God of truth. It was unbelief of God’s threatening that first ruined man; it is this still that keeps so many from the remedy and makes their misery irrecoverable. But if any man have set to his seal that God is true in His threatening, and subscribed unto the law, then, I beseech you, add not the unbelief of the Gospel unto your former disobedience. You have not kept His commands, and so the curse is come upon you. Do you believe that? If you do, then the Gospel speaks unto you, the God of truth has one word more--“He that believes shall be saved,” not withstanding all his breaking of the law. If you do not set your seal to this also, then you say He is not a God of truth; you say He is a liar. And as for you who have committed your souls to Him, as to a faithful keeper, and acquiesced unto His word of promise for salvation, think how unsuitable it is for you to distrust Him in other lesser things. (H. Binning.)
Man’s sinfulness as contrasted with God’s infinite perfections
There are none can behold their own vileness as it is but in the sight of God’s glorious holiness. Sin is darkness, and neither sees itself nor anything else; therefore must His light shine to discover this darkness. Among all the aggravations of sin, nothing doth so demonstrate the madness of it as the perfection, goodness, and absolute unspottedness of God. It is this that takes away all pretence of excuse; and therefore it is that Moses, when he would convince this people of their ways and make them inexcusable, he draws the parallel of God’s ways and their ways, declares what God is, how absolutely perfect in Himself and in His works, and had given no cause for provocation to them to depart from Him. And then how odious must their departing be! When both are painted on a board before their eyes, it makes sin become exceeding sinful. There are two things in sin that exceedingly abuse the creature, the iniquity of it and folly of it. It is contrary to all equity and reason to depart from Him that hath made us and given us a law, to whom we are by so many obligations tied. But what is the madness of it, to depart from the Fountain of living waters and dig broken cisterns that can hold none! This is a thing that the heavens may be astonished at; and if the earth had the sense to understand such a thing, the whole fabric of it would tremble for horror at such folly of reasonable souls. And this evil hath two evils in it--we forsake life and love death, go from Him and choose vanity. It is great iniquity to depart without an offence on His part. He may appeal to all our consciences, and let them sit down and examine His way most narrowly. “What iniquity have ye found in Me? What cause have ye to leave Me?” But when withal He is a living Fountain, He is our glory, He is a fruitful land, a land of light, our ornament and attire; in a word, our life and our consolation, our happiness and our beauty. What word shall be found to express the extreme madness of men to depart from such an one, and change their glory into that which doth not profit? If either He were not a Fountain of living waters, or if there were any fountain beside that could yield water to satisfy the unsatiable desires of men, it were more excusable; but what shadow shall be found to cover such an iniquity, that is both infinite sin and incomparable loss? Oh, that men would consider how good the blessed Lord is, how He is alone and nothing beside Him in heaven and earth; all broken cisterns, all unprofitable; He only self-sufficient, all others insufficient, and therefore a proportioned good for our necessity and desires; and I am sure you would be constrained to cry out with David, “Whom have I in heaven with Thee, or in earth beside Thee? It is good for me to draw near to God.” You would look on drawing near and walking with Him and before Him not only as the most reasonable thing, but the best thing, most beautiful for you, most profitable for you, and all other ways would be looked on as the ways of death. (H. Binning.)
Just and right is He.--
The justice of God
By the justice of God we understand that universal rectitude of His nature whereby, in His government of the world, He does all things with perfect righteousness, giving to everyone his due.
1. We are to consider God, not only as the Maker and Preserver of men, but as their Governor also. He who made man has an unbounded right to prescribe laws for his conduct, and to enforce the laws by rewards and punishments; and in so doing He consults the good of His creatures as well as His own glory.
2. God is just in punishing disobedience to His holy law.
3. If we consult the Scriptures we shall find that God has displayed His justice, in many awful instances, by the punishment of sinners.
4. But the most affecting display of Divine justice was made in the sufferings and death of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. (G. Burder.)
The justice of God
I. Let us think of justice as residing from eternity in the Divine Being, and as operating independently of the existence of created beings.
1. In this view, justice must be contemplated as rising out of the very existence of Deity. Justice exists necessarily and infinitely in the glorious Godhead.
2. It may be viewed as operating within the Divine Being itself, distinctly from every prospect of the future existence of a universe of creatures, in such ways as these: in a righteous valuing and honouring of the distinct preciousness of other Divine excellencies, such as power, holiness, goodness, etc.; in a fair arrangement, union, and well-adjusted harmony of all the other Divine perfections; and in the mutual acknowledgments of the equal rights, dignity, and relations of each of the Three Persons in the Godhead.
II. Let us think of the nature of moral good and evil, as found in creature agents, which is the proper object of justice.
1. Such agents possess the natural image of God, in spirituality, in intelligence, in capacity of choice, in voluntary activity, in discernment of good and evil. These things are necessary to the existence of either moral good or moral evil. It may be asked, What is the meaning of these words?
2. Moral good and evil are opposite qualities of such creatures, as to their dispositions and actions.
3. The chief moral good and evil must be found in the dispositions and actions of the creature towards God Himself. Here must be the greatest, the noblest beauty, or the foulest deformity, the richest flavoured sweetness or the most poisonous bitterness.
4. There is a wide range of good and of evil, in disposition and in action, relative to man made in the image of God.
5. There is a general importance in all moral good and evil, even in their most ordinary and tranquil movements; for they are the acts of a creature endowed with the natural image of the great God, to whom also these acts and qualities have an ultimate reference.
6. In connection with these things we have to think of the vast multitude of moral agents, men and angels, whom we know with certainty, and of the vast variety of circumstances and events, and also the long flight of ages, before the final judgment; besides the numberless worlds of intelligent agents which may lie behind an impenetrable veil of obscurity and uncertainty. And thus we have some view of that awful, wide-extended, moral empire, the direct object of the cognisance and procedure of Divine justice, and of which everyone who now thinks on this subject is an interested and important part.
1. How contrary to this whole doctrine of the justice of God is that spirit of frivolous, presumptuous ease and gaiety which generally reign in the world!
2. Let us consider the majesty and power of the justice of God as the guardian attribute of all the other excellencies of Divinity.
3. Who can sufficiently estimate the preciousness of deliverance from the wrath to come by the sufferings and blood of Jesus, the Son of God?
III. The nature of this glorious justice and of its exercise respecting good and evil.
1. His penetrating and transcendently perfect inspection of moral good and evil (Isaiah 3:8; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Revelation 1:14).
2. His approbation of moral good, and His complacency and delight therein.
3. His honouring and rewarding moral goodness.
4. Let us think of the aspect and procedure of this great Judge against moral evil, by rejection, disapprobation, and vengeance.
1. In review of the things spoken on this subject, the glorious justice of Jehovah, it is of importance to notice the place which this excellency holds among the other perfections of Deity. It is, in some respects, a consequence of the general rectitude of the Divine Being and of some other particular excellencies of God. But it is specially to be remarked that to justice belongs the high character of the guardian attribute, both in relation to the glory of all that is Divine, and in reference to the rights and interests of created beings among one another.
2. It demands our most serious consideration, that it is not without very great difficulty that an apostate creature can attain genuine and powerful views of the attribute of justice.
3. How solemn are the exercises of an awakened believing soul, making express application to God for reconciliation and peace by the blood of Jesus!
4. How perfect is the glory of the sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus, the Son of God! (John Love, D. D.)
The justice of God
I. The excellence of His nature proves it. If “he that ruleth over men must be just,” if human rulers must be just, how much more must He be who requires them to be so, the Governor, the Maker of all the world! And if it suits his office that He should be so, what is there to induce Him to depart from His character?
II. His own Word shows it (Jeremiah 9:24; Psalms 19:9; Psalms 145:17; Acts 17:31).
III. His commandments to men prove it. The qualities He requires in them are those which exist in Himself, and the end of man’s obedience is to be likened to his Maker.
IV. His dealings with men show it. To them He declares Himself to be eminently holy and just; that He will by no means clear the guilty, and that He will finally render to every man according to the things he has done.
V. The necessity of His very nature shows it. It is utterly impossible that a being holy, good, and wise as the Deity should be indifferent to the actions of His creatures, or that having given a law for their guidance, He should be indifferent as to the measure of their obedience to it. What, then, do we mean when we speak of the justice of God? It means that He will execute His whole law; that He will fulfil His word, and render to everyone according to his works. To make this justice perfect, as all the attributes of God must be supposed to be, it will descend to every particular in our conduct; nothing will be too small to be noted; nothing can be concealed from Him; nothing will be overlooked by Him. To make it consistent with the spiritual character of His nature, and with that spiritual holiness which He requires in His people, it will extend to every thought, to every purpose, to every hidden wish of the heart, as well as to every work and to every action. (H. Raikes, M. A.)
They have corrupted themselves.
Man corrupting his way
If we consider what this people seemed once to be, and thought themselves to be, we may easily know how they corrupted themselves. If ye look on them at one time (Exodus 19:8; Deuteronomy 5:27) ye would call them children. There was never a fairer undertaking of obedience. But compare all this people’s practice with this profession, and you shall find it exceeding contrary; they indeed corrupted themselves, though they got warning to take heed of it (Deuteronomy 4:15). But, alas! it was within them that destroyed them; there was not such a heart in them as to hear and obey; but they undertake, being ignorant of their own deceitful hearts, which were desperately wicked. And therefore behold what corruption followed upon such a professed resolution: they never sooner promised obedience but they disobeyed; they did abominable works and did no good, and this is to corrupt their way (Psalms 14:1). We may make this song our own. We have corrupted ourselves. Once we had a fair show of zeal for God, of love and desire of reformation of life, many solemn undertakings were that we should amend our doings. But what is the fruit of all? Alas! we have corrupted ourselves more than Israel promised, but we vowed to the most High amendment of life. Lay this rule to our practices, and are we not a perverse generation? Oh! that we were more affected with our corruptions, and were more sensible of them; then we could not choose but mourn for our own and the land’s departing from God. There is a great noise of a public reformation of ordinances and worship; but, alas! the deformation of life and practice outcries all that noise. Every man useth to impute his faults to something beside himself. Ere men take with their own iniquity, they will charge God that gave no more grace. But if men knew themselves, they would deduce their corruption and destruction both from one fountain, that is, from themselves. What was the fountain of this people’s corruptions and apostatising from their professions? The Lord hints at it (Deuteronomy 5:25). Oh, that they had such a heart! Alas! poor people, ye know not yourselves that speak so well; I know thee better than thou dost thyself. I will declare unto thee thy own thought: thou hast not such a heart as to do what thou sayest. If thou knewest this fountain of original corruption thou wouldst despair of doing, and say, I cannot serve the Lord. Why is our way corrupted? Because our hearts within were not cleansed, and because they were not known. If we had dried up the fountain, the streams had ceased; but we did only dam it up, and cut off some streams for a season. We set up our resolutions and purposes as an hedge to hold it in, but the sea of the heart’s iniquity, that is above all things, hath overflowed it, and defiled our way more than in former times. Times do not bring evils along with them, they do but discover what was hid before. All the evils and corruptions you now see among us, where were they in the day of our first love, when we were as a beloved child? Have all these risen up of late? No, certainly; all that you have seen and found were before, though they did not appear. Before they were in the root, now you see the fruit. Now, so it is with us; we have corrupted ourselves still more. Backsliding cometh on as grey hairs, here and there, and is not perceived by beholders. No man becometh worst at first. There are many steps between that and good. Corruption comes on men’s way as in fruits; some one part beginneth to alter, and then it groweth worse, and putrifieth and corrupteth the rest of the parts. An apple rots not all at once, so it is with us. Men begin at leisure, but they run post or all be done. (H. Binning.)
Not the spot of His children.
The secret spot
There are frequently great difficulties in identifying the persons of men, even when they have been distinctly seen. Our police courts have given us most serious evidence that men may be utterly deceived as to the identity of individuals. Turning to the moral universe, identity there is far more difficult to be made out, for both the moral and religious world swarm with pretenders. You cannot know to a certainty who among your acquaintances is a Christian and who is not. You see the text talks about certain secret spots. These are tokens in which men cannot so readily deceive as to their identity. The mother will be able to tell whether this is her child or not by the spot which is known to none but herself. The pretender may be very like her child: the voice may be the voice of Jacob, and the hands may not be dissimilar, and he may be able to relate many things concerning his youth which it would seem that none but the real child could know; but the mother recollects that there was a secret spot, and if that be not there, she turns aside the pretender; but ii she discovers that private token, she knows the claimant to be her child. There are secret marks upon every Christian, and if we have not the spot of God’s child too, it will little avail us how fairly in our outward garb and manner we may conform ourselves to the members of the heavenly family.
I. First, then, at the mention of private spots which are to be the insignia of the regenerate, there are thousands who say, “We do not shirk that examination. Truly, the signs of saints are in us also! Are others Israelites? so are we: we challenge an investigation.” Be it so, then! Let us commence a minute examination. I am not now to deal with anything that is public. We are not speaking now about actions or words, but concerning those secret things which men have judged to be infallible marks of their being saved. Here is a friend before us, and as he lays bare his heart he indicates to us the spot which he thinks proclaims him to be a child of God. I will describe it. The man has embraced sound doctrine. Wherever he goes, his whole talk is of his favourite Shibboleth, “The truth! The truth!” Not that the aforesaid truth has ever renewed his nature; not that it has at all made him a better husband or a kinder father; not that it influences him in trade. Now, sir, we do not hesitate to say concerning you, although you will not be best pleased with us for it, that Four spot is not the spot of the children of God. No form of doctrine, however Scriptural, can ever save the soul if it be only received by the head, and does not work in its mighty energy upon the heart. “Ye must be born again,” is the Saviour’s word; and unless ye be born again, your carnal nature may hold the truth in the letter without discerning the spirit; and while the truth shall be dishonoured by being so held, you yourself shall not be benefited thereby.
II. What is the true secret spot which infallibly betokens the child of God? “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” Here it is, then: if I have received Christ Jesus into my heart, then I am a child of God. That reception is described in the second clause as a believing on the name of Jesus Christ. If, then, I believe on Jesus Christ’s name, I am a member of the family of the Most High.
III. The discrimination of defiling spots. The term “spot” as used in the text will not be read usually as we have read it. It will, no doubt, to most readers suggest the idea of sin, and very properly so--then the text would run thus: the sin of the people mentioned here is not the sin of God’s people. There is a difference between their guilt and the offences of the Lord’s chosen. There is a discrimination to be made, even as to sinful spots. God forbid that you should imagine that I wish to excuse the sins of believers. In some views, when a believer sins, his sin is worse than that of other men, because he offends against greater light; he revolts against greater love and mercy; he flies in the teeth of his profession; he does despite to the Cross of Christ, and he brings dishonour upon the name of Jesus. Believers cannot sin cheaply. The very least speck on a Christian is more plainly seen than the foulest blot on the ungodly, just as a white dress shows the dirt the sooner. Sin is a horrible thing, and, it is above all things detestable when it lurks in a child of God; yet the sins of God’s people do differ from the sins of other men in many important respects: they do not sin with cool determination, meaning to sin and sinning for its own sake. A sinner in his sins is a bird in the air, but the believer in sin is like the fish that leaps for a while into the air, but must be back again or die. Sin cannot be satisfactory to an immortal spirit regenerated by the Holy Ghost. If you sin, you “have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”; but if you sin and love sin, then you are the servant of sin, and not the child of God. Again, the child of God cannot look back upon sin with any kind of complacency. The ungodly man has this spot, that after the sin he even boasts of it,; he will tell to others that he enjoyed himself greatly in his wicked sport. “Ah,” saith he, “how sweet it is!” But no man of God ever sins without smarting.
IV. An exhortation. To make sure work for eternity, and to make it clear to your own consciences that you are the children of God. A famous case is now pending, in which a person claims to be the son of a deceased baronet. Whether he be or not I suppose will ere long be decided by the highest authorities; meanwhile the case is pending, a very weighty case for him, for upon the decision will hang his possession or non-possession of vast estates and enormous property. Now, in your case you, many of you, profess to be the children of God, and heaven hangs upon the question of the truthfulness of your profession. A child of God! Then your portion is eternal life. An heir of wrath, even as others! Then your heritage will be eternal death. Is it uncertain now whether you are a child of God or not? Is it uncertain now whether your spot is the spot of God’s children? Then let not an hour pass over your head till you have said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The children and the spots
I. God’s children have their spots in this life. How many spots does the holy eye of God observe upon us every day!
II. There is an essential difference between the spots of God’s children and the spots of the unregenerate. Certainly ill the sight of God there is no difference in sin. Its nature is the same. And sin upon one of God’s children, abstractedly considered, is hateful.
1. Unregenerate men sin deliberately and habitually. When did you find a good man that was an habitual sinner?
2. Unregenerate men sin freely: there is no principle in their heart which stands opposed to sin.
3. In unregenerate minds there is always a love to some particular sin; but in the regenerate there is no one sin but he desires the death of it.
4. How different are the feelings of the regenerate and unregenerate, after having committed the same sin, both alike in the sight of men! An unregenerate man may weep bitterly: what is the cause? Shame! Men know it; he is afraid of punishment. But what produces the grief which a believer feels? Because he has given blasphemy among men; because he has offended his God, and has built up a wall between God and his soul. If a child of God has fallen, it will render him watchful and prayerful: if a wicked ,man gain peace, he will go his way, and sin on. (John Hyatt.)
The spot of God’s children
I. God’s people have their spot or distinctive symbol. The term spot is here plainly employed in allusion to the distinctive badge which idolaters were wont to receive upon their foreheads, faces or hands, to show what God they worshipped (Revelation 20:4). Now, the Lord’s worshippers have their distinct mark, impressed not upon their persons, but upon their spirit, temper, principles, conversation, and behaviour, which is holiness unto the Lord (Jeremiah 2:3). This has been the mark of God’s people from the beginning, and is so still (Zechariah 14:20).
II. The dishonour of those who have “not the spot of His children.” The marginal reading gives a remarkably important turn to the meaning of the text. “They are not His children, this is their blot.” That all are not His children who are so accounted, will be readily admitted, seeing the visible Church embraces many who do not exhibit the distinguishing mark. And, if within the pale of the Church are found those who are not God’s children, what estimate shall we form of those who are without? And if all who are not God’s children might be if they would, what a fearful blot is this upon their character!
1. What a reflection on any man’s understanding to think lightly of so great a benefit:
2. Again, what must be his peril who is living in this state? What his misery who is without hope and God in the world? Shall such a blot remain long upon any of us? (J. Burdsall.)
Do ye thus requite the Lord.
Magnitude of the Divine favours
I. What God has done for us. Everything. We are indebted to Him for our being, and our well-being; for all our present comforts, and future hopes. The goodness of God is a boundless sea, without either bottom or shore. His favours for multitude, diversity, and splendour, resemble the stars of heaven, which the more attentively they are viewed, appear the more numerous, and, were we not so immensely distant from them, would equally astonish us with their magnitude and order.
4. The Gospel.
5. The Holy Spirit.
II. How we ought in reason, duty, and interest to requite the Lord for His gifts.
1. If we ourselves are the creatures of God’s power, and have no faculty of soul, no member of body, no endowment of any kind, but what we have received from Him, surely it ill-becomes us to boast of anything that we have, as though we received it not; or to value ourselves on account of what is not our own, but only lent us for a little time, and to be redemanded soon with usury.
2. This leads me to a second inference, that the many mercies of God have laid an indispensable obligation upon us unfeignedly and gratefully to praise Him.
3. But again, may we not infer, from the preceding observations, that it is no less our duty to trust in God than it is humbly to praise Him? The many and wonderful things which He hath done for us leave no room to doubt either of His goodness or power; either of His inclination or ability to help and save us.
4. The loving kindness of the Lord to us-ward, so wonderfully displayed, so incessantly exercised, notwithstanding our ingratitude, certainly demands returns of love, and lays us under an indispensable obligation to serve and glorify Him. (J. Benson.)
An appeal to the conscience
No arrow is so sharp as a well-timed and well-directed question, winged with such precision as this. It goes straight to the conscience; and whatever else religion deals with, it must deal primarily with the conscience. The song proceeds to make appeal to the imagination, the memory, the judgment, the heart, but all with the view of getting, through them, at the conscience. Its grand purpose is to bring the Lord into contact with the people’s conscience; and as there are no more effective grappling hooks with which to seize the conscience and moor it closely alongside of Him than a series of questions, we have them here in a triple array: “Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? Is not He thy Father that hath bought thee?” that is, hath paid for thine emancipation out of Egypt, so that you, might get away scathless and free? “Hath not He made and established thee?” Made a people and nation of thee, given thee a name and place of unprecedented distinction among surrounding tribes, established law and settled institutions in your midst, advanced you to peculiar privileges, and put you into the condition of an orderly and well-regulated Church and State? It was a fit time to recall the past, to remember their original nothingness, to take a review of what they once were, and what they had even already become. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Man’s ungrateful requital to God
I have sometimes had the misfortune to sit in concerts where persons would chatter and giggle and laugh during the performance of the profoundest passages of the symphonies of the great artists; and I never fail to think, at such times, “I ask to know neither you, nor your father and mother, nor your name: I know what you are, by the way you conduct yourself here--by the want of sympathy and appreciation which you evince respecting what is passing around you.” We could hardly help striking a man who should stand looking upon Niagara Falls without exhibiting emotions of awe and admiration. If we were to see a man walk through galleries of genius, totally unimpressed by what he saw, we should say to ourselves, “Let us be rid of such an unsusceptible creature as that.” Now I ask you to pass upon yourselves the same judgment. What do you suppose angels, that have trembled and quivered with ecstatic joy in the presence of God, think when they see how indifferent you are to the Divine love and goodness in which you are perpetually bathed, and by which you are blessed and sustained every moment of your lives? How can they do otherwise than accuse you of monstrous ingratitude and moral insensibility which betokens guilt as well as danger? (H. W. Beecher.)
Is not He thy Father that hath bought thee?--
God’s paternal relation and claim
I. God as the father of His people.
1. He has redeemed them by Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
2. He is the Author of their spiritual existence (Ephesians 2:10).
3. He has made paternal provision for them (Philippians 4:19).
4. He grants parental protection to them (Psalms 91:4).
5. He imparts paternal instruction (Isaiah 54:13).
6. He takes great delight in them (Isaiah 66:13).
7. He administers fatherly correction (Jeremiah 30:11).
8. He has made paternal provision for them (Psalms 31:19).
II. The claims which He has upon His children.
1. He ought to have our highest reverence (Hebrews 12:28).
2. He ought to have our supreme affection (Deuteronomy 6:5).
3. He should possess our unwavering confidence (Isaiah 12:2).
4. He should have our cheerful obedience (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
5. Our continual gratitude and praise (1 Peter 2:9). (T. B. Baker.)
The parental character of God
The term “father” implies all that is most tender and affectionate. The love of a father is immeasurable. It extends to everything which can affect the welfare of his offspring. Is not God your Father?
1. Did not He create you? Was it not He who, having created you, committed you to the charge of your earthly parents, and disposed their minds to watch with unceasing care over your welfare? Is it not, therefore, in a secondary sense only that we are to ascribe the term of father to our earthly parent, while the primary and full meaning of the word belongs only to our Creator? Let us remember that, in having God for our Father, we possess the highest honour and the noblest privilege which any created beings can enjoy.
2. There is another sense in which the title of Father is justly claimed by God. He is the Father who hath bought us. When I have reflected upon the signal proofs which God has given of His paternal feelings towards us, I have often been surprised that those whose gratitude to their earthly parents is unbounded, should show so little affection to their heavenly Father, and rely so little on His love and mercy.
The reasons of this inconsistency appear to me to be the following.
1. The undue attachment which we are apt to place on objects of sense. We see and converse with an earthly parent, but our bodily senses do not inform us of the presence of God. Yet the proofs of His presence are actually more strong and numerous than those which attest the existence of any material object.
2. Through the weakness of the human understanding we continually entertain an undue estimation of second causes. We do not feel the extent of our obligations to our heavenly Father, because many of the blessings which He bestows are communicated to us by some instrument appointed for that end. It will probably, however, be generally acknowledged, that the character of God is good and gracious. It is in the practical use of such knowledge that we are chiefly apt to fail.
This is, therefore, the end to which I now shall direct your attention.
1. You ought to entertain the highest reverence for His laws. Read the Bible constantly as containing the will of your heavenly Father.
2. This view of the character of God as our Father gives a just idea of the true nature of religion. Religion is the homage which you pay to your heavenly Father. It is the regulation of your lives by His holy Word. It is the enjoyment of the innumerable benefits offered to mankind through His beloved Son. Religion must bear the stamp and character of its Author.
3. Is God our Father? Then we ought to maintain an intercourse with Him by frequent prayer, and to praise Him daily for His innumerable mercies.
4. Is God our Father? Let us then place a generous confidence in Him. (J. Venn, M. A.)
The paternal character of God
I. God as the father of his people.
1. God is the Author of their spiritual existence.
2. He makes paternal provision for His children.
3. He affords parental protection to His children.
4. He imparts paternal instruction.
5. He takes paternal delight in His children.
6. He administers paternal correction to His children.
7. He lays up a paternal provision for His children.
II. The claims which He has upon His children.
1. He ought to receive from us the highest reverence. We should cultivate His fear.
2. He ought to have our supreme affections. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” etc.
3. He should possess our unwavering confidence. Trust in Him at all times.
4. He should have our cheerful obedience. “Be ye followers of God as dear children,” etc.
5. He shall receive from us our most exalted praises. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Remember the days of old.
Particular instances of God’s kindness
1. Some were ancient; and for proof of them he appeals to the records. The authentic histories of ancient times are of singular use, especially the history of the Church in its infancy.
2. Others were more modern; and for proof of them he appeals to their fathers and elders that were now alive and with them. Parents must diligently teach their children not only the Word of God, His laws (Deuteronomy 6:7), and the meaning of His ordinances (Exodus 12:26), but His works also, and the methods of His providence (Psalms 87:3-4; Psalms 87:6-7). And children should desire the knowledge of those things which will be of use to engage them to their duty, and to direct them in it.
3. Three things are here enlarged upon as instances of God’s kindness to His people, and strong obligations upon them never to forsake Him.
(1) The early designation of the land of Canaan for their inheritance; for herein it was a type and figure of an heavenly inheritance, that it was of old ordained and prepared in the Divine counsels.
(a) The wisdom of God has appointed the bounds of man’s habitation, and determined both the place and time of our living in the world (Acts 17:26).
(b) Infinite wisdom has a vast reach, and designs beforehand what is brought to pass long after (Acts 15:18).
(c) The great God, in governing the world and ordering the affairs of states and kingdoms, has a special regard to His Church and people, and consults their good in all (2 Chronicles 16:9; Isaiah 45:4).
(2) The forming of them into a people, that they might be fit to enter upon this inheritance, like an heir of age, at the time appointed. Herein also Canaan was a figure of the heavenly inheritance; for as it was from eternity proposed and designed for all God’s spiritual Israel, so they are in time (and it is a work of time) fitted and made meet for it (Colossians 1:12).
(3) The settling of them in a good land.
(a) Glorious victories over their enemies.
(b) Plenty of good things. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.
Advantages of inquiry
There is much truth in the proverb, He that will learn of none but himself is sure to have a fool for his master. The way to advance in knowledge is to be sensible of our own deficiencies, and willing to avail ourselves of assistance. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,” etc. There are ethers that may be subordinately consulted; they possess, and can impart a little of His judgment: for in His light they see light. The priest’s lips should keep knowledge; and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts. And not only ministers, but private Christians may be useful. We were designed to live in a state of connection with, and dependence upon each other: and while the old need the strength and activeness of the young, the young need the prudence and counsel of the old. But what advantage do we derive from writing and printing! The birds and beasts are no wiser now than when they went to Noah for shelter, and to Adam for names. It is nearly the same with savage life: knowledge is not preserved, transmitted, and increased, for want of books. But in consequence of these helps, the improvements of one age flow into another, and the stream is continually enlarging by the influx of additional discoveries. (H. Jay.)
When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance.--
The nations divided
1. God originally divided the nations their inheritance. When, after the deluge, He gave the new earth to the children of men, He did not throw it in among them, so to speak, for a kind of scramble, that each might seize what he could: but He assigned them their several portions, that the discontented might not invade the peaceful, nor the mighty prey upon the weak. God permits what He does not approve: but nothing can be more contrary to His design and pleasure than for powerful states to invade and incorporate little ones. And the crime generally punishes itself. Such unjust and forced accessions become sources of uneasiness, corruption, and revolt.
2. In the arrangement of the limits and conditions of mankind He had an especial reference to the future commonwealth of Israel. For they were by far the most important detachment of the human race. They were the depositaries of revealed religion--the heirs of the righteousness which is by faith, etc. One thing is to be observed. They were not intended to engross the Divine favour, but to be the diffusers of it. They were not only to be blessed, but to be blessings.
3. While we here see that there is nothing like chance in the government of the world, there is what may be called a peculiar providence in particular instances. And we cannot help thinking of our own country. No country on earth bears such a comparison with Judea, in privilege and design.
4. The economies of heaven on earth have always been regulated by one end--the cause of the Messiah: and could we view things as God does, we should perceive how all the revolutions of the world; the changes of empire have affected this cause--immediately or--remotely--in a way--of achievement--or preparation--of purification or--increase--of solidity or--diffusion: and that all things are going on, not only consistently with it, but conducively to it. (H. Jay.)
The Lord’s portion is His people.
A choice portion
1. The text teaches us that the Church of God is the Lord’s own peculiar and special property. “The earth is the Lord s, and the fulness thereof: the world, and they that dwell therein.” By creation, as well as by providence, Jehovah is the Sovereign possessor of the entire universe. Let none venture to dispute His claims, or say that He is not the great owner of all things, for thus saith the Lord, “Behold, all souls are Mine.” But He has a special property in His Church. As a king may have ample possessions, to all of which he has undoubted right, but still he has royal crown-lands which are in a very special sense his own; so hath the Lord of all a peculiar interest in His saints. As Osborne, and Balmoral, and Windsor belong to our sovereign by a tenure which differs from his title and claim to the United Kingdom, so the Church is the peculiar heritage of the King of kings. “The Lord’s portion is His people.” How are they His?
(1) We answer, first, by His own sovereign choice. He did so ordain to make His chosen and set His love upon them.
(2) They are not only His by choice, but by purchase.
(3) They are also His by conquest. Old Jacob, when he lay a-dying, gave to Joseph one portion above his brethren, which he had taken out of the hand of the Amorite with his sword and with his bow. The Lord Jesus can truly say of His people, that He hath taken them out of the hand of the Amorite with His sword and with His bow. Thy conquering hand, O Jesus, when nailed to the Cross, rent away Thy children’s chains. We are indeed the conquered captives of His omnipotent love.
2. In the second place, the text shows that the saints are the objects of the Lord’s especial care. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth,”--with what object?--“to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.” The wheels of providence are full of eyes; but in what direction are they gazing? Why, that all things may “work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.”
3. The text includes the idea that the Church is the object of the Lord’s special joy, for a man’s portion is that in which he takes delight. See what terms He uses; He calls them His dwelling place. “In Jewry is God known, His name is great in Israel, in Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion.” “For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation.” Where is a man most at ease? Why, at home. We are expressly told that the Church is the Lord’s rest. “This is My rest forever, here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” As if all the world beside were His workshop, and His Church His rest. In the boundless universe He is busy marshalling the stars, riding upon the wings of the wind, making the clouds His chariot; but in His Church He is at rest, in Zion the Everlasting One spends His Sabbaths. Yet further, there is an unrivalled picture in the Word where the Lord is even represented as singing with joy over His people. Who could have conceived of the Eternal One as bursting forth into a song. Yet it is written, He will rejoice over thee with joy, He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing. As He looked upon the world, He spoke and said, “It is very good,” but He did not sing. And as He vieweth the works of providence, I hear not that He sings; but when He gazes on you, the purchase of Jesus blood, His own chosen ones, the great heart of the Infinite restrains itself no longer, but, wonder of wonders, God, the Eternal One, sings out of the joy of His soul. Truly, “the Lord’s portion is His people.”
4. Our text teaches us that God’s people are His everlasting possession. He will never sell His children at a price; nor if He could have better people instead, would He change them. They are His, and they shall be His while time lasts; and when time ends, and eternity rolls on, He never can, He never will cast away His chosen people. Let us in this rejoice and be exceeding glad. “The Lord’s portion is His people.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Lord’s people
I. What is said of the Lord’s people?
1. They are a chosen people.
2. They are a renewed people.
3. They are a people of faith.
4. They are a justified people.
5. They are a people who perform good works.
II. Where God finds His people when He calls them.
1. Alienated from God.
2. Ignorant of God.
3. As wanderers, going astray.
4. Strangers to themselves.
5. Willing slaves to Satan.
6. Dead in sins.
III. The special care which the Lord takes of His people.
1. He leads them--
(1) To Christ for salvation.
(2) To see further into the plague of their own heart.
(3) Into the furnace of spiritual affliction.
2. He instructs them--
(1) In the plan of salvation.
(2) In the doctrine of the Trinity.
(3) In the efficacy of Christ’s death.
(4) In the endearing relationship which God sustains to His people, as their Father, etc.
(5) In all the blessings of the covenant. (J. J. Eastmead.)
God’s people His portion
The word “portion” signifies a possession which a man claims as his own, which he highly prizes, and in which he greatly delights. We cannot surf that the English are the people of God, or the French, or the Germans, or the Russians; but we may say that God has a people in England, and in France, and in Germany, and in Russia; and so on. For His real people are no longer known as Jew or Gentile, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free; but those in every nation under heaven are His who worship Him in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. These are His people; He has pleasure in them, and counts them His portion--a possession dear to Him above all others. Of course, we speak of earth. In heaven lie may have what is dearer still: but when He looks down on earth, He sees nothing so precious as those whom He has chosen to be His people, the lot of His inheritance. Let us, then, see on what grounds it is that He so highly values them. These are three: they are dear to Him--as bought by so costly a price; as regenerated by His grace on earth; as hereafter to be glorified in heaven.
I. Now, when a man pays a great price for anything, he must have esteemed it very valuable before he could be induced to give so much for it; and in like manner, we argue very correctly when we say that the fact of God’s giving His Son to save the world was a proof how strongly His bowels yearned over manhood, how precious they were in His sight. But this is not the exact feature of the case before us, which we are proposing to consider. We are not speaking of that love of God to the world which led Him to give His Son to save it; but of His love to those who are so purchased and saved. And here also, if we look at the manner of men, we well know that what a man has laboured hard for, and purchased dear, he prizes accordingly; he surveys the acres which, at the expense of much toil, he has made his own, with very different feelings from those of his heir, into whose hands they fall without any care or expense on his part, and who perhaps dissipates what his predecessor had acquired. It is this latter case which illustrates the love that God bears to His people, He loves them because so much has been paid for them; He would not that the souls should perish for which Christ died; His soul would be grieved at the loss of that which the counsels of His wisdom and the treasures of His love had been expended to procure.
II. When a man, at a very high price, has purchased a tract of waste land, which, on account of the scenery, the air, and the capabilities of the soil, he destines for his future residence, he surveys what has now become his property with much interest. But in its present state he cannot view it with entire satisfaction; he cannot dwell in the morass, nor take up his abode in the one mean hovel that stands on the premises; but he will not let the large sum which he has paid be lost. He therefore causes the whole to be surveyed, lays down a plan of improvement, and fixes on the site of his intended dwelling. After a while the scene is changed, the bog is reclaimed, furze and brushwood, and all unsightly objects are swept away, trees are planted, the grounds are tastefully laid out, and a beautiful mansion is erected. The proprietor now looks at it with other eyes than before, is delighted with the loveliness which he beholds, and gladly fixes his abode there. It is thus that the Lord at first beholds those whom He has purchased by the death of His Son. The mere fact of Christ’s having died for them makes no more change in their character than a man’s having paid the purchase of a bleak common converts it into a scene of loveliness. No; much has to be done with the soil of the heart, as well as with the soil of the ground; and He who undertakes the work is a skilful operator, and is sure to succeed. But here the parallel ceases; our illustration leaves us--it can help us no further. How man acts upon the inert soil, we can understand; but cannot understand how God acts upon the mind. The process of education comes the nearest to it; for, as we teach children by books, and stimulate them by rewards and punishments, so God deals with His people in a way of instruction and discipline.
III. If, then, the people of God is His portion here below; if such is the excellence of real holiness, that, imperfect as their holiness is, their heavenly Father sees nothing to be compared to it, nothing worthy to be mentioned with it, in the whole compass of our globe--what a portion will His ransomed ones be to Him, when every remainder of sin shall be done away; when He shall see in them the full resemblance of their elder Brother, His well-beloved Son, and be well pleased with them, even as He is well pleased with Him! And now let me, in conclusion, show you that all the considerations which move God to take us for His portion should be so many arguments to induce us to follow after holiness.
1. In the first place, the price paid for us. Did Christ die to redeem us from this present evil world? and shall we be conformed to the world which crucified Him?
2. Further, consider how excellent true holiness is. If the Lord’s people are His portion, it is because they are a holy people. He rejoices over them on account of their holiness. Think, then, what a real dignity and sterling worth there must be in that which God Himself approves.
3. But look beyond the end of your days here below--look to those days which will know no end. Think of the sanctity and blessedness of that state for which God is training you, and be content to be led and disciplined for it in the way that He pleases. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
Good men as the property of God
I. They are amongst His most valuable property.
1. They have souls. One soul is more valuable than the whole world. Souls can think of and love God; the material universe cannot.
2. Redeemed souls.
II. They are amongst His most gratifying property. (Homilist.)
The Church the portion of God
By this it is not intimated that God needs us, or any creature, to add anything to His blessedness; it is impossible to suppose it. We cannot be necessary to the Lord otherwise than as we supply Him with opportunities of displaying His grace and all-sufficiency. But though it implies not anything so derogatory to God, it means something of the greatest consequence to us.
1. In the first place, it implies tender care. A man’s portion is the most valuable part of his substance, which he is solicitous above all things to preserve: and if it be at any time in danger, he is indefatigable till it be secured. In like manner is the Church, and every particular member of it, the charge of the providence of God.
2. A portion is an object of delight. With what pleasure does the worldling survey his possessions! He leaves his intimate friend, and agreeable company, to count his beloved treasure. He walks over his fields each day with fresh pleasure; and every time sees, or thinks he sees, new beauties in the prospect around him. Yet this very imperfectly represents the delight which the Lord is described as taking in His people. Jewels, treasure, heritage, children are the endearing appellations by which they are distinguished.
3. A portion implies expectation. Where much is given, much will be required. Where He has distinguished any with peculiar marks of regard, He expects works of faith and labours of love; fruitfulness in every good work, and increase in the knowledge of God. He expects that His people should be essentially different from the rest of the world; that they shine as lights in the world, and adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things; and that their progress in grace and holiness be proportionable to their various advantages.
4. I might here particularly show you how we came to be the portion of God.
(1) But let us now, from what has been said, consider how lamentable it is that the Lord’s portion is so small; that, among all the human race, there should be so few to whom the words of the text may be properly applied.
(2) How solicitous should we be to know whether we be the Lord’s portion or not!
(3) “Let us walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.”
(4) Finally, let us rejoice in the prospect of that glorious period, when the Lord will fully possess His portion, and we shall fully possess ours. (S. Lavington.)
He found him in a desert land.
God and His people
I. Now, although one of the chief objects of this discourse will be to adapt this portion of Scripture to our own times, it will be well to offer some few remarks in regard to their primary application; and they may be considered as containing a summary of all that had been suffered by the Israelites, of all that had been wrought by God on their behalf, of their departure from the bondage of Egypt, the perils of their journey, and the might of their deliverance.
II. I would now speak on three states and conditions of believers which the text appears to depict.
1. We behold the believer or spiritual Israelite in his natural state--“A desert land, a waste howling wilderness.” We must be humble; for the idea of a “good heart,” which is so much prated about, is just like a cankerworm in the soul. Whatever the consolations of faith are, it is not possible that Christ should be all, unless man actually feels himself to be nothing.
2. Our text depicts the believer in a regenerate state. Found of God, led and instructed by God. Here are the several stages of Christian experience. Man is found of God, rather than God is sought of man. The work of redemption is Divine in its commencement, as well as its consummation; and the Holy Spirit, through whose operations alone the soul is prepared for final glory, gives the first impulse, and excites the glorious aspiration. “I was found of them that sought Me not”; and, however these words may especially allude to the calling of the Gentile Church, you observe that they are descriptive of every believer’s individual experience. “Found of God.” This, then, is the commencement of spiritual life; and although when the arrow of conviction first enters into the conscience the sinner exclaims, as Ahab did to Elijah, “Hast thou found me, O my enemy!” Yet presently the soul rejoices in its deliverance. A sense of the burthen of sin gives way before the manifestation of Christ: and the man that is thus found of God finds his guilty burthen removed, and a full salvation amply provided and ensured. But whilst religion’s “ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace,” yet the course of God’s dealings with His people is never one of undeviating serenity; it is, on the contrary, “through much tribulation” that the kingdom of heaven is entered; and the path which a Christian travels is generally so circuitous that it can only be described by saying, God led him about--from gardens smiling with the flowers of hope, to deserts stript of leaves, of foliage, of beauty.
3. He who is in a regenerate state is also in a secured and guarded state, which is the last condition our text depicts; God keeps true believers “as the apple of His eye.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The journey through the wilderness
I. God’s dealings with His ancient people. God “found” Israel. Of His own inscrutable love, God chose to take this people to Himself; He found them, and made them into a nation for His praise. And it is said, “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness.” I apprehend that this expression may relate as well to the position in which the children of Israel were at first found of God, in slavery in Egypt, as to their position during their forty years’ sojourn in the wilderness. Then it is said further, that “He led him about.” This is in allusion to the circumstance that God did not lead the people by a straight path through the wilderness, from the margin of the Red Sea towards the promised land; but in place of this, forty years were occupied in a circuitous route. And as He thus led the people about, “He instructed” them. He instructed them by many a type, by many a providential dealing, by many statutes and ordinances such as were given to no other nation besides. He instructed them by mercies, by warnings, by judgments; He instructed them by many a token of loving kindness, by many an interposition of power, by many a signal manifestation of His determination to bless the obedient and to punish the transgressors. And during the whole period, it is further said, “He kept him as the apple of His eye.” He shielded them by His power, made it plain to all their enemies that the broad shield of Omnipotence was thrown over them, and that He was determined to protect them from peril, and to put them in possession of the land which He had promised to their fathers that He would give them.
II. Such is the literal application of the words. Now, let us look at their spiritual accommodation--their accommodation to the spiritual israel of God.
1. First, here is the believer “found” of God. “We love Him because He first loved us.” Where does God find him? “In a desert land,” etc. There is nothing in creation from which we can obtain the supply of the soul’s spiritual wants. And even after a person has been found of God the description still holds. We have no fixed habitation upon earth; and we are in constant danger from enemies. But oh! it is a blessed thing to know, that just as God of old found His people Israel in the waste howling wilderness and in the desert land, so He finds His people still; and the proof of His finding them is that He leads them. And here, too, the description given in the text is very accurate, for it is said, “He led him about.”
2. Often manifold trials enter into the dealings of God with His people; He permits them to encounter sharp afflictions, unexpected trials, it may be heartrending bereavements; He takes from them the earthly prop upon which they were wont to lean too fondly. But of this be assured: however God may lead His people about, He leads them by the right way.
3. Then, again; all the while God is thus leading His people about, He is instructing them. Have you not experienced this? A Christian has to grow in knowledge as well as in grace. As God continues His providential dealings towards us, we come to take a wider survey of the love and faithfulness and goodness of God in all His dealings with us. God instructs us in our own weakness and His all-sufficiency, our corruption and His grace, our own frailty and His constancy, our unbelief, and His unwavering faithfulness to His Word. And thus the believer is instructed; and he comes to take a bolder step, and to feel his stand more secure, as being anchored upon the Rock of Ages, and putting his trust in the sure Word of God.
4. And then we must notice, further, that it is said, “He kept him as the apple of His eye.” What a beautiful metaphor this is! Of all the bodily organs that God has given to us, the eye is the most exquisitely tender and sensitive. You know how the tiniest particle of dust will irritate and distress the delicate fibres of this tender and sensitive organ; yet of all the organs of our body it is the most exquisitely provided for; and the very guards that God has placed about it are so sensitive and so quick to the perception of danger, that the very eye itself may be defended. Now, this is the figure that God makes use of in order to present His watchful guardianship over His saints. “He kept him as the apple of His eye,” watched him with unceasing vigilance, placed around him unnumbered guards, defended him with the utmost possible precaution for his real welfare, and thus Shielded and protected him from approaching danger. God thus guards and defends His people. It is said they are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” And is there a man who walks this earth so happy, so truly blessed as the man who is thus under the guardianship of God? (Bp. R. Bickersteth.)
The goodness of God to Israel
I. The state in which God finds His servants. “In a desert land, in the waste howling wilderness.”
1. Their condition, therefore, if viewed as a picture of the original condition of man, teaches us that the people of God were by nature at a great distance from Him. The enemies of God by Wicked works; the willing slaves of Satan; tied and bound with the chain of a thousand lusts; with all their affections fixed on sin, and all their desires turned from God--how shall they find Him, how approach Him?
2. A desolate condition. Let us look back to the days that are past. We imagined that we had need of nothing, but what was our real condition? We were wretched and miserable, poor and naked, ready to perish. The world appeared fair before us; it promised us much, and we were willing to credit it. Fools that we were, we tried it; but what could it do for us? It gave us, among its briars and thorns, a few flowers to amuse us, but it left us starving for want. It brought us no pardon for our guilt, no peace for an accusing conscience, no deliverance from the grave, no refuge from hell. It left us destitute, forlorn, and wretched.
3. A state of danger. The territory of an enemy.
II. In what manner the Lord acts towards His people amid their wretchedness and dangers. “As an eagle,” etc. This beautiful similitude strikingly illustrates the tenderness with which the Almighty led Israel from Egypt to Canaan, and the loving kindness which He still manifests towards all who seek Him in the wilderness of this world. It shows us what He does for them, and how He does it.
1. It shows us what God does for His people. It tells us that He afflicts them, guides them, and preserves them.
2. But in what manner does the Lord thus afflict, guide, and defend His servants? He exercises His mercy towards them constantly, patiently, with delight. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
As an eagle stirreth up her nest.
The spiritual discipline of humanity
I. The great end of the spiritual discipline of humanity is to secure the right action of our powers. What is right action?
1. A constitutionally befitting action. We are made to love, study, and serve God.
2. A self-reliant action. This is the condition of progress, and implies a trust in moral principles and in God.
3. A Divinely prompted action.
II. The means of the spiritual discipline of humanity involve a variety of divine action.
1. A stimulating action. God takes health, property, friends, children away, to stir us up.
2. An exemplary action. In Christ we see how we can, and ought to, act.
3. A protecting action.
III. The genius of the spiritual disciple of humanity is ever that of parental affection.
1. There should be on our part a cordial acquiescence. Our Father knows what is best, and what we require.
2. There should be on our part an endeavour to realise the end of discipline (Job 23:10; Psalms 66:10-12). (Homilist.)
Taught by the eagle
We are taken out to the solitudes where some cliff, with ragged, splintered crown uplifts its giant form into the air, and has at base, let us suppose, the wave-washed rock and ever-heaving mass of ocean waters. Far above, perched on a ledge forming its eyrie, sits the monarch of the air, the eagle, representative of all that is graceful and powerful in the bird creation. The nest, built of rudely arranged sticks, is so protected by its inaccessibility that you at once see that nothing but the deep instincts of the bird could have taught it to make so savage a place its home. It is, however, so near the cliff’s edge that when their offspring are ready for flight, the parent birds may have the less difficulty in tempting their new-fledged offspring to the skies. Two things are taken for granted here, and we need go no further until we bring them under notice. These are that God is our Father, and the powers by which we serve Him are slumbering within us.
I. God is our Father. Does a hearer say, “There’s nothing in this”? So much, my friend, that the day you realise this, salvation has entered your dwelling. I am perfectly aware that this at times is hard to believe, that when a fellow mortal is laid on a bed of pain and sees wife and helpless children sobbing at his bedside, and death steadily advancing to embrace him, I know it is hard for him to think that behind all this discipline there is a God and Father’s affection. But recollect, we only see the beginning of things here. The end lies yonder. Yonder lie the explanations and the true home-bringing. Borrowing an illustration from an art we all know something about, the art of photography, we remind you that if the camera glass be so small that the photographer can only partially cover a coveted view, say some lofty, wide-stretching mountain range, he photographs part by part until he has completed the whole view, and then, piecing his views together, is able to present a faultless and accurate picture of the whole. So must it be with us in our life and in our judgment of God’s Fatherhood.
II. The second tiring assumed is, that the powers by which God’s children serve Him are within us. Think of our illustration. The wings by which the eagle’s offspring soar into the skies do not require to be created. They simply wait to be exercised; so is it with men. We have reminded you, then, that God is our Father, and that the powers by which we serve Him are within us.
III. If we are all the children of God, then we dare not expect to live without being educated by Him. Nor can we, and from the illustration supplied us here we learn how the Great Father trains us for His higher service. His method is two-fold, and we are now to have this double method graphically illustrated for us.
1. The first is the educative method. The cliff now rises before us. The rudely constructed nest of sticks is there, the yawning abyss beneath, the eaglets and the parent bird. See! She is now about to begin her course of instruction. Dozing, blinking, shivering, her offspring perch upon the ragged summit of the cliff. Like a thunderbolt the mother plunges into the gulf below. She swoops round and round, backwards and forwards, before her timid children. She desires them to follow her example. She pursues this course; but no t they will not; they are faint-hearted; the experience is new. With one bold sweep sloe has rounded to and perched beside them. Here let her tarry for a brief space while we ask each other what spiritual meaning can we possibly attach to this? It is the leading the way--the showing others how to do anything by first of all doing it yourself. Every master knows its value, when he bids some bungling servant stand aside and see how it ought to be done. The poorest mother in all the land knows the value of this imitative method when, at nightfall, she kneels in prayer by the side of her child and teaches the little one how to lisp “Our Father.” The officer knows the value of this rule, who plunges his spurs into his charger’s sides and leads the way ‘mid clash of steel and crack of musketry. This, then, is the imitative method, and we all know its value more or less; but not sufficiently, unless we have imitated the noblest exponent of this simple art--Jesus the Christ. He knew the full value of this plan, and the world has never known a nobler follower of it. But what if the reverential spirit in a person refuse to be quickened? What if the religious faculty remain still unawakened? If the soul of man will not yield to God’s peaceable, gentle method of education, then observe what our text tells us.
2. God has recourse to His second rule for educating us, the prohibitive method. Let the text tell us what this is. Again we wander forth to the wilds, and now we shall see the parent bird calling yet a second device to her aid in order to compel her timorous children to take wing and cleave the air. They have refused to be taught by gentle ways, they shall be instructed now by sterner rules. Impatiently she flits backwards and forwards, then swoops up beside them. There they still sit, dozing and shivering beside the old nest. In an instant (and naturalists tell us this is strictly true), literally in the words of Scripture, “She stirreth up the nest.” She scatters the sticks. She prohibits their remaining longer in a state of infancy and weakness. The sticks are scattered and again she plunges into the yawning gulf below. Now, see what our God and Father is doing. Our hearts in their folly will fondly cling to the hope that on earth we have all we require; we try to settle down here. We say to our souls, we shall have a long and a merry time of it. But the unseen hand of God is holding us; behold the working of that hand! He has withdrawn the old familiar landmarks, one after another. School days and school companions, where are they? He has scattered our schoolfellows, they are spread over the face of the globe, its length and breadth, and many this day sleep their last sleep, “by mount and stream and sea.” The happy band of laughing school lads all scattered. The company is broken. He has disappointed us. He has plunged some of us into the cold, dark waters of bereavement, and taught some of us that this world is one gigantic vanity and the earth a vale of tears. And what does it all mean? What but that we are destined for another world? This is only the school. Are we to remain children all our days? Are our powers of soul never to be developed by prayer and faith? Is the spiritual side of our nature to remain asleep or dead? Nay! Life is like the eaglets’ nest; and if we will not learn by the imitative, God will continue to apply to us His prohibitive method.
3. But observe, if we refuse to be trained either by imitation or prohibition, if the life of Christ be nothing to a man, and the waves of affliction washing over his soul but harden him in impenitence, I ask you, has the infinite mercy of God no means of retaliating? There shall be no retaliation, but our text as we have it again speaks to us; the only course left open to the Almighty love is to leave him alone. There is no compulsion. No will is forcibly bent to submission. (D. D. F. Macdonald, M. A.)
The eagle; a parable of God
I. The Divine aim. Spiritual education.
1. Its character. Educing the latent energies and powers of the soul.
2. Its importance. Character. Higher attainment. Nobler enjoyment.
3. Its difficulty. We love the nest of ease, and are satisfied with slender attainments, or none.
II. The divine method.
1. Disturbance. The ministry of affliction.
3. Aid. (J. P. Allen, M. A.)
The eagle’s nest
1. God’s care in providing beforehand for the wants and destinies of His people.
2. The discipline to which God subjects His people for their good.
3. The instruction God gives His people by precept and example.
4. The protection and support God extends to His people.
1. A lesson of encouragement to begin a Christian life. Your soul has wings; stretch them. Learn to fly by flying.
2. A lesson of comfort. Fear not (Isaiah 40:31).
3. A lesson of hope for all the future. That which has been shall be. (H. J. Vandyke, D. D.)
Unity of providence
The text suggests the course of God’s dealings with His chosen people--the fact that, throughout the shifting scenes of their pilgrimage, God alone is their Guide and Protector. The whole strain of the passage is on the word “alone,” and presents to us, not so much the idea of providence itself, as the unity of providence.
I. This unity is not always perceived is this life.
1. One reason of this is to be found in the nature and extent of man’s present capabilities. Man learns bit by bit.
2. Another reason is found in the variety of the circumstances of providence. Life is made up of lights and shades, sweets and bitters, with their endlessly arranged gradations. We cannot see how these crooked, angular chippings can be so placed as to represent the picture sketched by God of His own glory and our welfare.
3. The apparently trivial nature of some events in life hides this unity from us. But can there be anything trivial in God’s dealings with us? Who can say one event of his life is of more importance than another?
II. This unity finds an analogy in man’s own general procedure. God often places a heavenly principle under earthly arrangements. “Like as a father pitieth his children,” etc.
III. This unity will be perceived in a future period. In providence there is a two-fold unity.
1. The perfection of humanity and restoration to the Divine image,
2. The promotion of the glory of God. These two unite; neither can be without the other. When this is accomplished, Christ’s idea of unity will be realised. (C. Gowand, M. A.)
God stirs up His people
I. Some of the reasons why it is necessary that God should stir up His people.
1. There is a strong tendency to spiritual indolence in mankind.
2. The danger of “settling down on the lees” is an ever-present one. The air must be kept in constant motion or it will lose its life; the ocean must flow and heave unceasingly or its waters become stagnant.
3. The heart of man is naturally timid, fearful, like the birdling, and must be taught of God in a way similar to that described in the text.
4. It is trial, experience, discipline only that can counteract these tendencies, dispel these fears and doubts, and give exercise, development, and strength to our powers, gifts, advantages, and thereby enable us to soar aloft in the blue empyrean like the mother eagle.
II. Some of the ways in which God stirs up His people.
1. The Word and ordinances.
2. Special and extraordinary means.
(2) National judgments.
(3) Personal visitation--sickness, bereavement, losses, trials, temptations, discipline. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
The eagle stirring up her nest
I. The discipline which God uses. He knows our tendency to make this earth our rest, and He disturbs our nest to teach us to rise on the wings of faith, towards the enduring realities of heaven. How often does God take away our earthly comforts when He sees that we cling too fondly to them. Perhaps something upon which we placed the utmost reliance, upon which seemed to rest our only stay, is suddenly and mysteriously taken from us, and when we attempt to grasp it we find it is gone. A gale at sea may destroy the hopes of the merchant; depression in trade may bring want to your door; the bankruptcy of some large mercantile firm, or the failure of a bank, may involve numbers in ruin, and plunge many families in misery hitherto unknown. How many have had occasion, from these and similar causes, to mourn over altered circumstances. Marvel not if it be thus with you; it is God stirring up your nest to teach you to wing your flight to heaven. How many of us will have to praise God that ever He stirred up our nest by the dispensations of His providence. Let us notice.
II. The affection which God exhibits. “As an eagle fluttereth over her young,” or broodeth over them, that she may communicate vital warmth. God is here represented as manifesting the same affection towards His people as the parent bird exhibits towards her young, nurturing and warming them.
III. The guardian care which God exercises. “As an eagle spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings.” It would be difficult to picture a more touching representation of God’s care over His people.
1. He teaches them the way they should go.
2. He sustains them when weary.
The affection of the parent bird referred to in the text is so great that she takes her young ones and bears them on her wings, and so shields them that no arrow can reach them but through the parent’s heart. And is not God thus a Father to us? Did He not bear us up from the ruin of the fall, and beyond the reach of threatening vengeance? Did not the Son of God, who is one in essence with the Father, assume our nature and bear our sins in His own body on the tree? (W. J. Brock, B. A.)
I. Divine incitements. It is wonderful how happy men become sometimes in the worldly nest. A man gets the wife he wants. The children come, and prosperity, and kindliness, and health, and comfort, and reputation--and he says in his heart, “I shall die in my nest after living in it for long happy years.” When lo! there comes somehow, and from some quarter, a stirring up of the nest--incitements, surprises, changes, losses, controversies, sorrows. The young birds are growing, and the nest is too small, and they crowd against each other, and that makes a stirring up. Or there are griefs and losses that crush the unportioned heart and shake it all trembling out of its security. It were useless to attempt to describe all the ways by which God can shatter what man builds, drive away what man gathers, take what man in vain tries to hold. The thing to be done is to persuade ourselves that all this is indeed sent for our good. The eagle does not stir up its nest with any ill design. God does not bring His forces of change and trouble upon men with a view to grieve and ruin them. He, too, has only good intent. His voices, His strokes, seem to say to men, “What mean ye, ye sleepers? Awake. You have enough of that. You have in the creature no abiding portion; seek it, and you will find it in Me.”
II. Divine example. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young”; as showing them the way to fly; so God sets before us the examples of the good, the strivings of the great, the lives of the saints, and chiefly the perfect life of His incarnate Son. He is always showing us the way; always rising into the purer air, that we may follow; always showing new paths, and pointing to high places; and never yet have the poor passing pleasures of earth been made to look so fair as God makes goodness seem, shining in the lives of His holy ones and perfectly in Himself.
III. Divine protection. “The eagle spreadeth abroad her wings.” This, indeed, may be no more than the full expansion of the meaning of the former phrase, the spreading abroad of the wings being the complete example of the method of flying. But the probability rather seems to be that the spreading of the wings is the promise of protection to the young birds, both while in the nest and while attempting to fly. God protects--whom? Not lazy, selfish creatures whose chief aim is to make the world a nest. God protects--what? Not indolence, cowardice, selfishness, fear, indifference. He protects those who stir themselves when the nest is stirred; those who spread the wing in answer to the outspread wings above them; those who work; those who stay by the task; those who refuse to leave the field of duty; those, in a word, who try, at least, to mount upon wings as eagles, to run without being weary, to walk without fainting.
IV. Divine compulsion. “As an eagle . . . taketh them,” if they will, in helpfulness: if they will not, in compulsion; in one way or another, they must be got out of the nest. I have seen, not an eagle indeed, but a bird of some size, give a motherly or fatherly push to a strong young creature sitting on the edge of the nest engaged in a general survey of the world below. “It is time,” said the mother, “that you should go down and see life more closely for yourself, and wing your way through the air, and try what you can find in the fields--be a bird, like your ancestors!” Taketh them. These takings of God at certain periods and epochs of the individual life are very instructive, if you will observe them. I mean His takings of the stronger kind. His expulsions. His banishments. Then He is always ready with suitable and sufficient helps to those who are thus completely launched and started upon the new life. “As an eagle . . . beareth them on her wings.” The mother eagle comes beneath her young one in the air when it is about to sink, through fear or weakness, bears it up on her own outspread wings and carries it back to the nest or along through the air, until weakness is recruited and fear is overcome. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The eagle’s nest
It is no mere fanciful accommodation of my text, but indeed a fair interpretation of it, which finds in it a description of the calling and training of human souls for the glorious “inheritance of the saints in light.”
I. There is needful dislodgement. The eagle “stirreth up her nest,” making it disagreeable to her young; so the Lord does with those whom He calls to Himself. In the day of our worldly comfort and business affluence we think little of God; we care little for the concerns of our souls; we are not in the very least attracted to the heavenly land. But when a reverse comes upon us, when poverty, or sickness, or bereavement, or affliction of any sort attacks us, then we are compelled to confront the great soul problem, “What must I do to be saved?” and as that anxious cry is crushed out of our heart, we find the Lord near us with His deliverance. It is no true blessing, therefore, for a man to have unbroken prosperity. It fosters a false security; it generates pride; it is apt to make the individual feel that he is independent even of God. Hence the Psalmist has said, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” He is the really unfortunate man, therefore, who has never known adversity.
II. But I find in this figure, in the second place, perfect example. As the eagle fluttereth over her young, so the Lord did with His people. There is a passage, in Sir Humphry Davy’s Salmonia (a book dear to every lover of the angler’s craft) which may well illustrate this portion of my text. He says, “I once saw a very fine and interesting sight above one of the crags of Ben Weevis, near Strathgarve. Two parent eagles were teaching their offspring--two young birds--the manoeuvres of flight. They began by rising from the top of a mountain in the eye of the sun (it was about midday, and bright for this climate). They at first made small circles, and the young birds imitated them; they paused on their wings waiting till they had made their first flight, and then they took a second and larger gyration, always rising toward the sun and enlarging their circle of flight, so as to make a gradually ascending spiral. The young ones still slowly followed, apparently flying better as they mounted, and they continued this sublime kind of exercise, always rising, till they became mere points in the air, and the young ones were lost, and afterwards their parents, to my aching sight.” Now, could anything be finer than that as an illustration of the method by which, through the example which He sets before us, God teaches us to live? He is not content with laying down the law for us, but in His own dealings with us He shows us the law glorified and brightened by His actions. Does He command us to be merciful? He is Himself “rich in mercy to all that call upon Him.” Does He enjoin us to be benevolent? He has Himself “loaded us with His benefits.” Does He require us to forgive? He has Himself “multiplied to pardon.” Look at that youth with his brush and palette in his hands, standing before the masterpiece of the great Italian. He is studying every minutest feature of the superb original, and at length he becomes possessed, as it were, by the spell of the genius that is looking down upon him from the silent canvas. Then he sets to work for himself, and though his earliest efforts are about as awkward as the first timid flutterings of the eaglet, yet he tries again and again, lessening each time the interval between him and his model, until at last he stands out before the world recognised as one who has caught the fervour and the inspiration of his master. So let it be with us, and the perfect pattern which the great Redeemer has left us.
III. It is effectual help. Mr. Philip Henry Gosse, the well-known naturalist, in his interesting work on the birds of Jamaica, speaking of the red-tailed buzzard, which is closely allied to the eagle, tells us that a friend of his, who was not likely ever to have heard of the verses before us, “once witnessed the emergence of two young ones from a nest near the top of an immense cotton tree, and their first attempt at flight. He distinctly saw the mother bird, after the first young one had flown a little way and was beginning to flutter downward, fly beneath it, and present her back and wings for its support. He could not say, indeed, that the young one actually rested on, or even touched, the parent; perhaps its confidence returned on seeing support so near, so that it managed to reach a high tree, when the other little one, invited by its parent, tried its infant wings in like manner.” This, at any rate, is plain: the parent bird is ever near the struggling eaglet, and is ready in a moment with effectual aid, and so God has said to each of His children, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
1. In the first place, it is not intended to supersede our own exertions. A man is not carried helplessly into the new life any more than the Israelites were carried over the Red Sea. He lives when he chooses to believe, and that believing, however much Divine agency may be concerned with it, is his own act. Wait not, therefore, for anyone to spread for you the faith-wing on which you are to rise, but make the effort to expand it for yourself, and you will find beside you the guiding and sustaining Saviour.
2. This Divine assistance is always near. The parent eagle kept ever hovering near its young one, and in its moment of extremity darted in beneath it with speedy assistance. So God is ever nigh to them that need Him. There is, indeed, no one so near to us as Jehovah is.
3. This Divine help is all sufficient. It meets our every need. There are two practical thoughts--
(1) Let us see in this subject the key to the right understanding of God’s providential discipline of His people. It seems a paradox to say that afflictions are an indication that God loves us; or, in the figure of my text, they stir the nest and push us over, that we may be urged to use our faith-wings, and soar aloft in the service of our God.
(2) Let us learn from this subject how we should proceed wisely and tenderly to train others for God. We should be to those whom we desire to benefit as near as possible what God has been to us. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Without attaching any mystic meaning to this figure of the eagle, we may readily discover the great principles of God’s action that it was intended to illustrate.
I. The divine discipline of life is designed to awaken man to the development of his own powers. The instinct of the eagle in breaking up her nest is to arouse the native energies of her young. The power of flight is in them, but unknown, because it has never been called into play; it is a slumbering faculty, and must be awakened into action. Man’s soul is formed into God’s image by the right action of his spiritual powers, and these powers are only awakened by the activity of God.
1. The great purpose of all spiritual discipline is to render men Divine. By the very constitution of the soul, the Godlike image must be formed by awakening the energies that lie smouldering within. The soul contains in itself the germinal forces of the life it may possess in the future ages.
2. The image of the text suggests two methods of Divine action: the stimulating and the exemplary. The eagle breaks up her nest, and is not the voice of life’s experience God’s summons to man to rise and live to Him? God sends a shock of change through our circumstances, and rouses us from repose.
II. Discipline attains its end only when regarded as under the control of a father. It is obvious that the instinct of the eagle is that of parental affection.
1. Believe in the Father, and you submissively accept the mysterious in life.
2. Believe in the Father, and you shall strive to realise the purpose of this discipline. We have no impulse to any spiritual aspiration, to any true self-sacrifice, to the exertion of any spiritual energy, which is not awakened by the touch of the Eternal Spirit. Let us, then, awake out of sleep. God is breaking up our material resting places in order that we may aspire towards the imperishable and the immortal. (E. L. Hull.)
Education of bereavement
What a startling thought--that the breaking up of the nest is an act of God’s benevolence! I always looked upon it as a calamity. We are all familiar with the experience of the breaking-up of home. We remember the glad circle round the old fire, and how it grew thinner and thinner. One went to the colonies; one went out to be a governess; one departed with a stranger to a house of her own; more than one passed into the silent land. I always thought it a subject for tears. But here is an old writer who makes it a subject for praise, blesses God for it, declares it to be the first step of my education! I can understand God’s love in many things. I can understand why I should praise Him for His gifts to body and soul. But I lose my breath in surprise when I am asked to make the first stanza of my hymn the adoration of His mercy in loosing the ties of home! Nay, my soul, it is to strengthen these ties that thy Father breaks up the nest. It is not to get rid of home He would teach thee to fly. It is that thou mayest learn by travel that thy home is wider than thy nest. He would have thee learn that in thy Father’s house are many mansions, of which thy nest is only one. He would tell thee of a brotherhood in Christ which includes, yet transcends, thy household fires. He would tell thee of a family altar which makes thee brother to the outcast, sister to the friendless, father to the homeless, mother to the sick, son to the feeble, daughter to the aged--in kinship to all. Thy Father has given thee wings in the night, wings in the breaking of thy ties. Thou hast soared by thy sorrow; thou hast loved by thy loss; thou hast widened by thy weeping; thou hast grown by thy grief; thou hast broadened in being broken; thou hast enlarged thy sympathy by emptying out thy treasures. The storm that shook thy nest taught thee to fly. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
The eagle stirring up her nest
I. God corrects His people. When the young eagles are strong enough to fly, but shew no inclination to do so, the mother bird “stirreth up her nest.” Special reference is here made to the “nest” which God provided for the seventy souls who went down into Egypt (Genesis 47:6). “Their cattle throve, they had fine possessions, and a monarch’s favour.” At length Joseph died, and his services were forgotten. The once favoured people came to be regarded as little better than beasts of burden. They were hemmed in by forts; they were set to hard labour. Their nest became so uncomfortable towards the close of the four hundred and thirty years in Goshen, that they resolved to try their wings, and soar away to the “promised land.”
1. Wealth, houses, costly furniture, and pictures make a comfortable nest, and are harmless so long as they do not tempt us to spiritual indolence. Alas, how few know how to use this world without abusing it! Care for his earthly comfort has been cultivated to such an extent as to almost take away all relish for spiritual things.
2. God, in mercy, often stirs up the nests of such people. Business fails, and their resources are cut off. As one said, “God took the man’s son from his hearthstone, but that led him to seek comfort in the only begotten Son of God.” In the midst of his anguish he learned this lesson, “God is love.” He took away little, but He gave him much. If God did not stir up some people’s nests, they would sink down into utter worldliness.
II. God compassionates His people. “She fluttereth over her young.” Let us ever remember that God is more compassionate than the tenderest mother. A religion born of terror can never be a healthy, vigorous religion. When you come to God for salvation, and when you look to Him for help to do life’s work and to face life’s difficulties, don’t come to Him as though He were a God who is always looking for faults, and anxious to find them.
III. God trains His people. The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness, and they might have fared worse. That journey had other advantages besides leading them to Canaan. Its long marches and desert sands developed powers of endurance which had lain dormant amid the fleshpots of Egypt. There are in most people faculties and energies imprisoned, pent up.
IV. God protects His people. The parent bird, while training her young, protects them. If a storm is brewing, or a fowler points at her young ones, does she abandon them without an effort to save them? (H. Woodcock.)
God’s parental care
I. the Lord “stirreth up our nest” by sending us discomforts and afflictions. We are naturally like the slothful eaglets, who would rather doze away their life in their comfortable home than try their unsteady wings in flight towards heaven. But God is kinder to us than we would be to ourselves. He “stirs up our nest”: He breaks up those comforts which we love too dearly. Ah! who would fly towards heaven, who would seek a fairer and a better world, if it were not that God from time to time “stirreth up our nest” in one or other of these ways?
II. Our text reminds us, by a very lively image, of God’s love and tender solicitude for His people. He is compared to an eagle “fluttering” over her brood, watching and encouraging them in their endeavours to fly. God watches with the most affectionate interest our weakest efforts to rise above the world and worldly things. Your feeblest attempt at prayer, your most awkward endeavour at self-examination, your most unintelligent perusal of the Scriptures, if entered upon sincerely, will be most kindly welcomed and aided by Him. He does not despise the beginnings of sincere piety. He listens with delight to the very first sigh of sincere repentance.
III. But, beyond this, we are reminded that God has given us all instruction by example: even as the eagle by “spreading abroad her wings” teaches her young how to fly, God has taken upon Him our nature, and has lived upon earth, in order to teach us how to live. Jesus Christ was “God manifest in the flesh”; and His whole life was spent in teaching His disciples the ways of holiness and peace. “His whole life is our rule; not indeed His miraculous works; His footsteps walking on the sea, and such like; they are not for us to follow; but His obedience, holiness, and humility are our copy, which we should continually study.”
IV. The speedy and sufficient help which God gives His people in the hour of need or difficulty. The eagle is represented as “taking” her offspring, and “bearing them on her wings” When the eagle has prevailed upon her young to fly from the dizzy crag on which her nest is seated, their faltering pinions might give way, and they might drop helplessly to the ground, did she not dart to their help the moment their strength failed, and support them with her own wings in time to save them. Thus God acts to the believer. Though you tremble you shall not fall; though you faint you shall not be lost. It is said by some writers that, when the young eagles are attacked by the fowler, the mother bird will fly under them, and place herself between them and their enemy, so that his arrows cannot hurt them unless they first pierce through her. Whether this be true or not, it may serve as an affecting emblem of Christ’s love to His people. He has gone between us and our enemy. He has received in His own bosom the arrows which were meant for us: our wounds have been endured by Him: He has shed His life’s blood for us, to save us from destruction.
V. That the Lord is our only help. “The Lord alone did lead him; and there was no strange god with Him. (John Tagg, M. A.)
The nest of the eagle is commonly constructed on the verge of a precipice (Job 39:28-29). Hence Jeremiah, foretelling the downfall of Edom, says (Jeremiah 49:16). The Old Testament contains many beautiful similitudes drawn from the natural history of the eagle. The days of man are compared to an eagle hastening to the prey. Riches are said to take unto themselves wings, and to fly away as an eagle towards heaven. The righteous are said to mount up with wings as eagles; and the rage of persecution is, because of its hastening to destroy, compared to the rapidity of the eagle’s flight. But perhaps the most beautiful allusion to the habits of the eagle is this in the text. It is a well authenticated fact in natural history that, when the mother sees her brood capable of flight, she urges them to exercise in the way referred to.
I. She stirreth up the nest. She either entirely demolishes it, or by reversing its well adjusted materials, makes it so uncomfortable that the young ones are glad to escape from it. The natural instinct which she possesses leads her to urge them on the wing; and for this purpose she finds it needful to make their first habitation inconvenient and troublesome. And thus, the text tells, did the Almighty with the Israelites. They had had their nest in Egypt; and He desired them to leave it for Canaan. If they had suffered no inconvenience there, they would have shown no inclination to emigrate to a better country. Adversity is the grand instrument by which men are awakened to higher purposes and aims. They are taught the inconveniences of the tents of Kedar, in order that they may seek for the peaceful habitations of the just. In every blighted prospect of ambition--in every disappointed hope of success--in every visitation of sickness--in every stroke of bereavement, our God is doing for us what the parent eagle does for her young when she stirreth up the nest. Thus does He remind us that we were born for higher enjoyments, and fitted for higher destinies. Thus does He teach us that it is high time to forsake the amusements of a childhood state, and pursue objects worthy of our powers.
II. This similitude may be applied also to the gracious discipline which God exercises in awakening the conscience. We naturally love the nest of carnal security and self-righteousness. We are unwilling to be disturbed out of it. We esteem him our enemy who tells us the truth, that we are miserable and blind and naked. We are pleased with the flatterer who cries “Peace, peace” to us when there is no peace. This self-complacency would be most ruinous to our best interests. So long as it is indulged, the strong man keeps his palace and his goods in peace. Now, this false peace must be broken before the peace of God can rule the heart. And therefore it is that, by sharp application of the word of truth, the Holy Spirit of God convinces the mind of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. You will never get a man to see his need of a Saviour until he is made aware of the purity, strictness, and extensiveness of the law which he has broken. You must convince him of sin before you can hope to persuade him of the excellence of salvation.
III. This similitude may be applied to the case of the good man about to leave the world. There is lodged in the human bosom an inborn horror of death. Even good men, who have strong reason to believe and hope that it will be well with them in a future state, have attachments and sympathies which bind them to the earth. They cannot, without a strong effort, reconcile themselves to the thought of closing their eyes to all beneath the sun--of being shut out from the joys of friendship, and of being confined in the narrow house, where neither business is transacted nor work done. But, to conquer this natural reluctancy, the Almighty is graciously pleased to make them feel the inconveniences of this mortal life, and so to beget in them a longing desire for that in which there is no sorrow nor crying. The pains of sickness are thus instrumental in quickening their desires for that healthier state of being where the inhabitant never says “I am sick.” The disquietudes and decrepitudes of age are so many arguments for resigning themselves to that severe but transient stroke which is to introduce them to a region of immortal youth. Lover and friend they see put far from them, and their acquaintance into darkness; and the thought arises, Why should we wish to linger? let us go to them, for they will not return to us. (J. L. Adamson.)
The eagle and its brood
The sentence should read thus: “As an eagle stirreth up his nest, fluttereth over his young, He spreads abroad His wings,” etc., the person spoken of in the last clauses being God Himself.
I. A grand thought about God. What he brings into view are the characteristics common to the eagle and the vulture: superb strength in beak and claw, keenness of vision almost incredible, magnificent sweep of pinion, and power of rapid, unwearied flight. And these characteristics have their analogues in the Divine nature, and the emblem not unfitly shadows forth one aspect of the God of Israel, who is strong to destroy as well as to save, whose all-seeing eye marks every foul thing, and who often pounces on it swiftly to rend it to pieces. But the action described in the text is not destructive, terrible, or fierce. The monarch of the sky busies itself with tender cares for its brood. Then there is gentleness along with the terribleness. The strong beak and claw, the eye that can see so far, and the mighty spread of wings that can lift it till it is an invisible speck in the blue vault, go along with the instinct of paternity; and the fledglings in the nest look up at the fierce beak and bright eyes, and know no terror. The impression of this blending of power and gentleness is greatly deepened if we notice that it is the male bird that is spoken about. Modern tendencies, legitimately recoiling from the one-sidedness of a past generation, are now turning away far too much from the Old Testament conceptions of Jehovah, which are concentrated in this metaphor. And thereby we destroy the love in the name of which we scout the wrath. “Infinite mercy, but I wish as infinite a justice too.” “As the vulture stirreth up her nest”--that is the Old Testament revelation of the terribleness and gentleness of Jehovah. “How often would I have gathered thy children together,” etc. That is the New Testament modification of the image. But you never could have had the New unless you first had the Old. And you are foolish if, in the name of the sanctity of the New, you cast away the teaching of the Old. Keep both the metaphors, and they will explain and confirm each other.
II. An illuminating thought of the meaning of life. What is it all for? To teach us to fly, to exercise the half-fledged wings in short flights, that may prepare us for and make it possible to take longer ones. Every event that befalls us has a meaning beyond itself; and every task that we have to do reacts upon us, the doers, and either fits or hinders us for larger work. Life as a whole, and in its minutest detail, is worthy of God to give, and worthy of us to possess, only if we recognise the teaching that is put into picturesque form in this text--that the meaning of all which God does to us is to train us for something greater yonder. Life, as a whole, is full of sound and fury, and signifies nothing unless it is an apprenticeship training. What are we here for? To make character; to get experience; to learn the use of our tools. Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones. So life is meant for discipline, and unless we use it for that, however much enjoyment we get out of it, we misuse it.
III. A calming thought as to the variety of God’s methods with us. To “stir up the nest” means to make a man uncomfortable where he is;--sometimes by the prickings of his conscience, which are the voices of God’s Spirit often; sometimes by changes of circumstances, either for the better or for the worse; and oftentimes by sorrows. The straw is pulled out of the nest, and it is not so comfortable to lie in; or a bit of it develops a sharp point that runs into the half-feathered skin, and makes the fledgling glad to come out into the air. We all shrink from change. What should we do if we had it not? We should stiffen into habits that would dwarf and weaken us. We all recoil from storms. What should we do if we had not them? Sea and air would stagnate, and become heavy and putrid and pestilential, if it was not for the wild west wind and the hurling storms. So all our changes, instead of being whimpered over; and all our sorrows, instead of being taken reluctantly, should be recognised as being what they are, a loving summons to effort. Then their pressure would be modified, and their blessing would be secured when their purpose was served. But the training of the father eagle is not confined to stirring up the nest. What is to become of the young ones when they get out of it, and have never been accustomed to bear themselves up in the invisible ether about them? So “he fluttereth over his young.” It is a very beautiful word that is employed here; the same word that is used in Genesis about the Spirit of God “brooding on the face of the waters.” And it suggests how near, how all-protecting, with expanded wings, the Divine Father comes close to the child whose restfulness He has disturbed. A vile piece of Greek mythology tells how Jove once, in the guise of an eagle, bore away a boy between his great wings. It is foul where it stands, but it is blessedly true about Christian experience. If only we lay ourselves on God’s wings--and that not in idleness, but having ourselves tried our poor little flight--He will see that no harm comes to us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
On God’s wing, and under it
(with Psalms 57:1):--Here we have two experiences strikingly different and yet closely related to each other.
I. We have God’s assurance that in His dealings with His people during their sojourn through the wilderness He had acted towards them as an eagle towards her young when she would teach them how to fly. This illustration enforces an important truth, namely, the training of the Jews by God to the healthful exercise of the growing powers within them, and the supplementing of such by His own great might, so that those who were “no people” should become “a people among the nations of the world.” That was a marvellous training by which Israel was taught how to fly, a degraded people how to become a mighty nation. This represents God’s method of dealing with His people--the process of training through which you and I are called to pass if we are His. God in each case begins with a pitiable object, a poor sinner broken down in heart and purpose, one who has no spirit left in him, and who withal may have fallen into the lowest depths of sin. Even though he be degraded to the greatest possibilities of human degradation, God will take up that poor man shattered in hope and expectation, and he will yet be borne up as on the wings of eagles.
II. We have another aspect of God’s dealings with His people, namely, that of sheltering them under his wings, as the mother bird does her brood in the hour of storm and danger. “Yea, in the shadow of Thy wings,” etc. There are some of us who know what it is to be on God’s wings when He takes us in flight, when He inspires us with courage and teaches us to use our wings. There are others of us who have come to that experience when after all the flying, after all the doing, all the enduring, we are weary at heart, and we seek shelter under His wings, just as the eagle after her flight with her little ones takes them back into her shelter, and in effect says, “You are tired now, I will put the wings which have borne you when wearied in flight all round you to protect you alike against the storm and the foe.” Thus the little ones will not even hear the storm without. They have felt the hard side of the wing: they feel the soft feathery side of it now, and the mother’s love, like her warmth, goes through every young bird that gathers under her wings. The Psalmist knows what it is to have been on the wing of God, borne upon the storm so that he might learn how to fly; but now he thanks God that when he has become weary of the storm, because it is too much for his strength, he is taken back into the nest, under the warmth and shelter of that wing which formerly sustained him. There are some of you who are almost always in the shadow of God’s wings. The day is drawing to a close, all the activities of life are almost over, and God, ere He takes you to His heaven, bids you come and shelter yourselves beneath His feathers. (D. Davies.)
God’s dealings with men
I. The ways of God cannot fail to appear strange and unaccountable to the eyes of men. A grateful recognition of this is the secret of a strong and a contented mind. That my life and destiny are not in my own hands; that the glorious dream of a “Divinity shaping our ends, rough-hew them how we may,” is something more than a dream; that there is an intelligence and a wisdom greater than our own, presiding over the eyrie of every human life,--is there anything but dumb despair staring us in the face in the abandonment of a faith such as that?
II. Uninterrupted prosperity and ease is good for no man. It engenders a false security. It blinds a man to the slenderness of that thread on which all things human hang. It creates a boldness that is not of God, that leads away from God, and sometimes lower things still follow in its train, How proud, how intolerant, how unsympathetic a protracted run of success can make a man! Is unalloyed prosperity good for a nation? This wonderful history of Israel, the true image and picture of all histories, answers “No.” The records of that people almost resolve themselves into this: a succession of prosperities, and a succession of lapses into idolatry and sin. Visitation after visitation is necessary to stir up their idle nest. Is unalloyed prosperity good for a family? Do you invariably find the moral and religious tone high? Are the children thoughtful and unselfish? Is life an earnest thing? Or is not this too often the characteristic of the home: family self-absorption, family selfishness? which may be just as real, and is just as heinous, as class or personal selfishness. No, the mere nest life of changeless comfort, or of unbroken happiness, is good for nobody. So the Almighty has ways of stirring it up lest any of His children--who should be like eagles, cleaving the air and facing the storm, and looking into the very eye of the sun--should be lying snug and comfortable, decrepit and useless, in their nest at home.
1. Remark on the method of the Divine operations. It is characteristic of this king of birds that it rises before its little ones, and bids them follow. At first the parent bird performs small circles, widening and making them larger, however, as they rise; but always keeping ahead and in sight, save when compelled to descend and carry an exhausted fledgling to a place of safety. Is that God’s method too? Is it not?
2. In the greatest sorrow into which you may be thrown, God is near and in sight. Take care that no murmuring or rebellious spirit hides Him from your view when you need Him most. (J. Thew.)
Aroused from nestling
We have seen something like this, in the first place, in the domestic and secular life round about us. Parents rear up their children by the hearthstone of the family. And I pity the home which has no family altar. The fireside is pleasant in the family home, the society of brothers and sisters exceedingly delightful; but the nest is full--it will not hold them. They cannot always be boys and girls, earning nothing and consuming much; that would bring idleness and want. So prudent fathers stir up the nest. The eldest fly out and try to shift for themselves. At first it is hard work and sad. For a boy to push out from some sweet rural home into such a vast world as this has terrors in it. The lad is about to fly for himself. At first he sinks and is torn by the briars; but at length, by the blessing of God, he rises. He has strong arms to work, and a healthy brain to think. He has some failures, perhaps, but failures are rather blessings, for they discipline one to skill and trust in God. But with the aid of the strong arm of Him who helps those who help themselves he rises. By and by he builds his nest among the cliffs with the true eagle spirit. He becomes a thrifty merchant, a useful citizen. Best of all, it is when parental prayers are remembered, and by God’s grace he reaches that highest style of man--a fervent Christian. Now, in the next place, let us look at the spiritual aspect of the conditions. God deals with Christians as an eagle deals with her young. He sees we are all trying to nestle. We fill these earthly nests for ourselves--fill them with all manner of comforts--and then settle down and fix our affections on them. Wealth increases, ambition grows. The old residence is given up, and a new one is built. Earnest, benevolent work for Christ--prayer meetings, and all that style of godliness--come to be as much tabooed in that luxurious home as a leper would be tabooed in London. If bankruptcy is allowed to bring that splendid estate to the hammer, do you wonder? And if death comes in, and writes paleness on some cheek of roses, do you wonder? God saw His children were beginning to nestle, and determined, for their souls’ good, to stir them up. And so He stirred up the nest--not in revenge, not in cruelty; He did it in love--love to the sinner and love to the immortal souls of those who were flinging away their life in self-indulgence. The third part of this prolific text is this: when an immortal soul nestles down in sinful joy or worldly possessions, awakened, unconverted, is not that a terrible calamity? Can a worse curse come upon any such soul than to be let alone? If it is true that a young eagle, left alone, would become a mere weakling, starved, and never able to fly, how much more true is it that every soul, if left to itself, will come to ruin! It is Divine love that first awakens the sinner, even if it be at the cost of making the heart bleed. Nobody likes to be wakened up from a comfortable sleep at midnight. But if you hear the fire alarm, and see the smoke belching out from the opposite neighbour’s house, and somebody rushes out through the suffocating smoke into your hall and cries “Fire! fire!” you do not strike him; you drop on your knees and tremblingly thank him with all your heart. He roused you, but saved you. When one of our Arctic companies of explorers went to search years ago for Sir John Franklin among snow and icebergs--alcohol froze in a bottle by their side, and the thermometer went to seventy degrees below freezing point--the poor fellows, overcome with cold, lay down to sleep. Warm homes and delightful firesides mingled with their visions. But the leader knew that half an hour more of that delusive sleep would leave every one of them corpses on the ice. He roused them up. They said, “We are not cold; we only want a little rest.” Half an hour more would have left them stiff. So their leader struck them, boxed them, bruised them--anything to drive them off the slumber. Poor fellows! they staggered down into the cabin, but they were saved. The arm that roused them was the arm that saved them. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
God’s graining of Israel
Here we see the explanation of that strange and roundabout chapter of Israel’s history; the dislodging and disquieting touches in Egypt are followed by the leading of them round and round in their desert wanderings for forty years. They were a carnal, earthly, and self-pleasing people among the fleshpots of Egypt, and under oppression were sinking into all the vices, weaknesses, and superstitions of their slavish condition. God will not settle His land with such; and no mere sudden stroke will drive the evils out of them. It must be done by a lengthened educative progress of mingled tenderness and severity--
“Even as a bird each fond endearment tries,
To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies.”
By rudimentary instructions, by type and symbol, by the elements of law and prophecy, by passing them through sifting ordeals, by marching them about and about, so as to ventilate their low proclivities, and get rid of their baser qualities, He sought to winnow them of their chaff, letting multitudes of them die, and others be born into a new state of things, until at last they became quite a different people, with other aims and capacities. The eaglets wings are grown. Their first feeble flight and earthly flutterings have changed into a bolder and higher swoop. The Lord had stirred them and weaned them from their nest; often, too, He left them to themselves, then came timeously to their rescue, bare them on His pinions, and carried them all the days of old--a process still familiar in the experience of His graciously taught people, weak and slow in their heavenward flight. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
The power of aerial flight, of leaving the earth and traversing the fields of circumambient air by the use of wings, is the most perfect mode of locomotion we know of, and one of the most wonderful of physical prerogatives. It is the one that man most desires and covets, and yet that has most defied attainment or imitation. It is doubtless this longing for a life of ampler freedom and wider scope that has given birth to the idea that the power of volantation will be a human attribute in another stage of existence. But, though denied to man as a physical attribute, the power of aerial flight seems more fitly than any other to illustrate the activities and movements of the soul. We speak of the flight of thought, scarcely conscious of the use of metaphor. The eagle possesses this physical power in the highest degree. But the eagle’s power of flight needs strenuous nurture. The position of the eyrie where the young are reared enhances the difficulty of this training. It is usually on a ledge of some precipitous rock, or shelving escarpment beneath the beetling brow of a craggy cliff. The eagle’s young cannot, therefore, be lured or driven forth from the nest and allowed to flutter to the ground as the young birds of lower nest and habitat. They must be led forth with judicious care, lest their first flight prove their last.
I. The first truth with which this inspired object lesson impresses us is--the essential greatness and stupendous possibilities of our nature. Man is not a low creature, with no potencies to be developed, no noble aptitudes to be brought into play, no faculties in which the prophecy of high achievement lies. He is an object of Divine regard and care; and he is that because, far above every other terrestrial creature, he is a sharer of the Divine nature, and capable of a life that, in all save infinity of scope, reflects the life of God. He is infantile--a mere fledgling as yet; but it is the infancy of a glorious being, with a possibility of growth of which an immortal existence is the only adequate term. He is a fledgling, but a fledgling of an eagle’s nest.
II. Another truth which this striking object lesson illustrates is--the strenuousness of the Divine nurture. The eagle stirreth up her nest, and fluttereth over her young, not that she may delight her young in the nest, make them content therewith, and detain them there, but that she may lead them forth, induct them into a life of grander scope, and make them actually the great, free, competent creatures they were meant to be. There is an appearance of harshness and severity in this until we realise what it all means. How can the parent eagle take the young ones forth on such perilous adventure, and even stir up the nest and lure them forth to do it? So is it with the Divine training of our souls. God loves us with a love so deep and true that it can afford to be severe; yea, that must and will be severe, as the unfolding of our nature and the shaping of our life may require. The love that only indulges and does not nurture is rebuked even by the instinctive care of lower creatures. But God’s love transcends all the love of finite beings, and the finest effects of either instinctive or intelligent love only dimly reflect its surpassing and perfecting grandeur. To a merely sentimental view God’s nurture of His children does seem severe. We deem our safety and weal to consist in remaining in the nest, but God knows otherwise; and He acts on His sure knowledge, not upon our misapprehending ignorance. He will not allow us to remain callow and crude. The nesting life may be beautiful, but it must be brief, for it is inceptive. He breaks up the nest of authoritative instruction and easy and implicit faith. We build for ourselves nests of faith, but neither can these abide; and we build and build again, but always with the same merely temporary result. In hours of spiritual exaltation and vigour wondrous vision is accorded, and wonderful disclosures are made. We see the centring Christ. And straightway we propose to build our tabernacles and there abide till faith is changed to sight. Yea, we say that we can never doubt again. The nest is stirred as soon as we begin to live supinely therein, and faith must encounter new trials that it may exult in new triumphs. So is it, too, with our nests of experience. How sweet these are! How deep the peace, how rich the joy, how intense the delight which they afford! What clear and permanent gain they seem to denote! And how confidently we assert that life can never more be the same, can never more move on the old levels, or know the old ungladdened struggle, and sterility of joy. But these experiences are to gird us for the struggles that are to be, as well as to crown the struggles through which we have passed. Their best result is attained when this is realised, but, whether it be realised or not, the nest is stirred. And so it is also with our nests of achievement and of satisfaction therewith. What gladness comes to us sometimes in our work, what sense of achievement, what evidence of acceptance and success! But even these nests, substantial as they seem, abide not. Sometimes they last for a very little while, not even from morning to evening service on the Sabbath Day. So God stirs up the nest in which His children would live a supine or circumscribed life. Men are not for nests, but for flight. God does indeed give us nests, but He gives us also wings; and the wings are the richer gift. But God does not leave us alone when He leads us forth from the nest. He is with us in all the adventurous essays to which He constrains us. These times of nest stirring are the epochs of spiritual advancement. The past is annulled and a grander future opens. Life becomes more real, acquires grander range, wider scope, and sublimer pitch.
III. The agencies which God employs in this nest stirring. They are sorrow, disappointment, vicissitude, opportunity, voice, vision, inward rest, and other things which cannot be tabulated.
IV. One day God will break up our last earthly nest. Death is a mounting upward. It is a necessary fulfilment of the present life. Here we never reach the sun toward which we soar. We cannot even steadily gaze upon it; it burns and blinds us; but we shall. The eagle’s fabled flight to the sun is a pagan prophecy of our destiny. And God will be with us in that last long flight. (J. W. Earnshaw.)
God’s care illustrated by the eagle
In describing His dealings with His people, the Lord often makes use, in Scripture, of similitudes taken from the natural world. A more vivid impression is thus made upon our minds of what He intends us to know, than if He had just employed mere didactic precepts; and besides, we are taught to associate thoughts of spiritual wisdom with the circumstances and events which pass before our natural eyes.
I. The origin of God’s care is exhibited in the former part of the text: “The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in a waste howling wilderness.” It was unmerited kindness, not earned by any deservings, which influenced the Lord in His choice of Israel as His own peculiar inheritance. It was not for their goodness that God revealed Himself to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob as their God; but it was in consequence of that revelation, it was a result of His sovereign love as the cause. Now, this is admirably descriptive of the first cause of every believer’s salvation, which the apostle expresses in plain unmetaphorical language, when he says, “Not that we loved God, but that He loved us.”
II. The mode in which God exercises His care. God does not treat men as mere machines. It is true He works in us both to will and to do, and without His aid we can do nothing; but then He would have us fellow workers with Him, yea, to work out our own salvation. His object is to draw out our faculties and powers, so that they may be consecrated to His service, and show forth all His praise. “The eagle stirreth up her young.” And so God rouses and stirs up His people. There is a work to be done, there are talents to be employed, there is labour to be undergone. They must not, therefore, lie like children in the lap of quiet indulgence. The eagle “fluttereth over her young.” And so God allures His people onwards. The eagle “spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them upon her wings.” When actually taken out of the nest, she supports them that they may not fall, and flies underneath them to keep them from falling. And so God interposes betwixt His people and destruction: He bears their burdens; yea, He carries them with sustaining and encouraging love. Such is the mode, as indicated by the text, in which God exercises His care over His people: how much at heart He has their welfare in this may be seen from the expression, “He kept him as the apple of His eye.” So jealously did He watch over Israel of old, that He would suffer no weapon formed against them to prosper.
III. The practical lessons we may deduce from the subject.
1. The first is a lesson of humility: we stand by faith: we must not be high-minded, but fear. I have already shown you that the first beginnings of godliness are the gift and operation of God. I may add that we every day need His watchful care to keep us whereto we have already attained. No creatures can be more helpless or destitute, if deprived of a parent’s care, than the young of any bird. And therefore the similitude of the text gives us a lively idea of our continued dependence on the Lord for all the strength and blessing we require. Were He to leave us we could not take a single step aright: our safety, therefore, and our comfort, depend upon our close and humble waiting upon Him. This is a lesson hard to learn: it is indeed, in general, acquired only by painful experience. Men will not practically keep in view the humbling truth that without Christ they can do nothing.
2. We may also learn a lesson of caution. They were not all Israel which were of Israel; for there were many disobedient and estranged from God, even in the nation particularly called by His name. And therefore we are not to take for granted that the privileges of which I have been speaking belong to us, or that the care I have described is exercised over us, unless we can discover the genuine marks in ourselves of reconciliation with God.
3. I observe, again, we learn hence a lesson of childlike and implicit faith. It is not wise, it is not grateful in God’s people to be continually questioning, as they are very apt to do, His power or His love. Such conduct is a walking not by faith but by sight.
4. Lastly, I would say, we here have a lesson of a more devoted love. What cold and slothful hearts must we have, if they are not moved by a recital of such tenderness as the text unfolds! (J. Ayre, M. A.)
The inauguration of Christian experience
The inauguration of a Christian experience is the inauguration of a new life. A man moves out into a new element. Walking by faith instead of by sight is a good deal what trying to fly is to the young eaglet. He shrinks from it. He looks longingly back at the nest. And hence the complete change of sphere, this detachment of old formulas of thought, old habits of life, old desires, old principles of action, old aims, is a literal stirring up of the nest. God wants him where He alone can lead him. (M. Vincent, D. D.)
He made him ride on the high places of the earth.
God’s dealings with His people
Everything about the Jewish people was significant and emphatically prophetic. Canaan itself was a type of the condition both here and hereafter of the disciples of Christ. Whatsoever, therefore, the terms in which the richness of the literal Canaan is described, we may justly suppose that these terms, metaphorically taken, are expressive of the provision made “in Christ” for His Church, and of the privileges” “appertaining” to those living and trusting in Him, “with all the heart, and all the soul, and all the strength. It would seem rather indicated by the text that a great struggle should precede the possession of the rich produce of Canaan. And this we wish you particularly to observe--that “riding on the high places of the earth” is in order to,--is preparatory to the “eating of the increase of the fields”; as though that “eating” were in recompense for the mastery won over the strongholds of the enemy.
I. Christianity, as it was not set up at once in the world, but was left to make its way by slow and painful struggle towards the dominion which it has not yet attained, so is it progressive, and not instantaneous in acquiring empire in individual cases. There maybe no inconsiderable analogy between the history of Christianity in the world and its history in the individual. Christianity when first published made rapid way, as though but few years could elapse ere every false system would vanish before it. But there came interruptions--backsliding, degeneracy, and afterwards repentance and partial reformation. But the consummation is still a thing only of hope, and Christ must “re-appear in power and great majesty” ere His religion shall prevail in every household and every heart. In like manner, the converted individual devotes himself at first with the greatest ardency to the duties of religion; but after a while, too commonly, the ardency declines, and duties are partially neglected, or languidly performed. Then the man is roused afresh, and labours in bitterness of spirit to recover the ground so unhappily lost. Though on the whole he advances, there remains much languor, and it will not be before the day of the Lord that he will be sanctified, holy in body, soul, and spirit. Nevertheless, the true characteristic of religion in both cases is that of progressiveness, or rather, perhaps we should say, of an inability to be stationary. There is such a thing, according to the apostle, as continuing in infancy, and being “fed with milk.” There is also such a thing as advancing to manhood, and being fed with meat. This is but another typical representation of what seems suggested in our text, that some merely eat of what the field yields of itself, whilst the richer increase is reserved for such as toil earnestly at cultivating the land. Not, indeed, that the richer truths are wholly different from the others; for Christ must be the staple in all truths to the soul; they are rather the same truths in a more refined and exquisite state prepared for those who have toiled here to secure a portion in the world to come.
II. We now proceed to consider the second part of the prophecy, or promise of our text--for it is either; that which has to do with the obtaining “honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock.” This part, perhaps, goes even further than the first in connecting the blessing with the diligence of those on whom it is conferred. If “honey” be obtained from the “rock,” the “rock” must be climbed; and since it Will not lie on the surface, the clefts or fissures must be carefully explored; so that the promise appears to presuppose labour, and therefore bears out what we have all along argued, that the text belongs peculiarly to those who are working out their salvation with more than ordinary earnestness. But, however it may be supposed that bees might swarm in the clefts of the rock, and thus there might be literally the obtaining “honey from the rock,” there would seem to be a sort of opposition intended between the thing produced and the place, that produces it. The little apparent likelihood of the “rock” yielding “honey” is paralleled by the certainty of the fact that Christ conquered by yielding, and subdued death by dying. And if you take the “rock” as meaning that typical rock which was smitten by Moses at Horeb, then the promise of honey from the rock may be as much a promise of peculiar privileges to such as are diligent in righteousness, as that of the “eating of the increase of the fields,” Every believer draws water from the rock, but the honey may be reserved for those “who by patient continuance in well doing show forth eminently the praise of Him who bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” And there is, indeed, a hidden preciousness in the Saviour, in that “Rock of Ages cleft for us,” which is appreciated more and more as the believer goes on to acquaintance with Christ, striving to magnify Him in all the actions of his life. It is not merely a general sense of the sufficiency of the atonement which such men obtain--the persuasion that there is provision made by the Mediator for the wants of sinners, even the very chief: they go deeper than this; they find in Christ such stores of consolation, such treasures of wisdom and knowledge, that they are never weary of searching as they are never able to exhaust. Every necessity as it arises is supplied from these stores of Christ; every cloud scattered by His brightness; every desire either satisfied, or satisfaction guaranteed by the unsearchable riches of His work of mediation. And this “honey” is from the “rock”--from the clefts of the rock. I must go, as it were, to the wounds of the Saviour if I would obtain this precious and ever multiplying provision. I must be much with Him in the garden and at the cross. Surely we may confidently say, that if there be a fulness and preciousness in the Redeemer, that is ascertained though left unexhausted as His mighty sacrifice is contemplated, and the lessons which it furnishes wrought into practice; if there be this reward to meet constant persevering piety,--that it finds deeper and deeper abundance in the Saviour--a sweetness and a richness in His office which give indescribable emphasis to the Scriptural expression--“Chiefest among ten thousand and altogether lovely”; and if, moreover, it be Christ as bruised and broken, pierced and riven like a vast mass of stone on which the thunderbolt has fallen, who yields these rich treasures, then it must be true that “the soul which hungers and thirsts after righteousness” shall not only “eat of the increase of the fields,” but be permitted to “draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock.”
III. This idea is put yet more strongly, you see, in the concluding words of our text--“and oil out of the flinty rock”; the addition of the word “flinty” giving a stronger image of rockiness, and therefore making the place less promising for such rich and delicate productions. What is denoted by the metaphor thus interpreted, if not that affliction is made by God to comfort His people; so that when they are brought by His providence into wild and rough places, they are enabled to find there even richer provisions than in verdant and cultivated spots? We need not adduce any lengthened proof that the promise thus interpreted is verified to the very letter in the experience of the Church. The testimony of believers, in every age of the world, has been, that the season of affliction has proved a season of rich communications from above--a season when God’s faithfulness and love have been more realised than they ever were before--a season in which texts of Scripture have assumed new and deeper meaning, and truths hitherto dwelt on only in the head have made their way to the heart, and diffused there a “peace passing all understanding.”
IV. And perhaps, even yet, our text may not have been fully expounded, for if in its primary application to the Jews it denoted the sustenance to be afforded them in Canaan, as applied to ourselves it may relate to provision laid up for us in heaven, of which Canaan was the type, when God shall have made us “ride on the high places of the earth,” and exalted us to His kingdom, where the promise before us may be always receiving accomplishment. God shall be always communicating supplies from His own fulness, as age after age of expansion or enlargement passes over the redeemed; and these supplies may still be supplies of honey from the rock. There will be no exhausting of Christ and redemption. Never shall glorified spirits be weary of searching into the mysteries of grace, or consider those mysteries as thoroughly explored. Keep up, if you will, the metaphor of our text. Eternity shall be spent in contemplating and examining the “Rock of Ages”; every moment shall discover a fresh depth; the clefts in this rock, most strange, but most true, fitting it to bear up the universe, and every fresh cleft yielding fresh stores of honey, satisfying desires which shall but grow with their supply. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The joy of Israel in the wilderness
The ordinary view of the lot of Israel in the wilderness is that it was one of hardship and of unbroken tribulation. In contesting this view we do not maintain that their lot was one of unmixed happiness. Such is not the state of mankind under any conditions.
1. A large part of their happiness came from the sense of the grandeur of the movement of the Divine providence of which they were the immediate subjects.
2. Another source of their joy came from their liberated condition.
3. Another was the sensible evidence of God’s goodness.
4. Another was from the new phases of natural scenery by which they were constantly saluted.
5. Another was from the abundance and richness of their temporal supplies.
6. Another was their faith in the promises of the covenant.
7. Their social and domestic enjoyments. They had homes; and they knew their children had glorious prospects.
1. God wants us all to be happy, and always happy. Take stock of your joys.
2. Some of the greatest promises of God’s Word are for the Jew. (B. F. Rawlins, D. D.)
Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked.
I. A community realising worldly prosperity. Worldly prosperity sometimes comes to a man--
1. Irrespective of his efforts.
2. By his honest efforts.
3. By his dishonest efforts.
II. A community abusing worldly prosperity.
1. In sympathy they withdrew from God.
2. In life they disregarded God.
(1) A great wrong.
(2) A common wrong. (Homilist.)
On the dangers of prosperity
Two main themes run through this song, strongly contrasted, like a cord of bright gold and a black cord twined together. The one which takes the lead is the gracious kindness of the Lord to Israel in the wonderful works wrought for their deliverance and exaltation, and the benefits of all kinds bestowed upon them. Then over against this stands Israel’s gross misimprovement of these blessings, Israel’s ingratitude and apostasy, with the judgments which naturally followed their unfaithfulness. The text is the turning point of this wonderful composition. Up to this verse the strain has been (in the main) exultant and cheering, celebrating the lofty distinction to which Israel had been raised; now it becomes sad, threatening, and bewailing an unparalleled declension. How did this come about? It is all contained in these few words, which have a solemn warning for ourselves: “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked.” Jeshurun, “the upright one,” the people who had been called and set apart to be a holy nation, aiming at righteousness, and who hitherto had been distinguished by a measure of integrity, became corrupted through prosperity.
I. Let us regard men in their social capacity, and with respect to their general worldly interests, and observe how they are commonly affected by abundant prosperity. History is full of instances to show how national character has deteriorated as the wealth and power of a nation have increased. A people, while struggling for existence and contending for liberty, have displayed all the virtues of industry and frugality, of energy and courage, of public spirit and self-denying regard for the common good. Thus they establish their commonwealth and grow strong and powerful. Then riches flow in; luxury follows in their train; the sons soon forget the virtues of their fathers, or despise them; then parties are formed; each class, each individual, is ambitious to cope with or outshine the other. All the petty passions of our nature soon spring up into rank activity. Selfishness reigns, the general good is forgotten, and principles which once were held in honour are derided and spurned.
II. Turn from those aspects of the subject which are national and social to those that concern our churches. Here it is that such an evil is most perilous, and most to be condemned. Nations, societies, even classes of men, undoubtedly have relations to God; they stand indebted to Him for the rich benefits of His providence; and they are verily guilty when they abuse these by self-indulgence and forgetfulness of Him. But their guilt is far less than that of Churches, societies of professing Christians, who decline from the love and allegiance they owe to their Lord. Now, that is the aggravation that is here insisted on by the very use of the title “Jeshurun”--the Upright. What a base part for those who should be distinguished by this excellence to turn the abundance of the ministries of grace into the occasion of pride, self-confidence, and carelessness! Yet this has happened again and again. In various forms this wanton temper, this self-satisfied, self-indulgent spirit shows itself. Sixty or seventy years ago it came out in Anti-nomianism, which made the Gospel all privilege and no duty, under the pretence of zeal for the freeness of Divine grace. This delusion, which ruined many souls and grievously weakened the energies of the Churches, has vanished to a large extent; but the spirit of it--the spirit of carnal indolence and complacency--lingers still. Self-flattery can assume many shapes, slipping its neck out of the gentle yoke of Christ. But the besetting temptation now is the pride of enlightenment, the conceited notion that we have attained to larger and more liberal views of Christianity; and so the great doctrines of grace are explained away, or so diluted as to be robbed of their strength.
III. Having thus shown the injurious influence of continued prosperity, let me now indicate how this injurious tendency may be corrected.
1. By a constant and grateful recollection of the Source and Giver of our prosperity. This will keep us in our proper place as lowly recipients and debtors, dependents on His bounty.
2. Let us use our resources and advantages as God intends they should be used, and as He Himself sets us an example. God is constantly bestowing. He keeps nothing to Himself.
3. Let us not desire prosperity for itself. (A. Thompson, M. A.)
The danger of being worse by mercies
First, prove it to you, that even the best men are in danger to become the worse for mercies: for outward mercies, even for spiritual mercies. Secondly, give some grounds and reasons to demonstrate the truth thereof, how it comes to pass that there should be so much danger that a people should become the worse for mercies.
I. For the proof, that you may understand the more distinctly, let me lay it down in a double distinction of mercy. Mercies are either privative or positive: privative, that is deliverances, preservations from varieties of evils and dangers, which otherwise we were liable unto; our privative mercies are greater and more than our positive mercies are, though we perceive them not: the dangers that we are delivered from are more than the present mercies we do enjoy. Now let us see whether privative mercies make men the worse; when men are delivered, do they grow the worse for their deliverance? Look to this (Deuteronomy 32:26), the Lord speaks of a great privative mercy. What good, now, did this deliverance do this people? In the thirty-second verse. Their vine is the vine of Sodom, and their grapes are the grapes of Gomorrah. Here is the fruit now that these men brought forth of their privative mercies, that the Lord did not give them into their enemies’ hands, for all that the people grew more wicked under these, and their grapes were, etc. In this manner they improved their corruptions. In Psalms 78:38, many a time he turned His wrath away, and would not suffer His whole displeasure to arise. Were the people the better for it afterwards? No, they grew so much the more rebellious. Thus privative mercies may make men grow the worse. And men may be delivered, and a nation delivered, and they growing worse for it, the Lord may reserve them to further plagues. Secondly, there are positive mercies, and they are of two sorts, and men are in danger of growing worse by both of them. Either temporal or spiritual mercies, as if the Lord give men the Scriptures, they are in danger to wrest them to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:6); if God give them His Gospel, they are in danger to turn His grace into wantonness (Jude 1:4). Not the word of grace, but the privileges of grace; if God give men the ordinances, they say, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. And we are delivered to commit all this abomination (Jeremiah 7:8-9), and so in Hebrews 6:7-8, There is the ground that drinks in the rain of ordinances and influences, and yet brings forth briars and thorns. So if men receive spiritual privileges, they may be the worse for them (Matthew 3:9). Nay, spiritual divination, and be in danger to be the worse for it: Paul was so (2 Corinthians 3:7). Nay, spiritual motions and operations (Hebrews 6:5-6).
II. But you will say, What is the reason? are the mercies of God of such a malignant nature that they make men grow the worse? A man would think, if anything would make men the better, mercies would; it is true, had men ingenuous natures as grace brings. But there are four great reasons why it is a dangerous thing for a person or people to enjoy mercy, and not be the worse for mercy.
1. First, is from the corruption that is in the heart of man; it is true, the mercy of God is not a cause why men grow the worse: for it infuses no malignant disposition into the soul of man. But the mercy of God is an occasion, though it be not the cause; as it is said of the law of God (Romans 7:11).
2. Secondly, from the general curse that by reason of sin is come upon all the creatures, and all God’s providential dispensations.
3. Thirdly, from the especial malice of the devil against mercy. It is true, he is an enemy to all the creatures, and he would destroy them all as creatures out of his enmity to God. But in a more especial manner the devil is an enemy to the mercy of God more than to any other creature of God. Why? because the devil’s sin is direct enmity, and malice and revenge. God looks for most glory from His mercy, and therefore of all other things the devil hath the greatest envy to that, that God may be dishonoured by them.
4. Fourthly, there are some mercies that God hath given to persons and people out of a particular displeasure; you heard of the general curse that came upon all the creatures before. But now I say, there are some mercies that God gives out of peculiar displeasure, and they prove a more peculiar curse. I conceive that will appear plain to you in Zechariah 5:3. No wonder these men grow the worse for mercies, because it is out of a peculiar displeasure that the Lord gives them, as Austin saith of God’s hearing prayers, He hears wicked men’s prayers and gives them things they ask, though not properly as an answer to prayer. God hears prayers with revenge. Gives the things prayed for, but out of a peculiar displeasure. God doth as much rain snares on men in mercy, as in any other of His dispensations whatsoever, and therefore look to it; it is a dangerous thing for a people to receive mercy if they do not improve it.
III. I shall now speak a few words of application; there are two uses that I would make of it. First, of examination. Look back upon all the mercies that you have received from God--temporal and spiritual mercies; privative, positive mercies. Indeed, it is your duty (Psalms 68:26). Not only for late mercies received, but look to the Fountain from whence all mercies did first flow (Micah 6:5), it is from the first beginning of mercy to the latter end of them, ask but the question now of your own hearts, look to your own personal mercies everyone in private family mercies, and the public mercies that God hath afforded the nation, and tell me, are you the better or the worse for them, have you brought forth fruit answerable to the mercy? There are six things that are the ordinary ways by which men do appear to be the worse for mercy. And pray let us see whether all these be not to be found amongst us; this is a day wherein you should lay yourselves naked before God. First, the ordinary abuse of mercy is forgetfulness of God (Deuteronomy 6:14). Secondly, when they are settled upon them, and satisfied with them. Let them but keep this mercy, and it will be well with them. Let us enjoy this, and all is well. Thirdly, when men grow refractory unto duty, and oppose the things of godliness with a higher hand. Fourthly, when a people do begin to dote upon their own beauty, God sets them in a good condition, and they begin to rest in it, that evil was the fruit of their mercy (Ezekiel 16:15). Fifthly, when men ascribe mercy to themselves, and would take the glory from God (Habakkuk 1:16). Lastly, when men employ all to their own use, when all men’s mercies do but serve their lusts; one man saith, we have obtained this mercy, therefore I will be rich; now I must sit at the stern, saith another; the management of all the negotiations of the State is in my hands; as much as to say, God hath given all these mercies to serve me: remember that place in Isaiah 29:1. There is a second use of caution and admonition; do you take heed seeing it is so dangerous a thing, that the same thing be not justly said of you, and charged on you as was here upon Jeshurun: that they were the worse for their mercies; the mercies they received did but ripen their sins and hasten their ruin; take heed you bring forth fruits worthy of the mercy you receive. First, the proper fruit of mercy is an humble acknowledgment of our own unworthiness. Secondly, the proper fruit of mercy by which a man may be said to be the better for it is when they ascribe all mercy to God. Thirdly, when mercies do bring a man’s sins to remembrance, the soul stoops under the apprehension of mercy: what, will God show mercy to me one so rebellious and disobedient as I! and then the soul reads over the guilt of his sin with new remorse. Fourthly, when mercies lay upon the man the stronger obligations, and a man makes this use of it; looks upon himself as more firmly bound to God; that is the use they make of mercy in Ezra 9:13. Fifthly, when the soul studies what he shall return to God for all His mercies: you know that God not only expects returns, but proportionable returns. And I desire you would take notice of it (2 Chronicles 32:26). Lastly, that soul is the better for mercy when it loves God the more for it (Psalms 18:1). But how shall I know that I am the better for mercies? Pray observe these four rules. First, thy mercies will never make thee the better, unless they be mercies that proceed from a covenant right and interest. Secondly, when a man, as he receives all from God, doth direct all to God. Thirdly, consider, this is the mercy that doth you good, when it makes thy soul prosperous. Lastly, wherein your prayers to God are drawn forth more for a sanctified use of the mercy than for the mercy itself. (Wm. Strong.)
I. That everyone is under the most solemn obligations to love and obey God.
1. He is our Creator and absolute Proprietor.
2. He is the Author of our salvation.
II. That, notwithstanding these obligations, many persons forsake God.
1. By mere forgetfulness.
2. By neglecting the ordinances of religion.
3. By inattention to relative duties.
III. That unsanctified prosperity is very often the cause of these evils. It is quite possible to be very prosperous, and very religious too--but, though possible, it is very difficult (Jer 20:21 Jeremiah 5:7 ?).
1. One way of preventing these evils is to remember the uncertainty of earthly things.
2. Another way is to be earnest in prayer to God for His upholding grace. (W. G. Barrett.)
Enervated by prosperity
Amid the luxurious ease of the valley men degenerate, but among the mountains we find a brave and hard race, for there the dangers of the crags and the cold of winter brace nerve and muscle till each becomes vigorous, and men are fit for acts of valour and deeds of heroism. It is in battle and service that veteran soldiers are bred. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
They sacrificed unto devils.
I. The devil of sensuality. This includes intemperance, debauchery, and the gratification of all the lower animal appetites. Do not men everywhere sacrifice intellect, genius, time, money, health, and even life itself at its infernal shrine?
II. The devil of avarice. Greed of gain, desire for wealth, is the inspiration of millions in this mercenary age. Truth, honesty, conscience, self-respect, moral freedom, peace, and honour are all sacrificed to this grim deity.
III. The devil of vanity. Love of show, desire for popular applause. Fortunes are sacrificed to this devil.
IV. The devil of sectarianism. A greater devil than this can scarcely be found. To it men sacrifice truth, charity, moral nobleness. (Homilist.)
Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful.
Forgetful of the Rock
How is it that men soon forget the solid, the real, the substantial? What is it that delights men in spluttering rockets, in coloured fountains, in lamps swinging upon trees that are offended by their presence? See the great seething crowd waiting for the coloured fountains to spring up, and for all the little electric lamps confined in tinted globes to shine among swaying branches! What exclamations of idiotic delight! How stunned is modern intelligence at the marvellous display of colour! Who heeds the quiet moon that looks on with unutterable amazement, and that in her motherly heart is saying, Oh, that they were wise, that they were less given to toy worship and playfulness of that kind! Here I have been shining ages upon ages--who heeds me? Which of all the sweltering, overfed throng turns a bleared eye to my course to watch me in my gentle sovereignty? And the stars, too, look down upon the coloured fountains without being moved to envy by their momentary blush and by their unheard splash! We forget the Rock so soon; we prefer the toy; we want something light, something that can be spoken trippingly on the tongue--an easy fluent nothing. We do not care to bow down the head to study, to criticism, to the examination and estimation of evidence, and commit ourselves to the acceptance of sound conclusions. Can we go anywhere to see a coloured fountain? Men who do not travel half a mile to the greatest pulpit in the world, or the greatest altar ever built to the God of heaven, would put themselves and their families to any amount of inconvenience and expense to gaze with the admiration of idiocy upon a coloured fountain! Blessed are they who love the permanent stars, the lamps of heaven, and who set their feet broadly and squarely on God’s everlasting Rock. Let us turn to the real, to the substantial, to the very revelation of God’s truth, and abide there; Ore coloured fountain can only come now and again, but the eternal heavens are always full of light or rich with beauty. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A very froward generation.
The frowardness of unbelief
1. Unbelief is a very froward thing, because, in the first place, it gives God the lie. Can anything be worse than this? God saith, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt, be saved,” and the unbeliever replies, “I cannot believe that Jesus will save me.” Oh, soul, can you dare to look up to the Cross of Jesus and say, “There is no life in a look at the Crucified One for me”? Can you even think of the Holy Spirit, and then say that He has no power to change a heart so black and hard as yours?
2. Again, unbelief is great frowardness, because it refuses God’s way of salvation. No man can read the Scriptures without seeing that God’s way of salvation is not by work nor by feelings, but by trusting in the Son of God, who has offered a full atonement for sin. Now the sinner says, “Lord, I would do or suffer anything if I might thereby be saved.
3. Unbelief is a very froward thing, again, because it very often makes unreasonable demands of God. When Thomas said, “Except I put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe,” he was speaking very frowardly. I have heard the sinner say, “Oh, sir, if I could have a dream, if I could be broken down with anguish, or if I could enjoy some remarkable revelation, then I would believe God”; this also is frowardness.
4. Unbelief is very froward, next, because it indulges hard thoughts of God. Do you say that “Salvation by faith is too good to be true”? Is anything too good to come from God, who is infinitely good?
5. And yet again, unbelief is a very froward thing because it disparages the Lord Jesus. Oh, soul, dost thou doubt the infinite virtue of the Divine sacrifice? Dost thou question the power of the intercession of the risen Lord?
6. And do you not think it is another instance of great frowardness that unbelief casts reflections upon the Holy Spirit? Not save thee? Who art thou that thou shouldst stand out against the witness of the Spirit of truth? Wilt thou refuse the three-fold witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Children in whom is no faith.
Faith in its higher sense
Do not misunderstand that word “faith.” It is a Christian word; here it does not occur in its spiritual or Christian sense. “Faith” is a word which belongs to Christ, not to Moses. The word “faith” here means covenant-keeping, reality, honesty to vows. They have signed a paper, but they will break the bond: they are children in whom is no faith, no reliance, no trust. This is not the “sixth sense,” this is not reason on wings; this is simple truthfulness and covenant-keeping honour. Faith is not born yet in the Bible, as to name and definite influence--though many a man in the old book was moved by faith who could not account for his own motives and impulse. We are called to faith in its highest sense; and in being called to faith in its highest sense, we are not called upon to renounce reason. Should I say to a child, Dear little one, your two hands are not strong enough to take up that weight, even of gold, but I could find you a third one, and with that you could lift it easily, and with that it would be no weight; you could carry it always without weariness and without fatigue--do I dishonour the other hands? Do I put the child to some humiliation? Do I ignore what little power it has? Certainly not: I increase it, I magnify it, I honour it; so does the great and loving One, who wishes us to pray without ceasing, magnify reason by saying, It wants faith; faith magnifies the senses by saying, They are five in number, and I can make them six; do not dispense with any one of them, keep them all in their integrity, but you want the sixth sense that lays hold upon the invisible and the eternal. We cannot, therefore, keep covenants and honour vows in the sense in which the word “faith” is used here, with any completeness, until we are inspired by the higher faith--that all-encompassing trust in God, that marvellous sixth sense which sees God. Lord, increase our faith! May our prosperity never interfere with our prayer! Give us what Thou wilt--poverty, riches, health, disease, strength, or weakness, but take not Thy Holy Spirit from us. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The faithless generation
“Without faith it is impossible to please God,”--impossible to do that which is the proper end of our being; in which, if we should fail, it were far better for us that we had never been born. The like is not said of charity, or any other Christian grace, but faith only. Not that we can expect to please God, if any of the ornaments of a meek, gentle, and Christian spirit be wanting in our character; but because there is a peculiar necessity for the addition of faith, which entitles it to this mark of distinction. There is not a single link in the chain of evangelical virtues and graces which can be said to be unnecessary; but that link is necessary above all which is the end of the chain, and which connects it with God Himself. In the text, God complains of the provoking of His sons and daughters, the rebellious seed of Abraham; and He lays all the faults of their character to this capital defect, that they are “children in whom is no faith.”
I. The want of faith in the present state of the Christian world.
1. The excessive attention bestowed upon mere earthly and sensible objects. The common phrase “Seeing is believing” is a plain confession that we walk by sight, not by faith. The sum of our creed is this: that the good things of this world are solid and substantial; those of the next world, visionary and chimerical.
2. The prevailing and increasing neglect, of ordinances. This springs out of the faithless and infidel notion that they are not material, that they are mere ceremonies, that there is no virtue in them. Here is a direct denial of faith.
3. The general shyness and reserve which prevails among religious persons. If it cannot be said of us, as of the ungodly and profane, that God is not in all our thoughts, it cannot surely be denied that He is not in all our talk. The want of faith is at the bottom of this. We are not fully persuaded in our own minds, and therefore we feel an awkwardness and reserve in communicating our thoughts to each other.
4. The carelessness and indifference which generally prevails in regard to the sacraments of the Church.
II. What is the natural conclusion of all this? If the want of faith be the cause of all our disorders, the plain remedy is to go where we may get more faith; to take what little we have, and to throw ourselves at the feet of Christ, saying, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” And your minister, as in all your prayers, will go before you in this likewise. “Lord, increase my faith; that I may, both by my life and doctrine, set forth Thy true and lively Word, and rightly of these solemn things. (Homilist.)
Considering the latter end
I. An implied lamentation.
II. A description of true folly.
III. An all-important duty. Considering our latter end--
1. Reminds us of its certainty.
2. Urges preparation.
3. Will prevent us from being taken by surprise. (Homilist.)
On the remembrance of death
I. In the first place, death, were it seriously attended to, would direct our judgment and correct those false things which are the great sources of all our mistakes in life. Would it not lower our opinion of temporal enjoyments if this sentiment were familiar to our minds that we must shortly be torn from them? How would it raise our esteem of Christian dispositions! In what lively colours would we see the evil of sin, and the danger of practising it, did we live in the remembrance of that awful event which will fix our eternal condition! Would we not see the great importance of time, and the absolute necessity of improving it, if we thought that it is short and uncertain, and that eternity depends upon it?
II. The serious contemplation of death, besides correcting our mistaken notions, would help to moderate our unruly passions, which are so difficult to be restrained. At the lively idea of death all the passions subside and leave the soul in a state of serious tranquillity. Pride falls; vanity is extinguished; envy dies; resentment cools; and the fond admiration of worldly things decays and vanishes.
III. An habitual attention to our latter end, as it would wean our affections from the things of time and sense, would fix them upon objects of a spiritual and eternal nature. The great virtues of the Christian life, such as love to God and love to man, are not, like worldly possessions, of a perishing kind. They continue after this life; they are the qualifications for admission into the kingdom of glory; nay, they constitute the very temper of heaven itself, and are the essential ingredients of future and eternal happiness. Death guides the imagination forward into futurity; it gives the rewards and punishments of the world to come their full weight and impression upon us. Thus, by suggesting the most powerful motives to a godly life, it will naturally deter men from sin and enforce the practice of holiness and virtue. It will engage them to avoid that course of life which would expose them to the future punishment. And it will excite them, by a patient continuance in well doing, to seek for glory, honour, and immortality in the kingdom of heaven. As death, from the consideration of its awful consequences, enforces a holy life; so by representing the shortness and uncertainty of time, it would lead us instantly to set about the great business of human life, and to pursue it with unremitting attention. Why do men allow themselves the continued practice of vice? It is because they flatter themselves with the hopes of living still longer, and with designs of future repentance: and thus the great business of eternity is frequently put off, from day to day, till sickness or death overtakes them. Now there is not a surer, there is not a more effectual, way of avoiding this fatal mistake, than by remembering our latter end.
IV. It would cause us to take heed lest at any time we should be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this world, and thus the dart of death come upon us unawares. It is one of the great advantages of considering death that it would help to keep our temper even and composed in every condition of life. As in prosperity, it would preserve us from insolence, so under adversity, from dejection of mind.
V. In the last place, by frequently meditating on our latter end, we might make the idea of death familiar to our minds, and overcome the fear of it. The awe which it naturally strikes upon the mind wears off in proportion as we increase our acquaintance with it. But instead of cultivating this acquaintance, we industriously avoid it; and the surprise must add to the horror of its appearance whenever it constrains, as sometimes it will constrain, our attention. There are certain occasions on which it is impossible for us to shun the remembrance of death. (Andrew Donnan.)
The consideration of death
I. What it is for a man to consider his latter end. By the latter end of a particular person I understand the same that Balaam does in his wish (Numbers 23:10), where it is plain by his last end he means the time of his death, which Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 7:2, calls “the end of all men.” And so indeed it is, as to all the concerns of this life and opportunities of providing for another. It puts an end to all the projects, the labours, the cares of the men of this world for the obtaining of the good things of it, and to the satisfaction they take in the enjoying those they have gotten. It puts an end to the work of good men, to all the hardships and their conflicts with their spiritual enemies. Finally, it puts an end to all that good or bad can do or suffer, which shall come into their future account. But though a man’s latter end be the dissolution of the present union of soul and body, and puts a final period to all the actions of this life, yet is it the opening of a new scene, the entrance upon another state. Before I proceed to show what is implied in the word “consider,” it may not be amiss to form some propositions of our “latter end,” which may be the objects of your consideration. As--
1. That it is very certain that such a time as this will once happen to every one of us.
2. That, though it be certain that such a time will once come, it is not certain when it will come.
3. That as it is certain that such a time will once happen to every one of us, but uncertain when, so it is sure that it cannot be long first; for what is our life--the longest life that anyone arrives to? This is to be the object of our consideration, which implies three things.
(1) An undoubting assent to the truth of it, for propositions, however true in themselves, if they are not so to me, can make no great impression upon me.
(2) A frequent reflecting upon and revolving in my mind; for propositions which I have assented to, if I think not of them, are not like to have much more influence upon me than those which I deny or question.
(3) And chiefly, a diligent application of it to the government of my life, and the conducting it by such measures as that belief will suggest; for only such a practical consideration of this latter end will make a man wise.
II. How wise it will make him; what wise practices will be the effects of such consideration. And surely it will be allowed that it will make him very wise if it makes him wise for this world and the next too.
1. As to this world, that is certainly true wisdom which will carry a man most quietly through it with the least vexation. Now, most of the disturbances and uneasiness we meet with here arise either from our own false notions and imprudent pursuit of the good things of this world, or from those evils which befall us by the permission of providence; and the consideration of our latter end will go a great way towards the preventing or removing the former, and the alleviating and supporting us under the latter.
2. But the greatest advantage of the consideration of our latter end is that it makes us wise for the other world.
(1) To be frugal of our time, and husband it to the best advantage. This short day is all the season of working; when the night comes no one can work. Have I a great work to do in that short time? Does my eternal bliss or woe depend upon my finishing that work? And can I be so foolish as to squander away this time in idleness or riot, in vain recreations and loose conversation? Shall I suffer sleep and pleasure and sin to share it among them?
(2) Not to defer our repentance.
(3) To make use of all the means of grace that are offered us, and not neglect one opportunity that is put into our hands of waiting upon God in His holy ordinances, or of doing good to our neighbour according to our power.
(4) To go on with the work and service of God, and persevere to the end with alacrity; for it shows me these two things--
(a) That my service can be but short. And--
(b) That I shall quickly receive my wages. (Bp. Wm. Talbot.)
Some years ago a celebrated author--Drelincourt--wrote a work on Death, a valuable work in itself, but it commanded no sale whatever. Anything men will think of rather than death--any fiction, any lie. But this stern reality, this master truth, he puts away, and will not suffer it to enter his thoughts. The older Egyptians were wiser than we are. We are told that at every feast there was always one extraordinary guest that sat at the head of the table. He ate not, he drank not, he spake not, he was closely veiled. It was a skeleton which they had placed there to warn them that even in their feastings they should remember there would be an end of life. Yet our text tells us that we should be wise if we would consider our latter end. And certainly we should be, for the practical effect of a true meditation of death would be exceedingly healthful to our spirits. It would cool that ardour of covetousness, that fever of avarice, if we did but remember that we should have to leave our stores. It would certainly help us to sit loose by the things which we here possess. Perhaps it might lead us to set our affections upon things above, and not upon the mouldering things below. At any rate, thoughts of death might often check us when we are about to sin.
I. Consider death.
1. Its origin. Man is a suicide. Our sin, the sin of the human race, slays the race. We die because we have sinned. How this should make us hate sin!
2. Its certainty. Die I must. There is a black camel upon which Death rides, say the Arabs, and that must kneel at every man’s door. I must cross that river Jordan. I may use a thousand stratagems, but I cannot escape. Even now I am today like the deer surrounded by the hunters in a circle, a circle which is narrowing every day; and soon must I fall and pour out my life upon the ground. Let me never forget, then, that while other things are uncertain, death is sure.
3. Then, looking a little further into this shade, let me remember the time of my death. To God it is fixed and certain. He has ordained the hour in which I must expire. But to me it is quite uncertain. I know not when, nor where, nor how I shall breathe out my life. Oh, let us bethink, then, how uncertain life is. Talk we of a hair; it is something massive when compared with the thread of life. Speak we of a spider’s web; it is ponderous compared with the web of life. We are but as a bubble; nay, less substantial. As a moment’s foam upon the breaker, such are we. Oh, let us, then, prepare to meet our God, because when and how we shall appear before Him is quite unknown to us.
4. The terrors which surround death. To the best men in the world, dying is a solemn thing--a launching on an unknown sea. Farewell! to that house which I have so fondly called my home. Farewell! to her who has shared my life and been the beloved one of my bosom. Farewell all things--the estate, the gold, the silver. Farewell! earth. The fairest beauties melt away, thy most melodious strains die in the dim distance. I hear no more and see no more. No church bell now shall summon me to the house of God. If I have neglected Christ I shall hear of Christ no more. No grace presented now; no strivings of the Spirit.
5. The results of death. For, verily, its results and terrors to the wicked are the same. Oh, that ye were wise to consider them! Let me, however, remind the Christian that death to him should never be a subject upon which he should be loath to meditate. To die!--to shake off my weakness and to be girded with omnipotence. Say unto them your warfare is accomplished, your sin is pardoned, and you shall see your Lord’s face without a veil between.
II. I desire you now to consider the warning which death hath already given to each one of us. Death hath been very near to many of us; he has crossed the ecliptic of our life many and many a time. That baleful planet has often been in close conjunction with us. Let us just observe how frequently he has been in our house. Think, again, what solemn and repeated warnings we have had of late, not in our families, but, in the wide, wide world. Here, there, everywhere, O Death! I see thy doings. At home, abroad, on the sea, and across the sea, thou art doing marvels. Death has given home-strokes to all of us. Put thy finger in thy own mouth, for thou hast Death’s mark there. What mean those decaying teeth, those twitching pains in the gums?--an agony despised by those alone who feel it not. Why do some parts of the house tremble and hurry to decay? Because the rottenness that is in the teeth is in the whole body. You talk of a decayed tooth: remember it is but part of a decayed man. What mean those lungs that are so soon exhausted of their breathing if you travel up a flight of stairs to your bed? Why is it you need your optic glasses to your eyes, but that they that look out of the windows are darkened? Why that affected hearing?
III. And now will you, in the last place, picture yourself as dying now. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
True wisdom desirable
I. Lack of wisdom. “Wisdom” is sometimes used for religion, and the connection between them is very close. Sin is--
(1) Ignorance of self.
(2) Ignorance of God.
(3) Ignorance of future consequences.
And ignorance is folly--inasmuch as it is the cause of folly, the spirit of folly, and the seed of folly.
II. A neglected duty. The “latter end” is the great crisis of existence. Why do men neglect its consideration?
(1) Because the prospect is not pleasant.
(2) Because of the natural buoyancy of human life.
(3) To look at our latter end will give us a true estimate of our own worth.
(4) To look at our latter end will cause us to use the time that remains for the highest ends. (Homilist.)
The habitual consideration of death
I. The event that is to be contemplated. This is his last end: no other changes shall happen to him on earth; no more shall he be visible among the children of men; no more shall he be occupied in its business, encumbered by its cares, entangled by its temptations, and fettered by its engagements. It is all gone and past.
II. The consideration which it demands.
1. We are to consider that this change must happen to us all.
2. We are to consider that this may happen at any time. It may happen to you in manhood, amidst all the cares and duties of life. It may happen to you in youth. It may appear to you in childhood. Death waits not for confirmed age and trembling years to realise his triumphs, but smites when and where he will.
3. We are to consider our latter end so as to ascertain whether we are prepared to meet it. Are you ready to renounce the things of the present life?
4. Then consider not only whether you are prepared to renounce the things of this life, but whether you are prepared for the events which will immediately follow. Scripture teaches us that two great events will follow immediately upon this latter end of our life; we must meet God, and we must stand in judgment.
5. We are not only to consider whether we are prepared for the great change, but we are deeply to ponder the consequences of being unprepared to meet it.
6. Then consider the method by which alone we can be prepared to meet this last end. Happily we are blessed with a revelation from God; happily that revelation contains within itself the grand preparation of redeeming and recovering mercy; and happily this is the only sovereign remedy, whilst all others are excluded from our confidence and our hope. The method, therefore, by which we can expect to meet God in peace is the method of His own device; devised by His infinite wisdom, and accomplished by a power also infinite, becoming the proof of a love also infinite. Consider that your hope and security lie in not devising your own method of happiness, but in accepting God’s method of happiness, in bowing to God’s proposition, and believing in God’s dear Son. (A. Reed.)
I. In what manner should we consider our latter end?
1. Thoroughly; I mean with judgment and understanding, so as to form just and regular apprehensions concerning its causes and consequences.
2. Seasonably. It must be thought of and provided for beforehand.
II. The wisdom and advantage of considering our latter end.
1. It would help us to form a truer estimate of life.
2. It would dispose us to reason and to act. (S. Lavington.)
The latter end
I. Reflect upon this consideration as a course of wisdom. Man’s comparative wisdom in the affairs of this life is wholly estimated by his disposition to anticipate the results of his own actions, and his ability to calculate upon those results with success.
II. Reflect upon the circumstances connected with this latter end, which are especially to be considered. Consider the trials which will be involved in it, the peculiar wants which it will manifest, the results which must flow from it, the provisions which it will require.
III. Upon the authority of the truths which have been thus presented to you, I trust I may now urge you to a practical fulfilment of this duty. When you consider the latter end of others, and contrast together the various issues of their lives; when you behold the piety of youth and active life rising into the joy and peace of a Christian’s departure, and mark the final triumph of a soul which has wisely considered and provided for its whole responsibility, you cannot fail to see how much has been gained by adopting the Gospel as the powerful and practical principle of conduct in the morning of man’s day of grace. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
The consideration of death
That there is very generally a strange want of reflection and concern respecting our condition as mortal is most apparent in many plain familiar truths. Perhaps nothing in the world that appears so out of consistency is so obvious. The fact of a whole race dead, from the beginning of time to the present generation, comes with but little impression on us, except at occasional moments. In surveying history it is with the men of past ages as living that our thoughts are busy. But there is no need of illustrations of such wide reference. The insensibility may be shown in more familiar exemplifications. Persons inhabiting a house of considerable age--how often are they reminded that persons formerly occupying its apartments, treading its avenues, are dead, with a pointed application of this thought to themselves? And so of places of worship, and of other resort. But there is still more immediate evidence. How little effect, in the way of reflection on ourselves, appears to be produced by the instances and spectacles of actual mortality; the termination of a life in our near neighbourhood, or among those whom we well knew! Persons frequently and officially conversant with circumstances of death are often very remarkably estranged from reflection upon it, as applied to themselves. Consider, again, how little and seldom we are struck with the reflection, how many things we are exposed to that might cause death! what little things might be fatal! But we go forward just as if none of these smaller poisoned arrows of death were flying, or of the greater darts either. Observe, too, how soon a recovery from danger sets aside the serious thought of death. Observe, again, how schemes are formed for a long future time, with as much interest and as much anticipating confidence as if there were no such thing in the world as death. And when it is asked, “And how comes this to be?” the general explanation is that which accounts for everything that is wrong--namely, the fearful radical depravity of our nature. But to assign this general cause does not suffice to the inquiry. There doubtless are special causes, through which that great general one operates, availing itself of them.
1. One of these may be the perfect distinctness of life and death. They do not partially co-exist in the individual like imperfect health with a degree of illness. We have life absolutely, and death not at all; so that we can make no experimental comparison between them; we cannot know by means of the one what the other is.
2. Again, we think that even the certainty and the universality of death may be numbered among the causes tending to withdraw men’s thoughts from it.
3. We might specify another thing as one of the causes sought for; that is, the utter inability to form any defined idea of the manner of existence after death. The thoughts sent onward to that boundary of life cannot stop there; the mere termination itself is nothing; they look beyond; but beyond is thickest darkness, as often as they go there; so that there is, as it were, nothing shown to draw the mind thither to look over the limit. But, after all, the chief causes that there is so little thought and concern on this great subject are of a much more obvious kind, and involving guilt.
4. One is a general presumption of having long to live. In each stage of life still this beguiled confidence is indulged.
5. Another great cause of the thoughtlessness and insensibility (indeed, it is both cause and effect) is that men occupy their whole soul and life with things to preclude the thought of its end.
6. We may add to these causes an inadequate, contracted notion of what is necessary as a preparation for the event.
7. And to give full force to all these causes, there is, in a large proportion of men, a formal, systematic endeavour to keep off the thought of death. A strong action to turn the thoughts in another direction--an amusing book seized, or a hasty recourse to occupation, or an excursion, or a going into a gay circle, possibly a plunge into intemperance. And all the unfortunate things that may have befallen have not been a measure of calamity equal to that involved in the success of this endeavour! We have hardly a moment left for the topics of admonition and remonstrance against indulging such a habit of the soul. But let it be impressed upon us that to end our life is the mightiest event that awaits us in this world. And it is that which we are living but to come to. It holds out a grand protest against being absorbed and lost in this world. It is the termination of a period confessedly introductory and probationary. Without thinking of it, often and with deep interest, there is no possibility that our scheme and course of life should be directed to the supreme purpose of life. To have been thoughtless of it, then, will ultimately be an immense calamity; it will be to be in a state unprepared for it. (J. Foster.)
Of the consideration of our latter end, and the benefits of it
1. Men are not willing to entertain this unwelcome thought of their own latter end; the thought whereof is so troublesome a guest, that it seems to disparage all those present enjoyments of sense that this life affords.
2. A vain foolish conceit that the consideration of our latter end is a kind of presage and invitation of it.
3. A great difficulty that ordinarily attends our human condition, to think otherwise concerning our condition than what at present we feel and find.
4. It is true, this is the way of mankind to put from us the evil day, and the thoughts of it; but this our way is our folly, and one of the greatest occasions of those other follies that commonly attend our lives; and therefore the great means to cure this folly and to make us wise, is wisely to consider our latter end.
I. The consideration of our latter end doth in no sort make our lives the shorter, but it is a great means to make our lives the better.
1. It is a great monition and warning of us to avoid sin, and a great means to prevent it. When I shall consider that certainly I must die, and I know not how soon, why should I commit those things, that if they hasten not my latter end, yet they will make it more uneasy and troublesome by the reflection upon what I have done amiss? I may die tomorrow; why should I then commit that evil that will then be gall and bitterness unto me? Would I do it if I were to die tomorrow? why should I then do it today? Perchance it may be the last act of my life, and however let me not conclude so ill; for, for aught I know, it may be my concluding act in this scene of my life.
2. It is a great motive and means to put us upon the best and most profitable improvement of our time.
3. Most certainly the wise consideration of our latter end, and the employing of ourselves, upon that account, upon that one thing necessary, renders the life the most contenting and comfortable life in the world: for as a man, that is aforehand in the world, hath a much more quiet life in order to externals, than he that is behindhand; so such a man that takes his opportunity to gain a stock of grace and favour with God, that hath made his peace with his Maker through Christ Jesus, hath done a great part of the chief business of his life, and is ready upon all occasions, for all conditions, whereunto the Divine Providence shall assign him, whether of life or death, or health or sickness, or poverty or riches; he is, as it were, aforehand in the business and concern of his everlasting, and of his present state also.
II. As thus this consideration makes life better, so it makes death easy.
1. By frequent consideration of death and dissolution, he is taught not to fear it; he is, as it were, acquainted with it aforehand, by often preparation for it.
2. By frequent consideration of our latter end, death comes to be no surprise unto us.
3. The greatest sting and terror of death are the unrepented sins of the past life; the reflection upon these is that which is the strength, the venom of death itself. He, therefore, that wisely considers his latter end, takes care to make his peace with God in his lifetime; and by true faith and repentance to get his pardon scaled; to husband his time in the fear of God; to observe His will, and keep His laws; to have his conscience clean and clear. And being thus prepared, the malignity of death is cured, and the bitterness of it healed, and the fear of it removed.
4. But that which, above all, makes death easy to such a considering man is this: that by the help of this consideration, and the due improvement of it, as is before shown, death to such a man becomes nothing else but a gate unto a better life. Not so much a dissolution of his present life, as a change of it for a far more glorious, happy, and immortal life. So that though the body dies, the man dies not; for the soul, which is indeed the man, makes but a transition from her life in the body to a life in heaven. I shall now add some cautions that are necessary to be annexed to this consideration.
We are to know, that although death be thus subdued, and rendered rather a benefit than a terror to good men; yet--
1. Death is not to be wished or desired, though it be not an object to be feared, it is a thing not to be coveted; for certainly life is the greatest temporal blessing in this world.
2. As the business and employments of our life must not estrange us from the thought of death, so again we must be careful that the overmuch thought of death do not so possess our minds as to make us forget the concerns of our life, nor neglect the business which that portion of time is allowed us for. As the business of fitting our souls for heaven; the sober businesses of our callings, relations, places, stations? Nay, the comfortable, thankful, sober enjoyments of those honest lawful corn forts of our life that God lends us; so as it be done with great sobriety and moderation, as in the presence of God, and with much thankfulness to Him; for this is part of that very duty we owe to God for those very external comforts and blessings we enjoy. (Sir M. Hale.)
The wisdom of considering our latter end
I. The duty here mentioned. To consider our latter end is--
1. To familiarise our minds to the thought of death, and of that eternal state on which death is the entrance.
2. To consider how we may provide for our welfare in our latter end.
3. To devote ourselves mainly to the great work of providing for our welfare in our latter end.
II. The wisdom of attending to it.
1. Because such attention is pleasing to the Most High.
2. Because the neglect of it will infallibly expose us to the tremendous effects of God’s righteous indignation.
3. Because it serves to facilitate our victory over the delusions of the world.
4. Because it tends to administer support under every affliction which assails us.
5. Because it will be the means of giving us a good hope in death. (J. Natt, B. D.)
The close of the year
The wish which Moses here utters for the congregation of Israel is a wish to which a minister of the Gospel may also give utterance in behalf of his congregation, more especially at the present season. For surely it behoves us also--who have been brought to the knowledge of Christ, and of the power of His resurrection--to consider our latter end: and so much the more as we have received a fuller and clearer assurance of what that end is to be, both of the glory to which we are called, and of the misery which we may draw down on our souls. The advance of time itself is unseen, unfelt. Its footsteps fall so lightly that they do not strike on any of our senses. Drop after drop bubbles up from the sightless fountain of eternity; and yet their bubbling is not heard. Wave rolls on after wave in never-resting, never-ending flow; and yet there are no sounds of their breaking against the shore. Time never halts so that we should catch hold of it, has no voice that we should hear it, no outward form or body that we should see it. But man for his own purposes has gathered it up into hours and days and weeks and months and years; inasmuch as without such measures of time none of the business of this world could be carried on. Hardly without them could we hold any intercourse with our neighbours, or have any orderly knowledge whatsoever. This division of time, it is true, is little heeded by most persons, except with reference to the concerns of their worldly life. Yet none who have a right notion of the importance of good housekeeping for the management of Our heavenly, no less than of our earthly concerns, will fail to do that with regard to their spiritual life, without which there can be no good housekeeping anywhere. At the end of every day they who are anxious to do well and to prosper in this world will cast their thoughts over what they have done, and will consider what they have left undone that they ought to have done; they will calculate what they have spent, what they have sold, what they have gained, what they have lost, and will strike a balance. At the end of a week they take in a wider field; they cast up the accounts of the whole week, and estimate its profit and its loss. But at the close of the year the range is a great deal wider still; then the accounts of the whole year are to be got in, and put in order and cast up and settled. No one who has any portion of the riches of this world, and who desires to keep out of difficulties will neglect this; no one who is engaged in the traffic of this world can neglect it without bringing on certain ruin. This, too, is the very work which you ought now to be engaged in. The old year is on its last legs, and will soon be laid with the multitude of those that have passed away before it. That we have all of us been far too forgetful of God during the past year, no one will deny. The very best and godliest amongst us will be the first to acknowledge this. Others may make the acknowledgment carelessly; but the pious will be stricken with grief and shame. Yet surely there is something very strange in this forgetfulness. For would it not be strange if a servant were to forget his master, in whose house he was living and who fed and clothed him? Would it not be strange if a son were to forget his father, to whom he owed his life, his nurture and support, his education, all that he has and all that he knows? Now, God is in a far higher sense our Master and Father, and has done far more for us than any earthly master ever did for his servants, or any Earthly father for his children. What I wish to urge upon you is the pressing importance of undertaking a strict and solemn examination of the whole flame and fashion of your life during the last year of your actions, of your feelings, of your thoughts. Take care that the account be a true one; it is a matter of life and death. Try your heart at the bar of your conscience, as though before a judge; and do not exercise your subtilty in trying to diminish or excuse or conceal your offences, but rather in drawing them forth to the light, in uncovering their nakedness and exposing their enormity. Endeavour to look into your hearts with the same eye with which God looks into them; and then to confess all your sins to God. Throw yourself on the mercy of your Saviour; beseech Him to forgive you; beseech Him to heal you; beseech Him to grant you His Spirit, that you may be purified from these your sins. Reckon up the list of them, and write it on your hearts, that it may ever be before you to put you on your guard in the hour of temptation. Weigh your actions with reference, not to the fruit they are to bear in this world, but to the fruit they are to bear in the next world; and in all your plans and purposes, in all your hopes and wishes, whatever their immediate purposes may be, consider your latter end. (J. C. Hare, M. A.)
The usefulness of consideration, in order to repentance
I. That God doth really and heartily desire the happiness of men and to prevent their misery and ruin. For the very design of these words is to express this to us, and it is done in a very vehement and, as I may say, passionate manner.
II. That it is a great point of wisdom to consider seriously the last issue and consequence of our actions, whither they tend, and what will follow upon them. And therefore wisdom is here described by the consideration of our latter end.
III. That this is an excellent means to prevent that misery which will otherwise befall us. And this is necessarily implied in this wish, that if they would but consider these things they might be prevented.
IV. That the want of this consideration is the great cause of men’s ruin. And this is likewise implied in the words, that one great reason of men’s ruin is because they are not so wise as to consider the fatal consequences of a sinful course. This is the desperate folly of mankind, that they seldom think seriously of the consequence of their actions, and least of all such as are of greatest concernment to them, and have the chief influence upon their eternal condition. They do not consider what mischief and inconveniency a wicked life may plunge them into in this world, what trouble and disturbance it may give them when they come to die.
1. That consideration is the proper act of reasonable creatures, and that whereby we show ourselves men. So the prophet intimates (Isaiah 46:8).
2. Whether we consider it or not, our latter end will come; and all those dismal consequences of a sinful course, which God hath so plainly threatened, and our own consciences do so much dread, will certainly overtake us at last; and we cannot by not thinking of these things ever prevent or avoid them. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
The wise man for futurity
I. Some circumstances of our latter end which it becomes us to consider.
1. Death will part asunder the body and the soul.
2. Death will dissolve all our earthly ties.
3. Death will strip us of all our titles, and of that office, power, and influence which they imply.
4. Death will level all distinctions.
5. Death will strip us of our earthly possessions.
6. Death must bring all our schemes to a close.
7. Death will finish our period of usefulness.
8. Death will finish our character, and close our accounts for the judgment.
II. The wisdom of properly considering the circumstances of our latter end.
1. God has pronounced it wise to consider our latter end, and act with constant and careful reference to the life to come.
2. The wisdom of such a course is inferred from the fact that in all other things we consider it indispensable.
3. To make death a matter of previous calculation is necessary to the promotion of our temporal interest and that of our heirs.
4. To well consider our latter end will tend to forward our preparation for the scenes of death. (D. A. Clark.)
The inevitable beyond
Most impractical must every man appear who genuinely believes in the things that are unseen. The man called practical by the men of this world is he who busies himself building his house in the sand, while he does not even bespeak a lodging in the inevitable beyond. (George Macdonald.)
Living without thought of death
In a good pasture where many good oxen are, the butcher comes and fetcheth away one and kills it; next day he fetcheth away another, and kills that toe. Now, those which he leaves behind feed and fat themselves till they are driven to the slaughter, not considering what is become of their fellows or what shall become of themselves. So when death coming amongst a multitude of men, here taking one, and there another, we pamper up ourselves till he overtakes us also; we live as though, like Adam and Abel, we never saw a man die before us, whereas every churchyard, every age, every sickness should be a preacher of mortality unto us. (J. Spencer.)
For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being Judges.
The testimony of infidels to the truth of Christianity
We profess to believe that the system of doctrine and ethics set forth in Scripture is true. It is our business to prove it.
1. We may use a priori method; that is, we may take an antecedent probability and proceed to verify it. If there is a God, He would probably reveal Himself.
2. The a posteriori method; that is, reasoning from facts to conclusions. There are certain facts for which it is impossible to account otherwise than by attributing a supernatural power to religion.
3. Our case may be substantiated by external evidence.
4. Internal evidence or personal experience.
5. In demonstrating the truth of Christianity we may use the testimony of its friends. An army of such witnesses is ever marching past.
6. There is still another view point, however, to wit, the testimony of the enemy. It is our purpose to pursue a brief argument from the concessions made by unbelievers as to the divineness of Jesus and the power of the religion which has its living centre in Him.
I. Our first witnesses shall be a group of three who were able to testify from more or less intimate acquaintance with the living Christ.
1. Pilate. “I am innocent of the blood of this just person.” The word rendered “just person” is used by Plato in characterising the ideal man.
2. The Centurion who had charge of the crucifixion of Jesus. “Truly this was the Son of God!” He knew the hopes of Israel respecting the coming of Messiah one of whose distinctive titles was “the Son of God,” and he was persuaded that “those hopes were realised in this Jesus whom they had sentenced to the accursed tree.
3. Judas. “I have betrayed innocent blood!”
II. We now come to the post-apostolic period, and summon a coterie of stalwart enemies of Christ.
1. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who wrote in the first century of the Christian era. In his Antiquities he says, “About this time lived Jesus, a wise man--if it be proper to call Him a man, for He was a doer of wonderful works. He was a teacher of such men as receive the truth. He was called the Christ. And when Pilate, at the instigation of our principal men, had condemned Him to the Cross, those who had loved Him did not forsake Him. And He appeared to them alive again on the third day, the prophets of old having foretold these and many other wonderful things concerning Him. And the sect of Christians, so named after Him, is not extinct unto this day.”
2. Celsus, a Greek philosopher of the second century, who wrote vigorously against the sect of Galileans. He quotes liberally from the New Testament, and concedes the genuineness of the miracles of Christ.
3. Porphyry, of the second century, a Neo-Platonist, who wrote fifteen volumes against Christianity. He says, in speaking of the oracles, “The goddess Hecate hath declared Jesus to be a most pious man, His soul, like the souls of other pious men, favoured with immortality after death. The Christians do mistakingly worship Him. And when we asked at the oracle, ‘Why then was He condemned?’ she answered, ‘The body is liable to suffering, but the soul of the pious dwells in heavenly mansions. He hath indeed been the occasion of error in leading others away from the acknowledgment of the immortal Jove; but, being Himself pious, He is gone to the dwelling of the gods.”
4. Julian, the apostate emperor of the fourth century. He was a bitter enemy of Christianity. In a campaign against the Persians he fell, pierced with a spear. Clutching the dust in his agony, he cried, “Galilean, Thou hast conquered!” He says, “Jesus, having persuaded a few of the baser sort of Galileans to attach themselves to Him, has now been celebrated about three hundred years. He did nothing in His lifetime worthy of fame, unless it be counted a great work to heal lame and blind people and exorcise demoniacs.” A splendid tribute, this, to the beneficent work of Christ!
III. We leap a thousand years and come to another group of unbelievers. We are now in the midst of influences which are ultimately to provoke a social and political upheaval throughout the civilised earth.
1. Spinoza. He is referred to as the father of modern pantheism. He did not believe in the personality of God, but regarded Him as an all-pervading something with the attributes of extension and thought. As to this God, however, he says that “Jesus Christ was the temple. In Him God has most fully revealed Himself.”
2. Thomas Chubb, a leader of the modern deists. He was a tallow chandler in his early life, and his sympathies were with the common people. Though he rejected the divineness of the Gospel, yet he was pleased to compliment it as a religion for the poor. He says, “In Christ we have an example of a quiet and peaceable spirit, of a becoming modesty and sobriety--just, honest, upright, and sincere, and above all, of a most gracious and benevolent temper and behaviour--one who did no wrong, no injury to any man, in whose mouth was no guile; who went about doing good, not only by His ministry, but also in curing all manner of diseases among the people. His life was a beautiful picture of human nature in its own purity and simplicity, and showed at once what excellent creatures men might be under the influence of His Gospel.”
IV. And now we present three malignant spirits, than whom no others in history have probably exercised a more disastrous influence on human thought, the master spirits of the period of the french revolution.
1. Diderot, father of the Encyclopedic, which was the dragon’s egg of the Reign of Terror In a conversation with the Baron de Holbach he is represented as saying, “For a wonder, gentlemen, I know nobody, either in France or elsewhere, who could write as these Scriptures are written. This is a Satan of a book. I defy anyone to prepare a tale so simple, so sublime and touching, as that of the passion of Jesus Christ.”
2. Jean Jacques Rousseau, brilliant, erratic, inconsistent. Here is a remarkable saying of his: “I will confess to you that the majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the Gospel has its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction--how mean, how contemptible are they compared with the Scriptures! Is it possible that a book so simple and at once so sublime should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage whose history it contains should be Himself a mere man? What sweetness, what purity in His manner! What an affecting gracefulness in His instructions! What sublimity in His maxims! What profound wisdom in His discourses! What presence of mind, what subtlety, what fitness in His replies! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live and so die without weakness and without ostentation? When Plato describes his imaginary just man, loaded with all the punishments of guilt, yet meriting the highest rewards of virtue, he describes exactly the character of Jesus Christ, and the resemblance is so striking that all the Church Fathers perceived it. The death of Socrates, peacefully philosophising among his friends, appears the most agreeable that one could wish: while that of Jesus expiring in agonies, abused, insulted, and accused by a whole nation, is the most horrible that one could fear. Socrates, indeed, in receiving the cup of poison, blessed the weeping executioner who administered it: but Jesus, amid excruciating tortures, prayed for His merciless tormentors. Yes, verily, if the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus were those of a God.”
3. Voltaire. No man ever lived who wrote more bitterly of the Christian religion than he; yet hear this letter, the last he ever wrote, expressed in an honest hour, and worthy of consideration as the utterance of a dying man: “I, the underwritten, do declare that for these four days past, having been afflicted with vomiting of blood--at the age of eighty-four--and not being able to drag myself to church, the reverend Rector of Sulpice having been pleased to add to his many favours that of sending me the Abbe Gautier, I did confess to him, that if it please God to dispose of me, I would die in the Church in which I was born. Hoping that the Divine mercy will pardon my faults, I sign myself in the presence of Abbe Mignon, my nephew, and Marquis de Villeville, my friend, voltaire. March 2, 1778,”
V. We here introduce a witness who stands alone, the most colossal figure in history. Napoleon. If not an unbeliever in the radical sense, he was certainly a fatalist. His star of destiny was his only providence. On one occasion, during his exile, Genesis Bertrand said to him, “I cannot conceive, sire, how a great man like you could believe that a Supreme Being could exhibit Himself to man in human guise.” Napoleon answered, “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ was not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity. Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and His will confounds me. Between Him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by Himself. His ideas and His sentiments, the truth which He announces, and His manner of convincing are not explained either by human organisation or by the nature of things. His birth and the history of His life; the profundity of His doctrine, which grapples the mightiest difficulties, and which is of those difficulties the most admirable solution; His Gospel, His apparition, His empire, His march across the ages and the realms--everything is for me a prodigy, a mystery insoluble, which plunges me into reveries which I cannot escape; a mystery which is there before my eyes, a mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human . . . And what a mysterious symbol, the instrument of punishment of the Man-God! His disciples were armed with it. ‘The Christ,’ they said, ‘God has died for the salvation of men.’ What a strife, what a tempest, these simple words have raised around the humble standard of the punishment of the Man-God! On the one side we see rage and all the furies of hatred and violence: on the other there are gentleness, moral courage, infinite resignation. Everywhere Christians fell, and everywhere they triumphed. You speak of Caesar, of Alexander, of their conquests, and of the enthusiasm which they enkindled in the hearts of their soldiers; but can you conceive of a dead man making conquests, with an army faithful and entirely devoted to his memory?. . .Now that I am at St. Helena, now that I am alone, chained upon this rock, who fights and wins empires for me? who are the courtiers of my misery and misfortunes? who thinks of me? who makes effort for me in Europe? Where are my friends? What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved, adored, and which is extending over all the earth! Is this to die? is it not rather to live? The death of Christ--it is the death of God.”
VI. We summon now two witnesses from among the poets, both of whom, gifted with extraordinary genius, rejected the Gospel of Christ.
1. Goethe. “I consider the Gospels to be thoroughly genuine, for in them is the effective reflection of the sublimity which emanates from Jesus, and this is as Divine as ever the Divine appeared on earth.”
2. Jean Paul Richter, worshipper of the beautiful. “Jesus of Nazareth is the purest among the mighty, the mightiest among the pure, who with His pierced hand has raised empires from their foundations, turned the stream of history from its old channel, and still continues to rule and guide the ages.”
VII. The two who are now to appear and bear testimony are representative leaders of the right and left wings of modern unitarianism.
1. Dr. Channing, leader of the conservatives, says, “I maintain that this is a character wholly remote from human conception. To imagine it to be the production of imposture or enthusiasm shows a strange unsoundness of mind. I contemplate it with a veneration second only to the profound awe with which I look upward to God. It bears no mark of human invention. It belongs to and manifested the beloved Son of God. I feel as if I could not be deceived. The Gospels must be true. They were drawn from a living original. The character of Jesus is not a fiction. He was what He claimed to be, and what His followers attested. Nor is this all. Jesus not only was, He is still, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. He has entered the heaven to which He always looked forward on earth. There He lives and reigns. Let us, then, by imitation of His virtues and obedience to His Word, prepare ourselves to join Him in those pure mansions where He is surrounding Himself with the good and the pure, and will communicate to them forever His own spirit and power and joy.”
2. Theodore Parker, leader of the radicals, says, “Jesus combines in Himself the sublimest precepts and divinest practices, thus more than realising the dream of prophets and sages. He puts away the doctors of the law, subtle, learned, irrefragable, and pours out a doctrine beautiful as the light, sublime as heaven, and true as God. Shall we be told that such a man never lived? Suppose that Newton never lived. But who did his works? and thought his thoughts? It takes a Newton to forge a Newton. What man could have fabricated a Jesus? None but Jesus.”
VIII. The two witnesses who remain have been foremost leaders of modern unbelief.
1. David Strauss, the author of the mythical theory of the story of Jesus--perhaps the most conspicuous figure in recent German thought. A few years ago he was buried without a prayer or word of Christian song. He says, “If in Jesus the union of self-consciousness with the consciousness of God has been real, and expressed not only in words but actually revealed in all the conditions of His life, He represents within the religious sphere the highest point, beyond which humanity cannot go--yea, whom it cannot equal, inasmuch as everyone who hereafter should climb to the same height could only do so with the help of Jesus who first attained it. He remains the highest model of religion within our thought, and no perfect piety is possible without His presence in the heart.
2. Ernest Renan, author of the legendary theory. He rejected the supernatural from the Gospel record. His romantic biography of Jesus concludes in these words, “Repose now in Thy glory, noble Founder I Henceforth, beyond the reach of frailty, Thou shalt witness, from the heights of Divine peace, the infinite results of Thy work. For thousands of years the world will defend Thee! Thou shalt be the banner about which the hottest battle will be given Whatever may be the surprises of the future, Jesus will never be surpassed. His worship will grow young without ceasing; His legend will call forth tears without end; His sufferings will melt the noblest hearts; all ages will proclaim that among the sons of men there is none born greater than Jesus.”
conclusion--In view of these concessions made by the leading representatives of unbelief all along the centuries, it is submitted that thoughtful people cannot pause in a partial or qualified rejection of Jesus Christ.
1. As to His person. Was He man? Ay, grandly so. But He was either less than a true man or more. His enemies themselves being witnesses, He was either an impostor or the Divine Man, as He claimed to be.
2. As to His character. He was the one bright particular star in a firmament of imperfect lights. He alone is worthy to be the exemplar of character, for He alone meets the conditions of the ideal manhood.
3. As to His teaching. There have been other sacred teachers--Seneca, Confucius, Zoroaster, Sakya-Muni--but these were in comparison with Him as glow-worms to the noonday sun. Never man spake like this Man.
4. As to His work. “He went about doing good.” And since His crucifixion He has continued the building up of a kingdom of truth and righteousness on earth. Its outward form is the Church, “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.”
5. As to the manner of His death. Ah, here the mystery thickens! Under His Cross we learn the truth, justice, holiness, and mercy of the living God. And here Christ comes into vital relation with our souls. Our God is the God of salvation. What, therefore, shall we say? As for me, I do believe this Jesus is destined to reign even unto the ends of the earth. The story of His Church is an unbroken record of triumph. The government is upon His shoulders. He is King over all and blessed forever. What more? As for me, this Christ shall be my Saviour. Shall He be yours? (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Subpoenaed witness to the worth of Christianity
When Moses speaks of a rock he intends that in which men seek for security, repose, refreshment. By “our rock,” he means the living God in whom the saints trust--He is the impregnable strength of His people; amid the weariness of life He is the rest of their soul, in Him they find sweet delight. By “their rock” Moses meant the idols, the religious systems, the worldly things, the lying vanities in which the natural man places his hope. The outside world often concedes the superiority of Christian hope. It is true, that the verdict given in our favour by worldly and unbelieving men is not always verbal and direct; it is often unintentional, implied, and indirect, but such concessions have a great value--in some respects they are more significant than are direct and verbal testimonies. And there is another objection we may anticipate. It may be said that the testimony of worldly and sceptical men to the superiority of the Christian faith can have little sincerity in it if they do not follow up their admission by accepting that faith. But a creed may have the sanction of a man’s understanding and conscience, and yet he may refuse to adopt it. There is the power of prejudice, of worldly interest, there is the tyranny of passion and appetite, there is the pride of life, there is the want of inclination to believe and obey, there is the unwillingness of men to pay the price for a great ideal.
I. The acknowledgments of worldliness. The million trust in gold, pleasure, position, and in certain hours they are very confident and scornful. The flowery rock of pleasure is the true rock; the design of life is the gratification of the senses; sunshine, roses, and song are the desirable things. To others the golden rock is the true rock. Safety, leisure, honour, greatness, and the fulness of joy are guaranteed by the golden reef; laying up treasure in heaven is a silly illusion of the saints. Others declare the proud rock of position is the true rock. He who builds a palace has reached life’s hope and glory; there is no religion but the religion of success, and the children of advantage and renown look with pity on men whose only distinction is goodness and faith, Flushed with pleasure, intoxicated with health and wealth, blinded by the pride of life, they cry frantically: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” But the days come when they think very little of Diana. Having served fame, pleasure, appetite, pride, mammon, they declare that they have been betrayed and mocked, and they look sympathetically and longingly to the religious life they have neglected. They do not find under their rock the sweetness they expected; in the days of health, of opulence, of pleasure, they are disappointed; the honey out of their rock is poisoned and its waters are bitter. They extol the apple of Sodom, and make a face whilst they eat it. They do not find the rest for which they hoped. Life is a weariness, the burden and heat of the day is too great to be borne. They do not find the security and peace they desire. They quarrel with their rock whilst they live; they mistrust it at the grave, for in their lips is the cry of Balaam: “Let me die the death of the righteous,” etc.
II. The acknowledgments of unbelief.
1. The sceptical world makes intellectual concessions to our creed. In our day we have witnessed a remarkable sight in the sceptical world, We have seen a great sceptic make a new rock, and we have seen how slavishly he has copied our rock. No one can study that most wonderful modern system of secularism known as positivism without being struck with its close resemblance to the Christian doctrine, worship, and hope. A story is told of one of our painters that, having painted a picture with a fine rock in it, he went to see another picture painted by a brother artist in which also a rock was a prominent feature; immediately he saw it, the original artist broke out, “He has stolen my rock, he has stolen my rock!” When I read the French sceptic’s multitudinous pages I find the same cry again and again coming to my lips. Of course, I soon see that it is not my rock, not the granite foundation, not the Rock of Ages, but only plaster of Paris, on which can be built no house of salvation. Nevertheless it is a great concession to Christianity that unbelief should thus follow its lines, imitate its dogmas, worship, fellowship, and hope. In nature there is a phenomenon known as “mimicry,” it is a curious fact on which our modern scientists have written largely, namely, that one class of insects or birds acquire characteristics which belong to another class, they come closely to resemble creatures with which they have no real affinity. But mind this, it is always the weak and inferior creature that apes the stronger and higher, never the superior that imitates the inferior.
2. Unbelief makes many practical concessions to our creed.
(1) Such an acknowledgment of the preciousness of our faith comes from the domestic circle in the indisposition of the unbeliever to make sceptics of his family. Men wish to do their best for their families.
(2) Such an acknowledgment comes from the business world. Scepticism may be considered a virtue in literary circles, but it is hardly accepted as such in the practical world even by irreligious men. I saw once an advertisement for a clerk: “Freethinker preferred.” I do not know what kind of business was transacted in that office, or what came of that advertisement, but how strangely it sounded! I have seen it only once--significant fact.
(3) Such an acknowledgment comes from the political sphere. The validity of religion is denied in theory, but the men who deny its truth and authority confess that politically it is useful, nay, indispensable--they agree to regard it as a useful superstition. Gibbon, infidel as he was, attacking the Christian religion with learning, eloquence, and satire, yet went to church, because he confessed that he felt that government and order would be impossible unless the common people were awed by the supernatural. When later a rationalist like Edmond About said, “What France needs is ten millions of Protestants, he gave utterance to the same thought--that a spiritual faith is essential to order, to civilisation, to progress. And many able unbelievers of late years have looked with the deepest misgiving on the spread of infidel opinion--they believed that the opinion was correct, yet that socially and politically it was perilous. To discredit religious faith was to loosen the bands of order and government.
III. The acknowledgments of heathenism.
1. The heathen are deeply impressed with our superior civilisation, which has its roots in our faith. We do not go to them with an abstract faith, but with a creed attested by many powerful and conspicuous demonstrations. We possess a marvellous sciences a vast commerces a splendid literature--power, wealth, culture, liberty almost unexampled. Christianity can say with its author: “Believe me for the very works’ sake.” This spectacle of a supreme civilisation in many ways affects the thought of the pagan when he considers the merit of our faith. He looks round on the backwardness, the weakness, the ignorance, the poverty, the subordination of his own land, and feels there is something seriously amiss with his gods, temples, and scriptures. “Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” The heathen is deeply impressed by our philanthropy, which is also a fruit of our faith. In a recent article on “The Amelioration of the Condition of Hindu Women,” which appeared in a native newspaper in India, called The Hindu, occur these words: “We by no means approve of the attempts of the evangelists to Christianise India. We believe in the Hindu religion, and in the suitability of its doctrines to the people of this land,. . .but it is impossible not to admire and feel thankful for the good work the missionaries are doing. It is a matter of standing reproach to us that we are not able to do for our countrymen and women half as much as the Christian missionaries are doing for us.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
The pathetic side of infidelity
Modern infidelity has many tones and many voices. Some of these are insolent and arrogant,--they drive us at once to a distance. There is just one which is deeply pathetic. It is that which confesses that its rock is not as our Rock; that its reasonings and its discoveries have not enriched but impoverished. “Our Rock” is the God of the Christian revelation. Our enemy’s rock is a divinity of man’s construction, however many or however few it may admit of the characteristics of the other. Let me name one or two of the attributes of our Rock.
I. The divine personality. Man wants, and must have, someone above himself to worship, trust, love.
II. The forgiveness of sins. It is very well to say that sin is not sinful; or to say, on the other hand, that sin must be left as it is, to bear its fruit in consequence, and to know no other cure but forgetfulness: this does not meet the case, does not heal the remorse, does not repair the mischief, does not set the sinner free to work, because it sets him not free to hope. Forgiveness is a name not yet named: till it is named, I am helpless still. But forgiveness of sins is named in revelation. It is the keystone of the Gospel.
III. The lawfulness, reality, and efficacy of prayer. How ready to hand are the old cavils! How shall man stay or guide the hand of God?
IV. Life and immortality brought to light by the gospel. What has “their rock” to tell of a world beyond death? A guess, a peradventure--at best, a recognition of angel faces loved and lost--at best, a resumption, in some spoilt and damaged form, of relationships formed here and broken--at best, an absorption into the great ocean or fountain of being, impassive, impersonal, unconscious, irresponsive. (Dean Vaughan.)
Hostile homage to the supremacy of the Christian faith
The enemies with whom we are familiar in these times, the enemies with whose rock we come into contact, are not worshippers of idols nor votaries of any of the grosser forms of superstition. On these they admit Christianity to be a great advance. They would scorn the notion of resorting to superstition and idolatry as the true solution of man’s spiritual need. In comparison with these they admit the Christian faith to be both purer and loftier, still it is not their rock. They claim to have advanced beyond Christianity. Now I propose, in the spirit of these words of Moses, to compare the Christian faith with the principles of those who differ from it, and to show how its superiority must be and is acknowledged even by its enemies.
I. The formation of character. It is commonly allowed that the Christian faith produces the very highest type of character. There has never appeared upon earth a being whose character could be placed alongside that of Jesus Christ. No doubt it is possible to find outside of the ranks of Christians not a few who are not only inoffensive in their manner of life, and have characters unstained by any decided vice, but also men of conspicuous honour and adorned with virtue in a degree which puts many a professed Christian to shame. But in reference to such it is to be noticed, first, that the qualities by which such men are distinguished are precisely those which Christianity teaches men to value and to practise, and that it is just in the degree in which they have developed the virtues of Christianity that they are held in honour; and secondly, it is to be remembered that it is hard to say how far these virtues, when manifested within the pale of Christendom, are not attributable to Christian influences.
II. The inward satisfaction and peace which they yield to the soul. There is a craving in the human heart which seeks something it cannot itself provide, a thirst which does not find in the heart which feels it any well at which it may be quenched. There are outside of the Christian faith endless methods of ministering to that thirst--the delights of love, the fellowship of kindred minds, the pursuit of knowledge, the gratifying of the desires of the mind and heart, the excitement of pleasure, and many others besides, but is there any one of them all which meets this inward craving of the human heart so directly or so completely as it is met in the gift of a new and everlasting life in God through Jesus Christ our Lord? Dig what wells you will in this wilderness world; hew out what cisterns you choose to gather up in them your little stores of earth-drawn pleasure--do they yield you anything to be compared to the streams of living water flowing from the smitten rock? Have they ever furnished you a heart satisfaction to be compared as to quality and permanency with the heart satisfaction felt by the Christian in realising the love of God towards him, and his own entrance into the Divine life in Christ? Again, there are dark and difficult problems which present themselves to the soul when pondering its present position and future destiny; and although there are some who preach that it is the highest duty of man to go forward in his appointed path with only an awful sense of the darkness surrounding him, and the mystery before him, is it not a better position far to feel that the most important questions have been answered, that the proper goal of man has been revealed, and that the path which leads to it has been made clear?
III. The support afforded in the emergencies of life.
1. In seasons of danger, in the hour when shipwreck seems inevitable, or sudden illness seizes on the trembling body, or pestilence is perilously near, who manifests the greatest sense of safety?
2. Or again, in times of deep distress, when earthly disappointment has impoverished you, or affliction has weakened and wasted you, or bereavement has left you mourning and lonely, do you know of any stay which you would then so much desire, as that possessed by the Christian?
3. Lastly, who, think you, is so well prepared to die as he who has committed his soul to the care and keeping of Christ? Is he as likely to be troubled with dying regrets as you who have not done so? Do you think that he will lament in that hour the time spent in prayer and in study of God’s Word, his days of humiliation and repentance, his strivings, self-denials, and sacrifices for Christ, and the labour put forth to win conformity to the mind of Christ? (G. Robson, D. D.)
The true rock of life
I. A man’s God is the rock of His being.
1. Because He is the most settled object to him. Souls cling to their religion as limpets to the rocks; the more furious the billows the faster their hold.
2. Because He is the object most relied upon by him. In Him the soul’s affections centre, on Him its highest hopes are based.
II. The God of the Bible is the best rock of souls.
1. He is the grandest Rock. All others are vanities and lies.
2. He is the most durable. All others decay.
3. He is the most accessible. Always within reach even of those most distant from Him.
III. The superiority of this rock is well attested--
1. By those who have tried it.
2. By those who reject it. What says Rousseau? “The majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the Gospel hath its influence on my heart. Review the works of our philosophers, and with all their pomp of diction, how mean, how contemptible are they compared with Scripture!” (Homilist.)
Testimony to Christianity wrung from its enemies
The great lawgiver, forbidden to enter the promised land, takes a leave the most affectionate of those whom he had led through the wilderness; and bequeaths them, as his best legacy, exhortations to steadfastness in obeying the true Jehovah. There were gathered within the range of his vision the future fortunes of Israel; and he alternately rejoiced and lamented, as with prophetic gaze he marked the advancement and depression of God’s chosen people. Nothing but their own waywardness and rebellion could interfere with their prosperity and happiness; and therefore, when he observed how the imagery of disaster crowded the yet distant scene, he brake into the exclamation: “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them and the Lord had shut them up?” He saw that in place of carrying themselves successfully in the battle, the Israelites would yield to an inconsiderable force, but why was this, unless because wickedness had provoked God to withdraw His protection and His strength? Was it because the false deities of the heathens were mightier than the Jehovah of Israel? Indeed, the very adversaries themselves did not advance such an assertion. They knew, and they confessed, that their sources of strength were inferior to those to which the Israelites might apply, and would not therefore themselves refer their success to the greater prowess of the power they adored. “Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” And well then might the lawgiver, whilst just on the point of being gathered to his fathers, expostulate indignantly with Israel on the madness of that idolatry into which he foresaw they would run. We regard as emphatically the enemies of Christianity those who absolutely reject revelation, and those who (professedly receiving it) explain away its chief mysteries. The first is the Deist, who will have nothing but what he is pleased to call natural religion, and who denies that God has mane any disclosure to His creatures but what is given in the universe or on the tablet of conscience; the second is the philosophising Christian, whether he style himself the Arian or the Socinian or the Unitarian, who in some way or other impugns the doctrine of a Trinity, and therefore removes from the Bible the great article of an atonement for sin. We say these are the chief enemies of Christianity, and it is from these we are to seek a testimony to the excellence of that creed which we ourselves profess to have adopted. And therefore through the remainder of our discourse there will be two great truths at whose illustration we must labour--the first, that the rock of the Deist “is not as our Rock,” the Deist “himself being judge”; and the second, that the rock of the Unitarian “is not as our Rock,” the Unitarian “himself being judge.”
1. Now, we shall begin with an argument which is applicable to every species of infidelity, whether it take the form of a total or only of a partial rejection of Scripture. We should have no Deism, if the contents of revelation were not designed to humble us and produce self-denial; we should have no Socinianism, if the doctrine of a Trinity in unity demanded not the unqualified submission of our reason. But then it ought to be evident, that no religious system would be adapted to our nature and condition which did not set itself vigorously against our pride and our passions; it ought to be evident, that without some great moral renovation, a thorough change in the dispositions and tendencies with which we are born, we cannot be fitted for intercourse with such a Being as God must necessarily be, nor for the enjoyment of such happiness as can alone be looked for as His gift to His creatures. It ought therefore to commend itself to us as an incontrovertible truth, that Christianity is worthy our credence and our veneration, in exact proportion as it tends to the production of humility and of holiness; and if in any way, whether direct or indirect, there be put forth a confession that Christianity is more adapted than some other system to the subduing the haughtiness and corruption of our nature, we may affirm of such confession that it amounts to a direct testimony of the superiority of our religion. And we maintain that this very confession is furnished by the rejection of Christianity. We find the causes of rejection in the humiliating and sanctifying tendencies of the religion. We trace Deism and Socinianism, and under these every form of infidelity, to a cherished dislike to truth, which demands the subjugation of self and the prostration of reason. What, then, does the rejection prove, but that the embraced system is more complacent to pride and more indulgent to passion? And if it prove this, it is itself nothing less than a testimony on the side of Christianity. We can challenge the very adversaries to bear testimony; we can wring a witness for the superiority of Christianity as an engine adapted for the exigencies of a disorganised creation, from the secret, yet discernible, reasons which cause a land to be deformed by so many shapes of infidelity. Oh! knowing that those reasons have to do with the humbling, the sanctifying tendencies of the religion of Jesus, and that consequently what is substituted for this religion must less tend to humble and less tend to sanctify, and therefore be less fitted for such beings as ourselves, we can triumphantly look our opponents in the face, and unflinchingly declare that “their rock is not as our Rock, our enemies themselves being judges.” We draw, then, a contrast between what was effected towards the amelioration of human condition while heathenism had the world to itself, and what has been done since Christianity gained partial sway. We are not afraid to refer it to the decision of the most inveterate opponent of Christianity, whether civilisation has not advanced with a most rapid march wheresoever the Gospel has gained a footing, and whether the institutions of a country professedly Christian could be exchanged for those of the most renowned in heathen times, without the loss of what we hold dearest in our charter and the surrender of what sheds its best beauty around our homes. We have never heard of so thorough and consistent an advocate of the sufficiency of reason, that he would contend for the superior civilisation, the finer jurisprudence, the greater civil liberty, the purer domestic happiness, attained to whilst reason was not interfered with by communications which avouched themselves from God. And this is enough to warrant our claiming him as a witness to the superiority of our Rock. We contend that in the possession of Christianity alone lies the difference between ourselves and the nations whom we have vastly outstripped. We do not excel them in the fire of genius and the vigour of intellect. The agency of reason alone is in no degree comparable to that of revelation, when the ends proposed are those eagerly sought by every foe of evil and every friend of man. And oh! then, is it not a confession which warrants us in affirming when opposing such as reject the Gospel of Christ--“Their rock is not as our Rock, our enemies themselves being judges”?
2. But we are aware that in this last argument we have not taken the highest ground which we are entitled to occupy. We have striven to show you that an acknowledgment may be wrung from the Deist to the worth of Christianity, considered in regard to its power to promote the well being of society; but this is not the most important point of view under which we have to consider Christianity. The excellence of a religion should be tried by its power of preparing man for death; it is in directing us how to provide for the future that a religious system is valuable; and though it may confer collateral benefits and improve the temporal condition of a people, we can form no estimate of its worth as a religion till we have examined it as a guide for immortality. And if Deism and Christianity are to be compared on a deathbed, we shall readily gain the testimony which is asserted in our text. It will not then be denied, that persons of every age and of every rank in life are continually meeting death with calmness and even with joy, the principles of Christianity being those by which they are sustained, and its /lopes those by which they are animated. There are few histories more thrilling or fuller of horror than those of the last hours of Paine or Voltaire. And where there has been neither affected indifference nor excruciating dread, there has been an utter want of tranquillity and gladness. Oh! we shall wait in vain to have these produced from the deathbed of the Deist. We are willing that the records of Deism should be searched; but we are confident that not an instance can be found in which the dying unbeliever could exclaim with rapture or even with serenity--“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory. And therefore is the Deist a witness to the worth of Christianity; therefore do we appeal to him, in evidence that the religion of reason is not to be compared with the religion of revelation.
3. Now, we consider that most, if not all, of this latter reasoning is as applicable to the case of the Unitarian as that of the Deist. We believe that, where there has been rejection of the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, the doctrine of an atonement for sin, there is never any of that calmness and confidence in dying which may continually be seen where the trust rests on the great Propitiation. “The rock” of the Unitarian “is not as our Rock,” the Unitarian “himself being judge”; for the man who thinks to be his own peacemaker with God can exhibit none of that assurance when passing into eternity which the very weakest possess who know that their sins have been laid on a Surety. The Unitarian looks to be saved by his repentance and obedience, no respect being had to the merits of a Mediator. Now, repentance and obedience are an important part of our system, as well as that of the Unitarian; we hold, as well as he, that no man can be saved unless he repent and do “works meet for repentance”; and it were absurd to say that the motive to good living is not at the least as strong to those who trust in Christ, as to those who trust in themselves; so that our system embraces all which that of the Unitarian embraces, whilst it adds doctrines which, if true, cannot be omitted without ruin, and which, if false, serve only to strengthen us in that system on which our acceptance is to rest. If then the Unitarian be right, he has no advantage over us--repentance and obedience being presented at least equally under both systems; but if the Unitarian be wrong, we have unspeakably the advantage over him; we have a Surety, in whose perfect satisfaction to find refuge when the worthlessness of all that man can effect for himself is being proved before the Judge of quick and dead. What then has the Unitarian to say of our Rock, except that it is stronger than his own? We have been engaged in showing you how arguments in favour of Christianity may be wrested from our adversaries; it behoves us to take heed that arguments against it be not derivable from ourselves. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The superiority of the real Christian
I. There is a difference between the people of God and others, which the latter discover; a difference of character and condition of which they are aware, and which they are sometimes forced to acknowledge. I do not say that this distinction is visible in all professors of religion. How should it be? It is not real in all. There are those who differ from others only in professing to be different from them. Nor do I say that this distinction is as manifest in all real Christians as it is in some; nor in these equally manifest at all times; but there exists, and sinners see that there exists, a class of persons in the world who, in their spirit, and principles, and consistent acting in accordance with their principles, in their desires, aversions and aims, and in all that goes to constitute character, are different from them and from the generality of mankind; as also in their hopes, consolations, supports, and sources of enjoyment. An intelligent and accomplished young man, on his deathbed, told a clergyman who visited him that he had been an infidel and a profligate, and that in the whole course of his infidelity there was but one thing that disturbed him, and he could answer every argument for Christianity but one, and that was the pious example and prayers of a believing mother. The perception of this difference exerts this power, because sinners discern that in so far as Christians are different from them, they are superior to them, have the decided advantage over them.
I. In point of: character, sinners see and admit the superiority of the real Christian. Compare John the Baptist with Herod, or Mary, the sister of Lazarus, with Herodias or her daughter Salome, the dancing girl. Look first at Paul, and then at Festus or even Agrippa. You see what the difference is, and where the superiority lies. Or look at some living Christian and then at yourself, and make a comparison. Look at his spirit and then at your own; his spirit of meekness and yours of resentment; his humility and your pride; his disinterestedness and your selfishness. His aim is to do good, yours to get good. To enrich, gratify, or aggrandise yourself is your object. His is to glorify God and bless mankind. The love of Christ constrains him; but it is not so with you. Now, whose spirit is the more excellent? whose principles of action the more worthy? which character the superior? Do you not feel your own inferiority? Yes, and sinners do often secretly despise themselves for it. Here they see one denying and labouring to subdue his appetites, while they to all theirs are giving the rein; and the time that they spend in vanity, they see others occupying in visits of charity and offices of kindness to the poor and neglected; and they know that they are wrong, and that the others are right. Look at the devotional part of the Christian’s character. He consecrates a portion of each day to secret communion with God, to prayer, confession of sin and contrition for it, to the grateful recollections of God’s goodness to him, to the serious reading of the Word of God, to meditation and self-examination, and to intercession for you and others. Now, you have no such habits of devotion. You live without God in the world. Here is a difference between you and the Christian. On which side is the superiority? Do you not decide that the conduct of the Christian is the more filial, the more affectionate, grateful, reasonable, and worthy? Look now at the Christian in his family; and recollect then what you are in yours. Hear the expression of thanksgiving and the invocation of blessing, accompanying the reception of the bounties of Divine providence. See night and morning the household assembled to hear the Word of God, and to unite in the offering of prayer and praise. Is not this manner of conducting the affairs of a family preferable to yours?
II. I pass on to the condition of the Christian. If he is better than his neighbour, so it is better with him.
(1) In regard to safety, is not the condition of the Christian superior? Have not you something to apprehend, but has he any cause for fear, to whom God says, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed for I am thy God”? He who has God for him is safer from natural evil than any other; and safer from sin surely is he to whom it is promised, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, My grace is sufficient for you.”
(2) In regard to peace, I would ask if the Christian has not the advantage of you? If the testimony of God is to be relied on, he has all the advantage implied in the difference between great peace and no peace, for “great peace have they who love Thy law,” it is said in one place; and in another, “there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked”; he being justified by faith has peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ; and the peace of God that passes understanding keeps his heart and mind through Jesus Christ. Do you know anything of such tranquillity? Is not this far before the philosophic calm? How is it that in seasons of danger, in the hour of apprehended shipwreck, in the sudden invasion of sickness, or in the time of impending pestilence, men fall upon their knees, betake themselves to the Bible, and ask an interest in the prayers of Christians? Do they not thereby testify that the rock of their reliance is not as our Rock?
(3) In point of consolation in affliction, and support under the trials of life, has not the Christian an acknowledged advantage over every other? Underneath him are the everlasting arms. What equal support have you? Have you any, any refuge to run into for shelter when the storms of sorrow beat furiously upon you? Any voice like that, of the Son of Man, to say to you in your desponding moments, “be of good cheer”? Do you think that you are as well prepared to die as he who has committed his soul to the care and keeping of Christ? Do you think that he is as likely to be troubled with dying regrets as you?
(4) Shall we go on one step further? That brings us to the bar of God. In what character, think you, will it be most desirable for you to appear there? (W. Nairns, D. D.)
The believer’s Rock
Who Israel’s Rock was, we know--Christ. And He is our Rock too,--for strength, for protection, for spiritual supplies, for a refuge to hide in,--we have no other. And He will be ours upon the terms upon which He was willing to be a Rock unto Israel; namely, upon a preserved covenant, a separation, a keeping ourselves wholly unto Him, a forsaking of all forbidden alliances, a renouncing of all other trusts. The words will suggest to be considered, not only the sufficiency of the believer’s Rock in itself, but also its confessed superiority over all other dependencies. And first, as to the image itself. The comparison of God to a rock is of frequent occurrence in Scripture. The reason for the selection of this image no doubt is to be found in the natural scenery of Palestine, which is often a key to the right understanding of much Scripture poetry. The Israelites both loved and were justly proud of their rocks. They stood, as it were, the guardians of their rich and fertile valleys, they were the source of their rivers whose water refreshed their fields, and amidst the strong munitions of these rocks they found a refuge from invading foes. The walls and fortresses of their cities, and in later days the glorious temple itself, rested on the strength of those deep foundations. The moral associations, therefore, which would be called up in the mind of a pious Jew by the image of a rock, would be those of stability, permanence, protection, blessing. He could not look on the hills as they stood round about Jerusalem, or upon the rocks as they frowned ruggedly on his native shore, without seeing in them types of that invisible presence which compassed him on every side, without remembering that God was his Rock, and that the Most High God was his Redeemer. And like happy associations are called up in the Christian mind when we think of Christ as our Rock. Thus the image suggests the security, strength, and firm foundation for our religious trust and hope. These announcements are very welcome to the first feelings of our religious nature. In matters relating to our salvation we all feel the need of a sure footing. We like not to build our house for heaven on the sand; on a yielding, treacherous, shifting basis of rational conjecture, or not very improbable hypothesis. We must have our goings set upon a Rock, and this Rock we have in Christ. He must have lain in the bosom of the Father, who could reveal such things, and yet He must be no intangible thing, no irrational thing, no mere phantom from the spirit world; He must be God manifest in the flesh. Again, in having Christ for their Rock, believers feel they have a sure defence against all their enemies. Against their temptations, lest they should prevail; or their fears, lest they should enslave; or their trials, lest they should oppress and cast down. The rocks of Palestine abounded in deep hollows or caverns, in which the people often betook themselves for shelter against the invading foe. And the same idea is employed in Scripture to describe a spiritual refuge. Thus David exclaims,--“But the Lord is my defence, and my God is the Rock of my refuge.” Whilst Isaiah in a passage strikingly expressive of the good man’s safety under all outward temptations says,--“He dwelleth on high, his place of defence is the munitions of rocks.” The Rock of our salvation, then, in things spiritual, is also the Rock of our defence in things temporal. Godliness hath the promise of both worlds, and though it be true that the storms of time and adversity may come upon us, and breach upon breach may shake the strong foundations of our spiritual trust; yet even against these outward ills God condescends to be our Rock. He knows that our souls would faint if some merciful limit were not placed to the power of our enemies to hurt us, or to the strength of our temptations to overcome us, or to the grievousness of the chastening which tries our spirit, or to the greatness of the fears which affright our souls; and therefore in all our trials and adversities, whensoever they oppress us, He bids us to our refuge, leads us to the Rock that is higher than we are, and higher than our dangers too. And there we dwell safely; we feel as those who are drawn up into God’s secret place, covered with His feathers, screened under His shadow, hidden in the hollow of His hand. “And a man shall be as a hiding- place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; a river of water in a dry place, and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Once more, we contemplate the text as showing that there is in Christ our Rock a rich provision for all spiritual comforts and necessities. Three kinds of produce are mentioned in Scripture as coming from the rocks of Judea, which it can be no strain to regard as strikingly emblematical of what we have in Christ. The first is water. “He brought streams out of the rocks,” it is said in the seventy-eighth Psalm, “and caused water to run down like rivers.” Then another produce of the rock was honey and oil. “He made him suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.” There is not much in the present physical geography of Palestine to say much upon this allusion; however, it may suffice for general accuracy of illustration to observe, that olive trees were wont to thrive most on rocky soils, and the aromatic plants and shrubs to which bees are naturally attracted, abounded in the mountainous parts of Judea, and it has been suggested that nothing is more possible than that deposits of honey should sometimes be found in the cavities of the rocks. Who sees not the aptness of the emblem to represent Christ? “How sweet are Thy words unto my mouth; yea, sweeter than honey unto my taste.” Gold, and silver, and precious stones were among the produce of these rocks. “Surely,” says Job, “there is a vein for the silver, and a place for the gold, where they find it”; but how deep must men dig into the heart of the natural rock before they will find such treasures as David found. “I love Thy commandments; more to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold.” “The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” Yes, wisdom may be found of us, but it must be searched for as for hid treasure; “and this treasure is hid in Christ.” Whatever connects man with God, or the sinner with his hope, everything comes to us from the rock of Christ. And yet the half of its affluent and hidden stores has not been laid open to us. But we must not pass over without noticing the compared view with the believer’s Rock here suggested, or rather its confessed superiority over all other dependencies. “For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” Of course, the primary allusion here is to the gods of idolatry, the blocks of wood and stone worshipped of heathen nations. But the principle of comparison will manifestly admit of being applied much further, and so made to embrace the trusts of all who know not God, or who reject the merciful overture of His Gospel. The comparison to be instituted, therefore, may be said to be generally between Christ as the revealed medium and method of a sinner’s justification on the one hand, and any of the unauthorised methods of acceptance which men may have invented for themselves on the other. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Testimony to Christianity wrung from its enemies
I. The “rock” of a man is that on which he builds his hope; that in which he seeks his safety; that in which he finds his rest; that from which he looks for his satisfaction and his pleasure. The world has many “rocks,” but they are all distinguished by this one characteristic - they are “of the earth, earthy.” They are in the world, and of the world; and with the world they terminate. Men set up for themselves various rocks. The rich man’s stronghold is his wealth; the great man’s confidence is his power; the self-righteous man’s vain trust is his own fancied goodness. But all agree in this, that it is something other than God, something short of God, on which they repose. God is not Himself the Rock of their confidence. They look not to Him for the portion of their souls, the joy of their hearts. If in trouble, they turn to the creature; God, their Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, is left out in all their schemes of happiness, and in all their anticipations of future good. But it is not so with those whom God hath taught. He hath taught them as the first fundamental lesson in the school of true wisdom, that their souls need an infinite portion, in order that they may be filled with good. He has taught them, that that infinite portion was originally Himself, but that they lost that portion when they fell from their God. He has taught them, that in themselves and of themselves they are “poor, and blind, and miserable, and wretched, and naked.” They have no righteousness in which to appear before His pure eyes; they have no means in themselves to provide either against life’s vicissitudes or eternity’s disclosures.
II. Having thus the Rock of the believer, and the rocks of the unbeliever, side by side, suffer us to challenge the whole world to the controversy; and upon their own showing we will prove the transcendency of our rock as compared with theirs. Were we indeed to take the testimony of those who have tried and proved the Rock of salvation--and those who have tried and proved it can surely best estimate its worth; were we to take the testimony of the ransomed spirits of the just, that now surround the Rock of their salvation in heaven, they would with one voice and with one spirit declare, “There is none in heaven in comparison with Him; none is worthy of a thought, or a hope, or an affection, in comparison with Him.”
1. We bring forward, then, the indirect and undesigned testimony of the world in favour of the Rock of our salvation, in the first instance, in that the world gives to that Rock a measure of respect and reverence wholly inconsistent with the manner in which, in their heart and life, they treat that Rock. Why is it that you find that for the most part the men who never give their hearts to Christ, nor their lives to His service, yet render to Him an indirect and reluctant homage? They pay certain reverence to His day, certain regard to His sanctuary, certain homage to His ordinances and His laws. They will “do many things” on behalf of the religion of Jesus Christ; and yet, in the face of all these concessions, they withhold from Him their heart, and they “will not have Him to reign over them.” They themselves, then, “being the judges,” they admit to the religion of Christ, that there is in it a power and a truth and a majesty that they cannot wholly overcome or repudiate.
2. This, too, is the more strikingly shown when we further bring forward that respect and homage which they often pay to the worth and to the excellency of the true servants of Christ. Where, too, is the bold, daring scoffer that has not oftentimes felt an inward conviction of the worth and excellency of the servants of Christ, even though he has been able to stifle the expression of his inward feeling? “Themselves being judges,” the man of God had an elevation, a purity, a dignity that they knew not, and yet the worth and the power of which they could not but feel.
3. And much more is this indirect tribute of the enemies of “our Rock” to the Rock of our salvation often rendered when the servants of God have passed to their rest, and their obnoxious proximity and their rebuking example no more disturb the false peace of the men of this world. Over the grave of the true and undissembled servant of God, how seldom, even from the lips of the bad, you hear anything but respect and love! “The memory of the just is blessed.”
4. But we have another testimony rendered by the worldly and the wicked to the Rock of the Christian that is more striking; and that is, the high standard that they set up for the righteous to observe. What is more common than to find men of the world seeing with an eagle eye any little defection or deviation from high principle in the soldier of the cross?--saying--“It would not have mattered if he had not professed to be religious; hut for one who calls himself a Christian thus to behave, it is intolerable.”
5. But further than this: you find the world again and again bringing forward against Christians charges, that if they had been incurred by any of their own company, they would never have thought of doing so much as adduce. What they would regard in the world as almost evidence of spirit and of high-mindedness, they cannot tolerate in the Christian.
6. But there is a further testimony, that the world cannot withhold in spite of itself--which it is, thank God, daily giving; and that is, the multitudes who are brought out of the world, and brought to the Rock of our hope. The Redeemer draws one and another to Himself; and that, not by holding out to them earthly bribes and temporal inducements, but in the face of the world’s scoff and frown, and often of the loss of reputation and of every earthly advantage. How many a time has the messenger of Christ been summoned to the bed of sickness! how many a time has the trembling and dying man then begun to cry--“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!” Happy for him if he hath net begun too late, and if the house of his confidence is not falling in ruins around him, when it is too late to “fly for refuge to the hope set before him.” (H. Stowell, M. A.)
I. What is meant by these respective “rocks”? Of course, it is clear to you that one refers to the rock of the world, and the other to the Rook of the Christian.
1. What is the rock of the world? What is it that the world seems to depend upon? There are a great many people in the world who are very indifferent to God; that is, they do not have God in all their thoughts, and do not seek to please God in all their works. And there are a great many people who seem to think that God is altogether indifferent to them; and therefore they live and they die, careless and regardless of God their Saviour. “Tush, how shall God know it?” Now, this is one of the rocks of unconverted men. But there are others who take a different view of the matter. These persons do not deny that God sees everything, that He knows the heart, that “from Him no secrets are hid”; and therefore they seek for another rock, and begin at once to magnify God’s mercy: “God is merciful; He never meant to condemn the world.” That is true; but not as they say it. A third class will not venture to deny this, but declare--“No man is infallible; every man is liable to mistake; why should it be supposed that you who are advocating such strictness of living, such holiness of life, should be right when there are such multitudes that hold a contrary opinion?” In other words, these persons say: “What so many people think cannot be wrong. Now, does not the Scripture most plainly tell us, that the way to heaven is the way in which very few people go--that it is a “narrow” road, and that the great bulk of men go in the wide road which leads to hell? And therefore what is the use of talking of what numbers do? If you had five thousand of your acquaintance in hell with yourselves, it would only add to your misery and not help your happiness; and if you stood with only one in heaven, whom you never saw before, your happiness would not be the less. Then again, there are many who acknowledge that it must be an individual question after all; and therefore, instead of considering what other people do, they dwell entirely upon what they do themselves. Hence we find a great body of people declaring that they have done no harm,--thus building upon their morality, and thinking to raise upon it such a temple as the Lord will dwell in. How very moral were the Scribes and Pharisees! There is something more necessary than mere outward moral conduct.
2. Instead of dwelling longer upon the rocks of the world, let me turn at once to that which is intended by the “Rock” of the believer. Christ is that Rock. But it may be well to examine into the special benefits of this Rock. In the first place, it is in Christ that we really learn the nature of sin. So great is sin that God could only pardon it by the death of His dear Son; in Christ, therefore, I see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, engraved as on a rock, even in the side whence flowed the water and the blood. Further: I read also God’s mercy--not man’s mercy, but the tender mercy of our God, tempered with His justice. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other,” in Christ. What claims, then, has this Rock upon our attention?
II. Wherein the difference between these two rocks may be said to consist. I might mention that all other rocks end in doubt, but this in certainty. None of the rocks to which I have referred can give us security in the last day; but the Saviour has told us, that “whosoever trusteth in Him shall never be ashamed.” There is no disappointment for those who are really in Christ. And we will not stay to consider what it shall be hereafter, but we may consider what it is now. Under any other circumstances than that of seeing clearly our interest in Christ, our present life must be a life of constant anxiety, if it be accompanied with any thought concerning the future. But as regards the believer, he has peace, and it is an abiding peace. “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind” is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee. Once more, I may say, there will be none of that disappointment which we so constantly find happening among men of the world, who have chosen as their rock some of the pleasures, or outward circumstances of life; for we know that in Christ we have all that we can require. “All things are ours; for we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” But just observe that there are others who are called upon to testify of these facts. “For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” Our enemies are constrained to acknowledge that they wish they believed as we believe, for then they would be happy. (H. M. Villiers, M. A.)
The excellency of Israel’s Rock
I. Jehovah is supremely worthy of our confidence and devotion.
1. He is the source of our being (Psalms 100:3; Acts 17:29). The supporting as well as the producing cause of created existence.
2. The source of blessing.
3. He deserves our most humble and hearty respect and confidence.
II. Jehovah’s gracious dealings furnish a proper theme for His servants’ praise.
1. Their benefit only is intended, not God’s, in His dispensations towards them.
2. They only are benefited, not God, who needs nothing, and can receive no favour from them.
3. They deserve not such benefits, either in whole or in part.
4. They can make no adequate return to cancel even the smallest part of their obligations.
5. Gratitude is their proper feeling, and praise the proper expression of it.
III. Jehovah’s excellence extorts, and shall extort, the homage and acknowledgment of even His enemies. Hear what is recorded in the case of the Egyptian magicians (Exodus 8:18-19; Exodus 9:11); of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27-28; Exodus 10:16-17); of Pharaoh’s host (Exodus 14:25); of Balaam (Numbers 23:7-8; Numbers 23:18-24); of the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:8); of Baal’s worshippers (1 Kings 18:39); of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:29; Daniel 4:28-37); of Darius (Daniel 6:26-27). Conclusion--
1. The subject suggests serious inquiry. Is the Rock of Ages our Rock? Do we esteem Him, trust Him, devote ourselves to Him, etc.?
2. The subject offers serious admonition (verse 4).
3. The subject gives us a solemn warning--
(1) Against rebellion (verses 32-35).
(2) Against indifference (verses 46, 47).
(3) Against apostasy (verses 15-25).
4. The subject encourages humble confidence and invigorating hope (verse 43; see Deuteronomy 33:25-29). (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The Rock like the God of Israel
I. Illustrate the metaphor.
1. When we speak of God as a Rock in reference to Himself, the ideas are such as these--
2. Consider the metaphor in reference to what God is to His believing children.
(1) The Rock of their defence.
(2) The Rock of their foundation. They rely on and trust in Him.
(3) Their Rock of shelter and shade.
(4) The Rock of their supplies.
II. The triumphant comparison which is instituted. To the pagan, infidel, sensualist, etc., your rock is not as our Rock. You have not the security, the sensible enjoyments, the supplies--in one word, the happiness which the people of God possess.
1. We appeal to your experience. What changes do you profess to have experienced? What evils removed? What principles implanted?
2. We appeal to your enjoyments. What peace--what comfort--what hope--what real bliss?
3. We appeal to your practice. From what follies and sins have you been delivered? Are your principles more pure? Spirit, conversation, temper, etc.
4. We appeal to our advantages in sickness and death. What security--what ecstasies--what clear enrapturing prospects! You know that your Rock is not, etc.
1. Invite the sinner to choose the Lord for the Rock of his salvation. Flee to Him by repentance. Build on Him by faith in Christ Jesus.
2. Let the Christian be satisfied with his choice. The everlasting God is his refuge. (Sketches of Sermons.)
Testimony of unbelievers to Christianity
1. We find sceptics and unbelievers generally very loud in praise of the progress of our modern world. They talk largely of the mighty strides science, knowledge, and practical wisdom have made in these last times. What is this but the concession that their rock is not as our Rock?
2. Again, how striking is the testimony which they give in their behaviour in trial and when brought face to face with death! Who has ever known a sound and faithful Christian to change his religion in the last extremities of life? But it is quite otherwise with those who build on some other than the Christian Rock. Then the gay Lord Chesterfield sympathises with the words of Solomon, that all this world is vanity and vexation of spirit. Then Byron acknowledges that whatever he had been, “‘Twere something better not to be.” Then Talleyrand confesses that he has nothing left except great fatigue of body and mind, a profound sentiment of discouragement for the future and disgust for the past. Then Hobbes declares, “Were I master of the world, I would give it all to live one day longer.” Then Paine in his dreadful loneliness lifts his wild cry to that Jesus whom he blasphemed. Then Voltaire sends for a priest, curses his brethren in unbelief as contributors to his wretchedness, and dies in dread complaint of abandonment by God and man. Then Hume cannot bear to be alone, because of the terrors that torment him in the absence of his jesting friends.
3. In like manner I might refer to the myriads of conversions from the sceptical and unbelieving world to the reverent acceptance of our Christian faith and hope. The bloody Saul of Tarsus; the wayward, sensual Augustine, etc. We think of Lord Littleton and Gilbert West sitting down to write essays in confutation of certain great events recorded in the New Testament, and becoming so thoroughly convinced by their examinations that they surrendered all their scepticism and turned their essays into noble treatises in vindication of the Christian cause.
5. Christians, you have made no mistake in giving your hearts’ confidence to the religion of Jesus. You have planted your foundations on the solid Rock. Only maintain your hold and dependence on it; and when the revilers of Newton’s faith are hopelessly crying, “God of Sir Isaac Newton, have mercy upon me!” you shall be saying with the dying Payson: “I swim--I swim--in a flood of glory!” (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Their foot shall slide in due time.
The awakening of sinners
This is the culmination of the most dreadful denunciation of sinners to be found in the Bible.
I. The insecurity of the sinner.
A sense of sin and impending punishment is ever present in man’s heart. Heathen nations of the old and of the new world recognised it, and established forms of religious worship in order to avoid it, But the Bible makes assurance doubly sure, and issues solemn warnings of the fact.
II. The certainty of the result. Human life knows no such thing as remaining in one place. Man is ever going forward or backward--which depends upon himself. Men shut their eyes and fancy themselves secure, None plunge headlong into the extremities of sin at once. Nearly everyone can recollect the first falsehood, the first profane word, the first dishonest act, after they have reached depths of depravity of which they never dreamed. They took the devil for their master, and he presses them hard at every turn. The down-slide is governed by an inexorable law.
III. Consider where they are sliding. Away from virtue, away from peace, away from good company, away from God! Men watch the downward progress of the drunkard with pity and disgust. The wilful wrecking of all that is noble in man seems incomprehensible. (J. O. Peck, D. D.)
For the Lord shall judge His people.
Power for the powerless
I. The people whom Jehovah owns and claims as “His people” and “His servants.” God has a people peculiarly His own. You must be blind; indeed, when looking into your Bible, not to see that this fact is one of the most prominent things set forth in the Book of God. Moreover, this people, whom Jehovah calls “His people” and “His servants,” are held by Him as His especial property, as His own inheritance. “The Lord’s portion is His people.” What a portion! One might easily understand the Psalmist, and the prophet too, when they said, “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul”; and a blessed portion it is for a poor ruined sinner to have the covenant God as his portion. But reverse it, and see how God claims His people, and calls them “His portion,” as if they were worth something--as if they were of some value. I must not, however, overlook the second term employed in our text--“servants.” “His servants ye are to whom ye obey.” If, then, your life, your heart, your soul, and all your powers are wholly at the service of God; if that service is your delight, and you meet Him in it, surely you may come to the Conclusion that you belong to His servants. But there is another point: that His people and His servants essentially differ from all people beside. They were separated from among the nations, God’s people and God’s servants differ from the world in their life, in their language, and in their laws.
II. The exigencies to which they were reduced. They are said, in my text, to be seen by their own God as having lost all their power, and “none shut up or left”--a most affecting description of God’s chosen people under the ruined condition into which sin has brought them; and also of the extremity to which they are reduced in personal experience, before God’s deliverance appears on their behalf. What a marked description of man’s ruin under the fall, and by actual sin!--so utterly undone as to have no power! God saw that their power was gone. When the poor sinner is first awakened by the grace of God, and begins to feel the importance of obtaining salvation, he does not believe that he has no power, but sets to immediately to put forth his power, determines upon reading much, hearing much, praying much, avoiding much that is evil, and doing much that is good. Moreover, in the language of my text, the people and servants of God are to be expelled from all false refuges, “None shut up or left.” There are exigencies in the believer’s experience with regard to things spiritual and to things providential that answer exactly to this description--“none shut up or left”--as regards experience, not a hope left; not a vestige of supposed strength--not a false refuge but will be swept away as a refuge of lies; not a helper left. Moreover, it may imply, in spiritual experience, no comfort shut up or left, no reserve, nothing to fall back upon, not a promise to cling to, not a sermon which he is supposed to have heard to profit, but rises up in judgment against him! What! none of his holier feelings? No, none of them. What, none of his earnest prayers and his believing confidence? No, none of them--“none shut up or left.” Now, whether as to the spiritual experience, or the providential experience of His people, He frequently, to show His wisdom, His grace, His power, His love and condescension, strips man of his all, that He Himself may become his all, and that Christ may be found to be all in all to him.
III. By the Lord’s judging His people I understand His judging for them; judging His enemies on account of their cruelty; judging for them so as to decide that they are His own--that the chastisement has been carried on long enough, and that their enemies shall then be punished, as in the preceding verse, “To Me belongeth vengeance.” This is what I understand by His judging His people. The other phrase, “repent Himself for His servants,” means an alteration, of course, in the events of Providence, and in His manner of dealing with His people; that He changes the order of things. From this we derive the spiritual truth, that however the Lord chastises His people, and however long the chastisement may continue, there will come a moment when the Lord will “repent Himself,” or change His course, and say, “Their affliction is at an end, and I will not afflict or grieve My people any more.” Then shall the froward Ephraim be spoken to as by the prophet,” I have seen his ways, and I will heal him. God is a never-failing Deliverer to His people; and we will glance at a few things in which this is manifested. The first is, that His covenant faithfulness is called forth when His peoples faithlessness has arisen to its utmost height and been chastised. If you ask me what pertains to a Christian in himself, I should, for one, confess, after all the years I have known of the Lord, that one word, “faithlessness,” would mark all. If I am asked what constitutes the character and conduct of the Deity towards His Church and people in every age, amidst all their afflictions, and when they are reduced to the lowest ebb, I should say, “Righteousness is the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins.” One word more; entire deliverance is certain when God interferes. He who has delivered will deliver; and be assured, poor tried soul, whoever thou art, and in whichever of those exigencies thou art placed--be assured of this one thing, that if the Lord has begun to judge for you, has changed the course and order of His proceedings for you, has created a ray of hope and given you spiritual desires which you did not before possess, has communicated the ability to pour out your soul in pleading with Him, and to hang upon Him though it appears as it were by a thread, He will perfect your deliverance in due time. Every enemy shall be vanquished. Every difficulty shall disappear. (J. Irons.)
Man’s extremity, God’s opportunity
To ungodly men the time of their fall is fatal; there is no rising again for them. They mount higher and higher upon the ladder of riches; but at last they can climb no higher, their feet slide, and all is over. This calamity hasteneth on (Deuteronomy 32:35). It is not so with three characters of whom we will now consider: they are judged in this world that they may not be condemned hereafter (1 Corinthians 11:32; Psalms 37:24).
I. The Lord’s own Church.
1. A Church may be sorely tried--“power gone, none left.”
(1) By persecution.
(2) By removals, death, poverty.
(3) By the lack of a faithful ministry.
(4) By general falling off of members. Various circumstances may scatter a people--internal dissension, pestilent heresy, lack of spiritual life.
2. But it may then cry to God.
(1) If indeed His people, the covenant stands, and He will judge them.
(2) If still His servants, the bond holds on His side, and He will repent Himself for them.
(3) His eye is ever upon them, and their eye should be up to Him.
3. He will return and revive His own Church (Deuteronomy 32:39).
4. Meanwhile the trial is permitted--
(1) To find out His servants and drive out hypocrites (Isaiah 33:14).
(2) To test the faith of sincere saints, and to strengthen it.
(3) To manifest His own grace by supporting them under the trying times, and by visiting them with future blessing.
(4) To secure to Himself the glory when the happier days are granted.
II. The tried believer.
1. His power may be gone. Bodily health fails, prudence is baffled, skill is taken away, courage sinks, even spiritual force departs (Samuel 3:17, 18).
2. His earthly help may fail. A man without a friend moves the compassion of God.
3. He may be assailed by doubts and fears, and hardly know what to do with himself (Job 3:23-26).
4. His hope lies in the compassion of God: He has no pleasure in putting His people to grief (Micah 7:19).
5. Such sharp trials may be sent because--
(1) Nothing less would cure the evil hidden within.
(2) Nothing less might suffice to bring the whole heart to God alone.
(3) Nothing less might affect the believer’s future life.
(4) Nothing less might complete his experience, enlarge his acquaintance with the Word, and perfect his testimony for God.
III. The convinced sinner. He is cleaned out of all that wherein he prided himself.
1. His self-righteousness is gone.
2. His ability to perform acceptable works is gone.
3. His secret hopes which were shut up are now all dead and buried.
4. His proud romantic dreams are gone.
5. His worldly delights, his bold defiance, his unbelief, his big talk, his carelessness, his vain confidence, are all gone.
6. Nothing is left but the pity of God. When the tide has ebbed out to the very uttermost, it turns. The prodigal had spent all before he returned. Empty-handed sinners are welcome to the fulness of Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God with Me.
The royal prerogative
I. None but the Lord can would or heal.
1. The Lord alone can spiritually wound. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to convince of sin, and until He puts forth His power the preacher may preach himself dumb with weariness and blind with weeping, but no result can possibly follow.
2. None but the Lord can heal. Gospel truth is sufficient in itself to comfort all that mourn, but it will comfort nobody so long as the natural unbelief of the heart remains. Get a hold of a lacerated spirit, torn with unbelief, and try what you can do. Say, “Trust in the Lord, my friend,” and he replies, “I cannot trust.” Tell him Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and he says he knows that, but he cannot get hold of it. Do your duty with him, for whether you can heal him or not you are bound to set the Gospel before him: but you shall find that you have worked in vain if you have gone in your own strength. God can use you to heal a broken heart, but you cannot do it yourself.
II. The Lord can wound and He can heal.
1. The Lord can wound. He can pierce the most unlikely heart. Therefore, despair of none. The wretch who is the nearest approach to an incarnate devil may yet become as an angel of God.
2. What a very sweet side of the truth is the second part of it--namely, that He can heal. There are some awful cases of bleeding wounds! I have known the heart bleed as though it would bleed to death beneath the sword of conviction. Some are driven to despair, and have been ready to lay violent hands upon themselves in the bitterness of their souls. Let it ring out like a trumpet, that these poor despairing ones may hear it,--the Lord can heal. There is no case so desperate but what Jehovah-Jesus can recover it. Despair! thou must let thy Captive go. Despondency! thou must open thy prison house when Jesus comes.
III. The Lord does wound and does heal.
1. I have a bundle of arrows which I have seen shot at different times from the bow of God so as to wound men.
(1) The arrow of continual gentleness. Augustine tells of one to whom God was so wonderfully kind, and the man was so wonderfully bad, that at last he grew astonished at God’s goodness, and since the Lord continued to load him with benefits, he turned round and cried, “Most benignant God, I am ashamed of being Thine enemy any longer. I confess my sin and repent of it.”
(2) “God is angry with the wicked every day.” Surely this should cut you to the quick.
(3) “He that believeth not is condemned already.”
(4) “The wicked shall be turned into hell,” etc.
(5) “Thou hast destroyed thyself”
(6) “You are dead in sin. You have destroyed yourself, but you cannot save yourself.”
2. Now, I will hold up before you the bottle of balm. When a soul is wounded, the Lord applies His sacred surgery to the heart. He has healed some of us.
(1) The particular bottle of balm which He used in healing me is one which I know well, and shall never forget. This was the label, “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God, and beside Me there is none else.” Why, do you know? I was afraid of God until I heard that God was in Christ, and that I was to look to God in Christ, and that the very God whom I dreaded would save me. That revelation came home with Divine power to my soul! The preacher said, “Look. This is all that is wanted.” “There,” he said, “a fool can look; a little child can look; a half idiot can look; a dying man can look” “Look” said he “and it is done.” Did I really understand him--that I was only to look to Christ dying on the Cross for me, and see God making an atonement for my sin in the person of His Son--that I was only to look, and I should live at once? It was even so, and I did look. My burden passed away.
(2) Here is another drop of balm,--When a man is wounded he feels that he cannot help himself; but then there comes in this precious truth--that the Spirit of God can do it. O you wounded ones, may the great Spirit show you at this time the person of the dear Son of God--God and man. (C H. Spurgeon.)
Neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand.
The undeliverableness of man from the hand of God
1. The continuance of every man’s existence rests entirely upon the Divine will.
2. The preservation of every sinner’s existence must be ascribed to Divine forbearance.
3. The well-being of a moral intelligence is impossible apart from supreme sympathy with God. All moral hells and heavens are in the loathing or the loving. What then is our duty and interest? To cherish supreme love for the Absolute. (Homilist.)
Command your children to observe to do all the words of this law.
The advantage of a right education
I. The advantages, and indeed necessity, of right education. Other creatures arrive, without their own care, at the small perfection of which they are capable, and there stop; but the whole of man’s existence, it appears, is a state of discipline and progression. Youth is his preparation for maturer years; this whole life for another to come. Nature gives the abilities to improve; but the actual improvement we are to have the pleasure and the reward of giving ourselves and one another. Some minds, indeed, as some soils, may be fruitful without cultivation; others barren with it; but the general necessity is the same in both cases; and in both, the richest, and most capable of producing good fruit, will be overrun, if neglected, with the rankest and worst weeds, Regular cultivation of the understanding, then, is what good education begins with. The earliest branch of this, acquaintance with useful languages, unlocks the treasures of ancient learning, and makes the improvements of every age and climate our own. Then the politer parts of literature most agreeably open the faculties, and form the taste of young persons; adorn our discourse, and endear our company, in riper years; give a grace to wisdom and virtue; relieve the fatigue of our busy hours, and elegantly fill up the leisure of our vacant ones. At the same time, the art of just reasoning opportunely comes in, to curb the licence of imagination, and directs its force; to fix the foundations of science; ascertain the degrees of probability, and unveil specious error. With this guide we proceed surely. Knowledge of nature opens the universe to our view; enables us to judge worthily of the constitution of things; secures us from the weakness of vulgar superstitions; and contributes, in many ways, to the health and security, the convenience and pleasure of human life. If from hence we go on to survey mankind: a contemplation of their different states in different ages, and especially of their ancient regulations and laws, the public wisdom of brave and great nations will furnish variety of useful reflections to the mind; often teaching us to improve our own conditions, often to be happy in it. But if education stop here, it hath only given abilities and powers, the direction of which to right or wrong purposes is greatly uncertain still. He that knows not the proper use of his own being; what is man, and whereto serveth he; what is his good, and what is his evil (Sir 18:8), may easily employ his other knowledge so as to be much the worse for it. This inquiry, then, is the important one. And when should the science of life be taught, but in the beginning of life, before evil habits are added to original depravity; whilst the natural regard to truth and right, the only inward restraint of incautious youth, remains comparatively uncorrupt, and the seeds of sin lie yet somewhat loose on the surface of the mind; much harder to be cleared away when once they have taken root, and twisted themselves strongly about the heart. This, therefore, is the favourable opportunity, in which authority and reason must exert at once their joint force. For discipline without instruction is mere tyranny; and instruction without discipline, little better than useless talk. But the most serious part of education is wanting still: the part which leads us, by the esteem of moral excellence, to honour and love that Being in whom the perfection of it dwells; and extends our inward sense of duty, suggested first by the low and short-lived relations between us and our fellow creatures, to the highest possible and eternal object of it, the Creator and Ruler of this universe.
II. All persons concerned should endeavour, with united care, in their stations, that these advantages may be effectually obtained. To you who are parents, nature itself hath given a tender concern for your children’s welfare as your own; and reminds you justly, that as you have brought them into the dangers of life, your business it is to provide that they get well through them. You may be negligent of your son’s instruction; but it is on you, as well as himself, that his ignorance and contemptibleness will bring both reproach and inconvenience. You may be regardless of his morals; but you may be the person who will at last the most severely feel his want of them. You may be indifferent about his religion; but remember, dutifulness to you is one great precept of religion; and all the rest promote such habits, as you may bitterly repent, when it is too late, your omission to cultivate in him; and live and die miserable on his account, whom timely care would have made your joy and honour. (Archbishop Secker.)
For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.
Religion a necessity
Religion is not a luxury, but a necessity of our being. It is not a vain service, because it is our life. Immersed as men are in the world, and conversant with material interests, it is difficult for them to feel this reality and absolute necessity of religion for their best life. There has been too much colour given to the presumption that religion was not deeply grounded and inlaid in our nature, but was a gift from without, a factitious culture and experience superinduced upon it, not the true working of the utmost being with all its powers. For religion has been offered to man too much as a strange, unnatural, and special thing, not as the real light of life. It has been enveloped in mystery, surrounded by a formidable array of pains and penalties, inculcated as supernatural, not only in the sanction and revelation of its truths, but in their incorporation and assimilation to the soul. The first thing to be done, therefore, is to create in men a belief that religion is not a manufactured want, but a natural necessity of our being; that, instead of its being an innate grace of temperament and constitution which, like genius, some have and others have not, and many do without, it is the bread of life for all.
I. The nature of man bears unequivocal testimony to the necessity of religion. “In scepticism,” said Goethe, “is no good thing.” Religion is a later development, as wisdom in general is, but just as normal as any other manifestation of our nature, art, or invention, or calling of life. All the elements are in man. Thus he naturally believes. He may not always believe alike,--sometimes in Moses, in Mahomet, or in Christ,--but uniformly he has faith in something. Thus, too, he naturally makes distinctions of right and wrong; his decisions on these points may not always be coincident in every nature, and under different systems of culture. In Sparta one set of things, in England another, is wrong or right. But that does not militate against the fact of a moral sense, for no people has yet been found sunk so low that they do not make the distinction somewhere. So in regard to the future, hope, aspiration, anticipation, work in all human bosoms in different degrees of intensity, and towards varying ends and objects in the boundless future, but always, everywhere, towards some ends, towards some high ideals, throned and veiled by the cloud curtain of the future.
II. The condition of man corroborates the view drawn from his nature; for his condition is his nature in progression, ill continuity. If we go over the catalogue of items of this condition, from the time he lies helpless in the cradle till he lies helpless again in the coffin, we trace an unbroken line of religious wants. It is a great and continual hunger. For at every point, at every time, under every combination of surrounding circumstances, we detect the demand for that peculiar quantity and unknown value without which we cannot work the equation of life aright, or solve with certainty its great problem. Human life, for instance, is a condition of formation, growth, education, and yet we see at once that, if this process is not carried on according to the primal principles which are involved in the plan of the Chief Husbandman, we shall have crude windfalls and stunted growths, not the golden fruit. Human life is a state of exposure to great and trying temptations, plucking at our virtue, and dragging down our aims and acts, until we go the way of all the earth. The commanding truths and the vivid sentiments and the impressive promises of religion can alone disperse this unhallowed brood, and exorcise the evil spirits from possessing mind and heart.
III. The destiny of man strengthens all the previous arguments for the reality and necessity of religion. If man is created in the image of the Everlasting God, and called to the inheritance of a conscious being through all the unending ages of the future,--if, even in this morning of his days, he is filled with aspirations, dim it may be, but vast, grand, and exalting, for sweeter joys, for purer delights, a serener happiness, a more thrilling, inward, and abiding bliss, than the rarest moments of this life have given; if such is the realm of being to which man is on his way, and to whose celestial city he is already lifting up his eyes, what, we ask, shall best fit him for such a sublime career? What is adequate to prepare him to live forever? Only what is of the same kind with itself can meet the wants of an immortal spirit, namely, an immortal religion, an immortal Saviour, an eternal God. Power, and fame, and learning even, and some of the lower of man’s attainments, even in the moral and intellectual sphere, are but freezing comforters to the bereaved, sick, and dying. But in these critical seasons of our being, when man is driven in from the outworks to the centre and substance of his nature, religion utters her grand tones of courage, promise, and eternity, and vindicates herself as the soul’s supreme necessity, the one thing needful which, once possessed, can never be taken away, but will grow dearer and brighter and diviner forever. (A. A. Livermore.)
The Christian dispensation is one which requires much faith to receive it. We walk not by sight, but by faith alone; and it is little marvel that when ungodly men see the righteous afflicted, and discover that their comfort lies in matters which only faith can apprehend, they should cry out, “It is a vain thing,” and should turn aside from the ordinances of God. Besides, to confess the truth, there have been so many counterfeits of true religion, that it is not remarkable that unconverted men should consider even the genuine article to be but a vain thing.
I. The true religion of Christ, which consists in a vital faith in His person, His blood, and His righteousness, and which produces obedience to His commands and a love to God, is not a fiction.
1. The objects of true religion are, to those who believe in Jesus, no fiction.
(1) God the Father.
(2) Christ Jesus.
(3) The Holy Spirit.
2. The experience which true religion brings is no fiction.
(2) Joy and peace in believing.
3. There is a reality in the privileges of religion.
(2) Communion with Christ.
(3) Christian love towards one another.
4. The religion of Christ is evidently not a vain thing if you look at its effects.
5. To the man who really possesses it, it is his life. His religion is not like a man’s regimentals, which he can take off and go in undress; it is inside of him; it is woven right through and through him.
II. It is no trifle.
1. It deals with your souls.
2. It connects you with God.
3. Those who have ever known anything of it tell you it is no “child’s play.”
4. Sinners, when they are in their senses, find it no trifle.
5. True ministers of God feel it to be no trifle.
III. It is no folly. If you would accomplish the proudest feat of human intellect, it is to attain to the knowledge of Christ crucified. Here the man whose mind makes him elephantine may find depth in which he may swim. Here the most recondite learning shall find itself exhausted. Here the most brilliant imagination shall find its highest flights exceeded, Here the man who understands history may crown his knowledge by the history of God in the world; here men who would know the secret, the greatest secret which heaven and earth and hell can tell, may find it out, for the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. All the learning of man is doubtless folly to the angels, but the foolishness of God in the Gospel is wisdom to cherubim and seraphim, and by the Church shall be made known to them in ages to come the manifold wisdom of God,
IV. It is no speculation. People sometimes ask us what we think about the heathen, whether they will be saved or not, Well, sirs, there is room for difference of opinion there; but I should like to know what you think about yourselves--will you be saved or not?--for after, all,. that is a question of a deal more importance to you. Now, the religion of Christ is not a thing that puts a man into a salvable state, but it saves him. It is not a religion which offers him something which perhaps may save him; no, it saves him out and out, on the spot. It is not a thing which says to a man, “Now, I have set you a-going, yon must keep on yourself.” No, it goes the whole way through, and saves him from beginning to end. He that says “Alpha” never stops till He can say “Omega” over every soul. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Religion not a vain thing
I. The object to which Moses refers.
1. Personal religion.
(1) Imperative in its nature.
(2) Comprehensive in its requirements.
(3) Universal in its extent.
(4) Perpetual and eternal in its obligation.
Set your hearts to consider the nature of this law. Set your hearts to pray for that grace which will enable you to love the law of the Lord. Set your hearts to expect the accomplishment of that promise (Deuteronomy 30:6).
2. Family religion.
(1) Parental duty must be regulated by the law of God.
(2) Parental duty is authorised by the command of God.
II. The affirmation which He makes concerning it.
1. It is not
(1) an empty, airy, unsubstantial thing;
(2) not a vain, deceitful thing;
(3) not a foolish, senseless thing;
(4) not a fruitless, unproductive thing.
2. It is “your life.” To the Jews especially it--
(1) was the means of prolonging their life;
(2) added to the happiness of their life.
(3) promoted the utility of their life;
(4) prepared them for eternal life.
1. Religion consists in setting your heart to know and to keep the commandments of God.
2. Religion is not a vain thing. Thousands deceive themselves. Some treat it with sovereign contempt. Others profess to know it, but their conduct belies their profession.
3. Religion is your life. Then seek to know, love, and serve God. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Get thee up into this mountain . . . and die in the mount.
Moses commanded to ascend the mount and die
I. The apparently hard providence which befell Moses on this occasion.
1. It was death in the presence of unaccomplished work--a work to which Moses had consecrated his life, for which he had sacrificed much, and to which he had proved preeminently faithful.
2. It was a death amid shattered plans and unfulfilled hopes.
3. It came to Moses when, although old, he was yet vigorous.
II. But it was also a wise and loving providence.
1. It was the assertion of Divine impartiality.
2. It was a striking illustration of a man’s sin following him in its results even when the sin itself has been forgiven.
3. It supplied a proof of the Divine adaptation of means towards the desired end.
4. It taught men that God was not dependent even upon the greatest and most honoured of His servants for the final triumph of His cause. (D. Davies.)
The scene and circumstances of Moses’ death
I. The loneliness of the death on Nebo. Moses was strong in faith, and its strength was tested here. It had often been tried before, and had stood the trial. In battles, in contentions with his people, it had been tested, and had stood the test. But what is death, when the blood is heated and the passions up, compared with death alone, apart from friends and friendly sympathy, with no kindly eyes and no sounds of loving words! There was great courage here. You have read of men who, in the excitement of battle, when death was strewing the red plain with human clay, rejoiced with a joy that knew no fear, and through the hell of carnage hewed their way to victory. In such cases death was met with great courage; but it was met with greater in the case of him who, with “eye undimmed and natural force unabated,” quitted a high post of command, abandoned an enterprise when on the eve of accomplishment, without understanding the why or wherefore, and with life vigorous and strong within him, alone, unaccompanied, and by human eye unseen, calmly awaited death.
II. The Nebo mystery--one sows and another reaps. Have you never known a man whose youth and early manhood have been industriously spent in preparation for the serious work of life, in whose breast noble aspirations burned, of whom it was evident that the world would be the better for him, and who, with extensive acquirements, mature culture, confirmed principles, and thorough training, was about to step thus equipped into the arena of life, resolved to leave his mark for good on his age and time, when the command came, “Get thee up into the mountain, and die there,” etc.? And the magnificent prospect of his life passed; the tree that many a sun had ripened and many influences of earth and sky had cherished, fell as its mass of blossom was passing into fruit. Have you never known a mother who, after a long and faithful training of her children, after patient watch and ward for many a year, during which she has considered no labour too great, no struggle too hard, no suffering and pinch too severe to equip them for the competition of life--as she is about to enter into the reward of her long and patient work, and to see in the success and gratitude of her children the recompense of many an anxious day and sleepless night, hears the command, sharp and sudden, from the Master of life, “Get thee up,” etc.? Have you never known a merchant who, after many a year of ceaseless toil, during which, by shrewdness and patience, he had amassed fortune enough to give him ease and comfort for the remainder of his life, when about to enter his Canaan of rest, is suddenly struck down, the command having come, “Get thee up,” etc.?
III. The ingredient of joy that was mingled in the cup. “Be gathered unto thy people.” These words imply a social heaven--not heaven as a dim, vague, ethereal scene,--but as a communion, a fellowship. Were it not so, our whole nature and instincts would require to be changed on entering it. “As Aaron thy brother died.” Why this allusion, if not to give comfort to the old man? if not to intimate that his death would be meeting with his brother? This prospect must have taken at least one pang from death, and infused at least one drop of joy into the bitter cup he was called to drink.
IV. The scene and prospect which Moses was permitted to enjoy. (John Stuart, D. D.)
The sin and punishment of Moses
It is a remarkable circumstance, not without an obvious moral, that the greatest favourites of the Almighty have been among the persons most severely dealt with by His providence. Not to mention our Saviour Himself--the only sinless, yet the most grievously afflicted of men--Abraham, “the friend of God,” was put to a trial; the afflictions of Jacob were also great; Job’s are proverbial; the painful vicissitudes of David’s life outnumber its successes; and St. Paul, the most heroic servant of God in New Testament times, was subject to a long course of calamities. The real cause of the affliction is always sin. If it be asked--How can this be consistent with the fact that the sufferings of the most distinguished instruments of God’s glory have been severe beyond the common lot of mortals? the answer is--that either we may observe in such persons great crimes set against signal virtues; or, at least, sin against peculiar light, and in spite of unusual grace: moreover, such are to be raised to remarkable heights of perfection; and this is not to be done but by means of chastisement and the stern discipline of affliction. Pass we, however, from general considerations to the individual instance before us.
I. The circumstances which gave occasion to the Divine decree against Moses--that he should not live to enter the promised land (see Numbers 20:1-29). The ground of the whole transgression seems to have been a hasty yielding to carnal passions; which in this case, as it ever does, shut out faith and reliance on God, and substituted distrust and self-confidence. And the criminality of this conduct was doubtless increased by the eminent dignity and great endowments of the offenders. It was for the head and legislator, and for the anointed High Priest, to set an example to the people of meekness and patient confidence.
II. The doctrinal and spiritual meaning, and results, of this event.
1. The inclination of the Israelites to idolatrous worship, imbibed chiefly in that nursery of superstitions, Egypt, was strong at all early periods of their history. Profound, also, must have been their veneration for that man of wonderful gifts, who had brought them with the arm of God out of the house of bondage, and for forty years had led them in the wilderness. Hence if Moses had finished his great work in his own person, and, together with the Israelites of this generation, the children and grandchildren of his early contemporaries, had taken possession of Canaan as the design and completion of the enterprise, it is most probable that he would, in spite of himself, have been deified by his superstitious countrymen; and either substituted for, or confounded with, the Divine Liberator, whose vicegerent he was.
2. That the commission to lead into Canaan the children of the people whom Moses by the Divine power had freed from Egypt, now devolved upon Joshua--or, as he is called in the New Testament, Jesus--is an instance which I cannot wholly pass by in silence, of the typical character of all Bible history. Moses was a type of Christ, in his office and character, as the deliverer, leader, and pastor of God’s flock, through the mingled trials and mercies of the wilderness; but Joshua was more remarkably so, in prefiguring our Lord’s going before His people into heaven, at His ascension, to take possession for and with them of the celestial inheritance.
3. There is an obvious and sublime sense, in the fact of Moses, the giver of the Law--the administrator of that imperfect and temporary dispensation, not going over into the Promised Land. His work was now done--his function was at an end. The conducting of the people was now handed over to another--to Joshua, the type of Christ as ascending up on high and entering into His rest; “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
III. This severity of God towards His servant Moses, so favoured and “faithful in all His house,” presents a very affecting circumstance. It admonishes us, how much of the good consequences of a life may be defeated by one act of prevarication and disobedience. It admonishes us to be careful how we “finish our course,” lest we “lose these things which we have wrought,” even within sight of “the prize of our high calling.” (R. Cattermole, B. D.)
What dying is
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to meet and mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says: “There! she’s gone!” Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in the mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination. Her diminished size is in me, and not in her. And just at that moment, when someone at my side says, “There! she’s gone!” there are other eyes that are watching for her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There she comes!” And that is--dying. (Episcopal Recorder.)
Yet thou shalt see the land before thee.--
Good cheer frown God
I. A message for Christian workers. Seed we have sown shall bear fruit when the hand that scattered it is at rest. Behind every Christian worker is God. Much of the work is hidden as yet, as Moses could not see the homesteads of the land, the divisions of the tribes, etc., but he could see the land. So can we by faith see in broad outlines the goal to which the Christian Church is travelling year by year. The evening of life shall be better than the morning.
II. A message to the Christian in his pilgrimage. The Jews could not think without regret of their life. Nor can we. What sublime mercy on God’s part! Gratitude itself grows dumb in silent wonder. We can only say, “Forgive.” But look forward now--what do you see? Many a failure, etc., yet the steady growth of the will of God in you--therefore the future shall be better than the past. Life ripening like harvest under the summer sun. “At evening tide it shall be light”--and lighter still when the veil of flesh is torn from the spirit.
III. A message to those who are not Christians. “The people sitting in darkness have seen a great light,”--it is turned upon you that you may see the land before you. (R. Betts.)
The happy people: who and why
We are wont to note the sayings of dying men. The testimony both of the godly and the ungodly is more valuable and reliable at such a time. Moses was specially fitted to give an estimate of Israel’s past experience and future prospects. He had been intimately connected with them for a lengthened period.
I. Who is Israel?
1. A perverse people. They are often rebellious, they murmur often, they bring upon themselves punishment because of their obstinacy. They are slow to learn and obey. The type and the antitype correspond. The people of God are often so; and the world often sees it. Their leader and they do not always agree.
2. A peculiar people. They are different from the nations around them.
3. A pilgrim people. They were yet in the wilderness when Moses spoke of them.
4. A protesting people. They were raised up for this very purpose. “Ye are My witnesses.”
5. A persecuted people. They were met by the Amalekites almost as soon as they had crossed the Red Sea. They had to encounter enmity and opposition all the way.
II. Wherein, then, consists Israel’s happiness? Not certainly in their worldly, external, visible circumstances. There is nothing in these to draw forth the rapturous enthusiasm of Moses. No; but his vision and his voice extend beyond things seen and temporal. Their happiness arises out of their relation to God, the only true God.
1. They are chosen by His grace. Underneath them are the everlasting arms.
2. They are redeemed by His ann.
3. They are guided by His eye. He goes before them; He is their reward.
4. They are kept by His power. He is their refuge and their strength. Jehovah-nissi: the Lord is my banner.
5. They are cheered by His presence, His promise, and His purpose.
III. There is no happiness like Israel’s.
1. Because none comes from so good a source. With Thee is the Fountain of Life. From this fountain flows the river of the water of life. Other sources fail; they are broken cisterns.
2. Because none can be enjoyed with so much security. The promise of God is the best security which we can possibly possess.
3. Because none is so satisfactory in its own character. Out of Christ there is no happiness to be enjoyed worthy of the nature with which we are endowed.
4. Because none is so beneficial in its effects. The world, with its pleasures and pursuits, degrades and hardens the heart that is engrossed with them.
5. Because none is so permanent in its duration. “That knave, Death,” as John Knox said, will take it all away--will mar the beauty, spoil the treasure, and bring the tenure to an end. (J. Smith, M. A.)
The happy people
I. Happy in their name. “Israel” signifies--
1. That God has chosen and prepared them to be His people.
2. That tie has privileged them with communion with Himself.
II. Happy in their salvation. Delivered from Satan’s yoke and dominion, etc.
III. Happy in their Divine help.
IV. Happy in the prospect of a complete conquest over all their enemies.
V. Happy in their ultimate arrival in the land of Canaan. (Homilist.)
Thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee.
The devil a liar
That arch-enemy, the devil, is a liar from the beginning; but he is so very plausible that, like mother Eve, we are led to believe him. Yet in our experience we shall prove him a liar.
1. He says that we shall fall from grace, dishonour our profession, and perish with the doom of apostates; but trusting in the Lord Jesus, we shall hold on our way and prove that Jesus loses none whom His Father gave Him.
2. He tells us that our bread will fail, and we shall starve with our children; yet the Feeder of the ravens has not forgotten us yet, and He will never do so, but will prepare us a table in the presence of our enemies.
3. He whispers that the Lord will not deliver us out of the trial which is looming in the distance, and he threatens that the last ounce will break the camel’s back. What a liar he is! For the Lord will never leave us, nor forsake us. “Let Him deliver him now!” cries the false fiend; but the Lord will silence him by coming to our rescue. He takes great delight in telling us that death will prove too much for us. “How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” But there also lie shall prove a liar unto us, and we shall pass through the river singing psalms of glory. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 32". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter