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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ deuteronomy-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land.
1. In general it is the use and application of the foregoing history. It comes in by way of inference from it (Deuteronomy 4:1). This use we should make of the review of God’s providences, we should by them be quickened to duty and obedience. The histories of ancient times should, in like manner, be improved by us.
2. The scope of his discourse is to persuade them to keep close to God, and to His service, and not to forsake Him for any other god, nor in any instance to decline from their duty to Him. Now, observe what he saith to them with a great deal of Divine rhetoric: First, by way of exhortation and direction; secondly, by way of motive and argument, to enforce his exhortations.
I. See here how he charges and commands them, and shows them what is good, and what the Lord required of them.
1. He demands their diligent attention to the Word of God, and to the statutes and judgments that were taught them. “Hearken, O Israel.” He means not only that they must now give him the hearing, but that whenever the book of the law was read to them, or read by them, they should be attentive to it.
2. He charges them to preserve the Divine law pure and entire among them (Deuteronomy 4:2). Keep it pure, and do not add to it; keep it entire, and do not diminish from it. Not in practice; so some: Ye shall not add, by committing the evil which the law forbids; nor diminish, by omitting the good which the law requires. Not in opinion; so others: Ye shall not add your own inventions, as if the Divine institution were defective; nor introduce, much less impose, any rites of religious worship other than what God has appointed; nor shall ye diminish, or set aside, anything that is appointed as needless or superfluous God’s work is perfect; nothing can be put to it, or taken from it, but it makes it the worse (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
3. He charges them to keep God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2), to do them (verss 5, 14), to keep and do them (Deuteronomy 4:16), to perform the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:13). Hearing must be in order to doing; knowing in order to practice. God’s commandments were the way they must walk in, the rule they must keep to. What are laws made for but to be observed and obeyed?
4. He charges them to be very strict and careful in their observance of the law (Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 4:23). Those that would be religious must be very cautious, and walk circumspectly. Consider how many temptations we are compassed about with, and what corrupt inclinations we have in our own bosoms.
5. He charges them particularly to take heed of the sin of idolatry, which of all other they would be most tempted to by the customs of the nations, were most addicted to by the corruption of their hearts, and would be most provoking to God, and of most pernicious consequence to themselves (Deuteronomy 4:15-16). Two sorts of idolatry he cautions them against.
(1) The worship of images, however by them they might intend to worship the true God, as they had done in the golden calf; so changing the truth of God into a lie, and His glory into shame. Let this be a caution to us to take heed of making images of God in our fancy and imagination when we are worshipping Him, lest thereby we corrupt ourselves. There may be idols in the heart where there are none in the sanctuary.
(2) The worship of the sun, moon, and stars is another sort of idolatry they are here cautioned against (Deuteronomy 4:14). This was the first and most ancient idolatry of all other, and the most plausible, drawing the adoration to those creatures that not only are in a situation above us, but are most sensibly glorious in themselves, and most generally serviceable to the world. It is intimated hero how strong the temptation is to sense; for the caution is. “Lest thou shouldst be driven to worship them” by the strong impulse of a vain imagination, and the impetuous torrent of the customs of the nations. Yet he shows how weak the temptation would be to those that would use their reason; for these pretended deities, the sun, the moon, and stars, were only blessings which the Lord their God, whom they were obliged to worship, had imparted to all nations. It is absurd to worship them, for--They are man’s servants, were ordained to give light on the earth; and shall we serve those that were made to serve us? They are God’s gifts; He has imparted them. Whatever benefit we have by them we owe it to Him. It is therefore highly injurious to Him to give that honour to them which is due to Him only.
6. He charges them to teach their children to observe the law of God (Deuteronomy 4:9-10).
(1) Care must be taken in general to preserve the entail of religion among them, and to transmit the knowledge and worship of God to posterity; for the kingdom of God in Israel was designed to be perpetual, if they did not forfeit the privilege of it.
(2) Parents must, in order hereunto, particularly take care to teach their own children the fear of God, and to train them up in an observance of all His commandments.
7. He charges them never to forget their duty (Deuteronomy 4:23). Though God is ever mindful of the covenant, we are apt to forget it; and that is at the bottom of all our departures from God. Care and holy watchfulness are the best helps against a bad memory. These are the directions and commands he gives them.
II. Let us see now what are motives or arguments with which he backs these exhortations. How doth he order the cause before them, and fill his mouth with arguments? And a great deal he has to say on God’s behalf. Some of his topics are indeed peculiar to that people, yet applicable to us. But upon the whole it is evident that religion has reason on its side, the powerful charms of which all that are irreligious wilfully stop their ears to.
1. He urges the greatness, glory, and goodness of God. Did we consider what a God He is with whom we have to do, we would surely make conscience of our duty to Him, and would not dare to sin against Him. He reminds them here that the Lord Jehovah is the one only living and true God. That He is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24). That yet He is a merciful God (Deuteronomy 4:31). It comes in here as an encouragement to repentance, but might serve as an inducement to obedience, and a consideration proper to prevent their apostasy. Shall we forsake a merciful God who will never forsake us, as it follows here, if we be faithful unto Him? Whither can we go to mend ourselves?
2. He urges their relation to this God, His authority over them, and their obligations to Him. The commandments you are to keep and do are not mine, saith Moses, not my inventions, not my injunctions, but they are the commandments of the Lord, framed by infinite wisdom, enacted by sovereign power.
3. He urges the wisdom of being religious (Deuteronomy 4:6). “For this is your wisdom in the sight of the nations.” In keeping God’s commandments they would act wisely for themselves. This is your wisdom. It is not only agreeable to right reason, but highly conducive to our true interest (Job 28:28). They would answer the expectations of their neighbours, who, upon reading or hearing the precepts of the law that was given them, would conclude that certainly the people that were governed by this law were a wise and understanding people.
4. He urges the singular advantages they enjoyed by virtue of the happy establishment they were under (Deuteronomy 4:7-8).
(1) Never was any people so privileged in speaking to God (Deuteronomy 4:7). It is the character of God’s Israel, that on all occasions they call upon Him, in everything they make their requests known to God. They do nothing but what they consult Him in; they desire nothing but what they come to Him for. Those that call upon God shall certainly find Him within call, and ready to give an answer of peace to every prayer of faith (Isaiah 58:9). This is a privilege which makes the Israel of God truly great and honourable. What can go further than this to magnify a people or person?
(2) Never was any people so privileged in hearing from God by the statutes and judgments which were set before them (Deuteronomy 4:8). Observe that all the statutes and judgments of the Divine law are infinitely just and righteous, above the statutes and judgments of any of the nations. The having of these statutes and judgments set before them is the true and transcendent greatness of any nation or people (Psalms 147:19-20). It is an honour to us that we have the Bible in reputation and power among us; it is an evidence of a people’s being high in the favour of God, and a means of making them high among the nations. They that magnify the law shall be magnified by it.
5. He urges God’s glorious appearances to them at Mount Sinai when He gave them this law.
(1) What they saw at Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:11). They saw a strange composition of fire and darkness, both dreadful and very awful. He tells them again (Deuteronomy 4:36) what they saw, for he would have them never to forget it. He showed thee His great fire. It gave an earnest of the day of judgment, in which the Lord Jesus shall be revealed in flaming fire. As he reminds them of what they saw, so he tells them what they saw not; no manner of similitude from which they might form either an idea of God in their fancies, or an image of God in their high places.
(2) What they heard at Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:12). The Lord spake unto you with an intelligible voice, in your own language, and you heard it. This he enlargeth upon towards the close of his discourse (Deuteronomy 4:32-33; Deuteronomy 4:36). They heard the voice of God speaking from heaven. God manifests Himself to all the world in the works of creation, without speech or language, and yet their voice is heard (Psalms 19:2). But to Israel He made Himself known by speech and language, condescending to the weakness of the Church’s infant state. They heard it out of the midst of the fire, which showed that it was God Himself that spoke to them; for who else could dwell with devouring fire? They heard it, and yet lived (Deuteronomy 4:33). It was a wonder of mercy that the fire did not devour them, or that they did not die for fear, when Moses himself trembled.
(3) Never any people heard the like. He bids them inquire of former days, and distant places, and they will find this favour of God to Israel without precedent or parallel (Deuteronomy 4:32). This singular honour done them called for singular obedience.
6. He urges God’s gracious appearances for them in bringing them out of Egypt, from the iron furnace, where they laboured in the fire, forming them into a people, and then taking them to be His own people, a people of inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:20). This he mentions again (verses 84, 37, 38). Never did God do such a thing for any people.
(1) They were thus dignified and distinguished; not for anything in them that was deserving or inviting, but because God had a kindness for their fathers, He chose them.
7. He urges God’s righteous appearance against them, sometimes for their sins. He instanceth particularly in the matter of Peor (Deuteronomy 4:34). He also takes notice again of God’s displeasure against himself (Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:22). “The Lord was angry with me for your sakes.” Others suffering for our sakes should grieve us more than our own.
8. He urges the certain benefit and advantage of obedience. This argument he begins with, That ye may live, and go in and possess the land (Deuteronomy 4:1). And this he concludes with, “That it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee” (Deuteronomy 4:40). He reminds them that they were upon their good behaviour, their prosperity would depend upon their piety. If they kept God’s precepts He would undoubtedly fulfil His promises.
9. He urges the fatal consequences of their apostasy from God, that it would undoubtedly be the ruin of their nation. This he enlarges upon (Deuteronomy 4:25-31), where God’s faithfulness to His covenant encourageth us to hope that He will not reject us though we are driven to Him by affliction. If we at length remember the covenant, we shall find that He has not forgotten it. Now let all these arguments be laid together, and then say whether religion has not reason on its side. None cast off the government of their God but those that have first abandoned the understanding of a man. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
God’s dealings with His people
I. In reviewing the gracious dealings of God towards us, the great difficulty is to know at what point to begin. As a people, and as individuals, to God alone are we indebted for the multiplied sources of hope and enjoyment. We live under a mild and well-balanced constitution, and under the shadow of equitable laws. We possess a fruitful soil and temperate seasons. We enjoy an open Bible, and therefore have the full light of Divine revelation. We are favoured likewise with a pure faith and the reformed religion.
II. “Hearken therefore, O Israel,” was the inference of Moses on a review of the dealings of God towards the Jews: “Hearken, therefore, to His statutes and judgments so as to do them.” The Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, contain the records of God’s will, and His statutes for us. To hearken to these precepts we are bound both by duty and by gratitude. These are the strongest forces which can be applied to the mind of man.
III. By obedience only can we secure mercies yet to come. Of this Moses warned the Israelites: “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you.” The promises vouchsafed to them had reference to temporal things. These could only be secured by obedience. The promises granted to us in the Gospel relate both to time and to eternity, for “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)
Moses called upon Israel to “hearken.” Who can hear? Who has ever met a man, in any congregation, that could listen? What is wanted today may be described as good hearers. It is not given to man to rush away from his business, place himself down suddenly in the sanctuary, and call for revelations that he can appreciate. Men must be prepared to hear as well as prepared to preach. To “hearken” is not a mechanical exercise. The word “hearken” is charged with profound meaning; it represents the act of acute, ritual, profound, fervent attention. He who “hearkens” is in an attitude of eagerness--as if he would complete the speech, anticipate it, or elicit from the speaker a broader eloquence by the gratitude and expectancy of his own attention. Would that they who say much about speaking would learn the elements of good listening!--so learned, they would be dispossessed of themselves, their ears would be purged of all noises and tumults and rival competitions; and importunity being dismissed, anxiety being suspended, and the soul set in a posture of expectation, would receive even from slow-speaking Moses statutes and precepts ,solemn as eternity, and rich as the thought of God. “He that hath ears to hear,”--not for noises to please,--“let him hear.” Such hearing is almost equal to praying; such listening never was disappointed. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Bible the wisdom of nation
I. That the Bible brings greatness to a nation; because--
1. When received and obeyed, it brings God’s blessing with it.
2. It elevates the national character.
II. That it is the duty of all to have a personal acquaintance with the Scriptures, and to instruct the young in them. (S. Hayman, B. A.)
But ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God.
The blessedness of cleaving to the Lord
Moses spoke like a father during the closing days of his life to those who “were then alive.” There is a reference here to the multitudes who had fallen in the desert because they did not cleave, etc. They cared not for Him who had delivered them. Moses reminds them of the declension of many to the idolatry of Baal Peor, to which they were tempted by those who wished to bring a curse on Israel. He recalls the terrible punishment which overtook the sinners (Numbers 25:1-18). But those who cleaved to the Lord remained in life. This was to be an example to the people to whom Moses spoke, when they realised in this how truly the Lord is a jealous God.
I. The special regard of Jehovah for those who cleave to Him.
1. He watches over their temporal existence, and does not permit it to be snatched away like that of many stoners, unexpectedly and before the times.
2. True, we do not now think that an early death is a punishment for falling away from God. With us it is not the same as with Israel. Their reward was first the earthly Canaan. To us is the promise of a heavenly inheritance. Then to die was to lose the promised land; now it is the way of entrance to the heavenly country. Therefore the Lord often takes some of those who cleave to Him early from earth, as if they were His specially favoured ones.
3. Still, one has often the impression that some are called hence sooner than should have been. And this may seem either a mark of favour or the reverse--of favour, since the poor sinner is saved from further sinning, and may be brought to himself before death’s solemn advent; or of unfavour, since it seems as if it ought to have been otherwise.
II. The special help and deliverance given to those who cleave to God.
1. Those who cleave to Him experience deliverance from sickness, from trouble and death; in war and pestilence, so that they are not suddenly snatched away; whilst many others--although we dare not judge who--who are accustomed to live according to their lusts, have little safeguard.
2. At all events, what Moses says in regard to this life applies to us in regard to the future life. There It will be declared, None is lost who have cleaved to the Lord, ‘they are alive every one this day.’”
3. Whereas those will not be found who have never sought after God or His Son Jesus.
4. If we would live in time and eternity, then we must cleave to the Lord, “flee from idolatry” and all the abominations that cleave to it. (J. C. Blumhardt.)
Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding.
The wisdom of being holy
Moses, the man of God, having, by the appointment of heaven, delivered to the Israelites most excellent laws and commandments, pathetically exhorts them in this chapter to keep those laws and observe those commandments.
1. That these laws and statutes, which God gave the Israelites, contained in them an inestimable treasure of wisdom, for those words, “This is your wisdom,” may refer to the statutes and judgments, the wise and well-ordered laws which were given to the people. Or, secondly, these words may be applied to the keeping of those laws and statutes, “Keep them and do them, for this,” i.e. this keeping and doing of them, “is your wisdom and your understanding.” Your diligent observing and practising of these laws and statutes are an eminent part of wisdom. The best and chiefest wisdom is to be religious, and to live in the fear of God. And this is the sense of the great Lawgiver in my text, “Keep and do the statutes and judgments which I have taught you,” saith he, “for this is your wisdom and understanding.” As much as to say, he that lives a holy and godly life, he that walks innocently and uprightly, and conscientiously observes the Divine laws, doth truly deserve the name of a wise man. I will show you that a virtuous and righteous man is master of the greatest understanding and highest prudence, and that to be good and wise are one and the same thing. I premise this, then, that there are two essential parts of true wisdom. The first is to understand and judge aright of things, to think of them as indeed they are; the second is to act according to the appreciation and judgment of things, to shun the evil which we discover to be such, and to choose and embrace what we know to be right and good. This I offer as an exact idea of true wisdom; and accordingly you shall see that the person who leads a virtuous and holy life is the only wise man. First, then, he hath the truest notions and conceptions of things, he hath arrived unto a right discerning of what is just and good. His understanding (which is the basis of all religion) is duly informed, and his principles are the best and truest. Error and a depraved judgment being the source of the greatest immoralities in the world, a wise man first of all endeavours to lay aside all vitiated opinions. His care is therefore to remove all wrong opinions and mistakes about things. He labours to think aright, and to bring himself as soon as may be to true apprehensions. New, then, holy and righteous men may be believed to have attained to this first part of true wisdom, because they have right notions of themselves, their souls and bodies, of the things of this world, and of God the Supreme Governor of all. The other essential part of wisdom is to act according to this apprehension and judgment of things, to live according to these excellent notions and maxims. And here I shall further demonstrate to you that piety and wisdom are terms convertible, and that it is impossible to be wise unless we be religious. In general, then, I say this, for a man to act according to his knowledge, to live according to what he possesseth, is all argument of a wise man, and the contrary is great folly and weakness. Certainly, the Author of the Christian religion would not institute anything that is contradictory and inconsistent with itself; and yet such should Christianity be after the rate of some men’s behaviour, who, glorying in the name of Christians, act in opposition to the laws and rules of Christianity. That is the best religion, and worthy of its heavenly Author, which displays itself in the actions and deportments of men, which restrains them from beloved vices, checks their most pleasurable lusts, and is ever visible and operative in their lives. Most men know and every day experience the world to be vain, vice to be dangerous, and integrity and honesty to be the choicest possessions; and yet herein they betray their prodigious folly, that their lives and practices are no ways suitable to those notions; for they inordinately love the world, and prosecute its vanities; they live as if there were no danger at all in the commission of sin, and they act as if honesty were the blemish of a man’s life. Thus they walk antipodes to themselves, they run counter to their own persuasions, they baffle their own judgments, they contradict their own apprehensions. This is the guide of the world, and it savours of the highest imprudence and folly imaginable. It must be an act, then, of great wisdom to walk accurately and circumspectly.
1. He must needs be voted for a wise man who makes choice of the greatest good, and pitcheth on the chief and best end, and minds the things of the highest concernment. This no sober and intelligent person can deny; and by this it is that a godly man proves himself to be the possessor of true wisdom (Psalms 4:6). The folly of men is seen in nothing more than in their huge mistakes about their chief good; and therefore here every good man is exceeding cautious, and with great deliberation chooseth that which he knows to be absolutely good and indispensably necessary. And what is that? Happiness. And what is that happiness? It is briefly this, to live in the enjoyment of God, to love Him and to be loved by Him, to partake of His favour here and of His glory hereafter.
2. He that is truly wise after he hath propounded to himself and chosen the chiefest good, will find out, and then use the best and fittest means for the attaining of that end. And on this account likewise, holiness is the best wisdom. The Christian man sits down and seriously considers the method which is prescribed him, in order to his happiness, recollecting that peremptory decision of St. Peter, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby they must be saved.” This is the method which the Gospel prescribes, this is the plain road to heaven, and he resolves to continue in it to the end of his days.
3. True wisdom teacheth us to regard this end and these means in the first place, and to employ ourselves about them betimes. Where delays and demurs may prove exceedingly dangerous a wise man counts it his interest to make haste, and to make sure of his happiness the first thing he doth. No prudent person will trust to that which is uncertain, frail, and flitting.
4. It is approved wisdom to part with a lesser good that we may make ourselves sure of a far greater, and to undergo some lighter evils to put ourselves out of danger of falling into those which are more heavy and grievous. The fencer receives a blow on his arm to save his head. In a great tempest the richest lading is cast into the sea, to secure the vessel and the passengers’ lives. We are willing to recover health and prolong life by abstinence and great severity on the body. We are contented to be sick that we may be well. We submit, to save our life, to the loss of a limb; we let a part go to save the whole. All these actions are thought to be regulated by right reason, and were ever recorded as instances of human prudence. And on the same score must he that is truly religious be concluded to be the owner of singular prudence and discretion. He denieth himself the sinful pleasures of the world, and by that means assures to himself those pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore.
5. It is certain, and it will hardly meet with any gainsayer, that that person proves himself to be wise and prudent who, seeing the uncertainty and changeableness of this present state, makes certain provision for the future.
This is the wisdom of a godly man; he takes a prospect of the other world whilst he stands upon this.
1. The poor pretenders to wisdom are baffled, and the mere shows and semblances of it in the world are utterly disgraced. You must know, then, that there is a seeming counterfeit wisdom; and there is a real and substantial wisdom, which justly deserves that name.
2. From what hath been said there is a plain discovery of true and substantial wisdom. I have let you see that it is a very large and comprehensive thing: it consists both in knowledge and practice. It is not only a right judgment of those things which are Divine, and appertain to faith and obedience, but it is acting according to that knowledge and judgment of those Divine matters.
3. That hence we have a demonstration of the excellency of religion and a holy life, and consequently a prevalent motive to the embracing of them. There cannot be a greater incentive to godliness than this, that it is the greatest wisdom. This doctrine concerns us all. Seeing the fear of the Lord is the beginning, the head, the main part of wisdom, let it be our chief study how we may fear and worship God aright, and walk uprightly in the whole course of our lives, and let us be afraid of nothing so much as offending God and doing that which is sinful. (J. Edwards, D. D.)
The influence of revealed truth upon a nation
I. That the possession of the revealed truth of God is the most distinguished privilege of a nation.
1. It is the duty of every man thus possessing the revelation which God has given to acquaint himself with it.
2. As God has thus made it the duty of every individual to inquire and to learn, so has He secured to them the means of instruction, by raising up an order of men whose business it is to teach; to make known the statutes and judgments which He has given.
3. We see this, likewise, in the solemn duty, binding on every parent, to teach these statutes and judgments to his children.
II. That from the general diffusion of this truth those practical results can alone be expected which shall make these solemn words applicable: “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”
1. You will all allow, that in proportion as a nation is made righteous, in that proportion it becomes wise and great.
2. We may calculate with certainty on another effect. Whenever the truth of God is extensively diffused through a nation its morality will be improved.
3. A nation will be thus made wise and understanding, because it will be preserved from dangerous errors, and especially from wasting infidelity.
4. Another great effect of the general diffusion of the truth of God is the establishment of civil order and peace.
5. The greatest happiness will result from this general diffusion of the revealed truth of God. (R. Watson.)
Britain’s privileges and obligations
I. As a nation we enjoy valuable advantages and blessings.
2. Political power and eminence.
3. Diffusion of God’s Word. Number and influence of pious and holy men.
II. That our valuable advantages and blessings as a nation place us under momentous obligations to the God by whom they were bestowed.
1. An obligation to gratitude.
2. An obligation to repentance.
3. An obligation to the maintenance and diffusion of Divine truth. (Dr. Parsons.)
The Bible the wisdom of a nation
Parting words are generally impressive words. In this, the last of the books of the Pentateuch, Moses delivered to the people of Israel his parting counsels. He sets before them, in words of expostulation and warning, good and evil--life and death. And not only does he give them these impressive exhortations, but, foreseeing--for God was pleased to give him a revelation of it (Deuteronomy 31:16)--that their deceitful hearts would turn aside, he utters the plainest predictions of the judgments which have since overtaken them. We see, then, that Israel’s safety was identified with her adherence to pure and undefiled religion. At the time when all the nations of the earth beside were in darkness, she was made the depository of the knowledge of the true and only God. Still, while these things are so, and while we cannot admit the idea of a peculiar people in the sense in which Israel was, it is impossible for those who acknowledge that “the Lord is King,” and that He is “Judge of all the earth,” to doubt that, as with individuals, so with nations, a high measure of Divine favour involves of necessity a proportionate degree of national responsibility. Holding those feelings, we shall be brought to acknowledge that, nationally, we have ourselves much in the sight of God to answer for.
I. In the first place, then, the Bible brings greatness to a nation, because, when received and obeyed, it brings God’s blessing with it. The glory of Israel was the presence of Jehovah amongst them. There was no nation--to use the words of Moses in the text--that had God so nigh them as had they. In their journeys through the wilderness He was visibly present in the pillar of cloud; and afterwards, in the temple which was founded on Mount Moriah to His praise, the Holy of holies sufficiently indicated to them His special abode with them. When He departed from them their safeguard was withdrawn: the enemy made Jerusalem, hitherto invincible, a heap of stones. Similarly, our own land, at the period of the Reformation, received the Holy Scriptures, and since then, in their possession and use, has obtained from God innumerable blessings: religion has extended itself in renewed vitality amongst us; and this great nation has become a wise and understanding people. But, apart from the security which the fear of the Lord brings with it, we shall see that--
II. The Bible brings greatness to a nation because it elevates the national character. I do not seek to palliate our multitudinous sins. Still, even now, Britain I do believe to be the stronghold of pure, because scriptural, religion. The Bible is not yet dethroned from the affections of her people; and, for tiffs reason, the basis of the national character is yet sound.
III. The duty of personal acquaintance with the Scriptures and of instructing the young out of them. (S. Hayman, B. A.)
Security of the established religion the wisdom of the nation
I. The exercise of religion is the principal end of every government and consequently an act of the truest wisdom.
1. It is of no small advantage to the mutual correspondence of the members of a community that religion is agreeable both to the natural tendency of every particular man’s mind, and the general consent of all nations interweaving it in their several constitutions. Because as, on the one hand, whatever notion is so universal cannot be destroyed without the greatest violence to human nature; so, on the other hand, it is an obvious fixed point in which all the members may the most easily be supposed to centre, and will in course, if duly cultivated, be not only a bond of union between God and man, but also between one man and another.
2. The many happy consequences and natural good effects of religion are so serviceable to a state as upon the most cogent arguments to recommend the exercise of it to every wise government as its principal end.
(1) It was wisely ordained of our ancestors, that as well great pleadings as noble actions should begin with devotion, because without the aid of heaven nothing can be prudently undertaken or ever rightly succeed. For certainly as it is evident from reason that the power of the Almighty extends to the rewarding or punishing, the advancing or destroying every nation, as their actions please or displease Him, so will ordinary reading, and even common experience, assure us that God does actually interpose in all governments.
(2) But further, religion is not only the truest support, and therefore ought to be the chief end of every government with respect to the unforeseen and unaccountable blessings of Providence which attend it, but also with respect to its own natural good effects in the influence which it has upon the several members of a society.
(a) If we consider the governing part of a nation. As nothing can temper the greatness and power of a prince more than a just sense of religion, so neither can anything more recommend him to the love and reverence of his people.
(b) If we consider what shall render people most tractable and obedient to governors, we shall find that Christianity must certainly have the most beneficial effect.
II. A settled form of religion is, as the means, most conducive to that end, and therefore an improvement of the wisdom. For however religion, naturally speaking, may not consist in form, and we may allow that a person supposed separate from all community may practise it without any form; yet, besides that, even in that case the want of a fixed method may create many inconsistencies, and in time destroy his religion. So that though forms are not always of the essence of the thing formed, yet, at least, they are the means of promoting and even preserving it; and accordingly in all acts of government, in the sessions of all great councils, there are settled methods of proceeding; and particularly in the practice of the law, there are forms of process, terms, garb, rules of court, and other formalities which, though not the essence of the law, yet are the means of the execution of it. The same reason therefore which prescribes a settled form to all other acts of society prescribes it to religion also.
1. It is to be feared lest too great a latitude of worship should destroy religion itself, and the liberty, as nowadays stretched beyond the design of the toleration of every man serving God in his own way, should end in not serving Him at all.
2. Supposing Christianity in general were not endangered from a boundless latitude, nor liable to be lost in the confusion; yet, at least, the better part of it, Protestantism, must needs run a mighty hazard from so unlimited a variety.
3. A boundless latitude of worship may not only prove destructive to religion in general, and Protestantism in particular, but, what even men of the loosest principles ought to be concerned for, will also disturb the peace of a nation. For as religion has not only the most universal, but even the most powerful sway over men’s minds, so it will be heard wherever it pleases to exert its voice; and the very calves of Dan and Bethel shall be able to divide the kingdom of Israel from that of Judah.
III. A due provision for the security and advancement of such a settled form is the only completion of that wisdom. With regard to this notion was it that our pious reformers established it by law, and for a further security did their successors appoint penalties and settle a test. (John Savage, M. A.)
The national greatness of Britain, its causes, dangers, and preservation
Canaan was evidently the glory of all the earth, and Israel the most renowned of all people; in wealth, in intelligence, in honour, and in victory the Hebrew nation exceeded all the nations by which it was surrounded. Now, England is a great nation, and compared even with enlightened countries, it assumes an imposing splendour; and if viewed in contrast even with the cultivated nations of the continent of Europe, it stands at the head of them all. Its commercial enterprise, its civil and religious character, its indomitable industry, its multiplied comforts, and the distinguished reputation which it has in all the nations of the earth, place it alone--far above any other country. It is natural for a man to look at England, and to ask, “How is this?” And having discovered the fact of this greatness, and the causes of it, the inquiry naturally suggests itself, “How is this greatness to be perpetuated and increased?”
I. The causes of Britain’s greatness.
1. The first thing mentioned in the text, and which is presented throughout this book, is that the nation’s greatness consists in having the knowledge of the true God; and this is peculiar in respect to England. God is nigh unto this nation, and has given it the knowledge of Himself, and this is the foundation of our prosperity.
2. Another cause mentioned in the text, and which may also be ascribed to Britain, is our multitudinous and wonderful deliverances. If anyone will open the pages of history and read them, he will see how this country has risen among the nations of the earth by the remarkable power of the hand of the Lord.
3. Another means which this text prescribes is the institution and preservation of the Christian ministry. This agency has distributed knowledge--this has nerved the people with right principles--this has taught them industry, benevolence, and all the social virtues--and, above all, it has exhibited to the people the way of salvation by Christ, and furnished motives to holiness, and to every kind benevolent act, of which even the learned amongst the heathen were all ignorant.
4. Again, the text points out another means of promoting this greatness, and that is the communication of religious knowledge to the young.
5. Another point is the influence of a praying community; “for what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is, in all things that we call upon Him for?” What a multitude of praying people--formed by the Gospel--live in Britain! This has doubtless been a greater security to her than all her wooden walls, or than all her large armies. Prayer is a benevolence which any man can confer on kings or on statesmen, and the only thing very many have to do with them is to pray for them.
6. I will mention one other source of her greatness, and that is her unrestricted possession of the Divine Word, and the laws of the land being largely founded on the laws of that book. What a blessing has the Bible been! Among our mercies are the statutes and laws by which we are governed taken principally from this book. Much imperfection, it is true, still remains in these laws; and many of us have grievous complaints to make about them; but, viewed as a nation amongst other nations, there are no laws like those of Britain, because they more closely conform to the laws of God than those of any existing nation; and they are being brought nearer to the blessed book of God; but still, as they are, they are looked upon with envy as the glory of the world.
II. The dangers to which the possession of this greatness exposes us. The first which Moses presents to them was self-conceit. If not very watchful over prosperity, luxuriousness, the indulgence of fleshly appetites, indolence, and neglect of others, come in with it taking rest, and lying down in the nest which we have made so comfortable for ourselves, and never looking over it to see the miseries of those who have not got a nest, and for whom it is our duty to assist in making one, that they may be as happy as we are. See how these sins are abroad amongst us!--how prevalent are pride and forgetfulness of God, Sabbath profanation, rejection of the Gospel, luxuriousness, prodigality, and many other sins.
III. The means of preserving and of perpetuating this greatness. There are two modes of doing this, which are particularly referred to in the text. The first is personal piety, and the second the instruction of the rising generation.
1. Amidst the greatness and dignity of Britain there is reason to fear that personal piety is falling off. Never, as a nation, was Britain more exalted; yet observe, while this exaltation continues, all sections of the Church are complaining of the want of vital fire. With a few exceptions the Churches represent trees that have not been rained upon--they want those showers from heaven which fill the heart with gladness and piety. It is of the utmost moment that your piety should be of the highest stamp, and that you may maintain and improve it, you must labour; it must be your ambition--your holy joy--to be a sort of being above everybody else in the Church. Nothing can compensate for the loss of communion with God in the closet; and if you are addicting yourselves to any of the fond pleasures of the day--misspending your time which has been taken by popular opinion from your employers, and, instead of devoting yourselves to the work of God, enjoying pleasures and amusements--if you are doing this, your poor soul will suffer, and you will require more heavenly grace to sustain you than before.
2. Another thing the text proposes is religious instruction in the family: “Teach thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” The way to pardon and peace through the Cross must be made known; this great subject must not be kept back from the children. (James Sherman.)
The conditions of national greatness
You see from this that the fame and wisdom of Israel are to be tested solely by her obedience to the laws of God. For every nation under the sun there is no other criterion. Mankind has many tests: God has but one. If the ideal of the nation be righteous, she will be great and strong. If the ideal of the nation be base or evil, she will sooner or later perish because of her iniquity.
I. The ideal of many nations has been delight in war. They have not cared to have any annals which were not written in blood. Such a people were the Assyrians of Scripture. In the hall of Sargon, that king has had himself represented stabbing and butchering his captives with his own hands; and, in the one domestic scene found among these sculpturings of horror and bloodshed (you may see it in the British Museum), the son of Sennacherib is seated in a vine-clad arbour at a feast, opposite to him is his queen among her maidens, and close behind the queen hangs from the branch of a palm tree a ghastly human head, with an iron ring driven through the lip. Well, did it prosper, this bloody city? Read the prophet Nahum for answer, and you will see how soon it passed away in fire and sword, amid the wrath and hatred of the nations. And did war-loving Egypt fare better? We see the serried ranks of the numberless archers, we read the pompous enumeration of the victories of her Rameses; but Egypt snapped like one of her own river reeds before the might of Persia, and the fellaheen have scooped their millstones out of the face of the Rameses, the most colossal statue in the world.
II. But there has been another ideal of nations--not war in its cruelty, but general glory; not the tyranny and vengeance of armies, but their pomp and fame. This, until she learnt wisdom by bitterly humiliating experience, was the ideal of France. The nation which follows glory follows a “will-o’-the-wisp’’ which flickers over the marshes of death; the nation which follows duty has its eye fixed on the polar star.
III. Again, any nations in the East, from natural slavishness and insolence of temperament, in the West from unwarrantable fetish worship of the mere letter of Scripture, and even that grossly misinterpreted, have cherished the grovelling idea of absolutism--the crawling at the feet of some royal house, the deification of some human divinity. So it was under the cruel despotisms of Asia; so it was under the wicked deified Caesars; so it was for whole cycles in China; so it was till quite recently in Russia. From this debased notion--that mankind has no nobler destiny than to be made the footstool of a few families; that kings have a right Divine to govern wrong; that nations ought to deliver themselves, bound hand and foot, to the arbitrary caprices of men who may chance to be as despicable as a Sardanapalus, a Nero, or a John--the blood, and the good sense, and the God-fearing manhood, and the mighty passion for liberty in the breasts of our fathers saved us.
IV. Other nations, again, many of them, have had as their ideal the gaining of wealth and thirst for gold. Of all false gods, at once the meanest, and the one who most assumes the air of injured innocence and perfect respectability, is Mammon. What has this kind of wealth ever done for men and for nations? Was ever any man the better for having coffers full of gold? But who shall measure the guilt that is often incurred to fill them? Men do not disbelieve Christ, but they sell Him. By individual superiority to Mammon, let us help England to rise superior to this base idolatry. “You glory.” said Oliver Cromwell, “in the ditch which guards your shores. I tell you, your ditch will not save you if you do not reform yourselves.”
V. Once more; it some nations have had a false idea of absolutism, many, and especially modern nations, have had a false ideal of liberty. There is no ideal more grand and inspiring than that of true freedom. But what is freedom? It is the correlative of order; it is the function of righteousness. Its home, too, like that of law, is the bosom of God; its voice the harmony of the world. Liberty is not the liberty to do wrong unchecked. To be free is not synonymous with infinite facilities for drunkenness, any more than it is synonymous with infinite facilities for burglary; but to be free, as Milton said, is the same thing as to be pious, to be temperate, and to be magnanimous--
“He is a freeman whom the truth makes free;
And all are slaves beside.”
The description “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” which is rapidly becoming our national ideal, is a description not of heroic freedom, but of hideous anarchy. A man’s liberty ends, and ought to end, when that liberty becomes the curse of his neighbours. “Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!”
VI. What, then, is a great nation’s one and only true ideal, if it is to be indeed a wise and understanding people? The frivolous may sneer and the faithless may deride, but it is duty and it is righteousness. That is as much the law of Christ as it is the law of Sinai. If a nation be not the uplifter of this banner it is nothing, and it is doomed in due time to fall. And that is why the Bible, when men will read it by the light of truth and not of pseudo-religious theories, is still the best statesman’s manual. For it will teach him several things. It will teach him that progress is the appointed, inevitable law of human life, and that it is a deadly error to suppose that we are sent into the world only to preserve and not to improve; and it will teach him to honour man simply as man, and to regard all men, from the highest to the lowest, as absolutely equal before the bar of justice. It will teach him that always and invariably the unjust gains and the immoral practices of the class must be put down in the interests of the community, and that the interests of the community are subordinate always to those of the nation. And it will teach him that the true glory of nations lies, not in the splendid misery of war, but in the dissemination of honourable happiness, and the encouragement of righteousness, and the suppression of vice. And it will teach him that the true wealth of a nation is not in gold and silver, but in the souls of strong, contented, and self-respecting men. When statesmen have learnt all these lessons they will not be long in learning others. Nations will aim at only such conditions of life and government as shall make it easy to do right and difficult to do wrong. Statesmen will not toil for reward; they will hold allegiance to the loftiest ideal of their faith in Christ dearer than all the glories of place and all the claims of party. Like Edmund Burke, they will bring to politics “a horror of clime, a deep humanity, a keen sensibility, a singular vivacity and sincerity of conscience.” Like Sir Robert Peel, they will, amid all the chequered fortunes of their career, be able to turn from the storm without to the sunshine of an approving heart within. They will not be afraid to cut against the grain of godless prejudice; they will not be sophisticated by the prudential maxims of an immoral acquiescence: they will sweeten with words of justice and gentleness the conflicts of party; they will be quick to the encouragement of virtue; and they will be firm and fearless to the prompt, inflexible suppression and extirpation--so far as powers of government can do it--of all open and soul destroying vice. (Dean Farrar.)
And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and Judgments so righteous?
A righteous Bible
The appeal of Moses is the eternal appeal of the Bible. That is the appeal to common sense and to common honesty. The commandments are not described as eloquent, marvellous intellectual conceptions, great advances in ethical thinking. Moses asks, What other nation can produce a Bible so righteous! Any Bible must go down that is not righteous above all other things, how high soever the varied attributes by which any book may be characterised. What is the moral tone of the Bible? Pure, righteous, true, holy. What are the great commandments of the Book? “Love,” “love,”--twice love. The first object?--“God”; the second?--“thy neighbour.” This is the strength of the Bible; and we can all begin at this point to inquire into the remainder of the Book. Men may ask bewildering questions about the archaeology and the so called science of the Bible, and may even puzzle the uncultured reader with many a question relating to spiritual mysteries; but taken from end to end, the Bible is charged with righteousness: it will have the neighbour loved as the man himself; it will have the harvest like the seed time; it will insist upon right balances and full weights; it will have no concealed iniquities; it carries its candle of flame with fire never kindled upon earth into the secrets of the mind and the chambers of the soul and the hidden places of motive and purpose and ultimate, but unexpressed, intent. The Word of God is sharp, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. It is a righteous Word. The Bible has a thousand weapons in its armoury: not the lightest, not the weakest is its magnificent morality, its heavenly righteousness, its incorruptible integrity. It shakes off the wicked man; it will have no communion with darkness; it strikes the liar on the mouth; it avoids the unholy follower. This is--let us repeat--the argument of Moses, and it is the eternal argument of Christianity. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Bible and civilisation
Wendell Phillips once said: “The answer to the Shaster is India; the answer to Confucianism is China; the answer to the Koran is Turkey; the answer to the Bible is the Christian civilisation of Protestant Europe and America.” (J. S. Gilbert, M. A.)
The national utility of the Bible
It is impossible to estimate the amount of evil which mankind would experience in their civil capacity were the Scriptures no longer considered of Divine origin, nor constituted the ultimate standard of all moral and political obligation. All reverence for the laws would cease, for the lawgiver would have only his own authority, or the mere glimmerings of the law of nature, to enforce his commands; while those who had to obey the laws would soon have every just and equitable principle banished from their minds, and every sacred feeling obliterated from their bosoms. The whole fabric of society would soon go to pieces if men were removed beyond the sphere of the public and private sanctions of scriptural morality. (J. Blakey.)
The glory of Israel
Moses reminds the people that God has chosen them as His special possession, and that this had been shown during forty years, and that if they would remain a people forever blessed it must be under the protection and blessing of God. They were highly favoured above all other peoples--for Jehovah the true God was theirs, and would be known among His people by this gracious name. And all the peoples around saw how great things God had done for Israel--how gloriously and graciously He had led His people. This was one reason why Israel should cleave to the Lord, who would plainly thus reveal Himself as the true God, the Holy One of Israel. From all this Israel should have learned--
I. To prize highly their relation to God.
1. They should have learned to realise what it was to be under the peculiar care of God, and how great and glorious was their fellowship with Him. Theirs was not merely to be a great and glorious history in the past. God was not merely to be the God who had mightily manifested Himself to their fathers, and then withheld His presence. Rather there was the promise that if they continued to call upon Him wonderful manifestations of grace and help would be given.
2. How blessed Israel was so long as they continued to call on God, prayed for His protection in faith, and kept in the way of His commandments! It was no hard thing to draw near to God. Priest and prophet were given to prepare the way, and each Israelite might experience the truth of the text for himself. But it was otherwise with Israel. In them we see--
II. The danger of neglecting to call upon God.
1. Israel went on their own way, according to their own will; and in order that they might not be stopped by listening to the voice of reason they no longer called upon God; they no longer sought His near presence.
2. Therefore, however He would have been pleased to draw near to them, He could do so no more, because they desired it not. Thus did Israel, and even when they inquired of His way they did not follow it.
3. How speedily, therefore, were they brought low; for all depended on their calling on God, and Him alone.
III. The spiritual Israel must call on God.
1. Even among the early believers to whom with visible manifestation the Holy Ghost came, whose voice and counsel they might ever hear, there was the temptation to walk more according to the flesh than according to the Spirit. Some neglected to hear His voice, and gave themselves up to the lusts of the flesh.
2. Then true believing calling on God ceased, the Lord came no more nigh to them, and the Holy Ghost was grieved.
3. Let us learn in simple faith to pray to and call upon Him. Then should we hope that all things would again become new in us, would be otherwise with us; and how glorious could our lives become! (J. C. Blumhardt.)
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen.
An important admonition
I. In what respects we are bound to “take heed to” ourselves.
1. Take heed to your health. When this is gone, how tedious and tasteless is life! The wretched subject of disease is ready to exclaim (Job 12:4; Job 12:13-15), Oh, what pain are some poor creatures doomed to bear! But in numberless instances some of the severest afflictions to which mankind are subject are the fruits of their own folly. Keep the body under: let your diet, your rest, your well-regulated tempers tend to the health of the human frame, not to its destruction.
2. Take heed to your character. “A Christian is the highest style of man.” In this quality is associated every holy temper and disposition. There is faith with its eagle eye, love with its burning flame, peace with its placid smile, humility with its lowly aspect, patience with its soothing balm, and as much of the heavenly treasure as can be conveyed into an earthen vessel. Therefore “take heed to” attain this character; and then be careful to preserve it.
(1) You may forfeit your Christian character by levity. Christian cheerfulness is widely different from worldly and unhallowed mirth.
(2) You may forfeit your Christian character by a haughty, high-minded disposition. There is no evil in the world so hostile to religion as pride.
(3) You may forfeit your Christian character by your tongue.
(4) This may be done by neglecting your relative duties.
3. Take heed to your souls. They are dark, and must be on lightened; guilty, and must be pardoned; enslaved, and must be redeemed; polluted, and must be sanctified; in danger, and must be saved.
4. Take heed to your time. Time wasted is existence lost; used, is life. Therefore part with it as with money, sparing it, and never paying a moment but in purchase of its worth.
5. Take heed to your conduct.
(1) Let it be consistent. See to it that you are in reality what you pretend to be.
(2) In order that your conduct may be consistent, let it be regulated by the Word of God. In the balances of the sanctuary weigh your principles and actions (Isaiah 8:20).
II. The reasons why the advice in the text should be followed.
1. The character of the speaker is the first motive I will bring before you. It is the eternal Jehovah; “the God in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways” (Daniel 5:23).
2. The reasonableness of the requisition is another argument why you should “take heed to” yourselves. Even animals which are governed by mere instinct “take heed to” themselves. In many cases they refuse to eat what would be injurious to them, and fly from danger the moment they perceive it; and shall reason fail to do for you what instinct accomplishes for them? (Jeremiah 8:7.)
3. The dangers that await you afford another reason for the adoption of the advice in the text. Had you literally to walk in a road beset with snares, where you were liable to be entrapped every moment, would not the perils of your path be a sufficient inducement for you to “take heed to” yourselves? And do not more fearful dangers await you in your spiritual career? (R. Treffry.)
On experience-its use, its neglect, and its abuse
I. Under the first head, that of its use, it may be said, in general, that there is no knowledge so useful as that which is gained by experience.
1. Events are better remembered than precepts, and indeed it seems but just that that acquisition should turn out to be valuable which is so often dearly paid for with tears. He who heeds not the warnings of his elders, or his books, to abstain from excess, may be taught by sickness a lesson of moderation which he will not forget. Severe losses may now induce him to be prudent and provident who never till now could be brought to believe that prodigality begat want, or that riches had wings.
2. Besides the great personal benefits which flow from experience, it is also the source of more extended usefulness. For the guidance of life and conduct, there is no kind of wisdom which we can so confidently and beneficially communicate as the lessons of experience. And it is the high gratification of the virtuous old man that the trials which he has borne, the successes which he has enjoyed, place at his disposal the best means both of ensuring his own security, uprightness, and of relieving the perplexities and guiding the steps of the young and inexperienced. He who has gathered wisdom from many years can impart to others the legacies which each year has left him, and live while they are enjoyed, nor grow any poorer by making others richer.
II. It is a melancholy truth, that wisdom which may be so easily, I might say naturally, acquired is often neglected; wisdom, too, which, as we have seen, is so useful in the direction of our conduct, and in our intercourse with others. There is hardly a more pitiable object than a man who cannot, or will not, learn wisdom from experience; one who, to use the expressions of our text, forgets the things which his eyes have seen, and they depart from his heart all the days of his life. To brood over our cares, and too fondly to indulge our sorrows, and thus unfit ourselves for the active duties of life, is indeed unchristian and irrational; but both religion and reason require us to contemplate and force instruction from every wayward event for our future security and quiet; like Jacob, to hold every heaven-sent grief with which we have wrestled, and not to let it go till it has blessed us. We are wrong in being always so very anxious to drive away unpleasant thoughts; we must let them remain till they have cured us; we might as well drive away the surgeon from our doors who came to perform a painful though necessary operation. We must learn to look upon the occurrences of life not as insulated facts, but as borrowing illustration from the past, and reflecting it upon the future.
III. Of the neglect of experience we should speak with concern, with pity, or with reprobations--of its abuse we can speak only with the most unqualified abhorrence. By the abuse of experience I mean experience in the arts of the world employed not to warn, but to ensnare the simple and unsuspecting, and experience of its vices employed not to admonish but to correct innocence. (H. W. Beecher.)
The spiritual benefits of retrospection
It is to be feared that to many (so habitually unmindful are they of what they have been permitted to witness, both in the wider sphere of public and the more contracted one of private life) experiences are somewhat like the stern lights of a ship, which serve to illumine only that part of the water over which she has just sailed. It is far otherwise when, through the agency of supernatural grace communicated in answer to the prayer of faith, experience is sanctified, for it then becomes strongly conducive to spiritual health. If it be the province of Hope to paint the bow of promise upon the cloud, it is that of Memory to gather rays of the light of direction from the past, and to cause them to shine upon the path of religious duty, which is beset by so many temptations that every encouragement is needed, lest the travellers “faint because of the way.” Now, in directing your attention to some of the functions which a religiously disciplined memory performs in connection with the life of faith--
I. I would first ask you to observe that it is one of its offices to teach Christians to keep a more accurate register of their mercies than they are naturally disposed to do; to train them in resistance of the dangerous tendency to dwell with circumstantial precision, and often even selfish exaggeration, upon their trials. It is Memory’s office to embalm their blessings, to preserve them from the decay to which time and the influence of an evil world would otherwise subject them.
II. Memory has also functions of momentous importance in connection with the true repentance to which we are called by Him who alone can enable us to “sorrow after a godly sort.” It is the office of a rightly trained memory to remove the concealments by which we seek to hide our delinquencies from ourselves, to dwell with emphasis upon passages in our history from referring to which we would naturally desire to escape, to keep the unwelcome but wholesome truth of our unworthiness before us that we may really feel our need of pardon and earnestly seek it where alone it can be found. In cases, too (which it is to be feared are very far from uncommon), in which spiritual declension has begun--cases of “backsliding in heart”--the memory of the past has much to effect in connection with the restoration of those who have so declined. The contrast which memory would lead them to institute between the comparatively happy time when they kept in the way of duty and the troublous time when they forsook it has been one which, rendered practically influential by the operation of the Spirit of Grace, has led them back to tread that path in which only rest can be found for the soul. Scripture is replete with testimony to the value of the past in preparing us for doing God’s will in that portion of the future which may be granted us, teaching those who are to take our places when we are called away by the inevitable summons to be in their time ready to “serve their generation according to that will.” To this consideration, namely, that of the responsibility which rests upon us to do all that lies in our power to bring up “the rising generation” in the service of Christ, we are led by the words of the final clause, “Teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” If those addressed in the words of the text could refer their children to the past for lessons of spiritual wisdom, they who are living under the new and better covenant cannot fail to find counsels in the retrospect of their experience to impress upon youthful minds. They may tell how they have seen evidences, how the fond hopes of religious parents can be blighted by the ungodliness of children, how they have seen health shattered by intemperance, brilliant prospects clouded by yielding to the allurements of a world at enmity with God! They may tell how they have witnessed exemplifications of the truth of those words quoted by an inspired Christian teacher from an heathen author, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Or they may turn from painful to pleasurable reminiscences. They may tell of instances of the beneficial results of “the nurture and admonition” in which children were brought up to live for Christ. They may speak of homes lightened by the joy imparted to souls influenced by the grace of God. (C. E. Tisdall.)
Diligent soul keeping
I. What soul keeping is. It is the keeping of a living being, and not of a mere inanimate thing. To have the charge of a priceless jewel is only the matter of wrapping it carefully up, putting it away in a safe place, and giving it an occasional look. But it is an altogether different matter to have the charge of a child. That means constant attention, perpetual claim on wisdom and self-denial. And soul keeping is the charge of a living being. Keeping a living creature, so as to help it to maintain vigour and grow into its very best, means--
1. That we must get to know and understand it; and such a knowledge includes the peculiarities of the individual as well as the general characteristics of the class or species to which it belongs. It means--
2. That we must adapt our ways to it, putting ourselves upon all efforts and upon all restraints that may be necessary in order to do our very best in its behalf. But it also means--
3. That in some things we make it take our ways, for it is the most serious responsibility of our trust that we have to put the impress of our own will and our own example on the living being we have in charge. We must, in some things, adapt ourselves to it, and in some other things make it shape its conduct to our wish. If we can take the deeper view, we may apprehend that the soul is the self. But just now another view will be more suggestive to us. We are to think of the “soul” as a trust from God--a “self” given to ourselves to keep for God, a living being put into our charge, as men put an animal from foreign climes, or a plant, into our care. And this becomes our chief life concern--to keep, in health, in vigour, in all due activity, that living thing, our soul. A figure may be taken from the ways of our doctors. It is true that they are concerned with the forms and features and expressions of positive disease; but they have a trust which is of far more importance. Our vitality is committed to their care. And mothers follow along the same lines. They are watchful, indeed, of every spot on the body or weakness in the limb of their children; but wise mothers are most anxious about keeping up the vitality, nourishing the very springs of life. There are the possibilities of throwing off the germs of disease, and unfolding into ideal completeness of beauty, in manhood or womanhood, if only the life can be kept in health and vigour. And so the Christian should be supremely concerned about the trust he has from God, and keep “his soul with all diligence.”
II. What kinds of care it involves.
1. We must be watchful of what goes into it. We put injurious things out of the way of children; but we too often fail in the equally important duty of putting evil things that seek entrance out of the way of our souls. But our Lord reminded us--
2. That we should be equally watchful of what comes out. He said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts,. . .and these defile the man.” This is the complication of our “keeping.” We have to check the soul from giving expression to the bad things that are in it, because they grow strong by expression. But the kind of care involved in soul keeping may be put in another way.
1. Taking care of the soul’s atmosphere. We say of plants and of persons, “The climate does not agree with them: they never will be healthy while they remain in it!” Our scientific teachers tell us that there is one element in the air we breathe which is absolutely and partly intellectual. The proper food for the emotional is all that goes under the name of prayer. The proper food for the intellectual is all that goes under the name of truth. Add this, that there is a practical side to the soul life, the food of which is duty, and we know that which it is fitting we should provide--prayer, truth, duty.
2. Taking care of the soul’s neighbours. “Evil communications corrupt good manners. They who would keep their souls should not even “stand in the way of sinners”: much less can they venture to sit in the seat of the scornful.”
III. What difficulties have soul keepers to overcome? Their name is “Legion.” But we may profitably fix our attention on two.
1. The outwardness of men’s interests nowadays. We live in the street, and the hall, and the drawing room, rather than in the prayer chamber, and the “tower of vision”; and this makes soul keeping so hard
2. The pressure of bodily, and business, and family claims. Like Dr. Chalmers we are “bustled out of our spirituality.” Our time is seized upon by the “world,” and when he has done his daily will with us we are weary, too weary for the things of God. He who would keep his soul must meet and master these difficulties, and persistently set first, in his seekings, “the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (The Weekly Pulpit.)
On the benefits of experience and reflection
The great source of all human knowledge is experience and that experience which teaches us practical wisdom, and informs us of the many evils that constantly wait on life, is acquired chiefly by observation and reflection. The historian makes it his peculiar glory that, by faithfully recording the fates of kingdoms, by delineating the virtues which raised some to magnificence, and the vices which brought others gradually to destruction, he anticipates the future by a true representation of the past, and teaches men wisdom by the examples of others. But though, from the short period of human life, the narrowness of our views, and other causes, we are obliged to recur to the experience of those who went before us for almost all our knowledge; yet the few events that happen to ourselves, or that fall within the circle of our own observation, make a far more lasting impression on us, and have a much greater influence over the heart.
I. First, let me exhort you, when you “ponder in the path of life,” not to let the remembrance of your disappointments, whatever they might have been, “depart from your hearts.” If the Sufferance of them has been grievous, let the remembrance of them be profitable. If they have crossed your inclinations, or withheld from you fancied pleasures, let them not die away without producing their proper effect in moderating the passions and inspiring that patient fortitude which, aided by prayer, will enable us, amidst all the storms of life, to maintain a character of dignified composure, resignation, and contentment.
II. Next to the disappointments of life, I wish you to reflect on the sorrows which you might have experienced. As the land is more grateful to the mariner after his vessel has been dashed against the rocks, and he himself has struggled with the waves of life, so is the recovery of peace to those who have escaped the storms of adversity. Many are the advantages we derive from this severe monitor, if we knew how to enjoy them. She seldom fails to soften and improve the heart.
III. Let me now direct your attention to a subject in which we are all equally interested--I mean “the house of mourning” and the chambers of death. Here also let us endeavour to learn what lessons experience would teach us. It is not in the giddy and fantastic scenes of pleasure that the mind improves in wisdom or in virtue; these, for the most part, are acquired by habits of reflection, and by taking such views of human affairs as dispose the soul to thought and meditation. For this cause the “house of mourning” is a house replete with instruction, and is on that account wisely preferred to the “house of feasting.” It is there that our religious principles acquire an energy not to be derived perhaps from any other source. It is there that those truths which were announced to us as glad tidings from heaven, and those duties which are founded on reason and contemplation, are strengthened and improved by the softest and most powerful emotions of the heart. In these melancholy moments we feel our own weakness and see the vanities of life. Temptations to guilt and misery no longer court us under the delusive forms of pleasure, and sin appears in all its native deformity. We confess the vice and folly of every mean pursuit, and the mind flees to the religion of Christ for comfort and support. (J. Hewlett, B. D.)
“Take heed to thyself,” etc
In the business of life there are three parties concerned, three parties of whose existence it behoves us to be equally and intensely conscious. These three are God on the one hand and our own individual souls on the other, and the one Mediator, Jesus Christ, who alone can join the two into one.
1. There is all the difference in the world between saying, Bear yourselves in mind, and saying, Bear in mind always the three, God and Christ and yourselves, whom Christ unites to God. For then there is no risk of selfishness, nor of idolatry, whether of ourselves or of anything else; we do but desire to keep alive and vigorous, not any false or evil life in us, but our true and most precious life, the life of God in and through His Son. But what we see happen very often is just the opposite to this. The life in ourselves, of which we are keenly conscious, never for an instant forgetting it, is but the life of our appetites and passions, and this life is quite distinct from God and from Christ. But while this life is very vigorous, our better life slumbers; we have our own desires, and they are evil, but we take our neighbour’s knowledge and faith and call them our own, and we live and believe according to our neighbour’s notions; so our nobler life shrinks up to nothing, and our sense of truth perishes from want of exercise.
2. In combining a keen sense of our own soul’s life with the sense of God and of Christ there is no room for pride or presumption, but the very contrary. We hold our knowledge and our faith but as God’s gifts, and are sure of them only so far as His power and wisdom and goodness are our warrant. Our knowledge, in fact, is but faith; we have no grounds for knowing as of ourselves, but great grounds for believing that God’s appointed evidence is true, and that in believing it we are trusting Him. (T. Arnold, D. D.)
I. The evil anticipated--forgetfulness of their own past experience of God’s gracious dealings. “Lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen,” etc.
1. We cannot suppose that Moses thought it possible they should so far lose all traces of these events as that they should not, by any circumstance, be brought to remembrance.
2. But these things might be so forgotten--so little and so lightly thought of, as to depart from “their hearts,” so as to have no influence there. No correcting influence; error might be corrected by a heart-affecting remembrance of God’s distinguishing judgments and mercies (Deuteronomy 4:3-4), but such remembrance would be necessary. No chastening influence, such as that intended in Deuteronomy 4:5-20; consequently no cheering influence, such as Deuteronomy 4:36-40 might impart. In short, “the things which their eyes had seen” might be so forgotten as to produce no saving effect.
3. And Christians are as liable to this calamity as the Israelites were.
4. The greatness of the evil may be inferred from the greatness of the punishment threatened--the loss of God’s gracious presence for direction, defence, etc. (Deuteronomy 4:7); the loss of Canaan (Deuteronomy 4:27); and the heaviest of temporal calamities (Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 28:16).
II. The preventives recommended. “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul,” etc. The text suggests the necessity of--
1. Holy jealousy. “Take heed; keep thy soul.” Nothing is more dangerous than self-sufficiency and presumption; a vain confidence in what is called “a good heart.” Moses intimates that the soul needs watching and keeping.
2. Holy vigilance. Only take heed, and keep thy soul diligently. This advice is necessary because of our natural disposition to wander, and because of the allurements to which we are exposed. Grace may raise and sustain us. The soul may wander on wicked things; and such is its weakness that no man can say into what sin he may not fall. David fell into adultery and murder. Therefore “keep thy soul diligently.” Resist beginnings. But we are, perhaps, in greater danger from things which do not shock our sense of propriety, etc., but which serve, nevertheless, to divert our minds, and so to prevent a steady attention to “the one thing needful,” such as business, company, amusement, literature, etc. Therefore “keep thy soul” within proper bounds. Watch her motions, and check them ere they become irregular or excessive.
3. Holy exercises. Indolence is at once disgraceful and injurious. Satan finds the idle employment. What has been already advised includes much of exercise. But in addition we may say, Diligently meditate on God’s gracious dealings with you in former days, and examine what progress you make (Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:11-18). Diligently pray for a continuance and increase of His favours. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Memory in religion
Let us just a moment longer think about memory, and what we owe to it. Our sense of personal identity is due to memory. If we had no memory of the past our lives would be a series of links not joined into a chain, and a host of beads without anything to string them together; there would be nothing to show us or make us feel that our life yesterday or today had any special connection, or were pages in the same book of history of the same person; and with the loss of this sense of personal identity would go all sense of personal responsibility and of continuous or energetic action. We would always be falling back again to our old starting point, and would lose every night what we gained every day. But memory is the subtle weaver that weaves all the various movements and events of every day into one continuous whole, into one conscientiously responsible and permanent life. The memory, then, is most necessary for the acquisition of wisdom. It is by the golden grain of experience treasured up in memory that we grow rich in practical wisdom. Some people, indeed, never seem to learn by what they pass through. They live in the present moment, without thought of yesterday and without hope of tomorrow, and all that happens is apparently forgotten just as soon as it is over. It is a precious gift, then, that God has given to us in memory, and its cultivation is indispensable and its proper use for all manhood and for all useful life. And now in our text Moses seeks to enlist this great power of memory on the side of religion--“Lest thou forget,” he says. And if Moses could thus appeal so forcibly to the people in his day, calling upon their memories to witness what God had done for them in Egypt and the desert, entitling Him to their grateful and obedient services, how much more may our memory be appealed to in these days. While it is true, however, that the memory to which Moses appeals has such a marvellous power, yet diseases and defects of memory are very common. There is no part of our complex mental system which is so liable to get disordered as memory. Certain events of the past seem, at times, to pass from the spirit’s vision when disease is beginning, even things which we should fancy a man could never forget--his own home, his relatives, and his ordinary work. Even when there is no actual disease, yet serious and dangerous defects of memory are very common. A slovenly and unreliable memory is a very common fault. We forget things because we are not interested in them. As we hear a fact which appeals to something in us, satisfying some desire, supplying some want, we appropriate it at once, we allow the tendrils of affection and desire to twine around it, and we fondly treasure it in our hearts. Then we will remember it forever, and can recall it in every hour of need. We might say, in fact, that defects of memory arise from improper training. We do not learn to concentrate our mind upon our work; we do not know how to fix our attention; we do not make an effort to understand things we read and hear. Take the reading of a book. Many readers turn over page after page, having read each of them, as they assure themselves, but nothing on any page makes any impression upon them, or only some striking incident or accident. Now, such defects of memory can be cured to a very large extent before they run into permanent weakness or mental disease, and while we have the opportunity surely it is worth our while to make an earnest and continuous effort to try to do it. And so with regard to religion. The root of much error and evil, of many difficulties in life and transgressions in action, lies in sins of memory. We remember, all of us, the facts of Bible history, but we have never cared to acknowledge their application. Now there are many things which tend to increase the defects of memory when we have to do with religious things. There is often no one to remind us of the lessons we have learned or the promises we have made; there is often no one to check us for our forgetfulness and wanderings, no voice from heaven speaks to us, no instantaneous punishment falls upon us for neglecting and forgetting them. Besides, the things that it is necessary for us to remember often produce pain when they are recalled, and the fear of pain paralyses our memory, while the rush of the world and of life sweeps us on to other thoughts and other things. If we only felt the importance of remembering these things the work would be half done. I know a lady, a Sabbath school teacher in the town of Newport, who has had the unique record that, as scholar and teacher, she has attended a school in that town for fifty-two years without a break. To her it was a matter of supreme importance to be in her place Sabbath after Sabbath, and everything in her week’s work was arranged accordingly. There was no danger that she would ever be absent or forget her Sabbath school when the hour for going to it arrived. If we get into the habit of forgetting our duty and the promise of God we are at the mercy of foes and in danger of the wrath of God, as Moses said; for God does not forget. But even to remember well is not enough. It is but a means to an end. There are some people who have prodigious memories, and they are very proud of it; some even make their livelihood by it. They can repeat a whole book after they have once read it. Often such a memory is only a wonder passing across the sky of life like a comet, and leaving no light and blessing behind. Sometimes it is a sign of mental disease, so that the other faculties of mind will soon be clouded. A splendid memory is a good thing, but it needs to be balanced by good judgment and needs to be actively used if it is to be the blessing it ought to be. When we turn to religion we find that there are many people who can remember well religious facts and doctrine, and arguments to prove them, but what use is it to them? Does it lead them to exercise self-control or self-denial? Alas, no! If memory is to be of use to us we must be true to memory as to conscience, we must be warned by what has happened in the past in the spiritual world; it must never be forgotten, so that we never go wilfully into the same temptation or commit the same mistake twice. In the verse out of which our text is taken, and at the end of it, there is one thing specially mentioned as necessary if memory is to be of use, and that is, that the things we remember we must teach to others. “Teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons,” and thus help to fix them in our mind in an accurate and orderly fashion. There is not one in this audience, I fancy, to whom the text does not appeal. It appeals to the young, “Lest thou forget.” You are strong and hopeful, and ever pushing up. There are some things a man can never forget with safety. “As a man sows, so shall he reap: for all these things God will bring, thee into judgment.” This text appeals to the prosperous. You look back with honest pride upon the days when others started side by side with you, with all the advantages you had, but they have fallen far behind and you have gone right ahead. Everything you have touched has turned to gold, Oh, the text appeals to you. There is no spot on earth more slippery or dangerous than the mountain top of prosperity. It is God who has given thee the power to get wealth and all these blessings, and He will continue them to you as a blessing as long as you use them to the glory of His Name. Our text appeals to the poor and lowly. The hand of God has been heavy upon you. Through no fault of your own you have fallen behind in the race of life. The text comes home to you, “Lest thou forget.” It may be that sometimes bitter thoughts take possession of your heart, envious thoughts against your fellows, and you are tempted to wrap yourselves up in selfish misanthropic thoughts, and then you lose all the benefit of all the lessons that God has been taking so much trouble to teach you. But there is no danger if you will only remember that God rules the world, that God makes no mistake, that God has promised to make all things work for good to those who love Him. (W. Park, M. A.)
Lest we forget
How good a gift is memory! Of all the gracious benefits conferred on mortal men by God there is none more useful, none more precious. By memory we are enabled to lay by a store of precious thoughts and gracious reminiscences against the days to come. By memory we can stud our minds with promises and precepts from the Word of God, as the midnight heavens are studded with the twinkling of stars. But alas! memory has fallen with the rest of our powers. Do you not know from sad experience how readily evil is retained? When you would fain erase it from the page, the dark letters still appear. Things that we thought we had with a tenacious grip are torn away from us, or slip from our grasp, and the place that knew them knows them no more. Our memories have failed us. By a good memory I mean a memory that lets slip that which is not worth holding, and holds as with a death grip that which is most worth preserving.
I. Notice first, that God graciously gives warning of the danger. Is not this right good of Him?
1. He knows us thoroughly--better, far better, than we know ourselves. The people of His choice were prone to forget Him, therefore did He constantly sound this warning note. To them, I suppose, it seemed impossible, certainly improbable, that they would forget the things that their eyes had seen. Forget Egypt, the furnace of iron? You would have thought that these experiences had been burned into them by the very fire of the furnace through which they passed. Forget their redemption and deliverance, the night of the Passover, and the passage of the Red Sea? Forget God, who had delivered them times out of number, who had spoken to them out of the midst of the fire? This same sad principle holds good today. We used to think that the experiences of our early Christian life would linger with us and influence us for good through all our days. As one who says “I will remember,” and makes a knot in his handkerchief in order to assist his memory, and then forgets why he made the knot, so our efforts to remember God and the things of God have proved fruitless. Are you not aware--let it be a matter for sorrowful confession if so--that you have sometimes forgotten that you have been purged from your old sins? You have been indulging in them again. That looks as if you had forgotten the cleansing from them. The peril still exists, but to be forewarned is to he forearmed. Moreover, God knows just when and where this peril is likely to be greatest. If you will turn to Deuteronomy 6:12 you will understand my meaning better. There is much meaning in the “then.” You must read what precedes it in Deuteronomy 6:10. There is no season so perilous, in this particular, as the season of prosperity. The fear is that when all things are crowding into us, God should be crowded out. You will find it comparatively easy to remember God and to recollect His dealings with you in the past when laid upon a bed of sickness, or when bereaved or troubled. Sometimes God permits these dispensations to give us a pause in the rush of life, and opportunity to call to remembrance.
II. He supplies valuable instruction. He does not content Himself with waving a red flag before us; He stops the train, and gives instructions to the driver and the guard. “Take heed to thyself.” It means literally, “Be watchful.” This is just where we fail, as a rule; the watchtower is deserted. Strengthen the guard rather than reduce it, and see to it that everything that would enter the mind is challenged as it approaches, and that all that would go out that should remain within the walls is prevented from passing through the portals. “Keep thy soul diligently.” It is the same idea as we have already mentioned. As one might call to another whom he saw to be in danger, “Look out,--look out!” Here is a further instruction, “Teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” “For whose benefit, think you, is this instruction given? for that of the sons and of the grandsons? Yea, verily; but do they reap all the benefit? I tell you, sirs, one of the best ways to remember things that are most worth remembering is to pass them on to others.
III. I have this further to say, that He provides welcome aids to memory. He remembers our frame, He knows that we are but dust; therefore does He come to our assistance. He calls us like little children to His kindergarten school, and makes the learning easy. There are ways of schooling the mind and training the memory; there are certain aids and helps. The law of association serves a good purpose in this respect, and object lessons lend always a pleasing succour. Certainly it is so in the things of God. To Israel God gave the Passover, constantly repeating it to remind them of that wondrous night when He brought them out of the house of bondage with a high hand and an outstretched arm. To Israel He gave the varied ritual of the Mosaic dispensation, that they might never forget the doctrines of sin and of salvation, and that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. To Israel He gave the ark, in which was the pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of stone. All these were aids to memory. After just this fashion God deals with His spiritual Israel, providing aids to memory, lest we forget. Heavenly influences are with us constantly, angel ministries work for our help and succour; holy exercises, if we do but engage in them in the right spirit, tend in the same direction. Prayer brings us to the mercy seat, and sends us full-handed home. Praise puts a harp into our hands, and causes us to sing our thankfulness to God. The ordinances of worship and opportunities for service all help to keep us in touch with heaven, and to keep our hearts aglow with godliness. The Word is one of God’s aids to memory. You can hide the Word of the Lord in your heart, lest you forget. I would have you remember, too, that the ordinances that the Saviour has established are for this same purpose. Think of believers’ baptism. The Lord’s Supper is instituted for this same purpose; it is a reminder of all that has passed in connection with our spiritual experience. “This do,” said He, “in remembrance of Me.” How often we pray the prayer of the dying thief, “Lord, remember me.” It is a right good prayer. Mothers may forget their children rather than that Jesus should have us out of His mind, but I tell what is possible--that you and I should forget Him. (Thomas Spurgeon.)
Memory aided by sight and instruction
We may have no memory for words: had we committed the lesson to an intellectual recollection we might have been excused for forgetting somewhat of its continuity and exactness; the point is, that we are called to remember things which our eyes have seen. The eye is meant to be the ally of the memory. Many men can only remember through the vision; they have no memory for things abstract, but once let them see dearly an object or a writing, and they say they can hold the vision evermore. God’s providence appeals to the eye; God’s witnesses are eyewitnesses--not inventors, but men who can speak to transactions which have come under their immediate and personal observation; they have seen and tasted and handled of the Word of Life. What a loss it is to forget the noble past! How treacherous is the memory of ingratitude; all favours have gone for nothing; all kind words, all stimulating exhortations, all great and ennobling prayers--forgotten in one criminal act. To empty the memory is to silence the tongue of praise; not to cherish the recollection is to lose the keenest stimulus which can be applied to the excitement and progress of the soul. On the other hand, he whose memory is rich has a song for every day; he who recollects the past in all its deliverances, in all its sudden brightnesses, in all its revelations and appearances, cannot be terrified or chased by the spirit of fear; he lives a quiet life, deep as the peace of God. Can Moses suggest any way of keeping the memory of God’s providences quick and fresh? He lays down the true way of accomplishing this purpose: “Teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons,”--in other words, speak about them, dwell upon them, magnify them, be grateful for them; put down the day, the date, the punctual time when the great deliverances occurred, and when the splendid revelations were granted; and go over the history line by line and page by page, and thus keep the recollection verdant, quick as life, bright as light. What a reproach to those Christians who are dumb! How much they lose who never speak about God! To speak of the mercies of God is to increase the power of witness at another point. We first see, then we teach. The teaching of others is not to come until there has been clear perception on our own part. The eyewitness is doubly strong in whatever testimony he may make: not only can he tell a clear story from end to end, he can sign it with both hands, he can attest it with the certainty and precision of a man who has seen the things to which he sets his signature. Our Christianity amounts to nothing if it is not a personal experience. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Teach them thy sons.
Instruction of children
An Englishman visiting Sweden, noticing their care for educating children who are taken from the streets and highways and placed in special schools, inquired if it were not costly. He received the suggestive answer, “Yes, it is costly, but not dear. We Swedes are not rich enough to let a child grow up in ignorance, misery, and crime, to become a scourge to society as well as a disgrace to himself.” (The Lantern.)
Training of children
As Alexander the Great attained to have such a puissant army, whereby he conquered the world, by having children born and brought up in his camp, whereby they became so well acquainted and exercised with weapons from their swaddling clothes that they looked for no other wealth or country but to fight; even so, if thou wouldst have thy children either to do great matters, or to live honestly by their own virtuous endeavours, thou must acquaint them with painstaking in their youth, and so bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Cawdray.)
The echo of childhood’s years
One of the most memorable incidents of my boyhood was the hearing of a remarkable echo at a famous health resort. Long after the voice had sounded there came back the echo of it, so distinct and clear as to seem a response. Is not the echo a parable of life? Childhood’s years cannot be recalled, nor its actions repeated; yet they will re-echo for us in the coming days sounds of gladness or of sorrow as their character may have been. Through the corridors of memory the melody of a pure, noble, and unselfish youth will be heard, gladdening the heart of age when the days of action have given place to the days of reminiscence. (Great Thoughts.)
That ye might do them.
Knowledge and practice
I. God is the one great source both of truth and of authority.
1. The office of every true teacher is to unfold the revelation of the Eternal, whether in nature, in history, or in the written Word.
2. The office of every true lawgiver and ruler is to expound and enforce the precepts and commandments of the Lord of lords. There is no sound knowledge, and no law worthy of reverence, which does not emanate from the Supreme.
II. True religion corresponds to the composite nature of man, as a being possessed of intelligence and endowed with will.
1. False religions are one-sided: they either embody certain theories and doctrines and neglect morality, or they prescribe certain services without basing them on eternal truth.
2. Judaism appealed to the understanding in its many statements regarding God and regarding human life; it appealed to the practical nature in its rigid prescriptions of duty, its rigid prohibitions of sin.
3. Christianity is the highest example of the combination of the doctrinal and the moral, laying a foundation of truth and love, and rearing upon it an edifice of obedience and holiness.
III. Acceptable obedience consists in at once receiving the Gospel and doing the will of Christ. An empty profession of faith and a soulless conformity of conduct are alike repugnant to a heart-searching God. The true Christian shows his faith by his works. (Family Churchman.)
The Lord hath taken you.
, to be unto Him a people of inheritance.
The chosen of the Lord
I. The people alluded to.
1. The title they may claim. “The chosen of God.”
2. The mercy shown. “The Lord hath taken you.”
3. The practical result. “Hath brought you forth.”
(1) A wonderful work.
II. The place whence removed. “The iron furnace.”
1. The rigour of the imprisonment.
2. The bitterness of the position. The land of Egypt is always used in Scripture to represent the kingdom of Satan. And so the idea here developed is the deliverance of God’s Church
(1) from the dominion of the devil, the power he exercises over the soul, and the rigour of his exactions;
(2) from the servitude of sin, and its cruel, unremitting slavery of toil;
(3) from the alienation of a distant land--a country which is not our home. God’s grace and power has accomplished all this on our behalf.
III. The position provided. It is worthy of notice that this position is not one of mere selfish gratification. It is one that promoted first and chiefly the glory of God. There are two particulars given.
1. God selected and delivered His people that they may be His people. This is a condition of high honour--to be the people of the Most High is worthy of an archangel. It is a condition of blessed security. The people of God are as the apple of His eye. He will guide and protect them as the most precious treasures. It is a position of glorious anticipation.
2. God selects His people that they may be His inheritance. (Preacher’s Analyst.)
Israel was the only people on earth chosen by God of old. This came to pass because of the faith of Abraham. God was the God of Abraham’s posterity. The choice was absolute and universal. All might go forth from Egypt. Young and old, man and wife, sick and sound, etc., etc. In brief, all that pertained to the people might go forth over the Red Sea and sing God’s praise. How great, then, was the Divine mercy! And what hope does this give us in view of the thought that there will be many received into the kingdom of heaven--a number greater and more comprehensive, it may be, than men sometimes think.
I. Israel was God’s heritage.
1. He calls them His heritage. He desired at least to have one spot on earth whilst as yet all earth was subject to the prince of this world. Such could only come through a faithful man, who had become free from this servitude. Such was Abraham, who was commanded to sojourn in Canaan. This land God chose as His own; and the people to whom He gave it were to be inheritors of the land, and therefore a people of inheritance unto Him.
2. Thus Moses warned them that in this land, which was a consecrated land, no idolatry must find place. It was to be separated from all lands in which the prince of this world had sway. The land remained consecrated to God, His peculiar possession even when defiled by the people, i.e. when it took on the character of a heathen land, and because of this was, for a time, forsaken, as during the Exile.
II. The whole earth is now God’s.
1. Since Christ died Canaan ceased to be the especially holy land consecrated to God. Now the whole earth belongs to Him, for now the prince of the world has been ousted. Every spot is now God’s holy land, where God’s children gather together--where the true God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent are worshipped. Humanity is now God’s heritage, purchased by the blood of Christ.
2. The idea, therefore, that Israel will again have to occupy Canaan as God’s inheritance has no support, for the whole earth is the Lord’s, all is equally His, as once Canaan was. God will have Himself to be acknowledged everywhere as once He was in Canaan. Wherefore, then, now a holy land in opposition to other lands? Now we sing with the angels, “Holy,” etc., “the whole earth is full of His glory,” i.e. the glory of God is to be extolled now everywhere as once in Canaan. Therefore the Lord said to His disciples: “Blessed are the meek,” etc.
not only citizens of the erstwhile holy land only, but of the whole world.
3. May we, through our faith and our reliance on God and Him whom He has sent, make every place holy ground, as the possession of God’s inheritance. For He fills all with the fulness of His Divine glory, or will yet fill all. (J. C. Blumhardt.)
God’s deliverance of Israel out of the iron furnace
First, for the terms of their deliverance, to speak of them, which are here propounded two manner of ways, in the general and in the particular. The general, Egypt. The particular, the furnace of iron.
I. We begin first of all with the general proposition, which, though it be last in order of Scripture, yet is first in order of nature, and that is Egypt. This was the place which they were delivered from, which when we have considered how miserable a place it was, and especially to them, we shall see the greatness of their deliverance. The place, I say, in general was Egypt, which we find these Israelites to be very often put in mind of in Scripture upon all occasions (Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 16:12; Deuteronomy 24:18; Deuteronomy 24:22).
1. It was a place of exile or peregrination. This the Scripture does very much insist on. That they were strangers in the land of Egypt (Psalms 114:1). The world to the children of God is but as the land of strangers. It is heaven which is their proper home and their Father’s house. It should make them the more willing to go when God calls them by seasonable dissolution, in that here they are but in a land of strangers. That was not all, nor the main thing, which was considerable in Egypt.
2. It was, moreover, a land of idolaters. There is matter of pollution. It was hard for Israel to be long in Egypt, and not in a great measure to partake with them in their idolatries. Oh, it is a great mercy to be kept from sinful allurements, especially considering what inclinations are in ourselves to the closing with them, we have a nature in us which is like dry tinder to these sparks. And therefore to be prevented from the occasion is so much the greater advantage. As there is pollution in these things in regard of nature, so there is offensiveness in regard of grace. Evil examples and temptations, if they do not defile us, yet they cannot but offend and grieve us and expose us more to sin, so they trouble us and expose us more to grief, prove wearisome and tedious to us. There is also danger in them, too, in regard to the consequents. Danger both to body and soul. For ourselves, let us bless God that He has graciously given us the opportunities of knowledge, and delivered us from the Egypt both of Paganism and Popery.
II. The second is as it is laid down in particular, and that is the iron furnace (1 Kings 8:51; Jeremiah 11:4).
1. First, here is affliction in general compared to a furnace (Isaiah 48:10). Afflictions are the fiery trial to test God’s people, and purge away the dross (1 Peter 4:12).
2. For this affliction in particular which now happened to Israel, it is called the iron furnace. Both in the letter and in the moral. In the letter. First, because those furnaces which they wrought in were such as in which iron was melted. And so from the work they were employed in, furnaces of iron. But then secondly, of iron in the moral. First, an hard and laborious employment. Iron is an emblem of severity. Then, secondly, as from the sharpness of it, so from the continuance of it likewise (Psalm evil. 20). The use which we are to make of this observation to ourselves is therefore, first, not to wonder at it, or to think much of it, but to expect it. The refiner puts the gold into the furnace, and the potter puts the clay into the fire, and both of them to very good purpose; and so does God. Again, we should be careful to find afflictions to have this efficacy upon us, to wit, of refining us.
III. The Author of their deliverance, and that is expressed here to be God himself the Lord.
1. First, it is He alone hath the bowels, it is He alone that hath the strength. Deliverance of others out of trouble is an act of pity and compassion. Now, none but only God has so much of this in them towards the Church; we shall see in the book of the Lamentations the complaining of the want of commiseration in others towards her; but this God hath in Him abundance.
2. Secondly, none but He hath the strength. The adversaries of the Church are potent, and therefore need to have one of power to deal with them. And this is God Himself; the Almighty and All-sufficient. Therefore still let Him be both repaired to, as also acknowledged in such providences as these are.
IV. The manner of it. This we have expressed in two words, “Taken you and brought you forth.” Though one might have served the turn for the signification of the deliverance, yet two are made use of to make it so much the more emphatical.
1. First, an emphasis of appropriation, “taken you,” that is, laid claim unto you, as a man that seizes upon that which is his own when it is in the hand of strangers.
2. Secondly, as there is in it an emphasis of appropriation, so likewise an emphasis of affection. “He hath taken you,” that is, with a great deal of tenderness and regard unto you (Deuteronomy 22:11).
“Hath brought you,” and this, as well as the other, hath a double force in it.
1. First, there is power in it. “Bring you forth,” that is, forced you forth, whether your enemies would or no.
2. Secondly, there is also solemnity in it. “He brought them forth,” i.e. in triumph, as with a strong hand so with a stretched-out arm, as the Scripture also expresses it (Deuteronomy 5:15). Now, from both these expressions together we see the thing itself sufficiently declared, that God did at last deliver His people out of captivity (Psalms 81:6; Psalms 81:8; Psalms 81:13). Though God suffers His servants sometimes to fall into the hand of their enemies, yet He does at length free them from them. This He doth upon divers considerations. First, out of His own compassion (Psalms 103:9; Isaiah 57:16). Secondly, out of respect to His people, lest they should be discouraged and provoked to evil (Psalms 125:3). Thirdly, out of regard to the enemies, lest they should insult (Deuteronomy 32:26-27). Let this, therefore, be the use which we make of it to ourselves. First, to expect it, whereas yet it is not. Secondly, to acknowledge it, and to improve it there where it is. And so much may suffice to have spoken of the first general part of the text, namely, the deliverance itself.
V. The end or consequent of this deliverance, and that we have in these words, “To be unto Him a people of inheritance as ye are this day.” In which passage we have again two particulars. First, the design itself, and secondly, the amplification of it.” The design itself, “To be unto Him a people of inheritance.” The amplification of it. “As ye are this day.” I begin with the first, namely, the design itself, To be unto Him a people of inheritance, This is that which God aimed at concerning Israel. Now, this may again admit of a double interpretation, either so as for Him to be their inheritance, or else so as for them to be His. The Scripture makes mention of either in sundry places. First, for Him to be theirs. This is the privilege of God’s people. That the Lord Himself is their portion and inheritance and so expresses Himself to be to them (Psalms 16:5). David, speaking of himself, The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: Thou maintainest the lot. And so of Levi it is said, that the Lord is his inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9). And the Church, (Lamentations 3:24) “The Lord is my portion,” etc. This is a great comfort to the godly, and to those which are most destitute amongst them, to live upon the power of this truth, what though they have none of the great inheritance of the world. Yet as long as they have a portion in God they have that which may abundantly satisfy them, and keep them from dejection, forasmuch as from henceforth no good thing shall be wanting unto them, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things.” How so? It follows in the next words, “And I will be his God,” etc. (Revelation 21:7). The second is for them to be His. This is another thing which the Scripture makes mention of (Psalms 33:12; Deuteronomy 32:9; Psalms 28:9). An inheritance contains three things in it. First, some good and advantage. Secondly, peculiarity and propriety of interest. Thirdly, succession and derivation of it to posterity. Now, according to all these notions of it does God make choice of His people to be an inheritance to Himself. This, therefore, first of all teaches us what we ourselves should be, namely, such as are wholly devoted and consecrated to Him (1 Corinthians 6:20). We are the inheritance of God, therefore we should not suffer Satan to get possession of us, nor any evil to prevail upon us. Secondly, here is matter of comfort to the true Church and people of God, that being His inheritance He will therefore take care of them and protect them, and keep them from evil. I desire now, further, to enforce it as a duty which is belonging to you to take care of it especially; we should all in our several opportunities endeavour the continuance of the Church in succeeding time. That God may have to Himself a portion and people of inheritance, even when we are in our graves. This is done, first of all, by being good in our own generation. Secondly, by taking care of others, and educating them in His fear. Now, further, we may look upon it also as a consequent, and so see the connection of these two both together. How did God, bringing His people forth out of Egypt, make them to be to Him a people of inheritance, namely, thus far, as they had now larger opportunities for the serving of Him afforded unto them than while they were in Egypt, they were there restrained in regard of the idolatrous people, which they were mingled withal, but now being escaped they were more at liberty. This, therefore, is the advantage which we should still make of such opportunities (Luke 1:74-75). And so much of the first particular observable in this second general, namely, the design itself to be, etc. The second is the amplification of it. “As ye are this day.” In which clause we have three things especially hinted to us concerning God. First, the accomplishment of His purposes. Secondly, the certainty of His promises. Thirdly, the continuance of His performances. Now, from hence will follow another point as our duty, which is here also to be observed, and that is, that we are accordingly to call them to our minds, and so from thence make them fresh unto us, as if done at this present time. It is that which Moses endeavours to make these Israelites do here in the text, who reminds them of a mercy which was done many years ago for them, as if it had been done for them just at that time. This is the scope of this narration, and this also hath been the practice of the saints of God in other places (Psalms 78:1; Psalms 78:6). (T. Herren, D. D.)
I must die in this land.
The death of Moses
1. Though a life may appear to us to receive the crown of failure, it may for all that be acceptable in God’s sight. No life on earth is complete, for its completion and fulness is destroyed by sin. Just as a man in things temporal often falls short of being successful, so does a man in things eternal. But the latter knows his life will receive its completion hereafter.
2. God is very strict with His children. The service of God is not to be trifled with. If we are careless we may prevent ourselves from obtaining some spiritual success in this world which might be a crowning point to our life.
3. Moses was alone at his death. We must die alone. Our friends cannot pass through the dark valley with us. But stay--must we be really alone? The Prince of Life will be with us with His rod and staff, if we ask Him.
4. Moses could not lead the Israelites into Canaan; that was the work of Joshua. Moses, by giving us the moral law, cannot lead us into heaven. The moral law in the hand of Moses is unable to accomplish that which the precious blood of Jesus alone can do. Is Jesus our Leader? (The Weekly Pulpit.)
Even a jealous God.
The jealousy of God
The assertion that such a quality as this belongs to God as one of the attributes of His moral character involves a number of deep and awful considerations; they seem to include the love as well as the holiness and justice of the Deity in one complex idea; and to form, from the union of these qualities in one attribute of jealousy, a touching, as well as a tremendous, picture of His feelings towards us. For let us remark, first, that the existence of jealousy in God implies the previous existence of love. If He had not loved us Himself He would have been indifferent to our dispositions towards Him. If He had not felt that love was due from us to Him, as a return for love already exercised towards us, He would not have resented its being withheld, nor made use of this phrase as declaratory of the state of His affections. In agreement with this idea we find that jealousy in God is never spoken of except with a reference to those whom, in one sense or other, He has called and chosen as His own; whose love therefore He has a right to claim as due to Himself, in virtue of some covenant relation; and whose love He has excited by some previous exercise of favour and benevolence. Any wandering of affections, any deviation from the truth of allegiance, however slight it may seem to the eye of indifference, carries wounds and provocation to that of jealousy, and we may therefore say that such behaviour as this, when existing in the people of God, is calculated to excite in Him a feeling of resentment analogous to that which unrequited love and infidelity excite in the heart of man. Let us also remark that this attribute is peculiar to the true God, to the Jehovah of our worship. The idols of heathenism were imagined to be ready to share their honours with another, and were never supposed to object to the devotions which were paid to deities of other names or of other lands. They felt that they had no exclusive prerogative to power. They felt, or rather their worshippers felt, that even while they were the objects of adoration, they had no absolute dominion. And what was then true with regard to them is equally true with regard to the idols and idolaters of the world at present. They have no jealousy of one another. They are only jealous of God, and exhibit no feelings of the sort except when He is the object of attraction. Again, let us remark that the natural objects of jealousy are the affections of the heart. Justice may, in some respects, be thought to fulfil the object of jealousy, but justice is a gross and inactive feeling in comparison with jealousy. The slights and wanderings which inflict anguish unspeakable on the heart cannot be put into a balance and have the extent of their criminality noted by weight. How, then, can we imagine that justice is the only attribute with which those are concerned whose duty it is to love God with all their heart, and who are directed to worship Him in spirit and in truth, if they would worship Him acceptably at all? Under faith in this attribute of God it is not merely actual sin that we are told to deprecate in ourselves, or in others, but it is the love of other things than God. Have we gone, for instance, to seek pleasure in the company of His enemies? Have we sought our bread in ways which are not His? Have we looked for comfort and peace and enjoyment in other objects than in His favour? Have we been betrayed into forgetfulness of His love in the hour of trial? Have we felt coldly in His service? Whatever our own opinions may have been on such subjects, and whatever may be the system of the world, we cannot deny, and we cannot doubt, that these, and all such wanderings of the heart, must be provocations to a jealous God. It is perhaps from considering in this manner the attribute of jealousy in God that we are best able to appreciate the danger of what is commonly called the world. The world sees the justice of God, and the world fears it, and therefore it is cautious of advising anything which may seem to provoke it. But if the words of our text be true--“If the Lord our God be a consuming fire, even a jealous God, what are the terrors of His justice compared with those of His jealousy? Compared with jealousy, justice seems a cold, deliberating principle. It comes, but its very name implies that it comes slowly and maturely. It comes, but it may be pleaded with; it may be reasoned against; it may be retarded or mollified by our reasonings. But jealousy is like fire. It comes to act, to consume; and little has the world gained for its votaries by teaching them to try not to offend the justice of God, while it encourages them daily to provoke His jealousy. For, lastly, let us remark on this subject the violence of those feelings which jealousy brings into action. Do we not see that among, ourselves it bursts at once the tenderest ties of which the heart of man is conscious? Founded on justice as its principle, but quickened by resentment in its action, it seems the most tremendous quality which we are capable of provoking against ourselves; and indeed, as it is peculiarly directed against that which is thought to be of all sins the most offensive--the sin of ingratitude--and of ingratitude, not for favours, but for love--it may well excite terror in those against whom it may be directed from our Maker. Let us close this subject with considering the degree in which we ourselves may be in danger of experiencing its exercise. If jealousy, which arises from love and proceeds only from love, is to be in proportion to that love which it proceeds from, what jealousy can be compared to that with which God is jealous now towards His people? (H. Raikes, M. A.)
If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God.
I. First, then, there is a time mentioned. “If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord . . . When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee even in the latter days.”
1. The time in which the Lord bids you seek Him, O you unforgiven ones, is, first of all, “from thence”--that is, from the condition into which you have fallen, or the position which you now occupy. Today, even today, He bids you seek Him “with all your heart and with all your soul.”
2. With regard to the time of turning, it is well worthy of our notice that we are specially encouraged to turn unto the Lord if we are in a painful plight. Our text says, “When thou art in tribulation.” Are you sick? Does your weakness increase upon you? Are you apprehensive that this sickness may even be unto death? When thou art in such tribulation, then thou mayest return to Him. A sick body should lead us the more earnestly to seek healing for our sick soul. Are you poor, have you come down from a comfortable position to one of hard labour and of scant provision? When thou art in this tribulation, then turn to the Lord, for He has sent thee this need to make thee see thy yet greater necessity, even thy need of Himself.
3. Notice further, when you feel that the judgments of God have begun to overtake you, then you may come to Him: “When thou art in tribulation and all these things” - these threatened things - “are come upon thee.”
4. There is yet one more word which appears to me to contain great comfort in it, and it is this, “even in the latter days.” It is a beautiful sight, though it is mingled with much sadness, to see a very old man become a babe in Christ--to see him, after he has been so many years the proud, wayward, self-confident master of himself, at last learning wisdom and sitting at Jesus feet. They hang up in the cathedrals and public halls old banners which have long been carried by the enemy into the thick of the fight. If they have been torn by shot and shell, so much the more do the captors value them: the older the standard the more honour is it, it seems, to seize it as a trophy.
II. But now look at the way appointed. To find mercy, “what are we bidden to do? “If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God.”
1. We have not, then, to bring anything to God, but to seek Him. We have not to seek a righteousness to bring to Him, nor seek a state of heart which will fit us for Him, but to seek Him at once. Salvation is not by doing, nor by being, nor by feeling, but simply by believing. We are not to be content with self, but to seek the Lord. Being ourselves unworthy, we are to find worthiness in Jesus.
2. We are also to grasp the Lord as ours, for the text says, “Thou shalt seek the Lord thy God.” Sinners, that is a part of saving faith, to take God to be your God; if He is only another man’s God, He cannot save you; He must be yours to trust and love and serve all your days, or you will be lost.
3. Now, mark God’s directions--“If thou seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.” There must be no pretence about this seeking. If you desire to be saved, there must be no playing and trifling and feigning. The search must be real, sincere, and earnest, intense, thorough going, or it will be a failure.
4. The text further adds that we are to turn to Him. Did you notice the 30th verse--“If thou turn to the Lord thy God”? It must be a thorough turn. You are looking now towards the world--you must turn in the opposite direction, and look Godward. It must not be an apparent turn, but a real change of the nature, a turning of the entire soul; a turning with repentance for the past, with confidence in Christ for the present, and with holy desires for the future. Heart, soul, life, speech, action, all must be changed.
5. Then it is added, “and be obedient to His voice,” for we cannot be saved in disobedience; Christ is not come to save His people in their sins, but from their sins.
III. Thirdly, the text contains very rich encouragements. How does it run?
1. “For the Lord thy God is a merciful God; He will not forsake thee.” Catch at that, sinner,--“He will not forsake thee.” If He were to say, “Let him alone, Ephraim is given unto idols,” it would be all over with you; but if you seek Him, He will not say, “Let him alone,” nor take His Holy Spirit from you. You are not yet given up, I hope, or you would not have been here.
2. And then it is added, “Neither destroy thee.” You have been afraid He would; you have often thought the earth would open and swallow you: you have been afraid to fall asleep lest you should never wake again; but the Lord will not destroy you; nay, rather He will reveal His saving power in you.
3. There is a sweeter word still in the 29th verse, “Thou shalt find Him if thou seek Him.” What more, poor sinner, what more dost thou want?
4. Then there are two reasons given: “For the Lord thy God is a merciful God.” Oh guilty soul, the Lord does not want to destroy you. Judgment is His strange work. Oh soul, God has such a care for man. He waits to be gracious, and His Spirit goes forth towards sinners; therefore return to Him.
5. Now dwell upon that last argument - “He will not forget the covenant of thy fathers.” The covenant always keeps open the path between God and man. The Lord has made a covenant concerning poor sinners with His Son Jesus Christ. He has laid help upon One that is mighty, and given Him for a covenant to the people. He evermore remembers Jesus, and how He kept that covenant; He calls to mind His sighs and death throes, and He fulfils His promise for the great Sufferer’s sake. God’s grace has kept His covenant on the behalf of men; God is even eager, to forgive, that He may reward Christ, and give Him to see of the travail of His soul. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. What is involved in seeking God?
1. A sense of dissatisfaction with distance from Him. When men have all they want they do not set out upon a quest. Only the heart that feels the destitution and misery of being without God will address itself to this quest.
2. A conviction that God is to be found. Men do not seek for fruits and grain upon the ocean, but they seek them with assurance from the soil they till. Doubtless many, searching in the wrong direction, have exclaimed, “Who can, by searching, find out God?” But those who look for the Eternal in His Word, and especially in the person of His Son, cannot look in vain.
3. The seeking for God to be successful must be sincere, earnest, diligent--i.e. “with all thy heart and with all thy soul”--more eagerly and resolutely than men in the East sought for hidden treasure, than men seek for health, knowledge, wealth or fame. Those who thus seek for Christ--“the pearl of great price”--are not far from Him.
III. What is promised to those who thus seek God?
1. They shall find the Object of their desire: “They that seek Me early shall find Me. Not like the search for the philosopher’s stone, which men foolishly wasted life in endeavouring to find.
2. They shall find God in Christ.
3. In Christ they shall find “rest to their souls,” joy, life eternal. They who find Christ find Him never to lose Him, or aught that He bestows. (Family Churchman.)
Great sinners encouraged to return to God
I. A few cases to which this language applies.
1. “I have gone great lengths in sin. I was a drunkard and blasphemer. God has now brought me into trouble; I cannot live long, and yet fear to die.” “But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord,” etc.
2. “I was born of religious parents, I was long weary of religion, and wished to be free. At length my father died, and I gave myself up to evil, and now no one cares for my soul.” “But if from thence,” etc.
3. “My conduct has been correct and orderly; but I have prided myself upon it; I have lived a Pharisee. Now I feel the need of something with which to appear before God.” Well, “If from thence,” etc.
4. “I have made a profession of religion and thought well of my state, but indulged in secret sins, and afterwards in outward transgressions, and now I am all outcast; everyone shuns me.” “But if from thence,” etc.
5. “Though I have not lost my character, yet I have lost my peace of mind; I am a backslider.” “But if from thence, etc.
II. The grounds on which this encouragement rests. (A. Fuller.)
The penitent certain of acceptance
I. Now, the first thing that strikes us in this address is, that it is based upon the anticipation that the Jews would abuse their Maker’s blessings; that comfort would breed luxury, and luxury would wean the heart from God; that His place would be usurped by idols, till He should be provoked to withdraw His favour and protection. All this is foreseen as the natural propensity of the human heart. And yet, though evil is spoken of as the inevitable consequence of sin, the case was not desperate; however disgraced they might be by the tyranny of men, or degraded by the bondage of Satan, they might still find mercy from the Being they had incensed. But there is another feeling which is met by the gracious assurance of our text, which is very apt to prove a stumbling block to those whose eyes are newly opened to their sins.
II. We might persuade ourselves that God will not utterly cast off those who seek Him in sincerity and truth; but how can we tell whether our feelings are earnest enough, and pure enough, and abiding enough to prevail with Him to listen to our prayer? As long as we thought we might trifle with safety we put off religion to a more convenient season; and it was not till our fears became intolerable that we besought Him heartily that He would save us; but terror is not conversion, and who will ensure that the present feelings will be lasting if the danger be withdrawn? or who can tell whether, indeed, they are anything but a foretaste of eternal torment? Again, would not the world continue to be dear to us if its gifts were not embittered by Providence? We turn to God in our trouble; but it is the mere selfishness of those who find that they have no other comforter. Will He be satisfied with such a worthless offering as this? Oh! well may Scripture say that “His ways are not as our ways,” when it declares at the same time that such applications are welcome to Him. We bring to Him little but disappointed hopes and blighted feelings and enfeebled health; we have tried every broken cistern before we would apply to the fountain; and even when we come at last, we come rather to escape impending punishment than from any regret for having violated our duty towards Him; and yet He scorns us not. The aged sinner, who is tottering towards the tomb, he may bring the poor remains of an ill-spent life, and find himself received at the eleventh hour. The widowed mourner, who placed all her happiness below till death snatched it from her, she may turn to the God of all consolation, and find Him a husband to herself, and a father to the fatherless around her. The convert, in all his newborn indignation, though he is sensible that he is more anxious to escape the wrath to come than the evil which provokes it, shall be accepted according to that he hath, and more shall be imparted for his improvement. I do not say that such motives are the purest or the strongest by which we can be actuated; but I say the question is whether our hearts are really changed or no, and not in what motive the change may have originated. Do you ask, then, whether your feelings are such as will prevail upon God to listen to your prayers? Prove them by acting immediately and perseveringly upon them. The tree is known by the fruit which it produces; and those, be sure, are proper feelings which bring you in a state of humiliation to the Cross of Christ. (J. Stainforth, M. A.)
God to be found by seeking
I. Notice a few cases to which this language applies.
1. The openly profane and immoral.
2. Those who were religiously educated.
3. The formal professor.
4. The backslider. The dying sinner.
II. Observe the grounds on which the encouragement rests.
1. The character of God.
2. The work of Christ.
3. The promises of the Gospel.
4. Scriptural examples of pardoned and accepted sinners.
III. Improve the subject.
1. It takes away all ground of excuse from the impenitent.
2. It takes away all ground of despair from the contrite. (G. Brooks.)
Those that seek God shall find Him
At one place to which I went I saw a dear soul to whom I put the question, “Are you converted?” “I was once”--given with, oh, such a disconsolate aspect!--“I was once, but that is all gone. I was a worker for Him once,” he said, with a sob, “but it is all different now.” My heart went out to that one. Why? There is a fire in a room, and you are crouching in a cold comer, far away from the fire. You do not say that the fire has forsaken you. Oh no, you have left the fire; conscious of that fact, you go back to it, and are soon again basking in its warmth. Ah, those who seek Him find Him, and He is so loving and so forgiving, in spite of all the hard thoughts which you had of Him. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (W. Haslam.)
Earnest seeking successful
Success in this world comes only to those who exhibit determination. Can we hope for salvation unless our mind is truly set upon it? Grace makes a man be as resolved to be saved as the beggar was to get to Jesus and gain his sight. “I must see him,” said an applicant at the door of a public person. “You cannot see him,” said the servant; but the man waited at the door. A friend went out to him and said, “You cannot see the master, but I can give you an answer;” “No,” said the importunate pleader, “I will stay all night on the doorstep, but I will see the man himself. He alone will serve my turn.” You do not wonder that, after many rebuffs, he ultimately gained his point. It would be an infinitely greater wonder if an importunate sinner did not obtain an audience from the Lord Jesus. If you must have grace, you shall have it. If you will not be put off you shall not be put off. Whether things look favourable or unfavourable, press on till you find Jesus, and you shall find Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Trouble often drives people to God
There is a story told that in the olden time Artaxerxes and another great king were engaged in a furious fight. In the middle of the battle an eclipse happened, and such was the horror of the warriors that they made peace then and there. Happy will you be if your trouble will cause you to fly to the arms of God. If you tell your troubles to Him you put them into the grave; if you roll your burden anywhere else, it will roll back again like the stone of Sisyphus. The springs at the base of the Alpine mountains are fullest when the summer sun has dried and parched the verdure in the valleys below. The heat that has burned the arid plains has melted mountain glacier and snow, and increased the volume of the mountain streams. Thus when adversity has dried the springs of earthly comfort, the saint has the fulness of the springs of salvation.
The heart reached by adversity
The four seasons once determined to try which could quickest roach the heart of a stone. Spring coaxed the stone with its gentle breezes, and made flowers encircle it, and trees to shoot out their branches and embower it, but all to no purpose, The stone remained indifferent to the beauties of the spring, nor would it yield its heart to its gentle caresses. Summer came next, and caused the sun to shine on the stone, hoping to melt its obdurate heart; but though the surface of the stone grew warm, it quickly became cold again when not under the influence of the summer sun’s rays. Summer thus being unable by any degree of warmth to penetrate the flinty nature of the stone, gave place to autumn. Believing that the stone had been treated with too much kindness, the autumn withered the flowers and stripped the trees of their leaves, and threatened and blustered, but still the stone remained impassive. Winter came next. First it sent strong winds, which laid the stone bare, then it sent a cold rain, and next a hard frost, which cleaved the stone and laid bare its heart. So many a heart, which neither gentleness, warmth, nor threats can touch, is reached by adversity. (A. Freeman.)
Ask now of the days that are past.
Inquiry of the past
1. The past may refer to--
(1) General history. So in context.
(2) Individual life. So we take it now.
2. Inquiry of the past.
(1) Some do not think of the past. This arises from--
(c) A false philosophy.
(2) It is our wisdom to “ask of the days that are past.”
(a) Because the past is in existence now.
(b) Because for the past we are responsible.
(c) Because the past is full of useful lessons.
I. Ask of past blessings. How have they been received?
1. The blessings.
Prayers answered, inspiring and uplifting influences imparted, help rendered, soul’s need supplied, strength in trial, light in darkness, wisdom in ignorance, discipline to purify and perfect.
2. Their reception. Have they been received--
(1) As from God?
(2) As undeserved mercies?
(3) In a thankful spirit?
II. Ask of past opportunities. How have they been used?
1. Opportunities of getting good.
(1) Mental good.
(2) Moral good. Have they been turned to profit, or lost forever?
2. Opportunities of doing good.
(1) To the bodies of men.
(2) To the souls of men. Instructing the ignorant, guiding the perplexed, comforting the sorrowful, rebuking the sinner, reclaiming the citing, speaking the word in season, etc.
III. Ask of past sills. Have they been repented of and pardoned?
1. Sins of omission.
2. Sins of commission.
(1) Against God. Irreverence. Unsubmissiveness. Ingratitude. Unfaithfulness.
(2) Against man. Injustice. Untruthfulness. Uncharitableness. (Homilist.)
The days that are past
An imperial philosopher, having divided time into the past, the present, and the future, says, we should give the past to oblivion, the present to duty, and the future to Providence. Now, we admire two of these admonitions. We readily give the future to Providence, and we ought to give the present to duty, so that “whatsoever our hands find to do, we may do it with our might.” But we can never consent to give the past to oblivion. “God requires that which is past,” and He requires us to remember it.
I. The past days of others, those who have lived before us.
1. See that your aim in this be not only, or principally, mere amusement; but endeavour to derive lessons mental and moral, and religious instruction, from the characters and the events recorded.
2. Secondly, beware how you place implicit confidence in history. Endeavour to distinguish between fiction and truth.
3. Relinquish the prejudice which Solomon assails when he says, “Ask not why the former days were better than these, for thou dost not wisely concerning this matter.” No, the thing is not true; we ought to be wiser than the ancients, for we are much more ancient than they. Certainly, the world is older now than it was ages ago. Surely mankind are not incapable of intellectual or moral progression and improvement.
II. Those of yourselves: those which you have passed through in your own history and experience. These come nearer home, and are more easily reviewed and compared. There is something very solemn in the thought of days that are past; past, never to return, while their moral results remain forever as subjects of future responsibility. And who has not to reckon upon days that are past? for time, like tide, stays for no man.
1. Let us ask, then, what they have to say concerning the world. Mr. Savage has strikingly remarked, “I never knew any of the people of the world praise it at parting.” Nor need we wonder at this: we should wonder if they did. They have been too much in it, they have seen too much of it, they have been too much deceived by it, to recommend it to others, when dying, from their own history and experience.
2. “Ask the days that are past” what they have to say concerning yourselves. Have they not shown you many things with which you were formerly unacquainted, and filled you with surprise and regret? Ah! how many convictions have you violated, how many resolutions have you broken? Instead of the paradise you promised yourself, you have found yourselves in a wilderness. Have not your dependencies often proved broken reeds--not only unable to sustain your hopes, but which have “pierced you through with many sorrows”? And yet will not these “days that are past” also tell you something else? Will they not tell you that life has been at least a chequered scene If you have been in the wilderness, have you not found grace in the sanctuary Have you not had there the fiery, cloudy pillar to guide you? Have you not had the manna to sustain you? Have you not had the waters from the rock to refresh you? Have you not had some of the grapes of Eshcol?
3. “Ask of the days that are past” what they have to say concerning the Scriptures.
(1) Have they not tended to confirm them?
(2) Have they not tended to explain them?
(3) Have they not tended to endear them?
4. “Ask the days that are past” what they have to say concerning our Lord and Saviour. Ask them whether He has not been a good Master; whether you cannot say at the end of ten, or twenty, or thirty, or forty, or sixty years, “Thou hast dealt well with Thy servant, O Lord.” Ask them whether He has not been a good Master; whether you cannot say at the end of ten, or twenty, or thirty, or forty, or sixty years, “Thou has dealt well with Thy servant, O Lord.” Ask them whether He has not been your powerful Helper and your kindest Friend. Three conclusions are derivable from this:--
(1) The first is, that you commit yourselves to God by prayer, that you may be prepared for all your future days, whatever may be their complexion.
(2) Secondly, that you should beware of presumption; that you should leave off devising, and say, “The Lord shall choose my inheritance for me.”
(3) Thirdly, you should equally guard against despondency; for though you know not what your future days may be, you know that nothing they contain in them will happen by chance. One thing you know, that “all the way of the Lord” towards you will be “mercy and truth.” One thing you know, that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” (W. Jay.)
The voice of the past
Time is a great mystery. “Time,” says Carlyle, “is forever very literally a miracle--a thing to strike us dumb; for we have no word to speak about it.” Strictly speaking, it is we who move, and time stands still, although the contrary appears to be the ease; as to travellers in any speedy kind of locomotion, the objects close at hand seem to flit rapidly past them, whereas they know that it is themselves that are in motion. Of nothing are we more slow to think than of the nature and value of time, both as regards its highest present uses and its relation to that eternity from which, by Divine fiat, it was first drawn, and into which it shall finally return. “The past” is a very solemn word. It is irrevocably gone, marked on the part of us all by manifold follies and sins; replete with painful accusations of conscience. Although the past is so irrevocably gone from our reach that it cannot be used for the purpose for which it was originally given,--that of living in its duration to God,--yet a serious review of the past year, for instance, may and, if rightly made, must, be productive of profit to us all. Just as the ship which has been totally wrecked, although it can no more traverse the sea, yet its shattered planks may be rendered serviceable for many useful purposes. Let us ask of the days that are past--
I. That we may entertain a humbling consciousness of our own unprofitableness in the use we have made of our time. Constituted as we are, it is imperative upon us that we should give much of our attention to the care of the body and to the regulation of our temporal affairs; yet it is a humbling reflection that beings possessed of such amazing capacities as those enfolded in every human soul, should have so much of their attention engaged in things which bear unequivocal marks of insignificance. Much of the past year has passed in sleep, in providing and partaking of food, in humble domestic arrangements, in the dull routine of business or the idle lassitude of relaxation. And who amongst us can plead guiltless to such charges as these? Who can say of the past year, “Its time has gone just as I could have wished; I could not desire any future year to be better spent than this has been”? Alas! none.
II. That we may have a grateful sense of the Divine goodness and forbearance.
III. That we may, by Divine help, resolve to correct in the future those things which have been evils in the past. (J. Foster.)
The goodness of God displayed in creation, providence, and redemption
I. View the text as the language of a contemplative and spiritual mind, retired from the cares of the world, surveying with pious delight the wonders of creation, and tracing in all the works of God the glory and goodness of their Almighty Maker. Universal nature proclaims the glory of God. This earth which we inhabit, the ground upon which we tread, declare to us the greatness and mercy of the Almighty. How great is its beauty! How beneficial its fruits! By its liberal provision all former generations have been supported, and from its unexhausted magazines and varied resources all nations are supplied with food and raiment. When, from the inanimate creation, the Christian turns his views to the animal world, he traces there the footsteps of the Almighty, and the operations of His hand. The beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea, their shape and figure, their infinite variety, the fit season of their production, their skill in procuring food, and especially their utility to man, all testify that the earth is replenished with the Creator’s goodness. Man himself is the perfection of this lower world. Let the Christian, from himself and the wonders around him, rise to the contemplation of the heavenly bodies. These celestial luminaries instruct as well as shine. And perhaps, could we wing our way “beyond this visible diurnal sphere,” and soar above these rolling planets, we should discover other suns, other stars, other and perhaps nobler systems, established through the boundless regions of space. But here inquiry stops; here our views terminate; yet from such a survey of the heavens and the earth we feel an elevating impulse: we are lost in wonder and admiration.
II. Consider the text as the reflection of a child of providence, after a serious and devout review of the dispensations of God to himself and to others. Nothing yields us so certain a conviction of the providence of God, or evinces so fully its extent, equity, and care, as the consideration of the experience of it which we ourselves have had. It will therefore be the frequent and delightful employment of good men to recall the memory of God’s great goodness, and to reflect upon the measures of His providence with them in former years. They gratefully contemplate the Divine care which protected them from many dangers. But with still Greater satisfaction the Christian reflects upon the care of providence extended to his spiritual concerns. To Thee, my God, I ascribe all the glory and the praise of all that I am, and all that I enjoy! To the silent, secret, effectual influences of Thy Spirit I owe the pleasures of religion which I experience; to the unseen hand of Thy providence conducting me through the mazes of the world I ascribe that comfortable situation in life which I have attained. But the Christian confines not his contemplations upon providence to himself, or the inconsiderable transactions of his own life. He extends his prospect, and sees God ruling over all; he views the Almighty sitting upon His throne of justice and judgment, dispensing to every man a just proportion of good and evil, according to the counsel of His sovereign will. Numberless events in the course of providence, indeed, are to him dark and intricate; he cannot penetrate into their causes, nor assign any satisfactory reason for them. But he checks every hasty, unguarded thought and expression upon the subject. He knows that only a small corner of the plan of Divine administration is made known to him; how these partial evils shall promote the general good, and display the glory of the sovereign Disposer, he cannot now explain. But a scene far more bright and joyous opens upon the Christian’s view in the conduct of the Almighty respecting the redemption of man. He contemplates, with astonishment, that plan of wisdom and grace into which angels desire to look. He views the kingdom of Christ advancing in the world, mean and contemptible in its origin, opposed in its progress by the hostile persecuting spirit of the rulers of the world, yet gathering strength from every wound, spreading far and wide, including, in process of time, a great part of the habitable world, and now established on such solid permanent foundations as affords warrant, even upon principles of human probability, for believing that no weapon formed against its interests shall finally prosper. These are subjects which, to the pious, contemplative Christian, afford inexhaustible matter of delightful meditation and praise.
III. Consider the text as the breathings of the Christian when adoring the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus, and ascribing all his salvation to unmerited sovereign grace. This is the noblest theme of all. A Christian beholds with delight the Supreme Judge passing an act of indemnity, and acquitting the sinner from the charge of guilt, restoring to favour and adopting him into His family. I conclude with a few practical inferences:--
1. Consider how unsearchable must be the greatness, and how ineffable the glory, of that God who does so great things for the children of men.
2. Observe the ingratitude, the guilt, and danger of impertinent sinners, who remain at ease without God and without Christ in this life.
3. Let the children of God give glory to their heavenly Father for all His mercies. (A. Bonar.)
Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire?--
The speciality of the Bible
This is the eternal challenge of the Bible. The appeal may be regarded as a call to the study of comparative religion There are many religions in the world gather them up rote one view, extend the inquiry far and wide, through time and space, and see whether the Bible does not separate itself from all other books by miracles that cannot be rivalled and by excellences that cannot be equalled. The Bible simply wants to be heard, to be read, and to be understood. It asks nothing from its ablest teachers but a paraphrase true to its own spirit and tone. It will not have addition; it will have expansion: it will not be decorated from the outside; it asks that its root may have full scope to express in leaf and blossom and bud and fruit all the bloom of its beauty and all the wealth of its uses. This is the position Moses occupies: we cannot amend the position; we accept it. Note the speciality which Moses fixes upon. He asks a question--“Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?”--if so, prove it. The challenge is not a lame one. The Bible awaits the evidences. We, if earnest men, should be in quest of the best book, without asking who wrote it or by what authority was it written. If it speak to us as no other book can speak, we are bound to accept it. Christianity says in effect--What other religion is there that deals with sin as I deal with it? I do not ignore it; I do not hasten over it; I do not treat it as a mere incident, or a cutaneous affection which superficial means may subdue and which proper attention may remove. What other religion, theory, philosophy, grapples with sin as Christianity does? It will penetrate it, cleave it asunder, analyse it, search into it, and never rest until it gets out of the soul the last fibre of the bad root, the last stain of the fatal poison. Let us be fair to facts; whether we are in the Church or out of the Church, whether we belong to this section or to that section, do let us in common decency acknowledge that Christianity, come whence it may, does grapple with infinite energy with sin. The appeal of Christianity also is--“Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other,” whether any other religion tries to make the same kind of men that Christianity makes? Let us judge the tree by its fruit. We are not superstitious or fanatical or narrow-minded; we do ask the question, and insist upon an answer, Does any other religion make such men as Christianity makes? Here Christianity must be judged by its purpose, by its own written word and claim, and not wholly by the men themselves, because we are still in the land of bondage in many particulars: we are in the flesh; we suffer from a thousand weaknesses; Christianity, therefore, must be judged in its declared intention regarding the culture of manhood. What kind of men does Christianity want to make? Weak men? It never made one weak man. Strong men, valiant men, men of the keenest mind, men of the largest judgment, men of the most generous disposition; if that is the kind of men Christianity wants to make, where is the religion that can excel or equal Christianity in that purpose? Produce the men! Judge by facts. Where Christianity has entered into a life, what has it done with that life? Can it be proved that Christianity, fairly understood and thoroughly received, has soured the temper, narrowed the sympathies, dwarfed the noble ambitions of the soul? Has Christianity ever made unhappy homes, unrighteous parents? Let the challenge be thoroughly understood and frankly replied to. Christianity lives visibly in the Christian. Christianity wants to put away all other evidence, argument, and wordy encounter, and to be able to say, Judge me by my children; judge me by my believers; I am what they are. Therefore, if the Church of the Living God could stand up complete in the purpose of its Redeemer and Sanctifier, the snowy pureness of its character, the lofty dignity of its moral temper would abash every assailant and silence every accuser. Do not be harsh, or point with mocking finger to some poor weak soul, and say, If this man represents Christianity we do not want to know further what Christianity is. Christianity can only be judged by the Book which reveals it, by the Christ who founded it, and by the noble history which has surrounded it. So we accept and repeat this challenge. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Unto thee it was shewed.
All national and individual responsibility to God peculiarly applicable to Britain, both as a Church and State
I. That while all nations and all people are bound to serve the lord, and are accountable to Him for so doing or not, according to the opportunities they possess and the privileges with which they are favoured for knowing His character and learning His truth and will, some nations and people are more peculiarly engaged thus to serve Him, and are under a correspondent degree of responsibility for doing so or not; because some nations and people are more highly favoured than others in all these respects, and are distinguished by greater privileges and opportunities for knowing and doing the Divine will than many others, who are, notwithstanding, all accountable unto God. Now, in order to place this truth in its proper light, let us suppose a case whose propriety and certainty few, we expect, will be disposed to dispute. And, to begin with--
1. Individuals, let us suppose the case of one man, born and bred a pure heathen; another, brought up with some degree of opportunity for gaining the true knowledge of God, etc., in civilised life; and a third, in the same condition, in full possession of the Word of truth and salvation. The great law of man’s universal responsibility, amidst all this variety of condition, equally applies to them all. But the advantages which the one possesses over the other bind the one in a more powerful manner to the duty enforced. And when you arrive at the greatest measure of privilege, do you not behold its accompanying claims rising to the same point, and bearing an even requisition with the highest elevation?
2. Nations. Nations are nothing more than vast numbers of individuals, located in various parts of the earth, and cemented by certain laws and regulations in orderly and social compact. The same truths, therefore, which apply to one person will surely extend to ten thousand, or to as many millions, of the human family thus connected together.
3. Whether the doctrine we inculcate is founded upon, and stands in agreement with, the pure Word of God. Did not the very mercies and privileges which the Lord bestowed upon Israel lay them under peculiar obligations, and bind them in an especial manner to love and serve Him?
II. Where does the truth thus propounded and established fall in its full weight; and to whom does it more peculiarly apply in all its authority and aggravation? The inquiry evidently regards the past and the present time.
1. The past time. Where, in the ages that are passed, are we to look for such a nation or people? Must we not at once fix our attention upon Israel of old, and say, Thou art that nation, and thou art that people? What wonders did God work on their behalf! What large and unmerited mercies did He bestow on them! What astonishing deliverances did He vouchsafe to them! But must our inquiries terminate here?
2. The present time. Many nations are presented to our view. Some great and strong; others weak and debased. Some altogether enshrouded in heathen blindness; others groaning under Mohammedan tyranny and delusion. Some rent with internal convulsions; others sitting down in comparative quiet. Some, once mighty and renowned, merged in the general streams of rival powers, and known no more as separate kingdoms, except in the records of their ancient exploits and fame. But amidst all this national and political chaos presented to our view can we fix on no spot which in a more especial manner is more highly favoured than any other? Yes, we can. Like some tall majestic oak amidst the under wood of the forest, or like the cloud-capped mountain contrasted with the hillocks of the plain, or like the stately man-of-war amidst the wharfage of the port, there is one nation amidst all the diversified tribes of man which stands thus conspicuous in the view, and thus crowned with privileges and blessings! Oh England, my beloved place and nation, thou wearest this crown! thou standest on this elevation! Not only in common with all others, but above and beyond all others, hast thou been blessed and crowned with loving kindness and tender mercies! What hath not the Lord done for thee?
(1) As a nation. Hath He not raised thee from small beginnings to unexampled greatness? Hath He not brought thee from a poor degraded state of heathen misery, in which thy forefathers were sunk, to be at once the mistress, the envy, and the glory of the world? And in the course of thy experience, from thy low original to thy present greatness, hath not the Lord often wrought for thee by a mighty hand and by a stretched-out arm? And art thou not bound, in proportion to what He hath done for thee? Oh! beware lest thou stand as conspicuous in ingratitude and guilt as thou art in privilege and blessing! But are national distinctions and advantages all that the Lord hath done for thee? Are not thy privileges--
2. As a church, as great as thy mercies as a nation? He hath not left thee without witness; not merely, as He testified to the heathen, “giving rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, and filling our hearts with food and gladness”; but as He deals with His own inheritance, sending to thee the truths of His Word and the messages of His salvation. Do we, as a nation, church, or people, live up to these privileges, and bring forth the fruit which God so justly requires at our hands? Are the mercies we possess prized as they ought to be? Are they improved as they ought to be? Is God honoured and glorified as tie ought to be? Is the Gospel of peace valued as it ought to be? Is the Word of life received as it ought to be? Do we walk in the statutes and ordinances of God as we ought to do? (R. Shittler.)
The revelation of God
I. In his name. Is it answered, “That is only a word”? But what are words? People do not forge and utter words as they please. They cannot be made or unmade by votes of assemblies or edicts of kings. They are chronic. They come into existence by a law of nature. They are carved out of unstable air by a supernatural power. To call God’s Word or name “priest craft” is itself cant. A set of priests could no more have created it than they could an ocean or a mountain range. Matthew Arnold says, “God means the Brilliant in the sky.” But what makes it to shine, and to wear the blue firmament for a robe? There could have been no name if no Lord,--as no names for plant, beast, earth, sea, but that these things were, and to do aught in His name is to do it by His strength and for His honour. Caesar may be a myth, and Eve in the garden a tale, but no appellations can overrate the Eternal.
II. In his work: what He does shows what He is. All the phrases which sceptics think so lightly of are but the labels of His wonders. “But all the Bibles,” says the denier, are human compositions written in time: show me the sacred books that not affirm a God out of us. What is out of us is not so easy to say. The whole creation is somehow in our thought. I have a feeling that fetches down from Orion. My imagination girdles the Pleiades. God is not less to me because He exists not externally but in the consciousness of my own bosom, and I cannot dismiss my guest. If no characters by Him were ever entered on a paper leaf, stone tablet from Sinai, or Egyptian column, do we not find His engraving in living organisms and on the vast layers of the globe? “Providence” is one of these obstinate, indestructible words in the daily discourse of mankind. A great, forthreaching, unbaffled, and unending plan, a purpose through the ages, one must be worse than colour blind not to see, with a steady accomplishment,--style it fitness, adjustment, design, as you will. Not a nook of nature but is His workshop, not an event without His procedure.
III. In his nature or image. Had He left no sign manual of His authorship in our frame all else were to us a dumb show. Why do beasts and insects not perceive the drift of the plot on this broad external stage? Because, even in their innocence, they cannot yet come to themselves, and in themselves find their Father. But what features of His face are unveiled to us?
1. First, of sincerity, the open look. Why can we not be free from this candid bond, but that the Divinity reveals within us His essence of truth, as a claim beyond convenience or uses of the hour, so infinite that no liar can be content till he has confessed? After what long and stubborn perjury, from at last being convinced by some co-conspirator that falsehood is kindest and best, a quickened conscience forces the wretched deceiver, man or woman, in mutual crime, to own at last even the forswearing, and throw off the disguise that hinders peace with God!
2. Next, the line of rectitude in this countenance we pray God to lift upon us, and which He never quite withdraws. Truth is right speech, and righteousness is true conduct. If your neighbour will not rest in any wrong you do him, you will be the last to be satisfied with your own unfairness, because Deity is equity in your vital parts.
3. There is one more lineament in that face whose glance we cannot escape: it is goodness. But the goodness must be more than doting on one person, however winsome and dear. I know an earnest love; but God save me from an exclusive one, and keep me from wishing or enduring the monopoly of a human heart! We may be partial to one person, like the sun flattering some mountain top or blazing back from some windowed tower as he rises or sets; but be we also impartial as the sun, making the whole earth his reflection and flinging his radiance through the sky.
IV. In the healthful exercise of our powers. We find God in innocent pleasures as in solemn forms, as parents are as much pleased with their children’s gambols as with their deferential requests. The little orthodox boy, repeating his prayers so punctually in his country cot, said one morning, “Good-bye, God: I am going to Boston to stay a fortnight”; he not having been taught how that sublime Presence would smile on him amid all the sights of the city, as when the soul was commended to Him in sleep. The small girl was pious in a more rational way who, going home from her first dance, ere she put off her pretty dress, fell on her knees to thank God for the pleasure He had given her at the children’s ball. God is the problem whose last and clearest solution is in the corollary of duty, which, as Kant says, is the practical reason piecing out the ladder to climb to Him, where the speculative ends. In this transparency of conscience all the vexing riddles conclude. With a dogged satisfaction, in dire extremity, it helps us to stand at our post and do our office, as the old Cumberland still fired her guns when sinking to her gunwale. There was something in those sailors, as in all faithful unto death, not going down! (C. A. Bartol, D. D.)
Consider it in thine heart, that the Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath.
The relation of man to God
We must have God before we can understand Him. We must receive Him into our loving trust before we can make any advance in knowing what He is, what are His qualities and His attributes, and what is all the meaning that is written in His infinite heart. I am delighted to tell again and again of the poor woman who, upon being interrogated by her minister concerning formal divinity, before she could be admitted as a guest at the Lord’s table, was utterly unable to answer a single question; whereupon the minister informed her that she was not fit to be admitted to the table of the Lord. “Sir,” said she, with womanly feeling and pathos, “I can’t answer these questions, but I could die for Him.” That is religion! Not answering questions only, not being able to enter into critical disquisitions, but sending the heart out to receive God into its trust and love. Hence the exhortation of the text, “Consider it in thine heart.” You may consider the question in the intellectual region, and get little or nothing out of the considerations. When the heart knows its own hunger and its own bitterness, then, in that sad but holy hour, the heart may get some hold upon the idea of God. I can imagine the man of average education and intelligence, whom I am imaginatively addressing, asking me some such question as this, How is it that God does not show Himself more clearly to us than He does, and so put an end to all uncertainty concerning Himself? I answer, Are we capable of understanding what is and what is not the proper degree and method of Divine manifestation? Is it becoming in men, who cannot certainly tell what will happen in one single hour, that they should write a programme for God, and appoint the way of the Almighty? These things cause me to say that religious questions, if they are to be profitably considered at all, must be considered in a deeply religious spirit. You can make no advancement in this learning unless you bring a right heart with you. That is the beginning. There was a peculiar controversy or conversation in my garden the other day; it quite entertained me. There were, after those heavy rains, two worms that had struggled out of the earth, and found their way upon the wet green grass; and they began to talk in a very decided and mocking manner about myself. One, the elder and better-to-do of the two, said, “Eh, eh, eh! We have been told that this garden has an owner or somebody that takes care of it, that nourishes the roots of things, and that altogether presides over the affair. Eh, eh, eh, I never saw him. If there is such an owner, why doesn’t he show himself more clearly?--why doesn’t he come to the front and let us see him, eh?” And the leaner one of the two said, “That is an unanswerable argument. I never saw him. There may be such a being, but I care nothing about him; only, if he is alive, why don’t he show himself?” They quite wriggled in contemptuous triumph; yet all the while I was standing there, looking at the poor creatures, and hearing them! I could have set my foot upon them and crushed them; but I did not. There is a way of wasting strength; there is also a way of showing patience. But the worms could not understand my nature. I was standing there, and they knew me not! What if it be so with ourselves in the greater questions? Proceeding with our statement respecting the revelation of God, I have now to ask you to believe with me, as a matter of fact--
1. That we stand to God in the relation of dependants. That is our actual position in life. “What hast thou, that thou hast not received?” Let a man begin his studies there, and he will become correspondingly reverent. Have you genius? Who lighted the lamp? Have you health? Who gave you your constitution? Do you find the earth productive? “Yes.” Who made it productive? “I did. I till it: I supply all the elements of nourishment needful; I did.” Did you? Can you make it rain? Can you make the sun shine? If a man once be started on that course of reflection, the probability is, that he who begins as a reverent inquirer will end as a devout worshipper.
2. Then I ask you to believe, in the next place, that the very fact of being dependent should lead us to be very careful how we measure the sovereignty and the government of God. He has made us servants, not masters. We are little children, not old beings, in His household and universe. We are mysteries to ourselves. We need not go from home to seek mysteries.
3. I have to ask you, in the third place, to believe that the very fact of the mystery of our own life should be the beginning and the defence of our faith in God. Reason from yourself upwards. There is a way out of the human to the Divine. It is a commendable course of procedure to reason from the known to the unknown. If you are such a mystery to your own child, if the philosopher is such a mystery to the uninstructed man, if you are such a mystery to yourself--why may there not be a power around more mysterious still, higher and nobler yet? Reason from yourselves--from your own capacities and your own resources. Is not the maker greater than the thing made? Take away the idea of God from human thinking, and mark the immediate and necessary consequences. This is a method of reasoning which I commend to the attention of young inquirers who are earnest about this business. The method, namely, of withdrawment. If a man doubts concerning God, I shall withdraw the idea of God from human thinking, and see the necessary consequences. If a man has any argument to adduce against Christianity, take Christianity out of the country, and see what will be left. Take out the doctrine, take out the practice, take out not only Christian theology, but Christian morality, and see how many hospitals would be left, and how many penitentiaries, infirmaries, schools, and asylums for the deaf and the dumb and the blind and the idiotic. So take away the idea of God from human thinking, and see the immediate and inevitable consequences. There is no God; then there is no supreme supervision of human life as a whole; for none could have the eye that could see the whole orbit of things. We see points, not circumferences. There is no God; then there is no final judgment by which the wrongs of centuries can be avenged; there is no heart brooding over us to which we can confide the story of our sorrow, or tell the anguish of our pain. Set God again on the throne, and all that makes life worth having, even imaginatively, comes back again. Set God upon the throne, and all things take upon them a new, true, beautiful meaning; there is hope of judgment, and a certainty that right will eventually be done. Shall I ask you to remember--observe, I still speak to my scholar whom I assume to be diligent and earnest--that our little day has been too short to know the full mystery of God? When an infant of yours has gone to school, do you expect the little one to come back at twelve o’clock on the first day and be able to read you a chapter even out of the simplest book? You are an old man; yes, but a young being, an infantile being. Very old indeed, if you think of insuring yourself, or buying another estate, or laying out a great sum of money--very, very old indeed; but if you are talking of the universe, you are the insect of a moment--hardly born! But you wish to read the book called the Universe through at one sitting, like a cheap novel. Thou art of yesterday, and knowest nothing; and I, thy teacher, what am I but a man who, having seen one ray of light amid thick and terrible gloom, come to thee and stand here that you may see the same beautiful revelation! All this shows us what our spirit ought to be. He who comes to school with this spirit will learn most and learn it most quickly. And this let me tell you young man, the greatest men I have ever known have been the most humble, docile, self-distrustful. (Dr. Parker, D. D.)
Thou shalt keep therefore His statutes, and His commandments, . . . that it may go well with thee.
A command and a promise
I. Moses enjoins an obligation, which is really the highest privilege.
1. Israel’s relation to God.
(1) In contrast with Gentile beliefs--polytheistic--each nation its own God; mostly debased forms of human passion.
(2) Jehovah proclaims Himself only God, others His subjects (Jeremiah 10:7; Psalms 22:28); but they, His one people (chap. 32:9).
(3) Moses bids them realise that they are the prerogative nation of the world (Exodus 19:6).
(a) By His presence among them.
(b) By keeping commandments.
(c) Of this, love of God must be the root.
2. The grounds of this relation.
(1) “Not thy righteousness.”
(2) “Love for thy fathers.”
II. Moses holds out a promise. Each Israelite had--
1. A full life--long share of temporal blessings.
2. Then partly realised by--
(1) Rescue from Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:20); and
(2) Then their recent first victory, taking possession of the land (Numbers 21:33-35).
3. But partly in store.
(1) Jordan to be crossed, and
(2) Canaan won.
4. Thus, in spite of their dastardly unworthiness, promise ripened to performance. (H. Hayman, D. D.)
Penalty of disregarding commands
On the bridge of a good steamer was the captain giving the right course, N-by-W. 67°. He bad taken account of eddies and currents. The second officer, leaving, perhaps, the currents out of consideration, came and directed the helmsman to make it N-by-W. 57°, but to bring the ship round so gently that the captain would not notice it. The result was a disastrous wreck. If we refuse to hearken to God’s voice, and we disobey His commands, our lives will be wrecked, and all our hopes of happiness shattered.
Suppose I have a son, say ten years old, and I want him to go to school until he is fifteen or twenty years, but he has just set his will against mine. He says, “I refuse to go to school for another day.” I tell you that that child will be unable to do one thing to please me until he goes to school. He may make all the sacrifices he may have a mind to, he may go out and earn two or three shillings a day, and bring every penny to me; but I do not want his money, I want his obedience. What God wants is obedience. (D. L. Moody.)
Obedience to God is conducive to our welfare
Another peculiar excellency of our religion is, that it prescribes an accurate rule of life,--most agreeable to reason and to our nature; most conducive to our welfare and content, tending to procure each man’s private good, and to promote the public benefit of all, by the strict observance whereof we bring our human nature to a resemblance of the Divine; and we shall also thereby obtain God’s favour, oblige and benefit men, and procure to ourselves the conveniences of a sober life and the pleasure of a good conscience. For if we examine the precepts which respect our duty to God, what can be more just, pleasant, or beneficial to us than are those duties of piety which our religion enjoins? What is more fit and reasonable than that we should most highly esteem and honour Him who is most excellent; that we should bear the sincerest affection for Him who is perfect goodness Himself, and most beneficial to us; that we should have the most awful dread of Him that is infinitely powerful, holy, and just; that we should be very grateful to Him from whom we received our being, with all the comforts and conveniences of it; that we should entirely trust and hope in Him who can and will do whatever we may in reason expect from His goodness--nor can He ever fail to perform His promises; that we should render all due obedience to Him whose children, servants, and subjects we are? The practice of such a piety, of a service so reasonable, cannot but be of vast advantage to us, as it procures peace of conscience, a comfortable hope, a freedom from all terrors and scruples of mind, from all tormenting cares and anxieties. (I. Barrow.)
Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan, that the slayer might flee thither.
The cities of refuge
The cities here mentioned were called the cities of refuge. They were appointed by the command of God Himself; and, after the Israelites had crossed the river Jordan and entered the land of Canaan, three more were set apart on the other side of the river for the same purpose.
I. What there was remarkable in their institution, in the circumstances that distinguished them. They were then so well chosen, with such attention to the design proposed, that no part of the country was more than half a day’s journey from some one of them.
II. Behold in these cities of refuge an emblem of the redemption provided in the Gospel. See in the fugitive a fitting likeness of those who flee for refuge to the hope set before them in Christ Jesus. The ancient city of refuge stood on high, easy to be seen of all, holding out safety to those who needed it. Even so hath Jesus Christ been lifted up on the Cross, that the eye of faith may be turned to Him, and the hope of salvation arise in the heart of the penitent believer. The road that led to the cities of refuge was broad, plain, and straight; there was nothing to hinder the feet of him who fled along it. And is the highway of God’s salvation less plain, less open, less direct? On the roads that led to the cities of refuge way marks were set up to guide the feet of the fugitive. Even so are the ministers of Jesus now commissioned to guide the ignorant, and warn the wandering, and to cry aloud to all, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” The gates of the city of refuge stood open day and night. And so do the gates of the city of our God, the New Jerusalem. Christ ever stands ready to embrace in the arms of His mercy the soul that seeketh Him. The city of refuge was bound to support those who fled to it for protection. And in the house of the living God there is bread enough and to spare. The city of refuge was for all, as well for the stranger as for one born in the land. And in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female.
III. The conditions on which he who fled to one of the cities of refuge was entitled to the privileges thereof. First, leaving all behind, be must flee for his life, nor ever stop till sheltered within the appointed walls. Again, when once received within the city, he must not leave it, no, not for a moment, lest the avenger of blood fall upon him, and he die. Have you fled to Christ? Abide, then, in Him: forsake not the safe shelter of His fold: go not from under the shadow of His wing. (C. Blencowe, M. A.)