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Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem.
Joshua’s last farewell
I. God’s threefold mercies.
1. Israel’s enlargement (verses 2-4).
2. Israel’s exodus (verses 5-7).
3. Israel’s entrance into Canaan (verses 8-12).
II. Joshua’s threefold appeal.
1. He exhorts them to fear and serve this great and this good God.
2. To manifest in yet clearer light that the service of God is a reasonable service, and to show the utter folly of idolatry, Joshua, in the gravest irony, upholds the alternative for the adoption of the people, and mocks the apostasy, the latent germs of which he knew too well ware in the hearts of the great assembly before him.
3. Then, having, both with tender love and with withering scorn, set forth the two alternatives, he declares his own resolute decision in words which should be the motto for every ruler, and for every householder. This is the true order of the growth of piety. First, individual consecration; then follows family control; and then the third stage in the gradation--namely, public influence--will not be lacking.
III. Israel’s threefold covenant.
IV. A threefold affidavit to Israel’s covenant.
1. The first is the memory of the transaction in the minds of the people themselves.
2. Joshua himself, moreover, puts the whole matter into writing, even as we have it here before us in this last chapter.
3. But there is another testimony that shall witness against Israel if they apostatise--“a great stone,” which he places beneath the oak in Shechem, “that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.”
V. A threefold seal to god’s promises. The Book closes with the mention of three burials. In the peaceful graves of three of God’s saints we seem to see three seals to the truth of God’s Word. These holy men once served Him among strange nations, but now their bones are laid within the borders of the promised land. (G. W. Butler, M. A.)
Joshua’s last appeal
It was at Shechem that Joshua’s last meeting with the people took place. There was much to recommend that place. It lay a few miles to the north-west of Shiloh, and was not only distinguished as Abraham’s first resting-place in the country, and the scene of the earliest of the promises given in it to him; but likewise as the place where, between Mount Ebal and Gerizim, the blessings and curses of the law had been read out soon after Joshua entered the land, and the solemn assent of the people given to them. And whereas it is said (verse 26) that the great stone set up as a witness was “by the sanctuary of the Lord,” this stone may have been placed at Shiloh after the meeting, because there it would be more fully in the observation of the people as they came up to the annual festivals (1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 1:9).
1. In the record of Joshua’s speech contained in the twenty-fourth chapter, he begins by rehearsing the history of the nation. He has an excellent reason for beginning with the revered name of Abraham, because Abraham had been conspicuous for that very grace, loyalty to Jehovah, which he is bent on impressing on them. We mark in this rehearsal the well-known features of the national history, as they were always represented; thy frank recognition of the supernatural, with no indication of myth or legend, with nothing of the mist or glamour in which the legend is commonly enveloped. And, seeing that God hath done all this for them, the inference was that He was entitled to their heartiest loyalty and obedience. Never was a good man more in earnest, or more thoroughly persuaded that all that made for a nation’s welfare was involved in the course which he pressed upon them.
2. But Joshua did not urge this merely on the strength of his own conviction. He must enlist their reason on his side; and for this cause he now called on them deliberately to weigh the claims of other gods and the advantages of other modes of worship, and choose that which must be pronounced the best. There were four claimants to be considered--
(2) the Chaldaean gods worshipped by their ancestors;
(3) the gods of the Egyptians; and
(4) the gods of the Amorites among whom they dwelt.
Make your choice between these, said Joshua, if you are dissatisfied With Jehovah. But could there be any reasonable choice between these gods and Jehovah? It is often useful, when we hesitate as to a course, to set down the various reasons for and against--it may be the reasons of our judgment against the reasons of our feelings; for often this course enables us to see how utterly the one outweighs the other. May it not be useful for us to do as Joshua urged Israel to do?
3. But Joshua is fully prepared to add example to precept. Whatever you do in this matter, my mind is made up, my course is clear--“as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.” He was happy in being able to associate his house with himself as sharing his convictions and his purpose. He owed this, in all likelihood, to his own firm and intrepid attitude throughout his life. His house saw how consistently and constantly he recognised the supreme claims of Jehovah. Not less clearly did they see how constantly he experienced the blessedness of his choice.
4. Convinced by his arguments, moved by his eloquence, and carried along by the magnetism of his example, the people respond with enthusiasm. But Joshua knew something of their fickle temper. He may have called to mind the extraordinary enthusiasm of their fathers when the tabernacle was in preparation; the singular readiness with which they had contributed their most valued treasures, and the grievous change they underwent after the return of the spies. Even an enthusiastic burst like this is not to be trusted. He must go deeper; he must try to induce them to think more earnestly of the matter, and not trust to the feeling of the moment.
5. Hence he draws a somewhat dark picture of Jehovah’s character, lie dwells on those attributes which are least agreeable to the natural man--His holiness, His jealousy, and His inexorable opposition to sin. “Ye cannot serve the Lord,” said Joshua; “take care how you undertake what is beyond your strength.” Perhaps he wished to impress on them the need of Divine strength for so difficult a duty. Certainly he did not change their purpose, but only drew from them a more resolute expression.
6. And now Joshua comes to a point which had doubtless been in his mind all the time, but which he had been waiting for a favourable opportunity to bring forward. He had pledged the people to an absolute and unreserved service of God, and now he demands a practical proof of their sincerity. He knows quite well that they have “strange gods” among them. Minor forms of idolatry, minor recognitions of the gods of the Chaldaeans and the Egyptians and the Amorites, were prevalent even yet. What a weed sin is, and how it is for ever reappearing! And reappearing among ourselves too, in a different variety, but essentially the same. For what honest and earnest heart does not feel that there are idols and images among ourselves that interfere with God’s claims and God’s glory as much as the teraphim and the earrings of the Israelites did?
7. And now comes the closing and the clinching transaction of this meeting at Shechem. Joshua enters into a formal covenant with the people. When Joshua got the people bound by a transaction of this sort, he seemed to obtain a new guarantee for their fidelity; a new barrier was erected against their lapsing into idolatry. And yet it was but a temporary barrier against a flood which seemed ever to be gathering strength unseen, and preparing for another fierce discharge of its disastrous waters.
8. At the least, this meeting secured for Joshua a peaceful sunset, and enabled him to sing his “Nunc dimittis.” The evil which he dreaded most was not at work as the current of life ebbed away from him; it was his great privilege to look round him and see his people faithful to their God. It does not appear that Joshua had any very comprehensive or far-reaching aims with reference to the moral training and development of the people. His idea of religion seems to have been a very simple loyalty to Jehovah, in opposition to the perversions of idolatry. For his absolute and supreme loyalty to his Lord he is entitled to our highest reverence, This loyalty is a rare virtue, in the sublime proportions in which it appeared in him. The very rareness, the eccentricity of the character, secures a respectful homage. And yet who can deny that it is the true representation of what every man should be who says, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth”? (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
The world long remembers Jonathan Edwards’s dying charge to his family: “Trust in God, and you have nothing to fear”; or the English Samuel Johnson’s exhortation to his physician, “Doctor, believe a dying man: nothing but salvation by Christ can comfort you when you come to lie here”; or a departing President, like Jackson, saying, “Religion is a great reality: the Bible is true.” These and a thousand other instances testify that a thoughtful man going the way of all the earth is pretty certain to have his thoughts fixed on the place to which he is going and the preparation he and those around him may need for that journey. (W. E. Knox, D. D.)
I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir.
Certain singular subjects
I. History and the hand of God in it. See: “I gave”; and then again, “I gave.” It is not merely that Esau and Jacob were born of Isaac and Rebekah, but the Lord says, “I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau.” How plainly doth this declare that the hand of God is in human history! At first sight history seems a great tangle, a confusion; but on looking at it more closely we perceive that it is only in appearance a maze, but in fact a marvellous piece of arrangement, exhibiting perfect precision and never-failing accuracy.
1. We see the hand of God in history very strikingly in the raising up of remarkable men at certain special periods. “I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau”: children are the gift of God. This is true not only of Isaac but of all mortal men. God gave to a worthy couple, George Washington; to another pair, John Howard; and to a third, George Whitefield. Each of these, in his own special way, was a Divine gift to men. Children are born with different talents and varied capacities, but all about them which will make them blessings is the gift of God.
2. So also is the hand of God distinctly to be seen in all great events. If Esau captures Mount Seir, then the setting up of the Edomite dominion, bad as it may have been, is from another point of view a matter in which God’s purpose and design are to be noted, for He says: “I gave Esau mount Seir.” In everything that happens, be it small or great, the Lord is present, and His will is done. It is so in all the plottings and manoeuvrings of kings and princes and senates, in the stirs of public opinion, in the marchings of armies, and in all that transpires among mortal men. Though the iniquity of man is seen abundantly, yet the overruling power of God is never absent.
3. To us the hand of God is very visible in our own case. Look at the hand of God that gave to you and to me such parents as we have: I mean those of us who have the great delight of having descended from Christian men and women. Had we anything to do with that? And yet the greatest part of man’s future depends upon the parents of whom he is born. Is not the hand of God in it?
4. And do we not see the hand of God, again, in our children? Bring these gifts of God to God, and say, “Here, Lord, are the children which Thou hast given me. O Lord, let Thy name be named on them, and let Thy grace be glorified in them.”
5. Observe, further, that the Lord’s hand is in all the prosperity which He gives to any. He says, “I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it.” It is by God’s allotment that temporal things fall as they do: even the ungodly have their portion in this life by Divine grant.
6. And, once more, God’s hand is to be seen in the place in which we live. If Esau lives in Mount Seir, it is because God appoints him to be there; and if Israel goes down to Egypt, it is for the selfsame reason. If you and I remove from one place to another, it is sweet to see the cloud moving before us, and to know that the Lord directs our way.
II. Birth and its disappointments. “I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau,” twin children born of godly parents. In that birth there was joy, but sorrow came by it as well as joy. Children are certain cares and doubtful comforts. They may bring to their parents such sorrow that they may be inclined to think the barren happier than the fruitful. Hence it is well for us to leave our hopes of posterity with God; and if we reckon that in a childless house we have missed a great joy, we ought also to reckon that we have missed a mint of trouble by the same fact.
III. Worldlings and their possessions. Why does God so often give possessions to ungodly men? Why do they flourish? Why do they have their portion in this life? Is it not, first, because God thinks little of these things, and therefore gives them to those of whom He thinks little? “Why,” said Luther in his day, “the whole Turkish empire is but a basket of husks that God gives to the hogs, and therefore He hands it over to the unbelievers.” Something infinitely better is reserved for the Lord’s own family. The rich blessing of true grace He reserves for His children and heirs. Do you wish that ungodly men should have less? For my part, I am reconciled to their present prosperity, for it is all they ever will have. Poor souls, let them have as much of it as they may here; they have nothing hereafter. Let those have the treasures of this present evil world who have nothing else. Never quarrel with the Lord for saying, “I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it.” Besides, these comforts may lead them to reflect upon God’s bounty to them; and at any rate they ought to move them to repentance.
IV. The chosen of God and their trials. Esau reigns, but Israel serves; Esau set his nest on high, but Israel crouched by the reeds of the river. The worldling would read the Scripture as if it said, “As many as I love, I caress and pamper”; but the Lord speaketh not so; His word is, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten”; “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” To carnal reason this seems strange; faith alone can explain it.
1. Israel and his children went down into Egypt, first, for their preservation. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions. The salt and bitterness of sorrow often preserves men from the gall and bitterness of sin.
2. They went down into Egypt, next, for their improvement. God often thrusts His people into adversity that He may improve them, arouse them, instruct them, and ennoble them. See to it, that the Lord’s design be fulfilled in you to the full. May the fire and the file, the crucible and the flame, work in you a clearance of dross and rust, and make you pure and bright.
3. They also went down into Egypt for their education. The chosen seed needed teaching; they were getting to be rustic, not to say barbarous, in their manners; acquirements and knowledge were scant among them. They must go down into the seat of ancient learning to acquire arts and sciences and civilisation. For future usefulness it is well that we bear present sorrow, and like Jacob go down into Egypt.
4. And they went down to Egypt, again, that God might display His great power in them. It is worth while to go down into Egypt to come out of it with a high hand and an outstretched arm. Oh, the glory of the Lord in His redeemed! Oh, the lofty destiny of the tried people of God! Oh, the sublimity of their lives even now! There is God in them; there is God about them. “Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.” That is where the story ends, according to my text; but you know the story does not end there after all; for out of Jacob and his children came the Star, the Sceptre, and the Throne. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Not with thy sword, nor with thy bow.
Not with sword or bow
A very necessary reminder, applicable to both the hour of conflict and victory. Both seasons have their own dangers. There is no final conflict or victory in this life; only when death has finished our course should we be hopeless or exultant. Each contest is but a single event of a series, and the one, though leading to others, does not of necessity determine the character of them all. Defeat to-day does not mean defeat to-morrow, any more than success to-day means the same in the next encounter with the hidden powers of darkness. No man is safe on this side the grave. So for each, for all, these words may be for encouragement and direction. The cause of failure may be discovered, and the remedy be pointed out, or the way which shall lead to entire possession of the fulness of God’s blessedness may be known, as each and all shall remember that “it is not by thy sword or thy bow.”
I. Life’s conflict must be met by human effort and energy. The promise of the land as an inheritance to the people of Israel is most distinct. Everywhere God said He would give it. Was there not some reason, then, in the expectation that they should have the land without any very special trouble? Is there so much to be wondered at in the disappointment of the spies when they saw they had to fight? One would have thought that the people would have walked in at one side while the inhabitants walked out at the other. God could have done it without the intervention of human effort at all. But this is not the point. What God did, as we learn from the history of this period, was, He used the sword and the bow of the people to secure to them the promise He had given to their fathers. And though no such stipulation is anywhere directly stated, yet universally we find that the human effort and skill are needful to the attainment of the gift of God. And it is just so with all that has to do with God. He has endowed us with certain powers which He calls upon us to exercise. When, then, on the one hand we sit down quietly and say, “God has promised and will perform--there is nothing for me to do,” or when we refuse to do anything because of our great weakness, or when we fail to call upon our powers of mind and heart to rise against the inroads of our spiritual enemies, or quietly submit when we are taken captive in the snares of the devil, we are just putting ourselves outside the pale of the directions which God has given us. So, too, when we ask God to work for us, and make supplication to Him to remove trouble or give us light and peace, if we say, “God can and will work,” and we do nothing ourselves, then we are forgetting this part of God’s ways. It is not by longing, wishing, desiring, however ardent, that God fulfils His loving purposes towards us; but by prayer, girding up our minds, and resolute, undaunted courage, that we must meet our foe--“with thy sword and with thy bow.” But what is the energy and activity here indicated? You will observe that God has not endowed man with any natural modes of offence or defence. The smallest insect is apparently better equipped for the dangers of its life than we are. But God has given man a stronger force than all. Will--moral force--the power of doing--are his; so that though unarmed he is more fully equipped against the multifarious dangers of his way. Nothing can assault him, but he can adopt such means as shall protect--such measures as shall totally defeat the foe. He has the sword and the bow. Moral dangers must be met by moral means, e.g., conscience must be kept clear, its voice must be listened to, and when heard the will must without hesitation obey. Spiritual blessings must be obtained by spiritual effort. God has promised them, He will give; but you must overcome the obstacles. Will you have the promise? then adopt the means needful. If you would scale the mountains, you look for a guide, and take provisions, and put on suitable dress. “Put on the whole armour of God.” Just as the poor shipwrecked one lays hold of the floating spar for very life, so you must lay hold of God, and laying hold of Him, do what He tells you. Cannot! No such word ought to be used. “I can, I will!” these are your sword and bow, and if you would extract blessing out of everything it must be by their use, and only thus will you gain the end you desire. But then it must be “thy” sword and “thy” bow. There is a speciality here. It is the act of the individual, the perseverance of the man.
II. Life’s conflict is not won by the human effort and energy. The greatest effort cannot obtain the victory; the most stupendous energy cannot save from defeat. It is one thing to meet the foe, it is another thing to win the day. And so our text tells us that it is not by thy sword nor by thy bow. You must fight, but God gives the victory. It is not won by your fighting, but by God’s aid. It is not secured by your prowess, but by God’s strength. It is all God, not you. (H. W. Butcher.)
And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour.
The inheritance of the past
The substance of these closing words of the old Hebrew chief amounted to this: they had had vastly more done for them than they had done or could have done for themselves. They were not the sole nor the chief architects of their own fortunes. At this stage in the fortunes of their national life the prescient eye of Joshua saw the resulting perils from the disposition among them to forget their past history and to magnify the personal element in their present gains and security. There is but one step between the temper of boastfulness and the decadence and demoralisation of a nation’s life. Modesty, simplicity, self-knowledge, and a devout recognition of its profound indebtedness to the past--these are among the prime elements of national wealth and prosperity. And Joshua’s was that warning voice whose authority and experience and disinterested patriotism, as with all similar men in all countries and times, served as the organ of the national conscience. It served to remind them that a nation is not the growth of a day, that the highest blessings of life are unattainable by our own unaided efforts, that manifold are the forces which are working in the world to produce the life of each one of us, and that it is as inaccurate as it is ungrateful and boastful to impute to ourselves the chief or the largest share in the production of all the good of life that we enjoy. “I have given you a land for which ye did not labour.” To every age and period, as it reviews its successes and takes stock of its gains and advances, may be addressed these words of Joshua, with deep truth and significance. The conditions of life amid which we live to-day constitute veritably the promised land of the many generations of English and Scottish life that have preceded us. In whatever way we turn we have much to make us grateful for our progress, and to inspire us with a deep sense of that providence whose guiding spirit is a fact as real and sacred of British history as ever it was of Hebrew history. In regard to the political and social troubles of the present--and they are both many and serious--and in regard to the conditions of our human life to-day, whose frequent difficulty and harshness sometimes makes us fretful and discontented, I do not know anything which better tends to smooth out these wrinkles of impatient discontent, and to inspire us with a feeling of our large and solid improvement in life, than to take up, for example, the history of our own country, say some three or four centuries ago, and fixing your reading and your attention mainly upon the social condition of the people; upon the state of our commerce and all the peaceful arts; upon the measure of personal freedom in matters of State or of religion which was then possessed; upon the character of the public health and the amount of disease and the averages of mortality in all ranks; upon the degree of comfort which people had in their dwelling-houses; upon the general level of morality and decency which the habits of society evinced--to contrast all this with what requires no special course of reading, the public and private life of society to-day in our land, its means of intelligence, its measure of liberty, and all the other distinguishing qualities of our civilisation to-day. Civilisation, in which word is comprehended art and science and religion, and refinement of manner and speech, and the increase of material comfort, and the spread of intelligence, and all things which beautify or sanctify our human life and character, is no mere production of some one age or country to which now and then some little measure of improvement is added at irregular and incalculable intervals, but is the long, unbroken movement of ascensional life going right back in its origins, into the dim, impenetrable beginnings of human life and society. What is the utmost that we to-day have done or can do set against the mighty sum of the world’s historical and prehistorical life! We find the sense of enormous indebtedness in regard, for example, to our religious possessions. The text reminds us of how that thousands of years ago an Eastern people were feeling their way to religious truths and ideas which, passing subsequently through the higher medium and expression of Christianity, absolutely rule a vast part of the world’s life to-day. We are debtors both to the barbarian and the Greek, to the Gentile and to the Jew. In regard to the more restricted life of our own country and nation, we are the sum and product of a large variety and infusion of forces. And in the social order of our life there are few of us who need to be reminded of how much that controls our lives to-day dates back to the far and almost-forgotten past. Our constitutional liberties have been things of slow accretion. And again, m the shape and character of our strictly personal life it is no less true that we have entered upon possessions for which we did not labour. There is one inheritance at least which is every man’s birthright, the accumulated experience of his race and ancestry. The life, the conduct, the temper, the traditions of our ancestry live in us. When we speak of a man as coming from a good stock or a bad stock the phrase is significant of how considerable is that element of character and tendency for which we did not labour. We are not altogether the children of a day. We have taken a good many centuries in making. Let me urge upon you the duty which these considerations bring before us of maintaining an intelligent sympathy with the past, as an essential condition of rightly understanding and controlling the present. It is by liberally using the vast stores of accunmlated experience that we have inherited; it is by tracking our social troubles to their roots in antecedent conditions; it is by following the line of dogmatic and Church history to the periods of germination and birth, that we shall be the most effectively armed to meet the difficulties and to discharge the duties which every generation has, in God’s name, to manfully overcome or fulfil. Let us not shrink from them. Again, these considerations suggest to us the virtue and grace of humility. “I have given you a land for which ye did not labour.” “We are not our own,” wrote the apostle; “we have been bought with a price.” We are ourselves but the last link in the interminable procession of the human race. The true lesson of history and of religion is to make us feel how slight and insignificant is our best work in comparison with the mighty whole. It is to inspire us with the salutary and humbling feeling that our life is being guided by an infinite power and wisdom, who can dispense with any one of us, but who is indispensable to us. And once more: these considerations should guide us in our duties as regards that unknown future which is ever lying in front of us. What we shall be is being determined by what we are to-day. What the national life will be a century hence is, in no small measure, dependent upon the quality and policy of the national life to-day. Labour, then, in modest, self-forgetting devotion to the will of God and His abiding truths, so that the future of the world’s life may be happier and wiser and purer for our lives. Labour as men who, by the most absolute of necessities, will have to give an account of their stewardship of life. Finally, take stock of your own lives, of all that you have passed through, of all the blessings that have crowned your days, of the perils from which you have escaped, of the temptations you have resisted, of the vast stores of life in which you have found your noblest nutriment; and say how much of it originated in your own independent resources and volitions, and how much of it came from sources far above and beyond any power of yours. (J. Vickery.)
Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him.
The last days of Joshua
I. The reasonableness of serving God (verses 14, 15). To serve God, to obey Him, to love Him, to submit heart and life to His control, is only a seemly and adequate acknowledgment of claims felt to be just. God’s character, His mercy, His grace in the gospel, His promises of pardon, the gift of eternal life through His Son, create an obligation which, if it be disregarded, makes our attitude towards God not only sinful, but unreasonable. It is inconsistent with all in us that is true and noble and manly. This is the paradox of sin: it makes one conscious of placing an inferior good above the superior, of seeking for dross and refusing the gold, of plucking a bauble and rejecting the crown.
II. The state of mind required for the service of God (verses 19, 20.) The service of God must be born of something more than impulse. It must be the result of choice; it must be the determined purpose of the whole being to enter and continue in a life of obedience. To every one God is saying, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” Many desire to be Christians, they wish they were the servants of God, but they are unwilling to “choose” to become such. If for a time they set their faces heavenward, they soon turn back. When they sink in the Slough of Despond, they struggle to be free on the side nearest the City of Destruction. Such need to remember that, when the service of God is entered, the will is to be unalterably set towards Him.
III. The right attitude for those who propose to serve God. “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God,” &c. Joshua well understood the benefit arising from such a formal enactment.
1. It would be a test of the strength of their purpose. Often the way to disclose the feebleness of one’s Christian aims is to bring them to the test of an open declaration--to ask, “Are you willing that others should know, that all should know, that you commit yourself unqualifiedly to be the Lord’s?”
2. It would be helpful by bringing to their aid the motive of consistency. Most men desire to act in harmony with their past record.
IV. The value of a single life devoted to the service of God. Joshua’s days are now ended. His work is done, and he is ready for his reward. Few men have lived so worthily. Men are needed everywhere of like decision, and who are ready to thus openly declare for God. Will you be one? (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
Joshua, and his zest for the service of the Lord
This was a great event, and we ought to know the secret of its causes. It was, we see, this old man Joshua’s burning, quenchless zeal for the service of the Lord, kindled full five and sixty years before. It led to results worthy to rank with the revival under Ezra, with the Pentecost at Jerusalem and at Caesarea, with the conversion of Roman emperors and British islanders to Christianity, with the Reformation and the triumphs of Wesley and Whitfield.
I. Zeal for the service of God is born of views which are taken of God. This plainly was the case with Joshua; this was the case with the people also, and universally this must be true. We are asked to view God as creation presents Him (Psalms 19:1-14.). This has, at least, the merit of being poetry of the highest school; it is a thousand pities if it is not true. Oh, does not this vast fabric suggest a God? Perhaps not; but we have got the suggestion somehow, and to our anxious inquiries of her all nature seems to give back a ready affirmative response. We are asked to view God as He is presented to us in the phenomena of mind. One observes that these mental phenomena taper away downwards to the tiniest forms of sentient life. One feels that somehow it must and does, in a corresponding manner, expand in its upward way, and when we have reached the loftiest heights of the finite we seem to come in sight of the lowest rays of light from the throne of the Infinite mind. Then if the Lord our God is one Lord, there will be a concentration of thought on Him; our love will be undivided, rising to suitable proportions to its Infinite object. We are asked to see God in His providence. This is a name we give to a constantly-observed work resulting from an unseen Presence. We notice the perpetual operation of certain great forces in nature, which say nothing so distinctly as they say that they are only the expressions of an all-comprehending and sufficient Power behind them. Can we connect this governing power with that all-pervading mind, and with the creating power of which we have spoken? Yes, I am sure of it. There are unattached threads in all. They evidently find their complements in one another. Then if this is the “God of my life, throughout my days my grateful powers shall sound His praise, my song shall wake with opening light, and cheer the dark and silent night.” But all these are summed up and expressed by the Incarnation. You are asked to view God in Christ. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son hath declared Him.” It is when we view God thus that our zeal for His service will rise and abound; will flow forth and overflow. “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so Divine,” demands a house of prayer, a noble service, Christian toil, more than we can give, or think to give.
II. Zeal for God’s service is nourished by the views which we cherish concerning the character of that service. Our experience and our observation are faithful witnesses hereto. Joshua presents a severe but accurate view of God’s holiness, and then urges a service that shall perfectly accord with it--a service that was pure, and sincere, and true, and grateful. “Serve the Lord,” said he, “in sincerity and truth.” “It must,” he meant to say, “be service of the heart rather than of the hands.” A service which demands the heart nourishes the zeal born of right conceptions of Jehovah. This is living bread, this is water of life. Our God searcheth the heart, but we are not afraid, we are the more confident. The sacrifices He desires are the broken heart, the contrite spirit (Isaiah 66:1-5). But outwardly and visibly it must be pure, as inwardly it was sincere and true. The oldest forms of God’s service were wealthy in sacrifice, and prayers, and Divine blessing. David, the Homer, the Virgil, the Milton of the Hebrews, enriched that service by adding psalmody and music. Later times added the stated reading of the Scriptures, and later still we have the sacraments and the proclamation of the gospel. Of our Christian ritual, then, we boldly say that it supplies us with the green pastures and still waters of God’s Word. It has the spread table of heaven’s bounties, if not dainties. It anoints the devout worshipper with a holy oil, and gives him an overflowing cup. It is the expression of the goodness and mercy which follow every step of the pilgrim, making him glad to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
III. Joshua’s enthusiasm was perfected by his conviction of the influence which the worship of God exerts on men. To tell the history of its influence on individuals is to tell the story of every worthy instance of personal piety. You may seek for them and you will find them among all ranks and kindreds. You may scan the calendar of your own history, and its red-letter days are those you have spent in the service of God. To tell its influence on families would be to write the history of the best of earth’s households and homes from tent to palace. To these God has kept covenant and showed mercy to the fourth generation. What a heritage of mercy! Let us in our families see to it that the legacy never runs out. Let the men of the fourth generation in this descent remember what they ought to do. But how shall we tell its historic influence on the nation? It has supplied the place of navies; invincible armadas have been scattered as forest leaves before it. It has been better than armies, than revenue, than police. (G. Woolnough.)
In sincerity and in truth.
Marks of being sincerely religious
Sincerity is the disposition of soul which alone can recommend us to God, and incline Him to look with an eye of mercy upon the errors and frailties of our conduct.
I. If we would know whether we serve God in sincerity, let us look with an attentive eye into our hearts, in order to trace the true springs or principles of our actions.
II. Another evidence of our serving God in sincerity is, when we are as careful to preserve a good conscience as to save appearances, and act with the same integrity in secret, where God is the sole spectator of our actions, as when they lie open to the view and observation of the world.
III. Another evidence of our serving God in sincerity and in truth is, when we pay an equal regard to the whole law, and mean not, by selecting some favourite duties, to compensate for the habitual violation or neglect of others that happen not to fall in with our taste and inclination.
IV. Another evidence of our serving God in sincerity is, when we resist and overcome temptations; for to serve God in those instances only where we are not tempted to disobey is a very defective test of our integrity. The decisive proof is, when we are faithful to our duty in opposition to seducements, and reject every solicitation that offers to corrupt us.
V. The last evidence I shall mention of our serving God in sincerity is, if, in cases where we are doubtful of the obligation or lawfulness of an action, we always incline to do what appears most conformable to duty, what will best answer the ends of piety, and be most conducive to the honour of religion. (G. Cart, B. A.)
Put away the gods which your fathers served.--
An address to image-worshippers
Here is a forcible address to every image-worshipper, and, indeed, every image-possessor: “Put away these gods from you.” What have any who own the Bible for their guide to do with these vain and worthless toys of sin, these devices of Satan, and degrading productions of ignorance, the very perversions of reason, as well as the corruptions of revelation? They are everywhere the contempt and derision of inspired truth. To make them is directly prohibited, and to destroy them explicitly commanded, so that it may be matter of wonder how any can plead for their use, under any plausibility or pretence, as remembrancers only of spiritual and hidden realities. If in the Church of the Old Testament the very mention of idols, or the keeping any representations of them, became so offensive in the Divine eye, what shall be said of any rivalship in the heart in services and worship offered to saints or angels? Supplications and sacrifices, offered even to holy intelligences, must be idolatry in its spirit, equally offensive to God and opposed to His Word as the most degrading rites of the heathen. Oh, what false gods, what spiritual imagery is formed within the chambers of the heart! Who does not need to put them away, and to cleanse himself from the filthiness of flesh and spirit! How easily does carnal affection change the best of things into the worst l There is nothing but, through the corruption of imagination or sinfulness of affection, may become an idol of the heart. Whatever denies to God supremacy of love, and occupies the regards to be paid to spiritual and eternal realities, that is an idol to be put away; and happy are such who can say, “What have I to do any more with idols?” Choice enters into the very nature of true and sincere religion, so that none serve the Lord cheerfully, acceptably, and with profit, whose heart is not itself a willing offering. (W. Seaton.)
Choose you this day whom ye will serve.
The Christian’s choice
“Seem evil unto you to serve the Lord!” How can the service of the Lord seem evil to any one who is not either wholly void of understanding or altogether hardened against religious impressions? The service of God is exclusive. It does not admit of interference, or of competition, or of divided homage. It must have the whole man. He requires your whole heart--with all its principles, and dispositions, and sensibilities. And if your heart be thus surrendered to Him, the conduct, which is but a demonstration of its influence and actings, will exhibit, in all its departments and in all its bearings a single regard to His will and glory. Now, apply this test to yourselves. It is no doubt a strict and searching one. But it is scriptural and true.
I. Choose you whom you will serve--the Lord, or those idols which an evil heart of unbelief has substituted in His place. You may allege that it does not seem evil to you to serve the Lord. And, speculatively, this may be true; but, practically, it is false. You think, you feel, you act, as if it did seem evil unto you to serve the Lord. There is a latent repugnance in your minds to His service. There is a real devotedness to those whom you ought not to serve which is essentially and irreconcilably inconsistent with a real devotedness to Him whom you ought to serve. And the idea that you are submitting to His sway, when you are, in fact, their slaves, merely because you reject the atrocious saying, that it is “evil to serve the Lord,” and are not disinclined to do many things included in that service, is all a delusion, which, however long it may last in this land of self-deception and shadows, must inevitably be broken. Now, it is our wish that this delusion, so sad and so fatal, under which you labour, should be broken before the day of retribution comes. You have been “halting between two opinions”; embrace one of them and abide by it. You have been trying to amalgamate two systems: abandon the one, and cleave to the other.
II. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” Having acknowledged that you have been in error--grievous, perilous error--why should you delay forsaking it? Is not this to belie your own professed convictions? “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”; and instead of hesitating, as if you might still snatch another pleasure before you renounce your connection with the world, account the time past as far more than sufficient to have wrought the will of the flesh. Wonder at the forbearance of God in not making you long since a monument of His righteous anger against the unholy and impenitent. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”; because the sooner that you enter on God’s service, in its full import, the sooner will you consult the dignity of that rational nature which He has given you, and which you have been hitherto degrading. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”; because to delay the change which a right choice implies will be the means of rendering it more difficult in the end. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”; for if you do not embrace the existing opportunity of devoting your selves wholly and heartily to God, which is your reasonable and bounden service, another opportunity may never be afforded. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
Promptitude of choice recommended
I. The act of choice.
1. Our choice should be Divine in its object. We should choose the Lord for our God.
2. Our choice should be rational in its character. Let us wisely consider what we are doing.
3. Our choice should be decisive in its nature.
4. Our choice should be practical in its operations. Having chosen God, serve Him--
II. The period of choice.
1. We should make our choice this day, because of the criminal neglect of which we have been guilty.
2. From a view of the shortness and uncertainty of our time.
3. Because the present is the only time when God has promised the aid of His Spirit.
4. Because the difficulty of choosing will increase in proportion to our neglect of it.
III. The motives for choice.
1. The capacity which we have for choice is a reason for its exercise. God gives nothing in vain.
2. The perilous state in which we are without this choice is another motive.
3. The happiness that results from our choosing God should prompt us to comply with the requisition in the text. He who has chosen God is in a state of safety and tranquillity. (Sketches of Sermons.)
Religion voluntary, personal, powerful
I. Religion is voluntary.
1. The choice, how ever, is not between religion and no religion. Man is a religious being. Religion is as necessary to his soul as breathing is to his body. To be religious is a necessity, but the kind of religion adopted is a matter of choice. In selecting religion, care should be taken to understand fully the merits of each. The antiquity and popularity of a system, though they show that such a system ought to be examined, are in themselves no arguments in favour of its truth. Truth is beautiful though hated and hooted by the majority of men. The diamond glitters however mean the setting. Like the diamond and the star, truth is beautiful everywhere and always.
2. The choice of religion is limited as to time: “Choose you this day.” The present time is God’s time and ours: “Now is the acceptable time.” We know that; but as for to-morrow, as for the future, we know nothing.
II. Religion is personal. He says, “Choose you.” It cannot be done by proxy. Every man must come to God himself.
III. Religion is powerful. Religion is life; life is example; and example is almost omnipotent. The smallest pebble cast into the quiet pool causes a series of undulations, and the smallest of these leaves its impression, for millions of ages, on the shore; so does the feeblest soul of man, renewed by grace, make a series of moral impressions on the world--impressions whose record will be legible throughout all eternity. (Evan Lewis, B. A.)
On choosing the service of God
It is an act of choice, of preference, to which you are called; one of the most familiar, every-day acts of the mind. You are called to change masters; to renounce the world as your portion and to choose God as your portion; to submit to His authority and control, and henceforth live, not to your self, but to Him who died for you and rose again. And this act of choice or preference is of the nature of a supreme, governing purpose of the mind--such a purpose as gives direction to the current of feeling and desire in the soul.
1. Is it not right that you should choose God as your portion and His service as that which should engage your supreme regards? He is in Himself a being of boundless excellence and glory; your creator, preserver, benefactor, and ruler.
2. The duty in question is enjoined by express command of God.
3. This is a duty which perfectly accords with the nature and destiny of the intelligent, immortal mind with which the Creator has endued you.
4. The choice of God, as the being whom you will serve, is the sum and substance of religion; and you ought all to be religious; friends of God and followers of the Saviour.
5. Every man must choose either God or the world as his portion; and according as he chooses the one or the other, so is his character in the sight of God, and his condition in eternity.
6. There is nothing either within or without you which need prevent your choosing the service of God. He who knows perfectly your frame, your intellectual and moral faculties, and all the circumstances of your condition--He, the God who made and upholds you in being, calls you to enter into His service, to choose Him as your Lord and portion.
7. The service of God is the highest glory of your nature, the most perfect freedom of rational moral beings; the surest and most abundant source of inward comfort and outward prosperity. It exalts those who are devoted to it to an alliance with the purest and noblest beings in the universe, with prophets and apostles, and glorified spirits in heaven; with ministering angels on high, and with God Himself, the supreme good. It sets the soul upon an endless career of improvement in all that is worthy and good, opens before it bright visions of heavenly glory, secures God’s presence and favour for its support and guidance while passing through this world; brings Divine comforts into the bosom in the hour of death, and finally exalts to everlasting rewards in heaven. (J. Hawes, D. D.)
I. Serve the Lord because of His goodness.
II. Serve the Lord because of His wondrous mercy.
III. Serve the Lord because of His love. Let His love in dying for us cause us to serve the Lord.
IV. Serve Him because of His providence.
V. Serve the Lord also because of His salvation. (W. Birch.)
Serving the Lord
I. True religion is a service to the lord. How well this was understood under the old dispensation by truly good men! The Lord was set foremost as the aim of all piety, not man. If you are in another’s service you do not follow your own wishes, but his; you do not aim to please yourself, but him; your business is to help him and promote his interests.
II. The beginning of religion in the heart is with the choice of that service. Shall Christ have dominion over you or the world? Who has the first right? What says reason? what says conscience? what says the voice of your immortal interests? Thus deliberates the soul in the crises of its history. All persons are to be addressed in this matter as free moral agents.
III. To some persons it seems an evil thing to choose the Lord’s service.
1. One reason is that which Joshua gives in the lesson: “Ye cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.” To choose His service is to renounce sin. This is the secret of many irreligious lives.
2. It seems evil to give up idol worship.
3. There is a mortification of pride in the choice of God’s service which often seems evil.
IV. Whether it seems good or evil to choose the Lord’s service, there is a necessity of choosing, and of choosing now.
1. Those Israelites were to weigh the fact that they did that day make some choice. That is the serious dilemma of every awakened soul. You are under the necessity of preferring the service of God or some other.
2. The more important, then, to note that the choice of to-day is likely to be that of to-morrow and all time to come.
3. Last, but not least of all, your choice will have a controlling effect on others. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” What a lesson to all who are in high places! What an example for men of prominence in every community! What an admonition to every father of a family! How wide-reaching is the influence of such persons over the decision of others! (W. E. Knox, D. D.)
The only alternative
There are few delusions more fatal, and yet more common, than that of persons labouring to negotiate a treaty betwixt the service of sin and the service of holiness, striving to reconcile the claims of Christianity with the claims of the world. In many cases of every-day life, neutrality is not only lawful, but commendable. But it is far otherwise in matters of religion and in the high interests of immortality. Here no reserve can be admitted--no demur or debate sanctioned--no discreet caution allowed.
I. The two sides of the alternative proposed.
1. The first particularised is the tragical or fatal side. If you choose this day to give yourselves up to the thrall of your turbulent passions, and to become the slaves of all ungodliness, then drown every rising conviction, strangle in the birth all boding apprehensions and all gloomy forecastings of the future.
2. But if you choose an opposite course, if you prefer the service of Jehovah to the service of Satan, the pleasures of holiness to the pleasures of unrighteousness, then stand not for a moment in fatal hesitation, but range yourselves at once under the standard of the Cross and resign yourselves, without reserve and without condition, to the faith and obedience of the gospel, to the love and service of Christ. Let everything bear attestation to the fact that you consider you have a work to execute of great difficulty and of infinite importance, on the issue of which the whole burden of the destinies of endless ages is staked, and therefore you cannot permit your attention to be for a moment diverted away from this one grand and all-absorbing business of your existence, or your faculties to be engrossed by an inferior object.
II. The special time when this option is to be made and this decision come to: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” In every relation and condition of human life much depends on the cultivation of favourable junctures and the improvement of propitious moments. The greatest revolutions that have taken place, the most splendid victories that have been won, and the most permanent conquests that have been achieved, have all depended upon a judicious estimate and critical application of time. If it be true what a writer has observed, “that it is possible to live a thousand years in a quarter of an hour,” it holds still truer, that a few minutes lost or improved may decide the complexion of our whole destiny for eternity. Seeing, then, that there is equal hazard and criminality in every moment’s delay, in a business so critical and so momentous as the restoration of the soul to God’s favour and image, and the insurance of its eternal well-being, we would with all earnestness press it upon you as your first, your predominant, and your ultimate interest, to give yourselves to God now, to give yourselves to God wholly, and to give yourselves to God for ever. (Joseph Sommerville.)
God’s service as a, choice
“Choose.” God speaks this word to every man amid the thunders of Sinai and the pleadings of Calvary.
1. Christianity is a religion of reason, intelligence, not of authority and force; it appeals to motives; it sets right and wrong, life and death, before every man’s mind and calls upon him to choose between them.
2. The choice is voluntary. No deception is used, and no compulsion of any kind. God never coerced a creature’s will, and He never will, even to save him!
3. The choice in all cases is a personal one, in view of motives: “Choose you,” &c. Each soul will decide his course and destiny, and wilt be required to give account of himself at the judgment.
4. Every one is at liberty to decline God’s service just the same as he is to enter it; but to refuse is to choose. Not to serve Christ is to serve the devil.
5. Hence the entire responsibility of choosing rests on each individual’s mind. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
Reasons for choosing God’s service
1. Justice and equity imperiously demand this of us.
2. The claims of gratitude join in enforcing it
3. The mysteries of redemption.
4. Our best interests are necessarily involved in it. (The Pulpit.)
Joshua’s permission and determination
1. First as to the permission. There is no leave given--and this we wish to be well observed--for the renouncing religion altogether, but only of choosing between the true and the false. Joshua does not say, “Choose whether ye will have the Lord or no God”; but, “Whether ye will have the Lord or the gods of the idolators.” Rut we may not suppose that Joshua here distinguishes atheism from idolatry, as though the people might choose idolatry with a less degree of guiltiness than atheism. He only assumes a broad principle, which the experience of mankind has all along verified, namely, that a nation must have some religion, and that they will worship false gods if they do not worship the true. And then observe, in respect of this permission, that it does not argue indifference on the part of Joshua as to the religion which the people might adopt. He leaves them indeed free to make their election; but still he takes the most effectual made of recommending truth to their acceptance. His declaration as to the religion which he himself would uphold was the giving all his influence to the side of righteousness; and it were not easy to imagine a more dexterous, and at the same time a more powerful, method of bringing the Israelites to yew allegiance to God than thus leaving them their choice, whilst he gave the weight of his own example to the cause which he desired to support. And yet there is more than this to be advanced with regard to the apparent refusal of Joshua to interfere otherwise than by example with the national religion. It would be easy to misrepresent the permission in question--to construe it into an intimation that in matters of religion rulers should leave a people altogether to themselves; but if you consider the circumstances of the Jewish nation when Joshua delivered the address you will perceive that toleration is the only thing enjoined, and not the non-interference of rulers with religion. The Jews were not without an established religion when Joshua bade them choose between truth and error. Their rulers, acting under the immediate direction of God, had woven a system of worship into all the national institutions, and provided, by every possible means, for the instruction of the people in the fear of the Lord. Rulers cannot interfere with conscience, and having established what they know to be the true religion, and determining to uphold it by their example, toleration, and not persecution, is their business. Therefore “choose you this day whom ye will serve”; decide whether ye will be worshippers of Jehovah or idolators with the Amorites. The intrepid leader of Israel’s thousands resolved, even if deserted or opposed by his countrymen, that he would remain staunch in his loyalty to Jehovah. He had satisfied himself as to the nature and demands of true religion; and if none had espoused the same side, his purpose was fixed--to stand alone in the championship of truth. This was sublime, because moral heroism; and Joshua was not a thousandth part as glorious when crossing the Jordan as the captain of the Lord’s host, or bidding the sun stand arrested in the firmament as when, contemplating the possibility of national apostasy, with the image before him of the tribes whom he had led on to victory abandoning the God who had fought all their battles, he uttered the permission and the resolve--“Choose you this day whom ye will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
II. Now, we had intended to speak at length on Joshua’s determination, as we have done on his permission; but, in handling the one, we have touched on most of the points suggested by the other. The wisdom, for example, of Joshua’s choice is demonstrated by the insufficiency of the reasons which were likely to produce a different choice in the Israelites. Neither the antiquity nor the extent of idolatry could justify its adoption; and if, therefore, the ranks of idolators were swelled by accessions from God’s professed people, there would be nothing to warrant a change of purpose in Joshua; and it would still be his wisdom, though it would ask great courage to act on the principle that the Lord alone should be worshipped. Hence the wisdom of the determination requires no proof, whilst its boldness may well put us to the blush, when deterred, as we often are, by a frown or a sneer, from avouching ourselves the resolved servants of God. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The evil and danger of fickleness in religion
I. An intimation of the danger there is that a great part of the world may grow weary of religion, even whilst it is taught in simplicity and truth.
II. An admonition that such as are disposed to throw off the bonds of duty to their maker would think seriously what sort of change they are about to venture upon, and how they hope to be gainers by it.
III. The resolution which prudent men will make, whatever others do, to continue in the practice of it themselves, and preserve a conscientious regard to it amongst all that are placed under their inspection. (Archbp. Secker.)
1. It is here supposed that a nation must be of some religion or other. Joshua does not put this to their choice, but takes it for granted.
2. That though religion be a matter of choice, yet it is neither a thing indifferent in itself nor to a good governor, what religion his people are of.
3. That true religion may have several prejudices and objections against it: “If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord”; intimating that, upon some accounts, and to some persons, it may appear so.
4. That the true religion hath those real advantages on its side, that it may safely be referred to any considerate man’s choice.
5. The example of princes and governors hath a very great influence upon the people in matters of religion. (Archbp. Tillotson.)
Choose God now--a sermon to children
I. Choose. The melancholy majority of men never did choose their course of life, but have been content to take it from circumstances, from accident, from teachers, from outward influences in which they happened to find themselves. And although they may, step by step, have chosen immediate action for immediate results, what a host of people there are that never set clearly before them the definite aim for which they were living. Choose. Standing as you do at the parting of the ways, get a clear notion of what you are aiming at, and do not let yourselves be moulded by mere accident; do not let yourselves be mere children of impulse; do not owe the shape of your lives to the pressure of circumstances; do not let yourselves be ruled by the moment’s inclination; do not be like the weeds in the stream, that move only as it flows. Do not be like the jelly-fishes in the sea, that have no locomotion, or next to none, who are borne along helplessly in the current. “Be a hammer, and not an anvil.” Choose! Do not let the world shape you. Exercise your will, your reason, your conscience. Formulate your purposes, say to yourselves what you mean to be and to do; and say it strongly, for this world is no place for weaklings; and wishes and inclinations and good intentions are all very well, but they are not enough. Will and choose, and in the name of God choose the right.
II. Choose God. I mean choose the God that has come near to you in the Saviour that has loved you and lived for you and died for you; and give your hearts up to Him to be cared for, to be blessed, and your spirits to Him to be cleansed, and to be saved; and then, yielding yourselves to Christ, you will have taken God for your portion. Contrast for one moment the objects that are set before you for your love, trust, and service. And opposite: what a rabble of bestial divinities! Surely there need be no question where a man’s heart may fold its wings, like a weary dove, and rest for evermore. For not only is there a contrast between the objects, but there is also a contrast between the results.
III. Choose God now. It can never be too soon to do what is right and noble; it can never be too soon to do what is duty and safety. And let me tell you four reasons why I pray you this. First, the peril of delay. It is not likely that many of you will be laid in your graves before this day next year; it is certain that some of you will. And because no hand can point to the one that will, let us all listen to the beseeching, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” Second, because of the rapidly increasing difficulty of making a choice, which is a change. When the clay is on the potter’s wheel the lightest touch of the finger can impress it with any form that he desires; when it is taken off and hardened, nothing will change the shape of the vase but smashing it to fragments. Thirdly, because of the loss that you sustain by delay. Why should you be another day without the best blessing that a man can have? Why should you be another day poorer than you need to be? Fourthly, because of the bitter fruits which you are laying up for yourselves by delay, if ever you come to Christ. I would have you “innocent of much transgression.” I would have you to “grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” that you may never have to look back, in the event of a late return to Him, on a life all given to idols, consumed for self and wasted by sin. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. All men have some moral master. The moral monarch of the soul is the object of its supreme regard; the predominant love evermore sways the soul.
II. The moral master is always the object of choice. No soul is coerced into the service of any object.
III. The sooner men choose their moral master the better.
1. Because a wrong moral master will ruin you.
2. Because there is only one right moral Master--the Supreme One. (Homilist.)
Religion founded on reason and the right of private judgm
I. I observe that religion is a voluntary thing and a matter of choice. For mankind are beings endued with reason and liberty, and this alone makes them capable of religion and virtue. Without these powers they would be upon a level with brute creatures, and it is the right or wrong exercise of them that constitutes the moral good or evil of actions.
II. We may infer from the text that no man can re obliged to embrace a religion that is evil, i.e., contrary to reason and the moral fitness of things; but, on the contrary, is bound to reject it. If any scheme of religion undermines the perfections of God, which the reason of our minds can demonstrate from certain principles, it cannot be true. Again, that scheme of religion must necessarily be false, and ought to be rejected with detestation, which dissolves or weakens the obligations to universal purity, and tends to licentiousness and vice. And though religion must be a voluntary thing and a matter of choice, it is, however, our duty, in order to the making this choice, to be diligent and impartial in our inquiries. For the great Author of our nature hath endued it with such faculties, as are proper to distinguish betwixt truth and error, and appear to have been given us for this very purpose. There is also a fixed and certain standard of truth in the reason of things which, in all cases of importance and necessary influence upon our happiness, is sufficiently clear and explicit to well-disposed minds. And again, though we may with safety reject a religion that is unreasonable, that patronises vice, and is dishonourable to Almighty God, yet it must be allowed that, in order to our being able to judge whether it deserves that character or no, we must carefully and calmly examine it.
III. We should learn, from Joshua’s example, to re faithful to the cause of God and the interest of religion and virtue even in times of most general corruption and depravity. Singularity in things indifferent may generally perhaps be an argument of weakness and folly, or of unbecoming stiffness and obstinacy; but men have carried the argument much too far when they have paid so great a compliment to custom as to urge it against the practice of virtue itself. For the obligations of virtue are upon no considerations whatsoever to be dispensed with, much less for a piece of foolish fawning complaisance, and a man of reason would never consent to do a thing that was really dishonourable for the sake of avoiding undeserved reproach. Again, to daze to be singularly good is an argument of great resolution and strength of mind, and of a confirmed and established virtue: for such must that virtue be which repels the contagion of ill-examples, and flags not at reproaches and ill-treatment.
IV. I shall conclude all with observing that the design of Joshua, to use his utmost credit and influence with his more immediate dependents for the support and maintenance of religion, was truly noble and generous, and what it will be highly for the honour of every one of us to imitate. (James Foster.)
Joshua’s proposition and resolution
First, Joshua took it for granted that a nation must have a religion of one sort or other. His whole address is built upon this principle; and if there had been a middle way between serving the God of Israel and serving other gods, his discourse would have been inconclusive. Some have pretended that a society of atheists might be tolerably good, and regulated by humane motives, by present rewards and punishments, by shame, disgrace, fear, honour, good-nature, reputation, and self-interest. But this cannot be. Take away religion, and you take away with it the influence of conscience and the strongest motives to social duties. Nothing remains on which mutual reliance can be firmly grounded. All will be done in compliance with external power, and every law will be disregarded, when it may be done with secrecy or impunity and with any present pleasure or profit. Religion, then, is a matter of deliberation and choice. Amidst the diversity of opinions and of worship which divide the world, to walk at hazard in the first path that lies before us, and to which birth and education direct us, and to continue boldly in it without any sort of conviction that it is the right way, this is not the behaviour of rational agent. God will be loved freely and unconstrainedly, and served by choice and preference. He requires a reasonable service, and man being a rational, a free agent, ought to be able to give some account and some reason for his belief and his actions, and to be afraid to compare truth and falsehood, God and an idol, and to examine which deserves the preference, is doing wrong to God and to His truth. A third remark is upon the time when this is to be done. There is an ago of life, and there are occasions, when every one should resolve and make his choice. “Choose you this day,” says Joshua. To-day, with every person, is the time when his understanding is mature and opportunities offer. In a Christian nation everything invites us to remember our Creator--the voice of conscience, the example of the wise and good, and the public religion. Here is another thing observable in the text. Joshua supposeth that the Israelites might be weary of serving God, and think His laws to be an unsupportable burden. If it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, how can it seem evil to any rational creature to serve the true and the living Lord? But consult experience and matter of fact, and you will find that men have often been disgusted at truth, and weary of a reasonable service. Thence the inconstancies, rebellions, idolatries, and apostasies of the Jewish nation. True religion hath its difficulties and its dark side, and in some respects may be disagreeable. False religions have in some respects more allurements, are more easy, and more accommodated to indolent inattention, to carnal and corrupted minds. And yet, notwithstanding these advantages of error, no reasonable person can make it a doubt which ought to be preferred. Religion hath its difficulties relating both to faith and to practice, both to the understanding and to the heart. As to faith, it contains things hard to be received by worldly-minded persons. I observed before that false religions may in many respects be more agreeable than the true one to persons of a carnal and sensual temper. Joshua supposed that the religion of the Chaldeans or of the Canaanites might appear such to the people of Israel, when he said to them, “If you will not serve the Lord, choose whether you will serve the gods of your forefathers or the gods of the nations where you now dwell.” Here, then, were two false religions to choose out of. Both might please them by their antiquity; and as to that of the inhabitants of Palestine, the Israelites by adopting it might make themselves acceptable to their neighbours. And both these religions, though they might have different objects of worship or different names for their gods, agreed in this, that they taught the worship of many deities and the use of images, and such ceremonies as amused the senses, and required no integrity and purity of heart. If you consider all the more remarkable false religions that have been or are in the world, and all the corrupted systems of true religion, you shall find that they recommend themselves by one or other of these four privileges and characters--either antiquity or extent or ceremonious pomp, or an accommodation to the follies and vices of men. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” If the doctrines of revealed religion concerning the perfections and the providence of God and the doctrines of revealed religion taught us in the gospel have in them some obscurity and difficulty, it is no more than might justly be expected from the sublime subject. All atheistical and idolatrous systems are, beyond comparison, harder to be admitted by a reasonable man. The moral part of religion is conformable to our nature; and if it be contrary to our depraved inclinations, that is our own fault. Religion hath motives to induce us, examples to direct us, assistances for our infirmities, and helps in time of distress; and if God be a holy and a jealous God, He is also a God of mercy, who forgives and receives the penitent. The boasted advantages and prerogatives of false religions are false and unsound at the bottom. Having considered the wisdom of Joshua’s choice, let us consider his person. He was the prince of God’s people, and, like Moses, had the authority though not the title of king. Princes and rulers of nations are as much obliged as the meanest of their subjects to serve God. Their example is of great consequence, and whether they walk in the paths of virtue or of vice they induce others to walk after them. Observe also that the prince of Israel answers for himself and for his family. “I and my house will serve the Lord.” He was a wise and a happy man; happy to be so fully assured of the good disposition of his household. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
An honourable servitude
There are words which will never be popular--as service, servant, master. They carry the idea of humiliation. Every man seeks independence; all aim for position to be at least equal to the highest, the best. Yet service is honourable, if the master is sufficiently honourable. All men are servants of some master. We are all under authority.
I. The service of God is the most honourable in the world.
II. The honour is to be seen in the work the christian is called upon to do.
III. Observe the treatment received by those who serve God. A servant wishes kind, generous, just treatment. The service of Satan is at first pleasant, then ends in shame and remorse. Where is the liberty of him who serves appetite, passion? Ask Lord Byron. Said he, “I have not had ten happy days.” Lord Chesterfield declared, “I have been the whole round of pleasure, and I am disgusted; and for myself, I mean to sleep in my carriage for the rest of my journey.” Sinners, you think you are free; loaded with shackles, yet know it not.
IV. The time will come when the final settlement will be made. (G. E. Reed.)
I can see where you are, you betweenites. The saints will be ashamed of you, because you did not join with Christ in the day of battle, and the adversary himself will despise you because you shrank away even from him. Be one thing or the other. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A fated decision
A young soldier from Glasgow was talking to a comrade. In their ears was the muffled sound, the “Dead March in Saul,” as a comrade was carried to his last resting-place; and this Glasgow soldier, converted up there at Maryhill, was talking to his friend, and pleading with him to come to Christ. The young Highlander there in the funeral march was terribly impressed, and he said, “Jack, I will be a Christian when I leave the service.” He had just nine months to put in. He said, “I am determined to be a Christian when I leave the service.” Ah! that was his decision. Next week there came orders for the 79th to embark for Egypt. The two friends were in the march across the sands to the Arab encampment of Tel-el-Kebir, marching side by side--the one with the acceptance of salvation in his heart, and the other putting it off till he should leave the service. Softly did they walk across these sands, silently did they steal through the darkness of midnight to the camp of the slumbering Arabs; but the sentinels were on the alert, and they saw a flash of light, and five hundred rifles from the Arab encampment poured their bullets on the advancing Highlanders; and there, dead and cold, was the body of the man who put off the acceptance till he should leave the service. Oh, comrade, what a fatal decision! (J. Robertson.)
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
I. If we attend to the writings of some, and the manners of more, in the present age, we shall be led to think that we are not to serve either God or man; in a word, that we are born free and independent. Why, we should not live six hours after our birth in such a state. From the first moment in which we see light, we depend, for preservation and support on the good offices of those around us; they depend on others, and all on God. Man being thus dependent, it is but reasonable that he should acknowledge such dependence, and that he should serve.
II. Whom he should serve. For, as the apostle has remarked, “there are gods many and lords many,” who, in different ages, have obtained the homage of mankind. The oldest and first idolaters worshipped the powers of nature instead of the God of nature. The world, with its fashions and its follies, its principles and its practices, has been proposed in form to Englishmen as the proper object of their attention and devotion. A late celebrated nobleman has avowed as much with respect to himself, and by his writings said in effect to it, “Save me, for thou art my god!” At the close of life, however, his god, he found, was about to forsake him, and therefore was forsaken by him. “I have run,” says this man of the world, “the silly rounds of business and pleasure, and have done with them all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and, consequently, know their futility, and do not regret their loss. I think of nothing but killing time the best I can now he has become mine enemy. It is my resolution to sleep in the carriage during the remainder of the journey.” When a Christian priest speaks slightingly of the world he is supposed to do it in the way of his profession, and to decry, through envy, the pleasures he is forbidden to taste. But here, I think, you have the testimony of a witness every way competent.
III. How we are to serve God. A concise way of coming at this will be, to reflect upon the qualifications you require in a good servant, and to see that they be found in yourselves, considered as the servants of God. These qualifications may all be reduced to two--that he be careful to know the will of his master and diligent to do it. In our inquiries after the will of God we are often apt to be partial. We inquire after only such parts of it as may happen to coincide with our circumstances, our situation, our tempers, our constitutions, our interests. But there are no reserves in St. Paul’s question: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Whatever it may be, whatever the difficulties, whatever the consequences, I am ready. There is yet a different error in the conduct of men. It is when they employ themselves to discover the obligations and the failings of others, entirely forgetful of their own. The last mistake that shall be mentioned, relative to our inquiries after the will of God, is, when we make those inquiries as matter of speculation only, as an amusement of the mind. (Bp. Horne.)
Decision for the Lord
I. First, let me describe it. It means many things, all of which must be wrought in us by Divine grace, or we shall never possess them, though we may have their counterfeits.
1. Decision implies, first, that all hesitation is gone. You will make no journey, O traveller, if, now that the sun is in its zenith, you do not decide which way to walk! Mariner, your voyages will be scant if you much longer lie at anchor! The season of favourable winds is passing away, and yet your sail remains unfilled; will you never have solved the problem, “To what port shall I steer? With what cargo shall I load my ship?” Is our life to end in a constant repetition of the question, “What shall I be?”
2. This state of heart indicates superiority to the evil influence of others. Our own understandings should now be exercised, or else why are they given to us? God waits to guide us, but He would have us cry to Him, and not follow the trail of our fellows.
3. Right decision for God is deep, calm, clear, fixed, well grounded, and solemnly made. Joshua does not speak his determination lightly. He speaks with immovable resolve: his soul is anchored and defies all storms--“As for me and my house we will, despite crowds and customs, we will, despite temptations and trials, we will, despite idols or devils, to the end of the chapter serve Jehovah.”
4. That resolve on the part of Joshua was openly avowed. That is sorry courage which skulks behind the bushes: that is poor loyalty which never utters the king’s name; that is questionable decision which dares not own itself to be on the Lord’s side. Are you not ashamed of being ashamed, and afraid to be any longer afraid?
5. In Joshua’s case his resolve was not only openly avowed, but earnestly carried out. He was a soldier, and if any one had asked him, “Whose soldier are you, Joshua?” he would have answered, “I am God’s soldier.” “Whose battles do you fight?” “I fight the battles of Jehovah.” “And what is your object in fighting?” “To glorify Jehovah.”
6. Joshua’s decision was adhered to throughout the whole of his life. He had begun early in the service of God, and he never repented of it. Blessed are they who have this abiding thoroughness in the cause of the Lord their God.
II. Let me now praise decision. In religion nothing is more desirable than to be out-and-out in it.
1. To enjoy religion you must plunge into it. To wade into it up to the ankles may make you shiver with anxieties, doubts, and questionings, till you resemble a trembling boy unwillingly entering a bath on a cold morning; but to plunge into its depths is to secure a glow of holy joy. The central position iii religion is the sweetest. The nearer to God the sweeter the joy.
2. Decision for God enables a man to direct his way. David prayed, “Lead me in a plain path because of mine enemies,” and the man who has made up his mind by Divine grace that he will serve the Lord has that prayer fulfilled.
3. This saves many men from temptation. As a giant walks along unconscious of the cobwebs across his path, so does a thoroughly consecrated man break through a thousand temptations, which indeed to him are no longer temptations at all.
4. Thorough-going men wield a mighty influence. Joshua was able to speak for his house as well as for himself. Many fathers cannot speak for themselves, and therefore you may guess the reason why they cannot speak for their families.
III. I close by demanding this decision for Christ which I have described and praised. Decision is required because the Lord deserves to have it. He who made us ought not to be served hesitatingly; He who gave His Son to die for us ought not to be trifled with. By the splendour of Deity, and the glory of the Cross, I claim your whole hearts for my Lord. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Joshua’s resolution to serve the Lord
I. The occasion of these words.
II. What is included in the resolution?
1. A solemn and exclusive worship of God from the heart.
2. In all the actions of our life to have respect to the will of God, to seek to please Him, to seek to glorify Him.
3. There are three ingredients in the service of God that may be considered as giving vitality to it.
(1) The first is sincerity. The servant of God makes an entire surrender of himself to the service of God, and keeps back nothing from Him.
(2) Next, this obedience must be minute--His service must be universally adhered to. There is a harmony and consistency between all the parts of real practical religion, so that they cannot be separated one from another, and if we separate them we deceive ourselves and lose sight of God.
(3) Another ingredient in the service of God, if it be true and genuine, is that, like the principle from which it proceeds, it is permanent and abiding.
III. Some of the reasons why we should close with the resolution of Joshua.
1. It is our duty to serve the Lord from the relation in which we stand to Him and the unspeakable benefits we derive from His goodness.
2. The grand distinction of man above the other creatures consists in such a constitution of our nature as appears to have no other end or object but that of qualifying us for the end of worshipping God.
3. Consider, next, the great rewards which hereafter necessarily accompany the service of God.
4. Recollect, again, the impossibility of neutrality and the danger of delay.
5. Recollect, in a very short time, if you are not employed in the service of God, you will have no portion, no employment beneficial or dignified or delightful to all eternity. (R. Hall, M. A.)
Concerning resolution and steadfastness in religion
I. Of the brave resolution of a good man, that if there were occasion, and things were brought to that extremity, he would stand alone in the profession and practice of God’s true religion.
1. The matter of this resolution. Joshua here resolves that, if need were, he would stand alone in the profession and practice of the true religion. And this is not a mere supposition of an impossible case, which can never happen; for it may, and hath really and in fact happened in several ages and places of the world.
2. The due limits and bounds of this peremptory resolution. In all matters of faith and practice which are plain and evident, either from natural reason or from Divine revelation, this resolution seems to be very reasonable; but in things doubtful, a modest man--and every man hath reason to be so--would be very apt to be staggered by the judgment of a very wise man; and much more of many such, and especially by the unanimous judgment of the generality of men, the general voice and opinion of mankind being next to the voice of God Himself.
II. To vindicate the reasonableness of this resolution from the objections to which this singular and peremptory kind of resolution may seem liable.
1. It may very speciously be said that this does not seem modest for a man to set up his own private judgment against the general suffrage and vote. And it is very true that about things indifferent a man should not be stiff and singular, and in things doubtful and obscure a man should not be over-confident of his own judgment; but in things that are plain, either from Scripture or reason, it is neither immodesty nor a culpable singularity for a man to stand alone in defence of the truth, because in such a case a man does not oppose his own single and private judgment to the judgment of many, but the common reason of mankind and the judgment of God plainly declared in His Word.
2. It is pretended that it is more prudent for private persons to err with the Church than to be so pertinacious in their own opinions. To which I answer, that it may indeed be pardonable in some cases to be led into mistake by the authority of those to whose judgment and instruction we ought to pay a great deference and submission, provided always it be in things which are not plain and necessary; but surely it can never be prudent to err with any number, how great soever, in matters of religion which are of moment, merely for numbers’ sake; but to comply with the known errors and corruptions of any Church whatsoever is certainly damnable.
3. It is pretended yet further, that men shall sooner be excused in following the Church than any particular man or sect. To this I answer, that it is very true, if the matter be doubtful, and especially if the probabilities be equal, or near equal, on both sides; but if the error be gross and palpable, it will be no excuse to have followed any number of men, or any Church whatsoever.
4. It is objected, that as, on the one hand, there may be danger of error in following blindly the belief of the Church, so, on the other hand, there is as great a danger of schism in forsaking the communion of the Church, upon pretence of errors and corruptions. Very true; but where great errors and corruptions are not only pretended, but are real and evident, and where our compliance with those errors and corruptions is made a necessary condition of our communion with that Church, in that case the guilt of schism, how great a crime soever it be, doth not fall upon those who forsake the communion of that Church, but upon those who drive them out of it by the sinful conditions which they impose upon them. (Abp. Tillotson.)
Concerning family religion
I. I shall show wherein the practice of this duty doth consist. The principal parts of it are these following:--
1. Setting up the constant worship of God in our families.
2. Instructing those committed to our charge in the fundamental principles and in the careful practice of the necessary duties of religion.
3. I add further, as a considerable part of the duty of parents and masters of families, if they be desirous to have their children and servants religious in good earnest, that they do not only allow time and opportunity, but that they do also earnestly charge them to retire every day, but more especially on the Lord’s day, to pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins; and for His mercy and blessings upon them, and likewise to praise Him for all His favours conferred upon them from day to day.
4. One of the most effectual ways to make those who are under our authority good is to be good our selves, and by our good example to show them the way to be so. Without this our best instructions will signify but very little, and the main efficacy of them will be lost.
II. Our obligation to it.
1. In point of duty. All authority over others is a talent entrusted with us by God for the benefit and good of others, and for which we are accountable, if we do not improve it and make use of it to that end.
2. We are hereto likewise obliged in point of interest; because it is really for our advantage that those that belong to us should serve and fear God, religion being the surest foundation of the duties of all relations and the best security for the true performance of them. Would we have dutiful and obedient children, diligent and faithful servants? Nothing will so effectually oblige them to be so as the fear of God and the principles of religion firmly settled in them.
III. The causes of the so common and shameful neglect of this duty, to the exceeding great decay of piety among us.
1. This may in good part be ascribed to our civil confusions and distractions.
2. This great neglect and decay of religious order in families is chiefly owing to our dissensions and differences in religion, upon occasion whereof many, under the pretence of conscience, have broke loose into a boundless liberty.
IV. The very mischievous and fatal consequences of the neglect of this duty.
1. To the public. Families are the first seminaries of religion, and if care be not there taken to prepare persons, especially in their tender years, for public teaching and instruction, it is like to have but very little effect.
2. To ourselves. We can have no manner of security of the duty and fidelity of those of our family to us if they have no sense of religion, no fear of God before their eyes. If children were carefully educated, and families regularly and religiously ordered, what a happy and delightful place, what a paradise, would this world be in comparison of what now it is? (Abp. Tillotson.)
I. True religion consists in the service of God.
II. They who truly serve god make his service a matter of choice.
III. If the service of god is the object of our choice, it is our duty to engage ourselves to it by open profession and solemn covenant.
IV. If we have devoted ourselves to the service of god it is our duty to use every means to engage others in it. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Historical and family religion
The valedictory charge of Joshua clearly shows that the Jewish religion was built upon a definite historical experience; was founded on the rocks of impregnable fact. Never in the whole course of their history had the Israelites found God unfaithful to His promises or forgetful of His threatenings; and as God had been from the beginning, so (said Joshua) will He continue to the end. What God has been He will ever be, what tie has done He ever will do--therefore “choose ye,” said Joshua, “this day whom you will serve.” If history proves that the Lord Jehovah is God, then follow Him and faithfully obey His voice. This, then, is what we mean by an historical religion. An historical religion is an appeal to the witness of the past as a groundwork and reason for present allegiance to God. And as the Jewish religion was an historical religion, so also is the Christian religion. The Christian religion is not a doctrine of ideas, an untested philosophical theory: it is founded on the life of an historical Person, for Christ is no less historic than Divine. And as Jewish leaders and prophets appealed to the witness of history, so likewise have Christian guides and teachers, from the earliest times, made history a principal reason for faith. All true religion, however, and most notably the religion of the Bible, is much more than an historic faith. Its foundations lie deep and strong in history; but its superstructure is continuously and essentially practical. Historic religion, like historic knowledge, is useless unless it serves as the guide and inspiration of daily conduct. The use of history chiefly consists in its application of the experiences of the past to the circumstances and resolutions of the present. It was this use to which Joshua applied the striking historical survey of his great valedictory charge. Upon the ground of their historical experiences he based his fervid appeal to the Jewish people to make choice of Jehovah as their national Deity, and to remain consistently faithful in their allegiance to Him. Whatever became of the national religion, his own family religion at least should be settled and unwavering in its loyalty to Jehovah. Family religion is the best beginning for all religious life. The Church in the house is the best temple for the education of righteousness and true holiness. As the sun is the centre of the earth’s light and heat, so from the family radiates throughout the world the heat and light of religion. When families are religious, nations are religious; when families are religious, individuals also are religious. Even the very structure of the Bible seems to lend authority to the conviction of the primary importance of family religion. The three great divisions of the Old Testament--the law, the prophets, the psalms or hagiographa--broadly represent the three great spheres in which religion ought to work. The book of the law, the foundation of all revelation, was written during the patriarchal period. It describes the origin, the management, the sacred functions, of the family. In the New Testament, also, great stress is laid upon family religion. As nature makes families into little kingdoms, so Christianity makes families into little Churches. It was in the devotion of family life that Jesus nursed His faculty for worship and His character for holiness. It is impossible to conceive any institution hedged round with more firm and higher walls than the institution of the family. The New Testament regards the family as a Divine institution, and its relationships as sacred, heavenly, relationships. It cannot but be that an institution with an origin and sanctions so Divine, should be intended to work out great blessings for humanity. And all experience proves that family love and family religion are more fruitful of happiness and holiness than any other single source; and that family discords and family irreligion are the cause of endless miseries and countless iniquities. (Canon Diggle.)
The cloister of grapes; or, family prayer
Man, we all know, is not made to live alone. None of us could do so, even if we wished it. As no man can come into the world without a father or mother to bring him into it--as no child, when it has received the gift of life, could keep that gift for much more than a single round of the clock without some one to tend and feed it--in like manner, after we are grown up, and have gained strength to stand alone, we still need the help of our brethren in a thousand ways. Every worthy and reasonable and honourable work which man is permitted to perform can only be performed by him so far as he lives in union and communion with his brethren. Thus too is it with the highest and most precious of all the gifts which God has bestowed on mankind, the religion of Christ. This also is a gift which cannot be received alone, which cannot be enjoyed alone, which cannot be turned to any use alone. In giving it to man God did not give it to him as standing alone, but as living in communion with his brethren. He purposes that in spiritual things, as well as in temporal things, we should help and feed each other, that we should nourish each other with the bread of life, as well as with the bread that perishes. You remember our Lord’s beautiful parable in which He compares Himself to the vine and His disciples to the branches. All the members of the same family, all the members of the same parish, should draw their spiritual life from the heavenly Vine, not singly, but together, joining heart and soul in the exercises and offices of devotion, and keeping in mind that it is when two or three are gathered together that our Lord has promised to be in the midst of them. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This should be the plain, the avowed, the steadfast resolution of every one who bears rule in a house, of every master of a household, of every father, of every mother of a family. When God ordains that every one should be the master or the mistress of a household, He likewise ordains that they should take care of those who are under their authority, and should look upon them as committed to their special charge. In like manner when He is pleased to grant any one the blessing of being a father or a mother He links this blessing with the duty of taking care of the children, of bringing them up, of providing for them. We shall have to give account, not only for our own souls, but also, more or less, for the souls of those whom God has committed to our charge. Let this then be your watchword, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It is not enough for you to say, “As for me, I will serve the Lord.” A grape never stands alone: it is always part of a cluster. In truth no one can feel any hearty desire to serve the Lord himself, without being at the same time anxious that others also, that his friends and neighbours, above all, that the members of his own household, should bear their part in thin godly service. And one of the ways in which it behoves you to provide that your house shall serve the Lord is by setting up His worship in your house, by taking care that you and your whole house join day by day in serving Him with prayer and thanksgiving and praise. Most important, too, is it that every family should be perpetually reminded that, as a family, it is a Christian family--that the Church is not God’s only house in the parish, but that every house in the parish ought to be a house of God. We have been led by our Lord’s parable to liken a Christian family and a Christian congregation to a cluster of grapes. Such are they, if they hang from the true Vine, if the life which springs from the true Vine be ever flowing into them through prayer--through prayer offered up in brotherly communion one beside the other. And what can give a more beautiful image of the love, the neighbourly kindness, the peace, which ought to prevail in a brotherhood of Christians, than a cluster of grapes? None of them seems to have any desire of thrusting itself forward before the others, or of pushing them into the background, or of showing itself off at their cost. On the contrary each seems contented to stand just peeping out of its cell, half hidden by its neighbours, retiring behind them, and almost, as it were, in honour preferring them. Such are the grapes of the true Vine. Such are the families in the living Church of Christ. They hang from Him. Their love flows into them from Him; and therefore they love each other. (J. C. Hare, M. A.)
The Christian household
The household is not an accident of nature, but an ordinance of God. The household is a representation, on a small scale as regards numbers, but not as regards the interests concerned, of the great family in heaven and earth. The father of a household stands most immediately in God’s place. Of all the influences which can be brought to bear on man, paternal influence may be made the strongest and most salutary, and whether so made or not is ever of immense weight one way or the other. For remember that paternal influence is not that which the father strives to exert merely, but that which in matter of fact he does exert. None so keen to see into a man’s religion as his own household. He may deceive others without, he may deceive himself, he can hardly long succeed in deceiving them. But if, on the other hand, his religion is really a thing in his heart; if he moves about day by day as seeing One invisible; if the love of Christ is really warming the springs of his inner life, then, however inadequately this is shown in matter or in manner, it will be sure to be known and thoroughly appreciated by those who are ever living their lives around him. But in treating of a household ruled in the fear of God another most important influence comes to be considered--one which, without holding so paramount a place as the first, yet ever lies closer to the hearts of children, and is more wound about all their schemes and plans. From the very necessities of life the father is kept ordinarily at a distance from his family during a great portion of his time. He is that one of the household who goes forth into the external world and savours of it; and thus not only in continuity, but in character also, his influence is in some measure broken; lying at some little distance, not employed on the thoughts and schemes of his children till they have acquired some degree of consistency; not called in to mould and cherish their first openings of intention and desire. This necessary deficiency is, however, amply and most graciously supplied by the mother of a household. She is ever the ministering angel to her children; with the same hand guiding their infant steps, and smoothing the fevered pillow of after-life; with the same voice teaching them their infant prayers, and with quiet and loving admonition tempering the waywardness of the rising spirits of youth. And thus while she shares in many of the feelings of reverence and affection due to the father, she yet has a narrower circle of her own. To her is committed by God the training and forming of each individual character among her children; in her bosom will take root those finer fibres of personal feeling from which, after all, our strongest emotions are fed. Oh that every Christian mother were living and moving in her household in the full consciousness of this power and this responsibility! Much might be said on a mother’s share in the after-training of her children, even when other help is requisite and necessary; but it is only one very short and simple thing which need be said on their earliest training--it is a matter to which a mother alone is competent, a sacred duty which she can never neglect, and ought never to delegate. (Dean Afford.)
The charities of the Christian household
I wish now to speak of the good works of the Christian household, its religious standing and progress within, and its beneficent employments without, for the good of man and the glory of God. Now we must lay the foundation of all such external duties in the religion of the household. Let the well-spring of the religion of the family be in the closet and by the bedside of the father and mother. And not only this, but let the children, let the servants see that it is so, and learn to take not precept only, but pattern from them. And if the foundation be thus laid, let us go on to inquire what, and how raised, must be the building. First of all, it must be real, consistent with itself; raised for a dwelling, and not for a show. In a man’s own religion reality is the first and most constant requisite; but where influence is to be exerted over others it is even doubly necessary. Hearts are not won by words, nor will knees ever so often bended prompt one syllable of prayer. And here is often a fault in Christian heads of families. Their own religion is real--felt in their hearts, and shown in their lives. But their way of putting it forth is unreal. They are perhaps the bondsmen of a rigid system, or they fall into the opposite extreme, and leave that on which they themselves feel so deeply to take its chance among those whom God has given them to train for Him. In the one case, that of rigid adherence to system, the force of their own example is marred, the attraction of their own faith and love disturbed; in the other they are bearing indeed good seed, but sow it not, letting human nature, which ever wants help from above and from around, get its good as it best may. How often do we see heads of families, whom we know to be earnest and genuine Christian men and women, yet attempting to guide their households by the merest and emptiest commonplaces, which never had, and never can have, life or power in them. Oh that we knew and remembered this--that nought unreal will ever stand God’s test of time and trial. You may teach the child his theological lesson ever so well; he may be apt to distinguish, apt to retain, ready to profess; yet meantime, if you have not preoccupied it, the heart, which really guides the life, will have been learning from things themselves another and a surer lesson, and you will find, when the voyage of life begins, that voyage which you had expected would be so straight and so sure, that another hand than yours is on the helm. In promoting family religion let parents study the hearts of their children. Let them see what those cords really are which, according as they are drawn one way or the other, turn the course of life itself. Let them remember what it was in their own case which really influenced them for good, and reflect that their children are like themselves. Win the heart, and the victory is yours. Lose that, and you have lost all. Before I pass to the outward acts and fruits of family religion let me exemplify these remarks in two departments of the inner life of the household: in their use of the Bible and in family prayer. The Bibles of a household, if they could testify, would be no bad witnesses respecting its religion. And I fear their testimony would be often of a sad and a startling kind. The Bible in the chamber, how often is it taken down for genuine use? The contents of that Bible, how much is known of them? I do not believe there ever was an age when the Bible has been so much printed and so little read as in our own. And this is the book which is to be a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths. And therefore one of the very first cares in a Christian and Protestant household ought to be that the Bible may be known by all its members: known, I mean, by familiarity with its contents, and a habit of thinking and speaking intelligently on them, and a habit also--for this should never be forgotten--of their devotional use. It is plain that this subject might be pursued much further, but we must drop it now, to mention another nearly connected with it--I mean that of family prayer. Family prayer is an absolute necessity of the Christian household. It is indeed an affecting and solemn sight; and it might be a vast opportunity for good. Here is a priest of whose power we can never speak too highly, a teacher standing in the place of God Himself. But what are, for the most part, his ministrations--what his instructions? To judge from the books which have been printed for use at such times, for the most part, I fear, formal, disconnected, lifeless; or if earnest and fervent, then passing perhaps into another fault equally fatal to usefulness-lengthy and tedious. The effect of this must be mischievous. You cannot expect children, you cannot expect servants, to love and consult and study a work which you have accustomed them to loathe and to be weary over. Nor, to recur back to the other fault again, can you expect them really to feel wants which have been so long lifelessly and formally expressed; uttered perhaps in words far above their comprehension, and in a strain to which their simple minds never attained. Of all united acts of the family this one should most bear the impress of life and reality. Read no more than the ear, no more than the mind can retain--and that little with earnestness and solemnity. If explanation is given let it be short and to the point--neither dilating nor diluting. And with regard to prayer, the rule should be of the same kind. The simpler the better. And I may also say, without fear of being misunderstood, the shorter the better. But from these counsels respecting the inner life of the family we must pass now to its outward fruits of its religion. And here at once let me say that such fruits ought always to be found. There never ought to be such a thing as a hidden family religion in any sense, and least of all in the sense of being without visible and sensible fruit for good. And in family charity, as in all other family duties, the spring must ever be found in the heads of the household. Let them be known by their children and dependents to be engaged in works of charity and mercy. And in their places and proportions let each, even the humblest member, be encouraged, as soon as self-control and responsibility begin, to bear a part in such works. And I cannot impress it too strongly on young persons that this duty is binding on them from the moment that they can call money or time their own. Whatever is allowed you by your parents for ordinary purposes, all of it belongs to God, and you are but His steward. On the beneficence due from every Christian household to the poor and needy around it I will not at present enlarge; it is a wide subject, and comes before us in the course of our teaching in various ways. I will only say no household can escape its claims or venture, from any excuse, to set them aside. But I would especially now speak of that other department of a Christian family’s benevolence which should be spent in their work as disciples of Him who commanded us to enlighten all nations with the word of His truth. Every Christian is described in Scripture as holding forth the word of truth, shining as a light in the world. Every Christian is a missionary, and ought to be employed in the work of one--either in personal labour and influence, or by contribution to institutions established for the purpose. And as a family duty this possesses peculiar interest. In Christ are all families of the earth blessed. (Dean Alford.)
The mutual duties of the family
From the tone of these words we see that they are not the voice of one man only. There is about them a concerted determination, they bear evidence of deliberation having been had, and a combined resolution come to. There is something even of triumphant union about them, something of a challenge to Israel to look and see whether they of whom they are said did not fulfil them by serving the Lord. Every member of a household, whether among children or domestics, has a place assigned by God and a solemn account to render to Him. I will touch on this portion of our subject--the duties of the members of a household, and their reflection on those who are set at the head of it. If I were to ask what is the first duty of a child to a parent the answer would be one and uniform. All would say, obedience. Yet is this quite understood? At all events, is it generally acted on? What I understand by obedience being the first duty of young persons to their parents is this--that, irrespective of all concurrence of their own individual approval with what is ordered, there is a sacredness about a parent’s word, because it is so, which ensures prompt and ready compliance. I would say, then, to my young friends, guard carefully and with all diligence this your chief jewel and treasure--constant and scrupulous obedience. It is the bloom of your whole character. Nothing becomes you so well--nothing contains so great promise for your future days. It is a link which, between a loving and wise parent and a Christian child, is never dissolved; and I know of no sight so pleasing as to see men and women, moving in life and filling important posts which God has assigned them, and yet with reverence and affection retaining the pious habits of childhood and youth--observing the wishes and ruling themselves by the guidance of an aged parent. I am sure I need not remind ourselves who are parents how very solemn is the position of one who is thus to be obeyed--how necessary the wisdom which is from above to guide us in guiding them. I need not say how much love, how much consistency, how much temper is required to lead up and train this sacred principle of obedience, so that it be not relaxed on the one hand nor overstrained on the other. Before I pass on to the other great division of the members of a family, let me say a word to young persons as to the direct subject of the resolution in our text--the service of the Lord. You will some day know and feel, on looking back over these first years of life, that it is the memory of the service of God which constitutes the real charm of your recollections of home. And if it is but fitting to say something of those others who dwell under the roof of a household to minister to their wants, I would say to the servants in our households, Your gracious Father in heaven has called you out of your own country and from your own father’s house, and He has caused you to be adopted into other families, of a rank and situation in life different from your own. If you are His servants your position is one full of interest, and full of honour. He has put you in reach of many blessings, both temporal and spiritual, to which others of your family have not access. And more especially is this so ii your lot is cast in a household where God is feared and served. But as the servant’s life is one of much and undoubted privilege for good, so is it one of enormous temptation to evil. There is no class of persons in our days the contemplation of whom more fills the Christian mind with sadness, or suggests more forcibly the frightful account which the votaries of fashion and pleasure will one day have to give. How many souls have the ungodly heads of a household helped to ruin, or been the means of ruining altogether? God sent to them, to be kept and influenced for Him, dependents whose souls were as valuable as their own; whose account before Him will be as solemn, their condemnation or justification as final, as theirs. They came to them from the Sunday school and the village pastor’s instructions; they came with the Bible which was to be the guide of their lives, with the prayer which had been the practice of their childhood, with the resolution which the last communion prompted and the mother’s parting words urged forward. Where are those Bibles now? What is become of that daily prayer? Where, but under your roof, and with your sanction, was that resolution laughed to scorn? Who made it impossible for them to keep up those monthly communions? If you have in your family and before your dependents denied Christ, He also will deny you. And let servants themselves remember that no circumstances can excuse them in unfaithfulness to Him whom they have once learned to know and to serve; that on themselves the ultimate burden must rest, and the final condemnation come, if they allow themselves to be laughed or tempted out of Christian habits of life. I would willingly think, too, that I am speaking to some of this class whose lot God has mercifully east in families such as that in our text, where their souls are cared for, and their moral and spiritual welfare attended to. Then I say to you, Blessed indeed is your lot, and great in proportion will be your accountableness. (Dean Alford.)
Hindrances to home religion
I. The want of a vivid sense of God, as personal and present.
II. The loose manner in which the present home life is conducted.
III. The diminished regard for the Sabbath.
IV. The overlaying of the Bible and the family altar by the newspapers, and especially the Sunday papers.
V. The dispersion of families among Churches having different views of Divine things.
VI. The division of families on the line of Christian discipleship. VII. The lack in some homes of an expressive and impressive piety in such as do profess to be believers, such as will quietly control and at last convert the household. (J. L. Withrow, D. D.)
We should think about the religions welfare of others
A poor woman came into a village one dark night and asked her way to the house of a friend. It was three miles off yet, and the road was strange to her, and it was so dark. “If you make haste,” some one said to her, “you will overtake the doctor. He has just gone down the road to go to the same place, and he carries a lantern.” This was glad news to the timid woman, and off she started looking eagerly ahead in the hope of catching some glimmer of the lantern’s light, but never a flash of it could she see. At length, after a weary trudge, she reached the house of her friend, and there she found the doctor newly arrived. “Oh, sir!” she said, “I have had such a weary run after you. They told me you had a lantern, but I saw nothing of its light.” “Very true,” said the doctor, showing a dark lantern fastened to his belt; “I had a lantern, but I did not think of drawing the slide so as to let the light shine, for I know the road very well myself.” Now there are people in the world very like this doctor. They know the right way themselves, and don’t trouble about others who may not know it. Make it very clear to others that you not only know the right road yourself, but that you have also a heart to think of them and influence them for good. (W. Francis.)
Decision for God
“I was the guest of Colonel--, a leading man in his county, Master of the Hounds for two counties, keeping the hounds at a cost of $20,000 a year. He was a man of passionate character, and, when excited, very profane. He attended the meetings every evening. But he complained that he had a headache the next morning. One morning at breakfast he said, ‘ I don’t think I shall go to the meetings any longer. My head aches with the bad air, and then I do not think you are quite fair. You make everybody out as no better than heathen. That may be true of the common people; but you will drive all the gentry away.’ I said, ‘Colonel, I am your guest, and I did not introduce this subject. But let me ask you, Are you a Christian?’ ‘What do you mean? I support a Church and two or three ministers.’ I said, ‘ Unless you will take a stand as a Christian as plainly as you do as Master of the Hounds, I do not think you have any claim to be called a Christian.’ To my surprise, he was in church that night, with his wife, who was a Christian. I preached on the Pharisee and the Publican. At the close I said, ‘If there is any man or woman who is ready, with the publican, to say, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” I invite him to rise.’ To my surprise, up rose the Colonel, and folded his arms, and his wife by his side. I thought, ‘Will it do to call the Colonel up here and ask him to go on his knees? ‘I did so. The Colonel moved right forward with his wife. And the next that came was the Irish servant, and he kneeled down by his master. Next morning, as I opened the Bible for prayers, the Colonel rose and said, ‘Before the Doctor reads, I want to say that last night I went forward and took God as my Saviour. I ask you, my friends, to pray for me.’ This in the presence of all the servants.” (Dr. Pentecost.)
Who will volunteer?
One night, in the army on the banks of the Potomac, the colonel came for volunteers to cross over the river in flat boats. “Who’ll volunteer? I want so many men.” “I’ll go!” “I’ll go! “Their decision made up the number; the colonel’s heart was rejoiced. They went, and returned with 150 or 200 contrabands and other trophies of war. That was the result of decision. They took their lives in their hands and went on reckless of consequences. In order to spiritual success we need decision. How long would it take the Lord Jesus to do His part if you make the decision? There are a hundred strings whereby you are holding on to the interests of the world. You cut a string here and a knot there, but there are more left than you have cut off; come right to the central point where they all come to a focus, then you can cut them all at once. The work is all in a nutshell. Some are converted by piecemeal. The better way is to take it in a lump. How long does it take to give away a house and land? Only while you sign your name, that is all. When we go forth, a troop of decided souls, we can take the world for Christ. Take Christ fully, completely, that will give us inward power.
Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is an holy God.
The covenant renewed
I. The difficulty of serving God. “Ye cannot serve the Lord.” It was a staggering admonition. It embodied what theologians have called the doctrine of “moral inability.” The seat of the disorder is in the will. There is the conflict. Till that is established in the choice of holiness it will still be true, as in the case before us, that one can not serve God. “Ye cannot” should still read for many, loath to abandon practices and ideas and hopes which He condemns, “Ye will not.”
II. The conscious ability to serve God. With much vehemence the people asserted that they would, and therefore could, be true to their promise. They realised that no more was demanded of them than was within the range of their powers to do. Their tribute to the righteousness of their Maker is the universal testimony as well. From the shrine of the most besotted savage to the latest Christian altar we see the multiplying tokens that each and all might have heeded and wrought that full measure of righteousness which their God prescribed. Everywhere, on all the recognised possibilities of a human soul, is plainly imprinted, and none can honestly exclaim against it, “This is your reasonable service.”
III. The solemn promise to serve God. The transfer of estates, the giving in marriage, the parting with a child--these chief acts of our lives are trivial and ordinary compared with that in which a heart yields itself for ever unto Him who has sought it from its first conscious moment. It is serious business we transact with Him. He hears, too, each voice among the myriads as though it were the only one, and receives each uplifted spirit as though no other had come.
IV. The abiding witnesses of the pledge to serve God. As our memorials and statues are eloquent of former scenes and persons, to those who will pause a little to listen, so this column in the spot of sanctuary told to children’s children that their fathers were given here and for ever to the Lord. Every individual, too, that stood near any who there uttered his “credo” had stamped upon his memory his neighbour’s act, to be made to glow as secret tracings when heat is applied. But are men aware of the numerous objects which have heard and may testify to their former promises to do the will of God? It was in some severe sickness, when the spectre of death seemed to draw nigh, when, begging for reprieve, you said: “If I am spared I will dedicate myself to Him.” And the walls of your chamber listened, and now and then repeat it in the stillness of the night. They who watched heard it, and are wondering yet if you have forgotten. Or it was when some sudden horror of doom flashed on you, and you proffered all you had for your life, while billows or tempest or hurrying car or roadside fences heard your cry and occasionally remind you of the pledge! Or, as you sat under the moving influences of the Spirit, and you were sure the acceptable time for turning to God had come, did you not say: “When I have made my fortune, or gained this office, or reached that age, I will”? And now the fortune is yours, the office has been held, the age has been passed, but your heart is not yet in the Lord’s keeping. It is easy to mortgage the future, so unknown, so full of plausible chances and opportunities. Be as fair, friend, with the Lord as with your neighbour, whom you are proud always to have satisfied, for He has waited longer, till you shall pay your vows to the full. (De Witt S. Clark.)
The difficulty of serving God
I. Some of their difficulty would be found on the side of God. “He is an holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins” so as to fail to punish them. “He will turn, and do you hurt, and consume you, after that He hath done you good.”
1. If Jehovah is to be served at all, He must be served alone. There can be no possible rivalry between Him and any other claimants to be gods. We may think of three things that are ever pressing in our day to be gods with God--the luxury of wealth; self-seeking pleasure; mere mind knowledge.
2. If God is served at all He must be served in righteousness. God will search through and through every form of service offered to Him, and it must be sincere, it must be “clean every whit,” or it cannot be acceptable to Him. The service of a holy God must be the service of intention and resolve, not of mere accident. It should be thought about, resolved upon, prayed about, made the most earnest thing in the whole life.
II. Some of the difficulties were found on the side of Israel. “Ye cannot.” “Ye are too frail. Ye are too much exposed to the power of temptation. Ye have too serious inclinations to evil. You do not know yourselves, or you would not promise too readily. You do not fully estimate the influences of the past, or you would fear for your future.” They who know themselves learn to pray, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe, and I shall have respect unto Thy commandments.” (The Weekly Pulpit.)
The holy character of God
I. Although the lord is full of compassion and mercy, he is yet a holy and a jealous God. We must beware of attributing to our God any qualities which are inconsistent with those by which He is known to be guided.
II. As a necessary consequence of the holy jealousy of God towards wilful sinners there are certain conditions of mind in which he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins, and in which, therefore, ye cannot serve the Lord. The impenitent, the unbelieving, the careless, the presumptuous will be excluded from the blessing. The fact is, that one thing is indispensable to your acceptable service of God; and that is, that you should be in earnest.
III. Ask yourselves the question, are you desirous to serve the lord your God? (E. G. Marshall, M. A.)
God declining first offers of service
If there be any one thing true in the Bible, it is that God welcomes the first approach which man makes to Him. Yet here Joshua offers a repulse to men who wish to avow themselves on the side of God. Are we to conclude, then, that the people were insincere? We have no evidence of this, but the reverse, in their subsequent conduct. There must be some reason for the manner in which they are met, and we shall try to discover it.
1. First, however, we shall seek to show that this procedure on the part of God is not so unusual. You may recollect how the band of Gideon was chosen. When the wise men from the East came seeking Christ the star seemed to desert them, and they met with disappointment and perplexity from all their inquiries in Jerusalem. When the Jews, stirred up to expect the coming Messiah, sent messengers to John, in the hope that they had found their desire, “he confessed and denied not, but confessed, I am not the Christ.” We cannot forget the strange treatment of the woman of Canaan by the Lord Himself; how she cried after Him, and was not answered, and met at length what appeared a contemptuous rejection. In the same way He acted to the scribe who came to Him with such an unconditional offer of discipleship, “Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.” “This is no common pleasure-walk,” was the reply; “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” There is another way of finding the same result in the Bible. Consider, for example, the view that is given of the character of God. He is presented to us not only as good, and ready to forgive, but as just and righteous--a God who cannot look on sin without displeasure. There are many terrible threatenings, many dreadful judgments against sin and sinners, which have all this language in them: “Ye cannot serve the Lord, for He is an holy God.” When we leave Bible representations, and come to the experience of individuals, we meet with many similar illustrations. In regard to the general evidence of the divinity of the Bible, we can see that God has not constructed it on the plan of overpowering the conviction of any man at first sight. And even when a man has come to the entire conviction that the gospel is Divine, that there is “none other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus Christ,” he is not assured thereby of perfect peace.
2. Having sought to show that this procedure, on the part of God, is not so unusual, we may now attempt to find some reasons for it.
(1) As a first reason we may assign this, that it sifts the true from the false seeker. The gospel comes into the world to be a touchstone of human nature--to be Ithuriel’s spear among men. There is enough in it to attract and convince at last every man who has a sense of spiritual need and a desire of spiritual deliverance, but it is presented in such a form as to try whether the soul really possess this, and therefore we may have obstacles of various kinds at the very entrance. It may seem a strange and unworthy thing that such an obstacle should meet a man in the very commencement of such a journey; but, after all, let it be remembered that what makes it an obstacle is the state of heart of the man himself. This further may be said, that no one will be able to complain of any real wrong from such obstacles. The false seeker is not injured, because he never sincerely sought at all. There was no sense of sin’s evil, no wish to be saved from it, and till this exists nothing can be sought, and nothing found. The true seeker is not injured, for never was such an one disappointed.
(2) Next, it leads the true seeker to examine himself more thoroughly. If a man is accepted, or thinks he is accepted, at once, he takes many things for granted which it would be well for him to inquire into. Very specially is this the case in regard to the nature of sin and the light in which God regards it. The easy complacency with which some talk of pardon and their assurance of it, often springs more from dulness of conscience than strength of faith. The natural result of such a defective view is, that when a man enlists with it in God’s service, he does so without any distinct idea of what he is to aim at. He does not see that the gospel binds us to the service of a God of truth and purity, and that only in this way can its blessings be enjoyed.
(3) Further, it binds a man to his profession by a stronger sense of consistency. There is a paper of obligations put into our hands to sign, and, when we take the pen, we are bidden read it over again and ponder it, that we may subscribe with clear consciousness of the contents. God will beguile no man into His service by false pretences.
(4) Lastly, it educates us to a higher growth and greater capacity of happiness. When we see the wind shaking a young tree, and bending it to the very earth, it may seem to be retarding its rise, but it is furthering it. In the intellectual world a strong man thrives on difficulties. There is no falser method of education than to make all smooth and easy, and remove every stone before the foot touches it. God Himself has hidden the knowledge of His creation in the depths of the sky and the bosom of the earth. He has demanded toil and travail, keen and patient thought, till study has become a weariness to the flesh, in order that man’s intellect may rise to its proper stature. It would have been a strange thing if the spiritual world had been an exception. Read the manner in which such men as Paul and Luther and Pascal passed through the gate of life, not easily and complacently, but with fears within and fightings without, and you will see how God made them grow such men as they became. And, though we are far distant from that mark, very humble plants in the garden of God beside those great trees of righteousness, yet, if we are to rise to anything, it must be in the same way, not by soft indulgent nurture, but by endurance of hardship, and pressing on against repulse. If there be some who have been seeking God, as they think, in vain, and have given up the search as fruitless, what can we do but urge them to renew the application? Come, as these Israelites did, with the words, “Nay; but we will serve the Lord.” I can suppose a twofold class who have ceased to seek. There are some, perhaps, with a feeling of wounded pride or petulance. They say they have done their best, and it is useless. They have gone through a course of inquiry and search and prayer, and they have found neither comfort nor hope. Would it not be worth the while of such to reconsider this part of it, and to see whether some of the blame may not lie with themselves? There may, however, be another class who have left off seeking God, from very different motives, not in petulance, but in despondency, who have not so much turned their back on search, as sat down, wearied and hopeless, in the midst of it. Let them consider that they have to do with One who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax; that the heart of God is with them; that the darkness and death of Christ, now changed to the strength of intercession, are on their side, and all those heavenly promises which are yea and amen in Him, and which, as bright and as many as the stars in their courses, all fight for them. Let them think of Jacob’s wrestling, of David’s tears, of Paul’s threefold prayer, of the woman of Canaan, &c. (John Ker, D. D.)
I. The certainty of the truth that unrenewed men cannot serve God.
1. The nature of God renders perfect service impossible to depraved men.
2. The best they could render as unrenewed men would lack heart and intent, and therefore must be unacceptable.
3. The law of God is perfect, comprehensive, spiritual, far-reaching: who can hope to fulfil it?
4. The carnal mind is inclined to self-will, self-seeking, lust, enmity, pride, and all other evils.
5. Let men try to be perfectly obedient. They will not try it. They argue for their ability, but they are loth enough to exert it.
II. The discouragement which arises from this truth.
1. It discourages men from an impossible task.
2. It discourages from a ruinous course.
3. It discourages reliance upon ceremonies or any other outward religiousness, by assuring men that these cannot suffice.
4. It discourages from every other way of self-salvation, and thus shuts men up to faith in the Lord Jesus. Nothing better can befall them (Gal 2:22-23).
III. The necessities of which we are reminded by this truth.
1. Unregenerate men, before you can serve God you need--
(1) A new nature.
(4) Continual aid, to keep you in the way when once you are in it (1 Samuel 2:9; Jude 1:24-25).
2. If you cannot serve God as you are, yet trust Him as He manifests Himself in Christ Jesus; and do this just as you are.
3. This will enable you to serve Him on better principles.
4. This change of your nature will be effected by the Holy Spirit, who will come and dwell in you.
5. This will fit you for heaven, where “His servants shall serve Him.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Their inability was wholly of the moral kind. They could not do it because they were not disposed to do it, just as it is said of Joseph’s brethren (Genesis 37:4) that they “could not speak peaceably unto him,” so strong was their personal dislike to him. But an inability arising from this source was obviously inexcusable, on the same grounds that a drunkard’s inability to master his propensity for strong drink is inexcusable. In like manner the “cannot” of the impenitent sinner, in regard to the performance of his duty, is equally inexcusable. (George Bush.)
Entire change needed
A man deeply exercised about his soul was conversing with a friend on the subject, when the friend said, “Come at once to Jesus, for He will take away all your sins from your back.” “Yes, I am aware of that”; said the other; “but what about my back? “I find I have not only sins to take away, but there is myself; what is to be done with that? And there is not only my back, but hands and feet, and head and heart are such a mass of iniquity that it’s myself I want to get rid of before I can get peace. (British Evangelist.)
Discouragements, rightly put, encourage. The best way to deepen and confirm good resolutions which have been too swiftly and inconsiderately formed is to state very plainly all the difficulty of keeping them. The hand that seems to repel often most powerfully attracts. There is no better way of turning a somewhat careless “we will” into a persistent “nay, but we will,” than to interpose a “ye cannot.” Many a boy has been made a sailor by the stories of hardships which his parents have meant as dissuasives. Joshua here is doing exactly what Jesus Christ did often. He refused glib vows because He desired whole hearts. “Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest!” was answered by no recognition of the speaker’s enthusiasm, and by no word of pleasure or invitation, but by the apparently cold repulse: “Foxes have holes, birds of the air roosting-places; but the Son of Man has not where to lay His head. That is what you are offering to share. Do you stand to your words?” He will have no soldiers enlisted under false pretences. They shall know the full difficulties and trials which they must meet; and if, knowing these, they still are willing to take His yoke upon them, then how exuberant and warm the welcome which He gives 1 There is a real danger that this side of the evangelist’s work should be overlooked in the earnestness with which the other side is done. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Reasons why man will not serve God
Dr. Tucker, Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, said: “In our journey we came to the country of Taita. The people of Taita are not a very interesting people, and are adverse to Christianity. I visited a chief there, and asked him why they were so unwilling for Christian people to settle in their midst, and I said, ‘If I sent you a couple of missionaries would you not be glad to have them?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. The chief replied, ‘ If they come and settle among us they tell us that stealing cattle and fighting are not right.’ ‘Yes! ‘I replied. ‘Well, that would never do; for we are very fond of stealing cattle, and also of fighting.’ It was a most straightforward reason, and I think if many of the heathen at home would be as honest in giving the reasons why they will not come to Christ they would say much the same. ‘If I came to Christ I should require to quit getting drunk, and I am very fond of getting drunk,’” &c.
If ye forsake the Lord . . . He will turn
Mercies abused, the precursors of wrath
The reasonableness of expecting that abused mercies must lead to more aggravated punishment. We see this clearly in the history of Israel. Their career as a nation was marked by perfidy and ingratitude; at almost every step of their progress we find them in rebellion against the Most High--“forsaking the Lord, and serving strange gods.” And how did God deal with them when they thus acted? Is it not the case that He scourged them, and caused them to suffer punishment? Look at the plagues that befel them in the desert; look at the slaughters which God permitted them to experience in warfare with their enemies. And who can survey the subsequent history of the Jews, and not read a fulfilment of the threatening contained in our text? And what we are desirous you should gather from the foregoing observations is mainly this, that no experience of good at the hands of the Almighty affords warrant to expect that future disobedience will not be visited with righteous severity. “If ye forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt and consume you, after that He hath done you good.”
II. The justice of the dealing which is referred to in the threatening before us. Now it will be admitted that every reason was given Israel to expect the continuance of the Divine favour and protection. We think it easily to be perceived that one main purpose of the Almighty in the calling of Israel as a nation was to maintain upon earth, through means of that race, the pure knowledge of Himself; to afford a witness to the unity of Jehovah, and against idolatry; to secure glory to Himself by the exhibition, on the part of this people, of a consistent obedience. Surely, then, if this purpose was, through the nation’s profligacy and disobedience, altogether thwarted, if all the resources which God gave them of national strength were abused and corrupted, indeed it were strange not to perceive that their conduct in this respect released every presumed obligation “to do them good,” and in short vindicates to the letter the justice of the warning, “If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that He hath done you good.” And now, to take a more comprehensive range, from looking at the case of the Jewish people let us turn to that of mankind in general. Does it appear that God can be just in the apportionment of unmitigated wrath to mankind, notwithstanding all the manifestations of His determination to do them good? There are two grand exhibitions to be met with of God’s merciful intention towards mankind at large, to do them good. The first of these is furnished by creation, and the second by redemption. Our object of inquiry is simply this: whether the display of God’s love in creating or redeeming mankind offers any reason to conclude that, in harmony with His justice, He cannot “turn and do them hurt, and consume them.” To begin with creation: no man can doubt that his creation is the proof of a purpose on God’s part to “do him good.” Beyond all question this purpose was man’s happiness, but then his happiness was to consist in assimilation to the Godhead; and if upon man devolve the guilt of having voluntarily destroyed and renounced that similitude, where is the inconsistency of the dealing, should God “turn and do him hurt, and consume him”? The nobler the faculties wherewith he was endowed the brighter the evidence of God’s purpose to “do him good,” the stronger then seem to me the reasons wherefore wrath should be executed upon those by whom the faculties are abused and the evidence slighted. We turn, lastly, to the manifestation of God’s goodness as displayed in redemption. There have been those who have argued--redemption is the evidence of a love so surpassing, they can never believe God will sentence to destruction those whom He has redeemed at such cost. “The method of our atonement involves an expenditure of such wisdom and mercy, that how can we conceive of the Almighty as permitting its objects finally to perish?” Mast to reason thus is equally, as in the former instances we have adduced, to overlook one main purpose of God in the scheme of human redemption. Is it not strange that men who have been made the objects of a sacrifice so costly should regard it so lightly and requite it so coldly? We may wonder that redeemed sinners should perish, but is it not more wonderful that redeemed sinners should refuse to be saved? Again, let us revert to the purpose of God in redemption. Indeed it was to bless the whole earth; it was to ransom humanity from the bondage of evil, and to exalt it to transcendent felicity. But after all, throughout every dealing of God with His intelligent creatures, we may discover the purpose to treat them as responsible beings, free to reject the overtures of His mercy. Now, redemption is offered upon certain terms; man is required to repent and to believe in order to be saved. It is no part of redemption to offer him an entrance into heaven irrespective of a moral fitness, to render him meet for heaven’s enjoyments; and in the acquisition of this moral fitness man is required to co-operate with the Divine Spirit. He can refuse to profit by what God hath done for him, and thus prove himself a despiser of the love which is so unsearchably great. He can resolutely withstand the design of the Almighty in redemption, namely, that he should glorify God, both in his body and soul; and, I ask, if it be possible for Him to act thus, is there not justice in the sentence which awards him to suffer in spite of all the declared willingness of God to do him good? (Bp. R. Bickersteth.)
Christians solemnly reminded of their obligations
I. That we are under obligations to serve the lord from our own choice, or voluntary engagements. Here I would premise that though voluntary obligations, taken upon ourselves by our own act, have something of a peculiar force in them, yet they are not the only obligations we are under to serve the Lord. We are bound to be His servants whether we will or not. His character as our creator, our preserver, and benefactor, and as a being of supreme excellency, give Him the most firm and indisputable right to our obedience. But though we are all under obligations to God, independent upon, and prior to, our own consent, yet there are a class of obligations which we have personally, and by our own act, taken upon ourselves; and in the breach of these we are guilty of more direct and aggravated perjury.
II. To inquire how and when, or in what respects, and at what periods of time, we are witnesses against ourselves that we have chosen the Lord to serve him.
1. You yourselves are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord to be your God. You know and confess that you have been dedicated to God in baptism; and some of you know it was your own act and deed when capable of choosing for yourselves. You also know in your own consciences that you are often present at the table of the Lord, and there you renew your covenant with God afresh.
2. You are witnesses against one another that you have chosen the Lord to serve Him. You have seen the transactions that have passed between God and you in His house; you have seen some baptized themselves, some presenting their children to baptism, and so renewing their own covenant with God; some sealing their religious engagements at the Lord’s table. (President Davies.)
Joshua made a covenant.
The covenant of Joshua
“That day” was a very notable day in the annals of the children of Israel; its transactions might well be recorded in the volume of the book and engraven on the monumental stone. All the favours which God had promised to their fathers while yet they languished in bondage in Egypt had been now fulfilled; the promised land was theirs. God had given them rest in all their borders. In the meantime their captain, who had so often led them to victory, waxed helpless and old; he felt that there gathered around him the mists and crept over him the shadow of the coming change. He summoned the tribes of Israel, therefore, to meet him in Shechem; and they muster largely, for they feel it to be a great day, and suspect they are about to listen to their leader’s parting charge. He recounts God’s providential dealings with them, and seeks by the memory of the past to inspire their vows of fidelity and allegiance. The warrior heart is still in the old man eloquent, but he wars not now against advancing hosts, but against rebellious minds. There is yet fire in his battle-cry, but it summons to self-conquest. There is glory yet upon his brow, but it is not the lustre of his former achievements, but the radiance of the nearing heaven already gathering to crown its hero. He has often led the people to victory; he will confirm them in piety now, that he may but briefly precede them into the recompense of the reward. He knew full well that their only danger sprang from themselves, that there was no danger to them, if they were but obedient and faithful, from the shock even of an embattled world; and with earnest love to God, and with deep knowledge of the human heart, he delivers his final and his impressive appeal. He warns them to count the cost, in order that there may be a more solemn and decided consecration of themselves to God. Then, receiving their reiterated vows, he makes a covenant with them, and stamps it with a sacramental and with an authoritative value, and sets it up for a statute and for an ordinance in Shechem. This seems to have been the last public act of his life, and then, weary for the rest of which Canaan was but the significant shadow, he went serenely into heaven. First, as to the nature of this covenant. I need not remind you that the Israelites were the chosen people of God--chosen to be the recipients of His bounty--chosen to be the witnesses of His unity--chosen to enter solemn protests against the abominable idolatries of the nations around. For the fulfilment of these ends Jehovah had interposed for His Israel in many signal deliverances and blessings. They were not a people, and tie had given them a great name; lie had broken for them the yoke of the oppressor; He had made them heir to an inheritance which they knew not, neither did their fathers know; He made the ocean a pavement for them, the heavens a storehouse, and the rock a fountain of waters; He had successively overthrown all their enemies in their sight, and by many a convincing illustration had stamped the seal of faithfulness upon every promise He had made. And yet they had very frequently rebelled. When trials came they turned recreant from faith and hope; when they were summoned to hazardous duty they shrank, like cowards, from its discharge; and they even formed unholy leagues with the people whom they were sent to overthrow, and adopted their idolatries with an enthusiasm the more reckless because of its perversion from a purer faith and worship. There was need, therefore, that they should be reminded of their duty, and that they should be urged, by all the solemnity of statute and of ordinance, to give themselves afresh unto God. Are not their circumstances yours? The burden of the summons which Joshua made unto the people was that they should serve the Lord. This was also the essence of the covenant, that they should serve the Lord. And, allowing for the differences of mission and local circumstances, there is an identity in the covenant which I want to make with you to-day. I just mention two points. In the first place, then, Joshua could not have served the Lord if he had neglected the Divinely-appointed institution of sacrifice. Although the Mosaic and the Christian economy differ in many things, they are alike in this, that the foundation of each of them is a recognition of sin. The only other part of the covenant which it is necessary for me to bring before you is that Joshua could not have served the Lord, nor any Israelite in the camp, if he had not strictly obeyed the ten commandments of the law. The great principles of morality are the same in every age, and these precepts of the former time, with a new spirit put into them by the exposition of Jesus on the mount, are binding on our consciences to-day. In entire union with Christ I have obtained power to obey--that is the first thing. We cannot obey until we have got a new heart put into us; we have no strength in human nature’s old heart to obey the commandments of God; but having by our union with Christ obtained power to obey, that obedience should be sincerely and heartily rendered. A sincere seeker after the will of God will not choose among the commandments, will not obey them just so far as they chime in with corrupt desire and contravene no darling and yet vicious inclination of the soul; he will seek to obey them in the universality of their behests, in the breadth and grandeur of their deep design. I do not think it necessary to go further. If these points of the covenant are granted me, that is all I ask. Come to Christ, and keep His law, and you will be Christians fit for earth, and Christians fit for heaven. I cannot at large mention the arguments by which this covenant was commended. I rather, therefore, prefer to confine my thoughts to the faculty to which the minister makes his appeal. Joshua evidently regarded every man among the Israelites around him as invested with the royal attribute of personal freedom. Beneath each kindling eye and swarthy brow he sees an active reason and a manly soul. He speaks not to those who are of necessity impelled--who are circumscribed by a despotism of surroundings--from whose shackles there is no liberation; he speaks to men, to freemen, to freemen with power to choose the right--with power to prefer the wrong: “Choose you this day.” You can choose your service. Oh! I would remind you of the many blessings which God has heaped upon you from the beginning--how your life has sparkled in the light of His loving-kindness. It was He who kindled for you all the endearments of affection and lit up all the joyfulness of home; it was He that warded off peril and environed you with the restraints that have preserved you from the grosser vices and inspired you with the impulse of every good desire. His Son died to redeem you, and fives to intercede that the benefits of His redemption may be yours. His Spirit fans the faint impression and kindles the holy desire, and takes of the precious things of Christ--those precious, those holy motives, and inspiring hopes--and shows them unto you. There is not a temporal mercy, there is not an intellectual enjoyment, there is not a spiritual mercy, for which you are not indebted to Him. And even now He comes, not forcing you to love Him, but inviting, entreating, imploring, adjuring, “My son, My daughter, give Me thy heart.” (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
Joshua . . . took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.
The devout soul and nature
Solemnity of occasion. Joshua, dying, calls upon the nation to “choose whom you will serve.” Here we have--
1. A wise effort to impress and perpetuate religious resolutions.
2. A fine impersonation of material nature.
I. the importance of religious resolutions. They are worthy of perpetual remembrance. The world has monuments of earthquakes, wars, deaths; but how few of devout resolutions!
II. The highest use of material objects. Without actually setting up material objects, nature might be appropriated in her different manifestations as types of God’s character, and as mementos of events in the religious history of an individual or a family.
III. The most solemn aspects of nature. Who dares to say that nature cannot hear or speak? Who shall say, at the last, what nature, after her long silence, shall reveal? Take heed what you do and say: stones may hear without a Joshua’s invocation. (Homilist.)
The Christian use of churches
We can easily conceive the association of thought with which Joshua and Israel contemplated the stone which they set up in Shechem. However rough it might be and shapeless, it had for them a solemn character; it had something approaching to personality and the power of testimony. “It,” said Joshua, “hath heard all the words of the Lord which He spake unto us”; not, of course, literally, but in the minds and recollections of those who regarded it as a pledge and token of the vow and covenant made betwixt them and God. And we may well conceive that such a silent, unchangeable witness retained for years, and perhaps for generations, its effect on the people of Israel, even in their downward course which, we too well know, shortly followed. To it the servants of God, struggling against the idolatry and pollution of their age, would bring their little ones, and teach them the words which it heard, and of which it was a testimony, and repeat each for himself their dying captain’s confession, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Many a tender hand, laid on its cool surface, may have throbbed with generous emotion and holy zeal; many a thoughtful youth and maiden of Israel may have heard from it a sermon, which issued in holy endurance and heroic resolve. And we, have not we too set up our stone of testimony? have not these walls, dead materials gathered from the slime of the earth and the bosom of the rock, within these few days assumed for us a solemnity of which, in the laws of our thought, they can never be divested? Have they not heard all the words which the Lord our God hath spoken to us, and all that we have spoken to Him? Have we not begun a new course, entered on a fresh iteration of our covenant with God, of which these stones are a witness, a silent but ineffaceable witness--a witness through the ages of time--a witness at the solemn day of judgment? If this pillar of testimony, set up in the midst of our homes, raised with so much self-denying effort, inaugurated with so many tears of joy, is to witness only cold hearts and feeble hands, and formal Sundays, and ungodly weeks, oh shame unto us henceforward--nay, woe unto us, for God will look upon it and judge; and as we have received, so will He at last require of us. These latter words--as a note of passage--lead me on to speak of not only the similarity, but the difference also, between Joshua’s stone of witness and ours. I deeply feel that this your church is, as the stone in Shechem was, a witness between you and God. But it is so in a far more solemn sense, in far wider and deeper meaning, than that could ever be. That stone was a mere passive witness; by standing where it did, it gave a permanence to the fact of the covenant there made. It was merely, as our Nelson’s pillar or our Wellington statues, a memorial. And this our church is likewise; a memorial of His great mercies and of our feeble gratitude; a memorial that a Christian congregation has in it anew entered into covenant with Him. But it is also far more than this. It is an active witness between you and God. The sermons which it preaches are not merely those which associations of thought might suggest; they are active, positive, spoken declarations of God’s will, ever renewed and energising. Its testimony is not only that of a memorial of the past; it is an ever-welling fountain of Divine knowledge, telling of Christ and His salvation. Thus considered, then, what is the use, what is the office, of this our Church? Briefly (but how much is contained in these words) to provide those who dwell in this thickly-peopled neighbourhood with the public means of grace. Undoubtedly, the first means of grace are, prayer and praise. But there are others, standing in the very first rank of importance, viz., the Word and the Sacraments. Nor should I omit, in speaking of our new church as a witness for God, the important testimony which is borne by every church in the succession of her services throughout the Christian year. Here you will each year accompany our blessed Lord “from His poor cradle to His bitter cross”; here you will witness His burial, and His glorious resurrection and ascension, and the fulfilment of the promise of the Father in the descent of the Spirit, and will adore with holy joy on that crowning festival of Trinity the whole Three Persons in the One Godhead, covenanted in the work of our salvation. Such are some few of the blessings which you may expect from your church; such some few of the testimonies which it will lift up among you for God and His work. Can I pass on without a word of exhortation to you that you thwart not such blessings--that you let not such testimonies be given against yourselves? Oh, love your church! Throng its aisles from week to week, as to-day. (Dean Alford.)
Joshua . . . died.
The burials of distinguished saints
Within the compass of the five last verses of this book three deaths are recorded and three burial-places signalised by the deposited remains of the most distinguished saints. After all we have seen in Canaan, let us visit the sepulchre of Joshua. The short record given may be viewed as a simple, unvarnished memento, or monumental inscription (verses 29, 30). The place of his interment was in the lot of his inheritance, and may remind us how soon the seat of life becomes the repository of death. Short had been the date of his settlement: an hundred years before he obtained rest, and then but ten before he must lie down in his grave, not again to rise till the heavens be no more. What can be a greater or more convincing proof of still higher and nobler ends of Providence than any contained within the limits of this life, when even the most distinguished of God’s family, the most exemplary and useful of His children, are not suffered to continue by reason of death, but are early removed from the happiest scenes on earth! It bespeaks the greatness of man, and the more exalted provisions of glory the infinite goodness of God has secured in another world. The designs of His grace are too exalted, and the displays of His power too wondrous, to centre in any earthly lot, though equal in beauty and richness to Eden, when as yet the seat of innocence, perfection, and love. Timnath-serah was still the portion of his lot, even in death. Where he lived in possession, there he lay in possession, nor left any commandment, as Jacob and Joseph, for removal. It is remarkable how much this was the desire of the faithful, and of what moment, though not in itself, yet in its typical regards, they viewed a burying-place in the promised land. It was as if they thought upon the interests of their sleeping dust as well as the felicity of their undying spirits, and in still retaining their inheritance, even in a state of death, would claim for their bodies a share in the life to come; for He who had so richly provided for the one as well as for the other, in an inheritance entirely typical, would not have so essential a part of our redeemed nature for ever the prey of worms. Where the believer now rests, in what bed matters little, for Jesus is the resurrection and the life of all His people. A short inscription, which, as a plain monumental record of his character and age, claims in the solemn reflections here excited a moment’s pause: “Servant of the Lord died, being an hundred and ten years old.” What an important connection of age and dignity! What an honour to lie down at last under this character! This is the highest style of man. What he had done, and all which this book recorded of the mighty conquests achieved, was not here to be named; for in everything he had been but a servant, and only the willing instrument of Omnipotence. The title was all that need appear, or that any who know their own insignificance would desire. It is enough that “they rest from their labours, and their works do follow.” Joshua and all the saints, from infancy to age, through the long lapse of time, shall retain the record of truth, and in the character in which they died rise the servants of God. As now in the end of life it is said, “The servant of the Lord died, being an hundred and ten years old,” so then shall commence the history of eternity. The servant of the Lord arose the beginning, the first day, of immortality. From the tomb of Joshua let us go to the burying-place of Joseph: it is in the same inheritance, and not far distant. It is remarkable in the connected record of these burials that Joshua should have lived just the same number of years as this his distinguished ancestor, and that though not buried in the same spot, yet in the same inheritance, and not far distant from the same period. Never was there so singular a funeral: two hundred years dead before interment. Many, we may think, crowded to see it, and if the Church in heaven could have been witnesses, the sight must have yielded pleasure; for it was the burial of faith. And did it reach the glorified saint, the spirit long made perfect, or could he have looked down upon the purchased spot of his father, the desired resting-place of his bones, he would have known the fidelity of his brethren, and have rejoiced in the end of his faith. It became the inheritance of the children of Joseph, though he had stood a stranger in the land, when, in obedience to the dying request of his father, he buried him in the grave which himself was said to have digged (Genesis 50:5). How remarkable that the place where Joseph obtained interment, and where at length he was gathered to his fathers, should turn out the inheritance of his sons; and that, though separated many years from his father in life, he should, as he, rest in Canaan, and find a grave even in his own inheritance. Oh! it was a sweet privilege to be entombed in his own inheritance, and to hold a place with both his sons and his fathers in what bespoke the common hope and claim of all the faithful. It was a choice spot, and where any saint would have wished to have been laid, and there to have rested in the hope of all that was, in the perfection of the Church and close of time, to open in the grandeur of the resurrection, when, as the heirs of promise, and the sons of immortality, they would rise to claim a fairer, brighter, and more lasting inheritance above the skies. The ground was a purchase (Genesis 23:16-17). And now the purchase of Jacob became the burying-place of Joseph. The heavenly land is spoken of as a purchased possession, and that in no part ever to become a burying-place, but the seat of endless life and felicity to the whole Church of God. But, oh! what has been the purchase, what paid for it, by the eternal Son of God! One more burying-place within this inheritance is pointed out: “And Eleazar the son of Aaron died,” &c. As situated near Shiloh, this was, probably for its convenience, assigned as the residence of the high priest. We see the inheritances of Israel fast changing into the burying-places of the dead. It was not the land of immortality, not that state of being of which it is said, “There shall be no more death,” &c. In Canaan all must die, as well princes, priests, and rulers, as others; but in heaven none die: there natural evils and moral pollutions are for ever removed. (W. Seaton.)
Israel served the Lord.
Faithful adherence to engagements
The men of that generation remained faithful to their engagements. These men, who had themselves “known all the works of the Lord that He had done for Israel,” in bringing them into Canaan and in subduing the hostile nations, never forsook His worship for the worship of the idols of the laud, of whose boasted power they had witnessed so signal a discomfiture. The character and admonitions of Joshua were not forgotten. His disinterestedness, his energy, his singleness of purpose, his faith, had left a track of glory behind, as the sun, after he has sunk below the horizon, flings glorious hues and golden light over all the western sky. The men who had themselves seen the conquests of Joshua would have been doubly inexcusable if they had forsaken the worship of Jehovah. Like the disciple Thomas, because they had seen they had believed. How, indeed, could it have been otherwise? How could they, standing there in Shechem,--the site of Abraham’s altar, of Jacob’s well, of Joseph’s tomb, of Joshua’s victories--refuse to believe in the Divine calling of the people Israel? (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 24". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent