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Joshua rose early in the morning.
Why does Joshua rise early in the morning? He has important and responsible duties to discharge during the day, and this may be one reason. Perhaps this has been his habit during a long succession of years, and now it is as easy and natural to him as breathing. Much has been said by some in favour of early rising, and it has been the practice of many distinguished men. Franklin wrote these words, “The morning has gold in its mouth. Dean Swift declared that he never knew any man come to greatness and eminence who lay in bed of a morning.” Doddridge, Barnes, Wesley, Judge Hale, and others we could name, always rose before five o’clock in the morning. As we look upon these sayings, and consider these examples, should we affirm that early rising is the imperative duty of every man? There are certain persons who live to do evil, only evil, and that continually. The longer they remain in bed the better it will be for themselves and others. There are some Who live a life of sheer indolence. Since their sleeping and waking hours are equal, so far as others are concerned, it is of no importance when they rise. In these times, too, when day is turned into night, there are multitudes, especially in our large cities and towns, who cannot go to rest till a late hour, and to whom early rising is therefore a physical impossibility. Besides, no hard and fast line can be drawn regarding measures of sleep, because some require more than others. We believe it would be highly beneficial to the bodies, the minds, and the souls of all, if the old custom--“early to bed and early to rise”--were constantly observed. Let every individual, however, endeavour to discharge every duty which is legitimately imposed upon him; and whether this is done by day or by night, he will fill up the outline of work which God gives to him, and find acceptance in His sight. (A. McAuslane.)
They removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan.
is the strong word that gathers up the teaching of the chapter.
1. The advance was from a notable past. “Finis” had been written to the first volume of the history of Israel; bondage its preface, vengeance its introduction, mercy its continual illumination. Sin had made their forty years a wilderness, in which they wandered from one oasis to another of heavenly grace set as with palm-trees and wells of water. And the present was rich and satisfying. Eastern Palestine was overflowing with honey and oil and milk. The stately oaks of Bashan, its sheep and goats and mighty bulls waiting to be herded among their riches, its abundant pasturage and countless watercourses, quite outrivaled the land beyond the river. Here they were already in possession; while beyond, fenced cities and disciplined troops forewarned of hardship and blood. This new volume opened to-day will show no such lavishness of miraculous helps. Still the word is “Advance.” If the leader is less, the people are more. If miracles and interventions are fewer, courage and skill and power are greater. God’s helps are transferred from without to within the hearts of men. He works best for them by working through them.
2. The advance was a long step toward their destiny. God’s purposes never turn back. His plan demanded the transfer of the people across the Jordan. Just because Eastern Palestine was broader and richer, they must go over. Their national growth and mission demanded a new type of life. Israel must set his feet by the shore of the great sea, and dwell upon the roads traversed by caravans and armies. Then Alexandria can supply its spiritual philosophy, Greece its culture and language, Rome its law and wide sway, to aid in recording and extending the gospel. Physical geography is potent in civilisation.
3. Advance requires spiritual preparation. It is not first for the sake of earthly reward. An eternal purpose, a holy destiny rules the progress. Before each Jordan is crossed, the people must be sanctified, the leader empowered. The past was no dead past to bury its dead, but was to live in remembrance of deliverance granted and mercies showered, of disastrous and destructive sins. (C. M. Southgate.)
When ye see the ark . . . go after it.
The good superseded by the better
Hitherto the Israelites had been led on their way by the pillar of cloud. But now that was to be seen no more. With the death of Moses, apparently, it had disappeared. So the ark is to take the place of the pillar of cloud. It is better that there should come sometimes these changes of form--changes in the method of the Divine communication with men, or their communication with Him, though we are apt to quarrel with them, and to be greatly afraid when they seem to be impending. For our disposition is so strong to regard the means as the end, and to exalt the human or the material at the expense of the spiritual, of which it is the symbol, that we need, in order to be kept from idolatry, to have these visible things, these material props, taken from us, so that we may be led to trust more fully in the unseen, and to lean only era the eternal arm of God. In the case of the Israelites it was a higher symbol that was now to take the place of the pillar. The pillar had answered its purpose. It had served to show the people the way they should go, and to remind them of the Divine guardianship; but in itself it had no special suggestiveness. But with the ark it was otherwise. It had a sacredness in public esteem, inasmuch as it contained the tables of the testimony. It was the repository of the law. The word of the Lord was enshrined in it. And it was not of the Divine law only that it spoke. It spoke of mercy also, of clemency, of God’s forgiveness; for the lid of it was the mercy-seat. So that while it was a symbol of law, it was a symbol also of hope and of peace to those who might be mourning their inadequate fulfilment of the law. It was, then, an object to be regarded with reverence, and was in danger, indeed, of being regarded, as afterwards it was in fact, with superstitious reverence. But now, in our day, the ark has gone the way of the cloudy pillar. It too has disappeared. Are we then forsaken? Have we nothing to guide us in the strange and perilous way we have to go? It is only the voice of unbelief that can answer “No.” God speaks to us, not as He spoke to our fathers, or to His people in ancient days, but not less truly than He spoke to them, and by a mightier though a gentler voice, and by a symbol infinitely more rich in meaning. To us in these later days He has spoken by His Son. And what is the Son? He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person. It is He who is our Guide to lead us forward in the untrodden ways. Surely the pillar and the ark, yes, and the priest also, and all the forms and ritual of the old covenant, might well vanish away, if in their place the Christ, the Son of the living God, is to come. And notice this--that, like the ark which was a type of Himself, He passes over before us into Jordan, that we who follow Him may pass through it in safety. Into Jordan--for between us, too, and the land of our hope and our desire, there rolls a deep and, as it seems to our fears at times perhaps, an impassable stream. Men of all times have had their hopes of a better world, into which they might enter at last. And we have had our hopes. Those especially who have had weariness and disappointments to bear, like the Israelites in their wanderings in the desert, have clung to the thought of a region of peace and joy which may be their inheritance when the strife is over. But who has not had thoughts of such a future? of such a destiny? of such a home? We have much here that is sweet--many of us--much from which it would cost us not a little to part. But we have not all that we need; and in how many ways are we thwarted! Why, the very fruition of our desires serves only to make it the more keen! Surely there are better things in store--a clearer vision, a larger life, a more perfect holiness. Put between that bright world which our imagination paints and us there lies the dark and deep river. Not the stream of death merely. It is sin that has made the stream so alarming. We have done wrong. And how can we meet with God, and how can we enter into that holy Presence? Well, let us look at this picture. Here is the ark of the Lord, in the centre of Jordan; and while it rests there, the people by hundreds and thousands are able to pass over to the other shore in safety. Does not that remind us of another scene? “They took Jesus,” you read in one of the Gospel accounts, “and led Him away. And He, bearing His Cross, went forth unto a place called the place of a skull; and they crucified Him, and two other with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” “In the midst”--the centre of all that terrible scene. What a scene it is! Death is there; and death the most shameful and agonising. And sin is there--sin the most aggravated and the most awful. But Christ has passed over before us into this deep gulf of iniquity and horror. “He bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” “He hasted death for every man.” But, thanks be to God, the deep waters did not overwhelm Him. He entered into the midst of them, and they rolled back and acknowledged Him their Master. It was impossible for death to hold Him. He met it, and triumphed openly over it. And there He stands in the centre of that Jordan that we dread, that we, trusting in Him and sharing in His victory and His joy and His eternal life, may pass over in safety and peace. (H. Arnold Thomas, M. A.)
The ark of covenant
I. The line of the march: “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” The way was unknown, untried, danger-encompassed. Great conflicts lay in it. Great trials; trials of faith, trials of courage, trials of patience, trials of strength.
II. The leader of the march along the unknown, untried, and danger-encompassed way: “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” In other words, Jesus was the Leader of the march. He was with the Church in the wilderness--the true Joshua--the Captain of “the sacramental host of God’s elect.”
III. The march itself.
1. It was to be a prompt following--unquestioning, soldierlike. To the high summons, “Follow Me,” the response was to be, “Lord, we will follow Thee, whithersoever Thou goest.”
2. It was to be humble, reverent following. “Come not near unto it.” The following was to be far: far, and yet near. Near because far. Far, through a perception of the greatness of God; far, through a consciousness of unworthiness. Far in that sense, and therefore near. “For thus saith the High and Lofty One,” &c.
3. It was to be a trustful following. The ark of the covenant of the Lord was to stand out clear and distinct, that each and all might see it; that even the little children might see it.” There was to be no crowding round the ark of the covenant of the Lord. Nothing was to intervene between the people and their guide, and the object of their trust; not even Joshua. They were to see “no man, save Jesus only.” (W. Crosbie, M. A. , LL. B.)
I. We need new grace for new experiences. Some trial which we have never before endured is to be borne by us. Some duty which we have never before discharged is to be performed by us. Some relationship that is entirely new is to be formed by us, and we know not how we shall bear ourselves. Let us take courage. He who gave these minute directions to His ancient people will not fail us; and though He may not come to us with such specific guidance, He will yet by His providence and Spirit give us the help we need.
II. When we have to cross any river of difficulty, let us put the ark of the covenant into the middle of the stream. In simple phrase, when we come to a difficulty, let us see Christ in it, and then we shall be able to surmount it. He turns the water into dry land. He makes our difficulties stepping-stones to glory. We are never really in danger when we can see Him.
III. There are no degrees of difficulty with God. All things are equally easy to Omnipotence. Let us not limit the Holy One of Israel by supposing that any of our emergencies are too great for Him to help us through them. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The influence of the ark
The influence of the ark upon the popular mind finds an analogy in the middle ages. A recent writer, speaking of civil life in Siena, says: “In the centre of the Republican army was the famous Carroccio, a car upon four wheels, drawn by four pairs of oxen covered to the feet in rich cloths. A horn or “antenna” rose from the centre of the ear to a great height, upon which floated the standard of the Republic . . . Lower down, about the middle of the antenna, a Christ upon the Cross, with outspread arms, seemed to bless the army. A kind of platform in the front of the car was reserved for the most valiant soldiers, told off for its defence; behind was another platform for the trumpeters and musicians. An act of religious consecration and worship was celebrated upon the car before it left the city, and white-robed priests accompanied it to the battlefield. As the Carroccio of Siena, drawn by the large mild-eyed oxen of Tuscany, wound its way through the gates and down the sloping olive-clothed hills from the city, crowds followed its course with straining eyes, from the walls and ramparts and housetops. The loss of the Carroccio was to the Republic like the loss of the ark of the Lord to the Hebrews--the greatest public calamity; and all that each city possessed of the most valorous, the nerve and flower of the army, was chosen to act as the guard of the sacred car; the fiercest of the conflict was waged around it; and its presence often decided the fate of the battle.”
Crossing the border
It was, you observe, the putting forward of their most precious, their priceless, inheritance to the very forefront of the camp, to which the people were summoned in the crossing over Jordan. About three-quarters of a mile, throughout the march, was to separate the ark and its bearers from the body of the travelling host. Why was this? God does nothing in vain. God does nothing without reason. Let us see, then, whether it may not have been in view of another journey and a mightier multitude of travellers that Joshua forbade the children of Israel to go within two thousand cubits of the ark.
I. Now it certainly does appear to require some explanation, for it is a very strange and very improbable direction, that the most valuable of all the property the people possessed, that the very emblem of their character as the people of Jehovah, should be ordered to the most exposed of all places in the expedition, the thousands who would have rallied for its defence being ordered to remain nearly a mile in the rear. You recollect how God punished the successors of these pilgrims for exposing the ark in the battlefield in the eyes of the Philistines, who seized it and carried it away. And yet here you have that same consecrated treasure borne by a handful of priests, not only in the front, where the first shock from the Canaanites is certain to be felt, but left unprotected to the mercy of the enemy by this express decree. Verily, if I may not go so far as to reckon this transaction a typical one, at all events I am unable to make anything of the wisdom or prudence of the commandment, unless I see in it a picture of what has happened, again and again, not to the symbols of our modern Christianity, but to that Christianity itself. You can hardly read this chapter without being reminded of words written when ages and generations had gone by, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.” There may, no doubt, be a sense wherein the Church is the champion for the truth, contending earnestly for the faith. We are to wrestle against flesh and blood, and against spiritual wickedness, rather than abandon Christ’s gospel to its foes. But there, nevertheless, are times when God determines to dispense with the valour even of the Church, and work’s the mightiest of His exploits by the unsupported majesty of the gospel itself. I see this in the whole history of Christianity, from the days of its Founder until now. The history of Christianity is not the history of men. It is the history of truth triumphing without men, and even ofttimes in spite of men; so that it has been, as if out of the mouth of babes and of sucklings, that the enemy and the avenger have been stilled, that God might have all the praise. We are Christians, not for God’s security, but for our own. We were not converted as if He needed anything; we want the ark, not the ark us; and whensoever you find yourself tempted, in prosperous times, to boast of the Church as if she prospered through you, or whensoever, in adverse times, you find yourselves lamenting over a dead soldier of the Cross, “My father! my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,” then remember that in that day, when all the godliness the world knew had laid up its symbols in the ark of the covenant, that ark, all alone, cleft in twain the waters of a river, and put to flight the armies of the alien, giving protection to thousands but receiving none.
II. But now, this is not, you will observe, by any means the reason that was given by Joshua himself why the camp should not come nearer to the ark. The reason given is, that the ark was to be the guide of the travelling host, and that certain very obvious advantages would be gained by the putting of an interval betwixt the leaders and the led. “Come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go; for ye have not passed this way heretofore.” The command had been given to go over the border into the country of the Canaanites, but that border was a deep and a rapid, if not a very wide, river. Had the travelling host come up all together to the banks of the Jordan there might have been hard work to muster up the courage and the faith requisite for the crossing, and so the making way for the miracle. On the other hand, let the priests, the chief men of the congregation, not only go down themselves into that perilous river, but take into it the ark of the covenant whereof they are the appointed and responsible keepers; and let the vanguard of the people not come up to that river until the precious chest, with its bearers, appears in safety in the midst of the current, and until that miraculous channel has been cut, and remains waiting for them to follow in security and comfort, and by this means you get the Israelites into Canaan without loss, and, furthermore, without risking their disobedience or rebellion. I will not insist on the merely abstract position that there is a fitness in putting a guide at some distance from the guided in matters so lofty as religion; that you quicken the reverence of those who follow or obey when you put some interval, whether of nature or of time, betwixt the leaders and the led. This, indeed, might be illustrated by the crossing of the river with two thousand cubits between the ark and the congregation. “Come not near it.” Follow it, but treat it with respect. Jesus, in a sense, still commands us, “Touch Me not.” Our entire business consists in this--“If any man will be My disciple, let him take up his cross and follow Me.” “He left us an example that we should follow His steps.” Whereas it surely needs not that we urge it, as the cardinal defect in the piety of most of us, that we forget the cubits which will ever separate the disciple from the Master, the servant from his Lord. Recollect that it was when Iscariot came near enough, nearer than they all, to kiss the Saviour, that he sold Him to His enemies for “thirty pieces of silver.” Therefore, as to the ark which hides from you and from your children the things which belong only to the Lord our God, follow it, but “come not near it, that ye may know the way by which ye ought to go.” But, as we just now observed, this also is, though very instructive, wide of the mark. There was not merely a lesson on the ark’s independence, not merely another lesson on the duty of reverence on the side of the Church, the chief thing was that the ark became a better guide by moving on in front, a thousand yards before the children of Israel. It must surely have struck you, again and again, that, however hard it is for us to live a life of faith eighteen hundred years after the Founder of our faith left the world, it must have been very much harder for those to live it who preceded the Saviour into the world. We speak not of the difference, though that is a great one, between the trusting to a past and an only future Redeemer; we refer rather to the fact that Old Testament Christians had no model, no pattern, by which to be strengthened and guided in their sojourn through the wilderness. Prophets might believe that Messiah would one day die; but prophets could scarcely know how Messiah before dying would live. Well might they “search what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when they testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ.” Well they might. That was no mere curiosity. It was because they too had sufferings to endure, and knew well enough how much easier the bearing of them would be if they could bear them within sight of Immanuel’s. Now, that is just what we can do. Eighteen centuries, like the two thousand cubits of the Hebrews, divide us in the rear from the living, moving man Christ Jesus, who, before tasting death for every man, tasted all the woes and the wants of life. The four Gospels are the eyes with which we keep Him in view who has gone on in front to mark out our way. If I exult in anything about the writings of the Evangelists, it is in this--that they contain my Master’s anticipation of my little walk of faith. There lives not the believer of whose life there was not a rehearsal in Immanuel’s. Not, perhaps, in the minuteness and exactness of its detail, but in character and in spirit. I can come into no strait out of which I may not be helped by some strait of my Master’s. I can bear no burden which some burden of His will not help me to carry. Our enemies are the same--not that I have the Pharisees, or that He had Englishmen, to confound, but that the spirits of both are alike, and the weapons that must conquer both common to my Master and to me. The gist of this consolation is not that Christ bore what I have to bear: it is that He got through it all, that it did not destroy Him, that He is alive on the other side, and, which is better than all, has left that channel which His faith cut wide open for me, that I, like my Lord, may go through that same Jordan on dry ground. That is the point: I am not with Christ in the middle of the river. For then how do I know that the waves will not engulf both the Master and the servant? But I see Him, mark you--just as the Hebrews beheld their priests--going down to every one of my sorrows. I see that faith piles up the waves in walls on either hand, and now before I have to touch that water I can catch the beautiful spectacle of that triumphant Forerunner awaiting me on the opposite bank, or else standing unhurt in the midst of the billows; and, having Himself “overcome the sharpness of death,” has also “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” (H. Christopherson.)
Yet there shall be a space between you and it.--
Divine guidance not to be obscured
Some have thought that this was designed as a token of reverence; but in that case it would have been prescribed long before, as soon as the ark was constructed, and began to be carried with the host through the wilderness. The intention was, “that ye may know the way by which you must go” (Joshua 3:4). If this arrangement had not been made, the course of the ark through the flat plains of the Jordan would not have been visible to the mass of the host, but only to those in the immediate neighbourhood, and the people would have been liable to straggle and fall into confusion, if not to diverge altogether. In all cases, when we are looking out for Divine guidance, it is of supreme importance that there be nothing in the way to obscure the object or to distort our vision. Alas, how often is this direction disregarded! How often do we allow our prejudices, or our wishes, or our worldly interests to come between us and the Divine direction we profess to desire l At some turn of our life we feel that we ought not to take a decisive step without asking guidance from above. But our own wishes bear strongly in a particular direction, and we are only too prone to conclude that God is in favour of our plan. We do not act honestly; we lay stress on all that is in favour of what we like; we think little of considerations of the opposite kind. And when we announce our decisions, if the matter concern others, we are at pains to tell them that we have made it matter of prayer. But why make it matter of prayer if we do so with prejudiced minds? It is only when our eye is single that the whole body is full of light. This clear space of two thousand cubits between the people and the ark deserves to be remembered. Let us have a like clear space morally between us and God when we go to ask His counsel, lest peradventure we not only mistake His directions, but bring disaster on ourselves and dishonour on His name. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Ye have net passed this way heretofore.
The untrodden path
Frequently, in the course of a man’s life, he is brought to a standstill before some new difficulty of which till then he has had no experience. Now at such an emergency here is the answer that is given by this ancient story: Put the ark of God in the river before you, and keep it fully in your sight, then though it be overflowing all its banks you shall go over dry shod. Let us take a few instances. There is the young person leaving the parental home and beginning independent life. The lad has known all the experiences of school, and has, perhaps, also made trial of business duties, while yet his evenings and mornings have been spent in the loved society of the family circle; but now he is to go forth a stranger to an unknown city, mayhap even to cross the ocean to a foreign land. Keep the ark clearly before you, young man, and you have nothing to fear. The mariner who can use his quadrant can always tell where he is if he can but get a glimpse of the sun at noonday; and you may always know your way if you keep unclouded before your faith-eye the Sun of Righteousness. We may further apply this principle to the young woman, on the day when she leaves her father’s house to be the centre of the home circle of another. What hopes have gravitated towards that day! What preparations have been made for it! what congratulations have been uttered regarding it! Yet now that it has dawned there is, at her heart, a fluttering of strange anxiety. It is not that she has any, the slightest, element of distrust in him with whom she has linked her lot, but rather that she distrusts herself, and is questioning whether she is equal to the new duties that devolve upon her. So on the very verge of the river she seems to stand with “reluctant feet,” as if she hardly dared to cross. Let her put the ark in the river and keep that in sight, and all will be well. Let her resolutely look to Jesus as her Saviour and sovereign, and the duties of her new life will become easy. The principle on which I am now insisting is also admirably appropriate to the case of those who find themselves face to face with a difficult duty such as has never before confronted them. In general every man’s life, after he has fairly set out upon its labours, has what we might call an “even tenor.” There is an ordinary routine of work to be done. But now and then this tranquility is interrupted. Something comes that he has not forecast. He is distrustful of himself in the matter. He knows not what to do. Now here again our practical maxim becomes valuable. Send the ark before you and keep it in sight. Remember Jesus and His atoning death. Open your heart for the reception of the Holy Spirit, and then you will be guided as safely through your difficulty as were the tribes through the swollen river. Not for spiritual difficulties alone, not for religious duties merely, as men too commonly use these words, does our maxim hold. To the Christian every difficulty is a spiritual difficulty, and every duty is a religious duty, and so in every emergency he is warranted to look to Christ; nay, he is guilty of a sin not more against God than against himself, if he does not. The ark is as much in its proper place in the counting-house as in the family or in the Church; and if in your business perplexities you had more recourse to Jesus directly and immediately, without letting any intervening human element come in to hide Him from your thoughts, you would more frequently have deliverances to tell of, and would find yourselves singing “new Ebenezers” to His praise. Depend upon it, you will not soon lose yourselves if you keep Him in view. Some years ago a party of travellers were passing over one of the Swiss mountains. After they had gone a considerable way it began to snow heavily, and the oldest of the guides gravely shook his head, and said, “If the wind rises we are lost.” Scarcely had he spoken when a gale arose, and the snow was whirled into multitudinous drifts, and all waymarks were obliterated. Cautiously they moved on, not knowing where they were, and almost giving themselves up for lost. At length one of the guides, who had gone a short way before them to search out the path, was heard shouting, “The cross! The cross! We are all right.” And what had the cross to do with it? It was one of those religious memorials which we so frequently meet in Roman Catholic countries, and this one, set up at first by some private individual for a personal reason, had become at length a well-known and easily recognised landmark for the traveller. Hence the moment the guide saw it he knew where he was, and what direction to take. But what was true of that symbol in their case is true in all instances of the thing which it signifies; for we may always know where we are when, with our faith-eye, we can see Christ crucified. That reveals every peril, and pierces through every disguise of evil. That bars the way to every dishonour, and barricades the entrance to every pathway of iniquity. Keep that, therefore, in uninterrupted view, and you will never lose your way. But, taking another line of remark, the maxim to which I have referred may be applied to those who are called upon for the first time to bear some heavy trial. Sorrow, in some form or other, must come upon us in the world. But the commonness of it does not make its experience a whit less bitter to those who are required to drink its cup. No matter how many others have suffered before us, our first acquaintance with grief is ever keen and poignant. I shall never forget, while memory lasts, the strangeness of the experience through which I passed when first the reaper “whose name is Death” came into my home, and “with his sickle keen” cut down, at one thrust, two of my children. The stroke blinded me for the moment, and I was like one utterly forlorn; but when at length I opened my eyes, I saw the ark in the river, and that instantly steadied me. I knew then where I was. I remembered then that He who had done it was my covenant God, to whom I had given my little ones in baptism, and since He had chosen so to accept my gift, I asked myself why I should be dismayed? From my own experience, therefore, I can attest the efficacy of this consolation, and commend it to all who are in trouble, more especially to those who have been bereaved. Let the truth symbolised by that ark be but accepted in simple faith, and even in the moment of utter desolation there will come the calmness of resignation, and the confidence which only the hope of reunion with our loved ones can impart. This alone can avail us at such a time. This leads me naturally to remark that the maxim which I have been illustrating may be applied to our own death. However many we may have seen depart, the path to ourselves must be strange and untraversed. Oh, see to it that you then keep Christ in view, for He alone can then sustain you. Through death He has Himself delivered them who, through fear of death, have been all their lifetime subject to bondage. But there may be some who have never yet made Jesus their Saviour by simple trust in Him; and to them I must address one parting word. You have had many difficulties to confront in the past. You know how you failed before them. When your business went from beneath you, and you had no prop to lean upon, how dreary were you then without the Lord! When your child died, and all the world seemed to you draped in sadness, how utterly prostrate were you then in the consciousness that you had no hold on Christ! When you were laid aside with serious sickness, and you thought that you should die, how was your heart filled with dread at the prospect of meeting God! Oh, let the experience of the past warn you for the future! If you failed under the lesser trials, how will you endure the greater? “None but Christ; none but Christ,” said Lambert at the stake; and there is none else can be a real helper unto you, either in life or death. Put the ark before you, then, and keep it full in view. That only, but that always, will make the channel dry. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The untrodden path and the guiding ark
I. The untrodden path. Our march through time is like that of men in a mist, in which things loom in strangely distorted shapes, unlike their real selves, until we get close up to them, and only then do we discover them. So for us all the path is new and unknown by reason of the sudden surprises that may be sprung upon us, by reason of the sudden temptations that may start up at any moment in our course, by reason of the earthquakes that may shatter the most solid-seeming lives, by reason of the sudden calamities that may fall upon us. The sorrows that we anticipate seldom come, and those that do come are seldom anticipated. The most fatal bolts are generally from the blue. One flash, all unlooked for, is enough to blast the tree in all its leafy pride. Many of us, I have no doubt, can look back to times in our lives when, without anticipation on our part, or warning from anything outside of us, a smiting hand fell upon some of our blessings. The morning dawned upon the gourd in full vigour of growth, and in the evening it was stretched yellow and wilted upon the turf. Anything may come out of that dark cloud through which our life’s course has to pass. And there are some things concerning which all that we know is that they must come.
II. The guiding ark. For us a similar thing is true. Jesus Christ is the true Ark of God. For what was the ark? The symbol of the Divine presence; and Christ is the reality of the Divine presence with men. The whole content of that ark was the law of the Lord. And Jesus Christ is the embodied law of the present God. The ark was the sign that God had entered into this covenant with these people, and that they had a right to say to Him, “Thou art our God, and we are Thy people.” And the same double assurance of reciprocal possession and mutual delight in possession is granted to us in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. So He becomes the guiding Ark, the Shepherd of Israel. His presence and will our directors. The law, which is contained and incorporated in Him, is that by which we are to walk. The covenant which He has established in His own blood between God and man contains in itself not only the direction for conduct, but also the motives which will impel us to walk where and as He enjoins. And so, every way we may say, by His providences Which He appoints, by His example which He sets us, by His gracious Word in which He sums up all human duties in the one sweet obligation, “Follow Me,” and even more by His Spirit that dwells in us, and whispers in our ears, “This is the way; walk ye in it,” and enlightens every perplexity, and strengthens all feebleness, and directs our footsteps into the way of peace; that living and personal Ark of the covenant of the Lord of the whole earth is still the guide of waiting and docile hearts.
III. The watchful following: “Come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye ought to go.” In a shipwreck the chances are that the boats will be swamped by the people scrambling into them in too great a hurry. In the Christian life most of the mistakes that people make arise from their not letting the ark go far enough ahead of them before they gather up their belongings and follow it. An impatience of the half-declared Divine will, a running before we are sent, an acting before we are quite sure that God wills us to do so and so, are at the root of most of the failures of Christian effort, and of a large number of the miseries of Christian men. If we would only have patience! Three-quarters of a mile the ark went ahead before a man lifted a foot to follow it. And there was no mistake possible then. Now do not be in a hurry to act. “Raw haste” is “half-sister to delay.” We are all impatient of uncertainty, either in opinion or in conduct; but if you are not quite sure what God wants you to do, you may be quite sure that He does not at present want you to do anything. Wait till you see what He does wish you to do. Better, better far, to spend hours in silent--although people that know nothing about what we are doing may call it indolent--waiting for the clear declaration of God’s will, than to hurry on paths which, after we have gone on them far enough to make it a mortification and a weariness to turn back, we shall find out to have been not His at all, but only our own mistakes as to where the ark would have us go. And that there may be this patience the one thing needful--as, indeed, it is the one thing needful for all strength of all kinds in the Christian life--is the rigid suppression of our own wills. Suppress your own wills, dwell near God, that you may hear His lightest whisper. “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” Wharfs the use of the glance of an eye if the man for whom it is meant is half a mile off, and staring about him at everything except the eye that would guide? And that is where some of us that call ourselves Christian people are. God might look guidance at us for a week, and we should never know that He was doing it, we have so many other things to look after. And we are so far away from Him that it would need a telescope for us to see His face. “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” Keep near Him, and you will not lack direction. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)
The untravelled and irretraceable way
(with Deuteronomy 17:16):--
I. Our life, like Israel’s journey, is by a new way: “Ye have not gone this way heretofore.” What others have felt and done is no sure chart of what we shall do and feel. The ship just coming in cannot predict what will be the voyage of the one just starting out. Like a journey in an unfamiliar, mountainous country, every step is into a new region; strange and unexpected scenes arise.
II. Life is also by an irretraceable way: “Ye shall no more return that way.” Like Israel, we look for the first and the last time upon the scenery as we pass through it. We may change the direction of life, correct its tendencies, find pardon for its sins and follies, but we never can retrace the steps already taken,
III. Our experiences, like those of Israel, are for purposes of discipline. There is a moral strength, patience, perseverance, and trust, gotten by the valleys we traverse, the steeps we climb, and the magnitudes we see. One day Divine wisdom will be justified in all eyes for this uneven, circuitous path of life.
IV. Our journey also leads to the promised land, and fidelity will bring us there. We are not in doubt as to whither we go, however unforeseen the way may be. Calebs and Joshuas even now bring us marvellous clusters of fruit as foretastes. We climb, here and there, Pisgahs, to be refreshed by the prospect. We are sure that when our feet touch that “darkly flowing river” it will part, and we shall easily go over. However uncertain the future, some things are sure. A few great truths, sunk deep in the heart, are all we absolutely need for the journey. God never leaves the soul without some light. As Charles Kingsley said, in the London fog: “There is always light enough to get home.” (T. S. Scott.)
I. Thoughts suggestive of consolation.
1. Remember, whether your way in providence be new or old, it is not a way of your own appointing. A higher power than yours has led you to your present standing-place. It must, therefore, be right. God has never erred yet, either in guiding a star in its orbit, or in directing the chaff from the winnower’s hand, and He cannot err in steering the course of one of His people. “Say ye unto the righteous it shall be well with him”; for “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delighteth in his way.” “My times are in Thy hand.”
2. Note again, your present pathway is new to you, but it is not new to your God. All things are equally present to His eye. Nothing comes upon Him by surprise.
3. Remember, also, the trials which seem new to us are not new to God’s people. Joshua said to the tribes, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore”; but then their forefathers had gone through the Red Sea, which was much the same thing, and perhaps on a greater Scale still. Do not, therefore, say or imagine that your woes are peculiar. Others have suffered as much as you are enduring. If it be strange to you it is only to you strange, for the rest of God’s saints have suffered the same.
4. But suppose our position should be new, the labour new, the affliction new, it is no sort of reason why it should be any the more dangerous. It is folly to be alarmed at new things because they are new. There may be less danger, after all, in the trial you dread than in that which you are bearing to-day.
5. And suppose that, being new, it were dangerous; one thing is very clear, namely, that fear will not diminish the danger. To fret, and worry, and mistrust, will that prepare you for what is coming? Will it aid you to die to begin this day to feel a thousand deaths in fearing one. No, if the worst come to the worst, nothing can sharpen your sword so well for battle as faith in the ever-living God.
6. Hitherto and up to this moment we have found our God to be faithful to us. These present crosses which are now upon our shoulders, we say we would rather always bear them than have new crosses, but is this wise? Do you not recollect when these very crosses were themselves new? To-day’s grief will only be new for to-day and for a little time to come; it will soon grow old if we live long enough, and we shall become as used to the new trial as to the old.
7. Moreover, should we become distrustful whilst passing by a way which we have never trodden before if we recollected that progress implies a change of difficulties and trials? Who wants to be like a blind horse going round a mill for ever and ever, feeling the lash of the same whip at the same place, and dragging the same machinery round without advancing? No, let us advance. And what if in going on we meet with sterner trials? Then so let it be, for we shall receive richer grace.
8. If there come new trials, they generally end the old ones. I do not know what my trials may be seven years hence, but I do know that the trials of this month will not then disturb me. When we bow beneath the infirmities of age, we may rest assured that we shall not be annoyed by the temptations of boyhood, nor molested by the vexations of middle life. In advancing, there are prospects of gain as well as of loss.
9. Moreover, although we have not passed this way heretofore, the path runs in the right direction. The children of Israel had their faces set towards the promised land. Courage, brothers and sisters! The way may be rough to us, but it is the King’s highway, leading to the New Jerusalem.
II. A few sentences of direction. Wherewithal shall a man be guided when he comes to a way which he has not passed heretofore? When our way is devoid of familiar footprints, what shall we do?
1. Be most concerned to hear the word of the Lord, and obey it. Notice that this Chapter seems taken up with “The Lord said unto Joshua,” and “Joshua said unto the people of Israel.” The chief point in every dilemma is to wait till you hear the Master’s voice.
2. Distinctly recognise the presence of the covenant God of Israel with you. We never travel so sweetly over the rough ways of this life as when we see that God, the living God, the God of the covenant, the God of the mercy-seat, the God of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the God of the reconciliation by blood, is with us and fulfilling His promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”
3. Dismiss from your soul the anxiety which arises from the idea that you are the keeper of the Divine life within your soul. When Israel marched through the wilderness some tribes were before and some were behind the ark, as if they were guarding it; but on this occasion the ark went far ahead of them, as though God had said, “You My people are no protection to Me; I guard you.” Now in the time of danger the priests who carry the ark advance into the very teeth of the enemy, and into the bed of the Jordan, and there they stand, as though the eternal God threw clown the gauntlet to all the hosts of Canaan and said, “Come and contest it with Me if you can. I have left My people behind; I alone will meet you; I have come up alone, unattended, and I defy you all.” God’s grace will take care of him upon whom it lights.
4. As further directions let me briefly say, if you are now about to enter into a great trouble, do not hurry, make no rash haste. If the grace of God does not make us calm in the time of peril and suffering, we have some reason to question whether it is healthily operating upon our spirits at all.
5. But next, while you do not hurry, do not hesitate. Not one man of all the tribes said, “I must wait and see others cross, and know whether the road really is open.” At the moment the trumpets sounded the advance they all went on, asking no questions. Be brave, also, and go straight on, though it were a river of fire instead of water. If Jehovah bids you, the way is right; hesitate not.
6. There is one direction which we must not omit, because it is put by itself for special observance--it is this, “Sanctify yourselves.” Whenever we are in new trials a voice speaks out of them, saying, “Sanctify yourselves.” I suppose the Israelites washed themselves with water and practised the ceremonial rights which made them clean; so the child of God should come afresh in time of trouble to the precious blood of Christ. He should also ask for grace that he may purge out the old leaven.
III. A few sentences by way of exciting expectation. Before us rolls this river, full to its brim; beyond the river, contention and strife await us; let us lift up our hearts to God and trust Him, and what shall then happen?
1. Why, first, we shall discern the presence of the living God (verse 10). Anything which gives us an opportunity to see our God is worth having. Even the light of the fiery furnace, if no other light can reveal that fourth who is like the Son of God, is a precious light. Thank God that trouble is coming, for now, as through a glass, shall you behold the glory of the Lord.
2. What next will happen then? Why, in all probability the difficulty in your way will cease to be; for while the children of Israel saw the living God, they also saw a totally new and wonderful phenomenon. God does interfere in ways which could not have been prognosticated by those who best understand the science of probabilities. God flings down the challenge every day to Satan and to sin, and says, “Here is My child; I put him in a new position to-day; see if you can overcome him now.” To-morrow God will issue the same challenge, and so on to the end. Perhaps this new trouble has come because Satan has said, “Put forth now Thine hand and touch his bone, and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face”; but God is saying, “Try him, try him,” only with this view, that He may get glory by causing our weakness to overcome all the strength of hell through grace Divine.
3. Is this all that we have to expect? No, we shall see such deliverances that we shall be prepared for future trials. Sometimes a trouble, when we are marvellously brought through it, becomes a kind of stock-in-trade for us; we look back upon it when the next affliction comes, and we say, “No, I am not afraid; the God who helped me on that occasion can help me now.”
4. Lastly, and this is best of all, and will please the children of God most-all that is coming to you will magnify Jesus in your eyes. Jesus is very dear to every child of God, but to the most tried He is the most precious. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The untrodden way
Another year is numbered with the past. To each of us it has been marked by events materially affecting us for weal or woe. A new year, richly laden with golden possibilities, is now opening before us. What may transpire during it is concealed from our present view. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” Nor need we be dismayed by reason of this obscurity; indeed, we would not have it otherwise. All that we require in going forth to meet what ever may arise, is to realise the presence with us of the God of Israel, and to follow the pillar of cloud and of fire. Several important truths were pictured forth under the Jewish dispensation by the symbol of the ark of the covenant.
1. The recognition of the Divine presence.
2. The duty of striving after the honouring of the Divine law.
3. The privilege of communion with God through the Mediator.
When the children of Israel were commanded to “go after” the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they were in fact urged, in all their future wanderings, to seek to live under a continual sense of the Divine presence, to strive to honour the Divine law, and to hold fellowship with Heaven. Even so let it be with you. Think of the eye of God as being upon your way; yea, be your spirit that which led one to say, “If Thy presence go not with me, carry me not up hence.” Take the principles of God’s own Word, and act upon them. Seek counsel and help from Heaven. Lift up to God “holy hands.” Have a mercy-seat; some spot sacred to hallowed and refreshing communion with God. And, pursuing this course, the weeks and months of the year will pass happily along in your experience: new duties will be faithfully performed, new temptations successfully resisted; your witness to the truth will be decided in its character; strength, both for service and for suffering, will be secured; and “the beauty of the Lord your God” being thus upon you, He will “establish the work of your hands.” There are two very plain reasons why it behoves us to take this course.
(1) Our way in the future is unknown to us, and hence we need to be Divinely directed. The waters of doubt and uncertainty are flowing over the path we have to tread, quite obliterating it from our view. We stand to-day, looking on to the goodly land beyond, the land of light and love, of rest and peace, of beauty and blessedness, of eternal purity and uprightness, but we cannot tell by what way we are to be brought into its full possession. And the path before us being thus an unknown one, we do well to yield ourselves up to the guidance of our God; and, taking this course, we may rest assured that He will conduct us in safety, and bring us at length into the fulness of His rest.
(2) The future is new to us. Events and experiences, totally different from anything we have had before, will occur to us. But, living as in God’s presence, and in obedience to His will, and in fellowship with Him at His throne, arise what may, we shall be Divinely supported. (S. D. Hillman.)
It was the impressiveness of a new experience. A ship’s company who have lived together for a few weeks, growing accustomed to their shipboard life, at last draw near the land towards which they have been sailing, and it is always striking to see how a quietness and seriousness seems to come over them in the last hours before they go on shore. New things are waiting for them there, They are going to exchange the familiar for the unfamiliar; so there is little of lightness and much seriousness. And this is the way in which life keeps its solemnity. Let us look to-day at this power of unprecedented things, and try to get some idea of the true way to approach them. Apply it first of all to the changes which are coming all the time in the circumstances of our lives. If you go and stand in the midst of London, or climb to the top of the pyramids, or set your self in the middle of a snowfield of the Alps, it is a thrilling and delightful experience. What is it that makes it so? It is that you carry your old self there. Some accidental parts of yourself you have left behind in Boston, but your essential self, with your habits and your ways of thinking, you have carried there; and the wonder is to feel this identity of yours standing among these unfamiliar things, beaten by the waves of this strange city life, frowned on by the hoary ages, or lighted by the glory of the everlasting snows. And now let it be the going, not from Boston to Egypt, but from wealth to poverty, from poverty to wealth, from health to sickness, from sickness to health, from one business to another business, from one home to another home. Oh, when any of the changes of life draws near to you, whenever God is leading you into new circumstances, clasp with new fervour and strength the old hand which you have long been holding, but prepare to feel it send new meanings to you as it clasps your hand with a larger hold. And since you are always entering into some new life, whether it mark itself by notable outward change or not, always hold the hand of God in grateful memory of past guidance and eager readiness for new--that is, in love and in faith. It is by this same principle that we are able to picture to ourselves the natural and healthy way by which men ought to pass from one period or age of life into another. A young man’s life is full of novelty. Behind him, with a river rolling between, there lies that despised land in which he was a child, bound to obey what others commanded, and not knowing enough to doubt what others said was true. What shall we say about the progress which the boy seems to have made across the gap that lies between him and his childhood? Shall we not certainly say this, that the progress is natural and healthy and good, that the gap is unnatural and bad? I think there is no better condition of the human nature to contemplate than that of a young man dealing truly and seriously with the faith of his fathers which has been implicitly his childhood’s faith. He finds new questions rising which he never dreamed of. The faith which is shaping for his manhood evidently is to not be wholly the same as that in which he was trained. He is to see more of God, he is to see God differently; but the essential thing is this, that it is to be the same God whom he has been seeing, that he is still to see. It is to be an enlargement of faith as he makes it his own, not a flinging away of faith with a mere possibility of finding it again some day. This is the meaning of a boy’s or a young man’s confirmation. It is the gathering up of all the faith and dutiful impulse of the past that it may go before the life into the untried fields. All this applies indeed to every change from period to period of life. The poetry of all growing life consists in carrying an oldness into a newness, a past into a future, always. Take what you believe and are, and hold it in your hand with new firmness as you go forward; but as you go, holding it, look on it with continual and confident expectation to see it open into something greater and truer. I think, again, that the picture of the relation between the old and the new which is seen in our story throws light upon the true method and spirit of all change in religious opinions. Men and women do go on, led by God, step by step, until they come where what has seemed to them to be true seems to them to be true no longer, and something which they once disbelieved has opened to them its soul of truth. Another spiritual prospect opens to them which they never saw before. God is different; the Bible is very different; Christ is profoundly different; and their own natures reveal to them sights which are all strange and unexpected. There is no sense of newness and inexperience in the world like that. No change of outward circumstances can for a moment match it. “You have not passed this way before” seems to be rung into the soul’s ears out of every new application of the new-learnt truth to everything. And then, just then, when all seems new, and we are bewildered and exalted with the opening spiritual prospect, then is the time to call up the ark of God, which may have fallen in the rear, and to set it clearly in the front. Then, when you are going forth into regions of spiritual thought that are new to you, then you need to put all the honesty and purity and unselfishness of your nature in the van of your life; then you need to review and renew your old covenant with God; then you want to have all your earnestness, all your sense of the value of truth, refreshed in you. The principle which we have been studying seems to furnish again the law of all more distinctly spiritual life and progress. It furnishes the law of the conversion-time, for there the new and old unite; we pass on into the new under the guidance and assurance of the old. If you want to make a man a Christian, how shall you begin? You will bid him open his ears and hear the voice of a Saviour who has been always pleading. You will call up, out of the past, signs of God’s love which he has never seen, but which have been always there. You will set those signs of a love which has always been at the head of the progress which is yet to be. You will say, “I beseech you therefore, brother, by the mercies of God, that you present your body a living sacrifice to Him.” And so, as the host of the Israelites stopped by the Jordan’s bank before they crossed, until the old ark of the desert had swept through their ranks and taken its true place at their head, the believer’s new conviction and hope waits on the brink of the new life till the mercies of the past have swept on to the front, and stand ready to lead into the yet untrodden fields of God. All this does not apply only to the one critical experience of the spiritual life which we call conversion; it is true of all spiritual progress. Never let your Christian life disown its past. Let every new and higher consecration and enjoyment into which you enter be made real to you by bringing into it all that Christ has already trained within you of grace and knowledge. To the soul which dares believe the vast and precious truth of God’s personal love, all life becomes significant, and no past is so dreary that out of it there will not come up some ark of God to lead us to the richer things beyond. I pass to one more application of our principle. It concerns our thoughts about the new life which awaits the soul in heaven. We think of the strangeness of that life into which they pass who have done with all the old familiar things of earth. Once, only once, for every man it comes. “We have not passed this way heretofore,” men are saying to themselves, as they begin to feel their path slope downward to the grave. It is that consciousness which we see coming in their faces when they know that they must die. And beyond death lies the unknown world. “No man hath seen God at any time,” said Jesus; but there the power of the new life is to be that “we shall see Him as He is.” The highest, truest thought of heaven which man can have is of the full completion of those processes whose beginning he has witnessed here, their completion into degrees of perfectness as yet inconceivable, but still one in kind with what he is aware of now. Having this thought of heaven, all the deepest life of this world is leading the man towards it. When he goes in there at last, it will be his old life with God that leads him. It will be his long desire to see God which at last introduces him to the sight of God. It will be his long struggle with sin which finally prepares him for the world where he can never sin. The powers and affections which are training in your family, your business, and your Church, are to find their eternal occupation along the streets of gold. And so the long life of heaven shall be bound to the short life of earth for ever. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Never this way before
1. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” Then it does now seem likely that the good Lord expects to give us one more chance. We are always entering upon new periods of time. Anniversary days mark the recurrence of events and afford opportunities for reflection. Birthdays and death days are full of meaning. What we ought to remember is the undoubted fact that in this twelvemonth to come we shall find ourselves travelling over pretty much the same route we went last year. There will not be anything extraordinarily surprising. Differences will be in the details.
2. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” Then, in the fresh chance God is giving, He offers Himself to be our helper and friend. Time, time--unused, unexhausted, and unknown--sweeps about our poor little seven decades of living, and will keep its course resistlessly on after the end is reached, just as it ran its course before we were born into its beginning. Thus all the songs we sing, the wails we utter, and the prayers we make must choose expression somewhere among the combinations of seventy years allotted to each creature, and they have but one chance at a time. We are marched up according to programme, and play our tune, like so many performers in a concert given in the presence of God. During this year the concert will be repeated. The programme remains in good measure unchanged. We failed last year. The chances of life are open again. God offers to help us along. Our parts are to be played over. Will we accept a teacher this time, or not?
3. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” Then, surely, the gifts of God’s love on ahead of us have not been appropriated by others nor exhausted by ourselves. There comes a day in which any one can afford to be honestly simple and unaffected in all his surroundings, and relinquish this folly of labouring to keep up appearances for mere show. More pitiful folly still is that which jealousy engenders; for the man has ingeniously wasted his time in distancing others, who, when distanced, are dead. He has triumphed, but nobody is in the grand procession which he had imagined would immediately be formed in his honour. It makes a poor show to have no king dragging on behind the chariot.
4. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore,” but it is well to remember that the ark has not passed this way heretofore either. It is significant here to notice that these people were told to accept God’s guidance implicitly. The first time they had essayed to enter Canaan, their own folly had hindered. Now they were to be led by the sign of God’s unfailing love. Herein is instruction for wise men along the ages. It makes life a new thing to put the ark on before it. God’s purpose, infolded in a human life, renders the life immortal. “The Christian cannot die before his time”; that time God fixes.
5. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” Now, with the ark on ahead, the joy of the Lord is your strength. Once, I remember, I picked up a small bird which had fallen on the pavement by my feet. I sought to reinstate it among the branches overhead; but the creature could not appreciate my generosity, and with passionate eagerness struggled to escape. I began unconsciously to talk aloud to it, “Poor, silly thing; why do you not trust your best friend? All I want is to get you up again in the fork of the tree. You are making it harder for me by dashing so against my fingers; for I am obliged to hold you firmly, and you do all the hurting yourself.” Why is it we all struggle so, when the Lord is giving us help? We enter upon untrodden paths, but the skies are bright, and heaven is nearer, and the good God is overhead. It is likely most of us will recall the story of Longfellow in his romance. Paul Fleming entered that little chapel of Saint Gilgen. On the tomb above his head was the inscription, “Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.” It was as if a voice came into his ear from the dead, and the anguish of his thoughts was still. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The new year and the new way
1. We begin the new year with anticipations, wondering what it hides in its hands for us. The limitations of human ignorance are most humiliating. We can tell where a comet will be in a thousand years, but not where we shall be to-morrow. We have plans, projects, purposes, but who knows aught of fulfilment, realisation, certainty? The providence of God is ever putting pressure upon us--the pressure of necessity, or that of desire and inclination, to go out and go on; but it is very much in the dark we have to go. To God the Lord belong the ongoings of life and the issues of death. The unknown journey ends in the darkening way of death.
2. The mystery of life is thus suggested by the text; it also teaches its newness. How many things are going to happen which never happened to us before I Old thoughts, eternal purposes of God, are ripening for us; and God never repeats Himself. Thus circumstanced, what charm, what spell will you take to your heart to bear you on and through to safety and home? Do you not need--
I. The living presence? Amid a changing world there is a changeless God. Standing where we do, at the entrance to a new way, “we are like those who, waiting a new arrival, go out to the gate to look for one who is coming--to listen for a footfall.” We feel there is One, without whom life could hardly be life, or bring content.
II. Guidance. A guide knows and directs. He knoweth the way we take. The word means, not mere acquaintance with, but anxiety concerning; careful observation; to trouble one’s self about the matter. It is thus God knows. He concerns Himself about our way through life.
III. Mercies. God knows all needs, and He provides. He will not leave nor forsake thee until He hath done that which He hath spoken to thee of. Bread shall be given--water shall be sure. Enough, by care and patient thrift, for living, for reasonable desires, for all; more for some. But unfailing mercies for every day, for always, for all. And this because “having loved His own who are in the world, He loves them to the end.” (W. H. Davison.)
Religious help in new circumstances
It is very wonderful how the element of novelty seems to penetrate our whole life, so that though we are surrounded by the old conditions we are always about to do something new. The things which we do may be like one another in certain broad features, yet they may be contradistinguished by fine lines of difference so minute and delicate as to be seen only by the closest attention. In the discrimination and right estimate of such lines lies the difference between a life that is lived roughly and a life that is finely balanced and critically calculated and arranged in every detail and bearing.
1. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore,” therefore do not go until you be assured of the Divine presence and protection. What is the way? Is it a new year? Will you encounter unknown time in your own strength? Is it a new enterprise? Dare you challenge the secret resources of fortune without any help but your own? Is it a new discipline? It may destroy you if you have not bread to eat that the world knoweth not of. The great historical fact upon which you have to rest is that God has been with His people in every possible variety of circumstances, and that His love never changes (Exodus 3:12; Joshua 1:5; Proverbs 3:5-20.3.6; Psalms 37:5; Isaiah 30:21).
2. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore”; it is quite right, consequently, to take new ways and untried paths in life.
(1) Socially. New companionships, new alliances, new partnerships; opening up our friendly, conjugal, and commercial life.
(2) Nationally. New compacts, new wars, new laws. We are bound by every consideration arising out of stewardship and responsibility to try new.
3. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore”; there are some particulars in which this must be true even of the least eventful life.
(1) Is it an uneventful thing for a young man to leave his home that he may try to make his way in the world? “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” What a world it is! “Full of temptations and hidden snares,” &c.
(2) Is it an uneventful thing for a man to die? What is beyond? How do we become prepared for the world unseen? Is that world more sharply divided than this; for here the wicked have some enjoyments, and the righteous many pains? Is it true that in this world we really make the next? This is a journey we must all take; we may take it blindly, we may rush upon it madly, or we may so live as to become enabled to say, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
4. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore”--the suggestion is not human, but Divine; it is God Himself that proposes to guide and defend the lives of men. Before we pray, He answers! Consider how true it is that all the great proposals which have made our life richer and better have come from God, and in no degree from our own poor wit or genius. “It is not good for the man to be alone”--that is one. “Ye have not passed this way heretofore”--that is another. “Come now, let us reason together”--that is a third. And so on throughout all our life. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The unknown year and the untrodden way
We are entering now on a new year, and going up into new time territory. “We have not passed this way heretofore.” And it becomes us to be more than usually solicitous to know the way by which we are led, and the whole will of God concerning us in the leading. It may be well, however, to take heed that an unprofitable curiosity does not usurp the place of a wholesome solicitude. It is as true now as it was when our Lord spoke the words, that “times and seasons,” eras and epochs, are put in God’s own power. Enough is revealed for the direction of practical conduct. Enough is conceded for the nourishment of childlike faith. We feel, then, as we stand on the margin of the year, at the portal of its days, that there can be no rehearsal in our knowledge of its coming events, either those of public importance or those of our individual lives. We know not what it is to bring forth; but we know well that it will bring forth something, and that that something will in all probability be important. When we know the parents, we can guess what the children will be. This year is the child of all the years, and especially of the last years that have sped. “We have not passed this way heretofore.” The vista of the bygone years was never so long as it is to-day. Time never carried such a burden of events on his shoulders. History never held in her bosom so many mysteries not yet solved, so many explanations not yet given, so many germs for future flowering. God has never had so much on hand in the earth. In such a time, with what emphasis come the Saviour’s words to us: “Watch: what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch”! “We have not passed this way heretofore.” We may be going to pass a Jordan of our own in more respects than one. Nothing is more certain than that we are now in the very process of a great social revolution, affecting not merely this or that separate sphere or relation in human affairs, but touching the very basis of society, and all the laws under which men live. That we need a revival is certain. It is equally certain that we may have it for the asking. No doubt many are asking for it, unknown to us; and the thing asked for (God grant it) may be on its way! But we discontinue this strain of supposition, again reminding you that this year we are not far from Jordan, and that, in more senses than one, we may soon be crossing it. We are somewhere in the great army which is marching onwards, and not only ought we to be conscious of our own progress, but wisely observant of the changes that are going on around us. The times themselves are “put in God’s own power.” The “signs” of the times are held out for our instruction, that we may, in a measure, know what God is doing and what we ourselves ought to do. But it will be well to make a much narrower and more personal application of this principle. We, as individuals, we, as we now are, have not passed by any way at all. We have been journeying for years, but always changing; so that now, while the same in personal identity, we are yet morally and circumstantially different. Our letters come under the same address, but they are opened and read by men not quite the same. We have not sub-let our house, and yet the occupant is different. It is a strange, subtle process of change which is thus going on; but it is as certain and as resistless as the flow of time itself. Keeping, then, in view these two things--the outward and the inward change--both of which are sure to go on during the coming year, I would venture to utter some appropriate watchwords for the year “notes” of the life we must aim to live as the days go by.
1. Vigilance. Have the senses well exercised and ready for quick and true discernment of men and things. Without something of this sleepless vigilance, without the “inevitable eye,” we shall lose much of what is in the year, and in the year for us. We are travellers. But the time that carries us forward is not like an old stage-coach that goes lumbering along the same road by which it has run for many years, the passengers by which can tell exactly what objects and scenes lie along the line and will come into sight at a particular part of the road and time of the day. We ascend the chariot of the year, and it rolls where never chariot-wheels have left mark before, where scenes which have never been revealed to man or angel, or the actual sight of God, will unfold themselves. No one can tell how much we may miss by being asleep or only half-awake.
2. Promptitude. We watch for occasions, that we may seize them; for opportunities, that we may improve them; for friendly influences, that we may yield to them; for adverse powers, that we may resist them; for the morning, that we may answer “girded!” to its labour-call; for the evening, that we may enter within the shadow of its rest; for temptation, that we may vanquish or flee from it; for privilege, that we may embrace it; for the hour of prayer, that we may pray; for God in His manifold revealings and comings to us, that we may receive Him as our God, and that we may give ourselves to Him more than “heretofore.”
3. Courage will often be needed to do what the hand finds to do. The possession and cultivation of moral courage, therefore, is another very necessary preparation for this way that we have not passed heretofore. We know not what any day of the year may bring forth; but we know, just as well as we know that the days are coming, that, if we live to pass through them, we shall need to be morally brave, or fail. We know that the craven spirit, with which, alas! we are so ready to purchase a momentary ease, will cover us with shame, and bring defeat and dishonour quickly after us as pursuers, and that boldness and confidence will carry us through.
4. Gentleness is a good word to put under the shelter of courage, and a good thing to put among the preparations for the unknown year. We are not really fitted, in the fullest sense, for the journey of a year, unless we are full of tenderness, unless we are full of tears. The children will be around us wherever we are; for, like the daisies, like the sparrows, they are everywhere. The young will be rising into manhood and womanhood, and some of them will be looking Zionwards and sensitively watching to see if there be any who understand their look, so as to look back and help and welcome them. The sick will be suffering through their weary days and nights; and the poor will be struggling; and those who have seen better days will be coming down the hill in our sight, bearing themselves with dignity as in the former time, although now the wardrobe is but poorly filled, and the table scantily spread; and the sensitive will be shrinking, and the miserable will be praying; the hopeless wondering if any help will come to them. What a world to live in! and what need for a pitiful gentleness! Walk softly, then, and have a care!
5. We should be poorly furnished for the way we have not been heretofore, without filial confidence, which will easily, when occasion comes, pass into resignation. There will be much to try faith and patience, and love and loyalty. God knows all; there is but one way for us--to trust Him with a deep, filial trust, with a love that will east out all fear, and to resign ourselves utterly, and in everything, to His most holy will.
6. For, whatever comes, there will always be, not only need and occasion, but ground and reason, for serene, invincible hopefulness. Good is better and stronger than evil. Greater is the world above than the world below I Greater is life than death. Greater is this year than any of its predecessors (whatever may be its particular events), as being nearer the end, when “life and immortality,” in the heavenly sense, shall “be brought to light.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The untrodden and unknown way
We may speculate and conjecture about what is to befall us, or to befall the Church and the world in the course of this year; but the sagacity of the wisest statesmen cannot forecast the events of the near future. Neither can the knowledge of the most learned inform us what shall be on the morrow. This is a thought that may humble our intellectual pride, and may prevent us from being puffed up by the little knowledge to which we have attained. But we are not in absolute ignorance of what will probably be the nature and character of some of the events of the future. We know that as the present leaves us the future will find us. We enter into this year with the character, principles, and habits that marked our life in the past. Life is a continuous thing. Character becomes a continuous thing. Old things have not passed away from us with the old year, and all things have not, with the new year, become new to us. This is a solemn and an awful thought, because it indicates to us that not only do we enter on the new year with the character and principles of the past year, and that if we enter on the year without the love of God in our hearts, we cannot be happy, but it also indicates to us that as we pass from the days of time so shall we enter on the ever-revolving and endless ages of eternity. Let us give due consideration to this thought, and it may, through the grace of God, by destroying a most prevalent and fatal delusion--the delusion by which multitudes deceive and ruin their souls, that somehow or other to-morrow, or at least the time of death, will work a grand transformation of their state and character--awaken us now, in the precious passing present, to give heed to the things of our peace, that they may not at length be hid from our eyes. The statement, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore,” is not inconsistent with our knowledge thus far of the future that it will, to a great extent, take its colour, complexion, and character from the present. The connection between years as measurements of men’s lives is not that merely of antecedence and succession. It is more. It is a connection as between cause and consequence or effect, as between seed and fruit. Time, that develops the germ in the acorn into the stately oak; time, that developeth tares from their seeds, will gradually evolve what are the seeds from which our words and actions grow. The tree of character will be known by its fruits. But from the moral connection between past, present, and future, as related to our lives and characters, not only will the future be a developing time, but it will also be, because of this, a time of reaping, a sort of harvest time. If in the past year we have been sowing to the flesh, we may most certainly in the year to come expect to reap corruption. And if in the past we have been sowing to the Spirit, we may expect to reap in this year the fruits of the Spirit in love, joy, and peace. I may remark that the words, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore,” are not inconsistent with our certain knowledge that the days of the new year will introduce us to duties, trials, temptations, and, it may be, sufferings similar to those, if indeed not greater than those of the past year. As in the past, so in the future, we shall be called to serve and glorify the Lord--to love the Lord with all our heart, strength, soul, and mind, and our neighbours as ourselves. We shall be called to work the work of God, to believe in Jesus, and to walk as He also walked. We shall be called to be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. “Study,” therefore, my brother, “to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” The new year will bring with it new trials, new afflictions. But as in the past, so in the furore, the child of God may appropriate for his comfort the words, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called, according to His purpose.” Nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” We know that the new year will bring with it new temptations. The passions that war in our members have not become extinct, have not passed away with the old year. They go with us into the new year. And as in the past, so in the future, they will entice us into sin. Satan has not ceased with the days of the former year. He enters with us into the days of this year. And into this year he carries all his subtlety, all his malice, all his guile. We know, therefore, that new temptations, new seducements to sin, will be laid in our path. The world has lost none of its many powers--none of its many arts of deception. We may, therefore, expect that the world will attempt to ensnare us in the future, just as it attempted to allure us in the past. But we must listen to the word that admonishes us, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds.” The new year may bring with it new forms of trial, unexpected sufferings and bereavements. It may bear to us the summons, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.” We cannot tell. But this we know, that preparedness to meet that summons--preparedness to meet the Lord, is a most blessed state of soul. But a fourth idea is involved in the words, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore”; it is that we may expect to witness or behold in this new way, in this untrodden path, new displays of the grace and power of the Lord, the leader and commander of His people. The way is unknown to us, but it is known to the Lord. And we are sure that He “leadeth His people by the right way, that they may go to the city of habitation--to that city whose founder and builder is God.” (G. Macaulay.)
Ye have not passed this way heretofore
We are travelling onward, but the future is hidden from our eyes. We are not as those whose path lies across an extensive plain, and the boundary of whose vision is far away, but rather like those who are journeying in a deep valley, and who cannot see the storms that may be gathering behind the mountains. Our horizon is very limited. What Jordans we may have to cross we know not. But we have an ark, of which that which accompanied Israel is but a faint and feeble shadow--an ark that is a stronger pledge of God’s faithfulness, a deeper manifestation of His love and power. The Christian’s ark is Christ. Jesus journeys with him through all the wilderness into the land of promise. Every congregation is made up of a number of minds, no two of which would probably be found to be exactly alike. There are, indeed, many points of resemblance which ought not to be overlooked. But with all this resemblance there is much diversity. There is something peculiar to each mind, something in which it is unlike its fellows. Each has some peculiar adjustment of its natural powers; and this necessarily causes a peculiar and distinctive history. Just so far as our minds are similarly constituted, and we are infected with the same awful disease, and united to the same Saviour, and influenced by the same Spirit, we can sympathise with each other. Just so far as there is something distinctive in our minds, modifying our experiences, and stamping a peculiar character upon our history, will our path be lonely; and we shall feel that there is One only who “knoweth the way that we take.” But He does know it, and adapts His dealings to our need. Some are comparatively free from trial, others are called to bear their yoke in their youth. Some are just reached by the wave--the spray only seems to reach them; others are immersed in its depths--the waves and billows pass over them. And the history of these last bears greater resemblance to the varied experience of Israel; and yet even concerning these, with whom God has already dealt so mysteriously, it may come true in the future, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” There may be some who are already entering a way that is new and mysterious to them. There was perhaps a time when they felt no anxiety or alarm about the great subject of their acceptance with God, and when the pleasures and enjoyments of the world filled up their thoughts; but a new impression has been made upon their minds, and they are beginning to be sensible that there is a great purpose for which they have been created, and, alas! they have not yet fulfilled it. And thus, like St. Paul, they find the commandment to be “unto death.” “The law worketh wrath.” How can this Jordan, which separates them with its overflowing waters from the land of peace, be crossed? There is but one path across it, and that path is Christ. Jesus, the ark of our covenant, is gone before us. But there is another period in our lives of which the passage of Israel through Jordan is a more exact type. We must acknowledge that there is something extremely awful in such a conclusion to our earthly pilgrimage as death; and the real wonder is, not that there are some who through fear of death are all their lifetime subject to bondage, but that there are such multitudes to whose thoughts this solemn and mysterious event is scarcely ever present, and on whose minds it makes no lasting impression. It lies quite beyond the bounds of our present experience. We may perfectly realise all the circumstances of death up to the moment of the separation of the soul from the body--the weakness, weariness, and pain of sickness, the tenderness and love of relations and friends in watching over us, and in smoothing our dying pillow--because in all this we have past experience to go upon, and we have only to imagine an increase of that which we have already felt. But when we endeavour to advance a step beyond this, and to realise the mysterious separation of the soul from the body, the loosening and snapping asunder of that invisible bond which unites them, we feel that we have stepped into a new region. Our past experiences fail us; and after trying much to realise it, we cannot but feel, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” And yet both the unknown mystery of death and its loneliness have been fully provided for in Him who “through death destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil.” For Jesus, the ark of our covenant, has gone down before us into Jordan. The dark stream of Jordan manifests His power and reflects His light. And thus the loneliness of death is overcome. But let us not forget that it is presumptuous to expect this blessed hope and confidence to arise in our hearts in the immediate prospect of death if we are neglecting and slighting the ark of our covenant at this moment. The symbol of God’s presence did not meet the Israelites for the first time at the brink of Jordan, but accompanied them throughout all their journey in the wilderness. Let us take heed, then, to the impressive words, “Sanctify yourselves.” As we have been “set apart” for God in our unconscious infancy, let us set ourselves apart for Him through faith in Christ in our conscious manhood. Let us dedicate ourselves to Him wholly, unreservedly, body, soul, and spirit. (G. Wagner.)
The untrodden and unknown way
1. We need a guide to lead us in this new and untrodden way. Travellers in strange countries are careful not only to furnish themselves with a chart or map of the country through which they may be travelling, but to employ a guide who knows the country. At every station at which travellers are wont to halt in Switzerland, guides are waiting to conduct strangers along the way by which they wish to go. From motives of economy or self-confidence, some travellers have been known to dispense with the help of a guide, and have lost their way, missed their step, and perished. In the journey of life, and at a stage such as this at which we have arrived to-day, we are reminded that we need one to go before us and lead us in the way. We have in the Word of the Lord, in the Holy Scriptures, what may be called a map or chart, exhibiting the general outlines and prominent features of the country through which we are to pass, and indicating the direction of the path and way along which we are to walk. But we need more than this--we need a living guide. And that living guide is not a fallible man, or company of men, but is the Lord Himself. His knowledge of the way is perfect; and no one that committed himself to His guidance ever perished by the way. For all His resources of knowledge, wisdom, grace, righteousness, and power, all are pledged to conduct in safety to the bliss of heaven those who by faith follow Him.
2. We must be obedient to the instructions of the heavenly Guide. In order to this we must be distrustful of our own knowledge and wisdom. Many a traveller amidst Alpine passes and heights has fallen and perished, the victim of self-confidence. And many who for a season seemed to be obedient unto Christ have departed from Him and perished, because they preferred their own wisdom to His. But it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps. In order to a faithful adherence to the guidance of the Lord, we must beware of false and deceitful guides. If we are among the obedient followers of Christ, we shall watch for the intimations of His will. That Word shineth in this dark world that it may be to us what the star was-to the eastern sages, a light to guide our steps to the heavenly palace, the house where Jesus now reigns. Yes, if we would follow Christ in the way, His Word must be “a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path.” As obedient followers of Christ we must be not only earnest and humble students of His Word, but thoughtful observers of His works in providence and in grace.
3. We should prepare ourselves for following our heavenly Guide and Leader in the way heretofore untrodden by us. “Sanctify yourselves,” said Joshua to the people, “for to-morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” This involves separation from all that is unholy, or that is inconsistent with the undivided and entire consecration of ourselves in heart, purpose, and life to the Lord. And it requires that we dedicate ourselves, soul, body, and spirit, unto the Lord. (G. Macaulay.)
Solemn preparation for duty
Sequester yourselves from all earthly employments, and set apart some time for solemn preparation to meet God in duty. You cannot come hot, reeking out of the world into God’s presence, but you will find the influence of it in your duties. It is with the heart a few minutes since plunged in the world, now at the feet of God, just as with the sea after a storm, which still continues working muddy and disquiet, though the wind be laid and storm over: thy heart must have some time to settle. There are few musicians that can take down a lute or viol and play presently upon it without some time to tune it. When thou goest to God in any duty, take thy heart aside, and say, “O my soul, I am now addressing myself to the greatest work that ever a creature was employed about. I am going into the awful presence of God, about business of everlasting moment.” (H. G. Salter.)
Prepare for seasons of grace
The grace of God at all times awaits, forecomes, accompanies, follows, encompasses us. It is everywhere, for it is the Holy Spirit, who is everywhere, since He is God. But although grace is ever around and in those who have not finally rejected it, there are special seasons at which it comes to individuals and to the Church--seasons in which grace does not only trickle down as the dew, but runs down like a river, sweeping away all the barriers of earthliness, and bearing us onward like a tide; seasons which if we miss we know not what we lose: the wave has passed by, and we who might have been borne upon its crest, and carried safe, are tossing to and fro on a perilous sea. Such seasons, to individuals, are the first drawings of the child’s tender soul to God; its first stirrings at the thought that it is not a citizen of this earth, that it belongs to heaven, to eternity, to God; its first yearning to go forth out of itself to be for ever God’s, Such again are its first strong upliftings in prayer, and following the drawings of God, and pantings after communion with Him, as it seeks to rise on, and on, and on, tremblingly, yet aspiringly, if by any means it might reach to God! or its quiet waiting within itself, if so be He would come down to it. But although He comes to all alike who look for Him, He doth not come alike to all. He filleth all; but all do not alike contain Him. Our capacity to receive Him, is our longing for Him. The greater the hunger of the soul after righteousness, the more He will feed and satisfy it who is our righteousness. And so, whenever God would draw near to man, He would have man prepare for that awful nearness. We cannot on the instant change our whole tone of mind. We cannot at one moment jest, the next be devout; at one moment care for earth, the next for heaven; at one, love the creature for itself, the next the Creator for Himself. Nature itself tells us that we cannot pass suddenly from one to another. If we have heavy news to convey, we try to prepare the mind, that they burst not at once upon it. If a solemn thought crosses the soul in laughter, it recovers itself, as it can, hastily and confusedly together, and the very disorder of the mind shows that the sudden change is against nature. The soul feels ashamed that it was so relaxed before, so little in the state wherein it would receive the Heavenly Visitant. And this teaching of God in our hearts He enforced in the outward nearness of His visible presence. When He willed to appear in awe on Mount Sinai, for three days was the congregation to prepare itself. Whether in chastisement or in mercy there is a season of preparation. Whether God would give them flesh to eat in the wilderness, or lead them over Jordan, or take out from among them him who had taken the accursed thing, it is still one word--“Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow.” If such was the preparation for the type and shadow, what for the reality? If such for the miraculous sustenance of the body, what for the food of the soul? If such the entrance into the type of heaven, what when heaven and earth are united in one? And so an apostle’s voice warns us, “Let a man examine himself,” sift himself, “and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.” And God has taught the Church to place longer seasons of preparation before the greater mysteries of the faith. “Sanctify yourselves,” saith God--that is, “separate yourselves from things unholy, that ye may be separated unto Me, and I may hallow you, and make you holy.” We cannot hallow ourselves; but we can, by His grace, put off things unholy. We cannot give to ourselves Him, the True Bread from heaven, nor create in ourselves hunger after Him, our righteousness; but we can abstain, through His gracious aid, from filling our bellies with the swine-husk this world’s goods, and vanities, and accursed pleasures, which make men loathe, as “light bread,” “the manna which cometh down from heaven.” Oh, then, if we “have been sometime darkness,” seek we now to be “light in the Lord.” Let us now “cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Is it possible for a Christian to sanctify himself? Yes; for man has a part to play in his own sanctification. Man must co-operate with God in working out his own salvation. Man works, God works, and the result is man’s sanctification. Many Christians have failed to recognise this union of the human and the Divine in the work of their sanctification, with the result that they have erred greatly, and made little or no progress in the Divine life. For example, we find Christians who overlook the fact that man is to work out his own salvation; they say it is all of God, and they throw themselves passively on God for their sanctification. This course of action, or rather want of action, ends in their becoming impractical and useless Christians, making no progress themselves in the Divine life, and of no use to the Church in its fight against sin and Satan. On the other hand, we find Christians who overlook the fact that it is God who worketh in man both to will and to work. Such try to work out their salvation in their own strength; they seek, by power of will, to overcome their weaknesses and their sinful tendencies, and in this they are largely successful. They attain to the point of being free from all gross and outward sins of the flesh. But, alas! they make no progress in eradicating the sin of their heart. There is no internal change of heart corresponding with the outward reformation in life. This course of action leads to spiritual decay and death. Man cannot sanctify himself. The work of sanctification is carried on in the heart of the believer by the co-operation of the human and the Divine: man works, God works. God, in all His dealings with man, in grace, recognises man as a free agent, capable of receiving or rejecting His grace. Man is not passive, he is active. He is of his own free will to yield to the influence of the Spirit of God. He is to resist sin. He is to prove how he may most successfully overcome temptation, He is to keep himself unspotted from the world. He is ever to be watchful. In fact, he is to act as if everything in his sanctification depended upon himself. This is the point which I wish to emphasise to-day, namely, man’s work in his own sanctification. How, then, are we to sanctify ourselves?
I. By separating ourselves from every known sin. It is pre-supposed that we are true Christians, that we have been re generated; for no sanctification is possible before conversion; the order is, first justification, then sanctification. The seed of the tree of righteousness, planted at conversion, must pass through many stages before the seed has grown into a tree of righteousness. The tender plant, the sapling, the young tree, the mature tree. Before it comes to maturity, it has to be watched and tended and watered and digged about and pruned. Its growth is a very gradual process. Even so is the growth of the soul in holiness. If we would sanctify ourselves the first thing we must do is to separate ourselves from known sin. It may be that our sin lies in eating and drinking too much. Our easy circumstances enable us to live a life of leisure and luxury. If we wish the blessing of God, we must separate ourselves from these sins. It may be that our sin lies in being vain and proud: our vanity is seen in our dress and in our behaviour; our pride is seen in our bearing to equals and inferiors. If we wish the blessing of God, we must separate ourselves from these sins. It may be that our sin lies in unbelief. This is the sin of sins. We limit the Holy One of Israel. Practically, we say God can do this for me, but He cannot do this other thing--I must do it for myself. If we wish the blessing of God, we must separate ourselves from this sin of unbelief. In fact, whatever be our known sin, we must separate ourselves from it. To do this thoroughly we must go about it with firmness of purpose, with a fixed determination. Which of us have resisted unto blood, striving against sin? We need nerve so to resist sin. The motto of the Irish family of O’Neill is “The Bloody Hand.” It had its origin in the following incident:--In days of old the leader of a band of pirates gave out that whoever first touched the land they were making for should be possessor of it. One of the band, named O’Neill, determined to gain it; he pulled ashore with all his might, but a rival passed him when near the shore. What was to be done? Instantly this strong-nerved, resolute, determined man rose, lifted his battle-axe, struck off his hand, threw it ashore, and so touched the land first. This nerve and resolution was shown to gain a possession of land. What will we do to gain possession of ourselves? Will we deal thus resolutely with sin? Yes. We will cut it off, and cast it from us. I make a distinction between known sin and unknown sin. If we live up to the light we have, and deal faithfully with the sin which God has revealed to us in our lives, He will give us more light. This is what is meant by gradual sanctification. The more we know of the holiness of God, the more will we know of our own want and holiness. As we grow in grace, our spiritual eye becomes keener, and we see new sins in our life which were not manifest before. When we discern these sins, we are to deal with them at once, and separate ourselves from them.
II. Besides separating ourselves from every known sin, it is necessary, if we would be ready to meet with God, to prepare our hearts and minds. Our hearts and minds must be set on God, so that we may be ready to hear, and to remember, and to obey. Every appetite and passion must be stilled; the cares and anxieties and the work of the world are to be set aside. We must give as much time as we can to reading and meditating upon the Word of God, so filling our hearts and minds with the truth. We must spend long periods in prayer, following the example of our blessed Master, who spent whole nights in prayer. If we would be thoroughly prepared to meet God, we must dwell on the thought of what God is--the Holy One of Israel, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the God of our salvation. We must come to God in a spirit of expectant faith, believing that He is able and willing to enrich us with all spiritual blessing, and that He will give to each of us the very blessing which we need. The more we are prepared in heart and mind to meet with God, the greater blessing shall we receive. To great faith our gracious Saviour still says: “Be it done unto thee even as thou wilt.” (Wm. Galbraith.)
The wise conduct of human life
The wise conduct of human life is foreshadowed in this story. The crises men encounter are to be met; the Jordans that block their way are to be crossed, as Israel met its trial hour, as Israel passed the river that barred it from its possession.
I. Men should sanctify themselves. A religious frame of mind, and the habit of looking at life from a religious point of view, are acquirements of great importance. A true Christian soon learns by experience that all his times are in God’s hands. Each new difficulty encountered brings to mind how, in the past, all things have been made to work together for good; and so, though “perplexed,” the believer is not “in despair.”
II. Men must follow the guidance of the divine law and the divine love. Sinai and Calvary are both guide-posts pointing out the right and the safe way. God’s commandment, as well as God’s grace, helps men out of their difficulties. It is imperative, in times of trial, that they should trust in the Divine mercy, but quite as important that they should do what seems to be the Divine will.
III. Men must patiently wait God’s time. Deliverance out of difficulty is not always immediately granted. The Divine promise is sure, but the time of its fulfilment is not announced. Because the prayer for escape from threatening dangers is not answered in a moment, let us not therefore “cast away our confidence, which has great recompense of reward.” And this is eminently true in regard to the last Jordan which we are required to cross. Dying grace is held in reserve for dying hours. The Lord of both life and death will be ready when the time arrives. The dark river will be, not a barrier, but a highway lighted by the glory beyond. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
I. In dwelling upon the place in God’s plan of prepared men and women. There are men and women with whom God will work, and there are men and women with whom He will not work. Who are those with whom God will work? As a general rule, those who sanctify themselves for His work; that is, separate themselves by a thoughtful detachment from other engagements to make this work of His the prior thing.
II. In dwelling on the pact of our absolute dependence upon God. This is true in all things. It is signally true in the work of setting up His kingdom in the earth. There were things which Israel could do. There were things which they could not do without a signal, Divine interposition. Ever and again the Christian Church comes to the bank of some swift river. The obstacles in the way of her progress are like Jordan with full banks. Then ever let her sanctify herself with the humbling but precious thoughts of her absolute dependence upon a Divine intervention.
III. In dwelling upon the need of the divine presence. This was a thought which ever lived with Moses: “If Thy presence go not with me, take us not up hence.” The presence of God is sometimes withdrawn. Sometimes it is especially manifested. A leader needs credentials. A leader of God’s people needs Divine credentials. The work we attempt requires God’s presence. We are wholly dependent upon God to bring us across the river, and we shall need His presence on the other shore. It is sanctifying to couple with the thought of our dependence on God this other of the efficacy of His presence.
IV. in dwelling upon the reasons for crossing the Jordan. The land was to be subjugated for God. It was to be taken for Him and settled for Him, and thus make a part of the kingdom of God. The great, main reason for desiring to see God’s work revived is that His kingdom may come in power; that the city and the nation and the world may be His.
V. In dwelling upon what God has done. This is the day of common sense in religious matters. Our fathers were superstitious. In these days science has come to the forefront, and the religion of the supernatural has been superseded. When these doubts arise and press us, when they beset us and whisper and roar about us in the air, it is good to remember what God has done. The God of the Bed Sea is the God of the Jordan.
VI. They would be aided in sanctifying themselves by reflecting upon what it would be to turn back--after forty years in the wilderness, to turn back once more and give up the hopes of entering the land of promise; again to go from camp to camp in a maze of wanderings and die in the wilderness. Joshua and Caleb with the rest, after all! Would not this thought most powerfully move them to embrace God’s service? to set themselves apart to utmost co-operation in His plan, with unquestioning faith to follow the ark? Which things are a parable. Many Churches, many Christians, have the experience of coming up in the full view of great blessings, promised blessings, and turning back. Is it so irksome a thing, then, to make the kingdom of heaven first, that we are willing, after all, even after getting a close view of the blessing, after God has promised that this blessing shall be put in our very hands, that we shall turn back rather than sanctify ourselves? (G. R. Leavitt.)
Success in Divine work
I. The condition of success in work for God is holiness.
1. Purity. Spiritual purity means power and beauty. It has a passive side (Ezekiel 36:25). But it has an active side (James 4:8).
2. Consecration. That person, possession, or thing is consecrated which is given to God according to His will and pleasure.
3. Obedience. No practical holiness is possible without obedience. For what is sin but disobedience?
4. But these three--purity, consecration, and obedience--do not set before us a complete idea of what the Bible means by holiness. It must have an inner life of which these are but the outer manifestations. The very heart of it is the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit.
II. The cause of the church’s success. The Divine power. Christ has not said, “Follow Me” to any one to whom He has not also said, “My grace is sufficient for thee, My strength is made perfect in thy weakness.” When God says, “Sanctify yourselves,” it is the height of presumption and unbelief for us to sit down and say we cannot do it. The Lord is able to fulfil His promises. It is for us to obey. (Homilist.)
The context of this command, which gives such prominence to the wonders which God will do, is a happy correction of a very common notion respecting consecration, as though it were some great giving to God by us, some surrender or sacrifice of what we previously held; in fact, a sort of favour conferred upon Him, whereas it is only the readiness to receive from Him. Consecration is not a meritorious work of our own, but a willingness to let the Lord work His wonders upon us. It simply means a ready recipiency. Yet even this recipiency may involve surrender in a subordinate way, as it evidently did in the case of the Israelites. They could not possibly receive Canaan without giving up the wilderness. That command, therefore, “sanctify yourselves,” was a call to heart-searching. It pressed home to all their thoughts this recognition, “We are the Lord’s.” It could not long remain a matter of doubt with any whether they stood ready for God to lead them over Jordan or not. The command given them was completely overshadowed by the promise that followed, and yet it was the promise itself that tested and tried the very intents of their hearts. It continues to be a part of the manifold wisdom of God to furnish such tests, even in providing our richest blessings. He who becomes a man must put away his childish things. The lingering child-nature struggles and shrinks from the sacrifice, but the spirit of the strong man uprising spares not the old treasures as he reaches on to the new. God cannot fill our hands with His great and good gifts till we drop the baubles they have held. And so in every onward step, calling us to some surrender, to some sacrifice, He clears away the superficial wrappings of our nature to learn what soundness exists beneath. (S. F. Smiley.)
To-morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.--
Critical times and places in life
It was an hour and place of wonderful contrasts. As they remembered there swept vividly before their thought the recollection of the harsh experiences through which they had passed--the savagery of the roadless country they had traversed; the trials they had suffered in their restless journey, whose hurry allowed no opportunity for building a home. The backward look recalled nothing but weariness and sorrow--the only satisfying thing about it the fact that it was past. But, as they anticipated, they saw a fairer vision--of quiet homes; of orchards fragrant with blossoms and vineyards purple with grapes; of lands securely held; of children gathered round the family hearthstone; of all the blessings of organised, coherent society. The desert and the garden were both in full view; and their joyful expectation was that henceforth the garden, and not the desert, was to be their home. But--and there is often a “but” between men’s hopes and their realisation--but between the desert and the garden there was a barrier. The stream must be crossed before vision could change to possession; and how cross it? There were no bridges spanning the river over which they might march in solid procession; there were no boats in which they might be ferried over in little companies; there were no fords through which they might pass one by one; the boldest swimmer would be like a straw in that hurrying flood. There are critical hours in all lives. Almost every experience has its crises and turning-points of greater or less magnitude. There are single moments and actions that like rudders steer us into wide seas of triumph or misfortune. Sufficiency of preparation to meet such hours, and acuteness enough to discover when they come, are indispensable to human success. There is one truth that men need to thoroughly learn: there is no such thing as “good luck” in the universe. As the old Chinese proverb puts it, “What will you have? says God; pay for it and take it.” Success is not an inheritance or an accident. The men who are ready for emergencies are the men who win the victories. History is full of brilliant illustrations of this truth. The whole course of empire appears to pivot on single men and isolated hours. There was a critical hour in the history of the rebellion when statesmanship confessed itself at fault, and military strategy was ineffectual, and the nation was almost in despair; but when Abraham Lincoln affixed his signature to the Emancipation Proclamation, and announced, as the policy of the Government, “Henceforth all for justice,” a new power entered the contest, and the future was secure. From that hour the multiplied forces of Omnipotence were auxiliaries. The muster roll held the names of the smallest part of the army. The morning reveille wakened a host unseen by mortal eyes. The long roll of the drums set in battle array a great company out of sight. Side by side with the nation’s flag that waved over the charging lines floated the ensign of the Lord of hosts. Every seeming defeat became a real victory, and triumph followed triumph until the last enemy was subdued. The single act of the single man was the principal factor in the solution of the vast and complicated problem. In less dramatic form the same thing may sometimes be noted in individual experience. The selection of a business or occupation is an everyday matter, and yet what vast results may follow the wisdom or folly of the choice! The world took little note of the young tutor in Yale College, some half-century ago, walking up and down his room considering whether he had better take part in the revival movement then in progress; but the decision of that hour reversed all the previous purposes of the young man’s life, and gave to the Church of God Horace Bushnell with his wonderful eloquence and measureless sweep of influence. Young men do well to be serious when they stand at the cross-roads of life, considering along which highway they will travel. In every man’s life there comes one sovereign hour--the hour when he makes his final choice of God or the world, and settles the question whether he will pass time and eternity in the wilderness, or make himself an everlasting home in the Canaan of promise. All preceding experience leads up to that hour; all after-experience takes colour and substance from it. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
The wonders in store for God’s people
I. Wonders are in store for us in the great future to which we look forward.
II. We may be now on the very eve of the wonders which God has provided for us, and which shall be wrought at God’s time and in God’s way. We cannot lift up the veil which hangs over the future. What manner of person ought I to be? To-morrow I may stand before God.
III. It becomes us to sanctify ourselves in order that we may be made meet for the wonders which we must see and pass through whenever they may come upon us. (Pulpit Studies.)
To-morrow: spiritual foresight
This “morrow” is always coming upon prepared hearts. The unsanctified man sees nothing of all the mysteries of God. He is “blind and cannot see afar off.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Will the Lord come to those who have made no preparation for Him, and will He hasten to houses whose door is shut against His Anointed? “Blessed is that servant who when his Lord cometh shall be found waiting.” A beautiful law is this, by which Joshua knows the secret of the Lord a full day before it is known by others. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” If the light comes first to the mountains, need the valleys peevishly complain? As a matter of fact some men are privileged beyond others in insight, and that strange sympathetic anticipation which often assumes prophetic dignity and certitude. Such men are teachers sent from God. The spirit that is in them is a spirit of rulership and command, and their supremacy is allowed without being claimed. Wonderful is the gift of utterance; when the poet speaks we feel that he has said something which we wished to say ourselves, and which, being said, we know to be wholly true. So, too, there are time-keepers appointed by God. Sometimes we do the right thing at the wrong hour, and thus our blow is wasted in the air. Our impatience would rush upon the Jordan, and we should be drowned. Lord, teach us how to wait; and when Thy commanding word comes, may we all be ready. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God reveals His purposes by degrees
God often opens His hand by one finger at a time, and leaves us face to face with some plain but difficult duty, without letting us see the helps to its performance till we need to use them. If we go right on the road which He has traced out it will never lead us into a blind alley. The mountains will open before us as we come near what looked their impassable wall; and some narrow gorge or other, wide enough to run a track through, but not wide enough to be noticed before we are close on it, will be sure to open. The attitude of expectation of God’s help, while its nature is unrevealed, is kept up in Joshua’s last instruction. The people are bidden to sanctify themselves because to-morrow the Lord will do wonders among them. That sanctifying was not external, but included the hallowing of spirit by docile waiting for His intervention and obedience while the manner of it was hidden. The secret of to-morrow is partly made known, and the faith of the people is nourished by the mystery remaining, as well as by the light given. The best security for to-morrow’s wonders is to-day’s sanctifying. (A. Maclaren ,D. D.)
This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel--
God’s regard for His servants
How full and manifold the assurance! First, I will magnify thee. I will endue thee with supernatural might, and that will give you authority and weight corresponding to the position in which you stand. Further, this shall be but the beginning of a process which will be renewed as often as there is occasion for it. “This day I will begin.” You are not to go a warfare on your own charges, but “as your days, so shall your strength be.” Moreover, this exaltation of your person and office wilt take place “in the sight of all Israel,” so that no man of them shall ever be justified in refusing you allegiance and obedience. And to sum up--you shall be just as Moses was; the resources of My might will be as available for you as they were for him. After this, what misgivings could Joshua have? Could he doubt the generosity, the kindness, the considerateness of his Master? It is an experience which has been often repeated in the case of those who have had to undertake difficult work for their Master, Of all our misapprehensions the most baseless and the most pernicious is that God does not care much about us, and that we have not much to look for from Him. It is a misapprehension which dishonours God greatly, and which He is ever showing Himself most desirous to remove. It stands fearfully in the way of that spirit of trust by which God is so much honoured, and which He is ever desirous that we should show. And those who have trusted God, and have gone forward to their work in His strength, have always found delightful evidence that their trust has not been in vain. What is the testimony of our great Christian philanthropists, our most successful missionaries, and other devoted Christian workers? Led to undertake enterprises far beyond their strength, and undergo responsibilities far beyond their means, we know not a single case in which they have not had ample proof of the mindfulness, f their Master, and found occasion to wonder at the considerateness and the bountifulness which He has brought to bear upon their position. And is it not strange that we should be so slow to learn how infinite God is in goodness? (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Being made great
It was a great undertaking to follow Moses. How came Joshua to succeed when it seemed so likely he would fail?
1. Because--looking at the human side of the question--
(1) he did not foolishly try to reproduce his master and leader, to be a second Moses, but wisely strove to be his true self, and to do the particular work which God gave him to do; and
(2) he entered upon and carried out his work in a spirit of complete devotedness to it; he lived to accomplish the one thing with which he was charged.
2. Because--looking at the Divine side of it--God was with him, encouraging and sustaining him. God made him great. He magnified him in the sense of the text, i.e., He raised him in the estimation of the people so that he received as much honour from them as even Moses enjoyed. God also magnified Joshua by making him strong, worthy, even great in himself. God held such close intercourse with him, so guided and disciplined him, so influenced and inspired him, that Joshua became a thoroughly true, loyal-hearted servant, a godly man living a faithful, consecrated life. Without the latter there would have been something unreal about the former. For there is--
I. A greatness we must decline.
1. We may not seek to be made great by appearing better or wiser than we are.
2. We may not wish to occupy a position greater than that which we can honourably fill.
II. A greatness to be coveted and attained. How should we care to be magnified? We should aspire to the two elements of greatness which God gave to Joshua, though in us they take a different form.
1. Honour or esteem. We may well dispense with the obsequious or the ceremonious, but we cannot be indifferent to the respectful. Homage we can do without, but the esteem of the wise and good we crave and should secure.
2. Influence. In the home in which we live, in the school in which we teach or learn, in the sphere of daily activity, in the social circle, and in the Church of Christ, we can all be exerting influence: we can be such and can live such lives that we shall be continually restraining from the evil, and impelling toward the right and the true course. And how will God magnify us?
(1) By building up in us a strong Christian character. In that strange experience through which God caused Joshua and Israel to pass (chap. 3.), both he and the priests were disciplined in faith, in obedience, and in steadfastness. By the privileges of the gospel and by the outworkings of His providence God is building us up in these and in other attributes of character, and is thus “making us great” and strong in His sight.
(2) By closely associating Himself with us. Joshua was magnified in the sight of Israel in that henceforth he was known to be a man who had God upon his side, to be one who could lean on God’s strength and be sustained. God magnifies His servant now by causing him to be regarded by all who know him as one who walks with God, with whom God dwells, on whose side the Holy One, the Almighty One is ranged.
III. A greatness we can extend or confer.
1. We magnify God when we adore Him and celebrate His greatness and His faithfulness.
2. We magnify Christ when we commend Him and His gospel by lip and by life: when we constrain others to know and feel the pricelessness of His love, the excellency of His service, the greatness of His promises (see Philippians 1:20).
3. We make our brethren great, in the best sense, When we lead them into the path of heavenly wisdom. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)
Joshua has not been a stranger to Divine honours. He has been chosen to succeed Moses, and so installed into the highest office in Israel. But greater honours are in store for him; and to-day he is to receive some of these. He is to receive them not for self-glorification, but to glorify God, since they are to be evidences to the people that God is with him as He was with Moses. Much is said about worldly honours, and thousands are struggling every day to obtain them. They are characterised by three things, which we would do well to remember. They are few in number. Hence the great majority of the human family must live and die without them. Their duration is brief. Suppose they are bestowed on one when he comes of age, and that he is allowed to retain them till his death, which is not always the case, they can only be his for about fifty years. They are expensive and sometimes exceedingly embarrassing. To maintain them numbers have been brought to the margin, if they have not been driven over it, of monetary ruin. The old saying is still true in many instances: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In view of these characteristics of all worldly honours, we may well ponder the question, is the game worthy of chase? How different are Divine honours! All can receive them if they please, for the Lord has said: “Them that honour Me I will honour.” Like the soul they are immortal; time does not dim them; death will not touch them, and in eternity they wilt shine forth with a radiance above the brightness of the sun. May we all aspire to the honours which come from God only, and abundantly obtain them. They are indeed worthy possessions. (A. McAuslane.)
Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord.
The environment of worship
That is a bold challenge. That is a voice we need. Every age wants some Joshua, some mighty soldier of the Cross, to say, “Come, hear the upper music, the Divine melody, the holy revelation.” Have we the hearing ear? If we could hear better we could hear more. “Come hither.” Does that indicate a point in space, a place, a boundary, a sanctuary? If so, it would be quite in keeping with Oriental thought in general, and with Jewish habit in particular. Always religious exercise was associated with locality--with the mountain, with the city, with the temple, with the tabernacle, with the terebinth, with some place made sacred by historic communes and wrestlings with God. Christ said, “The time cometh and now is when neither in this mountain nor at Jerusalem (particularly and exclusively) shall men worship the Father,” but wherever there is a human spirit desiring the upward way, the higher light, the noonday of thought, and hope, and peace, wherever there is such a soul God is there, and God is the Author of it. Yet Jesus Christ Himself went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day--one of the evangelists says, “as was His custom.” Beware lest in supposing ourselves able to grasp the all we grasp nothing. The universe is too big really for any one of us to grasp; we had better, therefore, have a little place cornered off and call it the Church, the sanctuary, the little temporary hostelry and lodging-place. All the earth is the Lord’s. Men are now in danger of worshipping totals, the Unspeakable All, the incognisable infinite, as the metaphysicians call it. We may believe in all that grandeur of immeasurableness, and yet at the same time we go home every evening. Home--but the earth is the Lord’s: why do you not live out in the open air? What do you want with home? you are a worshipper of Humanity, all space: why do you go home? You cannot keep away from the old place: the loved ones are there, all the lives that make your life a possible joy are there; all the holy, shadowy, tender memories are there--the old seat, the old books, the old fire that talks as it crackles and blazes are there. “Come.” Why, the mere coming does us good, the very walk to church reddens the blood. The hunter says the delight is in the chase; not in the death of the hunted animal, but in the flight, the leap, the bound, the dash. The coming, the act of locomotion and the act signified by locomotion, will do us good. For what purpose shall we come? “Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord your God.” That is the purpose. Not to hear the words of men. We are now here before God to hear what He will say unto us--“Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” What shall we hear? Shall we hear the words of some strange deity? Nay, “hear the words of the Lord your God.” It is a family meeting. These pronouns seem to bring us into sacred and general possession of things in common with God. Your God, our Father, my God, your fathers’ God: these are the terms in which the greatness and the nearness of God are typified to our dull imagination. When you hear the words of the Lord your God they will not be strange, inarticulate, untranslatable thunder; they will be gospels, voices of music, voices of welcome, tender assurances, great offers of love, sublime propositions of pardon; you will know every word of the speech, being neither affrighted by its majesty nor rendered indifferent by its condescension. To be able to receive such words--is that an insignificant sign? To know God’s voice--is not that an evidence of man’s greatness? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you.
The best helper
Observe the form which the purpose of the miracle assumes there. It is the confirmation of the Divine presence, not with the leader, but with the people and their consequent victory. Joshua grasped the inmost meaning of God’s word to himself, and showed noble self-suppression, when he thus turned the direction of the miracle. The true servant of God knows that God is with him, not for his personal glorification, but for the welfare of God’s people, and cares little for the estimation in which men hold him, if they will only believe that the conquering God is with them. We too often make great leaders and teachers in the Church opaque barriers to hide God from us, instead of transparent windows through which He shines upon His people. We are a great deal more ready to say “God is with him,” than to add, “and therefore God is with us, in our Joshuas, and without them,” Observe the grand emphasis of that name, “the living God,” tacitly contrasted with the dead idols of the enemies, and sealing the assurance of His swift and all-conquering might. Observe, too, the triumphant contempt in the enumeration of the many tribes of the foe with their barbarous names. Five of them had been enough, when named by the spies’ trembling lips, to terrify the congregation, but here the list of the whole seven but strengthens confidence. Faith delights to look steadily at its enemies, knowing that the one Helper is more than they all. This catalogue breathes the same spirit as Paul’s rapturous list of the foes impotent to separate from the love of God. Mark, too, the long-drawn-out designation of the ark, with its accumulation of nouns, which grammatical purists have found difficulty--“the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth”; where it leads they need not fear to follow. It was the pledge of His presence, it contained the ten words on which His covenant was concluded. That covenant enlisted on their side Him who was Lord of the swollen river as of all the fierce clans beyond; and with His ark in front their victory was sure. Then follows the command to elect twelve representatives of the tribes, for a purpose not yet explained; and then, at the last moment, the manner of crossing is disclosed, to the silencing of wise doubters and the confirmation of ignorant faith. The brief anticipatory announcement of the miracle puts stress on the arrest of the waters at the instant when the priests’ feet touched them, and tells what is to befall the arrested torrent above the point where the ark stood, saying nothing about the lower stretch of the river, and just hinting by one word, “heap,” the parallel between this miracle and that of the passing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:8). (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth.--The emphasis with which here and verse 13 Jehovah is called “the Lord of all the earth” is very significant. This miracle demonstrated His power over all nature. He who can by His word suspend the operation of material laws, and whose bidding the forces of the world obey, is the supreme ruler of the world. As such all that it contains is at His sovereign disposal. As “the living God” has the power, so “the Lord of all the earth” has the right to bestow the land of Canaan upon whomsoever He pleases. Joshua and Israel were under no delusion in claiming that the Most High had given them this land. They were acting under no fanatical impulse. And their conduct gives no sanction to crusades elsewhere waged by those who have imagined themselves the special favourites of heaven, and pleaded a Divine right for their acts of rapine and bloodshed. Israel’s credentials were of the most palpable character. The miracle which attended their march was God’s own attestation to the fact that they were working His will. And as Jehovah is the Lord of all the earth, He shall one day be universally worshipped and obeyed. The covenant of God with Israel has sometimes been decried as the offspring of a narrow mind, which would limit the Divine favour to particular nation. But it is here joined with the widest universality; and one purpose of this particular miracle wrought on Israel’s behalf is declared (Joshua 4:24) to be that nil the people of the earth might learn a lesson of Jehovah’s greatness. (W. H. Green, D. D.)
The ark of God; visible aids in religion
In the ark Israel saw God Himself, and yet lost none of their faith in the spiritual character of God. When the ark rested, Israel knew that God was among them; when the ark moved, then Israel believed that God was calling them to journey on again, and sang, “Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered,” &c.; when, again, the ark rested, they ceased to move forward, and sang, “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.” There was ever before the people of Israel the words of that commandment which forbade their ever thinking of God under any human, any material form, so that they had to content themselves with the ark of the covenant. But God, all this time, was preparing for a new manifestation of Himself in the Person of the Son, who was to take upon Him the form of His own highest creation, so that no longer should it be a sin to think of God under the likeness of a man. The man who depreciates the idea of a visible Church, and rejects externals in religion, has one side of the truth very clearly revealed to him; but I venture to think that not only is this one side insisted on to the exclusion of another equally true, but his position is maintained against certain unalterable facts, of which the first and foremost is, that our souls, through which alone, he argues, communion may be held with God, are imprisoned within material bodies, and cannot in this life, in the ordinary course, receive impressions of spiritual things except through the medium of those bodies. Israel in the wilderness was, no doubt, often very unworthy of the high calling which belonged to the chosen people; but they did succeed in living a life from which everything was removed except the prospect of the heavenly rewards. They knew they should not inherit temporal promises, and yet they patiently lived their lives in expectation of spiritual things. And during these lives they were guided by “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth,” and by the system of worship provided for them by God. We are looking, or ought to be looking, for like heavenly promises, and while we are in the flesh we shall find help, comfort, encouragement, and strength from these outward ordinances, which God has given us in His holy Church. (E. Smith, B. A.)
As soon as the soles of the feet . . . shall rest in the waters of Jordan.--
The first step was to be taken in the waters. They were called upon not only to face the difficulties, but to enter them. They were not to ask God to prove His power first. They were to trust Him first, and then should they see as they followed on to know the Lord, “His giving forth” to be “prepared as the morning.” How fatal had been a halt, although but one step short of the brim of the waters! Even the foot uplifted, ready to fall as soon as the path was ready, would have waited in vain. The promise was addressed only to the faith that, without seeing signs and wonders, could yet believe. That one step taken which proved their faith, and placed it in a position of entire receptivity--then God could prove His faithfulness and manifest His power. His wonders follow at once. The lesson which is here taught us is of the utmost importance, showing us the very essence of all true faith. Mature faith must be able to dare and to endure, with no other stay than seeing Him who is invisible. Our Father does, indeed, stretch out the hand of yearning tenderness to steady the tottering steps of a babe. In His pity and compassion He will not forbid the poor cripple his staff; but the faith of full years and of steady strength can never be developed by continued indulgence. It must be exercised by reason of use. Again, that God, instead of giving His people some visible aid for their crossing, set before them a most visible hindrance, doubling the danger and difficulty to the natural eye, is in perfect accord with our advanced experience. Only how often does the simplicity of our faith fail to equal theirs. It is the first instinctive impulse of unbelief to seek a sign--to have something to interpose between itself and the bare word of God. And so, how often is the question asked: “If God be really disposed to bring me into this glorious liberty, will there not be at least some token of it? Shall I find no evidence of it in my own altered feelings; and especially will not the Lord prepare the way by lowering the opposing tide of temptation?” The word of our God needs neither sign nor surety. Be it a promise, or be it a command, it matters not; for every command has a promise for its kernel. We are to go forward to obey His commands--forward to receive His promises--forward in faith--forward though difficulties double. Again, the foot dipped in the brimming waters declares emphatically that faith is to precede feeling. Nothing that we discover in heart or life need hinder us in coming to Christ to seek deliverance from it. We may even use our worst discoveries as our plea in coming; “For the whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.” Nor will my sickness make the Physician displeased with me in my first application to Him. But if after He has healed me, and taught me the conditions of sustaining health, I find myself again unloving, cold, perturbed, fretted, moody, I have not the least right to say that all is well, and that, disregarding all this, I am to believe myself fully accepted through Christ. Unless I bring this disturbance to Him for confession, forgiveness, and healing, I am utterly at fault. Our feelings are of importance. The same Creator who set the faithful nerves as sentinels along all the lines of the senses, to give due warning of danger and disease, gave a corresponding sensitiveness to our souls. Faith is not to discharge this as unnecessary, but to retain it in her service. If it be well with our faith, it will also be well with our feelings. (S. F. Smiley.)
When does Divine help come?
When we, actually going forth in duty as He has told us, according to the directions He has given, laying hold by faith upon His promise, come to the limit of our strength--when thus our feet are dipped in the brim of the waters of our Jordan, His great help does come.
1. Such Divine help comes in difficult duty. Though duty be difficult, when we go forth toward it, as God has ordered, and in faith in His promise, we may be certain somehow His help will meet us.
2. Such Divine help comes scattering foreboded inability, e.g., the women going to the sepulchre, asking, anxiously, “Who shall roll away the stone?” but going on and finding it rolled away (Mark 16:1-41.16.4).
3. Such Divine help will come in death. See what Mr. Greatheart says of Mr. Fearing in the second part of “Pilgrim’s Progress.” The whole passage is most exquisite.
4. Such Divine help will also come in conversion. There is that Jordan of belief in Jesus--of the absolute commitment of the self to Him which we must pass before we can enter the Canaan of forgiveness, and God’s favour, and the noble life. Now go on toward it. Cross it. But you have no feeling, you say; that is not to the matter. But you do not know such feeling as other people say they have; that is not to the matter. But you do not understand how it can be; you need not; that is not to the matter. But you are not fit to make the crossing; you never will be fitter; that is not to the matter. This is enough. God tells you to go forth, along His way in faith of His promise; and when your feet but touch the brim of a perfect self-surrender, you are His, you are Christian. His forgiveness falls, you have passed into the Canaan of the new life. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
The ark in Jordan
It is worth noticing the use which in the passage of the river they made of the ark of the covenant. The pillar of fire had ceased to go before them. They had grown into the ability to appreciate a better and more spiritual symbolism. Fire meant more to the eye than a little box of acacia-wood, but the acacia box, considered as the casket of the Divine autograph of the two tables, denoted more to the mind and heart; and so it marks a growth that not the pillar, but the ark, guided them across the river. They treated the ark on this occasion reverently, but not superstitiously. They used it not as a “charm,” but as a symbol. The Israelites on a later occasion used it as a charm in one of their battles with the Philistines, when after one defeat they said (1 Samuel 4:3). To the men standing on the brink of the swollen Jordan, however, the ark was not a charm, a power, but only the representative of a power. Their own faith earned them miraculous passage, and not the little acacia chest; and they felt it so. There is danger of our coming to use the holy things of our religion more as the Israelites used the ark at Ebenezer than as they used it at the river. We easily fall into a way of attributing Divine potency to rites and ceremonies, prayers, sanctuaries, and ordinances, forgetting that these things are only types, significant as types, but not as forces--that the power of Christianity is not in the rites, but in the faith only that uses them. A symbol is a dangerous thing: the Hebrews learned that lesson at Ebenezer. A symbol is a precious thing: the Hebrews learned that lesson at the Jordan-crossing. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.
Obeying God’s commands
The Jordan of Canaan stands for any difficulty which the Lord commands us to encounter. Between us and the goal at which we are aiming, there is often some wide Jordan which, at the time, seems to us to be very peculiarly broad. At another time, when the stream is not so wide, we think that we might dare to make the attempt, but just now the thing seems too hazardous. We think we had better wait for a little, until the waters abate. So we stand on the brink shivering, and dare not plunge into the waves. How many a sinner has felt thus, as he has heard the call of God to forsake his sins! If only this or that were a little different, he thinks he might venture, but just now the opportunity seems hardly propitious. To the believer the same temptation comes, as he faces some duty, and recognises that it is a duty, while yet he shrinks from it to-day. To-morrow, he argues, will be a more favourable season; and so he too refuses to step boldly into the flood. We all are inclined to ask that the billows may cease flowing before we are called to descend into their very midst. Is it not so? Let the example of this people, whom we have so often condemned with a kind of superior feeling of virtue, spur us to better ways of heeding the command of God. All that we need to be sure of is that we have the command of God. Sure of that, there is only one thing to be done by the believer, and that is to go ahead. If God says, “Go into the water, and when you get there the way will be made clear,” we may be sure that in due time the waters will cease. Ours is to go ahead, and God’s business is to see that the waters abate. If we do our part, we need not fear but what He will do His. “It is the first step that costs,” is a proverb as true in religious matters as things secular. Many an undertaking that seemed impossible when we started has become very easy before we were done with it. Like the ten lepers who were told to go and show themselves to the priests before a spot of their leprosy had departed from them, but who as they went were cleansed, so it happens to the people of God: as they go, they receive the fulness of blessing, whereas had they waited for that until they were willing to start, they would have received nothing at all. How many blessings do you suppose you have failed to receive simply because you have refused to move until the whole way was made clear to you? You can at least go as far as the brink of the water, and even put your feet into the water, without being drowned. Why not try that much, and see what will happen? Is it not worth while? (A. F. Schauffler, D. D.)
The priests . . . before the people.
Ministers as leaders of the people
It is not always that either priests or Christian ministers have set the example of going before in any hazardous undertaking. They have not always moved so steadily in the van of great movements, nor stood so firmly in the midst of the river. What shall we say of those whose idea, whether of Hebrew priesthood or of Christian ministry, has been that of a mere office, that of men ordained to perform certain mechanical functions, in whom personal character and personal example signified little or nothing? Is it not infinitely nearer to the Bible view that the ministers of religion are the leaders of the people, and that they ought as such to be ever foremost in zeal, in holiness, in self-denial, in victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil? And of all men ought they not to stand firm? Where are Mr. Byends, and Mr. Facing-Both-Ways, and Mr. Worldly-Wiseman more out of place than in the ministry? Where does even the world look more for consistency and devotion and fearless regard to the will of God? What should we think of an army where the officers counted it enough to see to the drill and discipline of the men, and in the hour of battle confined themselves to mere mechanical duties, and were outstripped in self-denial, in courage, in dash and daring by the commonest of their soldiers? Happy the Church where the officers are officers indeed! Feeling ever that their place is in the front rank of the battle and in the vanguard of every perilous enterprise, and that it is their part to set the men an example of unwavering firmness even when the missiles of death are whistling or bursting on every side. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
As they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan.--
The passage of the river Jordan
I. That whatever difficulties may arise in the Christian’s pilgrimage, the most formidable awaits him at its close. Reserve, then, your resources. Do not waste your moral strength in useless sighing over ills that are incident to human life, and which are blessings rather than curses if patiently borne. Remember that some really formidable obstacle may ere long be placed in your path, and that floods of suffering may be before you. The lesser troubles wisely borne will prepare you for greater ones--will teach you calmly to meet and eventually to triumph over them, as did the Israelites when, after encountering the perils of their desert-life, they came at length to “the swellings of Jordan.”
II. That God has provided appropriate means by which the difficulties incident to the christian life may be overcome.
1. He endows us with moral courage. Faith in God will give us firmness in times of danger; we shall be calm when others are agitated, and steadfast when others are moved.
2. He vouchsafes His gracious presence. And where God is there is peace and safety. Victory over temptation, comfort in trouble, support in death, all are insured by the presence of God.
3. He provides a guide. It was not under Moses, but under Joshua, that the Israelites crossed the Jordan, yet all and more than Joshua was to the Israelites the Saviour is to us; going before to show us the way, encouraging us by His example and sustaining us by His grace. (H. J Gamble.)
The crossing of the Jordan
Our subject brings before us a scene which in many of its features reminds us of that memorable night in which the Lord led Israel forth by that unexpected way, through the waters of the sea, from the house of bondage into liberty, from cruel slavery into the joy of a new national life. Now there is much to be learned from considering both the points of similarity and of contrast in those two memorable events. First we notice that in both cases there was a going down into the element of water, and a rising up out of it into an entirely new position--the mystical symbol of death, and burial, and of resurrection. In both cases by this passage through water a complete separation was effected between the old and the new state of things, and in both cases the passage indicated the commencement of a new and happy career. In each case the water, which naturally should have been an obstacle, became, we may say, an assistance, and that which naturally should have been a cause of danger became a means of safety. And in both cases this was caused by a distinct Divine intervention, and in each case that manifestation of supernatural power was associated with a symbol of the Divine presence, though the symbols in the two cases were different--in the first it was the fiery pillar, in the second it was the ark of the covenant. Nor are the points of contrast less striking than the points of agreement. The frenzied terror, the fearful excitement which pervaded that terrified multitude at the Red Sea is conspicuous by its absence on this occasion; they are no longer fleeing from destruction and death, but passing on to a higher and happier kind of life. There they were passing from a fertile land into a howling desert, where they would have to depend on a miracle for every meal. Here they were passing from a waste of desert into a fertile land--a land that flowed with milk and honey. There we hear an outburst of triumphant enthusiasm when the sea was crossed, and loud songs of triumph rang forth from the vast multitude as the returning wave submerged the Egyptians. Here all seems to have been calm and solemn; the only expression of strong feeling was the setting up of those memorial stones as if a deep and lasting recollection of this great fact were aimed at rather than an evanescent excitement. In both eases, observe, we are contemplating a scene of salvation, yet is there a great difference between the salvation effected in the one case and in the other. In both cases the salvation comes through a divinely-appointed Saviour; but even between these there is a contrast. Moses was the Saviour from, Joshua was the Saviour into. And all this may throw much light upon a question that seems greatly to exercise the minds of some, especially just at present. It is unquestionably a fact that long after their conversion some Christians pass through an experience so marked and definite in its character, and leading to such happy and unmistakable consequences in their subsequent lives, that some teachers give to this great inward change the name of A. second conversion. Others speak of it as entire sanctification, and urge upon all indiscriminately the necessity of passing through some such definite experience, Now two things are equally plain from this narrative. The first is, that the crossing of the Jordan did mark a very definite epoch in the history of the Israelites, and served to emphasise a crisis in their history, out of which they passed into a new and far more satisfactory condition. The second is, that this crossing of the Jordan, nevertheless, would not have been necessary at all but for the backsliding and perversity and unbelief of the Israelites. The lesson of Divine power exercised over the very elements, and over that element which, but for the intervention of an omnipotent hand, must have destroyed those whom it now protected, and the pledge that such a miracle contained for the future--all this would have been fresh in the minds of the Israelites when they first reached Kadesh-Burned, and would have required no repetition. I was much struck with the remark of a dear friend of mine. Shortly after I had devoted myself entirely to mission work he said to me with great emphasis, “Now, my dear brother, you are going to give yourself up to the work of preaching the gospel, and I hope the Lord will give you many converts. But whatever you do, try and bring them in at Kadesh-Barnea; don’t tell them that they’ve got to go wandering in the wilderness for forty years.” I have never forgotten his words; and how I long for you young Christians who are just starting forwards from the Red Sea that you may be spared these forty years of weary wandering; that it should not be necessary for you to go on year after year murmuring over your doubts and fears, your disappointments and your barrenness, your dulness and deadness, your infirmities and failures. Oh, it is weary work this! I pray you avoid it. We have seen that both the passage of the Red Sea and the passage of the Jordan were miracles of salvation wrought for Israel by God. We have also to notice that they are both instances of salvation by water. It is by God’s judgment upon sin that we are to be saved from sin; by His judgment upon the world we are to be saved from the world. And now here lies our practical lesson. Whether we have been baptized at the moment of our conversion, and actually expressed our faith in Christ for justification in submitting to the ordinance, as probably was the case with St. Paul, or whether we are baptized in unconscious infancy before our faith became operative, as is usually the case with us Church-people, or whether we are baptized long after justification, as in the case with modern Baptists, we cannot become truly justified without passing through that which the ordinance symbolises--death and resurrection. Rise from the regrets of the past into the acquisitions of the future. Dry your tears, and claim your heritage. And here is the first step, “Sanctify yourselves: for to-morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Sanctify yourselves. This is God’s call to those of us who would fain cross over the Jordan. Put away every unclean thing--all that interferes with the Divine operation. And the next lesson is, expect! To-morrow the Lord will do wonders amongst you. Only by a miracle of grace can you be raised to your true level of Christian experience, and brought into the land that flows with milk and honey. Your heavenly Leader seems to ask, “Believest thou that I am able to do this?” Oh, let Him be answered from the bottom of your heart with a fervent “Yea, Lord; there is nothing too hard for Thee.” Then comes the great fact, the pledge and presage of all coming victories: “Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you,” &c. Go down again into the place of death and burial, but see your Lord there before you, a pledge that when you pass through the waters, because He is with thee, the floods shall not overflow thee. Go down into the place of judgment, and see thine old wilderness life, with all its waywardness and wilfulness, judged, condemned, and left behind thee for ever. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The ark and the crossing of Jordan
I. The circumstances as connected with the people of Israel. It does not appear that any intimation was given to the Israelites before the morning of the day on which they crossed the river as to the manner in which their passage was to be effected. This would be a great trial of their faith; and the readiness which they showed to go on when the ark did move was a clear proof that their faith, through the grace of God, stood the trial; and that they were actuated by simple trust in God, believing that whatever He said should be done would surely come to pass, however impossible it might seem to the judgment of men. The fact is that Israel had become accustomed to the constant exhibition of the most amazing miracles. They had been delivered from the bondage of Egypt by a succession of wonders. As our minds dwell on this strange sight, one object stands forth pre-eminently conspicuous, and that is the ark borne by the priests. The ark was the point round which all the glory of the miracle was made to revolve. As the people passed and gazed at the wall of waters, they would feel, we owe our safety and our easy passage to the presence of the ark, the token of the presence of Jehovah Himself. It will not be without instruction if we notice the name by which the ark was called in connection with the transaction before us: “the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God.” Here, then, was a pledge of God’s truth and faithfulness. He who was showing their way was one on whom they could thoroughly depend, How would this serve to stimulate them, to stir up their hearts, to awaken faith, to strengthen hope! Thus conspicuous was the ark on this most notable day. And if you ask why, the answer is twofold. First, because the ark was to remind them of the presence of God. By it He made to His people that most welcome of announcements, ever fresh: “I will dwell in them and walk in them, and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” The ark was also a type of Christ; and though Israel might not see the lessons which all the typical economy taught, yet God would magnify His Son by exalting that which pre-eminently represented Him.
II. From the consideration of Israel let us turn to ourselves, and see what is to be gathered from the history before us for instruction, comfort, and encouragement, as far as our own Christian life and practice are concerned. Is it not true that if we are among the spiritual Israel of God, experience of difficulty and trial is constantly falling to our lot? Now when we reflect on our necessities, east our eyes around to survey our individual position, look onwards to the Canaan which we love, and think what we must encounter before its shore is reached, must we not have a guide and a defence? Obstacles as great as Jordan with its overflowed banks and swollen stream meet us in our course; uncertainties in respect of which no calculation can, humanly speaking, be made, veil the future; intricacies which we cannot thread are constantly arising; enemies seem to stand upon the farther shore, and to threaten opposition and repulse even if we cross the stream. To-day all may be fair and smooth, to-morrow such a flood may arise of trouble, adversity, or temptation, as will be well-nigh sufficient to sweep us quite away. Well, let it be so. Believer, there is help for you which is all-sufficient. The ark is going before. Hear how the Lord speaks (Isaiah 42:15-23.42.16; Isaiah 43:1-23.43.2). Remember how you have been guided hitherto: how when you broke from the bondage of Satan and of sin, the Lord made a way through all that would have kept back your soul. If He of whom the ark was but a type, if Jesus be our guide, where may we not readily go? How precious is the word, “He goeth before them” (John 10:4). As we follow our heavenly Guide we may well believe that He leads us forth by the right way, that we may go unto a city of habitations. This is the glad portion of every one who lives the life of faith. He may thus individualise the covenant truth of God, and make it his own. But not only so, he can rest in the assurance that this covenant truth is the common heritage of all the saints, and so learn more and more to rejoice that all his brethren and sisters in Christ Jesus have the same guide, the same defence, the same refuge as himself. What a source of comfort is this; inexhaustible, overflowing, ever fresh and life-affording! (C. D. Marston, M. A.)
Jordan driven back
This was only one of several ways of entrance that might have been chosen; therefore this, the most unlikely of all, must have been chosen for special purposes. Nor are these difficult to find.
I. By this wonderful entrance into the land Joshua was greatly honoured (verse 7). It was a wonder wrought by Jehovah to establish the authority of Joshua. It was a fulfilling of the promise He had made, to be with him as He had been with Moses. It was an emphatic endorsement of the people’s enthusiastic response. It was His own seal and signature placed upon Joshua’s commission. Surely this was essential to united and effective action on the part of those he led. If men have no deep confidence in their commander, they cannot follow cheerfully, they cannot work heartily. Therefore, when God calls to office, lie endows with all needful honour; and not only does He bestow it at the beginning, He also maintains it so long as He has work for His servants to do. Surely such a record as this should teach every servant of God to leave his honour in God’s keeping. His one aim should ever be to honour God, knowing assuredly that that word of promise is never broken, “Them that honour Me I will honour.” Yea, more than that, He will also cause others to do the same.
II. Still further, we are told that by this miracle the divine presence was revealed (verse 10). This wonder gave new proof of His guiding presence, and such an assurance was, in their present circumstances, peculiarly appropriate. The manna was about to cease. In like manner the beckoning banner of cloud and fire is furled for ever. No longer can it lead them forward, for their rest is gained. But if it has gone, Jehovah has not. His presence, though without that visible manifestation, is as real as ever. And it is as powerful; He is the living God, not dead like the idols of the Canaanites, or the ideas and abstractions of the philosopher, or the forces sad atoms of the scientist. Neither is He inoperative; a worn-out energy, a decrepit force. He is acting everywhere, by all means, at all times. What a demonstration of these things was the working of this wonder. If it has been said of a great general that his presence with the army was worth a regiment, how much more would the assurance of the Divine presence strengthen every hero in Israel to chase thousand foes.
III. Again, by this miracle success was guaranteed. After such brilliant opening of the campaign, could there be an ignominious end? Impossible! lie that did the greater wonder, would not fall in accomplishing the less. God never abandons His work half-way; lie never leaves it marred or unfinished.
IV. Among the results flowing from this wonder, not the least important was its influence on Israel’s enemies. The Canaanites were terror-struck (Joshua 5:1). This great event, which filled the hearts of the Israelites with confidence, had just the opposite effect upon their enemies. Nothing could have dispirited them more. Who could stand against a people thus favoured? When God makes bare His arm the stoutest heart becomes like wax. All refuges of lies, every false security, is felt more frail than a gossamer web. (A. B. Mackay.)
The Jordanic passage
1. Standing on the scene of that affrighted and fugitive river Jordan, I learn that obstacles, when they are touched, vanish. It is the trouble, the difficulty, the obstacle there in the distance that seems so huge and tremendous.
2. Again: this Jordanic passage teaches me the completeness of everything that God does. Does He make a universe, it is a perfect clock, running ever since it was wound up; fixed stars the pivots, constellations the intermoving wheels, and ponderous laws the weights and mighty swinging pendulum; the stars in the great dome striking midnight, and the sun with brazen tongue tolling the hour of noon. A perfect universe! No astronomer has ever proposed an amendment. Does God make a Bible, it is a complete Bible. Standing amid its dreadful and delightful truths, you seem to be in the midst of an orchestra, where the wailings over sin, and the rejoicings over pardon, and the martial strains of victory make a chorus like the anthem of eternity. Does God provide a Saviour; He is a complete Saviour. God--man. Divinity--humanity united in the same person.
3. Again, I learn from this Jordanic passage that between us and every Canaan of success and prosperity there is a river that must be passed. “Oh! how I should like to have some of those grapes on the other side,” said some of the Israelites to Joshua. “Well,” said Joshua, “if you want some of those grapes why don’t you cross over and get them?” A river of difficulty between us and everything that is worth having. That which costs nothing is worth nothing. God makes everything valuable difficult to get at for the same reason that He puts the gold down in the mine, and the pearl clear down in the sea; it is to make us dig and dive for them. We acknowledge this principle in worldly things. Would that we were wise enough to acknowledge it in religious things. Eminent Christian character is only attained by Jordanic passage. No man just happens to get good. Why does that man know so much about the Scriptures? He was studying the Bible while you were reading a novel. He was on fire with the sublimities of the Bible while you were sound asleep. It was by tugging, and toiling, and pushing, and running in the Christian life that he became so strong. In a hundred Solferinos he learned how to fight. In a hundred shipwrecks he learned how to swim. Tears over sin, tears over Zion’s desolation, tears aver the impenitent, tears over graves, made a Jordan which that man had to pass. The other morning, seated at my table, all my family present, I thought to myself how pleasant it would be if I could put them all in a boat, and then get in with them, and we could pull across the river to the next world, and be there, and be there all together. But we cannot all go together; we must go one by one. What a heaven it will be if we have all our families there! Lord God of Joshua, give them safe Jordanic passage! Every Christian will go over dry-shod. One word of comfort from this subject for all the bereft. You see our departed friends have not been submerged, they have not been swamped in the waters; they have only crossed over. They are not sick, not dead, not exhausted, not extinguished, not blotted out; but with healthier respiration, and stouter pulsation, and keener sight, and better prospect, crossed over--their sins, their physical and mental disquietude all left on this side. Impassable obstacle between them, and all human and Satanic pursuit, crossed over. Would you have them back again? Would you have them take the risks and the temptations which threaten every human pathway? Would you have them cross Jordan three times--in addition to the crossing already--crossing again to greet you now, and then crossing to go back to heaven? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The passage of Jordan
Behold, in this passage of Jordan, first of all a picture of the beginning of the Christian’s earthly course. As we stand where Israel stood, on the eastern bank, we behold a fair inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey, rich with every earthly blessing, with all that heart could wish. But as between Israel and Canaan Jordan rolled, a great and immovable barrier, so between us and the goodly heritage of spiritual blessings we behold the swollen river of God’s judgment against sin. How can we who are sinners enter into life and rest? How can we reach or enjoy such blessings? That barrier is to us unsurmountable. There are no fords in this river; and we cannot swim across it as the spies the Jordan. Neither is there any bridge above the waterflood. But look again. Behold a mighty wonder. That river is dried up and driven back. That barrier has been abolished, and the empty bed lies bare. It is as if there were no river. What has abolished the barrier? The ark of God alone. By means of it Jordan was driven back. And as the ark abolished the barrier between Israel and Canaan, so Christ has abolished death. He Himself, in His own body, has borne all the weight of the flood of God’s judgment against sin. He has finished the work of salvation, and opened up a new and living way through His own body into the land of spiritual rest. He has done this, and done it alone. Of the people there was none with Him. No hand of man had a share in this work, even as no man in Israel drove Jordan back. And Jesus abolished death as speedily and effectually as that flood was driven back. As it was with the priests in Jordan so was it with the great High Priest in the waters of judgment. Whenever the soles of His feet touched the brim of the deadly flood it fled away. He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. To those who trust in Him, so far as safety goes, it is as if it did not exist. Not the faintest trickle of condemnation can damp their feet. “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Mark also how the passage was made by Israel. As it is written, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land”; so might it also be written of this twin event, “By faith they crossed the Jordan and entered into the inheritance of the Lord.” By nought that we can do can we gain an entrance; but trusting in Him who has made an end of sin, we pass from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. As Israel passed over Jordan by faith in God, even so must all pass from condemnation to acceptance, according to theft word of the gospel, “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And right gloriously is all such confidence justified, whether in the case of Israel or of any sinner that believes. Oh l how safe are they who put their trust in the living God, who enter into life by faith in Christ Jesus. The way of faith is absolutely safe for all who walk therein. And it is as simple as it is safe. The entrance into Canaan was the simplest, the easiest, the plainest, that could be devised. A little child could cross the emptied river as well as the stoutest warrior. And the stoutest warrior had to go the same way as the little child. It was a path that suited the feeblest, and therefore a path that suited the strongest; and no one could make any mistake about it; the wayfaring man, though a fool, could not err therein. Again, note that this way of entrance was free to all. No one was prevented from crossing. No charge was made for crossing. Whosoever would was welcome to enter in. The fact that the road lay open was an invitation for all to cross to the goodly, land of rest. Even so, though the blessings of Canaan are not to be compared for a moment with the glory of God’s inheritance of grace, still entrance into this heavenly rest is free. Without money, and without price, whosoever will may enter in. But we cannot conclude our consideration of this great event without pointing out its resemblance to that abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom, ministered to all those who with all diligence add to their faith courage, knowledge, temperance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. The grace that led Israel through the wilderness for forty years; the grace that sustained their lives amid its barren sands; the grace that gave them bread from heaven and water from the flinty rock, did it fail them at the end of the journey? Nay! nay! The same power and love that had fed them with manna, and canopied them with cloud and flame, divided the waters of Jordan and gave them abundant entrance. This God remains our God for ever. His grace can never fail us. (A. B. Mackay.)
The priests.., stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan.
The priests in the midst of Jordan; or, Moral firmness
Observe the sublime calmness of these priests--these leaders of the people; they stood firm in the midst of the waters till all passed over. The circumstances suggest two remarks about their firmness.
I. That it was rational in its foundation.
1. It was not stolid indifference.
2. It was not confidence in their own power to keep back the mountain of water.
3. It was not, of course, faith in the laws of nature. These men were firm in defiance of nature’s laws.
4. What, then, was the foundation of their firmness? The word of God. Now, our position is, that it is more rational to trust the word of God than the laws of nature.
(1) Because His words bind Him to action; the laws of nature do not.
(2) Because deviation from His word would be a far more serious thing to the universe, than deviation from the laws of nature. Were He to deviate from His word, virtue would be at an end, moral government would be disobeyed, the grand barrier between right and wrong, truth and error, heaven and hell, would be broken down; and anarchy and misery would deluge the moral creation.
(3) Because He has departed from the laws of nature, but has never swerved an iota from His word. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” &c.
4. Two inferences necessarily flow from the foregoing considerations--
(1) That it is more reasonable to walk by faith than by sight.
(2) That apparent impossibilities can never be pleaded against Divine predictions.
II. That it was salutary in its influence.
1. The force of human influence. The millions of every age follow the few.
2. The philosophy of useful influence. Fidelity to God is the spring of useful influence. (Homilist.)
No river there!
The dying words of Bishop Haven to the Rev. Samuel Upham, who went to see him, were, “Preach a complete gospel: a whole Christ, a whole heaven, a whole hell, the whole Bible from end to end.” His physician on leaving said, “Good-night, bishop,” and he answered, “Good-night: next time it will be ‘Good-morning.’” Then he closed his eyes, and some thought the spirit had fled, but he opened them again, and, looking at the Rev. Mr. Mallalieu, said, “I have been looking for the cold river, but there is no river there; only a broad plain leading up to the throne.” Soon afterwards his spirit crossed the “broad plain.”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent