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THE CHARACTER OF JEHOVAH
Deuteronomy 32:1-4. Give ear, O ye heavens, and I trill speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop at the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass: because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
IN this chapter is contained the song which Moses wrote for the conviction of the Jews in all future ages, especially in that period when they should have provoked God to scatter them over the face of the whole earth. Its general contents have been before considered [Note: See Discourse on Deuteronomy 31:19.]. At present we shall confine ourselves only to its exordium, in which Moses addresses the whole creation, and then describes the character of the Creator. An invocation of “the heavens and the earth” is not uncommon in the Scriptures: it is used in order to impress men with a deeper sense of the importance of the subject, and to convey an idea, that even the inanimate creation will rise up in judgment against the children of men, if they should disregard the voice of their Creator. After requesting their attention, he declares, that the whole tendency of his discourse, and especially of that part which exhibits the character of the Deity, is to comfort and enrich the souls of men. As the dew and rain descend gently and silently upon the earth, softening the parched ground, refreshing and invigorating the drooping plants, and administering nourishment to the whole vegetable creation, so was his word intended to administer blessings to mankind, quickening the most dead, softening the most obdurate, comforting the most disconsolate, and fertilizing the most barren, among them all.
We are aware that a directly opposite effect is in general ascribed to a faithful ministration of the word: it is in general supposed, that a scriptural representation of the divine character must of necessity alarm and terrify mankind: but, whatever effect it may produce on them that are determined to hold fast their sins, it cannot fail to comfort all whose minds are duly prepared to receive it, and to operate on their souls as rain upon the new-mown grass. This will appear, whilst we,
Illustrate the representation here given of the Deity—
The description which Moses gives of Jehovah is short, but comprehensive: it sets forth,
His personal majesty—
[The term “Rock” is often used in reference to the Deity; and intimates to us both what he is in himself, and what he is to us. In himself he is the great unchangeable Jehovah; and to his people a safe and everlasting Refuge. Whether it be from the storms of temptation or the heat of persecution, he affords protection to all who flee unto him [Note: Isaiah 32:2.] — — — and, to those who build upon him, he is an immovable foundation: nothing shall ever shake them; nothing shall ever disappoint them of their hopes [Note: Isaiah 45:17.] — — —]
His providential government—
[Deep and mysterious are his ways, yet are they all ordered in perfect wisdom and goodness. In the world, in the Church, and in our own individual cases, there are many things which we cannot account for; yet if we imagine that any one of them could have been more wisely appointed, we only betray our own ignorance and presumption. We cannot tell why God confined the revelation of his will to one single family for so many ages, or why it is still known to so small a part of the world: but in due time God will make it evident that such a mode of dispensing mercy was most conducive to his own glory. When a persecution arose in the Church about Stephen, and the saints, driven from Jerusalem, were scattered over the face of the earth, it probably appeared to them an inexplicable dispensation: but the benefit of it soon appeared, because the banished Christians propagated the Gospel wherever they came [Note: Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4.]. And when Paul was confined in prison two years, it might be thought a most calamitous event: yet does he himself tell us, that it tended “rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel [Note: Philippians 1:12-14.].” Thus, in innumerable instances, we are ready to say, like Jacob, “All these things are against us,” when in fact they are “all working together for our good; ”and we are constrained after a season to acknowledge, that our greatest crosses were only blessings in disguise [Note: Psalms 97:2.].]
His moral perfections—
[Justice, holiness, and truth, are inseparable from the Deity; “He is a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” The present state of things indeed does not afford us a just criterion whereby to judge of these perfections; because eternity is not open to our view: but the brightest display of them that can be exhibited to mortal eyes, is seen in the great work of redemption: for God has determined not to pardon any of the human race (at least, not any to whom the light of revelation comes,) except in a way that shall magnify these perfections; nor will he condemn any, without making them witnesses for him, that he is holy, and just, and true. It is for this very end that he sent his only-begotten Son into the world: for, by bearing our sins in his own body on the tree, Jesus has made a complete satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, and opened a way for the exercise of mercy in perfect consistency with all the other attributes of the Deity. The true believer makes an open confession of this, and acknowledges, that all his hopes are founded on the sacrifice of Christ: the unbeliever experiences in his own person the weight of that justice, which he would not honour in the person of his surety: so that all in heaven, and all in hell too, are constrained to say, “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints [Note: Revelation 15:3.].”]
That we may make a practical use of the Divine character we shall,
Shew how to make it a source of comfort to the soul—
If the Deity is an object of terror to any, it must arise either from an erroneous idea of his character, or from an opposition of mind to it. In order then to derive comfort from it, we must,
Get a just and comprehensive view of the Divine perfections—
[If, as is too often the case, we paint to ourselves a God all mercy, who will never vindicate the honour of his law, nor ever fulfil his threatenings against sin or sinners, we may allay our fears for the present, but we can never bring peace or comfort into the soul: for, as we have no foundation for such an idea of the Deity, we never can divest ourselves of the apprehension that we may be mistaken, and that we may find him at last such a Being as the Scriptures represent him. On the other hand, if we view nothing but his justice, he must of necessity appear terrible in our eyes, because we cannot but know that we are transgressors of his law. But if we regard him as he is set forth in his word, and particularly as he appears in the person of Christ, then do we find in him all that is great and good, yea all that our souls can wish for, or our necessities require — — —]
Get our own hearts suitably affected with them—
[Whilst the majesty of God should fill us with holy awe, and his power make us fearful of incurring his displeasure, these exalted perfections should encourage an affiance in him, as an almighty Helper, and an all-sufficient Protector. His very sovereignty should lead us to apply to him for mercy, because he will be most glorified in shewing mercy to the chief of sinners. Of course, a view of his love, his mercy, and his truth, must inspire us with holy confidence, and dispel all the fears which conscious unworthiness must create: we should therefore contemplate them with unceasing care, as the grounds of our hope, and the sources of our eternal welfare. Nor is it of small moment to have our minds impressed with a sense of his wisdom and goodness in all his providential dealings. It is by that that we shall have our minds composed under all the most afflictive dispensations, and encouraged to expect a happy issue out of the most calamitous events — — — In a word, the representations which God has given of himself will then be most delightful to us, when our hearts are most filled with humility and love.]
[”Hear now, O ye heavens! and give ear, O earth!” say whether these views of the Deity do not tend to the happiness of man O that God would “shine into all our hearts, to give us the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ!” then should our “meditation of him be sweet,” and our fruits abound to the praise and glory of his grace.]
GOD’S REGARD FOR HIS PEOPLE
Deuteronomy 32:9-12. The Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob it the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.
THE declarations of God in his word are the principal source from whence we derive our knowledge of the Deity. But much may be learned also from the dispensations of his providence, both from those which are recorded in the inspired volume, and those which pass daily before our eyes: nor can we more profitably employ our thoughts than in meditating on his dealings towards the Church in general, and ourselves in particular. This Moses recommended to the Israelites just before his final departure from them. He assured them that God, as far back as the Deluge, had appointed the boundaries of the different kingdoms, with an express reference to the children of Israel; and that he had assigned to Canaan, that accursed son of Noah, and to his posterity, the land which he had marked out for his chosen people, and which they, in pursuance of his will, were now about to possess [Note: ver. 7, 8.]. And, with respect to themselves in particular, he had conducted them with astonishing kindness and condescension from their first entrance into the wilderness to that present moment.
His words on that occasion will naturally lead us to consider,
God’s interest in his people—
God regarded his ancient people as his portion and inheritance—
[When he brought his people into Canaan, he divided the land amongst the twelve tribes, assigning to each by lot their destined inheritance. Thus amongst all the people upon the face of the earth he chose, as it were by lot, (“the whole disposal whereof is of the Lord,”) the descendants of Abraham as his portion. Even amongst these he selected only a part, adopting Isaac, and not Ishmael, and still further limiting his choice to Jacob and his posterity, whilst he withheld this privilege from Esau. These he chose, not because they were either more numerous or more holy than other people; for “they were the fewest of all people,” and “a stiff-necked generation from first to last.” “He loved them purely because he would love them [Note: Deuteronomy 7:6-8.],” and, having “set them apart for himself,” he ordained them to be his own portion and his own inheritance.]
In precisely the same view he regards his chosen people at this day—
[He has a people still, whom “he chose from before the foundation of the world [Note: Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:4.],” and “predestinated to the adoption of children to himself [Note: Romans 8:29.],” and accounts as “his peculiar treasure above all people upon the face of the earth [Note: Exodus 19:5.].” Respecting all who truly believe in Christ it is said, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.]:” and from these, as from an inheritance, does God expect “a revenue of praise” and glory, such as he receives not from the whole world besides [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.]. It is “of his own purpose and grace alone that he has called them to this honour,” without being influenced by any goodness in them [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.]: his choice of them was wholly irrespective of their works, past, present, or future [Note: Titus 3:5.]: “he loved them, and not they him [Note: 1 John 4:10.]:” “he chose them, and not they him [Note: John 15:16.]:” for his own sake, and not theirs, he has vouchsafed to them his grace, that to all eternity they may be monuments of his sovereign love and mercy [Note: Isaiah 43:21.].]
But that which our text chiefly leads us to consider, is,
His tender care over them—
This towards his ancient people is illustrated both by an appeal to fact, and by an apt and beautiful similitude—
[It was in the wilderness that he first formed them into a peculiar people for himself. There he took the entire charge of them, leading them in all their way, and supplying their every want. There he instructed them both by his providence and grace; shewing them by all his diversified dispensations the extreme depravity of their own hearts, and the marvellous patience and long-suffering of their God [Note: Deuteronomy 8:15-16; Nehemiah 9:19-21.]. Had he even for a few days intermitted his care over them, they must all have perished; being in the midst of perils on every side, and incapable of protecting themselves against any of the dangers to which they were exposed. But “he kept them even as the apple of his eye,” so that no evil whatever, except what he himself sent for their correction, could assail them. An eagle is very careful of its young: and when the dam judges that her young are prepared to fly, will “flutter over them, and spread abroad her wings, and stir up her nest,” that one or other of her offspring may try their powers: and with such tenderness does she watch the attempt, that, if the scarcely fledged young one prove incapable of stretching its flight so as to return to its nest, she will, with incredible swiftness and skill, fly to its succour, and on her own wings bear it back in safety to its wonted home. Thus did God encourage his ancient people to soar towards heaven, and succour them effectually in every hour of need. And in all this he acted “alone, there being no strange god with him,” nor any that could claim the smallest measure of honour from their success. The passage of the Red Sea, the bread from heaven, and the water from the rock, the passage of Jordan, and the fall of Jericho, with a thousand other events, clearly shewed, that all that was effected for them was done by him alone.]
And is he not alike attentive to his people now?—
[Where did he “find any of us,” my Brethren, but “in a waste howling wilderness,” where we must have inevitably perished) if he of his own sovereign grace and mercy had not come to our relief? And how has he “led us about” even to the present hour, not in the way that would have been most pleasing to flesh and blood, but in the way which he knew would be most conducive to our good, and to the glory of his own name! In this way he has conveyed to our minds such instruction as we could not by any means have so well received in any other way. By his word and by his Spirit he has imparted to us much knowledge of himself: but by his various dispensations, and especially those of a more afflictive nature, he has led us into discoveries of his perfections, which we could never otherwise have obtained. Oh! what views has he given us of our own deserts and of his own tender mercy towards us! In fact, we may, in his dealings with his people in the wilderness, see as in a glass all that is passing in the Church at this day, and all that is passing in our own hearts: and our heavenly rest will be infinitely the more endeared to us from our recollection of all our troubles by the way, and of the infinite wisdom and power and love by which we have been led in safety through them.]
Think then I pray you, Brethren, what should be our regard towards this Almighty Saviour—
[Who was it that led his people through the wilderness in the days of old? It was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Angel of the covenant: for he it was whom they tempted [Note: Exodus 23:20; 1 Corinthians 10:9.], and he it was “whose reproach Moses counted to be of more value than all the treasures of Egypt [Note: Hebrews 11:26.].” That same Jesus is still “Head over all things to his Church [Note: Ephesians 1:22-23.],” and “guides all his chosen people by his counsel, till he brings them safely to his glory.”
I ask then with confidence should we not love him with most intense affection? and trust in him with unshaken affiance? and serve him with all the powers of our souls? Methinks, there should be no bounds to our love and gratitude, no limit to our zeal in his service [Note: Deuteronomy 10:14-15; l Sam. 12:24.]. We all see and acknowledge this in reference to the Jews, who were favoured with his viable interposition: and how much more is it all due from us, who enjoy the substance, of which they had but the shadow! I call you then, everyone of you, to shew forth your sense of the obligations conferred upon you, and, if possible, to be as zealous in his service as he is in yours.]
THE JEWS MOVED TO JEALOUSY BY THE GENTILES
Deuteronomy 32:21. They have moved me to jealousy with that which it not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
“KNOWN unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Moses informs us, that, in the very first distribution of men over the face of the earth, God had an especial respect to those, who, at a remote period, should spring from the loins of Abraham; and that he assigned to the descendants of cursed Ham that portion of the globe which, in due time, should be delivered into the hands of Israel, cultivated in every respect, and fit for the accommodation and support of the Jewish nation: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to (or, in reference to) the number of the children of Israel [Note: ver. 8.]. Yet at the very time when God carried this decree into execution, at the time when the nation of Israel were, by the discipline of forty years in the wilderness, brought to a state of faith and piety that was never equaled at any subsequent period of their history, even then, I say, did God foresee their declension from his ways, and inspire Moses to predict the wickedness which they would commit, and the chastisements which should be inflicted upon them on account of it: he even instructed Moses to record the whole beforehand in a song, which was, in all succeeding ages, to be committed to memory by the children of Israel, and to be a witness for God against them. It was probable that, when he should change his conduct towards them, they would reflect on him either as mutable in his purposes, or as unable to execute his promises towards them: but this song would completely vindicate him from all such aspersions, and be a standing proof to them, that their miseries were the result of their own incorrigible perverseness. “Now,” says God, “write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant. And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware [Note: Deuteronomy 31:19-21.].”
In this song are foretold the awful apostasies of the Jewish nation, together with all the judgments that would be inflicted on them, from that time even to the period of their future restoration.
The words which I have chosen for my text, contain the sum and substance of the whole: they specify the ground of God’s displeasure against his people, and the way in which he would manifest that displeasure: and they particularly mark the correspondence which there should be between their sin and their punishment: “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
In discoursing on these words, there are two things to be considered;
The import of this prophecy respecting the Jews
The use to be made of it by us Gentiles.
The import of this prophecy—
The general facts relating to it are so well known, that it will not be necessary to enter very minutely into them. Every one knows how highly favoured a people the Jewish nation have been; how exalted and privileged above all other people upon earth. The manner also in which they requited the kindness of their God, is well known. We are not disposed to think that human nature is worse in them than in others: the reason that it appears so is, that God’s conduct towards them, and theirs towards him, is all exhibited to view, and forms a contrast the most humiliating that can be imagined. On some particular occasions they seem to have been penetrated with a becoming sense of the mercies vouchsafed unto them; but these impressions were of very short duration: within the space of a few days only, they forgot that wonderful deliverance which had been wrought for them at the Red Sea; as it is said, “They remembered not the multitude of his mercies, but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea.” Every fresh difficulty, instead of leading them to God in earnest supplication and humble affiance, only irritated their rebellious spirits, and excited their murmurs against God and his servant Moses. Scarcely had three months elapsed, when, whilst God was graciously revealing to Moses that law by which the people were to be governed, they actually cast off God; and, because Moses had protracted his stay in the holy mount beyond what they thought a reasonable time, they would wait for him no longer; but determined to have other gods in the place of Jehovah, and another guide in the place of Moses: “Up,” said they to Aaron, “make us gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” Immediately “they made a golden calf (in imitation of the Egyptian Apis), and worshipped it, and sacrificed thereto, and said, These by thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Thus early did they shew that propensity which was so fatal to them in after ages. In process of time they degenerated so far as to adopt all the gods of the heathen for their gods; even those gods who could not protect their own votaries, did this rebellious people worship, in preference to Jehovah, who had done so great things for them: “they worshipped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites, and Chemosh, the abomination of the Moabites;” yea, “they made their children to pass through the fire unto Moloch,” and “sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.” Even in the very house of God itself did they place their idols; as though they were determined to provoke the Lord to jealousy beyond a possibility of endurance; nor were there any rites too base, too impure, or too sanguinary for them to practise in the worship of them. Many times did God punish them for these great iniquities, by delivering them into the hands of their enemies; and as often, in answer to their prayers, did he rescue them again from their oppressors. But at last, as he tells us by the prophet, he was even “broken with their whorish heart:” and, as they would persist in their idolatries notwithstanding all the warnings which from time to time he had sent them by his prophets, he was constrained to execute upon them the judgment threatened in our text.
This is the account given us by the inspired historian: “All the chief priests and the people transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen, and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age; he gave them all into his hand [Note: 2 Chronicles 36:14-17.].”
In confirmation of this exposition of our text, the Jewish writers refer to a passage in the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 23:13.]. The Chaldeans were but very recently risen into power; for, many hundred years after the Jews were established in the land of Canaan, the very name of Babylon was not at all formidable to Israel, or perhaps scarcely known. It was originally owing to the Assyrians that Babylon was exalted into so great and powerful a state: as, says the prophet, in the passage referred to, “Behold, the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof.” Now to be vanquished by such a people, and to be carried captive to such a place, appeared a peculiar degradation; which may be supposed to be in part an accomplishment of those words, “I will move them to jealousy with them which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
But that there was to be a further accomplishment of those words, we cannot doubt. Indeed, the Jews themselves acknowledge, that their present dispersion through the world is a continuation of those very judgments which were denounced against them by Moses. Not only the learned amongst them acknowledge this, but, as Moses himself foretold, even the most ignorant of the Jews are well aware of it. Moses says, in Deuteronomy 31:17-18, “My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not amongst us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.” Now “the Jews themselves (as Bishop Patrick observes) take notice that these words have been fulfilled by the many calamities which have befallen them since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This appears from Schebet Jehuda, where Solomon Virg quotes this very verse, to prove that their present sufferings proceed not from nature, but from an angry God, more powerful than nature [Note: Sect. 13.].”
The truth is, that this prophecy received but a very partial accomplishment at that time: for there were but two tribes sent to Babylon; the other ten were carried captive to Assyria. Now the idea of “provoking them to jealousy by those who were not a people,” could have no place in reference to the ten tribes, because Assyria was an empire almost thirteen hundred years before Israel was conquered by them [Note: See Prideaux’s Connexion.]; and to the other two tribes, provided they were to be carried captive at all, it could make but little difference whether the nation that subdued them was of greater or less antiquity. For the full accomplishment of the prophecy, therefore, we must undoubtedly look to the times subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
And here is a matter for the consideration of every Jew, that wishes to form a correct judgment of the main point that is at issue between the Jews and Christians.
The miseries inflicted on the Jewish nation by the Romans, both in the siege of Jerusalem and in their subsequent dispersion throughout the world, have been incomparably more grievous than any that ever were inflicted on them by the Chaldeans. I would ask then of the Jew, What has been the cause of this severe chastisement? What has your nation done to provoke God in so extraordinary a degree? There must be some particular crime that they have committed: what is it? God is too righteous, and too merciful, to afflict them without a cause. I ask, Are any of your Rabbis able to assign an adequate reason for these severe judgments? Your former idolatries were punished in the Babylonish captivity: and you repented of those sins; insomuch that from the time of your return to your own land, to the destruction of your nation by the Romans, you not only never relapsed into idolatry, but you withstood every attempt to ensnare or to compel you to it. Yet, as your sufferings since that period have been so heavy and protracted, it must be supposed that your fathers committed some crime of deeper die, or at least some that was of equal enormity with your former idolatries. I ask then again, What crime is it? for there is not one of you that will venture to say, that God punishes you without a cause. If you cannot tell me, I will tell you what that crime is: it is the crucifying of your Messiah. You know, and your Rabbis all know, that there was a very general expectation of your Messiah at the precise time that Jesus came into the world. You know that Jesus professed himself to be the Messiah: you know also that he wrought innumerable miracles in confirmation of his claim: you know that he appealed to Moses and the prophets as bearing witness of him: you know that he foretold all that he should suffer; and shewed, that in all those sufferings the prophecies concerning him would be fulfilled: you know also, that the crucifying of him was a national act, in which all ranks and orders of your countrymen concurred; and that when Pilate wished to free himself from the guilt of shedding innocent blood, they all cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children!” You know, moreover, that Jesus foretold the destruction of your city and nation by the Romans, together with your present desolate condition, as the punishment that should be inflicted on you for your murder of him: nay more, that these things should befall your nation before that generation should pass away. You know also, that, agreeably to his predictions, they did come to pass about forty years after his death, and that these judgments have been upon you from that time to the present hour. If you say, that only two of the tribes were thus guilty of putting him to death; I answer, that every Jew in the universe approves and applauds that act; and that therefore the judgments are inflicted on them all, and will continue to be inflicted, till they repent of it. All preceding judgments were removed, when your fathers repented of the crimes on account of which they had been inflicted: and the reason that your present judgments are not removed, is, that your enmity against the Lord Jesus is at this hour as strong as ever; and, if he were to put himself in your power again, you would conspire against him as before, and crucify him again. Yet, if He was not the Messiah, your Messiah is not come; and, consequently, those prophecies in your inspired volume which foretold his advent at that time, are falsified. Your Messiah was to come before the sceptre should finally depart from Judah, and while the second temple was yet standing, and about the time that the seventy weeks of Daniel should expire: but the sceptre is departed, and the temple is destroyed; and Daniel’s weeks are expired; and nearly eighteen hundred years have elapsed, since the period fixed by these prophecies for his appearance. It is evident therefore that all these prophecies have failed of their accomplishment, if your Messiah is not yet come. As for saying, that the coming of the Messiah was deferred by God for the wickedness of your nation, what proof have you of it? Where has God threatened that, as a consequence of your wickedness? No: your Messiah is come; and has been treated in the manner which your own prophecies foretold, and as Jesus himself foretold: and though you, like your forefathers, in order to set aside the testimony of his resurrection, have recourse to that self-destructive falsehood of his being taken away by his own disciples, whilst a whole guard of Roman soldiers were asleep, you know that his disciples did at the very next festival, on the day of Pentecost, attest that he was risen, and attest it too in the very presence of the people who had put him to death, no less than three thousand of whom were converted to him on that very day: you know too, that in a short time myriads of Jews believed in Jesus; and that his Gospel continued to prevail throughout the known world, till the judgments threatened against your nation for destroying their Messiah came upon them.
Now by this act, the crucifying of your Messiah, you did provoke God to jealousy to a greater degree than by any of your former crimes; for God sent you his co-equal, co-eternal Son: he sent you that Divine Person, who was “David’s Lord,” as well as “David’s Son.” The learned men of his own day acknowledged that the names, Son of man, and Son of God, were of the same import; and that, as assumed by Jesus, both the one and the other amounted to an assertion, that he was equal with God. You know also that his claiming these titles was the ground on which they accused him of blasphemy, and demanded sentence against him as a blasphemer. Thus according to your own acknowledgment, supposing him to have been the person foretold by the prophets as the Messiah, you have “crucified the Lord of Glory.” Moreover, about the time that your fathers crucified him, they were ready to follow every impostor that assumed to himself the title of Messiah. “Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrim, a doctor of law, a man who was in high repute among all the Jews,” acknowledged this readiness of the people to run after impostors: he mentions a person by the name of Theudas, who, with four hundred adherents, was slain: and after him one Judas of Galilee, who drew away much people after him, and perished [Note: Acts 5:34-37.]. We are informed also that Simon Magus, by his enchantments, seduced all the people of Samaria, from the least to the greatest, and persuaded them that “He was the great power of God [Note: Acts 8:9-11.].” Your own historian [Note: Josephus, lib. vi. cap. 5.] bears ample testimony to these facts. Here then you can see how you have provoked God to jealousy, in that you have destroyed his own Son, who came down from heaven to instruct and save you: yea, though he brought with him the most unquestionable credentials, and supported his claim by the most satisfactory evidences, you rejected him with all imaginable contempt, whilst you readily adhered to any vile impostor that chose to arrogate to himself the title of Messiah. Your former idolatries, though sinful in the extreme, were less heinous than this, inasmuch as the manifestations of God’s love were far brighter in the gift of his Son, than in all the other dispensations of his grace from the foundation of the world; and the opposition of your fathers to him was attended with aggravations, such as never did, or could, exist in any other crime that ever was committed.
Here then we are arrived at the true reason of the judgments which are at this time inflicted on you.
Now let us investigate the judgments themselves; and you will see that they also are such as were evidently predicted in our text.
You are cut off from being the people of the Lord, and are absolutely incapacitated for serving him in the way of his appointments. On the other hand, God has chosen to himself a people from among the Gentiles, from “those who were not a people,” and were justly considered by you as “a foolish nation,” because they were altogether without light and understanding as it respected God and his ways. This you know to have been predicted by all your prophets, insomuch that your fathers, who looked for a temporal Messiah, expected that he would bring the Gentiles into subjection to himself, and extend his empire over the face of the whole earth. This the Lord Jesus has done: he has taken a people from among the Gentiles, who are become his willing subjects. Now this rejection of the Jews from the Church of God, and this gathering of a Church from among the Gentiles, is the very thing which in all ages has most angered you, and provoked you to jealousy. When Jesus himself merely brought to the remembrance of your fathers, that God had, in the days of Elijah and Elisha, shewn distinguished mercy to a Sidonian widow, and Naaman the Syrian; they were filled with such indignation, that, notwithstanding they greatly admired all the former part of his discourse, they would have instantly cast him down a precipice, if he had not escaped from their hands [Note: Luke 4:22-30.]. When, on another occasion, he spoke a parable to the chief priests and elders, and asked them “what they conceived the lord of the vineyard would do to those husbandmen who beat all his servants, and then murdered his Son in order to retain for themselves the possession of his inheritance, they were constrained to acknowledge, that he would destroy those murderers, and let his vineyard to others who should render him the fruits in their season:” and on his confirming this melancholy truth with respect to them, they exclaimed, “God forbid [Note: Mat 21:33-41 and Luke 20:14-16.]!” When the Apostles of Jesus afterwards preached to the Gentiles, the Jews could not contain themselves; the very mention of the name Gentiles, irritated them to madness [Note: Acts 13:44-45; l Thess. 2:15, 16.]”: so indignant were they at the thought of having their privileges transferred to others, whom they so despised. And thus it has been ever since. Nothing is so offensive to a Jew at this day, as the idea of Christians arrogating to themselves the title of God’s peculiar people. The present attempts to bring the Jews into the Church of Christ are most displeasing to them: they regard us as modern Balaams, rising up to bring a curse upon their nation: and when any are converted from among them to the faith of Christ, the old enmity still rises in the hearts of their unbelieving brethren; who are kept only by the powerful arm of our law from manifesting their displeasure, as they were wont to do in the days of old [Note: Acts 23:21-22.].
Here then you see the text fulfilled in its utmost extent: here also you see that perfect correspondence between the guilt and the punishment of the Jewish nation, which was predicted: they have provoked God to jealousy by following vile impostors and rejecting his Son; and he has provoked them to jealousy by rejecting them, and receiving into his Church the ignorant and despised Gentiles.
And now let me ask, Is this exposition of the text novel? No: it is that which is sanctioned by your own prophets, supported by our Apostles, and confirmed by actual experience.
Look at the prophets: do they not declare the call of the Gentiles into the Church, saying, “In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an Ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek, and His rest shall be glorious [Note: Isaiah 11:10.].” The Prophet Hosea’s language, though primarily applicable to the ten tribes, is certainly to be understood in reference to the Gentiles also: “I will have mercy upon her that hath not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people: and they shall say, Thou art my God [Note: Hosea 2:23.].” And again, “It shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God [Note: Hos 1:10 with Romans 9:24-26.].” But the Prophet Isaiah points directly to the Gentiles, when he says, “I am sought of them that asked not for me, I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that wets not called by my name:” I say he points to the Gentiles there; for he immediately contrasts with them the state of his own people, saying, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts [Note: Isa 65:1-2 with Romans 10:20-21.].” If you turn to the New Testament, you will find there the very words of our text quoted, not merely to prove that the Gentiles were to be brought into the Church of God, but that Israel was apprised of God’s intentions, and that, however averse they were to that measure, they could not but know that Moses himself had taught them to expect it: I say, Did not Israel know? says the Apostle:—did they not know that “there was to be no difference between the Jew and the Greek; and that the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon him?” Yes; for Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you [Note: Romans 10:19.]. If we look to matter of fact, we find that there are, in every quarter of the globe, thousands and millions of Gentiles who are serving and honouring Jehovah, precisely as Abraham himself did: they are believing in the same God, and walking in the same steps: and the only difference between him and them is, that he looked to that blessed seed of his who should come; and they look to that blessed seed of his who has come, even Jesus, in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed.
It is time that we now inquire,
What use is to be made of this prophecy by us Gentiles?
If ever there was a dispensation calculated to instruct mankind, it is that which is predicted in the words before us. I will mention three lessons in particular which it ought to teach us: and the Lord grant, that they may be engraven in all our hearts!
First, it should lead us to adore the mysterious providence of God. Let us take a view of God’s dealings with that peculiar people, the Jews. When, the whole earth was lying in gross darkness, he was pleased to choose Abraham out of an idolatrous nation and family, and to reveal himself to him. To him he promised a seed, whom he would take as a peculiar people above all the people upon earth. These descendants he promised to multiply as the stars of heaven, and as the sands upon the sea-shore; and in due time to give them the land of Canaan for their inheritance. After he had in a most wonderful manner fulfilled all his promises to them, they rebelled against him, and served other gods, and provoked him to bring upon them many successive troubles, and at last to send them into captivity in Babylon. But during this whole time he still consulted their best interests; and even in the last and heaviest of these judgments, “he sent them into Babylon for their good [Note: Jeremiah 24:5.].” Afflictive as that dispensation was, it was the most profitable to them of all the mercies and judgments that they ever experienced; for by means of it they were cured of their idolatrous propensities; and never have yielded to them any more, even to the present hour.
After seventy years God delivered them from thence also, as he had before delivered them from Egypt; and re-established them, to a certain degree, in their former prosperity. In the fulness of time, he, according to his promise, sent them his only-begotten Son, to establish among them that kingdom of righteousness and peace, which had been shadowed forth among them from the time that they became a nation. But on their destroying him, he determined to cast them off; and accordingly he gave them into the hands of the Romans, who executed upon them such judgments as never had been inflicted on any nation under heaven. But neither was this dispensation unmixed with mercy: for, blinded as they were by prejudice, they never would have renounced their errors, or embraced the Gospel, if they had been able still to satisfy their minds with the rites and ceremonies of their own Church. But as God drove our first parents from Paradise, and precluded them from all access to the tree of life, which was no more to be a sacramental pledge of life to them now in their fallen state; and as he thereby prevented them from deluding their souls with false hopes, and shut them up unto that mercy, which he had revealed to them through the seed of the woman; so now has he cut off the Jews from all possibility of observing the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law, in order that they may be constrained to seek for mercy through the Messiah whom they have crucified.
At the same time that God has ordered this dispensation with an ultimate view to the good of his once-favoured people, he has consulted in it the good of the whole world; for, when he cut them off from the stock on which they grew, he took a people from among the Gentiles, and engrafted them as scions upon the Jewish stock, and made them “partakers of the root and fatness of the olive-tree” which his own right hand had planted. What he might have done for the Gentiles, if the Jews had not provoked him to cut them off, we cannot say: but the Apostle, speaking on this subject, says, that “they became enemies for our sakes,” and “were broken off that we might be graffed in.” Doubtless, the stock was sufficient to bear both them and us; for the time is coming when the whole world, Jews and Gentiles, shall grow together upon it, seeing that it is God’s intention to engraff on it again the natural branches, which for the present he has broken off: but so has he ordained, that they should be cast out of his Church, and we be introduced into it, and that the one event should be preparatory to the other; that so the fall and ruin of the Jews should be the riches and salvation of the Gentile world [Note: Romans 11:11-12; Romans 11:15.]. And it is plain, that this appointment of his is carried into effect; for they are broken off, and are no longer his Church, since there is not one amongst them that either does, or can, serve God according to their law: and we, on the contrary, are his Church; and millions of us, through the world, are rendering to him the service he requires; and, if we are not his Church, then God has not at this hour, nor has he had for above seventeen hundred years, a Church upon earth. God, however, has not cast off his people fully or finally: not fully, for he brought multitudes of them into his Church in the apostolic age: nor finally; for though, through the shameful remissness of the Christian world, he has done but little for the Jews in these latter ages, yet is he, we trust, shewing mercy to them now, and sowing seeds among them, which shall one day bring forth a glorious harvest. Moreover as, by breaking off the Jews, God made room for the Gentiles, so has he ordained, that the bringing in the fulness of the Gentiles shall contribute to the restoration of the Jews themselves; and that, at last, the whole collective body of mankind shall be “one fold under one Shepherd.” What a stupendous mystery is this! Well might St. Paul, in the contemplation of it, exclaim, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Truly, this mystery is by no means sufficiently considered amongst us; though it is so great, that not even the Apostles themselves, for six years after the day of Pentecost, could see into it; and even then it was only by a miraculous interference that God prevailed upon them to receive it: it was by repeated visions to Peter and Cornelius, that he induced Peter to preach the Gospel to Cornelius; and it was by the effusion of the Holy Ghost on Cornelius and his family, that he induced the other Apostles to acquiesce in what Peter had done: and, even to the last, it was with reluctance they confessed, “Then hath God to the Gentiles also granted repentance unto life [Note: Acts 10:0; Acts 11:1; Acts 11:18.].” Let me recommend you then, my Brethren, to turn your attention to this mystery more than you have ever yet done; and never imagine that you have attained just views of it, till you are transported with wonder at the wisdom displayed in it [Note: Ephesians 3:6; Ephesians 3:9-10.], and filled with gratitude for the mercies it conveys.
A second improvement we should make of this subject is, to be afraid of provoking God to jealousy against us also. We have seen that it was the idolatry of the Jews that chiefly provoked God to jealousy against them. But is there not a spiritual idolatry, as well as that which consisted in the worship of graven images? and is it not equally offensive to a jealous God? When his people of old placed idols in their secret chambers, his chief complaint was, that “they set them up in their hearts [Note: Ezekiel 14:3-4; Ezekiel 14:7.]. And has he not told us, that “covetousness is idolatry;” and that we may “make a god of our belly?” What then is this but to say, that ‘the loving and serving the creature more than the Creator,’ whatever that creature be, is idolatry? We know full well, that gods of wood and of stone were “vanities;” but are not pleasure, and riches, and honour, “vanities” when put in competition with our God? and does not the inordinate pursuit of them provoke him to jealousy, as much as the bowing down to stocks and stones ever did? And if the rejection of Jesus by the Jews was that crime which filled up the measure of their iniquities, and brought the wrath of God upon them to the uttermost; shall not “the crucifying of the Son of God afresh, and putting him to an open shame,” as Christians do by their iniquities, be also considered as provoking the Most High God? Let us not think then that the Jews alone can provoke God to anger, or that they alone can ever be cast off for their wickedness; for he has expressly warned us by his Apostle, that he will cast us off, even as he did them, if we provoke him to jealousy by placing on the creature the affections that are due to him. Hear what St. Paul says; “Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed, lest he also spare not thee [Note: Romans 11:21.].” My Brethren, you cannot but see how grievously God is dishonoured by the Christian world: truly, “he is provoked by us every day;” and we, no less than the Jews, are “a rebellious and stiff-necked people.” Look at all ranks and orders of men amongst us, and see whether there be not a lamentable departure from primitive Christianity? Compare the lives of the generality with the examples of Christ and his Apostles, and see, not merely how short they come of the pattern set before them, (for that the best amongst us do,) but how opposite they are in their conduct; insomuch that, if they did not call themselves Christians, no one would ever think of calling them so, from their lives. Those who are in earnest about the salvation of their souls, are still “as men wondered at” amongst us; so that instead of pointing at an unhappy few as exceptions to the Christian character, no one can tread in the steps of Christ and his Apostles, without becoming “a sign and a wonder” among his neighbours. This you cannot but know; what then must we expect, but that God will punish us precisely as he has done the Jews, and provoke us to jealousy, by others whom we despise? The fact is, that God is already dealing with us in this manner. The rich, the great, the noble are, for the most part, so occupied with “vanities,” as to forget the services which they owe to God; and the consequence is, that God overlooks them, and transfers the blessings of his Gospel to the poor. At this day it is true, no less than in the days of the Apostles, that “not many rich, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” but “God has chosen the weak, and base, and foolish things of the world; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are; that no flesh should glory in his presence:” and this very circumstance does move the rich to anger, precisely as it did in the days of old; “Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him? As for these poor contemptible people that make such a noise about religion, they are cursed.” But I must go further, and say, that God is dealing in this very way even with those who do profess themselves his peculiar people. Who are the happy Christians? Who have the richest enjoyment of the Gospel, or most adorn it in their life and conversation? Are they the richer professors, whose hearts are set on “vanities,” or who are labouring night and day to procure them? Are they not rather the poor and the destitute, who, haying but little of this world, are more anxious to enjoy their God? We say not indeed that this is universally the case; but it is a general truth: nay more, amongst Indians and Hottentots there is often found a more lively and realizing sense of the divine presence, than amongst the worldly-minded professors of our own day. I must entreat you therefore, Brethren, to reflect, that if we do not, as a people, turn more heartily unto the Lord, we have reason to fear, lest “the candlestick should be removed from us,” and be transferred to a people who shall walk more worthy of it. Lastly, we should be stirred up by this subject to concur with God in his gracious intentions towards the Jews. In the song before us, there are repeated intimations that God will once more restore to his favour his now degenerate and afflicted people. In verse 36, it is said, “The Lord will judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left.” And the song concludes with these remarkable words, “Rejoice, O ye nations! with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and unto his people.” Here then, you see, that there is mercy in reserve for the Jewish people, and that the Gentiles also shall be partakers of their joy. But in our text there is a hint of a very peculiar nature, namely, not merely that God will vouchsafe mercy to them, in the midst of their present chastisement, but that he will render those very chastisements subservient to his gracious designs. He intimates that he is even now provoking them to jealousy, by the mercies he bestows on us; that is, that he is even now endeavouring to inflame them with a holy desire to regain his favour. It is precisely in this sense that St. Paul uses the same expression: indeed, St. Paul tells us, that he himself used the very same means for the same end: “Through the fall of the Jews (says he) is salvation come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. Now I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the Apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office; if by any means I may provoke to jealousy (it is the same word as before [Note: Παραζηλώαω, Romans 11:11; Romans 11:14.]) them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” This then is the work in which we are to co-operate with God: and, truly, if we were all in earnest about it, we might, with God’s help, do great things. They behold us professing ourselves to be the peculiar people of God: and, if they saw so great a difference between themselves and us as they ought to see, truly they would begin to envy us, and to wish to be partakers of our blessings. But, if they see that we are as covetous and worldly-minded, as lewd and sensual, as proud and vindictive, and, in short, as corrupt in all respects as the very heathen, shall we not prove a stumbling-block, rather than an help, to them? And what if, whilst we ought all to be uniting with one heart and one soul in the blessed work of leading them to Christ, they should find amongst us an utter indifference to their salvation? Yea, what if they behold amongst us some (some too of whom we might hope better things) to whom the exertions of their brethren are rather a matter of offence than of joy; some whose endeavour is rather to frustrate, than advance, our benevolent labours? What if they behold some who, instead of labouring with us to provoke them to jealousy, are themselves provoked to an ungodly jealousy against us, on account of our exertions; and who, like Tobiah and Sanballat of old, “are grieved that we have undertaken to seek the welfare of Israel [Note: Nehemiah 2:10.]?” Will not our Jewish brethren take advantage of this? Will they not impute this to our religion? If they see us thus worldly, or thus malignant, will they not judge of our principles by our practice; and, instead of envying us our privileges and attainments, will they not be ready to glory over us, and to thank God they are not Christians? Oh, Brethren! we little think what guilt we contract, while practising such abominations. It is said of many, that they are no person’s enemy but their own: but this is not true; they are enemies to all around them, whom they vitiate by their example; they are enemies to the Jews, whom they harden in their infidelity; and they are enemies to the heathen, whom they teach to abhor the Christian name. But let it not be so amongst us; let us remember that to us is committed the blessed task of bringing back to God’s fold his wandering, yet beloved, people. Nor let us despair of success; “for, if we were cut out of the olive-tree which is wild by nature, and were graffed contrary to nature into a good olive-tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive-tree? If they abide not in unbelief, they shall be grafted in; for, though we are unable, God is able to graff them in again [Note: Romans 11:23-24.].” But then, how is this to be accomplished? it is to be by our means; (“as for the times and the seasons, we say nothing; God has reserved them in his own power:”) God has appointed us to seek the salvation of his people; and has communicated his blessings to us on purpose that we may be his depository to keep them, and his channel to convey them, for their benefit. Hear his own words: “As ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief; even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy [Note: Rom 11:30-31].” Let us then address ourselves to the blessed work that God has assigned us. Let us, as God’s chosen instruments, endeavour to interest ourselves with him to reinstate them in his favour, and interest ourselves with them to return unto him. Let us make a conscience of praying for them in secret; let us devise plans for furthering the communication of divine knowledge amongst them; let us not shrink from labour, or trouble, or expense; let us not be deterred by any difficulties, or discouraged by any disappointments: but let us labour for them, as their forefathers did for us; let us tread in the steps of the holy Apostles, and be ready to sacrifice time, and interest, and liberty, and life itself, in their service; and account the saving of their souls the richest recompence that God himself can give us. And, that we may the more effectually provoke them to jealousy, let us shew them that God has done for us as much as he ever did for the patriarchs of old, giving us as intimate an access to him, as firm a confidence in him, and as assured prospects of an everlasting acceptance with him, as ever Abraham himself enjoyed. They are apt to think that, in exalting Jesus, we dishonour Jehovah: but let us shew them by our lives, that we render to Jehovah all the love, and honour, and service, that were ever rendered to him by his most eminent saints; and that there is no principle whatever so operative and powerful as the love of our adorable Redeemer. Let us shew them, that communion with the Son has the same effect on us, that communion with the Father had on Moses; that it assimilates us unto God, and constrains all who behold us to acknowledge, that we have been with God. Their eyes are now upon us; upon us especially, who are endeavouring to convert them to the faith of Christ: let them therefore see in us the influence of Christian principles: let them see that, whilst we speak of enjoying peace through the blood of our great Sacrifice, and of having the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Sanctifier, we live as none others can live, exhibiting in our conduct the faith of Abraham, the meekness of Moses, the patience of Job, the piety of David, and the fidelity of Daniel: in a word, let them see in us an assemblage of all the brightest virtues of their most renowned progenitors. O! would to God that there were in all of us such a heart! Would to God that the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon us for this end, and work in us so effectually, that the very sight of us should be sufficient to carry conviction to their minds; that so our Jewish brethren, beholding “the exceeding grace of God in us,” might be constrained to take hold of our skirt, and say, “We will go with you, for we perceive that God is with you of a truth [Note: Zechariah 8:23.]!”
THE EXCELLENCY OF JEHOVAH
Deuteronomy 32:31. Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.
IT is not a little to the honour of those who serve God, that the more fully their principles are investigated, the more just will they appear, and worthy to be adopted by all the world. Those embraced by ungodly men are often such as scarcely to be vindicated by their most partial friends: but those, which the children of God profess, will stand the test of examination from their bitterest enemies. To this effect Moses speaks in the words before us; from which we shall,
Point out the superiority of Jehovah above all other objects of confidence—
Neither the idols of heathens, nor any other objects of confidence, can in any point of view be put in competition with Jehovah. Consider
[There is not any thing which he is not able to effect: “He doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” But what created being can claim this prerogative?]
[Incomprehensible are the heights and depths of the Father’s love, discovered in sending his own Son to die for us: nor less the love of Christ in giving himself a sacrifice for our sins. Is there any other Being that ever has expressed, or ever can, such love as this?]
[God has given to us exceeding great and precious promises, suited to every want we can possibly experience. And has one jot or tittle of his word ever failed? But where shall we find a creature that has not, in some respect or other, disappointed the expectations of those who trusted in him?]
So indisputable is the point before us, that we may even,
Appeal to the very enemies of Jehovah in confirmation of our assertions—
We might with propriety appeal to his friends, since they, by their knowledge of him, and their experience of the vanity of earthly confidences, are best qualified to judge. But, waving this just advantage, we will appeal,
To his enemies of former times—
[In the contest with the worshippers of Baal, this matter was brought to a trial: and what was the result? the very idolaters themselves exclaimed, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God [Note: 1 Kings 18:39.]!” Nebuchadnezzar was in like manner forced to acknowledge the vanity of the idol he had set up, and to confess that no other god could effect such a deliverance for his votaries, as Jehovah had wrought for the Hebrew Youths [Note: Daniel 3:29.].]
To his enemies at this day—
[There are many who are ready to think that too much honour is ascribed to God, when the weakness of all created confidences is exposed. But we will appeal to their judgment, whether they do not think that an omniscient, and omnipotent Being, whose providence and grace have been so marvellously displayed, be not more worthy of our trust than an arm of flesh? We appeal also to their experience; for though, through their ignorance of Jehovah, they cannot declare what he is, they do know, and must confess, that the creature, when confided in as a source of true happiness, invariably shews itself to be “vanity and vexation of spirit.”]
Let those who have undervalued our Rock, repent of their folly—
[Not idolaters alone, but all, who do not supremely love and adore the Saviour, must be considered as undervaluing this our Rock: and, if they do not repent of their conduct now, they will bewail it ere long with endless and unavailing sorrow. Let them then consider, that, with respect to temporal things, there is none other that can deliver them from trouble, or support them under it: and that, with respect to spiritual things, there is no wisdom, strength, or righteousness, but in Him alone. Let them consider, that “in him all fulness dwells;” and that, if they trust in him, he will give them all that is needful for body and soul, for time and eternity. O that they were wise and would turn unto him, and cleave to him with full purpose of heart!]
Let those, who trust in Jesus, glory in him as an all-sufficient portion—
[They who build on this Rock need never fear: however high their expectations are raised, they shall never be disappointed of their hope. They may enlarge their desires, even as hell itself that is never satisfied; they may ask all that God himself can bestow; and, provided it be good for them, they shall possess it all: however “wide they open their mouth, God will fill it.” In vain shall either men or devils seek to injure them; for “one of them should chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight [Note: ver. 30.].” Let them then consider what an almighty Friend they have; and endeavour to walk worthy of Him who has called them to his kingdom and glory.”]
JUDGMENT NEAR AT HAND
Deuteronomy 32:34-35. Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures? To me belongeth vengeance and recompence: their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
TENDERNESS and fidelity are by no means incompatible. Nothing could exceed the tenderness of our blessed Lord, who wept over those who were just about to imbrue their hands in his blood. Yet, when occasion called for it, he spoke with great severity: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the damnation of hell [Note: Matthew 23:33.]?” In like manner, Jehovah, in the chapter before us, whilst he declares that “a fire was kindled in his anger against his people, and that it should burn to the lowest hell [Note: ver. 22.],” takes up this lamentation over them: “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up? For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges [Note: ver. 29–31].” But as, notwithstanding all his remonstrances, they still continued to bring forth nothing but “grapes of gall and clusters of Gomorrha,” he warns them, that their iniquities were remembered by him in order to a future judgment, and that their merited calamities were near at hand.
But to us, also, are the words no less applicable than to them: for we, also, are a disobedient people, and have but too much reason to expect the judgments of God upon us. I observe, then,
That our sins are treasured up before God in order to a future judgment—
[This is stated to us in way of appeal: “Is not your iniquity laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?” We cannot doubt but that God notes all our wickedness, and “records it in the book of his remembrance [Note: Malachi 3:16.].” Of this Job was well convinced, when he said, “My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity [Note: Job 14:17.].” And oh! what a mass of iniquity is there contained! Call to mind the sins of early infancy: for not one of them is overlooked by God. Then view the evils of childhood and of youth: alas, how numerous! even as the sands upon the sea-shore for multitude. Then go on to the period of maturer age, when, instead of improving our enlarged faculties in the service of our God, we have debased them the more in the service of sin and Satan. Go on to the present hour. Take all the actions, words, and thoughts of every successive day, and try them by the standard of God’s holy Law; and then see what loads of guilt we have contracted, and what volumes of indictment are ready at any hour to be brought forth against us: especially if we bear in remembrance our impenitence, which so greatly provokes God to anger; and our contempt of his Gospel, that stupendous effort of his love and mercy for the saving of our souls from death: if we reflect on these, I say, we cannot but see what a fearful account we have to give to our offended God. How soon we shall have “filled up the measure of our iniquities,” God alone knows: but this accumulation of our guilt none of us can deny; and this certainty of retribution none of us can doubt.]
In addition to this, I must say,
That the appointed time for giving up our account is hastening on apace—
[”Our foot,” we are told, “shall slide in due time, and the day of our calamity is at hand.” Truly “we are set in slippery places; and are liable to be cast down into destruction in a moment [Note: Psalms 73:18-19.].” Persons walking upon the ice, or on the glaciers of mountainous countries, feel the force of this observation, and endeavour to guard with all possible care against their danger. But we see not our danger, notwithstanding it is in fact not less imminent than theirs. Millions of dangers encompass us around; and numerous instances occur of persons summoned into eternity without a moment’s warning. The time for every man’s departure is fixed by God: and how near it may be at hand, no one can divine. But the instant it is arrived, whether we be prepared or unprepared, away we are hurried to the judgment-seat of Christ; and, if unprepared, we are cast into the very depths of hell. I know that persons are ready to say, “But God is merciful.” True; but I answer, that “To him belongeth vengeance also;” yea, and this is as essential to his character as mercy. Hence, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, my text is cited with peculiar emphasis: “We know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me: I will recompense, saith the Lord.” And to this it is added, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Note: Hebrews 10:30-31.].” Now, I ask, Shall this perfection of the Deity be dispensed with, in order to give us safety in our sins? It cannot be. An hatred of sin, and a determination to punish it, are essential to the nature of Jehovah; and he can as soon cease to exist, as he can cease to act worthy of his proper character. You cannot but know. Brethren, that multitudes are hurried daily into the presence of their God, without any regard to their state of preparation to meet him: and there is no reason why you should not be taken just as they were. “They were saying, Peace and safety; and then came sudden destruction upon them, as travail upon a woman with child [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:3.].” And the more secure you are in your own apprehension, the more reason there is to fear that you shall be called away in like manner, and that “that awful day shall overtake you “as a thief [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:4.].” This consideration is very particularly urged upon you by the Prophet Hosea: “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid. The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him [Note: Hosea 13:12-13.].” It matters not whether you be young or old, or whether in health or sickness, “the Judge standeth at the door;” and at the instant ordained by him, into his presence must you go, to “give an account of all that you have ever done, whether it be good or evil.”]
And truth compels me to declare,
That it is owing to the forbearance of God alone that every one of us has not long since fallen into hell—
[Who amongst us has not deserved the wrath of God? Who amongst us may not call to mind some moment, when God, so to speak, might have cut us off to advantage, to display in us his righteous indignation? And if he had summoned us hence, who could have withstood his mandate, or prolonged his life one single hour? We have been in the hands of God, hanging, as it were, over the bottomless pit, and suspended only by a single thread, which, if let loose or cut, would have transmitted us at once to everlasting misery. And many times has God been tempted, so to speak, to let go his hold: but our blessed Saviour has interceded for us, and prevailed to obtain for us a respite from our destined misery, if by any means we might be led to avert it by penitence and faith in him. All has been ready for our ruin long ago. “Tophet has been prepared: it has been made deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, hath kindled it [Note: Isaiah 30:33.]:” yes, the unquenchable fire has long since been kindled, and those cruel spirits, who have been our tempters, have long been waiting to become our tormentors. Nothing has prevented our ruin but the forbearance of our God, who, in the midst of all our provocations, has yet waited to be gracious unto us. It is to his sovereign grace alone we owe it, that we are not at this instant in the condition of millions, who never lived so long as we, or sinned so much against God as we, and were altogether as likely to live as we. But “others have been taken, and we are left,” if peradventure we may yet repent us of our sins, and flee for refuge to the hope that is set before us.]
I cannot conclude this awful subject without addressing a few words,
To those who are yet indulging in security—
[What have you been doing all your days, but “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath [Note: Romans 2:5.]?” You do not design to go to hell, I know: neither did they who are already there. They designed, each in his own way, to do something that might bring them to heaven. One intended to repent, another to amend, another perhaps to embrace the Gospel. But death seized them, ere they had found leisure to carry their designs into effect And you also design to get into the way that leads to heaven. But tell me, When did you form this design? You know not the time when it did not in a careless way float upon your mind: and here have you been, years and years, without ever carrying it into effect. Tell me, then, I pray you, when do you intend to carry it into effect? As to any serious purpose and endeavour, it is still as far off as at any period of your lives: and therefore there is reason to fear that your good designs will terminate, as those of millions do, in utter abortion: and that in you will be verified what the Psalmist has said, “Upon the wicked, God will rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup [Note: Psalms 11:6.].” You may be assured, that God will not always bear with you: that, on the contrary, “your judgment lingereth not, and your damnation slumbereth not [Note: 2 Peter 2:3.].” “The axe at this very moment lieth at the root of the tree,” ready to cut you down [Note: Luke 3:9.]: and God alone knows whether another offer of mercy shall be ever made you. “O that you may know, every one of you, in this your day, the things that belong unto your peace [Note: Luke 19:42.]!” “To-day, Brethren, while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts:” but “seek ye the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near [Note: Isaiah 55:6.].” “This day, for every one of you, may be the day of salvation [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:2.]:” what to-morrow may be none can tell. I pray God, it may not prove to you, as no doubt it will to many, “the day of wrath,” the day of everlasting damnation.]
To those who are desirous of preparing for death and judgment—
[Happy am I to declare unto you, that, however numerous or heinous your sins may have been, they may all this very day be “blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance;” yea, be “blotted out as a morning cloud [Note: Isaiah 43:25.],” never more to be seen, never to be remembered against you in judgment [Note: Hebrews 8:12.]. “The blood of Jesus Christ, we are told, will cleanse from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:7.];” so that “though your sins have been as scarlet or as crimson, they shall in one instant become white as snow [Note: Isaiah 1:18.].” Yes, Brethren, if “vengeance belongeth unto God,” so does mercy also: “with him is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption, so that he will redeem Israel from all his sins [Note: Psalms 130:7-8.].” Take courage, then; and from the very forbearance you have experienced, assure yourselves that “God is full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness;” and that if only you come to him in his Son’s name, you shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.]
OUR EXTREMITY IS GOD’S OPPORTUNITY
Deuteronomy 32:36. The Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
IT is a certain truth that God is immutable in his purposes, whether of judgment or of mercy. In the execution of either there may be long delays: but neither the one nor the other shall fail. The sins of the impenitent “are laid up in store with him, and sealed up among his treasures:” and how secure soever the ungodly may imagine themselves, they shall give up their account to him, “to whom belongeth vengeance and recompence:” yes, they may stand fast in their own apprehension; but “their feet shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand; and the things that shall come upon them make haste [Note: ver. 34, 35.];” or, to use the energetic language of St. Peter, “their judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not [Note: 2 Peter 2:3.].” In like manner are mercies reserved for his chosen people: and though he may, for wise and gracious purposes, suffer them to be reduced to the greatest extremities, as he did his people in Babylon [Note: See Micah 4:10.], yet will he interpose effectually for them in due season, “repenting himself for them, when he sees that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left.”
In confirmation of this truth I propose to shew,
To what a state God’s people may be reduced—
God’s ways and thoughts are far different from ours. We should be ready to suppose that he would preserve his people from any great calamities, and interpose for their deliverance at the very commencement of their trials. But this is not the way in which he proceeds. He permits his people to be severely tried,
By temporal afflictions—
[To these is the primary reference in the text [Note: Compare Judges 2:14-15; Jdg 2:18 with 2 Kings 14:26.] — — — And the whole of God’s dispensations towards his people, in Egypt and the wilderness, evince the truth of it. Nor is it the wicked only whom he permits to be visited with severe afflictions: the righteous in every age have drunk deep of the cup of sorrow which has been put into their hands [Note: Hebrews 11:37-38; Acts 8:3-4.]: God has seen it “needful that they should be in heaviness through manifold temptations [Note: 1 Peter 1:6.];” and has taught them to regard their lot, not as a mark of his displeasure, but rather as a token of his love [Note: Hebrews 12:6.].]
By spiritual trouble—
[Many, previous to their finding peace with God, are brought into the deepest distress on account of their iniquities, and from an apprehension of God’s heavy displeasure [Note: Psalms 6:1-7; Psalms 38:1-8.] — — — And many too after that they have obtained mercy, may yet be greatly tried by reason of the hidings of God’s face [Note: Psalms 22:1-2; Psalms 42:6; Psalms 7:0.], and the delays of his promised blessings [Note: Psalms 77:1-9; Psalms 88:14-16; Psalms 102:1-11.] — — — Greater distress than this cannot be imagined; yet was it the lot of him who was “the man after God’s own heart.”]
But let us contemplate,
The seasonable interpositions which they may hope for—
“God will judge his people, and repent himself for his servants,” when he sees them reduced to such a state as this.
He has done this in instances without number—
[The whole history of the Bible is replete with instances: yea, on numberless occasions have his interpositions been so signal, that his most inveterate enemies have been constrained to acknowledge his hand, and his most unbelieving people to sing his praise. The hundred and seventh Psalm is in fact an epitome of God’s dealings with his people from the beginning of the world to this present moment — — — And there is not any one amongst ourselves, who, if he have been at all observant of the ways of Providence, must not acknowledge, that he has both seen in others, and experienced in himself, many merciful interpositions in the hour of need.]
He will do it to the end of time—
[The words before us are in the form of a promise: and we may rely upon them as sure and faithful. They shall be fulfilled to us under temporal distresses [Note: Psalms 33:18-19.] — — — and under spiritual trouble also will God surely remember them for our good. Where can we find a more disconsolate state than that depicted by the Prophet Isaiah? Yet sooner will God work for us the most stupendous miracles than leave us destitute of the desired aid [Note: Isaiah 41:17-18.] — — —]
The frequency of such interpositions leads me to point out,
The reason why God permits such crises previous to the bestowment of his promised blessings—
Amongst many other reasons, he does it,
For the making of us more sensible of our dependence upon him—
[Whilst, in theory, we acknowledge God as “the Author and Giver of all good,” there is no sentiment further from our minds than this in practice. It is only in straits and difficulties that we think of looking unto God. But such atheism is most displeasing to the Governor of the universe: and on this account he suffers us to fall into divers temptations, that we may know from whence all our blessings have flowed, and on whose providence we depend. St. Paul assigns this as one very important reason why God permitted such trials to come upon him in Asia, that he was driven to utter despair: “We were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead; who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.].” And every affliction that brings us to a more simple life of faith on God, we may justly welcome as a blessing in disguise.]
For the magnifying the more his own glorious perfections—
[We scarcely notice God at all in his common mercies: it is only when we are delivered by some signal interposition of his providence or grace, that we become sensible of our obligations to him. Then we say, The Lord hath done this: and we feel disposed, for a time at least, to give him the glory due unto his name. It was for this reason that Jesus came not to restore Lazarus, till he had been dead four days [Note: John 11:4; John 11:6; John 11:15; John 11:40.]. Under such circumstances we admire his goodness, and adore his love; and confess him to be a faithful God, who has never failed in the execution of any promise to his believing people. The song of Moses is sung by us again: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongst the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders [Note: Exodus 15:11.]?” Conviction flashes on our minds with tenfold energy; and we exclaim with the convinced worshippers of Baal, “The Lord, he is the God! the Lord, he is the God!”]
For the rendering of his mercies more influential on our minds—
[When God’s mercies have been heaped upon us in an unusual degree, then we feel disposed to ask, “What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” Behold David after some great deliverance, whereby “his soul was brought out of a horrible pit, and set, as it were, upon a rock;” “what songs were put into his mouth;” and with what ardour does he exclaim, “Blessed is the man that maketh the Lord his trust [Note: Psalms 40:1-4.]!” St. Paul had been brought to similar distress by reason of the thorn in his flesh: yet, when once assured that “the grace of Christ should be sufficient for him,” how does he immediately take pleasure and glory in all that he either did or could endure [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.]! And thus will it be with all, in proportion as they are sensible of the mercies conferred upon them: they will present their whole selves a living sacrifice unto their God, as a reasonable and delightful service [Note: Romans 12:1.].]
To those who are under any temporal affliction—
[Say not, that “the Lord has forsaken and forgotten you [Note: Isaiah 49:14.]:” but wait his leisure, and assure yourselves that “all is working for your good.” It was by a circuitous path that he led Israel to the promised land: but “he led them by the right way:” and you also shall see, in due season, that though “clouds and darkness have been round about him, righteousness and judgment have been the basis of his throne.”]
To those whose trials are of a spiritual nature—
[These are the heavier of the two: for “a wounded spirit who can bear?” But “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Only wait the appointed time, and “the vision shall come, and not tarry [Note: Habakkuk 3:2.].” “In the evening time it shall be light [Note: Zechariah 14:7.].” In the mean while follow the direction which the Lord himself gives you; and, whilst “walking in darkness and without light, trust in the Lord, and stay yourselves upon your God [Note: Isaiah 50:10.].”]
GOD THE ONLY AUTHOR OF GOOD AND EVIL
Deuteronomy 32:39. See now, that I, even I, am he, and there it no strange god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither it there any that can deliver out of my hand.
THE Jews, from the time that they became a nation, turned aside from the living God to the worship of idols: on which account, God, in righteous indignation, refused them, on some occasions, the aid which he alone could bestow; and referred them to their idols, in whom they trusted, that they might obtain from them those things of which they stood in need: “Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted, which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink-offerings? Let them rise up and help you, and be your protection.” But to us is the same reproach most justly due: for though we do not, like them, bow down to shocks and stones, we are far from realizing in our minds the exclusive agency of Jehovah. To us, therefore, no less than to them, may be addressed the solemn admonition before us; “See now, that I, even I, am he, and there is no strange god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.”
Let me now entreat your attention to,
God’s own description of his own character—
Agreeably to what is here spoken, we see, that,
His agency is universal—
[There is not any thing done, whether it be good or evil, but he is the doer of it. “I am the Lord,” says he; “and there is none else; there is no God besides me. I am the Lord; and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things [Note: Isa 45:5-7 with Amos 3:6.].” There is nothing so great, or so small, but it must be traced to him as its proper source and author, even to the falling of a sparrow, or the falling of a hair from our heads [Note: Matthew 10:29-30.]. And God is desirous that this should be known and duly considered by us. To discover this to his ancient people, was one great reason for his marvellous interpositions for them [Note: Deuteronomy 4:34-35.], and of the no less marvellous forbearance which he exercised towards them [Note: ver. 27.]. And we, also, must bear in mind, that “whether he kill or make alive, whether he wound or heal, it is He alone that does it, and there is no strange god with him.”]
His appointments are sovereign—
[The whole Scripture bears testimony that “God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” He does so in relation to all temporal matters: “He killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up: he maketh poor and maketh rich; he bringeth low and lifteth up: he raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit a throne of glory [Note: 1 Samuel 2:6-8.].” In relation to spiritual matters, also, he exercises no less a sovereign control, “having mercy on whom he will have mercy, and hardening whom he sees good to harden [Note: Romans 9:18.].” This was viewed by St. Paul in so important a light, that when he had once touched upon it, he did not know how to relinquish the subject, but insisted on it with every diversity of expression that language could furnish, and yet with such repetitions as appeared almost to be endless. Having said that God had blessed us with all spiritual blessings, he traces the gift to this as its true source: “He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he had purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him; in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, that we should be to the praise of his glory [Note: Eph 1:3-12 and again in ver. 14.].” We have often read this passage, but with so little care, as scarcely to get a glimpse of its true import: but, the more minutely and attentively we consider it, the more, shall we see the amazing importance of the subject contained in it, and of the character of God as a mighty Sovereign, that does what he will, and “gives not account to us of any of his matters [Note: Job 33:13.].”]
His power is uncontrollable—
[Forcible is that appeal of Elihu, “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? and when he hideth his face, who then can behold him? whether it be done against a nation or a man only [Note: Job 34:29.].” He is a mighty “Lawgiver, alike able to save or to destroy [Note: James 4:12.].” Hear Jehovah’s own declaration respecting this: “I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no Saviour. Before the day was, I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work; and who shall let it [Note: Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 43:13.]?” Does he meditate vengeance? this is his own awful asseveration, in the words immediately following my text: “I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh [Note: ver. 40–42.].” On the other hand, does he contemplate the exercise of mercy? this is the assurance that he gives his people: “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not, I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel: I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing-instrument, having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel [Note: Isaiah 41:13-16.].” In a word, He is a Potter, and we are the clay; and whether he is pleased to make, or mar, the vessel, none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou [Note: Jer 18:3-6 with Romans 9:20-21.]?]
Let us now proceed to notice,
His solemn call to the consideration of it—
“See now,” says he, “that this is my unquestionable, and unchangeable character:” and you are called to contemplate it,
That you may give him the glory of all that you have received—
[My Brethren, God is a holy and a jealous God: “his very name is, Jealous [Note: Exodus 34:14.];” and “his glory he will not give to another [Note: Isaiah 42:8.].” How fearfully he will resent any interference with him in this respect, may be seen in the case of Herod, who, when he was applauded for his eloquence, gave not God the glory; and God, in righteous displeasure, caused him to be “eaten up of worms, till he gave up the ghost [Note: Acts 12:21-23.].” But more especially is God jealous in relation to spiritual blessings, which must be ascribed to him alone. Indeed, he has so constituted the whole work of man’s salvation, that no particle of honour should be assumed by man, but all glory should be given to him, as “the author and the finisher of our faith.” “He has treasured up for us every thing in Christ Jesus [Note: Colossians 1:19.];” and ordained, that we should “receive every thing out of his fulness [Note: John 1:16.],” looking to him as our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our complete redemption, “that no flesh should glory in his presence, but that all should glory in him alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:29-31.].” Let this lesson, then, be learned by us, that God may receive from us all the glory of all that we possess; since “if we differ from others in any respect, it is he who has made us to differ; and we possess nothing which we have not gratuitously received from him [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.].”]
That you may depend on him for all that you ever hope to receive—
[Here, also, God asserts his claim to our entire dependence: “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and that maketh flesh his arm; and whose heart departeth from the Lord his God [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-8.].” Especially in reference to every thing that concerns our salvation, does God require our undivided affiance: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth! for I am God; and there is none else [Note: Isaiah 45:22.].” Every child of man, whatever he may possess, must rely on Christ alone, saying, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” “In the Lord alone shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory [Note: Isaiah 45:24-25.].” To this has God a very especial respect in the words of my text. If we look to the creature, or place any dependence on an arm of flesh, we must take the consequences [Note: ver. 37, 38, 39.]. The creature “cannot do good, or do evil.” As to the idols on which the Jews were disposed to place their confidence, God says to them, “Ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you [Note: Isaiah 41:23-24.].” So must it be said of every thing on which we are wont to rely; “It is a broken reed, which will only pierce the hand that resteth on it [Note: 2 Kings 18:21.].” Trust ye, then, in the Lord, and in him alone: yea, “trust in him for ever: for with the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength [Note: Isaiah 26:4.].”]
This subject, methinks, speaks,
Comfort to the true Christian—
[Respecting this glorious Being who is here described, it is your privilege to say, that “he is your God.” In truth, whatever you want, he describes himself as a God of that very thing, of “love,” of “mercy,” of “peace,” of “strength,” of “comfort,” of “all grace;” and in relation to that very thing will he “be a God unto you [Note: Hebrews 8:10.].” Seek him, then, in Christ Jesus; and glory in him as “your God and portion for ever.”]
Terror to those who have any other god—
[Who is that God that shall save you in the hour of your extremity? or, Where will ye flee for succour in the day of judgment? Indeed, indeed, there is no refuge for you, but in Christ; nor “any other name given under heaven but his, whereby you can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.].”]
A MINISTER’S DYING CHARGE TO HIS PEOPLE
Deuteronomy 32:46-47. Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this Law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.
THIS song was composed in order “to be a witness for God against the children of Israel” to the remotest ages [Note: Deuteronomy 31:19.]. It contains a summary of God’s dealings with them, and of the provocations whereby they constrained him at last to visit them with his heavy displeasure. At the same time, it gives an intimation of his mercies, which he has yet in reserve for them, when they and the Gentiles shall be incorporated into one Church, and become one fold under one Shepherd [Note: ver. 43.]. Having recited this song in the ears of all the Elders of Israel, he entreats them to treasure it up in their hearts, and to impress it on the minds of the rising generation, that so it may answer the end for which it was composed.
From the counsel here given to all Israel, I will take occasion to shew,
The regard which we should manifest towards the Gospel of Christ—
The testimony of Moses, though comprised in this song, did, in fact, comprehend “all the words of God’s Law.” In like manner, that which I have testified amongst you, whilst, in fact, it comprehends the entire Gospel, may be comprised in these few words: “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: he that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.].” St. Paul, in still fewer words, sums it up in this significant expression, “Christ crucified [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:2.].”
Now the regard which this demands, is,
That you receive it cordially yourselves—
[It is not sufficient that you hear it, or approve of it, or form your sentiments in accordance with it: you must “set your hearts unto it:” you must feel towards it as you would towards a boat that was pressing towards you, whilst clinging to a plank in the midst of the ocean. You may form some conception of the eagerness with which you would welcome its arrival, and embrace the salvation which it offered you: and those very emotions should you realize, when a Saviour is set before you to deliver you from the guilt you have contracted, and the condemnation you have merited at the hands of your offended God — — — in this way must you set your hearts “unto ALL the words” which God has testified by my mouth: you must embrace the doctrines, as declaring what you are to believe; and with equal avidity are you to lay hold upon the precepts which God requires you to obey. Neither the one, nor the other, are to be viewed as hard sayings, which you would gladly modify to your own corrupt taste: but both of them are to be viewed as moulds, into which your whole soul is to be poured: so that in every thing you may be conformed to the mind and will of God — — —]
That you commend it earnestly to others—
[You are not to be content to go to heaven alone: you must endeavour to draw all you can along with you. Has God imparted to you knowledge? you must labour to communicate it. Has he given you influence? you must exert it to the utmost of your power. Has he invested you with authority? you must employ it for God. Are you as magistrates? you are “not to bear the sword in vain,” but to use it for him, whose representatives and vicegerents you are [Note: Romans 13:1-4.]. Are you parents? you must, like Abraham, “command your children, and your household to keep the way of the Lord [Note: Gen 18:19 with the text.].” Advice is not sufficient. If that prevail, it is well: you have gained your end by gentle means; which should always be resorted to in the first instance: but, if advice will not effect your purpose, you must exert authority, yes, even though your children have arrived at man’s estate. Eli did reprove his sons, saying, “Nay, my sons, this is no good report that I hear of you; you make the Lord’s people to transgress.” But when he saw that they persevered in their iniquities, he should have turned them out of their priestly office: and because he neglected thus to exercise his authority, God visited him and his posterity with the heaviest judgments, even to many generations [Note: 1 Samuel 2:33-36.]. To every parent, then, I say, The blood of your children will be required at your hands: and, though you cannot impart unto them any saving grace, you must keep a firm hand in restraining them from every thing that will be injurious to their souls; and must labour in every possible way to bring them to Christ, that they may be saved from wrath through him.]
And let me mark,
The reasonableness of our duty in relation to this matter—
The service of God altogether is “a reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.];” and more especially that duty commended to us in our text.
The testimony itself is highly worthy of our regard—
[What is it that we testify? It is, that God has redeemed us by the blood of his dear Son, and will cast out none who come to him in his Son’s name — — — And “is this a vain thing?” is it doubtful, so that we may question it? or unimportant, that we may trifle with it? Let the Apostle Paul determine this: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners [Note: 1 Timothy 1:15.].” Yes, indeed; it is “no cunningly-devised feeble,’ but the very truth of God, to which the whole Scriptures bear witness: and it is “the very wisdom of God, yea, and the power of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:24.],” so that, in comparison of it, there is nothing, either in heaven or earth, that gives any just conception of the Deity. In this mystery all the perfections of the Godhead unite, and harmonize, and are glorified.]
On our regard to it our eternal happiness depends—
[“It is our life, whether theoretically considered, or practically applied. Our blessed Lord says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me [Note: John 14:6.].” There is no way of reconciliation with God but through the sacrifice of Christ. No man can make atonement for his own sins: and every soul that would be saved, must “submit to the righteousness of God,” even to that mode of justification which God has proposed in his Gospel [Note: Romans 10:3.]. It was this that distinguished Abel from Cain: Cain brought an offering of the ground; but Abel, looking forward to the Saviour, brought a living sacrifice from his flock [Note: Genesis 4:3-5.]. And this is what we also must do. We must look to Christ, and believe in Christ, and lay our sins on him, as the Jewish offerer did on his sacrifice. If we do this, we shall be saved: for “all who believe in Christ shall be justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.]:” but, if we do it not, “there remaineth for us no other sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation [Note: Hebrews 10:26-27.].”]
I will now conclude, with drawing your attention to,
The circumstances under which this counsel was given—
[“On the self-same day” that his counsel was given, “was Moses to go up to Mount Abarim and die [Note: ver. 40–50.].” This, then, was the dying testimony of Moses. And I, if I were now on my dying-bed, would give to you precisely the same counsel, and entreat you all to “set your hearts to what I have this day testified amongst you.” “Lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, my beloved Brethren, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.” And to every individual I would say, “Teach them unto your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up: and thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thine house, and upon thy gates [Note: Deuteronomy 11:18-20.].” Use all possible means of bringing these things to your remembrance [Note: Hebrews 2:1.]: but rest not satisfied, till they have wrought a thorough work upon your souls, and you are “cast into them as info a mould” that shall assimilate you altogether unto God’s perfect image [Note: Rom 6:17 the Greek.].]
The circumstances which must infallibly ere long result from them—
[Of this counsel both you and your adviser must shortly give account at the judgment-seat of Christ. In God’s book of remembrance, every word is already recorded, together with the manner in which it has been both delivered and received. Fain would I, my Brethren, be “free from your blood,” in that awful day. I would, too, that “you also might, every one of you, deliver your own souls [Note: Ezekiel 33:2-9.].” But it is indeed most painful to your minister to reflect, that perhaps at this very moment, whilst labouring to save your souls, he is sinking many of them into yet deeper perdition: for we may be sure, that, “if he who despised Moses’ Law died without mercy, there is a yet sorer punishment” awaiting those who despise the Gospel [Note: Hebrews 10:28-29.]. I appeal to yourselves, “How shall ye escape, if ye neglect so great salvation [Note: Hebrews 2:3.]?” Now, then, let me prevail upon you to go unto your God, and to entreat of Him to write these things upon your hearts by his Holy Spirit: for I declare unto you, that “they are your life:” yes, “I call heaven and earth to record against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both ye and your seed may live [Note: Deuteronomy 30:19.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent